"We were only... playing," Jensen says helplessly, and turns round to try and see his mama's face, but she's still looking at her lap. Her fingers twisted in the flowered fabric of her Sunday dress, but it's Tuesday. She hasn't got her apron on and her long hair is tidy in its bun: it makes Jensen feel off-balance, like his world has tilted on its axis and nobody told him.
"The Lord said," Mr Schwarz says, eyes red-rimmed above his greying beard. "Cast out all those who are sinners amongst you, lest their sin infect others. Thou shalt put evil away from among you. Is this not the word of the Lord?" he asks, spittle flying from his mouth, and the congregation sighs in agreement. "This is the word of the Lord," Mr Schwarz confirms, and leans back. He's not looking at Jensen, he's looking past him, eyes unfocused. Mr Schwarz sees angels. Jensen wonders if one is hovering above him, unseen. Apprehensively, he glances up. God's eyes are everywhere, and Jensen was so nervous dressing for the Meeting that he thinks one of his socks might have ripped through the darn. It's a sin to be unseemly at Meeting.
"Jensen Ackles," Mr Schwarz says. "I pronounce you unfit in the eyes of the Lord and of this Meeting. You may leave."
"What?" Jensen asks.
Mr Schwarz doesn't answer. It's almost as if he doesn't see Jensen, can't hear him.
"Mama -" Jensen says, craning back. "Mama, what -" But his mama isn't looking at him either. His mama is waiting, head bowed, for the row of believers to file out of her pew. "Mama!" Jensen calls, knowing he's raising his voice in the house of the Lord and that she'll look at him later out of sad dark eyes and say how lucky they are to be here, how the Meeting took her and Jensen in and gave them a house and how Jensen must be good. "Mama," Jensen says as his mother walks out of the door. "Mama, I've been a good boy, haven't I?" His voice sounds very small. He's the only one left in the Meeting House. No one has touched him on the brim of his hat and told him how big he's grown or what a help he must be to his mama.
"Mama?" Jensen says.
The Meeting House is on the corner of two roads. One goes from the feed store to the freeway, further than Jensen's ever been. The other wanders past the houses of the believers, dusty and trodden down. It's the road Jensen's walked at least twice a day for the last twelve years. To the schoolhouse and back, before he was too old. To the the Meeting House for Saturday and Sunday Meetings. To study group on Wednesday evenings. In fall, Jensen carries his mother's bottled jams and pickles from house to house, carefully, the heavy glass packed in straw in his satchel. In spring, it's fresh-picked greens and slaw and potato salad. Jensen's never been further than the Molson's place, four miles out. He doesn't even know how he and his mama arrived in Faith. He was too little, and his mama never talked about before: her mouth went all white round the edges, pressed tight, when Jensen asked, and soon he learned not to ask.
Dusk's falling. Jensen has nowhere to go but home. He stands up and pulls the sleeves of his Meeting suit down. He's still growing and all his clothes are too small, his wrists poking out of his shirts and his bony ankles showing under his pants. He looks down at his dusty boots and puts one in front of the other.
They're waiting for him outside.
Lined up on the sides of the Meeting House steps. Everyone he's ever known, faces turned away, hands clasped in prayer.
It's then that Jensen realises he's not going home.
He's seen it happen once before. Two years ago. It was the Molson's youngest son, William, who had been cast out. No one had ever said why, although Jensen had seen William crossing the creek late at night, heading sure-footed from the dark farmhouse to the road that led out. Out to the stop on the freeway where Mr Schwarz and some of the men took their grain and came back with pig iron for the smithy and needles and salt.
William had gone prepared. William had had a duffel bag, and a coat that clinked when he put it on, and when he stopped on the top of the Meeting House steps he had looked up and smiled, as if going to hell was something he would enjoy.
Jensen had nothing. Jensen was going to hell in a pair of ripped socks and his best suit and a hat that was a little dented at the brim from where he'd dropped it climbing up to the roof to look at the stars.
It took a long time to walk down the steps. Jensen knew, his skin crawling, that every pair of eyes behind him watched him go. Knew that if he turned round those eyes would be turned prayfully to heaven.
His mama looked so small. So old. He would have stopped. Would have fallen to his knees and begged, if she'd looked up. But his mama never moved.
The dumpster is sitting under a pool of light, but Jensen is so hungry his stomach feels like it's got claws. He keeps moving nearer, edging out of the shadows of the alleyway, but every time he gets within ten feet he hears footsteps. The road's busy, busier than Jensen had thought when late at night the pile of newspapers had looked so welcoming, and he had been so tired. And it was so dark maybe they'd miss him, maybe no one would tell him to move on, get the fuck out of here you thieving bastard. Jensen's never stolen in his life.
But he hadn't realised, in the dark, that the street was the main street of the town he'd lost himself in, that the shuttered windows and barred doors would open in daylight, that there would be so many people. Jensen can only huddle as far back as he can in his flimsy shelter of newspaper and cardboard and pray not to be seen.
Pray to a God who has turned his face away from Jensen's sin. Jensen's heart is empty, as cold as an empty stove in winter. Jensen is surrounded, not by faith, but by adulterers and idolaters. Women with uncovered heads, wearing trousers, and men in flowered shirts with great bellies pushing at their bright coloured short sleeved shirts. Children who laughed and played and ate candy in the street as if it was so common they could pluck it from trees. Nothing made sense. Jensen feels so different from these people he might as well be looking at creatures of another species. These are not people of the Lord. They blaspheme, and shout, and laugh. They make Jensen close his eyes and cover his ears and curl himself back in the alley, his knees pressed to his chest, pleading for hours with a God who does not care that he not be noticed. When darkness falls, Jensen's still praying.
It was the last couple walking by, hand in hand, who had in passing tossed a red and green box into the dumpster. Even from the back of the alley Jensen can smell hot cheese, tomato, bread: his hands are shaking.
He's almost touching the side of the dumpster when the street lights up in front of him. Frozen in fear, he can only stare. From here, he can see crowds, lights, machines, trailers, people who run backwards and forwards with files and paper cups and other things Jensen doesn't recognize. There are more people in the street than Jensen's ever seen before. For a moment, Jensen thinks that the armies of God have come for him, Jensen the sinner, and then he realises with a relief so sharp it's almost rapturous that they are all focused on the opposite side of the street. The lights there pool on a black car, sitting alone in front of a shop window. Around it people wave poles, move machines on wheels, hold up boards, shout at each other. Jensen hears 'Lights!" "Grip!" "Last call!" - voices that are quick and almost angry, so very different from the slow accents of the Meeting congregation. They can't all be angry, Jensen thinks, and is very glad none of them are looking in his direction because he's so fascinated he's almost forgotten he's hungry. Then he hears, "Silence!" And suddenly there is silence.
And then there is an angel in front of him.
Jensen gasps. It's time. Michael has come for him with his flaming sword, come to send Jensen to hell, and Jensen's not ready yet.
But the angel's not looking at him. The angel's just standing still, his wings shifting slightly in the evening breeze, his hair gleaming gold in the lights. His hands are empty. He's not wearing a white robe: he's wearing dark trousers Jensen can just see below the white flight feathers that are so long they almost touch the ground.
Jensen's eyes are so wide they ache.
As he watches, a man comes running up the street, fast, looking behind him. He reaches the car and flings open the door, starts it, and drives off so fast the wheels spin. The angels doesn't move.
And there's noise. People shouting, people running, the car returning, the machines being moved... Jensen's angel doesn't move. He shifts on his feet a little, and people come up and talk to him like there's nothing special about an angel standing in the road. Jensen's angel seems to like touching people. He claps people on the back, touches their arms, hugs them. He dips his head like he's smiling, and all the while his wings flare from his back, awesome and powerful. Jensen's enthralled. He creeps closer to the light, blinking.
Then his angel's alone again and someone else shouts "Silence!" and "Action!" and just like before, the same man comes running up the street and gets into the car, drives off. Jensen's angel watches the man. Jensen watches his angel.
This time his angel moves, walks with his hand held high in the air to a chubby little man in glasses. They stand talking on the far side of the street while the machines are moved around them and the car is driven back.
Jensen breaks a commandment. He covets. Does it count, he wonders, if he breaks a commandment when he's dammed already? But he can't stop the fierce, stomach churning knife of envy in his gut, that these sinners with their profanity and ungodliness are blessed by an angel while Jensen has nothing.
Then Jensen sees his angel smile. It's blinding, a broad white-toothed grin that sets his whole face alight, absolute joy. Jensen gasps in astonishment. It's so beautiful, it's like the angel's touched by God.
The chubby man by the angel doesn't seem to have noticed anything unusual. He does smile in return, and then the angel nods, and sets off back across the street. Towards Jensen.
Halfway across, he stops. Peers forward. He's looking at the alleyway.
Panicked, Jensen scuffles backwards. He's too scared to turn his back.
"Jared!" he hears someone shout. "Jared, man, time's waiting!"
Jensen's angel shouts back, "Hang a minute. Thought I saw something."
Pressing himself against against the back wall of the alleyway, too high for him to climb over, Jensen hardly dares breathe.
The angel walks on. His eyes are narrowed, his hands spread in front of him. "Is there anyone there?" he asks. "Hello?"
It's only when he stands by the dumpster that Jensen realises quite how big the angel is. He's so tall his head blocks out the lights and his shoulders are so broad they look that those of an bull. He's got long legs, big feet, hands like shovels.
The angel cocks his head on one side. He crouches, flicking his hair back, doesn't seem to care that his wings are brushing the road.
"Hey," he says. "Hey." It's low and gentle, coaxing.
"I think it's a stray," the angel says over his shoulder.
Someone laughs. "Dude, you've already got two of them." But the laughter is amused and indulgent.
"Here puppy," the angel says. "Come on. Come to daddy." He's moving closer.
Jensen tries to make himself smaller, but as he clutches at his legs the newspaper rustles.
"Come on, puppy," the angel says, nearer, and Jensen thinks of the fires of hell and how if he's caught he'll never see his mama's face again. There's a gap between the angel and the wall. Jensen gathers all his strength and makes a run for it.
Somehow he's not surprised when his face hits the dirt and the angel's on top of him. He struggles, jabbing his elbows up and kicking with his feet. Above him the angel - who is definitely not as light as a feather and has no hope of fitting on the head of a pin - lets out a stream of words that are so blasphemous Jensen freezes.
"Damn it, stay still -" his angel says.
But Jensen is. He stays still while the angel's weight moves, while he can feel the angel looking at him, hoping that if he stays still enough it'll go away.
"Hey," the angel says. "What's your name?" It's the same tone of voice that he'd used before, when he thought he was talking to a stray dog.
Jensen doesn't say anything.
"You alive?" asks the angel.
And Jensen snivels.
"Oh baby," the angel says, and he puts his hand on Jensen's shoulder and rolls him over.
Jensen's angel is human. His name is Jared Pad-a-lec-ki, and he's a actor. "Like an... idol?" Jensen asks, puzzled, and Jared laughs before he shows Jensen the TV, which is so confusing Jensen hides behind the couch until Jared turns it off.
He's got a room in a hotel he's staying in while he shoots a film. It's not his house. His real house is in a city, and it has a pool that is crystal-clear blue and two dogs. Jensen, wondering, has seen photographs.
Jensen's angel eats like he's never had to worry where the next meal's coming from. He eats strange food like pizza and chinese and thai, and this he asks for on the telephone, food that arrives like a miracle all hot and ready to eat. Jensen's angel has a shower that he drops Jensen in fully clothed and scrubs him down under, amazing hot water and steam like clouds. He has a bed with eight pillows and a comforter so soft it feels like goose down.
Jensen's angel wants Jensen.
The second day, Jensen went with Jared to the set, where he got to sit in the makeup trailer and meet the crew and hang out with Jared's assistant who gave him cookies and coffee and chocolate and told him stories. The second day, Jensen overheard Jared talking to the chubby man he'd seen before.
He was tucked out of sight, just a little overwhelmed, under Jared's trailer.
"Look, you can't just pick him off the street like he's a stray dog," the chubby man had said. "Someone's looking for that kid."
"They're not," Jared had answered, short and sharp.
"And how old is he, fourteen?" the chubby man had said. "You want to be done for statutory rape?"
"Eighteen," Jared said. "Not that it's any of your business."
"What, you're just going to keep him?" the chubby man said.
"Yeah," said Jensen's angel, and it sounded like he was smiling.
had pulled his knees up. It hadn't been fear. He had been so warm he
wanted to stay that way forever.
Jared notices things about Jensen. He notices that Jensen's fascinated by the car, the black car that they used to shoot the chase scene, and he borrows it to take Jensen out on the next rest day. They go to a fair, where Jared buys hot dogs and cotton candy, and Jensen is sick, although Jared says laughing "What did you expect?"and then they go on the roller coaster.
He notices that Jensen's clothes are too small for him and finds Jensen big baggy sweatshirts and jeans long enough to trail over his converses. T-shirts with logos he has to explain, playing music on his laptop. Music makes Jensen happy. He likes it when it's loud, when he can sing along to the words, although he still can't say some of them and when he has to miss a word Jared, singing, looks sideways at him and laughs with his eyes.
Jensen's angel sleeps across most of the bed. His legs spread, his hands wander, he rolls his head on the pillows, he breathes. Jensen's never shared a bed before. He's fascinated, stays awake to run his fingers through Jared's hair and along the elegant lines of his muscles: the strength of his arms, the weight of his thighs, the powerful, beautiful arch of his ribs. Touching makes Jensen feel warm all over, but it feels so good he knows it's a sin. He just doesn't have a word for it.
Sometimes he thinks Jared's awake.
Jensen's angel takes his shirt off in the sun. He walks in and out of the bathroom naked, like God doesn't care he's not decent. Jensen's angel does push-ups in his boxer shorts every morning, the muscles of his back flexing, so beautiful Jensen can't breathe.
"Do you even know he likes dick?" The chubby man asks.
"I know," Jared says.
Jared tells his mama about Jensen, and she sends cards and cookies, talks to him on the phone. Jensen hasn't got much to say, but she doesn't seem to mind and her voice is so warm and so welcoming Jensen's eyes are wet when he puts the phone down.
Jared's friends laugh at him, but it's rough and kind all at the same time.
Sometimes Jensen thinks Jared knows more about Jensen than he does himself. Jensen didn't know he liked pizza and roller coasters. Didn't know beer made him happy and then gave him wind. Didn't know anything about movies or computers or music until Jared taught him.
Then Jared teaches him about sin.
When he was twelve, Jensen had woken up terrified, in sticky sheets. He'd stumbled through telling his mama, and before he'd even got half way through she'd sent him to Mr Schwarz who'd talked about damnation and sin and the eyes of the Lord until Jensen was almost to scared to hold his... thing to go to the bathroom, let alone for anything else.
Jared thought it was normal.
Jensen doesn't know this until he wakes up one morning so hard there's wet all over his tummy, and his thing is pressed so close to Jared's body it feels like he's on fire. Like he could damn Jared too, even though it was Jensen's sin. Miserably, Jensen tries to creep away, but Jared puts a hand on his shoulder - and Jared doesn't touch him in bed, he just doesn't -
"Chad. I'm not asking for something he doesn't know how to give. Shut the fuck up."
- and says sleepily, "Is that for me?"
"It's a sin," Jensen says stupidly.
Jared sits up in bed so quickly Jensen flinches and four of the pillows fall on the floor. "What?" he says, and then, "If someone said that to you, Jensen, they're lying."
Then he says, "You want to do something with that?" half a smile on his face and his eyes half amused, half something Jensen has never seen before that sends a curl of excitement and fear through his belly.
"Like what?" Jensen asks.
Jared blinks. "Oh baby," he says.
When Jensen gets on his knees and sucks Jared's cock, Jared thinks he's doing it because they're making love, because they're specially together. Because Jared has stopped blaspheming and Jensen is going to college. Because it's hot.
Jensen knows it's worship.