The doors slid open, and there was one last overhead blast of cool, compressed air before Jensen walked out into the sticky summertime humidity. He paused, breathed the outside in deep, holding it, the mixture of dust and dirt and car exhaust.
The thin sweatshirt was already stifling him, and Jensen wanted to take it off, but his hands stopped with the zipper only part way down. He was afraid of his arms, the thinness of them, the blindingly pale skin and the dark scars running along the insides that would show the world what he was, or what he had been.
A gentle hand wrapped around his elbow and he glanced down toward the woman at his side. It was Constance, his recovery counselor that had been appointed by the powers that be. Jensen thought that maybe they’d gotten the name wrong. Patience would be a better name for her, but Constance might be close enough.
“You okay?” She asked him, but didn’t need an answer. Her upturned eyes were sparkling and her smile warm, and when she gave his arm an affectionate squeeze, Jensen knew that he loved her, just a little.
He finished with the zipper and shoved his sleeves up a couple of inches, checking to see if his tracks were still hidden. They were, it would be enough. “Are we taking the train?” Jensen said, he had the address of his new halfway house memorized, but the name and the number meant nothing to him. The city was big, full of unfamiliar places.
“It’s not far, and you look like you could use a walk, love.” That was another thing about her, a pet name she called everybody. Like she could see the potential for it in everyone. It was probably a symptom of her job, or a requirement. “But first,” she said, shifting her gaze toward the street.
Jensen followed it, watched as a beat up old Chevy pickup came to a quick and rocking stop along the sidewalk. It backfired once when the engine was cut off. The door squawked as Jared got out. He rounded the front of the truck, the expression on his face a little hesitant, as if he wasn’t sure whether this was alright. Rather than approaching the two of them, he leaned against the passenger side. Tilting his head to the side, he crossed his arms and just watched Jensen, watched him like that was the only thing he planned to do all day.
Jensen knew this would happen eventually, but right now it felt too soon. Too soon to come up with all the words for all the apologies he needed to make to Jared, a man who had been willing to give Jensen the world on a shiny silver platter if he had only been brave enough to reach out and grab hold of it. He thought about his last twenty-eight days in the rehab center, and all of the times he’d picked up the phone to call Jared, only to stare futilely at the receiver before hanging it up again.
Jensen’s hand crept up to the crook of his arm, nails absently scratching as he stared back at Jared. There was no itch, he realized, and snatched the hand away, instead digging the nails into his blue jeans at the thigh. It turned out that some habits were hard to kill. That was one thing that Jensen had definitely learned over the past few weeks. Old habits never died on their own, you had to kill them. Even then they sometimes came back.
A light push to the small of his back by Constance got him moving. A few dragging steps and a nervous glance back to her. He had to face the inevitable, and only hoped that it wouldn’t hurt too badly.
“Hey,” Jensen said, stopping a few small steps short of Jared. Summertime looked good on Jared. His skin was tanned dark, hair a little streaked -- highlighted from time spent outside. Jensen thought about what he must look like right now, skin so thin and pale that he had to appear more like a ghost than a living, breathing person.
“It got hot out,” Jared said, and the way he sounded, the way the words purred, made Jensen shiver, even though he was stifling.
Jared pushed himself off the car, took one long step toward Jensen, wrapping his hands in the front of Jensen’s sweatshirt, and Jensen thought he was now going to get it, all the frustration, anger, everything. He stared Jared right in the eye, unblinking, clenching his jaw and waiting for it to hit.
The yelling never came, no accusation. Jared pushed the sweatshirt off Jensen’s shoulders, further down until he was free of it. Jensen just stood there, arms out like a child as Jared tied it around his waist. When Jared was finished, he took one of Jensen’s hands in his own, pulling his arm out and looking. Brushing his fingertips lightly over the scars there, he said, “You don’t have to hide from me. I know who you are.”
It hit him like a gunshot, and it took a few moments for Jensen to speak, for him to trust his voice. He pulled his arm back from Jared’s grip, fought the urge to wrap them around himself and hide as well as he could. There was this feeling of nakedness. Complete exposure. “But you don’t know what I’ve done,” Jensen ran a hand over his eyes. “Not all of it, anyhow. Hell, I don’t think that I even know.”
All the while Jared was staring at him as if he were some sort of abstract art form that he couldn’t quite understand, but felt drawn to nonetheless. “I don’t need to,” he said, and it was simple, the words spoken with a staggering truthfulness that Jensen still was not accustomed to, even after all this time.
He took a step forward, into Jared’s space, squinting up at him. The sun was right behind him, reducing Jared’s face to a silhouette, full of dark shadows. He moved in closer, until Jared completely filled his field of vision.
“When you look at me, what do you see?” Jensen asked without thinking.
Jared tilted his head some, his eyes narrowed, considering.
When Jared kept quiet, Jensen shook his head and continued, “You don’t have to answer that.” He didn’t want to know, not really. It was frightening. He was afraid of the wrong answer, perhaps even more afraid of the right one.
Jared took a deep breath, answered on the exhale. “Nothing.” The tone of his voice wasn’t cruel, only real. Honest.
Jensen nodded, sucked his bottom lip between his teeth and bit down hard. It wasn’t the answer he’d hoped for, but at least he now knew that he could rely on Jared to not lie to him. “Thank you,” Jensen said, stepping blindly backward and starting to turn away. That was the truth, after all, and maybe someday he would be able to make himself into something that was a little more than that. But right now he wasn’t, and that was alright. All right.
Another step away and suddenly he felt insistent hands grabbing his arms from behind, pulling him backward some, stopping his forward momentum so fast that his cheap sneakers skidded and squeaked on the pavement. Jared’s hair tickled his ear when he leaned in close and pressed his lips to Jensen’s neck as he wrapped his arms around his shoulders. “And everything,” Jared whispered, so low that Jensen feared that it may have only been wishful thinking. But his wishes weren’t allowed to come true. Not yet, anyway.
Jensen made a move to face him, but Jared just held him fast. Instead, he wrapped his fingers loosely around Jared’s wrist and made a little noise, the closest he could come to a question.
“When I look at you, Jensen, I see everything. Everything. Always.”
Notes and Music