Word Count: 8328
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.
"So, Jesse," Jared asked, "have you given any thought on what you plan to do when you head out on your Runround?"
It was the day after his birthday—the last he'd celebrate as a child—and Jared was taking complete advantage of the lazy couple of days he was being gifted. Turning fourteen yesterday meant the last time he'd have his own cake baked just for him, or be gifted a treat not on Christmas...at sundown this day he'd be considered a man by his community. Well, technically he'd be a man. He had no doubt that Mamma was still going to treat him like a little child, just the way she treated all the Padalecki men, and his brother and Daddy were definitely still going to treat him like he wouldn't be able to find his rear end with both hands and a detailed map. And would until he married, Jared supposed.
Tomorrow morning, bright and early, he'd once again have to face the wrath of the hens, and slip around in goat poo, but today, he was the Birthday King. And, as befitting his birthday-kingliness, he'd spent most of a lazy morning trailing after Jesse, nibbling on the bag of sweets he'd gotten as his birthday-gift, and not actually teasing Jesse by being so plainly exempt from chores—but, yes, sort of teasing him. Which was a pretty good gift in itself, seeing as how, as per custom, Jesse wasn't allowed to get back at Jared. Jared tossed a sweet into the air and caught it neatly in his mouth, and grinned at Jesse, who rolled his eyes and muttered, "Just you wait," under his breath.
They were currently in the barn, with Jared nestled comfortably into a nest of straw and blankets, one leg looped over the other. He'd taken care of Merc, brushed and fussed over him, and now was relaxing watching Jesse groom his horse, Beau. The rhythmic sweep-sweep of the brush led Jared to swinging his foot lazily in sync with him. He let his thoughts ramble freely in his head, nothing specific, until a particular thought tumbled to the front of his brain.
"Uhm, Jesse," Jared asked, "have you given any thought on what you plan to do when you head out on your Runround? Or when you plan to head out on your Runround?"
Jesse stopped, the brush coming to a rest on Beau's neck. He shook his head sharply. "I don't have time for that Runround mess," he said. "There's too much work to do, and I'm not interested—waste of time better put to getting life started, 'stead of skipping around all flibity-gibbet."
"Flibity-gibbet?" Jared snorted. "Well, hark at Uncle Methuselah—" He ducked the brush Jesse tossed at him with a huge laugh.
"You're an idiot, Beans." Jesse laughed shortly, scrubbing a hand through his hair. He sighed and said, "I guess I tell a lie about Runround, though. I am going to to it, just going to shrink it into a weekend. I've been asked on a camping trip. It seemed like it might be...fun,"Jesse said, in a tone of voice that said he was not entirely sure 'fun' was the word to use. "One of those Outsider boys, the ones who came to pick up an order of Mr. Krupa's dining room sets last week?"
Jared nodded; oh yes, he remembered. They seemed like nice guys—they laughed a lot, and shoved Jesse around, but in a nice way, like he was a friend. They'd actually made Jesse laugh out loud. He remembered that one of the boys, with wheat-colored hair and green eyes, had seemed especially nice. He'd had such a nice smile….
Jared blinked. Jesse had been talking at him for a few minutes and he'd not heard a word he'd said—
"—since I didn't much care to go alone, I said I'd ask. How about it?"
"Jared! I said they asked—well, Riley asked—if maybe you'd want to come along, so I told him I'd ask you. After all, you're old enough, and I figured like me you weren't all that interested in Runround, and this way, we'll get it out the way early, and be done with it. Join Church as full members and get on with life, eh?"
Jared fell back into the straw, staring at Jesse open-mouthed. When Jesse didn't burst into laughter and shout 'Gotcha!' Jared swallowed his astonishment and nodded slowly. "Yeah...yes...I mean, sure, that sounds good to me. It'd be good to go early, wouldn't it, it'd certainly let Mamma and Daddy know I'm ready to make my own choices."
Jesse dropped down next to Jared, and picked the brush up out of the straw. Tossing the brush from hand to hand, he asked, "Are you? You don't have to rush, you know. You're only just fourteen—" he held up his hand at Jared's annoyed huff. "I know, I know. You're old enough to make up your own mind about this. And I'll back you either way. You're smart, Beanstalk. Flighty, but smart."
Jared elbowed Jesse, and the two tussled back and forth a bit before Jesse shoved Jared under the straw. He came up laughing, sweeping straw out of his hair and trying to get it out of his collar. "Ow, you gluepig! Stop!"
They settled back, grinning at each other. Jared elbowed Jesse gently, and said, "I've thought a lot about my future, y'know. I want to teach. I can help on the farm, and teach as well, and some day, Miss Bartnik might retire, and hand the job off to me. That being the case, the Elders will have to pay me full wages. I think it'd be a good life for me."
"That's actually a good idea. But if you do that, you know you'll lose your claim to the farm," Jesse said, his forehead creased with concern—but not anger. Jesse would be fine with not having to share the farm with Jared, that was plain. Jared smiled, and whacked him softly on the shoulder.
"Silly. I'm not worried about that. What, would you ever stop taking care of any of us if we had need?"
"Of course not, Beanstalk. I'd never, ever, turn you away."
"Well, then," Jared said. "I don't need to worry, do I?"
Jesse answered by cinching an arm tight around Jared's neck, dragging him through the straw before rubbing a knot into his hair. "Fall of the Birthday King," he shouted, and flipped Jared flat on his back, ripping his precious bag of sweets away before leaping up from the straw and dashing for the yard. Jared staggered to his feet and ran after, screaming for his sweets.
"Is this any way for a grown man to act," he shouted, racing through the orchard after him, and feeling equally outraged and loved. An odd combination—but when it came to Jesse, a familiar one.
Just as he'd thought, Mamma and Daddy had very little to say against Jared going along with his brother on his abbreviated Runround. Mamma even seemed rather quietly proud that Jared had made up his mind so young as to what he wanted to pursue. Choosing a productive path was part of becoming a full-fledged member of the church—an adult.
Daddy was a little reluctant to agree—with Jared's desire to take his Runround now, and with his future plans. "This farm was meant for my sons to work, to pass down to their sons. Teaching...that's a dangerous job there, Jared. Puts all manner of odd thoughts in a man's head. It's a work better suited to women. They get no flights of fancy, and they know children, what they need and how to give it to 'em."
Jared came away from the talk with Daddy with the confused idea that teaching made a man want to leave the land for some nebulous something or other and that women had no imagination. However, judging by the thunder in his mamma's expression, that might not be what Daddy meant. He'd never know since he sure wasn't fool enough to ask Mamma what she thought Daddy meant….
Come the morning that it was time to go, Jared was beyond ready. He'd packed his rucksack days before, and only needed to grab a mat for the ground and his jacket. Mercy stopped him before he left the house, and pressed a baggy, knit thing into his hand. "It's a hat I knit for you, Jare, to keep you warm. It's going to get cold come night-time, and I worried."
Jared turned the baggy, grey and black thing around in his hand, not daring to crack the slightest of smiles. "Thank you, Mercy," he said seriously. "I love it." The smile he got in return put the sun to shame. He slipped it on, and was plunged into darkness as the hat sank past his brow and down to the bridge of his nose. "It's...it's perfect."
He and Jesse walked out to the Outsider road that crossed into a corner of their territory, and waited. A bus chugged past them, hissing out a cloud of steam, and Jared jumped up, almost stumbling into the road with excitement.
"Sit, Beanstalk," Jesse said. "That's not the one. We're looking for the one that has the number ten on that little sign over the windshield. See how that one says seven?"
Jared nodded, and settled again, his face red with embarrassment. He pulled the baggy knit cap even lower on his head in an attempt to hide his burning cheeks.
Jesse laughed, but not unkindly, and jabbed Jared in the shoulder. "Lots of buses come and go here, Beans. Ten takes you into the part of town closest to us, the one we generally do business with. It's more like home—lots of farmland, open spaces. Now, Seven takes you to the part where it's more city-like—there's the big school there, where you go if you're not planning to work on the land, or you know, have no land to work." He said it like it was the worst thing he could imagine and Jared hid his smile behind the collar of his shirt.
"When you're teaching," Jesse said, like it was a done deal already and Jared flushed, this time in pleasure at Jesse's faith in him, " you'll get well acquainted with the Number Seven. You'll have to go to school, get a certificate that says you can teach in Family schools. Any Family school."
Jared lost the thread of conversation for a moment. That was something that he'd never even considered—going out into other Family communities. Leaving home. Being his own man. It was an exciting thought; terrifying as well.
Jesse was still talking, totally unaware that he'd thrown open the doors to an entirely new, exciting world for Jared with one little sentence. "And then there's Five, and that takes you right to the real city, all smoke and dirt and steam and cars and—" Jesse shuddered. "We don't go there. No reason at all to go."
Jared committed the numbers to memory just in case—as a teacher he'd need to know them. He knew Miss Bartnik occasionally went to the town on her own for school supplies. The City, though...he had to admit, there was a sneaking tendril of curiosity coiling through him. Anything that gave his big brother the creeps absolutely got his attention. He wondered if it was true that no one of the Family had ever gone to the Big City. The whisper was that none had gone and come back….
Mind, there was no reason he could come up with to go—besides just being plain nosy.
It was probably best not to go. It was definitely best not to go.
The city was probably full of terrible things, bad people and bad places. This trip they were on was more than enough adventure, their miniature Runround. Jesse and he didn't need more than this. They were smart guys, who knew what they wanted and they weren't about to get in any trouble. Jared nodded, full with conviction. No trouble at all.
"Jesse, do you think they'll have beer—ow!" He rubbed his head and gave his brother as nasty a look as he could. "You pants," he grumbled.
"Beer? holerah, Beanstalk, try not to drive me crazy this weekend, okay?" his brother said, shaking with laughter.
The bus they boarded was shaky old thing. It stank, Jared thought, of too many people in various stages of hygiene, and it was loud. Not so much the machine itself—the initial bang-roar of the engine firing up startled him into nearly falling off his seat, but after it was quiet; the bus just sort of hissed and grumbled its way down the road. That noise was almost drowned under the noise of so many people having conversation, with people on the moon from the volume of it. Jared shuddered, and tried not to grip Jesse's hand like a baby. It was bad enough that people were staring at them, remarking on their clothes, and rucksacks, and shoes and probably Jared's huge bag of a hat—which he was coming to love for its hiding properties. Jared was not about to fuel their remarks by hanging onto Jesse like a little girl, or by looking back at them. What were they remarking on, after all? Surely they'd seen Family members before? Jared folded the rim of the hat back, and stared out the window, shutting out everything around him but the landscape swiftly rolling by.
Thankfully, it was a not long before they were at the bus station right at the outskirt of town. There weren't many vehicles, one or two cars, and the big, red truck Jared remembered seeing at Krupa's workshop was parked at the rear the station's lot, the bed filled with teens, it looked like—Jesse's acquaintances. They were all standing in the truck bed and waving wildly.
It was a mixed group of boys and girls, and Jared was surprised, a little scandalized as well. Boys and girls? He wasn't sure about that. They didn't do that at home. He looked to Jesse, ready to do whatever his brother wanted, but Jesse seemed absolutely calm and collected. As far as Jared could see, he had no reaction at all to this thing Jared found so overwhelming, so he decided the best thing to do was to emulate Jesse's calm.
The drive to the campsite didn't take long at all. After a rather thrilling ride over questionably-paved roads, during which Jared only grabbed Jesse's shirt once, and might have gasped out loud a time or two, they very quickly arrived at a spot deep in the woods.
The site looked like it hadn't been in use much recently. The underbrush was starting to inch into the clearing where they were supposed to set up tents. Jared dragged his bag off the truck, looking around in interest. He'd never been camping before—couldn't see the point to it. Neither he nor Jesse had ever done anything like it. Luckily they'd been invited to share tents with Jesse's sort-of-friends.
Besides lots of trees and rocks, there were a couple of fire rings, a water spigot which stood not too far from the clearing, and not much else. Jared figured that they'd have to make the woods their privy. He blushed deeply, horrified at the thought of having to share the woods with strangers. At least Jesse's friend said that the site didn't get much traffic at this time of year, owing to the chill, so he'd only have to deal with the people with them now. Embarrassing enough, Jared thought, and vowed to head as far out into the trees as possible when Nature made her demands.
Jared was soon distracted by being put to work. The first thing they did was start fires, after which a few of the teens set to cooking—thank the Lord.
Jesse emptied his pack, and handed Jared a small bag. "Coffee," he said with a smile at Jared. "There's a pot at the bottom of my bag."
Jared laughed. His brother always looked out for him. He bent down to empty his own bag, jumped when a hand touched his back. He leaped up, looking about wildly, and stared right into amazing, pine-green eyes. "I—I—"
For some reason, the ability of speech abandoned him, and all he could do was imagine what he must look like, a beanstalk of a boy, covered with bumps, jaws moving to no purpose, and trying to crawl up inside his baggy knit hat without actually moving a muscle.
The guy stepped back, tossed a long fall of autumn-wheat colored hair out of his eyes before holding out his hand for Jared to shake. "Hey there, I'm Riley, friend of Jesse's," he said, smiling wide. "Well, sort of a friend. Leastways, I hope to be better friends by the end of the weekend."
Jared swallowed and worked his jaws pointlessly some more, his arm pumping slowly up and down, his stupidly huge hand wrapped around the boy—Riley's—smaller one. Riley seemed to realize that their hands were still intertwined, and let go, his wide smile gone softer, shyer. Jared fought the odd impulse to snatch Riley's hand up again. He really wanted to keep that warm, smooth, touch.
"You are Jesse's brother, right? Jared? Yeah, I knew it was you. I hoped you'd come along. Here," Riley held out a slim, green bottle. "Join in, we're going to get royally smashed tonight. Tonight, no rules apply."
The rest of the teens around them let out wild whoops, and waved their own bottles. Jared shook his head, overcome by the enthusiasm, suddenly too shy for words. Riley reached out and patted Jared's shoulder and pushed the bottle into Jared's hand. "I'll be back. I'm going to help with the tents. Drink up."
Jared took a sip of whatever it was in the bottle. Beer, he discovered, bitter and thin, and not really all that tasty. But everyone else drank with enthusiasm, Jesse included, so as long as Jesse wasn't running over to dash it out of his hand, he figured he might as well, and drank deep.
Jared found he couldn't stop looking at Riley for some reason. He watched him make his way around the campsite, marveling at what a nice person he was, helping to raise tents, setting up the food, making people laugh...it seemed he was a take-charge person. His friends all looked interesting too—there was a short guy with close-cut, dark-brown hair, oddly pretty for a boy; he had the bluest eyes and the prettiest curl to hs full upper lip. Jared moved his fingers together, imaginary charcoal in his hand drawing that curve. The boy was grilling frankfurters on a stick, and talking to a girl with long, red hair and a bright, white smile. Jared noted that he should have been more interested in the breasts that her sweater lavishly displayed. He felt a mild sort of rise inside at the way they swayed slightly under the fabric, but it felt...far-away, like it was happening to someone else.
Sitting next to her was a tall boy just covered with freckles like a farmer, husking corn and laughing with the girl whenever she turned her attention to him. Another boy with longish, blonde hair who looked like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth sat opposite them. Sitting in his lap, bold as can be, was a tiny girl with bobbed brown hair, whose sharp features somehow mixed together to make her beautiful. They were a loud, active group. They sang, they drank, passing around a bottle of what Jesse said was wine. Jared noticed another bottle making the rounds of the friends, one filled with a dark gold liquid. Whiskey, he thought, or something like it, from the smell of it.
Jared was a little nervous, but Jesse was calm and kept an arm around Jared, making him feel secure enough to refuse the bottles as they passed him. He decided it'd probably be much safer sticking to the more familiar beer.
After a while, the food was passed around, the franks, roasted ears of corn, and a pot of beans, along with chunks of bread—Jared loved the taste of frankfurters cooked over a fire, and enthusiastically took two, along with double spoonfuls of beans and one of the bigger chunks of bread. He'd grab the corn after….were those sugar dusted apples he saw at the edge of the fire?
Jesse frowned at him, but more out of habit than actual disapproval, Jared thought. Attention was devoted to their meals, soft conversation and the occasional hum of approval for the food. The freckled one swore the frankfurters were so good, he'd have to kiss the cook, and Jared's heart skipped a beat. Did the farmer-boy mean it? But the blue-eyed boy laughed at him, said hell, for a kiss, he'd have to beat him at arm-wresting first.
Jared was horrified on a couple of different levels—two boys playing at kissing! And cursing! There was cursing. He glanced at Jesse, who sat quietly, seeming indifferently, but the slight wrinkle of his nose told Jared differently. Jared stared down at his plate. With single-minded attention, he scooped up beans with his bread and wolfed down the franks and chased it all with another beer.
After the plates were cleared away and to Jared's joy, the roasted apples were passed out, guitars appeared; the freckled farmer boy got up and headed into the trees with the red-headed girl, and the boys left at the fire began playing their guitars—Jared could tell that it was meant to poke fun at the two leaving the fireside. After a bit, the foolishness slowly shifted to mesmerizing trills and runs of notes, chasing each other through the air. Jared's eyes slid nearly closed, his head bobbled in time with the tunes. He drank in the night air, the fresh scent of the fire, the delicious smell of apples roasting near the flames, and let everything go, every worry, every thought, he sat in the near dark and just was.
After a while, Jesse clapped Jared on the back, startling him back into wakefulness and told him he was about to go water the roses, and strolled into the dark past the fire. Riley was magically in his place, a warm arm settling gently around Jared's shoulders where Jesse's had been; a sweet-smelling roast apple on a stick waved in front of Jared's face. Jared grabbed it, snorting when Riley snatched his baggy hat off and shoved it into Jared's coat.
"There, now I can see your pretty eyes. You okay, young man?"
Jared blushed at the odd comment as he picked the apple apart, letting the steam rise out of it. "Yes, thanks, I'm fine."
Jared didn't think he'd be able to stuff in another bite, but he discovered he had a little bit of room left—enough for the sweet treat. He shoved a piece in his mouth. It really was good. "Anyway, you can't be much older than me," Jared mumbled around the treat , feeling warmer and more confident having finished his beer, and now having a swallow or five of a second bottle. Or maybe his third. Fourth? He wasn't really sure anymore. He licked his fingers, and jumped when Riley spoke again, right in his ear, felt like.
"Oh young one, how little you know. I'm much, much, much older than you—in spirit."
One of the boys dropped down on Jared's free side, the one with the blue eyes. "Whatever you do, don't listen to that one," he said. "Whatever comes out of his mouth is bullcrap." He laughed and held his hand out to Jared. "Chris," he said. "You're...Jared, right?"
Jared nodded silently, noting Chris really did have the most brilliant blue eyes and really was awfully, awfully, awfully pretty for a boy. He rocked suddenly to one side as Riley reached over him and slapped at Chris. "Shut up, Chris. You're just jealous—always been jealous of me, you jerk."
Chris laughed harder, and out of nowhere, the red-headed girl dropped down on his lap. These Outside girls, Jared thought….
"Who's that big guy from the sticks?" she asked. "I want that one. I'd love to get to know those muscles better," she snickered.
"Shut up, Dee," Ri said. "This guy's his brother. Besides, what about Jack?"
She made a face, and then turning to Jared, said, "Sorry…I was just kidding, really." She mock-growled at Riley and said, "Besides, Jack knows I'm a flirt. That's all it is." She pushed the fall of red hair back, sweat making little tendrils curl around her heart-shaped face. Jared wasn't sure what she was sorry for but he could see how her entire attitude changed—from sort of sharp and. Well, hungry was the only way he could describe it—to sweet. "Aren't you young for a Runround?" she asked, but in a genuinely curious way, nothing malicious in her question at all.
Jared shrugged and smiled at her. She looked mildly startled for a second, before giving Jared a warm smile back. "I am fourteen, y'know," he said. "Fourteen is a little bit early to go, but not too early. I'm just getting it out of the way now, and since Jesse finally decided to go walk, I thought this was the perfect time." He leaned towards the pretty girl, and whispered—or thought he did; it was more of a hoarse shout, really. "Jesse waited looong, he's nineteen—almost twenty!"
"Ah, I see," she said, laughter in her tone. "Well, your brother seems like a good guy."
"Oh, he's the best. He's also grumpy, and pushy, and a sometimes a great, big ol' wet blanket, but he's a good guy, really." Jared giggled, and the world swam a bit before coming right-side again. "Oh…" He grinned. "I feel. Good. I think."
Riley laughed, "I think you are feeling very good."
"Don't let him get too drunk, you know how Jack gets about that," the redhead said. "And speaking of," she murmured, got up and wandered off into the dark again.
Chris didn't even watch her go, he punched Jared in the arm. "Come on, lightweight, git over to the fire with the rest of us."
Jared followed the older boys and took it upon himself to settle in next to Riley. Guitars came out again and Jared was immediately caught up.
Guitars were...different. Exotic. Guitars weren't something every Family approved for use. Some families were fine with guitars being used in praise of the Lord, but they were a firm no for his Family...weird, he thought, and gently burped.
Riley set his guitar down, but Chris and Steve, the boy with the long blonde hair, kept going, strumming their guitars as they slid into a song. Jared stared at them, open-mouthed. He glanced at Jesse, who had wandered back fireside and was watching them with a look not quite censure—in fact, he started tapping his foot to the tune after a minute himself, so Jared figured it must be okay to enjoy it. He watched, grinning, bobbing his head—totally amazed. The song came to an end, and the boys laughed at each other.
Riley picked up his guitar again, and looked about. "Where's Jack? Get him over here."
At the sound of his name, the freckled farmer suddenly appeared out of the shadows, looking a little more rumpled than when he'd left and the girl—Dee—clutched tight to his side. "Forget it. I've got better things to do than howls at the sky with you guys, right?"
He bumped the girl with his hip, but she turned big eyes up to him and pursed her lips in a mock pout. "Puh-leeeze, Jack-Jack, please?" Dee said, hanging off his arm and swinging back and forth until he let out a reluctant laugh.
"You really are kind of a bitch," he grumbled, and though Dee laughed, Jared hunched over and flushed. He wasn't completely sure, but he thought that was not a nice word for a woman. He peered at Dee and Jack, and the uncharitable thought floated up, that maybe she wasn't a nice woman. He wondered if that meant Jack was not a nice man, even though he looked like a nice man...can't tell a book by its cover, a thought that fizzled away in his brain when Riley pulled Jared close and whispered in his ear. "Don't worry. They're savages, but I'll protect you from them."
Jared smiled, and smiled even wider when he leaned against Riley and Riley didn't move away; in fact, Riley leaned in closer himself. His hand started to smooth up and down Jared's flannel sleeve. The constant, slow stroking felt wonderfully warm, so soothing. His eyes went slitted with pleasure; he felt like Mr. Mittens, Mercy's old cat...it felt so good. If he could, he'd purr the woods down.
He looked across the fire, and his brother was leaned back against a log, hands folded over his belly, head tipped back and he was snoring like an old sow. The sharp-faced girl caught Jared's look and giggled, shaking her head. She crowed, "Looks like you're out of luck, Dee!"
Dee looked over at Jesse snoring away, with wide and utterly innocent eyes. Jared wondered that no one could tell it was insincere. "What ever are you talking about, Sophie?" she asked, and held Jack's arm tight enough to make him wince slightly.
Jared watched the little by-play with fascination. He might not be a city folk like these Outsiders, but he could definitely tell when a body was being set up for a fall, and he saw Jack was in Dee's crosshairs.
Jared stood and staggered over to his brother, taking the tilting brown bottle out of his hands. Seems his brother lost out—or won, maybe—by falling asleep. Odd that he fell asleep like that, Jared thought. He peered at the brown bottle. Must be because ol' Jesse was a lightweight. Why, he couldn't even finish one little beer. Jared took a healthy sip, and nearly spit the liquid back out. Not beer—whiskey, and it was awful. Jared giggled—once he'd gotten past nearly choking on the stuff. Well, guess what? He was going to drink all of this whiskey and show Jesse he was the best at something for once, even if it was just drinking.
Something cracking loudly in the fire behind him caught his attention. He turned around just in time to catch Jack tilt his head to the sky, close his eyes and begin to sing, softly, quietly at first, then slowly stronger.
Jared's mouth dropped open. Jack had a voice like an angel. A little rough, he thought , but a good rough, like walking through the fields when the sun was high and you've sneaked your shirt off and the hot rays danced over your bare back...Jared shivered; Farm-boy's voice slithered under his skin, and woke up in his belly, all warm and golden and...he stood frozen, listening to the most wonderful voice he'd ever heard in his life.
Someone came up behind him, warm and solid, and Jared couldn't help but lean back into them. He closed his eyes and let the wonderful voice roll over him as Riley, it turned out, wrapped an arm around him and linked his hands across Jared's belly. For some reason, between the golden warmth of Jack's voice and the heat of Riley's body at his back, he felt himself getting a little tingly, his penis started to stiffen up. Mortified, he tried to move, but Riley just leaned into him a little harder, and put his lips to Jared's ear. Jared turned his cheek to Riley, waiting for whatever it was he was going to say. Instead, the tip of Ri's tongue touched his ear; warm and smooth and a little wet, and it should have been uncomfortable, disgusting even, but Jared's penis went from tingly to rock-hard in a second. He was glad it was dark, because the way his face was burning, he must be as red as the fire.
He pulled away from Riley, confused, shivering, needing...something. "I, unh, I gotta, unh. Oh, boy. Gotta—"
"Pee?" Riley asked, with a laugh in his voice that even Jared, woozy as he was, could hear. Peanuts, he wished he could shrink down to the size of a mouse and—throw himself into a cat's mouth.
"Yunnh…" he said, and that was supposed to be a yes, but his lips just drooped uselessly. Darn lips. Darn peee-nisss. Darn...leggies. Where were his legs?
"Fuck, Riley," a soft, concerned voice said. "Help the poor kid out, take him back to his tent."
"I'll take him to mine—his brother is passed out and I don't think this kid has ever had a drink before, let alone stay up past ten."
They all laughed as Jared happily staggered off in Riley's grip. Good guy, Riley, he was so helpful. And warm.
Riley's tent was set off a bit from the others, right back in the dark. Jared listed sideways and peered towards where he'd thought the fire was, but saw nothing but dark trees and dark ground and—and—darkness. The world was dark all over. "Hunh."
The ground was dark too, but it was also soft underneath him, so Jared lay back, trying to ignore the way his head was swimming. He had the oddest sensation of being able to hear the others perfectly even though they were off in the distance. Laughter broke out and he could hear footsteps and then Dee coaxing someone past the tent, where it was even darker. There was another voice—one he'd never not recognize forever from this day on. Golden, like syrup, warm, like the sun. Jack...
He heard clothes rustling and realized that the clothes were his. Riley was right over him, a knee on either side of Jared. "Hey, I'm taking this off, okay? Don't want you getting sick on it."
That was good. Not to be sick. Sick was bad. But he didn't remember feeling...not good. How did Riley know?
"Will I get sick?" he asked, and Riley smiled.
"Hope not." He leaned down and touched his lips to Jared's and Jared was startled into moaning. He'd never kissed anyone before; he'd wanted to kiss, be kissed, so much. It was confusing, this wanting to be kissed and not caring it was a boy. A boy.
He was sure he'd never looked at a boy this way before, he'd never thought about them in this way. It had to be being here in this place. This was a fantasy land, where nothing was real and everything was allowed and it wasn't real it wasn't.
When Riley pressed down on his mouth, he opened on a gasp. He didn't know why, but it seemed right to part his lips, to let Riley touch his tongue to his. To moan and sigh, and let Riley suck on his tongue. So good, little soft pulses, and to trace the silky smoothness of the inside of his cheek. It tingled, and he couldn't help but to thrust upwards with every pull on his tongue. His penis—his, his—rod, grown boys called it that, yeah...his rod jumped like there was a string from his tongue to it, and he felt a wet pulse into his underwear with every sucking kiss.
So this was kissing—it was better than he'd ever imagined. He felt heavy, everything from his bellybutton down felt heavy, hot, and throbbed with the beat of his heart. Riley bit down on Jared's lip, then licked the brief pain away, sucked and bit him again, until his lips were throbbing and he nearly cried for wanting something—something else, more.
He didn't know himself like this, he didn't know what was happening to him. "Help me," he muttered, and cried out when Riley's hand squeezed his rod.
"You like that? 'Course you do. Let me take your pants off, okay?"
Jared tried to think about what Riley asked; he tried to ask Riley not to, to wait a little until Jared could figure out what was going on, but then somehow his pants were gone, and then Riley was kissing him again, then Riley was touching him and it felt so good, too good, just rivers and rivers of little thrills running down his body, and filling his rod—and then.
Pulling his legs apart, Riley's touched him. His fingers were prodding and pushing at Jared and.
Jared's lips wouldn't work. He wanted to tell Riley he wasn't sure if he liked this. It felt good, and then it didn't, and then it did—back and forth.
A finger went inside him, it felt dry, too big, and made him feel sore. It slid in and out, and above him, Riley was muttering how good it would feel, how he knew Jared wanted it from the first moment he saw him, "What a good lil' slut, fuck your mouth, too, wreck those pink lips, made t'be wrapped around my cock"—and then.
Pressure and a sensation of something popping into his butt and then out again, it was...what was that? He opened eyes he hadn't even realized were closed. He peered blearily at Riley. "Wuh?"
Riley pulled back, groaning. "S'all wet, like a bitch in heat,...you're one of them, aren'tcha?"
"I'm not...what…?" Riley's rod was a long, dry drag against his butt, again and again, hard and hot, jabbing between his legs, sliding around, skating around his hole, and then—
And then Riley lunged forward. It felt like he was ripping inside, it hurt, it hurt. Jared opened his mouth to let out a scream, but Riley's palm came down on his mouth, hard, crushing his lips together. Jared shook his head until his nose was free of Riley's grip, he could breathe at least—and then.
At first, all Jared knew was that there was a lot of pain. A lot of pain. Riley was moving against him, hard and fast, and there was pain like a flaming torch being shoved inside him that slowly became less painful, but never really better. He snapped back to himself and realized it was Riley's rod, and Riley was shaking and moaning into Jared's neck, like he was fighting not to shout out loud—smothering the sound so no one could hear, he realized.
Jared's breath shuddered in and out through his nose, he hurt, and stupidly was embarrassed by the spit building up under Riley's palm, smearing all over it, and his face. The motion against his body was making his rod stiffen again, and that horrified him because this was wrong, and bad—and then Riley went still for a few seconds that in Jared's confused mind felt like minutes. Riley cursed, groaning "Fuck—" into his ear, and then was a dead weight on top of Jared, who couldn't move, couldn't speak, was finding it harder to breathe. He pushed against Riley as much as he could, but his head was swimming, he felt upside down and inside out and his eyes closed even though he didn't want them to.
Something felt really wrong. Something hurt between his legs, it felt weird and wrong and wet. Sticky.
Someone was shaking his shoulder. "Hey, wake up. You fell asleep. C'mon, you need to get up."
Jared sat up, blinking blearily about. He had no idea where he was, no idea what was happening. He peered at the boy hanging over him. Jack? "Where am I?"
"My tent. You must have crawled in here and fell asleep." He sniffed gingerly, and grimaced. "Or passed out. Where's Ri?"
Riley. Jared frowned. Something bad about Riley, he wasn't sure what is was, until a sudden flood of memories crashed through his brain, wiping out everything except the thing he'd done with Riley. And what the consequences would be if anyone ever found out about it.
Jared's stomach rose up into his throat—he could feel his entire insides rising up.
"Shoot," Jack yelped, and turned Jared away from the sleeping bag he was laying on, and shoved him towards the tent flap, so that everything he threw up landed in the dirt instead of on the tent floor. "Oh, crap, what happened to you, kid?"
Jesse was in front of him, his face like thunder. "What did you do? Look like you threw yourself offa cliff!" he shouted.
Jared looked down. He was a mess. Thank the Lord, he was at least dressed—sort of. His shirt was haphazardly buttoned, his coat too. He took a step towards Jesse, and his pants...his pants were on, but not closed, and they were barely hanging to his hips.
Jared's whole face flushed hotly. He was so horribly mortified, he wished he had thrown himself off a cliff. "I think...I th-think I fell down in the wo-woods," he stammered. The skin up and down his arms and his back and legs was stinging. Maybe he had fallen?
Riley's face suddenly appeared over Jack's shoulder. "Hey, Jared. Where'd you get to? You went off to pee, and you disappeared." The look he gave Jared was blank, no warmer than a mannequin's face. There was none of that sweetness there, no sign of the friendly, happy boy from last night. Jared curled over and threw up again, narrowly missing his brother's feet.
Jack pushed Jesse back, and knelt down by Jared, despite the rancid puddle between his legs. "Jared...did something happen to you?"
Jared froze, ice cascading through him—did Jack know what happened, what he was? Jared shook his head frantically. "No. no. I'm fine. I'm good. Just, y'know, sore. From falling."
Jack looked unconvinced. He looked up at Jesse, who was seething about being pushed aside, but giving Jack the benefit of the doubt. Neither Jared nor he had experience of over-drinking.
Looking up at Jesse, Jack said, "Maybe he should go home. I know you guys are supposed to be having some big freedom fun-weekend, but your brother really doesn't look good. He might just be hungover, but. If he was my brother—"
"I don't need you to be telling me how to take care of my brother. " Jesse snapped.
Jared knew his brother, could hear in his voice that he was stung at what he considered to be an accusation. Jesse elbowed Jack out of the way, and pulled Jared to his feet—carefully. He glared at Riley. "Can you take us home?'
"Sure," Riley said quickly, "of course. We'll help you pack up. No problem."
Jesse nodded. "Jared, you stay here with Jack while I get our things."
He walked off with Riley. Jack pulled Jared away from the vomit, and sat next to him. He was quiet, but it was a good kind of quiet, kind of like the quiet Jared felt when he sat in the barn with Mercury, or when he was in his private place. Just sat without speaking, until Jack sighed, and pressed a knuckle gently into Jared's knee. Asked again. "Are you sure you're okay? Because if you're not, you can tell me, I promise I won't say a word to anyone, unless you want me to."
Jared looked at him, shaking his head. There was no way he could tell Jack. His insides flipped again, turned to watery ice. What if Riley...but no. Riley wouldn't tell because than they'd know what Riley had done, and that had to be just as bad as being. Being forsaken by the Lord.
Dee came up behind them, crouched down between them and laid her hand on Jack's neck the same way Jared laid his hand on Merc's. Jack looked briefly annoyed, but his face cleared so fast Jared figured he must have seen wrong. "Okay, Jared, if you're sure you're all right..." he said.
Dee laughed. "Aww, Baby's First Hangover, hunh, sweetie? Don't coddle him like he's some infant, Jack. You're not a baby, are you Jared?"
Again, Jared shook his head. Dee laughed again and said, "This is yours, I think? You must have dropped it behind Ri's tent?"
She held out his baggy hat. Jared stared at it like he'd never seen it before. He felt his skin go cold and clammy. He didn't remember dropping it, or having it, or much about getting to Ri's tent at all.
"Here." Jack took it, and slid his fingers under Jared's chin; they were warm and soft, not a farmer's hand at all. He smoothed over Jared's face until his hand was resting softly in Jared's hair, tilted Jared's head down and gently slipped the hat back on, and his warm, smooth, not-farmer's hand cuppped his cheek. "Are you? Really?"
"Ye—yeah." He stuttered, and managed to pull away from Jack, staggering to his feet. He hurt, from his belly button down to his knees. He hissed, shocked at how much it hurt. Jack looked startled, but Jared waved him off. He felt sticky and sick. Probably from vomiting, he thought. He staggered off alone into the woods. "Gotta pee," he managed.
Once in the woods, he pulled his pants down to his thighs, and nearly vomited again when he realized his underwear were just—gone. A hot wave of shame swept through him, his knees going wobbly. He felt carefully between his legs and gagged, nearly vomiting again, when his fingers slid easily into that other opening, the edges swollen and puffy. It felt...it felt like it was open, gaping, and sticky fluid coated his hand when he yanked his fingers loose. He gagged again, desperately fighting down the desire to vomit, wiping his fingers frantically against the inside of his shirt.
Jared closed his eyes and prayed with all his might, "Please don't let Jesse find out, please don't let Riley tell, please don't let my insides fall out, please, please, please, make it all just a horrible dream."
He rubbed away tears, and wiped his runny nose. He only wanted to be with his brother, get home, and lock himself in his room and then—he never wanted to think about any of this ever, ever, ever again.
When he came out of the woods, Jesse was waiting for him, and hustled him past the teens before they could even say good bye. When Riley opened the truck door and indicated Jared could sit by him, he just shook his head no, eyes on his feet as he quickly jumped into the back of the truck. He was so pathetically grateful that Jesse hopped back there with him, and carefully arranged their bags around Jared. They didn't speak. All the way back, Jesse sat silently, eyes squeezed tight, rubbing his temples and frowning.
When they pulled up to the station again Jesse helped Jared down, gentle, careful hands helping him to ground like some instinct was telling him that something was terribly wrong with his brother, he just couldn't figure out what. Jesse just grunted when Riley said goodbye, totally done with the Outside, and whatever it had done to Jared. Jared tried to grab his bag back from Jesse and in wrestling it away, didn't hear footsteps behind him—he nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard Riley's voice.
Riley didn't touch him, acted like he barely knew him. "Nice meeting you, Jared." was all he said before driving off, leaving their bags in the station parking lot, leaving them staring after the truck. Jesse studied Jared's face for a long, heart-stopping minute until he took his brother by the arm and led him inside the small depot.
Jared trailed after Jesse as he bought tickets for the return ride, followed him back to the long wooden benches in the waiting area. They sat silently side-by-side on a bench, their bags between their feet. They drank the little cone-shaped paper cups of water Jesse had brought back to them. He was staring at the brown and white floor tiles, set in a circular pattern, one that drew the eye. After a while, he sighed and said, "Beans, when the folks ask why we're back so soon, just tell them we decided that Outside was really not for us after all, and people who seem nice sometimes aren't."
Jared felt the blood drain from his face; he was going to pass out, he knew it, but he kept upright and told his brother he would say noting else but that. He almost asked Jesse what he'd heard, but Jesse spoke up again, again with a deep, from-the-toes sigh. "I failed you, Beans. I was supposed to keep an eye on you, but instead, I let you get so drunk, you passed out in the woods and almost broke your neck stumbling around in the dark trying to get back to me. How can you ever forgive me? How can I forgive myself?"
Jared stared at him, aghast. This was what was making his brother into this silent, miserable thing? This? Jared felt...well, at least this thing he felt was familiar. He felt like he wanted to punch Jesse in the face and keep punching until his knuckles gave out—and wanted to crawl into his lap and never ever let go, hide from the world in his brother's love. He shook his head and said, "Hey, don't. Please, Jesse. It's not your fault. Don't ever think for even a second that it's your fault."