“He will be ready to travel in a day or two, is that not so, Guardian?”
“Yes, I believe in two days at the most we can all go back to the meadow. There’s no need to wait for his wings to heal fully. I can easily carry him home. With the three of you by his side, he’ll be as good as new in no time.”
Well-known voices penetrate what feels like a thick fog. The soothing rise and fall of Jared’s breathing beneath him is also very familiar.
He tries to sit up, tries and fails. Everything feels heavy, especially his wings. They feel as though they are coated with something...sticky. There is a cloyingly sweet smell in his nose. It is all strange and disconcerting. Also, he cannot shake the feeling that, although he recognizes the voices, they are out of place here.
“Look, I believe he is waking.”
“Jensen, can you open your eyes? I have missed them so.”
“Come, little one, it is time to wake up.”
The world comes into focus slowly. The first thing he sees is Jared’s neck, sloping up to his chin, stubbled with the fast-growing, prickly hairs that mean he hasn’t shaved in a day, maybe two. Not only that, but the room is lit by the midday sun and Jared is clearly asleep.
The feeling that there is something wrong grows.
Next, Misha’s face is thrust into his line of sight. “There you are! You had us very worried, but the Guardian says you will be right as rain in a few days time. Is that not correct, Guardian?”
The beginnings of a smile tug at his lips. Misha’s happy face is a welcome sight, even if it is an unexpected one. He tries to express his gratitude for the visit, but his jaw is smooshed into Jared’s chest, making it difficult to form words. He struggles to get an arm underneath himself and push up, but he’s too weak. He tries to flap his wings, but they are fanned out in an awkward position and seem to be glued stuck that way.
Panic surges through him. His struggles get more desperate, more frantic.
A large, calloused hand settles over him and the Guardian’s gravel-deep voice says, “Easy, little one. You mustn’t move your wings just yet. They’re still healing.”
He concentrates on remembering why his wings need to heal, and the memories rush back in a chaotic whirlwind.
His sick wife.
The crushing grasp.
Only bits and pieces after that.
A dimly-lit room.
A demand that he use his magic to heal her.
Being picked up by something wet, warm, and soft.
An anguished cry.
And then nothing.
“No, little one, calm down. I’ll take you home soon. This will all be in the past.”
“What is wrong with him, Guardian?”
“Why is he shaking like that?”
Jensen forces his eyes open again. The tremors wracking his body cause his wings to spasm. Pain flares. He groans.
Suddenly, there is a seismic quake beneath him as Jared jolts awake.
“Hey, hey, Comet. I’ve got you. You have to breathe, just breathe. You’re safe now.”
It is Jared’s softly-spoken words that get through to him, ground him. He recognizes his own attempts at calming Jared while getting lashed by the storm at the carnival, his own mantra to breathe, just breathe.
He reaches out for Jared’s hand, and it is there grasping his, thumb gently buffing his knuckles.
From the very first moment they met, Jared has always meant safety. Now, he means so much more than that. Now, he means home.
The Guardian’s words penetrate his hazy confusion. ‘I’ll take you home soon.’ The Guardian and his quadral mates are not here for a visit only. They may have come because they found out he was injured, but they also mean to take him back to the meadow. He has not yet had a chance to tell them of his decision to stay in the human world.
Well, best to get this over with.
He manages to angle his head in a way that allows him to speak. “Guardian, I will not be returning to the meadow.”
Silence greats his statement, and he is beginning to think he may not have spoken loudly enough for anyone to hear, when Misha says, “Whatever do you mean? Of course, you are coming back.”
“For visits, yes. To live, no. I live here now. Jared and I have decided.”
Felicia’s feet stomp into view.
He really wishes he could sit up. It is going to be that much harder to have this important discussion from his ridiculously prone position. He cannot even see anyone’s face from down here.
“Jensen you stop that nonsense, right now, or I will...I will...”
“You will what, my sweet Felicia?” Jensen asks, faintly amused.
“I will refuse to help you clean the strawberries and maple syrup off your wings.” She concludes with a forlorn sniffle.
Jensen uses his free hand to pat her foot. “I doubt that very much for you are far too kind to leave me in this predicament.”
A loud crack resounds throughout the room as the Guardian’s hoof comes into violent contact with the floor. His deep voice rumbles, “It’s out of the question! I won’t allow it.”
The rage he hears rocks Jensen to his core. He is not used to hearing that emotion. Tears well up in his eyes. He had known this would be hard, had known his friends would be sad, but he had not been prepared for rage. Breath catching in his throat, he says, “Please, do not be angry with me. I cannot bear it.”
There’s a loud huff, and then, the Guardian’s finger pats his hand in apology. In a much more modulated tone, he says, “Jensen, be reasonable. The human world is no place for one of the fae. Surely, you can see that now. Look what has happened, and after only four days, no less!”
“The human world has its dangers, it is true, but you must admit, I seem to be able to find trouble no matter where I go. Remember the time I got hit on the head by a falling acorn? I did not remember my own name until evening came. Or the time I got caught in a particularly nasty nettle patch, and no matter how nicely I asked, it would not let me go? Or the time-”
He could go on, but the Guardian cuts him off. “Yes, I remember all those times. Your curiosity is often the cause of your mishaps. The meadow can be dangerous, I agree, but at least those dangers are known. The human world is unpredictable, and I won’t be there to...”
“To save him.” Jared completes the trailing thought. “You won’t be there to save him. And that’s okay because I will. If we need you, we’ll get in touch with you like we did this time. You’ll always be a part of his life. All of you. We can set up a support system that includes both humans and fae. Jensen and I have talked about this. It’s what he wants, he says he’s found purpose here, living among humans, as flawed as we are, so somehow we need to find a way to make it work. I thought he would have changed his mind after all this, but apparently he hasn’t. I support him in his decision. I hope you can, too.”
“You’ve given this some thought, then?” The Guardian clears his throat. “You understand how difficult this is going to be, for him and for you? As he himself has pointed out, he is more than a little accident prone.”
His accident prone history and current situation aside, Jensen feels the need to defend himself. “Perhaps I will not need saving next time. Perhaps is it I who will save the lot of you,” he declares, indignantly.
Jared chuckles. “Yes, Comet. The next time an acorn falls on my head, you can remind me what my name is. And yes, I’ve thought about it. We both have. If it helps at all, I pledge to be there with him through thick and thin. I’ll have his back as he lives his life true to himself and his purpose.”
The laughter in Jared’s voice and the sentiment make up for the jibe at his expense. “If we are exchanging vows, then I too would like to express my intention to always have your backs as well. You are all very dear to me and always will be. That will never change.”
Alona heaves a sigh. Although, he cannot see her, he surmises she is in her favorite spot on the Guardian’s shoulder. “What shall we do without you, Jensen?”
“You will never have to find out for I shall visit you so frequently, you will tire of my presence,” he states airily. In a more serious tone, he says, “You must go to the council and request a replacement.”
A yawn catches him unawares.
It is unfair. There are many things still to discuss, plans to make, adventures to retell. He only just woke up. How can he be this tired already?
Misha leans over and kisses him on the nose. “Sleep. We will all be here when you wake.”
His eyes slip closed.
Jared’s voice follows him into slumber. “It isn’t only fairies’ wings that are resilient. Look at him. Look at everything he’s been through. If anyone can survive the human world, it’s him. He has a remarkable knack for surviving the unsurvivable.”
Jensen had slept until the following morning. Luckily for Jared, Christian had deemed his wings healed enough that he could be safely transferred between them, giving Jared some desperately needed personal time to relieve his aching bladder and his stiff back. He also used his freedom to call Jeff, fill him in on Jensen’s recovery, and ask whether there was any new information about his abductor.
Jensen never even woke while being moved from Jared’s chest to Christian’s. A testament to how badly he needed the rest and also to what a deep sleeper he is. The other three fairies had quickly slotted themselves around him, making themselves comfortable for the night.
Once morning arrived, Christian had checked the status of Jensen’s wings and the cracking, crumbling salve, determined that it had done its job, and accompanied the fairies to the bathroom, where he had started up the shower, using the summer rain setting on the shower head from the sound of it.
On a scale of the most charming sounds in the world from one to ten, fairy laughter has to be somewhere around a thirteen, maybe even fourteen, Jared thinks as he listens to the playful splashing and delighted giggles coming from the bathroom.
Another chorus of laughter ripples down the hallway from the bathroom. It’s irresistible, and Jared is just about to go check on how they are coming with getting the sticky strawberry-maple-syrup salve off Jensen’s wings, when the doorbell rings.
No one is expected, so it’s probably just a solicitor. The quicker he gets rid of them, the quicker he can join in the fun. He pulls the door open, a dismissal on the tip of his tongue, when he catches sight of two familiar faces.
“Hey Sara! Hey Barley!” He stoops down to ruffle Barley’s silky, golden ears. “How you doing, girl? I didn’t get the chance to properly thank you for saving Jensen.”
Sara beams at him. “Dr. Morgan told us he’s on the mend. We were so worried. I hope you don’t mind that we stopped by to see for ourselves how he was doing.”
Jared thinks it’s cute how she refers to herself and Barley as ‘we’. The concept of the two of them as an inseparable team returns to him. It’s clear that’s the way Sara sees them.
“Not at all. I’m really glad you came by, actually. I know Jensen will want to thank you, too. Come on in.” He opens the door wide, ushering them inside. He’s in the shower right now, but I expect they’ll be done soon.”
“They?” Sara quirks an eyebrow as the sounds of water splashing and tinkling laughter reach them.
With a grin of his own, Jared says, “Yeah, you may want to brace yourself. Jensen’s quadral mates and guardian came to help him heal. If you thought meeting one fairy was a treat, just wait until you experience four at the same time.”
“Guardian? Sorry, I always kinda tune DJ out when he drones on and on about fairies. What, exactly, is a fairy guardian?”
Jared just grins. “You’ll see. Stay here a minute. I’ll go tell them you’re here.”
Leaving Sara and Barley in the living room, he follows the infectious laughter down the hall. The door to the bathroom is ajar, so he pushes it all the way open and steps inside.
Jensen is sitting cross-legged in the tub under the shower spray in about two inches of water. Bubbles cover his face and chest. Misha is in the process of using foamy suds to mold Jensen’s hair into a spiky Mohawk while Felicia and Alona roll around mid-air, holding their bellies and laughing.
The strawberry-syrup salve has all been washed away. Jensen’s wings are unfurled across his back. They certainly look better than the last time he’d seen them, although there are still some thin patches where the membranes haven’t yet fully regrown, and the edges on the right wing are still frayed, where the worst of the crumpling had been.
Christian stands to the side, a shampoo bottle in hand, a sheepish look on his face. “I only put a few drops into the water to cut through the sticky syrup.” He indicates the shampoo. “They’ve, uh, never seen soap bubbles before.”
“I have seen soap bubbles before. It is the others who have not,” Jensen says in a haughty tone. “I have seen Jared shower many times. If humans do not clean their bodies, they can develop an unpleasant order, is this not true, Jared?”
Before Jared can blush over the very public sharing of information, water geysers upward from the tub in a large arc, catching Jensen in the face. The Mohawk that has been meticulously crafted by Misha gets flattened in the spray.
“Cut that out, Alona,” both Jensen and Misha reprimand at the same time, which only causes the two girls to collapse into renewed giggles.
Jensen shakes his head like a dog, and the wet stands dry instantly, leaving his hair to fall in its customary, soft style.
Another geyser erupts, this time drenching Alona from head to foot, the spray powerful enough, it manages to catch everyone else in the room, too, but mostly Alona. Misha laughs so hard, he looses his balance and falls over backwards into the water, only to come up sputtering a moment later.
Alona twirls like a ballerina in the air. When she stops, she’s as dry as ever.
The same can’t be said for Jared’s bathroom. Water dribbles down the walls to puddle on the floor.
“Okay, okay,” Jared interrupts before the water fight can escalate. “We have company. Sara and Barley have come to see how you are healing. They’ve been worried about you.”
Jensen’s face lights up. “Are my wings clean? May I go greet them now?”
Christian pronounces his wings clean, and picks him up, while Jared turns off the water in the shower and pulls the plug.
Misha somersaults out of the tub and, once airborne, says, “Water, you may now disperse, if it pleases you.”
Every surface in the bathroom is instantly dry, including Misha himself.
Jared contrives to lead the processional back to the living room, mostly because he wants to see Sara’s face when she encounters her first satyr.
Satyrs are mysterious, to an even greater degree than fairies. Almost nothing is known about them. Like fairies, they are a class of fae. They are said, by some, to have been brought into existence by the fairies themselves, many eons ago, which would make them constructs of elemental fairy magic, Jared supposes. He’s never felt it wise to ask.
Christian’s hooves clop, clop, clop loudly on the hardwood floor as he enters the living room. The fairies are clustered around him, either perched on his shoulders or flying above his head.
Sara’s mouth drops open, eyes ping-ponging from one fairy to the next. From the way her cheeks turn pink, it probably hasn’t escaped her attention that all the fairies are naked. Then, her gaze drifts down, taking in Christian’s leather vest, his breeches, his fur-covered haunches and cloven hooves, and her pink cheeks get even rosier.
“Sara! Barley!” Jensen cries out happily from his perch on Christian’s left shoulder. “It is good of you to come for a visit.”
“Jensen! Look at you. I can’t believe it. Are you completely healed? So quickly?”
Jared strides forward, turning to offer Jensen his hand, palm up. “Jensen, would you care to introduce everyone?”
“Yes, I would.” Jensen scoots gingerly onto Jared’s hand, wincing a little at the pull on bruised muscles. “Not completely healed, mayhap.” He gives her a wry grin. “Flying is beyond my abilities currently, but I am feeling much better and will suffer no lasting effects, due in no small part, I am told, to your efforts. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.” He places his fist over his heart and bows his head.
“We were glad to help.” Sara rests her hand on Barley’s furry head. “If you don’t mind my asking, like, what happened? I know some of it, the stuff Dr. Morgan managed to find out after you left, but no one knows how it all went down except you.” She fidgets with Barley’s leash. “That is, if the memories aren’t too horrible for you.
The desire to know exactly what happened has been burning inside Jared for a while now. He has to know in order to keep it from happening again in the future, especially now that Jensen has made his intentions to stay in the human world clear.
Jensen shakes his head, his thousand-watt smile dimming. “My memories are fragmented. To be honest, I don’t remember much. But perhaps we can piece together what happened from what each of us knows. Smile brightening once more, he says, “But first, introductions. Sara and Barley, I am pleased for you to meet, my quadral mates, Misha, Alona, and Felicia, and our Guardian. Everyone, this is Sara and Barley, my rescuers.”
Christian surprises Jared by dropping to one knee before them. “Sara and Barley, we owe you a debt of gratitude. I am at your service, always.”
Jensen’s quadral mates don’t say anything. Fairies, for the most part, don’t feel comfortable interacting with humans. Jensen, obviously, is the exception that proves the rule. They do, however, fly in a circle over Sara’s head like a colorful halo, showering her in fairy dust.
Taken aback, all Sara seems capable of is a pleased, “Oh.”
Jared ushers everyone towards the sitting area, and they all make themselves comfortable. Sara sits on the couch, and Barley settles in by her feet, mouth open in a doggy grin. Christian, who never seems comfortable in what he refers to a human dwelling, prefers to stand. He leans against the wall near the opening to the kitchen. Misha, Alona, and Felicia take up their usual spots on his shoulders. Alona uses his long hair as a screen to partially hide behind. Jared sits in the recliner with Jensen nestled against his neck.
As is so often the case, everyones’s attention is on Jensen as he begins his tale in an eerily inflectionless tone.
“He came searching for me. Adam, I think that was his name. Everything about him spoke of sadness. Sadness and loneliness and fear. Above everything, he was afraid. I could feel it.” Jensen shivers. “He asked me to help his wife, wanted me to come with him, and I wanted to. I wanted to help her, although I was not sure what I could do, what he expected of me. If I had known then what he wanted, I could have told him it would not work.
“I had already agreed to go with him, all I needed was time to explain the situation to you, Jared.” Jensen nuzzles his earlobe. “He grabbed me before I got the chance. That is where the initial injuries to my wings came from. His hand closed around me so quickly that I did not have a chance to furl them. They were crushed within his fist.”
Felicia and Alona ruffle their wings while Misha winces. Jared equates their unease at hearing the story of Jensen’s beautiful wings being mauled to the way he would feel at hearing a gruesome description of a friend’s fingers being cut off one by one.
“His grip was too tight, the pain too intense, for me to call out, and in any case, I believe I must have lost consciousness soon after that. The next thing I remember is being in a room with only a little light filtering in through covered windows.
“Adam still held me tightly. He was talking, but not to me. There was a woman lying on a bed. I do not wish to do her the disservice of describing her appearance. Suffice to say, her illness had not been kind to her. It clung to her like a creeping vine. Her eyes were closed. There did not seem to be much life left to her. I doubt she heard what Adam was saying.
“When he saw I was awake, he said I must heal her. He said the doctors had given up hope for a cure, but that he would never give up on her. He believed fairy magic to be the miracle cure for which he’d been searching.
“I tried to tell him there was nothing I could do. He did not believe me. He shook me and tightened his fist as though he could squeeze the necessary magic out of me. When that did nothing for her, he tried scraping the dust from my wings with a spoon and feeding it to her. I am not sure how much dust he managed to scratch off for I was nearly insensate by then.
“In his desperation, he dropped me. I fell to the floor, too weak to move. Then, nothing, until...I remember being lifted and held very gently, somewhere wet and warm. Was that you, noble therapy dog?”
Barley chuffs as Sara nods her head. “Golden retrievers were specifically breed to carry things softly in their mouths. Hunters who used them to retrieve ducks and other game didn’t want their catches marred by teeth marks.”
“Thank the sun for that,” Christian mutters, expression stormy.
Jared is also very much in favor of no teeth marks. He reaches up and strokes Jensen’s arm, just to reassure himself that his lover is puncture-wound free. “What about Adam? What’s being done about him? Jeff didn’t mention anything when I called to tell him Jensen would make a full recovery.”
Sara absently slips Barley’s leash off one arm and onto the other. “He didn’t say a lot to me either, other than that they did find out it was Mr. Fergus who took you. It’s still hard for me to understand it. Mrs. Fergus has been one of my regulars for a while now. She always loved to see Barley when we stopped to visit with her on our rounds. Mr. Fergus was, like, super attentive. He doted on her.” Sara rubs at her eye with the palm of a hand. “She died the day after he took you.”
Still stuck on the image of Jensen’s wings being shredded with a spoon, Jared asks, “Will he face any repercussions?”
Sara looks up from her study of Barley’s leash. “Would you want him to?”
The affirmative answer poised on the tip of his tongue gets cut off by Jensen’s adamant, “No.”
All eyes turn back to him.
“I do not blame Adam for his actions. I honestly do not believe he meant to cause me harm. His actions were motivated by desperation, not malice. It is more a matter of misinformation about fairy magic than about hostility or violent intentions. Fairy magic cannot cure humans, but he believed it could. He was only trying to save the one he loved.”
Jensen is far too forgiving. Inside, Jared is fuming, although he does his best to hide how much this bothers him by keeping his tone steady. “Whether he meant to cause harm or not, he did. What gives him the right to hurt you in order to save someone else? And...how can I stop it from happening again if he gets away with it? What’s to stop someone else from doing the same thing if there are no penalties?”
He doesn’t really expect an answer. He gets one anyway.
Jensen says in his confident, lilting voice, “Punishment cannot cure inaccurate information. Only education can do that. We can keep it from happening again by teaching humans more about fairies. With knowledge comes understanding and acceptance.”
This simple truth, coming from a fairy who still has so much to learn about humans, floors Jared. “How did you become so wise?” he murmurs. Another thought strikes him. “Are there criminals among the fae? How are they dealt with?”
Christian’s hooves scuff the floor as he crosses his arms over his chest. “The emotions required to commit crimes - anger, jealousy, envy - those emotions aren’t normally found among the fae. Their needs are simple and easily met. They have no currency because everything they want is free. So no, there are no such things as fairy criminals.”
Fairy criminals. The oxymoron brings a smile to his face when he didn’t think anything could.
He looks around the room at the motley crew - or as Jensen would probably call them, the esteemed assemblage. A satyr, two humans, a dog, and three fairies, four counting the one who brought them all together. An unlikely group indeed, each of them irrevocably changed by one determined fairy, intent upon making his mark on the world.
Within only the past four days, Jensen has touched so many lives. His sister-in-law and nieces, all the children at the park, his friends Rich and Rob, the patrons at the restaurant, Dylan and the people at the petting zoo, Jeffery Morgan, Dean Winchester and his father, the children in the pediatric ward, and even Adam Fergus. Their lives have each been altered, perhaps only marginally, or perhaps in some grand, super-awesome, fantastical way that will only become apparent sometime down the road. Whatever the case, they have all been touched by magic.
Touching, always touching. Somehow it all comes back to touch.
And this is only the tip of the iceberg. In the months and years to come, who knows how many lives Jensen will impact.
The possibilities are limitless.