Word Count: 3300
Notes: for quickreaver's generous donation to fandomaid. Many, many thanks to cherie_morte for indulging my shoddy use of the regal comma.
Summary: Your mouth is soft, your tongue is silver, and your teeth are gemstones cut to size.
Some people leave. Some people come back.
The ashtray is full. Jensen lights another one, plucks a mint leaf from his glass and chews on it. People keep walking in and out, just passing through. One of them stops, comes close. Jensen doesn't recognize her. Dressed all in white except for her gold lamé slippers that scuff along the porch as she shuffles. She wears a cameo high at her throat, has one of those fancy painted fans dangling from her slim-boned wrist by a delicate silver chain.
"You've lost some of your magic," the woman says to him. A touch to his cheek as if to prove that he is real, her hand leathery and dry. "Don't you worry, Cher. You're home now. It'll come to you." Her voice is slow sugar, bitter underneath all the sweet, like blackstrap molasses.
It's hot here, the kind of heat that Jensen had forgotten about, the kind that never really goes away. Seeps into the ground and soaks into the walls of houses. No matter. He still shivers.
There's another house in town, a plaque beside its door with the deep-rooted name of his family etched into it, but Jensen thinks he'll stay here instead, burrow behind the canopy of live oaks and a mile-long gravel driveway that could use some work. Everything around here could use some work and it's been years since he's had blisters on his palms. His hands have grown more accustomed to ink stains.
Up north, the ground never felt right, never had that kinda swampy give under his feet. Up north, all the buildings were constructed with Georgian sensibility, in right angles and straight symmetry. A place for everything and everything in its place. Down here everything's messy, out of order, secret rooms hidden behind bookcases, vines growing through the cracks in the walls, and everyone knows better than to believe what their eyes tell them. Folks have faith in a heaven that is real, but they believe it when their preacher tells them that hell is closer.
The railing moves under Jensen's elbows when he props them up, the porch swing creaks, sways lazy from its chains. The smell of rotting flowers is pervasive.
"Where are you?" Jensen asks, or perhaps he thinks it. If he's thinking it, then he's thinking it very loudly. "Why haven't you come?"
Jared shows up at three a.m., resolves like a spirit from the shadows of the twisted cypress. Jensen's reclining on the porch stairs, ignoring the bite of the riser against the small of his back. He's filled up the ashtray again, waiting in a vague, ill-defined way.
Some enormous thing is plucked from Jensen's chest, makes breathing so much easier.
Jared's feet are bare and black swamp mud sticks to the legs of his loose trousers. He hasn't bothered to button his shirt, and the sluggish breeze blows it back from his body like the cover of some dime-store harlequin only better. His hips swing wide as he saunters, putting on a show because he knows Jensen's watching. Jared's always had an inclination toward the dramatic.
While Jensen wasn't looking, Jared's shoulders have grown wider, his hipbones more prominent, his chest defined, the line of hair that heads toward his waistband darker than before. He's changed in a hundred small ways but he's still the shape of everything Jensen could ever need.
Jared's sucking on a popsicle, long fingers twisting it, pushing it in and out of his mouth. Jensen's on his feet and right in front of him now. He can't quite remember standing up.
"Took you long enough." Jensen says it because he has no idea at all what to say, and alright, fine, perhaps he's always had a flair for the dramatic as well.
"Took you long enough." The popsicle drips onto Jared's fingers, cuts a track down to his wrist and in the dark it could easily be taken for blood. Jared's lips are stained red, teeth bright as rubies, his smile like something god made with his own two hands. "It's dark in there. Is there anyone home?"
The gaze Jared gives him is direct, doesn't deviate from his face and Jensen's unsure whether he's talking about him or the house, or possibly both. He's never made sense and it's the best thing about him.
"There's always someone home."
"No one that matters, not for a while." Jared walks in slow circles around Jensen, fingertips soft as cobwebs on Jensen's spine, his shoulders, the bare back of his neck. Jensen counts one orbit for each year that he'd been gone. It's intentional. Mutely possessive. "You've come back a lawyer," Jared says. "How useful."
"Do you need one?" Jensen asks. The night has taken on a hazy quality. The tree trunks bend around them and all the creeping things have gone quiet, eavesdropping.
"Aw babe, only if it's pro bono. You're too rich for my blood." Jared's obscenely back at his popsicle again, curving his tongue around it.
"We can negotiate, but only if you don't call me babe."
"You got yourself a deal, sweetheart." Jared plucks a silver dollar from behind Jensen's ear, bites down on it to show that he's honest, then slides it into Jensen's pocket. "Your retainer."
Jensen takes him by the wrist and keeps him close, wills his jackhammer of a heart to slow. "Do you want to come inside?"
Jared steps in, stands taller than he has any right to be. "Only if you kiss me first."
His lips are cold. His tongue tastes like cherries.
They'd known each other for six months before Jared ever spoke to him. A strange boy, five-maybe-six with curious, slanted eyes, skinny arms and legs poking out of hand-me-down clothes. He was simply there one morning, swinging on the tire that hung from the huge tree Jensen's great-great-grandfather had planted as a boy. He showed up again the next morning and the one after that, and kept showing up even after a storm blew through and split a branch off that old grandfather oak, taking the tire swing with it.
When Jared finally did speak, it was dirty French, a muddy dialect nearly incomprehensible to Jensen's ears, even though Jensen's au pair never uttered a word of English to him.
Jared became Jensen's shadow, constantly three steps behind him until one day, running through the gully that marked the border of the family property, Jensen looked up to find Jared three steps ahead, hand held out to pull Jensen up the other side, past the property line, further than he'd ever gone before.
If Jensen's mother disapproved of how her youngest, most quiet boy was changing, his sudden and complete shift in loyalty, she never said a word, more interested in her hoard of old money pearls and church gossip. Together, Jared and Jensen were wild things, a dinner bell away from feral, creators of their very own vocabulary, and every evening Jensen would come home with filthy knees, crumbling snake skins around his wrists and his pockets full of alligator teeth.
"Hot. So fucking hot." Pale skinned and fair eyed like his mother before him, and her mother and the one before that. Seventh generation to live in this place and not one of them have adapted to it, and Jensen wonders how long it takes to evolve. "Maybe my blood did turn blue up north, get too thick. Is six years enough time to turn my blood blue?"
They're in the front parlor, sprawled on the floor. The dust on the carpet is an invading army and the curtains hang limp at the windows. On the other side of the lace, the day is coming up orange and pink. Jensen's favorite color. It's indescribable, and Jensen has a taste for indescribable things.
Jared inspects Jensen's hand, the thin webbing between his first finger and thumb, pinches Jensen's cheeks until roses bloom, presses his mouth to Jensen's wrist. Jensen endures all of it, silently pliant. His body has never been entirely his own. The most important parts have always belonged to someone else. Jared's name is carved onto his heart, stamped into grey matter, tiny stars branded on every single cell.
"No," Jared says, and he pops open a few buttons on Jensen's shirt, starts from the bottom up. He draws circles on Jensen's stomach, elaborate spirals and Jensen feels them in his guts, a witch stirring his cauldron. "Your blood's still red."
The days are fractured, won't hold their shape and the nights are not nearly long enough.
"Let's get you out of here," Jared says. His voice echoes in the entrance and Jensen comes to, picks himself up from the carpet.
Jensen had gotten lost somewhere, one door opening to another while he was cleaning cobwebs out of corners. He kept seeing people out of the corner of his eye, familiar faces that were gone before he could put a name to them. The skin on his face is sticky with sweat and his hands are grey with grime and it's all been for nothing. The cobwebs have come back. Jared wipes at Jensen's forehead, across his cheekbones, big hands cool and centering, and Jensen feels stronger, more solid on his feet.
"We'll go to the city, pick some fights." Jared's fingers are in his hair now, making it corkscrew, scratching across his scalp.
"I've had enough of cities," Jensen insists.
"You're growing moss, and I didn't get dressed nice for nothing." Jared spins out of Jensen's reach. He's hasn't lost his preference for hand-me-downs, wears one of Jensen's suit vests, cinched snug around his waist. A tasteful pinstripe but Jared makes it look sinful. A string of black pearls is looped around his wrist and silver rings glint on his fingers. He holds up his hand, fanned out wide to show off his fingernails. "Green," he says, "to match your eyes. C'mon. We're going."
Jensen follows, three steps behind.
"Where did you get the car?" Jensen asks. It's an old thing, classy, a great red shark of a convertible, and no good in a place like this. It's better suited to bright lights and hours of solid blacktop.
"If I told you, would you still get in it?" Jared counters.
"There's your answer," Jared tells him and cracks open the passenger door to invite Jensen inside.
Out past the tree line and those Balfa boys are on the radio, a frail fiddle cuts through the dense air and Jared starts to sing along in the French they used to speak back when, asking Jensen if he'll go to the dance with him.
"It's a little late for that, don't you think?" Jensen's sunk into the seat, head tipped back to look at the sky, plenty dark enough out here but still too hazy for stars. He doesn't know the last time he saw some. "You and me, we've been at this dance for years."
Jared seems to like that, wears a slow, wicked curve to his mouth, his hand sliding along Jensen's thigh as he gives the engine a kick, speeds them down the flat stripe of the road toward the parish line.
A church stands solitary, set back in the field, a sign in front of it lit up like a movie theater marquee, bare light bulbs flashing to beckon the penitent.
Jeremiah 8:20 The harvest has passed and the summer has ended and we are not saved.
"The harvest hasn't passed. It hasn't even started," Jensen says. "It's spring."
"Is it?" Jared asks. "It's been up for a while. Besides, no one goes to that church anymore."
"Why do they keep the lights on?" There is candlelight flickering in the windows, shadows moving around inside.
"Someone forgot to turn them off."
Jensen nods as he slides further down in his seat, covers Jared's hand with his own, lines their fingers up in the way he likes best. That's the way of things around here.
There are places in the city that still know how to keep secrets, quiet corners of the Treme or Marigny where the neon is scarce and getting drunk isn't a spectator sport, where a man can buy a drink with nothing more than a promise.
In a back room, Jensen sits across the table from three men, a bottle of white rum at his elbow and five cards fanned out in his hand. There's a painting of the Virgin Mary over the bar up front, but back here they tell different story. Baron Samedi watches over the room from his altar, a top hat on his skinless skull, wax drippings in his empty eye sockets. His mouth is filled with five spots, part offering and part advance payment on a lucky streak.
Jensen doesn't need that. He's got Jared at his side, better than an angel on his shoulder, one tap on his knee to raise the bet and two to fold. He trades two cards, draws a pair of eights to go with his aces and shakes his head when Jared raps his knuckles twice on his knee. Instead he throws in a fifty.
"It's a dead man's hand. You don't play that," Jared whispers in his ear, his breath hot and sweet on Jensen's neck.
The room begins to spin and Jared spirals him into it, their arms linked together, and pauses long enough to slip a twenty in between the skull's teeth. Jared presses his lips to the Baron's forehead, kisses each of his bony cheeks twice. "Not yet," he mumbles. "I love this one, Papa. I've always loved him."
Then it's another bar and another quiet corner, and Jensen's pouring absinthe over sugar cubes and lighting them on fire, blue-green flame that makes the shadows take on the wrong shapes.
Most people ignore them, walk past with nothing more than a slight, thoughtless trip in their steps. Others stop, linger near. The woman is back, gold lamé on her feet and her fan moving so fast that it's a blur.
"There you are, Cher," she says, gazing at Jensen. Her eyes are bright, sharper than glass. "Before, I could see right through you."
She tucks a black orchid into Jared's vest before she leaves. It suits him, but Jensen wishes it was pink, to match his lips.
"Let me see." Jensen reaches out, takes Jared by the wrist and traces his crooked ring finger, his life line, the line of his heart, which is the deepest of all and the most true. He closes his eyes, smells flowers and swamp mud, sees a young boy with slanted eyes and a smile that's the brightest thing Jensen's ever known. Jensen tries to push it away. It's their past, and Jensen's looking for their future.
"It's coming back," Jared says and takes over, sucks the liquor off of Jensen's fingertips.
"Slowly, yeah." The future is forgotten and Jensen's blood is white-noise in his ears, like it's in a rush to get somewhere else. "Come home with me."
Out past the empty, slowly collapsing worker's shacks, the swamp takes over. Every year it gets bigger, takes another bite out of the land. A step in one direction can sink you into quicksand. A step in the other and you find out whether it's possible to walk on water.
They're barefoot, trousers rolled up to their knees. Jensen leans back against Jared's chest, rocks them side-to-side to stop from sinking too far into the soggy ground. A field burns in the distance, someone's livelihood turning into dust. There's a wicked red glow to the east and the whole world smells like burning sugar. It coats Jensen's throat, seeps into his clothes. He'll be smelling it for days.
All around, the vines sway in the breeze, reaching for them. Stand here long enough and the kudzu might overtake them too, turn them into indistinct human shapes linked together by skinny green tendrils. There are worse fates.
"Tim tim," Jared says, and wraps his arms around Jensen's stomach. It's hot, but not too hot for this.
"Your riddles never make sense," Jensen says, and reaches up to tug at Jared's hair.
"Tim tim," Jared repeats, insistent, holding on tighter.
"Alright. I'll bite. Bwa seche." There's a form to the riddles. A ritual, and Jared loves rituals.
"Why do the alligators smile?" Jared asks as he slips his fingers down past Jensen's waistband. He hums at the damp heat between Jensen's legs, opens his mouth on Jensen's neck and sends a tremor through his body.
Jensen can't think, doesn't know anything outside of the thick sugar on his tongue and the feeling of Jared all around him, permeating him, breathing life into his cells. "Bwa seche. I give up."
"You're so easy. I beat you every time. It's like you give up on purpose." He rocks against Jensen. "The gators smile because they know what's down there."
"They're good at keeping secrets. But you know, don't you?" Jensen closes his eyes, concentrates on the steady rhythm of Jared's breath.
"Everybody finds out. Eventually."
Ancestors are kept nearby, where the latest in the bloodline can look out the garret windows and keep a sharp eye on them. Mossy, pitted marble, tiny mansions with their tinier doors and Jared in the middle of it all. Five candles burn still in the motionless air and Jared's drawing geometry on the ground out of cornmeal.
"No more dreaming of the dead," Jensen says. The moss on the family crypt is like velvet under his touch, a perfect bed for what's left of a body.
"Who says I'm dreaming?" Jared's concentrating, drawing wisdom out of the bones. White ash is smudged along his hairline, all over his bare chest and he sways on his feet. "If I'm dreaming, then I'm dreaming about you."
"What is this?" Jensen gives him space, paces around the circle he's rendering. He's not afraid. It's Jared and there's no reason to be afraid.
"I'm making you young again. Erasing those lines beside your eyes."
"I've earned those lines," Jensen says.
"You earned them because I let you. You weren't here so I couldn't pay attention. I wanted you to live forever." There's a pulse in the air, in the soil, stuttering and irregular, like the ground is learning how to breathe. About to take back what belongs to it.
"Past tense," Jensen says. "You used the past tense."
"Want. Want," Jared corrects himself. White cornmeal slips from his fist as he draws another line, one that kisses the central circle. A tangent, and a sensation zips up and down Jensen's spine, something hot and cold at the same time, like electricity. There's a taste in his mouth that he can't quite place. "C'mere, hold my hand. Do you wanna know a secret?" He reaches out, fingers splayed wide.
"I don't trust you," Jensen says. It's mostly a joke. Mostly.
Jared laughs, long and loud, and it's gotta be a trick of the light, because his eyes flash like polished metal. So does his tongue. "I've never asked you to trust me. I've merely asked that you stay with me."
"Only if it's forever." Jensen steps inside the circle, links his arms around Jared's neck, pulls him down and kisses him, and now he knows the name for the taste in his mouth. Tarnished silver.
"Of course," Jared says, "you never had a choice. Neither of us has ever had a choice."
Thanks for reading!