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.
Link to Masterpost
A Thousand Miles Behind ~ Part Three
The two had been walking down the deserted stretch of road for at least three hours before a car finally passed them. Jared stuck out his thumb, not holding out much hope. True to form, the car did not slow down even one bit.
“Did you really expect them to pick us up?” Jensen asked, slowing down his steady march a little.
“Not at all. I mean, would you pick us up? I know that I wouldn’t. I mean, I’d pick you up, because…well, you’re you. But I’d never pick myself up.” After a moment Jared added, “We could always dress you up as a pregnant woman and work the pity angle.”
Jensen laughed. “No, you’d be the girl. Your hair is longer.”
“But I didn’t shave today. Try to explain that one. And I’m like seven feet tall.”
“You could be a woman with a pituitary condition and a hormone imbalance. What with the pregnancy and all.”
They crested the top of a small hill. The adrenaline rush from their near death experience had fully worn off, and Jared was starting to get a dreadful headache and was feeling dizzy from the bump he’d taken. Jensen was walking a little ahead of him, and Jared could see that he’d picked up a bit of a limp. He must have taken a hefty hit to the hip while the van careened all over the road.
Jensen slowed his march, breathing heavily from the exertion of carrying most of what he owned halfway across the state of Illinois. “Can we stop for a minute?”
“I’m starving,” Jensen said. The sodas and candy bars had not gotten them very far. He tipped his large suitcase to its side and sat down on it stiffly and with a groan.
Jared rummaged around in his duffel and produced two cans of beer and a bag of pork rinds, holding them out to Jensen. He sat down on the suitcase when Jensen moved to make a little room for him.
Jensen took the can of beer and eyed the bag suspiciously. “You seem to have an endless supply of alcohol and bad-for-you snacks in there.”
“Provisions are essential. Were you aware that Egyptian workers used to get paid in beer? And what do you mean these snacks are bad for you? You see, there are two kinds of snack food in the world. There are the completely useless ones, like Twinkies and Skittles. And then there are the ones that actually have nutritional value. Take these for example.” He took the bag from Jensen and looked at the back of the it. “Did you know that these have seven percent of the daily recommended allowance of riboflavin? If we eat this whole bag, we will have our riboflavin completely covered for today. And, as you know, that’s one less thing we’ll need to worry about.”
“And something I can check off the list,” Jensen said with a nod and a smile.
Rifling around in his jacket pocket, Jared produced a pen. He held the can of beer on its side and punctured it with the point of the pen. Holding it to his mouth, he quickly popped the tab, his throat working as warm beer threatened to work its way up his nose. He set the can on the ground, crushing it with the heel of his boot before pulling a second one out.
“What was that?” Jensen said.
Jared stared at him for a few moments. “Don’t tell me you’ve never shotgunned a beer before.” When Jensen just stared at him blankly he deadpanned, “You have much to learn about what it means to be a man, my son.”
“I’m starting to believe you,” Jensen replied, but the tone of his voice was serious.
Before Jared could say anything, he heard an engine approaching. He stood up when the car got a little closer, but when the driver saw him stick out his thumb the car actually sped up and swerved away from him. He kicked a few loose pebbles on the road as he walked back to Jensen.
Jensen stood and watched the car as it grew tiny in the distance. “Two cars within thirty minutes. Rush hour around here is a bitch.”
“Let’s get going,” Jared said, and lifted Jensen’s heavy suitcase.
“I can get it.” Jensen made a move to take it back from Jared, who just ignored him outright. “My pride fell with my fortunes,” Jensen sighed.
“Shakespeare!” Jared said, throwing a fist into the air.
“Our professor would be so proud.” Jensen started limping behind Jared.
The sun had set an hour ago. Snow was just beginning to fall and the temperature was starting to drop when Jared and Jensen finally walked into the bus station. There was a bus idling right outside of the small building, the exhaust puffing up in large white clouds in the cold night. The station was tiny, three benches and a small television hanging in the corner, a couple of vending machines and one lone ticket agent behind a Plexiglas shielded counter. Jared stared at the board behind the ticket agent blankly, trying to make sense of connections and fares and departure times. His headache was pounding at full force, his nose felt frozen, and he was pretty sure that if he looked in a mirror right now, his lips would be a startling shade of blue.
Jensen approached the counter, pulled out his bankcard, nodding as the agent explained his transfers and connections. She handed him a small paper envelope containing the series of tickets that he would need to get to Los Angeles.
Turning around, Jensen patted Jared on the chest with his envelope. “Hurry up, she said that the bus outside is the last one out for tonight, and it leaves in a couple of minutes. It’ll take us to St. Louis, and there we’ll transfer to a different one for the rest of the trip. I’ll meet you on the bus, I’ll save you a seat.”
“Sounds good,” Jared said and walked up to the window. “I’ll take whatever he’s having,” he said as he pulled his wallet from his back pocket.
The woman looked at her computer screen and started typing. Without looking up, she said, “That will be two hundred and nine dollars.”
Jared’s stomach dropped, and he started counting the money in his wallet. If he bought the ticket that would leave him with only about thirty dollars, and no way at all to get back to Boston in time for exams. He could always call his parents. He had been waiting for their Christmas present to end up in his bank account, but so far there had been no luck on that front. “Never mind that. How much is a ticket to San Antonio?”
The keys clicked as the agent typed. “One hundred eighty,” she said. “But there’s no bus heading out of here to Texas until Monday morning. You can’t stay here, because we close in a couple of hours.”
“Isn’t there anything leaving tomorrow?”
“No, we’re not open on Sunday.”
Jared thought about asking whether he could take the bus to St. Louis and then take another one to San Antonio from there, since it was bound to be a bigger stop than this one, and how much all of that would cost. But it all got too complicated in his head, and traveling a few hundred miles in the wrong direction just in order to eventually travel in the right direction seemed like a waste of time to him. Furthermore, he suddenly hated the fact that he was broke, and really didn’t want to have to turn to anyone for help, especially Jensen. And talk about pride. This was starting to turn into one big misadventure, and it really wasn’t even for a good purpose. It was all Chad’s fault, with his silly plans and stupid schemes. Only it really wasn’t Chad’s fault at all.
Dashing outside, he spotted Jensen quickly through the tall window of the bus, waving a hand to beckon him outside. Jensen got off the bus, a questioning expression on his face. When Jared told him he was going to go back to home, Jensen started to head back into the bus station.
“What are you doing?” Jared asked, grabbing him by the arm.
“I’m buying you a ticket to LA.”
“No you’re not, you’re getting back on the bus.”
“But you’ll have to wait here. Alone.” The last word came out like it was some kind of curse.
“I’ll be fine. I’m a big kid. I’ll take care of myself. Thanks, though.”
Jensen bounced on the balls of his feet for a minute, chewing at his bottom lip as he looked at the bus then at Jared and back to the bus again. Finally, he took out his wallet, pulling out a small pile of folded bills. “Then at least take this,” he said, trying to hand the money to Jared.
“I told you I was fine.” Jared held his hands up.
“I know you’re fine but take it anyway.” Jensen shoved the money into Jared’s coat pocket. His heels left the ground when he threw his arms tightly around Jared’s neck. “Call me when you get where you’re going, okay?” Jensen said, and Jared thought that his voice might have shaken a bit. “Actually, call me everyday, alright? Hell, call me in an hour.”
Jared just nodded in response. There was this odd lump building in the back of his throat telling him that he shouldn’t trust his voice. And what was all that about? Just this morning they had been at each other’s throats. None of it made any sense, but Jared decided that maybe it didn't need to.
Fixing his eyes on Jared’s, Jensen said, “I can’t figure out why, but I think I’m gonna miss you." He shook his head and then added, "Just a little.” With that he walked back onto the bus, and Jared watched him take his seat through the tinted window. He waved to him, but Jensen didn’t look up, keeping his head bowed.
Jared went back into the station. Making his way over to a bench, he sat down, wanting a few minutes to warm up before going back out into the wind and the snow. He heard the engine of the bus rev up outside, and silently wished Jensen a safe and quick trip. The television in the corner was playing some seventies sit-com, and the laugh track made Jared’s head hurt worse as he stared at the small screen.
“Anything good on?” A smooth voice close to Jared’s ear made him jump a little.
Jared turned around, a wave of relief washing over him when he saw Jensen leaning close to him, his forearms folded over the back of the bench, his lips curled up contentedly. Over Jensen’s shoulder, he saw the bus pull away from the curb.
“Hey,” Jared said quietly.
“You should have left—”
“It’s alright,” Jensen interrupted him. “I’m going to go turn my ticket back in. There was that motel we passed on the way into town, we’ll stay there for the night. Figure things out in the morning.”
They exited the station, picked up Jensen’s bags off of the sidewalk, and started walking toward the motel. The wind was picking up, blowing snow in their faces and clawing at their coats.
“It is times like these that I wonder why I ever left Texas,” Jared shouted over the wind.
“Tell me about it. I could really use sunny California right now.” Jensen regretted his statement a split second after he’d said it.
“About that, I’m sorry.”
“Will you just stop already? I’m not going to leave you. I’m not.”
“Don’t mention it. And I mean please don’t mention it. At all. Ever again.”
The first motel they tried had no vacancies, the man at the office telling them that the weather and the holiday travel had them completely booked up. With one look at the desperation on Jared and Jensen’s faces, the night manager offered to call a few other places for them and check for openings. After several calls, he eventually found a hotel about mile away with one open room, and gave them directions.
Jared and Jensen entered the office of the place, their feet aching and their limbs frozen, grateful for the blast of warm air that greeted them. The room was expensive, and when Jared tried to hand the cash that Jensen had given him back, he’d only received a withering look as Jensen slid a credit card over the counter.
“I’ll pay you back when we get back to school,” Jared said.
“Whatever,” Jensen shrugged.
“Where’s all this money coming from?”
“It’s not. I’ll have some hefty explaining to do to my father when the bills come through, but right now I would be willing to buy us the penthouse suite at the Ritz if it meant a hot shower and a comfortable bed.”
The walk from the office to the door of their room felt like the longest trip that Jared had made all day long. Trailing Jensen through the doorway, Jared felt a pang of disappointment when he saw the single queen-sized bed in the center of the room. It was going to be a long night, and if he remembered correctly, it was his turn to sleep on the floor.
Jensen didn’t say anything about that, only took his organizer out of his backpack and his phone from his pocket before sitting gingerly on a chair by the small table in the corner of the room, still favoring his sore hip. It had been hours since Jared had seen Jensen with his planner, and he decided that Jensen was definitely making progress. A couple more days together, and Jared may just be able to wean him off of it entirely.
“You can take the first shower,” Jensen said to him. “I’ll get some ice for your eye. It’s gonna swell up some since you’ve hit the warm air.”
Walking into the bathroom, Jared looked at himself in the mirror. The skin above his left eye was an unhealthy-looking shade of purple mixed in with red. He could see the definite boxy shape of the amplifier that had hit him in the bruise. The bandage hurt the sensitive skin in the area when he pulled it off. Jensen had cleaned it up well, and there were no signs of infection around the small cut there. He ran a washcloth under some hot water, wincing a little at the sting when he pressed it to his forehead. It had been a hell of a day, but it could have been so much worse.
He turned the water in the shower as hot as he could stand it, and began peeling off his clothes. They were filthy from a day spent out on the road, and he seriously considered burning them in the parking lot of the motel. Jared had suffered a lot of bad luck today, and he was starting to think that the clothes were somehow cursed.
The warm water felt like it was boring miniscule pinpricks into his cold and sore skin, and Jared found himself actually looking forward to the southward trip to San Antonio. It was an opportunity to defrost if nothing else. But he also hated the idea of leaving Jensen, especially since the man had blown his opportunity to leave in order to stick with him.
He got out of the shower, thankful to put on a clean t-shirt and flannel pants. He started to turn the knob on the door, but then faced the sink once more, taking out his razor. It made more sense to just wait for morning to shave, but Jensen said that he’d liked him better that way, and since Jensen had generously donated this room to the cause, it was the least he could do.
When he was once again clean-shaven, Jared opened he door, and heard Jensen’s voice in low tones in the room. Not sure what to do, but with curiosity getting the better of him, he pulled the door so that it was only open a small amount and listened to Jensen’s half of the conversation.
“…don’t worry everything is fine, and I’ll try to get there by Christmas day… we’ve just gotten stuck in Illinois… I mean I got stuck… listen, right now I’m tired and I just don’t feel like arguing… I miss you too… yeah, me too.” He heard Jensen toss his phone on the table before he walked into the room.
Jensen was still sitting at the table, arms folded before him and staring at the phone as if it were some snake about to bite him.
“Everything alright?” Jared asked.
“What?” Jensen still stared at the table. “Oh, yeah. It’s just… you know… never mind.” He glanced at Jared and then did a quick double take. Jensen stood up stiffly and came close to Jared, grimacing a little as he reached a hand out to feel around the skin of his wound. “Does it hurt?” he asked.
“Only when I breathe,” Jared joked. “How’s your hip?”
“How did you know?”
“I’ve been watching you walk all day.”
“It’s fine. No big deal. Bullets bounce off me.”
“You’re a regular Bruce Willis.”
Jensen scoffed. “Hey, I’m taller than Bruce Willis. And much better looking.”
“You sure got that right,” Jared said, his eyes moving along Jensen’s tall frame seemingly of their own volition.
There was an awkward silence before Jensen said, “My turn. I got us ice, by the way. Put some in a towel and put it on your eye.” He headed toward the bathroom, already peeling off the layers of clothing from his upper body. As he made the turn into the small bathroom, Jared saw the black mark along his hip.
“Whoa, stop,” Jared said, “Bruce Willis or no Bruce Willis, that's gotta hurt like a bitch.” Walking over to Jensen, he stooped beside him, keeping his gaze fixed on the angry mark on his hip. “Why didn’t you tell me?” He pressed his fingers tentatively to the injured area, pulling back quickly when Jensen jerked with a quick intake of breath.
“No point in complaining, it is what it is.” Jensen shrugged. “Besides, it only hurts when I breathe,” he said with a small smile. When Jared made a move to pull the waistband of his jeans down slightly, Jensen canted his hips away. “Hey! I may be easy, but I’m not that easy.”
“I’m not gonna do anything,” Jared said, rolling his eyes, “I just want to get a look. It didn’t break the skin anywhere, did it?”
“I don’t think so,” Jensen said.
Jared unhooked Jensen’s belt and the buttons on his jeans quickly with one hand, and gently moved them down to expose the hip, his lips pursed as if he was feeling the pain he knew he was causing.
“Hey, you’re pretty good at that,” Jensen teased, “you can get into a guy’s pants in three seconds flat.”
“It’s a skill. A very useful skill,” Jared said absently as he pressed along the skin there. He wasn’t sure what to look for, but he figured that if something was really out of whack then it would be obvious and Jensen would have let him know long ago.
Jensen laid a hand on his shoulder, helping himself balance under Jared’s scrutiny. “What’s the prognosis, doc? Am I gonna make it through the night?”
Jared looked up at Jensen, surprised by the high flush he found on Jensen’s cheeks, and by the intense look that Jensen was aiming in his direction, regardless of the joking words that were coming out of his mouth. Something suddenly felt too close between them, like he had stepped over some invisible line in the sand. The funny thing was, Jensen didn’t seem to mind. Not at all.
“I think you’ll live,” he said, his knees popping as he stood up. “A couple of beers and some ice and you’ll be good as new.” He rubbed along the small of Jensen’s back for a second, before gently pushing him toward the open bathroom door.
While Jensen got cleaned up, Jared emptied his bag and began to take inventory, sorting through his stuff with one hand, the other holding a makeshift icepack to his cut. He only had four cans of beer left, a partial bag of pork rinds, various assorted half-full bags of candy, and an unopened bottle of Maker’s Mark. He seriously considered cracking that open, fully aware of its anesthetic qualities, especially after the day that they’d had. But then he thought better of it. It was a Christmas present for Chad, one of his buddy's favorite poisons. Besides, his stomach was reminding him vocally that it had been hours since he’d eaten, and Jared had long ago learned that putting expensive whiskey on an empty stomach was too often just a waste of good liquor.
Jared cracked open the bathroom door, a moist cloud of steam hitting him in the face. “I’m ordering pizza,” he yelled in order to be heard over the sound of Jensen’s shower, “are onions and green peppers alright? I feel the need for some vegetables.”
Jensen yelled back, “God, yes. I sort of love everything about you right now.”
Jared closed the door quickly, a crazy sort of feeling building in his stomach. Jensen was joking, sure, and at that moment Jared really wished that he wasn't.
The food arrived just as Jensen was getting out of the shower. There was a short but vehement disagreement about who was going to pay for it. Jared pointed out that he was going to pay for it with the money Jensen had forced on him anyway, and brought the argument to a hasty end.
Jensen made a happy sound as he finished off the first slice and dove into his second.
“Beer?” Jared asked.
“You drink too much,” Jensen pointed out.
“You don’t drink enough. Besides, beer and pizza is America’s national pass-time.”
“And here all along I thought it was baseball,” Jensen mused and took the can from Jared.
When Jensen started to open it, Jared suddenly jumped up from his chair and told him to stop. “While I am instructing you in the ways of the American man, I think it is time for you to shotgun your first beer. It is an important rite of passage,” he said solemnly.
Finding a spare towel, he sat Jensen on the bed and draped it over him, stating, “The first time you do this it can get a little messy.” He retrieved a pen from the drawer beside the bed, and explained what he was doing. “You hold the can on its side, and take something sharp. My weapon of choice is a pen,” Jared said, holding it up to Jensen, “then you make a hole, hold the can up to your mouth, and pull the tab. The beer will slide down you throat really quickly, so get ready to swallow. Try not to choke.”
“There’s no sexual innuendo here at all,” Jensen said sarcastically before holding the can up to his mouth and opening it.
The next thing Jared knew, Jensen was bent over sputtering. He was pretty sure that he had just seen beer come out of someone’s eyes for the first time, and couldn’t help but laugh uproariously. “It takes a little practice,” he said.
Once his coughing fit ended, Jensen looked up at Jared and said, “That was awesome. Painful, but awesome.” He wiped his face off with the towel. “But I’m pretty sure that I need another shower now.” He leaned over Jared’s lap and grabbed a second beer from the table. When Jared looked at him curiously he said, “I need this to wash down the first one.”
“I couldn’t have said it better myself.”
There were two slices of pizza left in the box by the time both of them had eaten their fill, the beer was gone and Jared thought fleetingly again about going after the bottle in his bag, but then thought better of it.
“Beer’s all gone, time to go to bed,” Jensen said, rubbing absently at his stomach. He pulled back the covers, and lay down on his side. Muttering a curse, Jensen hastily flipped over to the other hip.
When Jared took hold of a pillow and threw it on the floor Jensen said, “You don’t have to sleep on the floor.” His voice sounded small.
“You don’t have to sleep on the floor.” Jensen laughed a little nervously.
“Thanks.” Jared said. He quickly added, “I won’t try anything, I swear.”
“I trust you.”
Jared climbed beneath the covers and turned his back to Jensen, trying to maintain as much space between them as possible. Jensen turned off the light, throwing the room into dark shadows. The only bit of light came from the outside streetlamps, sneaking in through the heavy curtains at the window. Jared was exhausted, but each time he closed his eyes they opened up like they were attached by springs.
“Still awake?” Jensen said quietly behind him.
“Yeah.” After a few seconds or so, Jared asked, “What’s he like?”
“Tim, is it?”
“You mean Tom.”
Jared flipped over onto his back and turned to face Jensen, his features barely discernable in the gloomy light, only a faint reflection from his open eyes.
Jensen paused for a moment, searching for the right words. “He’s great. Just very driven, he’s the kind of guy who always has a plan.”
“I can see why you’re together then.”
“Yeah, I suppose we’re a lot alike in that way. He’s… I don’t know… reliable? We want the same things out of life. And he’s smart. He’s studying environmental science at UCLA. That’s one of the reasons I’m going to study environmental law, go into environmental justice. It’s just sometimes… I don’t know. Forget it.”
“You can’t invite a guy into your bed and then turn into a tease. Spit it out,” Jared said.
“Sometimes I think about a lot of the stuff I’m missing out on. That’s all.”
“Like shotgunning beer,” Jensen said, and shifted slightly, bending his knees a little more. “And pork rinds. Which are disgusting, by the way—riboflavin or no riboflavin. Or Skittles and oatmeal cookies for breakfast. Or going to bed tonight with absolutely no idea of where we’re gonna be this time tomorrow.”
They lapsed into a comfortable silence for a few minutes. “Jensen?” Jared said quietly.
“Mmm?” Jensen replied, sounding half asleep.
“Thanks again for coming back for me, you didn’t have to.”
“Yes, I did. And you’re welcome,” Jensen reached a hand out and placed it lazily on Jared’s chest. A minute later Jensen still had not moved it, his breathing had become slow and regular, punctuated by the occasional soft snore. Jared placed his hand over Jensen’s, drinking in the feeling of Jensen’s warm palm resting on his bare skin. He spent long minutes waiting for Jensen to rouse and pull it back. When he didn’t, Jared curled his fingers around it loosely. This time, when Jared closed his eyes, they finally stayed closed.
Jared awoke, not really sure where he was and feeling like he’d gone eight rounds with a championship boxer. His feet hurt, his back hurt, his head felt like it was ready to explode. But when he felt Jensen’s head resting on his chest, his hair prickling into the skin there, and felt Jensen’s ankle wrapped around his own, he knew for sure that he had never felt better.
The clock across the room told him that it was a few minutes past eight. As much as he wanted to lie like this for the next three hours until check out, he knew that they should get an early start. To where--or even how--was still a little unclear, but Jared was sure that a cup of hot coffee and something to eat was the first step.
He also wanted to untangle himself before Jensen woke up. There had been a shift in Jensen over the past couple of days. He was more laid back and not so moody. Jared didn’t want to do anything to threaten that, and thought that if Jensen woke up like this he would be embarrassed at best, and would more than likely get pissed.
Moving slowly, he untangled their limbs and placed a pillow beneath Jensen, who murmured quietly, his eyes opening slightly, but slowly sliding closed again.
Jared dressed quickly, found the motel room key on the table and started out the door.
It had snowed quite a bit the night before, and the air was still cold, but the wind had died down, making it feel somewhat warmer. He loped quickly to a convenience store across the street that he’d seen last night when they'd arrived. He poured two large cups of coffee, filling a bag with various assorted sugar and cream, since he wasn’t sure how Jensen liked his coffee. After he grabbed a half dozen doughnuts from the center case, he returned and took out a couple of muffins as well, one blueberry and one banana, just in case.
There was a long line at the counter, and Jared struggled some trying to balance everything in his arms.
“You need a hand with that?” A man behind him said in a thick southern accent.
Turning around, Jared looked at him, a short middle-aged man who looked to have done some hard traveling recently. “Thanks, that would be great. You sound like you’re a long way from home,” Jared said to the man.
“You too, son. Where you from?” The man asked with a smile.
“San Antonio, you?”
“I’m originally from Lubbock, but nowadays I live in Kansas, right near the Colorado border, ” he replied, “what brings you up here?”
“I actually go to school in Boston, but my friend and I were trying to get to California. Only now I’m trying to get back home to Texas. We’ve run into some trouble getting a ride.”
“You see that rig out there?” The man said, pointing to a semi on the opposite end of the parking lot. “Well, I’m heading home, and I can get you guys well into Kansas. Name’s Dave, by the way.”
“Dave, that is the best news I’ve heard all day,” Jared said, and introduced himself. Jared made his purchases, insisted that he buy the trucker’s coffee as well, and sprinted across the street to get Jensen.
“Jensen!” Jared yelled as he burst through the door. He threw the curtains open, showering Jensen in harsh morning sunlight. “Get up! I’ve got us a ride.”
“Hmph,” Jensen muttered, blinking blearily up at him from the bed.
“There’s a trucker waiting outside to take us to Kansas. Hurry up.”
Jensen blinked at him three more times before the information seemed to sink in, and then he was up, quickly throwing on clothes and packing everything up. He started to pull his boots on and then froze. “What? Kansas?”
“Yeah, from there you can get a bus to LA and I can head home to San Antonio. Here, coffee.” Jared held the cup out to him.
Jensen took it gratefully and started to look into the closet.
“What are you doing? He’s waiting for us.”
“I’m checking. I have to check.”
“We didn’t even open the closet. How could there be anything in there? And now you’re looking under the bed. What would be under the bed? We’ve gotta go!”
“Alright, alright!” Jensen picked up his suitcase and bags followed Jared out of the room.
“I can’t believe you lost it. You never let that thing out of your sight,” Jared said, irritated.
“You were rushing me! I didn’t have time to check.” Jensen was stooping on the sidewalk, rifling through his bags.
True to his word, the trucker had taken them to western Kansas by late afternoon and dropped them off in front of the bus station. But then things had begun to go downhill.
“I can’t believe that you lost it,” Jared repeated.
“My whole life was in that organizer. Most of my money, all of my credit cards. Everything.”
“I can’t believe that you lo—“
“I heard you the first five times.”
He watched Jensen check the front pocket of his backpack for at least the third time. “Get packed up, soldier, we’re moving out,” Jared said, picking up some of the things Jensen had strewn on the sidewalk and stuffing them into Jensen’s bag.
“The lady at the ticket counter said there was a truck stop about ten miles outside town. We can probably find a ride from there. To where exactly I don’t yet know. But I do know that I really don’t feel like standing around here, and if we get a hotel room for the night, then I’ll be completely broke, and that won’t get us anywhere.”
“Have you done this before?” Jensen asked with a smile as he stood.
Jared paused, as if considering it for a moment. “And by that you mean have I gotten stuck in the middle of nowhere with very little money, and no real way to get anywhere that’s somewhere? You know, I can’t say that I have.” He smiled down at Jensen. “But there’s a first time for everything.”
Jensen threw his free arm around Jared’s shoulders and started to walk in step with him. “In that case, I must say that I am very much in awe of your natural innate talent.”
“Flattery will get you everywhere,” Jared grinned, “well, maybe not everywhere, and definitely not all the way to California, but it will get you pretty damn far. Besides, I kinda like the company.” When Jensen didn’t remove his arm from around him, Jared wrapped an arm around Jensen’s waist, shortening his stride to make it easier for the two of them to walk together.
Three blocks down the road the town just stopped. There were no gas stations, no houses, only a straight stretch of road with electric lines running down one side of it, and a flat expanse of dry brown fields spread out for as far as the Jared could see.
“I don’t know what it is,” Jared said, mostly to himself, “but the sky just seems so much bigger out here.”
“I’m kind of glad we came this way,” Jensen said with a small smile.
“It’s beautiful in this stark sort of way,” Jensen said. He squinted into the light of the sun as it hung low on the horizon.
“It sure is,” Jared said, not sure whether he was referring to the sunset, or the way that its light painted Jensen’s face. Or maybe both.