Chapter 1: These Raging Minds I
Part I - Brianna - Roger learned, not long after he returned, that he shared a bed not only with Brianna, but with her nightmares as well.
Spoilers: Missing scene from sometime after Roger returns to Brianna in Drums of Autumn (or season four)
There was a sudden shift in the mattress beneath him, imperceptible at first, but growing in intensity as time went on, all the while accompanied by creaks from the worn wood bedframe. Unable to ignore it for much longer, Roger opened his eyes and attempted to blink away the fog of sleep. It was the middle of the night when the echoes of danger loomed in the wilderness and the wind rustled through the leaves of the tall trees that surrounded the cabin. In contrast, inside the room was quiet, with its corners bathed in darkness and only a silver beam of moonlight that traversed the closest window and landed on the floor between bed and crib, casting long haunting shadows on the walls. The shift in the static of the air was palpable, that eerie electric feeling at the surface of one’s skin that warned of something amiss.
The source of the abrupt awakening was behind him, so Roger tried to turn slowly, but the calculated maneuver of his larger weight only added to the creaks of the bed. When his eyes finally adjusted to the dim light he was rewarded with the restless form of his wife. Brianna trembled and whimpered, lost in the darkness of her own mind and so far below the surface of consciousness that not even the invading moonlight could reach her. In their short time together, such devastating sight had already become familiar to him and it pressed once more on that deep wound in his heart that refused to heal.
At least she was not being vocal, meaning it was not as vivid as usual. In his yet slight understanding of her complex mind, he knew the lucid ones were the worst, they lingered far beyond awakening and weighed on her shoulders, quite literally bending her unusually straight posture, for the remaining of the day. Those were also the ones that she still kept to herself, no matter how much he urged her to talk. It took a few frustrated attempts and persistence, but Roger had eventually learned how to ease her into reality.
He observed, perplexed, as Brianna tried to curl onto herself, willing her body to become as small as it could possibly be, even though it was a useless attempt for someone as tall as she was in the small space of their bed. At the same time, her eyes were shut tightly as if refusing to gaze upon the monster that roamed freely within her. Brianna seldom allowed weakness to be shown, and seeing her in the rawest state of vulnerability was somewhat shocking to him. And every time, it reminded Roger that he too bears a share of the blame for those twisted dreams, and not even time itself would erase that heavy burden for either of them.
When Brianna began sharing a bed with Roger, he soon realized he shared the same bed with her unconscious mind as well. Some dreams where only whispers of happy contentment which dissolved in the silence of the night, while others were filled with terror and made themselves known by means of desperate cries that vibrated on the surrounding walls.
In that moment instinct fueled his hands forward, hoping to bring her back from whatever convoluted place she was, but he hesitated just shy of actual touch. Roger had learned early on neither to hold her nor force her awake in these moments, for it only made her fight harder. And hard indeed she fought, with the urgent might of a scared animal, arms and legs moving aimlessly while trying to escape an entrapment fruit of her own plagued mind. And more often than not, Roger had been in the receiving end of a blindly aimed fist. Brianna would wake up terrified then, only to see a red mark somewhere on his face, which only added to her unfounded sense of shame. In many such occasions she had reassured him, with a voice laced with pseudo bravery, which he noticed right away, that it was not as bad since he had returned.
If this was not bad, he thought to himself as he watched beads of sweat forming in her forehead, then he dreaded to even imagine how it was before.
Roger moved closer, aware of their boundaries, and by her ear said word of reassurance mingled with her name, in whispers at first and then louder with the soothing cadence of a prayer. His fingertips brushed waves of red hair aside and lightly caressed pale cheeks, hoping that could be the lifeline that pulled her out of the abyss.
She then tensed for a split second, with muscles stiff with vibrating tension, and suddenly her body was in motion again, rising from the bed with a loud gasp. With the same momentum, Brianna pressed herself against the wall near the bed, desperate, while her fingers curled apparently ready to claw her way up and as far away as possible.
Even in the dim light, Roger followed her eyes, which moved wildly not yet able to distinguish dream from reality. They were opened so wide that their otherwise dark hue had transformed into cold blue. She breathed heavily, and Roger saw her breasts, round and heavy as only a new mother’s were, rise and fall underneath the flimsy white fabric of the shift. She looked ghostly pale in contrast, with all blood seemingly drained from her features. He did not dare to touch her, even though his hands itched to do so, for he sensed that her flesh was sensitive to touch, particularly the touch of a man. So, he kept a slight distance with open arms raised, both inviting and ready for her.
Their eyes finally locked, green against the blue he adored, and there was a spark of clarity in them that told Roger she had found a tangible anchor to reality. The remnants of pain slowly drifted away from her gaze with the first touches of consciousness.
With neither sign nor warning, she launched towards him and he caught her full weight in his arms. She was far from being a petite woman, and the full force of body and despair brought him over the edge of the bed and sent him flying backwards, Brianna and all, onto the floor.
Roger landed painfully on his back with a muffled grunt, still holding her firmly against his chest. In their short flight she had not stopped embracing him, but simply held to him seemingly moved by trust.
"Sorry.” She murmured softly with her lips brushing against the skin of his neck. Her voice betrayed exhaustion, still devoid of its usual fire.
"Nevermind that, hen." He whispered in her ear. “Are you alright?”
Her breath was still labored, with a heartbeat so strong that for a brief moment he feared her heart would rip through the skin and enter his own chest.
Brianna only nodded, voice not yet fully trusted, and buried her face deeper into the space between his neck and shoulder. Her shift was lightly damp from the exertion of the nightmare, and the heat from her skin slowly evaporated against the night air. And when he brushed light fingers along one bare shoulder, exposed by the shift, he felt goosebumps on her skin.
There was another whimper in the room and Roger immediately shifted his attention towards the crib. So did Brianna, that lifted her head acutely aware of the little presence as if he was a natural extension of her own body. The connection they shared was a powerful one, but he now understood that the strong pull the little boy had on him was already a force to be reckoned with. However, she made no attempt to move, clearly assessing the needs of her child by sound alone, even with an exhausted mind. Only when the whimpers turned into a sigh, and the small bundle settled quietly among his own warmth, she allowed herself to rest her head in his chest once again.
He held her in place not inclined to move either. Out of habit he started softly humming the first notes of a song from a time yet to come, their time, so to transport her mind to a place where she did not know what abuse and pain truly meant.
Roger felt her body relax accompanied by a deep sigh, hopefully entering a dreamless state until morning. The time for words was long gone, since he knew well enough what sort of monsters roamed her mind in the dark. He was utterly powerless to contain the traumatic creations of her brain, and that was a fact he had to begrudgingly accept.
He only hoped that when they came, because they inevitably would, he could be there to catch her.
Chapter 2: These Raging Minds II
Part II - Roger: As she absently stroked the healing flesh of his scarred throat, Brianna wondered if the songs still came to him as effortlessly as they did before, with an overwhelming urge to sing, or if he now made a conscious effort to suffocate them before he was even tempted to form the notes.
Spoilers: Missing scene from The Fiery Cross, sometime after Alamance
There was an itch at the very tip of her fingers from an innate desire to capture the view before her into a canvas, even though she knew the natural powders that inhabited the strokes of her paintbrush would pale in comparison to the intensity of the surrounding colors. Brianna felt that the scenery was vaguely familiar, but she was unable to attach it to a specific memory, perhaps a consequence of being displaced in time herself, as if she had already been there, or is yet to be.
The grass in which she sat extended towards a lake adorned with purple flowers near the shore. She placed a hand in front of her eyes, always mindful of her fair skin, and even though the sun was bright above in the sky it neither burn, nor was it warm. That peculiar sensation, or lack thereof, demanded a rational explanation, but before Brianna could analyze it, something in her peripheral vision caught her attention. There was a group of trees a short distance away, inconsequential in their rooted stillness, were it not for the large white oak that stood taller than all others, at the center. She observed then, overcome with horror, that a looped noose was suspended from one of its branches, balancing in the wind.
A chill ran down her spine as she opened her mouth to a soundless scream.
Then, without warning, the world she inhabited was suddenly on the move with its watercolors blending together, and when she placed one hand above the grass that was rapidly disappearing below, she felt the earth trembling underneath.
With a sense of urgency and blood pounding in her ears, Brianna opened her eyes to a darker world than the one she had left. Yet, the motion persisted. She blinked once, twice, allowing her eyes to adjust to the lack of light. For a brief moment Brianna though she was still inside her head, trapped in some sort of awful twist of the previous dream but the sight of Roger beside her, fighting angrily against himself, felt real enough to push her into action. In one swift move, only slowed by a short struggle against the tangled sheet, she rose and leaned over him.
"Roger!" She called out, voice cracking with the remnants of a restless sleep.
By now she was already familiar, as much as one could ever be, with the incoherent nightmares that drove him awake in the middle of the night, often startling her in the process. However, this was something else entirely, for it had taken over his body in the most horrific fashion.
His eyes were closed, looking inward at a sight only visible to him, while his hands scratched desperately at his damaged throat as though pulling at an invisible rope that dug its rough fibers against the skin there. Strangled grunts came out of his contorted mouth with each attempt to draw air into lungs, and with the effort to breathe Roger was on the verge of choking himself.
Both her hands trembled while roaming just above his body, not fully knowing where to touch. But in spite of the hesitation, her mind was fully alert. Brianna knew exactly where he had wandered off, his mind had plunged into his own demise without conscious consent. She had not seen Roger as he hanged not so long ago, although she had raced against time itself to find him. Nevertheless, the image before her now would be engraved in her head as a close resemblance. When Brianna arrived by the large white oak, she had thought him dead, although the finality of it had not completely register right away. And the sight had been so horrifying that even after all this time, she still remembered the dreadful sensation of all blood being drained at once and replaced by an icy fluid that stopped her heart momentarily. It had only started again prompted by a moan from the seemingly lifeless form of Roger which swung from the branch between life and death.
In the bed right before her eyes, his whole body tensed at once and she instinctively took hold of his hands, trying to pry them away from his neck. Despite her firm grip, Roger resisted with the strength implied by his sturdy frame, but seldom fully unleashed. In that moment a far recess of her brain, the sardonic side of her, noticed that she was locked in a physical representation of the mind struggle they had been living in the past months, pushing and pulling without one fully yielding to the other.
Roger had tried to speak at length ever since they had returned to the Ridge, albeit remaining conscious of the oddness of his damaged voice. But as time went by, along with increasing frustration, the words became few and far between. Eventually he became silent again. In the void left by his words Brianna had learned to read the subtle changes in his stance, the ever-changing expressions in his face, and all of which he did not speak aloud. All of it was nearly deafening, and the deeper the silence grew between them, the louder her mind became.
He had always been a man of eloquent word and amusing wit, traits always expressed freely. Only now he could not, or would not unleash his thoughts, not even to her. Brianna was convinced that in spite of his early efforts, Roger must have grown tired of the ever-present judgment, unspoken as it was, and the looks of pity surely had made him progressively withdraw into miserable thoughts, mentally out of reach from her. Then, in the absence of sound, Roger often disappeared into the woods for hours on end, and when he finally came back, as silent as he had left, Brianna had to bite down the bitter remarks at the tip of her tongue. Often enough, she fancied surrendering to a selfish spree that would fill the void with screams, loud and enraged, and throw the loneliness she felt mercilessly back at him. However, a quick look into the desolation etched across his face ceased all thoughts of that kind.
She called for him, desperately now, but he remained completely oblivious, lost in a creation rooted in the reality where death was an imminent conclusion. Amidst the struggle to breathe his face became an angry shade of red against the faded amber light from the hearth. The muscles in his arms were strained beyond capacity, resisting her every move. Yet, she refused to surrender Roger, unconscious or not, to the darkest corners of his mind. They had lived through far more than it was rationally conceivable, and this was yet another test to their combined resilience.
With renewed determination she slipped her fingers between his, entwining their hands firmly, and pulled at them once more. Without as much resistance as before, his hands held unconsciously onto hers and slowly departed from his neck. With both his hands safely between hers, she leaned further down and placed her lips above his, barely touching.
“Breathe, Roger. Breathe!” She murmured continuously like a mantra to bring him back safely.
As if triggered awake by her calling, he rose from the bed with a loud gasp, voraciously consuming the air he had been deprived of. Brianna caught the abrupt motion of his body with her hands and felt his heart beat fast underneath. Long dark lashes moved rapidly, trying to make sense of the surroundings. The air passed through his damaged throat with some effort, that much she could tell, and from the way he panted it must be exceedingly painful as well.
The relief she immediately felt when he woke up was short lived once his eyes found hers. Their shade of moss, usually intense and lively, was clouded with a hint of tears, and behind them lay a vast field of regret, fear and anger, all combining into the overwhelming loss of oneself.
Brianna saw a changed Roger in those eyes, one that was still somewhat foreign to her. And among the flood of emotions, she saw in them a question, as plainly as if he had voiced it.
He parted his lips to speak though only a strangled sound came out, which made him visibly self-conscious. Being the only one privy to that level of vulnerability made her own throat constrict, while her eyes burned at the edges, threatening tears as well.
Carefully, she moved around the bed and sat against the headboard, resting her back on the pillows there.
"Come here." Brianna said while lifting her arms in invitation.
And he went willingly, too tired and greatly in need to do otherwise. Brianna welcomed the full weight of his body, the warmth of his skin on her cooler one, and even the fast beating if his heart against hers.
Roger molded his body to hers, as his son often did, with his head on her chest and arms surrounding her, seeking the sort of comfort only she could provide.
Cradling Roger against her, she brushed the dark waves of his hair, with fingers traveling down towards the large expanse of his back, feeling the bumps of fading scars underneath their tips. His skin was clammy to the touch after fighting against himself, but she was not willing to let him go.
“I Iove you, no matter what.” She said firmly just so the words cut through the silence of the room to answer his unspoken question. He did not reply, only let out a long-held sigh of relief and with it his body relaxed, fully melting into hers.
She realized he had been alone with his thoughts for far too long, mourning the memory of singing, and that sort of pain, with the doubts that accompanied it, were a heavy burden to carry by himself.
As she absently stroked the healing flesh of his scarred throat, Brianna wondered if the songs still came to him as effortlessly as they did before, with an overwhelming urge to sing, or if he now made a conscious effort to suffocate them before he was even tempted to form the notes. It took a while and a few sleepless nights, but she had finally relinquished to the notion that her memories of Roger singing, which played in her mind frequently, would have to be enough from then on.
However, Roger was yet to surrender to the inevitable conclusion that that piece of him was lost, perhaps forever. A piece that was so intrinsically his, natural and all-encompassing of his sense of self, that he felt like his own identity had been compromised. What he had yet to understand, was that he was far more than just that piece. Brianna saw him as an assortment of the fierce loyalty, integrity, compassion and courage that made him a worthy man. But he was also determined and stubborn in equal measure, and that lesson was not one he would easily learn from her. He had to do it alone, or not at all.
His very soul was as bruised as his throat, but she would wait patiently until he found himself again.