Glittering balls of green, pink and gold explode across the night's sky lighting up the rows of frost covered rooftops below. Seconds later, a chain of rockets shoot into the air, pop, pop, popping, loud enough to wake anyone unlucky enough to be sleeping at midnight. Certainly loud enough to wake Jensen Ackles. Or maybe it's the yowling, wild-eyed, ginger tom cat tearing through the hedge that Jensen’s currently dozing in that rouses him.
With ruddy-red tipped fingers, numb from the cold, Jensen pushes the droopy bangs out of his eyes and tips his head back to look at the fireworks blazing wild trails across the sky. They are beautiful. Spectacular. Even half-asleep, miserable and chilled right down deep in his bones, Jensen appreciates that.
Excited voices in the distance whoop and cheer, joining the noise of crackling explosions in the sky. Jensen tugs the hood of his sweatshirt back down over his face as far as it will stretch, tucks his knees up, his chin down and sinks deeper into the prickly branches of the overgrown hedge. Fresh tears flood his eyes and spill down his cheeks. He sniffs, wet and bubbly, scrubs the back of his hand across his snotty nose, and wipes the sticky mess on the leg of his jeans.
Jensen had been looking forward to tonight so much. New Year’s Eve and they were having a party. Everyone was going to be there, all his family - his mom, dad, older brother Josh and of course his baby sister. A lot of the neighbors too, including the Padaleckis...and Jared. Jensen sniffs again and licks the dampness from his lips, the taste of salt creeping onto his tongue. He wonders what Jared is doing now. If he knows that Jensen has run away. If he's worried. If he cares. If anyone cares. He doubts it. They probably haven't even noticed he's gone.
Jensen scrunches his frozen toes up inside his socks. His sneakers are damp and his feet so cold that Jensen wouldn't be surprised to see ice crystals growing over his shoes and climbing up his skinny ankles. Shoving his hands even deeper inside the pockets of his hoodie, Jensen tries very hard to stop crying. His face stings and his stupid nose won't stop running. He wants his mom.
Maybe he shouldn't have run away. Maybe he should have just stayed in his bedroom. But dad had shouted and Josh had laughed that thin mean laugh that makes Jensen want to kick him in the shins. And his mom, she'd been too busy with Mack to pay Jensen any attention. Again.
Running away was a stupid thing to do, Jensen knows that. But he'd been so mad and it had been so easy to slip out the door. No-one noticed. No-one tried to stop him. So he'd kept on going. He’d walked and walked, and then he'd run until his legs ached and his heart thumped, ba-bump ba-bump, against his ribs like it was trying to escape. Then he'd walked a little more. Walked past the play park with the tall blue slide and the broken swing and past the big church with the pretty windows, the church that nana and grandpa take Jensen to sometimes. Then he didn't recognize anything at all. The air had turned even colder and it grew so dark that all the street lights had blinked on, lighting the unfamiliar houses in a dim orange glow and making shadows dance across the sidewalk. And now....now Jensen couldn't find his way home even if he wanted to.
Jensen has never felt so cold in all his life. Never. Not even when he and Jared had a snowball fight against Josh and Jeff in the front yard. That had been fun. Well, until Josh had pushed Jensen over and shoved piles of snow down the back of his neck. It had melted and trickled all the way down to his butt. Jensen smiles - in his head, his teeth are chattering too hard to smile for real - when he remembers how Jared had yelled and tackled Josh down into the snow. Jared was maybe a lot littler than Josh, Josh is thirteen and Jared's only a month older than Jensen, but Jared is all growly-hulk-smash when he gets mad. Jared had even managed to scrub a handful of snow in Josh's face before Josh pushed him off. Josh hadn't like that. He'd said a bad word after he spit the snow out of his mouth.
They'd both run away laughing afterwards, around the corner and down the block to Jared's house. They'd made snow angels and built a fort, or tried to build a fort - it turned out more of a lop-sided wall really, and then Jared's mom had made them take off their boots and coats and come inside to warm up by the fire in the den. She'd made hot chocolate and added so many little pink and white marshmallows that they filled the top of the cup and spilled over the side. Even then Jared still stole some of Jensen's. He loves sweet things; he's always stealing Jensen's candy. Jensen doesn't mind. He loves Jared.
Jensen doesn't know why that's a bad thing. But daddy sure thinks it is.
Jensen yawns, his jaw clicking and lips stinging at the stretch. He's so sleepy. The world is growing dark and fuzzy. It's harder to think, like a thick fog is creeping in his ears and swirling through his head. Maybe, Jensen thinks, maybe it would be good to sleep; maybe when he wakes up he'll be at home in his own bed. Under his Frozen covers. Olaf the snowman smiling on top of him. Jensen’s eyes flutter shut, and he wonders distantly if Olaf likes being a snowman, if he ever feels scared, if he ever tries not to blink in case his eyes freeze shut, or if his tears turn to icicles when they drip down his nose.
The low growl of a car driving slowly down the road, frost crunching under its tires, jolts Jensen awake. The rumbling grows louder, closer. He squeezes all his muscles tight, makes himself small and invisible, purses his lips and holds his breath. There might be strangers in the car. He's in deep enough trouble without talking to strangers too. Although, a little voice whispers in his head, maybe they could help. Maybe they'd take him home to his mommy.
The car drives past slowly, slower than cars normally drive even outside Jensen's school. Jensen opens his mouth and lets his breath escape, a little puff of white smoke, then muffles the resulting cough against the inside of his hood. He stills again when he hears the sharp sound of a car door slamming. Clenches his thighs tight together when his tummy squirms. Almost cries at the thought that he might wet himself. He needs to pee so bad, and he's held it in for so long, but now his stupid tummy is all scared and twisty and he thinks he might pee his pants like a baby. Josh will make fun of him forever.
The shout is loud and clear.
A bit fainter, whoever is shouting turning away.
Jensen blinks, slowly. Tries to think, to decide what to do. He's so cold, so stiff. It hurts to think about moving.
It’s instinct more than conscious decision. And it takes more energy than Jensen thought he had left, leaves him feeling breathless and shaky. But slowly he uncurls, crawls from his hiding place, barely feeling the stones and leaves digging into his numb palms. Unaware of the prickling twigs poking through the knees of his jeans, scraping against his skin.
"Josh?" Jensen tries to shout back. He barely hears the little noise himself. Tries again, the word scratching his throat, making him cough again. "Josh?"
His chest burns and he's frightened and-
"Jensen! Oh god, Jensen, buddy....thank god."
Arms sweep him up. Lift him clear off the rough, frozen ground. Surround him. Hold him tight.
Huddled against his brother's puffy quilted jacket, Jensen suddenly doesn't care how mean the poop head was. Josh's strong arms are the best place ever.
"I've got him! I've got him!" They're moving. Jensen jiggling as Josh jogs down the sidewalk towards a car with its lights on. "Shit he's frozen. Jensen, bud, what were you thinking? Where were you going? God, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Please be okay, please, Jensen."
"Thank god, Joshua. Come on; bring him in the car where it's warm. Sit in the back with him. Here, use the blanket, wrap it around you both. Jensen? Jensen, sweetheart, are you hurt?"
Jensen's head is swimming and the light in the car pokes likes daggers at his eyes. He doesn't understand why Jared's mom is in the car. Where are Josh and Mrs. Padalecki going?
"Don't worry, baby. Everything's alright now. You're going to be just fine. We're going to get you home to your mommy and daddy. Joshua call your parents. Let them know we found him."
Jensen whimpers as Josh tucks a blanket around him, letting go of him with one hand while he grapples with his cellphone. "Daddy," Jensen croaks. "Daddy's mad. He....he shouted and....he said I was...was..."
"Shhh, bud." Josh brushes his fingers, warm and gently, across Jensen's face, wiping a path through his tears. "Daddy's not mad. He didn't mean to shout. He's sorry, Jensen, so sorry, I promise."
"Not as sorry as he's going to be by the time your momma's finished with him." Mrs. Padalecki says under her breath as she clicks her seatbelt back in. Jensen doesn't think he was supposed to hear that. She sounds like she's kinda mad at his daddy.
Jensen wriggles his fingers. Pins and needles prickle under his skin, a hot rush of pain flows into his fingertips. His toes start to burn too. Heat licks underneath the soles of his feet, nipping at his skin. He squirms in Josh's arms, sobs against the scratchy material of his jacket. "Hurts, Josh."
"I know, Jensen. I know. We'll be home soon and mom will make it better, I promise. Come on, little buddy, hang in there."
"I don't....I don't understand...why....why's it wrong? Why d..did daddy say I c...c...couldn't.." Jensen's really crying now. He can't help it. Tears slide down his face and his breath comes in short painful gasps that stick in his chest. He hates this. Hates being little and dumb and not understanding and...
"Shhh, Jensen. You're not dumb. You're really not. I'm the one that's dumb."
"And your dad is," Mrs. Padalecki chips in through gritted teeth. "Your dad is the dumbest son of a-"
"Dad said some stupid stuff, Jensen." Josh wipes Jensen's face with the edge of the knitted blanket wrapped around them both. "But he was just...surprised....and sometimes when grown-ups are surprised they don't think, and they say things that they don't mean."
"But...but..." Jensen snuffles and tries to stop his bottom lip from wobbling. "I just...just said that I wanted to...to kiss Jared at New Years, cause...cause dad kisses mommy and you want to kiss Amy with the...the...long legs and the big boo-"
"Boots," Josh interrupts. Mrs. Padalecki snorts and Jensen scowls.
"And I want to kiss Jared, 'cause....'cause I love Jared. He's my...my best friend and....and I love him and I'm gonna marry him and we...we're gonna have babies and be..."
Mrs. Padalecki makes a weird noise from the front of the car, like a squeaky hiccup. Josh just sighs and snuggles Jensen in closer. The zipper from his jacket is sticking up Jensen's nose, but Jensen is more comfortable and cozy than he's been all night so he doesn't say anything.
"Jensen, there's nothing wrong with loving Jared. Or wanting to kiss him at New Years, but, bud, you're only five; don't you think that's a little young to be thinking about marriage?"
Jensen scrunches his face up, sneezes as the zipper tickles his nose, but doesn't get the chance to argue because Mrs. Padalecki's car is already pulling up outside his house.
Mrs. Padalecki climbs out first then opens the door to let Josh and Jensen out. Jensen wraps his arms around Joshua's neck and clings on to him like a monkey, for once not caring if that makes him a baby.
No sooner does the frigid air hit Jensen's face again than he's being dragged out of Josh's arms and nearly suffocated against his mom's chest. Her lips are wet when she kisses Jensen, and she's shaking, but she's warm and she smells like cinnamon and coffee and a little stinky smoky too, like his Auntie Helen does after she goes outside to have a cigarette.
"Jensen, oh my poor baby, you had us all so worried, don't you ever, ever, do that again. Oh my god, you're frozen. Josh, tell your father to call Doctor Stubbing. He's so cold, Sherri, thank you...thank you...I don't know what I would've done-"
And then Jensen's mommy is weeping, her face buried against Jensen's hair and Jensen feels horrible and wrong because he made his mommy cry and before long he's shuddering in her arms as tears stream down his face yet again and with utter horror he thinks maybe he wet himself a little.
There are hugs, and warm drinks and shouting and more hugging. There's noise and warmth and too many people crowded in the living room. There's a policeman and a doctor and his baby sister screaming. There's his dad, face crumpled and gray, eyes red like he's been crying. But daddies don't cry. There's a warm bath but no bubbles. There are thick woolen socks and his coziest pajamas and his bed. And there's Jared.
"Happy New Year." Jared says after Jensen's mom tucks them both in and shuts the bedroom door. He kisses the tip of Jensen's nose and for the first time all night Jensen feels warm all over.
"Please don't run 'way again." Jared says, holding Jensen's hand and laying his head on his shoulder. "I was scared, Jensen."
"I won't, Jay," Jensen promises. "I was kinda scared too."
"Mommy says you ran away 'cause your daddy got mad and shouted. S'at true?"
"Uhuh," says Jensen, puffing Jared's messy hair away from his lips. He loves Jared but his hair doesn't taste nice.
"You want me to put snow in his shoes or...or hide his phone...or flush his keys down the toilet again?"
Jensen giggles and squeezes Jared's hand. "No, s'okay. Mommy yelled at him a lot, and your mommy did too. Think maybe the policeman was pretty mad as well. He said sorry anyways. And he said I could marry whoever I wanted."
"Oh. Well, that's cool, I guess."
"You wanna marry me?"
"Jensen," Jared snorts. 'Don't be silly. We're not old enough to gets married."
"Oh," Jensen's tummy screws up in a tight little knot and he thinks maybe he's sick. Maybe Dr. Stubbing needs to come back and give him some medicine.
"But I'll marry you when we're older."
"You will?" Jensen asks.
"'Course. I love you, Jensen."
Jensen relaxes, snuggles into his bed, smiles against Jared's messy mop of hair. "I love you too. Jay."
"How old?" Jensen mumbles a little later, voice thick with sleep.
"Mm?" Jared says.
"How old do we haves to be?"
"Dunno," says Jared, bony shoulders shrugging against Jensen. "Grow'd up, I think. Nine, maybe?"
"'Kay," Jensen smiles, he can wait 'til then.
"Remember that time you ran away from home because your dad told you you couldn't kiss me at New Years?"
Jensen groans into Jared's chest. "That time I almost died of hypothermia and half the cops in town were out looking for me?"
"Yeah, that's the one."
"Yes, Jared I do remember that time, funnily enough. Maybe because no-one lets me forget about it."
"You were so cute." Jared kisses the top of Jensen's head. "I mean you were an idiot, but you were a cute idiot."
Jensen can feel his cheeks flush at the memory, embarrassed still, even after all these years. "I was in love. I still am, even if you are a dick sometimes."
Jared's thumb circles through the damp sweat gathered at the nape of Jensen's neck. "Aw, baby, I love you too. Hey, Jen?"
"What do you think your dad would say if he knew what we doing when the ball dropped this year?"
Jensen snorts and looks up at Jared's teasing brown eyes. "You want to call him and find out?"
"Nah," Jared laughs, kisses the cheeky smirk from Jensen's lips. "I think he's already suffered enough."
"He's sure gonna suffer when he finds out my mom's making him pay for the wedding."
Happy New Year!