Title: The Redhead, the Raven Girl, and the Boy (AO3 here)
Word count: 2145
Warnings: grown-up words, depression, mourning, but hope!
Summary: He's suffered loss, more than most. Not just from the wild fire five years ago that torched his land, his house, his family, but a deep-seeded death of the soul.
Something's gotta give. And it does.
(Based on the prompt: 'Tennessee Whiskey' by Chris Stapleton)
The man used to be Hollywood handsome, with his pond-green eyes and sandy hair and an easy smile. He used to have sun-dotted skin and pretty lips. Tall, composed. Chivalrous and sharp-tongued, in turns. But now, he's just worn. He's put on a little weight around the belly and lost it elsewhere, because that's what the bottle will do to you. Weariness drips off his bones.
But no one much blames him. He's suffered loss, more than most. Not just from the wild fire five years ago that torched his land, his house, his family, but a deep-seeded death of the soul. At first, it made him angry, and he turned away every offer of a casserole or caring phone call. “He just needs to grieve in his own time,” the preacher's wife had said. Four years gone by, though, and he's still out of sorts. So much so, the town has all but given up on him. There's only so many times you can slam the door before people stop knocking.
So he's back at the Six Point Inn, which is near dead tonight as it's not hunting season, drinking himself into blank eyes and a smart mouth.
“Go home, Jensen,” Ty says tiredly, peering between the taps. “Don't make me close the bar early and throw you in the back of my truck, man.”
Jensen raps his shot glass on the wood. He hardly looks up when he says, “This is my home.” And Ty knows he doesn't mean the Six Point.
Ty gauges the remains of the bottle of Jack. He figures if he can get Jensen sauced enough, he'll be less difficult. Sometimes, that works.
This Monday night, Ty is lucky. Jensen's feeling maudlin instead of contrary. He lets himself be manhandled off the stool and out into the brisk, late March night. The moon's nearly full and the sky is cloudless.
Jensen waves Ty off. “I'mma grown-ass man,” he mumbles, impressively stable on his feet all things considered. “I walked to the bar, I can walk myself home. Git gone.”
Ty nods, though something bothers him fiercely if he lets himself make note of it. And it's not just the whiskey. There's an uneasiness in the air that's not on account of Jensen's usual malaise. Could be the ring around the moon.
Jensen turns his back on Ty and wanders off down the road with a flap of his hand. He makes sure to keep to the gravel shoulder when the road gets narrow, though the likelihood of a car driving by is slim to none. Not that Jensen truly gives two shits if his dark shirt and dark trousers make him nigh invisible against the woods that tunnel Sulfur Ridge. If he winds up roadkill, so be it. One less human taking up air in this stupid world.
A light wind stirs up the humidity, ruffles his hair. Sulfur Ridge wears the end of winter like peeling paint, tender leafbuds flaking off the fingers of branches. Jensen knows the road, its every bend and pothole. Could walk it with his eyes glued shut. Kudzu still covers the phone poles and derelict shacks like redneck topiary, and if he squints, he can see past to the field where he used to dig for ginseng as a kid, when he fancied himself a wannabe entrepreneur. Where he used to take girlfriends, and on rare occasion, boyfriends, to smoke weed and fuck like jackrabbits. So many years ago. Another lifetime ago. Before he got respectable, and then lost everything.
He shoves his hands in his pockets and pauses. He can almost hear the echo of voices, the shushing of legs running through tall, dry grass. Laughter. Sometimes he'd come out this way just to replay old memories and masochistically pretend the whole world hadn't gone to pot. Some trick of the light, and he sees a flash of ginger hair at the edge of the treeline. He smiles.
But then there's another figure, petite, pale bare skin. Jensen's smile wavers.
“Hey,” he barks. “Who's out there?”
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
More laughing. He isn't imagining it. The two figures, naked as jaybirds, turn and look at him with eyes that mirror the moon. They're young, familiar. He knows the faces, and … the rest of them.
He'd been 18, nearly graduated from high school and caught between the misplaced perception of immortality and the weight of adulthood. His whole life was sprawling out before him as big as the sky. Playing hooky, half way through a bottle of cheap wine and stoned out of his gourd, Jensen had meandered his way to this very spot. He'd just wanted to lay in the meadow and stare at the clouds, feel the sun on his face, and he must've fallen asleep because he didn't hear their footsteps approaching.
Three kids, his age, he didn't know from school. Two girls—one a tall and smirking redhead, the other smaller, hair as black as pitch with a coy flutter of lashes—and the third a boy who was taller yet than anyone there, raw-boned and narrow-hipped, his features sharp but his eyes, soft as heather.
Different as they were, there was something alike in the way they stared unblinkingly at Jensen, looming over him and backlit by the sun. Smiling vaguely.
“Yeah, what?” Jensen had said, but they never spoke if you didn't count the laughter. When the boy extended his hand, broadening his grin into dimples, Jensen figured he was daydreaming but, fuck, it was a good one so he took the offer.
The four of them shoved and shouldered and tumbled through the secret meadow, leaves caught in their hair. They stripped off their clothes, threadbare denim and cotton skirts thrown through the brambles as though the wind had tugged laundry off a line somewhere. The scent of melancholy was thick in the air. When they ended up in a warm pile on the mossy ground, Jensen couldn't tell where his hands were landing, or who was tugging at him or pressing their soft lips to his eager mouth.
This is some good shit right here, he remembers thinking.
And here they are. Again. Not older by a day. Except that Jensen is no longer the wild child that he was, and there's a growing sorrow to the girls' expressions as they stare at him. Jensen prays these are all just whiskey-born hallucinations, until he feels a hand on the back of his neck.
He startles and spins, blinking through the vertigo, not in truth surprised to see the boy standing there.
“You ...” Jensen starts, but the boy just shrugs. And extends his hand.
He's as naked as the girls, unbothered by the chill. Jensen absently wonders if it's spring yet; he supposes it might be, but that doesn't make it warm outside. His gaze drifts downward—
The boy snaps his fingers as if to say “Eyes, up here!” and reiterates the offer of his hand, grinning. Jensen feels his ears heat up. He puts his hand in the boy's, and the world shimmers.
Moonlight takes on a fresh new dazzle.
When Jensen looks at his hand in the other's grip, his knuckles are no longer chapped and bruised. The girls' faces brighten, welcome him back, as the boy pulls Jensen across the meadow. They begin to pluck at his shirt, peeling away the layers of fabric and mourning.
“Who are you people?” he has to ask, even as he falls into a weightless buzz.
The redhead's breath is warm against his ear. “Don't you mean what are we?”
He's shocked to hear her; they've never spoken before. It makes them real, and he's not entirely convinced this is something he should desire.
“Are you sure you wanna know?” she asks, nipping along Jensen's bared shoulder, giving rise to gooseflesh.
“You don't,” the other girl confirms before Jensen can say “no”. Her hair is oil-slick shiny as she fiddles with the buckle of his belt.
They've missed him, all these years, and the happenstance of their human, walking this very road on this very night, is an omen. He needs to find them, so he does.
The boy has to bend a bit to press a chaste kiss on Jensen's mouth. He likes the way Jensen's lashes droop and his lips stay parted, expectantly, when he pulls away again.
They know Jensen's misfortune and the hollow place where his spirit used to be. How the stars once caught in his brain and made the world feel wide open. Possibilities danced like dew on a spider's web.
The redhead and the raven girl take turns floating hands all over Jensen, everywhere they touch returning to what it was twenty-five years ago—grays going tawny, the skin smoothing at his temples—only pausing to welcome the tall boy back into their tangle of arms and legs. He nestles alongside Jensen, and they all drop down to the cool earth, laughing when their mouths aren't otherwise occupied.
They're drawn to Jensen's warmth and will, luring them to this spot by the sheer weight of his life. Every year, on the first day of spring, they've come back to this meadow, and until tonight, Jensen wasn't here. Until tonight.
They know things happen when the seasons make it so.
Sated, Jensen lolls in the curves and angles of bodies; he hasn't a clue what to call them. They've never mentioned their names and he's never asked. Which is strange as fuck on the one hand, but on the other, he's terrified they'll go away if he pries. They might vanish like will-o'-the-wisps in the night, like phantasms, and that scares him more than the obvious weirdness of the whole shebang.
The girls are casually plaiting each other's hair, winding bluebells in the braids, but the boy must sense Jensen's consternation, for he stirs and cants his head, watching Jensen.
“Penny for your thoughts?” he says.
Jensen sighs. He doesn't want to break the spell, but him being him … “Am I dreaming?”
“Would it matter?”
“Yeah. Yeah it would. My life—”
Jensen blinks and stares back.
The boy gets up on one knobby elbow, offers a crooked grin. “We cried too.”
“No shit?” Tears start welling in Jensen's eyes, hot and sudden. “Why didn't you ever come back then? Why?, I needed—”
“We were always back.”
“What … ”
“There's a time to yell at the world, and a time to hear it. That's all.”
“That … that's all?”
With one finger, the boy catches a tear that's rolled its way down Jensen's face. And even though it's all cryptic as fuck, Jensen finds the boy's words melting into his heart, whether they make a lick of sense or not. They nestle into the dusty corners and wash out from there. Something calm unspools in Jensen's chest.
They both return their gazes to the sky just barely beginning to bleach into dawn, and eventually, close their eyes.
JENSEN. Come on, champ, wake up.
Bright colorless light slips through the cracks. It oozes into his consciousness and blatantly reminds him that he is not, actually, dead alongside the road. His back aches like hell and his brain feels like nineteen different kinds of mush. He's damp and cold, but quite clearly alive.
And strangely enough, glad for it.
Ty's face looms into focus. “Jesus, you're a sore sight for eyes.”
Jensen debates flipping him off but it takes too much energy. Undaunted, Ty grabs Jensen by his shoulders and hauls him upright.
“I've been looking for you all morning, you son of a bitch,” Ty says, not sounding particularly put-out, but then he never does.
“You wasted your time.” Jensen looks down at himself, fully clothed, chafed knuckles and all. He sighs.
“I s'pose I did. Who was she?” But now there's humor in Ty's voice.
Glancing up, Jensen wonders what Ty's getting at, because, well, dreams are simply dreams and Jensen can't tell his ass from a hole in the ground, at present. He's woozy and sore in places he didn't know he had, but apart from that, he feels—dare he say—peaceable? Like the world's just a little bit righter today.
Still doesn't explain Ty's shit-eatin' grin.
Ty nods his head at something just over Jensen's right ear, so Jensen paws up that way and pulls out a bit of greenery that'd gotten caught in his hair.
A bluebell, as it turns out.
“Who were they,” Jensen murmurs on half a smile, more to himself than anyone else.
Ty chuckles and lifts his brows, clearly impressed, tossing an arm across Jensen's back. “Come on then, Romeo. Let's get you home.”
For the first time in five years, Jensen knows what that word means. And he loves it.