Of course, my brain gets attached to things and doesn't leave them alone even if I should be doing other things.
SO. What we have here is a (HIGHLY COMPRESSED--man, I love you, Anne of Green Gables, but you are LONG and KIND OF CRAZY and I CANNOT HANDLE SO MANY DRESSES AND BALLS AND OLD LADY ANTICS) J2 Anne of Green Gables AU. Or, like, pre-J2. Because Anne takes forever to not be an idiot.
ANYWAY! strippedpink, I hope someone someday soon writes you a longer, more in-depth and awesome AU. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this.
Title: The Coming of Wisdom With Time
Fandom: Supernatural RPS
Pairing: Jared Padalecki/Jensen Ackles (pre-slash!), Jim Beaver/Jeffrey Dean Morgan (i-implied??)
Word Count: 4100.
Summary: Jared Padalecki was fairly convinced no one would ever want to adopt or want him. It turns out he was wrong on all counts.
Disclaimer: I make this shit up.
ALSO: Podfic by juice817 is here.
Jared thinks, sometimes, that it's perhaps good that he doesn't have parents, so he can't be a disappointment to them. Because try as he might, though he longs to use his abundant imagination and turn himself into someone right, he is unable to. Jared Padalecki is unwaveringly and tragically practical about himself. He knows he is too tall and too skinny, that his hair sticks out in all directions no matter what he does--even if he wears a hat, his hair curls out from under it, ridiculously--that he is without prospects or money, and that his elbows are sharp enough he could wound someone with them. He hasn't the skill other boys have for work; he is hopeless with firewood, depressing with sowing the fields, and useless at the harvest. He is an expert daydreamer, a world-class storyteller, and a champion brain.
None of these are things that are valued in orphans, so Jared can hope that his real parents would have been delighted by them. In this life, however, Jared is a tragedy--a plain little waste of space, passed by whenever anyone comes to the orphanage looking for a child to take in. They're always looking for someone strapping, someone strong. They don't care that Jared knows how to take care of a sick child, or that he can recite ninety-three of Shakespeare's sonnets, and is learning more as quickly as he is able.
Which is why it's so amazing when Mrs. Dench comes and tells Jared that he is to go to Green Gables.
The name is so romantic, Jared thinks--he has always loved houses with names, real names. Everywhere he has lived has been "The Graham Farm" or "The Bledel House," names that will change as soon as the owners do. Green Gables has a constancy, a finality--it sounds like someone's home.
Jared lets out a deep sigh of contentment, his head perched on his carpet bag. They want him. He's going to have a home, a family, a place where he belongs. Never in his fourteen years on this earth has Jared has that--not while he can remember. He's been in houses, lived with families, and always feels out-of-place, like some piece of furniture that hasn't been returned yet.
Sitting in the train station, waiting for Mr. Jeffrey Morgan, he feels joyful, as if there is so much in him, he might explode.
He's going home.
It doesn't go how Jared was expecting. Jeffrey Morgan is a lovely man--dark-hair laced with gray, his face lined and drawn. He's quiet where Jared is loud, allowing Jared to prattle on about whatever crosses his mind as they drive home. Jeffrey nods and smiles and says, "I reckon" a lot, and Jared plows on regardless, delighted with his captive audience and more nervous than he wants to think about.
"Will your wife be waiting for us?" asks Jared, after they've passed by the pond which Jared knows, in his very soul, was meant to be named The Lake of Shining Waters.
"Ah," says Jeffrey. "No, not my wife. I live with my friend Jim out there. We're confirmed bachelors; moved in together when we realized we weren't going to be taking on wives. Saves us some work, you know."
It's the most Jeffrey has said this whole time, and his face is strange--torn between nervousness and happiness.
"I think that's perfect," says Jared with a sigh. "Of course, the most romantic thing is to be married, but there's something to be said for living with a bosom companion, don't you think?"
Jeffrey chokes a little. "I reckon there is."
"Do you think I will ever have a bosom friend?" asks Jared. "I never have before. I've never really had a lot of friends at all. Or a lot of anyone. It's been very lonely. Are there any boys near my age here?"
"That way's the Murray farm," says Jeffrey, gesturing broadly. "I think Chad's about your age."
"Chad Murray," says Jared, testing out the name. "Yes, I could be bosom friends with a Chad Murray."
And everything up until then is all wonderful and perfect--the day is beautiful, the sky is clear, the lake is shining, the birds are singing. Jared feels the kind of contentment he did not know was real, had never felt before.
He has only heard of the calm before the storm before--after all, up until now, his whole life has been storm--so he does not recognize it.
"Who the hell is this?" asks the grizzled man at the house when they arrive.
"Language!" says Jared, scandalized.
"This is Jared," says Jeffrey.
"Where's the girl?" asks Jim. He's looking at Jared like he's a piece of meat he doesn't want. Jared is over-familiar with the feeling.
"There was no girl," says Jeffrey. "Just him."
"Well, why's he here? Christ, Jeff, we don't need a boy. We are boys."
"What was I supposed to do? Leave him?" asks Jeffrey.
"Yes! We ain't got no use for him."
"What?" says Jared finally, his voice tiny. "You...don't want me?"
Jeffrey looks broken; Jim looks irritated.
Jared swallows. "Oh, I see. I should have seen it coming, anyway. No one's ever wanted me before. I don't know why they'd start now. I'm not any stronger or more capable, and I'm still too tall and too skinny, so why would anything else be different?"
"Jared..." says Jeffrey.
"And you! You should have just left me! Then I wouldn't have..." Jared shakes his head. "It doesn't matter. I'll just go back."
He has half a mind to start walking at once, but Jim grabs his arm. "Jesus, you're not walking back to the station, kid. You're staying here til we figure out what to do with you."
"Send me back!" says Jared, and huffs up the stairs, throwing himself dramatically onto a bed.
"That's our room," Jim says, apparently having followed him.
"Oh," says Jared. "Well, where am I supposed to go?"
Jim shakes his head. "Come on."
Jared follows, miserable.
As it turns out, he needn't have worried. Jared is not entirely sure what Jeffrey does to convince Jim to keep him, but it's agreed that as long as Jared can sew--and he can, very well, in fact--he is allowed to stay at Green Gables, on a trial basis, at least.
Jared does not skip through the field singing to himself at this news, but only because Jim says that as long as Jared is living under his roof, skipping through fields and singing is strictly not allowed. Jared thinks this is a small price to pay for living at Green Gables.
Besides, if Jim doesn't catch him skipping, there's no way he'll know it happens.
A week after he takes up residence at Green Gables, Jared meets Chad Murray at a garden party.
Jared has never been to a garden party before, and he feels very dapper going. He doesn't look very dapper, because Jim believes clothes can and should be warn long past their finest, and Jared is pretty sure the clothes he has are leftover from Jim's own childhood, but that is entirely beside the point. The point is, Jared Padalecki is at a garden party, meeting his neighbors, and he's never been so happy.
"So you're Jim and Jeffrey's new boy, huh?" says Chad.
"Yes," says Jared, unable to keep the excitement off his face. "Would you like to be my bosom friend?"
"Boys don't have bosoms," says Chad. "Girls do."
"Then what do you want to be?"
Chad considers. "Penis friend?"
Jared also considers. "It doesn't sound as romantic."
Chad nods. "You're right, it doesn't work. How about..."
"Comrade in arms?" Jared suggests.
"That's good," says Chad. "Sure, I'll be your comrade in arms."
Jared picks Chad up and squeezes him close. "I've never had a comrade in arms before!"
"Small wonder," says Chad. "You probably crush them to death first."
Jared drops him immediately. "Sorry."
Chad waves his hand. "Come on, let's go find some girls. Sophia Bush is really growing up well. If you know what I mean."
"She's tall?" Jared suggests. He's not sure how else one could grow up. If she was growing up poorly, she would presumably be growing down.
Chad looks at him with something of a pained expression. "Yes, exactly. She's tall."
Jared is so happy he finally has a comrade in arms to call his own he doesn't even care that Chad is mocking him.
Summer positively flies by. Chad and Jared spend almost every day together, Chad teaching Jared the ins and outs of Avonlea, describing every girl to him, her likes and dislikes. Chad seems convinced that Sandy McCoy is interested in Jared, but whenever Jared tries to speak with her, she giggles and ducks away, so Jared doesn't see how she could be interested. She clearly can't even take him seriously.
"You don't understand women," says Chad, sighing. "It's probably because you live with Jim and Jeffrey."
"You're right," Jared agrees cheerfully. Marriage is a far away place, anyway. He has more important things to do in the meantime.
"It will be easier at school," says Chad. "We'll have more to talk about."
Jared is shamelessly excited for school. He loves to read and learn, but he's never really been able to go to a school before; it's been all helping out at whatever houses he's staying at, no time for education. Jeffrey and Jim are firm believers in boys learning well and becoming smart, though, so there was never any question that Jared would be allowed to go.
His first week there is blissfully, unnaturally, unbelievably perfect. Mr. Dunn is more interested in flirting with Alona Tal in the back row than he is in educating the children, but Jared is an independent learner, and he takes to his studies like a duck to water.
He's expecting his next week to be just as good until he and Chad pass Sophia and Sandy giggling on their way into class.
"What is it?" asks Jared.
"Jensen Ackles is back to school today!" says Sandy.
"Who?" asks Jared.
"Jensen Ackles, Jared!" says Chad. "He's a few years older than us, but he took time off while his mother was ill, so he's still at our level. He was traveling with his father, but he must be back. He's a wonderful boy."
"And he's so handsome!" says Sophia, giggling again. "I'm sure he looks even better than before..."
Sandy giggles too, and Chad scowls.
"That's the problem with Jensen," Chad explains, leaning close to Jared as they pass the girls. "Sophia and Sandy won't even notice us with him around."
"They don't notice me anyway," Jared points out.
Chad gives him an odd look. "You'll like Jensen, though. He's probably as smart as you are. You're going to have competition for the head of the class."
That, Jared thinks, is probably good. Competition is healthy. He isn't threatened.
He isn't, at least, until he arrives at the school and sees Jensen Ackles for the first time.
He's surrounded by a group of girls, but he's a head taller than they are, so Jared sees him at once. He has short-cropped dark hair, unruly but in a careful way, as if it is out of control in exactly the way Jensen Ackles wants it to be. His teeth are white and when he smiles, his eyes sparkle. He looks mischievous, a little dangerous, and Jared is already ready to beat him at any contest they might have.
When he catches sight of Jared and Chad, he smiles, waves easily. "Hey, Murray! Who's your friend?"
"This is Jared!" Chad calls back. "Jim and Jeffrey's new orphan."
Something passes through Jensen's eyes--it's brief, but Jared catches it, and he hates Jensen Ackles suddenly, surely. Jensen Ackles knows he is an orphan and doesn't like it. Jared turns away, heads straight into the classroom.
"What happened?" asks Chad, trailing after him. "What's wrong?"
"I've seen people like him before," Jared says, and tries to leave it there, but Chad won't stop prying. When Jared finally snaps, Mr. Dunn looks up, annoyance plain in his features.
"Jared Padalecki," says Mr. Dunn. "Since I see you are incapable of concentrating when in such close proximity to Chad Murray, I will remove temptation. Go and sit with Jensen Ackles."
Jared is convinced, as he gathers up his things, that it is not possible for his day to get worse. He sits down next to Jensen and returns to his work, eyes firmly on his slate, determined to ignore the world.
Until, that is, Jensen Ackles reaches over, tugs on Jared's unruly hair, and hisses "Scarecrow!"
Before Jensen can move, before Jared can think, Jared is out of his seat, on his feet, and bringing his slate down to shatter on Jensen Ackles's stupid, ugly head.
There is a silence that stretches.
The rest of the day is a blur--Mr. Dunn's furious punishment, Jensen Ackles' weak apologies, Chad's confused pleading--and when Jared arrives home he wordlessly flings himself onto the bed and waits for death.
In a week, Jared returns to school, with a new-found determination. His determination is simple--he is going to be better than Jensen Ackles. If Jensen Ackles excels at something, Jared will excel more. If Jensen Ackles is good at geometry, Jared will be better, even though he's terrible at geometry.
He explains this to Jeffrey, who doesn't look as delighted about it.
"Revenge isn't a good reason to do anything, Jared," he says.
"Jeff's right," says Jim. "Now I am all for you being smarter than this boy, but forgiveness is important too."
"He humiliated me," says Jared, sighing. "No, my mind is made up. I will never in my life forgive Jensen Ackles."
Jeffrey slants a look at Jim. "Never is a long time, Jared."
"I know," says Jared. "That's why I picked it."
What Jared finds that he did not expect is that when one is happy, time passes quickly. Before he knows it, he has been at Green Gables for a year. He's growing steadily taller, as if he needed more height, and broader around the shoulders, and he is able to help Jeffrey and Jim out more and more with things they're growing too old for. He finds himself suddenly capable of chopping wood and repairing things, and Sandy McCoy begins looking more at him than Jensen Ackles. Jared doesn't care very much--Sandy is a sweet girl, but Jared is still waiting on something he hasn't found yet--except that he will take any opportunity he can to one-up Jensen Ackles.
Jensen Ackles will, periodically, do his best to befriend Jared. Each attempt is strange--Jensen will offer Jared books he thinks Jared will like, try to discuss their work for a given subject. Sometimes, he'll just scratch his head and look at Jared a little hopefully. It's strange, because Jensen never treats anyone else as he treats Jared, and Jared can't figure out why. Jensen is a mystery, but Jared isn't interested in solving him. Because he hates Jensen Ackles. Hates him more than anyone else in the world.
On the one-year anniversary of his meeting Chad, Jared convinces Jim to allow Chad to come over for tea. Jared is ridiculously excited--he cooks all the food himself, and when Jim says Jared is welcome to some of his special iced tea, Jared is almost beside himself. Jim's iced tea is famous throughout Avonlea, cool and refreshing, and Jared has never been allowed to have it before.
He roots through the cabinet, finally coming up with it and laying it out, waiting patiently for Chad.
When Chad arrives, breathless and tired, he gulps it down in one long swig and starts choking.
"That burns, Jared!" he says.
"It shouldn't," says Jared, puzzled.
Chad's still coughing, though, so Jared pours him some more tea to wash it down. Chad drinks, looks at it. "Huh. That one was a lot better."
"I just need to finish up," says Jared happily. "Wait here, I'll be back with food soon."
Chad salutes him with the glass, a little shakily.
After that, everyone agrees that Jared should be taught the difference between iced tea and whiskey, which Jim thought was fairly obvious.
Due to Jared's inability to tell alcohol from regular drinks, Chad is forbidden from ever seeing him again. This Chadless period is not the most miserable time of Jared's life, but given he spent his first fourteen years in any number of orphanages and foster homes, there is stiff competition for the worst period of Jared's life. It's certainly the worst period he's had since coming to Green Gables.
One of the two bright spots of this dark time is their new teacher, Ms. Mack, who sets up a class for study at Queens College. Jared had hoped against hope that Chad would be allowed to participate, but his parents had never cared for education as Jeffrey and Jim did, and Jared found himself lost in a sea of acquaintances and Jensen Ackles. The prospect of outdoing Jensen in yet another arena doesn't fix the blank expanse of Jared's wounded soul, but it certainly doesn't hurt.
The other bright spot is that Jeffrey, in his sweet if somewhat misguided attempt to cheer Jared, has been buying him many fashionable new clothes. Jared certainly isn't obsessed with the current trends, but given his previous clothes weren't trendy when Jim bought them forty years ago, he appreciates having something new.
Other than those two things, however, Jared's life is endless despair.
Chad shows up on a Friday, while Jim and Jeffrey are in Carmody for a meeting with old friends.
"My comrade in arms!" says Jared, delighted, when he sees Chad.
"Jared! I need help. My sister, she's..." Chad pants, out of breath. Jared is already moving--the urgency is obvious, even if he doesn't know what it is. Chad manages between rasping breaths to explain--croup, his older sister riding for the doctor, but his younger only getting worse, nearly dying.
"Didn't know who else could help," Chad managed, voice ragged.
"I'll help," says Jared, hand heavy on Chad's shoulder. "Let's go."
Jared feels guilty for accepting rewards for doing what was only right--after all, he couldn't just ignore a dying child. He might have saved Chad's sister, but he was only doing what anyone would have, if they'd been able. It doesn't seem right that he should be given gifts for that.
"Bullshit," says Jim, snorting. "Mrs. Murray was wrong about you, Jared. Now she's got to suck it up and apologize."
"Isn't this unchristian?" Jared asks.
"Who cares?" asks Jim. "Free stuff."'
"You shouldn't be allowed to be a parent," Jeffrey mutters, but he's smiling.
Jared loves his family, he really, truly does.
When spring comes, Jared and Chad become enamored of the vikings.
"What's not to like?" Chad asks, when Sandy wrinkles her nose at the idea.
"They're powerful warriors who believe in comrades in arms and looting," Jared adds.
"They were heathens," Sophia points out.
"We're Christian vikings," says Chad.
"Why is Jared a dead Christian viking?"
"I'm acting," says Jared. Ever since he heard Jensen Ackles was doing a dramatic reading at White Sands Hotel, he has been determined to be a better actor. "I'm going to get in the skiff and pretend to be dead as I recite dramatic verses."
"No one will be able to hear them," says Sandy doubtfully. "Also dead people can talk."
"I'll hear them," says Jared simply. "Chad will give me the last rites while the two of you push me out."
Sandy and Sophia exchange a look, but do as they're told. Jared braces himself for his death scene. He's going to show up Jensen Ackles if it's the last thing he does.
Jared has never really worried about drowning. After all, he's been growing steadily taller ever since he turned fifteen, and he thinks that, if it came to it, he would be able to walk along the bottom of any river that required it.
Thinking that, in a distant way, is very different from being confronted with a sinking boat and high water. It's spring, and the snows have only just melted, and the river is overstepping its banks.
Jared thinks that, perhaps, he might die.
He considers, briefly, how very romantic it would be to die here, in the still-cool water, in a skiff, pretending to be a romantic hero.
Soon enough, however, his practicality takes over, and he spies the bridge. Surely, he thinks, if he paddles and prays very hard--for Jared almost never asks God for anything--he will find himself capable of rowing only that far, of reaching that bridge and waiting until Chad, beside himself with grief, comes and finds him.
He's certain of it.
And it all goes well, perfectly even, until the boat he sees is not Chad or even Jim or Jeffrey, but Jensen Ackles.
Of course, it would have to be Jensen Ackles. How could it not be? The crowning imperfection on an already overflowing day; Jensen Ackles is coming to save him.
"Jared?" asks Jensen, his voice tinged with disbelief and laughter. "Jared Padalecki, is that you?"
"Yes," Jared huffs. He's freezing--he's all skin and bones and angles right now, nothing to keep him warm in his dripping clothes--but that doesn't mean he'll give in.
"Jared," says Jensen, his voice rearranging itself into something softer. "What are you doing?"
"Fishing," says Jared. "I nearly caught one."
Jensen's boat pulls up to the bridge post Jared is clinging to. He doesn't say anything, just looks at Jared, concern and amusement and--perhaps--something else in his eyes.
"Fine," says Jared. "I was in Chad's skiff and it started sinking."
"Get in," says Jensen, not unkindly. "Come on, I'll take you to shore."
"I do so," says Jared heavily, "under protest."
Jensen flashes him a small smile. Jared finds himself amazed by how it changes Jensen's face. Jared has, of course, seen Jensen Ackles smile before. But Jensen's smiles are almost never small like that, never something quiet and private. Jensen is all mocking laughter and cheeky comments; this is nothing like that.
"Thank you," says Jared, almost softly.
Jensen smiles again, dodging his head down, as he starts to row.
"We tied, you know," says Jensen as they hit shore.
"The Queens result. We're first, you and me."
Jared can't hold back a grin. "Truly? That's amazing! I have to go and tell Jeffrey and Jim, they'll be so proud!"
He's halfway out of the boat when Jensen catches his arm. "Hey, Jared."
Jared stops. He can feel his heartbeat in his throat--the excitement of hearing about the entrance exams, of course. "Yes?"
"Can we," Jensen pauses, swallows. "Can we forget all that from before? I'm sorry. Back when we first met--I never meant anything. I just...I didn't know what to say to you. And we're going to school together, we're going to--can we just be friends? I think...we could be good friends, you know?"
Jared can barely hear over his own heart. This close, Jensen's eyes are very green, his face is covered in freckles, and he looks very young and hopeful. Jared surprises himself by already knowing these things about Jensen. He had thought he didn't know what color Jensen's eyes were, how his face looked, but every feature is familiar; it's only taken him this long to recognize it.
"Yes," he says, before he can think better of it. "Yes, we could."
Jensen's smile isn't small this time--it's gigantic, as if Jared has given him the best present in the world. There's still that same undefinable difference, though, and in a flash Jared realizes that Jensen is happy; not mocking or self-deprecating or anything else he usually is.
Jensen is just happy.
"I have to go," says Jared, smiling back a little uncertainly.
Jensen's face falls a little, but he recovers quickly, a smile that doesn't meet his eyes. He lets go of Jared's wrist and Jared feels the air rush onto it.
"I have to tell Jeffrey and Jim," he clarifies. "But I'll see you in class."
"Will you talk to me now?" asks Jensen.
"Yes," says Jared, because he wants to see Jensen smile again.
"I hear you're friends with that Ackles boy now," says Jeffrey a week later. He sounds pleased.
"We decided that, in the interest of academic pursuit, we should be friendly and share out considerable knowledge," Jared lies breezily.
"That boy's very fond of you, you know," says Jim.
"Yes," says Jared, "but I can only have one comrade in arms, and that's Chad."
Jim makes a noncommittal noise, and Jared thinks he understands why. Because in only one week, Jensen Ackles is already someone different from Chad, someone different from anyone else. He is a friend, but Jared can feel more there, waiting. It doesn't feel like a brother in arms or a bosom companion.
When he thinks of Jensen Ackles, he thinks of freckles and a smile and the way Jensen ducked his head and said, "Because I was too shy," when Jared asked why he hadn't just introduced himself in the first place.
Jared hasn't learned the word for what Jensen Ackles is yet.
But he's going to find it. Someday.