strangeallure: (dead like you)
[personal profile] strangeallure
Dead Like You, Part 4

When they pull up into a suburban street on the outskirts of Richardson, Jensen slows down considerably. "I looked this up on Google Earth so many times," he says quietly. "I don’t even know if my memories of this place are real or if it's all Google images inside my brain."

Jared gives his knee a quick pat, but doesn’t say anything.

Finally, Jensen slides the car into a free parking spot next to the sidewalk.

"It's a couple houses down here," he explains. "I think I'd like to walk the rest of the way." He laughs. "Less of a chance to chicken out and speed off."

They lock the car – even though it seems pretty unlikely that someone would steal an old Chevy with so many new SUVs around – and walk down the street.

It's a nice neighborhood. Houses with double garages, painted in pastels. Well-kept front lawns with flower beds, oak trees and the occasional children's toy lying around. It's not so different from where Jared grew up, even if they and their neighbors were a little messier.

They reach a house that looks just like the others, painted in a light purple tone, but with both garage doors open because, apparently, the owners are having a yard sale.

Jensen's eyes grow wide, and he takes Jared's hand, pulling. "That's my house," he says, then corrects himself, "That's their house."

He has a deer-in-the-headlights look, and Jared smiles at him, hoping to give some reassurance.

"But that's good, isn't it?" he says. "It means that we can get a little closer without looking like creeps, maybe even talk to them."

"Yeah," Jensen says slowly. "Yeah. I suppose."

They walk up to the folding tables that hold box after box of stuff. There are toys and clothes and books, CDs and even VHS tapes.

Jared browses superficially, but mainly watches Jensen, who carefully goes through some stuff. After a minute, Jensen pulls out a kid's t-shirt with Minnie Mouse on it, and turns towards Jared.

"I remember this," he says, voice low enough that no one will overhear. "That was Mack's favorite. For a while, she wore it every time they visited me in the hospital." He smiles a wide smile, and it surprises Jared a little. "It's really them, Jared. They're still here."

They go through a couple more things, and Jensen points out stuff that he recognizes. He's poring over a stack of comic books while Jared rummages through another box of odds and ends, finding a Star Wars figure that looks pretty awesome. Jared's just about to show it to Jensen when someone snatches it from his hand.

"Hey," he says and looks up at the woman who took away his Yoda. She's around the age of Jared's mom with nicely done hair and a crisp white blouse with neatly folded-up sleeves over jeans she clearly ironed. He can't pinpoint what it is exactly, but he instantly knows she's Jensen's mom.

"I'm sorry," she says, "but that got in there by mistake. It's not for sale."

"That's too bad," Jared shrugs his shoulders, "it looks really cool."

"Yes," she smiles warmly at him, "it is pretty cool." The word doesn't really sound natural coming from her, more like she's quoting someone else. "Or at least our son used to think so."

Wow, Jared thinks, a minute into the conversation, and she actually brought up Jensen.

It's a great opportunity, and Jared's trying to think on his feet. Maybe he can get her to talk some more. He's good with people, he might pull it off.

He quickly looks in Jensen's direction, hoping for some kind of confirmation that Jensen's okay with this. Jensen doesn't even look at Jared, though, instead, his eyes are fixed on his mother, and he's already started to come over. Even though he's directly in her line of vision, she doesn't seem startled or shocked or does so much as a double-take. She's definitely unable to recognize him.

Before the silence can grow awkward, Jared makes himself smile back at her. "Used to think so? Did he outgrow Star Wars?"

"No." Her smile is a little wistful, but mostly full of affection. "He passed away a few years ago." She shakes her head. "But he never outgrew Star Wars. I don’t think anyone in this family does. I'm the only one who didn't really catch the bug, and I always feel a little left out." She turns the Yoda figure in her hands. "But my daughter will love that this turned up again. She made Jensen answer her questions with this thing for hours on end when she was little."

Jared looks at her, not quite getting what she's saying. "Questions?" he asks before he can stop himself, although he should probably ask about, well, Jensen.

"Oh yes," she smiles, "didn't you see? This is a Magic 8 Ball." She turns Yoda, so Jared can see the underside of the repulsor chair the little man is sitting on.

"Wow." He whistles. Right on the bottom of the chair, there's a viewing window for the 8 Ball's answers. "No wonder you don't want to sell this. It's really awesome. Your son had great taste in toys." He cuts a quick look at Jensen, who's standing slightly to the side of his mother, maybe a foot or two away, his eyes glued to her face as he listens intently.

"If you'd heard him banging on that toy drum-kit he wanted so badly, you wouldn't say that." She laughs a little. "Alan and I had to lock it away for a while because Jensen always wanted to practice as soon as he woke up. Trust me, a six-year-old's drum solo is not what you want to hear five o'clock on a Sunday."

She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and looks away self-consciously, much like Jensen does sometimes. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bore you with stories of my son."

"You didn't. It's nice to hear." Jared decides to go out on a limb, stretch the truth a little. "My family recently lost someone, too. He was only twenty-one, and I'm really not sure how well everyone's coping." Unexpectedly, he feels like it's a little hard to swallow, like his throat's closing up. "It's good to hear from someone whose son is gone longer … that you still think about him, that you didn't forget him."

Jensen's mom gives him a look like she understands, maybe better than Jared does. She nods and puts the Yoda figure down, patting Jared's arm for a moment. "What's your name?" she asks.

"Jared."

"I'm Donna," she extends her hand, and he takes it. "It's going to be easier, Jared, I promise," she says. "I know that it doesn't feel like it sometimes – and we still miss our son, of course we do, and our children still miss their brother – but the good memories, they will stay with you, they're much stronger than the bad ones."

Jared finds himself nodding along with her words; they're good words, kind and truthful and they make something in him feel a little lighter.

"In my self-help group, they said that it takes about a thousand days to get over a loved one's death. That's three years." Donna seems to almost sense what he's thinking. "It may seem like a long time, but it's a really important transition phase, trust me. And it's not all bleak."

She picks a Christmas ornament from one of the boxes. "The first Christmas after my son's passing, I thought I couldn't do it. I thought it would be awful, and we'd all cry our eyes out. But then Joshua, our oldest, found a tape from a Nativity play he and Jensen were in." She turns the silver star around in her hand. "It made us so happy just to see him again." She blinks rapidly, and her eyes are shining. "Even though he forgot part of the lyrics and lost his halo half-way through."

Jared can't help laughing a little at that, and he sees Jensen's smiling, too. By now he's absolutely certain that Loretta didn't lie to them. It's not just that Donna doesn't recognize Jensen, she doesn't really seem to be able to see him at all. Otherwise, she'd have to notice that he's standing much too close to her, much closer than a stranger would.

"He's been dead for four years now, but he's still part of our family, always will be." She shrugs. "He doesn't come up in every conversation, but he does come up. And when Joshua got married last year, he left a place among his groomsmen empty in Jensen's honor." She shakes her head and smiles. "He even thought of it himself, and he's usually the type who gives me an ironing board as a birthday gift and doesn't understand why I'm not jumping for joy."

She straightens her shoulders and steps back a little. "What I want to say, Jared, is that you might not get over it in the sense that you'll forget, but you'll come to terms with the situation. And you'll learn to enjoy the memories, be thankful for them." She squeezes his hand again. "I'm sorry for your loss, but it will get better." She sounds sure, calm.

Jared smiles at her. "Thank you, Donna. I appreciate it. Very much." He's surprised at how much he means it.

In the corner of the garage, next to a surf board, there's a woman waving like she's interested in buying, and Donna turns in her direction.

After two steps, she stops and throws over her shoulder, "You know what? You can keep the Yoda figure. I'm sure Jensen would like a real fan to have it."

"Really?" Jared beams. "How much?"

"It's a gift," Donna says. "Just don't sell it on eBay."

--

An hour later, Jared and Jensen sit at a vintage school desk in Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse and eat some of the best brisket sandwiches Jared's ever had with coleslaw that's almost as good as his mom's. Yoda is sitting between the two of them.

"I still can't believe my mom gave you my Yoda," Jensen says between bites.

"Yeah well," Jared replies, his mouth still full, "I'm irresistible like that." It's entirely possible that he sprays some small pieces of meat across the table.

Jensen wrinkles his nose. "Yeah, completely irresistible. Especially with coleslaw hanging between your teeth."

"Be nice or I won't share my Yoda with you." Jared says, and takes another hearty bite. The truth is that he likes this, teasing each other back and forth. Jensen seems happy, relaxed in a way Jared has not seen before.

"Hey," Jensen swats him in the arm, "you already said I could have it."

Jared just shrugs. "I lied."

"I hate you," Jensen says, laughing.

"I figured."

It's still light out when they walk back to the car.

"I can't believe we've made it this far, that Loretta didn't stop us or anything," Jensen says and gets out the car keys.

"Yeah." Jared grins. "Maybe she's not as good as we thought she was."

That’s when he notices someone sitting on the hood of their car.

"Hello, boys," Loretta says.

They both stop in their tracks. After a moment, Jensen mumbles out a, "Hi, Loretta," and Jared follows suit.

She smiles at them and says conversationally, "Did you find what you were looking for?"

"Yeah," Jensen says, "I think so."

"That's good, honey," she says, "real good." Her voice sounds absolutely sincere. "Does that mean you two are ready to come back now?"

Neither of them says anything, neither one moves. It's like the moment's frozen, and Jared has no idea what's about to happen.

Then something seems to break in Jensen. "You knew?" he asks, voice cracking and too high. "You knew all along?"

Loretta nods. "I did."

Jensen's face scrunches up, confused, maybe angry, too. "But what about the rules? You said we couldn't see our families, that it would be bad for them, not just for us." He's almost shouting now. "Why did you let us leave anyway, why did you take that risk, why did you let me get back here?"

She sighs, and takes his arm. "Let me buy you two some coffee."

--

It's a shock to learn that Loretta intentionally let them go, like she had wanted Jensen to come here, to see his family. But why would she? And if she had, why didn't she just tell him he should go? Jared just can't make sense of it all.

A few minutes later, tucked away in a corner booth with a steaming cup of coffee in front of her, Loretta explains herself to them. "I never lied to you, boys. Never." She takes a sip. "Once you're dead, you can't go back home for everyone's sake. It's not just that it's upsetting for us as reapers – it also keeps the living from letting go."

Jensen hasn't even tasted his coffee yet; he just holds on tightly to the mug.

"It's like with our clients. If the soul of the deceased is still around, the living feel it – and it makes them hold on." She looks at both of them meaningfully. "And a reaper's presence is much stronger than a regular soul's."

"Why's that?" Jared says, rubbing the straw of his milkshake between his fingers. Immediately, he wants slap himself. It's kind of a dumb question, and not exactly relevant.

Loretta answers him anyway. "Because we're not ready to leave yet, we're still tied to the living world." She pauses. "So when we find our families before they've made their peace, we make it that much harder for them. We make it almost impossible for them to let go."

Jensen's biting his lip and rolling his mug in his hands, not looking at Loretta. The silence between them is heavy, and Jared's afraid to even try and drink his milkshake for fear of making a slurping sound. He should have gone with coffee, too.

"So that's why you let me find them," Jensen says quietly after a while, "because they were already over me."

There's a flicker of what Jared thinks is pain on Loretta's face, and she reaches for Jensen's hand. "Oh honey, of course not. They will never be over you." She curls her hand around his. "What they are over is the loss of you. It's like your mom said – they went through the transition phase. Now, when they remember you, it's because they want to, because you're a part of their lives and always will be. Not because you're this great big hole in it."

The fact that Loretta knows what Jensen's mother said surprises Jared, but this is definitely not the time to bring it up.

Finally, Jensen takes a drink from his coffee.

"So," Jared says slowly as the meaning of Loretta's words sinks in, "that means I can't see my family, right?" He's surprised by how small his voice sounds.

"Not now, no," she says, patting his hand across the table. "But if you still need to when they're ready, I will tell you," she promises. "Most reapers don't want to. Once the initial impulse of wanting to go back is gone, they're happier keeping a distance between their new and their old lives."

She smiles at them. "But you're different. Both of you. It's a good thing, most of the time."

"Okay," Jared says, "okay." He's not even sure himself what exactly he thinks is okay.

When Jensen finally looks up from his coffee mug and catches Loretta's eye, it's unexpected. "Thank you," he says.

"You're welcome." Loretta smiles and then puts her empty cup down. "And what now? Are you ready to come back yet?"

Jared looks over at Jensen. He doesn’t want to decide this, not alone, so he just gives a faint nod and hopes that Jensen gets that it's up to him, that Jared's backing him up no matter what.

The thing is, Jared believes Loretta, and if he's honest, he wouldn't mind going back. Over the last months, his new life as a reaper sort of grew on him. He likes living with Jensen, their small, chaotic apartment with the comfy couch and meticulous kitchen. He likes his colleagues, too, the way they can make fun of each other one moment and help each other out the next. He even likes Robert with his mind reader-like waitressing skills and his big, fat crush on Loretta. And he likes the souls, likes that he can help people who have no one else in that moment. It feels like he's doing something good, something useful, something he's good at.

The only way he wants to go back, though, is if Jensen's in it, too. He can't imagine going without him.

Jensen gives him a quick smile and takes Jared's hand under the table, squeezing it briefly.

He turns his head to look at Loretta and says in a surprisingly strong voice, "We're coming back."

--

A couple of days later, they're back in Los Angeles, sitting in their regular booth at the Waffle House, almost like nothing happened.

Sure, Genevieve and Misha keep ribbing them about their 'great escape' and how they at least made it across the border, and Robert the waiter asks if they enjoyed their little road trip. Misha has also started calling Loretta a bounty hunter and both Jared and Jensen Dr. Kimble – which clearly isn't confusing at all. But other than that, it's a lot like before. Only better.

When Loretta hands out the Post-its this morning, she gives Jared and Jensen a sly smile and says, "I put you two back on shared assignments. I hope you don't mind."

Genevieve and Misha both snigger, and Jensen looks over at Jared with a cocky grin. In an exaggerated drawl, he says, "I don't know. Do you mind, Dr. Kimble?"

Jared's not sure what makes him do it, but suddenly, he has his hands around Jensen's jaw, pulling him close and pressing a quick kiss to his lips. "Not at all, Dr. Kimble."

For a moment, Jensen looks slightly stunned, but then his smile returns and he winks and snatches Jared's Post-it out of his hands. "So let's go. We've got work to do."

| Part 3 | Masterpost |
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strangeallure

March 2011

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