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Little Boy Blue

Chapter Text

"Oh, thank God you're here!"

Henry stays silent, staring through the glass that separates him from Sal. 

"They said I only get one phone call; I didn't know who else to talk to."

This isn't real. None of this feels real. This is like the time Henry found his son laying on the ground, holding his bleeding face in his hands while a large dog tore into his wife's throat. This is like the time he saw his son standing there, silently staring at Diane's pale corpse. 

Henry hates that he's getting used to this feeling. 

"Please, Dad...I need your help. I need you to go back to Addison Apartments and--"

"It's been blocked off. Thought you would have realized that."

Sal's eyes widen beneath the holes in his prosthetic. "Yeah, but...I--"

"It's blocked off because of you. Because you turned that place into a crime scene."

Henry tries to ignore the sharp pang in his heart. Sal looks like he's just been slapped. Maybe it would be kinder if Henry had ever actually done that. 

"Dad..." Henry closes his eyes. Sal's voice has started quivering. He becomes far less sure that this was ever a good idea. 

Why hadn't he just stayed home? Why had he picked up the phone in the first place?

"Dad, I'm innocent. I swear, I didn't do it!"

"Their blood was on your hands." Henry isn't speaking metaphorically; a picture is worth a thousand words, after all, and there are pictures of Sal being dragged away in bloodied handcuffs all over the news. 

"Dad--"

"Don't." Henry takes a deep breath. It almost doesn't feel like it's him speaking when he finally says "You are not my son. My son is not a murderer."

He doesn't even look at him as he gets up and leaves. He can only barely hear Sal's muffled cries behind his prosthetic and the glass. 

The numbness he feels as he goes through the ordeal of exiting prison and starts driving away is all too familiar. He drives on autopilot; moves his car strictly by reflex. 

For the first time in years, he finds himself pulling into the parking lot of a liquor store. Grabs the biggest but cheapest bottle of whiskey that he can find, pays for it, and drives home. 

He's three shots in before he lets his head fall into his hands. Before he starts to silently weep.

Henry knows he hasn't been perfect. He knows he's screwed up so many things, for himself and for Sal. 

But just days ago, he'd been so sure that he'd mostly done right by him.

Hadn't he?

The bottle holds no answers for him.

Chapter Text

Henry still sees her face when he closes his eyes. 

Turns to the side; that part of the pillow is cooler. It feels nice around his head. 

Diane had always been pale; pale skin, pale hair, pale eyes. A rather startling pale grey, even more striking than his own blue eyes. Pretty; not in a supermodel beautiful way, but in a down-to-earth, girl-next-door sort of way. 

He'd always wondered why she'd settled down with an average Joe like him. It's not just that she was better-looking than him; that's not really much of a feat, he's always thought. But she could light up a room everywhere she went; she'd been the vivacious sort of woman who'd always had a song in her heart, who always saw the best of everything and everyone. Light and life shone around her, even when she wasn't doing or saying anything of note.

He thinks there's probably still a part of him that's in denial. Thinks that the blood-drained body with the grey face and limp hair wasn't really her, at all. 

It wasn't Diane. 

He opens his eyes. They've adjusted to the darkness; in the shadows, the white wall of his bedroom looks even grayer than she had when he'd finally stumbled across her. Or rather, what was left of her.

He sighs and gets up. For a late night snack, he tells himself, not for a night cap, however badly he wants one; after a time in the hospital months ago, he's decided to stop keeping alcohol in the house. At least for a while. 

It had been a wake-up call. Not for him; he didn't care about his health. He didn't give a shit what happened to him. Honestly, Henry still doesn’t.

No. It was because Sal, curled up and asleep, head buried in his knees and arms in the uncomfortable hospital chair, had been the first thing Henry had seen when he'd come to. 

The guilt had been indescribable. Evidently it hadn't been bad enough that his son had spent more time in hospitals than many adults; it hadn't been bad enough that he'd gone into shock by walking in on his mother's remains moments before Henry had realized that something was wrong.

Now he'd almost witnessed his father die, all because of one piss-poor coping mechanism he'd picked up in recent years. 

Sal's been through enough; Henry knows that painfully well. He doesn't need to be an orphan, on top of everything else.

The light is already on in the kitchen. Henry frowns, already knowing what the cause is. 

There's Sal, sitting at the kitchen table. A book is open in front of him, and a steaming mug is next to him. Tea or cocoa, Henry thinks; his son has taken a liking to black coffee—he takes after Henry in one more way, that way--but he wouldn’t drink that at this time of night. His hair is down, for once; some time after The Incident--well, The First Incident, Henry supposes he should call it now--Diane had put his short hair up in pigtails as a joke, trying to cheer him up. He'd seemed to love them; he's kept them ever since. 

Henry hadn't understood then, and still sort of doesn't. He doesn’t fully understand why Sal likes to paint his nails or put on skirts and dresses or wear earrings, either. It's all harmless, though, and really; whatever joy his son can still get out of this life, Henry will support.

"Sal?"  he asks. 

"Hey, Dad." The boy looks up at him. He isn't wearing either of his prosthetics; a large, soft pink eyepatch covers his right eye socket and a surgical mask covers the lower half of his face. They're still not enough to hide the damage that that damned dog did so long ago; Henry can see where the untouched skin around Sal's left eye gives way to skin grafts that don't quite match the rest of his face, the sunken-in part of the bridge of his nose, and angry red scar tissue. 

But it helps. Henry knows it helps; it makes his son feel better. 

"What're you doing up, Bud?" He asks the question less because he doesn't know the answer, and more out of concern. "Tomorrow's a school day." 

"I know. I'll go back to sleep in a minute. Just..." Henry sees Sal's grip on the mug's handle tighten. 

"Another nightmare?" he asks. 

The boy nods. His bangs bob up and down as he does. 

The right thing to do would be to ask "Do you want to talk about it?" Henry knows it, and he knows Sal does, too; Sal has always been a smart one. Diane had always said that he got that from him. Henry’s never really been sure of that, though; neither his son nor his wife had any particular interest in computers, but they'd both been intuitive when it came to other people. Both of them were social butterflies; Sal still seemed determined to find the best in everyone, no matter how they looked at him. 

The bullying had gotten worse, these last few years. Children could be cruel, but as far as Henry sees, it's teenagers that are the worst. Young ones, specifically. 

Henry needs to talk to Sal about that, too. Really, there's so much they need to talk about. 

At that particular moment, though, Gizmo jumps up on the kitchen table, effectively breaking Henry from his train of thought and making Sal jump a bit. The large, fluffy cat rubs against Sal's face; Henry can hear him purring from far away. 

"Hey, Gizmo," he hears Sal murmur. His mouth is covered, but Henry knows he's smiling. 

Henry's mind drifts as he heats up some canned soup, the brand that's far too salty to really be enjoyable and too watery to really have any nutritional value but is easy to make in a pinch. 

Gizmo's been a part of their family for years. Sometime after Sal had been attacked by that dog, Diane had suggested that they get him a pet to cheer him up. 

Henry still feels like an asshole; he'd been so adamant against the idea. A good chunk of it had been the financial troubles that Sal's various surgeries and prosthetics had cost them; he hadn't thought they'd be able to afford another body to feed, at that time. 

It was more than that, though. He'd struggled with his own emotions, struggled with sorting out what he felt and when he should be allowed to focus on it. Simply, it had boiled down to him not wanting to get attached to another living being.

He'd come so close to losing everything, that horrible afternoon. Henry had only been gone for a few minutes, and when he'd come back, his tiny son had been screaming as he held his bloody face, and Diane had been struggling to get a large, dark-furred dog off her. 

He doesn't even remember where he'd been or what he'd been doing. All he knows is that it couldn't possibly have been important enough to miss that. 

The microwave dings. The soup is warm, rather than hot, but the broth is savory. It helps soothe him as it goes down his throat. 

He continues to think, as he lets his gaze settle on his son. He's turning thirteen this year; officially becoming a teenager, taking that first big step towards adulthood. 

There'd been a brief but intense window of Henry's life when he'd thought Sal wouldn't make it this far. 

He'd detached; thrown himself into work and chores around the house, all while Diane--still recovering from her own injuries--dealt with the more important things in their lives. Diane had been the one to welcome Gizmo into their home; the cat had latched onto Sal almost immediately. Diane had been the one who'd helped guide Sal through putting in his glass eyeball and working the latches of his prosthetic. Diane had been the one who comforted him through his nightmares and through the cruelty he now faced in his day-to-day life. 

Henry is ashamed of it now. He'd been ashamed of it then, too. But seeing that tiny body bundled up in that hospital bed, head completely wrapped in bandages, had hammered in just how easily this bright young light could be snuffed out. 

He hadn't wanted it to hurt, in case...something did happen, and Sal really was taken from him. So he'd pulled away. 

Henry knows that that was unfair. Mostly to Sal, but also to him; what kind of father doesn't take every opportunity that he can to appreciate his children? Besides, it doesn't make much sense, now that his son is alive before him. Physically disabled, mentally ill, and still grieving, but alive. 

Henry would be lying if he said he wasn't proud of his son. He remembers Diane holding him as a baby, delighted as the dark blue of his eyes gave way to a paler shade closer to Henry's, delighted as hair the same shade became fuzz around his scalp. Delighted that he seemed to be taking so much after his father. 

But really...everything important that Sal is--strong, determined, friendly, kind--he'd gotten from her. 

Henry likes to think that, if she were still here, Diane would be proud of him, too.

Gizmo is walking on top of the pages of Sal's book. Sal doesn't seem to mind; he scratches the cat down the length of his spine until he reaches the base of his tail. Henry had grown up with dogs, so getting used to Gizmo--named by Sal, after the character from his favorite movie at the time--had been quite an experience. Diane had told him that Sal wanted him because of how talkative he was; the way Diane put it, he'd yelled at them at the animal shelter until they decided to bring him home.

Henry doesn't have the heart to remind Sal that Gizmo isn't allowed up on the dining room table or the kitchen counters. 

"What're you reading?" he asks. It isn't 'What was your nightmare about?' or 'How are things at school?' or ‘Are you doing all right?’ but the way he sees it, Sal will come to him if he ever wants to talk about something that important.

At least, that's what he hopes. 

"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," Sal says. 

Henry blinks. The answer surprises him a little; that doesn’t sound like a book a twelve-year-old would be interested in. "Oh?" he asks. "You enjoying it so far?"

"Mm-hmm." Gizmo finally jumps down from the table. Henry absently reaches down with one hand; Gizmo takes the invitation and rubs against it. 

It's only the three of them, in this large house. It all feels so much colder and emptier, since Diane's murder. 

They're still worth it, though. It's all worth hanging onto; it's worth it, trying to make it work. 

It's really all that Henry can do.

Chapter Text

It’s nearing the evening, the day they move into Addison Apartments. Henry honestly can’t believe his family’s luck; it’s not bad enough that his wife was murdered and his son was attacked by a dog, but it turns out that a gruesome murder happened in a room on their floor. Obviously he feels horrible for the poor woman that was murdered there, but there’s a horrible, selfish part of him that’s mostly irritated by how it inconveniences their moving attempt.

He only hopes Sal is staying out of trouble. The boy’s always been a bit nosy; too curious for his own good.

It hurts, sometimes, how much like his mother Sal is.

It’s that thought that leads to Henry taking a few gulps from his flask. A few gulps turns into more, and before he knows it, he’s taking a cat nap in his computer desk chair.  

It’s progress, even if it might not look like it to the untrained eye. He hasn’t sent himself to the hospital this time, at least.

He wakes up hours later to find that the officers are gone and that Sal still hasn’t come home. At some point, Henry goes to use the bathroom. He knows Sal isn’t too thrilled that they now only have one to share between the two of them, but Henry is secretly relieved by it.

Now there’s a smaller chance of Sal getting to…

Maybe it’s because he’s on that train of thought, but when he realizes that his sleep medication is gone even though he distinctly remembers putting it here earlier that day, he begins to panic.

“Shit,” he hisses. Forgetting the reason he came in here in the first place, he runs out of the bathroom and into the hall.

He has to find his son.

 

Henry gets home early, that day. Glancing at the kitchen clock when he gets inside, he realizes that it's nearly four-thirty PM. His son is most likely home, right now.

The house is quiet, but that doesn't mean much to him; for the past few years, Sal's gotten quieter, drawing into himself more and more. His teachers say that he's still friendly and polite, but that there's been a noticeable change in how outgoing he is. 

It's probably puberty, Henry thinks. A lot of things change when that accursed time comes around; Henry wouldn't go through it again, for the world. 

He's exhausted, not really feeling up to putting in the effort to make dinner. Take-out sounds good to him. He’ll ask Sal what he feels like for dinner; Henry thinks either pizza or Chinese, but maybe his son will have a different idea. 

He frowns when he winds up outside his son's room. His door is closed; that's strange enough. But Gizmo is outside of it, scratching at it in a way that almost seems frantic. As soon as the cat notices him, he looks up at him with large yellow eyes and meows. It's a different meow than usual; it's louder and fuller. Almost like the cat is yelling at him. 

Under other circumstances, Henry would find it amusing. But something about this particular situation seems off. 

Being careful to step over the cat, he knocks on Sal's door. "Sal?" he calls. "I was thinking about ordering out for dinner. Any preferences?"

Silence. 

Henry tries again, this time with a louder, more rapid knock. "Sal?" 

Again, no answer. 

As his son had grown older and started valuing his privacy more, Henry had done his best to give him space. It’s something he'd had to expect; children become teenagers. They grow up. That doesn't mean he hadn't been sad when it had started to happen to Sal. 

Even so, his worry overtakes his usual desire to give his son privacy. Thankfully, the door isn't locked. 

Sal is sitting cross-legged on his bed. His over-sized sweater almost covers his hands, and his torn jeans show his knees. One of his socks has a hole in it; nothing appears to be out of the ordinary, making it seem like Henry's worry was unfounded. All he really takes away from the sight is that, for his next paycheck, he needs to take Sal out to shop for new clothes. "Did you hear me?" he asks.

Sal nods, making his pigtails bob. "Yeah! Yep!" he says, almost too quickly. "Um...how about Mexican?"

Henry hadn't thought about Mexican takeout, but now that Sal's said it, it sounds good. "All right; Mexican, it is." He means to back out of Sal's room yet again, but something stops him. Maybe he's imagining it, but the way Sal is huddled around himself almost makes it look like he's hiding something. The look in his one good eye is one of a deer getting caught in the headlights. 

Henry frowns, knowing he's missing something. "You okay, Bud?" he asks cautiously.

Sal nods again, faster this time. Again, seemingly too fast. "Y-yeah! Just fine!" 

He speaks with the tone of someone doing something they shouldn't. 

Nothing appears immediately wrong, though, so Henry leaves it alone, shutting the door just after Gizmo bursts through it like a fluffy bat out of Hell. 

The incident stays with him as he makes the order on the phone, does some work from home on his computer, and picks up the order when the doorbell rings. It stays there as he and his son eat in silence; Henry keeps looking for an opportune time to ask if something's wrong, but every time the words are on his tongue, something grips him, and he takes another bite of rice instead. 

It isn't until Sal offers to help him clean up that the pieces begin falling into place. While his son stands over the sink, he pulls his sleeves up only a little.

Just enough for Henry to get a glimpse of bandage.

"Whoa; what happened?" The words are out before he can stop them. He points at the bandage to make his point.

It's Sal's reaction that solidifies it. Rather than give him a proper answer, Sal yanks the sleeve down. "Nothing," he says quickly. 

"Sal," Henry says. 

Sal crosses his arms over his chest, quickly turning away from him. Henry's heartbeat quickens; something cold seems to be creeping through his veins. "Nothing!" his son cries. "Really!"

With only a few steps, Henry is standing in front of him. "Sal, show me your hands." He keeps his voice low and level and calm, but makes it clear that he isn't asking.

Sal refuses to look at him; he just seems to curl in on himself even more. They stand there in silence for what feels like an eternity before Henry's son finally lets out a shaky breath and does what he's told.

Henry is gentle as he pulls the sleeves up. He tries to stay calm as he takes in what he sees; both of Sal's wrists are wrapped in white sports tape. Red and brown blossom underneath, all along the insides of his wrists. 

Seeing them, all Henry can think is that he should have known about this. Razors had been disappearing from his bathroom; band-aids, cotton swabs, and gauze all seemed to constantly be in short supply around their house. Just half an hour before, his son had frantically gone to cover up his arms when he'd walked into his room. These were all recent.

How had Henry not seen this sooner? 

His train of thought is interrupted when he hears a muffled sniffle. He finally looks into the eye holes of Sal's prosthetic. Now that he needs a prosthetic, it's usually harder to tell what he's thinking and feeling. 

Not right now. Tears have gathered only in Sal's left eye, because the tear duct in his right one had been ripped away when that damned dog had gone after him.. "Dad," he says, and his voice is so thick and shaky it breaks Henry's heart, "I...I'm sorry..."

Henry lets go of his son's arms and wraps his own around him, gently shushing him. "No, Bud," he murmurs, "Don't be sorry. I'm not angry; I promise."

That seems to do it. Sal clings to the front of Henry's work shirt and starts to sob. Henry lets him; Diane had made him promise that he wouldn't be one of those 'Boys don't cry; real men don't show their emotions' dads when they'd learned that she was pregnant with a boy. Right now, Henry fully intends to keep that promise; not just for her, but for Sal. Whatever pain his son is in right now, whatever is making him do this to himself, isn't going to be helped or stopped by Henry telling him to 'man up,' like his own father might have. 

Sal is growing up; it's an exciting but painful fact that Henry has to face every day. But at twelve years old, Sal is still so tiny; much shorter than many of the boys in his grade. And he's still so small in his arms.

Without thinking, one of Henry's hands creeps up and places itself on the back of Sal's head. His fingertips gently stroke some of the softer hairs there, while his other hand rubs Sal's back in a way he remembers always soothed him when he was young. 

"Dad, I..." Sal manages to say through hiccups, "I'm not--I swear, I don't..." The words give way to more sobs. 

"Easy, Bud." Henry gives him a squeeze. He's noticed that Sal still seems to have some baby fat around his stomach. Is he self-conscious about it? Society tends to be cruel to heavier people; it had certainly been like that he was Sal's age, and as far as he can tell, that hasn't changed a whole lot. To have that be the case, on top of Sal's face...How bad is the bullying? How much of that contributes to what Henry had walked in on earlier? "Take your time. We got plenty."

"I'm not trying to kill myself when I do it, Dad! I swear!" Sal's grip on his shirt tightens; he leans his head slightly to the side, pressing his forehead against where Henry's jaw meets his neck. "It's just...after I do it, I feel a little better. That's it...that--that's all."

Henry takes a deep breath. There are so many thoughts and emotions running through him right now, all intense, but very few of them are going to make this situation better. He needs to be calm for this; Sal needs him to be strong. 

It doesn't matter that Henry really just wants to cry along with him. 

"This makes you feel better?" he asks. "Better from what?" He hopes Sal gets where he's going with this, what he's trying to get at. 'What can possibly be so bad in your life that this is the only thing that makes you feel better?' is probably too blunt, not to mention needless. 

Henry can only imagine all the things that are going wrong in his son's life. 

"From school," Sal says. "From bullies." There's one problem; one Henry could have seen from a mile away. "F-from the memories, and the nightmares..."

There it is. Honestly, it's no wonder...

Henry shouldn't be surprised. Why should he be the only one who's developed unhealthy coping mechanisms from all the things that have happened to them?

Sal starts talking again, much quieter this time. Henry gently asks him to repeat himself, and almost wishes he hadn’t.

“Although sometimes…” Sal whispers. “S-sometimes, I wish I was dead. I wish that dog had killed me, or that guy who killed Mom got me, instead. I wish…” Sal sobs, hard enough to violently jerk his small body. “Sometimes, I wish I could go to sleep and not wake up.”

Henry squeezes his eyes shut against tears that threaten to spill. His arms tighten around Sal, to the point that he’s afraid that it’s painful. He takes a deep breath; he’s proud that his voice only shakes a little. "I see. Thanks for telling me, Sal...that couldn't have been easy." He gives his son--his little boy, his baby--another squeeze. "I'm just sorry that I just found out about this...I want you to know that you can talk to me about anything." 

"You've been so busy lately, though..." Sal whispers. 

Henry shakes his head. "Doesn't matter, Bud; jobs and money come and go, but you're always going to be my son." He means them as he says them, now, all while he remembers how often he's been gone due to work. 

He shoves it to the back of his mind. He can wallow in his guilt at some other point. 

"You've got your own things to deal with,” Sal says against his shoulder. “...I know you miss her, too."

Henry rubs his boy's back. "Honey," he murmurs, "I'm your dad. You’re my kid. It's not your job to worry about me." 

Sal just sniffles and tries to nuzzle closer to him. Henry kisses his head and goes back to rubbing his back.

He isn't sure how long they stay like that, but he doesn't mind. He'll hold Sal and let him cry against his shoulder as long as he needs. 

What they've been doing...the way they've been going...it isn't good enough. Henry makes a mental note to get the two of them into therapy. It'll make their finances tighter, but it's a small price to pay. 

 

He nearly literally runs into the building’s custodian in the elevator. The woman is wearing a purple jumpsuit and carrying a ‘Wet Floor’ sign, so he knows she’s the custodian before she even has to say anything.

‘Sometimes, I wish I was dead.’

Henry is so frantic, he’s sure that none of the words coming out of his mouth are making any sense. Thankfully she recognizes him as one of the new tenants and tells him that she’s already met his son. The last she saw of him, she says, he was heading to the basement, where she and her own son live.

‘I wish that dog had killed me, or that guy who killed Mom got me, instead.’

He thanks her profusely on the elevator ride down. He completely forgets his manners, not bothering to ask if he can come in and just barging ahead as soon as she unlocks the door. He knocks on the door with the large, garish ‘Keep Out’ sign on it, and sure enough, there’s Sal, sitting on the floor with a tall, lanky boy with long hair that appears to be about his age.

‘Sometimes, I wish I could go to sleep and not wake up.’

“Sal!” he cries.

His son looks up at him with bright eyes. “Hey, Dad,” he says. “This is Larry.”

Henry is so focused on the task at hand, he can’t bring himself to feel happy that his son is making friends. “Sal, come out to the basement with me? We need to talk.”

He realizes that there must have been a better way to ask that, because he can tell from here that that just made his son anxious, but it's too late to take the words back now. "Uh...okay, Dad," he says, getting up. "Talk to you tomorrow, Larry?"

The other boy, who Henry notices looks just like Lisa, nods. "Sure thing, Sally Face."

Henry frowns on the way out of the apartment. He doesn't like the nickname his son had gotten at his last school; it's so cruel. But his son insists on people his age calling him that, so he supposes he can't really complain. 

Once the door is closed behind them, Henry doesn't beat around the bush. "Sal, why did you take my sleeping pills?" He's expecting all manner of different responses; he expects denial or maybe another tearful confession. Maybe his son has been having trouble sleeping again, and thought he'd get a little help. 

"Larry and I helped catch the man who killed the lady who lived next to us. I, um...used that to drug his tea." Sal looks down at his fidgeting hands. "I'm sorry, Dad; I know I shouldn't have stolen from you. I'll help pay for what I took."

Of all the responses Henry had expected, that is definitely not one of them. "Oh." He spends probably too much time blinking at Sal. "I see." 

At least his son hadn't tried to...do anything permanent that he might have regretted later. 

Of course, now there's an entirely new thing for him to worry about. "You're very brave, Sal, but Christ..." He runs a hand through his thinning hair, which he swears just got even thinner from today. "That was so dangerous." That's a goddamn understatement if Henry's ever heard one, but this far into fatherhood, he's learned that reacting too loudly or heavily won't do any good. "Please, next time you have suspicions about something like that, go to the police. The police were right there today!"

Sal lowers his face, and Henry suddenly has the idea that that wasn't the right thing to say. "You're right; I'm sorry, Dad." His son sounds defeated. 

Henry sighs and puts a hand on Sal's shoulder. "Anyway, don't worry about the sleep aid. I can get it with insurance." He actually can't, but Sal doesn't have to know that. This isn't something he should have to worry about. "Come home? I think we've both had a big day; we've earned some takeout, hmm?"

Sal nods, making his pigtails bounce. "Yeah, that sounds good. How about pizza? Larry was just telling me about a great pizza place nearby."

"All right; that sounds good." Henry takes all the fear he just felt and shoves it to the back of his head, where he can properly process it later on. He changes the subject on the elevator ride up.

"So...tell me about this Larry."