The Woodjin: Autumn Night by Lbilover

A request fic written for the following prompts: autumn leaves, eyes the color of an October sky, rainy night, smell of woodsmoke in the autumn air. The accompanying photo is taken from a book on the Pine Barrens.


“Going to join us in the bar for a drink, Sean?” one of his dinner companions asked as they exited the hotel restaurant.

“Thanks, but no,” Sean replied. “I’m going to take a walk. I could use some fresh air.”

“It’s raining,” someone else pointed out.

“I know. But a little rain won’t melt me. See you in the morning.” Sean gave a wave and headed back to his hotel room to get his rain jacket.

Outside, he discovered that the rain was more heavy mist than rain, though the greasy puddles in the street were evidence that it had been raining hard at some point. He set off along the sidewalk at a brisk pace, and didn’t bother to put up the hood of his jacket. He enjoyed the cool damp on his face after the stuffiness of the hotel conference rooms. Even more, he enjoyed the feeling of being outdoors alone—just him and the elements. No name tag, no chit-chat over Danish and too-strong coffee, no uncomfortable plastic chair that turned his butt numb, no forced laughter at groan worthy Henny Youngman-type jokes told over a very mediocre dinner.

Ah, medical conferences, Sean thought, stepping quickly back as a box van tore past, sending a spray of icy water at his feet. They were all the same.

But continuing education for a physician was critical; Sean couldn’t be the doctor his patients needed and deserved if he didn’t take advantage of conferences like this one. The seminars he’d attended over the past two days had been terrific, in point of fact. He’d soaked up information like a sponge, and was anxious to get back to his practice and put his newly acquired knowledge to practical use.

Well, just twenty-four more hours here in downtown Chicago, and then he’d be on a plane winging his way to Philadelphia, where Lawrence would be waiting to give him a ride home. Home. God, how he missed it.

The truth was that it was only when he left the pines that he realized exactly how much of a piney he’d become—a more complex, and much deeper, state of being than he’d imagined when he moved there. But at its core was freedom: the freedom to go where you liked when you liked, to hike or drive or kayak for hours without seeing another human being, to stand unmoving for countless minutes listening to the singing of the pitch pine trees as the wind whistled through them, or watching a bald eagle riding the thermals high overhead in a cloudless winter sky.

He understood why Ian Holm, hands down one of the most brilliant men he’d ever met, had refused to leave the pines, even though he could have carved out a distinguished career at a major teaching hospital anywhere in the U.S. Once the pines got into your blood, you couldn’t settle for living anywhere else.

But for now, he was still in Chicago, and it was a good place to be. Though this city was not ‘his’ city, still, there were certain things all large cities shared in common. Sean found himself aware of them as he never had been when he lived in New York: the musty smell of rain-washed streets, the hiss of tires on wet pavement, and the incessant background drone, like urban cicadas, of buses, taxis and cars. They were as familiar and as dear as old, if now seldom visited, friends.

Fifteen minutes’ easy walking brought him to a quiet neighborhood of old homes and even older trees, where the city noises were muted and nearly every passerby was attached to a dog. He found his way there with the same unerring instinct he used to traverse the sand trails in the pines; Clicktwice had had a branch office in downtown Chicago back in the days when he was CEO, so Sean knew the area well.

Autumn had a firm grip here; the sidewalk was littered with leaves, though the branches over his head were not yet bare and skeletal. Sean would have liked to hear the fallen leaves crunch and crackle underfoot, a child-like pleasure he’d never outgrown, but there was beauty in the wet leaves’ rich red-gold color, too.

‘How much further do we have to go?’

‘We’re almost there, I promise. And remember, no looking until I tell you it’s okay. I want it to be a surprise.’

‘Mack did this to me once, and the surprise ended up being a very slimy worm dropped down the back of my neck.’

‘Now why didn’t I think of that?’

‘Because my vengeance shall be swift and merciless?’

Elijah giggled then he said, ‘All right we’re here. Now on the count of three, open your eyes. One, two, three!’

‘Oh my god, Elijah…’ For as far as Sean could see, the forest floor was covered in a living carpet of flame, the brilliant red foliage of the scrub oaks making it appear as if it were on fire. It was stunning, no, breathtaking. ‘I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s fantastic.’

‘A lot better than a slimy old worm, huh?’ Elijah quipped. His eyes, blue as the flawless October sky above them, shone with delight at the success of his surprise.

Sean laughed, and took him in his arms. ‘I’ll take your surprises over Mack’s any day.’

That wasn’t the only surprise Elijah had had in store for him that day. A reminiscent smile curved Sean’s lips, as he recalled what had come next. It hadn’t been the most comfortable place to make love, but it had definitely been one of the most memorable.

A fragrant whiff of woodsmoke reached his nose; instinctively Sean stopped and looked around for Elijah, but found only empty mist and shadow beyond the reach of the city streetlights. So lost had he been in the memory of that October afternoon that he’d almost forgotten where he was. Someone in a nearby house was making use of a fireplace or wood stove that was all.

But that smell triggered in Sean a longing so overpowering that it smashed through his defenses and his self-control alike and left him shaken and needing. For what he missed, more than the vastness of the pines, more than the peaceful flowing rivers and the winding sand trails, was Elijah. Elijah, who was all these things to Sean, and so much more. Elijah, who was his home.

Sean checked his watch. It was still too early to call; Elijah would be busy with the evening chores and tending to the injured wildlife in the ‘hospital’. He hated to disturb him…

And then his cell phone began to vibrate in his jacket pocket. Sean’s heart filled with the quiet joy of certain knowledge as he pulled it out. He didn’t need to look at the display to know who it was.

Across the miles that separated them, Elijah had heard Sean’s unspoken call, and answered.