Genre: Jared/Jensen AU
Word Count: 7,500
Notes: Written for spn_cinema , based a bit loosely on Pretty in Pink. Thanks so much to flawlessglitch for wrangling this into submission and showing me the error of my ways, and to prairiedays for not only hopping on board, but for the gift of her gorgeous artwork as well. Regarding the title, dopey, I know, but this is based on a John Hughes film. I felt obligated. The character of Andy is also another nod to the movie.
Summary: In which Jensen hates his nickname and Jared looks very good in pink. Jensen's also carrying a torch for his best friend, but that's another thing entirely.
artwork by prairiedays
Bizarre Love Triangle
“How long have you been waiting out here?” Jared asked. The tinny sound of synthesizers followed him out of the bar.
“Not long.” Jensen shrugged. “Maybe an hour or so.” He easily fell into step with Jared, matching his long strides across the parking lot.
Jared shot him a long-suffering look. “Why didn’t you come in? I mean, the band kinda sucked ass, but it’s at least warm in there.”
“Couldn’t swing the cover charge.”
“Blew your wad on Manic Panic, huh?” Jared tried to hide his grin with only marginal success.
Jensen scuffed his hand through his hair, frowning at his fingers when they came back tinted blue. He needed to remember to rinse it out a little better next time. “It’s a small price to pay for beauty.”
“Suppose you could say that,” Jared laughed. He unlocked the passenger door of his car, a dirt brown 1978 VW Rabbit with ironic orange and yellow racing stripes painted down the sides, held together with rust and good intentions. It was a hand-me-down from Jared’s brother, his father before that.
The suspension gave a discouraging groan when Jensen landed in the passenger seat. The car smelled musty, like it always did after it rained, and the smell mixed with the well-known scent of Jared’s shampoo. He leaned back, planted a knee on the dashboard, started flipping through the stack of CD’s that Jared kept shoved between the seats.
Jared was too big for the car, bumper to bumper the thing was only slightly longer than he was. His head always brushed along the roof whenever he took a pothole a little too fast. It wasn’t wide enough either; his arm and shoulder bumped into Jensen as he shifted through gears. Not that Jensen minded. Not at all. Not even a little bit.
“I’m kinda amped,” Jared said as he fought with his seat belt. “Wanna take a drive?”
“Let’s see,” Jensen said, still idly skimming Jared’s dubious music collection. “I’ve got an appointment with the G8 to garner half a dozen free trade agreements first thing in the morning, but I think I can put that off. The cure for the common cold can wait until sometime next week, I suppose. Until then, I’m all yours.” He made a show of batting his eyelashes until Jared snorted a laugh.
“How very magnanimous of you,” Jared said.
The engine turned over, misfired, and finally caught hold on the third try.
Jared took the long way home, skirting the edges of the town, where crowded-together streets gave way to neat, rolling lawns and expensive cars nestled safely inside three-car garages.
The motor raced and coughed when he downshifted along a quiet street flanked by a few huge houses. “Do you ever wonder what it’s like inside of those places?” Jared asked, hunching over the steering wheel and peering out the windshield.
“Not really. But it’s probably boring,” Jensen answered. “And stuffy. People who have a lot of money like to sit around and talk about how much money they have. It’s all very repetitive, you know.”
“You don’t know that.”
That was one of about a thousand things that Jensen loved about Jared. He was the type of guy who held steadfast to the belief that the grass was greener over yonder hill. He was always looking for the next big thing. His dreams were big enough for both of them.
On the other hand, Jensen’s life was pretty small. He worked an easy job at the record store on Main Street, made enough money to pay his bills and clear rent on his garage apartment just about every month. He had an awesome pair of boots that after two years were finally broken in just right, a vintage Joy Division poster circa 1978, still in mint condition, and a killer collection of every crime against humanity that George Romero ever committed to film.
Plus, he had Jared, his best friend and the sole constant in Jensen’s life. The only person who took him at face value, and always had his back. Who was beautiful and perfect and rock steady.
Sure, Jensen was in love with him. That knowledge was a part of him, sorta like the fact that he had green eyes, or the way the pointer finger on his right hand went crooked at the first knuckle. It was something that had been that way for so long it was hardly worth thinking about anymore.
He wouldn’t trade any of it. Not for every single opulent house on this street plus a dozen more besides. Not for anything. Not for the world.
“Could you even imagine it, though? Having that kinda money?” Jared was going on. “I could pay off my parents’ house, go to school. Fuck, send us both to school.”
Jensen dug out a CD and popped it in, skipping forward to the song he wanted. He started humming along with the Barenaked Ladies. He reached over, patted Jared’s face, and sang about how if he had a million dollars, he’d buy Jared’s love.
Jared laughed, gently smacking his hand away. “Aw, sweetheart, you don’t have to buy it, it’s already all yours,” Jared teased.
Jensen felt the truth of it in his bones, saw it in the over the top way Jared made moonstruck faces and obscene slurping kissing noises at him. He knew Jared loved him back, even if it wasn’t quite in the way Jensen wanted. But he could live with it. Hell, he had been living with it forever.
After all, a guy had to take what he could get, and this deal wasn’t half bad.
“What are we gonna do next year?” Jared was sitting on the floor of Jensen’s apartment, in the corner of the open space Jensen liked to think of as his bedroom. College brochures, art school applications, and financial aid forms spread out all around him like a moat made of glossy paper. “I mean. Sure, it’s fine to take a year off, but this one year is getting really close to turning into two.”
Jensen stared up at his toes. He was sprawled on his dipped mattress, feet propped up against the low slant of the ceiling, one arm flung out so that his knuckles brushed Jared’s back whenever the guy moved.
There was the low rumble in the distance, the sound of the train speeding down its tracks. Jensen looked at the clock. Right on time.
“No college is gonna want me,” Jensen said. “We both know the only reason I have a high school diploma is because you did my homework for me from our freshman year on out.”
“You underestimate yourself,” Jared pointed out.
“Maybe. Probably not.”
The train was getting closer, sending a vibration through the place. Plates stacked in his small kitchen sink started clanking together. In a practiced move, Jared picked up his glass of water and propped it on his knee to stop it from toppling over as the train raced close by.
Most people hated living this close to the tracks, always complaining about pictures on the wall set out of whack and disturbed sleep. But Jensen liked it. The certainty of it. A few years ago, the train had been re-routed for a while because of track repair, and Jensen hadn’t slept right for a month.
Jared spun around on the floor, and hooked their little fingers together for a second, a silent and unnecessary command for Jensen’s full attention. Thoughtless affection, and something that Jensen never took for granted. “I can’t stay here,” Jared said.
“I know.” Jensen arched his neck backward, looking at Jared upside down.
Jared continued, “And I can’t stand the idea of you here by yourself.”
Jensen’s stomach twisted at Jared’s statement, a crazy kind of lightheaded rush invading him. He blamed it on his body’s position and the movement of blood in the wrong direction. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Just figure out where you want to go. You’ll be brilliant. I’ll go with you. You’ll take the geek world by storm, and I’ll be your slightly more awesome and much better looking sidekick.”
“C’mon, Jensen. It’s not funny.”
“I know. I wasn’t joking.”
A few years ago, Jared had taken over his parents’ narrow garage, turning it into a sort of slapdash art studio. Art supplies crowded the industrial metal shelving; stacks of frames and rolls of canvas clogged the corners. Even after all this time, the small room still carried the vague smell of gasoline and oil.
Jared unlocked the door, dodging the sparse furniture from memory on the way to turn on the light. Jensen followed him in, collapsing onto a slumped and overstuffed chair against one wall. He curled in on himself, shivering. It seemed even colder in here than outside, as though a chill was beating off the concrete floor.
He peeled off his gloves, blew into his frozen hands for a second then put them right back on again.
Jared pulled a slim book from a stack on the shelf, topped it with his sketchbook, and kicked at a wooden, straight-backed chair until it was positioned across from Jensen. He straddled the chair and handed the open book to Jensen. “Hold this, would you?” He propped his sketchpad on the back of the chair and flipped through to a clean page.
“You could always use the bench,” Jensen pointed out, nodding toward the slanted drawing table he and Jared had constructed out of scavenged wood.
Jared shook his head. “I like facing you when I work. It helps me think.”
Jensen frowned down at the open book. It was a monochrome photo of two hands; long, thin fingers that were stretched into an almost inhuman position. They reminded Jensen of a spider, or maybe one of those deep-sea creatures that never saw the light. “Freaky,” Jensen said, “it’s like something out of one of those Japanese horror movies. You know, where the characters move all wrong.”
Jared was squinting at the photo, running his tongue back and forth across his canine tooth in a nervous, thoughtful tic. He cut his eyes up to Jensen and smiled. “It’s Stieglitz,” Jared explained. “He had a thing for O’Keefe’s hands. Took tons of pictures of them.”
“Not my kink, but whatever worked for the guy.”
Jared ignored him and went on, “They’re great reference. I’m crap at drawing hands.”
Jared was pretty much self-taught, outside of a few drawing electives he’d taken in high school. What had started out as a hobby had turned into a real interest when an art teacher in school had spied him drawing a comic one day in class, and urged him to submit it to the chintzy school newspaper in his sophomore year. His comics had ended up turning into a regular part of the paper. Jensen still had every edition tucked away safely in a box in his closet.
Jensen watched as Jared worked. Jared was prattling off about anything and everything, from the stuff he was planning on including in his portfolio, to hockey scores, to this new ginseng stuff his boss had him drinking that tasted exactly like ass.
“You remember Andy?” Jared asked, and there was some tone in his voice that brought Jensen back to full attention, some intangible change that made the warning lights in Jensen’s mind jump to life.
“Andy from school?” Jensen asked. Of course he remembered him. He was a couple of years older than them, had been one of those snobs with a silver spoon shoved down his throat who wouldn’t even bother to give them a second glance. He’d basically made fun of Jensen for breathing. For the way he’d dressed, for the books he’d read. Teased him for not listening to the right music or playing the right sports. “Yeah,” Jensen said cautiously, “his daddy bought him a Beamer for graduation and sent him off to college, right?”
Jared snorted a laugh. “Are you still ticked off about all that shit?”
Jensen leaned back in the chair, rolling his neck and trying to work past the sudden tenseness in his shoulders. “No,” he lied.
Jared continued, his tone a little too nonchalant for Jensen’s taste. “I saw him today, at his parents’ store. He’s back from school on break. We talked for a little while. He seems…different. I don’t know. Less stuck up.”
“Hard to believe.” Jensen wasn’t sure where this was going and he really didn’t want to find out.
“Not that often. But good for him,” Jensen said, with a note of finality.
Jared seemed to pick up on the dismissal. He grumbled a little to himself, ripping out the page he was working on and balling it up. “It’s not working,” Jared said. “Take those off, would ya?” Jared waved his hands vaguely toward Jensen.
“If you insist,” Jensen teased, making a show of unzipping his sweatshirt. “At least let me keep my hat on. It’s fucking cold.”
Jared’s broad smile and laugh transformed his face and cleared the uneasy feeling from the room. “Your gloves, Jensen,” he deadpanned.
“And here I thought we were finally getting somewhere,” Jensen said, mostly teasing and mostly not all at the same time.
He peeled his gloves off and held his hands up, trying to mimic the position in the photograph. Jared considered him, thoughtfully chewed on the corner of his mouth, and then got up. He searched around on the shelving until he found a roll of masking tape.
“Is there a chance that I’m really not gonna like this?” Jensen asked, watching Jared cut lengths of tape of with his teeth.
“Every drawing has a story behind it,” Jared told him, “or at least everything I draw has one. This is the part where I write the story.” He began to wind the tape around Jensen’s fingers and hands in a pattern that only he understood, leaving tags of the stuff to drop down. Finally satisfied, he positioned Jensen’s hands in a very specific way, urging them between his knees. Jensen felt like the seconds were stretching out impossibly long. Jared’s fingers slipped between Jensen’s in a way that had Jensen’s breath catching in his throat, a sort of warmth coursing though his body.
“You okay?” Jared asked, intently staring at his handiwork. “You’re shaking a bit.”
Jensen sniffed. “Yeah,” he said, clearing his throat. “I’m just a little cold.”
Jared gave him a long, searching look, and Jensen fought to resist the urge to squirm. “Say you’re a prize fighter,” Jared spoke with authority, “and you’ve just lost. So now you’re in the locker room and you’re taking the tape off your hands. They hurt like hell and you freeze. They hurt so bad that it makes you wonder if it’s worth it. Think about that.”
Jensen started to knock out a joke, something about method acting, but something about the way Jared was looking at him made him stop. Jared’s pencil was already moving quickly across the page. He was staring at Jensen’s hands, barely sparing a glance to the paper in front of him. There was this charge in the air that made the hairs on Jensen’s arms rise up. He was pretty sure it wasn’t all in his imagination. “Does it matter?” Jensen asked. “It’s not like you’re drawing my face or anything.”
“Of course it matters.”
It was odd, how a person’s life could go from a-okay to a complete wreck in less than a second.
The day was bright, warm for the season, and Jensen had knocked off work an hour early. The bell over the door sounded cheerfully as he entered the part-time gallery and full-time frame shop where Jared worked. He had no idea he was about to step into the middle of a maelstrom.
Jared was standing behind the counter, bent over a drawing pad, his fingers stained grey with graphite as he sketched. He was chewing on his lip, and his free hand was shoved into a tight fist in his hair, sending it up in clumps between his fingers. Misha, the displaced and very metropolitan owner of the joint, shot Jensen a tight-lipped look when he entered, and then hid back behind his book.
Ignoring the warning, Jensen sauntered over to the counter. “Oh, god. Nervous doodling,” he noted.
Jared didn’t respond; he just squinted intensely at Jensen for a second, then flipped to a clean page and began filling it. Jensen saw the shape of his own nose start to emerge. “Whatever it is, we’ll fix it. How about Night of the Living Dead and popcorn at my place tonight? I’ll mix those chocolate covered raisins in with it. Just the way you like it.”
Jared grumbled unintelligibly.
“Alright,” Jensen said, switching gears, “looks like slow zombies are out. Fast zombies it is, then. 28 Days Later? Or how about something a little lighter? Dawn of the Dead? Shaun of the Dead? You can sit on the better side of the couch. I’ll rub your feet for you, sweetheart. How’s that sound?”
Jared dropped his pencil with a loud huff of breath. “Have you ever had one of these?” he asked Misha, waving a hand in Jensen’s direction.
Misha glanced up from his book, leveled a long stare between Jared and Jensen, and then back to Jared again. “No,” he replied calmly, “but I wish that I did.”
Jared turned his attention back to his sketchbook.
“Alright,” Jensen said, exasperated. “Someone’s gotta spill.”
“Jared’s being stood up,” Misha said. “As we speak, in fact.”
“But I’m right here.” Jensen spread his arms wide, and finally began to take note of the way Jared was dressed. He had on his lucky jeans, the ones with the hole in the back pocket where the corner of his wallet had worn though. His button down shirt was tucked in. It was the one with the pink stripes and that kind of paisley design that went perfectly with his skin tone, and made the hazel in his eyes even brighter.
“Oh,” Jensen forced out stupidly, his stomach rushing headlong toward his boots. His mouth suddenly tasted bitter and burnt, like ashes. “Oh,” he tried again. It didn’t sound any better than the first time.
“It doesn’t matter,” Jared said, slamming the sketchbook closed and shoving himself away from the counter. He stomped toward the workshop in the back, with Jensen on his heels.
Jensen leaned against the doorway, and told himself he wasn’t going to push. He actually made it a full thirty seconds before opening his mouth. “Obviously it does matter,” he stated, trying to remember the script for playing the appropriately supportive best friend in the midst of it all.
“You know how I told you about Andy?”
Jensen nodded, the brick that had planted itself in his stomach getting heavier by the second.
“He stopped by the shop yesterday. And, well, you know? We really hit it off, or at least it seemed like we did, especially since he asked me out. Plus, he’s kinda hot. I thought it would be fun. Until about half an hour ago when he didn’t show.” Jared was rambling now, and his long strides were eating up the length of the workroom as he paced across the floor.
Jensen caught his lip starting to curl up in a sneer, and worked on schooling his expression into something akin to neutrality. He felt betrayed, somehow vaguely lied to, jealous on top of all else, and was man enough to admit that he had absolutely no right to feel this way. “You’re an optimist,” he told Jared. “You always look for the best in people. It’s one of the best things about you.”
Jared stopped on his third pass across the room. “I’m starting to think that your tendency toward a general distaste for the human population and vague distrust of everybody might be a better way to go.”
“Not everybody,” Jensen corrected. “This calls for evasive measures. The new Joy Division remasters were just released today. We can stop by the record shop and pick it up on the way back to my place. Turn it all the way up, piss off the neighborhood and get our emo on.”
Jared’s expression finally brightened a little, and Jensen felt the pressure in his chest grow lighter. “Sounds like a feel-good kinda evening,” Jared said, and breathed out a frustrated sigh. “Maybe I should call him.”
“Sorry to cut this short, but it looks like Romeo just showed up,” Misha piped in from the front room. “Your carriage awaits.”
“Did Romeo even have a carriage?” Jensen asked, trying his level best to ignore the grin that split Jared’s face wide open.
“Fuck it, I don’t know,” Misha stared through the plate glass window and across the street at Andy. “I studied art in school. Not literature.”
Jensen could barely make out Andy’s features from his vantage point. He was leaning against his car, the same late model expensive thing that Jensen remembered. He had on a leather jacket and sunglasses and looked every bit the part of the bored rich kid. Or maybe like he was trying to do some knock off impersonation of James Dean.
Jared slid past Jensen and clapped Misha on the shoulder as he rushed toward the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” called over his shoulder, flipping the closed sign over before heading out.
The place felt suddenly so much quieter when he left. A lot emptier, too.
“He looks a little bit like you,” Misha noted softly as they both watched Jared’s retreating form cross the street. “You should maybe think about that.”
Jensen didn’t want to think about anything at all. “Actually, I should get drunk,” Jensen said with a rather decisive nod. “Very, very drunk.”
“That’s another option. An equally viable one at that.” Misha tilted his head in invitation and led him to through the door into the workshop. Shoving Jensen onto a stool at the high workbench, he reached into a cupboard, past a stack of accounting books, and produced a bottle. “For medicinal purposes,” he said in response to Jensen’s questioning look. He uncapped it and handed it over to Jensen.
Jensen slouched further down the workbench with each shot straight from the bottle. Misha matched him slug for slug. His tongue grew looser as Misha spent a lot of time repeatedly and unsuccessfully trying to steer the conversation away from Jared.
“Have you ever heard of the boy who cried wolf?” Misha asked, resolutely shoving the nearly empty bottle out of Jensen’s reach.
“Of course. Everybody has. Where are you going with this?” Jensen wasn’t sure whether it was his mind or Misha’s that was misfiring.
“All this hiding in plain sight stuff isn’t working out too great for you. That’s all I’m trying to say,” Misha declared sagely. “Maybe you come on too strong with Jared.”
“There’s no such thing as too strong with him,” Jensen argued.
“How’s he supposed to know when you mean it?”
“I always mean it. You’re not making any sense.”
“Why are people always telling me that?”
Jensen’s eyelids were heavy, the booze a still manageable slosh in his stomach. He was working on not drooling and untangling Misha’s train of thought when he heard the snick of the back door unlocking.
Jared and Andy spilled inside on a blast of cool air, their chatter cutting off short when Jared saw them sitting there. He cast about, finding his sketchbook. “Andy wanted to see some of my stuff. I didn’t know you were still gonna be here,” he explained.
“Hey, it’s Duckie!” Andy hollered, sliding onto a free stool at the workbench.
“If it isn’t the crown prince of McCarthy Five and Dime,” Jensen muttered to Misha, and then winced. It was a nickname that had hung around his neck like an albatross throughout his school career, due to the funny shape his mouth had taken on for the couple of years he’d had braces, and his innate tendency to pout too much when he was concentrating.
“Don’t call him that,” Jared said softly, shifting his weight from foot to foot, his eyes flickering from the bottle and back toward Jensen. “Jensen hates it.”
The warning was lost on Andy. “Haven’t seen you in forever.” He looked Jensen up and down, conspicuously noticing Jensen’s t-shirt from Depeche Mode’s Violator tour, his ratty grey sweatshirt and plaid cargo pants. “You haven’t changed at all.”
Jensen snarled, but before he could say anything, Misha cut in. “Jared tells me you’re in school.”
“Studying business,” Andy nodded. He reached out, putting a hand on the small of Jared’s back. It made Jensen’s hackles stand straight up.
“It must be comforting,” Jensen spat, “to know that you never have to come up with an original thought.” His hand curled into a fist on his thigh. Misha saw it, and covered it with one of his own, clearing his throat.
Jared held both hands up in a show of surrender. “Alright. So. Um. We’re gonna go,” he stammered, pulling Andy from his seat by an elbow and walking backward toward the door. “Leave you guys to it. Whatever it is.”
Misha gave Jensen an encouraging pat once they left. “That went well,” he said.
“Really? I acted like a dick.” Jensen planted his forehead on the cool surface of the workbench. The spins were starting to kick in.
“I think the both of you were a bit even in that regard,” Misha said. “But for what it’s worth, I think that Jared doesn’t have any idea what he’s missing.”
“This place hasn’t been the same since they renovated it,” Misha lamented. He climbed onto a tall chair and looked around the club. “There used to be this leak in the roof over the stage. I think someone once got electrocuted by his amp. It leant a certain air of danger to the joint.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Jensen grumbled, “I’ve only been coming here for the last year or so.” He rubbed his thumb on the black ‘X’ the bouncer had drawn on the back of his hand with indelible marker. It was like some alcohol-deprived mark of Cain. “Pay ten bucks to get into the place. You’d figure they’d at least let a guy buy a beer.”
“Law of the land.” Misha tipped his glass in a one-sided toast to Jensen. “Is Jared meeting us here?”
Jensen hadn’t seen Jared much over the past couple of days, and when he had, things seemed stilted and awkward. Even still, Jensen couldn’t shake the feeling that he was missing something, like he’d forgotten to put on his watch, or had accidentally left food cooking on the stove.
“Dunno,” Jensen said. “I think he has a thing with loverboy. Besides, this isn’t really his scene.” He waved toward the band, who were currently shredding apart a cover of The Cure’s Lets Go to Bed. The dance floor was packed, full of people shuffling around to the song in an appropriately depressive fashion.
“But it’s your scene,” Misha pointed out. He looked around the room. “God only knows why, but it is. So it’s Jared’s scene by default.”
“That’s the problem. I don’t want to be Jared’s default. I don’t want to be his back-up plan.”
Misha slid his chair a little closer to Jensen’s so he wouldn’t have to talk loudly. “We both know that you’re not.”
“Maybe you should ask him why he’s not here then. Why he’s hanging out with Mr. Country Club.”
“Maybe you should ask yourself why you haven’t returned his calls,” Misha shot back.
It was enough to get Jensen to shut up. He hunched over and drummed his fingertips on the table, considering what Misha said. Jealousy was a huge part of it, sure. But Jared was changing now, in a lot of little ways. He was restless, talking constantly about schools and portfolios, and about how this town kept on feeling smaller and smaller. Jensen knew he was holding him back. It was selfish and he hated himself for it. He wanted to give Jared the world, but he was slowly coming to the realization that he only owned one small piece of it, and it simply wasn’t enough.
“I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” A cold hand landed on Jensen’s neck, and he jumped. His stomach fell when he smelled the cinnamon gum that Jared always chewed. “Why didn’t you call me back?”
Jared sat across from them, and Jensen’s heart flew around in his chest at the sight of him. He had a dark knit cap pulled down snug, shoving his bangs into his eyes. A blush from the cold colored his cheeks, and his fingers were ink-stained. When Jared grinned, Jensen wondered how he was ever going to get over him. It just didn’t seem possible.
“I thought you had a date with Ivy League,” Jensen said, watching as the smile on Jared’s face took on a sort of frozen quality.
“You don’t like him. I get it,” Jared said. “I don’t understand why.”
Misha hummed low and started sucking down his drink.
Jensen had a thousand reasons ripe for the picking. That Andy and the crowd he ran around with had a stripe of meanness a mile wide, and two years away in college wasn’t going to change him. That Jared was going to end up with his heart on the floor and his ego right beside it, because there wasn’t a thing in this world that Jared did half-way. That Jensen didn’t like Andy simply because Andy wasn’t him.
Jensen went with the simplest answer. “He’s nothing more than a flashy car and his daddy’s bank account.” He felt Misha put a cautionary hand in the center of his back.
“You’re judging him because he has money? That’s just as awful as him judging us because we’re broke.” Jared gestured toward Misha. “You could hate Misha for the same reason.”
Jensen leaned into Misha, wrapped a hand around his neck, then pushed it up to bury it in his hair. Misha gave him a sidelong, surprised glance, but played along well enough. “Yeah,” Jensen started, “but Misha has some personality, at least.” He plastered himself to Misha’s side. “Besides, he’s an artist. You know how I’ve always been into artists.” His eyes were half lidded, and he let a smug smile twist his mouth.
Jared looked back and forth between them for a handful of tense seconds. Slowly, he slid off of his stool. When he spoke, his words were deliberate and measured. “Alright. I get it. I’ll call you tomorrow, okay? Just… please answer your phone this time.”
When Jared was out of eyeshot, Jensen collapsed against Misha, letting his forehead fall on Misha’s shoulder. “Sorry about that,” Jensen said.
Misha allowed him to stay there, patting his shoulder in a way that managed to be encouraging and a little patronizing all at the same time. “It’s alright,” he said. “I mean, I feel a little dirty now, but I don’t mind.”
Three days. Three days was the longest Jensen had ever gone without seeing Jared. When they were twelve years old, Jared’s parents had sent him to an art summer camp and Jared hated it. He’d spent the whole time on the phone to his mother, feigning every disease known to man and a few that weren’t. They’d relented, finally, picked him up early, and dropped him off at Jensen’s place on the way home.
Three days hadn’t been any fun back then, and they sure as hell weren’t any fun now.
Jensen walked a different route to work in order to avoid passing Jared’s shop. He let his phone battery run out so he’d have a better excuse not to pick up. Twice he’d ignored the buzzing of his doorbell, just put on his headphones and drown the sound out with the music turned up loud. Jared had a key. The fact that he didn’t use it spoke volumes.
This co-dependency gig he had going with Jared was exactly like any other bad habit: a little bit of time, and a lot of stubborn determination would break him of it.
It was late evening, and Jensen was on the couch, the lights low, the television on mute, and OMD was piping through his speakers. He was painting his thumbnails green, just for something to do.
A loud thunk against glass made him jump, and he smeared a stripe of green lacquer straight up the center of his thumb. Jensen hissed a curse and went to look out, fully expecting to find a bird on the concrete driveway beneath his window.
A second crash rattled the glass before Jensen got there. When he looked out, he found Jared. He’d tripped the motion sensor, his bent figure visible in the security light. Picking something up from the ground, he quickly took aim and fired what looked like a pine cone at Jensen’s window.
Jensen watched it come, and still jumped in spite of himself when it struck. He threw open the window, already shouting. “The fuck? Pine cones, Jared? Really?”
Jared shrugged. “Better than rocks.”
Even though Jared’s face was mostly in shadows, Jensen could see that something was off. He squinted down at him. “Are you hurt?”
Jared shoved his hair out of his face, his split lip and the gash beneath his eye a little more visible. “Mainly my pride. And my mouth. Maybe my left eye. But mostly my pride, and a little bit of my self worth.”
“Why didn’t you knock?”
“Would you have answered?”
“Probably not. Come on up.” Jensen opened his door and headed toward the bathroom to get a washcloth and some peroxide, cursing his own weakness with every step. “What happened?” he asked as he emerged, dumping some ice from his freezer into a plastic bag.
Jared was sitting on a kitchen chair, head down. His hair was spilling into his face. Jensen pulled the other chair in close and sat down, arranging his legs around Jared’s. The skin of Jared’s face felt hot when he tipped Jared’s chin up for a better look. “Went to a stupid party. There was a stupid person there. He said something stupid, and I had to hit him in the face. Which was also pretty dumb.”
“What was dumb? His face or you hitting him?”
“I’ll have to go with both.”
“How’s the other guy looking?” Jensen dabbed at the cut on Jared’s face with some antiseptic, and pressed the ice to it.
Jared hissed at the cold. “About the same. Maybe worse.” He held the ice to his face when Jensen moved on to his split lip.
“That’s my boy.”
“Does it look bad?”
“Aw, kiddo. You know you always look beautiful to me.” The words were barely out of his mouth when Jensen internally kicked himself. He wanted to stop, really he did, but flirting with Jared came easier to him than breathing. “Was it Andy?” Jensen didn’t want to ask, but he had to.
Jared made a face. “No. Of course not.”
“You shouldn’t trust him.”
Jared didn’t buy into the dig. Instead he took Jensen’s wrist, turned it over and looked at his watch. “C’mon,” he said, “the train is coming.”
They walked the half-block to the tracks in silence. When they reached the rails, Jensen pressed his palm to the cold iron, the low vibration traveling up to the bones in his wrist. The distant blow of the train whistle sounded in the clear, cold air. The gate blocking the road slowly lowered, and the warning lights jumped into action, showering them in flickering red and white flashes.
Jared had his arms wrapped tightly around his own chest, his teeth chattering a little. “Remember when we were younger? I wanted us to stow away on the train. End up wherever we happened to end up.”
“Yeah,” Jensen smiled at the memory. “Genuine train-hopping hobos. You always wanted to just go, and I always got bogged down in the details.”
The locomotive’s single headlight became visible as it sped around the curve. Jared smiled at him, mischievous and suddenly ten years old again. He dug into his pocket, holding out a big handful of change toward Jensen. “You wanna?”
It was just like old times. They crouched over the tracks, scattering the coins, and then ducked quickly under the gate. The pavement beneath their feet buzzed as the train flew closer and they continued backing up, waiting for it.
Jared let out a whoop when the train passed them, sparks shooting up from the rails. Jensen couldn’t help himself, laughing as he watched the train pass. “Poor kids’ fireworks,” he said to Jared.
“The best kind,” Jared grinned at him and dashed forward, combing through the rocks near the track. He held out a penny to Jensen, misshapen and elongated from the wheels of the train. “For good luck.”
Jensen turned it over in his hand. It felt a little warm to the touch, but that might have been his imagination. “I can use it.”
“There’s gonna be a show at the gallery,” Jared started. “It opens up in a few days and Andy--”
”I don’t want to talk about him,” Jensen cut him off, the knife that Jared had planted in his gut a few days ago started spinning like a top.
“Don’t you want me to be happy?”
Jensen took a deep breath, his flash of anger guttering out as quickly as it had flared up. “More than anything.”
Jared smiled sadly at him, in a way that made Jensen feel like he was about to lose his footing, like the world was just now starting to move in a different direction he wasn’t yet accustomed to. “Are we breaking?” Jared asked.
“I don’t want to.” Jensen was miserable with the truth of it, his mood swinging up and down so quick that it was almost laughable. Looking at Jared now, hunched against the cold, his face half broken and no less beautiful for it, Jensen decided to shoot for the whole truth. He’d hate himself later, but he couldn’t help feeling like maybe this was his last chance to finally come clean.
“Maybe he’s just slumming, or maybe it’s some kind of rich kid’s rebellion, but he’s gonna throw you away. So don’t look to me anymore, because maybe for the first time in our pathetic little lives I won’t be there to pick you back up and dust you off.”
Jared started stammering, but Jensen just powered over him. “Here’s the point. I’m not particularly concerned with whether or not you love me.” Jensen’s voice was starting to shake. “Because I love you. I kinda live for that. Don’t you see? God, Jared. Don’t you see? I would have done anything for you.”
Before he could think too hard about it, Jensen rushed in close, wrapping one hand around the back of Jared’s neck, digging the other deep into Jared’s hair, pulling him down. Jensen closed his mouth over Jared’s, and closed his eyes tight a second later.
Something crazy went through his head, the pure need to remember every tiny fraction of this, mixed with the surefire knowledge that it was never going to happen again. Jared’s nose felt cold pressed against his cheek; his fingers were digging hard into Jensen’s shoulder. The small noise of surprise from Jared’s throat thrummed along the place where their mouths met, Jared’s hot against his own. Jensen’s upper lip caught and snagged against Jared’s lower. He sucked it in, a tentative touch of his tongue against the swell of it.
And then Jared started kissing him back. His hand found Jensen’s face and splayed huge against his jaw. His tongue was a slow slide against Jensen’s, and god, he tasted good. Perfect.
It wasn’t his first kiss. He was years beyond that. But it was the first one that actually mattered.
He broke free. Jared stared down at him, his mouth slack with shock and the whites of his eyes showing all around. Jensen’s mouth felt numb, tingling, and he bit down hard on his lip, a metallic taste lingering from the split in Jared’s. Backing up slowly, Jensen said, “I thought you should know,” his voice choked and tight. He spun, his foot gritting on a broken bit of pavement.
“Jensen, wait,” Jared called after him.
Jensen sped up, jammed his hands into his pockets and shouted over his shoulder. “I have been. For a really long time.”
The record shop was deserted, fairly par for the course for a Tuesday morning when school was in session. Jensen was behind the counter, feet propped up and nose shoved into the latest edition of Paste magazine. He didn’t bother to look up when the buzzer told him someone had entered.
Something a little bigger than a post card was flung in his direction, and he glanced up to see Misha standing in front of him.
“Check it out,” Misha said, pointing to the card.
It was an announcement for an opening at the gallery. Jensen scanned the list of artists on the back of the card, his eyebrows shooting up when he saw Jared’s name muddled in the middle of the ranks. “Wow.”
“Opening night is tonight. I called in a few favors from some folks I know back home. Art dealers. Thought you should know.”
“Pretty big deal, huh?” Jensen tried to feign indifference, and failed miserably.
“It sorta is. It would be good if you showed.” Misha made a show of straightening a stack of CD’s beside the cash register.
“That’s not fair.”
“I don’t care,” Misha stated. “He’s spinning, Jensen. He’s not going anywhere. I like him, and I like you. And I don’t like to see either of you like this.”
“He doesn’t need me.” It was Jensen’s greatest fear, spelled out in five simple syllables.
“Bullshit. He’d do anything for you. He’d jump in front of that goddamn train the two of you are so ridiculously fond of. He’s taken punches for you. Still looks like shit for it, by the way.”
The sting of what he’d said to Jared slapped him in the face. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Maybe you should ask him,” Misha said, retreating toward the door. “When you come to the gallery tonight.”
“I’m not coming.” Jensen hid behind his magazine again.
“Sure you are.”
Jensen cupped his hands around his eyes and peered through the plate glass into the gallery. The artwork that usually adorned the walls had been replaced with unfamiliar pieces. Half of one wall was filled with stuff that Jensen immediately recognized as Jared’s. In the center hung a still life in charcoal that he’d drawn of Jensen’s boots, slouched and worn in, the laces in a puddle.
There was a good turnout. A lot of stuffy looking people in fancy clothes were milling around with long stemmed glasses. The place was full of unfamiliar faces, with Jared rising above them. He sort of stuck out in his bright button down shirt, striped knit hat and ratty lucky jeans. He was nodding politely to some short man with funky horn rimmed glasses. Misha was animated in the middle, huge smile on his face as he shook hands with the stranger.
As Jensen watched, Jared scanned the room, his line of sight sticking onto Jensen through the window. He quickly weaved through the crowd and out of the door.
“I’ll give you twenty for the picture of the boots.”
Jared grinned at him, and Jensen’s heart tripped a little in his chest. “Misha just sold it. Can you believe that? Someone’s actually paying for something I drew.”
“Doesn’t surprise me at all,” Jensen replied.
Jared rolled his eyes at the compliment. “I’ll draw you another. A better one.”
How easy it was to simply slide right back into place with Jared. Like Jensen was born to be right there.
“We match,” Jared said, scuffing up Jensen’s hair. It was supposed to have turned out red, but he’d washed it out too fast, leaving it an anemic pink color.
“Not exactly what I was going for.” Jensen reached out and touched Jared’s shirt. “You’ve always looked good in pink.”
Jared toed the pavement with his sneaker. “You were right. About everything. Turns out--”
"Stop right there," Jensen cut him off. He didn't want to hear it. In fact, Jensen wanted steal Jared’s car and drive to wherever the guy was and throttle the hell out of him. He settled for gritting his teeth instead.
“I’m sorry,” Jared said simply.
“Don’t be. It’s alright.”
Jared nearly fell against him, wrapping him up in a rib-crunching embrace. Jensen held on tight, balling his fists in the back of Jared’s shirt, unable to suck in a deep breath, a little dizzy with the feeling of Jared so close to him, the press of Jared’s chest against his own, the touch of his hair on Jensen’s jaw, the clean, familiar smell of his skin. He couldn’t breathe and he couldn’t move, and he was alright with standing like this for a week. Just like this.
“You’re remarkable, do you know that?” Jared asked, lips moving against Jensen’s neck.
“Remarkable? Not really what I was going for. Maybe eccentric. Brilliant. Certainly unforgettable,” Jensen rattled off. “Distractingly handsome too.”
“Shouldn’t forget incorrigible,” Jared added.
“I’ll give you that.”
Jared pulled back, only to reach out and cup Jensen’s face, thumb tracing along the soft skin beneath his eye. He leaned in close to brush his lips against the corner of Jensen’s mouth. “You’re also the only thing in the whole world that I can’t live without.”
Jensen smiled, his first genuine smile in what felt like a year. “Yeah, you too.”
Thanks for reading.