There is a shipwreck between your ribs. You are a box with
fragile written on it, and so many people have not handled you
And for the first time, I understand that I will never know
how to apologize for being
one of them.
― Shinji Moon
"See, this is why I can't take you places," Danneel says, crossing her arms over her chest and cocking her hip to the right. She's got that melodramatic voice on, the one that lets Jensen know he is absolutely ruining her life from now until eternity. "This is why I can't take you anywhere."
Jensen laughs under his breath, shaking his head and letting himself be distracted by the nearest trinket. He reaches up, fingers skimming through the strings and creating a soft tinkling music as the bells begin to knock together. "What do you think of this one?"
Danneel groans. "I think it's a wind chime, Jensen. I think everything in this godforsaken hut is a wind chime. Just like it all has been for the last forty-five minutes. I think you need to hurry up and decide which particular wind chime that you don't need you would like to buy so we can get the hell out of here before I strangle us both with my purse straps."
"But this one is made of a different wood than the others," he points out, grinning when she flat-out hisses at the response. "C'mon, Dani. It's local art. If we're gonna be dicking around here for the next month, we should at least support the neighborhood businesses."
"Okay, sure," she says. "But does it have to be the first thing we do? While the sun is still up? Can't we be supportive once I'm a bronze goddess and you're—I don't know, crying because you have a sunburn, or whatever happens when you go out in the sun? Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever seen you try. Are you stalling? Is this stalling?"
"You have a month to tan," he reminds her, deciding that this is not the chime for him and turning his attention back to his friend. "I want to learn the local flavor as soon as possible. Get the inside scoop. Then we can sleep on the beach all day and actually know where the fuck to go at night for the rest of the summer, not get suckered in like the tourists we are."
"Wind chimes hardly constitute night life." Danneel shakes her head mournfully. "That's just shitty detective work. Never write a mystery, okay?"
"Noted." Jensen moves on to the next corner of the store.
He hears Danneel's put-upon sigh and watches as she makes a very big show of dragging herself after him. "How are there still parts of this place you haven't seen yet? I've been around six times, and that was in the first fifteen minutes."
"You aren't paying proper attention to detail," Jensen says.
"If we go to the beach, I promise not to complain if you want to count every single grain of sand. How's that for attention to detail?"
"Wow," he says, stopping in front of one of the displays tucked away in the corner. "Look at this one."
He takes it delicately off the hook and turns, holding it just in front of his chest. Danneel rolls her eyes, but she's smiling, too. "It's green, Jensen. Very pretty. Matches your eyes, must be fate. Can we go now?"
"It's beautiful," he says, hoisting it up to eye level and inspecting it. The chime is less kitschy than most of the others in the store, broken glass ascending like a spiral staircase and dangling on fishing line instead of string. The music it makes when it moves in his grasp is like an enchantment. It forces Jensen to stop and listen, spellbound for a few seconds until it settles, leaving him longing to hear it again. It's more attractive than the rest, but there's something else about it.
"Yeah," Danneel says, cutting into the haze the chime created. "Real nice! You should buy it. And then we should leave."
He nods. This is definitely the chime for him, and he has held Danneel hostage about as long as anyone can ask of a friend.
They walk it to the front of the store, Jensen's eyes locked on the chime all the while. Danneel doesn't seem to be as taken with the music—or taken at all, really—but her mood improves once she realizes the end is in sight, and her complaining turns to good-natured teasing.
"An hour of my vacation in a wind chime store," she's muttering as they look for the register. "I mean, there's gay and then there's Jensen gay."
"That's good," Jensen says. "I should start a business. JensenGay™."
"Mmmhmm," Danneel agrees. "And what kind of services would your company provide?"
Jensen waggles his eyebrows, and Danneel cracks up.
"Stick to writing, love. No one's gonna pay for you to hang around if this is the kind of thing that gets your blood pumping." She reaches out, her finger running thoughtlessly through the wire on Jensen's chime and creating a cacophony of sound. "Now where the hell do we pay for this thing?"
"I can help you. We don't get enough traffic for a register."
Seemingly out of nowhere, an old woman has appeared in the doorway. She's sitting down at the little chair they passed on their way in, her lap full of fishing net like she's been settled there for a while, but Jensen would swear he didn't see her when they entered or even just a few seconds ago when he was looking around.
He glances at Danneel, who just shrugs, though her expression is as confused as Jensen feels.
"Do you make these?" he asks, handing her the chime so she can wrap it up. "You're very talented."
"Yes, I do," she says, looking up at him. "And thank you."
The woman seems ancient, but not just in age. Her skin is tough as leather, sun-beaten and wrinkled, and her hair is pulled back into a tight bun, long stripes ranging from white to dark grey like waves leaving imprints on sand. Her eyes shift like water, too, somewhere between blue and green, but her gaze doesn't. Jensen feels weirdly exposed, like she's seeing all the way into him. She holds Jensen's stare, and he has the bizarre thought that she's kind of strikingly gorgeous.
Whatever she sees makes her smile faintly as she looks back down at the chime in her hands. Jensen watches as she turns the package over to wrap it, oddly swift for someone her age. Then she holds it out to him, and when Jensen takes the chime from her, he's surprised to see identical tattoos covering the palms of both her hands. Seven-pointed stars, the lines all looping through each other and tangling like the ropes on her lap.
There are matching scars, too, running up the length of each of her arms in clean, straight lines. They look deep, deep enough that Jensen's surprised they weren't fatal. Somehow they seem to be both old and still open, though he's sure that's his eyes playing tricks on him. Surely they'd be bleeding if they were fresh.
"Uh, thank you," Jensen says once he realizes he's been staring. The woman lifts an eyebrow, but she doesn't say anything else. "How much do I owe you?"
She blinks a few times, like the question caught her off guard, then shakes her head. "I think you need it more than I need your money."
Jensen hesitates. "I really would rather—"
The woman looks very sad all of a sudden. She reaches out and puts her hands over one of Jensen's, squeezing as she says, "You're very lonely, aren't you?"
"What?" Jensen kind of laughs, his eyes darting to Danneel. "I'm—no? I'm not lonely, ma'am. Just on vacation."
The woman is hearing none of it, apparently. She smiles like she doesn't believe him, patting his hand a few times before letting go. "Lonely boys like you get girls like me in trouble, Jensen."
He tries to remember if he told her his name; Danneel laughs and cuts in. "He won't be getting any girls in trouble," she promises, pushing Jensen out toward the street. "Nice meeting you!"
Jensen tries to make sense of the encounter for a full half minute once they get back on the road, but finally he gives up. "That was weird, right? Like really weird?"
"A little weird," Danneel admits, putting on her sunglasses and shrugging. She's clearly too excited to care much right now. "Must have heard me say your name or something."
Jensen nods, like that explains it, and tries not to linger on the rest of what she said. He's not lonely. He's perfectly content, and he doesn't need some stranger telling him otherwise.
"Hey, Jen. Look at that."
Jensen awakes from a rather pleasant doze on the beach with a finger jabbing into his side. He makes a whiny noise and refuses to lift his head. He's comfortable, dammit.
"Leavmelone," he mutters into his arms.
Danneel persists, poking him again. Maybe this is revenge for the wind chime thing. Jensen should have known he'd gotten off too easy. "No, seriously. Look."
Grudgingly, Jensen turns over and blinks his eyes open, nearly giving a shout when he realizes what Danneel was trying to bring to his attention. He covers his mouth before he lets the sound out, hoping not to startle the seal that is a few inches away from his toes, sniffing curiously.
"Oh my god," he half-whispers. "What the hell?"
Okay, granted, seals on a beach are not the weirdest thing he's ever seen, and it's not like he didn't know there was a pretty large population of them in the area. Jensen and Danneel had even made plans to go see them, maybe later today or tomorrow if it got dark. Most of them live on the opposite side of the pier, where it's more nature preserve than tourist beach, but it's not completely unheard of for some to swim on shore near beachgoers. Or at least that's what the pamphlet Jensen read while they were choosing a place to spend their vacation said.
It also said they were shy around humans, though. That they would probably not get close to anyone and no one should try to approach them in order to prevent violent reactions of territorialism. If this thing is territorial about anything right now, it's Jensen's leg.
The seal lifts its head when Jensen speaks, tilting it to the right as if it's trying to understand him, and then crawls a few feet forward, pushing its face against Jensen's calf.
"Uh, hi?" Jensen tries, not moving for fear of spooking the little guy.
Well, little guy, no. This thing is fucking huge, actually. It's probably longer than Jensen stretched out, and Jensen would think it was a small whale if it wasn't dragging itself through sand on flippers right now.
The seal is covered in dark brown fur, slick from the water, and it has little dots of darker brown dappled across its face and back almost like a person might.
It stares up at Jensen with unexpectedly intelligent eyes, gaze unblinking like it's trying to ask for something important, and it kind of makes Jensen uncomfortable. The seal is cute, no doubt about it, but Jensen's not sure what it wants.
He tries to remember if he's got animal crackers or something in the pockets of his trunks, then remembers he hasn't eaten animal crackers since he was six, so why would he have any in his pants?
"What do I do?" he whispers to Danneel.
She shrugs. "I dunno. But do something, 'cause people are starting to notice."
Jensen looks around and feels himself flushing as he realizes that she's right. There's a small group of kids huddled a few feet away, buckets and shovels abandoned or hanging limply from their hands, a few nervous-looking parents, and one douche in a Hawaiian t-shirt with a video camera and a smile on his face like this is the best thing he's ever seen.
The seal is either ignoring the attention or basking in it. It crawls forward even more, its big body flopping over Jensen's legs.
"He wants you to pet him, mister," says one of the kids in the group. "That's what Pepper does when she wants a belly rub."
Jensen looks up at the kid, a boy about seven or eight with bright carrot-colored hair and freckles covering most of his face and body. Beside him, his two equally orange siblings, a boy and a girl who might be a year or two younger and could be twins, nod seriously.
"He's right," the girl confirms. "That is what Pepper does."
Not sure if it's a good idea, Jensen turns to Danneel. "Should I? Do you think it'll bite me? Is seal rabies a thing?"
"Hmm. Let me consult my degree in sealology," Danneel says, giving Jensen a flat look. "Just try it. What's the worst that could happen?"
It could bite Jensen's hand off, probably. He tries not to think of all the kid's movies about penguins he's taken his nieces and nephews to see over the years and how the seals were generally the bad guys. That one from Happy Feet had featured in at least one of Jensen's nightmares, and he can't help thinking that his arm would probably be a lot easier to swallow than a penguin.
By now, the seal is practically lying on top of Jensen, sniffing at his chest and face, its big fatty body rolling as it tries to flop around for a better angle. It looks more silly than dangerous, and Jensen decides, fuck it, if it wanted to eat him he would probably be maimed by now.
The seal is surprisingly fluffy under his palm, its fur beginning to dry and bunch between his fingers as he rubs it, almost like a dog's. The seal seems to be loving the touch. It starts making honking sounds and rolls onto its back, its flippers clapping excitedly against its big belly. It is kind of like a giant sea dog, Jensen decides, giving it a few good pats.
The kids crowd closer.
"Can we play with him, too?" the boy asks.
Jensen shakes his head. "I don't know if it's safe to—"
Unsurprisingly, no one listens to him. Four or five children flood in, approaching the seal, all of them falling to their knees in a circle to pet it. Jensen tenses up, not wanting them to make it nervous, because god knows how it'll react to a mob like this. Jensen would probably panic and bite something if he was a seal. But this seal endures their attention patiently. It's not until Jensen tries to detach himself from the spectacle that it seems to get anxious and begins making anguished sounds, squirming to press its body up against Jensen's side.
"Hey, it's okay, buddy," Jensen tells it soothingly. "I won't go anywhere."
That makes the seal relax, and Jensen's heart clenches. He points down and looks at Danneel. "Did you see that? Dani, look, it likes me."
"Oh no," she replies, shaking her head. "No, no, no. We are not adopting a seal."
Jensen pouts, not sure why she would just assume that's what he was thinking. It's not like he has a track record with this kind of thing. Okay, Icarus and Oscar don't count. He didn’t even get to keep them.
"I know we're not adopting it!" he replies. "How would we even get it home?"
Danneel raises an eyebrow and crosses her arms over her chest but says nothing, clearly not wanting to give Jensen any ideas. Damn.
After a while, the excitement wears off. For the kids, at least. Not for the seal. They all grow bored once their parents have snapped enough pictures, and they go back to their sandcastle building and swimming. The sun begins to set, most tourists clearing off the beach, and Jensen realizes he hasn't eaten since breakfast.
"I'm hungry," he says. "You ready to leave soon?"
"Won't be catching anymore sun today," Danneel says with a nod. "I'm game to leave if you think you can break his heart."
She angles her head down at the seal, and Jensen laughs. It's been attached to him for so many hours that he'd kind of forgotten it was there, having long since grown accustomed to the fishy, salty scent and the occasional need to rearrange a limb that's fallen asleep.
He gives it a few last goodbye pats and tries to shove the heavy body off of his enough to rise. "It was nice meeting you," he tells the seal. "But I have to go get some grub, you know? We can't all just jump in the water and catch a fish."
The seal does not budge until finally Jensen's nerves overcome his desire to not piss it off, and he really starts pushing at it with all his strength. The seal doesn't quite get up then, but it does lift its head and turn itself so that it's looking up at Jensen upside down. It draws closer, like it's angling for a kiss, and Jensen laughs, rubbing his nose against the seal's affectionately.
The seal's response is instantaneous. It takes off for the water immediately after, arfing cheerfully all the way. If Danneel didn't have the same dazed 'did that really just happen?' expression on her face, Jensen would swear he fell asleep on the sand and imagined the whole thing. They share delighted grins for a couple of seconds, laughing at the whole crazy experience for the next few hours, and Jensen thinks that's that.
The seal is back the next day. And the day after. Pretty much every day Jensen and Danneel go to the beach, the seal finds them, crawling up to Jensen like it has a homing beacon on him. It's bizarre—Jensen certainly didn't anticipate spending the first week of his vacation being routinely hit on by a seal—but he'd be lying if he said it's not kind of his favorite part of this vacation so far.
"There's no way that's good for him," Danneel says, looking over at Jensen from under the brim of a wide sunhat.
Jensen shrugs. "Sammy loves Gummy Worms," he says, tossing a red and blue into the seal's open mouth before biting down on a green and yellow. "Who am I to tell him how to live his life?"
He'd decided to name the seal on day two and had gone with Sam thanks to Danneel's suggestion that he pick a name that's gender neutral. He has a feeling Sam's a boy, though, and the seal obviously isn't complaining about being called 'he.'
"You're probably going to get us kicked off the beach and banned," she mumbles, turning back to her book. "He's probably going to die tomorrow from all the processed sugar."
"If they were going to say something about it, they would have days ago." Jensen chews his sugar rush contentedly and gives his seal a fond look. "No more candy for you. Your parents probably hate me."
"Don't you think it's weird enough that a seal has a crush on you without leading the poor thing on with all this talk of meeting the parents?"
"He does not have a crush on me," Jensen insists. Sam stares up at him with wide, pleading eyes, and Jensen shakes his head, sneaking him one more Gummy Worm. "He's using me for candy."
"Good that you've accepted it," Danneel says before losing interest in both Jensen and his new friend.
The seal butts his head into Jensen's ribcage and lies down at his side, and Jensen smiles to himself. It's true that Sam has been even friendlier toward Jensen since the day he crept up while both Jensen and Danneel were napping and got a taste for the Gummy Worms Jensen had brought as a snack, but Jensen knows the seal came seeking him before the candy and would probably hang around even if Jensen did put his foot down and stop sharing.
He watches Sam chew for a few moments, feeling the grin he can't keep off his face spreading.
"We're not kidnapping a seal," Danneel reminds him without looking up. "Not even if it wants to be kidnapped."
Jensen scowls. She shouldn't be able to read his mind, especially when she's not even paying attention.
Maybe, he thinks on the first day of his second week of vacation, it's a sign that he is lonely. He's been trying his best not to think like that, attempting to drown that old woman's weird observations in a parade of one night stands (that's what vacations are for, right?) and Danneel-directed drinking binges, but the seal thing has him wondering.
On the days they don't go swimming, Jensen still heads down to the shore in the morning for a run, and it's like the seal knows. Sam is waiting there for him every morning. He walks along the shoreline, his ankles in the water, and the seal drags itself loyally at his heels. Sometimes, he sits on the rocks by the water with his feet swinging over the waves and Sam shows up while he's watching the sunset. Sam sits by Jensen's side and listens when he talks, or at least cocks his head in the right way and nods at appropriate times, and Jensen must be crazy if he's imagining that a seal cares about his problems.
He must be kind of pathetic if he's looking to a wild animal for meaningful company and finding it.
"Get dressed," Jensen says, bursting into the living room and startling Danneel out of her food and TV coma. "We're going to a party!"
"A party," Danneel says, her head rolling on the couch until she can catch Jensen's eye. "I thought you said you felt like taking a break tonight?"
"Does that mean you don't want to go to the party our neighbors are throwing?" Jensen asks, lifting an eyebrow. "There's gonna be a bonfire."
Danneel is up in moments. "When have I ever not been in the mood for a party?"
Jensen's pretty sure he'll never see the day.
The house is only three down from the one Jensen and Danneel are renting, so they can see the light from the fire and hear the music as soon as they walk out. They arrive within minutes and Jensen loses Danneel in the chaos of people, all swaying to the music of guitars strumming or joining their voices in a buzz of conversation.
It reminds Jensen a little of the ragers they used to have in high school when the football team won, only everyone here seems to be old enough for the beers gripped in their hands, and that's something, at least. Now it's easy, lazy and laidback, whereas Jensen used to only feel an unpleasant tension under his skin, a worry that the cops would come, or he would get stuck talking to someone he really just wanted to punch.
Lucky for Jensen, the first person who approaches him is not entirely unpleasant. The guy walks up and stops at a respectful distance, giving Jensen a shy smile. He's not as tall as Jensen would prefer and could stand to put on some muscle, but his face is sweet and earnest and he'll more than do for now.
"I'm Gil. Gil McKinney," the guy says, raising his head so a few brown strands of hair shake out of his eyes, and yeah. That's working for Jensen just fine. He holds a hand out to gesture toward the party, then offers it to Jensen. "My buddies and I are renting this place for the summer."
"So you're the welcome wagon?" Jensen asks, shaking his hand.
Someone shoves by them, pushing Jensen closer, and Gil's other hand reaches out, steadying itself on Jensen's elbow. It's pretty suave as far as obvious excuses to touch go, and Jensen didn't really come out tonight looking for someone subtle. He came here to prove to himself that he can still hold conversations with people who aren't, well. Seals.
"Not for everyone," Gil answers, his eyes lingering on Jensen's and his lips twisting up just a bit. "Saw you and couldn't resist coming over. Can I get you a beer, uh—?"
"Jensen," he says.
"Jensen," Gil echoes with a grin. "Can I get you a beer, Jensen?"
Half an hour later, Gil and Jensen are on their second round of drinks, and Jensen's enjoying himself. They make their way over to the bonfire to grab a seat on one of the logs, and Jensen laughs when he sees Danneel, who is apparently enjoying herself even more than he is.
She pulls away from the mouth she was attached to and looks up at Jensen with her patented tequila grin. "Jensen," she says, her head lolling a bit. "Have you met Aldis? This is Aldis. Aldis is great."
The guy whose lap she's sprawled on top of attempts to raise his hand in a wave, but he doesn't get much of a chance before she's on him again.
Jensen just snickers at that, and Gil laughs, too. "It was Aldis's idea to throw this party. I guess that worked out for him."
"Yeah, I'll say," Jensen agrees. He watches the Aldis-Danneel lump writhe around on the log across from them a few minutes longer, then does some easy math in his head and turns to Gil with a dirty smile. "She's my roommate while we're on this little trip. My only roommate."
Gil obviously gets what Jensen is trying to say. "She doesn't look like she's going home any time soon."
"No," Jensen agrees. "No, she doesn't."
It's only five minutes later when Jensen kicks the door to his beach house open, drags Gil in and pushes him up against the wall. They make out on and off all the way up the stairs, and they fuck and it's nice. It scratches an itch.
It doesn't feel any different than the other one-night-stands Jensen's enjoyed in the last week, and that's the problem. When they're done and dressed and Jensen walks Gil downstairs, he doesn't feel like he's made some kind of connection, and when Gil awkwardly hovers at the door, trying to decide whether to give Jensen a last kiss or get walking, Jensen doesn't feel an impulse to surge forward and put the guy out of his misery.
"So, that was great," Gil says, smiling his kind smile again. Jensen really likes the smile. He likes Gil. He doesn't know what exactly his problem is, just that some senile old lady gave him a cryptic fortune cookie goodbye, and ever since, he's felt the need to psychoanalyze every conversation he has with anyone. "Listen, I'd love to see you again sometime. Maybe we could have dinner or—"
Jensen gives him the same easy, dismissive smile he gave the last four guys. "Danneel and I have dinner pretty much every night, so I'm all set on dinners."
Gil's face falls, but he nods. "Right, sure. Hey, I get it. Thanks, anyway. I had a nice night."
"Yeah, me too."
Jensen watches Gil walk back across the beach with his flip flops in hand, toward the still-glowing bonfire and the sounds of the party, which seems to have calmed considerably since he and Gil left. Then his eyes scan across the shoreline, and he thinks he sees the dark outline of a man watching him.
One of the other party guests, Jensen assumes, even though this one seems to have strayed quite a bit. Jensen almost calls out to him, to tell him the party is in the opposite direction, but in the blink of an eye, the dark silhouette is gone. Jensen isn't even entirely sure it was there to begin with.
Next to him, the wind chime he bought last week suddenly goes quiet, the light tinkling music Jensen hadn't been listening to until it stopped jarring in its absence.
He hadn't felt the wind at all. It was as if the damned thing was moving on its own.
Jensen steps up to inspect it, flicks one of the green glass pieces with his fingers, and watches it sway for a few seconds before shaking his head. "You're starting to give me the creeps," he tells it, thinking of the woman who sold it to him and laughing to himself as he closes the door, turns off the porch light, and goes upstairs to sleep.
The next morning, Jensen wakes to the insistent buzzing of his phone on the nightstand. He tries to slap it for a while before he realizes it's not his alarm, and then he grudgingly answers it.
"Hello," he mumbles into the receiver.
"Darling," says Danneel, her voice bright and chipper and not at all sounding like she drank a barrel last night and is suffering the Lord's wrath for it. "How are you?"
"I hate it when you do this," Jensen tells her.
"Do what?" she asks.
"Wake me up the morning after you've gone Tequila Princess so you can rub it in my face that you're immortal."
She laughs at him, the monster. "I'm not immortal. I'm hangover-proof. There is a difference."
"It's 7:23 in the morning and I'm on vacation," Jensen tells her, rolling onto his back after checking the clock. "I don't see differences."
She hums on the other end of the line. "Have you looked outside?"
"Morning. Bad. Me. Sleep. What about any of this makes you think I've looked outside?" Jensen casts an eye to the window then and pretty much immediately realizes why she's asking. "Holy crap, what's happening?"
"Hell of a storm," she says. "Apparently yesterday was the calm before, but we forgot to check the weather because, well, you know. Party."
"Yeah, wow. What the hell?" He gets out of bed and goes to his window, pushing the thin curtains aside. They're more than enough to keep the room dark today, the thick gray clouds not really needing much help. "I guess we're not going to the beach."
Danneel snorts; it's a very attractive, ladylike snort, and Jensen feels a wave of fondness when he hears it. "Not going anywhere. Anyway, that's what I was calling to say. I won't be home until this clears up, so don't worry about me."
Jensen lets the curtain drop and grins. "Oh, sure. Blame the weather."
"I don't know what you're getting at," she says, presumably trying to sound innocent, but sounding way too much like the Danneel he knows and loves to even hope to pull it off.
"I'm sure you'll have a hard time being locked over there with your new friend Aldis. Stuck inside all day. How on Earth will you stay busy?"
"Oh, look at that, the call is breaking up," Danneel tells him, barely containing her laughter. "I'm going to get back to Bible study."
"Use protection," Jensen yells into the phone before the line cuts.
He stays in bed a little longer, checking emails and game scores on his phone, and takes his time making his way downstairs for breakfast. No reason to rush. With the way the rain's coming down, he'll be lucky if it's clear enough for his morning run by tomorrow.
Jensen's standing over the sink, spooning the last bits of cereal into his mouth and idly wondering if Sam will be okay—what do seals even do in weather like this?—when he catches a glimpse of the last thing in the world he expects to see.
There's a man outside. Jensen would tell himself he was imagining it if he could, but there's no doubt about it. There's a shadowy figure directly across from his house, standing on the jagged rocks above the water, hard to distinguish any features, but decidedly human-shaped as a bolt of lightning breaks on the horizon and his outline is illuminated.
He's not running from the onslaught. Not moving at all. Just standing patiently, turned toward Jensen's house as if there isn't chaos going on around him.
Jensen knows what he should do. He should ignore it. This guy is clearly insane, and why should Jensen go out and risk his neck (not to mention get his ass kicked by the elements) just because some crazy guy happened to stop in front of his house?
But the thing is…Jensen's a writer. He's never once in his life been able to walk away from a 'what if' just because it would be idiotic not to.
So he borrows a rain jacket from the closet, one of the bright red ones he and Danneel had mocked mercilessly when they first got here, and steps outside. Even on the covered porch, Jensen is immediately whipped by cold droplets, the harsh wind causing sand to cut across his face, and he considers going back in. But the guy is still standing out there.
"Hey," Jensen calls once he's close enough to see the guy a little better, but not quite stepping onto the slippery rocks. Apparently the storm is too loud, and the guy doesn't respond.
"I'm gonna regret this," Jensen tells himself, even as he places his foot on one wet stone and then staggers to gain footing.
He's close enough now to see the man, though the clouds are making it too dark to get good detail on his face. The stranger isn't wearing anything except a pair of black swim trunks, shiny from the water and clinging to him like second skin, so Jensen can see every muscle on his body. He's big—huge, bigger than Jensen—with a swimmer's build Poseidon would envy, wide shoulders tapering into tiny hips, thick legs that stretch up like sequoias.
This guy is probably a lunatic, definitely in danger, and here Jensen is, pausing in what might as well be a hurricane to objectify him. He stops in front of the man and looks up to see eyes that shift like the sea watching him.
"Hey, are you alright?" Jensen asks. He takes a closer look, trying to make sure the man isn’t bleeding, and then to his horror, he reaches out. Presses his hand against the guy's broad chest, slides another up, over his shoulders, and then moves them down.
Jensen tells himself to stop, but he can't. He can't take his hands away, it's like his brain and his body won't connect and sure, the guy is insanely hot, but that doesn't give Jensen the right to feel him up when he should be assuring the stranger that it's okay for him to follow Jensen inside where it's warm and dry.
"I'm sorry," Jensen says, feeling his face flush. "I don't—you shouldn't be out here. Are you lost? I can help you get back to wherever you came from or—or we can—you can come to my place until the rain has calmed a little. I promise I won't—"
He's flustered, humiliated and disgusted with himself, but the man doesn't get angry. He doesn't respond much at all, just looks at Jensen with this wide-eyed expression and, fuck, that probably means he is definitely not the kind of person Jensen should be feeling up, even if he was giving some indication that he wanted it, which he isn't.
"It's not safe out here," Jensen says, nodding like that's all he came to say and he'll turn around and go inside now, except that won't happen, seeing as how he can't tear his hands away from this ridiculously firm bicep. "I'm sorry, I don't know why—"
The guy takes his hands gently between his own and holds them still. Jensen is shaking, dying to reestablish contact, but when he looks up at the stranger again, the man is watching him with enough desperation that Jensen thinks he's going to ask for help, and he should be able to at least clear his mind enough to focus on that, right?
He watches the guy's mouth for a long minute as he opens it, as if he's about to say something, and then closes it, over and over again. Only his eyes seem to be in the moment, and Jensen doesn't blink as he stares up at them. Where has he seen those eyes before?
"Can you speak?" Jensen asks him. He gets one hand free and reaches up, touches the man's cheek. "It's okay if you can't. We'll figure it out. We just need to get inside."
Finally the man seems to make a decision. He gives Jensen a weak smile and says, "Please."
It's remarkable what happens then. That one little word seems to pop a bubble, and suddenly Jensen's mind is clear. He becomes acutely aware of the winds lashing around them, the rain beating down, and yes, the stranger is ridiculously attractive, but Jensen doesn't feel compelled to touch him the way he had.
"Please," the guy says again. His voice is rough, like he doesn't use it much, but he doesn’t have to lift it for Jensen to catch every word, despite the rumbling thunder above them. "My name is Jared."
"Good for you?" Jensen replies, not realizing it comes out catty until it's out. "Look, we really need to get inside."
Jared shakes his head, long brown strands scattering water as he does so. "Please, will you say my name?"
"Jared," Jensen says. "We aren't safe out here, Jared. We need to get inside."
Jared cups Jensen's face with one big hand and smiles sadly when Jensen says his name, and it’s like he didn't hear anything else Jensen said.
"Thank you," he whispers, and then, before Jensen can even process what's happening, he turns, runs across the rocks on his bare feet, and plunges into the water.
"You can't—" Jensen yells after him, his heart in his throat, expecting to see Jared slip and break his neck. Jared disappears over the edge in seconds, his feet incredibly agile and confident on the wet rock, but that doesn't make the frantic beating of Jensen's pulse calm any.
Even if he made it to the water alive, it's madness to jump into an ocean this turbulent, not knowing what currents are being stirred up, with no way to avoid drowning, or being dashed to pieces on the jagged cliff side.
Jensen follows Jared's path, much more slowly, not nearly as comfortable (or reckless) on the uneven terrain as Jared had been. He stops at the edge and looks over. There's no sign of Jared—no broken corpse, but no one struggling, showing that he's still alive out there, either.
He feels sick, but he doesn't know what to do or how he could have stopped it. He never could have anticipated Jared's actions. So he rushes back to his house as quickly as he can manage in the rough weather, calls the local police and coastguard and tells them what happened.
While the rain pounds against the roof, Jensen spends the rest of the day shaken, listening as it only gets more wild, trying not to imagine what it would be like to be nearly naked, cold and alone out there. Jared probably fled because of Jensen, because he'd been so handsy. Jensen wouldn't be able to blame the guy if he had, but the thought is unbearable. That man could be dead because Jensen chased him away. Because he couldn't keep his hands to himself, and he doesn't know what the hell came over him. He's never been like that. This was no time to start.
When the storm finally passes that night, he watches the rescue boats comb the nearby water for unlucky victims. The nightly news reports no casualties, chalks it up to a successful storm alert and good preparation on behalf of the town's residents.
Jensen calls the coastguard three more times that night, desperate for an update, someone saying they found Jared and saved him, or even that they were too late, just so he at least knows for sure what happened to the guy. On the third call, the woman on the other line tries to sound sympathetic even as she tells Jensen he probably hadn't seen what he thought he saw; the rain was too heavy for clear observations, and a lot of people see strange things when they’re worried. Out-of-towners just don't know how to handle these kinds of storms, she explains with a gentle, patronizing tone.
But Jared had been there, solid under his hands, his expression mirroring back something Jensen might have recognized in himself, his voice a low comfort even in the turmoil. He had been there, even if Jensen had spent most of the encounter in some kind of dazed spell, Jensen is sure of it. And he had seen Jared run and jump, off those rocks, into the water.
He heads up to bed but he doesn't sleep for hours, not until the sound of the wind chime down stairs, still swinging wildly in the after-storm gusts, carries him off into dreams of drowning and crashing and strong arms pulling him back to the surface.
By the next day, the storm clouds have vanished, the beach is cleared of rescue searches, and all the debris and evidence of yesterday's weather has disappeared. Families with bright colored towels dot the beach when Jensen goes for his morning run. Danneel is sitting on the porch with a cup of coffee, a red mark on her neck, and a smug look on her face by the time he gets back, and Jensen doesn't have a chance to say hello before she's launched into all the juicy details.
Days pass and their routine returns to normal. He and Danneel lie on the sand most of the day, eat at cute local diners, and generally laze away their vacation. Jensen runs in the morning, and Sam waits for him by the beach. He tries to bury the thought of Jared, of what could have happened to him.
And then a few nights later, as Jensen is walking along the shore at sunset, he sees the outline of a form that reminds him of the man he saw from the kitchen window the night he ran into the rain, standing exactly where he had been, at the edge of the rocks.
Jensen speeds up, eager to find out if it's someone else and he's only fooling himself, but the closer he gets the more sure he is. Jared is facing the ocean, staring out, and by the time Jensen is near enough to be sure it's him, the words are already flying out of his mouth.
"You're alive," he says, seizing Jared's arm and shaking it. "Do you have any idea how much you terrified me? God, how did you make it? Why would you do something so stupid? I was sure you were—"
Jared watches him with an amused quirk to his lips as Jensen spills out every thought that's passed through his mind for the last few days, and then suddenly Jensen collects himself enough to notice something off to the side that makes his blood run cold, makes him shove Jared hard, not caring that it could send him flying back into the rocks, to the very death he was so relieved Jared somehow escaped.
A few feet away, there's a seal skin lying on the sand. It's cut right in half, and as much as Jensen doesn't want to admit it, he'd know Sam's little face smiling up at him anywhere.
"You killed him," he says, staring at the long slice down Sam's stomach. "You can't—can't do that. They're protected. You can't. I'll call the police. I'll kill you myself."
For a moment he considers lashing out at Jared again, trying to throttle him. There was no need for this. Sam was kind, wouldn't have hurt a human. He wouldn't have hurt anyone.
Instead he tries to run to the seal's body, but he feels Jared's arms wrap around him and pull him back. There are tears stinging at his eyes, and maybe it's a little dramatic to get so worked up over a seal, but Sam was his friend. He didn't deserve this violence.
"Why?" he says, struggling futilely against Jared's hold. "Why would you do that to him? Why?"
"Shh," Jared says. "It's okay. You're back earlier than I thought. I didn't think you would be here yet."
"So that excuses it somehow, that you thought you'd get away with it?" Jared lets him go and he turns to face the man, gets even angrier when he sees that Jared still looks as bemused as he had when Jensen first approached him. "You know, I worried about you. I've been worrying about you nonstop these last few days. I wish you had died."
He steps forward more slowly now, falls to his knees next to Sam's body. Despite the slice down his middle, there's no blood. It's like he's already been cleaned out, and Jensen's stomach turns. It doesn't seem right that Jared could have reduced the seal to so little in the time he was gone.
Jared bends down, too, scoops the body into his arms. "It's okay," he says. "I wanted him to be here for you, when you got back."
Jensen looks up at the stranger towering above him, shaking his head as he tries to rub tears off his cheeks. "Don't blame this on me. I didn't want this."
The smile on Jared's face grows, shows dimples and a sweet, childlike innocence that doesn't match up with the butchered animal draped across his arms. Then he slips the skin over his shoulders, until the ends of it reach his arms. In the fury of the storm last week, Jensen hadn’t noticed that a long cut runs up the inside of each of Jared’s forearms, but he can’t miss it now as the seal hide settles into the open skin and fills it, becoming whole. Before Jensen can protest, Jared somehow disappears into the opening in the creature's stomach, more and more of him swallowed up by the second despite the fact that he was much bigger than the seal a few moments ago.
Before Jensen really has a chance to process what he's just seen, Sam is a few feet in front of him, staring up with his great big ocean-colored eyes, which Jensen realizes now match Jared's exactly. The seal rolls over onto his back, and there's no sign there of the cut down his middle, just like there's no trace of Jared left.
Too shocked to do anything but blink with his mouth hanging open, Jensen watches as Sam—or Jared—waddles his way back into the water and disappears.
BACK TO MASTERPOST