Nine Months Later
“Dude. Alcohol.” Leaning halfway into the open refrigerator, Misha peers at Jensen from over the door. “Why we no have?”
“We no have,” Jensen repeats, speaking to his roommate in a language he clearly understands. “We no have because you no buy.”
“I’m broke, dude. Why do you think I live on your couch?”
“Because you spend all your money on booze,” Jensen answers simply, hip-checking Misha from the open refrigerator and closing it pointedly.
“I do not,” the cross-armed rebuttal comes, just as expected. “Maybe half. But that’s not saying much.”
“And the other half goes to paying the electric bill for you staring into our empty fridge for hours on end,” Jensen bites back, but his heart’s not in it. He quirks his roommate a small smile and pushes a full coffee mug across the formica countertop, like a peace offering. “Coffee. Your bottle of Jack ain’t treatin’ you so kindly, anyway.”
Narrowed in skepticism, Misha’s eyes stay trained on him as his fingers blindly close around the coffee mug and lift it to take a sip. He makes a face, like he’s tasted something bitter. Then he shrugs. “Touché. But I wouldn’t expect things with Jack will end so suddenly, for a cup of Joe.”
Jensen laughs at that. “Of course. True love never does.”
“Damn straight,” Misha grins around the lip of the chipped green coffee mug. “Speaking of true love. How’s Chris?”
This time, Jensen’s laugh comes out more as a tired breath. “Fine. Always is.”
“V’noticed,” Misha mumbles, leaning a stretch back over the countertop before resting his elbows, and cup, on the surface. “Hasn’t been around much lately.”
“Didn’t think you’d miss him.”
“I’m just sayin’,” Misha shrugs. “If you guys need to have, like. Big Gay Date Night or something, just let me know.”
“Cause that’s totally cool and everything. Just, you know. Not on my bed.”
“Couch,” Jensen corrects, faint smile ghosting across his lips. “Your bed is a couch.”
“It’s my bed. I sleep on it, therefore it is a bed.”
“Alright Shakespeare.” Pushing himself from where he leans on the counter, Jensen pats his roommate on the shoulder. “I’ll keep the Chris thing in mind.”
“Yeah, well,” Misha grins sheepishly. “Don’t feel like you gotta, or anything.” Jensen smiles at his friend and leaves the room without another word.
“I,” Jensen begins, letting the word stand by itself for a couple seconds before continuing. “Am going to cry.”
Chris snorts, lounging back in his chair nestled in the back of the library, more comfortable than anyone studying physics has a right to be. “It’s not that bad.”
Jensen looks at his boyfriend incredulously. “Not that bad? Of course it’s that bad. It’s quantum-whatever and gravitational acceleration and I don’t. Fucking. Care.”
“Yeah, you do. Core classes, and overachieving and all of that shit.”
“No, you know what? If I ever use this in my actual life, kill me. Because, no. This is awful.”
“Shouldn’t this be easy for you, Mr. Science Major?” Chris asks, amusement flickering in his tone.
“Bio-science,” Jensen mumbles. “Not… stupid science.”
Chris sighs. “Look, it’s all linked. Physical therapy might not rely on physics, but there’s stuff like gravity and shit that still matters.”
“Yeah, fine. I drop a patient, they fall over. Got it. Great.”
“Dude. Focus,” Chris says, bumping knees. “Test tomorrow, remember?”
“Yeah, I noticed.”
“Need a break?” Chris whispers, reaching to grab Jensen’s thigh. Jensen shrugs him off, hitting his hand away with his knee.
“No, man, I need a miracle.”
After, Chris drops him off at his apartment, knocking knees with him as he fumbles for his keys.
“Call me tomorrow. Let me know how it goes.”
“Yeah, okay,” Jensen grumbles, four hours of physics-jumble leaving him tired and more than a little pissy.
“Hey, I’m serious. You’ll do fine.”
“Yeah. Hopefully,” Jensen forces a smile before climbing out of the passenger seat and onto the patchy grass of his apartment complex. “Talk to you later.”
Chris sighs. “Yeah, later.”
Jensen really has no intention of calling him about his physics exam. He figures it’s best to keep those sort of monumental personal failures to himself.
When the phone rings at half past eight the following night, Jensen isn’t particularly surprised. He hasn’t called Chris, never intended to, but the obnoxious ringtone Jensen downloaded because Misha got the stupid song stuck in his head sounds and he rolls his eyes before blindly reaching for his phone.
“Test sucked as much as I thought it would, dipshit,” he sighs into the phone.
A moment passes before the response comes. “Jensen?”
Immediately, Jensen freezes, because that isn’t Chris’s voice on the other end of the line. It is very distinctly not Chris. Managing to make a noise akin to “Yeah?”, Jensen’s heart begins to thump erratically in his chest.
“Hey, it’s Jeff,” the voice says, familiar in a recently distant kind of way, but still packing one hell of an emotional punch. “Jared’s brother.”
The confirmation stops him cold, because Jeff… Jeff didn’t call him. He just didn’t. “I, uh,” Jensen breathes shakily. “Hi.”
“Hey, I. Do you have a second?”
Jensen can read the carefully controlled emotion in the older man’s voice to an extent, but the cause the feeling stems from isn’t as apparent. “Yeah,” he breathes. “Yeah, of course.”
“Cool,” Jeff inhales deeply. “Cool, I-”
“What happened?” Jensen interrupts, anxiety and fear wrapping around his lungs and squeezing tightly. “What…”
“Jensen, I. I don’t know how to say this, really, but. Jared. Jared woke up a few days ago.”
That, of all things, wasn’t what Jensen was expecting. Hitting him like a fist to the gut, he literally stops breathing, eyes widening to a painful point.
“What,” he tries, shaky and breathless. “What do you mean he woke up?”
Jensen has done the research, thoroughly investigating every possibility of Jared’s condition. Being in a coma this long harbors virtually no chance of waking up; the one year mark is usually a death sentence and Jared passed the milestone without change. Jensen counts the months, unconsciously, is well aware of the fifteen months that lie between then and now, between now and the last time he was truly happy. Jared waking up isn’t just surprising. It’s damn near impossible.
“I mean he woke up,” Jeff repeats, an edge of diluted disbelief in his own tone. “Like… seriously. He’s been making progress for about a month, but. He woke up.”
“Jeff,” Jensen begins, quietly hysterical as he shakes his head. “Remember what the doctors said? How it can seem like they wake up, but they don’t? I mean, people-”
“No. Jensen, listen. He is conscious. Medically, absolutely conscious.”
“That’s not possible,” Jensen whispers, shock numbing him.
“It is. He… they’re helping him communicate and trying to get his muscles stronger, but. I mean, I look at him and I can tell. I can tell he’s in there, you know? I can tell he’s still Jared.”
“He actually woke up?” Jensen breathes, awed and terrified, and unable to get over that one simple point, the fucking miracle those two words harbor.
“Yeah,” Jeff says quietly. “He did.”
“I…” Jensen starts to say, his voice distant to his body and control. “I gotta go.” He snaps the phone shut in his hand, staring absently at the bedroom carpeting. It seems like a dream, like it couldn’t possibly be real because this… this is impossible.
He inhales deeply, running the tip of his index finger over the vibrant black ink traced into his ring finger, mesmerized for a moment.
He then turns and empties his stomach into the trashcan.
Time, unfortunately, doesn’t heal all wounds. Jensen has stitched his wounds shut with months of therapy and sheer stubbornness, but they have never actually healed. Raw and painful as ever, the only way Jensen knows to dress these wounds is to crawl into his bed and hide from the world.
He doesn’t actually sleep, not until exhaustion knocks him out and forces his mind to rest. Mostly, though, he thinks, obviously numb and lost to reality. It’s unreal, reconciling this life he has built to himself with the life he had back then, matching the reality that Jared is alive with the eternal grief he’s had to take on in order to still function. To “move on,” if it can ever really be called that, he has had to convince himself that Jared is gone, that Jared will never come back. Now, though, with even the slimmest possibility that he could someday get Jared back, the house he’s drawn of cards is falling, collapsing without a hope for its future.
Around the third day of Jensen’s self-induced exile, Misha chooses to check on him.
“Jen? You alive?” his roommate inquires, curiously peering in the crack of his bedroom door.
“No,” he croaks, using his voice for the first time in days. His phone lay somewhere across the room, where he threw it after the battery finally died and the missed calls were left to accumulate in peaceful silence.
“Dude, what’s up?” Misha asks, creeping into the bedroom to plop down at the cushioned chair at his roommate’s computer desk. Pushing off, he whirls in the office chair, his ADHD on spinning, Technicolor display.
Jensen swallows hard, closing his eyes before managing, “Jared.” Misha stops spinning immediately, his eyes wide and mouth slacked when Jensen finally looks at him.
“Jared,” Misha repeats, knowing the significance of the name, of the person behind the name. “Jen, what-”
“He woke up.” The world stops once more when the words leave Jensen’s mouth, and the shocked expression on his roommate’s face is only one one-hundredth of the surprise he felt at the news.
“I don’t know, Misha, he just did.”
“I… wow. Is he… how is he?”
“I don’t know. I mean, okay. I guess.” Raking his fingertips through unwashed hair, Jensen shrugs helplessly. “His brother called. And. Yeah. He woke up.”
“Wow, Jen, that’s… that’s great,” Misha smiles, and part of Jensen really, really agrees with that statement, but part of him also would never use that word to describe what he feels inside, mainly because he doesn’t even know.
“Yeah, I don’t. I don’t know.”
“You going up to see him?” Misha asks, leaning forward on the chair so his elbows sit upon his knees, propping his chin up.
“No,” Jensen murmurs, looking away. “Not. Not right now.”
Misha nods in understanding. “That’s cool, man, take your time. Must be a hell of a lot to deal with.”
Jensen nods, inhaling deeply at the understatement of the year.
“Just let me know. You know, if you need anything. Seriously.”
Jensen is tempted to say if you could tell Chris? That would be great. But, then again, it’s a needle in a haystack of a thousand worries. One check off his list will hardly ease his mind. Part of him, though, would still like to try.
It’s a week before Jensen is willing to answer the phone, and even then it’s only for his mom. She calls him worriedly on Tuesday, smack in the middle of what should be his microbiology class, and interrupts his almost-nap.
“Honey, I’m worried about you,” she says, and he can just picture the frown on her face.
“I’m fine, Mom,” he lies.
The rest of the conversation progresses as such, his mother dancing around the fact that she knows exactly what Jared is (was?) to him, that he’s more than a best friend. Well-meant but exhausting, the conversation does little to lift his mood.
Staring at the phone in his hand, which he miraculously made himself shower today, he sighs. He needs an escape. Inhaling deeply, he dials Chris.
The thing about sex with Chris is that it can be summed up in one word- aggressive. It’s all about pleasure, fast and hard. It’s wham bam, thank you ma’am and no cuddling in the afterglow. It’s about as manly as sex can be between two men, Jensen figures, and that’s not to say it isn’t good, it’s just… different.
Sex with Chris is just different than sex with Jared was. With Jared, it was all about feeling, all about the love that encircled them, about the electricity that sparked through their veins when they touched. Jared kissed, and Jared took his time, and Jared whispered “I love you” with such intensity Jensen never had any right to question it. After, Jared cuddled and Jared held Jensen and Jared made Jensen feel more safe than he had ever felt before.
Chris rushes, and Chris talks, and Chris bites off orgasms into Jensen’s shoulder, but rarely kisses him. After, they roll apart and Chris falls asleep, and Jensen stares up at the ceiling until his body buzzes down and leaves him worn out.
Chris is different from Jared in a lot of ways. But Chris is here.
“Dude,” Misha says around the mouthful of Kraft macaroni he managed not to burn for the two of them. “Not that I don’t enjoy seein’ your lovely face, but are you ever going to, you know. Leave?”
Jensen glares at his roommate. “It’s my apartment.” It’s a cold move, entirely besides the point, but Misha just brushes it off like he hadn’t heard him, and there wasn’t much conviction behind it anyway.
“You know, leave. Go do something. Other than mope and stare at the wall.”
“It’s not moping.”
“The hell it isn’t,” Misha snorts. “It’s understandable moping, I’ll give you that, but it’s still moping. It’s been weeks, and you’re still moping. And it ain’t doing anything pretty for that face of yours, let me tell you.”
“Thanks, Mish. Have any other spectacularly insightful suggestions for today?”
“Go to class,” he says, meeting his eyes.
“Fuck class,” Jensen grumbles, rubbing his temples with his fingertips. “Pretty sure I’ve already flunked out, anyway.”
“You’re stupid. I mean, you’re so fucking smart. But you’re stupid.”
“Eh,” Jensen shrugs dismissively.
“Okay, so let me get this straight,” Misha begins, counting with his fingers. “You aren’t working. You aren’t going to school. You’re barely talking to anyone. And you haven’t left the house in a month. Anything I’m missing?”
“No, I think that’s pretty much it.”
“Okay. Good. Cause anything else would just be pathetic.”
The voicemail comes while he’s wrapped tight in his normal routine of a wrapping himself in a cocoon of blankets, willing his mind to shut off long enough for him to sleep.
Jeff introduces himself, like Jensen doesn’t know his voice, like Jensen could seriously forget. Still, he introduces himself, even though Jensen’s phone flashes his name and number, even though just hearing the name still Jeff triggers Jared, Jared, Jared.
It goes like this:
“Hey Jensen. It’s Jeff. Padalecki. I was uh… I know class lets out this week, and I know. You, uh, know you said something about comin’ back a couple weeks ago. And just… hope you still are, I guess.”
There’s a deep inhalation, like Jeff is sketching on the edge on losing his composure, and Jensen feels like he’s been teetering on that same ledge for months now. He finds himself taking that same deep breath Jeff does, and, no matter how many times he listens to it.
“Jared’s doin’ good. Real good. Askin’ about you. I ain’t lying, Jensen, doctors are sayin’ it’s a miracle and everything. He’s, uh. He’s responsive. Y’know, still working everything out, but he’s awake. And he can talk alright, takes him a minute, sometimes, but he’s learnin’ real fast and I swear, man. You take one look at him Jensen, I swear. Take one look at him and tell me you can’t see him there. He’s in there, man, and he’s. He’s in there; he’s Jared.
“Jus’… just wanted to see if you were. Um. Y’know. I just… it would mean a lot, Jensen. You know. To Jared. And I think it might be good for you too. So… yeah. Uh. Talk to you later, I guess.”
It’s awkward. And it feels like time is slowing down and bending into something that isn’t reality, like he’s living in some dream just waiting to wake up. The life he’s been forced to build without Jared is colliding with a life with Jared in it.
Logically, he knows that the longer he waits to face up to reality, the more it will hurt. It’s like a train wreck, though, a collision of past and present, and the only safety he has is waiting out his future, holding on to those precious seconds before everything falls apart. Again.
He blindly packs his bags on that Wednesday afternoon after what would be his midterms, after the voicemail and the hour-like minutes that stretch between finally closing his phone and finally pulling himself out of bed. He’s numb, stiff-limbed and strung out on not enough sleep and too many thoughts. He grabs clothes, nice ones, mostly, like his momma had him wear for church and Sunday brunch, his iPod, his phone, and little more than his toothbrush, razor, and a handful of boxers, besides. He barely tells Misha he’s headed home for spring break before he’s out the door and on the road.
The drive from home back to Home, costs Jensen about six and a half hours of his life, spent in autopilot. He makes the drive like he’s taken this road a thousand times, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. What is usually a ride of quiet preparative disappointment has turned to full-blown, body-numbing anxiety. It’s running through him like he stepped into charged waters, and the rapids race through his brain like he’s paralyzed to stop them.
The sum of everything running through his veins right now is nothing, a jumble of give and take that the past six weeks haven’t helped to balance. He’s empty and full; scared and numb. It’s unreal, but it’s also bone-crushingly, actually and totally real. And all Jensen wants to do is crawl under the covers of his bed and never come out again, not for anyone.
He’s on the road, in between two places he calls home, but there’s not a safe place in miles.
His old cherry red Mustang klugs to a stop in front of his parents’ house around midnight, but even under the wide Texan night Jensen can see the flawless lawn and his mother’s prize-winning garden leading the way to the front porch. The feeling of home falls over him at once, and he drops his car keys on the weather-worn wood of the front steps as he strides up the cobblestone path lit by the light his momma left on for him. The lock accepts his key like he has every right to be there, and Jensen smiles, because it feels like lately he doesn’t have much of any right to any aspect of his life.
“I’m home,” Jensen announces quietly upon stepping into the familiar entry of his mother’s immaculate house. It’s beautiful, but well-worn in Texan hospitality. Home, to Jensen, is that lived-in cleanliness he grew up on, like the lingering of a lemon-scented cleaner mixing in the air with a welcoming aroma of a plate of fresh-baked brownies.
That isn’t to say Misha doesn’t keep a household of cleaning days and air warmed with baking, but it’s usually just bleach over a beer stain and the stale reminder of a long-gone plate of hash brownies.
There’s a split-second blur of curly blonde hair and an excited split between squeal and laugh before he’s mobbed with a skinny-armed hug from his sister.
“I thought you weren’t coming until tomorrow!” she laughs, squeezing him tightly. Engulfing his sister in a matching hug, he smiles widely.
“It is tomorrow.”
She pulls away slightly, turning the bear hug into a one-armed embrace as she tucks herself underneath his arm. She uses her free arm to slap at him. “Uh, I got the impression of like, afternoon. Not midnight, you douche.”
“Harsh language,” he chuckles, squeezing his arm draped across his sister’s shoulders. “Why aren’t you sleeping, squirt?”
Again with the feebly-attempted violence on Mac’s part. “I’m seventeen, you weirdo. I haven‘t had a bedtime in years.”
“She’s been on break since Monday,” a distinctively deeper voice offers, amused. “Good to have you home.” Jensen grins as his father gathers him into a solid hug before patting him on the back at holding him at arm’s length. “You look tired, kid.”
“Six hours driving will do that to ya,” Jensen quirks the corner of his lip at his dad, unable to fully back the statement with the glaring omission that he hasn’t slept properly in a long, long time being all obvious and everything.
“You’re home!” his mother smiles, crossing the room to sweep her boy up in a tight embrace. Jensen closes his eyes, breathing in the comfort and the familiarity of the hug, instantly wishing he were five again and his mother could fix everything with a good hug. Part of him wishes he at least thought it could still be that easy.
“Hey Mom,” he murmurs into his mother’s shoulder, a damp warmth forming beneath his eyelids. It’s like it hits him in an instant: the stress, the insomnia, the soap opera his life has become, and suddenly he is completely, undeniably exhausted. His weight presses heavier in his mother’s arms at the second of realization, and he feels his mother’s hand come up to drape across his forehead in concern.
“Aren’t you feeling good, sweetie?” she murmurs, sliding her hands down to frame either side of his face. Opening his eyes, he takes in her concerned frown and the lines etched in worry he knows have formed deeper in recent years. He shakes his head.
“Jus’ tired, Mom.” It’s a lie, but it’s also the truth- an inconsistency that makes neither mutually exclusive.
“How are you holding up?” she asks, quietly enough to be out of his father’s earshot, but not any less genuine as a result. It’s instantaneous: the burning warmth watering his eyes and the slight tremble of his bottom lip. Pasting on a sad smile, he can do little more than shrug.
“Oh honey,” she whispers, pulling him back into her arms tightly, palms rubbing soothing circles at his back. “Everything will work out in the end, I promise.”
Nodding, he tightens his hold, silently praying this won’t be the one instance in his life that his mother is wrong.
The pack of Marlboros Jensen picks up on Sunday night has a hard time lasting through Tuesday morning. He’s nothing near a chain smoker, not even on the worst days, but he riffles through his stash in a deep-drawn quick-fire. He holds onto every nicotine-laced breath like it’s his last lifeline, but truth be told it’s hardly even taking the edge off the anxiety that is building inside of him. It’s a heavy weight in his chest, every worry and what if he’s tried to ignore, and lighting up is doing little to singe away even the edges of that doubt.
“Since when do you smoke?” Mackenzie asks him, quiet wonder and an edge of disgust, as he mopes past her to plop down on the couch. Jensen quirks her an eyebrow and she sighs. “You’re not quite as stealthy as you think you are, bro. Even if I didn’t notice you disappearing every twenty minutes, you kind of reek of cigarette smoke.”
Sighing, he passes a palm over his unwashed hair. “I’unno. Since a while ago. Usually don’t do it so much.”
“You shouldn’t do it at all.”
“Yeah, well,” he murmurs, shifting awkwardly in his seat. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Mac studying him, like she’s trying to figure something out.
She’s quiet a long moment before clearing her throat. “You should go see him.” The suggestion is quiet and vague, but Jensen has no doubts as to what it means.
“I know.” The words come out barely above a whisper as his throat starts to constrict around them, tightening painfully.
“Megs says he’s doing good, Jensen. Real good,” she begins quietly, soft and gentle. “Awake and responsive and-”
“I know, Mac,” he repeats, eyes slipping shut. “I know.”
She’s still watching him, solemnly curious, and reluctantly understanding. “You don’t want to see him.” He jolts at that, physically flinching away from the implication.
“It’s…” he begins, the words stinging behind his eyes. “I mean. I do. Want to see him. I just… shit, Mac. I don’t know what to do.”
Leaning forward with his forearms flat to his thighs, Jensen watches his sister out of the corner of his eye as she nods, gradual and deliberate like she means to comprehend, but can‘t quite pull it off.
“It’s not that I don’t want to go, it’s just… it’s easier not to,” he clarifies, though it fails to do the mess of emotions he feels any justice. “Fuckin’… I don’t know.”
“Maybe,” Mackenzie starts, carefully interrupting him, slow and considered. “Maybe it just seems easier. Like you think it is, but if you actually do it… if you just go, Jensen, I really think… I don’t think it could be any worse than sitting here, worrying about it, y’know?”
“Pull the band-aid off the large, gaping wound,” he smirks, though there is no humor behind it.
“Sort of. Except you know how you have to let things heal, like without the band-aid? Maybe it just needs to, like. Air out.”
Jensen laughs despite himself. “Shootin’ to be a philosopher?”
“Shut up,” she grumbles, rolling her eyes like the little sister he remembers. “Jerk.”
“Kidding, Kenz,” he sighs, a ghost of a smile still tracing his lip upwards. “You’re probably right.”
“I’m definitely right,” she corrects, bumping shoulders with him.
“You are probably definitely right.”
Jensen’s version of letting everything air out is following the pack of Marlboros by purchasing two other packs- one to carry with him like a crutch and the other for emergencies, tucked in the glove compartment of his car. He gets through about a quarter of the first pack before he disappears into the shower for half an hour, scrubbing at his hair and skin to get rid of the evidence. There’s a bottle of his sister’s face wash on the counter when he steps out of the shower, something about invigorating, luminous something or rather, and he figures it couldn’t hurt to spruce up his tired, gray complexion. It smells like oranges and chemical soap, but it leaves his skin a little brighter than before, so he deems the experiment a success.
He overrides the lingering scent with a careful shave and a couple pats of aftershave, the nice kind that his mom buys him for his birthday. Tangling his gel-moistened fingertips in his hair, he sculpts it into something more presentable than before.
Trekking into his room, he changes out of his oversized towel and into a set of nice jeans and a heathered olive green tee. He slips a flannel button-up over that, an oatmeal-toned plaid with green stripes. It’s a nice outfit without being too obviously nice, something that won’t let on how much time he actually spent getting ready. He feels like a scared kid getting ready for his first date, setting out a plan to have everything be perfect without making it look like he gave it a second thought.
Swallowing hard, leans forward on the dresser, bracing his fists against the oak surface to get a closer look at himself in the mirror. He’s clean-shaven, clean-cut, and cleanly-dressed, but inside he’s a royal fuckin’ wreck.
The sudden ring of his cell phone cuts through the silent, heavy air, and Jensen finds himself swatting at the pockets of his jeans before realizing his phone rests somewhere under the pile of rejected clothes he tried on early.
“Hello?” he grunts, not bothering to look who’s calling before flipping his phone to his jaw line.
“’Ey bitch,” Misha’s voice projects its way through the phone delightedly, and Jensen can do little to stop the small smile that results.
“No,” Misha sighs. “That’s the problem.”
“I get ya,” Jensen murmurs, collapsing back against his bed, his eyes focusing blankly on the ceiling overhead.
“How are things going?”
Jensen grunts in response.
“Yeah,” Jensen inhales deeply.
“Well, how can I join that party?” Misha asks, picking up on the obvious suckyness of his roommate’s day.
“You could bring me a fuckin’ pound’a weed. I think I might officially love you at that point.”
“What part of ‘I have none of this weed that you speak of’’ don’t you understand?”
“The part where I’d fuckin’ kill for a hit right now.”
“Dude, what’s up?” Misha asks, his voice an odd combination of worry and falsely concealing cheer. “I’m the burnout, remember?”
“Getting ready to go see Jared,” Jensen breathes, the words barely above a whisper. Instantly, his eyes sting with the threat of tears, and he couldn’t be more tired of the feeling.
Misha is quiet for a moment. “Like to see him or to see him?”
“You haven’t gone yet?” The tone Misha uses isn’t condescending, isn’t judgmental, but it does ring clear with an edge of shock Jensen isn’t accustomed to hearing from his laidback friend.
“No, man, I…” Jensen trails off, unsure of exactly how to say “I’m scared and would like to fall off the face of the earth right now” without worrying anyone further.
“No, I mean, that’s okay, but…” Misha trails off, like he’s carefully considering what to say next. “I just kind of expected it to be your first stop, that’s all.”
“Misha, I’ve been putting this off for a month and a half. What part of this is actually surprising you?” Jensen snaps, a hint of hysteria lurking behind his uneven tone.
“The part where you seem to be equating it to a root canal, I guess.”
“Have you talked to Chris?” The question is blunt and, far as Jensen can tell, out of no where.
“What? No, not since-”
“Okay, so let me get this right,” Misha says, forced patience blaring. “You don’t call me all week. You haven’t talked to Chris in who knows how long. You sure as hell aren’t talking to Jared. And I doubt you’re doing much talking to anyone else, so-”
“I’ve talked to Mac. My sister. A little.”
The lull in reaction on the other line says more than any words could. “Okay. So you kinda sorta have talked to one person a little. All’s I’m saying is shit isn’t gonna get better just sitting there. Being by yourself ain’t helping.”
“Dude, I said I’m going,” Jensen groans, glancing at the clock on the wall. “I was totally going to go and not be by myself until you called.”
“Yeah, well. You better go, that’s all I’m saying.”
“Your lack of confidence in me is overwhelming,” Jensen grumbles sarcastically, kicking his feet over the side of his mattress and sitting up, begrudgingly.
“It’s taken you a month and a half. I’ll believe it when I see it, biznatch.”
“You’re a dick.”
“Yeah yeah. You’ll thank me someday.”
Jensen scoffs, wrestling his foot into his black boots. “Whatever. I’m leaving. Peace out.”
“Hey Jen?” Misha says, quick and urgent.
“What are you wearing?” Misha asks, trying for sexy and overtly gay.
Jensen snorts and hangs up.
Nursing homes, Jensen thinks, smell worse than hospitals. At least in hospitals, there’s the existence of hope with the undercurrent possibility of death. Nursing homes are the exact opposite, mixed with less potent antiseptic and more notable human misery. When they transferred Jared from the hospital, it felt like a life sentence, like all hope for an acquittal was forsaken in favor of seeing it as a positive outcome, because the word “death” was nowhere in the sentence. Jensen never did come to terms with exactly why he was supposed to comforted by the term “indefinite state of unconsciousness.” It isn’t quite as definite as death, but too damn close to separate when hope leaves the equation.
Standing outside Jared’s room, Jensen can feel a full scale panic attack building in his chest. He breathes in 1, 2, 3, out 1, 2, 3, kicking small shuffles into the gray slate floor to keep from pacing erratically. Closing his eyes, his lips form a silent prayer and then suck in a deep breath before opening his eyes and peeking through the threshold.
The new reality mapped out before him makes everything still inside, from the blood in his veins to the racing thoughts in his head. Blind-filtered sunshine lights the crooks of the room that the florescent bulbs had always ignored. An odd new comfort overtakes the former rigid sterility, found in the way the drab counters and skinny tabletops are packed tightly with cards and balloons.
Where the cards used to be sparse and in muted shades of sympathy, the array of cards cluttering the room now spark with bright, celebratory colors of yellow, green, pink, and blue. It’s like the drab of winter has given way to the promise of spring, and the unnerving quiet from months prior is overridden with the sound of a television dishing out sitcom laughter. And Jensen…
Jensen can’t breathe.
Because there’s a bed, still stationed on the far wall. The droning wooshes and beeps of the monitors seem to have gone largely by the wayside, though they still sit near the side rails of the inclined mattress.
Jared sits up against the inclination of the bed, head lolling slightly to one side. An IV is taped to his left forearm, and he is dressed in a standard-issue white gown. Without the sun, he is nearing paleness, yet he is a healthier shade than previous months. Approaching, Jensen can see the slickness at the corner of his mouth, how it slides down his cheek. Drool.
Jensen swallows hard, braving a step forward. “Jared?” he manages, voice shaky and border-line terrified. To his amazement, Jared stirs slightly, opening his eyes to tiny slits and looking in his general direction.
“Nghhl,” is the gist of what he says, though Jensen thinks it’s probably indecipherable. Jared’s eyes don’t focus on him, don’t truly show any signs of concentration or even comprehension. More jumbled nonsense falls from the younger boy’s mouth, then his chin settles back against his chest again and all is still.
Though the hospital room is warm, Jensen’s blood runs cold. He glances around, cursing himself for hoping for a miracle, for believing what Jeff told him.
“Sorry,“ he whispers, turning on his heel and nearly running from the room.
Most of all, he curses himself for not being strong enough to deal with this.