Shadow Eyes Upon Me, Silent Tears That Haunt Me
He awoke on the floor. It was hard and smelled like piss. The carpet was thin and moldy and rancid like someone vomited and failed to use any cleaner to foil the stench. An inhale of breath almost knocked him out again, the fumes putrid, making him gag and causing his eyes to water. Struggling against the weariness that lay heavy within his soul, his eyes tried to adjust to the dark and the sting, trying to see if it was him that threw up. If it was his filth that made his stomach roil, retching in disgust, then spasming through an aborted attempt to empty itself. That's when he felt heat against his side, a warm presence curled up within the crook of his body. The steady rise and fall of soft flesh reminding him that he was human, still alive, still responsible for other lives. He was so unaccustomed to warmth now, to feeling someone beside him…to touch. It had been so long. Touching someone made him forget for a second, forget all the death and pain and how the liquor only muted the turmoil for a few blessed hours. How morning and sobriety always brought back the same intolerable horror, the bitter truths and dark nightmares that have haunted him since that night.
Today was different. The touch grounding him in the present…promising him a future if only he could release the past. Gentle breathing enough to coax the good memories back, almost within his grasp, easing him back to the days when waking up in a bed with Mary, warm and soft beside him, was all he thought he'd ever need. All he'd ever want.
Blissful moments flashed through his mind before they erupted in a volcano of flame and ash and more smells. Smells that no amount of sewer stench could overpower or negate. The smell of death and sorrow. The bitter whiff of failure and loss.
The heinous odor of burning flesh.
He jolted from the burst of memory, all of it back in an instant. Another thrust of the blade into his already bleeding heart. He steeled himself to the reality and pushed past the pain, desperate to stay in the now. So much better than that night. He closed his eyes for a moment, tunneling inward.
With a grunt he forced his eyes open, looking down at the slight weight against his arm where there was a small hand resting at his elbow. Tiny fingers with nails bitten down to the quick. A pale hand marred only by a smattering of freckles. Freckles that didn't mark like scars or blisters, freckles that kissed the sunlight-safe pale flesh giving the tender skin its only hint of color while maintaining its purity and innocence.
His eyes fixed on that small fist clinging to the sleeve of his denim shirt in a tight grip, fingers wrapped within the fabric as if holding on for dear life. The sight caused the man's vacant eyes to ignite, bordering on feeling yet stubbornly fighting the promised onslaught, his gaze following up that slender young arm lying gentle against his own. He next saw silky blond locks, soft like spun gold. The bangs too long now since he'd not taken the time to trim his hair in all the upheaval their lives had taken on. Mary was always the one to keep them trim, framing his young face with golden strands that would put angels to shame. Those luminous eyes that once held all the joys of youth amid endless possibilities now shuttered closed, long lashes masking the unrest within, the million secret terrors that haunted him through every conscious moment, the unspoken accusations and silent pleas of a child lost in the maelstrom of neglect. The face of this child was peaceful…serene. Those expressive eyes that shattered a father's heart into a billion tiny pieces every time he gazed within them held back by the drawn shades of slumber.
This child, his son, curled along the contour of his body, his young arm stretched out in a protective embrace while his fingers locked tight in desperate need. Snuggled in as close as he could get, pressed tight against his dad like he was trying to crawl inside him. It was a sight and reaction that was normally reserved for the baby. Big brother wrapped around little Sammy and sharing his crib, holding on as he waited out the night and the threat of another possible loss. Determined to stop it simply by his presence. Fierce eyes daring anyone or thing to attempt to touch the last of his family. Their breathing sounding as one, echoing through whatever rat-trap their dad had left them to. Entwined as one. Two fractured halves fitted together to make one perfect whole. His sons.
Since the fire so much had changed. Mary gone, Dean silent. Little Sammy cried for his mom, wailed and wailed with only Dean able to comfort him. Big brother cradling him in his lap and shushing his fears, whispering low in his ear, words that no one else heard…words that never breached the still that entombed them. Sammy couldn't possibly understand the words, what it all meant, what all he'd lost. All he knew was his mother's arms no longer held him. No room left for her children. No room for her to live at all.
Dean saw…Dean knew…and he was never the same, would never again be that innocent child, safe and protected, loved and cherished. His son now knew not to ask for more, knew not to demand or expect anything…not from his father, not from the world. Silently watching for whatever morsel his dad might toss his way. Quiet acceptance, and yet those eyes forever yearned.
The boy bided his time, all focus on his baby brother, attending to every need and driving his dad mad with those penetrating emerald eyes. It seemed it was almost by design that he chose to quit speaking, his eyes doing all his talking. Shadow eyes that couldn't hide the fear and debilitating loss. Accusing eyes that spoke of truths his absent father couldn't bear to hear.
His son, not even of age for first grade, learning of life and sacrifice so young…too young.
He could continue to lie there, wait for Dean to naturally wake up and then they could go about their day, pretend they were moving on, when in reality they were eternally stuck in that night. Mary forever up on that ceiling. Fire burning their souls. Ash burying all hope.
His body ached. He was too old to be sleeping on the floor…passed out a more honest depiction. But the stiffness and the pressure within his body didn't come from the floor. It was ingrained now, all he was, spreading through his muscles and seeping into his very bones. It boiled within his blood, demanding release, needing something to temper the all-encompassing grief that stole all rational thought and muted all lingering emotions. Emotion only brings pain. If nothing else, he knew that.
He tensed. Unable to lie there immersed in the smell and memories of the last few months and yet he dare not move. Any movement was sure to wake his son. Fate again plotting against him and compelling those eyes to open, pulling him back to the truth of what he'd done to his boy. All his failures and guilt there within those liquid eyes that followed him searching out hope and reassurance. He had no hope to offer. No answers. No care, not for himself or for his sons. He was too empty inside, one bottle away from death itself. One drunken night away from blessed freedom.
Twisting away, trying to slip loose, he prayed the boy would continue sleeping. He needed time to shake off these feelings, time to harden his heart lest he break apart in a flailing mass of hurt right in front of his son. He couldn't do that, not again.
His breathing quickened, his eyes squeezed tight in denial as he pushed back, lifting that small hand and maneuvering it back to the boy's chest. He sucked in another breath, afraid to let it out, terrified that the displacement of air might disturb the tentative slumber and bring him face to face with his greatest fear and most unforgivable failure. He eased back, still lying beside his son, mere inches from salvation and damnation. He wanted to hold his boy, wanted to roll back the hands of time and embrace their life before. Wanted to tell Dean everything was alright, that his mom would be there when he awoke. He wanted their sons to have a mother. He wanted his wife…his life…he wanted Mary. His eyes foundered within the mounting moisture, all control trembling as he fought that eternal battle, the struggle intense…caught between the reality he couldn't accept and the fantasy he couldn't maintain.
His vision clouded, misty tears and the dim lighting causing him to lose his way for a moment, to mask the harsh truth of their lives and allow him a minute to be lost in his head. He closed his eyes and saw her, golden hair blowing soft in the wind, a sweet smile showering him with all the love he'd ever owned, a wealth of contentment that was so fleeting his heart stopped as he reached out to touch her and she was gone.
Dejectedly he opened his eyes, a ragged gasp drawn from his lips as he stuttered within the knowledge that she was long dead. When his vision adjusted to the cruel reality of his world, he felt and then saw those mesmerizing green eyes upon him.
His boy, this sweet angelic child who bore the weight of so much loss, was silently watching and waiting. Tender eyes that never shed a tear for his mother or their circumstance locked on the ruins of a man who once thought he stood for something. This little man who showed more courage than men ten times his age stoically observing his father as he descended into that pit of despair, never uttering a word of caution or need, holding it all in within a mighty fortress. A well of emotion needing an outlet, a valve to release the mounting pressure and relieve him from his duty. A duty that a child of five could not possibly maintain and most assuredly did nothing to deserve. All his pain and suffering, all the feelings of loss and want, everything a child of five should not be forced to bear, there within the softest gaze.
John wished the torrent would let loose, that a thousand tears would fall and perhaps help ease the hurt. But none came, not in the aftermath of the fire or the months of slow descent into the hell their lives had become.
Liquid green eyes damp from the pain and need holding back. Holding it together, holding them together. That soft voice never uttering a whimper, nothing except the soft shushes as he soothed his baby brother, followed by gentle touches as he stroked his arm and belly to ease his turmoil. This boy of five now the caretaker of his family.
Everything else contained, held back, buried.
It made looking into those eyes all the harder, knowing the anguish within. Don't cry for me, little boy…cry for yourself. Cry to release the sorrows of your life.
He thought nothing could be worse than watching his son's eyes following him. Knowing what must be going through his mind, fearing the same things his father feared, having no life experience to steel him to their fate, being a child in a world gone mad. Then his ears heard the first words from his son's lips in months, words that stole the breath from him and plummeted him back into the deepest bowels of hell. Words that drove home his son's greatest fear and a father's final failing.
"Don't die," Dean whispered. His eyes filling in the rest of his terrors, his words only allowing the very worst out.
John surrendered to the force of his tears as the onslaught came. He pulled his son to his chest and held on for dear life. His and his son's barriers collapsing as they clung to each other, two hearts beating as one, two lives desperately trying to find their way out of the dark. Taking that first hesitant step back towards existing, if not living. "Dean… Oh, god…Dean. Daddy's here…" he sobbed. "Not going to die." He shook within the embrace, his son so pliant, so quiet, a rag doll wrapped in his arms. He longed for the exuberance of that night before the fire, as they put Sammy to bed and Dean raced into his arms. He longed for that child again, carefree and happy.
Wishing doesn't make it so. Wanting sometimes remains a vacant need unfulfilled. Man and child both knowing the score now, knowing their lives would never again be the same. Mary gone, their world turned inside out.
He'd lied to his son yet again. Everyone dies. Pain is all there is. But Dean was too young to know that, too young to lose all hope. John might not be much of a father anymore, but he could give his son that much, at least for now. He rubbed small circles along Dean's back, the smell of youth permeating his senses, the soap Mary favored teasing him with the life he longed for…held back just beyond reach.
All he had left was his son in his arms and the baby in his makeshift crib who seemed to be forgetting his mother more and more as each day passed. John's heart again seized, so much pain within the meager offerings he held tight to.
All standard disclaimers apply.
Makes me want to cry for all the Winchesters, for all they have lost and for all they've endured. They break my heart. And yet they always keep going, as true heroes do. Thanks for reading, B.J.