The other voice is a woman's, but it's the gravelly, ornery voice of an old woman -- or a smoker. Both, maybe.
"We need to get all these wet, cold clothes off him," she's saying. "Warm him up slowly."
Jensen can smell wood burning, and it's a good smell. Comforting. He can see light through his eyelids too, but he's too tired to open his eyes. The snow has stopped, and somehow he knows he's inside, not lying in the soft snow anymore, but laid out on something firm and slightly elevated. A couch, maybe. Somebody is tugging and pulling on his clothes, and he wants to wake up enough to help but he just can't. He's so tired, so sleepy --
"I can't get his boots off," Jared is whining. "The laces are frozen solid."
"Here, I'll do it," the woman's voice says. "You go warm up your hands. Run them under cool water, then gradually warmer water. Not too hot! You'll literally burn yourself!"
Jensen senses Jared moving away and it makes him tense on the inside. He wants Jared to stay close. Some stranger is pulling his clothes off and he wants Jared, damn it.
"You boys really did a number on yourselves," the old woman is muttering as she pulls and tugs on Jensen's boots. "Another hour out in this and you'd both be frozen solid. Whose damn fool plan was it to leave your car again?"
"Mine," Jared answers from the kitchen sink, where he's running water over his hands. "We were trying to find cell service."
Somehow Jensen knows they're in a house. He remembers Jared saying something about seeing one, so now they must be inside it. And it must belong to this strange woman and she let them in, two tall frozen under-dressed dudes with icicles hanging off of them. She must've taken pity on them and actually allowed them to come into her home.
What the hell is she doing living up here in these woods, anyway?
"Well, you're lucky you found my place, that's all I can say." She's finally got Jensen's boots off, peels the socks off after. "Your friend here is on the edge of losing his toes."
She does something else, down at his feet, and Jensen thinks he hears water splashing, then he feels pressure, so maybe she's wrapping his feet in a wet wash cloth or something.
"I don't have a real way to treat hypothermia except to get dry clothes and blankets on him and hope for the best," she says. "He probably needs to be in a hospital, but you boys can't go anywhere until this storm stops. Where are you from, anyway?"
"Texas," Jared says, and his voice is closer now, so Jensen relaxes a little, knowing he's right there, tugging on his jacket, sitting Jensen up as he pulls it off, laying him down gently so he can pull off his button-down.
"Two Texas boys lost in a Washington snowstorm," the old woman is muttering. "Now I've heard everything."
Her voice is moving away, muttering about getting more blankets, and Jared is working on Jensen's jeans, trying to get his freezing fingers to work so he can get the button undone, pull down the zipper.
Jensen opens his eyes. There's no way he can sleep through Jared taking his pants off. Been waiting for -- well, for fucking-ever -- for that to happen.
Jared looks up, meets his eyes, smiles a little, looking all nervous and anxious. His hair is wet and his face is red with cold but the icicles are gone. His own clothes look pretty wet though, and it's obvious he needs to get out of his own wet clothes but he's tending to Jensen first and it makes Jensen's chest ache.
"Hey," he croaks out, trying to smile, reaching down to cover Jared's hands with his own. The old woman has wrapped his hands in what looks like strips of old wet dishtowels, and he can't feel a thing so it's a useless gesture, but Jared gets it. He stops what he's doing for a minute, takes a long shaky breath and closes his eyes.
"Thought you were dying, Jen," he breathes quietly. "Thought you were gonna die out there and leave me."
He opens his eyes, finds Jensen still gazing at him, and that's when Jared starts to shiver.
"Here, let me do that," the voice of the old woman says, and then she moves into Jensen's view and she's this little wizened thing in jeans and a plaid flannel shirt and almost-white hair with these piercing blue eyes and her arms full of blankets.
"Well look who's awake!" she exclaims when she sees Jensen looking up at her. "And isn't he a handsome one. Well, that's something. It must be my birthday."
She puts the blankets down, pushes Jared aside, unbuttons and unzips Jensen's jeans and pulls them off with more strength than a woman her size should have.
"Don't worry," she assures Jensen, as if he had it in him to resist. "I have two sons and I've had two husbands, so there's nothing I haven't already seen.
"There, now we can get these blankets on him," she mutters, pulling blankets up and over and around Jensen, tucking them in as tightly as she can without rubbing on his skin.
Not that he can feel a thing anyway.
"Now you -- " she glances up at Jared as she's tucking. "You get your wet clothes off. Strip down to your tee-shirt, your shorts -- just like Romeo here -- then you can get under the covers with him and you two can just warm each other up. That's the best way. No warm bath yet -- this fella's too sleepy for that, plus the shock might give him a heart-attack. So just body heat for awhile. You can sleep. I'll make you some warm soup for when you wake up."
Jared's already pulling his wet clothes off, and Jensen's drifting in and out of sleep, half-watching because he really doesn't want to miss Jared getting undressed in front of him, but he's so sleepy --
"Thank you, Ms. -- " Jared hesitates, obviously doesn't know her name, and she fills in as she heads into the kitchen.
"Winchester," the old woman says. "Like the rifle. Donna Winchester."
Now Jensen can pass out.
He wakes up because his skin is on fire. Literally. All over.
Jensen tries to move his arms and legs but he's pinned down, immovable. He's wrapped up in blankets and Jared, whose arms and legs are all around him, holding him close against his ridiculously over-heated tree-trunk of a body, sound asleep with the blankets around them both.
It should be hot, should be Jensen's best fuckin' wet-dream ever, but Jensen's in so much pain he can't squeeze even an ounce of pleasure out of this. The fire feels like it's under his skin, burning its way out -- no, more like fire ants, scratching their way out -- either way it's what he imagines Hell feels like and it's fuckin' awful.
"Mrumpf," he tries to curse, tries to push against Jared's huge, sleeping frame, feels tears smarting his eyes and running down his cheeks and the salt stings like a son-if-a-bitch. "Goddamn it!"
Jensen's lips are cracked and painful, his cheeks and chin and nose feel like they're being rubbed with sandpaper -- no, raw sand. And when he tries to wiggle his way out of Jared's embrace it feels like his skin is rubbing off.
"Fuck, Jay! Wake up! Fuck!"
Then Jared moves and it's even worse; Jensen can't control the scream that rises out of his throat and Jared's eyes snap open and his face is literally right there, so that Jensen is pretty sure Jared had his chin resting on Jensen's head and they were sleeping with Jensen's face pretty much pressed into Jared's warm throat only now he's like a furnace and Jensen feels consumed by heat and it's too much -- he's suffocating and burning up and the ants are crawling all over him, stinging and biting and --
"Wuh -- "
Jared blinks, moves awkwardly, seems to understand that Jensen is in serious pain -- finally! -- and moves his gargantuan limbs so that he's getting up off the couch backwards, murmuring "damn it, oh god, sorry, shit, fuck" and blushing all over himself like he's beyond embarrassed to wake up to find himself wrapped around Jensen like a giant squid.
He stumbles a little and ends up on his ass on the floor, and Jensen gets a glimpse of the source of Jared's embarrassment in the rather sizable tent in Jared's shorts before Jared grabs a blanket to cover himself, cursing again.
If Jensen wasn't in so much pain he would probably say something snarky and smirky, and it's tempting even though Jensen can't think straight because the ants are literally playing lawn croquet just under the surface of his skin --
"How're you boys doing in here?"
It's Mrs. Winchester, bless her bat-shit-crazy little heart, standing in the doorway with two cups of something steaming in her hands.
Jared looks up at her from his sitting position on the floor -- now he's cross-legged and has the blanket in his lap -- and he's using that Sam Winchester sincerity thing and it makes him look so goddamn cute Jensen wants to puke (except the ants are still marching seventeen-thousand by seventeen-thousand so it's kinda hard) --
"I made you some soup," the old woman is saying, coming into the room and setting the mugs down on the coffee table. She looks at Jensen, who is wincing and sweating with pain, and murmurs, "Well, you're looking better. I'll bet it hurts, doesn't it?"
Goddamn right it does, Jensen thinks but is too consumed with his efforts to avoid screaming in agony to say anything coherent.
"I'll get you some Tylenol," Mrs. Winchester -- Donna, his brain provides helpfully -- says. "Now that your blood is moving again you can try sipping this soup, warming yourself up on the inside. Take it slow, though. You don't want to overdo it."
She looks down at Jared and shakes her head.
"You did good, son. His skin is looking better. Now that the feeling is back he's gonna be very sensitive for awhile, so don't touch him. Any friction on his skin will cause terrible pain. But pain is a good thing. As long as there's pain, the nerves are still functioning."
She smiles at Jensen.
"Which is a good thing, beautiful, because we wouldn't want the doctors to have to cut off any of those perfect features now, would we?"
Jensen stares at her, tries to say something but his lips are cracked and the ants are tap-dancing on his face now.
He's relieved when she leaves, comes back in a few minutes with the pills and a glass of water, hands them to Jared.
"Have him drink something first," she instructs. "He's dehydrated. Then he can take the pills and sip the soup if he's up to it. I'm going to bed, but if you boys need anything, you just holler. I'm a pretty light sleeper these days, have been ever since my Jack passed away."
"Thank you, Ms. Winchester," Jared remembers his manners, and the old woman smiles approvingly.
"It's Mrs.," she corrects. "Proud to be Mrs. John Henry Winchester, I'll tell you. Love of my life, best thing that ever happened to me, marrying that man, even if it took most of my life to find him."
The old woman shakes her head, smiling at memories and only half-aware that anyone's listening.
"We found each other late in life, my Jack and me," she explains. "Both of us married and divorced, six kids between us, all grown now. I have eight grandchildren, he has two. We were old already -- in our sixties -- but we both knew it when we met. This was the one. This was finally the one we were both meant to be with."
She glances at Jared, then at Jensen, and a little smile touches her lips.
"You're both young," she says almost wistfully. "You don't yet see how short life is. When I was your age, I'm not sure I would've recognized Jack like I did when I got older. I was so full of myself, believing I was something or somebody, and a man like Jack who was so simple and steady and good -- I just wouldn't have realized how special that is. I thought I needed Heathcliff. I thought I needed some star-crossed passionate tragedy."
She shakes her head, looks at them both, and Jensen's trying to listen -- really, he is! But the ants --
The old woman startles a little, yanking herself out of her own memories. She makes a dismissive gesture and turns to leave the room.
"I'm off to bed," she says. "You two need your rest too. Just holler if you need anything. I'll leave the fire going -- you're welcome to keep feeding it if you want to. You know a little about wood stoves?"
She spends another minute or two showing Jared how to stoke the fire, then leaves them alone again, casting one last glance at Jensen, her expression speculative and pensive.
"You really are the prettiest thing I ever saw," she mutters, half to herself. "God's gift, no doubt about that."
She winks at Jared, and Jensen wonders if he got it wrong and she actually does know who they are.
Because up until that moment he was pretty sure she didn't have a clue about them. And why would she? There's no t.v. in the house, she's not part of the demographic their show appeals to -- well, apart from being female, of course -- and she seems to be completely unself-conscious about the fact that her name, and her husband's name, are too coincidental to be real.
Just fiction being stranger than life again, Jensen thinks. Nothing new there.
It's twenty minutes after the Tylenol finally kicks in and Jensen's managed to sip a little of the soup that the ants finally settle down and let him fall heavily, deeply, and blissfully asleep.
He sleeps for hours.
At some point Jensen becomes conscious enough to hear Jared and the old woman talking. She's telling Jared about her husband, who looked like Clint Eastwood and died of a sudden heart-attack five years ago, after ten years of marriage. He was a former rancher and farmer whose family had been original pioneers to this area in the 1850s, but he had lost the farm in the early sixties and moved his family to Portland, where he became an executive with the power company, a job he hated. After his divorce he retired early, moved back to the area his family had first homesteaded, built this cabin and became a beekeeper along with his youngest son, who had inherited the business from his maternal grandfather.
Donna's story was different. She had been an actress of some success, had lived twenty-five years in Los Angeles before moving home to the Seattle area, where her sister still lived. There she had met Jack Winchester, and her life had forever changed. Now she lives alone in the house they had shared for ten years, driving down to the public library in town for audio books, which she listens to as she paints and knits and does her housework. Audio books are the best, she tells Jared, because they're performed by actors who have wonderful read-aloud voices. She has several she listens to over and over, but one of her favorites is "A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens, read by Patrick Stewart.
"Now there's an actor whose voice I will never get tired of listening to," she tells Jared.
Besides, her eyes are getting bad, so it's easier for her to listen to the books than to read them.
"They keep me company," she says. "It's like having someone else in the house."
At some point she asks Jared what he does, and Jared tells her.
"Well, that explains the pretty faces," she nods. "And why you too are both so skinny. What t.v. shows have you been in? Not that I would know them -- I haven't watched t.v. in fifteen years, at least. And it's been longer than that since I was in the business myself."
Jared briefly explains about the show, and she's impressed.
"You two are the leads?" she murmurs appreciatively. "That's a gig that's hard to get. Congratulations."
"Yeah," Jared's soft voice is warming Jensen's soul, and he's only half-listening to the words. "Here's the weird thing. Our characters are Sam and Dean Winchester. In the show. Our father is John Winchester."
Donna is silent for a moment, taking that in. Jensen can hear a metallic clicking sound, and he's pretty sure she's knitting.
"Well, isn't that something," she says finally. "You know what they say about coincidences."
"No, what?" Jared asks.
"They're spiritual puns," Donna nods sagely. "God's having a little joke here. Looks like this whole experience was designed to teach you two a lesson."
"A lesson?" Jared sounds confused. "About what? How not to get lost in a snowstorm?"
"Maybe," Donna says with what sounds like a small smile. "If there's one thing I've learned over the past few years, it's never to take anything for granted. It's all a gift. Be grateful. Don't let the good things pass you by. And don't miss the most important thing of all, because it's probably right under your nose and you're too busy taking it for granted to recognize it for what it is."
"Huh," Jared's nodding, and Jensen almost opens his eyes because he sorta wants to see Jared's face right now, to see whether he's looking at Jensen.
He thinks maybe he is.
CHAPTER FIVE - BACK TO MASTERPOST