It felt like it went by in the blink of an eye, the time between Jared’s disappearance and going back to school. Jensen’s mother took him to the doctor and they discussed potential medications and ways of ‘coping’. She started talking about going to therapy.
Jensen thought it was all pretty stupid. What did he have to go to therapy for? What did he have to cope with? He wasn’t the kid who got taken at his neighborhood park. He wasn’t the parent of a child most likely dead in a ditch somewhere. He wasn’t a sibling or a cousin or a distant relative even.
He was just the idiot who let Jared get taken.
He didn’t deserve anyone sitting in front of him and telling him how much it wasn’t his fault in a soothing, sad tone. He didn’t need his mom hovering, constantly worrying over him, asking him how his day was, asking him if he’d felt anxious, sad, upset, restless, angry, detached…
He always felt those things.
And he always told her that he felt fine.
His brother Josh was a bit better about not getting in his space, and a little subtler with his questions but he still made Jensen feel smothered.
Jensen didn’t want all of that attention and concern, he just wanted to disappear.
He didn’t want to die; he just…didn’t want to be here anymore, in this place with horrible people that took away best friends.
He really wasn’t looking forward to the new school year. Aside from the fact that Jared wouldn’t be there, he didn’t want to deal with all of the questions, and people watching him in the halls. The whispers, and the rumors, and the jokes, he didn’t want to deal with any of it.
But his mom forced him out of bed, out to the car, and drove him there herself the first day, just to make sure he got there, and he didn’t have the guts to walk out after that.
He went to class and he sat down with his head on his arms, and he slept. It was all he did anymore, because it was all he wanted to do. Some days he just couldn’t get up the energy for anything else.
In his third class of the day he was shaken out of his light sleep by a soft, melodic, slightly raspy voice.
“Hey, you might not want to sleep in this class. I hear Brown is a bit of a hothead and sends kids to the principal’s office, like...daily.”
Jensen just shrugged, not overly worried and not pretending to be.
The girl raised her dark, delicate eyebrows at him before rolling her eyes and mumbling to herself.
Jensen thought he heard a “…get why she likes you…” and was curious for about two seconds before he realized it would take too much effort to ask what she meant, and laid his head back down in the fold of his arms.
The rest of his day went similarly. He skipped out on lunch and snuck into the janitor’s closet to nap instead. The only reason he didn’t go to the nurse’s office was he didn’t want them to contact his mother, and he knew they were on high alert about his behavior and his meds because his Mom told him they would be.
During his second to last class of the day he got called out of class by the front desk lady from the main office, and thought for sure they’d bust him about the janitor’s closet. He fidgeted as he followed her down the hall, worried about what his Mom would do when she found out, but instead of leading him to the main office, she walked him to the school counselor’s office.
“For the second half of every sixth period class you have you’re going to come here. You’ll get the notes from another student for whatever you missed, and all of your teachers know about what’s going on so you don’t have to worry about getting in trouble, okay? You just quietly leave the classroom and come here.”
Jensen nodded to show he understood.
“Good,” the secretary said with a brisk nod before bustling away to leave him standing alone in front of the counselor’s door.
Jensen didn’t dare walk in at first, but then he heard what sounded like a semi-familiar, raspy voice behind the door and pushed his way inside.
There was a little couch against a wall, and a table and bookshelf, and two other doors leading to two private offices. More importantly, though, there were two girls sitting on that small couch, staring at him. Like he’d guessed, one of them was the same girl that had warned Jensen about Mr. Brown in class earlier.
Jensen didn’t want to be rude or anything so he figured he’d say something.
“Hey,” the girl from earlier responded. She had a backwards cap on and jeans with a hole in the knee that Jensen thought looked pretty cool.
“I know who you are.” She sounded matter of fact about it, not stalker-ish, but Jensen couldn’t decide if it was creepy or not.
He just nodded in reply.
“I’m Sophia, and this is Danneel,” she said, gesturing to the girl sitting beside her. She had brown hair and a round face, and Jensen couldn’t remember ever seeing her around school before.
“She’s new here, and she’s my best friend,” Sophia said as she stood and started making her way towards the door, making her way closer to Jensen.
“If you make her cry, I will hurt you,” she said, pointing a finger in his face.
Jensen wasn’t really sure how to respond to that. He wasn’t usually in the business of making girls cry anyway, but despite how small Sophia was she looked scarily serious, and seriously scary.
Jensen just nodded again and watched warily as she walked out of the door.
When he turned back to look at Danneel she smiled a small half smile.
Jensen smiled back in the same way, and sat down next to her.
He picked at a loose thread in the fabric of the couch and chewed on the inside of his cheek nervously before opening his mouth to say something…anything.
“I’ve never been here before.”
“Me neither,” the girl, Danneel, responded quickly, voice soft but even and clear in the quiet room.
“I hope the counselor’s not weird,” he tried, tapping his foot in an offbeat rhythm.
“Me too,” she said.
Jensen blinked six times, scratched at his arm, and decided to just wait silently.
“My neighbor’s dog got run over by a Hummer in front of my house, and then my aunt got cancer.”
Jensen cut his eyes over to look at Danneel’s face but it hadn’t changed and she didn’t turn towards him. He turned to face forward again.
“Why are you here?”
“...My best friend got kidnapped by the ice-cream man.”
“I think you win.”
Jensen let out a nearly silent chuckle, and looked over at her again, at how still she was, at how blank her face seemed.
“Pretty sure I don’t.”
Jared noticed that the nights were getting colder, chill seeping in through the cracks in the walls and the door up above. He’d stopped keeping track of meals a while ago, not able to tell what time of day it was by summer sounds anymore, waking up to darkness all of the time, and never noticing much light at all when Mr. Jake opened the door now. It didn’t do him much good in counting the days when he had no way of knowing when one day ended and another began.
He wondered if school had started already.
He didn’t want to miss any school. He might get in trouble.
He didn’t want to get in trouble. What if they kicked him out?
Jared liked school.
He wanted to go back to school.
Usually, he dreaded going back. Especially last year when he went to a different school than Jensen.
God, he missed him. And his Mom, and his Dad, and Megan, and Jeff, and…
He just wanted to go home.
Jared tucked his face against his dirty knees and fought back the tears that tried to come. He was tired of crying.
Jared was woken up suddenly by the sound of the padlock on the door clicking open.
His mouth went dry, his stomach and throat tight and aching.
It’d been a little while since Mr. Jake had come to visit, and the last time he’d come to visit, it was for that. Though not as bad as the first time, it had still hurt like nothing Jared had ever felt before.
He hadn’t fought, and he hadn’t screamed, he’d just lain there and done his best to think of other things, like home, and his bed, and his mom’s hugs, until hewas done.
He’d bled that time, too, but way less, and he didn’t feel as ripped open as the first time. Still broken, still torn, and hurt, but his body healed itself faster after the second time.
He hoped that he wasn’t coming back for a third.
There was the slight squeak of the door as it opened and a gust of air that smelled like apples and dirt made its way to Jared as Mr. Jake shut the door.
He came down the stairs quickly and Jared noticed there was something round and sweet-smelling in his hand.
“I brought you something.”
Jared scrambled back further into his dark corner. Gifts were not a good thing.
“No, don’t do that. It’s good, see,” he said, waving the pie in Jared’s direction. “And I just want to talk today. You can talk to me, can’t you Jared?”
Jared thought it safer not to respond.
Mr. Jake sat down beside him and placed the pie between them, two forks set on top this time.
Jared just looked at it for a moment, but he was really hungry, and Mr. Jake did seem to just want to sit. He scooted over a bit and tried to grab at the fork with his bound hands. He didn’t have much luck getting a good grip on the fork, though, and he could feel himself getting discouraged quickly. Any other time Mr. Jake would just feed him. Why wasn’t he doing it now?
Just as tears of frustration started to make their way to Jared’s eyes, Mr. Jake took hold of his wrists and brought a knife forward.
Jared flinched so hard at the sight of it that his teeth clacked together.
“Hey, hey…be still. Look.” His voice was sharp, but not angry, and Jared stilled, watched as he cut off the ropes that had been around his wrists for so long.
Underneath them the skin was broken, bleeding, flayed, and raw, but Jared didn’t care. His wrists were free. He was so happy to be free of the ropes, so grateful to Mr. Jake for cutting him free. He could move his hands. He could-
“Now, don’t you go getting any funny ideas,” Mr. Jake drawled. “You belong here, with me. You get that, don’t you? You know I don’t like punishment, but I will punish you if I have to, Jared.”
Jared leaned away instinctively, not sure what “funny ideas” it was he didn’t want him to have. He watched again as Mr. Jake cut the pie into wide, thick slices; each one exactly the same size as the last.
“You’ve been good lately, and I wanna talk to you.”
Jared looked up at him, looked at the pie, and looked up at him again.
“Go on, eat.”
Jared hesitated for a moment longer, then reached forward, took hold of one fork quickly with a shaking hand, and began to eat the slice closest to him.
“You’ve been here for a little while now, and I’m really glad you’re here. You’re the first person to ever help me, Jared, did you know that? No one cares about Jake Meyers. Just you.”
The pie was still warm, sweet and soft, the crust flakey and buttery as it melted on his tongue.
“No one thinks that I tried. I tried. I tried really hard, Jared. To be a good person. To get better…”
Mr. Jake shook his head before picking up the other fork and digging into another slice.
“People think that I’m sick, but…but no one cares enough to do anything about it. When I first saw you I knew…I knew you were perfect. I knew you would be perfect, Jared.”
He reached out to Jared’s face with one free hand and swept his hair behind his ear in a gentle gesture that made Jared’s insides twist with fear and longing. His mom did that to him all of the time.
Mr. Jake cleared his throat and moved his hand away. “I’m going to be gone for a little while. I’ve got something to take care of.”
Gone? Where was he going? What about Jared? He couldn’t just leave him.
“But I’m leaving your bucket down here, and I’m leaving you food and water at the top of the stairs. I’m leaving the ropes off. If you try to escape…I’ll know. I’ll know you’ve been a bad boy, Jared. And what happens to bad boys?” Mr. Jake asked, voice tipping up patiently.
Jared shook his head.
“What happens to bad boys, Jared?” Mr. Jake repeated, tone just a little dangerous as he let the fork in his fist drop to the cement with a muted clang.
“Bad boys get punished,” Jared whispered, feeling like he was dragging the words up from somewhere deep inside himself. His voice was rough from disuse.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard himself speak out loud.
“That’s right. Be a good boy while I’m gone, and I’ll be back soon. And when I come back, we’ll see about moving you to a new place.”
As he stood to make his way back up the stairs he looked down at Jared and softened his voice to something low and sweet.
He rubbed an affectionate hand across Jared’s head and said, “It’s dark down here, and I want to be able to see your face when I fuck you.”
“Jensen, come oooonn!”
Jensen scuffed the toe of his sneaker against the gritty dirt of the baseball field and frowned. He didn’t really feel like playing. Not that he felt like doing much of anything, these days, but of all of the things he could possibly do during recess, playing baseball was like...the last thing he would have chosen. Sleeping maybe. In the janitor’s closet again, or in the counselor's office, or at the nurse. In fact, he sort of felt a stomach ache coming on. Maybe that could get him out of this.
“Seriously, we’re only down one because Peter wussed out when he got hit by the ball. You’re bigger ‘n him, and anyway Danneel refuses to play. Something about a dirty skirt. Please, please, please….pleaaaasseeeeee?”
Jensen watched warily as Sophia dropped to her grubby knees in the dirt, and folded her hands together to beg.
She blinked up at him from beneath the rim of her cap, big brown eyes colored with pleading instead of the normal flat coolness. Despite how much Jensen knew he was being played, he was pretty weak against the eyes. Always had been when it’d come to Jared too.
“Fine, yes, fine,” he said agitatedly, waving his hand at her, gesturing for her to get up, and pushing away the thoughts of Jared that were trying to eat away at his brain.
“Really?” Sophia rasped, bouncing on her toes.
“Yeah, I said already, didn’t I?”
“You’re the best!” Sophia screeched, more shrill than usual, before punching him in the shoulder and turning around to head back to the pitcher’s mound.
“You just play right outer field, okay?!” she called back over her shoulder.
“You got it,” Jensen snarked, saluting lazily.
He saw Danneel stand up in the stands out of the corner of his eye.
“Don’t let that ball hit the ground, Ackles,” she yelled. “I’ve got lunch money riding on this game!”
She was so weird. The both of them were, honestly, just really really strange.
“You heard the girl,” Sophia shouted back as she winded back for the pitch, “...lunch, Jackles. If that doesn’t get you going I don’t know what will.”
Jensen just rolled his eyes, unable to help a slight fleeting smile, and got ready to catch the baseball in case it flew in his direction.
Jensen grabbed the nearest pillow off of the couch behind him and tossed it at Sophia’s head.
“Hey!” Sophia growled out, yanking her headphones out of her ears and turning to glare at him.
Jensen jerked his thumb at Danny, rolling his eyes.
“If you tap that pencil one more time, I’m going to stuff it down your throat,” Danneel barked.
Sophia stilled entirely, eyebrows scrunched low on her forehead. She deliberately tapped her pencil three times.
“That’s it,” said Danny, hopping up and hurling her body to where Sophia was lying on the floor.
Sophia was just rising to her knees to fend her off when Jensen got alarmed enough by the fury on Danneel’s face to butt in.
“Woah, woah, woah, easy, easy…” Jensen said, pushing her back with a hand on her shoulder. Danny wasn’t small by any stretch of the imagination, but she was maybe four inches shorter than he was, so it was fairly easy to overpower her.
Sophia on the other hand, tended to be scrappy. He’d seen her in enough scuffles to know. He was grateful she wasn’t trying to fight back, and just stood there, arms crossed, as Danneel strained to get past him.
“I’ll wring her scrawny little neck!”
“Seriously, Danny, calm down!”
“Calm down?” she yelled, pushing back and away to pace in front of him.
“Yeah, chill out okay? What are you so mad about, anyway, huh?”
Sophia was always a little twitchy like that. It didn’t seem to bother her any other time.
“I’m mad because you and the human clock over here,” she said, gesturing wildly in Sophia’s direction, “have been slacking off for the past two weeks. Throwing spitballs at each other in Adam’s class, playing video games on her stupid Atari every time I suggest taking out a book, and now that it’s crunch time, the night before the stupid test, and you finally decide to study, I get distracted by her pencil tapping.”
Sophia just rolled her eyes.
Jensen coughed awkwardly. “Well, um…I’m sure Sophie doesn’t mean it, Danneel. She’s just sort of keyed up, right? Worried about the test and all?” Jensen threw an arm around Sophia’s shoulders before pulling her into his side and shaking her a little.
“She’ll loosen up, now, though. And then she won’t tap as much. Problem solved.”
Jensen shrugged when Danneel gave him a scathing look.
“No, problem not solved. Problem anything but solved.” Danneel muttered primly before turning her back on him and shoving her books into her shoulder bag. “I’m going to call my dad to come and pick me up.”
Sophia moved out from underneath Jensen’s arm then, reaching forward. “Danny, no, come on. Are you serious? You always spend the night on Thursdays.”
“Not tonight,” Danneel said, shaking her head firmly and starting to dial her phone.
“Danny…” Sophia said. Her voice was softer than anything Jensen had ever heard from her.
Danny just ignored her though, walking out into the parlor to make her call.
Jensen looked down at his socked feet shuffling against the sky blue carpet. His chest ached uncomfortably.
“Ugh!” Sophia said, plopping herself on the floor again and going back to her work.
Jensen sighed before sliding back down to where he was leaning against the couch.
Sophia looked up at him, raising an eyebrow.
“I told her not to go and she left anyway. Yeah, that’s it.”
She bit her lip as she looked away and stared down at her book; she was blinking a little too slowly, eyes a little too vacant to actually be reading.
Jensen waited another minute before he couldn’t help but ask.
“All that over you tapping your pencil?”
Sophia snorted. “No. That probably wasn’t at all about me tapping my stupid pencil. It probably wasn’t even about this stupid test because Danny knows she’ll ace it.”
Jensen nodded. Yeah, Danny did do the best in school out of the three of them. She usually did really well, actually, now that he thought about it. “So then what’s it about?”
Sophia stared at him for a bit before shaking her head suddenly, and sighing. “No, nope, it’s fine. It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it. We’ll figure it out. Whatever.”
“No, seriously Jackels. Forget about it, okay? You’ll just make it worse,” she said, waving her pencil free hand. “….It’s girl stuff.”
“Oh,” Jensen said, slightly put off at the phrase “girl stuff”. That was never a good thing in his mind, but it also meant there wasn’t much for him to do fix it. He knew pretty much nothing about girl stuff.
“Yeah,” Sophia said with a sad little smirk. “So butt out, okay?”
“Yeah, Yeah,” Jensen said rolling his eyes in her direction. “But if she goes for your throat again, I won’t be there to stop her.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t get that far again, then, right?”
“Yeah,” Jensen said, feeling that uncomfortable weight in his chest again.
He took a deep breath, and then another, and distracted himself with his history text book until it went away.
At lunch, Jensen slowly got used to Danny’s girly pink lunch box with the hello kitty stickers, and he never commented on the way Sophia ate like she had three stomachs and she never commented on the fact that Jensen stood in the lunch line like everybody else, but just showed his school id and never paid any money at the register.
When he walked home, there was more than the sound of the leaves crunching under his feet, and he was grateful. Even though the babble wasn’t quite the same as he’d expected it would be this year it filled in the silences, the empty spaces in his head; it let him ignore the empty spaces elsewhere.
Sophie was easier to talk to about sports, and comic books, and video games. But when Jensen’s face got hot, and his chest got tight, and his ears started ringing Danny’s was the first face he looked for.
One morning he woke and realized he hadn’t dreamt about Jared. When he told his counselor, Eliot, he said it was a good thing.
Jensen wasn’t quite sure.
It felt like he’d been gone forever. Jared was stuck in that dark place with nothing to do and no one to talk to but the spiders that came out at night. He couldn’t see anything, and no matter how many times he made a circuit of the rectangular room the walls were just as solid, the floor just as hard and cold. He drank water when he got thirsty and ate, bread gone a little stale and an apple (crisp, tart, and crunchy, with juice that dripped sticky-sweet down his chin) every once in a while, when he got too hungry to resist.
Jared didn’t know how long the food would last him. He’d seen those sad kids on TV from really poor places, bones sticking out from the inside, pressed right up against their skin, their bellies hung low and saggy, and heads too large for their scarily skeleton-like bodies.
It looked like it hurt, and Jared could too easily remember what being truly hungry felt like. He wasn’t going to eat through everything Mr. Jake had left him too quickly.
Not when he wasn’t sure when….if…when he would come back.
It really started to sink in that he was stuck here, wherever here was, and that he might stay here for a very long time.
Mr. Jake had said, had promised, that Jared would be put into a new space when he came back.
Jared hoped he’d come back.
It was smelly and he felt dirty, and tired, and so lonely.
Jared held onto the hope that he would be found. He knew his parents would never stop looking for him. That Jeff, and Megan, and Jensen, and Mrs. Ackles could never forget about him because he couldn’t forget about them.
But he figured Mr. Jake must have hid him pretty well, because as far as he could tell it’d been weeks, maybe more than that? Maybe a month? Two?
It’d been a long time since he was put down here, and still he wasn’t found.
He would be found, he had to be, he just didn’t know when.
Some nights (or days?) it was really hard to fall asleep and Jared sang all of his Sunday school songs to himself like his mama used to do when he was small. His voice wasn’t as pretty as hers and it was hard to rock himself with the chilled air getting inside his bones and making him shiver, but he tried anyway.
At his saddest moments, when he felt most alone and most afraid, and there were no more spiders to keep him company, Jared imagined Jensen was beside him, and they were just playing some stupid game.
Like when he was five and Jen was six and they found an abandoned fort tucked far back into the forest behind Jared’s house. Jensen had been a little scared but he’d tried to act like he wasn’t.
“Let’s go, Jenssssen! Daddy found it yesterday. It’s ssoooo cool!” Jared had said through his slight lisp, pulling excitedly at Jensen’s arm.
“Yeah, okay! Um…Jared, don’t you think we should tell your Dad?” Jensen had waved his arms a little, stumbling behind him.
Jensen was always a little bit of a worrier.
Jared didn’t really get it until…well, until he’d gotten here.
Now Jared worried all of the time. He worried that he wouldn’t be found. He worried that Mr. Jake wouldn’t come back. He worried about if Mr. Jake did come back, what would happen. He worried about how his parents might miss him as much as he missed them.
He worried so much it felt like just another ache, humming, and low, but always there. Always, always there.