SPN Fic: I Don't Care If I Never Get Back (2/5)

Oct 27, 2016 12:15

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They don’t stop that night except for food and gas. Once, at the counter in a brightly-lit truck stop convenience store, the woman behind the register rings up their chips and Big Gulps. As she takes a twenty from Jensen’s hand, her face lights up. “Hey! Hey, it’s you!”

Jensen steels himself. He doesn’t have to turn to feel Jared step up behind him, a solid wall behind his left shoulder, like a bodyguard or a guardian angel.

“You’re one of The Backstreet Boys, right?” she gushes on. “I loved you guys when I was a kid! Always wanted to see you in concert!”

The wall behind him coughs, sounding suspiciously like stifled laughter. Jensen can’t turn to look, or he might start laughing himself.

He simply gifts the cashier with the kind of look that once landed him an Oscar nomination and an ad campaign for Versace. “I get that a lot. But nope, never was lucky enough to be in a boy band.”

She blushes and hands back the change, and Jensen makes a quick retreat.

As they clamber back into the van, Jared starts crooning in off-key falsetto. “Tell me why. Ain't nothin' but a heartache. Tell me why. Ain't nothin' but a miiiiistaaaake.”

“Fuck off.” Jensen punches him in the arm. But it’s got no force behind it. He totally deserves that one.

A mile or so down the highway, he takes his ballcap off and tosses it into the back seat next to the empty Burger King bags and Jared’s extra pair of work boots.


“So,” Jared drawls slowly. “What do you do there in the City? How do you fill the time?” Jared’s talked plenty about himself so far, and Jensen senses that he’s eager to ask some questions of his own.

“I don’t know,” Jensen temporizes. “I-um-I work out in my building’s gym. Walk in Central Park sometimes. Read. Mess around on the computer. I-I cook interesting recipes when I come across them. Was pretty into the whole culinary craze a couple of years back. Um, and I had my lawyers set up a couple of charity foundations and I sit on their Boards.”

It’s nothing. A boring, limited, lackluster existence. But Jared’s sitting there nodding, eyes bright, as if Jensen were describing his glamorous, tumultuous Hollywood lifestyle of the past.

“That sounds cool,” Jared says, like there’s more to tell. Like anything about it compares to running your own farm or designing and building your own baseball field by hand from the ground up.

“Not really,” Jensen mumbles, and shrugs. He takes a sip of his disgusting Diet Mountain Dew-stupid Jared and his it’ll help you stay awake, Jensen!-hoping that’ll stave off any follow up.

Jared seems to take the hint, though, because he casually asks about any good books Jensen’s read lately and for a good chunk of road after that they manage to talk about print books vs. mobile platforms and about true crime and alternate history and whether George R.R. Martin will actually finish The Winds of Winter now that the HBO is airing the new season of Game of Thrones.


Somewhere around the point Pennsylvania turns into Ohio, Jensen must have dozed off, because he wakes with a jerk, disoriented, shouting, more like screaming. He’s flailing for the wheel, desperate to turn the car before it arrows off the road into disaster.

“Hey, man! Stop! It’s okay!” Jared splays his big right palm in the middle of Jensen’s chest and presses him back into the passenger seat.

Jensen clutches Jared’s hand and kind of folds over it, curling his head down toward his knees and trapping Jared’s hand against his heart. He hauls in three or four deep breaths, until his nerves settle. Finally, he can sit up again. The sky is starting to pink at the edges with dawn.

Jared carefully moves his hand to grip Jensen’s shoulder. “Wow. That was some nightmare.”

“Yeah,” Jensen acknowledges dully. Funny, that wasn’t a particularly bad version.

He should apologize, explain. Of course, Jared doesn’t seem surprised at Jensen’s outburst. Hasn’t bothered to ask him to take a turn behind the wheel all night. Jared probably already realizes what a pitiful wreck Jensen is, maybe he figures he has to bear up under whatever fucked up burdens the Voice throws in his path. What kind of moron is Jensen to think he could waltz right out of his apartment and into the real world? Did he really think all his damage was just going to melt away like frost in the sunshine?

He shrugs Jared’s hand away without further comment. He looks down at his fingers, rubbing the tips together. He can feel Jared’s eyes intent on him. He ignores it. They head down the highway in silence.


They pull into the city of Ecorse, its shabby suburban streets lined thick with tiny bungalow houses, all stacked so close there’s barely three feet of grass between them. Jensen navigates and they make their way to the local library, figuring that’s the likeliest place to start. They find a squat one-story brick building, fraying at the seams, the paint on the windowsills cracked and faded, but with a stouthearted row of impatiens lining the walkway to the door.

Inside appears to be empty, until a figure emerges from the office behind the wood-paneled circulation desk. She’s a stout middle-aged woman that casting directors would call “handsome,” her dark hair perfectly coiffed, glasses hanging from a beaded chain around her neck. The nametag pinned to her sweater says “Loretta.”

Jared greets her with a smile all set to charm. Which Jensen sure hopes works, because they’re both looking a little worse for wear, coming straight from the all-nighter on the road.

“Good morning,” Jared says. “My friend and I are in town working on a history project.” It’s not exactly a lie. “We’re trying to find some information about an ex-ballplayer names Aldis Hodge. He used to live here in Ecorse?”

“Doc Hodge?” she responds.

“Yes. Yes. Did you know him? Do you remember him?”

“Of course! He was a pillar of the community. Years and years, practically my whole life. Everyone loved him and mourned when he passed. June before last it was.” Then she turns and, from the top of a bluish filing cabinet behind the desk where a dozen or more pictures are displayed, she picks up a random frame and hands it carefully over to Jared.

Jensen moves forward to look over his shoulder, and sees a shot of an elderly black man surrounded by children in front of one of the library shelves with an open book on his lap. He’s grinning, looking at the camera like he’s sharing a joke with the photographer.

“Well,” Jensen murmurs in Jared’s ear. “We seem to have come to the right place.”

The librarian pulls together some old articles about Hodge, photocopies them on an ancient, wheezing Xerox machine, and hands them over. Then she gives them a list of other people in the neighborhood they could visit.

The two of them spend the rest of the day going from diner to barbershop to church office. At Emagene’s Biscuits and Gravy they stop for lunch and draw a crowd of patrons, all eager to talk about Hodge. But none of the locals seems to either know or care about Moonlight Hodge’s brief baseball career; all they want to talk about is his work in the community. How he’d hand out free eyeglasses to poor families or give free physicals to the kids who wanted to play sports. How he was the only doctor in town who’d work with the homeless AIDS sufferers or drug addicts. How he didn’t drink or smoke. How he never missed an Ecorse High home baseball game. How much he was missed.

Evening finds them both sitting back in the van. Jensen feels deflated, like he’s spent the whole day with a pin-prick hole in his side and has at last run out of air. He’s probably talked to more strangers in a single day than he has in the last year. A few of them had recognized him, and pressed him about his movies. He’d gritted his teeth and smiled, and, fortunately, Jared had each time quickly steered the conversation back to Doc Hodge.

And now Jared doesn’t look any better than Jensen feels, his eyes red-rimmed. “What are we supposed to do now?” he says. “All this, and we still don’t know what ‘Go the distance’ means.”

“You think we should give up?” The words feel wrong, mispronounced. But Jensen’s followed Jared’s lead this far, trusts him more than he trusts himself in this.

“No,” Jared replies slowly. “No. But, man, I’m done in at this point. What would you say to finding a motel or something and seeing if we have any better ideas in the morning?”

Jensen stiffens a little at the mention of a motel. The VW is a close, insulated space, yes, but it doesn’t feel intimate. Not that way. Not the way ‘getting a room’ would be. And even if Jared is oblivious to the connotation, Jensen isn’t. Isn’t immune to the growing pull he feels toward Jared. His awareness of the way Jared’s jeans cling to his thighs or the way he licks his lips when he’s listening to someone intently.

“Okay,” he agrees anyway. Because once you start believing in phantom Voices and dead men playing baseball in Iowa, there’s no reason not to keep on with the crazy.


Jared tosses a duffle onto the queen bed closest to the door. Jensen’s got nothing but his wallet and keys.

In the bathroom, he brushes his teeth with his finger and a dab of Jared’s disgusting bubble-gum flavored toothpaste. He realizes he has no Ambien with him, but it occurs to him that he may be tired enough not to need it for the first time in a long, long time. His leg aches, and he limps heavily out to the main room, barely able to put any weight on it. He averts his eyes from where Jared is settling in. He thinks about slipping out of his jeans, but in the end he simply snaps out the light and lies down in the clothes he’s wearing.

After a minute, he hears Jared’s voice.

“What happened? With the accident? If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay. Just- It’s okay if you do.“

“Didn’t you research me when you heard the Voice? Like we are with Moonlight Hodge?”

“No,” Jared replies, and gives a little laugh. “I just imagined your face and then immediately hopped in the van to start driving.”

Jensen hesitates, but then draws in a breath and starts talking. It’s not his favorite subject, to say the least. But in the dark, the words come easier. “It was one night when I was on the party circuit in L.A. between shoots. About eight years ago now. My passenger was just a kid, his name was Milo. I’d met him an hour before at my third party of the night. Didn’t even know his last name. All I wanted was to get him back to my place, didn’t give a shit about how much weed, coke, and booze I’d done that night. They pulled me out of the car wreck with a bloody nose and a fucked up knee. Milo? He didn’t make it.”

Jared doesn’t make a sound. Not a peep, so Jensen continues. “The handlers at my agency weren’t sure which was worse: that I’d killed someone, or the fact that the world might find out that I was gay. This was before the Ellen Pages and Matt Bomers of the world started speaking up, and I was told in no uncertain terms that a dead gay lover would end my career. So they cleaned up as much as they could, paid Milo’s family off, fixed things with the cops, suggested I lay low for a while. But it didn’t really work. Everyone knew. The role I’d been negotiating suddenly fell through, other directors stopped calling, rumors about what happened made their way through one or two turns of the gossip media news cycle. And finally everything did die down. I guess. But by then I was so disgusted with myself and what I’d become. Angry that no one seemed concerned about Milo, just my future box office potential. I was ashamed. Guilt-ridden. Whatever… I just decided to quit.”

Jensen cuts himself off. Doesn’t know what to expect. Please, he thinks. No platitudes. No ‘it’s not your fault.’ No ‘you need to forgive yourself.’ He’s heard them all. They’ve all been lies.

Jared’s silent for a long time, just lies there. Jensen thinks maybe he’s fallen asleep. Jensen’s three-quarters of the way there himself. But finally, Jared’s response floats across the distance between their beds. It’s simple. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“I can imagine how hard it is to describe an experience like that.” He’s quiet again for a second, then goes on, lower. “Also, I know how hard it is to come out to a stranger. Or to a friend.”

Jensen’s not stupid. He gets the message. And if Jensen were the man he once was, he’d get up and go climb into Jared’s bed, climb over him, on top of him, discover whether Jared is a stranger or a friend or something more.

And although just being on this trip is a sign that something has changed in him, Jensen’s not that reckless anymore. Or brave, depending on how you look at it.

He doesn’t reply to Jared, he just closes his eyes and pulls back all the exposed parts of himself into the protective shell of sleep.


Jensen wakes in darkness, his senses alert as if someone had called his name. He glances at Jared’s bed, but through the gloom, can only barely make out an unmoving mound of blankets. He fumbles for his phone and the clock says 2:37am. He looks over in Jared’s direction again and catches the glint of open eyes.

“Sorry,” he murmurs. “Didn’t mean to wake you.”

“You didn’t,” Jared replies. “I just-I don’t know. I might take a walk.”

“In the middle of the night?” But as soon as Jared says it, Jensen feels the pull, too.

Jensen throws back his covers. Jared skims out of pajama pants and into jeans. Jensen turns away and grabs his ballcap and settles it on his head. Old habits die hard.

They walk out together. Jared locks the motel door behind them, patting his pocket to feel the key. The night air is heavy with smells that have nothing in common with New York, and it’s cooler than Jensen expected. By unspoken agreement, the two of them turn right and walk shoulder-to-shoulder up the sidewalk towards the center of town. Jared sets the pace, slow. Jensen reins in a foolish impulse, takes care not to knock Jared’s hand with his accidentally, in case the urge to hold it overcomes his good sense.

They make their way down Jefferson Street, as far as the school, and a few more turns take them toward the old-fashioned brick building where Doc Hodge and his wife had lived in one apartment and rented out three others. Jensen looks at the silent silhouettes of the tall trees and short houses dark against the sky, the streets empty of cars, of any other figures beyond the two of them, and thinks again of the difference from Manhattan.

Just as they approach the front door of the apartment building, a latch closes softly and a figure comes carefully down the stairs, onto the sidewalk. It turns towards them. The little hairs on the back of Jensen’s neck stand up. There’s no doubt in his mind that this is Hodge. It’s the picture of him at eighty-five in the obituary come to life. He’s stooped a little, but his body is still slim, shoulders still as broad as a younger man’s. He’s got on a black suit and tie, the crisp shirt gleaming under the streetlight. He’s balding, and what fringe is left is close-cropped and grey.

“But-“ Jensen stops short. But he’s dead. The man’s fucking dead.

Jared has no qualms, though, and strides forward. “Doc?” he says, as the figure draws near them. “Doc Hodge?”

Doc-or his ghost, or the joint hallucination Jensen’s sharing with Jared-stops and pins them both with a skeptical gaze. His glasses reflect the moon overhead. “Now what are you boys doing lurking around this time of night? I don’t happen to be carrying any money, so there’s no point in perpetrating a robbery.”

“No, sir,” Jared answers, Texas-drawl seeping out from under the veneer of his Midwesternness. Jensen keeps his own mouth shut. “We’d just like to talk to you a little bit about baseball. About back when you were Moonlight Hodge.”

“Moonlight,” he repeats slowly. “Huh. No one’s called me that for nigh on sixty years. Can you believe it? So, I guess it wasn’t an accident that you two were waiting on the street for me tonight?”

“Not exactly. I’m Jared Padalecki. This here’s my friend, Jensen. We were just out walking, hoping you might appear.”

“’Appear?’” Doc repeats. “Now that’s a funny word to use.”

“You mind if we join you?”

Hodge nods and starts walking. He’s got an umbrella, and plants it, every few steps, as if to steady himself, but he hardly needs it. Jared falls in next to him and Jensen follows a few paces behind, hobbling more noticeably than the octogenarian.

“Let’s go to my office,” Doc says. “We can talk there.”

They head to a dark storefront a few streets down. Earlier that day, Jared and Jensen had driven by to see it, empty and boarded up. Now the door’s got a frosted glass front with Dr. Aldis Hodge stenciled on it and Jensen can see the shapes of furniture through the window. Doc fumbles with the keys in his pocket, then opens the door and lets them inside. Jensen shudders a little as he walks past the threshold.

“I’ve told my story to baseball historians and sports columnists and such, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never told it at 3am, even as a young man.”

“Well, thanks for sharing with us tonight,” Jensen says, because, hell, he can’t let Jared be the only one who can say he chats with spirits.

Hodge sits down with a grunt of effort and settles back in his chair. “I’d only been called up from my Negro League team a week before. First black player for the Tigers, right on the heels of Robinson in Brooklyn and Doby in Cleveland and maybe a handful of others, you know. It was all new and strange, to everyone. Anyway, it was the end of the eighth inning, and we had a big lead, seven or eight runs. I was sitting on the bench, gawking up at the packed stands like a rube. Didn’t actually know whether I’d ever play or not, or if I was just a symbol of sorts. But that day our manager, O’Neill, out of the blue just pointed a bony finger at me and said, ‘Right field.’ I jumped like I was sitting on a spring, grabbed my glove and hustled out, not sure what to expect.” Doc takes off his glasses, pulls a snowy-white handkerchief from his pocket, and starts to polish them. “Well, the crowd didn’t like seeing a black man in Mr. Briggs’ Stadium, not at all. Racial slurs and threats rained down on me as I patrolled that yard. From my home fans!” He shakes his head in sadness. “Out there all by myself, seemed like a mile back to the infield.”

“And did you ever get to make a play?” Jared asks. Jensen sure hopes Doc got the chance to show up the assholes that had heckled him.

“No. The ball never was hit out my way. A pop-up to the left side, a soft grounder to short, and a strikeout, and the inning was all over. I bet I wasn’t out there for more than five minutes, even if it felt like fifty.” Doc gives a quick laugh, without humor. “Anyway, O’Neill changed his mind, benched me, so in one inning the game was done and so was I. The Tigs didn’t bring on another black player for nine years. One of the last teams to integrate.”

“It seems like a tragedy, to make it so far and then only be there for five minutes.” Jared says.

Doc smiles sweetly. “If I’d only got to be a doctor for five minutes, now that would have been a tragedy.” He ducks his head to peer over the tops of his glasses and looks them both over, then says, “So now you tell me, boys, what makes you so interested in that half-inning of mine sixty-some odd years ago?”

“Well,” Jared starts, glancing over at Jensen, who nods encouragement but has little to offer otherwise. “I guess, what we want to ask you is-“ he gulps and forges on, “-if you could go back, if you could have one wish, a baseball wish-“

“Are you in the wish-granting business?” Doc asks with a bigger grin. Then he leans forward on his elbow and rubs a thumb in the corner of his mouth pensively. “I never got to bat in the major leagues. I was pretty fair on the Detroit Stars as a green kid-hit .335 one year-and I wasn’t bad in practice with the Tigs. But I’d have liked to stare down that major league pitcher. I’d have liked to feel the tingle in my arms as I connected at the sweet spot, and run the bases to beat the throw to home with a slide that turned my uniform clay-red. That’s what I wish, my fine young visitors.”

“What if I told you that there’s a place where that could happen?” Jared says earnestly. “That we could take you there?”

Jensen expects Doc to jump at the opportunity, that’s why they’re here after all. But instead, the old man shakes his head ‘no.’

“After I came back from Korea and got my medical degree, Beth and I settled here in Ecorse, because back then it took a special community to accept a mixed race couple. Still does, I guess. Anyway it’s been good to us, and so we never left. And I’m rooted here now. I’ll be here until I die.”


That night, after they return to their motel room, both of them filled to the brim with the inexplicable, Jensen dreams of the accident.

But, unlike the thousands of times he’s dreamed it before, in this one he’s on a film set. As always, it’s pitch black, he’s driving, swerving, screaming, the tree trunk flies at the windshield. But right before impact, a director yells, “Cut!” Flood lights flash on, illuminating cameras, sound booms, catering tables. Jensen steps out of the immobile sports car as crewmembers scurry to redress the scene. Milo gets out from his side, gives Jensen a brief wave and heads off towards the cast trailers.

He wakes the next morning to a lemon-slice of sunlight splashing across his face, and the sight of Jared framed in the open motel room door, bearing coffee.

Jared bustles around busily as Jensen stumbles to the bathroom to take a piss. But when he comes out, Jared’s sitting on the edge of his bed.

Jared looks up at Jensen expectantly. “So, what now?”

“I don’t know. Maybe that’s it? Maybe we just needed to talk to him?” This time, Jensen doesn’t feel that immediate sense of wrongness at the thought of giving up. He just feels weary. And grimy. And, in the light of day, unable to account for what seemed to happen last night.

“Maybe,” Jared echoes.

“I guess-“ Jensen ransacks the corners of his mind for a reason to stay. Any reason to prolong this implausible adventure. But he can’t come up with anything. Nothing aside from the fact he just wants to be wherever Jared is, and that’s what scares him more than anything.

Too close. I’ve already gotten too close. “I guess I’ll fly home from here. If there’s nothing else left for us to do.” Jared draws in a quick breath at that, but Jensen talks over any reply he might make. “You can just drop me at Detroit Metro. It’s only a few miles down the road. Right along the highway on your way. I’m sure they have regular flights to JFK or LaGuardia.”

Jared searches Jensen’s face, but Jensen knows he won’t find anything there that Jensen doesn’t want him to see.

“Okay,” Jared acquiesces at last. “Sure. Whatever you want.”


In the VW, it’s quiet. Jared hasn’t flipped on the radio. He’s not singing.

Perhaps he’s listening for the Voice, Jensen thinks. He stops checking his phone for directions to the airport for a second and closes his eyes to listen, too.

When he opens them, on the corner, before the turn onto the ramp for I-94, there stands a teenager. He’s got a bat slung over one shoulder with a cloth bag tied to it like a cartoon hobo.

Those knowing little hairs on Jensen’s neck perk up again.

The kid sticks his thumb out. Without hesitating, Jared slows the van to a stop, and Jensen cranks the window open with the handle.

“Hop in,” Jared yells across Jensen.

The back door slides open. The kid tosses his duffle in and flings himself in behind it. “Thanks,” he says, a bit breathless. “You’re the first car by. I didn’t expect a lift so soon.”

“Where are you headed?” Jared asks.

“Where are you headed?” the boy counters amiably.

“We’re going to Iowa,” Jensen says, before Jared can reply.

He sees Jared’s head whip around and his eyes widen at Jensen’s ‘we.’

“Cool. I’m looking for a place to play ball,” their passenger explains. “Baseball, you know? I’ve heard there’s Double and Triple A teams all throughout the Midwest that’ll let you just walk right in and try out. No need for scouts or anything.”

“It’s your lucky day, kid,” Jensen responds, his gaze still locked with Jared’s. “We’re going someplace kind of like that. Aren’t we?”

Jared nods tightly and turns his attention back to the road. His eyes are suspiciously shiny. There’s an inexplicable lump in Jensen’s throat, too.

He swallows it down. “This is Jared Padalecki. I’m Jensen Ackles.”

The kid doesn’t blink an eye at Jensen’s famous name. He just smiles and says, “Pleased to meet you. My name’s Aldis Hodge.”


From there, it’s almost eight hours to the Iowa state line and another hour after that to Jared’s farm. At some point Jensen wonders if he’ll ever see another landscape that doesn’t include corn. He’s a city-dweller, a foreigner in this land. He’s used to being able to see one block at a time, not hundreds of miles in every direction stretching outward to the very edge of the earth. The sky here is bigger, bluer. A herd of fluffy clouds graze right above the horizon.

At last, Jared turns the VW into a long driveway. To the right, there’s a barn. A grain silo lists tiredly next to it, both of them a weathered brick red. Up ahead, there’s a house sitting on a little rise. It’s wood-shingled and sprawling, two stout stories with a deep porch that rings the first floor on three sides. The clapboard siding is white and the roof is slate and it looks like something out of a postcard.

Then, as the van rolls past a break in the window-high crops, Jensen finally spies the ballfield. It’s huge. This is not some rinky-dink municipal Little League diamond; this is as expansive as anywhere the Dodgers or Royals play. The infield is orangish-red clay edged with baselines as white as fresh flour. The outfield’s close-trimmed grass stretches smoothly out and away like a cashmere carpet. It’s incongruously framed, not by walls, but by the tall hedges of corn.

Yet everything here is vacant and still. No players. Nothing magical. Just…just an empty ballfield in the middle of nowhere.

Jensen swallows against disappointment.

“So. This is it.” As Jared eases the van to a stop in the drive, a few puffs of white-oh, they’re actual hens-skitter out of the way.

A woman emerges from the front door of the house, leading a toddler by the hand.

The child lets out a squeal and runs toward them. “Jerry!” she lisps and holds out her chubby arms. Jensen watches as Jared grabs her up and swings her around, feet flying toward the sky, before gathering her in.

“Hello, Jaybird,” Jared sings into the child’s silken hair, then shifts her to one hip to drag the woman into the hug as well.

And if Jensen’s hopes had stumbled at the sight of the deserted field, this sends them plunging into dark despair. Had he misinterpreted everything? Did Jared have a wife and kid and just never thought to mention it? Jensen wants to turn away, go check on Aldis, or go walk into the corn and never stop, but he can’t feel his legs or arms or anything. All he does is stare at the redhead with a starlet’s looks where she stands tucked under Jared’s arm.

“Jensen,” Jared says merrily, like nothing in the world is amiss, “this is my buddy, Danneel. She and this little lady,” he gives the girl a little boost, “look after the farm for me whenever I have to go away for a few days.” He glances down at the woman, who’s got a grin tugging at one corner of her mouth like she’s in on some clever secret. “Danni, this is Jensen Ackles.”

Jensen’s not sure what to expect, but Jared’s obvious emphasis on the term ‘buddy’ does have him breathing a bit easier. And it’s nice that Danneel doesn’t gush or fawn, but neither does she pretend she doesn’t recognize him.

“Hey. I’m a big fan,” she says simply. She stretches out a hand, and when he takes it, she shakes it with a firm grip.

Still, Jensen doesn’t know what to reply. He really does hate this kind of thing. He steps back and looks down at the packed dirt of the drive and then up at Jared for a little help.

Jared’s staring over his shoulder though, at something behind him. His eyes light up, and he calls out, “Hi there, Joe!”

Fucking Christ, Jensen sighs to himself. Not another-

But as he turns the thought cuts off. Suddenly there’s nothing in his head but the white buzz of wonderment.

The stranger’s looks aren’t particularly remarkable. Medium height, medium build, a dark, low brow over a long nose and sharp features. But he’s wearing a baseball uniform, and it’s not a modern one, but something from years past, some bygone era. It’s baggy and greyish, pinstriped, with real horn buttons up the front and loose sleeves that drape around the wrist. It looks like some kind of costume. But the man wears it so comfortably, like a second skin, Jensen instantly can’t imagine him in anything else.

Jared sets the toddler down and saunters down to the field, toward where the ballplayer stands toeing one foul line. Jensen trails behind him, along with Danneel and Aldis.

The late-afternoon sun has settled itself at a low angle and their shadows stretch like long fingers reaching out toward the man. He looks solid. Real. As real as anyone Jensen’s ever met.

“Heya, Jared,” the man says when they come to a halt a few yards away. “Welcome back.” Then he looks at Aldis, who’s standing there bouncing on the balls of his feet. “Hodge?” He inspects the kid up and down, “What the hell are you waiting for? Your contract arrived today, and we’ve all be wondering when you were going to report. You’re supposed to be on deck!” He jerks his chin toward the third baseline. “You came to play ball, didn’t you?”

“Yessir,” Aldis answers with a gulp.

“Then go warm up!”

“Yessir!” he says, brightly now. And with a jaunty wave at Jared and Jensen, Aldis trots around to the end of the fence and steps onto the grass.

“Playing right field and batting seventh is Moonlight Hodge,” an announcer’s voice intones from speakers tethered up on the lightposts that tower over the corners of the field. Jensen spots Aldis reaching for one of the cream-colored bats propped against the fence next to the dugout, trying to look casual, but grinning like a loon. His clothing has transformed into a uniform to match the other players that have somehow materialized on the field between one blink and the next.

Jensen stands there feeling like his feet have lost contact with the ground. A strong gust of wind could loft him up into the air like a kite.

“Can you see them?” Jared asks from beside him, low and quiet. Reverent, as if in church. “Not everyone can.”

“Yeah.” Jensen sucks in a deep breath. “Yeah, I can see ‘em.”

They’re mid-game. The wooden scoreboard in the outfield that was blank when Jensen first spotted it from the driveway now has five innings worth of flat panels hung on hooks. Two simple rows of white numbers showing runs scored for Visitor and Home, below that outs, balls, and strikes.

The men on the field wear a variety of uniforms-Giants and A’s, White Sox and Red, the Yankees, the Braves. Jensen spots one player in the outfield wearing an LA Dodgers cap and another-the guy on second-is in one from Brooklyn.

Jensen does a double-take at that second baseman, stares harder. It can’t be. “Oh my god,” he mutters.

“What?” Jared asks.

“That’s Jackie Robinson.”

“Damn right it is,” Jared says, kinda smugly. Jensen can hardly blame him. “You mean you didn’t really believe me?”

“I thought I did. I mean-Dr. Hodge was one thing. But this?” Jensen gestures weakly toward the action. Out on the mound, the pitcher winds up and rockets a fast ball past Aldis so hard he has to jerk back, stumbling out of the batter’s box. The players in the infield whistle and hoot. Jensen struggles to recall the faces and uniforms from his dad’s Topps card collection, painstakingly arranged in page upon page of plastic sleeves. Satchel Page. Lou Gehrig. Brooks Robinson. “My god, it’s like Cooperstown out there.”

“I know, right?” Jared says, a little less smug, a little more likewise amazed.

“All the movies I’ve been in, the scripts I’ve read…” Jensen shakes his head. “…I’ve never encountered a plot as unbelievable as this. It’s incredible.”

“It’s more than that,” Jared says, and his gaze shifts from watching the game. Jensen can feel his eyes on him. “It’s perfect.”


Danneel takes J.J. and bundles her into a little grey Honda. They head back to their own home, leaving Jared and Jensen alone on the small rise of wooden bleachers that Jared’s built behind home plate. Jensen can’t climb beyond the first row, but it doesn’t matter; he’s got the best view he could possibly want.

The fading sun is a rich amber color over his left shoulder. And back behind the broad expanse of outfield, the sheaves of corn rustle and murmur like a stadium crowd bored by a pitching change.

The players run and hit and catch like graceful dancers, like diving birds of prey, like precision machines. But they clown around, too, more like schoolboys than grown men. The player at first nonchalantly slaps the baserunner’s hat off; the baserunner-it’s Joe fucking DiMaggio-pays him back by popping a pink bubble of gum in his face. Another inning starts and ends, and Jensen can’t decide if it feels more like the world’s greatest All-Star game or something spontaneous in a neighborhood sandlot. It doesn’t seem to matter that they come from different eras, different generations, or that they’ve been gathered here through some inexplicable magic. They simply play. As if that’s the only possible thing to do.

It ought to hurt. Jensen should be jealous and angry, that he can no longer run like this, move like this. That his body-while maybe not as gifted as the luminaries on the field-used to be so athletic, but now was broken.

But that’s not what he feels at all. Instead, Jensen’s filled with this keen sense of joy. It’s almost unrecognizable, it’s been so long since he felt such a thing, but there it is. Every player’s effortless catch, every powerful swing of the bat, each one brings a new thrill, a new sense of respect.

He watches Mickey Mantle stride up to the plate. Walter Johnson’s on the mound and he tucks the ball behind his back before the windup.

“Better watch for the curve, Mick,” Johnson calls out.

“Better watch for it back in your ear, Barney,” Mantle retorts.

“Just try and hit me, knucklehead.”

They both grin and Jensen finds himself grinning too.

At some point Jared slips away. He jogs up the lawn to the house, and comes back with his hands full.

“Look what Danneel left us!” he crows, and slides back onto the bench next to Jensen. He unloads a plate of cold fried chicken and a tub of potato salad with two spoons sticking up out of it, a pile of napkins, and a six-pack of bottled beer, the glass already perspiring in the late-summer evening warmth.

They eat, and watch, and Jensen jumps when the floodlights automatically flicker on, illuminating the field.

The pop of the bat sounds like a firecracker exploding. Pinks and violets stain the sky like the juices of an over-ripe plum. Jensen leans back to rest his elbows on the bench seat behind him. He pulls in several deep breaths of the soil-rich air, and it somehow feels like these are the first breaths he’s ever taken on purpose.


After the last out is caught by Stan Musial in left field, the players gather together in groups of two and three, the at-bat team coming out of their dugout. They start meandering back toward the corn, laughing and roughhousing. Aldis turns to wave at them before joining some of the others as they step off of the outfield grass into the tall stalks and simply fade from sight.

Joe Jackson trots over to home plate and leans on the fence to talk to them, curling his fingers in the chain links.

“Thanks for coming back, Jared. We missed playing while you were gone.”

“Why didn’t you? You’re welcome to play any time you want, you know.”

“We know,” Joe says. “We just play when you’re here.”

“And when he’s not? What do you do?” Jensen chimes in, curiosity eating him up as to how this-this magic all works.

Joe shrugs. “We sleep. We wait.” He glances over his shoulder at the light-drenched infield. “We dream.”

“And you can’t leave the field any other way?” Jared asks softly, sympathetically.

Joe shakes his head.

“What’s it like out there?” Jensen asks again.

“Hard to say,” Joe says, and he gives Jensen a long, silent look, studying his face, like he’s weighing Jensen’s worth. It doesn’t intimidate Jensen, though, he’s plenty used to being judged.

“Can anyone go? Go out there with you?” Jensen presses.

Joe doesn’t answer. He might appear to be 27 or 28 years old, but his gaze holds more than a century’s worth of secrets. Silence falls among them, not a comfortable one, until the ballplayer straightens up and touches two fingers to the brim of his cap. “See you tomorrow?” he says to Jared.

“Yeah,” Jared replies.

“Yeah,” Jensen echoes.

And they watch as Joe turns and jogs out to join his comrades somewhere beyond sight.



rps, supernatural fic, j2

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