Forgiving the Past, Finding the Future
Paxton, Texas; Present:
“Seriously? You were raised in Texas, son. That’s the best you can come up with to toss at me right now?”
“I think those ten years in New York tamed you a little bit too much, darlin’. You tossed better at me earlier without even realizing you were doing it. Try again?”
At first there was just silence from the man locked in the small cell and cuffed to the standard issue cot. The man on the other side of the bars frowned at the silence and had just opened his mouth to offer another taunting jab when he saw his ‘guest’ take a deep breath. He stopped and waited for whatever was going to be hurled at him next.
“You’re a prick! You’re a no-good, backstabbing, lying, yellow-bellied, ball-less coward!”
“Better. I know you were always the quiet one but I knew you had a temper. I saw it today. You can do better than this, Jay.”
If looks could kill, Sheriff Jensen Ackles knew he would be flat on the floor of his small jail just by the hateful daggers being shot through the bars at him from bright hazel eyes. Right then they weren’t showing any traces of the golds, blues, or greens he knew they could have at other times.
“You’re a rich, arrogant, spoiled bastard and I hope one of these days one of your Dad’s stupid steers runs you down and sticks a giant horn up that tight ass before it stomps you into the damn mud like a bug!” Jared Padalecki shot back, frustrated and furious as he tugged at the cuffs holding his wrists to the solid steel cot. He struggled, the sound of metal against metal loud in the cell before finally letting loose with a string of rarely used, mostly forgotten obscenities, peppered with some suggestions for what Jensen could do or have done to him that not only crossed the border of creative but physically impossible in some cases. One actually had Jensen’s eyebrows raising before his lips curved up in a slow smile.
“And there’s my boy,” he chuckled, fighting not to laugh when he was shot a full on furious bitch face that he remembered seeing once or twice in high school along with another well-known gesture.
“You’re a sociopath!” Jared snapped, tossing his head to try to get the stands of long dark hair that had fallen into his eyes back so he could see the other man completely. “You’re full blown crazy as fuck!”
“No, I’m not either of those things despite what you might think right now.” Jensen understood how it could look that way considering Jared’s current location and predicament.
“You fake arrested me! You knocked me out and kidnapped me! How are those things not crazy?” Jared demanded angrily, giving his wrists another jerk but realized he was not going to get loose that way and would probably only hurt himself.
“I’m the Sheriff. I don’t ‘fake’ arrest anyone,” Jensen corrected, stepping closer to the bars to run his fingers down the metal slowly as if to delay his next comment. “You resisted arrest so that’s why you had your stubborn ass knocked out. It’s also not kidnapping since I did read you your rights. Granted you were unconscious while I did so but…”
“I didn’t do anything to warrant getting arrested for, jackass!” Jared still was having a hard time believing this was even happening.
Jensen watched Jared struggle a bit more before finally going still on the cot. Or his body went still. His hands and wrists were still twisting restlessly in the cuffs and the Sheriff worried about him possibly cutting himself. He’d tried to make sure he put the cuffs on loose enough to hold but tight enough to prevent slipping free from.
“You were speeding.” He shrugged, not disappointed when big and still soft looking, despite his fury, hazel eyes shot back to him incredulously.
“I was packing to leave this goddamn town!” Jared argued. A small part of him realized if this arrest was legit that everything he’d just shouted probably wasn’t going to help him in the end, especially given how he knew Jensen could be at times… like now.
“You were speeding earlier.” Jensen smirked, nodding his head to the side as if indicating outside the office. “When you tore out of the garage after shouting all that stuff at me, you were speeding. So consider this a… delayed arrest for a speeding infraction, as well as assault on an officer since you did punch me. Chad can be a witness.”
Jared turned his head fully this time so he could actually stare at Jensen as if he’d grown another head. He opened his mouth to argue that he hadn’t done any of that when he suddenly went quiet, recalling earlier that day when he’d stopped to see the one friend he still knew he had in his old hometown.
Five hours earlier:
“He is everywhere I go, everywhere I look… There the asshole is! I think he’s stalking me!”
“Ummm, this is where I kinda remind you of how small this damn town is. You can throw a rock from one end to the other, I think. And… he’s the Sheriff so it’s sort of his job to be around.”
“Well why doesn’t he sit in his office eating donuts or drinking coffee like the cops in New York, then? Why is he in my face every time I turn around?”
“His sister, who owns the only floral shop in town, is marrying your step-brother… that’s why you’re back here from the big city. Don’t you guys kinda have to co-mingle or something?”
“No, we don’t! I hate him! He made it pretty damn clear how he felt for me fifteen years ago and… whose side are you on, Chad? You’re supposed to be my damn best friend!”
Debating on what to say, Chad Michael Murray took his time focusing on the wrench in his hand that he was using to pretend to work on the car in his shop all while listening to his best friend rant as he paced the garage. “I am your best friend, Jaybird,” Chad said finally, looking over the hood of the car. “I also have to live in this little shithole of a town after you pack your ass back up and go back to New York,” he added with a lot more tact than he figured was normal for him. “Jared, you knew when your Mom told you Dylan was marrying Lisa Ackles that coming back for the wedding would mean running into him… didn’t you?”
“Yeah, I knew from things Mom has said that he was still around.” Jared Padalecki scowled as he continued to stalk the cluttered and grease covered old one stall garage that had been in Paxton, Texas since before Jared’s father had been born. “She neglected to mention he was the local law and I never considered he’d be everywhere I went or that he’d been invited to the same wedding.”
“His sister is the bride!” Chad shot an incredulous look over his shoulder to stare at his friend as if he’d lost his mind. “Jared, you’ve been gone for ten years. You’re not the same kid you were when you… when you left.” He had to be quick to rephrase his original words but sighed when Jared merely turned away, knowing what he’d been thinking. “Dude, Jensen’s not the same either. To survive until this wedding and until you leave, you might actually have to be the bigger man, no pun intended, and talk to the guy!”
Pausing by the front window of the garage to look out onto the one paved street that the small rural town had, he looked back to where his usually light hearted, easy going friend was watching him while wiping his hands on an old rag. “Is that what people think, Chad? That I ran away?” he asked with the barest trace of bitterness in his voice. It was a voice that barely had any of his old Texas accent left after so many years away from the town of his birth and the town that had ruined his life.
“Folks have heard a couple different stories about why you took off so fast after graduation, Jared.” Chad tossed the rag away to reach for a beer that was sitting nearby. “Your Mom and Step-Dad sure weren’t gonna tell the truth. I know what you say but… Jared, did you try to talk to Jensen after that night?” he asked hesitantly, not surprised by the response that got him.
“He made it pretty damn clear that all he did that whole summer and all of my senior year were lies and he played me like the naïve stupid country boy that everyone always said I was!” Jared whirled from the window in a restless need to suddenly be out of the garage and away from his friend.
“Jaybird, wait a second! Oh shit.” Chad had started to step in front of his friend when something else caught his eye and he immediately knew the rest of his day was going to suck.
“How exactly did I do that?”
Turning at the deep, husky voice that suddenly spoke from the open door, Jared found himself confronted with the same crooked half smile and raised eyebrow that he had at the age of sixteen when he’d first met Jensen Ackles face to face on the first day of Jared’s freshman year.
They’d grown up in the same social circles, the same schools, but had never really met or even bothered with one another. Jared had always been too shy and considered the other boy and his group of friends arrogant, a couple pretty damn close to bullies. When a nervous Jared found himself struggling to open his locker door for the first time and turned to see the seventeen-year-old popular Jensen leaning there with that cocky smile on his ruggedly handsome face, he wasn’t sure what to say or do.
At seventeen, Jensen had been lean with a trim build of someone who played nearly every sport. He had blond hair, thick and full, kept a little longer than normal but not as long as Jared’s was now. His green eyes had a playful light to them when he gave the nervous freshman another grin before giving the stubborn locker a hard whack on the upper corner.
"I had this locker last year and it’s a bitch to open if you don’t know the trick," he’d said in a voice that was pure Texan drawl while letting his smile curve a bit more as he held out a hand. "I’m Jensen, by the way."
It took a low chuckle of amusement to break Jared out of his teenage shock that someone he’d seen at various parties and in passing in school hallways, someone that he’d been secretly crushing on since he first figured out at the age of thirteen that he might not be as into girls as his now divorced parents would like, was actually speaking to him.
"Oh! Thanks! I’m… I’m Jared, Jared Padalecki," he finally managed to say while praying he wasn’t blushing like he feared he might be. Especially after Jensen aimed that perfect and sinful smile right at him and had extended his hand for a shake.
"I know who you are, darlin’," Jensen had said, still gripping Jared’s hand firmly and using his free hand to reach up and adjust the strap of Jared’s worn book bag before it could drop off his shoulder. "That’s why I helped you."
"Huh?" Jared hadn’t been certain what exactly that meant. But before he could even think to ask or say anything else, a voice shouted from down the hall. It broke both the moment and Jensen’s playful mood, if the way his face tightened was anything to go by.
"Ackles! Stop flirting with the fresh meat! You’re supposed to at least give your buddies the first crack, even if that one’s not exactly my type!"
Shocked at the not so hidden implication and a little uneasy with being literally called a piece of meat by the dark haired guy down the hall, Jared had immediately tensed and started to pull back like he tended to do when uncomfortable, only to feel the hand on his shoulder tighten, though not painfully. He looked back up to see that Jensen was still holding Jared’s gaze even as he addressed the guy who’d made the comment.
"Back the hell off, Welling. You were told last year to leave the new students alone so leave this one alone or you’ll find your face meeting my fist out back after the last bell rings," Jensen growled with a look back over his shoulder to the now scowling teenager before glancing back to a nervous Jared. "Ignore the jackass behind me. He won’t bother you, and if he does, or if you need help with this locker again… I’m usually always around. Better get to class, Jared. It doesn’t pay to be late for Mr. Hillard’s History."
Jensen smiled, threw a wink over his shoulder, then headed down the hall where his group of friends waited.
Jared had still been surprised and confused by the time he finished the day. The next few months, as well as his junior and sophomore years, were both thrilling and confusing as far as both his personal life and his studies went.
He really enjoyed his classes but hadn’t decided if he wanted to go to college in Texas or New York where his mother now lived. He also discovered he enjoyed playing baseball, even if he wasn’t as coordinated at first as some of the other players on the high school team. It had actually been Jensen who had actually helped him to become good enough to get picked for the team. He showed him what he’d been doing wrong while batting, was patient in explaining how to fix it, and then Jared had been good to go. It had been that experience that finished removing any doubts Jared had about being gay. He only wished he could get a handle on Jensen.
To Jared it seemed as if there were two Jensen Ackles; the one who gave him flirty, sexy little grins if they passed in the hallway or saw one another on the street in Paxton and the one who, when he was with his friends, seemed cold and distant.
It was hard to tell which Jensen he’d see or get. It all depended on the situation or day. It was harder still for Jared to tell himself that when he’d get those little smiles or light touches that no one else saw, that maybe Jensen wasn’t as cocky or arrogant as his pals.
By Jensen’s senior year, it was plain to nearly everyone in town that the Ackles’ oldest child and only son was on the fast track for an athletic scholarship of some kind. If he could keep his grades up and graduate on time.
It came as a huge shock and a bitter disappointment to many when Jensen not only failed to graduate by failing two of his final exams, but when he refused to play football while repeating his senior year. He stated loudly that if he had to pick a sport to play, he’d try out for baseball.
Jared had overheard his step-mother talking to some of her friends about how upset poor Vivi Ackles was that her son had not only failed and had to repeat his senior year, but had also blown his football scholarship and was refusing to play. On a whim, Jared immediately set out to find him.
"What are you doing?" He’d located Jensen behind the high school throwing balls against the padded wall. Jared had never seen Jensen pitch before, when he taught him about hitting he’d mentioned that he hated pitching since he just couldn’t pitch well. Now as Jared watched him, he realized Jensen’s pitches were harder and faster than the team’s best pitcher from last year had been.
"Waiting for you to show up to ask me what I was doing," Jensen replied with his usual cockiness, throwing another ball before nodding to the glove on the ground. "Wanna catch for me, Jay?"
That nickname was the first one Jensen had started using. Usually Jared would correct anyone else and it had surprised him that he’d allowed Jensen to use it. Now he was too frustrated to start reconsidering his reasons.
Grabbing the glove he nodded that he was ready.
"You loved football," he said after he took a step back, balancing himself better when the first throw was hard enough that it moved him back a step. "I also thought you said you couldn’t pitch. You pitch pretty damn well, if you ask me."
"No, my father loved football," Jensen corrected while adjusting the grip on the ball so his next throw wasn’t as hard but still as accurate. "And I said I couldn’t pitch well. I never said I couldn’t pitch at all, darlin’." He shot a scowling Jared a smirk before it turned into a frown as he sighed. "I played football because as an Ackles’ it’s expected. I’m an Ackles, so I did. Now since I blew the scholarship and am already a huge disappointment to my folks by having to repeat senior year, I don’t have to. This year is for me."
Jared was confused but he knew enough about Jensen’s family to not push by asking questions. He continued to catch, the pair falling into a comfortable silence, until Jensen seemed to grow tired and signaled that it was time to stop.
"If football was for your Dad, then what do you love then, Jen?" he asked curiously and saw the small quirk of Jensen’s lips at the nickname only Jared was ever allowed to use.
"Besides you? Not sure yet. I figure I’ll know by the time you graduate," Jensen replied and then waited for Jared’s wide eyes to meet his. "You okay?" he asked, grabbing onto Jared’s arms when he started to tilt to the side a little bit too much as if about to pass out. "Jared! Dude! I saw you dissect a frog without blinking. This freaks you out?"
"I wasn’t even sure that you weren’t straight!” Jared burst out, shaking his head and leaning into Jensen’s grasp. Jared had to replay the words as well as their meaning a couple times while remembering to breathe. “Hell, half the time I wasn’t even sure you looked at me any differently than Welling or the others did. Sometimes it was like I was something on the bottom of your shoe or… You know, that muscle in your jaw twitches sometimes."
Jensen’s jaw had clenched when he realized that not only hadn’t he been making things clear to Jared but that someone in his circle of friends had made Jared feel like he wasn’t worth what Jensen knew he was. He also kicked himself for allowing the role he had to play for his family confuse this big eyed, handsome, caring young man.
"Okay, I’ll deal with Tom and the others because you are not someone to be looked down on and you never will be." Jensen knew he couldn’t be fully honest with Jared about a couple things, like the reasons he had failed those two exams, but he would be honest with him about this. "Until I do graduate, until I can say I am out from under my family’s thumb and the control of their money, I can’t publicly say or do what I’d like to, Jared." He moved the hands he’d still had on Jared’s arms up to frame his face before doing something he’d been wanting to for far too long. "I love you."
Those words stayed with him all of that summer as they began to slowly, if secretly, begin to explore a relationship. It was in those moments that Jared began to understand how difficult it was on Jensen to pretend to be the son his parents wanted while inwardly being someone else entirely. The things Jensen said and did that summer, following into the next school year, had all seemed so real to Jared. He’d believed him when he’d softly whisper that he loved him while kissing him. He’d believed all of Jensen’s promises of coming out after graduation, of going to college in San Antonio together. He had believed it all… up until the night of graduation when it all turned sour.
Now he stood in Chad’s garage, staring into the same green eyes he could never forget, watching Jensen Ackles, or Sheriff Jensen Ackles, slowly straighten from where he’d been leaning on the doorframe. His body language, as well as the tightening jaw muscle, were clear signs that while he looked calmed, Jensen was far from it.
“You said I played you and that everything I said to you the summer about how I felt for you were lies. Care to give me some examples? Maybe actually tell me what the hell you think I did to piss you off so much that you’d just run away without even giving me a shot at fixing it?” he asked tightly while trying not to let on how many emotions were surging to the surface right then.
In the ten years since graduation night, since the last day he’d seen Jared, a lot had changed both in Paxton and with Jensen himself. It was clear that now was not the time to get into those changes as he straightened fully and met those damn hazel eyes that he’d been seeing in his dreams for too long.
“You’re the one who blew me off, Jared. You’re the one who lied to me about planning to stay in Texas and going to San Antonio! You chose to --ugh!”
Jensen’s head snapped back when a fist he hadn’t been expecting or even saw coming suddenly nailed him square on the jaw, causing him to see stars and taste blood.
“Bullshit!” Jared snapped, suddenly furious. He was almost grateful for the sudden rage as it masked most of the feelings that were rising to the surface from being confronted by Jensen like this. He hadn’t expected the sudden pain and hurt to be so present. “You played me that summer because you knew you’d need help passing those two classes your ass flunked! You used me, used my feelings for you, because I was too damn stupid and made this mistake of telling you that you were the first guy ever that I liked, much less wanted to kiss! You lied to me, used me just so I’d help you pass and graduate!”
“Guys?” Chad had already been wary of this confrontation when he first saw Jensen in the doorway and while he had been mildly amused at first, now Jared’s voice was becoming louder and he was shouting things Chad was certain his friend wasn’t really aware of shouting. “How about we all calm down and you two go to separate ends of town until…” Chad stopped and sighed when it was apparent neither man was listening to him. “Okay, I’ll just be over here minding my own business and pouring hot oil in my ears.”
“I didn’t need your help to graduate, smartass!” Jensen could feel his temper sizzling but was trying to control it. It was difficult seeing as this was still a sore subject with him, one that his own friends still avoided unless they wanted to bleed.
Listening to Jared shout things back at him, things that weren’t true but had obviously appeared that way to the younger man given that he hadn’t told Jared the truth of why he’d failed and had to repeat his senior year, was hard. But he struggled to remind himself that he was not the hot-headed teenager he’d been once.
“You flunked and then you used me so you wouldn’t flunk and disappointment your father again!”
Jared had been trying to avoid this, avoid Jensen, avoid the memories and the emotions that had been starting to surface since he first arrived back in Paxton. But now that the door had been opened, he was having a hard time shutting it again.
“You fucked me! You told me you loved me. I trusted you, Jensen. I believed you and let you…” He stopped there before the words that were on his tongue could be said, seeing the way Jensen’s eyes had narrowed to hot slits as he had moved a step closer. Softer, Jared glared back just as hard and said,“You used me. Then, when you didn’t need me anymore, once you got your diploma, you set me up! You didn’t even have the balls to break it off with me yourself! You sent those jackasses, you… you...”
Jensen felt his temper getting closer to the surface with every word shouted at him, but it increased tenfold when Jared’s voice dropped to an accusing whisper. Without giving himself permission, he’d moved closer to Jared and in the small garage, he’d basically backed the taller man against the side of the car Chad had been working on. He’d just barely started reaching to grab onto Jared’s shoulders to shove him, determined that they were going to settle this here and now, when suddenly those words registered. This time it was Jensen who was staring.
“Come again?” He let his hands drop as if knowing that touching Jared right then was not the thing to do. But he didn’t back up, couldn’t, so he was close enough to see the heaving chest and big eyes as well as the clenched fist that all told him Jared was struggling to keep his own temper under control.
“Alright, I think we’re on two totally different pages or…” Jensen signed and started over. “Before I get into the whole I didn’t use you or need you to help me pass, I don’t understand… who did I send where and when? And… oh, shit. Jared, I…”
“Forget it. It’s over. I shouldn’t have brought it up or even have come back.” Jared suddenly realized everything that he’d shouted and that fact he’d actually hit Jensen, the damn Sheriff, seconds before it dawned that he’d been backed up against the car and Jensen was way too close now. “It’s been ten years. You’ve obviously moved on. I’ve… moved on. So all we have to do is co-exist until your sister marries my step-brother and then we don’t have to see one another…”
Jensen had been running Jared’s words through his head and thinking back ten years earlier when Jared disappeared from his life, thinking about all of the things that hadn’t made sense but he’d been too angry and hurt to consider them at the time. Now he was and now he was more determined than ever to get the young man in front of him to at least talk to him.
“Jared, I think we need to talk,” he started but suspected it wasn’t going to be that easy. He’d come on too strong already and by forcing a confrontation, he could tell that Jared was shutting down. The signs were clear, same as they were from the couple times he witnessed it back in high school. “Jay, I--”
“No!” Jared hissed, cutting him off, “No, you don’t get to call me that now! You lost that right when your boys jumped me!” Jared shoved both hands against the solid chest in front of him, moving Jensen back enough that he was able to slip free from where he’d been trapped against the car. He immediately moved to the side and towards the door of the garage. He suddenly wanted out of this building, away from this moment and Jensen as fast as he could.
“I… I have to go. I have to change my flight plans,” he said over his shoulder, hating the fact that he didn’t know if he was truly talking to Chad. He paused at the door to look back at Jensen, heard Chad shouting at him to wait, but Jared knew he couldn’t. “I thought I was over it, over you, over what my stupidity allowed to happen but… I’m not. I won’t ruin Dylan and Lisa’s day by being here when I can’t stand to look at you. It looks like you and your crowd won again.”
“Jared!” Chad yelled, starting to run after his friend only to stop, whirl, and shove a hard, pointed finger against the badge on Jensen’s chest when Jared was gone and the garage door slammed with a final echo. “Go after him! Fix this, fix my friend or find yourself a new mechanic for that thing you call an ‘official vehicle’!” he declared firmly.
Sharp green eyes had followed Jared’s retreating form out of the garage, heard the engine of his rental car roar to life a second before tires were heard squealing away from the garage.
“What happened graduation night, Chad?” he asked after another second, shifting his gaze to the lanky blond mechanic. Chad’s jaw clenched and Jensen knew he had the story. “Chad? If you knew anything about why he left town, why didn’t you tell me? I sure as hell don’t have a clue. I don’t know anything about what he just yelled at me either since I never sent anyone to tell him anything. He stood me up!”
“No, he didn’t. Or he didn’t think he was. Damn it, Jensen! He’s my friend!” Chad was torn between being honest or risking Jared’s trust.
“He was my friend, too, Chad,” Jensen replied, letting his eyes close as he took a deep breath. “He was who I was willing to change my whole life for until he took off and refused to take my calls or return my texts to even say why all our plans had been scrapped.”
Chad looked at the still pained expression on the town Sheriff’s rugged face. He’d seen Jensen’s face during Jared’s outburst and could tell the man truly had no damn clue what really happened behind his back in the days leading up to graduation and then the night of. Chad sighed and closed his eyes.
“Talk to Welling then if you really want to know why Jaybird left town to go to New York,” he said with a disgusted look, moving back to the open hood to go back to work. He glanced up to see the way Jensen’s eyes had narrowed and gave a tight nod. “I don’t think Kane was in on it, but ask Welling or Rosenbaum about Jared, Sheriff. Ask them what happened down at the creek. Then you’d better go talk to Jared before he leaves again... I don’t care if you have to use the cuffs to get him to listen to you. Just talk to him and fix this!”
When Chad went back to work under the hood, clearly ending any further conversation, Jensen headed back to the Sheriff’s office just up the street. In all reality, he’d actually just walked down to the garage because he’d noticed the shiny red Mustang that he perhaps hoped was Jared’s, thanks to the rental plates on it. If it was, he wanted to try to see if he couldn’t have a short face to face since he hadn’t been able to get Jared to even look at him in the week that he’d been back in Paxton.
Jensen had walked down rather than drive since it wasn’t that far. He’d overheard a good bit of Jared and Chad’s conversation before he finally stepped in the door and got punched in the gut by the rush of raw emotions just seeing Jared again caused.
Leaving the garage, Jensen thought of what Jared said and what Chad had. By the time he got back to his office, his temper was back to bubbling on the surface. It finally cracked the surface when he slammed open his office door to pin the dark haired man sitting behind the desk rewiring the computer system a burning look. Keep calm, keep calm, he told himself. Then, “Where the fuck were you on graduation night?”
“Huh? Excuse me? Whose graduation night, mine or yours? If it was mine, I was probably getting drunk or having sex or both…” he paused and chuckled. “Who am I kidding, I was probably doing that for both of our graduations. Why does it matter? And what burr crawled up your ass today, Sheriff Ackles?” Chris Kane leaned back in the squeaky desk chair to shoot his long-time friend a raised eyebrow. “Your little walks around town don’t usually have this reaction, so… you might want to take a step back, Jensen.” He pushed slowly to his feet when Jensen’s hands slammed on the desk. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
In Jensen’s ears all he was hearing was the hurt and basic betrayal in Jared’s still soft voice, a voice he’d noticed didn’t have the same sound of Texas in it that he remembered. He was swamped with flashes of memories from the past, struggling with trying to reason what the hell had happened that had caused Jared to leave, much less think Jensen had been behind whatever it was.
“You knew what I was planning for the night.” Jensen’s tone was hard, cold as he glared at who’d been his longest friend still in Paxton.
Christian Kane had technically been born in Oklahoma, but his family moved to Paxton when he’d been small and this was his hometown. He’d met Jensen in pre-school and while his family didn’t have the money the Ackles or even the Padaleckis did, they were still well off enough that their parents all mingled in the same circles. He and Jensen were the same age, but due to the issue of Jensen falling behind a year, he’d graduated a year ahead. He didn’t need an explanation to understand what his oldest friend’s question meant.
“Yeah, I knew,” Chris agreed, shrugging gently as he sank back down in his chair. He kept his eyes on Jensen, easily reading the man’s body language. “Hell, all of us knew what you’d been planning ever since you pulled that hair brain stunt in what should’ve been your senior year.”
“Did Welling and Rosenbaum know about that night in particular, Chris?” Jensen asked tightly. “Did you mention to Mike what I’d planned to do that night?”
“Jensen, it’s been ten damn years. I can’t remember if I might’ve bitched to Mike about you planning to leave town that night with the Padalecki kid and not tell your parents about your choices!” Chris rolled his eyes, frustrated, but blew out a hard breath. “Yeah, if I happened to tell Mike then probably he blabbed to Welling since those two were tight back then. I wouldn’t have cared if the prick got run over by one of your Dad’s steers, but that’s just me.” He leaned up some to stare into Jensen’s face, seeing the emotions there as easily as he always could. “What’s going on, Jensen? I know he’s back for the wedding and I know he’s been avoiding you like the plague which could make this wedding interesting, but…”
“Do you know anything about what Welling did that night to make Jared leave town?” Jensen demanded, silently hoping his friend didn’t.
Chris had been grumbling under his breath when he suddenly looked back up, surprised, his blue eyes going wide. “What? What Welling did to -- What the hell are you talking about?” he asked incredulously, starting to wave a hand in dismissal only to stop, think, before slumping back with a low growl. “Son of a bitch. I thought Mike was just drunk off his ass…” Sighing, Chris explained, “Remember when you and Welling had that fight, about five years back or so? Mike went off on this guilty confessional and I just…”
“What… what did Mike say?” Jensen’s temper was once again rising and he tried to focus instead on trying to figure out how the hell he was going to convince Jared to listen to him without arresting his stubborn Texas ass. “Chris, Jared thinks I used him to graduate! Jared believes that everything I ever said to him over that summer and our senior were lies! He said I ‘set him up’ so my buddies could jump him, that I didn’t have the ‘balls to tell him the truth’ so I sent Welling, which is bullshit!
“I blew graduating on purpose when it became apparent Tom was failing because I refused to allow Jared to be alone in that school with him considering how much he hated him! I wouldn’t have allowed Tom near Jared if I wasn’t there. You know that! So what the hell did Tom do to make Jared believe that crap?” he demanded, reaching over Chris’ desk to grab his friend by the front of his jacket so he could pull him closer. “I loved Jared, Chris. I would’ve blown it all, lost it all, to take him away from here so we could be together without the hassles from either of our families! Fuck, I was going to! You knew we were supposed to meet under the old clock tower in the square but… he never came and you…”
Chris was very aware of how dangerous this situation was and knew he needed to get a word in and calm Jensen down, but before he opened his mouth he felt the stinging pain of a hard fist land against his jaw.
“Damn it, Jensen! Wait a second and let me… I told you what I thought would keep you from going off half-cocked and ruining what you still had!” he shouted, blocking the next fist with his forearm as he was able to jerk free from Jensen’s grasp and put some space between them in the Sheriff’s office. “No one knew why the kid took off! I didn’t even know until Mike got drunk that night and started blabbing crap about how Welling had gotten ahold of your phone the day you all graduated. He sent Jared a text or something that said the plans changed and to meet you someplace else. And--”
“Son of a goddamn bitch!” Jensen had been angry before but now he was pissed. “Do you know if he’s working his shift at Starla’s yet?” he demanded, glancing at the clock on his office wall. “And is the other jackass in town by any chance?”
“Yeah, Mike’s working the bar until probably six or seven and… yeah, Welling’s in between drilling jobs so he’s been back a couple days,” Chris had a hunch how this might play out and was already putting his 5’9” stocky frame in front of his friend even as Jensen was turning towards the door. “Jensen, wait until you’re calmer. You’re the damn Sheriff, so you can’t go in there like a pissed off boyfriend considering…”
“Considering what? Considering I’ve still mainly kept it private that I’m gay as to avoid the hassle my parents would cause me if I came out while living here?” Jensen sneered, pausing a second before removing his badge. “Fine. I’m at lunch. You’re the deputy. You can stay here or follow me, most likely arrest me. Your choice, but I am finding out what happened. I plan on seeing Jared one more time before he runs again and this time, I will give him the truth about everything!”
Jensen stormed back out the door, leaving Chris to stare and debate before grabbing the discarded badge, the keys to the old Sheriff’s Blazer, his weapon and his wallet.
“I’ll either be shooting someone or paying for the damages he’s about to cause again,” he muttered sourly. “Damn it!”
Starla’s Saloon was one of the original buildings left from Paxton’s founding back 1876. It had been listed in the historical association, so it’s original appearance had been maintained both on the outside and inside. Though the inside had been updated entertainment wise and contained a pool table, a jukebox, a dart board along with the refurbished older poker tables.
One entire side of the saloon looked like something out of an Old Western movie with the shiny bar top and the glass mirror behind that was well stocked with different bottles of alcohol. Newer taps for different beers had been added as well, though their labels were old fashioned.
Starla’s wasn’t as packed as the smaller, more modern bar outside of town but it did get some clients in for lunch or just to sit at the poker tables to shoot the bull, play cards, or watch the owner.
Starla, who most in town claimed had to be over one-hundred, usually sat at the end of the bar in a faded dancing girl dress and harmlessly flirted with anyone who came in. There were also days she sat there with her gnarled old cane close to her hand in case she felt a need to slap it upside any young uppity cowboy’s head if any trouble was started in her place. On that afternoon she was keeping a sharp eye on the dark haired young man who’d been there since the doors opened even though she’d told her bartender to cut off his liquor hours ago.
“Michael!” she snapped from her stool, cane cracking on the shiny black bar top to make sure she had the tall and lanky bartender’s attention. “When you quit work, you be sure to take that one out of here with you!”
“Yeah, that was my plan, Starla,” Michael Rosenbaum assured his boss while tossing his friend a sour look, wiping the bar clean while placing another cup of black coffee by Tom Welling’s hand. “Drink that so you start to sober up some,” he muttered sourly, tossing him a bitter look. “Damn it, Tom! I thought you were on a job in Oklahoma for the next few months. Why’re you back so soon?”
“Jackass running the rig said I came to work plastered and high too many times so he fired me.” Tom Welling lifted his head from where it had dropped to the bar, aching from too much booze and a crack from the old woman’s cane earlier when he got loud after she cut off his drinking off. “C’mon, Mikey, give me a shot.”
Shooting a glance down the bar to where he noticed Starla was watching with eagle eyes, the bartender just shook his head. “I won’t lose this job because of your drinking, Tom. In fact, I think you’d better go on back to where you’re staying and sleep this off.”
“No. I think he’d better take his drunk ass out of my town and this time stay the hell out.”
The deep, pissed off voice of Jensen Ackles wasn’t anything that Mike hadn’t heard before. Seeing the fury on his face when he stepped inside the saloon, badge missing, and his narrowed green eyes locked on Tom, on the other hand, was something he’d only seen once or twice. A sudden gut feeling told him that Starla was about to be using her cane to break up one hell of a fight.
“You lose that shiny badge, boy?” the ancient old woman shouted while easing off the stool, cane in hand.
Jensen slowly moved his eyes from where his former friend sat slumped at the bar, giving him a hateful glare, down to the wrinkled but still heavily made up face of the saloon’s owner, offering a slow but tight smile.
“No, I’m at lunch and off-duty right now, so the badge stayed at the office.”
“You planning on breaking my saloon up again, boy?” Starla asked in the same way she’d speak to him when he’d been a teenager looking for trouble. “I can still whack you with my cane a few times right after I use it on that one’s ass.”
“Welling won’t be bothering you, Starla,” Jensen assured her while moving his eyes up. When he spoke, it wasn’t to Welling. “Mike! Got a question for you and I highly recommend you answer me.”
Mike sighed, tossing the rag over his shoulder while stepping out from behind the bar. He wasn’t shocked that Jensen suddenly had questions since the town was small and everyone knew who Jensen’s sister was marrying. “Yeah, I figured you might. Is that why you left your badge behind?” he asked, not surprised when he saw the Blazer pull up outside and Kane step into the saloon. “Jensen…”
“I’m asking you because if I ask that prick, I think we all know what would happen.” Jensen heard Jared’s accusations in his head again, but this time he thought he understood them, had suspected some of what might have happened. “I have plenty of questions but… I’m sticking to this one right now.” He stepped closer to Mike, ignoring Chris' voice behind him. “What the goddamn hell did Welling do to make Jared leave that night?”
Shooting a look over to Chris who merely shrugged, Mike understood the odds of him bleeding were huge. He’d seen Jensen during the months after Graduation Night. He’d seen the rage the man still had if anyone brought up the younger man, like Tom had made the mistake of five years prior. That had actually been what finally caused Jensen to stop being friends with the dark haired man at the bar. This time, Mike feared what his reaction would be.
Running his fingers back through light blond hair, he was trying to quickly debate if telling the truth now would help or hurt the situation when he found himself yanked closer to a furious Jensen’s face instead.
“He thinks I sent you! He thinks I told you to do whatever the hell you bastards did that night!” Jensen snapped, his patience too thin to wait for his ‘friend’ to work up a lie or decide to tell him the truth. “Jared said he got jumped. Tell me the truth, Mike. Chris said you blabbed a lot to him the night after I beat the crap outta Welling for mouthing off about Jared too much, so now you can blab to me.”
Mike knew that night ten years ago would come back to bite him in the ass. He hadn’t been happy with Tom’s plan that night and he sure as hell wasn’t happy with it now. He had actually liked the Padalecki kid, as most of their group called him, despite Jared being only a year younger than most of them.
“Jensen, what happened that night… Look, Tom said it was just going to be a prank of some kind. He said it was just a joke on you to keep you waiting since it wasn’t exactly a secret what you were gonna do that night.” He cringed as he said it, only now realizing how stupid he’d been. “Jensen… I… I didn’t know what Tom was planning. And when I figured it out I--”
“You stopped me an’ the boys from stompin’ his usele-useless stupid ass into the mud after I bro-broke his arm, you-you-you wuss,” Tom’s slurred voice spoke up from the bar, lifting his head to shoot Jensen a sneer. “You were gonna leave town, give up all the, all the money your folks had handed to you on a goddamn silver platter, for that faggot! You were the goddamn golden boy and you were willing to give it up, give up the hot chicks, the hot sex, the money for what? For Padalecki! You would’ve run off with him that night if I hadn’t stepped in and told him the truth!”
Silence hit the saloon as those words were spat out.
“Uh-huh.” Chris squeezed the bridge of his nose and could hear Jensen’s teeth grinding while Mike was whirling to try to get his drunk friend to shut the hell up. “Jensen, I only have about $500 in my wallet so don’t break anything in here that’s going to cost more than that.”
“The truth?” Jensen’s tone was low, ice cold as his eyes went to slits and he stepped around a groaning Mike. “Define ‘truth’ then for the class, Welling, since most everyone who knows you knows that you’ve never told the truth a day in your goddamn life!” he snapped, batting away the slow and way off fist that went to hit him. He grabbed the drunken man by the front of his shirt and jerked him off the barstool. “You didn’t know anything about me, not really, definitely not enough to think you could speak for me! What did you tell him?”
“Told… I tol’ him how you only used his ass to get through those classes you flunked outta and how he wasn’t good enough, even if you really were interest’d in guys, which… which all of us knew you weren’t, but the stupid kid was too dumb to see he was bein’ played all that time,” Welling sneered, rolling his eyes, too hammered to fully grasp that every word he spoke now was pissing Jensen off even more. “He brought that beatin’ on himself. I would’ve finished him if Mikey there hadn’a been a wuss, so I told him what else you tol’ me and the guys to do to him if he didn’t high tail it outta here and not… ugh!”
Welling hit the floor of the saloon after Jensen’s fist hit him full on in the face and only a sharp slap of a cane across his chest in warning kept the Sheriff of Paxton from continuing to pummel the man that Jensen now understood had been responsible changing his life.
“I didn’t tell you or your so-called buddies to say or do anything to Jared! You knew thanks to Rosenbaum’s big mouth that I was planning to leave Paxton with Jared that night! You knew that I’d planned that entire damn year to basically tell my parents where to stick their goddamn threats of cutting me off if I ‘dishonored’ them and came out as gay! You had issues with him from his first goddamn day of high school when you saw I’d talked to him--”
“You were makin’ an ass outta yourself and our group over him!” Tom suddenly shouted back, spitting blood and a loose tooth out as he tried to get back to his feet, only to go back down when the tip of Starla’s cane was pressed against his chest. “I helped you, Ackles! I kept you from making the biggest mistake of your life! I--”
“Cost me the life I wanted with the man I wanted!” Jensen glared, not caring if anyone in the saloon heard the altercation or not. He’d long since lost his parents’ approval and while he’d returned to Paxton after finishing college in Houston, it was under his own terms and he chose his life as best as he could.
“That boy in town now?” Starla asked, positioning herself in between Jensen and the glaring Tom. Beside him, Mike knelt down to try to convince the drunk man to keep his mouth shut. “He came for Dylan’s marriage to your sister, didn’t he?”
Jensen took another moment to glare at Tom before blowing out a breath, looking down at the older woman who had kicked him out of the saloon plenty the summer after Jared had left and he was trying to decide which direction to go. He forced himself to relax, his voice softened as he spoke to her.
“Yeah, he came. But thanks to me not knowing what happened and him still believing this jackass’ threats from ten years ago, he’s probably halfway to the airport on his way back to… wherever he made a life for himself,” he replied, wincing when he felt her cane swat him in the leg. “You never hit me this much as a kid, Starla,” Jensen complained, dragging his leg out of firing range. Suddenly the keys to the Sheriff’s blazer were shoved into his hand. “Huh?”
“Go out and talk to Jared. I made a call before following you. He is still out at the motel outside of town, but did tell them that he’d be checking out early,” Chris remarked, stepping around to go toward Mike now that he had Tom on his feet. “Go. Or else we both know you won’t forgive yourself if you don’t settle this with him. You both deserve the truth.. I’ll handle Welling before Starla breaks her cane on his head.”
Jensen looked at the keys for a long moment before nodding. “Get him out of Paxton before I get back from seeing Jared,” he told Chris without needing to say anything more on the subject. He was still angry but accepted that there was nothing to be done now except try to apologize and hope a piece of the boy he once knew was still inside Jared, a piece that would listen and maybe one day forgive him. “Oh and Chris?” He stopped just as he stepped out the door to glance back, an idea of Plan B forming in case Plan A failed. “Don’t come back to the office right away if you happen to see the blazer, okay?”
“What? Why? Jensen!” Chris had been reaching for Tom’s arm when he paused to consider the reason for that request. He saw Mike’s lips twitch and Starla’s rough laughter belted out and realization dawned.. “Shit. I so did not need that image,” he muttered sourly.
The modest motel outside of town was decent for such a small community, though Jensen had been surprised when his sister told him that Jared wasn’t staying at the Padalecki ranch. Pulling up, he noticed the rental car parked outside of unit one with the trunk opened and luggage already inside.
Jensen hesitated before pulling into a parking spot, debating on the best way to handle this. Jared’s temper was already up and he recalled from years past how he tended to get when upset, hurt or angry; Jensen suspected he wasn’t going to get Jared to talk to him easily.
“Let’s see how this goes.” He parked behind the rental car, shut off the engine, and stepped out, promising himself that he was going to keep his temper. That was his plan until he heard the voice from the now open motel room door.
“What the hell do you want?” Jared hadn’t expected to see Jensen again, hadn’t wanted to see him again if he was honest with himself. He just wanted to pack, check out, and head for the airport with every worry of pissing off his family on the backburner until he got home.
Seeing Jensen earlier at Chad’s garage had reminded him that no matter how many years it had been, just seeing the man could make Jared feel sixteen again. The last thing Jared wanted was to risk the pain again by staying any longer. He’d take the accusations of being a coward and a disappointment but he refused to be made a fool of again. It didn’t matter if Jensen had genuinely seemed shocked earlier by some of what he’d shouted at him, Jared would protect himself this time.
Hearing the sound of an engine and a door closing, Jared moved to the door of his room, carrying his last few pieces of luggage. He stopped immediately and felt his stomach knot as he watched Jensen step from the official Sheriff’s Blazer.
His question might not have been the greatest considering the other man was the local law, but Jared really didn’t want a fight in the parking lot of the motel. He just wanted to go back to his empty apartment in New York City and try to once again forget the deep green eyes and smile that still made him weak at the knees.
“I was hoping we could talk about things,” Jensen replied as he stepped to the door, seeing Jared’s body tense. He had a strong hunch what was about to happen even before the door started to slam shut. “Jared! Let me explain!”
“I don’t need your explanations, Sheriff. I got all of those I needed that night!” Jared stepped back to close the door only to have Jensen put his foot in the jam, slapping a palm against the wood. “I’m leaving, Jensen. We don’t have anything else to say to one another.”
“I think we do since you don’t know anything about that night ten years ago.” Jensen did not want to make this public but he suspected Jared was not going to make this easy, something he honestly wasn’t surprised over. “Jared, talk to me. Listen to me and… No, not this time, kiddo.” He saw the punch coming this time and was able to step back to avoid it, catching Jared’s wrist tightly before stepping closer. Green eyes locked on hazel ones and he was reminded that this reaction wasn’t out of pure anger. “I can explain, if you’d let me.”
Jared tensed the second his wrist was caught, tried to jerk it free, but quickly remembered that despite the slender build, Jensen was a lot stronger than he looked. “Go to hell!” he gritted out, struggling despite the pain it caused him.
The moment’s Jensen’s eyes narrowed, his lips curving slowly into the almost dangerous smirk that told Jared he’d pissed Jensen off, he realized that might not have been a smart thing to say.
“Huh. I’ve been living there since graduation night, darlin’.” Jensen tightened his grip a second before he went with Plan B. “When you wake up, maybe you’ll be a bit more willing to talk. Until then I’ll add the apology for this on to the one I owe you for Welling’s stunt.”
Frowning in confusion, Jared worked harder to try to free his arm. Suddenly he felt his jaw explode as a rapid fast punch took him off guard and then he felt his forehead hit wood a second before blackness overtook him. Feeling his legs buckle, Jared thought he felt himself start to fall, but was caught in strong arms. The last thing he heard was Jensen’s voice softly speaking to him.
“Sorry, Jay, but if this is the only way I can get you to listen to me then it looks like you’re under arrest.”