I've had this in my head to write for a little while. A conversation between Jay and his mother when he's back from Afghanistan and taking care of her. We don't know her name so I just made it up. x
She always apologizes for waking him. As if he's a stranger to insomnia. As if, at least her calls at 2am, 3am, 4am and beyond don't give him the excuse he needs; the permission to be awake and not explain why he is.
A reason beyond the truth for the bags under his eyes. The red-rimmed eyes and the way he can do something as mundane as the dishes and space out. It's all so easily explained by 'My mom: she's dying'.
No one questions him then. Except her.
It's 5.37am, and he's been lying awake staring at the ceiling for the last twenty minutes, rudely awoken by the feeling of his breath being stolen from him by a boot in his chest once more.
Waking up in the middle of a startled cry. Taking precious seconds to realize where he is. Home, or at least his mom's home. He's tried to clear his thoughts since he woke up, just like every single time. Disassociation, he thinks it's called. Trying so very hard to pretend that those nightmares during his sleep are just stories for him. Not a glimpse into the reality he tries so hard to forget.
He thinks she's been calling her for longer than when he first hears her. There's desperation in her voice when it comes through the baby monitor next to his bed. One of the hospice doctor's ideas.
Jay pushes the bedsheets away, scratches at his head absentmindedly, slips his feet into the slippers and opens his door, walks across the landing and pushes the door open, always apprehensive for what he'll find. Concerned always when it's clear she's been calling him for a while, it'll be for the final time.
Instead, she greets him with a smile, her hand lifting slightly before it falls to the blanket and she shudders out a heavy sigh.
"Hey mom, you okay?" he walks the short distance to her bed, leans down and presses a kiss to her forehead before he takes a step back and appraises her.
It doesn't matter what this illness does to Carol Halstead, she's still the most beautiful woman Jay thinks he will ever lay eyes on. Even though her hair is only slowly growing back, and she covers it, or more appropriately Jay or a nurse does every day with a different headscarf, nothing else has changed.
She still has that little sparkle in her green eyes, that knowing smile one moment; comforting smile the next.
It's her knowing smile right now although there's not really a smile, he sees concern and a frown as she urges him to "Sit Jay."
He turns away long enough to pull the chair forward, the door so appealingly close, the questions that will follow so inevitable.
Sometimes this is the only thing he fears. Scrutiny and concern. He's better at being angry and resentful than fearful and cornered.
He sinks into the chair and tries a smile as his mother stretches her arm out, her hand reaching for his which he accepts, his hands gently folding around her hand, feeling how small and fragile hers are, careful not to squeeze too hard. Cherishing the contact.
Jay meets her eyes then, and she shakes her head sadly.
"I wish you'd go talk to the people who could help you, Jay. I wish you'd get help, sometimes you scream, and it scares me because though I so wish I could get out the bed and cross the landing and scoop you up in my arms and tell you it will be okay, I can't. All I can do is keep calling for you through the damn thing and wait till the nightmare eases enough for you to wake."
She points at the baby monitor as she finishes.
"Mom, it's okay. I'm o-."
"Don't you dare lie to me Jay Halstead, you've always been so terrible at it, to me at least? I'm just worried that when I'm not here, who will care enough to call you out?"
Jay tries not to look at her, tries not to meet her gaze and when that's impossible, he tries the smile he'd get away with where his father or Will are concerned.
These days anyway, with the latter. It wasn't always like that and as ever, it's a battle to not let it show, to not let the simmering resentment bubble over the surface. They do their best to not show her how much they argue, though Jay's sure she hears, just like he and Will always heard their parents' arguments when they were kids.
"Mom, I'm okay. Nightmares are normal, you know? It's my way of dealing with it all," he tries, mustering up his most genuine smile, the surest of nods.
She looks anything but convinced, looks like she's about to pursue it, but then she sucks in a breath and her face pales as her features tighten as she presses her eyes shut.
Jay leaps off the chair to his feet, leaning over the bed, gently rubbing her forehead with his thumb, the way she would do it for him when he fell over and hurt himself as a small boy.
"Mom, I can call for the nurse? Maybe you should go back to the hospice, maybe we should get you hooked up to the IV drugs, it'll be quicker at least?"
Carol Halstead cracks one eye open, "My death'll be quicker too, honey, and no I'm not ready yet."
Jay releases the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and this time as he steps away, reaching for her hand, his smile is more genuine. He watches as she tries to moisten her tongue with her lips and then looks away, toward the window and sighs softly.
"Hey, what do you say I open the curtains and then get you an ice cream?"
The way her eyes light up, no trace of any pain in them for just a moment, it's like he remembers when things were good at home. Those few times when it'd be St Patrick's Day and Patrick Halstead would put music on and they'd all dance around the room, laughing, united even just for a few hours.
Jay walks toward the door before he turns back to his mom, a smile on his face as a thought occurs to him. "And how about some music? Some Sinatra maybe?"
Mentally Jay counts down the seconds, gets to 1 or maybe 1.5 before she rolls her eyes.
"Sinatra? I'm not ninety years old, Jay. Abba all the Abba, we'll wake the neighbors," her eyes twinkle with mischief and Jay has to shut his eyes quickly, walk through the door and down the stairs before the sudden realization that it's such a role reversal all this; the ice cream, the promise of loud music and even the simple act of opening the curtains to let the light and the coming day flood in, before it overwhelms him.
He reaches for his cell that's still on the kitchen counter. There are no messages aside from yesterday's text from his dad saying he'd be over to see Carol later today, and he'd message again just before so Jay can make himself scarce except he never says that but the intention of his messages are clear.
There's nothing from Will and Jay mechanically looks at Facebook, looking for the inevitable pictures, finding them and liking every single one just so Will knows he's seen them. Challenging him to care enough to even pick up the phone.
Jay never used to be like this. Resentful of his brother. Jay never used to be this traumatized. Jay never used to be the main carer for his dying mother either. He drags his hand across his face, drops the cell back to the counter and then grabs hold of the counter, tears stinging suddenly at his eyes.
All kinds of emotions battling for his attention. Anger, resentment, fear. There's an overwhelming feeling of a lack of control and order that's quickening each day.
Jay learned every day in Afghanistan there's no way to outrun an enemy that's determined to defeat you. You just keep trying to hold it off until you hope that when it gets you, it's at least a little tired too and the pain is at least a little less suffocating and overwhelming.
He shakes his head at his own thoughts and pushes away from the counter, opening the freezer door and pulling out the tub of ice cream. He thinks for a moment about grabbing a dish but changes his mind and just reaches into the cutlery drawer for two spoons then in the living room; he scans the CDs and finds the one he was looking for almost immediately, places it under his arm as he grabs his mom's favorite pillow and walks up the stairs.
She's asleep or at least her eyes are closed when Jay goes back in her room and for a moment he pauses, holding his breath until he sees her chest rise and then go down slowly, each day his own breath is a little shakier as he sees that she's still here.
He sets the ice cream on the floor next to the chair, the spoons beside it, lays the pillow gently onto the bed and then opens the CD case, pulling out the CD and sliding into the tray in the CD player on the table next to her bed, he looks down at the back of the case and skips to track number 7; the memories washing over him immediately as the intro plays and he opens the curtains then sits down, leans back, watching his mom before his own eyes close.
I have a dream, a song to sing, to help me cope with anything
"You and your brother used to hate this song, called it soppy and shmoopy. Not so soppy and shmoopy now, is it?"
Jay opens his eyes and grins, "It's pretty shmoopy, mom."
"Shut up and listen to your mom for once, Jay, it's beautiful," then with a matching grin she adds as she hugs the pillow closer for a moment before letting go, "Now where's the ice cream?"
Jay reaches down and grabs the tub and the spoons, handing one to his mother before he pulls the chair in closer to the bed with one hand.
He looks up and sees her holding the spoon toward him and he pulls off the lid of the chocolate ice cream, the finest version he could find in the store and tosses it to the floor before he taps his spoon against hers and then they eat the whole tub. That or actually, Jay feeds her the ice cream as her hand and her arm aren't strong enough to use the spoon anymore.
Afterwards they sit in silence, listening to the song till it ends before each time when it ends, she simply has to give a look and he presses the button to repeat it.
He thinks she's asleep, watches her chest rise up and down more closely.
"I think you should join the police department Jay, when you're ready and I think your father, he'll get used to the idea."
Jay frowns, shakes his head because honestly hell would freeze over first, "Can we not talk about it now?"
"When do we talk about it? Next week, the week after? Honey, we both know that's not promised now. I want you to get therapy, I want you to find time in your heart and space to heal and then I want you to let all that good in your heart to concentrate on something where you can make a difference but hopefully it won't harm you so badly. "
Jay nods slowly.
"And then you'll find some amazing girl who'll take care of you as well as you take care of her and she'll get you talking in all the ways I can't because you're too busy protecting me like you have since you were a kid, and then you'll have kids and they'll roll their eyes at you and your music choices."
"That's not gonna happen, we both know I'm cool."
She laughs and Jay wants to turn back time so he can record it, so he can make it the first thing he hears each day for when there's a time it's not possible anymore.
"And you will heal your relationship with your brother too, for you and him, not for me or anything like that but because you need each other, as much as you did when you were kids and me and your father would fight like cat and dog."
Jay's halfway between starting to cry and likely never stopping wanting to hear everything, wanting to laugh and never sleep until the day she's no longer here.
Somewhere along the rest of the day, he does all those things and by the time his father messages him in mid-afternoon to say he's thirty minutes away, it should be enough. Being aware of how little time you have makes you selfish though and Jay is almost willing to stay and end up with the inevitable fight.
Carol Halstead isn't Jay's mother for nothing though.
"Go honey and call someone who you can complain to about all this. Do something for you."
What if the something for him is precisely what's next to him lying in the bed, he thinks? Instead, he mutters, 'Ok' and stands up, takes the spoon from next to her in the bed and leans down to kiss her but she reaches up to cup his chin then brushes his cheeks with her thumb instead while her other hand sweeps his hair backwards from his forehead.
"Someone needs a haircut, now that's something you can do."
Jay blinks, managing a nod.
"You know I will always be right here," she lowers her hand to his shoulder and squeezes it, "Right on your shoulder, so proud of you always, protecting you when I can. I would've said in your heart, but that really is shmoopy."
They grin at each other.
"I love you mom."
"I know, me too."
Sometimes Jay thinks pain is dealt to a person so they can realize how much they love another person, except Jay knew just how much he loved her years ago and yet it's still going on. Still with the looming permanency of what's coming.
It's been an ever present part of his life for too long and he needs a change, needs to change and maybe she's right. Jay needs a distraction, needs a change. Now rather than later.
Fate takes you in a hundred million and one directions and tomorrow at least, he wants to say he's taken charge of it for once. That he'll be lying in bed tomorrow at 5.37am, not able to sleep from excitement rather than fear.
Just once, at least.
Even if he doesn't deserve that and the things he did even if that was his job, even if it was to preserve life means he could never deserve it or that's what his brain tells him.
Carol Halstead does, and that's always been the push he could never need. Especially now.
Pushing through the darkness still another mile
Sorry. Sometimes angst is so therapeutic to write and I hope in small ways to read. Thank you for reading and all your kindness so far. I'll be back with upstead parent fluff and post ep stuff v soon I hope. I hope you're all staying safe and well. xx