Word Count: 2581
Beta Credit: firesign10
Summary: Jared Padalecki’s life is about to change when the stranger comes to town.
A/N: This is the first day of my 12 Days of Fic-mas. Due to health issues I wasn’t able to write and post the way I wanted to, but I still will post all 12 prompts. This one is for lotrspnfangirl’s prompt of “A stranger came to town.” As soon as I saw it, it reminded me of a Tanya Tucker song which I then discovered was inspired by the play The Rainmaker by N. Richard Nash.
Danielle - in my mind, this immediately turned epic and became a ‘verse so there will be more, I promise!
And so much love to my artist kanarek13 who graciously listens to my begging for art for my stories and always manages to create exactly what I envision. Thank you so much!
It hadn’t rained for 6 months when the stranger came to town.
The dust filled the air. Not the coarse kind that was easy to sweep away with the swish of a broom. This was the fine kind that worked its way into the cracks of the buildings, under the windows, leaving a cover that reappeared every morning, no matter how diligently folks worked to remove it.
It found its way into the crevasses of the skin, mixing with the meager sweat that still found the ability to drip down a farmer’s face; the only moisture that dared show itself during that summer.
Jared Padalecki stood and grimaced, wiping that mix deeper into his skin. It was hard to tell where the dirt ended and his tanned flesh began. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a real bath, let alone a shower. All the water was saved for the crops, the cattle, cooking and emergencies. Bathing was low on the list for everyone.
He looked over at his uncle Jeff. Jared remembered when his uncle was a robust man, curly brown hair and beard framing a face full of laughter and mischief. Jeff had ceased smiling months ago when the rains stopped. Now his laugh lines were worry lines and coated with the ever-present dust.
“How many this time, Jeff?” Jared didn’t want to hear the answer. Jeff had gone out to look over the cattle; not to check on their well-being, but to see how many had died overnight.
“Two, and one more by the end of day. Came back for the gun and your help. If we take care of it now, there may be some decent meat left.” His uncle walked into the house to get his pistol.
Jared headed to the barn to get the push-cart. There was only so much gas available and they had to ration it for trips into town, so the push-cart was the only way to bring the carcass back to the barn. He hoped it wasn’t too far over the hill; it was just Jeff and him, and they were only so strong.
Jeff came out of the house, checking the bullets in the chamber. “You with me, son?”
“Yeah.” Jared started pushing the cart, following Jeff as they headed to the pasture.
The cattle were huddled around the dry stream-bed, staring listlessly at it as though water would spring forth at any moment. Their hides were dull, their markings obscured by dirt. Jared saw that Jeff had already dragged the two dead cattle off to the side; they would come back and dispose what was left of them later after the vultures had had their fill. Now they had to take care of the one that would still be useful.
It was a heifer; one that Jared recognized as prize stock from the year before. Now its skin sagged and its head drooped. There was just enough meat left on its bones to provide for them, but nothing worth selling or trading.
Jared sighed. If it didn’t rain soon, they would have to abandon the farm altogether. And that would kill Jeff. He’d told Jared before about how angry Aunt Sam's family had been to see her leave to become a farmer's wife. Now Jeff had had to send her back East to get her away from the drought. Having to go back and admit to his in-laws that he couldn’t make a go of it, even if it wasn’t his fault, would be the final knell of failure in their eyes.
Jared was jerked out of his thoughts by the sound of a gunshot. The heifer went down, a bullet in its head. The other cattle only shuffled a few paces away, too weak to even be startled.
He helped his uncle load the cow onto the push-cart and they slowly made their way back to the barn.
“Traveller.” His uncle’s gruff voice broke the silence. Jared looked up, pushing the hair out of his eyes, to see a small cloud of dust roll towards them. It resolved itself into a beat-up old Model T, the dirt coating turning the original black into a muddy gray.
Jared caught a quick glimpse of the driver as it passed by the pasture; a man with light brown hair, cut tight to his head, his eyes obscured by goggles to protect them from the dust. He looked strong and capable and most of all – clean. Like even the swirling clouds of earth were afraid to touch him.
Jared sighed, wiping his face with his handkerchief as he watched the man motor past. He couldn’t even fathom what it would feel like to be that clean, it had been so long. Leaning down, he put his shoulder to the cart and resumed pushing. They needed to get the cow butchered and salted before the meat spoiled, especially since it was off-season and the heat wouldn’t allow them to hang the meat.
Hours later they were exhausted, bloody and sore, but the job was done. Grabbing a bucket and an old measuring cup, Jared filled the container with water from the pump. He and Jeff would have to share, but they needed to wash off the blood and bits of cow.
Stripping down to his undergarments, he took the lye soap Aunt Sam had made before she left and scrubbed at his skin. Moistening an old cloth, he wiped off the suds, scooped up a bit of water in the cup and rinsed out the cloth. After a few rounds of this, he figured he was as clean as he was going to get, and left the rest of the water for Jeff to use.
Jared bundled up his clothes and set them on the porch. He or Jeff would wash them later. He dressed quickly, cotton pants and shirt rubbing against his already dusty skin, and started their evening meal of fried potatoes and ham.
Jeff came in after cleaning up and they ate quickly. The dishes were cleaned, rinsed and stored away.
“I’m gonna turn in.” Jared checked the stove, making sure that the coals were banked for morning. “You staying up?”
“For a bit. Need to make a list. We’re going to town in the morning.” Jeff scratched his beard. “Need a few supplies.”
“Okay.” Jared climbed up the ladder to his bed in the attic. Once he was comfortable, he stared at the ceiling, the only sounds the whoosh of the wind and Jeff getting ready for bed. As his eyes slipped shut, the image of a strong man with brown hair followed him into sleep.
Terra Verde was a small town, but despite the spreading drought, the residents hadn’t given up yet, and there was still business being done.
Speight’s General Store was buzzing when Jared entered and surveyed the half-emptied shelves. Ruthie Connell was holding court with Miss Niven, the grade-school teacher, and Mrs. Sampson, the preacher’s wife. They were whispering in the corner next to the dry goods, and they smiled at Jared as he passed by.
“Morning, ladies.” He greeted them as he took a box of soap flakes from the shelf. “How are you?”
They giggled in unison and replied, “Fine.”
“Oh, Jared, did you hear?” Miss Niven said breathlessly, grabbing his arm. “There’s a stranger in town.”
“He’s staying at the Sheppard Hotel,” Mrs. Sampson chimed in. “They say he’s a rainmaker.”
“A rainmaker?” Jared couldn’t help but scoff. He’d heard about those men going around the country and telling folks that they could make it rain – taking their money and then leaving in the dead of night. “Probably a phony.”
“Oh no!” Ruthie protested. “I’ve heard of him. My sister in Topeka said he made it rain two towns over from her.”
Jared didn’t comment. Ruthie had an inflated ego, and most of what she said she made up to make herself seem more important. It wasn’t worth the effort to correct her. He just smiled politely and moved away to gather more of the supplies he and Jeff needed.
He placed the soap flakes on the counter along with a container of oatmeal and a bag of rice. Richard rang him up and gave him the total. “Women got nothing better to do than gossip about the new stranger,” he remarked, putting Jared’s purchases in a cardboard box.
“Could be worse,” Jared replied with a grin. “They could be talking about us.”
Richard laughed. “True enough.” He handed Jared his change. “Your uncle told me to tell you he’d meet you over at Sheppard’s once he’s done at Cohen’s.”
“Thanks, Mr. Speight.” Jared tucked the box under his arm and headed to their truck. Storing the supplies in the back, he flipped the cloth cover over the back and walked the block to Sheppard’s.
The hotel was the tallest building in town – three-storied red brick, the glass windows looking like hollow eyes. Jared entered the lobby and found his way to the bar in the back.
The wood-paneled room wasn’t big; just enough space for a few tables and a long oak bar against the far side. There were no windows so the dust was minimal, the wood clean and shiny. Sheppard had discovered that offering a watering hole to the town increased his revenue. To the men of the town, it was like a little oasis.
Jared let his eyes adjust to the dimmer light as he stood in the doorway. His uncle wasn’t there yet -, just a few of the regular patrons.
And the stranger.
He was seated at the bar, his back to the entrance. Jared studied him. White shirt, sleeves rolled up, looking all the more stark in its pristine cleanliness, covered broad shoulders. Dark pants encased long legs that were hooked around the rungs of the stool he was sitting on. His forearms were strong, flexing as he took a drink of the amber liquid in his glass. For a moment, Jared imagined them wrapped around him, holding him down as the stranger kissed him and quickly suppressed the thought. Ideas like that were dangerous if they came to light.
“You know it’s rude to stare.”
The deep voice startled Jared and he looked up, catching the stranger’s gaze in the mirror behind the bar. The stranger wore an amused expression as he held Jared’s eyes.
Jared’s mouth dried up. The man was beautiful.
The planes of his face were shadowed by a slight scruff. His hair was short, with a slight upturn at his forehead. His mouth was lush, the kind of lips women wish they had and men would never admit to wanting to kiss.
But it was his eyes that captured Jared.
They were green. The kind of green that hinted at cool, dark forests and deep emerald meadows. The kind of green that spoke of lush, moss-covered mountains and subterranean oceans. The kind of green that Jared hadn’t seen in a long time.
“Sorry…sorry,” Jared stammered, a blush ghosting his cheeks. He took a step back, intending to wait in the lobby for Jeff, but the stranger gestured him towards the bar.
“Have a seat.” He motioned to the barkeep, pointing to his glass and raising two fingers.
Jared tentatively took the seat next to him. Up close he could see the laugh lines at the corner of the stranger’s eyes, his easy smile. The bartender poured him a glass and refreshed the stranger’s drink.
“It’s always more pleasant to have company while you drink,” the stranger said with a grin. “Jensen Ackles.” He held out his hand for Jared to shake.
“Jared Padalecki.” Jared extended his own hand and grasped Jensen’s. The man’s grip was firm, his hand solid and strong, with few callouses.
“Pleased to meet you, Jared Padalecki.” Jensen winked at him and took a sip of his whiskey.
“Um…same.” Jared couldn’t find his tongue. Just sitting next to this man was making his insides warm. He picked up his glass and took a gulp of the whiskey, coughing as it burned his throat.
“Whoa there. Easy.” Jensen thumped his back. “Can’t guzzle this stuff. You okay?”
“Yeah…yeah.” Jared took a deep breath. “I’m good.” He smiled weakly at Jensen, embarrassed at making such a fool of himself. He'd never had whiskey before, and its sharpness had caught him by surprise.
Much like Jensen had.
“The first time I took a swig of whiskey I coughed so hard I threw up on my date.” Jensen leaned in to share that bit of information like they were old friends. “They were not amused.”
“I can imagine.” Jared looked at his glass.
“The key to drinking whiskey is to sip it.” Jensen tilted back his glass and demonstrated. Jared couldn’t help but stare at the curve of Jensen’s neck as he swallowed. Putting the glass down, he smiled at Jared. “Your turn.”
Jared sipped, feeling the warmth fill his body and mingle with the heat of his nearness to Jensen. He thought he heard a slight gasp, but it was overshadowed by the sudden laughter from one of the tables.
When he set the glass down, he saw Jensen smiling at him, his eyes glowing. “Well?”
“Better.” Jared couldn’t help but grin back.
“Good.” Jensen raised his glass and clinked Jared’s. “To successful whiskey drinking.”
They finished their drinks in a comfortable silence.
“So,” Jared asked after a bit. “Where you from, originally?”
“Little town outside of Dallas called Richardson.” Jensen smiled. “My whole family still lives there.”
“Why’d you leave?” It always made Jared curious why people left the places they grew up in.
Jensen chuckled. “Because Richardson was just too small. No excitement.” He winked at Jared. “Know what I mean?”
Jared did. His town was small and getting smaller as people gave up and left. “Tell me about places you’ve been.” He looked at his glass and realized that the bartender had refilled it. Shrugging, he took another sip.
“Okay…” Jensen looked past Jared, like he was collecting his thoughts. “This one time I was in Lawrence, Kansas…”
Jared listened, enraptured, as Jensen spun tale after tale of the places he’d been and the things he’d seen. Places Jared knew he’d never visit. But seeing them through Jensen’s eyes made him feel like he had.
Laughter from the table in the corner knocked him out of his reverie and he looked around for his uncle. Jeff was still nowhere to be seen.
“Waiting for someone?” Jensen asked.
“My uncle. We came into town to get some supplies.”
“I see.” Jensen signaled for a refill. “You want another?”
Jared shook his head. The whiskey was already making his head spin. It was either that or the fact that Jensen’s knee was pressing against his thigh. “No…no.” He needed some air. The bar - Jensen - was getting too close.
He stood up, the room spinning slightly. “I think I need to go.”
“It was nice meeting you, Jared Padalecki.” Jensen locked eyes with him, his gaze penetrating. “I’m sure I’ll see you around.”
He stared back at Jensen, falling into the deep green of his eyes. “Why are you here?” he blurted out.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re too...fancy for this place.” Jared waved a hand around. “What are you doing in a dinky town like this?”
Jensen smiled at him. Leaning in, with a voice filled with promise, he said, “I’m gonna make it rain.”