The house on Arcadia Drive is empty.
It usually is.
Families move in - for a time. Then they move out. It’s not their fault, the house and what’s in it just...doesn’t want them there. Right now there’s a moving truck pulling into the driveway, two men jumping out to look up at the house. One with long hair and an easy way about his loose limbs, the other with a scarred face and posture that doesn’t bend even as they slide comfortable arms around each other, both looking - confident, happy. Strong.
Strength doesn’t matter, to what’s in the house.
They all leave eventually.
“Where’d you put the wooden spoons?”
“I don’t know, you were the one to pack up the kitchen. I was in Morocco that week, remember?”
Firm arms slide around Jack’s waist, and wiry hair surrounding soft lips scratches at his shoulder where the stretched out neck of a shirt that’s probably not his has slipped down. “It’s gonna be nice having you here at home all the time.”
Jack tilts his head back, presses his nose into the hair at Jesse’s temple. He inhales the comforting smells of his conditioner and tobacco and the faintest trace of gasoline. “You sure you aren’t going to be sick of me?” he murmurs.
A nip at Jack’s shoulder, and he can feel the smile against his skin. “Never sick of you, old man.” His back is cold when Jesse pulls away. The house is always strangely chilly - Jack’s going to have to have a look at the sealing and insulation sometime before winter hits.
Jack’s bent over sliding books onto shelves a while later when there’s a stinging whap to his ass. He turns to find Jesse grinning and holding a wooden pasta spoon. “Where’d you find them?”
“Shoved in the sex toy box.” At the roll of Jack’s eyes, Jesse’s grin widens. “I’d apparently had somethin’ special on my mind when I was packin’ ‘em up.”
“And you were in that box because…?”
The smile shrinks, sharpens as Jesse moves to back Jack up against the bookshelves. It’s hard to put Jack anywhere he doesn’t want to be, though, so it mostly just succeeds in plastering Jesse to his front. “Thought we could start to break the place in a bit.”
Several minutes later Jack is sliding a hand down the back of Jesse’s pants and fuzzily wondering how much weight the built-in shelves can hold, when there’s a sudden crash from the other room. The men pull apart enough to look at each other in confusion, and make their way through the maze of boxes to the kitchen. On the tile floor is a pile of ceramic shards, bright colors standing out here and there against the white.
“No, no, no…” Jesse falls to his knees, heedless of the razor-sharp bits that cut into his skin. “Not Bessie!”
Privately, Jack feels a bit of relief and amusement. The life-size ceramic cow head that Jesse had been carting around with him for well over a decade was...not the most pleasant thing to look at. Garish colors, ugly patterns, and bulging eyes made it look like a perpetually surprised Dr. Seuss drawing, and Jack had quietly hated it for years. He knows how much Jesse loves it though, so he crouches down to rub a comforting hand over his back.
“Come on, come to the bathroom so I can patch up your knees. I’ll sweep it all up later, okay?” Jesse nods despondently and obediently gets up to follow Jack.
Neither man notices the drops of blood silently sink into the floor and vanish
A few days later Jack is sleepily stirring eggs on the stove when he hears a crash and a yell from upstairs. He bounds halfway up the stairs before running back to turn the stove off - living in an ancient, wooden house is making him paranoid of fire - then speeding upstairs to the bathroom. The mirror of the medicine cabinet is shattered, and Jesse is gingerly picking pieces out of his beard.
“Never thought I’d ever be happy that you were wearing a shirt,” is all Jack can think to say, before he retreats to put shoes on. He comes back with a dustpan and broom, and starts to sweep up the glass from around Jesse. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” is the morose reply. “I swear, all I was doin’ was shavin’ when the damn thing exploded on me.” Sure enough, there’s his trimmer and not a few drops of blood in the sink. Jack grabs a damp washcloth from where it’s draped over the shower rail, and begins to gently dab at Jesse’s face. He grabs a pair of tweezers and pulls free the few bits that have stuck in his beard and his skin.
“I’m the one with the scars here, not you,” Jack says, and Jesse rolls his eyes. Yes, Jack has some nasty, obvious marks on his face from shrapnel back when he was in the field, but Jesse’s skin isn’t unmarred. There are childhood acne scars under the beard, and thin lines and gouges here and there from the injuries you inevitably accumulate as a mechanic over the years. Then there are other, fainter ones from Jesse’s early life, the time period they don’t like to talk about. Jack knows each and every one even when they’re nearly invisible, has traced them and the faint freckles that come out in the sun with fingers and tongue a hundred times over.
The bits and pieces get cleaned up and swept away, and Jesse rinses the tacky blood off his hands. As the pink water swirls around, the drain makes a strange, ugly sound. Like a person taking too large of a gulp and then swallowing it down. The men stare at the sink for a moment, then look at each other.
“That was...weird, right?”
“It’s just a drain. I can take a look at it in the morning.”
“You know what I mean. The mirror, the drain, hell - the cow from the other day? The way the radio keeps changin’ off of my station?”
“That’s me, Jesse. You know I can’t handle that country trash you listen to -”
“No, it changes while I listen to it!”
Jack’s eyebrows are raised, while color is high in Jesse’s excited cheeks. A single drop of blood inches its way down the side of his face and into his scruff. “This place is haunted.”
“I know you don’t like old houses, but you really need to stop watching those ghost hunting shows late at night.” Thumbing away the drop from Jesse’s cheek, Jack presses his lips to the cut, the tang of blood sharp on his tongue.
“You got something better for me to be doin’ late at night?” Jesse mutters into the underside of Jack’s jaw, before giving it a slow kiss. They stumble their way back towards their bedroom, Jack bouncing a narrow hip painfully off of a doorway on the way. The bed they have is new - after far too many years of trying to fit two sets of broad shoulders onto a queen bed, they finally can stretch out on a king.
And stretch out they do, Jesse pushing Jack on his back before straddling his hips and starting to unbutton his shirt. “Slower,” Jack says with half a smile, thumbs playing with the waistband of Jesse’s jeans. Jesse turns it into a leisurely striptease - half serious, half tongue in cheek. The ridiculous snaps on the fly of his jeans are pulled apart one by one, each echoing like a gunshot in the quiet room.
Jesse falls on Jack before he can do more than get a hand on the bulge in Jesse’s underwear, pulling Jack’s clothes off in between kisses. They’re soon naked, Jesse mouthing his way down Jack’s broad chest. Despite Jesse’s talented tongue and fingers and the interest fizzing its way through his body, Jack frustratingly doesn’t get more than half hard.
“Not right now?” Jesse murmurs into the crest of Jack’s hip, nibbling at the bands of muscle there. It’s...something that happens, sometimes. A byproduct of being past fifty with more than his share of nerve damage. Despite both of their best intentions, occasionally Jack winds up as something more of a viewer than a participant.
Jack stretches up, pulling open the nightstand drawer as Jesse makes appreciative noises at the sight of his muscles shifting under his skin. “Here,” Jack says, as he tosses a bottle to Jesse. “Maybe you can get me there.”
Jesse opens Jack up with practiced fingers, working his way in with nudges of his hips that Jack shifts his body to accept with love, with familiarity. There’s still moments of wild abandon between them, of unexpected passion and orgasm where they end up with pulled muscles and vows to never do that again but oh wait move your tongue like that just one more time -
It’s this though, that Jack never thought he’d get to have and yet somehow has made his life. Where they move slowly, lazily, like they might be a single creature instead of two. Where Jesse is digging his mouth into one pectoral, tongue playing with the ring through the nipple there, and his fingers fit into Jack’s ribs like they were carved just for that purpose. Where Jack has one hand pressing Jesse’s face to his chest and the other sliding over the sweatslick skin of Jesse’s tattooed back and it doesn’t matter that Jack’s probably not going to come because this, this works .
After, when Jesse has cleaned them up and they haven’t pulled the sheets up yet because the humid air is still clinging to their bodies, Jack squints up at the ceiling. “I should fix the headboard to the wall.”
Jesse’s fingers slow from where they’re indolently playing with the tangle of Jack’s chest hair as he props his head up on his free arm. “Really, darlin’? Blow your mind with that and the headboard’s what you were thinkin’ about?”
It’s half joking, Jesse knows how his husband’s mind works, but Jack runs a hand through Jesse’s hair for that other half. The half where Jesse even to this day thinks that what they have is temporary and Jack will up and leave for someone better suited to him because Jesse hasn’t had many good things in his life stick around.
The idiot, Jack thinks fondly.
“We own this place. Completely. I can nail the headboard down or, hell, knock down a wall if I want to. It’s ours .” They’d had the money for it for a while, but Jack was still being sent all over hell’s half acre by the army and Jesse refused to rattle around a house all by himself - I swear to god Jack I’ll start livin’ at the autoshop or buy ten dogs just fuckin’ watch me. Jack talked his way into a home-based promotion and they found an old place that needed some love, and now they’re here. Rattling headboard and all.
Halfway through an argument over who’s going to get more space in the garage, Jesse’s stomach interrupts them with a loud growl.
Jack laughs into Jesse’s temple before pressing a kiss there and getting up. “Lemme finish up the eggs.”
Jesse scrambles out of the sheets, foot catching on a loop of fabric as he stumbles his way after. “You’re makin’ pancakes too, right, Jack? Jack! Pancakes!”
Jack stretches out in bed, eyes closed. Broad hands slide down his arms and press his wrists into the bed. Jack spent too many years going through pain and restraint as part of the job to get much of an erotic charge out of it in bed, but sometimes Jesse needs to hold him down, have Jack be immobile while he can move around and look to his heart’s content. The sort of thing they should probably go to therapy for at some point and never will.
His legs are spread and tied down, he’s not sure exactly how. Arms held down by hands that are just a bit too tight. Jack blinks his eyes open but sees only blackness.
“Ah ah,” a voice says warningly. “None of that, now.” Jack obediently closes his eyes, twists his hips around in a way he knows looks good, gets Jesse going. Fingers slide into him, not wet enough but there’s enough slickness left over from before that it’s just this side of the bad kind of painful. Fingers are replaced by cock and it’s - too much, somehow, maybe it’s the angle of his hips but it’s too much and too big and too overwhelming and Jack opens his mouth to cry out or moan or something and...nothing.
Nothing comes out.
Panic. Jack doesn’t do gags, doesn’t do anything over his mouth and Jesse knows that. Not after Azerbaijan. He has to be able to communicate, has to be able to yell to scream to breathe oh god have to breathe -
“Stop it, you’re fine,” the voice croons in his ear, fingers dancing over Jack’s mouth and down his throat. Jack realizes that he can get air, just not - talk. That’s. Wrong, but okay. The same kind of wrong where there are hands holding down his arms but then a hand on his neck and he isn’t sure what’s holding his legs down and apart but there’s a hand around his cock, too.
There’s a hand around his cock and it’s working. Working like it didn’t before, and he doesn’t know if it’s the hand or the too-dry drag within him but it’s too much sensation, too many nerves firing at once and there’s that voice in his ear telling him to let go that it’s okay let go stop thinking just stop -
Jack sits bolt upright in bed, breathing heavily. Jesse’s arm drops from where it had been slung across Jack’s chest, and he rolls over with a snort. Jack clears his throat, just to make sure that he can. That he can hear, that he can speak. He rubs heavy fingers over his eyes, blinking them open to look around the dark room. The dark room that really isn’t that dark - there’s a streetlight shining through a window and casting shadows from tree branches on one side, there’s the moon coming in the other, there’s the faint light of the nightlight in the bathroom that Jack put in when Jesse stubbed his toe yet again on the cabinet below the sink.
It all adds up to a very strange dream. One in a black room where he couldn’t speak, one where Jesse - it was Jesse, right? - was harsher than usual, one where Jack was strangely docile, one where…
Jack realizes suddenly, depressingly, that his underwear is sticking to his softening dick.
He hasn’t had a wet dream in thirty-odd years, and it’s not a little frustrating that his body decided to bring back the practice now. He eases out of bed, changes his shorts and wipes himself down. As strong as Jesse is, as much as he knows Jack loves him, if he knew that a dream got Jack off when he couldn’t do it himself he’d quietly beat himself up over it for days.
Jack gets back into bed, slides over until his back is pressed up against Jesse’s. Feeling his breathing, feeling the faintest shiver of his heartbeat. He lets himself relax into bed, but somehow it’s a long, long time before he can fall back asleep.
In the morning he’s exhausted. Drained, somehow. He doesn’t think about why.
Little things happen.
On their own it would all be nothing. All together? Well.
“It’s an old house, Jesse,” Jack says patiently for the dozenth time in the past few weeks.
“So an old house would make the toilet flush out of nowhere so my shower goes cold right as I’m about to come?”
“Leaving aside how I told you to stop jacking off in the shower because the pipes can’t handle it, yes. Old house, old plumbing. Things happen.”
“The house isn’t cock blocking you.”
“And what about the lube?”
“Lube goes bad.”
“Not when we bought it last week, it doesn’t. And it just goes all funny smellin’ and sticky. This shit turned black .”
It had looked like tar and completely killed the mood, leaving Jesse gagging in a completely unsexy way. When Jack had suggested watching The Blob while they were trying to distract themselves with a movie, Jesse had thrown a pillow at his head and stomped out.
“Jack.” Jesse’s voice is quiet. Controlled in a way that says he’s nervous. Jack pulls up his pants slowly from where he’s getting dressed in the bedroom and looks over into the bathroom. Jesse is staring into the mirror - replaced just a week ago - with his face pale.
“Just - come here. Tell me what you see.”
Jack edges into the bathroom and sees - nothing. “There’s nothing here. Other than the trash you said you’d empty yesterday,” he adds with a joking tone to his voice. Anything to get Jesse to stop looking like that.
Shaking his head slowly, Jesse’s eyes are fixed in the mirror somewhere behind him, between him and Jack. “You don’t see somethin’ behind the shower curtain?”
Taking a slow step and then another, Jack looks at Jesse in the mirror - a quick meeting of eyes before he looks back at whatever he’s seeing - and then at the shower behind him. There’s nothing that he can see, but he pulls the curtain back. Jesse inhales sharply, but Jack sees nothing there. Eyes wide, Jesse whirls around so fast Jack can hear his neck crack. He jumps into the tub, looking around frantically, before pulling the curtain closed with a snap. Opening it again, he looks at Jack.
“I - saw somethin’.” Jack wants to make a joke, but not when Jesse looks like he’s an inch away from bolting. He’s seen Jesse help lift a seven hundred pound engine block off of where it fell and shattered his coworker’s legs without blinking. Seen him corner a rabid raccoon until animal control could get there. Watched him punch out a would-be robber in their godawful first apartment together before Jack could even think of getting one of his guns. But he’s never seen Jesse...afraid like this.
He wraps his arms around his husband, feeling where Jesse’s shaking somewhere deep in his chest. That night he fucks Jesse slow and careful, reassuring with gentle hands and not saying anything when he brushes a spare tear or two away from Jesse’s face when he comes.
Holding him later as deep, sleep-slow breaths brush across his chest, Jack wonders again about whether this all was a good decision. They’d had a tiny little world for themselves, the apartment they’d been living in for years, carved out with sweat and tears and arguments and love. Yeah, they had the money and Jesse wanted more room to get his car restoration business going but - maybe this wasn’t the right place for them.
The wind blows branches against the window, and the scratching sends a shiver down Jack’s spine. Something about it, about his reaction to a fucking tree makes him angry. It’s a goddamn house. Their house, now. Jack slides into sleep with thoughts of tools dancing through his head.
Jesse jumps down the current lack-of-back-steps and raises his eyes at Jack. “You’ve got a dirty mouth, Jack Morrison.”
There’s a joke to be made about dirty mouths and where his has been lately, but Jack’s too pissed to figure out what it might be. The steps from the back door to the patio and garden have been falling apart by degrees since they moved in. It looked like the previous owners never used them, but Jack and Jesse like sitting out on the patio in the Adirondack chairs Jack made years back, with beers and the cigars that Jack won’t let Jesse smoke in the house. Between that and how Jack goes back and forth between the garden and house on his days off, the stairs have given way to dry rot and what Jack is praying isn’t termites.
Jack knows his way around tools. Grew up on a farm, first stint in the army was in the carpentry engineering division - throwing up barracks and temporary buildings and tearing them down as needed. There’s no excuse for how he’s hit himself with a hammer more than he has since high school, no excuse for how he somehow managed to drive a nail through his goddamn boot. It likely would have gone through his toes if he didn’t have steel caps.
A towel hits Jack in the face, and the anger threading through his veins makes him want to snarl. He probably would have said something he regretted if Jesse didn’t hand him a cold bottle of water next. “Wipe yourself off, get a drink. Take a walk, darlin’. Steps’ll be there when you get back.”
Jack bites back his next three comments, because it’s not Jesse’s fault the whole morning has been trash. He settles his face into a tight smile that he flashes before wiping the sweat off his face. There’s creaking as Jesse jumps back onto the back door landing, and Jack wanders off along the flagstone path through the backyard. He takes a deep breath, full of warm dirt and sweet flowers and growing things.
You can’t be unhappy in a garden.
The garden was one of the reasons Jack first looked at the place. Overgrown, sure. Neglected for decades. There were still terraces, though. Good, old wood separating out levels of dirt from each other, just waiting to be tilled and filled. Nothing’s planted yet, Jack’s just clearing out weeds and turning over the ground now. He’s pretty sure he can get some carrots in before the end of summer, maybe some radishes.
He’s sitting on a wooden divider, right hand trailing through the soil. He’s turned this bit over enough that it’s no longer dry and caked up, it’s brown and loamy and still damp from rains early in the morning. He wrinkles his nose at the scent of metal that arises - he hopes there isn’t something in the soil that’ll fuck with its nutrient levels.
Jack digs an absent hand into the ground a bit deeper, and chill fingers slide into and grasp his from underneath.
Leaping to his feet, Jack tries to get away. Tries. The fingers - six inches under the ground? more? - are holding on to his hand brutally hard now, grinding his fingerbones together. His free hand is fumbling for his back pocket (why does he keep his knife on the left side so he has to twist to get it god fucking damnit) but he manages to slide his trapped hand around and yank on one of the cold - now icy cold - fingers in a practiced move that guarantees dislocation.
Suddenly free, Jack falls backwards onto the lawn, scrabbling at the ground to put as much distance between him and the garden as possible. His breathing is harsh in the silence - without him noticing, the sounds of birds and insects have died away to nothing. Jack stares for long minutes at the still garden, at the pile of unmoving dirt, at his hand with red marks slowly fading.
There’s a single coo-ah coo, coo, coo of a mourning dove, and the sounds of nature slowly start to come back. Jack remains motionless, waiting to see what will happen. What will move. When nothing does he slowly gets to his feet, backing away with his eyes still on the garden.
He goes to the shed, grabs the steel trowel that he likes to put an edge on with a bastard file so he can both dig and slice roots with it. Careful, deliberate steps forward, silent in his boots like he’s back on a mission. There’s a hole in the dirt where he jerked his hand out but other than that there’s nothing visible.
With a quick movement Jack stabs the trowel in deep, sharpened steel going in a full foot where his hand had been grabbed. The tool cuts through the ground like butter, nothing to impede its progress. Jack frowns, scrapes dirt away. There are some roots - threadlike, thin. Runners from the rosebush over by the fence, perhaps. Nothing as thick as fingers, nothing that could grab Jack’s hand.
He still scrapes the dirt away in a two foot wide square, flinging dirt this way and that until he’s a full twelve inches down. Nothing. He scrubs at his face with the back of his arm, wondering how early dementia can hit.
Jack would pass it all off as nerves and worries about Jesse.
Would pass it off as that, except for how he wakes up the next morning with dark bruises twining around his fingers and an ache in his shoulder.
It unnerves Jack, enough that he gets a bit quieter, a bit more watchful. Enough that Jesse notices. Dinner was tense - Jesse’s had to deal with this idiot woman who keeps coming in because she insists no one can deal with her minivan but Jesse, and then spends the whole time hitting on him. Jack’s been struggling for a week with something so tied up in NDAs and lawyerly bullshit that he doesn’t even want to bother figuring out what he can tell Jesse, just bottles it up in the tangle of stress in the back of his mind that includes the house and whatever’s been going on.
They clean up quietly, and when Jesse catches his eye and jerks his head towards the ceiling, Jack nods and follows. He’s not surprised when Jesse strips off his shirt as soon as he gets into the bedroom - it’s been days since they’ve fucked, Jack with late nights and Jesse with early morning shipments giving them opposite schedules.
It is a bit more of a surprise when Jesse leans back against the dresser, crosses his arms across a bare, muscled chest dusted with hair and shitty ancient tattoos, and tilts his head at Jack. Jack sits on the edge of the bed, looking up.
“Talk to me, darlin’. I’m stressed, but you’re a right mess.” There’s warmth and concern in his voice, and Jack starts to talk.
It’s how they got together in the first place, after all. Jack in a shitty government-provided apartment while he was seconded to the US Marshals Office in Flagstaff with an even shittier government-provided car, and Jesse as the guy who got it purring every time. Jesse as the guy who teased bits of information out of Jack, until they started talking easily, until Jack found someone he could be with who would just - listen.
Listen like Jesse is now, body curved forward to take in Jack’s low voice. Jack finally trails off, tired but feeling lighter. He looks up, smiles at his husband, and as his eyes drift to the mirror behind Jesse his smile fades.
Between Jesse’s shoulderblades is a big tattoo: old, faded. Chains and wings and an enormous skull, the last remnants of Jesse’s early days, a lifetime before meeting Jack. He doesn’t talk about that time, for the most part. Just like Jack doesn’t talk about stretches of time in his own past, time that gave him his scars and his nightmares.
As Jesse looks at Jack, Jack looks in the mirror where Jesse’s back is reflected. At where the skin of the tattoo looks like it’s crawling, spasming on Jesse’s broad frame. Like light through old wavy glass, or a television signal going in and out. When the tattoo settles back down it’s - not right. It’s still a skull, technically, but it’s stretched out. Stylized, elongated, narrow eyes and an afterthought slash of a nose. No visible mouth, but Jack has no doubts that it could bite.
Jack’s wide eyes go to Jesse, who’s looking at his hands, turning them over like he’s never seen them before. “Nice,” he murmurs to himself, but Jack’s already yanking at Jesse’s shoulder, turning him around.
His tattoo is the same as always. Faded skull, wings, chains, eyepatch - the same mundane, buried ink that Jack’s mouth and hands have been over a thousand times. The scattering of moles that interrupt the upper right chain, the freckles that show up above it all like stars in a sky of skin. The same as always.
Jack takes in a deep, shaky breath as Jesse turns around. “You didn’t feel anything...odd on your back just now, did you?”
Jesse looks at Jack’s face, the familiar indeterminate brown shade of his eyes moving over his features like he’s trying to catalogue them. “No,” he says easily. “Didn’t feel a thing.” One broad hand and then another slides around Jack’s waist, settling where the thick bands of muscle wrap just above his hips. He smiles, but there’s something strange about it, something not quite right. “Now. Where were we?”
It’s probably that they haven’t been able to sleep together in a while, Jack thinks as they lose their clothes in a storm of flying fabric and hit the bed hard enough to make it wheeze and creak. Jesse is everywhere at once, hands and mouth moving like he’s been starved for Jack’s body for years instead of days.
Jack ends up on knees and elbows, ass in the air and practically on display. It’s not a usual position for them, Jesse likes Jack’s chest too much for that, but Jack isn’t complaining right now. Grunts are forced from his lungs at the hard strokes Jesse is slamming into him, and a heavy hand presses down between Jack’s shoulderblades - right where the tattoo is on Jesse, Jack thinks.
Jesse’s hand pushes down until Jack’s collarbones dig into the bed, until his arms collapse from the position. The hand moves to his neck, shoving Jack’s face down into the mattress until he’s only breathing out of one side of his mouth. Jesse’s hips never stop, and his other hand moves from its tight grip on Jack’s hip to wrap around his cock. There’s no issue of him getting hard this time. Jack comes with a pained cry, the orgasm almost surprised out of him.
Collapsing down on top of Jack, Jesse’s hips grind into him steadily. Jack knows Jesse comes from the savage bite into his shoulder, they’re pressed together too tightly for him to really feel anything else. Neither man moves for a few minutes, the air around them practically sweating from the heat.
Finally Jesse pulls out and flops over, scrubbing an arm over his eyes. Jack stretches out, body feeling exhausted and worked hard but satisfied, like after a long workout. He turns his head to the side, blinking sleepy blue eyes. “What came over you, there?”
Jesse rubs his arm over his face one more time, before looking at his hands in something like confusion and then dropping them by his sides. “Dunno, darlin’. Guess I was just frustrated it’d been a while.” There’s a long pause, he blinks slowly. “Kinda zoned out for a bit there. It was...good, right?”
Jack leans over, gives Jesse a long, slow kiss. The first of the night. “Just watch it before I have to ice something next time,” he murmurs into Jesse’s mouth with a trace of a chuckle.
His mouth curves into a smile, he kisses back the way he always does, but before Jesse turns over to flick out the light, Jack sees a crease in his forehead. A trace of a frown, of uncertainty.
Jack rolls over that night, letting Jesse snug up behind him. He could have turned around, wrapping his arms around Jesse but -
That would have meant pressing the tattoo to Jack’s bare chest and something in him that he’s not going to admit to himself is wary of it. Jesse said he didn’t feel anything but -
Even fucked out and tired as he is, Jack spends half the night looking out the window at the tree branches scratching against the glass.
He’s - fighting. He’s not quite sure how, it’s not a physical fight, not a mental one nor emotional, but something that’s somehow all of those at once and yet also none of them. He just knows he has to win.
He’s panting (is he? is he breathing?) and his muscles are shaking (no wait he doesn’t have a body but something is shaking inside of where he exists) and all he knows right now is that he is not going to let that bastard in -
“Well, then. Aren’t you a pain in the ass.”
“Get the fuck out.”
“I think it’s you that should get out. You’re the intruder here.” A thoughtful silence. The feeling of a finger - a claw - a blade - running along the lines of Jack’s nonexistent body. “But perhaps you should stick around.” The fingerclawknife tugs at Jack’s lip, pulls his mouth open before Jack can jerk his head, or what feels like where he head should be, backwards.
“I haven’t had this much fun in years.”
Soaked in sweat, he stalks over to the window and slams it open. Anger fuels his muscles as he breaks the closest branch off of the tree and flings it down to the yard below. He falls back asleep in silence, bark splinters in his palm and the feeling of his mouth being open even as he bites his lips shut.
The next morning Jack hops in the shower, pisses, shaves, dresses. An old friend of his is visiting the office today, and he’s weirdly anxious about it. Now that he’s not in the field, he feels...old. Put in storage, a horse used for children’s rides instead of anything important.
Even though he pushed for the position himself, he still feels awkward about the visit. Like showing a friend around your hometown and needing to defend it even though he has nothing to do with it all overall.
Jesse’s already in the kitchen, slowly sipping a cup of coffee and looking sleepily around the room. Jack presses a kiss to the side of his face, and another one to his neck where the fraying collar of one of Jack’s old army shirts has slipped down. Someday Jack will get over Jesse wearing his clothes around, even after all these years, but today isn’t that day.
Frowning as he pours coffee into his travel mug, Jack shoves an apple in his pocket to eat on the road. “Shouldn’t you be gone by now? I thought they were bringing in that Slingshot today, the one you were calling a tricycle for testicles.”
Jesse turns the mug around in his hands. “No, I don’t think I’m going in today.”
Hand on the doorknob leading to the garage, Jack lets his arm fall back to his side as he turns around. “You...feeling okay? Everything alright?” Jesse misses maybe a day or two of work every year, and it’s usually because he’s sick enough that he can’t get up, with Jack practically sitting on him to prevent him from infecting the general populace. Jesse loves his work, and has been going on about this dumb car that’s coming in for weeks now.
Jesse smiles up at him. It’s off, somehow, though Jack can’t put a finger on why. The same way his smile last night had been. “I had a bad night, I thought I might just take it slow today.”
“All right...text me later to let me know how you’re doing, okay?” At Jesse’s easy nod Jack opens the door. “Oh, and remember that Ana is coming over tonight for dinner?” Jesse looks at him blankly. “Jesus, that really must have been some night. Ana? Best man at my wedding? Worst person in the world when you two team up? She’s visiting the office today.”
There’s a creaking as Jesse’s fingers tighten on his cup. “Oh? Is she staying the night?”
“Nah, you know that Fareeha and her fiancée settled just over in Union City? She’s heading over there after. She did say something about us all meeting halfway and getting brunch or something on Saturday, so keep that in mind.”
“Brunch.” Despite the weirdness of the morning, the sarcasm in his voice at the word is pure, classic McCree.
Jack rolls his eyes. “I know. Got a bet going with Fareeha to see if we can get Ana to pay for it.” He steps back into the kitchen again, runs a hand through the bedhead tangle of Jesse’s hair. “Text or call me later. Seriously.”
Jesse nods, again with that slightly off-track smile. “Will do.”
Jack’s forgotten all about it by the time he’s in his car, brain fixed on what Ana’s going to think about his new workplace and the people under him.
Jesse flings the door open before they even get to the front steps, pouncing on Ana and swinging her around like she couldn’t kill him in twenty seven different ways without a weapon. Jack smiles fondly as they make their way inside, Jesse and Ana exchanging gossip like it’s been years since they’ve seen each other instead of six months.
The house smells delicious, the tantalizing scent of Jesse’s stew and cornbread drifting through the halls. Jesse goes to check on it as Jack shows Ana around, feeling oddly nervous about it - presenting her with this house that he’s still not sure is right for them. A few minutes later he doesn’t know why he was worried at all, she’s mocking the painting of cornfields he puts up in every place he lives (“My mother painted that, Ana!” “No she didn’t, you found it in a flea market and still feel so guilty about how much you paid for it that you won’t get rid of it.”) and smiling at the pictures and Jack’s medals put up over the fireplace.
There are things moved around, though - pictures just off of their normal angles, their wedding album pulled out and sitting on the coffee table. Jack’s address book lying open on the bar, the scrapbook that Jesse sticks things like concert and movie tickets and wedding invites into right next to it.
Once he’s done with the mini-tour Jack comes up behind Jesse at the stove, hooking his chin over his shoulder as Ana makes them drinks. “You okay?” he murmurs into Jesse’s ear as he adds some spice or other to the stew.
“Yeah, I just...I dunno. Had a real weird mornin’. Took a nap, slept it off, feelin’ fine now, though.” Lips brush comfortingly against Jack’s evening stubble.
“I saw a bunch of stuff moved around when I was taking Ana though, you looking for something?”
Jesse turns, blinks at him. “No? I don’t remember moving anythin’.”
Jack frowns. “Are you sure? There were albums sitting out.” It occurs to Jack that everything he saw laying out was what you’d look at if you wanted to learn about their life together. A sudden thrill of anxiety about their place being broken into runs through him, though it’s just as quickly quashed. Even if Jesse’s feeling unwell, he’d still notice a goddamn home invasion.
Ana clears her throat from behind them. “I can drink all this very expensive bourbon I bought for you myself, if you gentlemen don’t need me…”
Jesse grins as he turns in Jack’s arms. “Them’s fightin’ words, Ana. No bourbon, no stew.”
Their playful bickering continues through dinner, and Jack feels lighter at the end of it. It’s been...he doesn’t want to say lonely because he always has Jesse, but it’s just the two of them rattling around this big house. It’s nice to add another voice to the chorus.
Jesse waves off their offers to help clean up, saying that he’d been sitting around on his ass all day. Jack takes Ana into the garden, showing her around and telling her what he’s going to do. They end up on the patio, slouching back into the wooden chairs. Jack takes a long sip from his drink as Ana pulls out a delicate little carved cigarette case and extracts a joint from it.
“You know that one of the drug dogs are going to catch you at work one day,” he says, like he always does.
She blows a perfect smoke ring in his face. “Unclench, Morrison. They won’t do anything to an innocent little old lady.”
Jack snorts. “Innocent little old lady? You’re exactly one of those things. You’re a full bird colonel, Ana, and you can break them all with your pinky. That’s why you’ll get away with it.”
Ana pauses for a moment, considering. “One of those things? Which one?”
Grinning, Jack takes a drink. “I’ll let you think about it and get annoyed.”
The back door creaks open, and Jesse comes down the newly-repaired steps with his own drink in hand. Rather than get another chair, he plops down in Jack’s lap, plucking the joint from Ana’s fingers.
“We do have more chairs, you know.”
“You’re more comfortable.” He kisses Jack, who makes a face at the taste of weed.
“Brush your teeth before you do that again.”
Jesse pecks another kiss to Jack’s mouth before he can do anything, and gets up with a smile. “I’m headin’ up. Still tired from earlier. You kids have fun, don’t get into too much trouble, now.” He bends down to wrap Ana up in a hug and a kiss before going back inside.
“What’s bothering you?”
“There’s nothing -”
He sighs, drains half of his drink. Scratches at the starting edge of the big scar on his forehead. “It’s...nothing, probably. Just. The house is weird, sometimes.”
Jack looks up into Ana’s clear brown eyes, then glances away. There’s nothing he can say without sounding like a lunatic. “It’s only old house things, I think. And it’s just us here. No apartments around us, no bars right next door or rec center across the street. I know I said I wanted us to have our own space but…”
“...But maybe not this much space?” Ana smiles gently as Jack rolls his eyes at himself. “You don’t know how crazy I went once Fareeha left for good. Just me rattling around the place.”
“Until Rein showed up.”
“Yes, well.” She shrugs. “I suppose he’s my anchor, now. Much like Jesse is for you.”
Yeah. Like Jesse is for him. Jack just takes another sip of his drink.
Jack’s getting home at nearly midnight for the third night in a row. The week has been brutal, Ana’s visit the only high point. He and Jesse have been more roommates than anything else - Jesse wakes him for a quick kiss when he leaves before the birds are even chirping, and Jack does the same when he gets home and the moon is high in the sky.
A funny thing keeps happening every night when he gets home and Jesse is asleep. Jack will come into their bedroom and swear that he sees movement from the bed, dark lines sliding and twisting over the sheets like snakes. He’ll turn and look closer, though, and it’s just shadows from the trees outside on the sheet covering Jesse. The house is goddamn getting to him, and he isn’t even able to see Jesse enough to decompress from it all.
At least it’s the weekend now, and both of them will be off of work.
He doesn’t turn on any lights, letting instinct guide his exhausted feet. A glance over at the bed shows Jesse as a motionless lump under the covers, so Jack steps into the bathroom and closes the door to get out of his suit and tie. He only turns on the lights above the shower, but he can still see the lines of fatigue in his face, the bags under his eyes. He shakes his head at himself as he hangs his suit up on the back of the door. No wonder it’s been such a dry week - he wouldn’t fuck himself either, looking like this.
Flicking off the lights, he pads out into the bedroom in his underwear. Jesse’s starfished out, head turned towards the moonlight streaming in from the window. He’s moving slightly, enough to make Jack grin and think that maybe they could have some fun tonight after all. He pulls the covers back, and just stands there for a moment, blinking.
Jesse’s arms and legs are held down, by...things. Black things, twining around his limbs and not letting him move. They’re something like roots or branches, but too smooth. Like...tentacles, almost, but a bit too jagged. There’s one curled around Jesse’s neck that has loops over his mouth and eyes, keeping him from making noise. Jack can still hear the faint sounds of distress coming from his throat, sweat gleaming off of the tanned column as it works. Jesse’s cheek bulges out for a moment and Jack realizes that Jesus Christ it’s inside his mouth.
As soon as he can make himself move, Jack’s hands claw at the black strands around Jesse’s right arm. They’re insubstantial, almost. There’s just enough mass to hold Jesse, to slip through Jack’s fingers and tighten further. He gives up and moves up to Jesse’s face. He manages to pry the bit covering his eyes off, and Jesse looks up at him with a wet-eyed terrified stare.
He’s been mindlessly saying reassurances, that Jesse will be okay, that he’ll be fine. Something in Jack realizes that - that Jesse might not be. As his fingers slip and slide around whatever the fuck is covering Jesse’s mouth, his mind goes to the gun in his bedside drawer not five feet away. But what’s he going to do? Shoot this stuff off of Jesse? He’d just hit him instead.
The supportive words have died away, and something in Jack goes back to his days as an altar boy, goes back into a foxhole. The Anima Christi stutters from his lips as his blunt nails claw at the tentacle that’s undulating against his fingers, and -
It slides away.
There’s a long moment where whatever it is retracts, pulls itself out of Jesse’s throat. Blackness unwinds from his arms, legs, even one tendril that had snaked into Jesse’s underwear. They all pull away, hovering in midair for a moment. Then they’re all sucked down into the bed in a split second, as if something had yanked them all downwards.
Jack grabs Jesse off the bed, adrenaline making him easily shift his unresisting weight. He dumps Jesse on the armchair in the corner of the room and is back at the bed in a moment, ripping off the sheets and then pulling the mattress up. There’s nothing there - no traces of anything. Just dust bunnies visible under the slats of the wooden bedframe.
Jesse’s sitting up by now, and Jack grabs his arm, slings it around his shoulders as he wraps an arm around Jesse’s ribs. He can feel how fast Jesse’s heart is beating, feel his shallow breaths. He doesn’t stop until they’re outside, in Jack’s SUV that he’d left in the driveway because he didn’t want the sound of the garage to wake Jesse.
He opens the back door, gets them both in the backseat. Professional hands that have seen a hundred battlefields check Jesse over, making sure nothing’s broken, nothing’s bruised. There’s definite tenderness, from the noises Jesse makes, but that seems to be it.
Physically, at least.
Jack pulls on Jesse, hauls him into his lap. Jack’s knee is crushed against the center console and he’s pretty sure that Jesse’s foot is stuck in a seatbelt, but it doesn’t matter because he needs to know that Jesse’s okay. Jesse has his face buried in Jack’s neck, still breathing too fast, heart pounding hard enough that Jack can feel it against his own bare chest. Jack strokes a comforting hand from nape to waist, up and down, up and down.
There are trickles of saltwater making their way down Jack’s collarbone, and Jesse’s whispering something over and over. He tilts his head down and it feels like getting punched in the chest to hear Jesse say I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry in a constant stream.
“Hey there,” Jack whispers into hair damp and sour with fear sweat. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”
Jesse moves his head up jerkily, pressing his forehead into the stubble of Jack’s cheek. “I thought it was you,” he says into Jack’s neck. “There was somethin’ across my eyes and I thought it was you until,” he stops, breath ragged. “‘Til it wasn’t.”
Jack’s arms tighten around Jesse, until there’s a soft, pained sound. Now it’s Jack’s turn to whisper soft apologies. He’s suddenly aware that they’re sitting in a car in their driveway in their underwear at one in the morning. “Hey,” he says quietly, and waits until Jesse moves, makes an acknowledgement that he’s heard. “What do you want to do for tonight?”
Jesse struggles in his lap for a minute, until he gets a knee on the seat to brace himself and can sit up under his own power. He looks at Jack, eyes red-rimmed and tired, mouth tight at the corners. “I don’t want to sleep in the car.”
“We can get a motel -”
“No.” He’s firm, and Jack is surprised by it. “It’s our house,” Jesse says, and there’s something steely, something angry in his voice. “Our house, not...not whatever that thing was. I’m not sleepin’ out here when there’s a perfectly good home with all our shit in it right there.”
“Jesse, I’m not letting you back in that room.”
“Oh, fuck no. Living room, or somethin’. Back porch if we have to. I’m not goin’ back in there without a goddamn gun.”
Jack bites back what he wants to say about guns not hurting the thing, and nods. They get out and make their way back inside, hand in hand but with Jack a step ahead and slightly in front. The house is nearly silent when they get back in. There’s the soft hum of the refrigerator, the wheeze of the air conditioning kicking on, the chirps of insects from outside.
It’s not like there was any sound before though, Jack thinks to himself. He’d just unconcernedly gotten changed in the bathroom while Jesse was lying there, struggling. Christ.
He settles Jesse on the sofa and despite everything he’d thought before, goes to the gun cabinet and pulls out one of his shotguns, loading two shells in. At a questioning noise from Jesse, Jack puts a finger to his lips. “I’m just going to check,” he whispers. Jesse nods, working a ragged thumbnail over his knee as he watches Jack go up the stairs.
It’s quiet up there, as quiet as it was when Jack came in before. Their bedroom is lit by the moonlight streaming through branches, and the shadows cast remind Jack uncomfortably of the tendrils that wrapped around Jesse. He walks silently around the bed, the mattress off center still and the sheets and blankets tangled at the foot of it. Finger on the trigger, he pokes at the bed with the barrel, moving quickly back with gun at his shoulder, ready to fire.
Nothing happens. After waiting a full minute more, Jack leans the gun against the dresser and goes to straighten out the bed. As he’s bent over there’s a clacking sound from behind him - he whirls around, but nothing seems to have moved. With narrowed eyes, Jack finishes putting the room back together. They’re definitely not staying in here tonight, but it seems...okay.
Jack makes his way back downstairs with the shotgun to find Jesse has moved the coffee table back and unfolded the sofa into its bed configuration, piling what looks like every throw and blanket they own - at least that are downstairs - on top of it. Jack smiles a bit for what feels like the first time that night, before going over to the gun cabinet to put the shotgun away. He flicks the lever, cracks the breech and -
There’s nothing. No shells.
Jack distinctly remembers putting them in not ten minutes ago, but the gun is empty. That clacking sound that he’d heard upstairs threads through his mind, and the echoes sound like I haven’t had this much fun in years.
“Fucker,” Jack mutters to himself as he glances at the ceiling. He shuts down the part of his mind that thinks - that dreads - that it knows what’s going on, and focuses on Jesse. They get onto the couch and pull the many covers over them, curled into each other so tightly they could have just used the sofa as it was.
Jesse’s hips rock against Jack’s leg, and when Jack makes a tired noise of protest Jesse raggedly says into his neck Please and Jack can’t say no. Jesse rubs himself off against Jack’s long thigh, not moving after he comes with a sound like a sob. He falls asleep just like that, a wet spot against Jack’s hip and more wetness trailing down his chest.
Jack twines a hand into Jesse’s hair and thinks. At some point he slips into sleep, but it’s full of hands that gnarl into branches and twist into snakes, and Jack doesn’t know if they’re his dreams or not.
Jack wakes at his normal time, but Jesse stays asleep. He’s breathing slowly and steadily - Jesse has his share of nightmares and his body is always obvious about them, moving and twitching. There’s none of that now so Jack’s chalking his sleeping in up to exhaustion. He writes a note for Jesse and sticks it to the usual place on the fridge, heading out as soon as he can.
He returns an hour and a half later, with what feels like half his weight’s worth of books in his arms. Dumping the books on the kitchen table, Jack pauses and looks at the ceiling. He really should go up to his office, but he doesn’t like the idea of being up there while Jesse is down here. Shaking his head at himself, Jack goes to make coffee. Jesse isn’t a shrinking violet, he’s always stood up for himself and others without flinching and he can shoot a pistol more accurately than Jack can. But for now...Jack settles himself at the kitchen table. It won’t hurt.
Some unknown number of hours later, Jack startles upright as Jesse rests his chin on top of Jack’s head. There’s a cold half-cup of coffee next to him and pages covered with Jack’s small, precise script, along with books containing dozens of tiny scraps of paper stuck into them as bookmarks and Jack’s laptop quietly humming in the corner of the table.
“What’s all this?’ Jesse asks, gravel in his voice. Jack reaches behind him to give a quick, comforting scratch to Jesse’s side.
“Go get something to drink and have a seat.” Jesse raises an eyebrow, but brings over a cup of coffee for himself and a new one for Jack a minute later.
He looks over the books, which start with Ghost Hunting: A Practical Guide and continue in the same vein from there. “Well,” Jesse says dryly. “I’m glad I don’t have to spend any more energy convincin’ you that something’s going on here.” At Jack’s glare, he shrugs a shoulder. “Just sayin’.”
Jack clears his throat. “It wasn’t just...you. There were some - things that happened. Mostly dreams, I thought it was just anxiety over this place.” He haltingly tells Jesse of the incident in the garden, of the dreams he’s had. “There’s just too much similarity to what happened to you,” he finishes quietly.
A hand slides over Jack’s, all rough calluses and warmth. “You should’ve told me, darlin’. You know I’d listen.”
“I have dreams all the time, Jesse.” He doesn’t say bad ones, doesn’t say nightmares that are memories, but they both hear it. “I just thought it was more of the same.”
Jesse pulls his hand from Jack’s to wave it through the air. “Whatever, that was then. What’ve you found now?”
Leaning back in his chair with a creak, Jack thumbs through his pages for a moment. “Lots of bullshit, for the most part. It’s hard to tell what happened, what’s in people’s heads, and what’s just for attention. And little ability for anyone to determine the difference between ghosts or demons or any flavor of spirit that they decide to name.” Jack tosses his pen down. “In any event, I don’t think that’s what’s important.”
Jesse has his head propped up in a hand, smiling a small, private grin over at Jack. “No? Then what is?”
“What are you smiling at?”
A foot bumps against Jack’s under the table, their ankles knocking together. “I just like seein’ you apply that military strategy brain to somethin’ you would have laughed off two days ago.”
Frowning, Jack pulls his foot back. “I don’t like seeing you get hurt.”
With a sigh and a roll of his eyes, Jesse scootches his chair closer, wooden legs screeching quietly against the linoleum. He grabs Jack’s hand in both of his, not letting him tug it away. “I know. But this is you, baby. You who dismisses everythin’ you can’t put your hands on, and here you are doin’ ghost research.” He waits until Jack begrudgingly nods before asking, “So what did you find?”
“Well, it’s not us.” At the tilt of Jesse’s head, Jack clarifies. “Neither of us have been haunted by whatever before, so it’s not us, it’s the house. Something that’s already been here.” He pauses. “Someone.”
“So you think it’s a specific person.”
“I guess? It’s not just - the house being bad. Rotten. It’s a specific, uh, intelligence.” Jack feels like a fool as he’s talking about this, but Jesse is nodding away in agreement. “Here, look at this.” Jack pulls out a sheaf of photocopied papers that he got from the county records office. “No one has stayed in this residence for more than a year for decades.”
“Really,” Jesse murmurs, and he takes the papers to flick through them. He gets to the start of the pile, squints at the faint ink. “Who was the first to live here?”
Jack shrugs. “I don’t know. The property records go back about seventy five years, but the place was built about fifty before that. That’s the important time period, but apparently there was an explosion and fire that levelled half the town and took all the records with it sometime back then.”
“Maybe our ghost died in that explosion.”
“He’s - it’s not ou r ghost,” Jack says. Even as the exasperated words leave his lips, he knows two things. One, that the...entity, for lack of a better word, is in fact male. Two, whatever or whoever it is, the problem is indeed theirs. He clears his throat. “So what do we do?” Jack wants to say that they should stay, tough it out. This is their place, paid for with their hard earned money but -
Jesse’s the one who got the worst of it, here. Jesse’s the one that’s the - the aggrieved party, or whatever the fuck a lawyer would call it. Jesse’s -
“I want to stay.” He’s pale and exhausted looking with bags under his eyes and a bruise low on his throat that Jack can barely stand to look at, but Jesse’s looking at Jack with a steady, clear gaze. “Whoever the fuck this ghost is, he’s never dealt with us. This is our place, I’m not just packin’ up and leavin’.”
Jack doesn’t know how to say what he feels about Jesse right now - Jesse’s always been the one better with words. So instead he leans forward over the papers, over the books, and gives him a slong kiss.
“Can do anythin’ if you’re here with me,” he murmurs into Jack’s mouth, Jack just kisses him harder, holds him tighter, and prays that he’s right.
It’s been quiet for a few days, and when Jack gets home it’s to find Jesse tucked into a corner of the sofa, looking cheerful.
“What?” asks Jack warily. Jesse has the same look on his face that he got when he decided that they should own chickens, or get matching tattoos, or quit their jobs and become storm chasers. It’s not a look that Jack trusts.
“I’ve been doing research,” Jesse begins, and Jack is cautiously optimistic until Jesse turns the laptop around to show the intro screen to Buzzfeed Unsolved.
“No, they are the opposite of legitimate.”
“What, and you think that your books are any better just because they got a publishin’ deal?”
“I…” Some of the books had been truly bad, and Jesse knew it because Jack had ranted about them. He crosses his arms and frowns down at Jesse. “You can’t tell me that you’re going to get anything legitimate out of those two,” he gestures at the screen where two men seem to be arguing in what looks like their mother’s basement.
“Don’t worry, I also have episodes of Ghost Hunters,” Jesse says brightly, and Jack groans. Before he can say anything though, there’s a gust of wind - all the doors and windows are closed - and Jesse’s laptop dies with a regretful-sounding whine.
Jack coughs to cover a laugh as Jesse looks mournfully at the black computer screen. “This isn’t gonna stop me!” he yells up at the ceiling. They’ve decided by unspoken agreement that their bedroom is where the ghost-spirit-demon-thing resides. The past few nights have been spent in the guest bedroom, but Jesse has made increasingly pointed observations about how the bed is smaller and the sheets aren’t as good and there isn’t any lube in here Jack, and what’s he supposed to do with that?
They end up in their own bedroom that night, and neither of them sleep much. Nothing happens, though. At least not then.
The next week is...trying.
Every day Jack will come home to find Jesse attempting - something. Sometimes it’s salt scattered all over the place (“You know that you’re vacuuming this up, right?), sometimes it’s symbols from any number of religions (“Where the hell did you even get a mezuzah?” “Guy at work, his uncle is a rabbi.” “I think these things only work if, you know, you’re actually a member of that religion.” “Maybe I converted.” “Your foreskin says otherwise, Jesse.”), and one memorable day it’s smudged sage that sets off Jack’s allergies badly enough that Jesse has to run to the store to get fans at midnight.
Though all of this, little things happen. Nothing major, but constant and annoying. Jack’s keys going missing and then showing up in the fridge. Every pair of Jesse’s work boots getting filled with water. Lights turning on and off, water going from hot to cold, air conditioning doing whatever it feels like. They learn to take very quick showers, and Jack’s getting better at shaving in the dark. When they find Jesse’s missing cowboy hat with the brim cut into a fringe, Jack’s half afraid that Jesse might actually tear the place apart and burn the remains.
It’s all annoying, but nothing that causes lasting harm.
They get complacent.
It’s been a quiet day, other than Jack not being able to find his files in the morning and honestly that could be his own absent-mindedness. It’s a Friday night, they’ve got nothing to do tomorrow, and they eat takeout and watch a movie with nothing going wrong. Jesse gives Jack a look and saunters upstairs, and after Jack’s finished shoving the leftovers in the fridge and follows, he’s not surprised to see the lube pulled out and sitting on the nightstand on Jesse’s side. There’s no Jesse to be found, though.
Jack pulls off his shirt and socks and wanders into the bathroom. Jesse’s in there in his underwear, looking at himself in the mirror, looking critically at his own face. “I think I’m going to like it in here,” he says thoughtfully, and Jack crowds close behind him to slide a hand around his stomach, tangling in the hair leading down from his navel.
“It’s our house,” he murmurs against Jesse’s jaw, pressing an open mouthed kiss under the sharp line of it. “We’re not going anywhere.”
Jack looks up to see Jesse looking at him, something of a smirk playing around the corners of his mouth. “No,” he says slowly. “I don’t suppose we are.”
Jesse turns in Jack’s arms, kisses him hard enough to push Jack backwards. His hands are everywhere as they stumble towards the bed - tugging at the rings in Jack’s nipples, cupping him through his loose sweatpants, running a proprietary hand over his ass. Jack isn’t complaining, not when Jesse shoves him down in bed, pulls his sweatpants and underwear off in one movement, and rakes a hungry gaze over him.
“What’s gotten into you tonight?” Jack says on the tail end of a gasp as Jesse rubs his underwear-covered dick against Jack’s growing hardness, the damp spot in the fabric at the head dragging pleasantly over his skin.
Jesse laughs deep in his throat, sultry and knowing, and sucks a mark onto the side of Jack’s neck. It walks the line between pleasure and pain, and although it’s nice Jack tries to push Jesse’s head back.
“Jesse. Jesse - come on, I have work on Monday.”
Fingernails rake none-too-gently down Jack’s sensitive sides, and he squirms a bit under Jesse’s weight. “Maybe I just want people to know you’re mine.”
“We’re married. Everyone knows that, you idiot.”
A hard kiss to Jack’s lips with a nip to the bottom one that draws a single drop of blood. “Do they, though?” Before Jack can think of answering or figure out what Jesse might mean by that, his back arches at the feeling of a mouth wrapped around his cock. It’s all warmth and wetness and pressure, and it’s - it’s good.
As enthusiastic as Jesse’s being tonight, he’s somehow off his game. He’s not doing that thing with his tongue that he always does, the one that Jack couldn’t explain with a gun to his head but always gets him right to the brink of coming. Or that thing where he runs the prominent ridge of Jack’s cockhead along the inside of his front teeth in that way that makes Jack have to recite baseball statistics to keep control of himself. It’s just...good.
Jack reaches over, tosses the lube down to Jesse. “Come on, come on,” he says with a rasp in his voice, because even not-quite-up-to-brainblowing-standards sex with Jesse is still sex with Jesse and therefore excellent. Jesse opens him up quickly, roughly, and it’s what Jack needs.
Jesse slides in with a groan and a pause once he’s deep, eyes closed and a look on his face like there’s nowhere else he’d rather be. He shoves Jack’s legs wider and starts out a punishing pace, hard thrusts that push the air out of Jack’s lungs. One broad hand grabs Jack’s wrists, presses them to the bed just above Jack’s head. Jesse isn’t doing his usual move of collapsing down onto Jack and kissing the bejeezus out of him, so Jack takes it upon himself to bend up to reach his mouth. Tenses his core muscles in a situp to kiss Jesse long and hard, then relaxes back and pulls Jesse with him with gentle teeth on his lip.
Jack is kissed back once, twice, then Jesse’s nipping over his jawline to bite a mark into the other side of Jack’s neck from the earlier one - and this is high enough it’ll definitely be seen above his collar. Jack jerks back, pushing Jesse’s head away once more with a hand he’s yanked free from Jesse’s grip.
“Hey, stop it.”
Jesse shakes Jack’s hand off from where it’s tangled in sweat-wet hair and gives a savage grin that Jack doesn’t like the look of. “No.”
“Jesse, I just thimphrmph -” Jack’s cut off by a hand over his mouth.
His mouth is covered.
He can’t speak, can get in just enough air from where the side of Jesse’s finger is pressed against his nostrils. Why is he doing this? Jesse knows better, knows that this is one of Jack’s hard lines, that you don’t ever cover his mouth. He knows this -
Jesse’s mouth brushes against Jack’s ear, lips catching on the rim of it as Jack struggles to move his head.
“Here’s a question for you, Jackie: why do you keep calling me Jesse?”
As hot as he is with arousal and Jesse’s body on top of him, there’s a trickle of fear-born cold moving down Jack’s spine. He stops moving, stills under the limbs holding him down. He has all of one hand free - his ankles are held down under Jesse’s shins and his other arm is in a tight grip. Any other day Jack would say despite Jesse’s muscles and solid build, his own training would allow him to break free but…
This isn’t any other day.
There’s something very wrong.
Jesse - Jesse? - is still fucking into Jack. Slower now, but still hard and steady. Jack looks up into the face he’s looked at more than any other including his own, and doesn’t recognize the expression on it. The hardness in the narrow-eyed gaze, the lines of cruel satisfaction that play at the corners of his mouth. He in turn looks down at Jack, and there’s a stranger where there once was his husband.
Jack’s brain is working at the speed it does in the field, mentally having switched from sex with someone he loves to in enemy territory without intel. He calms his body, stops the automatic twitching movements that make him want to desperately struggle against the hand that isn’t allowing him enough air. There’s unfamiliar strength in Jesse’s body and he doesn’t want it to hurt either of them.
After a solid minute of silence but for the sound of skin on slick skin, the hand slowly falls away from Jack’s mouth. It grabs his free hand in an iron grip and moves it up to join his other arm, but it’s somewhat okay because Jack can breathe easily now. He lets his heartbeat come back to normal before saying:
“Who are you?” A moment’s pause then a correction, or perhaps an elaboration: “ What are you?”
A broad smile spreads across Jesse’s face - open and happy, but still not quite right. “I’m the owner of this house.”
“The -” Jack figures that he might as well sound crazy and call a spade a fucking shovel. “The ghost?”
“Sure,” the thing inside of Jesse says easily. “You could call me that.”
“What, ah, what should I call you?” Jack licks dry lips. All the reading he did, everything he saw, and he still figured that this all would end in a shrink’s office. Not - not confirmation. This is the real world, it’s not supposed to happen like this.
“I happen to like ‘babe’, but if you need a name you can call me Gabriel.”
Jack’s eyes narrow. “You’re a dick.”
Jes- no, Gabriel grins as he gives a pointed thrust that despite Jack’s best intentions gets a soft noise out of him. “You seem to like it.”
“I like my husband, not you. What the hell do you want, anyways? For us to leave, like everyone else did?” This is certainly explaining why no one stayed in the house for long.
“I did,” Gabriel says, and Jack can feel him rubbing a thumb along the inside of Jack’s wrist, along the pulse there. “Then I figured out that your Jesse was like this unbuttoned shirt just laying there and I could put him on whenever I wanted. I’m perfectly happy for you two to stick around, I haven’t fucked anyone in years and -” he pauses to grind his hips against Jack’s, “You’re a pretty great way to break that dry spell.”
“Get the fuck out of me,” Jack growls, and abandons his earlier calm to try and break free. It’s like struggling against iron, though. He weighs a bit more than Jesse, and between that and his training there’s absolutely no reason he should still be on the bed, but here he is.
“I don’t think so. It’s not your precious Jesse holding you down, it’s me. Remember how well that worked out for him earlier?”
Visions of black tentacles cross Jack’s vision for a moment, and he honestly couldn’t say if it was a memory or hallucination or something Gabriel just did. “So you like raping people. Aren’t you a pleasant person.”
Gabriel laughs, and it makes the hair stand up on the back of Jack’s neck to hear the strange sound out of familiar vocal chords. “It’s your husband’s body, and you were certainly an enthusiastic participant for most of it.” He glances down at Jack’s traitorously hard cock. “Still seem to be enjoying it, looks like.”
Jack twists in his grip. “That’s not how it works, you fucker -”
“Not to mention, it’s still Jesse in here.”
Jack stops moving, looking hard at Jesse’s face, trying to see behind the alien expression. “What are you doing to him? Let him go.”
Gabriel shrugs. “He’s just pushed a bit to the side. He can still feel and hear everything. This time, at least.”
There’s a sudden change: Jack’s held down as firmly as ever but suddenly Jesse’s face just - shifts. Jack couldn’t put a name to what happens, but it’s like there was tape holding Jesse’s features in slightly unfamiliar positions and now it’s all gone, relaxing back into a normal expression.
Normal except for how tears well up in Jesse’s eyes, normal except for the look of terror that sweeps over him. “Jack darlin’ I’m so sorry I -”
Mid-sentence, he cuts himself off. Jack sees his throat work for a moment, then settle. Jesse’s mouth tenses and relaxes at the same time, and in a second it’s back to how Gabriel looked. Except it’s still Jesse’s eyes, still wet and terrified.
“I think I’ll let him watch for a while,” Gabriel says casually, his tone at complete odds with the look in his - in Jesse’s eyes. “God, it’s fun with three people involved. I hope you two have had some threesomes at some point, it’d be a shame not to with your bodies.” He does something that makes the muscles along Jesse’s stomach ripple, and Jack is disgusted with how even now it turns him on.
“Let him go.”
“Let him go, let him go,” Gabriel says mockingly, mouth twisting in a smirk as Jesse’s wide eyes cry silently. “What, you’re not having fun with me?” He shifts his grip, gets both of Jack’s hands in one of his. His free hand goes to Jack’s cock, wrapping around tightly and stroking. Jack hates his body in that moment: hates how he’s so conditioned to react to Jesse, hates how Gabriel somehow manages to hit his prostate on every other stroke. Hates how even now it feels good.
Gabriel leans forward, puts the lips he has no right to have against Jack’s ear. Tugs at his earlobe with sharp teeth. “If you come, I’ll leave.”
A tear trails down the side of Jack’s face, and he doesn’t know if it’s Jesse’s or his own.
He closes his eyes, thinks of how it’s Jesse’s body above him, in him. Thinks of Jesse’s smile, of their wedding night, of the first time they slept together. Thinks of everything but the strange smile on Jesse’s face and the rhythm moving in and around him that’s dancing on this side of wrong.
“Harder,” he whispers, and there’s a chuckle full of sex and lies and triumph in his ear before the hand around him twists just right and he comes.
Endorphins are still rushing through his body with the last twitches of orgasm when Jesse collapses down on him. Jack’s hands are suddenly free as Jesse’s arms wrap bruisingly tight around his ribs. He strokes soothingly up and down Jesse’s sweaty back as Jesse sobs into his shoulder.
Long minutes later Jesse fumbles an arm loose and grabs the edge of the sheet to mop his face with. He rests his chin on Jack’s chest, and they look at each other in silence.
“I don’t know what to do.” Jesse sounds tired. Not defeated, not yet, but - tired.
Jack smooths Jesse’s hair back from his face, hands gentle, gentle. “Give me a minute.” He reaches for the nightstand where his phone sits, and taps through pages as Jesse breathes quietly into his skin. “We’re booked at a hotel for the weekend. Come on, let’s pack.”
They’re both good at packing - Jack because his job has been lived in army duffels and hotels and barracks, Jesse because for the first half of his life he didn’t have anywhere solid to call home and learned exactly what essentials he needed to exist.
An hour later they’re in a hotel - Jack doesn’t even remember the name. Something bland, anonymous, full of businessmen and families that are just stopping through on their way to somewhere more important.
The next two days are spent mostly in silence. Watching TV - all dumb comedies and science documentaries, anything involving the supernatural gets clicked past quickly. Going to the hotel gym and working out until their muscles can’t hold them up any more. Eating every meal in the hotel restaurant because it’s easier to be around other people. They hold each other tightly at night, and even in sleep they stay tense.
They don’t fuck.
It’s Sunday night, and Jack’s hanging up the phone with his superior officer. Jesse’s sick and he has to take him to the hospital in the morning, don’t worry he’ll be in for the afternoon, he tells her with a straight face. Jesse’s going in to work in the afternoon as well, he doesn’t want to stay in the house alone.
“We’re gonna have to move, aren’t we,” Jesse says with his head resting on Jack’s chest, fingers playing idly with the ball of the steel ring by his face.
Jack sighs, staring at the texture of the paint above him. He doesn’t know what would get rid of Gabriel. He left the second time because he wanted to. He left the first time...Jack doesn’t know why he left the first time. He’d been praying, perhaps that had helped?
“I could try calling a priest,” he says, thinking aloud. There’s no way he could ask his parents - still faithful church goers both - for recommendations, but there would have to be someone around here somewhere.
“Wouldn’t work,” says Jesse below him, his breath stirring Jack’s chest hair.
Jack tucks his free arm behind his neck, frowns down at Jesse. “Why not?”
The skin of his chest screams as fingers yank on his nipple ring brutally hard, and there’s a horrifyingly familiar smile looking up at him. “I was baptised just like you, pendejo. No one’s got more faith than me because I know what’s coming.”
Jack jerks back into the pillows, but it’s already Jesse’s upset face that’s staring at him and scrambling back. “Here?!” Jesse says, voice tight with anger. “He can get to me here? What the fuck was even the point of leavin’, then?”
Rubbing his chest absently, Jack doesn’t answer.
It’s a long time before Jesse gets back into bed, longer still for them to slip into uneasy sleep.
For better or worse, no matter what’s happening at home there are still cars to fix, there are still operations to oversee. Jesse and Jack still have lives to lead and people they’re beholden to. They’re locking together tighter, though. Out of fear, out of comfort. Jack gets up a bit earlier now so he can drop Jesse off at the shop on the way to work. He picks him up after and they go - places.
The library. Churches. The town hall. A different location each day, different bits of research. Jesse charms his way into the back of the stacks of the main library, and the head librarian finds for him a room full of thousands of rolls of microfilm. It’s all theirs, she says, and he gives her his best smile that makes her blush up to her cats eye glasses.
The town has a college nearby, and apparently put students to work for decades scanning documents. Crucially for them, it included newspapers and such from before the explosion that lost all the paper copies.
There’s thousands of rolls, but they’re determined.
While their research goes on all over town, it’s tense at home. For the most part the little annoyances - things moving or going missing, the issues with the water and heat - have stopped. Mostly.
Their sex toys vanish completely and the lube goes missing. When it reappears -
Gabriel is likely to show.
Sometimes he tells Jack when he’s there, sometimes he doesn’t. At first it was obvious when he was in Jesse’s body - everything would be subtly wrong. He wouldn’t know how to move his body the right way, couldn’t smile just right, doesn’t know Jack.
He gets better, though, and it’s disturbing.
Sometimes it’s not until they’re deep into kissing and Gabriel makes a noise that’s just - something that Jesse wouldn’t do. Or they’re halfway through a blowjob and Gabriel will try to grab at Jack’s hair, something that Jack has never allowed. It seems to be when Gabriel is genuinely enjoying himself that he gets distracted and slips the most.
Of course that one time when Jack tried to top him, he panicked and vanished before Jack could even say anything. That was a good night.
Every time as soon as Jack figures it out, he stops. He refuses to deal with Gabriel in any kind of romantic or sexual way, and has made it as clear as he can. He’ll talk to Gabriel, sure, although every sentence has threats that they both know Jack can never follow through on because it will hurt Jesse.
It’s annoying and frustrating, but Jack and even Jesse start to get used to it. It’s almost a game, in a strange, terrible way. After a while Jack begins to be able to detect something on the air. A taste, almost. Like the ozone after a lightning strike, or when you’re too far away from a brushfire to see or smell it but it’s still there in the air in the smallest of amounts - but with some kind of metallic trace. Iron or copper, perhaps. Jack starts to be able to taste it when Gabriel’s there and for a minute after he leaves. Sometimes too, when Jesse is just Jesse, but the almost-sensation of his presence is still there. It’s then that Jack wonders exactly what Gabriel is and how he manifests.
Jack asks Jesse about it, late one night when he’s sure Gabriel is gone - what it’s like for him.
“Sometimes it’s like…” he trails off, chewing a lip as he stares at the ceiling. Jack’s head is propped up on an arm, fingers tracing the scarring of faded tattoos. “Like when it’s late at night and there’s that voice in the back of your head that you argue with. Other times I’m just - flattened against the side of my skull. That when he’s there, takin’ over completely.” Fingers that had tightened in the bedsheets try to relax a bit. “That’s happenin’ less now.”
“You think he’s - what, weaker?”
“Nah, opposite. He likes. He likes seein’ me freak out. Feelin’ it. When I’m - not doin’ well it feels like...he can see things a bit? My thoughts, maybe. I know he’s said things that I haven’t told him but he knows anyways.”
Jack’s fingers slide into the spaces between Jesse’s ribs, thumb resting on his sternum. He wonders if Jesse’s heart beats differently when he’s not in there.
The reality of what Jesse told him doesn’t come to light until a while later. Gabriel is clearly unhappy with their research - he likes to interrupt them when they talk about it at home. He never interrupts them when they’re actually out looking things up, and Jack doesn’t know why. It’s been a quiet night at home, sitting out on the deck with drinks and Jesse’s cigar, talking about the new idiot hire foisted on Jack.
“He’s just - impulsive,” Jack says, as they make their way back up the stairs inside. “Grew up without anyone to rein him in, thinks he’s immortal. And now he has men under his command!” He shakes his head, sitting back onto the couch. As he mutters half to himself about this and that, Jesse slides a leg over and settles himself on his lap.
Jesse noses along his jawline, eventually silencing Jack with a kiss. “Leave work at work,” he murmurs into his mouth, and Jack nods and lets Jesse kiss him sweetly. It’s just getting good when there’s a faint buzzing, and Jack has to shift in order to get his phone out of his back pocket.
“Morrison,” he snaps. He’s not supposed to be disturbed at home, everyone knows that. Lo and behold, it’s Ryder, the man he was just complaining about. There’s a terse conversation - it’s not mundane enough for Jack to dismiss it, but the idiot could have handled it himself easily. Jesse is shameless about pressing close to listen, occasionally trailing fingers across sensitive places that Jack pushes away with half a smile. He’s finally able to hang up and he’s annoyed at the interruption to his night.
“So that was him, hmm?” Jesse says, settling himself closer as Jack tosses his phone onto the armchair next to them. Jack rolls his eyes and nods with a tired sigh.
“Sounds like somethin’ else,” Jesse says, then cocks his head thoughtfully a bit. “Know who he reminds me of a bit, way you describe him?”
“Hmm?” Jack’s distracted by undoing the buttons of Jesse’s shirt.
“Reminds me of Genji.”
Jack’s fingers still. They don’t...talk about Genji. Jack is obscurely grateful to him for picking up the pieces of Jesse after he got out of the gang, but also vaguely angry at how Genji was important to him, in the way you’re always vaguely angry at someone’s ex. Not to mention it was a bit of ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’ - Genji had his own demons, and it took Jesse a while to shake them off.
They don’t talk about Genji, the same way they don’t talk about Vincent. They both have their pasts.
Jesse’s pressed close, fingers and hands busy. “He thinks about it, you know. Dreams about it.”
“Hmm?” Less distraction this time, more confusion.
“Jesse. Dreams about being pinned between you and Genji. Up his ass and down his throat, unable to move. Rock and a hard place, stuck between past and present, lust and love.”
Jack’s not moving now. There’s ozone in his nose and he’s fairly sure he can’t move his legs. His voice is tight when he says: “You can see his dreams?”
Je- Gabriel runs a blunt finger along Jack’s stubbled jawline, bringing his chin up until they’re looking each other in the eyes. “Why does that bother you?”
Blond brows draw down. “Why do you think -”
“No, no,” Gabriel cocks Jesse’s head. “It bothers you more than me being in his body.”
“You don’t get to have his mind. His - that’s all private. You don’t get access to that.”
“Oh, but I do. I’ve been in here enough that the welcome mat rolls right out for me. Do you want to know what he really thinks about your job? About your marriage? About that ex of yours, what was his name…? That’s right, Vincent. You know that he thinks you’re going to up and leave at any moment, right? Sad little boy, wrapped up in the body of a big strong man.” Gabriel smiles, and there’s something uglier than usual in it. “All the times he thinks about using again, about going back to dear Genji, because Genji was young and fun and not an old man halfway to retirement.”
Jack’s struggling now, can hear his hipbones crack under where Jesse - no, fuck Gabriel is pinning him down. “Shut the fuck up. We all have thoughts, they don’t matter, we can’t control them - what matters is what we do.”
Gabriel smiles down, hands tight around Jack’s wrists. “Sure, darlin’.” He sounds so much like Jesse for a moment it hurts so much worse. “Now let me tell you about what he’s thinking about while he’s fucking you. Or no wait, this is better - what he’s thinking about afterwards when you finally fall asleep and you think he’s out for -”
With a quick movement, Jack slams his head forward. He hits Jesse’s nose with his forehead, and there’s the crunch of cartilage against his left brow bone. His right eye can see past Jesse and as he hits him there’s an echo of black dust or - smoke, perhaps, that explodes out of the back of Jesse’s body in the vague shape of a human. It dissipates into nothing in just moments, and Jack can move again.
Jesse holds his nose, looking confused. “Baby?” he says nasally. “Wha’ happened?”
Jack grabs a workout shirt that had been tossed across the back of the couch, holds it to Jesse’s streaming nose. “Gabriel,” he says bitterly. Jesse’s eyes go wide and surprised. “You don’t remember?” Jack asks.
Blinking slowly, Jesse carefully shakes his head. “Laid down for a nap, last thing I recall.” He gets up and they make their way to the kitchen.
Jack gets out an icepack, though even after he hands it to Jesse the ice stays in his fingers, works its way into his veins. “Jesse that was - hours ago. We grilled out, had dinner, sat out on the patio - you don’t, don’t remember any of it?”
Warm water on a washcloth, and dilute red is streaming down the kitchen drain. “No.” Jesse looks at himself, his reflection in the kitchen window above the sink. A slow trickle of dark blood makes its way down from his swollen nose, and he doesn’t wipe it away. “I don’t remember him takin’ over. He could have - could have been there forever and left and I wouldn’t be any the wiser.”
He turns to face Jack, and there’s a wildness in his eyes, only made more desperate-looking by the smears of blood on his face. “I can’t, Jack. I can’t anymore. We have to get him out, have to get him fuckin’ out of me -”
Jesse’s breath comes faster, he’s on the road to hyperventilating and with his nose out of commission that’s a bad idea. Jack holds his face between his hands, pressing his lips to Jesse’s forehead before whispering to breathe in and breathe out in his ear. Jesse’s breath slows, matching Jack’s. They breathe together, and Jack feels lost.
“What’d he say?” Jesse mumbles into Jack’s shoulder.
“Nothing that matters. I stopped him before - I stopped him.” Jack’s tired. So tired of all of this, of living as a helpless viewer to - and now participant in - his own husband’s pain.
“I’m takin’ off work tomorrow,” Jesse says. He’s doing better than Jack - he doesn’t sound defeated, he sounds angry. That’s good. They need his anger right now.
“You want me to stay home?”
Jesse steps back, shaking his head with a slight wince. “Nah. I think - I think this is somethin’ I have to do for myself.”
Jack nods and pulls him close once more.
“Gabriel Reyes,” Jesse says as he gets into Jack’s SUV.
“That’s the bastard’s name. Gabriel Reyes.” Jesse pulls out a thick sheaf of photocopied pages. “Finally tracked down the original deed. Guy was the - fuck, the sheriff or whatever, head of the police department back then. Did a good job, but pissed off a lot of people. That explosion? Some gang that he fucked over apparently, gettin’ revenge. Killed him and a bunch of others, flattened half the town.”
Jack drives in silence for a minute. “I am somehow completely unsurprised that he managed to piss people off into killing half a town over him.”
“Right? Anyways. Did you know there’s a cellar in the house?”
Jack blinks, takes his eyes off the road to glance sidelong at Jesse. “...Yes, that’s where we keep the snow tires and that stupid antique motorcycle that is going to mysteriously end up in the trash someday, because it’s been sitting there for five goddamn years, Jesse -”
“I’m going to fix it up! I told you, I’m waitin’ for the price to drop on the parts so I can rebuild the drivetrain…”
The familiar squabble keeps them occupied for a few minutes until Jesse waves his hands in the air in frustration. “Whatever, we can argue about that later. As I was sayin’, not the basement - the cellar. Dirt floor and shit. It’s there on the original house plans, there’s a door somewhere at the back of the basement. The house has been renovated to shit and back over the years but I bet no one’s touched that.”
“Why’s it important?”
A moment of silence, and Jack looks over to see Jesse biting at his lower lip. “You know I’ve been readin’ up about the ghosts and stuff. This is...the fact he’s so strong, that he can possess me, everythin’ I’ve seen says there’s probably something physical tying him to the house. Lettin’ him be that...entrenched. We’ve been over every inch of the place by this point, except for there.”
Jack thinks as he drives. Jesse is right - the place had been empty for a while before they moved in, and they had painted and cleaned and gone over everything while it had still been empty. It was going to be their home forever - Jack had wanted to make sure that everything was solid, that it could never come down around their ears. If Jesse was right…
“We need to take a look at that cellar.”
Once they’re home, they don’t waste any time. They clatter down the stairs to the basement, Jesse grabbing their camping lanterns and Jack with his heavy military flashlight and a sledgehammer. Jesse said the door was somewhere along the west side of the house, and it’s not until his light catches on a bit of wall that’s slightly recessed that they figure out that the door had been plastered over.
Jack knocks the plaster out with careful blows of the hammer, and they’re left with a cloud of dust and a battered looking wooden door. After a long shared look, Jesse steps forward to open the door. It’s not locked.
There’s a creak and more falling plaster dust, revealing pitch blackness inside. They turn their lights on, cautiously stepping inside. It does indeed have a dirt floor, and walls as well. There are shelves cut into the walls, reinforced with wood planks. Cans sit in stacks, old-fashioned labels pasted to their bulging sides. Several burlap bags sit on the floor, their contents having obviously rotted and seeped out onto the floor before drying up. Any smell was gone decades ago, thankfully.
As Jesse pokes around the old food, Jack turns to the right where he spied a box. Old, metal, military-issue with a padlock on it. Rust has gotten to the lock over the years, and a well-placed blow of the sledgehammer makes it crumple away. Inside there are yellowed pages, along with various objects wrapped in oilcloth. Jack closes it up and with Jesse’s help carries it upstairs.
They set it on the kitchen table, and Jack pulls out the papers. Military records, looking oddly familiar even as they’re nearly a century out of date. He pulls out a personnel file labelled Reyes, Gabriel J with a yellowed photograph paperclipped to it. It’s a picture of a handsome man, all dark eyes and frowning mouth and drawn-down eyebrows. He has a goatee, so he must have been out of active service by the time the photo was taken. Jack glances through the files - drafted at the age of 22 for World War I, and then stayed in for the next twenty years. Retired, moved to their town and became sheriff.
Jesse’s unwrapping the objects - first is a set of beautiful guns, that Jesse’s experienced hands break down and put back together quickly. He mutters something about getting good money for them, but his attention has already moved on. There are - things. Souvenirs from a lifetime of military service. Jack gets that. Along with the carefully wrapped medals and ribbons there’s a plaque with something on it in Cyrillic, a delicate scroll with beautiful inked illustrations and writing that Jack thinks might be Thai, a set of shot glasses with pictures of people on them that Jack doesn’t recognize.
When Jesse pulls out the next item, the hair on the back of Jack’s neck raises. Jesse moves to unwrap it and Jack puts out a hand. “Don’t - don’t touch it with your bare hands.”
Jesse looks at him, hands paused in mid air. “You know what it is?”
“No. Just a bad gut feeling.”
With a nod Jesse drapes one of the other oilcloths over his hand, and Jack loves him for trusting him in that moment. What he unwraps is - a mask of some kind. Big enough to fit over a human face. Yellowed bone with some cracks in the forehead, although Jack has no idea what - or who - the bone might have come from. Jack stares at it, mind working, until it finally throws up an image. A memory of Jesse’s tattoo warping for just a moment into something that looked like that mask, back when Jack thought he might have just been stressed and seeing things.
“That’s it,” he says through a dry mouth. He didn’t have to, though - Jesse is already nodding as he wraps it back up.
“I could feel it,” Jesse says in a low voice, wiping his fingers on his pants over and over again. He looks at his hands, which look perfectly clean to Jack. “I. I need to wash my hands.”
He goes upstairs, Jack trailing behind, into their bathroom. He pulls out the lava soap, the stuff he uses when the grease just won’t get out of the nooks and crannies of his skin. Jack leans against the doorway, arms crossed, as Jesse scrubs. He steps forward when he sees Jesse’s skin go red and raw from the pumice.
“Hey, it’s okay,” he says quietly, and as he helps Jesse rinse his hands he can feel the fine tremor in them. He turns Jesse towards him and his head is hung down, hair covering his face. It hurts to see him like this. “It’s okay,” he repeats. “It’s almost over, we’re almost free.”
Jesse looks up, and there’s a look on his face that Jack can’t even begin to define. “No,” he says. “You’re not.”
A moment later Jesse headbutts him hard enough that all Jack can see are stars. He’s caught off guard and never sees the leg that sweeps his ankles out from under him. He hits the tile floor in a heap, still dazed, and when he’s shoved flat on his back he doesn’t resist. His reflexes are dulled because he’s telling himself that it’s Jesse, but of course it’s not.
“You know, I feel like we all could have had a nice life together,” Gabriel says conversationally as he straddles Jack. “I mean, we had some really nice evenings together. Just sitting, talking...you didn’t know it was me most of the time. I know you, Jackie. You and Jesse both. It all could have been so good.”
There’s a hand over Jack’s mouth and another on his throat and he’s been here before, he’s dreamed this and he’s lived this but it’s never been like it is now, he’s never felt such menace directed at him. His legs scrabble on the floor, but his socked heels slide right over the tile. Jack’s fingers are digging into Jesse’s arms but he already knows that it’s Gabriel’s strength in there and he’s not going anywhere.
“It could have been good,” Gabriel repeats, “And then you just had to stick your nose where it didn’t belong. That was rude of you, Jack. Now I’m sorry to have to do this, but if I’m going to have the afterlife that I want, I just can’t have you getting in the way.”
The hand over Jack’s mouth moves up, and now his nose is covered along with his mouth. He tries to inhale, but there’s no air. There’s just Jesse’s skin pressing into him, pushing him inexorably with supernatural strength into the floor.
“Of course you’re not the only one I have to teach a lesson,” Gabriel says, and in the blink of an eye he’s gone. It’s Jesse looking down at him, eyes darting around. Thank god. If Jesse’s back, then Jack will be okay.
“Jack, I can’t move.”
He blinks. It’s all he can do right now.
Jesse strains, Jack can see his tendons standing out on his arms, his neck. Jack is still doing okay, but there’s static at the edge of his vision. Jesse is trying to look around, but it appears all he can move is his expression.
“Try and hold on, baby. I’m gonna...I’m gonna figure this out, okay?”
Jack would nod, but the static has resolved into darkness, swirling at the edges like Gabriel’s tentacles. Or whatever they were. Guess he’ll never know now.
Stinging in his eye - salt water. Not his own. Jesse’s crying above him, face white with terror and eyes red with strain and anger. Jack wants to tell him that he’s going to pop a blood vessel if he keeps pulling his neck like that, and spends a few seconds wondering why Jesse isn’t listening. Oh wait - there’s a hand over his mouth, that’s right.
His lungs are burning, like he inhaled a handful of embers. Jack isn’t in control of his body anymore, it’s making desperate, jerky movements as it tries to get air. Jesse’s saying something that he can’t understand, all he can hear is roaring like the ocean is pouring into his ear drums. There’s bands of hot iron around his neck and burning hot tears falling onto his cheeks but everything else feels so very, very cold.
Jack’s thought about death quite a bit over the years: the consequences of a military life. When he was younger he assumed he’d be killed on the battlefield - a stray bullet and his mind blinking out of existence before he even knew what hit him. As he got older his fear was of his body shutting down, of the stresses he’d put himself through for decades coming due and his bones and muscles deteriorating until he was a shell of himself. Of his even bigger fear of Jesse dying before him and having to live life alone and broken afterwards.
It’s not supposed to happen like this - in a bright bathroom on a sunny fall afternoon. There are leaves shading from green to orange right outside the window, there’s an air freshener on the wall that needs to be replaced, there’s a cracked tile under his left shoulderblade that he’s been meaning to fix for ages now. If Jack has to go out like this, killed by a goddamn ghost, it’s not supposed to be like...this. Where’s the creepy music, the creaking doors, the torrential rain?
Death, real death, doesn’t care about things like that. Jack keeps his eyes on Jesse for as long as he can, but streaks of red and black swirl his vision out of existence. The last thing he’s aware of is his heels drumming on the floor as his body shuts down. I’m sorry Jesse is his final thought before the blackness closes in for good.
Jack blinks his eyes open.
He has eyes to blink - that’s unexpected. Looking around he’s...in the bathroom. Their bathroom. For a moment it’s like nothing ever happened - Jack’s here in the bathroom and the sun is shining and everything is right with the world.
Everything is right except for Jesse collapsed on the floor, sobbing like his heart is breaking. Everything except for Jack’s body with eyes that have reds instead of whites, startlingly blue irises staring up into space from a sea of scarlet. Everything except for the livid dark marks on his neck, the way his head tilts unnaturally to the side that says something is broken, something is wrong.
Everything except for the man that stands up and steps out of Jesse’s body, like shucking off a pair of pants.
“You.” Jack didn’t know he had that much hatred in himself.
The man turns, raises his eyebrows. It’s the same face as in the military picture - Gabriel Reyes. Older now, with bags under his eyes. Same goatee but with shorter hair, now speckled with grey. A series of cuts across his face that constantly drip blood that vanishes as soon as it falls away. He raises an eyebrow and crosses his arms in front of him. Biceps bulge and tendons stand out on powerful forearms - which makes the open wounds that display veins and bone shifting inside all the more eerie.
“Well, then. This wasn’t in the plan.”
Jack’s hands tighten into fists, and Gabriel’s sharp eyes don’t miss it. He smirks, the rivulets of blood trickling down his face in new patterns. The expression is one Jack knows well by now. “What, you think you’re going to figh-”
Gabriel’s head snaps back as Jack gives him an uppercut, and he stumbles backwards until he’s bracing himself on the bathroom counter. His eyes are wide with shock, before something unhinged threads through them and a grin spreads across his face. “Okay, Jackie-boy. Let’s go.”
He’s in front of Jack faster than he can blink and throwing him backwards - inhumanly fast. Of course - it’s not like he’s alive or anything, and he’s had most of a century to get used to his condition unlike Jack’s minute and a half. Jack hits the bathroom mirror and despite his current ghost-like status, it shatters.
Jesse covers his head to try and shield himself from the shards, and it’s heartbreaking to see him try and protect Jack’s dead body. Distracted, Jack ends up flying through the shower - where through means literally passing through the back of the shower and into the bedroom. The shower curtain is ripped away, although it hits tile and puddles into the tub. Jack finds himself on his ass next to their bed, sore in a strange, unidentifiable way.
Gabriel floats through the wall, not bothering to have his feet touch the floor. He stands over Jack, cocking his head to the side. “You’ve been a ghost for ten seconds. Do you really think this is going to go well for you?”
Jack gets to his knees, glaring up. “Might not be a ghost, but I’ve been in the army for a hell of a long time.”
The sarcasm is practically emanating off of Gabriel. “I was too. So?”
There’s a savage grin that Jack can feel crossing his face. “We learned a few things in the past hundred years, asshole.” He throws himself forward, taking Gabriel down at the knees. His head cracks on the dresser on his way down, and for a moment of glee Jack thinks it’s all over. Gabriel goes weirdly insubstantial in his arms, and Jack just grips harder. He feels himself turn - lighter, somehow, and the next thing he knows they’re tumbling through the floor.
They go through the sofa and slam into the floor, and neither sensation is one that Jack wants to repeat any time soon. They’re inside the sofa, unable to see anything in the darkness of wood and fabric and springs. Jack gets his arm around Gabriel’s neck in a headlock, but Gabriel’s snapping punches to his chest. He gets in a good liver shot, and Jack lets go with a wheeze. A hard kick, and Gabriel is shoved out from inside the sofa and takes half of the back out with him.
Jack crawls out, eager to not feel solid things go through his ghostly body. He’s not sure of the rules here - he’s solid sometimes and not others, and has no idea how to control it. As he stands, his eye falls on the coffee table. The box with Gabriel’s things are there, including the mask.
Gabriel rushes Jack before he can do anything, and they hit the wall with a crash. Everything on the wall falls down - not the corn painting! Jack thinks inanely - and it takes Jack a minute to throw the other man off. He dives over the remains of the sofa, reaches for the mask, and -
There’s a sound like thunder, the smell of lightning, and Jack is blown backwards against the fireplace. Pictures and knickknacks fall down around him as he tries to clear the fuzz from his brain. He shakes off the last of the disorientation to see Gabriel laughing fit to bust.
“You can’t do a damn thing to that mask, Jackie-boy. You could when you were alive, but that’s long past, now. You think you’ve the first one I’ve killed, the first one that’s tried that? It’s protected by stronger things than you.”
Jack narrows his eyes. His brain is working - if someone living can, then maybe he has a chance. It’s too late for him, but not for Jesse. He grabs a poker from next to him, and goes for Gabriel. Gabriel just steps to the side and lets the poker go straight through him.
Tossing the improvised weapon aside, Jack dives for Gabriel with nothing but fists. Gabriel seems surprised when Jack grabs him - Jack’s starting to get an idea of some of the Ghost Rules, and one of them seems to be they can touch each other regardless of their solidity status.
He uses every dirty trick he knows, going for the groin, the eyes. He and Gabriel are about the same age and are both ex-military, but Jack works out every damn day and was in combat last year. Gabriel’s gotten soft, leaning on his ghost abilities. Jack ges the leverage he needs and throws Gabriel as hard as he can. He takes out the front window, smacking his head on the wall along the way, and goes out onto the lawn in an explosion of glass. Jack doesn’t stop to see if he gets up, he races upstairs as fast as he can, only occasionally touching the ground.
Jesse’s in the same position he was before: bent over Jack, brushing glass carefully away from his cooling body. Jack chokes off a noise deep in his chest at the sight of Jesse’s face, but takes a deep breath. He’s got to do this fast. Pausing, he realizes he has no idea how Gabriel does this. There’s no time to figure it out, though, so he just kneels down behind Jesse and pushes forward.
Wha- Jack?! Where are you?
I’m dead. Technically. I’m possessing you the way Gabriel did.
Oh...kay. Not that I’m complainin’ being able to talk to you, but why?
I’m pretty sure if we break that mask, we’re going to get rid of Gabriel. I can’t do it as a ghost.
You want me to?
Yeah, but I thought you could help me out first.
Baby...you’re dead. Jack can feel Jesse reaching out to touch his dead arm. He’s still warm, thank god. Their mental conversation goes by in a fraction in the time it would take to say it, so they might actually have the chance to get this done.
Not for long. I think I can do this, but you have to work with me. Do you remember how to step back, what it was like when Gabriel was piloting your body?
Yeah, like this. Why?
Jack can now move, can turn Jesse’s hands over like his own, move his eyes around.
Just stay there. I’m going to give myself CPR.
I could have done that!
Jack can feel Jesse’s mouth moving into a sad smile, like it was his own face. No you couldn’t, Jesse. You have to crack the ribs, and you’re bad at hurting me under the best of circumstances. He can feel Jesse reluctantly grumbling his agreement in the back of his head. Jack leans forward, and before he does anything he has to shut his dead body’s eyes. It’s too creepy, having them stare up at him.
He goes into automatic, then: tilt head back and check airway - pinch nose - rescue breath one, two - chest compressions. Press, press, press, press.
Maybe it’s been too long. It was...two minutes? Five? More? Less? The fight with Gabriel seemed to be just to this side of reality, he has no idea how long it actually took. Now that he’s back in the real world, for certain senses of the word, time is moving at its proper pace. There’s the sound of shattered glass from downstairs, and Jack just keeps going.
Jesse, can you keep doing what I’m doing?
You made me go through the trainin’, of course I can.
Feel it, feel how hard I’m pressing. Keep doing that okay? Two breaths every thirty compressions. I think I might have to go back in if I want to get myself started back up again.
Okay. Just. Just come back to me, okay? I love you.
Love you too. Keep going.
Jack takes a deep breath in Jesse’s body, and when he leans down to blow air into his own lungs, he slides himself right back in as easy as anything. For a moment that seems like an eternity it’s as if he’s back trapped in the sofa downstairs, but infinitely worse. Now he can feel the meat around him, the blood that’s slowed to almost a trickle through the veins, the lungs that sit there like balloons a child has popped.
He tries to remember what it was like to be alive. What it was like to have Jesse hold him, what the warmth of sunshine felt like or the coolness of a fall day. He tries to remember everything that he can about being John Francis Morrison - and then the world explodes into agony.
“Hhhmnnnnn….” It’s a terrible sound that’s coming out of Jack’s lungs, but by god it’s coming from his lungs. His own lungs, that are inflating with air that tastes almost sweet before it cuts into his tissues like a thousand knives.
“Jack, baby are you okay?”
It’s strange to hear Jesse’s voice outside of his head, but at least he knows his ears work. Jack tries to nod, and immediately regrets it. Something in his neck is broken. His eyes also aren’t doing so well at opening at the moment.
“Downstairs,” he mouths, because he can’t really talk. “Mask.”
“Okay, I got it. Just - just stay here, stay alive, okay?”
There’s a clatter, and Jack can hear Jesse going down the stairs. Jack can mostly smell blood and the stink of fear sweat, but his nose prickles with a horribly familiar scent of ozone and metal.
“Well then. Aren’t you creative.”
Gabriel’s voice is different like this, an echoing, raspy sough on the wind. Jack doesn’t understand all of the rules, but he thinks he’s safe. With the exception of that one time with Jesse in bed, Gabriel never touches them, only the objects around the house. That’s why he started possessing Jesse, Jack bets. Sure, to mess with them and get some sex, but also just to - to be able to be human again, to touch. Gabriel never was able to possess Jack, though, so he’ll just have to sit there and watch Jack be alive and not do a damn thing about it.
“You took it out of me, I’ll give you that. Pity it wasn’t enough, though.”
There’s a scraping sound, a screeching sound. Jack forces his eyelids open, because he doesn’t know what Gabriel has planned and he’s sure it’s nothing good. Jack’s lying next to the bathroom counter, and there’s a large shard of glass from the broken mirror hanging over the edge. Gabriel is nowhere in sight, but the shard is inching ever closer to the edge. Closer to falling down onto Jack like a guillotine. Gabriel’s weak, but the glass is still moving.
Hurry hurry hurry, Jack chants in his head as his eyes stay locked on the slowly advancing glass.
Three things then happen in quick succession. Jack hears Jesse yell from downstairs “Take that, you sonuva bitch!” and there’s an almighty crash. Immediately after there’s a shockwave of energy that ripples through everything, and it might just be in Jack’s head that he hears a howl of rage that then dies down like someone or something being whisked away down to Hell, but he thinks it might be real.
The last thing that happens is the shockwave making everything in the house shake. Including the shard of mirror hanging over the edge of the counter, which tips over and comes straight down onto the side of Jack’s neck.
This is kind of anticlimactic is Jack’s first thought as he feels the blood rapidly pump out of him, spreading in a warm wet pool on the bathroom floor. His second thought is Well at least now Jesse’s safe. With those last firing neurons, Jack lets the darkness overtake him for the second time that day.
Ana dabs at her eyes, leaning on Jesse’s arm. “It was a lovely service,” she says unsteadily. Jesse tucks her under his shoulder, heedless of how his pressed black suit wrinkles.
“You okay?” he asks her.
She rolls her eyes, gathering her usual sangfroid back around her. “She’s not dead, Jesse. Just married.”
Jesse grins and pushes her off in the direction of the dance floor, where Fareeha and Brigitte are having their first dance as wife and wife. He turns at the hand on his shoulder, smiling to see Jack holding two glasses.
“There better be bourbon in this,” he mutters as he takes his drink. Jack shakes his head.
Jack grins and downs something that burns pleasantly. “Since now.” It’s been months since Jack could have any alcohol due to the medications he’s been on, so he’s taking advantage of it now. It’s also storming outside and he’d rather have Jesse at the wheel - his night vision still isn’t quite back yet.
Jesse rolls his eyes, muttering something about how he could have had a beer at least, those didn’t count, as he slips his arm around Jack’s waist. “How are you feelin’, first time out and all?”
Resisting the urge to adjust his collar where the livid red scar is barely covered, Jack shrugs. “It’s fine.” It was, really. At least that’s what he was telling himself. After the so-called home invasion - thank god for Jesse being quick on his feet with explanations - and the long weeks of recovery in the hospital, Jack was slowly readjusting to life outside of their house. The house had once been his enemy, now it was a shell that he’d encased himself in for months as he healed. Only the knowledge that his goddaughter might actually kill him if he missed her wedding made him go out - first for suit fittings, then the rehearsal dinner, now the wedding.
People knew that something happened, though they didn’t know what. That awkwardness of the situation and the severe look Jack fixes on his face keeps him from facing too many questions. He doesn’t particularly care if he’s pissing people off or being intimidating - he’s here for Ana, Fareeha, and Brigitte, and everyone else can go to hell.
Jesse drains the last of his alcohol-free drink and sets the glass aside, reaching for Jack’s hand and tugging him towards the dance floor. “Come on. They’re playing our song.”
The band is decidedly not playing their song, Jesse just likes to say that every song is their song because that’s what he’s like, the idiot. Jack rolls his eyes but lets Jesse pull him out as the music changes to a slow tune. Jack lets himself be wrapped up in Jesse’s arms and tucks himself close.
They’re doing as well as could be expected, he supposes. Jesse was only waking up screaming once or twice a week now, and Jack had mostly stopped jumping every time he saw a mirror. He hasn’t broken one for weeks, now. They both privately wonder - though never say aloud - if they really made it through, if it really was the end. Or if this is just a lull between storms.
While Jack was in the hospital Jesse cleaned the house up of the supernatural fight that managed to half destroy it. He got representatives of everything from Catholicism to the local Dungeons and Dragons group to put symbols of protection everywhere - under rugs and on top of doorways and in every corner he could think of. Jack knew about some of them, figured he’d trust Jesse to do what he felt was right.
Everyone expected them to move - who would stay in the house that someone invaded, that someone violated? Jack and Jesse are stubborn, though. They fought to keep their house, more than anyone knew, and they’re damn well going to stay in it.
They’re together, they’re safe, they made it through.
Jesse and Jack sway slowly on the dance floor, wrapped up in their own little world. Outside the wind howls, the walls of the church softly creak, and tree branches scratch against the windows. There’s a faint smell of ozone, but that’s just from the lightning.