Word Count: 3820
Summary: Anno Domini 1951, fifty years after the failed Fertility experiments, the world still deals (somewhat successfully) with the mutations the experiments brought. With the advent of successful mechanical wombs, and a resurgence of female fertility, Carriers finally won full civil rights, and a new type slavery was abolished. Still, in many small towns and rural parts of America, in isolated communities, carriers were still viewed with suspicion, distaste, or horror.
This is the world Jared finds himself having to navigate.
Notes/Warnings: This is an mpreg, but not a kidfic. Warning to folks who want happy-family endings to their mpregs—Jared never adjusts to the idea of being pregnant. He never develops a desire to raise a child. This story is strictly about Jared and his journey to self-hood, at this point in time. I've been hijacked by a story before, though, so...I'm saying, you read this fic, you take your chances.
shout my name (at heaven's gate)
The sun would rise in a half hour—he could practically feel the weight of it behind purple morning clouds.
"Silvia, that boy is causing me to ponder hard on him."
She was always annoyed when Padalecki followed her about on her chores, as if there wasn't enough to do of a day; was she also expected to entertain him when he had an idle moment?
"I have no idea what you mean, Jerome." Silvia dropped the basket to the grass, thrust her hands into the wet wash and yanked a sheet from it. Snatching some pegs out of the clothes peg basket, she tucked one into her mouth, yanked a corner of the sheet up and over the clothesline, used the one in her hand to peg it fast with an emphatic jab. She was somewhat angry with her husband—partly because Jerome was a whisper of being in the right here, partly because Jerome had always thought the boy was off.
Silvia was well aware her middle child was given to flights of fancy and introspection, perhaps a bit too much introspection, but she was the one gave him permission to take himself off somewhere private. Maybe it was a waste of time, this dwelling on whatever it was that drove the boy away from his family, for however brief a time it was. Jerome simply was not built to understand that this little bit of time was a small price to pay to keep their son in line, to help wean the boy of fancies.
Silvia glanced over at Jerome, who stood rubbing the bowl of his pipe, his narrow eyes fixed on her. Well. It was a solid fact that she'd been the one to give the boy permission, so yes, she was loathe to rescind it and give Jerome even the slightest hint that he might be fully in the right, and there was actually something more than a wee bit off with their boy.
"He's too much in his head, Silvia. You know the Elders keep eyes on us, what with your granddad comin' from the Outside and all…"
He at least had the good grace to look somewhat embarrassed by his words, Silvia thought, and jammed the other peg down on the remaining corner of the sheet, using maybe a tad too much force, what with the way the line shook and all the wash vibrated. Even the clothesline prop that held the line up shook a bit. Jerome frowned at her, but she paid it no mind. "You know once Granddad made his way to the Lord, no one was more devoted."
"Well, yes, 'course, or we wouldn't be standing here with three children and a fine farm. It's just. Well, he should be courting some likely girl—what about that sturdy one in his class, why not walk to town with her. She's a good prospect—got her head on straight, that one. Raise a fine family, keep a man like him on the straight and narrow, no doubt."
"What you mean is, the girl is as stolid and as vibrant as a cow. She has the imagination of a clump of mud. But yes, she'd be good for the boy. Hold him down. A while with her would certainly knock the fanciful corners off of him," Silvia snapped. Though truth be told, she knew, and the Lord knew, the boy needed it. She was not a fool.
Sometimes, she looked at her child and worried so much, she nearly shook. There was a cloud over that boy, and she had yet to decide whether it was something aiming to warp him out of shape, or something age would settle.
Jerome peered at her, wafting a cloud of noxious pipe smoke towards her fresh, clean wash. "I'm thinking maybe you don't like her much."
She hefted the empty wicker basket to her hip and stared at the man her parents had encouraged her to choose, the man who'd fathered her children and allowed her to keep a good Christian home. She wiped annoying wisps of hair away from her face, and answered the man, clearly, slowly. "It doesn't matter what I think. Doesn't matter what the boy thinks. The only thing that matters is the will of the Lord."
"Sometimes, blood rises, Silvia. I worry. What if Jared…?" He fell silent, then turned and walked away.
Silvia stood watching him, the basket nearly falling from her hands as she shuddered. From fear? From anger? She honestly wasn't sure which. She knew she needed to pray this evening, for patience and understanding, for wisdom, and for the Lord's favor to fall on her family.
The sun would rise in a half hour—he could practically feel the weight of it behind the purple morning clouds. He knew it was selfish, but he thought of this as his time; a part of the day he'd always been told was a gift from the Lord to his children. Come winter, come spring, summer or fall, this quiet, soft part of the day belonged to him. He'd made sure the goats had been fed, chicken feed had been doled out and fresh water given. He'd done his part of egg gathering, setting the full basket in the kitchen doorway for his mama. Made a pot of caffee and set it over the stove's warming grate, and now he was high up on the hill overlooking the valley Mountain Grove was in—sitting on a fallen log flanked by two thick bushes which afforded him a nice bit of privacy. Not that it was any sort of secret spot—everyone knew where to find him if he wasn't in eyesight—but most everyone granted him the favor of pretending he had privacy here. After an hour or two, he'd go on to complete his chores, but right now….
He sighed deeply in contentment as he pushed the long, tangled strands of chocolate and chestnut hair back from his face, tucking the stubborn bits behind his ears. A whip of still chill morning air snapped through the bushes making his hiding spot. He shivered, rubbing his bony hands together briskly, then rubbed sleep from his eyes before scrubbing his thin cheeks as well, frowning when the pads of his fingers bumped over the moles on his face. He hated them, especially the big one squatting next to his ridiculously pointed nose.
″Tsssk. I warn you, you drop that line of thought right now, young man,″ he scolded himself. The inner voice that came out to scold him whenever he descended into ridiculous flights of fancy sounded a lot like Mama, he noticed.
Still, that voice was quite correct. Pointlessly worrying about the looks the Lord gave you was vanity, and vanity was a sin. So his mother taught, and if she declared it so, odds are it was true. Vanity was a waste, really; it was staring at yourself in the mirror and mostly finding things that were wrong. Like stringy hair that just wouldn't cooperate with a brush, or weird eyes that couldn't decide if they were green or blue or gray or brown, and the moles. Gosh heck, so many, many moles….
And of course Miss Bartnik also taught that vanity was a sin, and there wasn't much that Miss Bartnik didn't know, so smart she was. And so pretty. Jared was positive she had no worries over vanity. Besides, the Bible said that about vanity as well, in...somewhere in there, he was pretty sure.
Anyway, those were thoughts for another day. His stomach chose just that second to let out a loud and urgent gurgle, reminding him that there was something more important to think about at the moment—namely, food.
He pulled a large, lumpy, red-and-white starred bundle from one pocket, and a vacuum flask from another. From the lumpy bundle—which that morning had been a bandanna belonging to his dad but now was doing duty as a meal wrapper—he took an ungainly sort of sandwich: two fat cuts of bread embracing a thick slathering of sweet butter and honey. The honey was thick, a dark gold, and just the thing to satisfy his horrible sweet tooth.
He took a generous bite out of his sandwich, gulped at the caffee straight from the flask. "Mmmm…ow! Peanuts!" That darn stuff was hot!
He waved his hand frantically over his mouth, like somehow that'd help with the burn. And despite the inside of his mouth feeling like an oven on fire, he impatiently stuffed in another huge bite, as big a bite as he could manage. Here in his private little bower, he could stuff his mouth full, guzzle his drink as he wished, because no one was there to remind him of his manners.
"Fweedom," he crowed, spraying crumbs and a dribble of caffee down his chin, almost choking himself like a fool. Freedom could be dangerous.
He wiped his chin with the bandanna and tucked it into the inside pocket of his barn-coat. Grinning into the growing sunrise, he let himself feel how good it was to just be himself, even when himself was not quite the perfect example of a Family boy his mama was trying to raise. He had to thank her, though, for these moments when he got to be alone. It was his mama who'd more or less insisted his daddy let him have these morning hours. It must be mother's intuition, that she knew of her children, he was the one who needed time alone. It was generally not something that The Family were prone to, this solitariness, especially not in Mountain Grove, smaller than most Family communities were. Mama did her best to understand her odd chick, though, so he did his best to repay her, by not being annoying during the rest of the day, and trying to be as useful to Mama and Daddy as possible. Not matter what his irritating siblings said.
Leaning back against his log, he watched the peaceful, slow, climb of the sun over the clouds; sunbeam by sunbeam painting the valley—filling the leafy bowl below him with golden light until its rays burst over the hills on the other side, setting the trees to glowing a rich emerald, richer than any jewel could be. He drank more of his caffee, grateful to the Lord for this moment. When the sun was fully up, he made a mental list of the chores to be done for the day. If he was quick enough and efficient, he might even win a trip to the library today. He was past due a reread of his favorite, Treasure island.
"Jared! Jared, are you up here?″
The reedy voice of his little sister startled him out of his thoughts—that child had a yap that would paralyze a screech owl. She was worse than a cat caught in a room full of rocking chairs. She was—with a very small frown, he set his cup down. What was she doing up so early, anyway—oh! "Mercy, is it Dandi?″
"Yes, yes! Dadda sent me out to get you, he said you better shake a leg if ya want t'see the foal be born,″ she shouted, her thin voice stretched to the limit in her enthusiasm. She dashed straight at him, her cream-colored sweater flapping in the breeze, her long plaid skirt dragging and catching on thistles and wild roses as she came running. "I'll help you,″ she crowed, and snatching up his cup, flung the contents into the grass and screwed the cup back onto the thermos quickly.
"See? Finished!" she warbled, looking immensely pleased with herself. Jared glanced mournfully to where his caffee soaked into the dirt, still steaming a little in the chill air.
He turned back to his sister, mouth opening to scold, but how could he when she looked at him like that—her little dimpled cheeks, green eyes sparkling, and her entire self so anxious for praise? "Um...thanks? I mean—thanks, good job saving me time,″ Jared said and crammed the rest of the bread into his mouth before she decided to help him there, too. "Ofay, lef go, Merfy.″
"Jared! What a piglet you are! If Mama saw you cramming bread in your mouth like that, my stars!″
"Well,″ Jared gulped and swallowed, wiping his chin with the heel of his hand. "She didn't, and lucky me. Ready?″
He took her hand and started running, and she flew behind him trying to keep up. She twisted up a handful of skirt so she could run faster—her pigtails streamed out behind her like wings, filling the air with uproarious laughter. Jared loved his sister's laugh—unrestrained, and completely unlady-like. She drove their mother crazy with her refusal to be a delicate, demure little thing. Besides, she might as well be Jared's twin, taller at her age than she should be, thinner than a rake, just like him. They were all taller than their parents for some reason; him, Mercy, and their older brother Jesse, who Mercy and Jared had long ago decided was really a grizzly bear in disguise as a boy.
Jesse was taller than anyone in the family—probably in the whole county. In contrast to himself and Mercy, Jesse had darker hair, darker eyes, and a sour, old disposition. Oh, he'd have his laugh occasionally, but Jesse had set his sights on one thing only—running the farm. This was their family business, and as far as he was concerned, thinking about anything else was a waste of time. Time he didn't have to play the fool like Jared—leastways, that was his standard response to any of Jared's suggestions involving anything that might be fun.
On the days when Jesse parked his work boots behind the door and wore an odd little peaked cap instead of his usual straw sunhat, Jared would run to grab their fishing rods, and sweet-talk their mother into packing them a lunch. Jesse would sigh and grumble and act like it was a horrible imposition, but he always let Jared tag along, always.
Jared loved those days. Jesse was always in a good mood, and willing to listen to Jared ramble on and on, or at least let Jared's words flow over him without comment. Jesse never really responded to Jared's endless stream of observations regarding life and all but that was okay. Jesse smiled and sometimes nodded like he was truly listening, and that was all Jared needed. Jared looked up to his big brother, really admired him, and hoped one day to be just like him.
Well, maybe not as much a grouchy, old bear.
By the time Mercy and he had made it back to the barn, Dandi was deep into labor. Daddy, along with Mr. Dudek from the next farm, were washing up. They'd tossed their coats over a stall door, and rolled their sleeves all the way up their forearms. They were bent over the barn's sink, speaking quietly and seriously to each other, Daddy stopping to nod thanks to Jesse, who brought in a large basket of food.
Mercy and Jared both knew enough to keep quiet, and stay out of the way. They sat on Daddy's workbench, pushing tack that needed repairing out of the way. Jared could barely stay still, he was that nervous and excited. Daddy had promised Jared his own horse—Jesse had gotten his at thirteen, so it was only fair.
Daddy and Mr. Dudek stand on either side of Dandi, whose stomach was contracting in waves—her body trying to push the baby out. One long, stick-thin leg slid loose of her body, the other seemed bent under and caught.
Mr. Dudek eased the foal's leg loose, gently twisting, tugging carefully, slowly. Daddy stood nearby; not too close but ready to help if needed. It was so quiet, Jared could hear Dandi's rapid panting, the liquid sounds of her painful effort. Finally after a few tense minutes, the sac surrounding the little foal split, with a gush of blood and fluid, the foal went flopping into Mr Dudek's hands, and he and Daddy eased it to the hay covered floor. Dandi trembled, took shaky steps to look around at her baby, and the foal took shaky steps of its own. The men guided it to Dandi's teat, quickly stepping back out of the way when the little thing latched on.
"There you go, Padaleck—all's right with mother and son."
Daddy winced at the unwelcome shortening of the family name, but graciously thanked Mr. Dudek for helping. He promised Jeff and Jared's help on the next harvest. Jared groaned inside—there wasn't much he hated more than field work, but what could he do? Best to just clamp down on the bit and smile, smile, smile.
Peanuts, but he hated field work.
Daddy called for the food basket, so Jared snatched it up from under Mercy's hand and ran it over, eager for his look at the foal. It snorted, kept on sucking greedily, not really interested in anything yet but milk.
"There you go, Jared," Daddy said. "This little fellow is all yours. All the work," he said sternly, "and all the joy," he finished on a softer note, and Jesse smiled at him over Dandi's back.
Daddy pulled two glass bottles, one full of beer, the other lemonade, from the basket, along with a few clean mason jars. "Here you go, Dudek. Beer and some good sandwiches the wife's made for us, and let's see...ah, some cheese, and look there, cookies. Mother must be in a good mood this morning, " he laughed. He pulled out a covered plate holding a few thick cuts of the cheese and handed them to Jared, had Mercy help spread a tablecloth over the cleared off bench and then set out plates and glasses for them all. There was some fruit as well, and a couple of slices of pie. Jared smiled—this had shaped up into one heck of a great day. Daddy smiled at him too, chuckling at the foal's enthusiastic nursing as he ate his sandwich.
"Reminds me of a certain someone," Daddy said, and Jesse agreed with a laugh. And really, Jared thought, there was little difference between his brother's obnoxious laughter and the braying of a donkey, there really wasn't. Mercy stole a look at Jared, her face gone all pink and her lip caught between her teeth.
"Ha, ha," Jared said. "It wasn't that funny. I don't eat that much."
"Okay, Jared, you don't," she said, "but that was half a loaf of bread you had for your breakfast this morning."
"holerah," Jared muttered, and of course Daddy caught him cursing and there flew right out the window any chance of visiting the library. He started to frown—inside, of course—before he remembered. He owned a horse. His very own horse!
That tugged a smile out of him, despite the fact that he'd almost certainly be the lone body cleaning the stable this morning.
Jared lay sprawled out on his bed, listening to Jesse gently snoring away in the opposite side of their room under the eaves. The oil lamp between their beds was lit—the electricity having been shut off for the evening—and there was just enough light to read by, or to draw, and since Jared found it hard to contain his excitement about Dandi's foal, he drew the little thing's profile all across his tablet, not even worrying about the scolding he was sure to get for wasting chalk. How could he help being excited, though? Especially since right before bedtime, Daddy had shaken Jared's hand, praising him for the work he'd done that day and cementing the promise that the foal was to be all Jared's. Jared couldn't wait to begin taking care of him.
"holerah!" Jared snapped, and danced sideways, tripping over his own feet and ending up stumbling over the brush he'd dropped. He flicked his gaze around guiltily, thankful no one had heard him. He bent to get the brush, Mercury watched him with an oh-so-innocent look, bits of hay dancing on his lip as he chewed. He bumped Jared again, and again the brush went flying as Jared stumbled. He wiped away the bits of chaff stuck to the sweat on his brow and cheeks, and marveled anew how the dang barn doors were set in the walls in such a way as to keep the slightest little gasp of air from breaching the oven the barn became in summer.
Mercury swayed his way again and Jared jumped back quickly, the brush clutched in a stranglehold. "Ha! You won't catch me again, you evil thing," he crowed.
Merc's perfidy didn't stop Jared from offering Merc a carrot he'd filched from the kitchen table that morning. He smiled, exasperated and fond, as the colt lipped the bit of carrot off his palm. Jared gave a quick stroke over the velvety nose before gathering everything up to put away.
A year had already passed since Mercury became his, and despite his grumbling and complaining, Jared was happy to have him. He gave Jared an outlet—a perfectly trustworthy confidante, someone he could tell all his secrets to; one who would never judge him for his looks, or appetite, or inability to rein in his tongue, as some older brothers falsely claimed. In fact, in most ways, Mercury was better than Jesse to talk to, he thought, and leaned into the colt with a chuckle.
A year gone by and he was almost fourteen. That meant now he'd do more than sit in the school house. Come fall, he'd be helping Miss Bartnik with the little ones in his last year, just like Franklin and Martin and Anne had done before going on to Runround and then, to settle in and begin a new life with their spouses, and someday children, on their farms. Jared squinted, trying to picture Franklin with a wife, standing in his own fields, his freckles obscured by a heavy tan.
"Hmmm." For some odd reason, Jared was less than pleased with the idea. Maybe it was because Jared couldn't picture himself doing that—working from sunup to sundown, wearing oneself out on the land, and not getting all that much in return, in his opinion. He gave Mercury a soothing pat, just now realizing he'd been gripping the poor horse too tightly and probably making him anxious.
"It's going to a heck of a new year, now I'm part of the Seven and Eight years," he chuckled. "Hope having all that power doesn't go to my head," he whispered into Merc's ear. "'Course, seeing as how I'm the very perfect picture of modesty, I'm sure that's not a worry."
Merc snorted and shook his head, and Jared took that as agreement.