Never say goodbye, because saying goodbye means going away, and going away means forgetting.
Everyone is still out surfing when they stroll back toward the house, dim figures far from shore, bobbing up and down with the waves and disappearing behind the swells for long periods of time. They’re spread out but still close enough to keep an eye on each other, Jensen’s glad to see. Night surfing can be dangerous, especially with Steve in the mix. Safety in numbers.
Their shirts are damp and sandy, so Jensen tucks both of them into the back waistband of his shorts, lets them hang down, and crams the hat on his head.
“I’m giving up on that hat. You can just have it,” Jared tells him, and straightens it along Jensen’s forehead.
Jensen pauses, pats down his damp pockets even though he knows they’re empty. He works the knots on one of his bracelets loose with his teeth, swallowing down the taste of saltwater. It’s his favorite one, brown wooden beads strung on a thin leather cord. He holds it out to Jared.
“No,” Jared says, hands held up, fingers pruney from their swim. “That’s not how it’s supposed to work. I’m trying to give you a gift.”
“And now I’m trying to give you one. It works that way, too.”
Jared relents, holds his left arm out and lets Jensen knot it around his wrist. “Too tight?”
“Just right.” Jared runs his fingers over the beads. “You’ll make a fine southern gentleman one day.”
“You already are,” Jensen says, a warmth beating out the chill on his skin when Jared ducks his head and turns away.
They get back to the house to find that the fire has almost burned completely down, reduced to an amorphous, shifting glow in the sand.
“Do you see that?” Jared says.
Jensen shakes his head. There have been nights when he’s seen things in the fire, faces and landscapes better left forgotten, but this hasn’t been one of those nights. Tonight his sight has been filled up with Jared, and the careful way he’d fallen in with his friends, how he’s been trying so hard.
“Here.” Jared kicks at the sand, shaping the burning coals until Jensen can finally see what he sees. A wide, flat tail, an open mouth, a fin.
“A big fish,” Jensen says, and leads Jared up the steps into his house.
His place isn’t spacious, not by any stretch, but he’d tried to tame the clutter earlier in the day, what with company coming and all, shove books back onto the shelves and make neat stacks of sheet music and movies and his damn near obsessive collection of old vinyl. It’s plenty enough room for him, usually, but having Jared here fills it up. The guy is substantial, towers over Jensen and it’s not only because he tops out a few inches taller than him, even though that doesn’t happen all that often. It’s more than the space he inhabits, his height or the breadth of his shoulders. It’s the size of his presence, and that’s something that’s twice as big as the body that contains it.
Jensen goes to his bedroom, scrounges up something dry for Jared to wear and a couple of relatively clean towels. Once he makes it back to the main room, he finds Jared inspecting his bookshelves, slipping his fingers along the spines.
“Pynchon and Robbins side-by-side with J.M. Barrie,” Jared notes, knocking his knuckle against Jensen’s battered and much loved copy of Peter Pan. “Now I know that you come by all those Neverland references honest.”
As he roughs a towel over his chest, Jensen says, “I’m an escapist. Too much reality has never done anyone any good.”
Jared hums. “Some of my oldest friends are books. You have good taste.” He pulls a double-take, crosses the room and touches the inside of Jensen’s upper arm, tracing the ink Jensen has etched into his skin, the single line of Arabic. “What’s this?”
“Oh,” Jensen says, and clamps his arm down tight to hide it. “A bad decision. Maybe a good decision, but that depends on the day.” He clears his throat, cuts off any further conversation by pressing Jared into a chair and positioning himself between his legs. He scuffs the towel through Jared’s hair, moves it down Jared’s shoulders and his back. Once finished, he snaps the it straight and tips Jared’s face upward, two fingers below his chin. “It looks like I’ve made a mess outta you,” he says, then threads his fingers through Jared’s hair to work out the knots. Jared closed his eyes, purrs like one of the larger felines while Jensen scratches along his scalp, tucks stray strands behind his ears.
“It’s okay. I don’t mind,” Jared tells him. “You can do whatever you want.” To prove it, he hooks his fingers into the waistband of Jensen’s shorts and leans his forehead against his stomach. Jensen’s muscles jump in response, and they jump again as Jared presses his mouth low on his belly. Jensen doesn’t let up, continues to move his hands through Jared’s hair, restless, down along his neck and across his bare shoulders. Jared focuses his attention wholly on Jensen’s skin. He places gentle, suckling kisses straight down the center of his stomach, pausing for a second to draw a circle around Jensen’s navel with his tongue.
Jensen’s hands are shaking and it’s not for any of the usual reasons. He concentrates, tries to make them stop. He needs to find a way make them stop because Jared needs to know he’s sure of this, that he’s rock solid and steady. But Jared reads him wrong, or maybe he reads him right, because he takes Jensen by the wrist and holds on tight while he nuzzles at the front of Jensen’s shorts, at the tented, obvious shape of his hardening cock.
“In the interest of full disclosure,” Jared says, breath falling warm on Jensen’s skin, “I’ve only done this a few times, and the first time was over before it really even started.”
“Fuck, look at you,” Jensen says, “I woulda thought they’d be lining up.”
Jared exhales a relieved breath. “Small town. Small southern town. Not a lotta room for self expression.”
“You’re safe here. It’s just us.”
It does the trick. The tension drains from Jared’s shoulders and he unhooks Jensen’s shorts, allows them to fall to the floor with a damp slap, then zeroes in on Jensen’s cock. It’s fully hard now, wet at the tip. He licks up along the underside, tongue flat and wide. He kisses the crown, circles his fist around the base of Jensen’s cock and works him with a few experimental tugs, and Jensen has to lock his knees in place, arch his back to keep his balance.
If Jared hadn’t told him that he’s a rookie, Jensen never would have known. The way he takes Jensen’s cock into his mouth, the perfect ring of his lips and the feel of his tongue is nothing short of sin. Jensen hisses between his teeth, curls his toes against the floor and has to bury his hands in Jared’s hair again to ground himself. It’s taking all of his concentration to not buck forward, shove himself further down Jared’s throat, give in to the need to take whatever Jared offers and then go right ahead and take some more.
It’s good, better than good, the ridged, slippery curve at the roof of Jared’s mouth, that small frown of concentration that forms between his eyes and the hot, deep flush that spreads across his cheeks and wanders down his neck. Jared kneads at the back of Jensen’s thighs, tries to tug him in closer and keep him there, and Jensen staggers forward, jams himself deeper down Jared’s throat than before, unintentional but so goddamn hot. White spots shoot in across Jensen’s vision. He closes his eyes, but they’re still there. Brighter than before. Stars. Whole motherfucking constellations.
Jared gags around him and pulls off, keeps rubbing him off and it’s impossibly better than before, slicker, Jared’s grip tighter.
“Open up,” Jared says between deep, panting breaths. “Let me see.”
Jensen obeys, doesn’t really have a choice, opens his eyes and fixes on Jared’s face. He’s looking up at him, focused and questioning, like he’s trying to make sure he’s doing it right, trying so hard to make it good, and Jensen wants to let him know, tell him he’s got nothing to worry about, tell him that it’s shooting stars and moonbeams and the goddamn Fourth of July all rolled into one, but all he can do is nod and thrust into Jared’s hand. Faster and faster until his orgasm washes over him, spunk shooting over Jared’s fist, small spatters landing on Jared’s mouth.
Jensen intends on returning the favor, pulls Jared to his feet and it looks like Jared’s legs are as watery as Jensen’s feel. They trip and stumble, hands everywhere, and Jensen can’t stop kissing him, gets off on the traces of his own cock in Jared’s mouth, the dark salty taste, can’t stop nipping at Jared’s slick, swollen lips. He walks Jared backward to his bed, lowers him onto it and follows him down, slots in beside him.
An even darker patch has spread on the crotch of Jared’s already wet shorts and Jensen can feel the heat of his skin through the fabric when he cups Jared’s dick. He worms his hand inside, all damp, sticky heat. Jared groans, sucks on one particular spot on Jensen’s neck as Jensen rubs at him, squeezing gently. It’s awkward, all difficult angles and Jensen can’t get the leverage he really wants, not with Jared hugging him close the way he is. Jensen improvises, works his hand with small, stuttering movements while Jared hangs on hooks his leg over Jensen’s hip and his arm around his shoulders and rides it out, comes sloppy and hot up Jensen’s wrist, most of the way up to his elbow.
“God. Oh god,” Jared moans, and gives Jensen a sheepish, embarrassed smile before he buries his face against Jensen’s shoulder once more.
“I didn’t invite you just because I thought that this might happen,” Jensen starts, and Jared makes a small, questioning noise. He tries again. “I mean, this wasn’t my intent.”
“You actually didn’t invite me at all,” Jared murmurs against his skin. “I kinda crashed.”
“Then that was the best invitation that I never actually gave out. I’m really glad you did.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Sleep isn’t an easy thing. There are the usual nightmares that leave Jensen shaking and disoriented, waking up drenched in cold sweat and not knowing where he is. He can count on one hand the number of nights he’s gotten a solid eight or more over the last several years, and last night is one of them. It’s gotta be Jared. There’s a stillness that comes whenever he’s around him. The world slows down, becomes more understandable and lenient.
The sun is already high in the sky when Jensen opens his eyes. Jared is a wall all along his back, hotter than a space heater, snoring softly. His hair tickles the back of Jensen’s neck and his hand rests huge and warm in the center of Jensen’s stomach. Their legs are tangled together, feet notched side-by-side.
He can hear Chris banging around in his kitchen, smell coffee and burned toast, so he slips gently from bed, puts on a pair of boxers and joins him, picks his shorts up from where they dropped the night before and throws them onto the chair.
“You smell like sex,” Chris greets him, talking low. “You look like it too.”
“Top of the morning to you, too.” Jensen’s still got Jared’s come on his forearm, dried and flaky, too lazy and sated last night to do anything about it. He scrubs his hands at the sink with some stuff that Sophia brought over a while back, and now he smells like a fucking rose garden, which should make Chris happy. “Do I have anything on my face?”
Chris rolls his eyes. “Son of a bitch.” He crunches through a piece of toast, his complexion tinged a vaguely green, hungover color. “So. Jared.”
“He’s still asleep,” Jensen says, finger crossed over his lips.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Chris plants his fists on his hips, and that’s never good news.
“I’m sure it’s not a bad one,” Jensen insists, and hopes against hope that it’ll put an end to it. It doesn’t. Of course it doesn’t.
“He’s just a kid, Jensen, and—“
Jensen interrupts, still quiet, but with some force behind it. “He’s not. He’s just a few years younger than us. I was younger than him when I…” He bites the inside of his cheek.
“You grew up different.”
“Well, that’s more credit than you usually give me. You like to remind me that I’ve hardly grown up at all.” He waves a hand dismissively. “We know what we’re doing. It’s okay. We’re okay.”
The heat has gone out of Chris’s voice, and he takes Jensen’s face between his hands, smashes his cheeks together. “Just make sure of it. You tend to fixate.”
His eyes lock onto a spot behind Jensen’s shoulder, and Jensen hears a quiet footstep. He spins to find Jared standing there, hair flat against his head on one side and corkscrewed on the other. He’s commandeered a pair of Jensen’s boxers and they’re too small for him, but damn if they don’t offer a spectacular view of his ass, ride high up on his thighs and frame his crotch in a very interesting way. Jared stretches, ribs on display and the hair under his arms shockingly dark against his pale skin. The kid needs to go outside more often, get some more sun.
The expression on Chris’s face is unreadable, a flat stare and his mouth is set in a straight line. “Coffee?”
“Absolutely,” Jared replies and approaches the counter, stiff-legged and watery-eyed, pats Jensen in the center of his chest and trails his hand across Jensen’s skin with fingers still warm from bed.
“Put some of that honey on the toast. My nephew’s working as a beekeeper for the summer. So much better than the stuff you can buy at the store.”
Jensen lets out a relieved breath. Chris wouldn’t feed a guy he doesn’t trust.
“Nice boxers,” Chris says, handing over a slice of toast.
“Hope you don’t mind,” Jared says to Jensen, eyebrows up and grinning all honey-sloppy, his tongue curled around his crooked tooth. “Mine are kinda gross.”
Jensen grins back. “Not even a little.”
Although Jeff has owned this place for years, he’s probably only spent less than a few weeks here total. Not surprising that Jensen has never met the man, only the people who come along routinely to maintain it, the regular housekeeper and the guy who comes along once a month to trim the palmettos and knock back the shrubs, stop them from taking over.
A six pack dangles from Jensen’s fingers and he’s balancing a pizza with one arm, from the best—and only—place in town. Jensen knocks on the screen door, a couple of polite raps even though it’s clear the thing isn’t locked. He does have manners after all, and his momma taught him to never show up to a place empty-handed.
Jeff answers the door and waves him inside. Jared must get his height from that side of the family, because Jeff rings in somewhere between Jared and Jensen. His hair is dark, threaded through with silver at his temples and his grin is broad underneath his short beard.
“It’s good to meet the man who’s been keeping my nephew out all hours of the night,” Jeff says, bent over to put the beer in the fridge.
“I kinda think it’s been the other way around,” Jensen teases.
Jared bangs in through the back door on a cloud of drywall dust. It’s clumped in his hair and there’s a streak of it on his cheek. Jensen goes to brush it off, but Jared takes a half-step back with a tiny shake of his head. Jensen drops his hand, gives Jared an even smaller nod, letting him know that he understands, giving him the all clear.
“I thought you were gonna come in through the back,” Jared tells him.
Lifting his shoulder in a half-shrug, Jensen replies, “I thought it was better to come in from the front. Reckon the situation warranted it.”
Jared’s mouth drops open and his throat works silently for a second, and a persistent blush colors his cheeks, visible even under all the dust on his face.
Jeff’s digging through the kitchen drawers looking for a bottle opener and Jared mouths, fuck you behind his back, his eyes all lit up.
Barely able to hold back a snort, Jensen goes one better. Anytime.
Ambling through the house as he wolfs down a slice of pizza, Jeff gives him the nickel tour of the place, Jared following close behind. It’s minimalist, neutral walls and neutral furniture underneath the drop cloths, bestsellers on the bookshelves, with only a few quirky odds and ends that make it appealing to a high turnover of renters: a large wooden knife, fork and spoon on the kitchen wall, a gigantic bronze nose in the bathroom, the plaster head of Neptune propped over the fireplace. They’ve knocked down a few walls and are in the middle of constructing some others, opening the place up some.
Jared hasn’t left much of a mark on his bedroom outside of the crumpled, unmade bed, the laundry in the corner and the laptop that’s partially shoved under the dresser, but underneath the traces of fresh-cut lumber and dust, it smells like him, that earthy, fresh, singular Jared-smell, and Jensen likes that. Jared’s beside him, close but not too close, eating a piece of pizza crust-first, and Jensen likes that too.
The other bedroom is another story. Jeff’s just finished refitting a big walk-in closet, lined it with cedar and put up some built-in’s and wants to show it off. A dress uniform takes up a prominent place in the closet, carefully shrouded in plastic, and a series of medals of honor are displayed in a case on the wall, below them a sword and sheath affixed to a wooden plaque.
Jensen’s been away from it all for a while, but he should have seen it. He should have known. It’s as obvious as the nose on his face. As obvious as the sun.
Jeff notices Jensen’s stare. Deepening his voice, making it weighty, Jeff says, “Semper fi.”
And before Jensen knows it, before he can stop himself, he straightens his back, balls his fists at his sides and squares his heels. “Oo-rah.”
“Third assault outta Pendleton,” Jeff says, although Jensen already knows that. It’s written on the brass plate under his medals. “Desert Storm.”
“The one-nine,” Jensen says by rote, well-schooled. “Afghanistan. Twice.”
“The Walking Dead.” Jeff throws an arm around Jensen’s shoulders, shakes him so hard he bites his tongue. “As badass as they come.”
“Yes, sir,” Jensen says, and now he has blood in his mouth.
Surprise is splashed plainly over Jared’s face, and damned if his smile doesn’t look a little impressed. “How did you know?”
“Takes one to know one,” Jeff supplies. “You might be able to leave the Corps, but the Corps never really leaves you.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Jensen mutters under his breath. Jeff’s rambling on, dropping hints that he wants to trade war stories but Jensen can’t pay attention. He wants to be outside, where there are no ceilings and no walls, where Jeff’s not around and he can get his hands on Jared for a few minutes, so he says, “Idle hands. What do you need us to do?”
If Jeff’s put off by the quick change in topic, he doesn’t show it. “I’d like to get that half wall between the kitchen and dining room up today. A few three-foot studs should do it.”
“Aye, aye,” Jensen says, and pushes Jared toward the front door. He takes the stairs two at a time, skids to a stop and leans against the house, tips his head up toward the sky and lets the heat from the sun soak into him.
“Are you okay?” Jared touches his elbow, hesitant and light.
“I’m great,” Jensen lies. It’s complicated, and Jensen tries his level best to not let things become complicated anymore.
“I have to tell you that you really don’t seem like the kinda guy who would wind up taking orders.”
Jensen waves it away. “Hey. Do you think Jeff would mind if I misappropriated some of this lumber? Misha’s making me this custom board, and I think some of this would be ace for the rails.”
“Don’t change the subject.” Jared straightens his back, squares his shoulders as if he’s made some sort of decision. He takes a step forward, closes in. “This is gonna sound fucked up, and maybe more than a little creepy, but it’s not like I have anything to lose, right? I—I can’t get you out of my head, and I know that I only have another week and…and I want to know everything about you. There’s nothing I don’t want to know.”
Jensen’s heart feels like it’s the wrong shape in his chest. Square hole, round peg. “Okay. Alright. Where do you wanna start?”
“Right here,” Jared says, and closes the space between them, plants his hands on either side of Jensen’s head, shoves his thigh between Jensen’s and traps him there. He rocks into Jensen, tongue searing hot as he licks into Jensen’s mouth, traces the shape of his teeth then moves onto his jaw, sucks at the tender spot beneath his ear until Jensen’s sure that a bruise is rising to the surface.
Jensen fights to trap a moan behind his teeth, fucking loves this new incarnation of Jared, one that’s all keyed-up and implacable. He shoves his hands under Jared’s shirt, splays his fingers on his back so he can feel the shift of his muscle, the dip of his spine at his waist, moves around to Jared’s chest and scrapes a thumbnail over his nipple. Jared makes a breathy sound against his throat and his hips stab forward, so he does it again.
Something inside the house clatters, the racket of it loud through the open windows and Jared pauses, whispers into Jensen’s ear, “Your place.”
“Fuck yeah,” Jensen agrees. “But what about…”
“I’m an irresponsible college student, remember?” Jared says, pulling him along, and Jensen almost has to jog to keep up with his long strides.
“I don’t think you are.”
“Seems like a good time to start.”
The buzzing under Jensen’s skin doesn’t lessen during the quick trip to his house. If anything, it grows stronger, and they’re hardly inside the door before he’s spins on Jared, rips his shirt over his head and latches onto his nipple, teasing it between his teeth while he unzips Jared’s pants.
Jared’s not the only one who wants to know everything, and Jensen definitely didn’t get to see enough of him the other day. Jensen gets Jared stripped down, pushes his shoulders against the door and takes a step back, his own shirt dangling from his wrist. He’s so fucking gorgeous, big all over, his chest toned but not too bulky and colored with a faintly pink blush. His cock hangs heavy between his legs, a slight upward curve, gleaming wet at the tip.
It’s been a long time since Jensen’s let someone fuck him, a very long time since he’s wanted anyone to be that close, but he wants it now. So badly. Jensen shucks his shorts and Jared flings his arms out for him, but Jensen’s crooks his finger, silently leading Jared into his room. He digs around in his drawer and throws some lube and a condom onto the bed then spreads himself out, legs set in a wide open splay.
Jared’s mouth goes slack, his face darkens and his cock leaps hugely, a bead of precome oozing from his slit to drip down the length of it, and Jensen could quite possibly come from that alone, from that physical proof of how badly Jared wants this, wants him.
“Get in here,” Jensen tells him, and cants his hips up, proves to Jared that he’s sure, proves it all over again and pours some lube onto Jared’s fingers as soon as he’s within reach. He guides Jared’s hand down, and heat spreads from his chest outward once Jared cottons on, gets with the goddamn program, pushes past the tight ring of muscle with his index finger and glides it in and out.
So careful, excruciatingly gentle, one finger and then another, and it’s really fucking good, devastatingly sweet, the way Jared watches him the entire time, torn between the sight of his finger disappearing into Jensen’s body and each small change in Jensen’s expression. Jensen gets impatient for it, wants the fast burning punch and the stretch of Jared’s dick, so he finds the condom in the mess of blankets, opens it with his teeth and rolls the taste of latex around in his mouth even as he’s rolling it down Jared’s cock, because even that’s good, a hint of what’s about to come.
Jensen’s shaking, anticipation in every nerve, and Jared starts to shake too, or maybe he has been for a while now, as he hovers over Jensen with his hair crashed across his face. And he tries to control it, thighs straining and arms locked in place, holding himself aloft, fixated on Jensen’s face as he breaks past Jensen’s rim and sinks inside, inch by slow, slow inch until he’s in as far as he can go, nothing between them but a layer of sweat.
Jared lets out a moan, guttural like he’s dragged it up from his toes, angles his hips up and drives them forward again, and Jensen locks his legs around the small of Jared’s waist, wants him to stay still, stay right there, full and huge and deep for just a minute.
Jared kisses him, forgets to kiss him then remembers all over again, and Jensen starts to move, squirm under the weight of Jared pressing him into the mattress, and Jared takes the hint and ruts into him, learning to read all of Jensen’s cues.
Jensen comes so fast it surprises both of them, from only the barest friction, streaking their already slick stomachs. He clamps down on Jared’s cock and Jared hauls him up, half off of the bed, his back arched and his legs sprawled on top of Jared’s thighs. Jared’s thrusts quicken, relentless and necessary, and Jared goes shuddery, trembling and moaning as he comes, his whole body racked with short, intense spasms.
They lay still for a while after, and Jensen thinks he might have dozed off for a few seconds at a time as Jared goes soft inside of him, moving in lazy thrusts with the occasional aftershock of his orgasm. Minutes pass before Jared pulls out, knots up the condom and misses the trashcan.
“Holy shit,” Jared says, groggy. He curls himself around Jensen, rests his head on Jensen’s chest.
“Yeah. So what else do you wanna know?”
Jared shifts, locks eyes with him, pointy chin digging into Jensen’s chest. “Why did you leave?”
It’s a loaded question. Five bullets in the chamber, but Jared’s just fucked the hell outta him, and Jensen’s feeling charitable. “I spent three years in the Corps. Had a ten-month tour that tuned into twice that. Saw some really hairy shit.”
“You don’t have too…“
“I know, but I’ve started now. Anyway, this friend of mine and I…we’d been together since basic, and we both ending up stateside, undergoing some pretty hefty training at Lejeune. Hardcore, P.O.W. stuff.” Jensen pauses. “He broke. Couldn’t take it, wound up pulling a gun on me and our C.O. one night. Storming like a motherfucker and he made me give him the keys to my car, crashed into a locked gate trying to escape. I haven’t had a car since then.”
“Did he make it out?”
“No,” Jensen says, “I’ll spare you the details. Ironic. You spent twenty months in-country, and it’s the trip back that socks it to you. I was alright before all that. So I came home, told myself that I’d do a complete one-eighty, only that one-eighty mighta turned into a three-sixty at some point. I don’t fucking know. I lost track. There are skid marks everywhere.”
“Did you love him?”
“Yeah, I did. But not in the way you’re thinking.”
“It’s a dangerous night.” Chris stands in Jared’s doorway, arms crossed over his chest and shifting from foot to foot with pent up nerves. They’ve lost power. It’s pouring out, teeth-rattling crashes of thunder and sharp spikes of lightning every few seconds. “Dunno, man. It’s been a while.”
“What does that mean?” Jared is already pulling on his boots and tightening the laces. Behind him, Jeff occupies himself in the living room, lingering in a real obvious way.
“It’s the storm. He--” Chris chews off the word, draws his lips back from his teeth in a frustrated snarl. “Maybe you could help. Fuck, I don’t know what to tell you.”
“Shouldn’t you call someone?” Jared asks. “Get him some help?”
“I did the first couple of times. Learned my lesson.”
Jared isn’t sure what to say to that. It takes less than thirty seconds to dash to Jensen’s door and he’s soaked to the bone after five. A single candle is lit in the corner of the living room and Sophia’s beside it, folded in a chair, hugging her knees.
The place looks like the storm has invited itself inside. Books are everywhere, the couch cushions are jumbled and scattered all over the floor. Every cabinet in the kitchen is flung wide open.
Sophia shakes her head. “No better.”
“Should I be afraid?” Jared asks. Curiously, he isn’t.
“It’s not like that,” Chris says. He pauses, hand on the doorknob, takes a deep breath. “He won’t hurt you. He never hurts anyone but himself. Listen, if it’s too much...”
“It’s Jensen,” Jared insists. “It’s not too much. It’s never gonna be too much.” With that, he walks through the door.
Jensen’s bedroom is in worse shape than the rest of the house. Clothes everywhere, the couple of pictures on the wall hang at wrong angles, the sheets have been torn off the bed and Jensen’s situated himself on the edge of the mattress, backed up into a corner.
“I told them I was fine,” Jensen says, talking too fast. His face is pale and his eyes are wide, whites all around, dark thumbprints underneath. “I know I tend to imprint. I have trouble letting go. Get stuck on people and situations and just.” He stops, draws in a huge, trembling breath, tries to let it out nice and slow, but it all comes out in a rush. “There should be a way to go back. To that first night I met you and do it all over. Make it so that you don’t have to deal with this.”
“What’s this? What’s happening?” Jared eases himself onto the bed. Jensen has a lantern beside him, pumping out a pale blue glow that throws strange, surreal shadows on the walls. It can’t be helping, so Jared turns it off.
“Everything happens in threes.”
“But there’s only one of you, and one of me,” Jared says, not sure if logic will work, but this is Jensen, and he has to try.
“Yeah, but there are three reasons you shouldn’t be here.” Jensen hides his face behind his hands.
“That means that there are three reasons that I should stay.”
“You don’t have to stay.” Still hiding, muffled.
“See, that’s the problem,” Jared states. “I kinda think you’re perfect. There’s no where else I’d rather go.” He slides further along the bed, pushes and pulls at Jensen until he manages to get between him and the wall, his back propped up in the corner. He hugs Jensen very tightly to his chest, cradles him between his widespread knees and Jensen seems calmer already, doesn’t even bitch about his boots on the bed. Sand is getting everywhere.
The wind is still howling and rain still pounds on the roof, and the tree branches lash against the sides of the house with a snapping sound like bones breaking, but it seems quieter, less immediate. Lightning still flashes but Jensen’s relaxing against him, and that’s what matters. His chest rises and falls against Jared’s hand, slower now.
“The storm is passing,” Jared says. “It’ll pass.”
Jensen wraps his hand around Jared’s ankle, picks at his bootlaces and the scratches and scars in the leather. “Do me a favor, would you? Don’t fall in love with me, okay?”
Jared presses his lips to the nape of Jensen’s neck. “How am I supposed to stop?”
Time speeds up. There never seems to be enough of it. Everything starts running behind.
Jared walks out onto the back porch one morning to find five clam shells spread out in a spiral pattern, various shapes and sizes, coral colored. He knocks on Jensen’s door and Jensen doesn’t answer. Neither does Chris.
The next morning, there are four. Jensen still doesn’t answer, but this time Chris does.
“He’s good. Scared the fuck out of us, but he’s okay. Give him a couple of days and he’ll be right as rain.”
“How many times has this happened?” They’re standing on the beach and the sun is very bright. It’s been only two days and already Jared misses Jensen like crazy, feels like an essential part of him has been hacked off. Stolen. Four more days and then Jared won’t be able to come back for four months.
“Four. This was the fourth. I’ve pulled him out of it every time but this one. They’ve tried to treat him, medicate him for it, anti-depressants, but he hates taking ‘em and I don’t blame him. It’s like he turns into half of a person when he’s on them. Half of himself.” After a pause, “He’s crazy about you.” Chris sniffs. “Bad choice of words.”
Jensen had been wrong. Today, everything is happening in fours.
It’s not until the morning after that Jared understands it. Three sand dollars arranged in a triangle. Counting down. He picks them up and places them alongside the others on his dresser. He’ll have to wrap them up carefully; they’re very fragile.
Jared finishes the half-wall in the dining room. He installs a heavy granite countertop and it doesn’t go crashing to the ground. It’s considered a win. They’re running out of time to paint, but Jeff waves him off, tells him to go out for a swim.
The sun is setting, a fiery red glow on the horizon. Jared floats, allows the current to carry him toward the sandbar. It’s low tide, and as he stands on the sandbar it really looks like he’s walking on water, and of course he thinks about Jensen, how Jensen had told him that there was more than one kind of miracle. Tiny white sand crabs skitter over his toes. Jensen’s house is still dark.
Two comrie shells greet him the next time he opens his door, brown and black spotted, shiny, heavy and smooth in his hand. All day two lines from a children’s nursery rhyme play and replay in Jared head. An endless loop. One for sorrow, two for joy.
On the last day, Jared wakes up to a knock on his door. It’s five in the morning and his eyes feel like sandpaper, gritty and raw. Jensen’s standing there, framed by the doorway, a conch shell in his hand.
“I saved the best one for last,” he says, and holds it out.
Jared turns it over, thinks about holding it up to his ear, but his heartbeat is already pounding so loudly that he probably wouldn’t be able to hear the ocean anyway.
“Listen—“ Jensen starts, an apology in the slump of his shoulders, his fidgety feet.
“It’s okay,” Jared interrupts him. “I get it. Don’t be sorry. You made it through, and that’s what matters.”
“I don’t want to give you back.” Jensen tries a brave smile on for size, but it spreads across his face too big and too wrong. Jared still thinks he’s beautiful for trying.
Jared wraps his arms around him, scuffs his hand through Jensen’s hair, spikey and soft. He nudges his nose against Jensen’s neck and breathes in the smell of sun-warmed skin, opens his mouth on the place where his neck meets his shoulder and tastes saltwater. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back. You taught me the way, remember?"
The sky is the cold color of iron, no break in the cloud cover and the ocean is angry today. A winter ocean. Chris is gone for the day and has left Jensen to his own devices.
Four months since Jared left to go back to school, and Jensen still doesn’t have a phone. He calls Chris sometimes, and occasionally Sophie drops by and lets him know that Jared’s aced some exam for some design class or another. Jensen’s learned a long time ago that clean breaks were a hell of a lot better than crooked ones, so he smiles and thanks them for keeping him in the loop.
The house next door is dark all the time. It never gets viciously cold here, but December is still the off-season and no one ever rents in the winter. He considers climbing into the attic and getting down the Christmas lights, fuck around on the roof for a while and surprise Chris when he got home. Maybe even run a few extension cords and doll up the place next door, help make it look lived in.
Decision made, Jensen spends the next hour digging through boxes, untangling knotted up lights that he’s sure he’d put away right a few years ago, the last time he’d decided to spread some cheer around. Armed with a ladder and with stringed lights wrapped all around his body, Jensen climbs up to the peak of Jeff’s roof. The clouds are starting to dissolve and the sun is coming out. The view is nice, and Jensen gets stuck there for a while, watching the waves roll into the shore, watching the tide recede and the sandbar to the north show its face. He thinks about Jared, but that’s nothing new. Hardly anything is new and nothing ever changes, and that’s at once the best and worst thing about this place.
Years ago, when Jensen was fresh out of the service, he’d had to spend a good chunk of every Tuesday and Thursday with this government mandated shrink. She’d told him about this thing called shared reality. Probably some sorta psychobabble, a PC way of telling Jensen that he’d been fucked up, disassociating at the time. He doesn’t remember a lot about it, except that it dealt with self-esteem and self-concept, something about social mores and building lasting, meaningful relationships. Over the years, Jensen’s definition of it has changed, skewed, and maybe one day he’ll look it up again, try and get it right.
He’s thinking about it again now, as he watches a dark SUV crawl down the street and turn into the driveway. He’s thinking about it as Jared climbs out of it and looks up at him, one eye squinted shut against the light.
Jensen never remembers things as they actually are. It’s as if he memory works with a different sort of criteria, a set of rules unlike a lot of other people’s. Things are always bigger or smaller. Not Jared, though. Jared is one thing that he’s gotten exactly right. He’s paler from winter, and maybe his hair’s a little shorter than last time he was here, but Jensen’s remembered his smile spot on, his nervous habit of chewing lips, how he scuffs his feet and his awkward tendency to not know precisely what to do with his hands.
He doesn’t remember the climb down the ladder, and he also doesn’t remember his dash toward the driveway, but Jared wraps his arms around Jensen and holds on for the longest time, and that is something that Jensen is going to remember. So is the soft press mouth against Jensen’s, and the way he looks at Jensen like he’s the most beautiful thing on this miraculous hunk of floating rock.
Jared laughs as he glances over Jensen’s shoulder and takes in the drooping string of lights on the gutter. “I’d be careful up there. Remember I worked on that house and can’t really attest to its structural integrity.” He even sounded good, his voice deep and hoarse.
“What are you...how,” Jensen tries. He cups Jared’s face between his hands, holds Jared very still and looks at him. Just looks at him. “What brought you this way?
Jared cut his gaze toward the sky. It’s getting dark. The stars were only now starting to break through the light. “I needed to come home for a while. I needed to see my lost boy, so I took the second star to the right.”
Thanks for reading!