characters: Jesse Custer, Proinsias Cassidy, Eugene Root, Sheriff Root
warnings: PTSD, blood-drinking, Jesse uses his power in a morally grey way
story summary: an alternate version of 'He Gone' where Jesse brings Eugene back from Hell.
Big thanks to my beta caranfindel!
Read on AO3
Part of the series Another Version of the Truth
"Come back!" Jesse shouted into the hole in the floor, frantically clawing at the dirt with his hands, trying to get down lower. If he could send him to Hell, then he could call him back, right? "Come back!" he called again. But no Eugene. He kept trying, kept calling, desperation growing with each passing moment. What he'd done to Eugene was wrong—and Cassidy—Cassidy had set himself on fire just to get that point across.
"It was an accident," Jesse said, to nobody in particular, but it didn't sound any more convincing now than it had hours ago. He pushed himself to his feet and went to the pantry, grabbed a bottle of cheap whiskey and twisted it open, taking a deep pull before he headed back to the sanctuary to sit despondently in one of the pews.
He was two-thirds of the way through the bottle when a thought occurred to him. Eugene might have heard him after all, but he couldn't come back, not on his own. Hell wouldn't just let people leave. He set the bottle down hard, the remaining whiskey sloshing around like a tiny, dirty ocean, and staggered back to the hole in the floor. He dropped to his knees, and, putting as much power behind it as he knew how, roared, "Give him back! Give back Eugene!"
And everything —the floor, the earth beneath, the church itself, began to tremble. The soil in the hole began to glow—orange and red—it bubbled like a rolling boil, bringing with it a terrible heat. Jesse leaned away, shielding his eyes, just as it exploded outward. There was a heavy thump, a hissing whir like massive hydraulics and the distorted sound of strangled screams. Then silence.
Jesse lowered his arms, and there, on the floor next to the hole, was Eugene. He was filthy, caked in dirt, streaks of old blood on his face and clothing. "You're back," Jesse said, his voice choked with relief. He fell to his knees and put his arms around him. "You're back."
Eugene stirred beneath him, his eyes flew open, widened when he saw Jesse. He scrambled away, on hands and knees, and crawled between the pews, pulling his legs close to his chest, huddled in on himself. He was terrified.
"It's okay." Jesse kept his voice as soft as he could, not wanting to spook the kid any further. His own heart was pounding—his inebriated brain flooded with relief, but underneath it all he still felt an unshakeable, heavy guilt. "You're safe now. It's all gonna be okay."
But Eugene wasn't listening, he was muttering something under his breath, over and over, trying to curl up into an even tighter ball.
Jesse sat down across from him. "Eugene, look at me."
And Eugene's head snapped up. He looked up at Jesse, a deer in headlights, and said, "It's not a sin."
"It's not a sin. It's not cheating."
A cold pit formed in Jesse's gut, as Eugene repeated those words over and over. The kid's whole body was trembling. It was terrible to watch. "Eugene, I'm—"
"It's not cheating!" Eugene held up shaking hands and started crying, "It's God's will. Everything you do."
"No. No, it's not. You were right, I'm—" Jesse reached his hand out, trying to offer comfort, but Eugene jerked away from his touch, scrambling further back into the pew. He reeked of piss and fear. "Eugene, it was an accident. I didn't mean to..."
But Eugene hadn't heard a word. His breath came in ragged bursts; he sounded like he was going to hyperventilate. "Just don't send me back, please." He gasped again, clawing at his arms with his hands. "Please, don't send me back."
Jesse couldn't move, couldn't think of a damn thing to say. An apology would be pointless—bordering on cruelty. He stood, moved to the other end of the room, and pulled out his phone.
"Where'd you find him?" the sheriff's voice was uncharacteristically soft. He knelt next to the couch, where Eugene was lying on his side, eyes vacant. Root's movements were painfully slow as he brought his hand up to his son's forehead.
"On the floor of the church," Jesse said. It wasn't entirely a lie, and anyway, what would telling Root the truth accomplish?
"Any idea what happened?"
Jesse chewed on his lip. "Kid's been through Hell."
"Ain't the first time." Root grunted as he lifted Eugene up to his feet. The boy was slumped against him, still in shock. "I'm gonna find who did this to him," Root said, with perfect calm. "And I'm gonna make them pay." His eyes flicked to Jesse's. "I know that ain't a Christian thing to say, but it's the truth. We all got someone we'd gladly damn ourselves for."
Jesse opened the door for them, and as they passed, Eugene said, voice strained—"It's a blessing."
Emily opened the door to Walt's house, staring at Jesse in confusion. "I thought—I was expecting Miles."
"Sorry to disappoint," Jesse said, stepping past her. "Where's Tulip?"
"She—she said she had to go take care of something in Albuquerque."
Jesse stepped inside, nose wrinkling in disgust. "What's that smell?"
Emily swallowed. "Cassidy. He's uh—he isn't healing. Tulip's been feeding him—" she gestured behind her at the various animal cages. "But uh, doesn't seem to be working."
Jesse nodded. So Tulip had taken Cassidy in. And now she'd bailed, to do who knows what, leaving Cassidy with Emily. Three more people he'd screwed over thanks to his own arrogance. "I'll take care of him."
"Okay." Emily moved to the wall and grabbed her purse. "I'm gonna—I'm gonna go, then."
The smell got exponentially worse the closer Jesse got to the rear bedroom.
"Wouldn't go in there, if I were you," Emily said, grabbing Jesse's arm. "He's...not himself."
"I'll be fine." Jesse took her hand and pulled it gently away. "Go on."
"It's not safe." Emily paled and started to back away as Jesse reached for the heavy bolt on the door. He heard the front door open and slam shut as she fled.
Jesse opened the bolt to the bedroom and went inside, shutting the door behind him.
The stink inside was horrible, an overpowering stench of death and decay. There were dead things everywhere- a pile of animal pelts, some bones, and in the back corner, huddled against the wall was something that looked almost-human. Cassidy.
"Leave, or I'll kill you," Cassidy growled, and then he leapt across the room, bounding like a wounded, starving animal.
"Stop, Jesse said—a reflex. And Cassidy dropped to the floor like a stone, less than three feet away. Jesse crouched down to get a better look. Cassidy's skin was a mess of raw open wounds and scar tissue. "Jesus, Cass."
Cassidy raised his head—a few sad tufts of hair on a gnarled scalp. He looked up at him and bared his teeth, snarling, too far gone to speak.
Jesse reached for his pocket knife and scanned the room until he found what he was looking for sitting on top of the dresser—a glass—smudged around the rim, but otherwise clean. He flipped open his knife, cut into his arm, and held the wound over the glass, squeezing his fist until blood started to drip into it.
Cassidy's snarling grew louder and then changed into a pathetic, whining sort of sound. "Please..." he ground out.
But Jesse waited until the cup had filled a bit more, then sat the glass down on the worn, thin carpet and shoved it with his boot, sliding it towards Cassidy, who grabbed it and downed the contents in one desperate gulp. He panted when he finished, licking the inside of the glass, then brought it down. Teeth stained pink, he pushed himself up on his elbows and looked up at Jesse. "Gonna need a mite more than that."
"Yeah, I figured." Jesse scanned the room. The place needed a cleaning something fierce. But that'd have to wait. "Can you walk?"
"If there's blood in it for me I can run a double-marathon," Cassidy said, "but I appear to be stuck on the floor here."
"Oh," Jesse cleared his throat. "Get up. Follow me," he said, and then added, "Don't hurt anyone. Don't kill anything. Just follow me."
As he nursed his beer, Jesse studied Cassidy in the dim light of the kitchen. "You look...better. Some. Got more hair, anyways."
"Oh—I'm a sight to behold, I'm sure." Cassidy rasped a laugh, staring at the empty, blood-smeared plastic cup.
Jesse rolled back his sleeve, pointing at the fresh cut on his arm. "More?"
"You can't have much left in your pipes, padre." Cassidy ran his finger over the edge of the cup. "Shouldn't you at least have some cookies to go with your beer?"
"I'm good," Jesse said. He was feeling pretty woozy, truth be told, but that was a small price to pay, all things considered.
"Well, so am I." He reached up and tugged at his newly grown hair. "I'll be good as new by morning."
"That's some grade A juice you got in your veins, there. Bloody fantastic, pun intended."
"Good." Jesse was bone-tired. Hadn't slept much in days. He was pretty sure he'd be out cold the second his head touched a pillow, but couldn't work up the strength to stand, and there was no way he'd make it all the way up to the bedroom. The couch, maybe. But first..."Cass, I'm so sorry I let you burn."
"You put me out pretty quick."
"Not quick enough."
"You put me out, that's what matters." He smiled, and looked almost like himself again. "So...what else have you been up to?" He stood and opened the fridge to grab his own beer.
"Got Eugene out of Hell."
"Did you now?"
Jesse nodded, not quite ready to look Cassidy in the eyes.
Cassidy took a deep drink from his bottle. "Well then everything's good! All hunky-dory, eh?"
"No. It ain't." He forced himself to look at Cassidy now, really look. "He's...I think it broke him."
"That's kinda the whole point of Hell, isn't it?"
"Yeah, but...I can't just leave him like this. If you saw him, Cass—he's—he's scared of everything. Especially me."
Cassidy scoffed. "Well, wouldn't you be?"
Jesse swallowed down the last of his beer.
"A man who can send you to Hell and call you back willy-nilly." Cassidy took another drink of his beer. "Seems smart to be wary of someone like that."
Jesse couldn't think of a good response. Cassidy was right of course. 'Wary,' was putting it nicely. Eugene was fucking terrified of him, and he should be. Somebody that sent people to Hell when he got angry—even if it was by accident— wasn't much of a man at all, by Jesse's estimation. He was something out of a nightmare—a monster. "I'm gonna get some rest."
"You do that, padre," Cassidy said. "I got some cleaning to do at Walter's place. Be back before mornin'."
The sound of hammering pulled Jesse from his dreamless sleep. It was still dark out, but the air had that feel to it— dawn was on its way. He found Cassidy in the sanctuary, patching the hole in the floor. It was a decent patch-job, considering.
Cassidy turned to him, nails between his teeth and grinned. "Good mornin' sunshine. Figured I'd make myself useful."
"Thanks," Jesse yawned and turned to head to the kitchen. His stomach was growling at him painfully. He paused when he saw the table. "Cass?"
"What the heck is this?"
Cassidy came in and looked over to where Jesse was pointing. "Oh that—that was breakfast."
"Communion wafers and chili?"
"Look, it's not my fault your pantry's such a sorry state of affairs."
"I got eggs. And bread." Jesse opened the fridge, searching the empty shelves. There were no eggs, no bread. There was mustard and a nearly empty jar of pickles. The freezer held a dented box of waffles, and a half-bag of frozen vegetables left over from the dinner he'd spend the rest of his life trying to forget. He took out the waffles and chipped away some of the ice with his nail; a piece of the waffle crumbled away with it. It was frost-bitten to the core.
"The wafers ain't half bad you know. I mean, not when you mix 'em in with the chili—"
"They ain't food."
"I beg to differ."
Jesse walked to the coffee maker and emptied what was left of yesterday's coffee into a clean mug. Probably yesterday's. Maybe two day old. He dropped into one of the chairs by the table and suppressed a wince as he took a sip. He'd had moonshine that tasted better. "You didn't have to patch up the floor."
"Course I did." Cassidy gave him a steady look. "You patched me up."
Jesse shook his head. "You wouldn't have needed patchin' in the first place if it wasn't for me."
"True, but then, we all make mistakes, don't we?"
"Not like me," Jesse said. "This—this power...I can't afford to make mistakes."
Cassidy folded his hands in his lap. "You changing your mind about keeping it?"
"No." Jesse sighed. "I don't know. There has to be a reason it picked me."
"See, and that's where you're wrong." Cassidy grabbed a handful of wafers and popped one in his mouth, spraying crumbs onto the plastic tablecloth. "There's no reason for much of anything in this world."
"No plan." Jesse nodded. "Yeah, I heard you the first time."
Jesse gave him a look. "I heard." His stomach grumbled again, louder than before, so, muttering a curse, he reached for the bowl and grabbed a handful of wafers himself. They were dry and flavorless, but better than nothing.
"So what are you gonna do, then? Keep on savin' the town?"
Jesse nodded. "I made a promise."
Cassidy huffed. "But you know, the thing about promises—"
A knock on the door cut him off.
Jesse looked out the window. "It's the sheriff"
Cassidy raised an eyebrow, and nodded up with his chin. "I'll go skulk in the tower a bit then. Maybe he saw me cleaning up at Walter's."
Jesse gave him a few more seconds to get out of the room, then opened the door. "Sheriff?"
Root had deep sleepless bruises under his eyes. "Sorry preacher, I know it's early, and I should've called first, but uh—it's Eugene."
"Woke up 'bout an hour ago, 'cause I just—felt like something was off, and I—I found him out back digging in the ground with his bare hands. Like his life depended on it. Broke off a nail, scraped his skin raw."
Jesse swallowed, guilt heavy on his tongue.
"He wouldn't tell me why. Still won't say a damn word. Started running when I tried to bring him back inside. I had to—" the sheriff looked down at his boots. "I had to tackle him, cuff him, just to get him to come with me." He nodded towards the car. "I was wondering if you could try talkin' to him. If it's not too much trouble."
"Of course." Jesse held the door open, waited as Root helped Eugene out of the car, undid the cuffs and guided him inside, over to the couch. Eugene looked like—well, he looked like hell—more so than usual—face streaked with dirt. He didn't even glance at Jesse, walked like he was on autopilot.
"I'll wait in the car," Root said, "Give you two some privacy."
Jesse nodded, then went to sit next to Eugene. The kid looked like he'd aged ten years over the last few hours, eyes haunted and distant like he was somewhere else entirely. "What were you looking for?" Jesse asked.
But Eugene stayed quiet, didn't even react. He just kept staring ahead, at nothing, or everything, there was no way to know.
"You don't have to tell me, if you don't want, just—your father—"
"Send me back."
A chill slithered down Jesse's spine. "What?"
"I belong there."
"No—no, you don't." Jesse took hold of Eugene's hand, which felt as limp and dead as the rest of him looked. "You don't. It was an accident. I—"
"It wasn't an accident. It was God's will, like you said."
"It wasn't God, it was me. It was a stupid, awful mistake!" Eugene turned to look at him then and the utter despair on his face made Jesse want to retch. "You were right, you were right the whole time—what I did—it is cheating. It's wrong and terrible, and I should've listened to you."
Eugene blinked at him. "It's okay. Nobody listens to me. Not anymore. Even God doesn't. He hasn't listened to me since..." Eugene's eyes got glassy and he looked down at his hands. "And since he's not listening, I know I'll never be forgiven. I'm going back to Hell anyway, so might as well go now."
Jesse grabbed him by the shoulders, turned him towards him, heart thudding in his chest. "That's not true. Look—God might not be listening anymore, but I am, okay? I am. And I'm telling you—you deserve a life."
"Screw God!" Jesse shouted. Eugene flinched, and Jesse let go.
They sat in silence for a while, until Eugene asked, whisper-quiet, "You're not mad at me?"
"Of course not."
"I lied to you, before. When..." He sniffled. "I do want to be forgiven. But God won't." He turned to look at Jesse, eyes bloodshot, deep bruises beneath them. "Will you?"
Jesse couldn't say a thing for a few seconds—too horrified, too heartbroken. Everything about this was wrong. "No, Eugene, I can't do that. You're not the one, who—I'm the one who should be begging for forgiveness here." He put his hand carefully on Eugene's back. "I am so—so sorry for what I did to you."
"I still see it," Eugene said. "I lived it, when I was down there—over and over, that night with Tracy and—and now it's all I can see. Every time I close my eyes, or sometimes even when my eyes are open." He took a shuddering breath. "And I know it's Hell calling me back. Reminding me why I belong there. Why nobody should ever forgive me." Eugene wept, a choking sob that wracked his body.
And Jesse knew what he had to do. It wasn't like he could hate himself anymore. "Eugene."
Eugene stopped crying, and went perfectly, unnaturally still.
Eugene blinked and turned to look at him. "Preacher?"
"I uh—why am I here?" He pushed the heel of his hand against his head. "My brain feels weird." He looked back at Jesse, clearly confused and still frightened. "What happened? Did I—" His eyes widened, for just a fraction of a second. "You were mad at me, I—I"
"No, Eugene, it's—I'm not mad, it's okay."
Eugene started crying again, a pathetic blubbering—the kind that came with lack of sleep and unfocused anxiety. "I'm sorry," he said. "Whatever I did, I'm so—so sorry."
"Me too," Jesse said and pulled him in, held him, until he stopped crying, and fell into an exhausted sleep. "God, me too."
Later, he carried him out to the sheriff's car, laid him in the back seat. Root's eyes were red and his cheeks were wet. "Did he tell you anything, about what happened?"
Jesse shook his head. "Some things—-" He swallowed. "Some things it's best to forget."
Root's face flickered, lightning-quick, from sorrow to pain. "You know, someday there's gonna be a reckoning."
"You got that right." Jesse said.
"Thanks for trying, anyway."
The sheriff's car pulled away, and Jesse watched it travel down the road until it became a speck and got swallowed up by the night.