Jensen can’t pinpoint the exact second he knew he was in love with his best friend. He can see the process, looking back, see how more than a decade of friendship progressed over the years, how they built the road that led them to where they are today. He doesn’t remember the first time he thought a man was attractive, but he does know who the first man he thought of in that way was. Jared’s always had a way of getting to him.
Technically, they get together in the summer following junior year. Fueled on a six pack and the warmth of the sun, Jared lay loose-limbed alongside Jensen on his trampoline, staring up at the clouds as they move and shift overhead.
“You ever,” he starts, uncertainty clear in his voice. “You ever, you know. Been with a girl?”
The question startles Jensen, because Jared has heard every last detail of his nonexistent sex life, just like he has heard Jared’s. “No,” he draws the word out, curious. “Not like… been with a girl been with a girl.”
“I know.” Quiet overtakes them, but it’s thick in the humid air, overbearing and impossibly to ignore.
“I think I might be gay,” Jared says finally, simple as that. There is an edge of nervousness to his voice, something bordering on fear, and the words come in such a rush Jensen has to repeat it several times in his head to make sure he isn’t hearing things.
“Oh,” he manages dumbly, after working his mouth around several failed attempts at words. Beside him, he can feel how tense Jared is, a tight-muscled replica of his normally lax best friend.
“I, uh,” Jensen tries at last, stomach churning violently as his heart pounds in his chest. “I, um. I think I might be too.” The words fall out of his mouth without his permission, and instantly he panics, wishing he could gather up the pieces of that statement and burn them, hide them away forever.
Because Jared is gorgeous, and Jared is perfect, and Jared is unattainable by any stretch of the imagination.
His mama once told him friends like Jared are one in a million. Even when he was little, he knew he was lucky to have Jared. And he isn’t about to risk all that for the off-kilter hope that Jared might want him too.
“Really,” Jared breathes, strangely quiet. “Have you ever… I mean. Have you ever thought…”
“Have you ever thought about, you know. Us?” Jared’s voice is barely a whisper, shaking in something teetering on the edge of terror, and Jensen. Jensen’s heart stops.
Silence hanging over them heavily, it takes a moment before Jensen can remember to breathe again. “Yeah,” he manages to croak, throat closing up, a near anaphylactic reaction. “Yeah. All the fucking time.”
He admits the deep dark secret he’s kept buried beneath the hope in his heart for years, now, says it honestly and simply, though he is practically convulsing with emotion. It isn’t worth losing Jared over, but it isn’t worth not taking that chance, either. If there’s even a distant shot Jared could feel the same, Jensen would be stupid not to take it, and right now they’re the closest they may ever be to that reality.
“Oh,” Jared breathes, but he’s looking at Jensen now, head tilted towards him against the pull of the trampoline. Eyes a damp mix of fear and wonder, his mouth is slacked in awe as he stares at his best friend.
A slow, goofy smile forms across Jared’s face, giddy and deliberate. “Me too,” he breathes out shakily, a disbelieving laugh mixing with the admission, like he honestly thought Jensen might turn him down. Jensen’s world stops, just like that, but Jensen’s world also starts, set afire, just like that.
It’s too easy, like everything between them has always been. It’s illogical, but it’s simple like that, like tentative, sweet kisses under the summer sun and long days spent making out without the pretense of sex. It’s sex, mixed with morphine, with something that numbs him perfectly and sparks through him like heaven. Most importantly of all, it’s Jared. It’s Jared and he’s his. And it’s perfect.
They graduate on a Saturday morning, in the rickety auditorium downtown. Jared’s gown barely covers his shins, and his cap has a hard time stretching its way around his head.
“Fucking ginormous head,” Jensen mutters under his breath as he tries to wrestle the cap onto Jared’s head, his thick hair not helping in the challenge.
“S’cause I’m so smart.” Jared grins up at his boyfriend from the edge of his bed, gently placing his palms on either side of his hips. Cursing under his breath as the cap launches off Jared’s head yet again, he shakes his head.
“Whatever, man,” he says, smiling. “Who has the sash for Top 3%, again?”
“My lifeless, geek of a boyfriend,” Jared answers without a beat, pulling Jensen down into a kiss and subsequently causing his cap to pop off his head.
“Damn it, Jared,” Jensen whines against his lips. “I finally got that damn thing to stay.”
“Not going to do much good if it’s coming right off anyway.”
Jensen rolls his eyes. “I’m not fucking you an hour before graduation.”
“Why not?” Jared pouts.
“Because,” Jensen starts, tapping the bridge of Jared’s nose with his index finger. “We have to somehow get this fucking hat to stay on your fucking head, and it’s not fucking working.”
“I don’t care about a fucking hat. I already look like I‘m wearing a damn dress,” the younger boy points out, gesturing to the inches of skin above his ankles peeking out from under the gown.
“Yeah, well. At least the cap will make it look like you’re graduating today and not crossdressing.”
Jensen takes the rim of his boyfriend’s cap and tries unsuccessfully once more to pull it down. His hair bounces back against the pressure, causing him to sigh as the cap flies off. “I’m about two seconds away from grabbing some bobby pins from Mac and shoving this shit in here.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s a great idea. All I need to complete this look is an updo,” Jared rolls his eyes, swatting his hands away.
“It’s either that or we cut the hat. Or your hair.”
“Seriously, Jensen, you’re so smart,”
“Thanks.” Jensen smiles, leaning in close to Jared. He can hear Jared tense slightly, his breath quickening like he’s expecting something to happen. “That’s why I get to wear the sash,” he whispers seductively. He earns a quick, playful slap to his cheek, as Jared pulls him in for a frustrated kiss in return.
After the blur of a week that follows graduation, Jensen can’t think of any place he would rather be than sleeping past noon with his boyfriend curled around them. It becomes a daily habit, alternating between Jared’s bed and the warm confines of his parent’s backyard.
They talk of exciting things to come- college, their first apartment, their first anniversary. Mostly, though, they talk of now, talk of the weather and the sun and sigh I love you’s into sweat-dampened skin. Sometimes they don’t talk at all, just lay in each other’s presence or kiss until they are both breathless.
Gasping breaths in the miserable humidity of Texas, Jensen can’t imagine anything better.
“We should get a tattoo.” The suggestion comes under the sweltering summer sun, with the promise of a nice breeze skimming over them as they lay on a blanket in Jared’s backyard. Green grass tickles Jensen’s skin, but their hands lie perfectly intertwined between them.
“Yeah,” Jared nods, nonchalant. “Like, together.”
“Dude, I’m not getting your name tattooed over my heart,” Jensen snorts, squeezing Jared’s hand. “Shit’s lame.”
“I think it’s sweet,” the younger of the two murmurs, digging his fingernails into the flesh of Jensen‘s palm. “Nah. But seriously. Just a tattoo.”
“Oh, you know,” Jared drawls with faux innocence, harboring an obvious intent. “Whatever.”
Jensen shoots him a look, and Jared caves, just like that.
“I was thinking of a heart.”
“Yeah. Just like… one teeny little heart.”
“Okay,” Jensen drags out, not understanding where his boyfriend’s sudden fascination with the idea came from. “You want Cupid, too?”
“You’re a dick,” Jared declares, but Jensen can see the corner up his lip struggling not to quirk up in a smile. “No. I was just thinking. You know. Both our names start with J’s.”
Pausing, Jensen turns his head to look at him pointedly. “Very good, Jay. When’d you figure that one out?”
“Dude, shut up,” Jared groans. “Just… okay. If you take two J’s and turn them upside down and like… turn them. What does that make?”
“A heart, Jensen. It makes a fucking heart,” Jared snaps, exasperation coloring his demeanor.
“Yeah. Oh.” Frown pressing at the corners of his mouth, Jared shrugs his shoulders against the blue linen blanket. “Whatever. Never mind. It‘s stupid.”
Resignation passing over Jared, Jensen immediately feels guilty for casting the idea aside. “It’s not stupid, man,” he automatically says, turning his cheek into the blanket so he can look at his boyfriend earnestly. “It’s… sweet.”
“Yeah,” Jared mumbles. “I… I don’t want anything big, you know. Like just… a heart. A little heart. Just for us.”
“I don’t know,” Jared shrugs, though it’s obvious he’s lying. “I was kinda thinking, I mean, wouldn’t it be cool? Like on our ring fingers?” Warm emotion finds its way through Jensen’s body, like melting sugar rushing through his veins. Jared turns his head and locks gazes with him just then, happiness and some other element akin to nervousness showing in his eyes.
“Are you proposing?” The words come out in a whisper, part bewildered and part in wonder. Jared quirks him a half-smile.
“Pre-proposing?” he phrases hopefully. “I’d marry you right fucking now if I had the chance, Jen, you’d be stupid not to know that, but… when it actually does happen, the ring and all that, I want to have it be real. Not just symbolic, I want… I want an actual wedding, y’know?”
Jensen knows. He knows all about the fight for gay rights, knows the place for them someday won’t be in some sleepy little Texan town. They’ve talked San Fran, they’ve talked east coast… anywhere where they can be themselves and not be hated for it. It doesn’t matter much to Jensen; as long as he has Jared, he has everything he needs.
He knows Jared feels the same way, but Jensen wants to give that boy the world, wants to serve up everything this place has to offer and keep him safe from all the hate around them. Down south… well. Down south holds acres of roadblocks, and Jensen just wants Jared to be able to break free.
“So we’re going with permanence over a ring?” Jensen jokes, crinkling the corners of his eyes warmly.
“Uh, yeah. It’s sixty dollars versus, like,” Jared’s voice is light with playfulness, but his face is crinkled in thought. “More than sixty dollars,” he finishes lamely, and Jensen laughs.
“Fine. One teeny tiny heart.” He makes a production with a big, put-upon sigh.
“Outline. Just the outline.”
“Okay. Just the outline of one teeny tiny heart.”
“In black,” Jared nods so surely that Jensen wonders if there’s something he’s missed. “That way, when we actually get married we can get it filled in and have an actual heart.”
“You are a huge fucking girl.”
“If we get the tattoo filled in when we get married, what happens when we actually get engaged?”
“I’ll blow you,” Jared deadpans.
“How did you talk me into this again?” Jensen whines, wincing over the hum of the needle as the tattoo artist, some tough looking guy named Steven, of all things, carves the small heart over his ring finger. Jared scoffs as Kiko (of course he got the guy with the cooler name) mirrors the design on the lower section of his same finger. Chairs facing in different directions so they can hold hands if the pain starts to get to them, Jensen fakes an annoyed glare as he glances over at him.
“Stop bitching,” Jared smiles nonchalantly, like his skin isn’t screaming with the pain of the tattoo needle. Jensen generally considers himself to have a high tolerance for pain; he broke his arm three times as a kid, each time in multiple places. Jared, on the other hand, seems to tolerate the higher thresholds better, because Jensen has seen him damn near cry over a stubbed toe, but he barely bats a lash at this.
“Shut up,” Jensen grumbles, pausing before adding, “it’s over the bone.”
“It’s over my bone too, dumbass.”
“Yeah, but I’m not as fat as you are,” Jensen bites teasingly, expecting the threat of a slap Jared presents him.
“Hey,” Jensen laughs, raising a hand in defense. “Don’t. If you mess this up, I will kill you.”
“What, you gonna strangle me with those delicate, not-fat fingers you have there?” Jared shoots, prompting Kiko to smile and shake his head.
“Yes. Now shut up and hold my hand, bitch,” Jensen grates around clenched teeth. His boyfriend sighs around a smile, reaching to grab his hand. Jensen squeezes it a little harder than is probably necessary.
“Such a girl,” Jared smiles cheekily, earning a death glare in return.
“I’m not the one who wanted to fucking get matching heart tattoos.”
“It’s painful,” Jensen grits his teeth.
Jared sighs dramatically, readjusting his grip on his boyfriend's hand while rolling his eyes. “Yeah, Jensen, I love you too.”
Wincing at a particularly painful stroke of the needle, Jensen grumbles, “Yeah, you better.”
Not that Jensen will ever admit it, but the tattoos turn out pretty good. He can’t stop staring at it, the permanent reminder that Jared is his and doesn’t plan on being anything but. If any other couple had done it, Jensen would say it was stupid. No one spends the rest of their lives with their high school sweetheart.
Only, they aren’t any other couple. This is Jared and him, the single best thing that has happened to Jensen in his life, and he knows, without a doubt in his mind, that they are in this for the long haul. You just don’t lose people that mean more to you than yourself.
“Kinda hot, huh?” Jared asks in a low voice, carefully caressing the knuckle above the small, delicately inked area on his boyfriend’s hand. Jensen looks up at him, takes the muscled terrain of his bare skin, tanned and toned and completely unaware of how gorgeous he looks right now. Tired and spent in the afterglow, a goofy, wide smile breaks across his face.
“More than kinda,” he breathes, mouth skimming his boyfriend’s shoulder. He can feel Jared shudder, and that arcs his lips upward against the salt-slicked plane. He leans forward, upper chest coming to rest against Jared’s back, as he holds himself up by his hands and knees. Kissing a sweet, slow trail over his boyfriends shoulder, to his collarbone, to his neck, and up his jaw line, Jensen finally meets Jared’s mouth in a deep, wet kiss.
Jared leans back against him, Jensen’s tongue tasting his moan as Jared struggles to get a better angle on the kiss. Smiling against Jared’s mouth, Jensen rocks his weight from his hands to his knees, the rhythm lazy and erratic as his chest skims Jared’s back between his shoulder blades.
Eventually, Jared gasps away from the kiss, panting and leaning heavily against him. He rests his head backwards just below Jensen’s shoulder, gazing at him heatedly. Jensen turns his head slightly to meet his eyes, teeth sinking into his own lip.
“I love you,” he whispers against Jared’s temple.
Laughing happily, Jared reaches up and tangles his fingers in the short strands of Jensen’s hair. Tilting his head, Jared pressing a tender, closed-mouthed kiss to his lips.
He pulls away just enough to whisper, “I love you too.”
“Fag,” Chad rolls his eyes with something of a fond smile on his face when he sees the tattoo on Jared’s finger. Jared, for his part, gives him a wide grin in return.
“Jensen has one too,” he nods, sipping on his drink and slapping in his boyfriend’s general direction. Jensen smiles meekly, glancing up at Chad shyly. He and Chad have never really been friends. They haven’t exactly been enemies either, but they don’t really have anything in common but Jared, and Chad is kind of a dick, anyway.
“Fabulous,” Chad mumbles around a gulp of knockoff Jack, flashing a cheesy thumbs up. Jensen somehow manages to restrain himself from rolling his eyes, instead turning his attention to the drunken stumbling the other kids seem to pass as dancing.
“Jensen!” Danneel slurs loudly, stumbling over to throw her arms around him. Missing slightly, she knocks into Jensen’s drink, but miraculously he is sober enough to stave off anything too disastrous.
“Danni,” he smiles awkwardly, trying to muster the same level of excitement in the tiny girl’s voice. He and Danni are friends, but alcohol always seems to make her forget the fact that he isn’t into girls, no matter how drop dead gorgeous they may be. Stepping to his side to remind her, Jared smiles at her tightly and loosely links his arm with Jensen.
“Hey,” he offers, forced friendly and warmly stiff. Jensen shoots him a glance out of the corner of his eye, playfully hip checking him gently at the seeds of jealousy he sees there.
“Jared!” Danneel squeals, standing on her tiptoes and falling forward to give Jared something resembling a hug. Smiling, Jensen shrugs at the help me look on Jared’s face. Patting the girl awkwardly on the back, Jared looks entirely too relieved when she finally lets go and starts to dance with Chad’s girlfriend.
“Nicely done.” Smug, Jensen elbows the taller boy softly. Jared simply grunts in return.
“Booze run!” a couple of guys yell from behind them before they barrel through, throwing their arms sloppily over everyone in a five foot radius.
“We’re out?” Chad asks, annoyance clear in his voice. “Fuckin’ ninety bucks worth of alcohol, there.”
“Yeah, well,” a kid named Jesse shrugs, alcohol clear in the sheen of his eyes. “We’re buyin’.”
“Who’s comin’ with us?” Jake yells, Jensen catching a flash of his blond hair as he scrapes past them. A handful of people cheer in response and push forward, taking Jared along with them.
Turning back to face his boyfriend, Jared shrugs pointedly, then goes with the flow of the crowd. Jensen shakes his head, but follows him.
Outside, the air is turning cool under the wide starry night. Two pickups are pulled to the grass, one rusted out and one slightly better off. Jared’s head bobs above the rest of the crowd, so Jensen has little trouble spotting him as he’s pushed towards the truck he recognizes as Jake’s. Shoving his way to Jared’s side, he watches as kids begin piling in, climbing into the bed of the pickup. Stomach flopping, Jensen reaches for Jared’s arm.
“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea,” he shouts over the drunken hoots and hollers of the other teens. Last year, there had been a nasty roll over on the highway, and a couple college kids had died because they were unbuckled in the bed of the pickup. Jensen is buzzed, really buzzed, but not quite buzzed enough to not recognize a stupid decision when he sees one.
Jared makes a face, like Jensen is worrying over nothing. “It’s no big deal, Jen,” he shrugs. “We’ve got a DD and this place is like five minutes away, tops.”
Jensen opens his mouth to protest, but before he knows it someone is grabbing his wrist and directing him to the cramped backseat of the cab. He is the first person on the left next to Chad, and Jensen meets Jared’s eyes as panic starts to stir in his chest. He’s shoved flush against the metal of the car, his knees painfully butting against the front seats. Scrambling for the seatbelt, he wrestles it to click together.
Suddenly, he is mobbed with girl as Sophie crawls over him, giggling as she kicks her way into Chad’s lap. For a moment, Jensen thinks Jared is about to try to cram himself into the truck, too. He watches, though, as Danneel shoves past him, navigating her slender body into his lap. Surprised, he glances out at Jared, not particularly shocked to see his face twisted in annoyance.
“Don’t worry about it, Jen,” Jared shouts. “I’ma hitch a ride in the bed.” Jensen opens his mouth to protest, but then his boyfriend is gone and Danneel is playfully pushing him, telling him to not yell in her ear again.
“Who’s the DD?” he asks, nervously eying Jake as he stands at the driver’s side door. Shooting him a strange look, Jake slides into the driver’s seat, fumbling with the keys.
“Dude, chill. It’s my car. I’m fine.”
“Jensen,” Chad snaps in irritation. “Seriously. Chill out.” Opening his mouth to protest, a surprised noise escapes Jensen’s throat as Jake stomps on the gas, jolting them into movement before cranking the wheel sharply and pulling a donut.
“Woo!” Danneel cheers in his lap, clapping as Jake hastily navigates the car off the lawn and onto the street. The gravel shifts dramatically as the truck pulls out too fast onto the unpaved road, and the panic rises in Jensen’s throat.
“Hey, Jake, seriously man, let me drive,” he starts, only to have Danneel turn to him and place her hands on his chest delicately.
She’s inches from his face, so close he can smell the alcohol on her breath as she whispers, “Relax and enjoy the ride.” She undulates her hips forward pointedly, pressing herself downward, on and off his crotch. Jensen’s eyes go huge, and he shoves her into the seat in front of them without thinking.
“Ow!” she whines, digging her nails into the muscle of his thighs. Jensen’s attention is diverted elsewhere, however, as Jake jerks the wheel hard to the right, narrowly escaping the ditch. Sophia screams next to him as it becomes apparent Jake overcorrected, and the truck starts to skid heavily on its passenger side wheels.
“Shit!” Jake curses, desperately trying to regain control of the vehicle, but the shift of the gravel and the speed of the vehicle render his efforts useless. It happens quickly, the swerve and the cylindrical spin that results, but all Jensen can think to do is crank his neck to try to see back where Jared sits. There are screams, sickening thumps, and the sounds of breaking metal and shattering glass as the truck throttles into the ditch.
Jared. It’s the last thought Jensen has before the black claims him.
Florescent lights and the faint beeping around him are the first things Jensen becomes aware of as he comes into consciousness. He’s aware of the aches of his body, of the bruises that must span his back, arms, and legs. Headache pounding behind his eyes, he squints his eyes open in the bright, sterile white.
“Wha?” he croaks, the word straining painfully in his throat. There’s pressure at his side immediately, like hands grasping his leg reassuringly, and it takes him a moment to think to follow the sensation with his line of sight. When he does, he sees his mother, rumpled and red-eyed, crying.
“Jensen,” she whispers, and it’s a mix of relief and fear, something Jensen can’t wrap his mind around.
“Wha?” he tries again, coughing dryly. The movement sends waves of pain through his neck and head, but still he tries again. “Wha’happened?”
Breathing in deeply, Donna grabs his hand, the one with the fewer tubes. “Honey, you were in a car accident. You have a concussion.” Staring at his mother for several seconds as he tries to grasp the situation, he squints his eyes, heart speeding up.
“Jared?” he asks, panic winding its way up through his windpipe and squeezing tightly. Remembering the circumstances of what led him here is too hazy, but Jensen has always had a clear single-mindedness where Jared is concerned.
“Jensen…” his mother murmurs, anguish evident in her tone and face. Jensen’s ability to concentrate is virtually nonexistent right now, with the heavy pull of sleep tugging on him, but the terror that is building in his chest keeps him focused, keeps him praying. Jared has to be okay, he just does.
“Mom,” he chokes, fear near strangling off the sound entirely.
“Jared’s in a coma, sweetie,” Donna manages, closing her eyes at the reality of the situation before her.
“I don’t know much more, Jensen, but. Yes. The accident, you probably don’t,” she inhales, trying to determine the best way to phrase what needs to be said. “Jared was thrown out of the back of the truck, and the truck went into a ditch.
For Jensen, the world has stopped and started inching along in retrograde, hazy like a dream but devastating like a nightmare. Through the fog of his concussion, he has the mind about him to try to reach towards the side of the bed.
“I need’a see him,” he slurs sleepily, vision doubling as he tries to kick his feet over the edge.
“Jensen,” his mother begs, carefully attempting to restrain him. “Jensen stop it!” she yells, the sound of his mild mannered mother screaming at him enough to make Jensen quit struggling.
“You need to be careful,” she pleads, low and serious. “You need to heal.”
“J’red,” her son manages, exhaustion evident in every aspect of his being. He’s been beat to hell, bruises littering his body and face, cuts marring his normally smooth complexion.
“I’ll see what I can find out,” Donna whispers. “Just hold on, sweetie.”
Days pass before Jensen finds himself coherent enough and strong enough to fully process the scope of the situation. He doesn’t remember the accident, per se, only bits and pieces faded to black and white, like the newspaper headline with the photo of Jake’s truck, smashed and mangled among the high grasses and overgrown weeds of the ditch.
The stark headlines read 4 Richardson Teens Die in Wreck, 2 Critical, then Teen Accident Death Toll Reaches 5 . Jensen counts the names in his head repeatedly, hoping that, at some point, he can begin to grasp it as reality. Three of the four that died immediately were in the bed of the truck, three kids that Jensen had known of for most his life, but never really knew. Danneel was thrown from the truck, as was Chad‘s girlfriend Sophia. Danni died at the scene; Sophia spent a week teetering on the edge of death before her body finally gave out.
Every spare second of his consciousness praying and begging God to not let Jared be the six fatality. He doesn’t let himself dwell on the what if’s, because the ultimate question is what if I lose Jared? And losing Jared, that isn’t an option.
For six straight months, Jensen spends every day sitting at Jared’s side, waiting. He waits through the small moments, the slight changes or lack thereof that make it agonizing, and help him make it through the day. Each day that passes without losing Jared is everything to Jensen, but each night without him passes just the same. He tries going to school, but UT doesn’t work out. He applies to Texas Tech around the constant urging to move on, and when he is accepted he takes the scholarship out of pure need to breathe outside of this suffocating city.
That last night, he stands beside Jared’s bed with damp eyes, searching for the thousands of words there must be to say goodbye. He can’t remember a single damn one of them.
“I’m not giving up on you,” he whispers ferociously. “Okay? Not giving up. I just… Jared, you gotta understand. I can’t stay here. I can’t stand here and wait for you anymore. I mean, I’ll wait for you forever, I will, but. Just not here.”
It’s not near enough, but it’s all he can give and still be able to make himself get up and leave.