Genre: J2 AU
Word Count: ~30,000 in five parts and epilogue.
Summary: Jensen knew that he wasn't an uptight person--he was just organized. Jared wasn't as irresponsible as Jensen thought he was--he just knew how to kick back and have a good time. For very different reasons, they each decide to take a cross-country road trip to the west coast. Because of some unexpected circumstances, they end up learning a little about themselves and a lot about each other.
A Thousand Miles Behind ~ Part Two
Jared stood on the corner, his heavy duffel bag on the curb in front of him. It was the first day of the winter break, five days before Christmas, and the campus looked more like a ghost town than anything else. It was too quiet, which was a little unnerving.
The silence was suddenly broken by the sound of a loud back-fire, and Jared watched as a light blue conversion van came into view, tilting a bit too much as it turned a corner, dirty clouds of smoke trailing behind it. By the looks of it, the van appeared to be at least twice his age, so did the curtains that hung in the side windows in the back, as well as the dirt that was caked around the fenders. It came to a stop in front of him, and a man leaned out the open window, a straw cowboy hat pushed back on his head.
“You must be Jared, I’m Chris,” the man said, sliding his sunglasses down his nose slightly. His voice sounded gravelly and his accent was decidedly southern.
Jared felt a little pang of homesickness slap him out of nowhere. “Good to meet you,” he said, extending a hand. “Where you from? Texas?” his own voice taking on a slight drawl. How quickly it came back.
“Oklahoma,” Chris responded with a smile. “You?”
“San Antonio,” Jared answered.
“Ah, a city boy,” another man said as he rounded the front of the van, pushing his sunglasses atop his head, causing his blonde hair to stick out in all directions.
“This is Steve, he’ll be our captain on this trip,” Chris said with a nod.
Steve picked up Jared’s duffel with a grunt. “What do have in here, kid? Gold bullion? A body?”
“Jimmy Hoffa,” Jared replied with a grin, and Chris let out a loud bark of laughter.
“We’re gonna get along just fine,” Chris said, pushing his sunglasses back up and pulling his hat back down before leaning back in the passenger seat.
“Thanks for letting me hitch a ride with you guys,” Jared said as Steve wrenched the back door of the van open and tossed in his duffel bag.
“No, thank you. This thing chugs gas like Chris there chugs Jack. The more the merrier on this ride,” Steve replied, fighting with the door on the side of the van. “Damn thing gets stuck sometimes,” he said under his breath, throwing his weight against the door. It finally came free, sliding open with a rusty screech.
Jared peered into the murky dark interior of the van and stifled a groan. Jensen sat cross-legged against a stack of amplifiers inside, his ever-present black leather organizer open on his lap. He glanced up quickly and the smile on his face immediately disappeared.
“Oh shit,” Jensen said by way of greeting.
“Good to see you too,” Jared replied.
“Awesome, so you guys are friends,” Steve said, clapping Jared on the back.
“I wouldn’t really call us friends,” Jensen muttered.
Steve chose to ignore him. “Sorry for the lack of seats back here, kid, but we needed to take them out to make more room for our stuff,” Steve said, nodding toward the jumbled mess of instruments and sound equipment in the back.
“Good thing, too,” Chris piped up from the front. “This here’s a big boy.”
“But don’t worry, I won’t flip us over or anything.” Steve said with a grin.
“No problem,” Jared said, trying to sound nonchalant in the face of the potential nuclear meltdown that was going to result from being in Jensen’s company in close quarters for the next three thousand miles.
“Hop on in, Jared. Daylight’s wasting and I want to try to make it halfway through Ohio by tonight.”
Jared got into the van and propped his back against the wall opposite Jensen, crossing his legs in front of him. Jensen refused to make eye contact, and appeared to be silently seething over Jared’s presence. Add that to the disorganized clutter in the back of the van, and Jared was surprised that Jensen wasn’t on the verge of some sort of obsessive-compulsive breakdown. Then again, he probably was.
Steve got into the driver’s seat, swinging the door closed on protesting hinges. Turning the key in the ignition, the van sprung to life with a rattle and a clang, along with a distinct smell of exhaust. The men in the back fought to maintain balance when Steve laid a heavy foot to the gas pedal, the van lurching forward. “So why are you guys heading out to California?” he asked with a quick glance in the rearview mirror.
“I’m going to meet an old friend who goes to school out there,” Jared answered. It wasn’t a lie, only a half-truth. “How about you two?”
“It’s where I’m from,” Steve answered, “I’m going home to see some family for Christmas.”
“And we managed to land a couple of shows while we’re in town,” Chris added. “The rest of the band started out a couple of days ago, but we got stuck hauling everything. That in includes you guys,” Chris turned in his seat to smile at them. “Jensen?”
“My boyfriend goes to school out there,” Jensen said, looking steadily at Jared, “I’m going out there to see him over break.”
Jared’s stomach turned over, and he swallowed thickly. Suddenly everything made a lot more sense, like the phone call he had overheard, and Jensen’s reaction to their little escapade on the rooftop last week. In an instant, he decided to chalk this one up on his ever-increasing list of failures and let bygones be bygones.
Jared peered out the windshield, and noticed the sign for the interstate as Steve drove past it. “Weren’t you supposed to make a left back there?” Jared said.
“Nope. This ol’ baby won’t go a lick over fifty,” Chris replied, banging a hand on the dashboard of the van. “We’ll have to stick to the back roads. I figured it out. It’ll take us an extra half a day to get to where we’re going.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll get you there by Christmas,” Steve added, and turned the radio up louder. His thumbs found a rhythm on the steering wheel and he quietly sang along with the song.
Jared let out a soft laugh when he saw Jensen flip through a few pages in his schedule, erasing several lines and rewriting them.
“What?” Jensen said, sounding defensive when he noticed Jared’s stare.
“You really have to plan everything to the minute, don’t you?” Jared said. “Rearranging your schedule to take into account the extra few hours?”
“Merely an observation, Jensen.” Jared said lightly. “Why are you riding with these guys, anyway? Wouldn’t a flight have been quicker, or even a bus? I know why I’m here. I’m broke. But you’re Mr. My-Family-Has-Donated-Half-of-the-Buildi
“They wanted me to go skiing with them over the break. They’re not too thrilled with me right now, and wouldn’t pay for a plane ticket to the west coast.” Jared thought Jensen looked a little embarrassed. “Tom… that’s my boyfriend… he’s paying for my trip home for me, but he couldn’t afford a round trip ticket, so here I am.”
“Yeah, about that…your boyfriend. Listen, if I’d known, I never would have, you know...” Jared said awkwardly.
“I’ve been thinking about that. It was sort of my fault, and I sort of overreacted. But, if you want to get together again when we get back to school and work on our papers, or just hang out, well… that would be great.”
So there it was. They both managed to apologize without actually saying ‘I’m sorry,’ their pride was intact, and Jared thought that the world certainly felt like a much friendlier place for it. He also felt like a disaster had just narrowly been averted.
Jared leaned toward the back of the van, scrambling over instrument cases and a tangle of cords. The case of a snare drum was biting into his hipbone as he dug around in his duffel for a minute, finally producing a small brown paper bag. “Breakfast?” Jared said, holding the bag out to Jensen.
Jensen peered into the bag. “Cookies for breakfast?” he said to Jared with a raised eyebrow.
“It’s better than my normal breakfast of beer and pork rinds.”
“Don’t forget about the tequila,” Jensen reminded him.
“And tequila,” Jared agreed. “They’re oatmeal. That’s a breakfast food, right? Consider it a peace offering. Truce?”
“Truce,” Jensen said and grabbed a cookie, giving Jared a grin that he swore brightened the whole wide world.
Jared grabbed one of his own, leaving the bag in the middle so they could both reach them. Leaning back, he stretched his long legs as far as the cramped quarters would allow. He wasn’t sure who this Tom character was, but one thing he was sure of was that Tom was one of the luckiest people alive.
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,” Chris quoted, stretching the knots out of his back as everyone started to pile out of the van, looking rumpled and sore after a long day of driving.
“Chris Kane, our very own redneck philosopher,” Steve teased, coming up behind him and snagging the cowboy hat off of Chris’ head to place it on his own.
They were parked in front of a dicey-looking motel just west of Columbus, Ohio. It had been a very slow trek across the Appalachian Mountains in Pennsylvania, during which the van chugged and threatened to stall continuously. Jared, Jensen, and Chris had to bail out a couple of times to lighten the load and help push it up a hill while Steve shouted words of encouragement to his car, mixed with a wicked string of curses. That adventure had them running a few hours late. Jared couldn’t wait to see how the van reacted to the Rockies.
Jared held his hand out subconsciously to help Jensen as he ducked out of the van. Jensen stared at it for a heartbeat before accepting the proffered help. He winced a little, straightening his back, and stared dubiously around at the motel.
Noticing Jensen’s expression, Chris said, “I know it’s not much to look at, but we all stayed here on the way to Boston, and it’s not too bad. It’s not the Ritz-Carlton, but it’s cheap and that’s probably the best part.”
Jensen nodded , giving him a small smile, but as he watched a man dressed in dirty clothes with a bottle in a paper bag held in his hand stagger across the parking lot to his room, he looked anything but comforted.
“I’ll protect you, sweet prince,” Jared said gallantly, laying an easy arm across Jensen’s shoulders.
“The Shakespeare is coming out all over tonight,” Steve said sarcastically. “I’m gonna check us in before I start quoting MacBeth or something equally ridiculous. How many rooms are we getting? Chris and I can share a bed if you guys can’t afford a separate room.”
“Yeah, we’ve slept in worse places,” Chris added.
Jensen opened his mouth to answer, but Jared cut him off quickly. “We can share. I mean, a penny saved is a penny earned, right?”He ignored Jensen’s glare.
“Now it’s Ben Franklin quotes,” Jensen, said in defeat.
“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy,” Chris quoted solemnly with a nod.
“We have got to get to bed before this gets any more ludicrous,” Steve said as he threw the car keys to Jared and started off toward the small office.
Jared fought with the lock for a second before getting the back doors open, and the three of them began grabbing their luggage for the night. Jensen took out a large suitcase and an overnight bag, and then reached in a third time for his backpack.
“Were you planning on moving out to California?” Jared asked, his eyebrows creeping up toward his hairline.
“Shut up,” Jensen replied, giving him a withering look.
Steve emerged from the office minutes later, spinning a key ring on his index finger as he led them to their room at the end of the building.
Jared walked into the room, threw his duffel into a chair in the corner and eyed the double beds with some trepidation. He was used to his feet hanging off of the edge of a bed - he’d had to deal with that since a growth spurt at the age of fifteen had shot him up to well over six feet tall. But if he and Jensen were going to share this small bed, there was definitely going to be touching involved, especially since Jensen was no small man himself. A lot of full body touching. Not that he intended anything at all, but hormones were hormones and Jensen was…well, Jensen.
“I call first shower,” Steve hollered once the door was closed.
Chris snatched his hat back from his friend before landing heavily on the bed, covering his face with it. He crossed his feet with his boots still on and within seconds was snoring softly.
“That boy could sleep through a train wreck,” Steve said fondly, heading toward the bathroom.
Jared turned around to look at Jensen, who was sitting on the edge of the bed staring at Chris as if he wanted to dash over and take the boots off of him. With a sigh, Jensen opened his organizer and checked something else off of a list, before turning to a blank page and starting a new one. Jared went to his duffle bag and grabbed a warm beer out from amongst his clothes and other essentials. He held it out, offering it to Jensen who refused with a shake of his head. He walked back to the bed and sat down next to Jensen, bouncing a little to test out the mattress.
“You having fun?” Jared asked quietly, with a smile.
“Yeah, if you call pushing a big ass van up the side of a mountain for half the afternoon and then checking into the Bates Motel fun. I’m having a blast,” Jensen said, a little too loudly.
Chris shifted a little on the bed beside them, lifted his hat from his face just a fraction and squinted one eye open in their direction.
“Sorry, Chris,” Jared said. “Jensen gets a little testy when he gets off of his schedule.”
Chris just grunted, replaced his hat and immediately started snoring again.
“You always look for the good in things, don’t you?” Jensen asked him softly.
“I try to.” Jared shrugged. “It doesn’t always work, but yeah.”
“That’s something that I could learn from you.”
The bathroom door opened with a burst of steam, and Steve emerged toweling off his hair. “Next,” he announced.
“Go ahead,” Jared said to Jensen, who gave him a thankful smile.
When they heard the water start with Jensen’s shower, Steve eyed Jared’s beer and held his hand up in the universal gesture of ‘give me one of those.’ Jared took another from his bag and threw it across the room. Steve caught it easily, opened it, and drank down half of the can in one gulp.
“Nothing like a warm beer at one o’clock in the morning.” Jared nodded. “So, you’ve got it pretty bad, huh?” Steve said out of nowhere.
Jared jumped a little, his head whipping up to look at Steve. “What?”
“You’ve got it bad for that kid,” he repeated with a nod toward the bathroom. “Can’t say I blame you, I mean, if I swung that way...” Steve came over and sat down next to Jared.
“How could you tell?”
“Call it a gift. But the guy is a little moody, don’t you think?”
There was no use denying that. “He can be. But I think he’s also just a little…repressed,” Jared searched for the right word. “Like he’s never really had a chance to live, to experience life, but there is something in him that really wants to. And there’s something about him, you know? He’s so damn smart. And, God, that smile…” he trailed off, blushing a little over the fact that he must have sounded like a school girl with a movie star crush.
“Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me,” Steve said with a strong slap to Jared’s back.
“That’s part of the problem. It’s not really a secret.” Jared looked at Steve, who nodded knowingly.
“Well, kid, you’ve got more life in your little finger than most people have in their whole body. If you spread that around a little, you may just be surprised.”
When Jared looked at him quizzically, Steve just said, “It’s the gift. Sometimes it's a burden.” He drained his beer as he crossed the room. He laid down on his bed with a small push to Chris for more room. Flipping off the light switch beside his bed, Steve turned toward the wall and covered his head with a pillow.
Leaning back with his feet dangling over the edge of the bed, Jared was just starting to doze when the groan of water pipes shutting off startled him awake. Jensen appeared in the doorway minutes later, a pair of dark rimmed glasses perched low on his nose, and walked over to his luggage to put away his shaving kit.
Jared couldn't help but stare as Jensen moved, his eyes fixed on the expanse of Jensen’s shoulders, the way his muscles moved under the skin of his back, the small droplets of water still clinging there, the light trail of hair that ran from Jensen’s belly button to the low slung waistband of his cut-off cargo pants. A small, appreciative hum emerged unbidden from the back of Jared’s throat. If he had any doubt before, he was now certain that this was going to be a very long night indeed.
Jensen turned to look at him, teeth worrying at his bottom lip. “Jared, you okay?” Jensen snapped his fingers in front of him.
“Yeah.” Jared’s voice was groggy, like he’d just woken up. “I…uh…I didn’t know you wore glasses,” he finished lamely. And Jared wondered how he had managed to get to the ripe old age of nineteen without knowing that he had this huge thing for glasses. But then again, he was harboring this huge thing for Jensen, and those glasses were a part of the overall package. Not waiting for a response, he fled quickly toward the bathroom.
The hot water pounded on his back as Jared stood in the shower, letting the warmth unknot sore and tired muscles. He closed his eyes, trying to wipe away the image of Jensen in only his shorts, and replace it with the picture of the GQ model look-a-like that Chad had sent him days before. After all, that was his real reason for making this cross-country trip. But try as he might, Jensen just kept coming up like the chorus of a song that just repeated over and over in his head.
When he left the bathroom, Jensen was already in bed, a book tilted on his lap to catch the dim light coming from the lamp on the table. Jared walked over to the bed, lifted the covers and started to slide in.
“What are you doing?” Jensen said, his eyes wide.
“What’s it look like I’m doing? I’m going to bed.”
“Not here you’re not.”
“I’m not going to do anything. There are a few people around here that can resist your girlish charm.” Jared doubted the validity of that statement, but that was neither here nor there.
“I’ve worked out a schedule,” Jensen said, grabbing his organizer from beside him and opening it up. “Rather than the three nights we originally thought this would take, it looks like we’ll be on the road for four. We can switch around who has the bed—“
“You’re serious. I can’t believe you’re serious. I’m going to sleep.”
“You want the bed tonight?” Jensen said resignedly.
“As a matter of fact, I do.”
“Fine.” Jensen threw himself off the bed, and snatched the blanket and his pillow off. Jared laid his head on the other pillow, and a second later Jensen snatched that out from beneath him as well.
“You don’t have to do this, you know. You’re going to feel like ass in the morning.”
“Yes I do, and no I won’t.” Jensen’s voice was muffled from the floor beside the bed.
“You don’t know where that carpet’s been,” Jared said.
“You don’t know where that mattress has been.”
Jared turned on his side, rested his head on his arm and said, “Turn off the light, will you?” He ignored Jensen’s curse as the room went dark.
Jared stood leaning against the side of the van the next morning, waiting for Jensen to come out of the office from returning the key. He scratched absently at the stubble on his chin, having decided that fifteen more minutes of sleep was better than shaving this morning.
Jensen left the office and walked across the parking lot to where they were waiting, the engine idling. Jared couldn’t help but notice his slightly stiff gait. “Sleep well, Jensen?” He was feeling rather smug this morning.
“Shut up,” Jensen said, climbing into the van awkwardly.
“You should stop saying that to me, or I’m likely to start thinking that's my name,” Jared teased as he followed Jensen in.
Jensen just leveled a murderous look in his direction, and gingerly lowered himself onto the floor of the van.
“So what’s the plan today, oh captain, my captain?” Jared asked. He opened a large bag of Skittles and passed them to the front of the car.
“Well, I think that we’ll take Highway 22 out of town, maybe hit up 42. I’m hoping to make the Missouri-Oklahoma border by midnight.We should be able to make up some time today. ” Steve peered up at the sky through the dirty windshield. “If the snow holds out,” he added as he slid the map onto the dashboard in front of him and pulled off.
“Home sweet home,” Chris whooped around a mouthful of candy.
Jared took the bag back and tossed a handful of Skittles into his mouth.
“I don’t know how you can eat that this early, it doesn’t make sense,” Jensen said.
“Why does everything have to make sense to you?” Jared lashed out suddenly. He was usually very easy going and tolerant, but these last couple of days of constant exposure to Jensen’s moodiness seemed to have rubbed off on him.
“Here they go,” Chris said to Steve, and picked up his guitar from between the two front seats. He began to play it, propping his feet up on the dashboard. Steve just chuckled and began humming along softly.
“Why don’t you ever do anything that doesn’t make sense?” Jared continued. “Or even do something simply because it doesn’t make sense?”
“I do things that don’t make sense! All the time!” Jensen spat back. “Like this one time Tom and I—you know, never mind. I don’t have to answer to you or anybody else.”
“Well, you pegged it there, Jensen. Because I do think that you have to answer to people. You’ve been doing it your whole life, and I really think that is a big part of your problem.”
“How can you say that? You don’t know anything about me.”
“I kinda think that I do. I think that you’re the kind of person who has been told what to do and how to do it for so long that you don’t really know how to figure it out on your own anymore, at least not without your precious organizer. You’re the kind of person who’s had his life mapped out for him for so long that you don’t even know how to get lost in something anymore. You’ve forgotten how to be silly, and you take yourself way too seriously. You need to learn how to be ridiculous just because you can be. And you’re the kind of person who is scared to death to take a chance on something, because chances don’t come with guarantees. Well, Jensen, sometimes the best things in the world don’t come with a manufacturer’s warranty.”
The two lapsed into a sullen silence, the fight suddenly gone from both of them.
After a while, Jared got tired of watching Jensen stare at his shoes. He balled up his jacket and leaned back, trying to find a comfortable position to sleep in the cramped compartment of the van. He just hoped that Jensen’s bad mood would blow over by the time he woke up. Closing his eyes, he allowed the mellow sound of music coming from the front seat lull him into sleep.
Jensen was jostled from an uneasy doze when the van bumped over a curb on the way into a gas station. Looking out the window, Jensen noticed that the fill up station and the small convenience store was the only thing along this long stretch of road. He had grown so used to cities that this emptiness felt both wonderful and a little disconcerting.
“Whose turn is it for gas?” Steve asked no one in particular. He slowed down in front of the pump.
“I think it’s Jared’s turn,” Chris answered, turning in his seat to look as the sleeping form in the back.
“I got it,” Jensen said, grabbing his credit card from his organizer and handing it forward.
“You sure?” Steve said.
“Yeah, I’m sure,” he handed some cash to Steve, “can you grab some sodas and some chocolate bars for us when you go in? I’d like a Sprite, and I think Jared likes Mountain Dew. Get yourself and Chris anything you want out of that.”
Steve peered at him closely for a moment, and Jensen felt like squirming a little under the scrutiny of those blues eyes. “No problem. Thanks,” Steve said.
Chris pumped the gas while Steve ran into the store, and within minutes they were hitting the road again.
Jensen stared at Jared as he laid curled on his side, his eyelids fluttering a little and his body rocking slightly with the motion of the van on the uneven pavement. He thought about their argument and about how Jared was mostly right about a lot of things he had said. However, Jensen also knew a few things about him.
Jensen knew how smart he was. Even though he goofed off most of the time, and was close to losing his free ride, the kid had to be brilliant to be accepted into the university, because the only way a person could get in there with a scholarship was to either be brilliant or play a sport, and Jensen knew that Jared wasn’t that into sports.
Jensen also knew that for all of his loud laughter and huge personality and booming voice, there was a quietness that not a lot of people ever got to see in Jared. But he had seen it in the way Jared was content to stand on that rooftop a week or so ago. Jensen saw it in the way Jared had been happy to just stand and watch the snow as it fell.
He’d also heard Jared’s accent change over the course of the semester, how Jared had lost his Texas drawl in the matter of a couple of months, probably due to the fact that he didn’t want anyone to think that he was stupid just because of the way he spoke.Only now, after spending a couple of days with Chris, it was starting to creep back in without Jared even realizing it. It was sort of like a little piece of home that he could not quite manage to leave behind.
And finally, he knew that Jared had a huge thing for him, and that was rough, because he and Tom were in it for the long haul, and that was a guaranteed fact. And so what if some of the best things didn’t come with a manufacturer’s warranty? Jensen admitted to himself that Tom perhaps wouldn’t be the best thing that would ever happen to him, but he was safe. Tom could be a little overbearing and critical sometimes, but he was faithful, even three thousand miles away. He always kept his promises. He always kept Jensen on track. That had to be a good thing.
Jared shifted a little in his sleep as Jensen watched him. His eyes opened just a fraction to reveal the whites before sliding closed again. Jared was everything that Tom wasn’t. They were like polar opposites; Jared was impulsive and impetuous. His spontaneity always made Jensen feel like he was a couple of steps behind, like he couldn’t quite catch up. And even if Jensen could catch up, he’d have no idea what to do once he got there. But was he trying to get there? Wherever Jared was sure did seem like a pretty fantastic place be.
Then there was last night, when Jared had offered his hand to help Jensen out of the van, a purely subconscious move on Jared’s part, but sweet nonetheless. Sure, it had made Jensen feel like a girl, but that didn’t really matter. And then there was the way that Jared draped his arm around his shoulders, and the warmth and the weight of it somehow felt perfect. Comfortable.
Jensen wasn’t sure about that, or about where he was going, or where he really wanted to be, but he was sure of one thing. Jensen knew that the last thing he ever wanted to do was break somebody’s heart, especially Jared’s, because Jared wore his heart so openly on his sleeve.
Jensen also knew without a doubt that if someone loved Jared he would love him right back, only twice as much.
A loud crack snapped Jensen out of his thoughts. He felt the van swerve wildly, the back end swinging to the left and trying to catch up to the front end before swinging violently back the other way. The equipment in the back of the van began to tumble out of its neat stacks and toward the two men seated there. Jensen grabbed a hold of what he could, trying to keep as much as possible in place, while at the same time not tipping over himself. But despite his best efforts an amplifier broke free, a corner of it clipping Jared above his eyebrow as he groggily awoke and tried to figure out what was happening.
Steve cursed, his hands moving in a blur as he spun the wheel of the van to the sound of squealing tires and falling percussion instruments in a desperate attempt to stop the lumbering vehicle from tipping over. Even still, the world tilted sideways for a moment, knocking Jensen heavily against the side of the van, the collision bringing with it a stabbing pain that shot through his hip and ran down his leg. Oddly enough, Chris was showing no reaction whatsoever, simply riding the whole thing out with the grace of a rodeo star on a bucking bronco.
After what felt like an hour, but was really only a matter of seconds, the van started to steady and slow, and Steve steered off of the highway, at last bringing it to a stop. With a final loud backfire, the engine stalled.
The four men were quiet for a few moments, each of them sending out a prayer of thanks that they would live to see another day.
“What. The. Fuck,” Jared was the first to break the silence. He pressed two fingers against the gash in his forehead, and his face paled several shades when the fingers came away bloody.
“I second that,” Jensen said. His voice was a little shaky.
“See?” Steve said, and the smile on his face reminded Jensen a little too much of the Joker. “I told you guys I wouldn’t let the van flip.”
Chris just got out of the van and unlatched Jared and Jensen’s door as if almost dying in a fiery crash of twisted metal and audio equipment on a deserted stretch of backwoods highway in the middle of nowhere was the most natural thing in the world, or at least an everyday occurrence in Chris’ life. Or possibly both.
Jensen hopped out of the van and spun around to help Jared, who was obviously a little dizzy and walking on unsure legs.
“We almost died just then,” Jared said, wonder in his voice. He reached up and wiped a trickle of blood away from his eyelid.
Jensen blinked at him for a second before grabbing the tall man in a tight hug. Jared stiffened momentarily before relaxing visibly and wrapping his arms around Jensen’s shoulders.
When they pulled away, Jared looked at him, his expression serious. “Dude you should totally write this in your schedule. You should totally write, ‘1:23, almost die in a car crash.’ Then you could check that off of the list.”
“Does this count as doing something completely ridiculous just because I can? Because I really feel like it does,” Jensen said.
Both men burst out laughing, that kind of full-body laugh, it brought tears to their eyes and caused them to bend at the waist.
And just like that, their argument was forgotten and all was right with the world.
They walked toward the back of the van where the other two men were stooped near the rear tire. Chris glanced over to them.
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,” he said to them.
“Stop with the Shakespeare already,” Steve shot an annoyed look toward his friend.
Jensen looked over their shoulders at the tire. It was flat, of course, as was the one on the front passenger side. The worst part was the way the wheel sat at an unhealthy forty-five degree angle to the road. Jensen let out a low whistle.
Chris nodded. “Same thing happened to us before. It was on the way to that gig in Colorado, right?”
“No, New Mexico. Santa Fe,” Steve corrected him. “Try dancing that sort of jitterbug when you’re coming down a sidewinder and there’s a thousand foot drop just six inches to your right. Talk about almost dying.”
“It’s either a busted axle or a busted tie rod,” Chris said, “and even if we had two spares—“
“Which we don’t,” Steve interjected.
“This ship isn’t sailing anywhere for a few days while we get it fixed. I’ll call the tow truck.” Chris headed toward the front of the van to grab his phone.
Steve stood up and faced Jared and Jensen. “Hey guys, if you hold out any hope of getting to the west coast by Christmas, I would cut us loose and take the next bus you can find.” When Jared started to protest, Steve held up his hand. “We’ll be fine, we’ve lived through worse.” Steve’s eyes widened as if he was looking at Jared for the first time, “Jesus, you got a hell of a knock there. You alright?”
“I’m fine,” Jared said. “But do you have a band-aid?”
Steve rustled around in the wreck of the interior of the van and eventually produced a first aid kit, handing it over to Jensen as Jared sat down between the open back doors. Jensen started to clean him up. “It really isn’t all that bad, Jared.”
“Yeah, it’s just my head. It’s not like I use it much.”
“Don’t say that. Head wounds just bleed a lot.” He applied a small amount of antibiotic ointment to the gash. When Jared winced and hissed in a breath because of the sting, Jensen pursed his lips and blew a little on the cut.
“Thanks,” Jared said with a smile, “my momma always did that when she put that stuff on me when I was a kid.”
“Want me to kiss it better?” Jensen said after placing a bandage over his brow. He said it before he really knew what was coming out of his mouth.
Jared’s smile faltered a little. “No, you don’t have to.”
Jensen did it anyway, just to see that smile come back full force. Jared did not disappoint.
“So you didn’t shave today.” Jensen said, and he found himself running a thumb along the stubble on Jared’s cheek.
Jared’s throat worked a little before answering. “No, I didn’t. I wanted to sleep in.”
“You should shave. I think I like you better that way.”
Steve cleared his throat as he walked to the back of the van, and Jensen took a quick step backward, suddenly feeling awkward.
Steve started unloading it, taking inventory of everything back there, checking instruments for damage. “I’ve called Greyhound for you guys. The closest station is about thirty miles down the road in Mount Vernon. Anyway, if you start off now, you’ll probably make it around nightfall. Maybe earlier if you can hitch a ride. Or you can wait around here and see whether the tow truck driver can take all four of us back to that gas station we passed a while ago. Then you can try to get a ride from there.”
Jared looked a little confused. “What state are we in, anyway?”
“You’re in southern Illinois, Jared.” Steve said, speaking slowly. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Yeah, I just slept for a while, and when I woke up the world felt like it was spinning in the wrong direction. But I’m cool.”
“Well, it looks like we’re walking,” Jensen said to Jared, grabbing his luggage from the van.
Steve eyed Jensen’s suitcase and bags. “If you want to take only some of the stuff, you can leave the address where you’ll be and we’ll drop it off to you when we make it out there.”
Jensen was hesitant to leave anything behind, and thought that Chris and Steve had enough to deal with without having to worry about his luggage as well. “No, I got it. It really isn’t that heavy anyway, but thanks.”
Leaning back into the car, he rustled around for a few moments, and finally found what he was looking for. Handing a bag to Jared, Jensen said, “Here you go, I got you some candy and a soda.”
Jared looked into the bag and grinned. “Thanks. Nothing says ‘I’m sorry’ like a chocolate bar and Mountain Dew.”
When Jensen’s face started to fall, Jared said quickly, “No, I’m not kidding. Really, nothing does.”
The four said their goodbyes and promised to get in touch with each other when everybody reached California, Chris and Steve offering to get them into their show for free if they could make it.
With a final wave goodbye, Jared and Jensen started down the road. Jensen stared at the expanse of two-lane blacktop stretched out before him. There was not a house or a crossroad in sight, only fields of brush for miles around - brush that was now dry and brown from the winter cold.
“You want me to carry some of that stuff for you?” Jared asked, his duffel bag slung easily over a shoulder.
“Nope, I’m good.”
“We’ll, just let me know. I don’t want it slowing you down too much, because I will leave your ass.”
“It looks like rain, maybe snow,” Jensen said, watching dark clouds rolling in on the horizon.
“You don’t say.”