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And I Knew Nothing

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He supposes he’s always done this. One way or another. This is nothing new.

He regards this fact - and yes, it is a fact - with a kind of essential numbness. Carol said he had to let himself feel it; he had wanted to scream at her then, wanted to scream that she didn’t understand, that it wasn’t that simple, wasn’t as simple as just letting, because he wasn’t doing it on purpose, he wasn’t trying, he wasn’t holding anything back with any kind of effort. He wants to feel. He wants to feel so fucking badly. But every time he reaches for it he runs into a wall so thick and high and cold that he can’t even touch it. It’s covered in spikes, razorwire. Behind it stretches a vast, cruel no-man’s land, and that much of it terrifies him, he thinks it might literally kill him if he reaches it, but he wants to. He does. He knows he needs to.

He knows because it’s what she would have said.

He’s dry, parched, staggering along through a trackless hardpan, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the fucking drought.

He would give anything to feel, because right now he feels like he might be forgetting her, andhe would rather die than let that happen.

Rather die than let her die all over again.

Heat, scorching, but he barely feels that either. This is something else: more than once in the last three weeks he’s thought about Hell and about how if there is one he’s probably going there, and he’s wondered if maybe this is actually it, except he doesn’t for a moment imagine this is as bad as things get. He thinks about Hell and about how maybe it would just be better to speed up that whole part of the process, if it’s coming anyway.

She would have been angry with him, would have told him to hold on, keep fighting. She would have told him he was strong, that he’s too good for this. That she can’t believe he would just give up this way, after everything. But what he had believed in those early terrible days and what he finds himself - quite against his will - believing now is that she, that wonderful, confounding girl, never got it. Not really. She was tough, she was brave, she was beautiful in every possible way, but she never got it.

She could always still feel.

He stops when he sees the barn.

Except at first he doesn’t see a barn. At first he thinks he’s been literally thrown back in time, and there it is. She’ll be waiting for him on the porch with a jar in her hand and that cocky little smile pulling at her mouth - that smile he learned to love so much - and she’ll raise it to him in a salute and say Well hello there, Mister Dixon, you sure do look mighty thirsty.

He hates himself. That sounds very overwrought, very melodramatic, very pathetic, and it is all of those things, but it is also very, very true.

He could have pulled her back. She was right there. He could have reached out, pulled her back. He knew something was wrong. All the angles were skewed. Everything felt suddenly like a nightmare. But in nightmares you watch the terrible thing happen and you’re paralyzed. You can’t do anything. So he stood there and he watched her slaughtered in front of him and he did nothing.

Killing that woman was nothing. It was all nothing.

He feels nothing. He feels like nothing. All of that, it all bled out of him. Entombed with her. Left behind.

He sits down under a tree because there’s no water and there isn’t going to be any water and he literally can’t think of anything else to do.

He pulls out the few cigarettes he still has. She never liked them, never liked when he smoked them, but she’s not exactly around anymore so he supposes he can do whatever the fuck he wants. Lights one. Inhales. Stares up at the sky, at the sun, thinks about going blind.

He’s always done this. Pushes himself too hard. Pushes himself away. Tortures himself with looking back. It’s easier and it makes him feel like he has a little bit of control. And someone has to do it, now that certain people aren’t around anymore to do it for him. Someone has to remind him that he’s a fucking piece of shit.

Merciless sun, but here under the trees it looks almost soft. Dry grass, itching. Dust and smoke in his nose.

Son of man, you know only a heap of broken images, where the sun beats, and the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, and the dry stone no sound of water.

Where the fuck did that come from? How does he know that?

Well, it sure as fuck works.

He looks at the cigarette. Looks at it for what feels like a long time. Burning, little coal like their fires. She always burned, bright, even when she burned low and small. She was warm. He got close to her, got near. Wanted to get nearer and never said it. He didn’t know how. Sitting in that kitchen with her, Maybe we stick around here for a while needed some translation.

I just want to be with you. That’s all I need.

That couldn’t possibly be all she would need, but maybe she would let him have it anyway.

Except he’s a fucking piece of shit who let her die. And she would be so disappointed in him now.

He puts the cigarette out on his hand. Turns it. Drills in the burn.

Nothing.

I’m dead. This is what being dead feels like.

Wherever she is, he’s pretty sure she can still feel.

He drops it, because it’s useless, because it can’t help him. He has her knife, and for an awful moment he considers that, the poetry of it, and then he doesn’t, because what the fuck would be the point? And he doesn’t give a shit about the rest of them, but he feels like he should.

What does it mean if he still wants to try? What does that fucking mean?

Let yourself feel it.

It’s not about letting.

Except maybe it is. Because he looks up again at the dappled light and thinks about lying with her in the grass, heaving, exhausted, his hand close to hers, looking up and watching birds circle and just for a moment finding a bizarre kind of peace. In that empty space with her, finding something beyond his own reflexive survival. She wanted him to have that. She burned herself inside out to give him that.

She set his world on fire to save him.

For this.

Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither living nor dead, and I knew nothing, looking into the heart of light, the silence.

For this.

There is no possible way for him to suffer enough to bring her back.

So maybe he should just stop.

I get it now.

Yes, you did. My girl. You did. Better than he ever could.

When the tears come it’s not rain. It’s no sound of water. It’s no relief.

But it’s something. And he feels it.

You will.