Word Count: 2100
Notes: a gift for tattooeddevil for spnspringfling for the prompt show 'em what you're made of. Originally posted here.
The house has stood empty for years, time out of mind, quietly slouching on the corner while the neighborhood grew around it. Peeled, fading paint and warped glass in the windows, porch clogged with leaves. The front garden has been swallowed up by brambles, yet every year an unlikely scatter of irises still push through and bloom, flowers so deeply purple that they look black.
Of course it's haunted. Of course an axe murderer used to hang his coat on the hook. Of course the house isn't empty at all; an old woman still lives there, everyone's seen her in the attic window at night, heard her singing to herself. Of course there's a million dollars buried in the back yard, or maybe the basement, right next to the portal to hell, or purgatory, or a parallel universe. Of course the last kid who took the dare and got within five feet of the boarded up door went insane on the spot, went blind, all his hair turned instantly white and his tongue disappeared.
Jensen's never taken the dare. It's not that he's scared, or even overly superstitious. He hardly ever quickens his pace when he walks past it nowadays, only holds his breath half the time. He's not a little kid anymore.
The family shows up in the middle of one fine day near the end of summer. Trundles to the curb in one of those old airstream trailers that look like a silver bullet and piles out, a small clan of giants. Jensen stares, the vibration of the lawnmower against his hand forgotten and the racket of it rendered mute, as the apparent patriarch takes a crowbar to the twisted two-by-fours blocking the door, pulls a key on a chain out from under his shirt and just like that, the old house isn't empty any longer.
They're the subject of conversation at every back yard barbecue and book club. They're criminals, on the run for tax evasion or bank robbery. They're paramilitary, building a bomb shelter in the basement and selling firearms on the black market. They're members of some obscure religious cult, preparing for end times and still selling firearms on the black market. They're living off of the grid, propane lanterns flicker in the windows at night and sometimes they build fires in the back yard and no one knows why.
Jensen's in the ice-cream shop when he sees the boy walk past the window, pale skin and his hair in his face, the kind of flat black that only comes out of a bottle. Unnaturally green pistachio ice-cream dripping onto Jensen's fingers, he tails the kid into the convenience store next door, comes up behind him while he's leaning against the drink case and filling out an employment application, the thin paper crinkling against the cool glass.
His name is Jared, spelled out neatly in capital letters that fill up each little box. Jared pauses when he gets to the part about employment history, previous addresses, taps his pen against the metal handle.
"What's it like in there?" Jensen asks, and Jared spins quick, hides the application behind his back like he's doing something wrong.
"I'm sorry?" Jared says, and his voice sounds like a scraping old door that hangs crooked on its hinges and doesn't get opened much.
"The house. I'm across the street and a few down," Jensen clarifies. "What's it like?"
With a one-shoulder shrug, Jared says, "Big. Dusty. You wanna come see?"
There's no old lady in the attic, only squirrels, but that's fine. Jared says they mostly keep to themselves. They're not religious whack-jobs or hell-bent on recruiting the members of the homeowner's association into a militia. If there's a portal to hell in the basement they're going to have to clear out all the junk before they can get to it. The house had belonged to Jared's great-uncle and he hadn't been an axe murderer, as far as anyone knows. The place might be haunted, though. That much could be true.
Jared's mother greets them with a warm smile and a broom in her hand. The bracelets on her arm clink when she pats Jensen on the cheek and turns to her son to say, "See? It didn't take long for you to find someone to talk to."
They're sent outside with chisels and sandpaper to start the enormous job of scraping paint off of the siding. Jensen learns a lot that afternoon as he gets blisters on his hands, no fewer than seven splinters and more freckles on his nose and shoulders. Jared's family is circus folk, nomads on the circuit and only recently retired.
"People around here are gonna eat that up with a spoon," Jensen says as he works loose a satisfyingly long strip of paint.
"Small town," Jared says sagely, like he's heard it all before. Three times over. His skin is pinking up and his t-shirt sticks to his back, a darker shade of black along his spine where his sweat has seeped through.
"The latest rumor is that you're Russian spies," Jensen teases. "Or maybe Satanists. It's hard to keep track."
"If I had any in with the dark powers, or any state secrets to sell, we wouldn't be working on this dump," someone says from behind them. Jensen believes without a doubt that Jared's father used to be ringmaster, his rich, booming voice more than enough to fill up a big top.
Jared's talking about the road, how he broke into a hotel swimming pool in Oklahoma and almost got arrested, about how he saw a tornado one time—in Kansas if you can believe it—watched it for a full ten minutes as it tore into the plain and ate up a series of telephone poles, electrical explosions like fireworks, about how the sky is so much bigger in Montana, the biggest he's ever seen and he's seen quite a few.
They're on Jared's front porch swing, sipping cream soda out of brown bottles plucked from Jensen's freezer at precisely the right moment for them to turn from liquid to slush the second they're cracked open. One of Jared's tricks. He has hundreds of them.
Jared's toeing the floor, keeping them in motion and his voice is a steady low hum as he goes on and on, and Jensen, who's never been very good at keeping still, believes he could listen to him forever. He wants to know everything about Jared, exactly what he's made of. Jensen licks his lips, tastes sugar and vanilla and thinks about how he’s starting to learn that homesickness isn't always attached to a place, sometimes not even a series of places.
They're in a booth in the corner, greasy remains of a nearly demolished pizza between them. Jensen’s back is to the room and he's picking at a half-eaten crust on his plate. At some point between this morning and when Jared had shown up at Jensen's front door tonight he'd added some streaks to his hair, stripes of bright red cutting through the black courtesy of some bleach and black cherry kool-aid. Jensen likes it a lot, keeps fighting the drive to ruffle Jared's hair to see if the color changes with different angles.
"Everyone's looking at me," Jared says, too young to be so resigned. "Feels like spiders on the back of my neck."
"No they're not," Jensen tells him, but now he can feel it as well. The place is quieter than it should be, and as Jensen glances around the room he notices that everyone's too obviously not looking at them. "Okay, so maybe they are. Just. Look at me. Ignore everyone else. "
Jared’s smile is tiny, shy, directed at the table. "I am looking at you," he says, and his admission feels bigger than it should, small and quiet and incredibly important.
"Alright," Jensen says. "Good. Keep looking. Look closer. "
Chewing on his lips, trying to hide his smile, Jared leans forward and slides his hand across the table, touches the tip of his pinky finger to Jensen’s and keeps it there. Helpless, Jensen reaches up and ruffles Jared’s hair, smoothes it back from his face and watches it change color.
Above them, the nighttime sky is a strange orange color. Clouds cover the moon. Too much dust in the air. Far down the slope most of the neighborhood his gathered around the bandstand, tinny sound of distant music and Jensen’s sprawled on the ground, dry grass prickly through his shirt.
"I’ve tested into eleventh grade," Jared says. He’s reaching toward the sky, fingers fanned out, half a shadow puppet, so Jensen hooks their thumbs together, and now there are two wings instead of one.
"You’re in with me," Jensen points out, secretly delighted. "Maybe we’ll overlap."
"I have no idea what that means. I’ve never been," Jared admits.
"It’s a lot like the town, only concentrated," Jensen says. "I’ll be there."
Beside him, Jared shifts, props himself up on his elbow. This close, Jensen can see a smudge of black eyeliner along Jared’s bottom eyelids, something he must have missed, and right then Jensen wants to know so badly what happens behind Jared’s locked bedroom door at night.
Jared’s hand is heavy on his chest and his nose is brushing against Jensen’s, so sure and certain. Jared kisses him like it’s nothing. Like it’s everything. Kisses him like he’s been waiting days, years, and every single thing in Jensen’s very small world narrows down, condenses into the spot where their mouths slip and snag together.
"Are you okay?" Jared asks, and his hand is still in the center of Jensen’s chest, half of Jensen’s body is covered with Jared’s heavy form, and he’s only ever kissed two girls in his entire life and it’s never ever been like this, felt this way, been so good.
"Yeah," Jensen says, "I’m okay. C’mere. Do it again."
Jared’s pulling brambles out of the front garden, carefully avoiding the irises. His knuckles are scratched up and his thumb is bleeding from a particularly nasty thorn.
"I want you to pierce my ears," Jared says around his thumb.
"Your folks won’t mind?" Jensen asks, and Jared rolls his eyes.
They end up in Jensen’s driveway five minutes later, sitting on a couple of overturned buckets, a set of silver hoops stolen from Jared’s mother resting on Jared’s knee and a safety pin in Jensen’s fingers rapidly turning red over the flame of a lighter. Jensen blows on the pin, stretches Jared’s earlobe as thin as possible, one last look to Jared to know he’s sure and then he stabs it through.
Jared hisses, clamps down on Jensen’s thighs, fingers digging into wiry muscle, takes a few minutes to get over it and says, "Time for number two."
Later, after Jensen’s replaced the safety pins with the silver hoops and wiped Jared’s blood on the sleeve of his t-shirt, Jared pushes him into a dark corner of his garage, holds him up against the wall and kisses him sweetly, then kisses him filthy, gets both of them off with a slow, over-the-clothes grind and the whole time, Jensen’s careful to keep his hands on Jared’s hips, stay far away from his red, puffy ears.
Jared bends to look at his reflection in the side-view mirror of Jensen’s mother’s minivan and asks Jensen if he’s prettier now.
"I’ve never seen anything so beautiful," Jensen says. Spunk is dripping down the inside of his thighs and his shorts are cashed. Football practice starts in an hour and he really doesn’t want to go and he’s pretty sure he’s in love. Completely.
They’re walking side-by-side down the hallway. Lockers stop slamming and the white noise of a hundred teenagers all talking at once lowers to a murmur.
"I’m half a foot taller than the rest of them," Jared whispers in Jensen’s ear. "That probably doesn’t help." He’s wearing eyeliner today, thick and black on his bottom lids and it makes his eyes brighter than sunshine. Jensen had done it for him this morning, then spent the next fifteen minutes sticking his tongue down Jared’s throat.
Jensen slips his hand into Jared’s and locks their fingers together, feels it when Jared lets out a deep breath.
"You don’t have to," Jared whispers in his ear. "It’s okay. I’ll be okay."
Jensen only holds on tighter.