Only the gentle are ever really strong. - James Dean
Jesse is standing at a crossroads. He's walked three miles to get here from the bus depot, and the back of his shirt is sweat soaked. The soft material of his button down could be wrung out and Jesse would not be surprised by the amount of sweat that would pour out. The sun is high and hot overhead, Jesse is thirsty and tired. He wants a bench to sleep on and a spout to fill his water bottle with.
He is at a crossroads. New York is several thousand miles away now, lost in the dust of buses and semi-trucks hauling large cargo. Jesse has long since diverged from his meticulously plotted route, and his map of the United States has been ditched at the bottom of his back pack. He had a list written on the back of the map of places he wanted to go, but nearly none of the list is checked off. He's somewhere outside of Texas but he doesn't know in which state, across which border. There is very little money in his pocket and it takes all of Jesse's energy to not have a panic attack about how out of his element he is.
His chest still feels like it is on fire. Or maybe, it's just his skin, superheated by the sun and red in the places that the sun has had direct contact. The back of his neck, the back of his hands. Jesse is at a crossroads and he sits down heavily on the dirt beside the highway. He tucks his head in against his knees and lifts one thumb up as he waits for someone to drive by.
The road is quiet for hours. Jesse drifts in and out of sleep while he waits for the sound of someone approaching. The hum of a motorcycle starts in the distance. Jesse whines at the sound of it, turning his head on his arms to look in the direction of the sound. The hum turns into a roar as, in the distance, a figure on the road comes into view. Jesse watches, the haze of the heat on the tarmac making the figure and the motorcycle blurry in front of Jesse's eyes.
He's tired and that's the only reason he turns his head back into his arms.
“Hey,” a soft voice calls to him over the roar of the motorcycle engine. And Jesse turns his head and looks up at big brown eyes openly taking Jesse in from his worn shoes and the visor of his baseball cap pulled low. The boy with brown hair and a pair of sunglasses pushed high on his head nods to Jesse when he sees that Jesse is listening.
The boy cuts the engine out and takes the weight of the machine onto the balls of his feet, arms flexing against his white t-shirt as he holds the motorcycle steady. It's a thin framed model, not like any of the cruisers Jesse is familiar with seeing. The gas tank is a silver steel unit visible behind the boy's denim clad leg. There isn't any unnecessary plastic or metal hiding the bike's parts.
The boy asks, “Do you need a ride?” and Jesse wonders if the bike can take the weight of them both.
There is a ghost of a smile on the boy's lips and that's what makes Jesse nod, head bobbing without his permission. In the next moment the boy is getting off of the bike, kick stand down on the tarmac so the boy can swing his other leg onto Jesse's side of the road. He towers over Jesse, but now the smile isn't small. It takes up all of his face and he wipes his hands off on the back of his jeans before he extends a hand to Jesse, wanting to help him up.
“I'm Andrew,” the boy says, a guarded mirth in his eyes, but mirth nonetheless. Jesse falters, then hesitantly takes the offered hand. Andrew's arm flexes as he pulls Jesse up. Side by side, Andrew looks a little less like a boy, and he's probably the same age as Jesse, because he stands several inches taller than Jesse. And Andrew's shoulders are broader. Jesse stares, watching at the way Andrew moves, as he pulls on the helmet Andrew had removed from one of the saddle bags. Jesse can feel the warmth of him as he locks his fingers around Andrew's waist, feeling the engine shake through him.
“Hold on,” Andrew murmurs before he revs the engine and sets them barreling down the tarmac.
They stop at a diner a few miles west of where Andrew found Jesse. The sun has peaked and is slowly setting in the distance. Andrew and Jesse bum cigarettes off of some of the truck drivers standing around outside the diner. Andrew lights his cigarette immediately, heaving a content sigh as the nicotine hits his lungs. Jesse just watches, biting his lip and tapping his own unlit cigarette against his thigh. He is fascinated by the way Andrew's eyelids flutter on the second inhale.
Andrew opens his eyes and slowly lowers his cigarette to his side. He blows smoke into the air and asks, “So where are you headed, Jess?”
Jesse licks his lips, his heart stuttering in a foreign way at the sound of his name on Andrew's lips. He has to swallow hard against his own questions just to stammer out, “Nowhere in particular.”
It's a lie, but a worthwhile one when Andrew chuckles, nudging Jesse with his shoulder. Jesse and the sound of Andrew's laugh, licking his lips as he stares intently at Andrew's face, his cheekbones; Jesse wants to be the sort to go off course on purpose. Andrew flicks his eyes toward Jesse and Jesse drops his eyes to his toes. He toes the dirt at his feet until his lungs feel capable of holding air.
Andrew is looking at the sky when Jesse chances another look at his face. When Andrew swallows, even his Adam's apple seems to move in a graceful line, not bobbing like Jesse knows his own does. He thinking these thought, staring at the lines of Andrew's throat, when Andrew's chin drops and he looks at Jesse from the corner of his eye.
“Let's go inside, yeah?” Andrew asks in the accent Jesse hasn't asked about yet.
Inside the diner, neon lights and pictures of Elvis take up the walls in a familiar if cliché way. Jesse watches Andrew charm two cups of coffee and a club sandwich off of the waitress behind the counter.
Andrew licks his lips with a purpose, leaning over the counter to call the woman who is old enough to be his mother, “darling.” He crosses one leg over the other and Jesse tries to not feel so awkward, standing about listening to the waitress laugh at Andrew. Eventually she rolls her eyes and shoos the two of them to a booth.
As Jesse follows Andrew he notices the comb in Andrew's back pocket. When Andrew turns around to face Jesse on the opposite side of the booth, Jesse notices the pocket knife in his front pocket.
“I like you, Jess,” Andrew says as he kicks at Jesse's feet beneath the table. “Something about your face. It is very endearing.”
He says it without a smirk or any sign of sarcasm. In fact, his lips are spread in an earnest smile that makes Jesse smile and blush and duck his head to hide both. Fiddling with a sugar packet, Jesse wonders aloud, with hmms and uhms, at Andrew's accent. And Andrew chuckles, kicking gently at Jesse again with his boots.
“I'm from England,” he explains. “My mum shipped me to the states to visit an Aunt.”
The waitress appears with the sandwich, it's on a single plate and cut diagonally. She sets it in front of Andrew though she does pass out both cups of coffee. Andrew calls her "a dear," as he thanks her and she swats at him all while blushing as red as Jesse would have, if Andrew were calling him names. When she leaves, Andrew picks up half the sandwich and pushes the plate, and the other half, toward Jesse. He nods as he takes a bite, watching Jesse closely until he picks up the other half.
“I'm headed to Los Angeles,” Andrew says in his accent. “But you're welcome to come along.”
The first time they kiss is fifteen miles inside of Arizona. It's night and there hasn't be a motel visible for miles. It's probably dangerous, but the weather seems mild now that the sun has fallen behind the distant mountains and when Andrew pulls off of the road Jesse doesn't complain. Off of the bike, Jesse holds his arms tight around his body and tries to stay out of the way while Andrew parks the bike. Jesse watches as Andrew goes through one of the saddle bags, smiling when Andrew gives a small cheer and pulls a blanket free.
When the blanket is laid out on the dirt between them, for the first time Andrew looks nervous. He has his arms wrapped around his body like he is mirroring Jesse. He stumbles a little over his words as he offers Jesse the blanket to lay down on.
“No I,” Jesse starts to protest. Then he laughs at himself which sets Andrew into grinning. They smile shyly at each other once Jesse's chuckling tapers out. They shuffle and move in disjointed fashions until they are lying shoulder to shoulder.
The stars are bright overhead. Jesse makes the observation aloud, planning to follow up with a story about the stars, but Andrew mercifully cuts him off before he can say more than, 'did you know.' Andrew's lips are dry against Jesse's, but when Andrew pulls back from the mere brush of lips that was a kiss he licks his own lips. When Jesse meets him halfway for the second kiss it is wet, and Andrew parts his lips easily to Jesse, and his mouth is so warm. Jesse moans softly without meaning to. He clings to the sleeves of Andrew's shirt while Andrew combs his fingers through Jesse's hair. It's wet, and from inside Andrew's mouth Jesse can feel how uneven Andrew's teeth really are. It makes him want to laugh.
He kisses Andrew instead.
When they pull back, Andrew rests his forehead against Jesse's and whispers, “Come with me to LA, please, please, come with me to LA,” so earnestly. It's nearly heartbreaking to Jesse, who can barely manage to do more than nod his head when he really wants to yell 'yes' so loudly.
In a dusty town on the other side of Phoenix, so small that unless you are still following route 66 you would never find it, Andrew and Jesse stop at a bar. They only stop because Jesse needs to use the restroom, and the only sign still lit is the one on the roof of the bar. Andrew turns his head, kissing the corner of Jesse's lips when he stops outside the door.
“I'mma get gas,” Andrew says into the kiss. He smiles brilliantly at Jesse in the way that Jesse thinks he will never get used to. Jesse touches Andrew's cheek and Andrew hums. Andrew kisses the palm of Jesse's hand, and even though he is touching Andrew, Jesse almost doesn't believe Andrew is real.
Inside the bar, it's loud and the crash of beer bottles on counter tops makes Jesse flinch as he maneuvers past the regulars and the fall over drunks in search of a bathroom.
The real trouble is what comes after Jesse leaves the bathroom.
Jesse doesn't expect the hand that falls on his shoulder, and he doesn't exprect the ripe breath whispering in his ear. He flinches under the hand on his shoulder, going still and feeling too stunned to even hear what is being said. The hand tightens it's grip and suddenly snapping into motion Jesse tries to wrench himself away. There is laughter, somewhere far away, somewhere beyond the sound of Jesse's own heavy breathing and speeding heartbeat in his ears.
His hands are balled in fists as he tries to struggle through the crowd toward the front door.
He stills again, stupidly, when he sees that Andrew's motorcycle is absent from the front of the building. A cold settles in his stomach just as that hand curls around his wrist. Jesse's mind reminds him that he was stupid to think that Andrew might have meant it, that he could easily have been playing Jesse, just waiting for the right moment to foist him onto strangers. It makes Jesse's gaze narrow to think that way.
When the man who had grabbed him before spins Jesse around to face him, Jesse is cold and he stares back with a numbness. He expects to be hit even before the man raises his hand and under the calm that is his way of understanding Andrew's absence, Jesse's knees begin to bend.
Before the fist swings his way or it is even necessary for Jesse to duck and roll, there is a set of broad shoulders shoving between Jesse and his attacker.
“Don't fucking touch him,” Andrew says in a low tone. His voice is deadly, but the man laughs in his face.
It all happens very fast after that. Andrew swings first, catching the man in the jaw. Then a meaty hand swings out at Andrew's face. It glances off of his lip, enough to make it split. Jesse watches from the side as Andrew wipes his lip off before turning back with another fist raised. And Jesse remembers the pocket knife in Andrew's pocket even before he sees Andrew go for it with his left hand. He catches Andrew's elbow, with no result.
Andrew is like a hurricane growling and shoving the man until he falls into the bar.
Jesse reaches again and this time he catches Andrew before he pulls the knife free, and then he drags Andrew bodily from the bar. The laughter rises up behind them like a wave. It probably swells and falls as the other man begins to pull himself together, but it is so very far from being Jesse's concern at that moment.
“Let's go, Andrew,” Jesse says, kissing the hand he captured to keep Andrew from doing something truly reckless. Andrew jerks away, but he doesn't leave Jesse.
When they race out of the small town the roar of the motorcycle is as angry as the set of Andrew's eyes.
They find a motel for the night, even though they can't really afford it. The sheets and blankets of the single bed feel filthy, but Jesse doesn't think about them as he pulls Andrew to him. He cradles Andrew's shaking hands, kissing each bruised knuckle. Then he sets Andrew down on the bed so he can his fingers up Andrew's chilled arms. He kisses the freckles he can reach as Andrew seems to melt.
The shaking in his hands spreads until Andrew bows over his knees with his head in his hands, and he begins to rock back and forth.
“Jesus, Jess.” He whimpers then looks up. His eyes are wet and no longer wild. “I'm sorry, god please, just. Still, will you come with me to LA?”
Jesse hushes Andrew, gently kisses Andrew until the desperation of his repeating phrase begins to lull. He rolls them across the mattress so he can clutch at Andrew's broad shoulders and calm him down.
“Of course,” Jesse gasps with Andrew's lips on his neck. “Of course I'll come with you.”
He holds Andrew's face in his hands when he says, “I'd follow wherever you asked.” Jesse licks into Andrew's mouth, seeking the heat there and trying to erase all of the hours before with the press of his body to Andrew's. He let's Andrew hold him down and cradle him alternately until Andrew's head comes to rest on his chest. Jesse kisses the crown of his head then, while Andrew's larger hands hold his hips to the bed.