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
Jared kept his eyes peeled for any sign of Chad as they pulled into to the bus station, but the parking lot was full and Chad’s nondescript four-door sedan looked like every other car out there.
“There’s something I have to tell you about why I came out here,” Jared said to Jensen as the bus slowed down.
“What?” Jensen said groggily, blinking a bit. He had been asleep for the last couple of hours.
“Well, you know I came out here to see a friend—“ Jared cut off as the bus came to a stop. His eyes fixed on a man dressed in Bermuda shorts and a white undershirt, the ensemble topped off by a red furry Santa hat at an angle on his head and a pair of white sunglasses, even though it was nearing 11 o’clock at night.
“Shit,” Jared muttered beneath his breath, dragging himself quickly to his feet.
“Everything alright?” Jensen asked.
“Awesome,” Jared replied with a forced smile. “I just have to run some interference real quick.” Ignoring Jensen’s questioning look, he made a dash down the narrow center aisle and pushed his way through the folding doors before they were entirely open.
“Jared Padalecki, as I live and breathe,” Chad said, his face splitting into a huge grin as he walked over to grab Jared in a hug. “And not a moment too soon. Let’s get going. I have someone I’d like to introduce you to at home.” His tone was positively wicked.
“About that—“ Jared started, but was interrupted.
Chad continued, “In mere minutes I will present you to you your sure thing,” he said. “No questions asked, no strings attached, no guilt involved, just a kid looking for a fun time before shipping off to parts unknown. A sure thing.”
Jared heard a thump and turned to see Jensen standing close behind him, his lips drawn into a thin white line.
“This is Jensen.” Jared said to Chad, pushing his hair back with one hand. “He and I—“
But Chad was not allowing him to get a word in edgewise; Chad moved up to shake Jensen’s hand. Jensen took it, but the expression on his face did not budge. “I’m sure you are fully aware the staggering fortitude and dedication of your friend here,” Chad said. “Three thousand miles, across snowy mountains, rivers wide, and deserts dry just to get laid. You have no idea how much I respect that.”
“It’s pretty impressive,” Jensen said, his eyes still fixed on Jared, “Tom’s coming. I’d better go. See you at school Jared.” With that he picked up his luggage, leveled a withering look at Jared, and stepped off the curb.
“Nice guy,” Chad said, staring off after Jensen. “Not you’re type, but a nice guy.”
“Not my type? How would you know?”
“Touchy,” Chad said, holding his hands up like he was ready to surrender.
“Just give me a minute, alright?” Jared said.
Jared started off after Jensen, a few long strides eating up the distance between them. He reached out and grabbed Jensen’s shoulder. Jensen dropped his bags and spun around to face him. Jared expected anger, sadness or at least frustration, anything other than the resignation that was clearly written on Jensen’s face. It hit him like a sucker punch to the gut. It was as if Jensen really didn’t expect anything more or anything less of him. It was worse than an all out screaming match.
“Jared. We’re here. It’s done. I’ll see you around, okay?”
“I didn’t mean for this to happen, but is that all there is? Just ‘see you around’?” Jared asked.
“Isn’t that you wanted? No strings attached, no questions asked, no guilt involved? Well, I’m giving that to you. Call it an early Christmas present.” Jensen’s voice did not grow louder. He didn’t sound mad, only tired. “Have fun with your sure thing.” With that, Jensen continued his march among the parked cars.
Jared turned, found Chad leaning up against his car and made a slow walk toward him, resolutely not looking back to Jensen. What’s done was done, and there was no use ruining his visit over it. Jared hoped that if he repeated the thought enough to himself that eventually he would even start to believe it.
“When was the last time we did something ridiculous, just because we could?” Jensen was lying on the couch in Tom’s small apartment, his hands crossed over his stomach and his feet propped up on the arm of the couch.
Tom sat at the long desk that ran along one wall in the living room, his back to Jensen. He slammed the book he was reading shut with a sigh, obviously irritated at the interruption. “There was that time last winter. Remember the time at your parent’s cabin?”
“You never let me forget it,” Jensen answered. They’d taken a ski trip to his parent’s place in Vermont, and Jensen had heard about a frozen waterfall, leading them on a failed expedition to see it. Because of Jensen, they’d been lost in the cold for hours.
“I’d call that fairly ridiculous,” Tom said. He got up suddenly, walking across the room to slam shut the window there. “That noise is endless.” He was referring to the constant background sound of music coming from a house several blocks down the street. “I think that there has been a party at that house all day every day since the semester started.”
“It’s not so bad,” Jensen said. In truth, he really didn’t mind the noise. It reminded him that someone somewhere was having a good time.
Maybe it was because it was sixty degrees here in the city on Christmas Eve, or maybe it was the long trip, but Jensen was restless and feeling a little detached. He watched Tom as he opened his textbook once more, and couldn’t help but feel the distinct sensation that he was settling for something. Something safe. He’d been settling and compromising for so long that it was almost second nature, but he couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if things had been different. Surely he would have been with Jared right now. The man had sort of crept into him while Jensen was unaware, like some gravitational force, and now that he wasn’t here, Jensen was just out there floating.
“Let’s go do something,” Jensen said, quickly rising and walking over to stand behind Tom. He was pissed at himself for mourning something that had never really existed in the first place.
“It’s late, and I have some work to do,” Tom dismissed the idea right out, returning to his book.
“Come on, we’re two young guys, I’m on vacation,” Jensen winced a little when he realized that he’d been on the receiving end of a similar statement before. He wondered how many other ways that Jared’s personality had wormed into him. A month ago, Jensen would have been content to spend a night here getting ahead on next semester’s reading. But this wasn’t a month ago, and right now Jensen was just plain bored.
“What do you want to do?”
“Do you want to go to the beach? We could build a bonfire. Have you ever shotgunned a beer before?”
Tom turned and looked at him as if he was a strange new species. “A bonfire? Beer? Don’t you think that’s a little childish?” Tom asked. When Jensen leveled his best grin at Tom, the man finally relented. “Alright, alright, we’ll take a drive down the coast, but only for a little while. I’ve got a lot on our agenda for tomorrow.”
Jensen wanted to ask whether he had any say in how he would spend his vacation, but decided that discretion was the better part of valor and didn’t say anything.
They walked down the narrow street, Jensen squinting down the road, trying to get a glimpse of the house with the music. The night was warm, a little muggy, and so different from back in Boston.
Tom grumbled a little when they arrived at his car. He grabbed a flier off of his windshield, crumpling it in a hand without reading it.
“What was that?” Jensen asked, reaching out for the paper.
“It’s from the house down the street. The guys who live there seem to think that if they invite their neighbors to their parties, we won’t complain about the racket. Like we’d feel too guilty or something,” he started to unlock his door.
Jensen read the paper, it was an open invitation to the house down the street, and a guarantee for free eggnog. If his journey had taught him anything, it was to never turn down an offer for free stuff. “Let’s go,” Jensen urged, “it’s Christmas and there’s eggnog. We have to go.”
“You know how we feel about parties, Jensen. They’re loud and crowded, and there are always a bunch of people who are just trying to pick other people up. It’s a waste of time.”
“Well, right now, I have nothing but time to waste,” Jensen said, closing in on Tom and slamming his car door shut. He set off at a quick walk down the street, and smiled smugly when he heard Tom’s hurried footsteps coming up behind him.
Chad’s house was the working definition of a trust fund gone terribly, terribly wrong. The multi-room sound system pumped loud thumping music throughout the place. There was the cloying scent of continuous alcohol consumption, as well as the constant splash of the pool out back, and each room crowded with college kids whose wealthy parents had shipped off to foreign destinations for the holidays. Add to that a bunch of fake plastic palm trees, an indoor tiki bar, and a smattering of plastic pink flamingos. All of this was this topped off with criss-crossing Christmas lights. Jared found himself wandering down the stairs of a house that reminded him of a trailer park in Hawaii. And he was impressed.
Chad met him at the bottom, wearing a plastic grass hula shirt and brandishing an armful of colorful leis. He threw a few of the plastic garlands around Jared’s neck and handed him his own grass skirt.
“I’m not wearing any of that, I’ll look like an idiot.” Jared said, batting Chad’s hands away.
“What do you mean, you’ll look like an idiot? Look at me.”
“Well, alright, so you don’t like yellow,” Chad rifled through the leis in his hand, “how about green, or blue? Or red?”
“I don’t want the red one, the green one, I don’t want blue. Because…no, I just don’t.” Jared made his way to the bar and poured himself a glass of rum.
“What do you mean ‘because no’?” Chad took the glass from his hand end emptied it in one gulp. “You happen to be developing a very bad attitude, young man.” Chad’s stern tone was ruined by his smile. He looked across the packed room, and grabbed Jared by the elbow. “Don’t move, don’t move. It’s him.”
A man was making his way through the room, playing the consummate part of a bored pretty boy. His hair was just right, that sloppy look that is really not that sloppy at all, his clothes were just right; a dark tank top that was several sizes too small, revealing a perfect chest and stomach muscles beneath the thin cotton, swim shorts that showed off mile long and perfectly toned legs. Everything about him was just right, except to Jared everything was just plain wrong.
Clapping a hand to Jared’s back, Chad said solemnly, “Tonight is the first night of the rest of your sex life, young Jared Padalecki.”
“Don’t kill me, Chad. I really appreciate this, but I don’t think I can go through with it.”
“Ah, you’re nervous. I know it’s been a while, but really. It’s just like riding a bike. You just hop on and keep pedaling.”
“It’s not that. It’s more of a moral issue.”
“This is me you’re talking to. I know you. You have no morals.” When Jared just looked down at the bottle in his hand, Chad continued. “Hey, you’re just in a slump. It could happen to the best of us. It could even happen to me someday. I mean, I doubt it, but it could.”
“What, moral dilemmas, and this sudden refusal to look ridiculous?” A slow realization dawned on Chad’s face. “Oh, no. You’re looking for a relationship. Did the cold air gave you frostbite of the brain?”
Jared rolled his eyes at his friend and started to head outside, away from the sure thing, and Chad, and the noise and the commotion, but Chad stopped him.
“All relationships start with a one night stand.” Chad said, as if his logic was flawless. “You came out all this way for a reason, right? Go for it, you’ve earned it.”
While Chad was speaking, Jared saw Jensen’s familiar figure walk into the door, followed by another guy, a tall dark haired man who stood looking at all the people in the room as if he had entered into a den of vipers. That must be Tom.
“You know what? You’re right. I have earned it,” Jared said as he began dodging people on his way to Jensen.
When he was only a few steps away from Jensen, Jared felt a tap on his shoulder. Spinning around, he saw it was the GQ model that Chad was so insistent over. Things just weren’t working out well for him today. “You’re Jared,” the man said.
“Not right now. Sorry, bad timing,” Jared tried to dismiss him and faced Jensen once more.
Jensen was staring at the man behind him, an incredulous look on his face. Determinedly, with eyes fixed on Jared, he leaned over and put an arm around Tom’s shoulders, a little smirk playing around the edge of his lips.
He watched as Jensen wrapped his arms around Tom, starting a dance to the slow song that had just started. Jared suddenly felt like he couldn’t breath, like the room was too full and the air was too thick, and everything was just too damn loud. Fleeing to the relative quiet of the kitchen, he found a punchbowl there and poured himself a glass of eggnog. He took a sip, grimaced, and began rummaging around in the cabinet for a bottle, preferring a lot less sugar with his liquor.
“He seems nice,” a voice piped up behind him. Jensen was leaning against the doorway to the kitchen, his fingers tented in front of him. “Such nice skin. And so damn much of it.”
“He’s a good guy.” Jared replied. “He’s part of the Peace Corps or something, leaving in a couple of days to go build bridges or save children, maybe both. I can’t remember.”
“A humanitarian. Well, it’s good to have a cause.”
“What are you doing here, anyway? Alone time with Tim a little too boring for you?”
“It’s Tom,” Jensen said, exasperated, his voice rising, “and it’s none of your business what I do.”
At that moment Tom appeared in the doorway. “Is everything alright here?” he said, concerned.
“Come on,” Jensen said, dragging Tom behind him, “I just want to go home, go to bed.”
Jared followed them. “Be careful, he hogs the covers,” he called after them.
“Yeah, well you snore,” Jensen shot back, “Tim, are you ready?”
“It’s Tom,” Jared said, and watched Jensen as he stormed away.
Jensen burst through the door out of Chad’s house, still muttering to himself. Tom followed close on his heels, half running to keep up with Jensen’s determined quick pace.
“I don’t steal the blankets,” Jensen fumed.
“How do you know he snores?” Tom asked.
“Jared doesn’t even know that guy,” Jensen said, throwing his arms in the air.
“How do you know him? How do you know Jared?”
“He thinks he can just call his friend up and order up some random guy like he’s ordering takeout.”
“How does he know that you steal the blankets?”
“And he drinks beer and eats pork rinds. For breakfast,” Jensen spat.
“How do you know what he eats for breakfast?”
“Because I just spent the last four days with him, trying to get to you.” Jensen stopped suddenly, wiping a hand across his eyes.
“Why didn’t you say anything before about him?”
“I thought you wouldn’t understand. I don’t know. And because he’s not worth mentioning.” Jensen hated saying that, because deep down he knew that it was light years from the truth.
“Why isn’t he worth mentioning?”
“Because he’s not like us! He likes parties and staying up late and will travel a million miles away from home with only twenty bucks in his back pocket and no idea how to get back! And because I blew my chance to get out here a couple of days ago just to stay with him. Jared, with all of this talks about guarantees and doing something ridiculous just because I can. He sure showed me.”
“Why didn’t you leave him?”
“Why are you asking all of these questions?” When Tom didn’t answer, Jensen did. “Because I couldn’t. I couldn’t leave him.”
“Why couldn’t you?” Tom said, his light eyes boring into Jensen’s as if he already knew the answer.
Jensen took a deep breath; he decided not to lie. Tom deserved better than that. “Because I didn’t want to break his heart.”
“I have one more question for you. This is the last one. Do you love him?”
The bells from the clock tower at the north end of campus chimed. Jensen leaned back in the chair at his desk, scrubbing a weary hand through his short hair. It was seven o’clock in the evening and according to his schedule he should have finished his term paper for constitutional law an hour ago. He hadn’t even started on the revisions yet for his English composition, or begun the obligatory cramming sessions for the next week’s worth of exams.
His planner sat next to his laptop, a begrudging Christmas present from a father who was currently not speaking to him on account of a credit card bill, one that not only reflected a series of hotel rooms, bus tickets and food, but also a hastily purchased plane ticket back to Boston. There wasn’t much to be done about that at this point. What was done was done and there was no going back.
Flipping to the current date, Jensen laughed a little at himself. Seven o’clock, take a shower. Half past seven, see if Jared had made it back to the east coast. Maybe that fell into the category of doing something ridiculous just because he could. There had been a lot of that sort of thing going around lately.
Pushing his planner out of his way, he took his English paper from its folder. Skimming along the type, he took note of Jared’s sloppily scribbled edits; little question marks, stuff scratched out. He ran a finger along the writing and felt a pang of regret settle deep in his gut.
It seemed like Jensen had gotten caught in some kind of time warp when the clock chimed 7:30. Half an hour had flitted by while Jensen stared vacantly at the paper. He didn’t have enough time to be wasting any of it.
Cracking open a large book detailing several key court cases, he began to peer tiredly at the small printing when there was a knock on his door. Pushing his desk chair back he shuffled across his room. He opened the door, revealing a very unsure-looking Jared with a folded piece of paper in his hand.
“Hey,” Jared said, a small smile playing around his lips.
“Hey,” Jensen replied, fighting to not smile himself. “You’re back.”
“You too. Listen, remember how you said that we could get together to work on our papers when we got back? I was hoping the offer still stood. It’s 7:30, so I knew that your shower would be all done, and that you would have eaten, and… shit. I forgot about the phone call. Your 7:30 phone call. I’ll come back, I mean if that’s fine by you,” he spoke quickly, the words tumbling out like they had been practiced.
Jared started to back away, but Jensen opened the door wider. “No, come on in,” Jensen said. “There’s no phone call,” he added.
“Oh. Well, thanks.” Jared entered, taking off his coat and placing it neatly on the back of Jensen’s desk chair. He kicked his shoes off before landing on Jensen’s bed with a small bounce. Folding his legs beneath him, he handed the paper over to Jensen. “I changed a few things.”
Jensen took a red pen from the cup on his desk and sat down beside Jared Indian-style so that their knees were touching. After one small glance toward Jared’s expectant face he began to read.
‘It could be tonight,’ he thought, as he stood in the corner pretending to have a good time.
He would have him tonight. All his young life he had dreamed of a guy like this, 6 foot tall, dark hair, a muscular body that really knew how to move, soft deeply tanned skin. As for personality traits, he needed only one: he had to love sex and all the time.
To arrive at this moment, he had traveled vast distances, weathered more obstacles than he cared to count: abject poverty, hunger, ice storms, near death, Shakespeare, you name it.
From across the room he saw him, and he was perfect. The young man knew almost nothing about him and vice versa. It was exactly how it was supposed to be. He brought him to a room, the lights were soft, the music floated in through the floorboards below. The moment was right.
This beautiful creature leaned over and whispered into his ear, “Do you want me?”
Thoughts raced through the young man’s mind. Did he really want him? What had he done to deserve this? Does God exist? Who invented cheese puffs and why?
“Do you want me?” He stared into his eyes. He knew that he really needed to hear it. For the first time in his life, the young man knew that these were no longer just words, and if he said it, he would be lying.
“No,” he said.
“You didn’t do it.” Jensen said when he finished reading. He eyed Jared closely.
“Are you still seeing Tom?” Jared asked.
“No, we broke up,” Jensen paused and licked his lips. “But you didn’t sleep with him.”
“He just wasn’t my type.” Jared looked down and picked at a few strands around a hole in his jeans.
“Well, what is your type?”
It was the answer that Jensen wanted to hear, no doubt about it. But now that the answer was out in the open, he had no idea what to do with it. With Jared, he always felt like he was moving through some sort of unchartered territory, a place that mapmakers had failed to find, a place where Jensen did not quite know the rules. But he was also somehow certain that Jared would never let him get lost there.
He sat for a few long minutes, not looking at Jared, and with Jared not looking at him. At long last, he shifted on the bed so that he was facing Jared. “Are you sure?” Jensen asked, and his voice cracked a small amount.
Jared’s eyes were dark, serious. He took Jensen’s hand in his own, raised it to his lips and placed a warm, dry kiss on Jensen’s palm. Holding Jensen’s gaze, he said, “I’m more sure about this than anything. I know I can’t leave you behind.”
Jensen believed him.