Word Count: 1200
Pairing: Jimmy/Jacob preslash
Summary: It's winter and the river is running dry.
Notes: This started as a writing exercise responding to "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams, inspired by my REAL-LIFE TRIP TO ACTUAL PONTIAC and the Vermillion River that runs through it. (How is this my first real novakcest fic? I guess I was too busy with the novakcest tumblr to write more than a paragraph without capslock.) Thank you thegeminisage and whynot for checking it over/having feelings at my feelings.
The red wheelbarrow tips its mouth toward the river as it always has, but the water that once washed rust over its body now trickles out of reach. Drought in winter comes quietly, just more greyness over the already-ashen landscape, high clouds that bear no snow and earth that cracks without frost. But the river recognizes the dry wind, and retreats into its deepest furrows, leaving the wheelbarrow aground.
Jacob scrapes a stick through the dirt caked onto the dulling paint, while behind him Jimmy climbs down the riverbank. Dead leaves skitter down the root-torn slope behind him, no rain or rot to glue them together.
This place, Jacob says, is just waiting for a wildfire.
Jimmy kicks a hollow clang out of the wheelbarrow. I don’t see it anywhere, do you?
Jacob sees a blue beer can wedged between two stones, a crow preening itself in the trees above them, a leaf brittle and askew in Jimmy’s hair. He moves to pluck it out half a second after Jimmy makes the same gesture, just another moment of meaningless synchronicity that they can’t seem to escape. Jimmy pauses, drops his hand with a resigned laugh. Fingers cold, Jacob reaches forward anyway and gives the leaf in Jimmy’s hair a stubborn pinch. It falls loose in shards.
Jacob likes to think he’s a hair-breadth taller than Jimmy these days, that there’s a slight upward tilt to Jimmy’s blue gaze. Something to make up for the seven minutes he’s forever trailing behind Jimmy, the gap that Jimmy treats like years sometimes. But what do differences matter when he and his brother are the only ones who can tell each other apart?
Yours is still there, Jimmy says.
Even now Jacob uses his brother as a mirror, touching his own head where he’d just brushed Jimmy’s. His scalp itches unspecifically when he finds nothing there, hands feathering around his ears and the back of his neck.
Jimmy takes pity, plucks a broken maple-seed spine from the top of Jacob’s head. Not taller after all, Jacob thinks.
Now help me find my baseball, Jimmy orders, and backs away.
It was Jacob’s wild throw that dropped the ball somewhere along this stretch of river, a spiteful instinct borne of Jimmy’s day-long needling. High banks shield the twins from the wind bending the trees on either side, but Jacob feels the cold creeping in around the folds of his scarf and pricking his already-numb face. His gloveless fingers he shoves into the gritty pockets of his coat. The sun is setting.
I don’t see why you’re so keen to be on the baseball team anyway, he says.
Jimmy casts a stone toward the river-dregs, but it falls short and buries itself in the mud. He says, We’re about to start high school.
You’re not even helping, Jimmy says, you’re just standing there, and Jacob can see the shiver that travels across Jimmy’s shoulders and out along his elbows.
We could just use the other one.
There isn’t another one, Jimmy snaps. You cut it open, remember? You ruined it.
Jacob picks his way closer to the water. He doesn’t say, I just wanted to know what it looked like inside. He doesn’t say, I like to take things apart and you used to know that. He doesn’t say, you would have loved it.
The grubby ball, wherever it fell, lies indistinguishable among the silty debris within the river’s former borders. If Jacob had paper and pencil, if he knew exactly where he’d been standing when he threw the ball and exactly what velocity his frustration had given it, if he could measure the angles of his body as variables independent of Jimmy’s without them losing all meaning, he’d be able to find the stupid ball’s exact landing place and they could just go home.
Besides, says Jimmy, I like baseball.
Jacob moves down the river toward a sharp curve. The cornfield beyond has been tilled under for winter, leaving sky alone between the thin trees. The arched branches overhead feel like a roof. They could be the only people in the world.
What if the town caught fire? Jacob says. And we were down here, and we didn’t even know?
Don’t be horrible, says Jimmy.
It’s so dry, says Jacob, I bet there wouldn’t even be smoke. He looks at the ground. The baseball is resting at his feet.
Grass stains from earlier summers peek through the splashes of mud, misplaced color in the desaturated landscape. Jacob turns the ball between his hands and lets it smear dirt under his fingernails. He knows how to unpick the rough raised stitches and what it feels like to peel back the leather that even empty will keep its curve. He’s seen the white tangle of threads below the surface and knows there’s another web of grey underneath before the rubber-sheathed heart. Jimmy has renamed their games of catch practice so he can join a team of people who don’t know this, who have never asked why their most sacred object works the way it does. Jimmy, walking towards him, would never guess that the center of a baseball is cork riddled with holes.
You found it.
I told you I would, says Jacob. Jimmy holds out his hand.
But Jacob is seized again by the hot need to teach Jimmy a lesson, to take even some half-baked revenge for the shift between them that hasn’t happened yet but which Jacob can feel coming every time Jimmy moves away from him without thinking, every time he tells their jokes to people who don’t understand them, every time he forgets how to speak Jacob’s language.
So get it back, Jacob says.
Jimmy lunges, but Jacob is still half a step fleeter of foot and the leaves crunch beneath him as he skips out of the way. What’s wrong with you, Jimmy keeps demanding, what’s wrong with you, and there’s a sick feeling in Jacob’s stomach but he can feel his frozen cheeks pulling his grinning teeth bare.
Do you surrender? he asks, waggling the baseball. The dry air hurts to swallow.
But Jimmy doesn’t try to snatch the ball back. Instead his palms smack into Jacob’s chest and shove, hard, and Jacob’s stumbling feet catch the open rim of the red wheelbarrow, and then Jacob is face up in the mud and the water won’t wash over him because the river is gone but he can’t breathe. It feels like maybe his lungs have been empty for years.
Get up, Jimmy says. God, you’re such a jerk, Jacob, just get up.
Jacob doesn’t move. Everything is dry and cold and if a wildfire came through and peeled their outsides off it would still be Jacob’s skeleton lying in the dirt with the mud sucking him under. Jimmy swears at him, and then Jacob hears the shower of dry leaves that means Jimmy has climbed out of the riverbed. Jacob can’t imagine climbing out, can’t picture walking back to their lives through the wind. Instead he lies there, slowly sinking, smelling the mud and the things that died when the water left them.
(Also posted on Dreamwidth.)