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Real Life: Good For You

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Jared's best friend is a gnome warlock.

Sometimes it baffles Jared that Chad, possessing what's possibly the greatest ego known to man, would choose the smallest race of World of Warcraft, but he learned a long time ago not to voice his concerns regarding anything Chad does, because it won't end well. Plus, it's not like he wants to do anything to potentially piss Chad off these days either, because let's face it--without Chad, Jared pretty much doesn't have anyone. And that thought alone is almost enough to send Jared into a horrible downward spiral of despair.

College is not what Jared had expected. He'd thought college would be late-night cramming for tests, parties Chad would drag him to, and friends to hang out with in between classes. He'd imagined sitting at some café or diner with a group of friends as they counted change to pay for their coffees, student finances being what they were and all. He'd imagined sharing a room with Chad, the two of them playing Wii and bitching to each other about their respective annoying habits.

Instead, it's just Jared, in a single dorm room, playing World of Warcraft with his best friend, who somehow, inexplicably, had moved to fucking California right before college.

Chad's not the only person Jared talks to--not at all. There's Katie from somewhere in California--she never specified exactly where, but keeps saying "far enough away from Chad that I'm counting my blessings every day" when they ask her--or Skerritt from Boston, who says he'd rather die than reveal his actual name. There's Faceman from Philadelphia or Klaven from New Jersey, and between them, Jared has a solid little group of friends. And sure, he doesn't know everybody's real names, but he doesn't have to. They're good people, and that's what matters, right?

Jared sometimes feels like there are two of him; the Jared that actually is, and the Jared that everyone else think they see. His parents have always assumed he's an outgoing person. He had great friends in high school and has always been the kind of person who smiles a lot. What nobody had seemed to realize however, was that most of the time Jared was really just tagging along with whatever Chad did. All of Jared's friends were Jared's friends because they were Chad's friends, and where Chad went, Jared went.

Chad, who had befriended Jared in kindergarden and promptly declared them best friends for life. Chad, who'd introduced Jared to Andy and Gabe and Jessica. Chad, whose outgoing nature could get them out of trouble just as easily as he could get them into it in the first place. Chad, with his laidback attitude, quirky humor and a baffling ability to talk to anyone about anything.

When Chad had moved with his family to California in the last year of high school, nobody realized that Jared's social life moved with him. Not even Jared saw that coming.

It's probably one of the reasons Jared ended up going to college in Nowheresville, Pennsylvania, instead of UT like he had originally planned.

So what if he didn't make any new friends after Chad left? It was the final year of high school after all, and making new acquaintances had seemed pointless when they were all scattering everywhere for college, anyway. And if he didn't hang out with Andy and Gabe and Jessica as much as he used to, his parents either didn't seem to notice, or didn't comment. Jared had honestly meant to keep in touch after he left for college, and he'd told his parents as much when they worried about how far away from everyone else he would be.

"Don't worry, I'll be fine," he'd told his family, "I'll make plenty of friends."

And he'd meant it, too. Meant it right up until his dorm buddy--Keith or Carl or something, Jared can't recall--decided to move out and into his girlfriend's single. He hadn't even been worried at all, until that first day of classes when he found a startling inability to engage his new classmates in any meaningful or even friendly conversations at all, beyond the required in-class interactions.

It's not like Jared didn't try--not like he doesn't still try. He still smiles as often has he can, and tries to make conversation with people when the opportunity arises. It's just that most of the time, he doesn't really know what to say. Most of his stories revolve around Chad, and there are only so many times he can bring him up without making it sound like Chad is the only friend he's ever had, and that Jared's some kind of antisocial loser freak. Which, now that Jared really thinks about it, probably isn't entirely inaccurate.

He sits next to Gwen in Spanish and is frequently partnered up with her for in-class assignments, but at the start of the semester all his attempts at talking to her end in awkward silence. Nowadays she just turns away first chance she gets to talk to Joey one row over; they apparently knew each other in high school. That first time she turned her back on Jared, while his mouth was still hanging open as he desperately tried to come up with something to talk to her about, was the first time Jared really regretted going to college alone, instead of choosing somewhere closer to home; somewhere he at least knew another living soul.

Sometimes Jared tries to think of topics for conversation beforehand; his favorite music, the movies he likes and doesn't like, parties he's gone to where something weird or funny happened--but somehow, those topics never seem appropriate to bring up.

He envies Chad's easygoing nature, and wishes things were still as easy as they were in kindergarden, when a blond kid could just bounce up to another kid and say, "My name is Chad, let's be friends!" Wishes things were different.

Wishes he wasn't so lonely.

At least he still talks to Chad on a regular basis.

"What you need," Chad says one night on their voice chat program, and Jared can hear the keyboard clicking furiously in the background, "is a roommate."

"A roommate?"

Jared's not entirely convinced. On the one hand, it would be a nice way to meet someone instead of sitting by himself all day, but on the other he likes his privacy.

"He's right," Katie pipes in. "I had a roommate all through college, and even though sometimes it sucked, it was really nice a lot of the time, too."

Jared fiddles with his headset and stares blankly at the screen.

"I just don't know if it's a good idea," he says, using his pen to hold down his talk button. "I know I said I wanted more contact with other people, but don't you think a roommate would be too much contact? These dorms are tiny."

"So get your parents to sign a consent form and move off campus," Chad says in an annoyed tone, keyboard still clicking furiously in the background, before adding, "Dude, can we deal with your emo outbreak a little bit later? Some jackass Orc rogue keeps trying to kill me."

"Don't listen to him," Katie says sweetly, and Jared closes his eyes and tries to imagine what she looks like. She's never mentioned, and he's never seen a picture. Is she blonde or brunette, maybe a redhead, or does she dye her hair in crazy colors? Wear preppy clothes or washed out band tees?

"Listen, college is rough shit, okay?" she continues. "But the only one who can do something about it is you. You've gotta put yourself out there--step out of your comfort zone. Take a chance."

"She means stop being a pussy," Chad interjects.

"No," Katie objects, long and drawn-out, but Jared can't help but think that yeah, it's a little bit what she means. Still, he gets the point.

He chews thoughtfully on his pen and doesn't really say anything else, just opens up his web browser and starts looking up housing ads.

There aren't a lot, since they're in the middle of the semester, but there are a few. Taking a deep breath, Jared starts jotting down phone numbers. After ten minutes he's got a short list of five potential places to check out, and Jared logs off the game feeling accomplished; he'll call tomorrow.

Unfortunately, it turns out that finding the ads and gathering the phone numbers was the easy part. When Jared calls the next day from one of the benches outside of the campus library, he quickly learns that the only people who need new housing accommodations after the semester has already started are the people who need them fast, and when the fifth person tells him, "Sorry dude, the room got taken like that," Jared feels like banging his head against the closest brick wall. He could wait until next semester, but quite honestly the loneliness is already getting to him. He feels like he needs to do something now, before he loses his courage, becomes a lonely, old hermit, and quite possibly dies alone.

Hanging up the phone, Jared gives himself a solid mental beatdown for being so overdramatic, even if it's only in his own brain, and heads into the library to get some studying done. As he reaches the door, he hears music growing louder, and he stops with his hand on the handle and turns to see a car coming down the road. Two girls are in the front seat, with a guy and a girl in the back seat, heads bopping to the music as they laugh about something, and Jared's chest clenches painfully.

That's what he wants; that's what he thought college would be like. Driving to some unknown destination with his friends, laughing and having a good time.

He's so caught up in his own wallowing that when the door opens from the inside, it hits him square in the face. He stumbles back with a groan of pain, and a few students chuckle as he falls flat on his ass.

"Oh God, I'm so sorry!" a voice says from above him, and Jared rubs his chin and squints up in the sunlight. A tall guy stands over him, sunglasses perched on his nose, one hand holding a few flyers and the other reaching out for Jared. "I really should be watching where I'm going--are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Jared says dumbly, taking the guy's offered hand and letting himself be pulled to his feet. "Really."

"You sure, man?" the guy asks, placing his hand on Jared's shoulder, and now that Jared is standing up he notices that he's actually a little bit taller than door guy. Damn twelfth grade growth spurt. "You don't have like a concussion or anything? Any spots? Dizziness? Maybe twirly cartoon birds?" His brows furrow in concern above his sunglasses.

"Cartoon bird free," Jared confirms, and only then notices the flyers in the guy's hand.

Roommate wanted ASAP, they say. Call Jensen.

"Hey," Jared says, tapping a flyer, and he tries to not show his awkwardness. "Hey, are these yours?"

"Yeah," door guy says, holding out his hand to shake Jared's properly. "I'm Jensen."

"I'm Jared. Are you still looking for a roommate?" Jared says, then hurries to explain, "I'm trying to find a new place to stay."

"I am," Jensen confirms, "though I'm a little bit surprised you'd be interested after I damn near killed you with the library door. Some might hold a grudge, you know."

"I only hold a grudge towards people who try to kill me with hacksaws," Jared responds, then immediately wants to duct tape his own mouth shut. God, how lame can he get?

Jensen doesn't seem to care though, just grins and Jared thinks he can see a hint of squinting eyes behind the dark sunglasses. "Cool, man," he says, slapping Jared's shoulder. "You should come by and see the place, and if you're interested it's yours. I kinda can't afford to pay the rent alone, so gotta get someone moved in as soon as possible."

"I have class soon, and need to get some studying done before then, but I'm free this afternoon," Jared offers.

"That's cool," Jensen says with a shrug, "it's over on 4th Street, number 57. It's a white house with a green door. And hey, I promise I won't try to kill you with it."

Jared chuckles a little, a fast and dry sound that surprises him a little. Jensen just keeps smiling at him, relaxed and easy, and it's infectious. Jensen's easy to be around; Jared can feel the tension running out of his shoulders, and he already knows he'd be interested in the room.

They exchange numbers, and when Jared walks away his stomach is twisting in a way that's not completely uncomfortable.

Number 57, 4th Street is a two-story house with a green door, just like Jensen had said. There's a run-down black truck sitting in the driveway, and a dirty couch on the front porch which actually frightens Jared a little; its cushions are worn and dirty, and he briefly suspects that if he ever were to attempt to sit on it, he'd get scabies, or maybe a VD of some sort.

As he steps up to the front door, he can see a note attached to the door frame above the mail box that says "Jensen Ackles, Christian Kane, Harry Palmer," but the third name has been crossed out with a thick black marker, and someone has drawn a penis next to Christian Kane. When he rings the doorbell, he doesn't hear it chime inside the house, and when there's no movement from within for a little while, he eventually raises his hand and knocks instead. Almost immediately he can hear the faint shuffling of feet from inside the house, and then the door opens--inward, thankfully--and Jensen's standing there.

"Hey, Jared right? Glad you found the place alright."

"Only three blocks from campus," Jared mumbles a little awkwardly as he steps inside. Jensen's not wearing sunglasses anymore, and Jared can see green eyes looking brightly at him, twinkling as Jensen smiles.

"If you tried to ring the doorbell, you probably figured out that it's not working. Sorry about that; it broke last week, and the landlord hasn't gotten anyone to fix it yet. So anyway, let me give you the tour," Jensen says, and heads up the stairs. Jared follows behind, looking around as they go.

All the walls are painted a dull yellow, and a couple of the steps creak faintly, but not in a way that makes Jared afraid they're going to crash through them or anything--just a slight sound that says a lot of people have used these stairs, for a lot of years.

Jensen leads him down a very short hallway. One side has two doors, the other side has one at the end of the hallway, and that's the door Jensen goes through. "This is the room," he says. "It's the biggest of the two rooms upstairs, and I know it looks like a big pile of shit right now, but my old roommate hasn't quite moved all his shit out yet."

Jensen's not lying. The room's a bit of a mess, boxes and clothes sitting haphazardly around on the floor, and there's a desk and a chair in the corner. A twin bed sits in the opposite corner of the room, stripped bare from its covers. There are two windows, both without curtains, and there's only a single light bulb in the ceiling, with no cover on it.

"Well, that won't actually change," Jensen says with a sheepish grin, gesturing at the light bulb. "We haven't really bothered getting a lamp cover for it."

Turning around, Jensen pushes open the door across the hallway to reveal a room with the ugliest fuchsia floral-patterned wallpaper Jared's seen in his life. "This is the upstairs bathroom," he says. "I know it's an eyesore, but we have a pretty decent sized hot water tank. The toilet can be kind of annoying sometimes so you gotta jiggle the handle a bit to make it flush, but all the utilities are included in the rent already. Our landlord's a pretty cool dude."

He heads back down the hallway and down the stairs again, briefly tapping the door closest to the stairs as he passes. "That's Chris's room, but he's like, never here. He's not a student, he has a band that plays a lot of semi-local gigs, so he travels quite a bit, and when he's in town he crashes with our friend Steve a lot. I don't care; they're both nice guys and Chris pays his rent on time, so it's all good with me."

"I don't go out much," Jared mumbles, sticking his hands in his pockets.

"Oh hey," Jensen says with a shrug and a grin, "Good for you."

Coming from anyone else, it might have sounded snide, but Jensen somehow makes it sound like he's genuinely happy for Jared.

"I don't care, dude," he continues. "I'm not your mother. As long as you pay your rent, I don't care if you're never here, or if you bring the whole damn football team in to party every weekend. I'm just easy like that."

They make their way back downstairs again, and Jensen gestures in the doorway to their left.

"This is the living room."

Jared looks at the worn couch which has a very soft looking fleece blanket tossed over it. In one corner of the room there's an oversized reclining chair, and on the wall facing the couch there's a small entertainment center with an incredibly tiny TV that looks like it might have been in its prime back in the 70s. A Playstation 3 rests on one of the shelves, nestled between various DVD covers.

"We got your basic cable and internet; there's an internet outlet up in every room as well, and we got more than enough bandwidth to go around for your everyday use."

Jared thinks briefly about his game, but pushes the thought to the back of his mind; it might not be an issue, and even if he has to cut back on his gaming, so be it. It wouldn't kill him to find other hobbies.

"Kitchen," Jensen says, going across the hallway. "We take turns cleaning everything, but again--I'm not your mother. Do whatever you want in your own room, as long as it's not a fire hazard or it would warrant a visit from the health department."

They soon end up back by the front door again, Jensen having talked for the most part, with Jared only mumbling a response here and there.

"My own room is down there," Jensen says, pointing past the stairs to a door that looks like it might fall down any second. "I have my own little bathroom, which connects to my room, because I'm cool and special like that."

Jared can't think of a witty response and nods dumbly.

"I know it doesn't look like much," Jensen says with a lopsided grin and a shrug, "but it really isn't a bad place, the rent's good, our landlord's kick ass, and really--I'm an awesome roommate."

He throws his hands out a bit for emphasis, and Jared can't help but laugh a little.

"Do you have any questions for me?" Jensen asks.

"Um," Jared says. He probably should have some questions. To show that he's a serious person, capable of grown-up stuff like researching the place he's thinking about renting, or something.

"Why'd your roommate decide to move out so early in the year?" he finally asks.

"I'm gay," Jensen says.

Jared does a double take and can't help the frown that appears on his face. He opens and closes his mouth once, trying to come up with an appropriate response to this seemingly completely random bit of information, before he gets it. Jensen's not being random, he's answering Jared's question.

"Oh," is all Jared can say to that, feeling bad for his mental VD joke earlier, and then immediately feels even worse for automatically linking the two together in his mind.

"Is that a problem?"

Something must have shown on Jared's face, because while Jensen is still smiling, Jared doesn't miss the slight challenging tone of his voice, the stiffening of his posture, the wariness that says Jensen's ready for a fight, verbal or otherwise.

The idea that Jensen thinks Jared might be some homophobe, maybe even get physically violent, simply because of Jensen's sexuality kind of baffles--and okay, insults--Jared a little.

"Of course not," he says, and his outrage that there's even a possibility it might have been a problem must have been evident in his voice, because Jensen visibly relaxes again.

"Good," Jensen says, one corner of his mouth tilting up a little further.

"I'm sorry," Jared blurts out, and Jensen raises one eyebrow in something that might be a mix of confusion and amusement.

"Not that you're gay," Jared mumbles again. "Sorry that your last roommate was a bigoted ass."

He can feels his cheeks warm at his own words, but Jensen just looks amused.

"Dude," Jensen says, "you don't have to kiss ass. The room's yours if you want it."

Jared can't help a little smile. "Yeah?"

"Yeah." Jensen says, smiling back, bright and happy like he's done for the whole time Jared's been there, like he doesn't have a care in the world and he genuinely thinks Jared's just a cool guy.

"Okay," Jared says, taking a deep breath and shaking Jensen's hand. "I'll take it. Though for the record, I wasn't trying to kiss ass."

Jensen just snorts out a laugh in response.

After that, things move quickly. It doesn't take much to get his parents to fax over the consent forms to let their underage son move off campus during his freshman year; his mother doesn't even attempt to hide her relief when he explained that he'd like to get some more company. If she suspects that Jared's actually moving out in a clever ploy to party away his education, she does a damn good job of hiding it, so Jared doesn't even bother giving the courtesy assurance that he won't party too hard, and he'll keep up with his studies.

Jensen sets up a meeting between Jared and the owner of the house, and Jensen was completely right; Jeff Morgan seems like a very cool guy; he's got a friendly smile and a laidback attitude similar to Jensen's that immediately makes Jared relax, yet he takes care to emphasize that he cares about his tenants. He tells Jared that while the houses he owns and rents out to students aren't exactly modern bungalows, he makes sure they're safe.

The contract is straight-forward and details everything from insurance needs (renter's insurance required, but Jared's still covered by his parents) to pet policies (pets allowed by request), and Jared has no worries or concerns left when he signs his name on the dotted line.

The next Sunday evening, Jared loads up his little Ford, folds himself into the driver's seat, and drives the few blocks over to 4th. Everything he owns fits neatly in the back of the car, his computer taking up most of the space, and he gets everything moved into the room upstairs in only three trips.

Jensen's nowhere to be found when Jared moves in, but he left Jared's key underneath one of the dirty couch cushions on the front porch--and lifting up the worn fabric wasn't nearly as disgusting as Jared had thought--and there's a note on the kitchen fridge.


Sorry I couldn't be here. Help yourself to anything you want in the fridge; I'll be back late.

- Jensen.

"We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish as fools." -Martin Luther King

The quote seems like an oddly sappy touch, but Jared likes it. He stares at the note for a minute and swallows against a lump in his throat. He has a roommate now. A roommate who apparently thought enough about Jared to leave him a note on the fridge. It feels nice, and it takes a moment for Jared to realize that his face feels weird because he's smiling.

Jared's never had issues getting up in the morning. When his alarm goes off, he shuts it off, then rubs the sleep from his eyes and gets out of bed. The floor is cold underneath his bare feet, and he shivers once, shuffling across the bedroom and into the bathroom across the little hallway. He shaves in the shower and turns his face into the spray, the water just this side of warm enough. He shivers again as he gets out and takes a deep breath while he dries himself off. Just another day. He can do this.

Jensen's probably home by now, even though Jared didn't hear him come in last night, and Jared's not certain about roommate protocol. He desperately wants to find a middle road; not just be two strangers who just happen to share a house--and definitely not new BFFs, joined at the hip, either. Somewhere in between. Friends.

Jared can be friendly, can't he?

He had friends before, Jared thinks as he pulls on a clean pair of underwear and socks. Hell, he has friends. It's just that he happens to live pretty far away from most of them, and he plays video games with them instead of going out for a beer or a movie. Besides, if any of his friends from the game had lived nearby, they probably would get together and do non-game things. He thinks. But as it stands, they're spread out all over. Even Faceman, who's in the same state, is a good eight or nine hours from Jared. So yeah. Their friendship is only limited by a lack of geographical proximity, not because they're all anti-social nerds who can't keep regular company. They're just a bunch of normal people who enjoy the same hobby.

As the arguments run through his head, Jared knows this is nothing to be ashamed of, not really, but he still can't help the little rush of embarrassment that floods him as he pulls on a pair of jeans and his favorite t-shirt. It feels a little bit too much like making excuses to himself for his own behavior, and hell--wasn't more human contact the whole point of moving in here in the first place?

The house is still quiet when he makes his way downstairs and into the kitchen. Looks like Jensen isn't awake yet. He might not have class until later on, or not at all that day. Regardless, Jared tries to be as quiet as possible as he sets about making himself breakfast.

He's just shutting off the coffee maker and pouring milk over his Lucky Charms, when there's a loud creaking, then shuffling sound from behind him, and he turns in time to see Jensen half-walk, half-drag himself into the kitchen.

Jensen's wearing loose boxers, thick socks and an extremely oversized sweatshirt with the hood pulled halfway down into his face, but Jared can still see that the other man's eyes are still mostly closed.

"Good morning," he tries.

Jensen just grunts, something that might have been a Nngh, or possibly a Fbuh, not pausing the slightest as he blindly reaches out for the pot of coffee. Not even glancing up once--maybe without even really opening his eyes--Jensen reaches up and grabs a cup from the cupboard above the sink.

"There's fresh coffee," Jared offers lamely, but he doesn't have to say anything; Jensen's already pouring himself a cup of coffee. It's an odd sight, and Jared can't decide if it's adorable or disturbing that Jensen's apparently perfected the art of sleep-walking to his morning coffee.

Then he scrunches up his nose to himself. Adorable? Where did that come from?

By the time he shakes his head a bit to clear it, Jensen's peering at him with intense, green eyes from underneath the hoodie. He still seems mostly asleep, but at least his eyes are open now, and he's holding the coffee cup close to his mouth. For a split second, Jared finds himself staring at Jensen's lips, but then Jensen makes another grunting noise, and Jared twitches a little in reaction, rapidly bringing his eyes back up to meet Jensen's.

"Not a morning person, I take it?" Jared says with a careful smile.

Jensen just snorts and sips his coffee then shuffles back out of the kitchen, leaving Jared standing alone with his bowl of rapidly soggy Lucky Charms.

"Well," Jared mutters to himself once Jensen's back in his own room, the door creaking loudly again as it closes behind him. "That went well."

Jensen's gone again when Jared comes home from his classes, and he pads to the kitchen, eager to see if there's anything to eat. He didn't bring much food over from his dorm, beyond cereal and milk, but it'll do for now. There's another note on the fridge, and Jared can't help smile at the sight of it.


Sorry if I was a dick this morning. Had a long night. Catch you later.

- Jensen.

Word of the day: adduce. It means to give as a reason, or proof.

Jared enjoys the fact that Jensen signs his little notes with his name; if this Christian Kane isn't home much, who else would possibly be leaving Jared notes on the fridge door? He also enjoys the little random tidbit at the end. First a quote, now a word of the day? It's a quirky, little thing, but it's nice.

Jared keeps an eye on the note, not thinking about anything in particular as he eats his cereal. When he's done, he rinses out the bowl then lets it sit in the sink and grabs his bag and heads upstairs to his room.

His computer was the first thing he unpacked and it takes Jared about three seconds flat to have multiple windows open at once, alt-tabbing as if his life depended on it. This is how Jared does things; he's settled into a comfortable routine for his homework. He plays the game between assignments, chats with his friends over the voice chat client unless they're being particularly distracting, and surfs the internet for sources or news or just random bullshit. He's right between the final paragraph of his English paper and the third replay of OMG Cat on YouTube, when the computer's electronic voice informs him that Mayhem has signed on. A brief moment later, Chad's voice comes to life in Jared's air, crackling with speaker static for a second.

"'Sup, bitch?" Chad says cheerfully, and Jared uses his pinky to hold down his microphone button.

"Hey Chad," he says as he tabs back to his paper, happy to hear from his best friend. He quickly finishes his sentence and train of thought, saves the document with a satisfied nod at the screen before leaning back in his chair, wanting to give Chad his complete attention; they haven't spoken in a few days, and Jared's missed him. "How are things?"

"Awesome," Chad says, as always. "How are things going in Shithole, Nowheresville? You get all moved in with your new roomie yet?"


"So? How is it? Spill the beans, dude! Is he a good guy? Is he a party boy?"

Jared's not quite sure what to say to that at first. "He's... gay," he eventually says, then immediately wants to smack himself.

"Not that that's got anything to do with it," he hurriedly adds, and quickly tabs to make sure he and Chad are the only two people logged on at the moment. "It's just... he hasn't been around much. He seems like a good guy though. Easy to talk to."

"Well, good," Chad says, sounding satisfied and seemingly willing to skip straight past the gay comment. "If he'd been a douche I might have had to come up there just to kick his ass."

"What am I, your girlfriend?" Jared snorts. "Thanks, but I don't think you need to protect me, Chad."

"Oh please," Chad snorts. "Even if something were to go down, you're about as dangerous as a box full of puppies."

Jared's only vaguely insulted at that, but he doesn't bother coming up with a comeback. Verbally sparring with Chad rarely led to any form of victory and would most often just degrade into a back and forth cycle of Your mom.

"Wanna play for a bit?" Jared asks instead. "I think we can get a raid going--what do you say, you and me, killing some pixelated monsters?"

"Nah," Chad says, and Jared's smile falters. "I'm headed out. Sophia, this chick I met, is taking me to Hollywood, man! I'm gonna go perv on some celebs, oh yeah! I just wanted to see if I could catch you fast. I'm glad things are workin' out for you, though. I'll talk to you later, man."

Jared can't help but feel disappointed at Chad's quick departure. They still speak frequently, and stay in touch despite being on opposite sides of the country, but Jared still misses his best friend; misses having someone around who understands him. And part of him is jealous at how easy relocating across the country seemed to be for Chad, when it was so difficult for Jared.

"Later," he says, not completely successful in hiding the disappointment in his voice, then puts the headset down as the computer screen informs him Mayhem has signed off. Playing the game isn't quite as appealing without Chad around. Instead he watches OMG Cat once more to cheer himself up--yep, it's still funny--and then glances at the clock. He's been working on his homework for just over three hours, and his stomach's rumbling again.

His mother used to joke about the amount of food Jared eats, but really now--he's a growing boy! He needs his nourishment! So he types a quick brb food to his guild, pushes himself up from his chair and heads downstairs; maybe he'll feel like playing the game after he's gotten some food in him. At the bottom of the stairs he briefly hesitates by the front door. More cereal, or should he venture out to get some real dinner? On the one hand, he will at some point need to get some food that isn't frosted cereal and sugar marshmallows, but on the other he's feeling exceptionally lazy.

He's deep in thought, just debating the merits of Lucky Charms versus Taco Bell, when there's the distinct sound of heavy boots hitting the front porch. Jared doesn't have time to react before the door flies open, and for the second time in the span of a few short days, he finds himself eating a face full of door and being knocked flat on his ass by Jensen.

"Fuck!" he hears Jensen's voice from above him, and he squeezes his eyes shut against the pain.

There's laughter then, a voice that doesn't belong to Jensen, and someone else says, "Damn son, I haven't seen anything that funny since we put rollerblades on Steve in his sleep!"

Blinking, Jared looks up and sees Jensen kneeling on the floor, a concerned look on his face. Behind him stands a guy around Jensen's age with shaggy, brown hair falling around his ears, blue eyes twinkling down at Jared.

"Jesus shit," Jensen curses. "Do you like, hang out in doorways on purpose?" he asks incredulously. "Do you have a death wish? Do I need to call the men in the white coats?"

"I'm good," Jared croaks, and he lets Jensen pull him to his feet. "Sorry. Guess I was spacing out a bit."

"I noticed," Jensen responds dryly, and he seems to relax now that he's sure Jared's not hurt. "Guess I was lying when I said I wouldn't try to kill you with my door."

"It's okay, I have a thick skull."

That's about the time when Jared notices the unmistakable scent of food hitting his nostrils, and Jared notices that both the shaggy-haired man and Jensen himself is carrying a bucket of chicken each. His stomach rumbles again almost on command, and the other guy's grin widens at the sound.

"Hi," he says, reaching out a hand and grasping Jared's in a firm grip. "I'm Chris. I'm guessing you're Jared, huh?"

Jared's mind immediately flashes to the sign by the doorbell, the name Christian Kane with a penis drawn next to it, and Jensen's voice in his head, telling him about their third, often-absent roommate, Chris.

What Jared should have said was, "Yes I am," and shook Chris's hand.

Instead, what comes out is, "You're the penis-guy."

Jared clearly is not thinking straight--or at all--and as soon as the words leave his mouth and he realizes what he's said, he blushes a deep red as both Chris and Jensen burst out laughing.

"What the hell?" Chris exclaims, but he doesn't sound mad.

Jared's wondering if the floor is actually capable of swallowing him whole, if he just wishes hard enough. On pure reflex, his head ducks, and his chin nearly hits his chest as he pokes at the floor with one socked foot.

"The sign by the doorbell," he mumbles, and Jensen laughs harder.

"I'm going to kill Steve," Chris says with a shake of his head, but he still doesn't sound mad. Instead he just sighs fondly then winks at Jared.

"Well, it is nice to meet you, Jared."

There's something about the way he says Jared's name; the way he looks at him. It's not quite a leer, but it's close, and Jared suddenly feels even more awkward for some reason. Chris doesn't seem to notice though.

"I heard Jen got us a new roomie."

"Shut up," Jensen mutters, still chuckling, then claps Jared's shoulder and makes an obvious attempt at changing the subject, even though Jared's not even sure why. "Hey, Jay, why don't you join us for dinner? There's plenty of chicken to go around."

The nickname rolls easily off Jensen's tongue, and Jared relaxes at the sound of it. The blush has started to fade from his cheeks, and his stomach rumbles loudly again, a reminder of why he ventured out of his room in the first place.

"I like chicken," he says stupidly, and Jensen gives him a million-dollar grin.


At first Jared's a little nervous; he hasn't been around people much since school started, and although he feels pretty relaxed with Jensen around, he doesn't exactly know the guy well--not yet, at least. And with the way Chris said his name, with an odd sort of emphasis, who knows what Jensen's told him about Jared? Turns out he didn't need to worry, because Chris turns out to be a pretty awesome guy.

Much like Jensen himself, he seems to be the laidback type, and he doesn't look at Jared like he's a big weirdo, so that's a plus.

Jared watches in fascination as Jensen practically drowns his chicken in barbecue sauce. Chris notices him staring and laughs, while Jensen just shrugs and chews his own in obvious gastronomical bliss.

"So Jared," Chris says. "Where in the world do you hail from?"

Jared swallows a piece of suddenly too-dry chicken. "San Antonio?" he says, and it comes out sounding like a question. "Texas."

"Bit of a distance from home, aren't you?"

Jared blinks and stares hard at his plate. He can do this. He can make conversation. "A little bit," he gets out, fighting the urge to slump down in his chair in a child-like attempt at making himself as small as possible.

Chris doesn't say anything for a while, and Jared's mind spins as he's desperately trying to come up with something to say to avoid the silence from drifting into awkwardness. Across the table, Chris and Jensen exchange a look that Jared can't read, but it doesn't feel like they're judging him.

Chris reaches out and claps a hand on Jensen's shoulder. "Jen's from Texas too, you know?" he says, and Jensen gives Jared a blinding grin around a mouthful of chicken. He's remained silent until now, but that might just be because he's busy putting away his chicken like nobody's business.

Jared just kind of stares for a moment, not sure how to process this new piece of information or what to do about it. It's a very small town, and the odds of meeting another Texan are not great; much less rooming with one.

"Whereabouts are you from?" he finally asks. Small talk, he tells himself. But that doesn't quite ring true either--Jensen's been very nice to him, and it's almost surprising to find that he actually wants to know.

"Mmpf," Jensen says around his chicken, then swallows and wipes his hands on a napkin. "Richardson. That's cool, man, I thought I heard a twang, but I wasn't sure!"

"You don't have one," Jared points out, and Jensen throws his head back and laughs, bright and happy.

"Well, I haven't been home for a long time," he says.

It might have sounded vaguely ominous, except Jensen's smile never falters. He doesn't elaborate, however, and Jared doesn't push the subject. Partially because he doesn't get a chance to.

"What on earth made you come to this shithole?" Chris asks.

Jared shrugs. He's not sure how honest he should be; if he should tell them he just picked this place at completely random from a pile of out-of-state college brochures his advisor had given him, or if he should tell them about Chad and their grand plan which had fallen through when Chad moved to California. It's complicated, and some days not even Jared's sure how he ended up here.

In the end he settles on saying, "I wanted to do something different. Be on my own for a while, you know?"

Chris and Jensen exchange another look, and Jared wonders if that's what he and Chad looked like when they had one of their silent conversations back in high school. He suddenly misses that with a vigor that takes him completely by surprise--he misses being so close to someone that he could read their body language and feel completely comfortable in their presence without having to speak a word. He misses his best friend.

Thankfully, Chris doesn't give him time to mope. "You got a girl back home, Jared?"

He sounds almost gleeful asking it, and Jensen immediately kicks Chris under the table--at least Jared thinks he does, if the thunk and the way Chris jumps in his chair is any indication.

"Dude!" Jensen says. "Privacy!"

"If he's gonna be living in this house, he's going to get used to it anyway," Chris defends himself, before elegantly polishing off a wing.

Jensen seems to consider this for a second before shrugging and nodding in obvious defeat. "It's true," he says then leans closer to Jared and explains, "Steve and Chris have this habit of running into every room without knocking, including bedrooms and bathrooms--you've been warned."

"That's not true!" Chris looks offended. "We don't run into your room!"

"Only cause you're a homophobic dick," Jensen shoots back, but there's no bite to his words, and there is no doubt in Jared's mind Jensen doesn't actually mean it. "Sheesh! One tiny, little glimpse of ass and you're rolling on the floor scratching at your eyes. You'd think you saw the devil himself, you chicken shit!"

"It was traumatizing!"

"Chicken shit!"

"No," Jared says quickly with a laugh, amused by their banter but figuring he should step in before someone gets hurt. They both turn their heads to stare at him with stupid looks on their faces as if they'd momentarily forgotten Jared was there.

"No," Jared says again. "There's no girl."

He's not lying. Jared was pretty popular with the girls in high school, but he never had much interest in any of them. He kissed Alexis-what's-her-last-name in the 7th grade while playing spin-the-bottle at Steven Carpenter's birthday party, but Jared doesn't think that counts.

He took Sandy McCoy to the junior spring fling and they dated for a while, sure. He liked her a lot. She was funny and sweet, and she could out-burp anyone, which Jared always thought was really cool, but he was never in love with her. Truth be told, Jared's not quite sure what it's supposed to feel like to be in love, but he's pretty sure what he felt for Sandy wasn't quite it. When they broke up early on in senior year, the only people who weren't surprised were Jared, Chad and Sandy herself. She'd been a little sad for a while, but at graduation she'd hugged him anyway, smiled as if they were still friends and told him to keep in touch. Jared had promised, and then completely failed to ever call or write her at all.

Chris gives him another one of those odd looks that makes Jared feel oddly scrutinized, but nothing more is said on the topic.

All three of them finish their chicken shortly thereafter, and Jared is kind of impressed; he's fairly certain Jensen ate more than both Jared and Chris combined, and it's not every day Jared meets someone capable of eating more than him. He says as much, and Jensen throws his head back and laughs again--one of those laughs that for some reason just seems to warm Jared to the pit of his stomach and make him feel like everything's right with the world. Like if Jensen can be so laidback and happy and easy about things, Jared can too.

Chris isn't actually staying, which Jared finds slightly weird since Chris does live there after all--at least Jensen assures him he does--but he's headed back out of town for some music gig or other in Ohio, and is crashing with the mysterious Steve until then.

As he heads out the door he gives Jensen a manly hug, complete with wide hand gestures and a thorough thumping of Jensen's back, before turning to Jared and shaking his hand. It's a firmer grip than before, and he looks Jared straight in the eye with a stare so intense Jared almost wants to take a step back from it.

"It was real nice meeting you, Jared," Chris says, and man oh man, has he perfected the poker face. "You take care of yourself, you hear? And of our boy Jen, here."

It's an odd thing to say--at least with the weird emphasis Chris puts on every word--but Jared still nods and manages a smile.

"Nice to meet you, too, Chris."

Chris heads out the door with a final wave, and Jared can't shake the feeling of having been both tested and evaluated, though he's not quite sure what for. Though considering that Chris and Jensen's last roommate apparently turned out to be a homophobic asshole, it would make sense that Chris is a bit protective of his friend. And regardless, it seems like Jared passed, so he guesses that's a plus.

He turns to head back upstairs to his room, but that's the precise moment when Jensen nudges his shoulder and nods towards the living room.

"Come on, dude. It's time for the traditional post-KFC video game asskicking."

Jared immediately brightens at that. He can do video games.

"You traditionally get your ass kicked after eating KFC?" he asks, mostly because he can't help himself, but a little bit because he's feeling bold, and Jensen's easy to talk to.

"Oh, you're on," Jensen says with a wicked smile, and Jared grins back.

They're in the middle of their millionth battle to the death, and even though Jared has indeed won most of the lethal battles between their Tekken 6 Toons, Jensen's giving him a run for his money. It's been a comfortable evening; they haven't spoken much, but honestly Jared hasn't felt the need to. He's perfectly happy sitting in comfortable silence next to Jensen while they're beating the crap out of each other on Jensen's tiny-ass TV.

Just as Jensen's Toon grabs Jared's and spins him around and up in the air, Jared takes a breath and says, "So, what is with the penis, anyway?"

Jensen doesn't take his eyes off the screen, but he still laughs at Jared's question, a rumble in his chest, and Jared's still not sure what it is about the guy's laugh that makes him feel good, warm, and happy, but he likes it.

"Oh, that's our friend Steve's doing. When Harry freaked out and started telling people about the faggot living over on 4th, he decided it would be funny if he could convince people it was Chris."

"Why doesn't he wash it off?" Jared asks. "Or doesn't it bug him?"

"Oh, he's tried," Jensen says with another short laugh, then promptly KO's Jared's Toon. "But Steve keeps drawing the damn thing back on. And by now I think he's just sort of given up on it, and is extracting his vengeance in other, creative ways. They've had this epic sort of prank war going on for years. Hell, they'll probably still have it going by the time we're fifty."

"Prank war?"

"I think it started back in high school," Jensen continues, starting a new battle. "Chris was trying to work up the courage to ask this girl, Chrissy Miller, to the Homecoming dance. Me, I think if you want something, you should just take a damn risk and go for it, but Chris used to be real shy when we were kids, especially around girls. So he'd been talking about it and angsting about it and generally acted like a little bitch about it for weeks, until one day he finally decides this is the day--this is the day he's going to ask her out. I'm like Hallelujah, get it over with, you know? So we're in the cafeteria at lunch, waiting for her to show up. We got our food and are headed over to a table, except when we go to sit down, Steve--shithead that he is--puts his pudding cup on Chris's chair."

Jensen starts chuckling as he tries to get through the rest of the tale, eyes still on his Toon. "It made this awesome noise when Chris sat down, man. This squish, and Chris stood up and screamed bloody murder, nearly breaking his back trying to spot his own ass for the damage. Which is, of course, when Chrissy Miller walked into the cafeteria. So there she is, and there's Chris, standing up with everybody starin' at him, and this massive, brown, gooey spot right on his ass."

Jensen pauses briefly in order to KO Jared's Toon again, before he shakes his head a bit and adds, "He never got around to asking Chrissy Miller to the Homecoming, and I think he just ended up not going at all."

One corner of Jared's mouth tilts up at Jensen's story, and they load up a new battle and settle back into their comfortable silence.

Jared thinks about Chad and thinks about the friends they had in high school; thinks about how he hasn't really kept in touch with any of them, because only after graduating had he realized that they were really more Chad's friends all along.

Hell, he hadn't even kept in touch with Sandy, and they were dating for almost six months--practically an eternity when you're sixteen.

Then he thinks about Jensen, and how he spent a large portion of time getting stealth-grilled by Chris, and how he doesn't really know much about Jensen--well, either of them to be fair, but it's Jensen who's sparked Jared's curiosity. As of right now, the only things he knows about Jensen is that he's an easygoing guy from Texas, he's good at Tekken, he likes to leave notes on the fridge door, and that he's gay.

He glances over at the other man out of the corner of his eye. Jensen doesn't look gay. But then again, he hasn't ever really known any gay people. Jensen looks like a normal guy, and he acts like a normal guy; he wears washed out t-shirts with faded logos and says "dude" and walks with this bowlegged cowboy-gait, and when the hell did Jared notice how Jensen walks?

Regardless, fact of the matter is Jared doesn't know anything about his roommate. What kind of music does he like? What's his major? Does he have a boyfriend?

"Do you have a boyfriend?" Jared asks before he can stop himself, and wouldn't it just figure that that's the first thing he asks?

Jensen's Toon immediately dies to Jared's, and Jensen looks over at Jared as the KO flashes on the screen, an amused expression on his face.

"No, I don't," he says, and a wave of embarrassment washes over Jared. "And that was a total cheap shot."

"Sorry, I didn't mean to pry."

"You didn't," Jensen assures him. "It's not like it's a big secret, and hell, it's not even an hour since Chris was sitting right here grilling you about your own love life."

"I don't know any gay guys," Jared says, and wow--there's that complete lack of brain-to-mouth filter again!

Thankfully Jensen just laughs again. "Dude," he says, "I'm not a prude. If you have questions, ask, and I'll answer them as honestly as I can, and possibly in more graphic detail than you'd ever wish for!"

He waggles his eyebrows, and heat rises in Jared's cheeks, but he's grateful that Jensen's so relaxed about his awkwardness; it certainly helps him feel less stupid about things. And when Jensen bumps his shoulder into Jared's in a comforting gesture, he starts to relax again. Finding the courage to ask the questions that have arisen in his mind is easier after that.

By the time Jared's KO'd for the last time, he's lost count over who's winning, but he's learned a lot more about his roommate. Jensen is a senior, majoring in drama, and Jensen's not quite sure why that is--he shrugged at Jared and said that he "just sort of quote-unquote fell into acting."

Just like Jared, Jensen's got an older brother and a younger sister. His family moved from Texas to Pennsylvania when Jensen was 14, but he still considers Texas home. He's been out since he started college, and that he doesn't date much--mainly due to a lack of options in what he calls a shit-hole town. Jensen doesn't have a favorite band, but he's got an affinity for American folk singers--and a slightly odd fixation on 80's hair metal bands which not even Jensen himself seems to be able to explain.

Throughout Jared's more than thorough interrogation, Jensen remained smiling and relaxed, and Jared offered up more details about his own life in return, carefully leaving out the part where he pretty much feels like a gigantic, friendless dork and any and all World of Warcraft-related stories.

"Man, I gotta admit," Jensen grins at Jared, "you really know how to hold your own against Paul Phoenix!"

Jared shrugs and smiles, putting the controller down. "I'm just gifted, what can I say?"

"Anyway. This old man's headed to bed. It got late."

Blinking, Jared notices that it did indeed get late. It's completely dark outside, and his watch seems to try to tell him that it's already past eleven, which just has to be an outright lie. Is his watch broken? He only just walked downstairs to get some food, didn't he?

Jensen stands up and stretches, then shuts off both the Playstation and the TV, before shuffling out of the room with a, "Later, Jay," thrown over his shoulder.

Jared doesn't respond, just sits on the couch for a moment and tries to figure out where on earth the rest of his day went. He's still confused when he stands up and walks back upstairs to his room. It's not until he's crawling into bed and just happens to glance over at his computer, flashing "You have been disconnected from the server," at him, that he realizes his brb food turned into several hours. He completely forgot about playing World of Warcraft.

"How's the roommate thing going?" asks Faceman on Thursday.

There's a big-ass dragon currently trying to kill Jared with massive amounts of snow and ice. Jared chews on a pen as he tries to hit the talk button, and at the same time move his character out of harm's way on his screen. "Good, I guess. He's nice. I met my other roommate really briefly, but he left pretty fast."

"He saw your face and ran screaming in the opposite direction?" Face quips.

"He's in a band," Jared says. "He tours or something, I guess."

"Tours? Is he famous? Do you have a famous roommate?"

Jared spits the pen out of his mouth as his character gets caught in a breath attack and dies a quick death. "I don't think he's famous. But he gets enough work that it keeps him busy. He's like, never home."

"So really it's just you and this other dude?" Faceman asks.

"Yeah, just me and Jensen."

"Sausagefest. And what the fuck kinda name is Jensen?"

"I don't know, I didn't name him. Quit asking me about my roommate and battle rez me."

There's some muttering from Faceman's end, but Jared's character gets up and running again, so he figures it doesn't really matter.

"I'm living vicariously through you," Faceman says. "What does he study?"

"He's a drama major."

"Oh, so he's either gay, or so ridiculously good looking that you'll never get laid around him ever again, or both?"

"Hey, at least I'm better at Tekken than him," Jared says defensively, immediately smacking himself mentally because--well, that argument doesn't really make sense at all.

After that, they get absorbed in actually trying to kill the big dragon for a while. There's furious clicking in the background when Faceman's microphone eventually activates again. "Which Tekken?"


"Six blows cocks."

So does Jensen, Jared's mind supplies, but he doesn't say it. He figures Faceman doesn't need to know he's right about anything regarding Jensen.

His second weekend at the house, Jared comes downstairs during a break from his Friday afternoon raid to find a small, dark-haired girl sitting on top of Jensen on the living room floor, tickling him while Jensen is biting into his arm, obviously trying not to scream out loud.

Coincidentally, that's when Jared learns Jensen's ticklish.

When Jensen spots Jared standing in the doorway, his mouth comes up from his arm and Jared can see bite marks marring the skin.

"Help," Jensen gasps between laughs. His face is bright red and there are tears on his cheeks from laughing so hard. "Please!"

"Don't do it," the girl laughs, and her eyes twinkle at Jared.

"Please!" Jensen wheezes again.

Jared doesn't want to overstep any boundaries, but he also can't really say no when Jensen's begging, so before he has the chance to overthink his own words and actions, he walks over and lifts the girl off Jensen; just picks her right up, because wow--tiny.

"Sorry, ma'am," Jared says in his best Texas drawl. "I'm afraid I'm gonna hafta ask you to step away from the writhing man on the floor."

She gets her feet under him, then puts her hands on her hips and raises an eyebrow; looks from Jared to Jensen then back to Jared.

"He's cheeky," she tells Jensen, who's wiping tears from his eyes and seems to be regaining some air. "I like him."

Jensen nods and gives one last watery chuckle. "Jared, meet Genevieve. She's a fucking hellcat."

"Nice to meet you, Jared," Genevieve says, shaking his hand.

Jared's starting to feel like he's maybe getting used to people again by now, so he doesn't blush, doesn't even stutter, when he says, "You too. And sorry about the whole, picking you up thing."

"Don't worry, stud," Genevieve says with a wink and a nudge to Jared's arm. She might have been going for the shoulder, but she's tiny, so really--there's no way she could have reached it. "You can pick me up any day."

Jared's cheeks immediately go warm--so much for his social antennas growing back--but before he has the chance to start sputtering nonsense, Genevieve turns to Jensen and says, "I'll catch you next week--and you better be there, Ackles!" Then she strolls out of the room and a few seconds later the front door opens and closes.

Jensen's still sitting on the floor, and when Jared looks at him, he's got both eyebrows raised in obvious amusement.


Jared clears his throat. "You've got interesting friends."

"Yeah, they're a real hoot," Jensen says dryly, picking himself up off the floor and grimacing. "Man, I think she bruised my kidney."

"So is this normal?" Jared asks, sticking his hands in his pockets. "Should I expect to come across a lot of women sitting on you in the living room?"

Jensen stops in the middle of twisting his torso around. "So many dirty jokes to be made, so little time."

Jared can feel the blush coming back in full force, and he stares hard at his feet. "Shut up. You're gay, anyway."

Jensen laughs, and the realization of what he's said does nothing to lessen Jared's slight embarrassment.

"So what was that about?"

"Oh, nothing." Jensen tries to wave it off with an air of nonchalance, but it's pretty obvious it's not nothing. Ironic, Jared thinks, since Jensen's supposed to be an actor.

"There's this audition for the spring play, and Gen wants me to go, but--I don't know. It's a musical, and I'm not so big on the whole... singing in front of people thing."

"I didn't know you could sing," Jared says, which--duh, he's known the guy for a couple of weeks, and one evening of Jensen Ackles Q&A does not mean he knows the guy.

"Exactly!" Jensen says, plopping down in the couch. "That's the other thing, my voice isn't really worthy of a legendary musical!"

"Legendary musical?"

"Yeah, they're doing Rent. I'm not exactly big on Broadway stuff, but I can respect Rent."

Jared scratches his head a little. He's heard the title before at least, but beyond that he knows next to nothing about it.

"Well, sing me something," Jared says.

Jensen just stares at him as if he's grown a second head.

"Come on," Jared presses, sitting down on the coffee table in front of Jensen, bumping their knees together. "Everybody's their own worst critic, you know? Most people see a photo of themselves and hate it, even though everyone else thinks it's beautiful."

"Gee," Jensen deadpans. "Very romantic of you, Mr. Padalecki."

Jared refuses to be embarrassed anymore, and pushes down his blush as best he can. "Sing me something."

Jensen stares at him for another few seconds, before he scratches the bridge of his nose and clears his throat. Then he closes his eyes, folds his hands in his lap, and takes a breath.

"How did we get here, how the hell?" he sings, and Jared's drawn in by the soft rumble of Jensen's voice. It's warm, like Jensen's laugh, and Jared stares at him.

Jensen's face seems to relax, even as his brow furrows and his voice takes on a pained quality to match the words of the song. Jared can't take his eyes off Jensen, and for some reason he finds himself trying to memorize every detail of the moment. The freckles on Jensen's face, the way his eyelids shift a bit as he moves through the lyrics, the expression on his face that coincides with the heartbreak of the song, yet at the same time seems to convey exactly how at home Jensen is with this--with slipping into someone else's skin and singing their thoughts to an audience, even if that audience is just Jared.

Jensen finishes the song, and his eyes open to meet Jared's. For a few moments, Jared can't say anything--can't find the words to express how much he just wants Jensen to keep singing; how his voice somehow soothes him and relaxes him.

"You're really good," he eventually manages, and Jensen gives a little, awkward chuckle.

"Yeah, well..."

"No, really."

Jensen looks away--brings up a hand to rub at the back of his neck, brows furrowing a little. "I don't know, man. Musicals... You need to really be something else to pull that off. I mean, I can carry a tune, but I'm just not sure if I wanna be putting myself out there like that. Singing's different than acting." He laughs a little. "Genevieve's been trying to convince me to audition for Roger since the announcement came up."

Jared doesn't know who Roger is, but he still nods. "I think Genevieve sounds like a smart woman," he says.

Jensen turns back to Jared at that and stares at him with a lopsided smile, like maybe he's got a secret Jared doesn't--and hell, he probably does for all Jared knows. It's making Jared feel vaguely uncomfortable, so he clears his throat and stands up. With a start, he suddenly remembers that he's supposed to be in the middle of a raid, and that he really just came downstairs for a bagel--really!

"Well, I gotta..." he trails off and gestures to the kitchen. Jensen's still looking at him with that amused expression on his face.

"I think you should audition," is the last thing Jared says before quickly retreating back upstairs to his room. The others are probably waiting for him, and he can live without the bagel, just this once.

It's Monday and Jared's just walking into his introductory psychology class when his phone vibrates in his pocket. Flipping it open as he's sitting down at his desk, Jared finds a text from a number he doesn't know.

Jensen gave me ur #. Class ends @ 2. Coffee? -Genevieve.

Jared stares for a few seconds. Genevieve wants to hang out with him? The notion that he's actually making friends makes him stupidly happy, and he texts a quick Sure, Starbucks @ 2.

It's only after he's hit the send button that he realizes two things. First of all, he promised Jensen he'd come with him to this Mexican place Jensen swears up and down is the best Mexican--ever! Secondly, and he probably should have seen it right away, but honest to God, he was just so happy that someone was actually interested in talking to him--Genevieve's hitting on him.

Jared swallows, not quite sure what to do about this information. He should at least go meet her for coffee and explain that he's not interested--hell, he doesn't even know her--but he really hopes she'll still be interested in being friends. He just needs to come up with a good way to tell her that, without using those exact words, because his social skills may be rusty, but they're not that rusty.

Glancing at the clock to see that he still has a couple of minutes before the class starts, and making sure the professor's not in the room yet, Jared quickly dials Jensen's phone. Jensen picks up on the third ring.

"'lo?" He sounds sleepy and grumpy, and it amuses Jared to no end that the guy's still asleep at noon, when he knows for a fact Jensen didn't stay out last night.

"Hey Jen," he says, the nickname slipping out comfortably. "Just wanted to see if I could get a rain check on the Mexican? I'm having coffee with Genevieve."

There's rustling on the other end of the line, and a groan that Jared thinks means Jensen's trying to wake up. At least he hopes that's what it means.

"Coffee? Genevieve?" Jensen sounds far more interested in the coffee.

"Yeah, meeting her at Starbucks at 2," Jared says, feeling a little embarrassed.

"You dog," Jensen says around a yawn.

"It's not like that," Jared protests. "She seems really cool, I'm just--I'm not interested in her like that--I'm not--"

Jensen cuts him off with a sleepy laugh; he almost sounds drunk with it. "Oh man! I'm totally gonna swing by later and be a fly on your wall. Must. Laugh. At your misfortune."

"Might not be a terrible idea," Jared chuckles. Hell, maybe Jensen can help ease the awkwardness of trying to communicate to Genevieve that he's not interested in her in that way. "Anyway, rain check on the Mexican and I'll see you at 2?"

"Yeah, sure. I'll catch you then, Jay. Bye."

Jensen sounds like he's headed back to sleep--hell, he's probably asleep again already. Jared's already become accustomed to seeing his sleep-walking morning ritual. Sleep-talking on the phone wouldn't be a stretch.

"Bye, Jensen," Jared says and closes his phone.

When Jared arrives at Starbucks, there's no sign of Jensen, and Jared's half-tempted to wait outside just to avoid being left alone with Genevieve. That seems a bit too cowardly, even for him though, and he might not want to date her, but he does want to be her friend. Actively avoiding the first person who's ever reached out to him besides Jensen probably won't help his social life any, so Jared takes a deep breath and goes inside instead.

Genevieve is sitting at a table by the window with two coffees in front of her. Jared has a moment of extreme nervousness and gives a little, dorky wave, which--really, she's like five feet away, how sad can he get?--and heads over.

"Hi, Genevieve," he says, and Genevieve makes a face at him.

"Oh please, call me Gen."

"Okay," Jared says as he sits down, but his mind supplements that Jen equals Jensen, and he doubts he'll be calling her Gen anytime soon.

"I'm glad you could make it, Jared," she says, and her smile is friendly and warm.

"Yeah," Jared says, and unable to think of anything further to add to that, just manages a lame, "me too."

Genevieve tilts her head in a coy gesture as she slides a coffee towards him. "I wasn't sure how you liked it, so it's just regular black."

"Regular black's fine."

They sit in silence for a few moments, and Jared uses the coffee as an excuse for not speaking, even if it burns his tongue a little. If Genevieve is uncomfortable by the silence, she thankfully doesn't show it, and instead sips her own coffee.

"How are your classes going?" she asks.

Jared nearly sighs in relief. Classes are a safe subject.

"They're good," he says, nodding. "I think my English Lit professor is out to kill me, though?"

Genevieve raises an eyebrow. "Who do you have?"

"Um, Dr. Carbone?"

"Oh, he's not so bad," Genevieve laughs with an easy wave, "he likes to talk tough and give a ton of assignments to make every student think they'll fail his class for sure, but his tests are really easy. You'll do great."

"Well, that's a relief," Jared mutters, thinking about the piles of homework he already has in that class.

"Just be grateful you got Dr. Carbone, and not Dr. Lauren. She's terrible," Genevieve says, with a heavy emphasis on the last word. "I had her last spring, and I can't imagine how that woman ever finished a doctorate. She really isn't fit to be teaching anything."

Jared chuckles, tension fading a little, and he runs a hand through his hair.

"Maybe it's not a real doctorate," he suggests. "Maybe she took one of those online tests. How smart are you?"

Genevieve laughs at the idea and nods. "She probably got a perfect score and decided she was smart enough to teach college."

"Right," Jared agrees, "and that's how she got this job. I guess this place doesn't exactly represent the scholarly elite of America." Then he hurriedly adds, "Don't get me wrong, I like it here, but I'm just--I'm just saying..."

"'s not Harvard," Genevieve finishes for him, a knowing smile on her face. "No, it's not. I love it here, though. I'm thinking of staying after I graduate, actually."

"Really?" Jared tries to imagine where he will be living once he's done with college, but nothing really sets off a spark in him; not even Texas. "That's cool."

"Oh please," Genevieve scoffs. "You don't have to lie to be polite. Most people around here dream of going off to big cities like New York or L.A. I know that what I want is different." She leans forward, and suddenly seems a little bit more serious. "It's just that I really like it here, and as long as I'm happy, who cares what anyone else thinks, right?"

Jared doesn't think life is quite that easy, but he doesn't want to say that to Genevieve, and just smiles and nods at her instead.

"So, Jared..." she starts and leans back in her seat again. She never gets to finish that sentence though, because that's the precise moment Jensen walks through the door.

To her credit, Genevieve's smile doesn't falter at all when Jensen walks over to their table.

"Hey guys," Jensen says with a wry smile at Jared. "What a coincidence."

Jared feels a small twinge of embarrassment hit him in the chest, but Genevieve just raises an eyebrow at Jensen. "Yeah," she says, not the slightest bit convinced. "Quite the coincidence."

She doesn't sound annoyed though, just amused, and when she looks at Jared again it's without blame in her eyes.

Jensen ignores the little look they exchange, and instead pulls up a chair and puts it next to Jared's. When he sits down and scoots as close as he can get until Jared's pretty much squished up against the window, both Jared and Genevieve laugh.

"So! What are you two crazy kids talking about?" Jensen asks.

"We were moving on from the question of whether or not Dr. Lauren got her alleged doctorate from an online test, to debating the merits of small town living versus big city ambitions, when someone decided to interrupt us." Genevieve gives Jensen a pointed look, but Jensen doesn't look deterred.

"Oh no!" he says, feigning ignorance. "How rude!"

Jared laughs and shoves at Jensen's shoulder. "Move over, dude, people are gonna get the wrong idea here."

Jensen does that thing where he throws his head back and laughs, warm and easy. He moves his chair away from the immediate vicinity of Jared's body, but he makes no motion to get up and leave them alone, either.

Genevieve looks at Jensen with a calculating stare for a moment, before seemingly deciding that attempting to get rid of him would lead nowhere, and instead sips her coffee. "So, Jensen, you're coming to the audition on Wednesday, right?"

Jared suddenly remembers Jensen's Rent audition and his hesitation to go. Jensen himself just looks down at the table and starts idly tracing invisible patterns with his finger. "Give it a rest, Gen. I'm not going."

"But Jensen," Genevieve starts, and Jensen immediately holds up a hand to stop her.

"No But Jensen!" he imitates in a whiny voice. "If I wanted to sing for people, I'd be a fucking music major. I'm not going."

"You should," Jared interjects, and turns to Genevieve. "He sang to me. He's really good!"

Genevieve perks up. "I know, right? I want him to get this part so bad! He'd be so good at it! Don't you think he'd make an awesome Roger?"

Jared still has no clue who Roger is, but he's confident that whatever the part is, Jensen would be great at it, so he just nods vigorously.

"Good God," Jensen mutters from next to him. "Now there's two of them."

"We just think you're really good, and you should try out for the part," Jared says.

Jensen stares at him for a long moment, a sort of intense stare with slightly narrowed eyes that makes Jared feel incredibly awkward. Jared glances over at Genevieve and finds her looking between the two of them as if she's figuring something out. It's getting very unsettling and slightly annoying to have so many new people randomly give him these wordless stares, but just as Jared's about to say something, Jensen purses his lips and says, "I'll think about it."

Anything Jared might have had to say about getting stared at disappears in Genevieve's excited whoop.

On Wednesday, Jared comes down to the kitchen after his afternoon raid to find a note on the fridge that says,


I went to the audition. Be home later.

- Jensen.

"Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time." -Thomas Edison.

Jensen actually doesn't get the part, but when he comes home an hour later and Jared's sitting on the stairs waiting for him, like an overeager kid, he still smiles brightly, claps Jared's shoulder and thanks him for pushing him into going.

"It's only a college play, man," he says, which is a far cry from his earlier description of Rent as an epic musical, but he genuinely seems fine with it.

"It got me out of my comfort zone, and I guess that's the point, right?" He gives Jared a wry smile. "Nobody ever got good at something by not pushing themselves."

Jared doesn't know what the theater people were thinking, turning Jensen down. He Wikipedia'd Rent and while he thinks the premise of the play sounds really retarded, he thinks Jensen would indeed have made an awesome Roger. Jensen seems so carefree and happy about it though, and seems to be more excited that he actually went to try out in the first place. So really, if Jensen's not upset, Jared can't bring himself to be upset about it either.

"Plus, come on--who wants to see some play where people randomly burst into song?"

Jared can't really argue with that.

Jensen ends up taking him to that Mexican place that evening, and Jared has to agree that the food really is awesome. When they get back to the house, they play some more Playstation while arguing over which action series was better, Die Hard or Lethal Weapon.

On the whole, it's not a bad day.

It's been nearly two weeks since Jensen got rejected from Rent when he randomly walks into Jared's room, rubbing his stomach.

"Man, I'm starving," he says, dramatically throwing himself onto Jared's bed.

Jared barely has time to alt-tab out of World of Warcraft and thank every higher deity that he was not logged onto voice chat. Seems Chris was right; complete privacy doesn't always exist in this house.

"Make some food?" Jared suggests lamely, swiveling his chair around to face Jensen on the bed.

"I want waffles," Jensen nearly pouts.

"Do we have waffles?" Jared asks.


"Then you're probably gonna have to go out and get them. Though I'm not sure if there is a waffle joint around here."

"There's not," Jensen confirms with a heavy sigh.

"Well, we could get some flour? Eggs? Maybe make them ourselves?"

Jensen lifts his head and looks at Jared suspiciously. "You know how to make waffles?"

Jared blushes a little. "My mama taught me," he admits. "We'd need a waffle iron though."

Jensen's head thumps down on the bed again. "We don't have that."


Jared's at a loss for words, and he's still not sure why Jensen's in his room. "Why are you up here, again?"

"I'm bored," Jensen informs him. "I'm supposed to practice a thing for next week, but I'm too bored. And as my roommate, it's your duty to entertain me. Or make me waffles. Or both. Either way."

"I don't recall seeing any entertainment or waffle clauses in my contract with Mr. Morgan," Jared says, eyes narrowing.

Jensen rolls over onto his side. "Jeff's a sneaky guy. You probably just didn't see the fine print."

Jared chuckles at that, and then notices Jensen squint at his computer screen, trying to make out what it is Jared's doing. He quickly stands up to block the view, not really eager for Jensen to see that he's surfing World of Warcraft strategy websites. "Well, I can help you practice your, uh--thing, if you want?"

Jensen's eyes move to Jared's face and widen a bit. "You wanna read lines with me?"

There's surprise, but no malice in the words, and Jared nods and shrugs. "Sure, why not? Beats studying by yourself, right?"

"Okay," Jensen says, getting up from Jared's bed and heading out and down the stairs. "I warn you though, it's a shitty play."

"It's okay," Jared responds, following close behind Jensen, "I'm a shitty actor."

Jensen's laugh rings through the house, and Jared's chest still feels warm when they sit down next to each other on the couch so they both can see Jensen's script.

Living with Jensen continues to be surprisingly--almost disturbingly--easy. It helps a lot that Jensen really is the most laidback guy on planet earth. If Jared locks himself up in his room for hours on end to play World of Warcraft, Jensen never looks at him oddly, and more than once he invites Jared to join him for dinner, or in one extraordinary case, for breakfast.

Jensen's crippling caffeine addiction and his less than exuberant morning personality was one of the first things Jared learned about him, and the morning he came down to find Jensen making pancakes, Jared almost died from a heart attack. It wasn't until Jensen explained with a sheepish grin that he hadn't been to sleep yet, but out with friends all night that it made sense.

Jared soon meets a few more of Jensen's friends, too--Jensen sometimes has them over for movies or video games, and Jared tries his best to be social when they are around. Jensen's presence helps, and Jared latches onto that, much like he had when Chad was around.

Jared does take extra care not to just hide behind Jensen the whole time, though; he knows that he was very close to becoming a lonely hermit because he got too dependent on Chad to keep his social life alive, and he doesn't want that to happen again. So he lets Jensen acts like a buffer--he helps Jared relax, and he gives Jared a starting point for conversation, but that's it. And really--it's all Jared needs, when all is said and done. He's not shy, not really, it's just that his people skills seem to have suffered a little bit as of late, so easing back into things using Jensen as a proxy seems to work out really well for him. It seems as long as he doesn't have to initiate the conversation, as long as a subject is presented he can say something about, he's just peachy. And Jensen's friends are for the most part really awesome.

Jared meets Tom and Mike, who according to Jensen are as inseparable as two people can get, and it seems to be a favorite pastime among Jensen's group of friends to make fun of how Tom manages to spend time with his girlfriend when he's so attached to Mike. The night after that, he meets Kristin, who a theater major and in most of Jensen's classes. She's quite possibly the tiniest girl Jared's ever met, smaller than Sandy even, she giggles a lot, and she's got the biggest unrequited crush on Mike history's ever seen--at least if Jensen is to be believed.

Two weeks after Jared first meets Tom and Mike, Tom stops by to invite Jensen for a movie, but Jensen has a rehearsal for something, and can't. Tom shrugs and says that's cool, then turns to where Jared's been making a sandwich in the kitchen and says, "You wanna go, Jay?"

Jared manages to accept the invite, finish his sandwich, have a decent conversation with both Tom and Jensen, and get all the way back to his room before doing a giddy, little fistpump, and he doesn't even care if it makes him a loser.

After that, he's just sort of automatically included into Jensen's entire circle of friends--absorbed, seemingly, without any drama or question, as if it's the most natural thing in the world.

Jared still hasn't found a way to tell Genevieve he's not interested in her, but she hasn't invited him to anything even remotely date-like since the botched coffee date anyway. Instead she comes over and watches movies and hangs out with both Jensen and Jared, so he figures it's not really an issue anymore. Sometimes Jared catches her looking at him funny, but so far she hasn't said anything, and if it does come up again, he figures he'll just tell her then.

As the weeks go by, Jared finds himself spending less and less time in World of Warcraft, feeling like maybe, just maybe, he's actually making real friends now.

Jensen knocks on his door on the first Friday in December. Sticking his head into Jared's room, he says, "Hey, a buncha people are coming over tonight to celebrate surviving our finals, you game?"

Jared just swivels his chair around and frowns at Jensen's smiling face. "But next week is finals week," he says, confused, and Jensen shrugs and blows a raspberry at him.


It's enough to make Jared chuckle and nod.

"Okay, man. I'm there."

Jensen gives him one of his blinding grins in return and says, "Party!"

Jared waits until he hears Jensen's footsteps on the stairs before starting his voice chat program and logging in. Chad, Katie, and Faceman are logged in, and he picks up the headset and jabs a finger at the talk button.

"Hey guys."

"Hey douchebag," Chad and Faceman say almost at the same time.

"Perfect timing, log on dude," Faceman continues, "We're about to go raid, and there's a spot for you!"

"Actually," Jared says, almost regretfully, "I was just logging on to let you guys know I can't play tonight. Some guys are coming over."

"You're fucking lame," says Faceman.


"Don't be sorry," Katie pipes in, "I think it's wonderful you're getting out more. I'm glad the whole roommate deal is working out for you."

"I have a fucking phone, you know," Chad says. "You can call me."

A pang of regret blossoms in Jared's chest and he picks at a loose thread at the hem of his shirt. "Sorry," he mumbles again.

"It's no big," Chad replies, but his tone doesn't quite agree with him. Still, Jared decides not to push it while Faceman and Katie can listen in, and he makes a mental note to call Chad later to see what's up, or at the very least be better about staying in touch outside of the computer as well.

For now, all he can say is, "I gotta go," and log off.

Jared plays video games with Jensen until Tom, Mike, and Genevieve arrive. Jensen punches Jared's shoulder playfully as they get up off the couch, promising him revenge later for the crushing loss he'd suffered. Tom and Mike brought a massive fucking keg, and it takes both of them to haul it into the kitchen. Jared watches with slightly wide eyes as they get it all set up, then take the plastic cups that Genevieve hands them and fills one for each person in the room.

When Jensen hands him a cup, Jared raises one eyebrow at him.

"You know I'm underage, right?"

Jensen shrugs. "Good for you. Nobody here is going to give two shits what you do, Jay. Drink as much or as little as you feel comfortable with."

The words are said with a friendly smile, and Jared returns it easily then takes the cup. "Thanks."

Mike and Tom raise their cups, and Mike declares loudly, "To getting through school!"

The beer is smooth and cool down Jared's throat, and he instantly likes it. He's been drunk before--he's not sheltered, and he's not a loser--but he doesn't enjoy drinking with the express purpose of getting drunk. Jensen's words, his promise, that Jared can pretty much do whatever he wants make him feel safe.

It doesn't take long before the house is full of people, both people Jared knows and doesn't know. Danneel is talking to Jensen in a corner, and Tom, Mike, and Tom's girlfriend, Jamie, are all piled up on the couch. Jamie's in Tom's lap, but hell if Tom isn't nearly in Mike's lap. The whole scenario is ridiculous, and it makes Jared smile into his cup. On the other side of Jamie sits Jason and Anna, and some little blonde girl Jared doesn't know is sitting on the floor next to Jason, talking animatedly about something Jared can't hear over the music.

There are people milling around, going in and out of the kitchen, some of them stopping to talk to him on the way or clapping him on the shoulder in passing, and Jared just takes it all in, reveling in the fact that this is what he'd wanted his college experience to be like. Just a regular guy, hanging at a party with his friends.

"Hey," Genevieve says from next to him, and bumps his hip with her own. She's just close enough and her voice is just loud enough so that it carries, and Jared turns to look down at her.

"Hey yourself," he says, even though it's a lame response. He feels warm and relaxed and happy, and he's got a delicious buzz going.

"Wanna get some air?" Genevieve asks in an undecipherable tone, and Jared's a little bit confused but still nods. It's just some air, right?

"Yeah, sure."

Kevin and Scott are smoking something that Jared's not entirely convinced is a regular cigarette on the front porch, asses plunked firmly in the gross, old couch. He wrinkles his nose at them, and he's pretty sure they're both way too old to be hanging around college students anyway, so Genevieve and Jared go around the house instead, to the stairs by the kitchen entrance. It's not snowing yet, so they sit down side by side on the wooden steps and listen to the dull thumping of music coming from inside.

"Man, I can't believe it hasn't snowed yet," Genevieve remarks, wrapping her own arms around herself and pulling on her shirt sleeves. "You'd think it would have snowed already, with this freezing weather!"

"Sorry, I don't have a jacket to give you," Jared responds a bit ruefully, and she laughs, short and sweet.

"That's okay," she says. "So how goes things, rooming with Jensen?"

Jared doesn't even have to think about his answer, feeling loose and relaxed from the beer and a good night. "It's great," he says immediately. "He's a great guy."

"Yeah, he is."

"He's really easy to get along with. I wasn't sure about this whole roommate thing--I'm kind of quirky--but it's working out great so far."

"I don't think you're quirky," Genevieve says, one corner of her mouth tilted up in an adorable, little smile. "At least not any more than the rest of us. Being quirky is not a bad thing."

"Thanks," Jared chuckles. "I think."

"So what made you decide to come all the way up here for school?" Genevieve asks.

Jared shrugs and gives the same explanation he gave to Chris. "I just wanted to do something different. Something far away, sort of a fresh start. I figured it'd give me a chance to kind of get out there on my own, you know?"

"I think that's really brave," Genevieve says, and her tone is suddenly very serious.

He looks at her, and she looks back, but her eyes are twinkling in the dusk and she's still wearing that adorable half-smile on her face.

When she leans over and kisses him, it takes Jared completely by surprise.

He doesn't jerk back, but he's not sure how to react, either. Her lips are soft and warm on his, the chill of the evening not having reached them yet. Her lips feels delicate against his, and he is suddenly acutely aware of their size difference. How much taller than her he is, and how small her shoulder feels where it nudges his; how he feels like he could just pick her up with one hand and have her balance on it, like a toy dog or a stuffed animal.

It all feels wrong somehow, and he breaks the kiss, licking his lips and staring into her face.

He really should have had that talk with her sooner.

"Sorry," he says weakly. "I just--what are you doing?"

She doesn't look hurt though, just gives him a calculating stare, and--okay, it's really annoying now.

"Nothing," she says in a voice that totally contradicts her. "Just testing something."

Jared's patience is running thin, and the relaxed, happy feeling he was nursing just minutes earlier is fading fast. Something snaps inside of him, maybe helped along by the beer, and words start spilling out. "Testing what? Why does everyone always talk to me as if they know something I don't? And why are you always staring at me?"

There's a reason he thought Genevieve was so cool from the first time he met her. She has this way of looking at things, of dealing with them, with an air of nonchalance and minimal drama that Jared likes. She is, like most of Jensen's friends, an easygoing person, so when Jared starts ranting at her, she just leans back and smiles at him. Puts a comforting hand on his arm, and shushes him gently.

"Jared," she says, calmly and quietly, "do you like Jensen?"

Jared's mind boggles. Does he like Jensen? He opens and closes his mouth a few times. The No is on the tip of his tongue, but no words come out. When a few more seconds go by and he still fails to produce any sound, Genevieve looks pleased with herself and smiles at him, warm and relaxed.

"That's what I thought."

There are so many thoughts racing through Jared's mind, and so many things he wants to say. He wants to know why Genevieve has gotten that impression. Does other people think he likes Jensen, too? Most of all, he wonders if he really does? He thinks about Jensen's smile and his laugh and how it seems to reach into his spine and warm him from the inside.

He doesn't have time to dwell too much on it however, because just then there's an intense screeching of brakes in front of the house, followed by two voices, one of which he recognizes as Chris's twang.

"The boys are back in town," Chris yells, and a second voice follows along with the slamming of car doors.

"It's all right, guys, the party can start now!"

Genevieve gives Jared another reassuring smile and stands up, brushing at her butt. "Looks like Steve and Chris are home," she says. "Come on, you haven't met Steve yet, have you?"

Jared's too dumbstruck to really say anything, so he just lets her lead him back into the house, but his mind is still racing. Does he like Jensen?

Somehow he feels cheated. He came out for a bit of air and goes back inside with a sexual identity crisis.

Totally unfair.

Steve turns out to be a lot like a blond clone of Chris. He takes one look at Jared, shakes his hand, and says, with careful emphasis on each word, "So you're living with Jensen now, huh?"

Jared thought it was weird when Chris did it, but in light of his recent conversation with Genevieve, it's even weirder. He can't help but wonder if everyone thinks he's interested in Jensen, and it's pretty unsettling. His mind is swirling, over-analyzing his every move, as he tries desperately to see--to remember--what he's done to give off the impression that he likes Jensen.

If he's acting odd, Steve and Chris either don't notice or blame it on the alcohol, and it's not long before they're the center of attention, hollering over the music and chugging golden liquor straight from the bottle.

Genevieve seems to have disappeared, maybe gone home or fell asleep somewhere, and with most everyone's attention being on Chris and Steve as they pull out their guitars and drunkenly attempt to harmonize, Jared's left to brood in silence. He kind of feels like drinking more, but he's never been the kind to drown his problems, and he's not even sure why it bothers him that people thinks he likes Jensen. Hell, so far, he's not even sure it's people, plural. It could just all be in Genevieve's head, and Chris and Steve could just be plain, old-fashioned weirdos who emphasize their words oddly.

Jared watches Jensen across the room, watches as he laughs at Chris and Steve, and leans over to say something into Tom's ear. Jared likes Jensen's laugh--this much he knows. He likes how carefree it is, and how warm it is. It's like a direct metaphor for Jensen himself, and Jared envies that easygoing nature. Jared doesn't fail completely in social settings--at least not once he gets his foot in the door, which is why Jensen acting as a buffer for his social life has worked out so well for him--but he's always had a tendency of overthinking things. He leans towards the overdramatic, he knows, and thinks fleetingly that maybe he should have been an actor, not Jensen.

The sounds of the party suddenly seem to assault Jared's ears, and he looks at Jensen smile and laugh, and knows he needs to get away--clear his head and think.

He hurries upstairs to his room, alcohol making him stumble a little on the top step, kicks off his shoes, and closes the door carefully without bothering to turn on the light, letting the darkness close comfortably around him. He's not sure where to go from here. What if Genevieve tells other people? What if she tells Jensen?

Jared's not even certain of his own feelings at the moment, and Jensen being told that Jared has a crush, regardless of the amount of truth in that statement, would quite possibly be embarrassing enough to kill Jared.

He's standing in the middle of his dark room, heart pounding in his chest, when the door opens. Light pours in from the hallway along with the sounds of the party still going on downstairs, and Jared can see Jensen silhouetted in the doorway.

"Hey, man," Jensen says, and Jared can't see it, but he can still hear the smile in his voice. "Where'd you run off to?"

Jared thinks it's a pretty stupid question considering they're both very clearly standing in his room, but then again--Jensen doesn't seem entirely sober, much less so than Jared.

"I'm pretty wiped out," Jared lies, hoping his voice isn't actually shaking, and that he's just imagining it. "I'm just gonna head to bed."

Jensen doesn't move for a few seconds, and Jared stares at the floor, and at the rectangle of light on his carpet from the open doorway; Jensen's shadow in the middle. He knows that Jensen can see his face, and he doesn't want anything to show, but something clearly does, because Jensen steps inside his room, pushed the door, but doesn't shut it, leaving a thin, little stripe of light to break the darkness.

"You okay?" he asks, and he sounds genuinely concerned.

"M'fine," Jared mumbles. "I told you, I'm just tired."

"Did something happen with Genevieve?" Jensen almost sounds angry now. "Did she do anything to upset you?"

Jared lets out a harsh, little laugh--did she do anything to upset him? Other than send him headfirst into a slightly alcohol-laced sexual crisis?

Jared really wants to be left alone with his thoughts, but at the same time, Jensen's concern is palpable, and the temptation to tell him everything is pushing at Jared's chest. Jensen's been nice to him; unknowingly helped Jared get comfortable in a strange town so far from home, and helped him make friends. Jared's eyes are getting accustomed to the darkness, and he glances at his computer screen. It's dark now, his PC in sleep mode, but he knows that if he were to nudge the mouse a little, the screen would come to life, and it would be right there on his desktop--the shortcut icon in the form of a gold and blue weapon crest. He thinks about his friends in the game, thinks about Chad, and then looks up at Jensen.

Jensen's never looked at Jared as if he was weird. He's said nothing when Jared's locked himself up in his room for marathon gaming sessions, and he's said nothing when Jared started hanging out with Genevieve, with Tom, with people who were Jensen's friends first.

Jensen is looking at Jared with what he thinks is a frown on his face--Jared can't be entirely sure in the dim light--but the worry is coming off him in waves.

Jared doesn't even know where to begin. He can't say, "I think I like you." He's not that brave.

Luckily, Jensen deems to sense Jared's distress in getting the words out, and he doesn't push, just stands there quietly--maybe swaying a little drunkenly, but no less patiently--and lets Jared take the time he needs to express himself.

"Genevieve thinks I'm gay," is what he says when his voice finally works again. It's not a lie, not really, but it's the only thing he knows how to say without embarrassing both himself and quite possibly Jensen.

Jensen doesn't say anything for a little while, but Jared doesn't think his facial expression changes much.

Finally, Jensen shifts a little. "Well, what do you think?" he asks, his voice gentle.

Jared looks down and pokes at the floor with his big toe. "I'm not sure," he mumbles, glancing at Jensen, not really sure what else to say.

Jensen continues to watch him in the darkness, face slightly more visible now that Jared's eyes are getting used to it.

Jared's heart skips a beat when Jensen finally moves, takes a step towards him. "Well, how's this," Jensen says, and it sounds like he's about to say something more, but before Jared really gets to complete that thought, Jensen's face seems to loom towards him in the darkness, and then there are soft lips covering his own.

Jared's brain sort of shuts down, and all he is aware of is that Jensen is kissing him. He can't move, he can't breathe, he can't think--he certainly doesn't have it in him to kiss Jensen back. All that registers in his brain is that Jensen is kissing him!

Jared must have made a little startled sound in the back of his throat, or maybe that's a whimper? Because Jensen pulls back, and even in the dark room, Jared can see Jensen's eyes look at him, twinkling a little with something that could be amusement, or it could be the alcohol.

"Well?" Jensen says, and Jared's wondering why his voice doesn't sound shaky, because Jared feels like his entire world just got flipped upside down, and the fact that Jensen seems able to remain cool and collected through the world turning all around like that, is just not right.

"W-Well, what?" Jared stammers, and then blurts out, because filtering his thoughts has never been his strong suit, "You kissed me!"

Jensen shrugs a little. "I did. Did you hate it?"

Jared starts a little. He's not even sure how to answer that. He didn't really register much about it beyond, Jensen's kissing me! But he definitely didn't hate it. His brain still isn't fully functional it seems, so all he gets out is a, "No, I--I..."

Jensen chuckles, deep in his throat and says, "Mmmkay, then."

And then he leans forward--slowly--Jared sees him coming and has plenty of time to pull away if he wishes, but he's completely rooted to the spot, unable to move--and puts his lips over Jared's again. The sensation is still shocking, as if someone touched a battery to his lips, but he still takes the time to actually feel the kiss, this time.

Jensen's lips are dry. That's the first thing that registers. Dry, but getting moist as they move against Jared's, carefully, coaxing. Jared fights down the urge to jerk his head away and run out of the room in blind panic, and instead lets his eyes slide shut, and tries furiously, desperately to just not to think so goddamn much. Jensen's tongue nudges against his, and fighting down the panic rising in the back of his throat, Jared lets out a little sigh, and kisses Jensen back.

Jensen tastes like cigarettes and beer, and there's the faint sting of alcohol on his tongue. His chest is strong and solid in front of Jared, and when their shoulders bump together, Jensen doesn't feel weird and bony and small like Genevieve did. One of his hands comes up to loosely grip Jared's elbow, and Jared startles a little at the touch.

Jensen breaks away then, his other hand coming up to rest on Jared's neck. "Hey," he says, "hey, it's okay."

Jared can see his smile in the dark room, and it's almost too much for him. He has to close his eyes and swallow hard before he nods.

Jensen's fingers start kneading Jared's neck almost carefully, gently, and Jared's head is swimming. With his eyes closed he feels rather than sees Jensen sink to his knees in front of him, and then Jensen's hands are at his waist, unbuttoning his jeans swiftly, and then sneaking inside.

Warm fingers close around him through his boxers, and it no longer matters how much Jared's mind is churning or how hard his heart is pounding in his chest; he still grows hard under Jensen's touch.

"Jensen--," he manages, but he's not sure what he wants, or what he's trying to say, and instead finds his hips jerking into Jensen's touch, as if they have a life of their own.

Jensen chuckles a little, a comforting and calming rumble in the darkness, and then he's pulling Jared's dick up and out over the lip of his boxers.

"Tell me if you want me to stop," he whispers, but before Jared even has a chance to react, his cock is engulfed in soft, wet heat, and--holy shit, Jensen's sucking him off. Giving him a blowjob, right there, calm as you please.

Every rational thought, every nervous tick, fades from Jared and drains out of his limbs, and all he can focus on is the feeling of Jensen's lips around his cock, Jensen's tongue dragging wetly along the underside to come up and rub against the head. The feeling is exhilarating and intoxicating at once, and Jared fights the urge to move, to grab Jensen's head and just--thrust.

A broken moan reaches Jared's ears, and he realizes with a start that it's his own voice. He's rock hard in Jensen's mouth, and Jensen starts sucking, carefully at first, and Jared thinks he might actually have a heart attack. His chest is aching and all the air is rushing out of his lungs, and his knees literally go wobbly, sending him stumbling backwards. His cock slips out of Jensen's mouth with a wet slurp as Jared's back hits the wall, but he doesn't have time to gather his wits because Jensen just follows him, shuffling forward on his knees and then closing his lips around Jared's cock again and sucking--harder this time, more eager.

Jensen's head bobs up and down, moves in even closer to Jared as he tries to get Jared's whole length in his mouth; when that doesn't work, one of Jensen's hands move from where they were clutching at Jared's thighs, to close around the base of his dick, stroking firmly in a rhythm that matches the strokes of his tongue perfectly.

Jared sees flashes of lights behind his eyelids--his cock is leaking more than he thought was possible. Outside of his own solo masturbatory sessions, where his mind is blank and he doesn't really think about anything, just jerks off for the tension relief, Jared doesn't have a lot of experience with sex. Sandy certainly never did this for him--the furthest they ever got was some heavy petting and groping, because she always stopped him before they got any further, and Jared simply never felt any real desire to push. Dimly, he thinks that this might explain that.

Jensen, though--Jensen sucks as if Jared's cock is the best thing in the whole world--as if he loves the taste of it, and can't get enough. The whole thing is completely surreal, and Jared opens his eyes, looks down, and in the darkness he can see Jensen, eyes closed as he sucks and licks, a look that can only be described as bliss on his face. The sight is dizzying, and it feels so wet and warm in Jensen's mouth, and Jensen makes these obscene, little slurping noises as his lips move along Jared's shaft and his tongue comes up to drag across the head of Jared's cock just one more time...

Sensory overload.

Jared gasps brokenly, something that is supposed to be Jensen's name but instead just comes out as a wordless sound, and then he's gone. Eyes squeezing shut again on their own accord, both hands clenching into fists against the wall, hips snapping forward--and really, he couldn't have stopped that even if he wanted to--and then Jared's coming his brains out, spurting into Jensen's mouth with a single, long exhale of breath that leaves his lungs burning for air. Jensen's hand clutches hard at Jared's thigh as he swallows furiously, and holy shit--he's swallowing Jared down--and that's the last coherent through Jared has for a while.

An unknown amount of time passes before his ears stop ringing and the sounds of the party going on downstairs filter into Jared's brain. By the time he regains his senses, he realizes that Jensen's still nuzzling his cock, cleaning it off with gentle licks that still makes him want to twitch, he's so sensitive.

That's about the time when everything hits Jared all at once; square in the chest like a truck full of bricks, and he freezes. Pure panic is threatening to set in, and Jensen must have felt him tense up, because he slowly pulls away from Jared's crotch and climbs to his feet again with a little grunt, rubbing at his knees on his way up.

Jared can't move. He can't speak. He can't even look Jensen in the eye. Instead he resorts to staring hard at his feet, and when Jensen takes a step closer again, tries to get into Jared's field of vision, Jared just closes his eyes outright again.

"Jared," Jensen tries, voice like gravel, and Jared can't help but flinch at the sound.

Maybe Jensen saw Jared's flinch. Maybe he simply decided against saying something, after all. Either way, Jensen doesn't say whatever he was about to say. Instead there's a small sigh from his general direction, a gentle puff of air that hits Jared's jaw.

"Take some time to figure things out, okay?" Jensen says. His voice is quiet and sweet, as if he's talking to a spooked animal. "I'll give you space."

Jared can't even bear to open his eyes.

It's only a few more moments of silence before Jared hears Jensen's feet shuffle across his floor, then the opening and closing of the door. It's another few moments before Jared dares to open his eyes, part of him terrified that Jensen is actually still in the room, and that he was psyching Jared out, opening and closing the door and pretending to leave. When Jared finally does pry his eyes open though, Jensen is indeed gone.

It's just Jared in the room, leaning against the wall in the darkness, with his limp dick hanging out of his pants, the lingering traces of Jensen's spit rapidly cooling and drying on his skin. He suddenly feels drained of all energy; boneless and exhausted, in a way that's not even remotely relaxing.

Jared barely finds it in him to crawl into bed and pull the covers up around his ears. Doing his best to settle his thoughts and his pounding heart, Jared attempts to drown out the sounds of the party, and doesn't stop to acknowledge the dull throb in his chest that almost feels a little bit like heartache.

The next couple of days, Jensen stays true to his word and gives Jared some time to think. Which, for Jared's part, means he has plenty of opportunities to almost set off a panic attack or hyperventilate himself into a blackout, before resolutely deciding not to think about it at all. He manages to focus on his finals for the most part, and definitely does not, at all, wonder where Jensen is hiding. Nope.

Of course, Jensen could just be preoccupied with his own finals--God knows that Jared's got enough studying to do--but Jared doesn't even see him at all around the house. Occasionally there will be an empty coffee mug in the sink, or stale coffee left in the pot, but apart from that Jensen seems to have evaporated into thin air.

On Thursday afternoon there's a note on the fridge:


Went home for break. Hope you have a good one! Merry Christmas! :)

- Jensen

Word of the day: eructation. It means to belch, or the act of belching.
It's got nothing to do with anything. I just think it's funny. Smile, Jay!

Jared stares at the note for a long time, and doesn't realize there are tears on his cheeks until one of them hits the corner of his mouth and he can taste the salt.

Numbly, he wipes his face on the sleeve of his hoodie and walks back upstairs to where his English Lit books are waiting for him, not feeling anything at all. Shoving the books aside, he logs into World of Warcraft and voice chat on autopilot, not even checking to see who's online, desperately needing not to think about Jensen, or how he knows what Jensen sounds like sucking his dick, or Smile, Jay!

"Motherfucker!" Chad greets him, voice crackling in Jared's headset. "Where the fuck have you been?" He sounds annoyed.

Despite Chad's tone, Jared missed the sound of his friend's voice, and without thinking he searches for his character, finds that he's nearby, and seeks him out. Chad's gnome has a green mohawk, and even just seeing the small, pixelated version of his friend on his screen makes Jared feel like crying again.

He has to try twice before he finds his voice. "Around," he simply says in response to Chad's question.

Something must have shown in his voice, because Katie speaks next, concern evident in her tone. "Hey, you okay?"

"Yeah," Jared sighs, making excuses, "Finals week. I've been busy. You know how it is."

A small voice in the back of his head says maybe Katie doesn't know how it is. He has no clue how old she is. He doesn't know if she even went to college, or maybe she's too young for that?

"Too busy to pick up a fucking phone?" Chad demands, his gnome jumping up and down in front of Jared's character. "I know you're all big man on campus right now, but that doesn't mean you can't fucking call me every now and then!"

A pang of guilt hits Jared square in the chest at that. The mental notes to call Chad were at the back of his mind, but they always seemed to disappear when Jensen was around. Having dinner with Jensen. Going out with Jensen and his friends. Playing Playstation until he lost track of time completely.

"Dude, leave him alone," Faceman's voice pipes up in Jared's ear with a laugh. "He's probably busy being all gayed up with his new roomie."

Chad laughs and makes an obscene kissing noise over the microphone which makes the speakers of Jared's headset crackle in his ear, and before he knows it, a new wave of emotions slam into him again, rushing over him and making him angry--so angry that his vision blurs and Chad's gnome becomes a colorful dot of purple and green and black.

"Shut up!" Jared almost yells into the headset, and a chorus of "Ow!"s immediately follow, and--oh, clearly a lot of people are logged on right now--but Jared doesn't even stop to acknowledge them. "You know, if you want to talk to me so badly, why didn't you pick up a fucking phone, Chad? I don't have to fucking check in with you on a regular basis! I'm not obligated to give you fucking status updates on my life! I am allowed to have a life outside of you, and outside of this stupid fucking game! My life doesn't revolve around your existence, and it didn't fucking end after you just fucking ditched me to go frolicking in fucking California!"

Chad's microphone briefly crackles, but Jared pushes on. "I have my own shit to deal with, I have friends that aren't you, and sometimes I just don't want to play this fucking retarded game! I have a fucking real life, Chad!" he yells, for real this time, before falling silent.

The splash of colors stopped moving on Jared's screen, and once Jared's vision clears he can see that Chad's now standing completely still in front of him, his character staring directly at Jared's.

Voice chat is silent for a good, long while, before there's a ping! and Jared quickly tabs out in time to see the "Mayhem has gone offline" message.

When he tabs back into the game, Chad's gnome has logged off.

Sighing, Jared rubs a hand over his face, and he feels like crying again. Fucking fail. On so many levels.

Biting it back and swallowing hard against the lump in his throat, he stares numbly at his character and runs in a circle.

"Well," Faceman's voice comes after a while. "Awkward."

Jared snorts once in disgust, then logs off. The game clearly won't provide him with the needed distraction right now, so he might as well pretend to study for his last final tomorrow.

Jared's last final passes by in a blur, and he has no clue how he did once everything is said and done. He doesn't have it in him to worry about it though; he just heads back home and packs for Christmas break. His parents have already arranged for him to fly down to Texas, and he tries desperately not to think too much as he packs his suitcase with robotic movements; goes through the house and makes sure all the lights are switched off and then locks up behind him.

He thought briefly about leaving a note on the fridge, just a "Merry Christmas" or something, because he doesn't know when Jensen is coming back and he might be back before Jared is due to return in early January--but in the end, he decides against it.

Instead, Jared drives the sixty-something miles down to Pittsburgh and puts his car in long-term parking, and it's not until he's safely onboard the plane, feeling gravity pull him back into his seat as the landscape gets smaller through the little window, that he feels like he can breathe again.

Texas is just the right temperature; certainly not cold, but it's definitely not the sweltering heat of summer, either. His parents meet him at the airport, and if Jared takes a few extra moments to just hug his mother tightly, and if they notice that his smile doesn't quite reach his eyes, they don't comment on it. Instead his mother just kisses his cheek and his father claps him on the shoulder, and says, "Welcome home, son, Merry Christmas!"

His room hasn't changed at all--why should it have? He's only been gone for a few, short months. Yet with all that's happened since moving in with Jensen, Jared feels like it's been a lifetime. His mind flashes on Jensen's face in the dark, so close, and he has to close his eyes against the emotions that come with memory.

Jensen makes Jared feel good; he knows this. But he's not sure if it's because Jensen's been a good friend to him and break him out of his loneliness, or because there's something more there. Jared's almost scared to even think about it. As if somehow, by suggesting he have feelings for Jensen, Genevieve made him curious. Curious enough to...

Part shame, part excitement, and part confusion, all mingled together and swirling around in Jared's chest, pushing at him and making him feel vaguely like he's free falling with no net to catch him.

Still, standing in the middle of his room in his parents' house makes something in Jared relax. He's home, he's safe, he's surrounded by the people he loves the most in the world, and for the first time since Jensen walked out of his room in the house on 4th street, he allows himself to think about it, feeling some of the tension leave his body.

Christmas passes pleasantly, and with every day he spends in his family's company, Jared relaxes further until he almost feels lethargic about the whole thing. On Christmas morning he opens his presents with genuine happiness, but his thanks are quiet and polite rather than his traditional whoops of joy, and it's enough to almost worry his mother. Thankfully, when he tells her he's fine, she believes him, or at the very least decides pushing the matter wouldn't lead anywhere.

Megan makes a lame joke or other about Jared being too grown-up and boring to be any fun now that he's in college, and then Jeff helpfully points out that you're supposed to get drunk a lot and have casual sex in college, not get boring. After that, their mother has to send Megan out of the room while Jared's praying to every higher deity he knows that he's not actually blushing.

He spends the next couple of days thinking about Jensen. He thinks about casual sex, thinks about how Genevieve believes he likes Jensen, and then he thinks about the way Chris and Steve would look at him--how they'd carefully emphasize their words, and exchange glances with Jensen as if they knew something he didn't. By the third day after Christmas, Jared's still not sure if he's gay, but he's at the very least decided he likes Jensen more than he likes other people, so that's something--right? So maybe he likes it when Jensen's around, and maybe he likes it when Jensen laughs, and fine, he liked the kiss. And yeah, okay--he liked the blowjob, too.

That thought is scary enough to almost make Jared tense up again, but fortunately, that night they have his mother's pot roast for dinner, and that's a meal that's simply so awesome it shifts every potential panic-inducing thought out of Jared's mind.

Jeff invites Jared to a party on New Year's Eve. They're both on the receiving end of a rather weak attempt at a lecture about not drinking too much from their father. He tells both boys to be careful, because if Jared gets busted for underage drinking, so help him God--and then their mother gives an outraged shriek from the kitchen, and has to tell their father that the point wasn't for Jared not to get caught. But nobody says Jared can't go, so he figures he should keep socializing--keeping himself in practice, so to speak.

The party is hosted by a friend of Jeff's, and although Jared's definitely on the younger end of the scale, Jeff takes care to stay by his side, introducing him as "My little brother, JT," until he seems to decide that enough people have gotten the unspoken message, Don't mess with him. Jeff's really kind of awesome.

Eventually he decides that Jared will survive on his own for a while, and Jared's sitting on one arm of the couch, just people watching. He's nursing his second beer, not even feeling buzzed, when someone stumbles into him, jolting his arm and causing him to spill his beer down the front of his shirt.

"Oh my God, I'm so sorry," the person says, and Jared shakes off some excess liquid from his clothes, wondering how he's always the one who ends up looking stupid when other people keep knocking into him.

"It's fine, no big," he says, putting his half-empty glass on the table and surveying the damage. His shirt is wet, but he avoided the crotch, so at least he won't spend the rest of the evening looking like he wet himself. It could be worse.

The person who stumbled into him actually turns out to be a girl, about Jared's age, he guesses. She's got blonde hair and vague freckles spread across her nose, and when Jared smiles at her, she stomps her foot.

"It's these fucking heels," she explains with a sigh. "I'm not stumbling around drunk, I promise."

Jared glances at her feet, and her heels are indeed impressive--tall and spiked and he has no clue why anyone would even strap them onto their feet, much less attempt to walk in them. "Wow. Maybe a stupid question, but--why?"

"Oh, you know." She shrugs and shifts a little, tugging at her dress, very clearly uncomfortable. "New Year's Eve. You're supposed to get all dressed up."

Jared looks down at his own beer-wet t-shirt and light blue jeans, and immediately feels kind of sheepish.

"Not that there's anything wrong with what you're wearing!" the girl adds hurriedly, "Your wet clothes are awesome--I mean, your clothes are awesome, but they're wet." Then she turns bright red and literally slaps a palm across her face, muttering to herself. "Dear God. Stop talking. Stop talking."

Her fumbling is incredibly familiar to Jared, except unlike Jared she also seems to voice her obvious embarrassment out loud. It's oddly like watching a female version of his own personality, and Jared finds himself smiling, because really--it's not as bad as he'd feared.

"Let's try this again," he says. "Hi, I'm Jared, and I'm wearing a wet t-shirt because some random person bumped into me and made me spill my beer."

He takes care to keep his tone light and teasing, briefly remembering how Jensen would do the same for him in his more embarrassing moments, and it seems to work. The girl removes her hand from her face and visibly relaxes a little.

"I'm Sarah," she says, making an embarrassed gesture as she shakes his hand. "I'm wearing an uncomfortable dress and heels I can't walk on to try to impress a guy."

Jared laughs at that, and she gestures again, past Jared's shoulder this time.

"Do you need me to get you another drink?"

Jared's a little confused for a moment, but then he remembers setting aside his beer, and quickly glances at the table. "Oh, no, I'm good, there's still some left. Anyway, I think my brother Jeff might kill me if I drink too much."

Sarah's eyes go wide, and her face turns almost purple, she's blushing so hard. "Oh my God," she gasps, "Jeff? Jeff Padalecki?"

Jared nods. "Yeah. You know Jeff?"

"Yeah, I--from med school," she stammers--which, oh, puts her closer to Jeff's age than Jared's--and Jared frowns. Why is this girl getting so flustered just because he's Jeff's little brother?

It takes about another half a nanosecond for Jared to piece together what's going on, but when he does, he tries not to gape--he really does--but this is just too good, and his jaw drops a little. This girl is here in a skin-tight little strapless dress and wobbly heels to impress his brother. His brother Jeff, who Jared knows would rather date a girl in jeans and a football jersey than a girl in six-inch heels and a strapless dress.

"No way!" he says, and Sarah starts stuttering again, giggling nervously.

"Fuck my life," she complains, more to herself than to Jared, "I spilled beer over Jeff's little brother, this evening can't get any more awesome. I'm stuck in horrible heels, and I spilled beer all over Jeff's little brother."

It's adorable to watch, and now that Jared realizes this girl is actually into his brother, he doesn't even feel bad thinking that.

"You totally have a thing for my brother," he says, because he can't help himself. He thinks it's hilarious, and at the same time he can't help but think they'd be really good together, too! She's cute and funny, intentionally or unintentionally, and the more he wraps his head around it the more he thinks Jeff might really be into her too, if he'd just realize it. Jared doesn't know how well she knows Jeff already--maybe not too well, since she doesn't realize that the dolled-up style has never been Jeff's thing--but he's certain that even if he knows her, he just needs to see her in the right light.

Sarah shoots him a death-glare, but there's no real anger behind it, and even if there was, odds are it would be lost in her incredible blush.

"Shut up," she mutters, and Jared laughs, louder than he'd meant to.

"I can't even tell you it's none of your business, 'cause he's your fucking brother." she whines.

Jared's laugh dies fast at that, and realization washes over him. Isn't this sort of what Genevieve was doing to him?

He's gone for most of the evening without thinking about Jensen besides the odd, little fleeting thought, but now it all rushes back to him in a hurry. Feeling oddly guilty that he's been joking with Sarah's crush on Jeff, when Genevieve was so calm and sweet when she confronted Jared with the possibility of his crush on Jensen--and Jared still hasn't reached a final verdict on that, by the way--Jared clears his throat, and glances at Sarah.

She definitely noticed that he stopped laughing. Now she's looking worried on top of her embarrassment, and Jared's guilt turns it up a notch in his chest.

"I'm sorry," he says, "I shouldn't make fun."

She bites on a nail and smiles a little. "It's no big."

"Still. I shouldn't make fun. I don't know how well you know my brother, but if you want, I could put in a good word for you?"

Her blush, which had started to fade, comes back a little, and she looks awkward. "That's sweet of you, but you don't have to do that, Jared. I don't really know him anyway, and I don't even think he's noticed me tonight. Despite this ridiculous outfit."

"Well, then," says Jared with determination in his voice, "we should try to change that."

They find Jeff outside in the back yard. Jared half-drags Sarah over, and immediately pinches his brother's arm to get his attention, and oh, what a coincidence, don't you know Sarah from med school? After that, Jared quickly realizes that maybe the dolled-up style might be Jeff's thing after all, at least if the way he stares is any indication.

After that the conversation rapidly turns awkward for Jared, because he's trying to not intrude on Jeff's obvious pickup lines and Sarah's mad embarrassment and stuttering, and he leaves them alone soon enough, walking away with a smirk as Jeff's buddies chuckle among themselves. When the countdown gets going, everyone is gathered outside, and even across the cheers and hoots of the crowd, Jared can hear Sarah's squeak as Jeff ducks his head down to kiss her.

Jared looks at them, looks at the people around him embracing and hugging and kissing. Jeff's buddies are slapping him on the back and wishing him a happy new year, and he gives out smiles and nods in return, and just breathes deeply. He thinks about his brother and Sarah and then thinks about Jensen's lips--gently pressing against his own. In his head, he can hear Jensen's easy laugh, and something warm settles in the pit of his stomach.

It's outside of Jeff's friend's house, surrounded by people he doesn't know, with the echo of Jensen's warm laugh ringing in his head, that the knot in Jared's chest fades--just melts away into nothing.

I'm gay, Jared thinks, and it's almost completely out of the blue. He stares at nothing, thinks of kissing Jensen again, and tests the sentence out in his head once more. I'm gay.

Jared doesn't kiss anyone at all at midnight, but feels happy nonetheless.

There's a thick layer of snow on the ground when Jared walks out of the airport in Pittsburgh, and the cold slams into his face, making his skin sting. Jared has to spend a good 20 minutes scraping the ice off his windshield, but when he finally gets in his car, which thankfully starts despite the freezing weather, he still feels warm. Jittery and nervous, but warm.

The drive back takes entirely too long, and the prospect of possibly seeing Jensen again makes Jared's stomach twist in a way that he can't quite decide if he likes or not. In his head, he can already hear Jensen's laugh, his voice--see that easygoing smile that makes his mouth lopsided.

He hasn't heard from Jensen all break, and he wasn't expecting to. He wanted to call after New Year's Eve, but didn't have the courage to. He toyed briefly with the idea of sending a text, but decided against it, because what would it even say? Happy New Year and by the way, I'm gay? Hell, he doesn't even know if Jensen's back from break yet--after all, it's still a full week until classes start again--but Jensen lives only a few hours away, so Jared hopes.

When he pulls up in front of number 57 on 4th, Jensen's truck is in the driveway, and Jared's heart starts beating overtime in his chest. The lights are all off though, the house dark and silent, and when Jared walks in the door and is greeted by nothing but silence, it's apparent that nobody's home.

He busies himself with unpacking his bag and checking his e-mail--he's got one from Chad that simply says, "Call me, you ass." He doesn't reply, and instead mindlessly surfs the internet. He goes on YouTube and tries to find every appearance of the masturbating bear ever. He reads about the latest patch in World of Warcraft, but he can't bring himself to log into the game. He hasn't been online since he blew up at Chad, and he's not ready for that yet. He reads all about the latest Halloween remake on Wikipedia, and tries his very best to avoid staring at the clock-- pretends he's not actually just waiting for Jensen to come home.

It's nearly eleven before Jared hears footsteps on the front porch, and already he's out of his room and halfway down the stairs, heart pounding in his chest, before he realizes that Jensen's not alone out there. He can hear two voices, muted through the door. He hasn't turned on any lights, so Jared creeps to the living room window and peeks out.

Jensen's standing outside with a guy Jared's never seen before. They're both bundled up in heavy winter coats, and Jensen's got a bright red scarf wrapped at least four times around his neck, covering the lower half of his face. The other guy's tall, as tall as Jensen, and he's got his back halfway turned to the window Jared's looking out of, but Jared can still see dark brown hair peek out under a beanie hat. The soft glow from the street light is just bright enough for Jared to see how the corner of Jensen's eyes crinkle as he smiles, and something heavy settles on Jared's chest--something not unlike jealousy.

"...fuckin' awesome," Jensen says, words muffled beneath his scarf.

"I had a good time, Jen," the guy says, and Jared bristles at the use of Jensen's nickname. "I'd like to see you again."

If Jared had any hopes he might just be paranoid, they're squashed. Jensen's on a date.

Jensen doesn't directly answer the guy, just chuckles a little.

"I had a good time too," Jensen says, and Jared can't tell if he's lying or not.

It's as if time slows down, and the guy reaches up in slow motion to pull on Jensen's scarf, exposing the lower half of his face and giving him access to Jensen's lips. He's leaning in, blocking Jensen's face from view but clearly kissing him nonetheless, and Jared's breath hitches in his throat.

He feels vaguely cheated again. All his worrying and stressing over Jensen, over kissing Jensen, over the blowjob--his nerves over seeing Jensen again, for nothing? And he realizes with a start that just because he muddled through his own mind, just because he realized that he is gay and that he really likes Jensen, just because Genevieve was right, it doesn't mean that Jensen likes him back.

Jeff's remark about casual sex rings in Jared's head, and his eyes start stinging--except just as he's about to step away from the window and go back upstairs, pretend he never saw anything at all, Jensen moves. Pulls his head to the side and away from the other man's with feigned casualness, and pulls the scarf back up over the lower half of his face.

"Jesus, it's cold," he says with a chuckle, and this time Jared can tell he's acting--playing off the kiss as if it didn't happen.

The guy doesn't move for a few seconds, and Jensen just looks at him, eyes twinkling. Eventually, Jensen clears his throat and wraps his arms around himself.

"Well. It's freezing. I'm gonna get inside."

That's a clear dismissal if Jared ever heard one.

The guy nods a little and Jared can't see his face, but Jensen's still smiling, so it looks like he's at least pretending to handle the rejection smoothly. "I'll see you around, Jen."

"See you around, Henry," Jensen says, and then watches as the guy--Henry--walks down the steps of the front porch and down the street, before turning to the door, fumbling in his pocket for his keys.

It just then occurs to Jared that Jensen's about to walk inside, and he's standing by the window, in the dark, like some kind of stalker.

He almost trips over himself to get out of the living room, but he manages to get into the kitchen and flip the light switch before the door opens and Jensen walks in, stomping snow all over the hallway, and by the time Jensen's putting away his coat and toeing off his boots, Jared's walking out of the kitchen with what he hopes is a casual look on his face.

"Hey," he says, and Jensen looks up with an unreadable expression on his face.

"Jared," Jensen says, voice even.

Jared's not sure what to say. The jealousy he's feeling is still simmering under the surface, but at the same time witnessing Jensen on a date--knowing that Jensen accepted a date, even if he ended up rejecting the guy--makes him acutely aware that there's a very real possibility that Jensen's just not into him that way. That Jensen was just trying to help Jared sort out his sexual identity crisis, in his own drunken way, or worse--that he was just after casual sex, and never wanted anything more.

There are a lot of things Jared wants to say. He wants to ask Jensen about his date. He wants to tell him he sorted out his thoughts regarding his own sexuality. He wants to ask Jensen where they stand.

Instead, what comes out of his mouth is, "Did you have a good Christmas?"

A smile spreads on Jensen's face then, that same lopsided one Jared's been thinking of, and Jared relaxes a bit. They're clearly not talking about the blowjob, as if it never happened at all, and if it's not exactly the outcome Jared wants, well, he'll just have to deal. Jensen seems perfectly happy with it, anyway.

"Yeah, I had a good Christmas," he says. "How about you?"

Jared thinks about his family and wants to say, I'm gay, but instead settles on, "It was great."

Jensen's smile grows wider. "I'm glad. Welcome back, Jay."

They stare at each other for another few seconds, and for a moment Jared thinks Jensen's going to say something else--for a moment, Jared thinks he's going to say something else--but then Jensen clears his throat and the spell is broken. Jared rubs his neck a little bit in the silence, and then starts heading up the stairs.

"Well, uh--I'm gonna--I'm gonna head to bed," he says awkwardly, and then resolutely doesn't look back at Jensen.

"Kay," Jensen says from behind him. "Oh, and Jay?"

Jared can't help it; he pauses on the top step and turns. Jensen's smirking up at him, hands in his pockets.


"Quit pervin' on my dates, peeping Tom."

Jared can only be grateful that the kitchen light is the only one on, because that way Jensen can't see the fierce blush that spreads across his cheeks and down his throat.

Over the next couple of days, Jensen and Jared do their best to make everything appear normal. If Jared isn't quite as outgoing as he was before Christmas, Jensen doesn't say anything, and if Jensen doesn't hang around the house as much as he used to, opting instead for going over to Tom's or going out with Mike, Jared doesn't mention that either. Instead they pass the time with careful conversations and endless Tekken matches.

Jared doesn't go back to the game. He gets another text from Chad the day after he comes home, but he ignores it. He knows he was a complete asshole, but he's just not ready to focus on an apology--partially because he's still a little bit mad at Chad, even if it is completely unjustified, and partially because right now, all he wants is to focus on getting his friendship with Jensen back to normal.

Jensen doesn't go on any more dates, and he doesn't mention Henry again--but he doesn't do anything to make Jared believe he wants to kiss him or hand out more free blowjobs, either. Jared wants to tell Jensen he's gay--really he does, but there just never seems to be a good time to bring it up. When he tries, his throat tightens and something forces all the air out of his lungs--and between the Tekken and the banter about the new semester, the tales of their respective Christmases, nothing much really gets said at all. Jared is baffled at how many words they can use to say so little.

On the Friday before spring semester starts, Jared wakes up to the sound of Jensen's truck pulling out of the driveway.

When he walks downstairs, there's a note on the fridge.

Went to a show with Chris and Steve - be back Sunday.

It's not signed, and there's no quote or silly word definition, and Jared thinks it's the ultimate metaphor for how things are between them at the moment; some semblance of normal, but still--something's missing.

He spends the day surfing Fark, and it's not until early evening that's he's pulled out of his little self-pity party by a knock on the door. He's not sure whether he wants company or not, but Jared still goes downstairs to open it, fully expecting it to be Tom or Mike, or maybe Genevieve, since they're the most frequent visitors to the house. That's why he's completely unprepared for the sight of Chad standing on his front porch, shivering in the cold.

"Jesus fucking Christ, it's fucking cold," Chad bitches, and Jared blinks.

"Chad?" he says dumbly, because part of him is convinced he's dreaming. Chad standing on his doorstep in Bumfuck, Nowheresville is too surreal for his brain to process properly.

"Let me in, motherfucker," Chad says in response.

"Chad?" Jared asks again, his brain seemingly having shut down.

"Oh for fuck's sake." Chad elbows his way past Jared then reaches past him to close the door, shivering and groaning. "I fucking hate this stupid state."

He starts stomping the snow off his sneakers, and Jared finally gathers his wits about himself enough to process that he's not, in fact, dreaming, and Chad really just walked into the house.

"What--the hell?" he stutters. "What are you doing--why are you--how?"

"Nice," Chad snorts, dropping a small duffel bag at Jared's feet and shrugging out of his jacket, which--yeah, definitely not a winter coat. No wonder he's so cold.

"One of us had to salvage this sorry excuse for a friendship," Chad announces, picking up the bag again. "And since you clearly aren't pulling your head out of your ass anytime soon, I decided I had to. You're up top, right?"

Jared blinks. "What?"

"Your room," Chad clarifies, with a Duh look on his face, "Upstairs?"

"Yeah," Jared confirms meekly. "Upstairs."

Chad nods, seemingly more to himself than Jared, and immediately heads up the stairs. Still fighting the feeling of surrealism, Jared follows him and watches as Chad pokes his head in every door until he finds Jared's room, and then walks inside and plops down on the bed, immediately making himself at home.

"How did you even know where I live?"

"Got your address from your mom." Chad shrugs. "You don't call, you don't write... A guy can develop a complex, you know."

Jared finally starts to get with the program, and a slight pang of guilt blossoms in his chest--but there's also the residual annoyance and anger.

"I wasn't the only one who stopped calling," he says, the accusation clear from his tone. "I've had a lot of shit on my mind, Chad."

Chad looks serious, more serious than Jared can ever remember him being.

Also, very tan.

"I figured," Chad says with a shrug. "It was been brought to my attention I may have been a less than stellar best friend lately, so--you got me until Sunday. The shrink is in, dude."


Chad makes a vague gesture. "The shrink is in. Spill the beans. Whatever you got going on, tell me about it. I don't promise I'll understand, but I promise I'll make an honest effort to." Then he pauses and frowns a little. "Unless it's about furry sex. That shit's fucking batshit."

The bad joke helps break the tension a little bit, and Jared sits down on his desk chair, chuckling a little as he feels the lingering traces of anger fade. "It's not about furry sex," he says.

He watches as Chad stretches out on his bed, and thinks about all the years they've known each other. He remembers Chad. Friendly, outgoing Chad. In some ways, a more crude, but no less caring version of Jensen. Chad's his best friend, and Jared takes a deep breath; figures it's time to stop being an asshole. Figures if there's only one person in the world he should trust, it's Chad.

"I'm gay, Chad."

Jared takes extra care not to look away--looks Chad directly in the eyes, and waits for a reaction.

It never comes.

"And...?" Chad prompts.

Jared has a distinct anticlimactic feeling in his chest.

"And?" he says, incredulously. "And? Chad, I just told you I'm gay."

"Yeah, I heard you," Chad confirms with a nod, wrapping himself up in Jared's covers. "Man, I'm so fucking frozen. I don't know how you can stand this weather."

"Chad!" Jared nearly explodes, gesturing wildly. "Don't you have anything to say about that? It's kind of a big deal to me!"

Chad pauses in arranging the covers into a cocoon and smiles at Jared. "Dude, how long have we known each other? I get that it's a big deal, and I really appreciate you telling me--but come on, did you really think that would matter to me?"

Jared looks down then, ashamed and not at all certain of what he was nervous about just a moment ago.

"No," he mutters, and it sounds sullen even to his own ears.

There's a guffaw from Chad's general direction. "How did you think I'd react? Did you think I'd think you'd somehow gotten the gay from your big gay roommate? Did you think I'd like, shun you? You know me better than that, dude."

Shame burns hot in Jared's throat, and his cheeks are red, because he does know Chad better than that. When he lifts his head again, he meets Chad's eyes, and tries to convey everything he feels, everything he's been struggling with--everything he's been wrong about, for the last few months.

"Sorry," he says, the apology he's been sitting on finally making its way up his throat.

Fortunately, Chad's not a very complicated guy--at least not where Jared's concerned--so he doesn't need anything else than that single word. "Apology accepted." he says easily. "So how did this whole sexuality revelation come about? Anything else on your mind?"

Jared's mind flashes on Jensen, and instead of his warm laugh all he hears is the sound of his truck pulling out of the driveway. When he briefly closes his eyes, all he can see is the guy, Henry or whatever, pulling down Jensen's scarf and leaning in for a kiss.

Before he can really control it, Jared starts talking. He tells Chad about how he almost became a hermit after Chad left, though he takes extra care not to make it sound condescending or like he's blaming Chad--Jared knows the lack of effort was all his own fault. He tells Chad about Jensen, about how he'd just accepted Jared into his circle of friends, and how he's found himself getting used to having a functional social life again. Then he talks about Genevieve; how she's become one of his best friends around here, and how he hasn't spoken to her since the night she unknowingly triggered his sexual identity crisis.

Finally, he talks about Jensen, about the kiss at the party--though he leaves the blowjob out--and his excitement over seeing Jensen again after the break. He tells Chad about Jensen's botched date, and how Jared's not even sure where they stand anymore. By the time he stops talking, Chad's successfully wrapped himself in every single one of Jared's covers and blankets, and only a small portion of his face is visible. His eyes squint at Jared through an opening in the covers, and Jared can't really make out his expression anymore. The whole thing looks ridiculous, but it still somehow makes Jared happy. Getting everything off his chest feels good, and even though it's still completely surreal, the fact that his best friend is actually here--in Pennsylvania--freezing his ass off to just be there for Jared, making the long trip for just two days, makes him so happy he's practically giddy with it.

"Jared," Chad says, lips barely visible between the covers, "I'm gonna give you some advice, okay?"

Jared nods.

"You think too fucking much."

Jared's not quite sure how to react to that, so he doesn't react at all--just sits stiffly and waits for Chad to continue.

"You think too fucking much, and you definitely worry too fucking much. You were so fucking worried about whether or not you were gay, it sounds like it didn't even fucking occur to you to just fucking come talk to me, dude. I would have been there for you. I'm not actually a shrink, you know, but maybe you wouldn't have had to fucking bottle everything up by yourself."

"Well, Jensen--," Jared begins, but Chad cuts him off.

"Jensen nothing. You're so fucking worried about how Jensen feels about you, but did you ever actually dig your balls out of the massive fucking vagina you grew, and ask him? Did you talk to him about anything at all?"

"I told him about my Christmas," Jared mumbles lamely. God, he really is a loser, isn't he?

"Hell," Chad continues as if Jared had never spoken, "you even worry about what he'll think about you playing fucking computer games, dude. Yet weren't you just telling me how you two beat the shit out of each other in Tekken a bunch? For Christ's sake, man, just man the fuck up and talk to the man! You like him, don't you?"

"I don't know," Jared mumbles.

"You don't know?" Chad sounds annoyed now.

"I don't know," Jared repeats, then immediately wants to bang his head on the wall in frustration with the whole situation. "I mean, I think I do. I'm pretty sure I do."

"Well, figure it the fuck out then talk to him," Chad says. "Really, what's the worst that could happen?"

Jared stares.

"He could reject me. He could think I'm a lame computer nerd. I could ruin our friendship. I'd have to move again. It would suck."

For the most part, they're horrible arguments, and even Chad knows it. He scoffs from his cocoon on the bed.

"Jaybird, you're my best friend in the whole universe, and I love you, but you gotta learn that nothing is the end of the fucking world, man! From what you've told me, Jensen doesn't seem like the type to chuck you out just because your lame gay crush on him is unrequited. Sure, some people are gonna be dicks about you being gay, and sure, sometimes shit in general just sucks beyond imagining, but it'll always blow over, dude. Stop worrying about the fucking what ifs, stop worrying about what other people think--even if that other person is Jensen--and take a fucking chance for yourself, you fucking pussy."

His voice has gradually risen in volume, and the final word almost echoes off the walls of Jared's room.

Jared remains silent for a long while, letting Chad's little rant sink in. He tries hard to get past the block in his head that insists that Jensen went on a date so he's probably not interested in Jared anyway, and instead he tries to focus on just--Jensen. Playing Playstation with him. Telling him about his family and how he spent most of Christmas break sneezing his way through every minute spent in his brother's company since his brother apparently had developed a habit of practically drowning himself in aftershave. Showing Jared his favorite places to eat around town, and auditioning for a musical with Jared's encouragement.

It's enough to put a smile on his face, and the cocoon moves with Chad's satisfied nod when he notices.

"Dude," Jared says. "I can't believe you fucking flew to Pennsylvania just for a weekend."

The rest of Chad's stay passes by uneventfully. They spend most of their time playing on Jensen's Playstation or just bullshitting around. Chad tells Jared about Sophia, who he's apparently been seeing more and more of, although he insists nothing's going on--yet. Jared takes Chad to the Mexican place Jensen showed him, and Chad eats almost as much as Jared, which is pretty impressive.

By the time Chad leaves Sunday afternoon, Jensen still isn't home, and Jared says goodbye with a promise to stay in touch more often and a lump in his throat.

"It sucks you didn't get to meet him," Jared says in the doorway as Chad is tucking his coat around himself. "Worst timing ever, dude."

"Yeah, yeah," Chad grumbles, already annoyed with the cold. "See if I bother coming to visit again. Bitch, bitch, bitch."

Jared just smiles then pulls Chad into a hug that's probably a little more emotional than Chad's manly ego would otherwise have allowed. Just this once though, Chad seems to allow it--possibly in an attempt to soak up some body heat before braving the few, cold steps to his waiting taxi--and when they pull apart, he gives Jared a cheeky grin and an honest to God thumbs up.

"Good luck with everything. And stay in touch, Jay-pad. I mean it!"

"Right back atcha," Jared shoots back, and then watches until Chad's safely inside his cab, disappearing around the corner two blocks down.

Now, the only thing Jared can do is wait for Jensen to come home.

By the time Jared hears Jensen's truck in the driveway, he's had plenty of time to work himself into a near panic, nerves high strung and heartbeat so strong his chest is hurting. For a brief moment, he considers just forgetting about the whole thing and just hiding away in his room forever, but then he hears Chad's voice in his head, telling him to just take a fucking chance for himself, and hell--if Chad could fly across the country for a weekend, just to give Jared that piece of advice, the least Jared can do is follow it.

With blood rushing in his ears, Jared runs down the stairs, tunnel visioning in on the door handle turning. He lands on the bottom of the stairs, narrowly avoiding getting a face full of door again as it swings open, and Jensen appears in the doorway.

"I'm gay and I'm a geek who plays World of Warcraft and I think I like you," Jared rushes out, all in one breath.

Jensen immediately freezes in place. His scarf is covering his mouth again, but Jared's pretty sure he's gaping behind it. His eyes are wide open, green contrasting with the red of his scarf, and he doesn't move a muscle, his face a ridiculous mix of shock and amusement. That's about when Jared realizes they're not alone.

Behind him, Chris and Steve both stare at them with eyes as wide as Jensen's.

"Well," Chris says, and there's not a thing in the world that can stop Jared's face from turning an impressive shade of red. "We'll just be going, then."

Steve bumps Jensen's shoulder, bringing him out of his shock. "We'll just catch ya later, Jen. Seems you got some business to take care of here."

"Hold up a sec," Jensen says to Steve, and Jared's heart sinks in his chest. "Give me a minute, guys? I'll be right out."

Chris and Steve exchange a look, and then they both glance at Jared. "Okay, man, but if you're not out in five, we're taking your truck and leaving without you."

Jensen clears his throat and closes the door behind him, and then he's alone with Jared.

"Come on," he says, pulling his scarf down and walking back towards his room, motioning for Jared to follow. "Steve's van broke down outside of Harrisburg, so I'm helping them get their amps and shit back to his place--I just had to stop by for some clothes, because I got caught in the crossfire of their little prank war."

Jensen doesn't elaborate on what getting caught in the crossfire entails, or why he'd need a change of clothes because of it, so Jared figures it's best not to ask. Instead he mutely follows Jensen back to his room, then hovers nervously just outside the door as Jensen walks inside to change.

"So," Jensen's voice drifts to him, "World of Warcraft?"

Jared's not sure whether to be scared or relieved that that's the piece of information Jensen zeroes in on. He's not sure about this whole situation in fact, but he opts to let Jensen do the talking for now. In fact, he thinks maybe after having made a complete idiot of himself--and outed himself--in front of Chris and Steve, he should just be completely quiet for a while, but unfortunately Jensen seems to expect an answer.

"Uh, yeah," he gets out. "I guess."

There's silence from Jensen's room for a few moments, save from the faint rustling of clothes, and then Jensen appears in the doorway, dressed in a gray Stones t-shirt and dry jeans. He's carrying his coat and scarf in one hand, and he leans against the doorframe, so close that it's making Jared nervous. He fights the urge to take a step back.

"Good for you," Jensen says. "Why's it matter?"

Jared opens and closes his mouth a couple of times, trying to come up with an answer.

"It's geeky," he eventually gets out, feeling every bit as lame as he sounds.

"Dude," Jensen says, laughing now--that kind laugh of his that immediately touches Jared's chest and warms him from the inside. "I don't care. How is that any different from when we kick back with some Playstation, Jay?"

"I dunno," Jared mumbles. "I'm weird."

Jensen looks at Jared for a while, waits until Jared's eyes meet his again. "Jared," he says carefully, "I'm majoring in learning how to be someone else. I want to perform for people for a living, but would rather lose the chance of a great part than open my mouth and sing a single note in public. I sleep until three in the afternoon. If it wasn't for coffee I'd probably never get up until sunset at the very earliest. And on top of that, I keep trying to kill you with our door. Do you really think you're the weirdest tenant in this house?"

"No, I think Chris is," Jared says without thinking, then immediately feels awkward and lame again.

Jensen just laughs again, stepping back into his boots and doesn't bother lacing them up. It's enough to make Jared relax a little, and it hits him then, what Jensen said. He doesn't think Jared's weird or lame for being a computer geek. Of course, when he lets his guard down a little and offers Jensen a tentative smile in return, that's when Jensen strikes.

"So you're gay and you like me?" Jensen says nonchalantly.

The sudden subject change is fast enough to almost make Jared's head spin, and his mind just shuts down. He frantically tries to come up with something to say, but comes up blank. He should be asking if Jensen likes him. He should be asking if the kiss before Christmas meant anything--if the blowjob was more than just casual sex, but suddenly he can't make a sound.

"I--," he eventually croaks out, but that's all.

Jensen's still smiling, but he's clearly waiting for something more than seemingly random vowel sounds, and Jared has never wanted to sink into a hole in the ground this badly before.

"Jared," Jensen says, putting his coat on, "Jay. I know you have this thing where your brain and mouth sometimes don't work so well together, and for the most part--God help me, I think it's cute. But it's kinda hard for me to figure out where to go from here, unless you can give me a straight answer." He pauses and grimaces a little, clearly amused with his own pun. "So to speak, anyway. So here's what I'm going to do. I'm gonna give you some extra time to get your ducks in a row while I go help Chris and Steve, and when I come back tonight, you can tell me what's up, okay?"

Jensen sounds so calm and rational about the whole thing, Jared's mind is working overtime trying to catch up. He doesn't need extra time to get his ducks in a row; he knows how he feels, he just needs to get his brain working again and find the courage to say it!

Wrapping the scarf around his neck again, Jensen zips up his coat, and his eyes twinkle at Jared over the edge of the fabric. There's a strange sort of edge to his gaze though, and Jared realizes with a start that Jensen looks--nervous. Smiling still, sure, and definitely trying to play it as cool and casually laidback as he seems to be about everything, but there's a slight strain to his smile, and a barely-there tremble of his voice that Jared's certain he's not imagining, and--Jensen's nervous!

"If it helps any, though," Jensen says, pushing off the doorframe, "I won't think any less of you no matter what happens from here, okay? If you decide you're just confused then chalk it up to college experimentation. Good for you, I won't mind."

Jared's not convinced, and the more he studies Jensen, the slight tremor in his voice, the twitch his hand makes as he shoves it into his pocket, the more clear it becomes what Jensen's doing here. He's giving Jared an out. A final chance to back down and forget anything ever happened between them.

Resolve settles in his chest then, and his brow furrows almost involuntarily.

Fuck that!

"Don't go," Jared says, and he's surprised at the strength of his own voice. Not a stammer, not a stutter, because for the first time since he moved in with Jensen--maybe for the first time since before that--he can see everything perfectly clearly, he knows exactly what he wants, and Jensen's it.

"I'm not confused," he tells Jensen, whose eyes widen. "I'm not confused, and I'm not experimenting. I am definitely gay, and I definitely like you."

Jensen's eyes are wide over his scarf, wider than Jared's ever seen them. They stand there for what seems like forever, yet with every passing second, Jared's nerves settle down a little bit more, because he's so certain now--of everything.

"Oh," Jensen finally says. Then he grins wide under the scarf, smiling with both corners of his mouth, and it's so good to see, Jared can't help but grin back and laugh--he's so happy, he feels giddy with it.

"Oh," Jensen says again. "Good for me, then."

Jared laughs again, and Jensen sways a little closer.

"In case you didn't realize it," he whispers to Jared, "I'm pretty gone on you."

"I caught on eventually," Jared responds.

When he tugs down Jensen's scarf and leans in to kiss him, Jensen doesn't twist his head away at all--he just meets Jared's lips with his own, mouth warm and hands coming up to clutch at Jared's shirt. Jared just sort of melts against Jensen, body pressing against his, and he smiles into the kiss, smiles and breathes deep through his nose, and just lets himself feel.

They don't even break apart when Chris honks the horn of Jensen's truck then drives off down the street.

It's the fourth weekend after the spring semester starts, and it's a good weekend. There's Led Zeppelin on the stereo, Jensen is in the upstairs shower, and Jared and Chad are in a pretty epic battle with a Gnoll named Hogger. All in all, Jared can't ever recall being this happy.

Chad's making snorting noises as his alternate character--a stubby dwarf--runs in circles on Jared's screen. "Dude," he says, voice crackling over voice chat, "I think we're too low level for this!"

"Nonsense," Jared says with gusto, "Kill it! Kill it with fire!"

Chad responds something about not having any fire spells, but Jared loses focus when there's a pounding on the door.

He briefly considers not answering, but then he remembers that Genevieve was supposed to come over to borrow one of Jensen's books for a class she's taking that he took last semester. Jared figures it's better that he lets her in and get the book to her than make her have to come back later--or worse, disturb his boyfriend in the shower. Then he has to take a moment to do a little victory dance in his head, because he has a boyfriend now! It's already been a few weeks, but Jared still feels like jumping up and clicking his heels together over it.

For right now though, he resigns himself to the fact that he'll most definitely have to start his epic battle over again, and stabs a finger at the talk button.

"The door," he says, "I gotta get this."

"Motherfucker," Chad yells, his voice fading to a murmur as Jared puts down his headset. "Fuck this. I'm going back to my warlock."

Jared chuckles to himself then heads downstairs.

"Hey, handsome," Genevieve says with a wink as he lets her in. "Jensen was supposed to loan me a book?"

"I think it's in his room," Jared says, leading her down the hallway and pushing open the door.

The book's sitting on Jensen's bed, and Genevieve picks it up with a wide grin. "Awesome, thanks a ton. Saves me having to buy it. Where is Jensen, anyway?"

Genevieve's known about him and Jensen since day one--everyone did--already duly informed so by Chris and Steve. Hell, the two little shits probably called everybody they knew as soon as they left the driveway. Still Jared can't help it; he blushes. "He's in the shower," he admits.

Genevieve gives him an incredibly dirty grin, which only makes him blush harder.

"I'm happy for you," she says, and her voice is warm. It's a hilarious contrast to the still-dirty grin on her face, and Jared clears his throat.

"Shut up," he mumbles, but he's still smiling, so she laughs. Then her grin turns into a soft smile, and she reaches out a hand to touch Jared's arm gently.

"Seriously, Jared. I really am very happy for you--for both of you. You know he had this little crush on you from the moment he met you, right?"

Jared blinks a little. "He did?"

"Yeah," Genevieve laughs, "swear to God. Chris told me he described you as 'serious fucking eye candy' before you'd even moved in. And then after you moved in and he got to know you, you were pretty much all he could talk about." She chuckles a little. "It actually got kind of annoying sometimes."

Suddenly, Jared understands all the looks and the stares and the silent conversations between Jensen and his friends. Jensen said he was totally gone on Jared--Jared's pretty sure he would remember that moment for the rest of his life, the moment when he knew everything was going to work out--but he had no idea the attraction went that far back. And then he thinks about how Jensen's mere presence, his attitude and posture, had seemed to relax Jared from the very first moment they met. He remembers hearing Jensen's laugh and feeling warm inside, and he thinks he's really glad Jensen accidentally tried to kill him with the library doors that day.

Genevieve kisses his cheek when she leaves, and Jared closes the door behind her with a happy lump in his throat and a warm feeling in his stomach.

When he goes upstairs, he realizes the shower is no longer running and he has every intention of teasing Jensen about the eye candy comment, but the taunt dies on his lips when he enters his room.

Jensen turns on Jared's chair and looks a little sheepish. "Sorry," he says, pulling a little bit on the towel around his hips. "I got curious."

Jared frowns a little and peeks over Jensen's shoulder. On his screen, his character is alive. Barely, clinging to life with a mere five health points left--but alive. At his pixelated feet lies Hogger, dead, with the bag signalizing he's got loot over his head.

Jared's duly impressed, not only by the fact that Jensen seemingly managed to figure out the basic controls for the game, but also kill the monster Jared needed to kill--and without Chad around to help, since Chad apparently did indeed go back to his main character.

Jensen grins awkwardly and laughs. "You always look like you have fun," he explains. "I wanted to see what the fuss was about."

Jared's not even sure how to respond. "Well, what's the verdict?" he asks.

"It's pretty okay," Jensen says, in that tone that tells Jared he really likes something, but is downplaying exactly how much he likes it.

A wide grin spreads on Jared's face then, and he wants to say something more, but then Jensen stands up, and Jared gets a little distracted, because--he's got Jensen, he's got his boyfriend, standing in the middle of his room, fresh out of the shower and clad only in a towel. All that damp, smooth skin, and--really, Jared's 19. Who can blame him if he forgets all about his game for a while?

Still, he knows exactly what to get Jensen for his birthday in a month and a half.

Jared's best friend is a Gnome Warlock, and his boyfriend is a Night Elf Hunter.

College is pretty much awesome.