Log in

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Title: Hold On Tight (Something Wicked This Way Comes)
Fandom: SPN RPF
Pairing: Jensen Ackles/Jared Padalecki
Rating: PG-13
Length: 14K
Notes: For J2_everafter. Thanks to the mods, and sorry for my late posting! With huge thanks to sleepypercy who extended a very welcome helping hand. Any and all mistakes that remain are 100% my own.

Summary: When Jared comes back home near Halloween, the Circus arrives- and makes Jensen an offer he can't refuse, while Jared must work to save him.

Part Two found here

The train comes to a stop and Jared leaps down; home air hitting the back of his throat, the familiarity crawling to the fore, smell of cotton candy on the wind, the faint scent of burning, a bonfire that shouldn't be lit- not at this time, and the elusive sense of time passing; all of which hit him right down deep, making him shudder with satisfaction, shiver with glee, and feel the full force of youth hit once more. His feet itch on the sidewalk; he wants to run, wants to dash home and hug his dad, spin his mother ‘til she laughs with dizziness and tells him to stop, stop, the dinner will burn.

In his old almost worn out white tennis shoes, a breath of life still remains, fond remembrances of old times passed, tracks run, buses caught, football played in parks; of treading deep in mud, bathing deep in brightener. His feet twitch, and he debates it; debates throwing aside his bags and laptop case in favour of catching the last swirl of wind that echoes down the street; that will breeze him back home to its enfolding warmth.

But he's not twelve, not thirteen, and he slings his bags on more firmly on with a sigh and walks home, nose in the air, still breathing in deep with his eyes turned upwards; the deep-shaded blue of a crisp autumn day splashed across the sky like the gleeful riot of a painter's brush given only one colour to play with. His right hand firmly grips the broken strap of a bag asked to carry too much, filled with books beyond the point of no return, compressed pages of parchment paper breathing silent secrets to their crushed brethren, while his other hand is stuffed deep inside his pocket, warm inside the wool lining, his cell clutched in his hand as though he still ponders the wisdom of replying to his mother's text enquiring the time of his arrival.

If he had replied they'd have been there; a joyful bustle, faces smiling as his bags are passed from hand to hand and stowed in the back of the car, his father, clasping his hand as though embracing in public is still beyond him, saving it for the moment before sleep, his mother a perfumed whirlwind in her one piece of designer clothing- the coat bought twenty one years ago after his birth, fresh and new still, taken out for special occasions like the safe return of her son. She'd kiss him once on each cheek, a habit acquired in the eighties and never lost, it seems, just another quirk that the town arches its eyebrows at her over despite liking her well enough. She is foreign, different, other, and Jared loves her with an almost helpless love.

But the cell goes untouched; never typed characters hovering like the ghosts of words in his pocket. This is the best part of returning home; walking down the street and seeing all the people he knows. When his friends from college had told him with a laugh that he must be bored silly when he goes back home, Jared had smiled a secret smile, unable to explain to them the charm of his hometown and those who live there.

The wind returns and whips his ears as though in chastisement for his failure to hurry; to skip and run like he once would have, speeding down the street as Mr. Ryson the old barber who runs the one barber shop in town, tips a non-existent hat and calls out that he needs a haircut, the words laced with old humour between them at the remembrance of how Jared fought that first haircut- and all the ones since. Jared can't remember a time when Mr. Ryson was young; he's always been old and bent and smiling, his full head of hair (a magnificent advert for business) has always been white, and his face has always had those deep lines around his eyes and mouth from laughing too much. Like the sweetshop next door, he's always been a part of the town, no-one remembers a time without him; he cut Jared's father's hair, and he jokes that he'll cut the hair of Jared's son if Jared would just hurry up and settle down.

But there's no time to pass in quiet chat in the cool serenity of the barber parlour, with a brush twisting and pulling strands together as they talk. Jared must be away, and he salutes the old barber in return with a laughing wave and continues on. No matter how long he has been away, the route calls to him, guides his so it takes no effort at all, to follow the curve of the path until he looks up and there stands his house.

It's untouched by time; a gracious building twined with ivy, framed by sturdy wooden lintels that look as though they've always been there and unbidden a smile stretches Jared's mouth. He's home, and he feels the same tingle as always shoot down his hands when he glances at the house next door where Jensen lives. He should be home. He's the only one who knew when Jared had planned to arrive; had snapped him a picture of the Halloween tree that ornaments the square and sent it just last night, thumb obscuring the top of the shot, like a spreading shadow across the scene. But the house is dark and cool and empty, and when the wind blows it sighs around it as though it can only speak of loss.

Jared shivers and rings the doorbell, lets the heavy bags drop to his feet, and hugs his arms around himself, obscurely chilled. He could open the door, let himself slip inside and surprise them in the kitchen, but he wants that moment of homecoming, of stepping over the threshold and into the house, and when his mother opens the door, wiping her hands on a tea-towel, it's worth everything to see her smile, the breaking moon of her face and its round eyed surprise before she composes herself and sweeps herself to him. Then his father is there, arms round them both, and while Jared doesn't regret for a moment his decision to travel the summer through- June in Laos, July in Sydney, August in Cornwall, a long September shading into October in Spain- he does miss this; has missed them. It seems a long time since April and the Spring Fling spent at home, heedless of the jeers of his more decadent friends, and with a queer thrill of sadness, he notes the grey in his father's hair and the way his mother’s smile creases her face in new ways. Changes made so subtly that if he’d been here he’d never have noticed them strike him now as poignant, and he’s filled with a faint autumnal sadness as he crushes them both to him fiercely.

The sobering thoughts disappear when he sees them beam at him, united around him, and his father puts the kettle on, spreads out the cookies (store bought not homemade; neither of his parents cook unless they have to), and they sit him at the table like they’ve always done to listen to his stories. He curls his hands around the cup of coffee they hand him, letting it warm himself through, and breathes in the scent of home, as he tells them of what he’s seen and who he met, while the dark draws in outside, swift and shadowing, curving around the light of their windows, until finally he runs out of breath, lets go of the coffee cup, and grins at them a little bashfully, his throat grown sore from talking.

He’s not embarrassed for his mother doesn’t suffer fools, and his father has never mastered the art of polite listening, at least not for hours on end but Jared’s glad for a break to sit back in his turn, and let their smoky-rich voices envelop him with news. Small news perhaps; his father doesn’t read the papers these days, prefers to get his news from his mother, filtered through her idiosyncratic perceptions, tinted with rose sometimes, darker than black at other times, guided by her mood and whatever her current genre of her literature is- writing or reading. When at night she reads Dante, Aquinas, Gunther Grass, James Hogg, the Brontës, Mrs Radclyffe, the news takes on a bleak forecast and the world tumbles and crumbles on the edge of a cliff, dances on a grassy edge of hurricanes, storms, deaths, murders, Presidential failings. If her reading strays to lighter pastures, abandons the sketches of Caravaggio and the Death of St Sebastian, indulges in Austen, Wodehouse, Stratchey; when she hums Gilbert & Sullivan as she dusts, then the news brightens in its turn; kittens are saved from trees, children rescued from burning buildings, women wrestle guns from muggers, heroes have their time in the limelight; the big pages skipped in favour of lightness and charm.

Now, though, they speak in turn, tell him of the births and deaths and marriages with names that used to mean so much to him, those in his graduating class who stayed in town and married straight out of school, worked honestly, honourably, and became upstanding and forgettable. He asks after Jensen, of course; watches with interest though he cannot parse the meaning of the long look they share with each other before they tell him Jensen is well, back home two weeks now, the same green-eyed charmer he’s always been, mowing their lawn for a final time since Jared hadn’t been there, pressing down deep into the earth with dirty hands under Jared’s mother’s direction as he does the winter bedding for her.

Jensen is Jensen, adds his father, and there is deep-seated affection there, just as there has always been between them. Jensen has a mother who loves him, is independent, cat-like, walks alone in the gathering dark (except when Jared runs beside him), but still the Padaleckis keep him close in their thoughts,

Their names have been one since first they could walk; JaredandJensen, JensenandJared and all too often just grouped together as those two or those naughty boys, or as they grew, his mother’s quick tongue christening them the Inseparables, joined at the hip, two scenes shaded in dark and light to create a complete picture- one whole boy climbing trees and chasing cats, breaking windows, fixing them up, stealing sweets and paying in penance by cleaning floors, a whole boy who ate apples and drank well water from Farmer Pritchard’s land when he should be in school, too many readings of Tom Sawyer in class convincing them to try skipping class; the orchard the only place they could successfully hide where prying eyes wouldn’t find them.

Jared asks no more. If Jensen is home, then he will see him later, climbing hand over fist up the iron bars inset into the side of the house, swinging up the tree for the last bit with the remnants of their childhood clinging to him like charming rags. Jared can wait until then, though he might not want to. However long he spends away from home, Jensen is Jensen.

When the clock strikes twelve, his father sweeps the crumbs into his hand and gathers the cups to put them in the dishwasher, and his mother pulls down the shades, one by one, blocking out the night, casual ritual entwining as usual, and Jared hugs them both good night, his senses still chasing the comforting scent of home. When he climbs the stairs, the lights dance ahead like they're welcoming him as well, and when he opens the door his bed is made, towels lurk on the chair, and the light is on, and a smile twitches his lips. They'd known he would be home today. When he tucks himself in deep between the blankets, he feels the night wrap itself around him.

A faint tap at the window, the spindly branch of the arching tree or a lonely bird mistaking the dim light from the hall way for nest-home? Jared turns and is not surprised when Jensen lifts up the sash from the outside and slips in. He pretends to be asleep so Jensen will bend over and wake him up and be subjected to a customary blanket attack. But Jensen, contrary as usual, settles himself into a chair and stares at him until Jared opens his eyes with a grin. Jensen blends in perfectly with the corners of the room until Jared turns on the lamp beside his bed and he springs as fully formed from the darkness, as Athena from Zeus's skull. His eyes are green as always, his smile just as ready, and Jared feels the familiar shivering of spring run through him at the sight. He sits up, throws aside the blankets, and hugs Jensen close and tight, for one heartbeat, one breath, before he pulls away, fearful of their closeness, strangely shy after a summer of absence.

They're no longer children; he realises that with a sudden aching ferocity, as he hadn't realised at age eighteen when they blew out their final birthday cake candles together, age nineteen the first time he'd flown home from college and they'd wrestled for the rights to the remote, twenty when they'd taken the train out west to catch up with the circus in old traditions holding strong, twenty one when Jared had made his way to Jensen's college and they'd celebrated being old enough to drink in the usual fashion. Those past birthdays cluster round him, try to drag Jared back to times past, but this is here and now, and Jensen is almost a stranger to him, which is ridiculous since Jensen could never be a stranger.

They've been two sides of the same coin for so long, JensenandJared, JaredandJensen, one born on the final stroke of midnight, October 30th, the other on the first second of October 31st; two babies crying in tandem as the new day snaked in, birthdays shared, a lifetime split between them equally, Jared gazing at the earth, Jensen at the sky. But now when Jared looks at Jensen, he has to swallow back what he feels, the ridiculous swoop of emotion that threatens to overwhelm him, that he knows Jensen won't understand, can't understand.

Space opens between them, long inches, tired seconds, until Jensen crashes through it with his crooked smile, and lithe movements as he saunters back over to the window.

"Too tired?" he asks, and the words are a friendly taunt, a challenge, gauntlets clattering to the floor as he speaks, and fire itches up, flames in Jared's veins, as he takes them up. In moments they're on the ground, night misty around them, the sidewalk eager under their feet as they take off, strides in perfect synch for a few short moments before Jared's longer gait shows its advantage and Jensen bends his head to the plough and pushes on against it.

They did track in high school, measuring every moment from heel to toe, practicing at night like this, sucking in cool air for sustenance, relying on the moon for lighting, no destination in mind except perhaps the town park where they can throw themselves down on cool hard ground, and sink fingers deep into rich October-dead earth.

Jared doesn't know how long they run, only that while their strides never match, they run shoulder to shoulder, instinctively adjusting for each other until their flying feet bring them past the first poster, and they stop dead together breathing deeply as their eyes devour the colours, the words, the rustled curve of the paper where it sits snug against the wood of the tree, a homecoming for both.


The poster proclaims, and from the picture riots a profusion of lions, clowns, snakes and in smaller letters, it tells of Ice Maidens, Dust Witches, Illustrated Men, and other wild wonders that can only be seen within its constructs. Jared feels Jensen let go of a gasp and lets himself smile. The circus is their playground, always has been, filed with rides that they’d ducked between until they’d grown exhausted, thick smells of food and crowds and animals that beat into their senses, and elephants and other exotic animals that paced corrals and cages. The Circus was first baby rides then years of daring each other onto the scariest rides, until they began to shoot up and the rides lost their thrill; were then substituted with first kisses on the Ferris Wheel with Emma Jacobs, cotton candy clinging to her lips, mouths pressing together until the world tasted sugary sweet, bumper cars that served as flirting devices and the haunted house providing opportunities to cling tight, deliciously scared for a few seconds.

Growing up, they'd never missed one- if it wasn’t Jensen chucking stones at Jared's windows to let him know the Circus has come to town, it was Jared scrambling up the stairs to holler the news to Jensen- and it's never lost its charm or appeal. Now the excitement bleeds through their veins. Soon they’ll be gone again, scattered to the winds; Jensen taking his first step onto the politics ladder, shadowing a senator, considering press releases, and Jared putting his degree to good use as he becomes a lawyer, slogs through law school, and then decides between the big city life or taking up the standing offer in his home-town firm. Either way they’ll be apart, he thinks, and that clutches painfully at his heart. Not coming home to Jensen will be a shock to the system. But before that happens, in the time they have left, it seems right and fitting that they should visit one more circus together.

When Jared touches the paper, it crumbles under his hands, disintegrating like centuries old manuscript unable to withstand the lightest touch, and the dust powders his hands, floats into the distance. Jensen looks at his fingers, eyes narrowed and secret, raises his face to meet Jared’s eyes and says in a voice so quiet it doesn’t seem real, “Dust Witch,” and now when the shiver runs through Jared it’s because it feels like ice-cold water has been poured down his back. Witches aren’t real, he wants to say but the sounds die in his mouth, which is so dry that a river couldn’t quench his sudden thirst. He doesn’t know this Jensen, who looks at him so speculatively for so long; the light of the moon brushing his face with different angles and his eyes are dark and hollowed while he gives off no heat. He wants to take Jensen back home, turn on the light and close the curtains; block out the night.

He wipes his hand on his pants carelessly and turns his face away, sets off back home hoping Jensen will follow, but no footsteps sound beside him, and when he looks back, Jensen has hunkered down to do a lace up like he hopes Jared will leave him to catch up in a minute. But Jensen’s laces are tight and secure already, it’s plain to see, and Jared jogs back to his side. “Come on back,” he says, hopes with every fibre of his body that Jensen will agree. The other man isn’t listening though.

He’s tilted his face up with a strange look of exultation. “Can you smell that?” he whispers. On the autumn wind drifts a sweet strange smell of cotton candy, huge pink sticks of it, spun sugar so sticky that it lingers for days, faint traces of it on your hands and on your mouth, gossamer remnants lingering like ghosts. Jared lifts his nose and smells, drags in air deep and inhales the shimmering scent. Circus it breathes to him. The Circus is here. When he’s done smelling, his ear catches the sounds; tin clashing against tin, the faint hurrahs of children circling clowns, barrel organs playing tunes as old as time, queerly repetitive until they seem to sink into the beat of his heart. Boom goes the drum, and his heart answers back.

He can taste the cotton candy on his tongue, melting away, giving place to the tangy taste of mustard, ketchup, extra onions, bread and hot dog, and Jared’s mouth waters despite himself; dinner seems so many hours ago, and he can practically taste every memory of the carnival foods, washed down with cool lemonade, gulped down in quick bites before he dashes for the rides, Jensen at his side, always. He doesn’t know how long they stand there, but when Jensen puts a cold hand on his arm and tugs him towards the edge of town he doesn’t resist.

Down they pound, past Blackberry Avenue, devoid of blackberries, through the tiny maze of streets, with a purpose now. There is a common; a piece of land every circus pitches its tent on, just outside the town, too far to run by a long shot, but Jensen doesn’t seem to car. And although tiredness is creeping into his bones, slow and hot and heavy, dragging down his legs until he stumbles, Jared follows like he’s always done.

He doesn’t know how long they run, how far they have still to go; only knows that Jensen must’ve done some serious running in his time at college to keep running at the speeds he’s doing. They no longer stride shoulder to shoulder, a matched pair dashing through the night; Jensen is three steps ahead, a shadow fleeting across the town, and Jared keeps his eyes fixed grimly on his shoulders as though he’ll lose him if he blinks, and Jensen will become part of the darkness, blend into the night, and leave Jared behind. It’s a  little like a dream, the haziness and sheer unreality of it all, and he blinks his eyes hard several times like that might wake him up. It feels like he’s been running forever, like he can never stop, and his breath is beginning to come hard, burning through his lungs, and by the time Jensen halts, Jared doesn’t think he can run another step. He falls to the ground, gasping, and sucking in as much oxygen as he can, as fast as he can. Jensen is doing the same thing, and his hands tremble by his sides. He doesn’t seem to notice it though; his eyes are fixed on the spectacle before him.

Jared almost forgets to breathe as well when he sees, spread before them, the Circus. It’s like nothing he has ever seen before, lifted straight from the past and planted firmly, squarely before them. There is no colour at all, bar muted shades of black, white and grey. The lights that should glow deep amber, inviting yellow, joyful orange, are pure white, shielded by steel lanterns, and they cast into relief the bizarre nature of the attraction. There are no Screamer rides, no Pirate Boats or any of the other terrifying constructions that they take for granted. There is a merry go round, several booths with guns and strong men to challenge your arm’s strength against, and dozens of ancient rides and countless little tents with painted signs and sides advertising the terrible, the wonderful, the beautiful, the hideous, anything and everything one can imagine. It’s as if time has opened its maw and disgorged the past, complete in every detail, and the cotton candy smell runs through the air again, stronger than ever. Wild animals pace in cages, and surely circuses aren’t even allowed to do that anymore?

Jensen’s walking forward now, eyes bright and strange in the reflected lights, and Jared seizes his arm, dread spiraling through him. “Don’t,” he says, through still-struggling mouthfuls of air. He can’t articulate why not, just that the thought of walking down there, into that den, terrifies him beyond compare, and he doesn’t scare easy. Jensen’s eyes darken.

“Are you scared?” Jensen asks, and it’s not a taunt, but the bleak curiosity in his voice whips Jared into following him more than a jeer ever could. He’s never backed down from a challenge in his life. They pant down the field, and the music strikes up louder, lures them in. Tigers snarl at them, and the wind sweeps around them, brings music to their ears along with the clank and scrape of metal- the sleep sounds of the circus calming and settling down for the night. Before them, as if everything else had melted to one side, there is the mirror maze. Huge and unsettling, it looms over every other structure with its doors thrown open, darkness exuding in fine wafts. Inside are enticing gleams that drag their feet forwards.

A hand settles on Jared’s arm and Jensen’s shoulder, and when they turn, a man in a black cloak smiles at them, flashes fine teeth and disdainful eyes. “Out late boys,” he comments. “It’s soul hour, don’t you know?” Sure enough the far-away clock chimes out three times. He hustles closer to them, bone-fingers grasping tight. “A fine thing isn’t it?” he says and nods to the house of mirrors that stands before them. “What do you want to see boys? Want a glimpse of the future, a glimpse of the past? Want to see Gettysburg, the dinosaurs, spaceships on far distant worlds?”

He's talking to them both, but he's looking solely at Jensen, and Jared can feel the concentrated malevolence behind that look, pure distilled evil saturating his salesman’s patter, and he shudders free from the man's hand, throws it off, but Jensen doesn't move, seems hypnotised by the other man, who was crooning now.

"No," he says, and it's in soft, almost reverential tones. "That's not what you want at all is it?" He smiles then, a cruel white slash in the middle of his paper face, crumpling in folds like a sad marionette with its strings cut. "I can offer you other things," he says, and when he exhales, death ventures forth. "I can show you Troy, show you Alexander trampling Thebes and destroying Persia, Genghis Khan and all his armies. I can show you how they lived, how they died and how you can excel beyond them." And Jared sees with a sick horror that his fingers have extended, that they now seem like claws sprouting forth, and his mind is repeating helplessly this is a dream, but he can't make himself believe it, and still the man talks. "I can show you Augustus," he says, and his voice enchants, "show you the glory and might of Rome herself, and every man and woman throughout history who has led and fought and died."

Jensen's only reply is a sigh of air through pale lips as he listens rapt and silent to the long list of offers that spill before him, and Jared has to cut in, makes himself do it. "Jensen, we have to get home," he says, but he's ignored in favour of the poison that's so much sweeter to hear.

"I can show you," the man says slowly now, and even more quietly. "And I can give it if you so will it."

"Jensen," Jared shouts now, no longer afraid to be rude and attract attention, "look at me." Like a puppet, Jensen's face swings round to meet his own. His eyes are dark and hollow, limitless in depth like he's seen too much, gazed too deep into the abyss, and for a long moment he doesn't seem to recognise Jared. Then he comes back to himself, slowly, so slowly, like he's crawling his way up out of the ground into the light again, and Jared sighs with relief. "We have to go," he says, adding, "I feel sick" because he knows from long experience that Jensen won't let him hurt if he can stop it.

The man seems to have realised he's lost his chance for now. Instead he bows and flips two cards from his inner pocket, heavy rich parchment folded twice over and inscribed with careful ink by hand. "My card," he says with courtesy exaggerated, perhaps, but still present. They read 'Mr Dark' and by the time Jared has finished fingering his with wonder, the man has disappeared, backwards into the night, perhaps swallowed by the mirror house, perhaps riding on the merry go round in an endless ceaseless whirl. Jensen is not yet himself, and Jared dials for a cab with numb fingers, and they wait for a long long time, crouched in the dewing field. At some point Jared closes his eyes, doesn't want to see the endless dizzying unreality of the circus, but Jensen keeps his open, gazes his fill, eyes reflecting nothing of what he thinks.

By the time Jared slides into bed, it's all fading, a terrible dream best not remembered. He can't sleep, just watches the rapidly greying sky, night fading into day, and at some point his eyes close and he dreams real dreams, of pounding dark mazes where Jensen runs ahead of him, while Jared begs for his friend to stop and to think about what he is doing. When he wakes, his head aches and he has no sense of the time. His cell informs him that it's almost noon, and his stomach reminds him that he's hungry and it's almost lunch. When he patters down the stairs, only his mother is there. Today is not a work day for her, he remembers, and crumples into a chair.

When she turns around, she doesn't sugar-coat her shock. "You look terrible," she says, patently honest, not pulling her punches, her arms set and folded across her chest. "I thought a good, long sleep would’ve helped you rest." Jared can't imagine how he'd look without the sleep if she's shocked at how he looks now. Every bone in his body aches like he'd run a full marathon the night before, and it hurts when he breathes in. Something of it must show in his face because she rustles closer and kisses him comfortingly on the forehead and makes him a cup of coffee.

"Did Jensen pop by your room last night?" she asks, stirs in sugar slowly, adds milk. She only ever does that when he's upset, and he guesses it must show too plainly on his face.

"How did you guess?" he asks, mind still running on the night before.

She snorts a little with amusement, drinks back her own coffee, hot and black like she always takes it. "That hasn't been a secret for a good long time," she says drily. "I've known about you and Jensen sneaking into each other's rooms since about middle school. Long as you didn't stay up too late, your father and I weren't that bothered. I guess it's gotten to be a habit with you two." She sips again from the cup, and her eyes are kind as she watches him. "Is it Jensen?" she asks, and for a moment he's not sure what she's asking him. Jensen is the cause of so many scraped knees, days off school and awkward conversations with his parents, but the way she asks it now sounds different, like there's something else that might be going on, and it takes a moment to click what she's really asking, and he just wants to dig a hole in the ground, crawl into it and pull the earth over his head from the shame.

"No, Mom," he groans, because this was the problem he had growing up with a mother who was suspiciously, terribly liberal and open minded. He drinks his coffee, lets the hot sweetness revitalize him, invigorate him enough so that he can face this conversation. Jensen was Jensen, as they so often said, in a league of his own, and whatever had happened last night was more than just a teenage crush, was more than just a doomed romance, he was certain of it. Jensen was up to his neck in trouble, and he needed Jared to keep him from it.

Even now he remembers the look in Jensen's eyes, the curious blankness, the tiny reflections of Mr Dark peering from each eyeball, and on instinct he rifles through the pockets of the jacket he'd slung on, the same one as last night, and the distinctive crinkle of paper greets him, and the coffee he'd drunk churns uneasily in his stomach. It hadn't just been some terrible dream as he'd thought. Last night had happened.

His mother looks at him, her eyes grey with late morning light, touched with wisdom. "Really?" she asks softly, and for a moment he was sure she wasn't asking if he liked Jensen, but something deeper, more subtle than that. Then she looks away and the moment is broken. "There's a Circus in town," she says lightly, inconsequentially, and a shiver ran down his spine, the quick patter of cat's feet ice cold against his skin. "Strange things, circuses," she says and her voice is slow and strange itself. "You and Jensen like them, don't you?"

Caught on the spot, he dances from reply to reply, a clumsy ice skater on a well-worn rink. “Yeah,” he settles on finally. “I think I might have grown out of them finally, though,” and he tries for a smile.

“Jensen hasn’t?” she asks quietly. His lack of answer is answer enough, and she taps his hand with her own, a quick patter of fingertips. “You can only try your best,” she says, and he hears ancient, bleak rain in her voice, echoing through emptiness, echoing the autumnal sky outside the window; a lowering grey giving way to a watery blue. “In the end all our choices are always our own.” He sits there for a while, and the thought floods him how little he knows of the parents who have given birth to him.

His mother had blown into town on raindrops and wind, settled here one bleak autumn day nursing a broken heart (this has never been a secret- his parents smile secret smiles at the thought of long dead love-affairs,) settled down to write her books in privacy, a recluse in a hotel room, never venturing out. In the middle of nowhere she resided, turned the heating up high and let the storms beat at the windows. She ventured out at night, a shy shadow slipping from one post to the next, wrapped up tight in plastic raincoats and hats pulled down over her face. That was how she met his father; librarian by job, a jack of all trades, never done until the sun was down, and by the third time he found himself strolling next to the strange woman from the hotel (news spread fast round the town) he raised his hat in his old fashioned way- some things stuck deep in towns like this- and wished her a good evening. Like a bird she fled, and there was an empty space on the sidewalk for the next few nights. When next she ventured out it was to the library to browse shelves for the books he filed, to weave between towering bookcases, glide on silent wheeled steps, a small grey owl up high, and he stamped her books, tucked the issue card in with a smile, and pretended he didn't recognise her.

Everyone knew that story, knew how she stayed, how the librarian proposed marriage, and they wed on a spring day; the sort of day where baby birds shake the down from their feathers free and begin to fly. But the years that follow are silent mysteries; where they travelled, how they returned as much of a mystery as the return of Jensen's mother, expectant and silent, as unwilling to talk to the town as ever Jared's mother had been. There are gaps in Jared’s knowledge that he cannot hope to fill, stories that belong to only them but that he still wishes to know. Does she know the Circus? he wonder; suspects from the downcast turn of her gaze and the little lines near her eyes that perhaps she had once known them quite well,  if under a different name. His parents have always offered him protection, stood as a shield, but this he knows they will step aside on, his first proper foray into real troubles. It must be done, but he shivers in the unaccustomed chill.

When the knock sounds at the door, it thuds deep into his soul and he knows without glancing out any windows that Jensen stands outside and waits for him to open up, and he's torn between bone-deep terror at seeing the Circus again and a well of gratefulness that Jensen has come at all. It had been touch and go last night even, and again he finds his fingers wound round strong parchment in his pockets like it will bring him answers, solve his predicament. He sits there frozen at the table, eyes barely blinking as Jensen slips into the kitchen. In the light of the day, he is different, as he always is. After dark he has always been a creature of the night, displaced and foreign, but in day his eyes are clear and bright, and his smile is ready for those he likes. He smiles now at Jared's mother, who dimples in return but does not extend her thoughts.

"What do you want to do today?" he asks, casual, hands in his pockets like there is more than one answer, like there is a variety of options open to them, as though even with last night's knowledge weighing deep between them they can easily go bowling, can do all the things they would usually do after an absence this long. Even if he had forgotten all that had occurred and dismissed it as a fever dream, when Jared stands, and his bones hurt, and his legs feel like spaghetti, it would be hard to discount it.

"The movies?" he replies, tries to turn Jensen's thoughts away from the inevitable, spreads an array of paths before them like a magician displaying a deck of cards in one smooth sweep when he knows the table will be upended in moments anyway.

"Circus," Jensen replies, and there is something hot and dark in his eyes, closer to the night than the day, and his posture shifts suddenly. He's ready to go, ready to leave without Jared, to bound up to the Circus gates and beg to know more. It has always been like this, Jensen running two steps in front, desperate to leave, desperate to escape from their town, wanting more than he can ever be given- freedom from the stares of the town, and the speculation and gossip on the identity of his father. When they played pretend as children, Jensen always wanted to be king, president, caveman leader; anything to escape.

"I'm coming," he says, and cold thick dread gathers in his veins, his heart beats slower and all the world seems to fade and darken for an instant as Jensen's eyes narrow, and Jared can't work out if Jensen wants him to come or wants him to stay. Regardless, he's patting his pockets to make sure he's got his phone, wallet and keys, and toeing on his shoes as fast as he can, letting his mother brush a dry kiss on his cheek and whisper to him to take care, the same words she always says, invested with a special significance now, and he wonders again just how much she knows, how much she’s guessed.

They walk slowly to where Jared's family's second car is parked, and Jared slides into the driver’s seat and looks at Jensen. "You sure you want to go to the Circus first?" he asks. "It's one pm; it's not exactly going to be active. It won't be until late afternoon that it’ll really start getting into gear." He knows this, Jensen knows it, and there's a silent battle of wills for a second before Jensen gives in, looks away, and pretends to stare out of the window.

"Sure," he says. "Let's get lunch, see the sights." There's an unpleasant twist of cynicism in his voice which Jared chooses to ignore as he drives them to some place they can get decent burgers. He's not sure things changed so fast. Within the space of twenty four hours, everything has begun to unravel, to deteriorate in front of his eyes. When he was at college, he used to phone Jensen late at night, just to talk. He can't count the number of times he's fallen asleep with Jensen chuntering softly in the background, like having a phone clasped to his neck while he worked at an essay was no big deal. He's never been so grateful for unlimited minutes in his entire life or ceased being thankful that they've never run out of things to talk about. He doesn't know what he'd expected when he'd come home for what seemed like the final time, but there had been a vague, unburied hope in the back of his mind that leaving childhood behind could lay the ground for something more between them. But from the moment he'd stepped off the train and felt the autumn wind buffet him, he'd known that things wouldn't be easy.

Part Two found here


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 2nd, 2013 04:39 am (UTC)
Ohhh Nooooo. Jensen.... be careful Jared can only protect you so far!
Ambitious use of language here, very beautiful but I'm still scared!!! Mr. Dark is lurking at the edges of the frame ready to pounce!
Mar. 2nd, 2013 11:34 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm really glad the language is working okay so far, and I hope you enjoy the rest!
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 2nd, 2013 07:12 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm really glad you liked it, as I was very very unsure about this one.
Mar. 3rd, 2013 04:09 am (UTC)
As a massive Bradbury fangirl, I gotta tell you . . . you're channeling the Master exceptionally well! The rhythm, the lyricism and descriptions, the overall feel of Bradbury's writings, it's all there. Bravo. Go you!

*returns to reading*
Mar. 7th, 2013 02:52 pm (UTC)
badbastion-on kindle so plz forgive mistakes
i've just finished the first part and i am so enjoying it. your language is gorgeousaand the bradbury influence is obvious (obviously haha) and thatsaa god thing; so much better than if it were rtten in plain prose, this story. now i dont remember how the orig story ends (uut thats ok bc i get to be surprised) but i do remember the sense ofnnostalgiaaand dread mixed, and youve got that perfect.
Mar. 7th, 2013 07:46 pm (UTC)
Re: badbastion-on kindle so plz forgive mistakes
Thank you <3 I'm really glad that you're liking it, and that the nostalgia/dread combo worked! Thanks again.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )