Fic: What Spring Does To The Cherry Trees, Chapter 6
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5
Ship: Javier Peña/OFC (Eva)
Tags/warnings (whole thing): slow burn, h/c, a bit of violence (nothing as bad as canon), guns, knife injury, pain and suffering, the loss of a parent (both actually), angst, ptsd, javi being a lil prick but also soft!, (safe) piv sex, masturbation (female AND male), fingering, unprotected piv sex (in the words of the Spice Girls: be a little bit wiser baby, put it on, put it on), pregnancy risk, death of an animal, talk of cancer, so much internal conflict, insomnia, killing coyotes.
Summary for the whole thing: Javier Peña has resigned from the DEA and is back at his dad’s ranch in Texas. Life is slow and uneventful, until an unfamiliar face shows up at the local watering hole one night. Eva is retired from the army and lives in her old pickup truck with more than one ghost. She’s looking for ranch work and when her path crosses Javier’s, maybe they can help each other along in their lives?
Chapter summary: Mistakes were made. Things were said. Lives were lost. Eva tries to deal with herself after the terrible events. Javier isn't feeling too good about himself, either.
A/N: This is perhaps a little slow-paced but I figured these two knuckleheads needed a break after what happened in the previous chapter. There are baby cows, though! And I want to take the opportunity to thank everyone who found Cherry Trees just now, and read, reblogged, liked, and commented! You really gave me the last push I needed to finish this chapter. I was so worried about it after the intensity of the previous one, but I think this is just what we all need right now.
Eva does not sleep.
There is no shower in the cabin, and she feels an almost physical need to get clean. Clean from blood, clean from dust, clean from cum. Clean from the guilt. But she can't go up to the house, just can't, it's impossible. She can't see Chucho, won't see Javier.
The water trough outside the stable has a pump. That works better than the tap in the toilet.
She steals across the yard in the gathering darkness and avoids looking at the stable door, unable right now to think about that one empty box. Pumping up cold water, she leans underneath the stream of it, gasping in shock but willing herself to stay despite her body screaming at her to run. It's not enough, so she strips and climbs into the trough. The water reaches up to her knees and it's still warm from having been heated by the sun all day, but the fresh water pumping out of the nozzle is not, and she grits her teeth against the chill. Bracing herself, she splashes her lower body somewhat clean. Shivering, she gets out, steps into her boots, and pulls her plaid back on before hurrying back to the cabin. The cold water started something and now she feels sick. Sinking onto her knees in front of the toilet, she expects to throw up, but nothing comes up. Her stomach is gurgling angrily, running on empty since lunch. She drinks a little water from the tap but it's cold and she feels like she'll never get warm again.
She makes a fire and once it's going, she puts in as many logs as the hatch can take. Soon the cabin is swimming in heat but Eva is still chilled to the bone. Recognizing that her blood sugar is low, she searches her duffle bag for something to eat, finding a granola bar. It tastes like ash, but she forces herself to eat it, pulls on clean sweatpants and a wool sweater, loads up the stove with more firewood, and wraps herself in a blanket before hiding underneath the covers of the narrow bed.
But she doesn't sleep. Sluggish thoughts of self-contempt move around in her aching brain as she beats herself up, over and over, for her stupidity.
There are precisely two men of approximately her age on this ranch, and she had to fuck both of them. And she got the horse of her employer killed, because she didn't pay attention, because she was preoccupied thinking about dick when she should have been paying attention to her surroundings.
You stupid cunt.
She tries to put some of the blame on Javier. Had he not been flirting with her from the moment they met she wouldn't have entertained the thought of even touching him. Had he not been so inexplicably attractive when he finally showed some goddamned emotion, when he finally dropped that act that she got so fed up with from day one.
Had he not been right next to her, ready to provide a moment's comfort, when her heart was breaking from what she had to do to Chucky.
Had he not been such a good kisser.
Had he not been such a perfect fucking asshole who didn’t say no to a fuck but took no responsibility and blamed her when she slipped up this one single fucking time.
It's not in Eva's nature to lose control. She's used to putting a very steady lid on things that could become difficult. But this time, everything is boiling over and the lid has flown halfway to hell. She knows what she should do: she should quit as soon as her truck is fixed - which it should be in just a few days - and hit the road, leave Big River Ranch as far behind as she possibly can.
Another thing that's not in Eva's nature is quitting. The only thing that quitting is going to get you when you're in the army is into a hole in the ground. You grit your teeth, you spit out the taste of blood, you harden yourself, and you carry on and on and on.
When the first morning light breaks through the windows of the cabin, Eva blinks blearily against it, realizing that she must have slept a little after all. Her head and stomach are aching but her body is finally warm, flushed even. A few lingering embers still glow amid the ashes at the bottom of the wood hatch, and she scrapes them apart before closing the air vent.
She has to go up to the house, has to eat something. Has to keep going, apologize to Chucho, discuss what kind of compensation she owes him. Has to face Javier without feeling guilty or punching him in the face. That last part will be the most difficult by far.
The house is silent when she comes in through the unlocked front door. Not even Chucho is up yet, so Eva sneaks around in the kitchen, making coffee and beating eggs for a scramble. She goes out into the back garden for some chives she spotted flourishing in the overgrown garden and when she comes back in, Chucho is laying the table.
"Good morning," Eva says quietly as she puts the chives on the chopping board and brush a few remaining stalks off of her palms.
"Good morning, Eva. I hope you slept well?"
She shrugs, leaning back against the countertop and forcing herself to look at him. “Okay.”
"Won't you sit down?" Chucho pulls out a chair and Eva promptly takes a seat. He sits on the next chair and rubs his mustache; a gesture that echoes of Javier.
"You're not hurt, are you?" he begins, and she assures him that she's not. It's only a little lie: her back is sore but she's had worse. She can take physical pain. Her sense of self, however, has been cut much worse. And she's terrified of what Chucho is about to say to her. She likes Chucho a lot and to be a failure in his eyes feels devastating.
The morning light renders the lines on Chucho's face less deep than they are and make him look younger than his years. Only his eyes reveal the many years he has seen, and when he speaks, his voice has that unhurried circumspection that some older people possess.
“How many times have you been thrown off a horse, Eva?”
She scoffs, amused with the ridiculous question. “More times than I can count?”
“And how many times have you gotten back up on it?”
“As many times as I’ve been thrown off,” Eva shrugs, unsure about what Chucho is getting at.
“And how many things have you learned from being thrown off?” Chucho asks pointedly. Eva gives him a faint smile.
“There’s a new reason each time,” she acknowledges. “I try not to do the same mistake twice.”
Except mess around with two guys on the same fucking ranch…
“We learn for as long as we live,” Chucho nods. “And this was just a roundabout way of telling you that you made a mistake, like we all do from time to time, and I don’t blame you for it.”
“I should’ve paid attention,” Eva protests in a low voice, lowering her gaze to the tabletop, her pointer finger following a grain in the old wood. “I was… preoccupied with something else, and I didn’t look where I was going. He trusted me.”
“And you trusted him. And still, things happen. Why didn’t I tell you that we’ve had gopher problems in that area for years? Why have I been putting off getting rid of them? If I had called in an exterminator last year, like I meant to, Chucky could still have stepped into a hole, unless I filled in every single one.”
Chucho’s large, veined hand lands gently on Eva’s, drawing her eyes back to his.
“We can never tell where our actions, or lack of them, will lead. You were good to Chucky. Remember that.”
The old man pats her hand a little awkwardly before rising to his feet.
“I think café de olla today, don’t you?” Without waiting for an answer, he goes to the stove to fetch the coffee pot. Eva bites her lower lip in an attempt to prevent the conflicting feelings inside of her from flowing over.
“Café de olla would be perfect, thank you,” she mumbles before getting up as well. She’s famished, and there’s scrambled eggs to be made.
“I’ll take care of this,” Chucho dismisses her with a wave of his hand.
“But I – “
“Go take a shower, chica,” he tells her in a voice which tolerates no protests. “You smell.”
The last quip is delivered with a smirk, and Eva smiles back.
A long, hot shower and a big breakfast later, Eva excuses herself and leaves the house, heading to the stable. The horses are awake and eager for their own breakfast before a full day of work.
The emptiness of Chucky's box is more difficult to handle than Eva thought, but she forces herself to face it. The halter is hanging on its hook by the door, and she allows her fingers a brief caress of it before her heavy feet carry her into the box. She can smell Chucky in there, his own unique scent of horse mixed with the smell of hay and manure. The familiarity of the grassy, leathery warmth makes her heart ache.
“You deserved better,“ she murmurs to the empty space. “I'm so sorry.“
She kicks at the hay on the floor and leans against the wall, sighing deeply. Slowly, she sinks down to the floor and wraps her arms around her knees. The other horses move around in anticipation, snorting and trying to get her attention: why is breakfast taking so long?
Working with animals doesn't allow for much time for seated contemplation. Whatever shit you have to deal with; anger, sorrow, grief, you do it while working through your chores. The job must be done.
Eva's father couldn't cut it. He let himself be overcome by emotions, forgetting everything except his dying wife. That is a betrayal Eva still can’t face, but it lulls in the back of her mind, forcing her back up off the floor. Chucky may be dead but there are four other working horses waiting for their oats.
Routines are a comfort. Eva feeds each animal, pats their strong necks, gives Zorro, Chucho’s chestnut stallion, a kiss on the muzzle when he pushes against her neck. Named for the fox, not the rapier-wielding masked avenger, Zorro is playful, quick, and intelligent. His coat shines red when hit by a setting sun, and he is a great horse for mustering cattle.
“Okay, Zorro, I see you, you silly thing.”
Zorro nickers and the sound always makes Eva smile.
“Eat up, there’s a lot of work to be done today.”
When each horse is happily munching away, Eva turns to walk out of the stable and sees a silhouette in the door, standing against the light of the rising sun.
The Stetson tells her immediately that it’s Johnny who’s silently looking at her from a distance. She squares her shoulders, ready to defend herself against his judgment. He hasn’t had one nice thing to say to her since their falling-out, and Eva doesn’t expect him to have suddenly sprouted a conscience.
Johnny comes in, and stops by Stella’s box, next to Zorro’s.
She only gives him a short nod but doesn’t answer, just stares hard at him with her unwavering, military-trained gaze. It has the desired effect: Johnny seems ill at ease, leaning towards the box door and looking in at Stella instead of Eva.
“Chucho told me what happened,” he begins. “You okay?”
“I’m fine,” Eva acknowledges tonelessly.
“I’m sorry about Chucky.”
Eva blinks before casting down her eyes.
“Yeah. Me too.”
“I’ve told Chucho time and again that those gopher holes will get someone hurt!” Johnny snarls, suddenly heated. He looks up at Eva and she meets his gaze, barely able to hide her surprise. She expected a scolding and moreover, she somehow thought that Johnny would know about what had happened between her and Javier yesterday. It didn’t make any sense, of course, but she couldn’t help it. She felt like everybody knew and was judging her for it.
“I’m glad you weren’t hurt, at least,” Johnny mutters, looking down again. “And I’m sorry for the shit I said last time we spoke.”
His apology throws Eva completely and she stares at him, forehead knitted, trying to comprehend what it is he wants by this. It never crosses her mind that he may just want to say he’s sorry and move on. It never is that simple.
“You were really shitty to me,” she points out, but without vehemence.
“I know,” Johnny nods, scraping the heel of his boot to the cement floor. “I’m not gonna try to make excuses.”
“Good,” Eva says cruelly. “’cause I don’t wanna hear any.”
“You’re not gonna have to. Just know that I really am sorry. And I hope we can still work together.”
He makes eye contact and gives her a short nod before leaving the stable. Eva stares after him, trying to comprehend what just happened.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” she mutters and closes her eyes, rubbing her forehead. “I can’t deal with this.”
Ten minutes later, she has persuaded Chucho that it would be best if she camped out with the cows in the pastures for a while. She has a tent and a working vehicle, it’ll be fine, she doesn’t mind, she’s done it countless times before. And with coyotes around, it would be good if someone watched over the animals at night.
Eva suspects that Chucho knows her suggestion comes from her own need for solitude, but she doesn’t care. He agrees, and she gets to escape the drama. Get her head on straight, think over her options.
What better place to do it than out on the pastures? Just her and the skies above her, the cows around her?
Javier is no stranger to hangovers. He’s had his fair share of them during his years in Colombia, and he is more than capable of getting his job done even with a splitting headache and revolting stomach.
But this one is going to kill him. And it’s not just the all-night bender of whiskey and cigarettes on an empty stomach.
He knows he’s an asshole. He knows he fucked up. Not just with her, but with everything he ever touched.
It’s almost lunchtime when he gets out of bed and drags himself into the shower. Black, strong coffee gets him alive enough to drive out with lunch to his pops and the other workers. After only a couple of miles, however, he has to stop and get out to puke.
Fuck. He gets a bottle of water from the cooler and rinses his mouth, wipes off his mustache with the back of his hand. Spits and pours some cold water over his hand before passing it through his hair. The sun is beating down with July intensity, making his headache even worse.
Serves him right. The thought is like a broken record in his head, one that he desperately wants to throw out but is unable to because once upon a time, it was a tune he cherished. The idea that he was never enough kept him pushing, trying, working. There was always something more he could do, a rule to break in order to achieve results.
It’s not until now that he really starts to think about the people he had to step on and push over in order to get those results. Sure, the death of Carillo still haunts him, that’s on his private rap sheet, but Carillo was still a soldier. He knew the risks. The women Javier used did it for love or money. They relied on him to protect them.
Javier takes a sip of water and returns to the car. He needs to get lunch to the workers. Be useful. Not think.
He sees Eva first when he reaches the herd. She’s riding Zorro, gesturing to one of the others about something. Her dogged face is shut very closely around whatever it is she may be feeling, but Javier gets a sense of her emotions when she comes to take her lunch sandwich from the cooler, and refuses to look at him.
That’s fair, I guess.
Whatever it was they had the day before is definitely gone. Javier finds himself missing it tremendously. It may have just been physical attraction, the simple scratch of a basic itch, but he had a feeling it could perhaps have been more.
Or not. Maybe he is just delusional about her.
He hangs around after they have all eaten, unwilling to return to the ranch where the lonely quiet would just eat away at his brain. He tries to make himself useful where he can. Tries to get close to her.
He finally gets his chance when Eva gets off the horse and hands it over to Chucho. She grabs a drink from a bottle in the cooler and pulls the baseball cap off her head to wipe her forehead with her forearm. Javier makes his way through playful calves to her, resisting the urge to run. She will not evaporate into thin air, he reminds himself.
“You okay?” he asks her in a low voice when he reaches her. Eva is still stubbornly looking into another direction.
“I… I’m sorry about last night.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Of course not. Javier didn’t expect her to burst into grateful tears and want to straighten everything out with him, but he had maybe hoped for some kind of recognition of his effort. Part of him bristles, wants to rebuff her, tell her not to be such a bitch, he’s really trying. Still, he knows that will lead to no good, so he backs off and lets her be. Eva quickly returns to her work, and Javier slams shut the cooler.
“Fuck,” he mutters, not sure if it’s directed at himself or her.
Something wet and warm touches his hand, startling him. A calf is pushing its muzzle into his hand, whining and grunting.
“I don’t have anything for you,” he says tiredly. This is because Eva has been feeding the animals apples from the truck bed. “Go away.”
The calf doesn’t understand, of course, but catches his thumb in its mouth and starts to suckle. Javier snatches his hand away and wipes it on his jeans.
“Eww. Come on, pequeña, go find your mama.”
The calf looks at him with thoughtful eyes, like it’s contemplating this stupid, two-legged creature in front of it.
“I haven’t got anything for you.”
A snort, and the calf bumps its head against Javier’s stomach. He frowns at the unabashed behavior, but there’s something charming about it, as well.
“You want scritches? Okay, you dumb animal.”
Leaning back against the tailgate, Javier settles to scratching the calf behind its ears. Brown, moist eyes half closed in bliss, the beast treads and shifts before finding a comfortable position, head leaning against Javi’s hip, jaw resting on the tailgate.
“Like that, huh? Is that good?” he murmurs. “Yeah, I can see it is. Good girl.”
The herd is moving away, the cowhands, led by Chucho on Zorro, driving them. Eva is standing on the bed of her truck, watching the animals stir. She looks misplaced with no horse under her.
“She’s much better at this than I am,” Javi says, half to himself, half to the calf. His hand comes to a standstill on the calf’s head, and it snorts in dissatisfaction. Javier sighs, and resumes his petting.
“I know I fucked up, but shekissed me. She was the one who wanted sex. I figured she knew what she was doing.”
The calf moos low, and Javi interprets is as You’re an asshole, but your hands are magic. A little specific, maybe, but there is definitely something hinting at a conflict in the sound.
“Okay, thanks, what do you suggest I do? Can’t keep petting you forever.”
His bovine therapist snorts again, as if finding this not only unacceptable, but also unreasonable. Javier sighs.
“I’m talking to a goddamn cow.”
A loud call comes from the moving mass of longhorns, and the calf calls back before running off, as if never having been interested in Javier’s hands in the first place. He follows it with his eyes until it disappears into the mass of moving bodies.
Chucho comes riding towards him, and Javier busies himself with packing up the truck. His dad has something on his mind, and Javier doesn’t want to get chewed out for slacking off.
“Give Olsen a call,” Chucho tells him, referring to the local pest control guy. “Have him come out as soon as he can to get rid of those gophers.”
“What’s the rush, why not wait until someone else dies?” Javi snaps, suddenly dead tired of being ordered around by his father. He’s been telling his father for a long time that they need to do something about the gophers, but for some reason Chucho has always put this particular thing off.
“Just do it,” Chucho tells him in a low voice before turning Zorro around and joining the herd.
The Silverado is parked facing away from the sunset, and Eva is sitting on the back, watching the sky turn red and pink and, eventually, dark and star-spangled. The summer night is warm but she still wraps a blanket around her as she watches the stars. The sounds around her are familiar: cattle settling for the night, crickets playing, the occasional cry of a nocturnal bird.
The moon is almost full and bathes Eva’s surroundings in silver-blue light, rendering her flashlight unnecessary when she finally leaves the truck for the tent pitched next to it.
Out here, she can sleep. The second she lays her head down, she’s out like a light.
The rising and falling yipping howls of coyotes wake her up. A quick check of the wristwatch tells her it’s two-thirty, and when she hears the sound again, she grabs the rifle right next to her, and crawls out of the tent.
The herd is restless, Eva can smell the anxiety. Swinging up on the truck bed, she gazes in every direction, grateful for the moonlight that allows her to see everything almost as clearly as in daylight.
She spies the animal some three hundred meters out. It’s alone, but when it howls, she hears others answer from not too far away.
Lifting the rifle, Eva takes aim. She has no scope, but doesn’t need it. She’s an excellent shot, even with a gun she’s not familiar with. And this one has been used by her only once, on Chucky. That required no aiming.
Her pointer finger is on the trigger and she has the coyote in a perfect line of shot. One little squeeze, and it will be dead.
It’s not her first time killing a living thing. But it’s the first time she hesitates. She never did that before, not even when the living thing in the scope was a human being. She has seven confirmed kills in battle, and remembers each one. A part of her doesn’t even want to forget them. She fears that she will lose something if she forgets. There were others, of course. Faceless bodies of unknown fate, people caught in crossfire, lives she may have ended, but she can’t know. She does her best not to think about them.
Inhale, exhale. Pull the trigger.
The shot startles the cattle, but they stay where they are. A few bellows are heard, but nothing more.
Eva jumps down from the truck and walks over to the target, makes sure it really is dead. When she sees the fallen coyote with a hole in its neck, her throat starts to ache from holding back an unwelcome whimper.
She leaves the coyote where it is. Let that be a warning to the others.
The days fly by with Eva sleeping out in the pastures, enjoying her newly found freedom. High summer turns the weather hot and the days long, and there is no more perfect time of year to be sleeping in a tent. She visits the homestead for the occasional shower and meal, goes into town twice to get books from the local library, but other than that, she stays out with the cows.
Javier has duties that keep him to the homestead, and Johnny has gone back to treating Eva like he used to before his tantrum. She once again finds him to be good company when she urges Zorro into a gallop to round up stray longhorns. Being back in the saddle does not scare her; it is a natural part of her that she can’t do without. Chucky is not forgotten, but she doesn’t dwell on his fate.
Her period arrives with unusual intensity two weeks into her camping life. Having no sanitary pads with her in the field, she takes a dirty t-shirt and shoves it between her thighs before jumping into the truck and driving back to the ranch. The t-shirt goes straight into the trash and Eva rummages through her bags to find painkillers but discovers that she has nothing except the codeine prescribed to her back in March. Swearing loudly, she grits her teeth and decides to just soldier through it.
She goes up to the house for a shower. Queasy and bloated, she can’t down anything but coffee and a banana at breakfast, but neither one of the Peñas say anything about her lack of appetite.
After Chucho has left for the stable, Eva tells Javier in a few curt words that they were safe. He nods, a vague aura of shame surrounding him.
“Good to hear.”
Eva escapes the house after that, but she returns to the homestead that night. Another hot shower, a warm meal, and the comfort of the Spartan cabin are enough to pull her back from camping out with the cow, although the two weeks have been wonderfully relaxing.
She curls up on the old leather couch to read a novel she found in the house. The pain, however, has coated her insides and is soaking her brain in discomfort, rendering her unable to focus. Frustrated, Eva sighs and slams the paperback onto the couch next to her, just as there’s a knock on the door.
Tentatively, she gets up and goes to open, not sure what to expect.
Javier stands outside, looking apologetic. He’s carrying a bundled-up blanket in his hands.
”Sorry to disturb.”
She eyes him unflinchingly, waiting for him to state his business, which he does after a moment’s pause.
”I wanted to see if you were okay.”
”I am. Why?”
He blinks at her blunt response before looking down at the blanket like he forgot all about it. He unfolds it, showing her a hot water bottle inside.
”I got you these.”
He hands the blanket with the bottle to her but is left holding them in the void over the threshold, as Eva doesn’t accept them.
He smiles then, like what she said was funny. The lines in the corners of his eyes make Eva smile back, in spite of herself. He really has such a nice smile. If he trimmed his mustache, it would be a little more prominent.
”For, you know… your…” He gestures with the bottle against her mid-section and for a split second she wants asks him if he’s twelve fucking years old, or maybe eighty-seven.
”Cramps?” she suggests instead.
Javier stops gesturing and tilts his head a little, regarding her as if he’s taking measure of her.
”Cramps,” he finally says, his voice low. ”It looked to me like you could need it.”
The muted baritone with which he delivers that last sentence strikes a chord deep within Eva’s core, awakens something in her. It looked like. He looked at her. He analyzed what he saw. He decided to act on his analysis to make her feel better. Eva reaches for the blanket and the bottle, and Javi hands them over. Frowning, she keeps her eyes locked on Javi’s, weighing her options. Never does it strike her to just thank him for his consideration. Javi waits patiently, not put off by her hard stare.
“You have any paracetamol?” she finally asks.
“We might, but it’s probably expired.”
“That’s fine, I can do without.”
“I can go into town – “
“I said that’s fine.” Her sharp tone accepts no protest, but she regrets her tone almost immediately. “Thank you. For these.”
“You’re welcome. Tell me if you need anything.”
She nods, and retires inside.
The bottle, filled with hot water, is of great comfort on her lower belly when she curls up in bed, and she sleeps deeply throughout the night.