He really shouldn't be surprised that the place has Pillars. Capital P. Of course it has fucking pillars. Why wouldn't it?
Misha slumps back in the leather cushioning of the back seat dejectedly as the Lincoln glides up the mile-long alley of trees and arcs into the circular drive.
The building is old, snow-white stonework and gabled roofing. Balconies with wrought-iron railings skirt the first and second floors and darker green shutters enclose large, soulful windows. Vaguely, he heard the Peterson's solemnizing about plantation house histories and that slavery business (dreadful), but that was hours ago, before they got onto the important topic of Mrs Finnegan's newest art acquisition (also dreadful), and he was more interested in the scenery passing by the windows than actually listening. It's not like he was expected to participate in the conversation anyway.
He'd also learned, much earlier, that nervousness and trepidation didn't suit him. Instead he clad himself in an air of resignation when embarking on new journeys. New families, new siblings, new houses. New problems. Still, being abandoned to a boarding school, no faux-parents to have to charm or avoid, is a new one on him. He can't help the slightly squirmy feeling of fear lacing around his guts.
If he'd been in the mood, he'd have laughed at himself. Told himself to grow a fucking pair and deal. He's been through worse. Oh, so much worse. And going somewhere where his own interests are, however misguided, actually at the forefront of the relocation; could only be a good thing, right? An opportunity to get himself out of the shit life he's been thrown into. It's nearly over, anyway; he's eighteen in three months and, if he wants to, he can get the fuck out of Dodge and do whatever he wants to do.
Not that he has any idea what that is. And as it stands, being given a free ride to an elite school and the opportunity to actually go to college if he so desires is one of the better things that's happened to him in the last seventeen years. He may actually enjoy it. There's a reason he does well in school... in the many schools he's frequented. It gives him a way out of reality.
So he should really toughen the fuck up and take this for the golden opportunity on a platter that it could be.
Problem is, he just keeps coming back to the fact that it has pillars.
He used to sleep in a room with four other kids and a mattress on the floor. It had smelled like stale coffee and every other night, when the youngest one had nightmares, urine.
Now, his home away from home - an oxymoron, because he's never had a home to be away from - has mother fucking pillars out the front. Four of them. Huge stone monoliths built before Sherman even got his boots on and designed solely to brag of wealth and status.
Misha hates them immediately.
The car pulls to a stop in a silent glide of gears and the crunch of gravel, and a pair of Stepford faces look back at him from over the front seats.
He's expected to be something now. Happy? Excited? Gushing with gratitude? He manages a small, forced smile and reaches for the door handle.
Outside the air is sweet, perfumed in azaleas and warm against his skin. He's not used to the cloying humidity, the scent of earth in every breath. It reminds him of something, somewhere, in his childhood. Something he’d rather not dredge up. The malodorous mix of smells, of hot asphalt and exhaust fumes, Chinese takeout and grease, is missing. It's unsettling.
The Petersons fuss with their clothes, Mrs P. straightening Mr P.'s tie, brushing imaginary lint from his navy-blue suit jacket. Misha wants to roll his eyes and make sarcastic comments about just what century it is, but he bites his tongue. They don't have their own children; it's clearly a big deal for them, taking their 'child' off to the big, important school. Even if the child isn't 'theirs' in any sense of the word, save strictly legal.
So he holds in his ire, for the sake of propriety. But he remains adamant, if Mrs P. spits on a hanky and tries to clean his face? There's gonna be blood.
Thankfully, she doesn't, just helps her husband unload Misha's brand- new and entirely too posh suitcase set from the trunk of the car. He hadn't even known suitcases came in sets until last week. Why suitcases needed to match he had no earthly idea, but Mrs Peterson had seemed quite taken by them, and so he'd nodded and made note to draw penises and obscenities on them as soon as she was out of the picture.
It was ridiculous, anyway - he didn't have enough personal items to fill a plastic bag, let alone a herd of suitcases. Especially seeing as he's now wearing the scratchy, starched uniform that had been shipped up to Manhattan solely for him to wear straight back down to South Carolina.
He has a sinking feeling there are clothes in the suitcases anyway, things that have mysteriously appeared and been folded and packed while he wasn't looking. He also has a feeling he won't be wearing them.
Suitcases out, car parked and tie straightened, the Petersons make their way up to the imposing columned building, shoes crunching on the pristine white drive. Even the gravel sounds pretentious. Stately oaks, dripping Spanish Moss and charm from every pore, surround the main building. He wonders if everyone will sound like they stepped out of Gone with the Wind.
Unsurprisingly, the inside is just as intimidating. The floor is gleaming marble, the walls polished oak. A giant staircase slopes up the side of the entrance-way and curls around to a second floor.
There are Busts. Capital B. And not the kind Misha is good at admiring aesthetically.
A young, nervous-looking boy comes up to greet them, shifting his weight from one foot to the other as he speaks politely to Mr Peterson. There's a curious, sideways glance at Misha, but Misha ignores it in favor of taking in his surroundings. He's here. He doesn't need friends just yet. That can wait.
"You must be Mr and Mrs Peterson?" the boy asks, and the slight gravel in the squeaky timbre of his voice indicates he is older than Misha put him on first glance. The boy holds out his hand to shake Mr Peterson's. "Robert Benedict. I'm on greeting duty today. You made good time...The freeways were, um... free?"
Mr Peterson nods and takes Robert's hand as if addressing an equal. "Yes. We had a good run."
Robert nods enthusiastically, bouncing a little on the balls of his feet. He isn't wearing strict uniform, but is still in ironed khakis and a blue dress shirt. "Well, Dean Morgan is expecting you, if you'll follow me?"
Misha nearly snorts at the way the kid sounds like he thinks there's a possibility they might not be willing to follow him. Apparently money doesn't buy confidence.
Robert leads the way across the hall and into a small room off the side. An empty desk with neatly stacked piles of paper and silent computer takes up the majority of it. Robert nods at it. "Normally that's where you can find Julie. She's the Dean's PA." He looks at Misha quickly, "She's the one who'll help you with any administrative things, she's really nice."
Misha nods, good to know he supposes.
Robert approaches the heavy oak door at the side of the room and knocks hesitantly.
"Come," comes the muffled voice from within.
Robert glances back at them, checking they are still with him, and then opens the door. "Er, the Petersons?" he manages to turn their announcement into a squeaked question.
"Thanks, Rob," comes the hearty laugh from inside. "Stick around, please? You can settle- ” there is a pause as papers rustle, " -Misha... in."
Robert... Rob, apparently... nods again enthusiastically and then steps aside.
Here we go.
Mr and Mrs P. turn to look at him, Mrs P. beaming and Mr P. arching his eyebrow in a way Misha thinks is meant to say, "Well, come on now, son." He narrowly avoids rolling his eyes and slips between them to be first into the headmaster's office.
The room is dark, just as heavily wood-paneled as the rest of the building. But it's somehow less oppressive. The large picture windows stand open along the side, leading out onto the balcony and letting the late-summer air into the room.
A warm breeze rustles precarious mounds of paper that cover the large desk and a good portion of the side tables.
The Dean himself stands up from his chair and grins at Misha in a way that has Misha wanting to smile involuntarily. He seems young, maybe early forties, with a scruffy beard and amused brown eyes. He's out of his chair and around the desk before the Petersons even get fully through the door. He shakes Misha's hand first. His grip is firm, but his hands are large and warm. Comforting. It reminds Misha of his dad with a sad pang. Not that he’d remember.
"You must be Misha," Morgan says, eyes glittering and holding his gaze before they flicker up to the Peterson's. "And Mr and Mrs Peterson, I presume."
Mrs Peterson blushes as Morgan shakes her hand before her husband’s. And Mr P. looks equally as charmed at the hearty handshake he receives.
"Ted," Mr Peterson says quickly, imparting friendship and equality right off the bat. "And this is Maureen."
Morgan nods, smile large. "Dean Jeffrey Morgan. Call me Jeff." He looks at Misha with a slightly wicked grin, "Well except you of course, Mr Peterson. Dean Morgan will do fine."
"Collins," Misha adds quickly, wishing it didn't sound defensive. "It's Misha Collins."
Morgan nods, sagely, as if it happens every day. "Mr Collins it is. Right, please, have a seat, have a seat."
The Petersons sit primly on the settee in front of the desk and Misha finds himself perching on the single chair to the side. Morgan settles himself back into the worn leather of his own chair behind the desk.
"So, Misha," Morgan says, and three sets of eyes settle on him. "I understand you're coming to us from a bit of an unusual background."
He can't help the soft snort he makes, but thankfully no one seems to notice. "Er, yeah. You could say that," he grins wryly. The Petersons look appropriately sad for the poor not-really-an-orphan orphan boy.
"But I hear you've kept up a high GPA in spite of all the... drama." Morgan smiles comfortingly. Misha decides to give him a pass on referring to his fucked-up life as a 'drama.' Just this once.
Misha shrugs, the restricting navy wool of the blazer pulling tight across his shoulder blades. "I like to learn."
Morgan nods somewhat sternly. "Good to hear. We have fun here, but in the end, every boy needs to pull his own weight. It's your future, after all."
"Well, how about we let you get on with becoming acquainted with the place? I have some business to talk about with your parents here, but why don't you go get unpacked and we'll catch up in a little while?"
Misha nods, relieved he's being given a pass from the awkward farce of a meeting; talking about 'his future' with people who don't even know him.
"I'm afraid most of the boys are away home for the holidays, but there're still enough around that you shouldn't be lonely. You'll be sharing with Jensen Ackles. He's here for the holidays, too, so you'll at least have someone to get to know before the semester begins in earnest."
Morgan calls out to the outer office, "Rob?"
Rob appears in the doorway, every inch as nervous as he appeared minutes earlier.
"Take Misha up to his room and let him get settled? You can go after that."
Rob nods eagerly. "Yes, Dean Morgan. Sure thing."
Misha gets back up again and makes his way over to Rob. The Petersons look up expectantly at him as he passes, though what exactly they're expecting escapes him. ‘Goodbye, and thanks for the incarceration?’, ‘Thanks for doing what my drop-kick parents should have?’, ‘Spare Franklin for the cafeteria?’
Rob closes the door behind them and actually allows a small grin at Misha. "You got out of that much quicker than I did. Nice work on the last name thing."
Misha isn't sure what he means, but laughs hesitantly. Maybe he could do with a friend, if he's honest. "Yeah."
"C'mon, I'll take you up to your new quarters. You're bunking with Jensen."
Rob looks a little wide-eyed at that as he turns and leads them out of the office and back into the main hall. Misha grabs his bags, slings one over his shoulder and pulls the case behind him.
As they leave, a willowy red head, not much older than Misha if he guesses, approaches them and Rob blushes to the tips of his ears when she says, “Hi Robert,” to him with a smile full of teeth.
"Uh," says Rob. "Julie, this is Misha, Misha, this is Julie... who I mentioned?"
Misha grins his most roguish smile, the one he knows tends to get him into girls’ pants, if not their good graces. "Hi," he says. "Rob says you're quite nice, and I have to say I can see where he’s coming from.”
From somewhere beside him Rob makes a sound like a choking cat.
Julie takes Misha in stride and simply grins in return. “I promise you, I can be mean, too,” she says with a wink and sashays into the Dean’s office. Misha decides he’s in love.
Rob has already started rushing out of the hallway, probably trying to outrun his embarrassment, and he hurries to keep up.
"So what's Jensen like, then?" Misha says, attempting to regain a connection with the other boy.
Rob glances back at him before his gaze skitters away. "Jensen's cool. One of the popular guys. Everyone likes him."
Great. A do-gooder.
Rob must see something in his face when he glances back, "No, really. You'll like him. He's not, like... teacher's pet or anything."
Misha just nods, tries hard to reserve judgment before he's even met the guy. It goes against all his instincts. Rash judgement has kept him alive up until now, after all.
Rob leads them past the staircase they passed on the way in. Instead they head through a side door and short corridor and back out into the muggy air. It smells like jasmine and magnolias and Misha is reminded of his mother, the flowers she'd wear pinned to her dresses. Rob starts babbling on about music and the local bands around the area, but Misha doesn't really get a word in edgewise when he tries, and so he tunes out.
In lieu of talking he follows silently down another white gravel path, the wheels from Misha's new suitcases stuttering over it awkwardly. A hundred yards in the shade of moss-dripped oaks and lawn cut so crisp it would make an eighteen-hole weep, they come upon another building. It's not as old as the main house, but clearly built to look like it's supposed to be. It's a poor imitation, Misha thinks.
Rob continues to chatter as they enter the air-conditioned silence of the new building. Inside it's still wood and marble, but the wood is too light and the marble too like stone pavers in its consistency. The carpet runners are brand new and the brass fixtures are too coppery-orange to be more than five years old. Misha can practically hear the wi-fi in the air. Rob leads him up a staircase that's similar to but smaller than the one in the main hall. Numerous identical hotel corners are rounded, and Misha knows he should probably be paying attention to them if he wants to find his way out again. Instead he's reading the names as they pass rows of closed doors and their plastic-covered nameplates. Richard, Mark, Jake, Matt, Travis, Aaron John (crossed out, and A.J. written over the top in black felt-tip chicken-scratch), Tom, Chad, Mike. Some are doubled up, some are single.
There are a lot of them.
Misha is used to being surrounded by chaos; a series of foster homes will do that to you. You get used to going with the flow, shutting up and being careful when you need to be. But four or five kids, or a never-ending line of singular but different faces? Not the same as constantly being surrounded by hoards at once.
Right now, the place is quiet as a tomb. The Petersons hadn't wanted him around the apartment any longer. Anxious, they said, to get him started on the right track. And so here he is, three weeks before semester even starts.
Rob leads them around another corner, still talking about the newest thing in indie rock, and comes to an abrupt halt outside the last room in the hall. 'Jensen' is printed in neat handwriting on the nameplate beside the door. The second plate is empty.
"Um, well. Here we are," Rob says, and shifts from foot to foot.
"Shall we go in?" Misha asks, amused despite himself.
"Er, sure." Rob raises his hand and knocks tentatively on the door.
There's silence from inside the room. Silence from without.
Rob clears his throat apologetically, as if he's failed in his duties by there being no answering call. He reaches up and knocks again, louder. This time a voice floats through the timber at them.
Rob gives him one last small smile, and seriously, could the guy be making him more nervous that he's about to room with the world's largest dick, and turns the knob, swinging the door open.
At first glance Misha thinks the room is empty, which would be disturbing given the previous audio cue, but it’s large; a single bed on each side, desks pushed up against the wall closest to the door. Just enough clearance for a chair and room to sit before being bookended by two tall wardrobes. It's spartan, but warm. The walls are cream, golden evening-sunlight flickering leafy patterns over them from the trees surrounding the building. The floor is carpeted cream, it looks new, like no one has ever wet their mattress and had it seep through.
The desk on the left has piles of neatly stacked books and paper laid out on the blotter. The pens are neatly set in an Ellis Academy coffee cup. A picture of a smiling family - mom, dad and toddler hanging on mom's legs - is set carefully in a frame to the right of the pens. It looks old. Mom's hair is long and straight, middle-parted, her dress cheerfully floral. Dad has a full, unkempt beard. Misha would guess it was taken in the 70s.
A lacrosse stick rests in the corner against the wardrobe. Shin pads on the floor next to it. A sports bag hangs off the back of the chair.
Misha's trying to work out if the guy is a jock or a goody two-shoes when he realises the guy in question is actually in the room.
Which means there isn't a ghost, so that's a relief.
It's the little things.
The boy is sitting on the sill of the giant picture window situated between the bed heads and leading out into what looks like a small porch. He's tall and lanky and apparently a rebel. He has one leg inside the room, one out, and he's regarding Misha with a cool, detached air, cigarette dangling from long fingers held outside the room.
Rob looks from one to the other of them. "Uh...hey, Jen...sen. Um. This is Misha."
Jensen keeps his eyes on Misha, and Misha gets the distinct impression he's being evaluated. Which probably makes Jensen a bit of a dick. But Jensen's voice is warm and friendly when he speaks. "Cool. Thanks, Rob."
Rob flushes somewhat and makes to beat a hasty retreat, but Jensen snaps himself out of the staring contest he has going on with Misha and focuses back on Rob. "Hey, man, did you see that Louden Swain are back in town next weekend?"
"Oh," Rob says, sounding surprised, "Um, yeah, I did. Should be awesome, yeah?"
Jensen smiles, nods and brings the cigarette back to his mouth. Inhales in a long drag before answering, smoke curling out with his words. "Should be. Might see you there."
Rob nods, and that's apparently about all he's good for because he then does make that escape, pulling the door shut behind him and leaving Misha standing inside the doorway, suitcase set in tow, dressed in a pristine uniform and feeling supremely awkward. Jensen is in tatty ripped jeans and a Metallica t-shirt.
"New dress code?" Misha asks, nods at Jensen's attire.
Jensen just blinks, takes another drag of nicotine and holds the cigarette carefully outside the window. "Got a thing."
"Ah." Misha says, and has no idea whether Jensen means he's got a problem that means he doesn't have to wear a uniform, or he's going somewhere, or something else entirely. "So, mine?" He raises an eyebrow, indicates the bed to the right.
"Seems so," Jensen answers.
Misha's eyebrow rises even further. Okay then. He flips the bag off his shoulder and onto the bed and sits down next to it. Bounces a little as if to see if it will be comfortable enough. He knows it will. He's slept in cars before.
Jensen is watching him silently. Misha tries not to care, digs his finger into the knot of his tie and yanks it loose, side-to-side. His top button is the next casualty.
"Most people like their cancer-sticks after they've gotten off on the watching," Misha grits, and Jensen laughs, low and rumbling and not entirely amused.
"Where are you from?" Jensen asks. His voice is deep, gravelly from the smoke; there's a slight Southern twang, but it's not pronounced.
"New York," Misha says. Adds, because he feels the need to specify, "Manhattan."
"Big city kid." Jensen's smile is wry. The dappled sun hits the side of his face and bathes it orange. It sparks fire in the murky green of Jensen's eyes, matches the flare of the cigarette between his lips.
"I guess." Misha shrugs noncommittally. He knows better than to give anything away when he doesn't know whom he's playing with.
"So you’re my new roomie. Hope you aren’t a snorer." Jensen stubs the cigarette out on the window sill and drops it into a jar of water tucked in the corner of the frame. His tone is heavily sarcastic.
Misha can play that game.
"I’m not a smoker at least, so I can’t be all bad."
Something that could be amused surprise flickers across Jensen's face and he pauses, almost imperceptibly, before he pulls his limbs inside the room properly. "I only smoke occasionally."
Jensen sits opposite him on his own bed. "So. 'Misha'. Odd name."
"No odder than 'Jensen'," Misha replies on cue.
"Touché." Jensen's mouth twitches up into a smile and Misha finds it unexpectedly bewitching.
Jensen watches him silently and Misha can't think of anything to do or say, so he just stares back. It's extremely odd, and not entirely comfortable. The feeling of being judged rushes back to him and it raises his hackles. He fidgets so as not to brook an argument for the sake of it, his standard defense.
He's about to remark that the voyeur vibe is getting ridiculous when a sharp whistle comes from outside. Jensen is up in a flash and leaning out the window. Bending back in, he grabs the denim jacket off his bed and looks to Misha. "I'll be back later. If anyone asks I'm in the library."
With that he climbs out the window and onto the balcony. As Jensen swings himself over the railing and onto what Misha hopes is a ladder and not just a twenty foot drop, he glances back into the room. "Don't touch my stuff," he says and grins. It's wide and brilliantly white and just a little bit dangerous.
And then he's gone.
Misha blinks. That was... well, okay then. He shakes his head and can't help but chuckle a little at the way Jensen totally just threw him for a loop. Going to the window he can see Jensen and another guy in grungy clothes and long hair jogging off into the cover of the thicker trees at the edge of the lawn.
Turning back into the room... his room... he walks over to Jensen's desk and deliberately knocks the biggest pile of books off-center.
It's strangely satisfying.
After a moment he carefully puts them back into their perfect square.
If nothing else, it's is going to be Interesting.
Crossing the grounds in silence has always been one of the rules. Along with not climbing the trellis and not leaving bootprints in Mr. Feany’s flower beds, it’s a simple trifecta of guidelines that took Chris a month to get right. Eventually, though, he had, and Jensen’s grateful for it. Just as he’s grateful for the easy distraction in the quiet crush of grass beneath his feet and the cacophonous symphony of cicadas. Because he needs a minute.
Over the course of his stay at Ellis, he’s had all kinds of roommates. Some homesick. Some socially inept. A fair few have been righteous dicks. None of them have been like Misha - guarded, sarcastic, borderline combative, and completely un-fucking-readable. Not that he’d presume to know everything there is to know about someone from a thirty-second conversation, but he’s good at reading people. He’d gotten good early, and in this place he’s had ample time to keep his skills honed, his instincts sharp. Collins has already accomplished what few ever have: he’s gotten under Jensen’s skin.
Chris grunts beside him and pitches forward, crashing through the last of the underbrush before they make the line of stately oaks at the edge of the property, the access road beyond. Too late, Jensen makes a grab for his shoulder to help steady him, but only comes away with a handful of jacket.
“Dammit,” Chris mutters, flipping his hair back with annoyance. “Why can’t you be a normal kid, Ackles? This bullshit stumbling around in the dark is ridiculous.”
“Like you haven’t fucked your face up climbing out of Dave’s window.” Jensen knows he has, more than once, because he’s actually given Chris shit over the resulting black eye.
Chris snorts. “You want a lift or not, asshole? Because I can just as soon leave you here with your dick in your hand.”
The light spilling from his window onto the lawn spooks him back, and Jensen could swear he sees movement beyond, just a shadow cast against the wall even though the dorm’s too far away. It’s enough.
“Naw,” he says. “I’m too much fun to have around for you to ditch. I can tell by that stupid vein in your forehead that Dave’s riding your last nerve. Truce?”
Across the hood of his rusted-out F150, Chris glares at him and yanks the door open. “Get in, pretty boy. Time’s wasting.”
Jensen’s happy to oblige; the sun-warmed metal is familiar as he palms it, as are the flecks of red paint that come away on his skin. In the cab, the seats are tattered and patched with duct-tape in places. The gaping hole where there should be a stereo instead hosts a nudie mag, a socket wrench, a pack of cigarettes, and a battered old lighter. Every summer Chris says he’s going spring for a new one with the overtime he’s earned at the garage, but something always comes up. Hard to believe, even for him, that this bucket of bolts is what brought them together, but Jensen loves it like the dog he never had when he was little. Probably because it never changes.
Chris settles in behind the wheel, the engine sputtering up angry when he turns the key, and despite the look he’d leveled just moments ago, he flashes Jensen a grin across the cab.
“Son, we’re gonna tear shit up tonight,” Chris says. Jensen smiles back and, with the wind in his face, the scent of honeysuckle and salt wafting in the open window, he pushes Misha firmly from his mind.
Gravel kicks into the wheel wells when Chris lays on the gas and swerves them in a treacherous 360 that shoves Jensen up against the door. And in spite of himself, Jensen laughs, letting Kane’s recklessness coil up around him until he doesn’t care about the cancelled trip to Capri or Morgan’s excuses for sticking him with the new kid, or that he hasn’t seen hide nor hair of his dad for six months.
This is all there is. This is all he needs.
So he leans, steals a smoke from Chris’ pack just to fuck with him, and lights up. On the second drag, Chris snatches it back and throws an elbow at his ribs, cursing.
“Get your own, Richie Rich,” he spits. “I worked for these.”
“I don’t have a Webster’s in my back pocket, but I think you misunderstand the definition of ‘work’. Screwing the owner’s daughter out in the salvage yard is not work, my man.”
“Says the dickface who hasn’t worked an honest day in his life. We can’t all have millionaire daddies. Smokes come from somewhere, you know. Don’t just grow on trees.”
Trees whiz past the window, leaves gone dry and crackling with drought, and Jensen wonders if a night out really is what he needs right now. He’s not in the mood to weather the snide comments about his secondhand wealth any more than he’s fit to deal with Dave. For a split second he considers asking Chris to pull over, let him walk back. But there is no back tonight; his room’s not just his anymore, and Misha might be the last thing he wants to deal with.
He swallows his pride instead and keeps quiet, taps one of his own cigarettes free and lights up just as they creak to a stop outside the bar. The music thumps through the walls, drums kicking, guitar jangling, and Jensen lets it soothe his ragged edges, his rattled nerves. He listens to it and the night, the engine clicking itself cool, the gas pinging in the tank. Chris sits to his left, suspiciously silent, and Jensen couldn’t say why he hasn’t just thrown himself out of the truck like he normally would. It’s weird.
“Are we gonna have a conversation?” Chris says. His knuckles bulge against the wheel before he unwraps each finger carefully to tap.
“I don’t know,” Jensen answers, trying and failing to keep the tone light. “Are we?”
“Look, I’m sorry your dad cancelled, Jen,” Chris says. “But don’t take it out on me. And don’t take it out on the boys. Ain’t right.”
“I know, I know. This just isn’t my week.”
“Well for fuck’s sake, let’s get you drunk. No offense, but I didn’t sign on to babysit a sad, sorry dick all night. Beer would do you some good.”
And with that, Chris does throw the door open and haul himself out. Conversation ended.
Jensen rides his wake, pushing his way into the bar at Chris’ back. The dull thump of music turns riot beyond the door, the room hot with too many bodies and too few fans in the deep Southern summer. It does take Jensen out of himself some to focus on the back of Chris’ neck and follow, to feel the bass drum kick against his ribs.
Chris leads the way through the swarm of people towards the back and their usual table. He can already see Dave is there, a fact that makes Jensen want to roll his eyes and get the hell out of dodge. Still. Dave is okay when he behaves. And he and Chris have a weird brotherly relationship Jensen has yet to figure out. What it boils down to is that dumping Dave would be dumping Chris. And Jensen isn’t ready to do that, not when Chris is consistently the most sure thing in his world, sad as that is.
A flash of red tells him Julie is with them for the night, a fact that cheers him immeasurably. She might be the PA to the dean, but Julie is good people. She’s never ratted him out and he doubts she ever will. She also flirts outrageously, can drink them all under the table, and is pretty much the only one of them that can get Dave to behave, and then only because he wants in her pants. Everyone knows that will never happen. Except Dave.
Jensen slides in beside her, noting she smells like jasmine; the smile she gives him is wide and genuinely friendly. Chris shoves Dave across with an elbow to the ribs. A normal night, then.
“And look, if it isn’t my favorite boy-king,” Dave mocks in greeting, an evil twinkle to his eye.
“Leave him be, asshole,” Chris growls, standing up for him, albeit with more than a hint of conspiratorial glee that doesn’t bode well. “Jenny’s in a mood.”
“Thanks, man,” Jensen mutters at the scarred tabletop. Mandy, one of the regular waitresses, brings him and Chris their usual. Fuck but he loves that they have a place where they’re considered regular enough for table service. Not the least because he’s still technically underage.
“Awww, what’s up, baby,” Dave croons.
Jensen ignores him, choosing instead to drown himself in the first sip of his beer. It’s sweet and cold, perfect for the summer heat that drapes itself around them in a suffocating blanket.
“Jensen got a new roommate today,” Julie observes from over the rim of her own glass. She’s aiming to knock Dave’s dickishness off-kilter, but all Jensen can think is how he wishes she hadn’t gone there.
He can tell from the sharp glance from Chris across the table he’s surprised Jensen didn’t
say anything. Surprised and now, in typical Kane fashion, like a mangy mutt with a dirt-covered bone.
“You got a friend, Jen?” Chris smirks.
“So what?” Jensen snaps, a little harder than is wise.
“Correction,” Julie interrupts before Chris can answer, “he got a hot friend.”
Chris’ eyebrow arches leeringly as Dave wolf-whistles and snickers. Jensen stares mulishly down into the gold of his beer, wishing for nothing more than a convenient hole to crawl into.. “Oh, really?”
Jensen sighs, the air gone tight and too close. “Didn’t really notice,” he says, hoping that will be the end of it, vain hope though it may be. He shoves a finger through the condensation glittering on his glass.
Unsurprisingly, Julie’s the first to call him on it.
“Don’t bullshit a bullshitter,” she says teasingly. “You’d have to be all kinds of blind to miss that. That boy was almost as hot as you. Blue eyes big as saucers and sex hair just itching for hands.”
Jensen cringes. For a moment, a split second that might as well be an eternity, he thinks about calling her out, ribbing her for her ridiculous crush on the dean and how he’d be surprised she even saw anyone else in a room if he were there. But he isn’t that person, hasn’t ever been. He’ll leave the assholing to Dave.
But now, not only will he have to spend all night listening to barely veiled innuendo about someone none of them even knows, but there will be the usual odes to his own cocksucker lips and All-American good looks.
He should have stayed home.
Thing is, he did notice. Reading people means analyzing them, so while Jensen doesn’t make a habit out of pervving on dudes, he can appreciate their attractiveness in an abstract way. Even if he is into girls.
Dave, of course, jumps at the chance to give him shit. Like he always has.
“You switching teams, Jenny? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wonder about that sweet ass of yours a time or two.”
Across the table, Chris chuckles darkly, like maybe he’s wondered too, and Jensen barely suppresses the urge to stomp out like the pre-teen drama queen he isn’t. Dave’s always like this. So is Chris. He’s just more raw than usual.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Julie’s smile soften to something maternal and he just can’t.
“Keep wondering, asshole,” Jensen spits back, finally. “Wouldn’t let you near my ass if you were the only thing left breathing.”
Rising to Dave’s bait never ends well. This time it earns him matching grins, Dave and Chris both sensing weakness and setting up to spring.
“So, Jenny,” Chris says, “What’s your boyfriend’s name?”
Chris’ eyes are on the band in the corner, his jaw tight, and Jensen can’t figure out if he really cares or if he’s just serving shit because Dave wants to dish it. Maybe he’s pissed about not being told. Who knows?
Julie answers for him, trying to deflect. Misha’s name rolls off her tongue easy, like she’s the heroine in some trashy romance novel. On any other day, it’d be enough to draw the attention of the dynamic duo. Today, it is not.
They sneer in unison, the “Misha?” coming out more expletive than name, and while Jensen doesn’t know or even the like the guy, he sort of feels like he should defend him. Which is always how it starts.
“Yes,” he says. “Misha.” He grabs a handful of peanuts from the bowl perched in the center of the table and flings it at both of them. “Now fuck off.”
He takes a large gulp of his beer. It’s going to be a long night.
As expected, the ribbing about Misha goes on sporadically over the next few hours. By the time they leave the bar, early in the morning and holding each other up, Misha and he have allegedly gotten married, had triplets, and bought a house in Maui. He can’t quite remember why Maui was suggested, but he suspects it was something to do with Dave and the one Hawaiian chick he met a couple summers ago who could do this thing with her tongue. Either way. At some point in the night he’d had to physically push the care factor away and go with it, joining in with the ridiculous fantasies to escape being the butt of them.
In a strange way, he almost feels sorry for Misha. Even though this is all bullshit and none of it either true or based on any knowledge of reality. And it’s not like the guy knows he’s been the source of such ridicule all night. On the other hand, he kind of hates that this stranger, who he’s met for all of five minutes, has already thrown such a wrench in the workings of his life. Not only in his space, his room, and his school, but in his social circle?
He falls asleep on the ratty couch in Chris’ den and rather than attempt the impossible feat of waking Chris from an alcoholic stupor, he decides to drag his hungover body home just before dawn.
The soil is sandy, squeaking occasionally under his boots on the long walk back. It’s dark, and he trips a couple times over tree roots. He hopes mainly he doesn’t trip on a gator. That would not be congruent with his plan to creep back in quietly. His head pounds in time with his steps, his mouth feels like something crawled up and died, furry and tasting like old socks. Several times on the stumble back he wishes he’d rethought his plan, faced Chris’ ire and gotten a lift. Mainly he thinks this as he bends over, trying to breathe through the desire to retch.
The stately oaks surrounding the Academy loom dark and foreboding, scraggly arthritic hands cupping the buildings within their ineffectual grip. Dawn breaks as he’s climbing the ladder, an orange flame of light slicing across the horizon and through the trees. He hitches himself over the ledge of the window and into the room before the groundskeepers are out and about to catch him.
He’s tiptoeing to his bed, trying to be conscientious of his roommate - and it’s weird, he thinks, how quickly that comes back to him, but then, twelve years is a lot of training - before he realizes Misha isn’t in his bed.
Which is something, given everything else actually is. Looking around, Jensen feels the anger compress the air in his chest, the heat climbing under his collar an unfortunate reflex that slides his vision out of focus. If only it would slip the rest of the way, maybe he wouldn’t have to deal with this. The room is a disaster area. Open on the bed and floor are Misha’s suitcase and bag, clothing thrown out and discarded on desk, floor, mattress, and chair. By the looks of it, it’s brand new and never been washed, the bright dye as fresh as the day it was dipped. Toiletries dot the miniscule surface area where the clothing isn’t, and again, all of it is new, never opened.
Misha’s schoolbooks have been thrown on Jensen’s own bed, open to random pages, folded in on themselves. Not only that, but Jensen’s own books have been shoved to the side to accommodate Misha’s abandoned blazer and tie. And, randomly, a pinecone.
Immediately, all sympathy for Misha, based even as it was on a night of taunting and bullshit, vanishes. It’s one thing to have to share a room with someone unasked and without knowing anything about them; it’s entirely another to have that person trash the room and fuck off. It breaks all those rules of decency Jensen has grown to live by.
He’s going to tear the guy a new one the second he sees him.
But first, he’s going to throw up.
For some reason Misha had held out hope that some small shred of his life before had survived Mrs. Peterson’s thorough culling; it hadn’t. No amount of digging made a damn bit of difference. He wants his ratty but fucking comfortable jeans, the one threadbare Yankees sweatshirt and his plethora of appropriately vintage band shirts he has...had. The Ramones, The Clash, Sex Pistols and, because it’s him, The Bangles. Unsurprisingly, they aren’t there. In their place are what he’s discovering is the ‘casual uniform’ of Ellis; khakis and short-sleeved blue shirts.
There’s a second pair of shiny, black dress shoes. A physical education uniform in navy and gray. Scrawled pretentiously beneath what Misha assumes is the school’s coat of arms, is ‘Scientia Omnia Vincet’. He may just vomit.
Tucked into the inside pocket of the suitcase he spies an envelope and, for a second, he thinks maybe, just maybe, it’s a little something monetary to ‘tide him over’. Given the money the Peterson's ooze, a little something could be enough to get Misha out of this place for good.
When he slides his hand behind the mesh and plucks the envelope out, however, he gets a sinking feeling - he knows the hand-writing on the address. Turning it over, he can see it’s already been opened, the contents already read. The paper is crinkled, the ink smudged. It’s written in crude English, the penmanship shaky and the ballpoint leaking and it isn’t written to him. It’s written to his new ‘parents’. And it’s written by his old ones.
It only takes a paragraph to get to the egregious request for money.
It doesn’t shock him like it might have, once. Just slides another sliver of broken pain into his heart where he keeps the rest of his parents’ disappointments. The fact that the Peterson's had decided to tuck it into his suitcase like a reprimand, like they disapprove of Misha for his parents’ actions, is another thing entirely. They hadn’t kicked him to the curb, though, so Misha doesn’t have to add them to his list - yet.
Without the money or means to run, he’d left the prison of his new, shared room. Left the clothes, the stupid expensive toothpaste that tastes like crap but promises to whiten his teeth, the shoe polish and notebooks and the meticulous order of Jensen’s side. Most of all, though, he wanted to escape the ridiculous expectations he has never taken an interest in meeting, not to mention exceeding.
No matter how expensive it happens to be, sleeping in an armchair is about as comfortable as sleeping in a car. Less so, really. The leather stuck to his cheek all night, his body heat conspiring with the Southern summer to turn the leather wing-back into a sticky torture device. He should probably go back to his room.
But he doesn’t want to.
Stubbornness is all that keeps him from doing so, that and not wanting to go back to the trappings of someone else’s life - the someone the Peterson's want him to be. But even he can’t stay away forever. As the sun climbs high enough to stream through the un-shuttered fanlight above the bay window, Misha reluctantly unfolds himself, shoes hooked on his fingers, and pads down the halls to his room.
Unfortunately, Jensen’s there when he pushes the door open, blinking at the light from the hall and scowling. The bed, his bed, is little more than a misshapen lump in the dark. And based on the size of the lump plus the relative cleanliness of the rest of the room, Misha can only presume all his worldly belongings now reside there.
He’s tempted, briefly, to shove the door wide; if anything pisses him off, it’s other people touching his stuff. Years in the system have taught him to get used to it, but if he can’t expect that much respecthere of all places, he’s not sure where he can. Instead, he slams the door, the lesser of two arguable evils, because, hell, the shit isn’t even his. There’s a groan from Jensen’s bed, then a thump when some appendage hits the wall. A hissed, “Fuck,” follows, and a creak of bed springs as Jensen heaves himself over.
Once his eyes adjust, he can tell Jensen’s still dressed and sprawled atop the covers like he slipped in through the window and fell straight into bed. Dick or no, Misha can’t quite kill the pang of sympathy before it blooms, unwanted. At least until he starts sorting through the jumble that was once his bed.
“Did you have to fuck up my system?” Misha grumbles, pulling a washcloth out from the sleeve of a shirt and a can of shaving cream from underneath it.
“Did you have to fuck up my room?” comes the rumbled sound of a hungover guy from the dark. “I told you not to touch my stuff.”
“Didn’t stop you touching mine,” Misha snaps, giving up on making the lump of possessions fall into some semblance of order. It’s not like he cares about any of it anyway. With the back of his arm he sweeps the whole lot off onto the suitcase on the floor. A mound of things he’s meant to care about and doesn’t.
“What’s your fucking deal, man?” Jensen growls, the forearm resting over his arms sliding upwards to let him see.
“I don’t have a ‘fucking’ deal. I’m not a whore,” Misha replies peevishly.
“Right,” Jensen replies, deadpan. “I don’t know what juvenile delinquent complex you’ve got going on, dude. But if you’re here then you must be either loaded or gifted. Either way, I’m sure your parents taught you at least some god-damned manners.
“I wouldn’t know,” Misha says, flopping down on his bed and turning his head towards the lump that is Jensen in the dark. “My parents were murdered when I was a kid. Postal worker went postal, blah blah blah orphan.”
He doesn’t know why he says it; it’s utter bullshit and he doesn’t even expect Jensen to believe him. Just knows that he wants to knock the fucker off his privileged high horse.
But Jensen’s eyes fly wide open. Even in the gloom, the whites of his eyes are large and round in surprise. “Shit, I’m sorry, man. I didn’t.. I mean. Fuck, I'm a dick. Sorry.”
Misha shrugs, even though Jensen can’t see it. He’s almost a little sorry he lied. Almost. “Whatever,” he mumbles and turns over to face the wall. They fall into an uneasy silence until both fall asleep.
It takes Jensen until mid-afternoon to discover that Misha is full of shit, although Misha doesn’t know how exactly, because it isn’t like anyone around here could possibly know what the real story of his life is. But around four in the afternoon Jensen comes slamming into the room, calls him a fucking liar, grabs his lacrosse stick and pads and storms back out again.
Misha shrugs it off. It’s not like he’s here to make friends anyway. It’ll probably be easier if he and Jensen don’t get along. Particularly since Misha isn’t blind. The guy is exactly his type, tall and lanky, but with enough meat on him for it to not be like fucking a stick-insect. Not that he’s planning on fucking Jensen. At all. Even if he’s somewhat interested to see where all that buried anger might be channeled to.
For the next few days, their room is as cold as the Titanic’s hull at the end of its voyage. Which doesn’t really bother him either, most of the time he’s not even there. He spends his days exploring the grounds, occasionally with Rob trailing along after him, but mostly alone.
As far as Misha’s concerned, the land upon which the academy sits is largely without value. There are corners with character - deep brambles that flourish in forgotten stretches of forest a mile or more from the campus proper, a musty hayloft stacked with bales in a barn far enough from the corrals that he needn’t so much as sniff a stallion, and along the west perimeter, boggy swamp that stretches into the river, threatening alligators and death. It’s not until he stumbles into the library, almost by accident, that he begins to question those well-laid plans to escape as soon as the calendar allows.
The room itself sits in the center of the administrative building, a domed cylinder of paneled wood and stained glass. A rolling ladder that reminds him of the old black-and-white mysteries is mounted on a brass rail that runs the circumference of the room. To supplement the built-in bookcases, there’s a fleet of stacks to his left, organized in tightly packed rows that extend as far as the eye can see. In the curve of the main room, there are tables - half of them outfitted with state-of-the art computers, the other clear of any adornment save the green glass and brass lamps clustered in the center, and the chairs pushed close on all sides.
It’s the sort of room he’s only seen once before, when his great-aunt let him tag along for a trip to the city library. In spite of its size, the place has an intimate air with low lights and a cluttered circulation desk. Misha walks the arc, stroking the spines of titles he recognizes. He’s so preoccupied he doesn’t hear the footsteps behind him until they’re too close to escape, and a voice - a woman’s voice, low and smoky - rings in his ear.
“See something you like?” it says, and Misha hums, speculative, before he turns.
The woman behind the voice is older, but striking. Unlike most of the other staff Misha’s met in his wanderings, she’s dressed in a pair of blue jeans and a simple button-down rolled up to the elbows. She has the kind of bust Misha does appreciate. The toothy grin she’s wearing could have been dangerous if her eyes weren’t so kind.
Misha smirks first and then thinks twice. He’s in no hurry to get kicked out of the one place at Ellis he might truly enjoy.
So instead of responding in kind, he says, “Yes, ma’am,” in the most deferential tone he can manage and taps the book that just so happens to be beneath his fingers. “Especially this one.”
The woman scoffs.
“Nice try, kid, but you don’t strike me as a Little Women fanatic.” She holds out a hand to shake his as if he was an equal. Misha’s smitten, instantly. “Samantha Ferris,” she says. “Librarian. Call me Sam. Don’t think I’ve seen you before.”
The urge to lie is there, curled like a snake on the back of his tongue. It would be easier, but of the thousand ready fictions, not a one seems right here. So he tells the truth, mostly. “I’m just a feather in an exorbitantly-priced cap,” he says. “I don’t think it really matters.”
“Well, unless you want me to spend the next semester calling you Dumbo, you’ve got to give me something that at least resembles a name.”
She smiles, warm and honest, and Misha can’t help but return it. “Misha,” he says, simply. “I’m new.”
Sam - Ms. Ferris - turns then, apparently satisfied, and ducks back behind her haphazardly piled books. For the first time in a long time, Misha’s not sure what to do with himself. Leaving would probably be the polite thing to do at this point, and while he doesn’t really want to, he starts to shoulder his way through the enormous pair of swinging doors that stand between him and the hall.
“Hey,” Sam shouts, tone teasing. “Where do you think you’re going? These books ain’t gonna shelve themselves.”
By the time Misha makes it back to his room, it’s well into the afternoon and he has a satisfying array of paper cuts across his fingers. He also smells like musty paper. Jensen is sitting on his bed, back against the wall and a copy of Spin perched on his knees. Misha recognises it as one of the magazines Rob had been reading earlier in the week. Jensen makes no move to acknowledge that Misha has entered the room, but Misha can sense the tightening of Jensen’s muscles from relaxed to ‘alert’.
Ignoring him, Misha kicks his shoes off into the middle of the floor and flops down backwards onto his own bed. His side of the room is still unadorned. Bare walls and devoid of knick-knacks, his room is a study only in the mess of clothing he refuses to put away. The navy blazer thrown haphazardly over his desk, pairs of gray dress pants crumpled at the end of his bed. White shirts rumpling on the seat and back of the chair. Partly he leaves them there because affording them any respect means affording the whole fucked-up situation respect, but partly, it’s because Misha can tell it’s driving Jensen insane.
They stay there in uncomfortable silence, nothing but the tear of paper against denim as Jensen turns pages and the cicadas make a racket outside. Misha holds up his hands and examines the angry red cuts dotting the skin.
“Guessing you met Sam,” Jensen says unexpectedly, glancing over the top of his magazine.
Misha refrains from turning to face him, watches instead out of the corner of his eye as Jensen watches the sinuous slide of his fingers. Misha is well aware that his hands are one of his best assets. The fact that they’re captivating Jensen gives him power.
“Hell yeah. That’s some nice cougar meat there,” Misha replies, knowing it will rub Jensen entirely the wrong way.
“What the fuck, man,” Jensen huffs out under his breath, like Misha is something he scraped off of his five hundred-dollar Italian loafers.
“You’re telling me you wouldn’t want some of that hot MILF action?” Misha taunts, this time turning his head against his pillow to watch Jensen’s reaction.
“I don’t know why you’re such a dick,” Jensen snaps as he throws his magazine down beside him on the mattress. “Keep your thoughts to your own mom, pervert.”
“My mom was a contortionist, you know,” Misha says deadpan.
“Whatever,” Jensen replies, rolling his eyes and looking off out the window.
“No, really,” Misha continues matter-of-fact. “The way she could tie herself in knots. It’s no wonder my dad wanted to bang her. But then, he was the lion-tamer, and you know what they say about men with whips.”
“You’re so fucked up,” Jensen mutters as he scoots forward and off the bed. He grabs the abandoned magazine and stomps out of the room, barely restraining the slam of the door Misha knows he’s itching for.
Content in the quiet of his now solitary room Misha shuts his eyes to take a nap.
Over the next week or so, he spends most of his time in the library. Not, mind you, to ogle Sam. Well, not entirely to ogle Sam. While the tenor of his comments may have been purposefully crass, there’s no doubt Ms. Ferris is attractive. Perhaps not as bewitching as his asshole roommate, but then she also comes without the apparent mountains of baggage.
And Misha has always loved pretty things. He’ll be the first to own up to his magpie eyes, not that doing so has ever done him any good.
In actuality, he’s come to appreciate the tedium of the work, the ease with which he can lose himself in one of the volumes charged to his care, and the fact that Sam never gives him shit if he sets it aside to take with him, then forgets. Before he knows it, they’re a week away from the start of term and he’s sitting cross-legged in a corner, tearing through Ella Minnow Pea and wondering what he’d do without the letter M.
Sam, being Sam, appears out of nowhere, and Misha wonders if she was a cat-burglar in a past life. He can see it.
“Ah,” she says. “The citizens of Nollop. That’s an ironic read for you.”
The, “How so?” is reflex, idle conversation that’s never quite idle with Sam on the other side. Most of the time she’s more subtle, if not any less honest.
“You tell me,” she says with an increasingly familiar sparkle in her eye. It’s the expression she wears when she’s trying to get him to teach himself a lesson. On anyone else it would be condescending, patronizing. The difference is Sam actually cares.
Misha shrugs. He’s only forty-seven pages in and the themes are still weaving themselves together.
“Fine,” she sighs. “Be lazy for a little longer. Once term starts, all bets are off.” Sam settles in beside him, forearms to knees, before continuing. “You suck at communication already, Misha. Imagine if they started stripping you of letters, whole words you can no longer use. You’ve been coming here for almost two weeks and I don’t know a thing about you but your name.”
Misha huffs a laugh, finger flipped between pages as he folds the sides together, binding crackling ominously. “Well, see, this is just my secret identity. Didn’t have time to librarian-proof it before I got here. Rest assured that if I tell you, I’ll have to vaporize you with my mind.”
Sam shakes her head, that ever-present quirk caught at the corner of her lips wilting into something sad, but she doesn’t press. She never does.
“So who got saddled with the likes of you?” she asks instead, an effortless if awkward subject change. “I imagine you’re a handful to live with.”
And all of a sudden, Misha finds he can’t look at her, can’t bear her kindness anymore as he thumbs in under the dust jacket of the book to rub at the rough crosshatch covering the spine and the gilded letters cut there. Sam doesn’t know he’s wearing other people’s clothes, that the belt wrapped around his waist is pulled two holes tighter than it would have been on Rob’s roommate. She doesn’t know he was stripped of everything that matters then scrubbed pink and dumped here to become another cog in the machine. Because he hasn’t told her.
But he can tell her this. Maybe she’ll have some insight.
“Ackles,” Misha mutters, rifling through his pockets for the scrap of cheerful orange yarn he’s been using as a placeholder. “He’s a dick,” he adds, just in case there was any question how he feels.
Sam’s face transforms, one brow threatening to creep right off her forehead. “Jensen?” she asks. “Oh honey, I think maybe you boys got off on the wrong foot. Jensen’s a great kid. I’ve known him since he was little.”
“I think maybe you only see what he lets you see.”
The thought of Sam siding with Jensen sits in the pit of his stomach like a stone, but it’s not like he should expect anything less. Jensen’s apparently been here for the whole of his silver-spoon existence. As always, Misha’s the interloper.
Mind made up, he pushes to his feet, the worn-down cuffs of his too-long pant legs caught on the toe of his already battered school oxfords. The book he tucks under his arm, picking at the frayed ends of the dangling yarn simply because he can.
Sam leans with him and he sees her start to reach before she thinks better of it and tucks her hand back against her chest.
“Hey now,” she says. “You in some kind of hurry all of a sudden?”
Misha stares at her knee, then her hand, before finally meeting her eyes. It’s not reproach he sees there, but genuine concern, and that’s enough to make him stay. For now.
“No,” he answers, weight shifted, free hand shoved deep in his front pocket. “Not really.”
“Good,” Sam says. “Cause I got something for you. On my desk. Under the stapler.”
Dutifully, Misha rounds the crescent of the circulation desk and liberates the stack of forms beneath Sam’s Swingline. At first he’s not sure what he’s looking at, the paper lime-green and stiffer than normal stock, the school crest emblazoned across the header. Then the words begin to make sense. Well, not sense, exactly. But after a quick skim he realizes it’s a sign-up sheet. For chess club.
“You can’t be serious,” he says, incredulous. “The only place I’ve even seen a chess set is in Central Park, and if I knew how to get a hold of Ling, he’d tell you just how much of a disaster I am.”
“Doesn’t matter,” she says, smile returning, and Sam kicks her legs out, crosses them at the ankle. If Misha didn’t know better, he’d call her expression smug. “That’s not the point.”
“You expect me to believe the point of chess club is not to be good at chess.”
“Yes. Besides, you owe me.”
“So that’s how you’re going to play it?”
Misha sighs. The last thing he wants is to be labeled, especially as a geek. But Sam’s right. He owes her.
“A month,” he says. “A month, and then we’ll see.”
“That’s all I’d ever ask.”
Misha shakes his head at himself as he makes his way back through the gardens to the dormitory building. The things hot women can make him do are ridiculous. The chess club for fuck’s sake. Next thing he knows he’ll be joining the math club with Rob. Yet all Sam has to do is turn the twinkle on, lean just a little bit closer.
He sighs, amused at himself. When all is said and done, he’s not at all bothered about selling out to Sam.
He shoulders open the door, careful to shove his weight two thirds across and just below shoulder height, the place he’s discovered is optimal for the most swing and least effort. If it weren’t for the ongoing frostiness between him and Jensen, this place would already have started to feel like home.
Despite how he felt in the first couple of days, he’s now pretty acclimatized to the place. There aren’t many people around, which suits him just fine. He has his own library (and own hot librarian), which is a step up from anything he ever got at his foster homes. And frankly, he’s used to not getting along with his various faux-adopted siblings. Even if he’s never really felt like doing the things to them he’d like to do with Jensen. Which, thank heavens for small mercies, or something. He has enough fucked-up issues as it is.
Of course, it’s this kind of thinking that has always gotten him in trouble.
The second he’s ever felt at home somewhere is the moment when his new foster mom is arrested for solicitation, or his ‘dad’ hits one of the kids and Misha has to step in and get a black eye for his trouble. Or when, in the better places, someone loses a job thanks to the financial crisis. Or little Jimmy is just too much to handle and Misha gets to be the casualty, because he’ll be all right. He’s intelligent and good looking and they’re sure he’ll do just fine, he understands, right?
Which is why, when he saunters down the corridor, tapping annoyingly on each door he passes until he comes to the end, and his, he’s not at all expecting the status quo to change, and why he really ought to have been.
Because when he opens the door, a “Honey, I’m home!” on the tip of his tongue to sing-song at Jensen, all he manages to do is stand there with his mouth hanging open at the sight of the ginormous boy lounging on his bed.
The boy turns to him, face lighting up in greeting like a puppy whose master has just come home from a long-ass 9 to 5. The giant bounces off the bed and sticks a hand into Misha’s personal space.
“Dude, hi! I’m Jared. Nice to meet you, man.”
Jensen’s smirk from where he’s casually splayed out on his own bed says it all really.
It turns out Jared is a fixture in their room for the next week or so until term starts. Misha finds it hard to believe he and Jensen are friends, what with their being polar opposites. Where Jensen is cold and a bit of an asshole, Jared is sunshine and freckles and makes Misha want to strap him down and take to him with dental tools and ice-picks.
Jared is also larger than life. And being that way, he takes up a lot of their room. A lot of Misha’s room. Apparently he has no qualms lazing on Misha’s bed, touching his things, such as his motley collection of almost nothing is.
It’s the principle of the thing, and Misha doesn’t like it.
Once or twice, he could swear he catches Jensen with a sympathetic look on his face as Jared unthinkingly bends the covers of Misha’s text books while he pretends to be interested in flipping through them. But the look is gone as soon as he glances to confirm it, replaced instead with Jensen nodding and enthusing and roughhousing with Jared across the floor.
It’s torturous on two fronts. One, Misha gets to see the way Jensen’s face opens up and smoothes out when he laughs, when he isn’t brooding. The way his skin is exposed as Jared pins him down and tickles the apparently sensitive flesh of his sides. Two, it means all his needling of Jensen is lessened in effect. He continues with the passive-aggressive stories about his parents: astronauts who ran out of air, congressmen caught in political scandal, evangelical bible-thumpers who disowned him for selling his soul to Satan. But rather than get mad, Jensen just shakes his head and ‘whatevers’ at him, goes to hang with Jared or texts Jared to come over.
Jared himself isn’t a bad guy, just too much of one for Misha’s tastes. He’s used to the Northern sensibility of everyone keeping to themselves, not gettin’ in other people’s business or being so damn friendly his teeth hurt. Most of all he dislikes Jared because he never knows what he’s going to do. Misha prides himself on being able to read other people, but Jared he can’t figure. If he’s so damn happy-go-lucky, then why the hell is he so strangely enamoured with a mopey dick like Jensen?
Regardless, he resigns himself to the fact that Jared is going to be a permanent fixture in his dorm room for the foreseeable future. Which makes it all the more interesting that Jared up and disappears when term starts the following week.
As expected, Misha finds it hard to adjust to the influx of people that suddenly expand his solitary world of Jensen, Jared, Rob, and Sam. He finds himself walking close to the walls, avoiding the rush of adolescent testosterone that permeates the halls, boys of all sizes suddenly running this way and that. Covered in mud, on the way to sports practice, late for class, just horsing around.
Being a loner has always allowed Misha a certain freedom, the ability to converse with adults and be accepted by them as kin. But other than Sam, this is an entirely different kettle of fish. Instead of the dingy, dilapidated public school system he’s accustomed to, where he was easily the brightest and could fuck off with no thought of repercussion, here he discovers he’s expected to show up for class. And that even though, yeah, he’s still miles smarter than any of the boys around him and a shitload more street-smart, if he wants to keep up he at the very least has to pay attention to the adults standing in front of the class purporting to be the fonts of all knowledge.
In short, it’s a fucking drag.
Moreover, Jensen is in most of his god-damn classes and is, much to Misha’s chagrin, just as much of a teacher’s pet as Misha was sure he was all along, despite both Rob and Sam’s assurances to the contrary. Still, if Misha could no longer get to Jensen by being an ass socially, he can sure as hell rile him up academically. No one like Jensen, top of the class, gifted and lauded as the golden boy of the school, would take kindly to being one-upped in front of his fellow classmates and mentors.
Of this Misha is sure.
Jensen values his freedom — freedom to wander the halls after lights out, to leave the grounds when he’s not supposed to, or even to light up behind the stables when no one’s looking.
Most of all, he enjoys having the freedom to at least try and craft his own life, to be someone beyond what his dubious legacy as the son of Carter Lee Ackles dictates. Unfortunately, that sort of freedom requires making certain concessions. So yeah, he kisses some ass. He makes good grades. He works as hard as he plays.
Nature of the beast.
According to every movie ever made, though, senior year is a time to slack off. Not at Ellis. They push you harder, faster, do their very best to drive you out the door with that Ivy League acceptance letter they promise all the parents at orientation. Unlike some of the other boys, it suits Jensen. While schoolwork has never been a passion, it has always come easy for him, and the net effort expended to keep what few perks he’s allowed is entirely worth it.
To be honest, he’s happy for the distraction.
Between Jared’s thunderous return from Nana Padalecki’s gator farm and Misha’s increasingly obtuse tales of parental abandonment, the structure provided by a class schedule and lacrosse practice is something of a godsend.
The single, solitary problem Jensen has with the start of this semester is that Misha’s in all but two of his classes. He attributes the tenuous thaw between them to Jared’s irrepressible nature and complete lack of boundaries. Not that things are sunshine and roses now. They aren’t. But Jay has spent half his life rounding off Jensen’s rougher edges without thought or effort, and there’s no way in hell his addition to their social equation could pass without having some effect. By the time Jared fucks off for football practice, Misha’s usually exhausted his ready supply of needling material and opted to seek solace in a book instead.
Classroom togetherness jeopardizes that unspoken truce. Two people, especially two people as different as he and Misha are, were never meant to spend so much time in one another’s company. And in lieu of regaling Jensen with a preposterous anecdote about his father’s untimely death by rock candy, Misha has taken to waging a war of actual substance, a brain-busting turn as devil’s advocate for every thought Jensen dares speak aloud.
It’s fucking infuriating. Especially when it comes to American Lit.
In the twelve years he’s been at Ellis, Mr. Beaver’s classroom hasn’t changed. Portraits line the walls, not just of authors, but of lyricists, philosophers, historical and social visionaries. The bookcases stand stuffed with an eclectic jumble of texts and the spoils of summertime travels that had once fascinated Jensen. The shelves stay dusty, but Mr. Beaver’s stories aren’t, and so they’d developed a rapport. Mostly because Jensen actually enjoys reading. And even though composition has never been a strong suit, the Beav lets Jensen slide because he proves himself in classroom discussion. Now that he’s a year away from graduation, such a precedent should translate into an easy A.
But then there’s Misha.
His odd insights. His unique perspective. His constant and unrelenting curiosity. His fearlessness in the face of embarrassment and willingness to state his opinion, even if it doesn’t make conventional sense. He’s sharp and smart and academically scary.
And he’s busting Jensen’s balls.
Mr. Beaver sounds far away, but even at that distance, Jensen picks up on the baseline of irritation. It probably means he’s had to repeat himself.
“Sir?” Jensen answers, brusque, thumbing at the pages of the book in his hand and wishing he knew how far behind he’s fallen as his mind wandered.
“Thank you for rejoining the land of the living, son,” he says, his smile indulgent. Jensen’s tired of being on the receiving end of those expressions. Maybe more so than the ones that stink of pity. He is not his father.
He’s also not above turning on his God-given Southern charm when it’s required.
“No idea what you mean, Sir,” he drawls, lazy, lazier than he’s allowed himself to be in a long, long time. “I heard every word you said.”
“So you wouldn’t mind sharing your thoughts on theme?”
Jensen sees the out that’s been offered, the permissive twinkle in Beaver’s eye. It’s a simple question, simpler than he deserves for his inattention, but he’s grateful nonetheless.
“Certainly, Sir,” he says, and he feels eighteen pairs of eyes turn on him and fix. The attention doesn’t faze him, not here. Jensen simply pushes himself to standing, clears his throat, and begins, “I think one of the central themes of the novel is alienation and isolation, much like Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, though with vastly different context. Unlike the protagonist in Kesey’s work, Holden has ample opportunity to break through that barrier of perceived persecution and own his experience. Instead he retreats behind it, using it not only as a reason to suffer but also as an excuse to hold himself apart. In short, Sir, Caulfield’s a coward.”
By now Jensen’s used to the low murmur that usually kicks up in the wake of his answers, the rustle of paper. He can’t help the pride that flares in his chest, and for a moment the world has righted itself—he’s Jensen Ackles, loved and feared and utterly untouchable.
But every moment ends.
This one crests high and lands hard, caught on the coattails of Misha’s hissed, “Bullshit.”
Mr. Beaver frowns, the muscle in his jaw twitching as he turns and hisses back, “Mr. Collins. Language.”
Naturally, Misha rolls his eyes. And Jensen’s torn between sitting his ass down and challenging Misha openly. He’s never run from a fight before, and the offhanded sniping between them was always leading here. Now’s as good a time as any to push. This is his room. These are his people.
Misha takes away the option in the squeak of wood against wood. His socks are mismatched, Jensen notices as he swings out of his seat, his shirtfront creased beyond the liberal allowances of Ellis’ dress code. The knot in his tie hangs crooked, a haphazard attempt at appeasing the establishment. Given the state of Misha’s bunk, Jensen wouldn’t expect any less. Though he’s thankful, now, that they miss each other in the morning. Much as he respects the idea of rebellion, watching this walk out of their room every morning might drive him insane.
There’s a weighted pause, tempered only by Misha’s too-blue stare, the quirk caught on his lips, and Jensen’s all in.
“I take it that means you disagree,” Jensen says, plucking at the sleeve of his suit coat, not out of nerves, but because they haven’t gotten the A/C in this building adjusted yet; the sweat pooling in the bend of his elbow is beginning to make the shirt stick.
Misha seems unaffected, every inch of his stance defiant as he tucks both hands into his back pockets, a dangerous smile spreading fast.
“You could say that,” he answers finally, as if it were even a question. “While I’d agree that one of the central themes is, in fact, alienation, your interpretation of Holden’s interaction with that theme and your subsequent value judgment are not only unwarranted, but also firmly seated in a place of privilege and arrogance.”
Jensen snorts, thumbs at his lower lip as if considering. Of course Misha’s opted for a personal attack. Of course. “Whereas your interpretation has nothing to do with your life experience.”
Few of the boys here know Misha well enough to catch his meaning. Not that Jensen actually knows him either, but he’s not playing to the crowd anymore. He doesn’t need to.
The twitch of Misha’s cheek tells him so.
Jensen dares a step, then two, until he could reach out and touch Misha if he wanted to. Beyond the twitch, Misha doesn’t waver.
“Maybe,” Jensen says, “you’re too kindred to offer objective analysis.”
And Misha does break then, but when he looks away he’s shaking with laughter, fingers bracketing his knees until the knuckles blanch white. His breath rasps, a harsh pull into his lungs, but no one’s sharing in his outburst. They’re muttering again, but not yet joining in.
“Because art is only to be rendered objectively?” Misha gasps out, eventually, and swipes a rough hand across his face to smear away the imaginary sweat. “I feel sorry for you, Ackles. Really I do.”
“Really,” Jensen answers, clipped tone and carefully bitten tongue. “Because from where I stand, I’m addressing the text as it was intended. You’re putting your fingerprints all over it.”
“Not really, no. But I am electing to empathize with Holden instead of pass judgment. Who are we to deem his coping methods cowardly? Obviously they’re necessary, or else he wouldn’t use them.”
“I don’t see how willfully isolating yourself could be considered coping. It’s running.”
“Not everyone is you, Princess. Some people need to run.”
“And running is cowardly.”
“Again—by your definition,” Misha says, hands bursting into sudden violent motion. “By mine? Smart. At least some of the time.”
“So you feel Holden’s justified in hiding? That he has a right to want something he could have but doesn’t take for fear of being hurt?”
Misha shifts his weight, one foot to the other and back again, and eyes the pockmarked oak between the toes of his battered oxfords. His mouth opens and closes silently. Twice. Which means that at least some of what Jensen’s said has hit home, even if he can’t anticipate the counterstrike. He doesn’t understand Misha well enough to even hazard a guess at what it might be.
What he doesn’t expect is the softness in Misha’s gaze when he raises it, the earnest, aching quality in his voice when he says, quietly, “Aren’t we all justified in that?” and turns his back on Jensen to sit down.
It’s too sincere to rebut, too uncomfortable a truth for Jensen to argue against when he’s spent so much of his life being what he’s supposed to be because he’s scared to be anything else. Even playing devil’s advocate seems an unnecessary compromise in the face of such fact.
The air in his lungs gusts out on a grunt, Beaver’s voice jangling in his ears again as he takes two shuffling steps back, a ridge of wood in the bend of his knees. Misha glances, fleeting, but Jensen feels it skip across his consciousness before he fully finds his seat. Then, as quick as it came, the moment’s lost, and Mr. Beaver’s asking the rest of the class about self-deception and how it can lead easily to the deception of others, how the death of a loved one can alter the course of someone’s life, how they think it affected Holden’s.
Jensen’s only half listening when the bell sounds, so he misses the flash of messy black hair in the chaos of changing classrooms. One thing Jensen knows for sure—he won’t be spending his free hour in the room today. Not for anything.
The three days that follow pass between them in silence. Misha spends most of his time down the hall with Rob and, by extension, Matt. Jared comes and goes, a whirlwind of habit and comfort like Jensen’s oldest pair of boots, the ones he can’t quite bear to throw away even though they don’t fit anymore. And once Jay’s gone there’s nothing, like Misha has finally chattered himself out. In spite of himself, Jensen thinks he might miss the tall tales, the lilt of Misha’s voice easing him off into sleep as he carves out yet another history for himself, for his parents. Jensen’s stopped asking for the truth, and he’s sure as hell stopped expecting it to be freely offered. Whatever Misha’s problem is, it isn’t one Jensen can solve. And while he’s briefly considered going to Dean Morgan to let him know it’s not working out, he doesn’t want to own that failure. Even if he doesn’t understand what he’s failing at.
All the more reason to be grateful for a weekend away.
In actuality, he’d settle for three days crashed out on Chris’s nasty couch, for slamming beer and gas station hot dogs on the ramshackle deck with paint peeling up between his toes. But Labor Day means sailing the coast to Canaveral and back, motoring when they have to so he doesn’t miss any school. Of all the promises his father has made, this is the one he’s never broken. So based on eleven starlit fish-fries on the deck of a ship named after his mother, Jensen packs and stows the duffel under his bed until Dad’s driver shows Friday afternoon.
History doesn’t prepare him for the call when it comes—purpling pre-dawn blushing the sky to life beyond the window as the light on the phone stutters red, the ring a thousand times more shrill without any background noise to compete with it. Across the room, Misha twists in his nest of blankets and clothes, burrowing deeper as Jensen makes a grab for his desk to shut the stupid thing up.
He grunts a bleary, “What?” into the receiver as soon as he fumbles it close enough. For all he knows, it’s Chris, drunk and fucking with him again.
A cool female voice drifts down the line, though, not one he recognizes. “Please hold for Carter Ackles,” it says, then there’s a click followed by some smooth jazz Muzak, and Jensen knows.
He’s tempted to hang up. Almost does, truth be told. But there’s a part of him that can’t let go, won’t let go no matter how much bullshit the asshole deals him. All because she loved him once.
His dad sounds tired when he says, “Jensen,” and clears his throat. Jensen wishes he gave a damn, but they’re strangers these days, more than ever.
“Yeah,” he answers, turning his sigh into a jaw-splitting yawn. The last thing he wants to seem is affected. He’s had enough practice at pretending he doesn’t care that it comes easy now, when he needs it. “It’s five in the morning, Dad. Hope it’s important.”
The line crackles, popping and tinny, with the hiss of an expletive. “Sorry, son,” he says, eventually. “Miscalculated the time-zones.”
Jensen hums, focuses on the vibration of lips against teeth, the way the sound settles at the back of his throat. Anything to put distance between him and the stone in his stomach. Hope comes easier when there’s reason for it, but he lets himself believe anyway, trust that Dad’s flight just got delayed and he’s calling to say he’s running late. They both know better.
“I know you were looking forward to this weekend, Jensen,” he says. “But I’m tied up in Singapore. If I stepped away from these negotiations right now, they’d fall apart. I’m sure you understand.”
Jensen stares at the ceiling, mentally mapping the curves of leafy shadows that sway there. “Yeah, sure,” he hears himself say. “Got stuff to do anyway.”
Dad sighs the sigh Jensen had the presence of mind to swallow, and there’s a rustle of paper, the clunk of wire frames against glass. If Jensen dared to close his eyes and try, he’s sure he could visualize the anonymous hotel room in the background, the way the great Carter Ackles pinches the bridge of his nose when he’s frustrated. It’s been a long time since he tried, though, and now is no time to start.
“I’d be there if I could, son. You know that. We just need this contract.”
Jensen holds his tongue, doesn’t say he couldn’t give a flying fuck about the contract. Because there’s no point.
Because the sad fact of the matter is, they do need it.
They always will, and have, in fact, since the spring of his fifth birthday. He’d been too young at the time to understand, and so he may never know what really happened that day in April, or that other day, the darker one, in May. All he’s been allowed to know is his father parted ways with the firm he’d spent the previous seven years slaving for. That the firm had collapsed, spectacularly, two weeks after his departure. That less than a month later, his mother would be laid out at the family estate, surrounded by lilies and pewter julep cups full of violets and baby’s breath. That after they put her in the ground at the old family plot by the arbor, he’d spent most of the next day trying to dig her up with a plastic spade.
Even those aren’t truly memories; they’re snapshots fabricated from the stories he’s been told all his life.
When he remembers her, the stench of death hasn’t touched her yet. She’s warm and alive, guiding his hand as they decorate gingerbread soldiers to guard the house she’d made the night before, scrubbing ketchup off his face with the sun in her hair and sea spray at her back. She’s Maggie. Mom. Not a body in a box.
“Jensen? Are you still there?”
The words snap him back to present, and he wishes for her sake he could forgive his, but he can’t. “Yeah, Dad,” he says, cold and careful. “Guess I’ll see you when I see you.”
“Son, I’m sorr—”
The dial tone nearly deafens him. Jensen listens to it until it busies out. Waiting, even though he couldn’t say what for. As soon as he pushes the button to silence the buzz, the phone rings again, a sharp burst of sound that’s more annoying than before because he’s awake. Misha groans from his side of the room and lobs something vaguely shoe-shaped at the charging station.
Jensen pulls the cable out of the wall and then there’s only silence.
He tries, really fucking tries to go back to sleep. It should be easy in the half-light, with the birds cooing themselves awake, with Misha slipping back into a rhythmic pattern of deep breaths and rasping sheets, with the sprinklers popping to spray the lawn beyond his window.
But he can’t, can’t coax or cajole himself back under, can’t forget this happened.
Instead, he rolls himself out of bed to snag the duffel and pull the zip. Clothes and gear scatter noiselessly across his comforter, a haphazard spray that begs for order. Jensen sets himself to it—shorts folded and shirts hung, towels and shoes and swim trunks back in their original homes.
He’s almost finished by the time Misha betrays himself, and even though he’s feeling less... whatever, it takes a minute and two deep breaths to get a handle on his temper, to keep from lashing out.
“Sucks,” is all Misha says at first. His face is flushed pink with sleep, deep creases cut into the small section of cheek that crests the sloppy cocoon he’s fashioned for himself. Even in the dark his eyes are squeezed shut, his features lax as if he’s giving Jensen a chance to decide whether he wants to have heard the word or not.
And as much as Jensen doesn’t want to talk about it, maybe he kind of does.
“Yeah,” he whispers back. “It sucks ass.”
The nest shifts like a living thing and a foot slips free to dangle off the bed, but Misha’s eyes remain closed. Jensen’s grateful, if only because like this Misha’s bearable. It makes Jensen wonder what might’ve been, in a perfect world where they weren’t so Felix and Oscar and Misha could somehow have a conversation without lying through his teeth.
Because he gets it now. He sees what Julie sees—the bone structure and the long lashes, the cleft in his chin. He’d have made a good wingman, better than Chris because they’re so different, and they’d undoubtedly attract different kinds of girls.
Not that it matters now. Sympathy or not, Misha’s Misha, and there’s just no way around it.
Birds tweet. A/C whirs. A door down the hall slams.
And Jensen’s about to count the muttered, “Sucks,” as all the solidarity he’s getting when Misha’s voice curls out, low and tight and aching.
“I was twelve,” he says, “and living with Sally, I think. My parents sent a plane ticket for me, to visit my Gran in Maine. I don’t know where they got the money, but I never even laid eyes on the thing. See, Sally spent most of her conscious time higher than a kite. She hawked the ticket and took the proceeds straight to her dealer. I found the card in the trash a week later.”
Misha’s expression never changes, his mouth keeping carefully neutral lines as it wraps around each word. In spite of all that’s passed between them, Jensen wants to believe. He’s just not sure he can.
At least not until Misha opens his eyes.
And in the place of the usual mischief, Jensen sees himself reflected, faceted a thousand times over. It’s enough. Then, quick as the veil lifted, it drops—Misha’s lip curled to expose a near-feral, if somewhat forced, grin.
“Now for fuck’s sake, lie down. We both need our beauty sleep. Some more than others.”
Which one of them Misha’s referring to, Jensen couldn’t say, but he does crawl back into bed and sleeps so hard he misses his alarm.
That’s how he ends up skulking down the dormitory hall next to Misha with his hair still dripping and a cut stinging like a sonofabitch in the hollow of his jaw. Because, of course, Misha’s alarm rings twenty minutes before the first bell, instead of an hour. The late rising coupled with the early morning phone call and the rush to get his shit together before class puts Jensen in a shitty mood, and so he can’t be bothered to look for Jared or Matt or Rob or anyone he’ll have to exchange niceties with.
It actually makes Misha perfect company.
A couple of people call his name as he makes his way downstairs. He ignores them for the important business of thanking whatever gods in heaven smiled down upon him this morning and forced Misha to keep himself to himself for the time being,
For the first time in forever, he hits the bottom step of the flight that leads to the foyer without talking to a single solitary soul. It’s refreshing.
At least, it was until he slams face-first into Dean Morgan. The Dean’s big hands land on instinct, curved around his shoulders to ease him off and away, and he’s smiling of all things when Jensen pulls his face into focus.
“Sorry, Sir,” Jensen says. “Wasn’t looking.”
For some reason, Misha’s at his elbow, grinning and hovering and picking apart the binding on his AP Bio textbook. Jensen barely puts down the urge to take it away from him.
“No problem, Jensen,” the Dean says, hands clasped behind his back. “And Misha. I trust Jensen’s been showing you the ropes? Giving you a feel for how things are done around here?”
Jensen holds his breath and studies the vein in the fake-ass marble floor. It’s not like he can get officially reprimanded for not following through on something that’s not his job in the first place. He just doesn’t want to disappoint the dean. They have history. Morgan had believed in him when everyone else was trying to get him tossed from the school because of who he is. That’s a favor you can never repay.
He doesn’t expect Misha to have his back, mostly because he’s been given no reason to. So when Misha rocks onto the balls of his feet, Jensen braces.
“Jensen’s been indispensible,” Misha says, fresh-faced and cloyingly earnest. “I don’t know what I’d do without him.”
Then somehow, there’s a wiry arm thrown over his shoulder, fingers digging into the meat of it like five hot little pokers, and Jensen shoots a glance sideways, but Misha’s not cracking.
“Certainly, Sir,” Jensen says around the lump in his throat. “We’re on our way to Bio now, but we were up so late we missed the alarm. We’re in kind of a hurry.”
“Oh, of course. Stay out of trouble, boys,” Morgan says and with a wink is gone, strolling off in the direction of the dorm’s admin office.
Jensen waits until the dean moves out of earshot to hiss, “Dude, you didn’t have to do that.”
Nonplussed, Misha shrugs, already uncoiling and easing off into the teeming mass of teenaged boyhood that moves through the entryway. “I know,” he says matter-of-factly, and then he’s gone too, weaving unnoticed, unremarked, between clusters of kids like he’s done it all his life.
Maybe he has.
After the incident in the foyer with the Dean, things change. It’s subtle, and not some dramatic declaration of BFF-dom, but some of the tension leaves the room to be replaced with something...else.
Truthfully, Misha doesn’t actually know what to make of it. He’s used to not getting on with kids; oftentimes foster brothers and sisters don’t take kindly to additional inmates. Sometimes that’s not even a bad thing. A little hate is good for the soul, definitely good for the thickening of skin.
What they have now. Hell, he has no idea. They aren’t friends. Misha is all over continuing to be a dick to Jensen, as it turns out riling him up is not a bad way to pass the time . The glinty flare of hatred in Jensen’s eyes is worth all kinds of feeling like a child. But now Jensen seems to have come over all...weird.
It’s not that he won’t allow himself to rise to the bait Misha puts out there. It’s like he doesn’t evensee it anymore. And that cannot be abided.
And yet, for some reason, Misha doesn’t entirely hate the truce either and that leaves him feeling off-kilter, unable to read the situation. And that, he doesn’t like.
So it’s not entirely a surprise, and yet on the other hand, completely unexpected, when he and Rob sneak out of the academy one night to go watch some band Rob won’t shut up about, and he ends up spending the evening by Jensen’s side. Literally and figuratively.
“It’ll be awesome,” Rob says, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “No, really, I’ve been to Louden Swain about twenty times now, and they just get better and better.”
Misha nods, he’s not convinced, and really, he’s not all that into the scene anyway. He hasn’t had a lot of time to keep up-to-date on what’s happening. All his musical tastes come from what he remembers of his parents. Which means there’s a lot of Creedence Clearwater in his musical influences.
He’s not dumb enough to tell people that. Instead he plays along, affects a cool aloofness that usually means people think he’s down with whatever it is they think is the bomb. And it’s not like it matters anyway. It’s only been a few weeks and he’s itching with the need to break out of the school and Rob is offering him that on a platter. He’ll like fucking Whatever-Its-Name-Is Beiber if it gets him a night out with some serious alcohol drinking.
It takes them forever to get to the bar, a good 45 minute walk through sand, dust and mosquitoes, that Misha wasn’t planning on. He’s wearing borrowed clothes proclaiming bands he’s never heard of, and they’re too tight, clinging to the sweat that slides down his spine as they trudge along in the suffocating heat.
Rob chats incessantly the entire way there, and Misha pays him at least half of his attention, muttering affirmatives and commiserations as required; mainly he soaks in the feeling of being free. This is why he will be outta here the second he turns eighteen. He needs it, feels the delirious rush of it in his veins like oxygen. To be his own person, to not belong to anyone, to not be passed along from one person to the next... that, will be the start of his life. The real start.
By the time they get to the bar, Misha is flushed and sweat has broken out along his hairline. He doesnot like the South and its humidity. Give him a New York winter in a minute.
Rob nods nervously to the bouncer at the door. He’d explained to Misha, in one of the tangents on the way over, that he’s been seeing bands play at this place for years, and they know him. He’d been full of bravado that they wouldn’t have trouble getting in.
That bravado doesn’t seem to have lasted the trip, though, and for a second Misha is sure they’re going to be turned away like children.
But the bouncer just nods, utters a gruff, “Don’t let me catch you drinking, kids,” and stands aside.
Misha wants to take offense immediately, because he is sure as all hell going to be drinking. But the look Rob gives him, glancing over his shoulder and looking relieved and grateful, even though Misha himself has done nothing, stays his tongue.
Inside is just as hot as outside, but the ceiling fans push down false imitations of breezes and somehow makes it seem less oppressive than it actually is.
It’s crowded. Really crowded for a Wednesday night, Misha guesses, so maybe Rob is right, maybe this band is actually good. It’ll be a nice addition to his alcohol, he supposes. If, that is, they’re able to get any. The place is packed, which means so are the tables. The meager dance floor is already a swarm of bodies.
“Hey!” Rob says to him, pitching his voice up to be heard over the chatter of conversations and clink of glasses. “Over there.” He points and Misha follows his wavering finger, but can’t for the life of him tell what he’s meant to be focusing on.
Before he can ask, Rob sets off across the room, weaving and dodging around people so quickly that Misha bumps into people as he tries to catch up. He ignores the swearing and dirty looks in favor of not losing sight of his guide.
When he catches up, Rob is talking animatedly with his hands, dragging over empty seats to append them to the end of a booth. It’s not until Misha stops, awkwardly shoved into a seat by Rob, that he realizes he knows at least two of it’s occupants. One is Julie, the Dean’s PA, who is looking at him quizzically with a curious smile. The other, staring at him like Misha is the last person he expected to see, is Jensen.
New found peaceable weirdness or not, Misha does not want to spend the night not being weird, peaceably or otherwise, with Jensen. He wants to spend the night getting drunk.
At least Jensen seems to feel the same way, judging by the grunted, “Hey, man,” that comes his way.
“Obviously you know Jensen,” Rob is saying with a nervous laugh, “and Julie,” he says, waving happily at her. “And these are Jensen’s friends, Chris and Dave.”
Misha nods in the direction of the two guys Rob is indicating. “Nice to meet you, I'm sure.”
The one called Chris snorts into his beer, but it doesn’t seem malicious, just amused. Which is weird, but whatever floats his boat. Dave, however, Misha takes an instant dislike to, the way his eyebrows arch lasciviously and his forehead lines into ruts.
“So you’re the famous Misha, are you?” Dave asks, and the tone of his voice indicates something is very definitely going on that Misha isn’t aware of. His defense mechanisms rise against danger automatically.
“The one and only,” he mutters, glancing furtively at Jensen but gaining nothing from the way he studiously avoids his gaze to stare down into his beer.
“Well, you are very pretty, I'll give you that, Meeesha,” he leers, drawing Misha’s name out.
“Ignore him,” Julie says, swatting at Dave’s arm. “Dave’s a dick. I don’t know why we tolerate him.”
“I keep tellin’ y’all he does give good head,” Chris remarks, and sets Rob into a fit of nervous giggles.
“I’ll bet Misha here gives good head.” Dave grins and Misha feels a flush rise to his cheeks. “His lips are almost as pretty for cocksucking as Jenny’s here.”
Misha’s about to say something in return - what, he has no idea - but he’s sure it will be particularly sharp and cut right to the quick, when Jensen growls quietly from beside him. “Oh, shut up, Dave, no one wants to watch you jerk off.”
Misha snorts, amused to find Jensen has beaten him to it.
“Do you guys want a drink?” Jensen asks them, turning the conversation away from Dave and his dick.
“Anything alcoholic,” Misha mutters at the same time as Rob says he’d like a virgin bloody Mary.
“That’d be right,” Dave mutters and Misha feels his hackles rise, instantly on alert to defend his friend. Even if a Virgin Mary is the wussiest drink he’s ever heard anyone order. Surprisingly, he finds he’s not the only one, sensing rather than seeing the way Jensen tenses beside him, as if waiting for a fight.
Rob, though, is oblivious to any slight against him though, chatting away with Julie about something or other. Jensen catches the eye of a waitress and gives their order; one virgin bloody Mary, and one beer that Misha doesn’t recognise.
Jensen must sense Misha’s consternation because he winks. “Trust me, you’ll like it.”
And strangely, Misha finds the idea of trusting Jensen is not all as abhorrent as it might have been a week ago. Jensen himself looks quietly pleased when Misha nods and says okay.
The band comes on and, true to Rob’s word, they’re pretty fucking good. Misha finds himself tapping his foot along in a way entirely reminiscent of every-man's grandpa, but not caring in the least. Rob and Julie head out onto the makeshift mosh-pit and dance for awhile, leaving Dave to make innuendo and Chris to laugh, partially with him but partially at him. Jensen stays quiet, long since moved over into the booth to allow Misha to slide in next to him.
Together, they make it through a not-so-paltry amount of beer, and the night begins to swim invitingly in Misha’s vision. Jensen is a warm presence next to him, and he fights the urge to sway closer, knowing it would be uninvited. And potentially suicidal, with Jensen’s best friends and douchebags across the table from him.
Whatever. He’s drunk and free and happy, and he’s okay with that.
Between sets, Dave starts in on the needling again. At one point he asks Misha who his parents are, because surely they must be rich and famous for him to end up at such a snooty ‘gay school’ as Ellis. When Misha tells him it’s none of his god damn business, Dave crows like he’s won the jackpot.
“Aw, sore are we that mommy and pop shipped you off unwanted? Was little Meesh an accident?”
“Does it make you feel bigger to belittle other people?” Misha retorts serenely. “Because I can only imagine you must be making up for some damn impressive feelings of inadequacy.”
“Oh yeah?” Dave replies. “Wanna see my cock Misha? You only had to ask, you know.”
Misha rolls his eyes. “Love to, but I didn’t bring my glasses. I’m sure your momma told you it was normal though, right?”
Jensen laughs abruptly next to him and Misha turns, almost in disbelief, to see the flashing white of Jensen’s teeth and the long, exposed expanse of throat that is bared as Jensen’s head tilts back in amusement.
Dave just scowls at him from across the table.
“Damn,” Chris drawls. “We ought to keep this one around. Any man that can put Davey-boy here in his place is a man worth buying a beer.”
Jensen chuckles, eyes bright with mischief, and Misha has to fight to tear his gaze away. “He has his moments,” he agrees, and Misha finds himself unable to stop the slight tug of his lips as they curve into a wry smile.
Apparently, hating on Dave was the right move, because from that point on Jensen warms to him in a way he’s never done since they met. The glowering Dave gives him amuses the fuck out of Chris, too, and Jensen finds himself in possession of a really good glass of Scotch the next time the waitress swings past.
By the time Louden Swain have finished and Julie and Rob make it back to the table, giggling and bright-eyed, Misha is drunker than drunk. And judging by the way that Jensen keeps accidentally knocking his elbow into him as he drinks, he isn’t the only one.
“Oh my god, you guys are toasted,” Julie cries in amusement.
“Are not,” Jensen says and then entirely ruins the effect of the statement by hiccuping. Which makes Misha dissolve into giggles. He can hear them coming out of his mouth, even as he knows he is not a person who giggles. And is certainly not a person who giggles in front of his stick-up-the-butt roommate Jensen. And yet they are definitely coming from him.
“Are too,” Julie grins. “Do you need a ride home? I’m gonna give Rob a lift.”
Misha’s about to say “fuck yes,” when Jensen answers for him. “Nah. The night is still young. And there is more beer to be drunk.”
Which is not what he was going to say, but the way Jensen turns to him, eyes glinting with merriment and a smile plastered over his face, shuts him up. He’ll stay. Of course he’ll stay. Not even a question.
Julie shakes her head with an indulgent smile. “You guys do remember you have class in the morning. Have fun with that.”
Jensen smirks, “Don’t worry, we won’t rat you out for fraternizing with minors.”
Julie laughs. “No, you won’t, because you aren’t that stupid.”
Misha opens his mouth to speak but Jensen is quicker. “Shut up and drink your beer, man.”
The way Jensen’s eyes dare him to say otherwise should be something he objects to, and yet, really, all it does is make him adjust the way he’s sitting under the table. This is not a good thing. His insufferable roommate is hot, yes, but if he gets to the point of being hot enough that Misha has to make that happen? Well, life could get complicated.
With eyebrows raised and an answering dare in his own gaze, Misha brings the glass to his mouth and swallows.
* * *
Jensen is singing. Misha has no idea what, but it’s drunken and vaguely close to being in tune. Misha would take a second to stop and listen, figure out what the song is, but really, in the grand scheme of things, it hardly matters. Jensen is singing and Misha is laughing, an arm around Jensen’s shoulders and stumbling through the sandy dirt.
At some point he looks up and blinks. “Hey! When did we leave the bar?”
Beside him Jensen stops singing and starts laughing. “Dude, you are so wasted. We left, like, ten minutes ago.”
“It’s your fault,” Misha accuses, though his voice is coming out more amused than scolding for some reason. “You got me drunk.”
“Yeah, I practically forced you to drink,” Jensen scoffs, tripping a little on a tree root and stumbling into Misha’s side.
Misha catches him, arm tightening around Jensen’s broad shoulders to keep him up. At some point they also went from drunk and friendly to drunken friendly. Misha’s not one to beat himself against the wall of turning a straight boy gay, but damn if Jensen’s hands, pawing at him as they cling to each other, don’t feel fucking amazing.
“Well, you did that one time...” Misha points out.
“Oh,” Jensen giggles, and although it’s too dark to see, Misha is pretty sure there’s a pink flush of heat suffusing Jensen’s cheeks. “Well, but that was Dave. Not me.”
“Semantics,” Misha laughs. “Besides. Dave is your friend.”
“Dave is no one’s friend,” Jensen growls, and though he doesn’t let go of where his hand is curled around Misha’s waist, he moves slightly away, letting the cooler night air flow between them. Misha’s spent all his time down South trying to get cool, and now the one time he is...
“Oh yeah? Then why do you hang out with him? He’s a dick.”
Jensen grins, and Misha can see the white his teeth in the moonlight. “I’m so fucking glad you said that, man. Dave is a dick! Jared could never...thought he was funny. Moron.”
The trees are growing closer together and the smell of the sea is on the breeze. It’s getting darker too and Misha hopes to hell Jensen knows where they’re going because he wasn’t paying all that much attention to memorizing the way to the bar with Rob, let alone knowing how to do it in reverse in the dark.
“No,” Misha affirms. “He’s definitely a dick.”
“Man, you’re alright, Misha,” Jensen says. The wonderment that laces the sentence kind of ruins it, but Misha is happy to go along with it anyway.
“I’m the fucking bomb,” Misha says, and senses the rolling of Jensen’s eyes.
Jensen stops, Misha stuttering a half step forward before realizing and pulling himself up short in his drunken lurch. “What?” he asks, turning to Jensen and trying to make out his features in the darkness.
“I’m serious,” Jensen says, staring at him with wide black eyes and the studious seriousness only the insanely drunk can pull off. “I’m sorry I gave you such a hard time. You’re... you’re okay, man.”
Misha does what he always does when faced with the terrifying prospect of real emotion: he deflects. “I know I’m hot, but you don’t have to try so hard to get in my pants, baby. You’re pretty enough already.”
Even in the dark, Misha can see the way Jensen freezes in stunned shock for a second before shaking himself physically and punching him in the arm, hard enough to be a little painful. “You’re a fucking dick.”
Misha grins. “Yes, yes I am.”
They stumble onwards, but it seems to be taking a much longer time to get back to the academy than it did to get to the bar in the first place. Misha is getting tired, the alcohol that suffuses his veins starting to get heavy. When Jensen starts looking around in circles half an hour later like he’s trying to figure out which way they need to turn, Misha gives up and sits down, yanking on Jensen’s skinny wrist and pulling him down hard against his side.
“What are we doing?” Jensen asks, voice loud in the quiet darkness.
“We are not ending up alligator food. We are sitting the fuck down until the world stops being so dizzy and we will move again when we can see,” Misha decrees.
“You’re pretty bossy when you’re drunk,” Jensen notes, and Misha can practically hear the arched eyebrow that until now had been such an annoyance. Now he kind of just wants to follow that parabola with his tongue. Fuck.
“And you’re lost, so shut the fuck up and rest.”
Wonder of wonders, Jensen does. When they wake up a few hours later, dawn’s pale light is tinting the grove of Magnolia trees they’ve sat down in orange, shadows long and cool along the white of the sandy dirt. Misha wakes first, yawning and wondering what on earth is so heavy. It turns out to be Jensen, sleepy and warm, curled against his side.
With a bittersweet feeling in his stomach, for this is not a gift that Misha gets to keep, he rouses Jensen with a gentle shake. Blinking blearily, Jensen looks up at him, open and honest in a way that Misha hasn’t ever seen on his roommate until now, and smiles. He knows that madness lies this way, but he smiles back; he can’t help it. They disentangle without a word and make their way back, easy now that the daylight shows the signposts they’d missed in their drunken haze. It’s only one night, and yet somehow it changes everything.
* * *
From that point on, the whole relationship shifts. Instead of fighting, a drawn out war of bickering and strategy, the room becomes peaceful. Misha finally starts to see the Jensen that everyone has been raving about since he got there. And okay, sure, while he doesn’t put the guy on a pedestal the way some of the other kids and faculty do, he’s prepared to admit that Jensen is a good guy. Combined with the looks and ease with which Jensen seems to move about in his skin, Misha almost decides to hate him again, just on principle.
But it turns out that things are a lot more enjoyable when they’re on the same side. Misha stops having to hang out at the library every second of the day outside of class. And when Sam questions him on it, he just shrugs, but her knowing smile makes him think she knows anyway. And so what, Jensen is just a friend. That step took long enough as it was.
They aren’t chatty, confiding secrets with each other every second like gossiping schoolgirls, but the silence in the room is finally comfortable, a relief instead of cloying. Misha stops telling Jensen lies about his parents. Sure, he doesn’t tell him the truth, because even Jensen hasn’t earned the trust required for that dirty little secret, but not lying is a step further than he allows most people.
Misha stops leaving his things all over the place. He doesn’t like to be messy anyway, because mess means one can’t find ones belongings in a hurry when they need to run. In return, Jensen tells Jared off when Jared touches Misha’s things, and the dirty look that Jared gives Jensen is so funny that Misha almost wills Jared to keep touching to have it happen again.
They aren’t best friends or anything, but they have each others’ backs, and that’s almost better.
When Misha runs out of toothpaste, Jensen wordlessly hands him one that he produces from some secret stash. Misha leaves an apple on Jensen’s nightstand one night after he hears Jensen’s stomach rumbling from across the room. When Jensen runs out of paper in the middle of an essay, Misha hands him a sheaf of his own. And while Misha stops short of following Jensen and sitting in the bleachers to watch him at lacrosse like some lovesick puppy, he does, he’ll admit, sometimes walk past the sports fields in his ramblings, and if Jensen just happens to be there, running fast, catching with skill and deftness, then he’ll admit he’ll often stop for just a moment. Like a friend would. Moving on only when Jensen catches him and waves enthusiastically from midfield.
The semester weaves on, and for the most part, Misha does fine. He excels at all the cerebral subjects and
passes at the not-so-thinky ones. He’s passing Art, with Traci, the eclectic hippie of a woman that all the guys want to hit but who just reminds Misha of his mom. Or who he thinks his mom would be like, if things had been different. Jensen seems to have some kind of special bond with her, which all the guys thinks means they’re fucking. When Misha asks him about it, Jensen just smiles enigmatically and refuses to say anything other than, “And if all the guys jumped off a cliff?” Misha isn’t sure that that’s a no, but with Jensen he sort of suspects it is.
Math with the crazy fucker Chad, whom everyone calls Ash, though no one seems to know why, is a cake walk. Strategy has always been his thing, and Misha finds Math to be mostly that. So much so that he ends up helping Jensen with some of the harder trig stuff sometimes, Jensen quiet and concentrating, brow furrowed and the end of a pencil between his full lips.
No, the only thing Misha is having trouble in is Physical Education. He’s always prided himself on having the smarts needed to get out of any dangerous situation, and he’s been in plenty, but physically? He knows he couldn’t stop Rob if the kid decided to attack in some fit of sugar-induced rage.
He’s pretty much failing the year so far, and when Coach Pellegrino pulls him aside and says that unless he gets amazing results in the next unit, he’ll have to repeat the semester (Misha mentally substitutes the word ‘torture’ there) or face expulsion. Misha resolves to do better, to apply himself if he fucking has to, because he cannot and will not do it all again. And then he finds out that the last unit couldn’t possibly be more clichéd, or more terrifying.
Misha is afraid of horses. It’s fucked up. Who in the hell needs to do equestrian at school? Snooty private school or not, it’s the dumbest most archaic shit he’s ever heard. He’s hardly going to be joining the polo team (there is one, he checked) or competing in jousting for a fair maiden any time soon, so he doesn’t see the need to be able to ride a fucking horse.
The only horse he’s ever met wasn’t even a horse. It was a Shetland pony at a petting zoo he remembers his parents taking him to when he was just a toddler, maybe three or four. It bit him when his mother wasn’t paying attention, and though it was just a nip, not meant to hurt, it had sent Misha into a panic and took his mother hours to stop him crying afterwards; he only calmed down when she took him into Barnes & Noble, his childhood equivalent of FAO Schwartz. Or so she’d claimed laughingly later.
No, horses are nasty fuckers, and Misha has had no inclination whatsoever to remedy that impression.
“Why don’t you go down to the stables this weekend?” Jensen asks him when Misha expresses his disgust that he has to pass such a unit, at school.
Jensen’s been busy packing clothes into a duffel bag, some big trip into the city with Jared and Jared’s jock friends from the football team coming up the next day. Jensen’s mentioned it a couple of times, but he doesn’t seem all that enthused about it, as far as Misha can tell. Jared, on the other hand, has been bouncing in and out of their room for the better part of the week like a rabbit on uppers, nattering on about what they’re all going to do, most of it involving alcohol and girls.
“You think I’m going to go to where the horses live?” Misha asks him incredulously in return. He’s flopped down on his bed, staring up at the ceiling while Jensen bustles back and forth with piles of clothes. “They have home field advantage there, for Christ’s sake.”
“They’re just horses, Mish.”
“And Hitler was just a man,” he retorts sullenly.
“Good analogy,” Jensen says, rolling his eyes and sitting down opposite on his own bed. “Seriously, man, the only way to get over your fear is to face it. You know that.”
“Do I?” Misha asks, wondering what made the star-shaped stain across the stucco above his head. “I think I’d rather pull a Holden Caulfield and run, actually.”
“You wouldn’t,” Jensen says, and though it’s matter-of-fact Misha detects something in the tone of voice that makes him turn onto his side to face the other boy.
“It’s not like it hasn’t been my plan, anyway,” he admits. “As soon as I turn eighteen.”
Jensen looks away, making it hard for Misha to read him. “Is this place that bad?” he says eventually.
Misha doesn’t know how to answer and for a moment he stays silent. Jensen turns back to him, eyes waiting for an answer. Misha sighs. “A prison is a prison, no matter how nice its furnishings, Jen.”
Jensen is quiet, and Misha can tell he’s angry. What Misha doesn’t get is why. If he leaves, Jensen gets his room back, his unrivaled captaincy of the school, hero and dux of everything.
To his credit, Jensen doesn’t vent his anger at Misha, just stares at him in concentration in a way that should make Misha’s skin crawl, but apparently doesn’t. “You have to pass the equestrian unit, Misha. It’s really not that hard, it’s mostly horse maintenance and then some basic things like walking, cantering and trotting.”
“I don’t want to,” Misha says, more than happy to play the five-year-old.
“If you don’t you’ll get kicked out, and you know as well as I do that your foster folks aren’t going to give you another chance. They’ll put you in some school where the teachers don’t give a crap and they don’t have to pay. Would you rather be stuck there until you’re eighteen, or here?”
Unfortunately, Jensen makes a compelling argument.
“I really don’t like horses,” Misha says quietly, hoping to make Jensen understand without admitting outright that he’s not just a little scared, he’s petrified.
“Oh,” Jensen says, and the amount of surprise, pity and understanding packed into that one syllable ought to be impossible.
“I don’t want your pity,” Misha grumbles and goes back to lying flat on his back. End of conversation.
* * *
Saturday rolls around and Misha expects to wake up with the room to himself for a blessed whole weekend. Jensen will be out rabble-rousing with Jared and the meatheads, or whatever it is they do when they get to the “big city,” as they so ridiculously call Charleston. Big city, Misha’s ass. He wants to take them all up to New York and dump them in Times Square with a compass and a bag of trail mix, see how long it takes before they realize what a real city is.
But when he opens his eyes, the only noise is that which the Wood Ducks are making out in the wetlands, and the lump in Jensen’s bed that Misha’s accustomed to seeing every day of the week is still there.
“What the fuck?” he asks loudly before it occurs to him that, perhaps, waking someone up with audible thinking is perhaps not the thing to do at 7am on a Saturday morning.
“What?” Jensen grumbles, turning over in his blanket cocoon, face flushed with sleep, eyelids at half-mast.
“Why haven’t you left?”
“That eager to get rid of me, Misha?” Jensen mumbles, eyes sliding closed again.
“Isn’t it the big trip today? It is today, I know it is. Jared was going on about it all week. Why aren’t you on it?”
“Change of plans,” Jensen says, and though his eyes remain shut, Misha can tell by his tone that Jensen is suddenly wide awake.
“They aren’t going?” Misha queries curiously.
“Oh, no, they’re going. Nothing could stop them. I’m not, is all.”
“What do you mean you’re not?” Misha asks, sitting up on alert.
Jensen sighs and opens his eyes. “I’m going to teach you to ride a horse.”
“You’re going to...” Misha trails off as the words sink in. “But Jared...”
“He’ll get over it.” Jensen shrugs, confirming to Misha that there is indeed some sentiment to get over on Jared’s part; namely, that he’s likely pissed. “He has all his jock buddies, anyway. I’d be the odd one out. Jay only invited me because he feels like he has to; we’ve been friends a long damn time.”
“But you wanted- ” Misha starts but Jensen cuts him off.
“It’s a done deal,” Jensen says before closing his eyes again. “Now shut the fuck up. It’s a Saturday morning for fuck’s sake.” And with that he rolls back over to face the wall, leaving Misha shocked and staring at the lump of blankets.
He has no idea what the fuck just happened.
Horses, it turns out, are still fucking scary. Animals bigger than a certain height really oughtn’t be domesticated, in Misha’s opinion. He’d feel the same about elephants, he’s sure of it. But Jensen is true to his word; they spend all of Saturday at the stables, Jensen pointing out tack and showing him how to hoist the saddle up onto the back of a gray mare called Sally. He shows Misha how to tighten the girth of the saddle, to wait until Sally releases the lungful of air she snuck to keep the saddle loose before pulling the straps properly tight.
It’s a few hours before Jensen can convince him to get onto her. But after a stern talking-to, in which Misha concedes and places his palm flat against the velvety softness of Sally’s nose, he feels the horse and he have an understanding. Jensen stands dutifully by and doesn’t comment or laugh, for which Misha could kiss him, were he not sure that it would be rather inappropriate.
Jensen helps him swing his leg up over the horse’s back, and suddenly Misha is on top of the world. He doesn’t like it, the feeling of being so exposed. But then Jensen is on the black gelding called Strapper and moving next to him, taking Sally’s reins and leading them slowly out into the yard.
“See, that wasn’t so bad, right?” Jensen asks as they make their way back to the dorms afterwards, tired and sore in places Misha didn’t know could hurt.
He shrugs, refusing to allow that Jensen may have been right. They’re friends, after all, not partners. “I smell like a fucking horse,” he says instead.
Jensen laughs. “Well that’s true, we both kinda do.”
“You can laugh, man,” Misha bemoans. “You have other clothes to change into. I’ve been wearing the stuff Rob got me off Matt for days now. I have nothing left.”
Jensen puts an arm around his shoulders comfortingly. “Anyone ever tell you you’re a bit of a pessimist?”
“I’d rather be pleasantly surprised every so often as a pessimist than constantly disappointed as an optimist,” Misha replies.
Jensen just hums to himself and, when they get back to their room, he rummages around in the duffel bag of clothes he’d packed for the trip and pulls out a faded grey Pearl Jam t-shirt. He hands it to Misha with an almost shy smile. “So you don’t stink up the room,” he says, the smile transposing into a smirk.
It smells like Jensen’s washing detergent and Misha sleeps in it every day after. Jensen never asks for it back, and Misha doesn’t offer.
Hours to days. Days to weeks. Weeks to a month. Then two.
Misha passes the equestrian unit, maybe not with flying colors, but he manages to keep his mount and demonstrates just enough skill to get Pellegrino off his ass. Sailing, thankfully, comes easier. Misha’s fingers are nimble as he handles the lengths of rope, lashing to fence posts with complicated knots that once took Jensen months to master.
His sea legs suck, but nobody’s perfect.
Slowly but surely, they fall into a rhythm. Every other Thursday, Chris rumbles up at the edge of the property with a flash of headlights, a sharp whistle, and The Dick riding shotgun. Jensen thinks Chris means to get under his skin by banishing him to the bed, but bouncing along the long, dark country roads beside Misha suits him just fine.
Lacrosse season starts, practice quickly giving way to regular-season madness, two-a-days slammed into a Wednesday-Saturday or Tuesday-Friday split. They’re nine games through before Jensen sees Misha in the stands, his face buried in a book and Jensen’s own red merino scarf slung around his neck. Jensen doesn’t say anything. He likes having an audience that cares, even peripherally. It makes him play smarter, hustle harder. Mentioning how much it matters might keep Misha from coming.
They study. They argue. He finds out that Misha hates artichokes and Memphis barbeque, but would pledge scores of unborn children to a troll who lives exclusively on baby brains for a slice of warm gooseberry pie. Jensen attempts to teach Misha the virtues of Carolina Americana with meager success, and Misha tries to explain why windswept lighthouse islands are the best thing since sliced bread.
They live. And it’s solid, stable in a way Jensen never knew to miss.
Summer wanes and, just like it does every year, the tree that stands sentry beyond their window bursts into fiery shades of red and gold, shedding its leaves in the first violent thunderstorm of the season. Afterwards, the air shifts, carrying a breeze that cools and doesn’t just swirl the soupy Southern humidity into new and interesting shapes. And as much as Jensen wants to be out there savoring the turn, somehow he keeps ending up here.
Last fall his room had been a way-station, a place to sleep and dress and – given the absence of an official roommate – indulge some of those baser urges Chris continually ribs him about. Nothing tied him to it beyond the fact that it’s where his things happened to live. What little free time he’d had, between schoolwork and his oppressive list of extra-curriculars, he’d spent in town with Chris and Dave, or at the Padaleckis’.
At least until Jared made varsity.
Every once in awhile, Jensen still visits their faculty cottage on the edge of campus to harass Alona and steal Ziplocs full of Mrs. Padalecki’s macadamia nut cookies, but it hasn’t been the same.
As a scholarship kid, here by the grace of Mrs. P’s position in the Social Sciences department, Jared’s always fought hard to fit in. Jensen can’t begrudge him now that he does, and most of the time, it’s not an issue. They’re still friends, good friends, but they’re both busy. They each have their own lives and, when they have time, they hook up.
With Misha, it’s different. He can’t put a finger on why or even how, exactly, only that it is.
It could be that he’s never lived with one of his closest friends, never slept in the same room or shared the same space for an extended period of time. Inseparable as he and Jared had been in their heyday, Jensen had still retreated to the dorms at night, for the most part. Or maybe it’s that Misha’s truly a friend instead of an amiable acquaintance. Jensen hasn’t had a new one of those since he caught Chris sneaking a joyride on his bike in the eighth grade.
Whatever it is, he’s grateful. Until Misha crash-landed in his life, he had no idea how lonely he’d gotten, how much space Jared’s constant presence turned frequent absence left behind.
Such is the social structure at Ellis. No one will ever ditch Jensen completely because of the potential power he wields. Yet no one wants their name associated with his in anything more than passing. Doesn’t matter, apparently, that the kids have no idea what happened. That he doesn’t. The parents are loud enough, forceful enough to make it stick. There are exceptions, as there always are, but for the most part he’s gotten accustomed to kindness in the absence of authenticity. To never knowing exactly where he stands.
Buried beneath the weight of everyone’s courteously maintained distance, Jensen must seem like Ellis royalty. Perhaps to some, he is. But kings are notoriously lonely creatures, guarded and misunderstood by all but a handful of close advisors, and Jensen hates it with every last fiber of his being. That’s the way his cookie fucking crumbled, though, and he’s man enough to shoulder the burden. After graduation it won’t matter anymore.
Misha, well, Misha’s new and too Misha to care about social status. He hangs with the people he wants, avoids the people he doesn’t, and Jensen feels like there’s a lesson to be learned from his cavalier attitude about this place, about these people. About not giving a shit.
Jensen doesn’t really, but after twelve long years he’s running out of other cheeks to turn.
None of which is the point. The point is that he keeps ending up here. His bed, his desk, his closet full of blazers and slacks and frayed jeans and battered band T-shirts, his boots tucked under the end of the bed, his laptop in its case in the corner.
Things are not what draw him. Even he’s self-aware enough to acknowledge that.
Misha turns his head, and for a split-second Jensen thinks he’s made a mistake, that his internal monologue is maybe not so internal. But Misha just grins, hair tumbled down into his eyes where it’s gotten too long without someone around to tell him to cut it, and Jensen breathes.
“What?” he says, bed dipping with the push of his elbow as he eases onto his side.
As usual, Misha doesn’t immediately answer. Or he does, if turning over on his back and kicking his heels up against the wall counts as an answer. He’s still staring, that goofy grin stretched all over his face.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Jensen mutters, shoving a finger in his history textbook to hold his place. “What?”
“Nothin’” Misha drawls, a pen he clearly pilfered from Jensen’s desk tucked into the corner of his mouth. “Nothin’ at all.”
Jensen sighs and turns his attention back to the book he wasn’t really reading, studying for a test he doesn’t need to study for. Two days from now the campus will empty out and he doesn’t have anywhere to go.
For some reason, he hasn’t asked Misha.
No time like the present.
“So when are the Petersons coming to get you?”
Casual was simpler when he didn’t give a shit. These days, he hides the fact he does in a cloud of smoke whenever he can. It’s expensive and cowardly, and he knows it shouldn’t matter, but he’d rather not spend the entire Thanksgiving weekend annoying the Padaleckis again. Not after the bitchface Jared dealt him for begging off the weekend of debauchery in Charleston. Tagging along with the Kane family is out of the question, now. The public schools were out for the whole week, so Chris and his family had taken off for the Alabama coast last Friday night.
Holidays always have a way of making Jensen feel unwanted.
There’s a hard pack buried in the toe of his boot that sticks the first time he grabs for it, slipping free only when he yanks. It’s a risk to smoke now, this late on a Sunday afternoon before a long weekend, with faculty members strolling the grounds, but it’s a chance he’ll have to take.
Misha’s expression shifts – amused to pensive – as Jensen swings himself into place on the window sill. Once the nicotine hits his system, everything sharpens and slows, and yeah, careless comes natural. Loose limbs and lips and what he wouldn’t give for a six pack right now, and the space to drink it in.
He’s mapping the hills on the horizon, question forgotten, when Misha settles in next to him. Too close. Too warm. Too seemingly entitled to every last inch of Jensen’s personal space. It’s not the first time, probably won’t be the last, and Jensen’s learned not to react. Reacting makes it worse. He can lean, though, and does just to get some air between them. Undeterred, Misha leans right along to snatch the cigarette out of his hand.
This should piss him off, and it would have a month ago when Misha was still a free-wheeling dust devil of sand dollars and careworn books and second-hand clothes, when everything they said to one another was designed for optimum damage. This is better. Maybe not easier, but in Jensen’s experience, things worth having rarely are.
Misha slumps back against the frame, socked feet swinging as he sips at the filter, rolling the smoke across his tongue without inhaling. His lips purse on the exhale, neck bared and face turned skyward, and for a moment he almost looks at peace. A smile tugs at the corner of Jensen’s lips until he palms it away. Even now, as stripped down and unaffected as Misha has become within the confines of their room, there’s a tension strung around him that Jensen can’t put a name to, something rooted in his bones. Instead of offering the butt back, Misha lets it burn, hand curled against his thigh.
Typical. Jensen mutters, “What a waste,” and means it, shifting to pluck the neglected cigarette from between Misha’s fingers.
And Misha laughs, odd, stilted, like he’s two lungfuls of air away from cracking up. Jensen doesn’t say anything else, but when he takes another drag and the calm of it settles at the base of his spine, he asks with his eyes. He doesn’t know what the fuck he’s even asking, but their shorthand is a scribbled mess of ever-evolving un-words and Misha will interpret whatever question he needs to hear.
“They aren’t,” Misha mumbles finally, thumbing into a hole fraying at the seam of his jeans. “Coming. Why would they?”
Jensen starts to say, “Because they’re your parents,” but they aren’t, they aren’t, and he still has no idea what happened to Misha’s real parents. They sure as hell weren’t circus freaks or tobacco lobbyists or double agents with the KGB. Misha’s stopped claiming as much, but he also doesn’t like to be pulled, unwilling, into truth. Jensen learned that the hard way.
Slow and painfully stupid as he can sometimes be, Jensen finally understands. An invite lingers on the tip of his tongue, just aching to be extended. But it’s not in his nature to beg forgiveness; better to ask Mrs. Padalecki before he shows with Misha in tow.
“I’m stuck too,” he says instead, another suck-breathe-blow that puts that comfortable cloud between them. “Always am. Dad’s in New Zealand, I think. Or South Africa.”
Misha hums quietly, eyes slitted and fingers tapping out a restless beat against his stomach.
“So do you get to carry the conch, or do I?”
When they first started actually talking to one another, the abrupt changes of subject had made Jensen’s head spin. Now he just rolls with it, expects it like he expects the sun to rise and set and his dad to be an absentee dick he still wants to please. This at least has some basis in reality since they recently finished a re-reading of Lord of the Flies. “Somehow,” he says, “I think we’ll survive five days without descending into anarchy.”
Ash flurries in his face when he tries to knock it free, smudging stripes against the back of his hand. Golding had fascinated him freshman year, though more so for a perverse fascination with the idea they’re all one shipwreck away from going feral. Even now he wonders what would happen if Ellis became an island unto itself.
“Well, sure, with that attitude we will,” Misha says, smile wide and winning.
“And that’s a bad thing?”
Misha folds in on himself, heel tucked tight and chin to knee, his face cutting far too serious lines considering the absurdity of this conversation. “Anarchy gets a bad rap.”
“What with all the killing.”
“Not that you’d have anything to worry about in that respect.”
“Killing?” Jensen asks on the inhale. “Or dying?”
“Either. No one would dare challenge the authority of the Golden Boy.”
The smoke crawls up his throat on the tail of a rib-splitting cough, and Misha waves it away. Jensen doesn’t know what to say, where to begin, because if anyone should know that’s not what he is, it’s Misha.
“You’re a little rusty on the old European monarchies, huh?” he grits out.
“No more than the next Dickensian orphan. Difference is, this ain’t Europe and these guys worship your used silverware.”
“You’re insane.” Which is categorically true, though again, besides the point.
“And you’re the establishment.” Misha points out, smug. “What am I even doing? Where am I? Your men in black don’t scare me.”
One last long pull of smoke and Jensen stubs the cigarette out against the wall, drops it in the Ball jar full of water he keeps tucked in the corner of the balcony for these occasions. “I’m getting food. Want?”
“So you can put me under and probe me? No, tha—wait, sure. Probing does a body good.”
And what can he even say to that? In the space of five minutes he’s been conscripted to participate in a virtual overthrow of civilization, elevated to crown prince, and then accused of abducting and dissecting people in the interests of alien investigation. When he’s in this state, Misha shouldn’t be encouraged and so Jensen refrains, shaking his head in silence and slipping out into the hall.
Somewhere between the dorm and the cafeteria, he unscrambles his brain.
Maybe it’s Misha’s absence. Maybe he’s just been cooped up too long. With the team on a BYE for the holiday and his extra-curricular calendar cleared of all non-essentials, he hasn’t done much but go to class and laze around in the room. Everyone has a limit.
Either way, the crunch of gravel under his feet sets a rhythm that soothes, and Jensen breathes with it until the weight behind his ribs eases.
Then there’s a voice at his back, warm and familiar and incredibly fucking welcome. “Going my way?” it says, and Jensen smiles.
“I don’t know. Are you baking cookies?”
“You know damn good and well that cookies are for Christmas. But I’ve already got the bag of Granny Smiths for that caramel apple pie you love.”
Mrs. Padalecki looks nothing like Jared. Or Jared looks nothing like her if you consider the gene pool from a more appropriate angle. She gave him her high forehead and the beauty mark, but that’s where the similarities end. Alona, on the other hand, is the spitting image – all fair hair and fine features – and even though Alona’s like a kid sister, Jensen’s never wondered why Mr. Padalecki ended up across the country in the middle of nowhere, teaching shop to a bunch of kids who will probably never maintain their own car or craft a chest of drawers.
Because, yeah, maybe he had a crush on Jared’s mom when he was younger. Maybe he still kind of does. She loops her arm around his elbow as she falls into step beside him, and Jensen tugs her in.
“You’re coming, aren’t you?” she asks, so sweet and open that Jensen’s teeth ache with it. “I know you boys aren’t living in each other’s pockets the way you did once upon a time. But I hope you know you’re always welcome.”
And there’s that weight again, the lump in his throat he has to swallow around if he has any hope of getting a word out, much less a whole freaking sentence. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he says, and Mrs. Padalecki’s face lights up, eyes crinkling at the corners and twinkling like transplanted twin stars.
It’s been hard listening to the other guys bitch about going home the past couple of weeks, when all Jensen wants is to have the option. He doesn’t know if Misha’s had the same itch under his skin, but that might explain some of the weird tension earlier.
They’re almost on top of the cafeteria now, the path flaring wide and forking towards the staff quarters in the little courtyard out front. Mrs. Padalecki squeezes his arm, and Jensen knows she’s about to say her goodbyes. Out of time, he bites the bullet.
“Can I ask a favor?” he says, drumming up his most charming smile.
“Anything,” she answers. “You should know that by now. Long as it doesn’t violate the code of conduct.”
Jensen laughs, uneasy. “My roommate doesn’t have anywhere to go, and I was thinking…”
She stops him before he can finish. “Of course he can come, Jensen.”
“Jared’s not a fan.”
“Jared’s a big boy,” she says, and tucks a wayward strand of hair behind her ear.
“That he is.”
“And he needs to learn that even when we don’t get our way, we should be gracious.”
“Threw a fit when I didn’t go to Charleston, huh?”
“And when Alona got the okay to spend next summer in Denver with her cousin instead of going to Florida.”
“Okay, I can see why…”
“Well, he doesn’t know we already bought him tickets for one of those European train trips as a graduation present. And you’re not going to tell him.”
“I will take it to my grave.”
“That’s all beside the point,” she says, waving a hand as if that alone can refocus them both. “Bring Misha with you on Thursday, we’d be happy to have him.”
Jensen’s not going to dwell on why or how Jared’s mom knows Misha’s name without asking. Therein lays the path to paranoia. “Thanks, Mrs. Padalecki. I really appreciate it. I know Misha will t—”
She sighs at him, her expression so Jared that Jensen almost reevaluates his opinion on their likeness. “Don’t be silly,” she says and then, without preamble, wraps him into a fierce hug. “You’re too skinny, someone has to fuss. I’m just glad I get to be that someone.”
Caught out, Jensen hugs her back; eyes squeezed shut and face buried against her shoulder. He can’t help himself. And even if he’ll probably catch shit from any one of the dozen or so guys crisscrossing the quad nearby, he also can’t seem to care.
Mrs. Padalecki pulls away first, something sad in her eyes that Jensen wants to chase away. “See you Thursday,” she says. “Don’t be late.”
Jensen watches her walk away, feeling lighter than he has in days.
Technically, you’re not allowed to bring food back to your room. Apples, bananas, the odd bag of chips or granola bar, sure. Anything you can stuff in a backpack is pretty much fair game. Whole meals, not so much.
Jensen, however, learned how to play the system a long-ass time ago. So in the space of fifteen minutes he’s procured two heaping platefuls of pseudo down-home cooking wrapped in foil, and is climbing the last flight of stairs to the room. The brown paper bag full of biscuits tucked in the crook of his elbow tries to make a break for it a couple times, but for the most part he manages without incident.
Well, except for the whole door thing. Jensen’s shifts the plates to his left hand and nearly loses it all. If not for Jared’s killer reflexes, he and Misha would have been eating their dinner off the floor.
“Shit, man,” he says. “Thanks.”
“No problem,” Jared says, beaming. “I was in the neighborhood.”
Two doors down, Chad shoves Tom into the hall, cackling like a caged hyena.
“Yeah, well. Don’t hold the neighborhood against me.”
Jared glances over his shoulder and shrugs. “They’re just… them.”
“I noticed,” Jensen says, digging for his key. “So, um, what’s up?”
He hasn’t seen Jared outside of class in over a week, and he knows it should bother him. It doesn’t. It bothers him more that it doesn’t bother him. And as he slots the key home to unlock the door, Jensen decides he’s officially turned into a chick.
“Oh, right.” Jared smiles again and peels back the foil on the plate in his hand, sniffing at it before he thumbs it closed. “Just wanted to make sure you’re coming Thursday. Wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without you.”
That lump in his throat makes a return appearance, and Jensen does his best to swallow around it.“Dude, of course I’ll be there. What is with you guys doubting my need for turkey and dressing? Mama Padalecki grilled me on the way to the cafeteria.”
Jared huffs a laugh, stacking his plate atop the one Jensen has balanced on his forearm. “Yeah, I may have said something. She frets.”
“I hear moms do that sometimes.”
“She lives for it,” Jared says, hand shoved into his hair to push it back off his face. “So what are you up to tonight?”
Nothing, Jensen wants to say. And given what little time they’ve spent together in the last month or so, it’s what he should say. What comes out is, “Dinner. Cramming for that history test tomorrow with Misha,” and Jared’s eyebrow hitches, eyes narrowed for scant seconds before he looks down and away.
“Right, history. So I’ll, uh, just get out of your hair,” he mutters, already turning to leave. He tosses a, “See you tomorrow, Jen,” back over his shoulder that sounds just the wrong side of sincere. By the time he thinks to say anything, Jared’s already around the corner.
Too late now to fix it, even if he knew how.
Jensen sighs as he twists the knob, trying to shake off the weirdness that’s crept up and stolen his Sunday. Whether it’s Misha, Jared, or his own damn fault, he resolves to bury it in congealing green beans and beets, mashed potatoes and thick slices of over-processed turkey loaf, maybe a couple of hours zoning with his iPod.
Inside the room, the temperature’s dipped, the air cool and wet where the window’s still open, even though the sun’s hung low and kissing the tops of the trees. Thankfully, the first frost has come and gone thanks to that cold snap in mid-November. It always culls the mosquito population down to something more manageable. Otherwise, they’d be overrun. As it is, they’ll probably be dealing with half a dozen of the little fuckers until they die off.
“C’mon, man,” he mutters, mostly to himself. “Are you trying to get eaten alive?”
Never mind that he’s the one that opened the window in the first place.
Jensen kicks the door closed behind him and unloads – a plate and bottle of water on each desk, the grease-stained bag of biscuits leaned up against his lamp. Misha’s nowhere to be seen at first. In a twelve-by-fifteen room with two beds, two desks, and two closets, it’s kind of impossible to hide, so Jensen figures he’s down the hall.
Or he does until he catches motion in his peripheral vision, a flash of dark hair and a smear of scarlet that could only be the Gamecocks T-shirt he lent Misha a week ago that he’ll probably never get back. Not that he minds, he’s got more game gear than he knows what to do with. It’s the where of that flash that makes him nervous, because it’s beyond the window, out past the railing, on the opposite side of a pillar. And the only thing out there is a shallow ledge of clapboard that was never meant to bear weight.
Sure, Jensen’s used it as a stepping stone to freedom himself for the past three years, but he never lingers long enough to tempt fate. One foot on the floor, one over the railing, and then the ladder.
He eats up the floor between the door and the window with long strides, Misha’s name on his lips.
“Jesus, Jensen,” Misha says, hands coming up to curl around the rail. “What’s wrong? Who died?”
“Nobody, yet. But for the love of God, get your ass back over here.”
“Gee, Mom. I didn’t know you cared.”
Jensen feels a familiar pang unfurl behind his ribs. He sets it aside because Misha’s a dumbass, and instead of just listening he has to be difficult. “I’m not gonna beg, and I’m only going to say this once,” Jensen grumbles, and it takes every last ounce of his restraint to not reach through the window and haul Misha in bodily, whether he wants to come or not. “That ledge extends a good foot past the last support. The fact that we’ve gone this long without ending up splattered in the flowerbeds is blind luck.”
Realization dawns on Misha’s face, features going slack as he looks down, and it’d be comical if it weren’t for the very real danger.
Of course, when Misha looks up, he’s grinning. “Not dead yet,” he says, but he swings a knee across the rail and heaves himself over.
Jensen mutters a, “Thank fuck,” under his breath as he moves away, which he hopes Misha doesn’t hear.
No such luck.
The footsteps at his back keep close, two thumps and then a scramble, the creak of the window sliding home and the click of the lock engaged.
“You only say that because you know you’d be lost without me.”
Jensen’s smarter now, and as such knows better than to actually admit he’d miss Misha, so he translates the sentiment to a Collins-approved version before he answers. For both their sakes. “I say that because I don’t want to clean up the mess. Or pack your shit.”
Misha huffs a breathy little laugh, following near enough that Jensen feels the gust of it on the back of his neck. The urge to dosomething skitters in his veins, though he couldn’t say what that something is. Luckily, he’s also not one to dwell too much on impulses that may or may not make sense, so they’re easy to set aside. Especially in favor of feeding the hole in his stomach where all that food should be.
As Jensen settles in at his desk, Misha sprawls in the floor, his plate gathered into his lap and head propped against the desk on his side of the room. It doesn’t look comfortable, but Jensen’s kind of partial to his liberally padded desk chair, even at the best of times.
“Thanks,” Misha says, peeling the foil off and tossing it at, though not in, the trash can. “I was starving.”
He kicks his gratitude into Jensen’s shin and Jensen smiles. “Speaking of hunger.”
“You’ve finally succumbed to your undeniable lust, and this is my last meal before you ravage me?”
“What?” Jensen scrubs a hand across his face. He’s too tired for this shit. “No. I mean.” Leave it to Misha to make a dinner invite fucking weird. Weirder. “Just for that, you don’t get a choice,” he adds. “You’re coming with for my annual crashing of the Padalecki Thanksgiving.”
“Sure I am,” Misha mutters, petulant and prodding listlessly at his sad pile of canned corn. “If it’s all the same, I’d rather spend the day camped out in Strapper’s stall. Naked. With a carrot tied to my dick.”
No matter what Misha says, there’s something disingenuous about his protest. Like he’s aching for a taste of that life neither of them have, just as much as Jensen is. By now Jensen knows enough to sort the fear out and set it aside, when to disregard Misha’s arms-length treatment, and when to take a step back or risk losing a limb. At least, he hopes he does.
“Don’t make me throw you over my shoulder,” Jensen says, poised to disengage if he’s misread. “I fucking will. Just because I’m not built like a linebacker don’t mean I can’t wrangle your skinny ass. I can.”
And just like that, Misha’s in his space, his chin perilously close to resting on Jensen’s knee. Near enough for Jensen to count his lashes and see the tiny bead of moisture clinging to the divot where his top lip bows, to smell the traces of his own cigarettes laid down over the wild, warm boy smell and the sage wafting up from his soggy brick of dressing. Something in his gut twists, flip-flops like a fucking fish out of water when Misha tongues at the corner of his mouth and smirks, predatory.
“Sweetheart, you can wrangle my skinny ass any time you want.”
Jensen hears the crack before he feels it, the toe of his boot striking the kick-plate under his desk when instinct overrides self-restraint. Misha’s hand is on his thigh, the heat of it searing through his jeans like they’re not even there, his mouth close – too close – to places Jensen doesn’t want to think about it being when he coos, “I wouldn’t have even made you buy me dinner first,” and then laughs like he’s gunning for madness with both barrels. His forehead does find Jensen’s knee, heavy and sweat- damp and familiar, and Jensen has half a mind to shove him away but Misha’s still shaking with mirth and he doesn’t have the heart.
“You should see your face,” Misha gasps, pushing himself up and away. He rubs his eyes dry and snags a biscuit, judiciously retreating to his own chair behind his own desk. “Thanks,” he says. “I needed that.”
“Happy to oblige,” Jensen says, though he isn’t, really. Regardless of the years Chris has spent giving him shit, he’s never been great at being the butt of the joke. He gets there eventually, has to with Dave the Dick attached to Chris’s hip, but his first instinct is always to bristle, to make an ass out of himself by taking things to heart. Hell, it isn’t even that he minds Misha’s nearness or the odd innuendo, he’s suffered worse from both Chris and The Dick. It just… feels different coming from Misha, and it pisses Jensen off that he can’t figure out why.
He focuses on finishing his food, sopping up the gravy with a biscuit of his own. It’s too salty and hard to be truly home-made, and all he can taste is the baking soda anyway. Misha’s eyes are on him, he can feel the crawl on his neck, the heat blooming there and in his cheeks and suddenly he doesn’t know what the fuck he wants anymore but to banish the uneasy flutter in his gut.
Beside him, Misha snorts. “You’re so pretty when you blush,” he says, and Jensen hears him crack the seal on his bottle of soda. The one Jensen fetched for him. Because he wanted to.
Jesus, what is this? And why does knowing matter so much? It doesn’t.
And so he doesn’t turn. Mostly because he’s not sure what he’d find in Misha’s face if he did.
The Padalecki house has always been an experiment in barely controlled chaos.
Most of the faculty members stationed at Ellis are either single or childless. And though Jensen’s never known whether it was by design or simply sheer dumb luck, he does know that the Padaleckis command the largest cottage on the compound. And that, generous though it may be, it’s still a tight fit for the folks, two teenagers, and two enormous dogs. Sometimes he wonders why they don’t take a place in town. They’ve been here long enough to be considered natives and, with Alona starting her sophomore year at the public high school on the opposite side of town, it would make at least as much sense as living here.
But they seem comfortable. Both Mr. and Mrs. Padalecki can walk to work instead of putting miles on their ancient Buick. Jared can stick close to campus and his friends. And Alona, well, she doesn’t bitch too much even though she knows half the friends she has only come over intending to snag themselves a millionaire.
Regardless, their place is alive with music and laughter and Jensen loves it without reservation. They bump elbows in the kitchen and sit on top of each other around the small estate-sale dining table in Mr. Padalecki’s painstakingly refinished chairs. Upstairs, Jared and Alona’s bedrooms are just as small, if not smaller, than the dorms, assuming you account for the low ceilings.
It’s cozy, both well-kept and cluttered in a gently used way that makes Jensen’s father’s austere loft in Manhattan look like a cellblock. And aside from a series of faded mental snapshots he’s kept of his aunt’s place, it’s also the only experience he’s really had with the concept of home.
The door swings wide when he knocks, light and warmth blooming out into the night on a cloud of sage and rosemary, cooked apples and corn pudding. Alona perches on the threshold, one hand propped on the jamb and the other on her hip. With her hair pulled back and piled neatly atop her head, she looks way too old to be Jared’s kid sister. Rainbow-striped socks notwithstanding.
“You don’t call, you don’t write. Hell, if Mama hadn’t told me she saw you, I’da sworn Titania finally came to collect your ass.”
Mr. Padalecki’s voice sounds from the depths of the kitchen, playfully gruff, “’Lona, language.”
“Sorry, Pop. Jensen’s just so pretty he makes me forget my manners.” An electric carving knife whirring back to life is all the acknowledgement they get.
Jensen smirks. “Not my problem you came over all townie.”
“Not my problem I’m not a boy.”
“Touché,” Jensen says, wrapping Alona up into a one-armed hug. “Missed you, stringbean. Been too long.”
“Well, hell,” Alona responds, her skinny arms winding death-grip tight across his back. “Now I guess I’ll have to let y’all in.”
Misha barks a laugh at his back, and Jensen hides a smile against Alona’s shoulder. Contrary to the earlier oddness, Misha hadn’t questioned when Jensen started getting ready. He had helped himself to a pair of last year’s jeans and a sky-blue fleece, then scoffed at himself in the mirror.
“I look like a fucking Hollister ad,” he’d said. Jensen had chuckled, then answered with a, “No, you look like me,” that meant they spent most of the walk over arguing about who wore his clothes better.
At least until they’d caught sight of the Padalecki place.
Then, Misha had gone quiet and sharp-eyed, dropping back a couple paces to let Jensen take the lead.
So that laugh, quite frankly, is a relief. Jensen may know Misha’s welcome, but Misha probably still has reservations about being here. There’s no love lost between him and Jared, and although they mostly tolerate each other, Jensen’s unsure what either will do with prolonged exposure when they’re all supposed to be getting along. If Misha finds an ally in Alona, more power to the both of them.
He spins Alona once for good measure, just to hear her squeal and she, as is her right, smacks him in the chest when he puts her down.
“You’re still a dick, Jensen Ackles,” she whispers. “But somehow I’ll find it in my heart to forgive you.”
“You don’t fool me, sweetheart. I can hear your knees knocking from here.”
Alona rolls her eyes theatrically, and leans past him to offer her hand to Misha. “I’m Alona,” she says. “Jared’s younger and way more awesome sister.”
And Jensen holds his breath.
It’s not that he doesn’t trust Misha. He does. Considering how they started out, he probably trusts too much. But this is a line that can’t be uncrossed, and Jensen hopes Misha understands.
A glance tossed back over his shoulder is enough to confirm he made the right call, and Jensen relaxes.
Misha’s bent at the waist, swept into some mocking mix of curtsey and bow, his lips pressed to the ridge of Alona’s knuckles.
“The pleasure’s all mine, milady,” he deadpans, straightening his spine and smoothing an unfamiliar mask down across his face. If Jensen didn’t know him, he’d believe it, right up to the moment Alona’s cheeks go pink and Misha flashes her a sly smile.
It’s Jensen’s turn to roll his eyes, at the ridiculousness of the situation as much as his concerns about Misha’s comfort. So he does, says, “Alona, this is Misha, my insane roommate,” and makes a grab for Misha’s shoulder that he doesn’t skirt. “C’mon, Sire Collins, Duke of Ellis and squire extraordinaire, let’s get some grub.”
With the door closed behind them, the heat is a physical presence. An oxygen-stealing wall of humid air that makes Jensen choke on his own tongue. For all the fantastic smells spilling out of the kitchen, Jensen wishes Mrs. Padalecki would at least crack a window.
Beside him, Misha gags and tugs the zipper of his fleece open.
“Jensen neglected to inform me that you were cannibals,” he says. “As I understood it, traditional Thanksgiving dinners involve consuming copious amounts of turkey, not people.”
Alona pulls a face. “What, I… huh? I—” Bemused, Jensen takes pity on her, draping an arm around her shoulders and giving her a squeeze.
“He does that sometimes,” he whispers, strands of apple-scented hair tickling his cheek. “Renders people speechless.” In lieu of an answer, Alona simply looks up at him, brow arched and mouth quirked up at the corner. “Don’t feel bad,” Jensen continues. “I didn’t know what to make of him the entire first month I lived with him. It gets better.”
Misha squints then, nose crinkling, considering, and Jensen watches the gears grind. He’s about to ask both what and possibly why, when Jared clambers down the stairs.
Impossible as it is, Jared seems to have gained three inches and about fifteen pounds since Sunday. Maybe it’s the closer quarters, low ceilings and crowded furniture, the books stacked in precarious piles everywhere closing the room in even further. He looks good though, happy, smiling and rosy-cheeked, with a hand buried in the overlong mop of his hair to push it off his face. Seeing him so disarmed warms Jensen, and he’s grateful for it.
“Hey, I thought I heard the…”
Perhaps this won’t be as awkward as Jensen feared.
Which is, of course, when Jared looks up, his expression transformed as he trails off, mumbling, “Misha.”
He had to have known Misha was coming. There’s no way in hell Mrs. Padalecki would spring something like this on him. Jared forgot. Had to have.
Nonplussed, Misha smirks and twists the knife, “I had no idea you were familiar enough with my dulcet tones to discern them from any other. I’m touched.”
Jensen kind of wants to shake him. They’d left the best-behavior pledge unspoken, mostly because he doesn’t want to compromise the fragile trust that’s built up between them. Sharp-tongued and spiny as Misha can sometimes be, Jensen also understands his vulnerabilities and the possible implications of such a pledge – that Jensen’s embarrassed of him or that he’ll only be accepted if he conforms. But then Jensen also made assumptions about Misha’s ability, no, inclination to act normal in mixed company.
Jared snorts. “Yeah, sure. Touched.” Jensen hears the ‘in the head’ that Jared leaves unspoken, and grimaces. Thankfully, Misha’s moved away and is too busy surveying the contents of the Padaleckis’ bookcases to pay attention to them. “Hey Jen,” Jared says, quieter than usual.
“Hey Jay, how’s vacation treating you so far?”
Jared shrugs and tugs at the collar of his flannel, and Jensen wonders what happened to them, why the hell they can’t just talk to one another like normal people. They’d managed just fine not a week ago, but he doesn’t know how to combat this new reticence from Jared. He’s the listener. It’s how they work.
Mrs. Padalecki rescues him from the land of awkward pauses by slipping out of the kitchen. Her hair’s piled on top of her head much like Alona’s, her sweater embroidered with leaves in harvest colors. One of the knees is blown out of her jeans. She looks completely at ease in her skin – bare feet and rolled-up sleeves and a radiant smile. She wipes her hands on a dishtowel, slings it carelessly over her shoulder.
“You boys go get washed up,” she says. “Alona, can you come get the sweet potato casserole?”
“Coming,” Alona calls after Mrs. Padalecki’s retreating back, flashing a quicksilver grin as she breezes past. “Best do as she says. You know how she can be.”
Jensen raises his hands in mock surrender, laughing and muttering, “Going, going,” as he weaves his way around the end of the dining table, sidling sideways to make it with all his parts intact. With the leaf in, there’s just enough clearance for the chair and the person in it. He nods at Misha when he brushes past, tilts his head in the direction of the Padaleckis’ washroom, surprised when Misha follows without comment.
Without immediate comment.
As soon as they’re far enough down the hall, Misha leans in, the nearness of him raising every last hair on the back of Jensen’s neck. “Did we drop through a portal to Pleasantville?” he asks, petulant. “Am I in black and white? I think that’s the kind of thing I’d have noticed.”
Jensen shakes his head. “Dude, it’s just them. Don’t be an asshole.” He throws an elbow at Misha’s ribs that he sidesteps with ease.
“Good,” Jensen answers, shouldering his way into the tiny guest bathroom. He wants to say, because those people out there are the closest thing I have to a real family, but he bites his lip against it, knowing instinctively that would only make things worse. He has an idea what’s eating at Misha, but there’s no way to be sure without asking. And no. Just, no.
Instead, he turns on the tap and works a pump of Mrs. Padalecki’s Warm Vanilla Sugar soap into an impressive lather.
Misha presses in at his back like he can’t possibly wait one more second to wash his hands. Really, he’s running, his fingers restless and toying with the zipper of his fleece. “It’s just weird,” he says, crowding too close. He sniffs the soap and gags, opting to forgo it entirely. Jensen’s not going to tell.
“Yeah, except we’re the weird ones.”
From the dining room, Mr. P bellows, “Dinner’s up! If y’all aren’t dead or drowned come and get it.”
Jensen shakes the water off his hands, reaching past Misha to snag the towel. Considering the size of the bathroom, any normal person would have waited their turn in the hall. Misha’s not normal, though, and so his elbow’s stuck in Jensen’s side, his hip a solid press against Jensen’s, his back curved into the bow of Jensen’s arm. Yeah, it’s sure as fuck not normal, but he’s gotten used to it.
“C’mon, man,” he says, giving Misha’s shoulder a quick pat. “They’ll love you.”
Misha pulls a face. “Of course they’ll love me,” he mutters, eyes quick-flicking to the mirror long enough to catch and hold Jensen’s, then back down to the faucet. “I’m me.”
When they head back into the family-cum-dining room, there are two spaces left open at the table – one between Mr. Padalecki and Jared, and the other between Alona and her mom. It would have made too much sense for them to sit together, he guesses, but Jensen doesn’t sweat it. He takes the spot next to Jared in a probably futile effort to keep the peace.
The dishes are already making the rounds as Misha settles in, and Jensen tries not to think too hard about the meaning behind the wink he winks over the platter of dark meat. Next to him, Jared’s unusually quiet, though his plate nearly overflows onto the festively-patterned tablecloth beneath. His jaw clenches hard as he chews, his hair flopped too far forward for Jensen to even hazard a guess on what’s eating him.
Across from him, every inch of Misha’s angled towards Alona. His plate still stands empty, but their heads are tipped together as he fashions her napkin into some animal that looks like a cross between a hippopotamus and a horse. Brazen as ever, Misha reaches, plucking the chopsticks from the mess of Alona’s hair, sending it into a tumble across her shoulders. Jared pauses mid-chew when Alona giggles and Jensen could swear he sees steam curling from Jared’s nostrils.
Doesn’t help that Mrs. Padalecki seems just as smitten as her daughter – an indulgent smile, wide and warm, stretched across her face.
Jensen diligently scoops a spoonful out of each dish that passes and does his best not to laugh at Jared’s absurdity. He gets it, though. Sort of. Mostly, he knows Misha and the way his mind works, that he’s really trying to get under Jared’s skin. It’s only Jay’s fault that it’s working.
“So Jensen, how’s the lacrosse team doing this year?” Mr. Padalecki smiles Jared’s smile and passes the platter of crudité.
Jensen answers with an, “Um,” that could really be more eloquent, then scrambles to locate his tongue. “Yeah, it’s good. Winning record, anyway, so I can’t complain. I’m really more worried about Monthaven. We’re probably going up against them for the championship, and they’re streaking something fierce.”
Jared perks up, suddenly interested in the conversation, though he makes a show of continuing to ignore Misha and, by extension, Alona. “Yeah, we played them last weekend. They wiped the field with us.”
“Some of you,” Mrs. Padalecki interjects, her spoonful of sweet potato casserole dangerously close to sliding into her lap. Drawback of talking with one’s hands, he supposes. “I may be partial,” she continues. “But I think you did an admirable job.”
Jared flushes red right to the tips of his ears. Across the table, Misha flashes a devilish grin.
“Monthaven’s got three times our enrollment,” Jensen says, glaring at Misha in an attempt to defuse the situation before ridicule takes root. “I don’t understand how we’re even in the same division.”
It works well enough, Misha meeting him glare for glare for a long moment before he beams and says, “Bad luck?”
Mr. Padalecki clears his throat, his fork laden with an impressive chunk of turkey. “Partly it’s that Ellis focuses on academics, so fewer kids get in. But I think it has more to do with the density of private schools in this area.”
“Or maybe the expense?” Alona can sometimes be a brat, but rarely is she so snide. The intensity with which she’s staring at her plate means she knows better than to broach this subject in front of company.
Both Mr. and Mrs. shift uncomfortably before Mr. Padalecki frowns and admits, “That too.” Jared shovels an impossibly-sized hunk of dressing into his mouth to avoid having to comment.
The subject of education – both the quality and cost thereof – has been a touchy one in the Padalecki household the entire time Jensen’s known Jared. No matter how happy she is for her brother’s fortune, Alona has always wished she hadn’t missed out on a world-class private school just by virtue of the fact she was born with boobs. Ellis’ sister school, Magnolia Preparatory, is similarly structured, but the tuition is completely out of reach for two teachers, regardless of how carefully they monitor their expenses. Once upon a time, there was an arrangement between Magnolia and Ellis to accommodate the female children of staff members, but the stodgy headmistress had made it her mission to sunset the deal as soon as Dean Morgan took over.
Jensen gamely tries to change the subject. “What about you? How’s auto shop for the rich and incompetent going?”
Mr. P opens his mouth to answer, but Misha beats him to it. “Wait, how much is the tuition here?”
Jared’s mom, ever the peacemaker, interrupts. “Sweetheart, that’s not something you need to worry about,” she says pointedly, jaw set and smile brittle.
Jensen recognizes the expression, but there’s no way Misha could. His fingers pluck restlessly at the abandoned napkin animal, brows drawing together in a truly impressive furrow. For the most part, Misha’s an amiable though sometimes melancholy kind of guy. Even when his life’s work was fucking Jensen’s shit up, he’d been gleeful in its execution. This squinting, squared-chin, nostril-flaring thing ain’t something Jensen’s ever really seen.
“Maybe not,” Misha says, spearing asparagus from his now magically over-encumbered plate and swirling it through a pool of cheese sauce. “But I’m curious.”
More than anything, Jensen wishes they were sitting next to each other, because this is a perfect time for a well-placed heel to the shin. Instead, he’ll have to settle for using words and hope that Misha heeds them.
“If you’re so dead-set on knowing,” he says, drawing and hopefully holding Misha’s attention, casting his gaze to both Padalecki parents to accentuate that this particular topic of conversation is off-limits. “I’ll show you the enrollment forms when we get back to the room.”
Instead of being cowed, Misha’s eyes flash with anger before they go flat. “Yeah, sure,” he says. “Later.”
Mrs. Padalecki breathes deep, makes yet another attempt to right the ship. “So Misha, how do you like it here so far? Jared says you’re from Manhattan?”
The question must catch him off-guard, because Misha pauses with a roll hovering between a pool of gravy and his mouth. For a second, Jensen wonders if he’s even going to answer and in the background he can hear Alona and her father carrying on a side-conversation in low, unintelligible tones.
Finally he says, “It’s no better or worse than anywhere else, I guess. A little painted-pig for my tastes, but the bed’s nicer and the classes aren’t half bad.”
Next to him, Jared huffs at his plate and shovels a mouthful of potatoes home, still holding his tongue, but the little muscle behind his ear flutters half a dozen times as he chews. Doesn’t matter that mashed potatoes don’t really need chewing, Jared’s chomping away as if his very life depends on it.
Neither of the elder Padaleckis seem to know what to make of Misha’s particular brand of honesty, so instead of doing their turn as dutiful host and hostess, they focus their energy on each other, their dinners, their children, and Jensen. Ellis has been their life and, whatever Misha may think of it, they love it with a ferocity that has kept them here since before Jared was born. It’s not like they’ll kick him out or anything. They’re too gracious for that, too them. Unless Misha strips down and starts dancing in the middle of the table, they’ll be cordial and understanding for Jensen’s sake, welcoming but happy to leave Misha to himself since that’s what he seems to want. Usually, Misha’s better at reading cues, even if he blatantly ignores them. But this… he has to understand how it must seem.
Across the table, Alona tips her head close to Misha’s. A curtain of blond falls between them as she does, though, and Jensen has no idea what she says beyond the fact that it makes Misha laugh. His neck flushes pink to match his cheeks, and he grabs onto the back of her chair in a way that’s too familiar to be anything but outright flirtation. Jensen remembers, belatedly, Jared mentioning how Alona went a little wild over the summer, and wonders if Misha’s just another way to assert this new rebel identity she’s trying on. Whether he’s only worth the attention because he’s new and shiny and not on the “approved” list, he can’t be sure. And Jensen’s torn. He loves the Padalecki clan like they’re his own. Hell, he’d hated Misha at first himself. But he wants them to try harder, expects them to.
And they aren’t.
Mrs. Padalecki asks him about Chad’s math class and how he’s doing. It’s a question any parent would ask a child when they’re gathered around the dinner table. Jensen wishes he had the chance to answer, but all he can focus on is how Misha’s fingers tangle in the sun-bleached strands of Alona’s hair, how the look he’s wearing seems for her and her alone. And then, inevitably, how Jared throws himself out of his chair like an earthquake shaking itself awake and stomps out, slamming the front door behind him.
Everyone stares after him, but only Jared’s mom tugs her napkin out of her lap and pushes away from the table as if to follow. That’s enough to kick Jensen into gear, and he’s up before he can process why.
“I got it,” he says, quick and quiet. “Please just… yeah. Whatever.”
The door clicks closed on his heels, a wall of frigid air smacking him in the face as it does. His breath clouds out, fogging up the moon and just like that he feels the itch in his fingers for the smokes he left back in the room.
Instead he shouts, “Jay?” and shoves his hands in his pockets to keep them warm.
A weak, “Here,” sounds from around the corner, the side of the house that overlooks campus. Even though the place is largely abandoned, the grounds are lit up like a Christmas tree, casting eerie fairy light across the crest of the hill.
Jared’s sunk down against the foundation, knees tugged into his chest, arms folded across them. Whether or not he’s sure what’s eating Jared, it’s still his place to figure it out. The ground’s hard and cold when Jensen settles in, close but not crowding.
“So,” he murmurs. “What’s up? Gonna tell me why we’re out here freezing our asses off instead of chowing down on your momma’s dressing?”
“What difference does it make to you?” Jared tries to tug a handful of grass out of the lawn but it breaks off, leaving him with only a few frosty blades.
“You’re shittin’ me, right? It makes a helluva difference.” Jared snorts his disbelief. “Why would you think otherwise?”
“Now you’re the one shittin’ me,” Jared spits. “Contrary to popular opinion, I’m not a fucking idiot.”
Acid churns in Jensen’s gut, turning his dinner, and he chokes on a laugh. “Dude, don’t take it out on me because Misha’s macking on your sister. That’s just Misha.”
“Yeah, that’s Misha, all right,” Jared mutters. He tries for another fistful of grass and weeds but comes up empty.
Jared leans back hard, face tipped skyward. “And nothing.”
Which is bullshit, of course, and it ticks Jensen off even more. “You act like I don’t know you. Like I don’t know there’s an ‘and’ to tack on.”
“And that’s what you picked over me?” Voice raised, finally, Jared pushes himself up to pace. “Jesus. I get that he’s funny and sarcastic and you guys live together, but really? He’s also rude and disrespectful and abrasive and…”
“Stop. Just – stop, okay?”
“Why should I?”
Much as Jensen wishes he could refrain, his eye roll is compulsory at this point. “Because it’s not an either/or deal, you dickhead. I didn’t pick you over him or him over you. And yeah, I know better than anyone Misha can be a little hard to handle when he feels threatened, but that doesn’t mean he’s rude. And what makes you think you got the right to cast stones? I ain’t seen hide nor hair of you since football picked back up.”
“Yeah, since your head’s too far up Misha’s ass to see.”
And that is it. “Ain’t that rich. You made your fucking choice, Jay. And I never judged you for it, never gave you shit about ditching me for a flock of football jocks.”
“Jen…” In the glow spilling over the hill, Jared’s face softens, his eyes glittering before he turns away.
“Don’t, okay.” Jensen scratches a non-existent itch on his arm, then folds his hands between his knees. “Just. You don’t get to ‘Jen’ me when you’re laying some bullshit guilt trip on me like a jealous girlfriend. We’re friends, or I thought we were, but it’s not like I can’t hang out with other people.”
“Only hang out with other people…”
Jensen loves Jared like a brother, but damn if he doesn’t want to punch him for acting like a spoiled fiver-year-old.“Pot, kettle, dude. Pot and fucking kettle.”
“You never said anything about it. Never seemed to care.”
“No, I didn’t,” Jensen says, frustrated and so close to the edge of his temper he’s fighting to maintain. “I took it on the chin even though it killed me, because that’s what I do. I was happy for you. But you want me to just wait around until you deign to acknowledge my existence again? I’m nobody’s bitch, Jay. Not yours. Not his.”
A beam of light sweeps across the ground, widening slowly, and Jensen realizes that someone’s coming out to make sure they haven’t killed each other. What with the yelling, he’s surprised it took this long.
Misha’s head appears first, his hair askew like he’s dragged his hand through it a couple dozen times. It’s too dark to read his face at this distance, but Jensen doesn’t really need to. He can’t go back inside and pretend everything’s peachy keen right now, but he’s not enough of a dick to walk out on Thanksgiving.
“You guys okay?” Misha asks, tone carefully neutral. “I earned the dubious honor of ensuring you haven’t turned into popsicles.”
Jared saves Jensen the trouble of finding an answer, disappearing in a sudden flurry of flannel and crackling leaves, the “Fine,” leaving his lips like an expletive. The door slams shut behind him, rattling the storm window above Jensen’s head.
Misha quirks a brow, the question clear though Jensen doesn’t have an answer to offer. He’s also not enough of a dick to say, “This is your fault,” mostly because it isn’t. Okay, it mostly isn’t. Instead, Jensen just stands and shrugs, dusts the dirt off his ass and makes his way inside, trusting Misha to follow.
After Thanksgiving, things are strange. Granted, more for Jared and Jensen than Misha and Jensen. But still.
Jared pretty much stops talking to Jensen, as far as Misha can tell from the smoldering death glares that come their way down various school corridors. For his part, he seems to have been forgiven by Jensen, a half-day of the silent treatment before he reluctantly put it aside to help Misha with English homework he had no need for help with. It was a peace offering; they both knew it. And yet Jensen accepted it anyway. When Jensen had nodded at his question, dragged his own chair over to Misha’s desk and raised an eyebrow impatiently - what’s the problem? - Misha fought to keep the grin off his face that wanted to accompany the warm flush of gratitude that swept up from his stomach.
Friends were not something he was used to having, and yet somewhere during the year, Jensen had become just that.
It’s something that both pleases and scares the shit out of him.
Still. It’s new enough that he knows he has to play by the rules of association and do what friends are meant to do, even if he has little first hand experience in the matter. And one of the things he knows friends do is support each other in their endeavors. Jensen’s just happens to be a sport. Which is just Misha’s fucking luck.
He will never understand the desire to get up at the ass-crack of dawn, on a weekend, and go out to get the snot beaten out of you by really large boys with sticks. But lacrosse is Jensen’s thing, so somewhere during the season Misha started dragging his own ass out of bed to go and watch. The home games, anyway.
At first, sure, he’d taken a book with him. He wasn’t a fucking martyr after all. But he’d actually started to enjoy himself. Not the sport, of course. He didn’t have the first fucking clue what was going on. There was a ball and it whizzed through the air a fair bit. The clashing of wood as sticks were defended. Every so often people around him would cheer so he knew something good must have happened.
What he actually does, is watch Jensen.
Jensen on the field is entirely unlike Jensen off the field. Off the field he’s fun, sure, but reserved and befitting the heir to his father’s fortune. It’s only when they’re alone that Jensen opens up a little, shares an easy smile. But there’s still something not completely at ease.
Not that Misha can complain; he has more of a mask on than any of the mommy’s boys in the school. Not even Jensen knows where his parents really are. Or where they were last time he’d cared enough to pay attention.
On the field, though, shin pads strapped in place, stick in his hand and fire in his eyes, Jensen is entirely different. So Misha watches. The way Jensen runs, lithe and long, muscles cording in his thighs as he sprints upfield. The way his whole body turns to the white rubber ball as if his every fiber of being is in sync with its vibrations. The way he focuses so determinedly, eyes never leaving the game, always calculating, always strategizing. How elated Jensen gets when they win, storming back into their dorm room sweaty and red in the face, eyes glistening and breath panting out of him in a way that makes Misha want to follow the heaving gusts of oxygen to the source.
So yeah, okay. Misha goes to the lacrosse games to support Jensen by completely objectifying him. It’s fine as long as Jensen doesn’t know. And as long as Misha doesn’t jump Jensen’s bones when seeing him that way - completely in control, fluid and at ease and commanding? They’ll be fine.
Some days are easier than others.
It’s the qualifying final where things go wrong. About a month after Thanksgiving and Misha is sitting on the bleachers, his ass frozen to the splintered wood and losing feeling in his fingers. It’s worth it, though, because Jensen is in his element. Everything depends on them winning the final, since from there they can enter the regionals. And for Jensen, it really is everything. Misha knows from the pacing that went on last night that Jensen couldn’t sleep, the soft shuffling footsteps a litany of nerves.
But Jensen plays the best when he has the most riding on the outcome. As the game draws closer to the end, the score tied at one all, Misha finds he doesn’t even have to act at being excited. He’s up on his feet with the crowds around him, cheering himself hoarse.
Jensen is giving it everything he has, checking the other players ‘sticks with resounding smacks that echo across the field. The opponents keep flinging themselves at Jensen and more than once he ends up on his knees, sliding in the recently wet grass.
Despite the all the Ellis team is giving it, the maroon colors of the opposing team seem to swamp the guys every chance at goal they get. It’s frustrating and the crowd sits on the edge of their seats, groaning in frustration each time the opportunity to break in front is thwarted.
Time is called; it’s a draw.
The sudden-death tiebreak sees the opponent hit the post of the net on the first try. The Ellis crowd erupts in cheering that Misha hopes isn’t hubris before the fall.
He shouldn’t worry; Jensen’s aim is better. The sphere of rubber goes zinging out of Jensen’s net, a perfect arc too fast for the goal keeper to see let alone stop.
They’ve done it!
The crowd around him erupts in cheers so loud Misha thinks he might go deaf. Or he would be thinking that, if he weren’t cheering just as loud, jumping up on his seat and yelling himself hoarse for Jensen. All around him kids are laughing and twirling their scarves above their heads like navy woollen helicopters. A paper plane goes careening down over their heads and is trodden into the grass by hapless feet.
The bleachers begin to empty as soon as the players are whisked away into the changing rooms, but the excitement remains high, loud whoops of joy coming from the younger boys and calls of a less than cheerful nature from the opposing school traipsing back to the buses.
Misha wants to wait around for Jensen to come out, but knows from past experience it could be ages. Often the team does long post-game debriefs and then the guys go out to lunch. It’ll probably be hours before he can congratulate Jensen in person. With a last glance at the squat sports building that houses his friend, Misha turns and heads back to the dorms.
Navigating the hallways turns out to be more of an ordeal than he expected. It reminds him, with a somewhat homesick lurch of his stomach, of rush hour in New York, with more hands... and shorter people. Never has he been so glad to be on the other side of the door than when it shuts with a firm ‘snick’, ensconcing him in the peace of the empty room.
He throws himself down on his bed with a heaved sigh. The problem with watching Jensen get all hot and bothered on the field is that it gets Misha all hot and bothered off the field. And while, granted, he has the time for a quick session with his fist most days after the game, it doesn’t stop him from feeling slightly weird when Jensen eventually does walk through the door.
Not enough to stop him going to the game, mind you.
He contemplates the merits of a bit of quality time with his right hand, but he’s too edgy, too hyped up on the win. It’ll go one of two ways, too fast and over so quickly he’ll be left wanting more before he’s even finished dirtying his hand, or, he won’t be able to come at all, too jittery with nervousness that he’ll pull himself raw and end up stuck on a never-ending precipice of almost.
Really, it isn’t a choice. One way or the other, he’s got to do something with the blood rattling around his body. His fingers slip to his jeans, sliding the brass button through its denim prison.
Which is exactly the moment Jensen barges into their room, the door swinging open on its hinges to hit the wall behind it with a smack.
“We won!” Jensen crows as Misha scrambles to his feet to hide what he’s doing.
He quirks an eyebrow, covering his embarrassment with cockiness. “I know, I was there.”
Jensen is grinning, smile so wide it seems to be splitting his face. He’s got smudges of dirt on his forehead and across his reddened cheeks, and he’s still sweating from the exertion of the game, a slight sheen of sparkle across his skin. “Don’t be a fucking dick, man, WE WON!” he shouts with a laugh, grabs Misha’s shoulders and shakes him.
Misha laughs despite himself, his hands reaching out of their own accord to slip around Jensen’s chest and pull him in close. It’s just a hug. A manly hug. And Jensen clearly thinks so too, his arms wrapping around Misha in turn and squeezing him crushingly tight. It’s over before it begins, leaving Misha bereft and wanting, but Jensen doesn’t move far away. Instead he’s inches closer than he should be, staring at Misha with the same ecstatic grin.
“This means we’re in the playoffs, you realize,” Jensen laughs. “Fuck, we’ve been trying every year, man. I can’t fucking believe we did it!”
“I can,” Misha smiles. “You were awesome out there.”
“Thanks,” Jensen grins. “I think you must be my good luck charm, ya know? Ever since you started watching something has just clicked.”
Misha snorts. “Victory makes you sappy, man.”
Jensen chuckles, dark and deep and so full of joy that it steals Misha’s breath away. Jensen’s eyes are sparkling and his cheeks are flushed and fuck, Misha’s only human for fuck’s sake.
Before he can stop himself he’s stepped into Jensen’s space and pressed his lips to Jensen’s. He expects to be pushed back, to be shoved and hit and disowned. He expects it so much he can taste it, but it doesn’t happen. Instead Jensen makes a surprised huffing sound and stays still as a statue.
Misha can’t help but notice Jensen doesn’t pull away.
And so he presses a little bit more, cupping Jensen’s bottom lip in the cradle of his, just feeling it against his own. Jensen’s mouth opens on a sigh and something inside Misha dies and is reborn in an instant.
In reality, he knows it isn’t a good thing. Not like this. Dreams, in Misha’s experience, never come true. Sure, they might start out in damn good imitation, but in the end, it’s all sticks and stones, blood and mortar. But he can’t help the moan that wends its way out of him, dark and needy or the way his fingers clutch abortively at Jensen’s hips, the synthetic material of his jersey sliding sweat-damp against his fingertips.
And fuck, but Jensen’s kissing him. His tongue is in his mouth, tentative, but there. Jensen’s body is pressed up against his, hot and solid and smelling like the grass and mud of the lacrosse field.
But Misha’s moan hits Jensen’s ears. He knows it does, because Jensen hitches in a breath so sharp it could cut glass, and he jerks away, the back of his hand swiping at his mouth.
Misha stands stock still, his lip still wet with Jensen’s saliva. He isn’t sure, but he thinks maybe Jensen stole his voice away in the kiss because, when he opens his mouth to say something, anything, to stop Jensen backing away - eyes wild and undeniably angry - nothing comes out.
And then Jensen’s gone, slipping out of the room as suddenly as he came in, the door slamming with a bang.
“Well, fuck,” Misha remarks dryly.
Jensen doesn’t come back until it’s dark. And from the way he stumbles into the room, bumping against the furniture in the blackness, he’s been drinking.
It’s okay. Misha pretty well expected as much. He’s never had to wonder who he wanted to fuck and whether that was okay or not. But Jensen has grown up in an entirely different world to him, and it’s clearly not so cut and dry.
Not to mention the part where his supposedly best friend molested him, unbidden ,in the middle of their room.
Misha knew he shouldn’t have done it, and he’s proven himself right. Fantastic.
He keeps his eyes closed and pretends to be asleep.
* * *
The next couple of days are weird. They don’t talk about the kiss. Hell, they hardly talk at all. Jensen avoids him, refuses to look in his eye. In class the next day they’re both sullen, so quiet and moody that Mr Beaver accuses them of staying up too late gossiping like a pair of girls. Nothing could be further than the truth. Jensen only returns to their room when it’s time for the light to go off, the cloak of darkness removing any necessity to talk.
The school has gone loopy about Jensen since the game, slapping him on the back, whooping his name in the halls and congratulating him like he brought home an Oscar. And despite the fact that his best friend has had this monumentally great thing happen, Misha can only look on from a distance. Because he fucked up.
Everything comes to a head midway through the week. Jensen comes back from wherever he spent the afternoon, probably in Jared’s room, and he’s pissed. Math books are shoved haphazardly across his desk and when he accidentally trips on his lacrosse stick in the corner, sending it tumbling to the floor, Jensen glares at it like it’s personally betrayed him.
Misha sits cross-legged on his own bed and watches with a raised eyebrow. “Four days ago I thought I’d have to get you and that stick another room. Divorce so soon?”
“I thought we’d got over this,” Jensen snaps, glaring at him from the corner of the room. He rights the lacrosse stick with more force than is necessary.
“Over what?” Misha asks, genuinely confused.
“This,” Jensen growls, waving between him and Misha angrily. “You. Fucking with me.”
Misha’s eyebrows climb into his hairline. “Pardon?”
“What, were the last few months all an elaborate game to make me think we were friends?”
“You have got to be joking,” Misha says, deadpan. It belies the jumping panic in his throat.
“Then what?” Jensen bites out, hands on his hips and jaw set so tight it looks ready to snap.
“What what!?” Misha cries, hands flailing up in exasperation.
“The kiss,” Jensen spits out with such venom, Misha almost flinches.
“You think that was a joke?” Misha asks incredulously.
Jensen laughs mockingly, shaking his head angrily. “Drop the act, Misha. We both know it was.”
Of all the ways Misha expected Jensen to react to the kiss, he’d never considered that Jensen would think it was part of a game. He uncrosses his legs and scoots back on the bed, back against the wall, drawing his knees drawn up to his chest. It’s a protective posture and he knows it, but he’s also fine with that. “It wasn’t an act,” he says calmly.
Jensen rolls his eyes. “Sure. You expect me to believe that all this time you’ve been secretly waiting to jump my bones?”
Misha just shrugs.
“I don’t believe that, Jensen says, finally sitting down on his own bed, mirroring Misha’s position. “This is just another of your stupid games.”
“You can believe what you want,” Misha says, still unable to put any inflection into his voice, afraid the strong pull of hurt being tamped down inside him will somehow get out.
“You don’t even care, do you?” Jensen asks incredulously.
It spikes a flare of something painful inside Misha’s chest that reminds him all too keenly of the conversations with foster parents, the ones who tell him he’s going back to child services ‘just for a while’. “Of course I fucking care, Jen,” he spits, finally allowing some of his emotion to break out. “And you know what? You can get as angry and hateful as you want to me. We both know the reason you’re throwing this little temper tantrum is because you kissed me back, and you don’t have a clue in fucking hell how to deal with that.”
Jensen’s eyes go wide and his mouth drops open slightly in what Misha presumes is shock, if not realization. It’d be satisfying, if it weren’t about this. About them.
“Yeah. That’s what I thought,” Misha says, nodding, mostly to himself. He unwinds himself and gets up from his bed. He’s almost at the door before Jensen stops him.
“Where are you going?”
Misha doesn’t even bother looking back. “Out. Let me know when you’re over your little gay freak-out and we can talk about this like adults.”
* * *
He spends the night after the argument in Rob’s room, uncomfortably rolled in blankets on the floor. Rob, as it turns out, snores. After that he goes back to his own room, refusing to think of it as going home. Jensen doesn’t say anything, but he has the decency to look somewhat cowed.
Misha can’t help putting up walls. The fact that Jensen could think of him as someone who would fuck with a friend, using sex of all things, hurts. That the idea of Jensen wanting Misha is so revolting that Jensen can’t even deal with it? Hurts.
So Misha can’t help but needle him. Stepping too close, just a smidgen too far into Jensen’s personal space when reaching for the door handle. Brushing the back of his hand against Jensen’s as they squeeze past each other in the narrow space between their beds. Plucking Jensen’s cigarette from his fingers and shamelessly inhaling, blowing the smoke out of the corner of his mouth and pressing the cigarette back into Jensen’s mouth, his fingertips briefly pressing against his lips. Watching Jensen as he chews the end of a pencil while he does his trig homework, until Jensen realizes he’s being observed and looks up to find Misha’s steady gaze.
He can tell, though, from the way Jensen watches Misha loosen the knot of his constricting school tie, slides it undone in a sinuous curve of silk, that he’s having an effect. The way Jensen swallows and furtively averts his eyes as Misha undoes the buttons of the white school shirt, one by one, long, tan fingers slipping nimbly over the small buttons in a slow-motion strip-tease. The way Jensen’s eyes blow dark when Misha gets that inch too close.
But nothing happens. Jensen never acknowledges his desire, and Misha is too scared to push further. He wants Jensen, sure. But he wants his friendship more. He has half a mind to just let it go, ignore what happened just as Jensen seems able to. Be he wants, and Misha has never been good at self-control.
And so they hover around each other, a mess of denial, tension and stubbornness.
* * *
A week after the kiss, Misha is lying on his bed reading a dog-eared copy of Slaughterhouse-Five that Sam let him pilfer from the library, when he hears a shuffling scrape outside the window. Jensen is off helping with some Christmas committee or something, so he doubts there are any plans with Kane that might warrant a mid-afternoon visit. And certainly, Kane isn’t about to visit Misha anytime soon, which about rules out all the possibilities Misha can think of for someone climbing the trellis up to the second-floor balcony and not just using the door. He sits up, watching the space above the railing and waiting to see whom their visitor is.
He doesn’t know whom to expect, but even so, he’s surprised at the mop of golden-blonde hair that peeks over the edge.
She’s grinning as she swings herself over the railing and comes quickly to the window, tapping impatiently on the cold glass with her mittens. Misha scrambles to unlatch the window, swearing under his breath as the frosty air blasts inside with Alona. It may not snow this far south, but it’s still fucking cold after all the months of cloying humidity.
“Hi.” Alona grins at him, all white teeth and cheekiness. She’s got a bright red scarf wrapped around her neck and a huge, puffy jacket that makes her look like a snowman.
“What brings you to our fine establishment?” Misha asks, unable to stop the smile that spreads across his face at Alona’s infectious happiness.
“Jared’s being a dick,” she replies matter-of-factly, shedding the ridiculous coat and splaying herself across Jensen’s bed. Misha takes his previous position across his own.
“Usually is to me,” Misha mutters, only half-jokingly.
“Well, that’s cause he thinks you’re stealing his precious Jensen away from him,” Alona says, tucking a strand of wayward hair behind her ear.
Misha snorts. “Like hell.”
Something must tell in his tone of voice, because Alona’s eyes light up and she’s suddenly on his bed with him.
“Oh my god, what happened?”
“Nothing,” Misha replies mulishly.
“You are such a bad liar!” Alona crows gleefully, clapping her hands together in a way that makes her seem nine. “Did you have sex?”
“You’re such a pervert,” Misha remarks.
“You did, didn’t you,” she laughs, poking him in the chest with an index finger.
He rolls his eyes. “No, we didn’t. We kissed, that’s all.”
“And?” she asks, but this time it’s quieter.
“And what?” Misha counters, not ready to paint himself as the victim of a thwarted romance here. It was just a fucking kiss, that’s all. “Jensen’s not interested. Big deal.”
“Seriously?” Alona says. “You’ve seen the way he stares at you, right? Tell me you’re not so stupid as to have missed that.”
Misha pulls himself up, leaning back against the headboard with his legs stuck out beside Alona. “Well, apparently that’s a moot point. Jensen doesn’t do dick.”
Alona is the one to roll her eyes this time. “Boys,” she grumbles. “Jensen will come around. You can’t act like that around someone and not want to fuck ‘em sideways.”
Misha raises an eyebrow at her. “Doesn’t matter anyway. It’s just sex. I’ve moved on.”
“Sure,” Alona replies, sounding like she doesn’t believe a word he just said.
“I have,” he insists and to prove it he surges forward, knocking her onto her back, hair spilling across the mattress. He means it to be masterfully sexy, but, naturally, it doesn’t work like that. Alona takes one look at his face as he stares down at her and bursts into peals of laughter.
“You really know how to wound a guy,” Misha remarks, holding himself above her so as not to squash her.
“You’re such a dork,” Alona laughs, and she wraps her fingers around the back of his neck and pulls him down to her.
Their lips meet in a messy kiss. It’s playful and not at all serious, but fun nonetheless. Misha’s tongue curls around hers teasingly. He knows quite well he wants to be kissing someone else, someone with a dick, and he has no doubt Alona is similarly not interested in him in any capacity more than curiosity. But why the fuck shouldn’t they, Misha thinks. Sometimes a little comfort can go a long way.
Naturally, as Misha is thinking this, his fingers threading into Alona’s hair and nipping at her bottom lip to make her giggle, Jensen decides, once again, that flying through the door unannounced would be a fantastic idea.
To be fair, he simply opens the door and walks in. He makes it a step before faltering.
Misha scrambles off Alona, who looks up at Jensen from upside down and says, “Hi, Jenny!”
“Um,” Jensen says, clearly at a loss for words. Anger, confusion and other unidentified emotions flicker over his face.
“It’s not what it looks like,” Misha tries feebly.
“It looks like you’re about to have sex with Jared’s little sister,” Jensen says, and his voice is deep and dangerous.
“Well, see, that’s exactly why it isn’t what it looks like.”
“What, do you have some weird kissing fetish or something?” Jensen asks, ignoring him. “It’s kinda messed up, man.”
“Fuck off,” Misha snaps. “Just because you don’t want to stick your tongue down my throat doesn’t mean others feel the same.”
Jensen glares and Alona pipes up from the bed, “I’m just gonna...” She waves at the window with one hand, grabbing her coat with the other. Misha spares her a glance and a rueful smile, which she returns with a shooing motion meant, he assumes, that he should make things right with Jensen.
Another draft of cold air and Alona is gone, shimmying over the balcony and out of sight.
“Well,” Misha dares, standing his ground in front of Jensen.
“I don’t want to talk about this again,” Jensen says angrily, and spins back to the door to escape.
“No fucking way,” Misha growls, and in two steps he’s caught up with Jensen, an arm out and leaning on the door to keep it closed.
“Misha, let me out,” Jensen says icily.
“No,” Misha replies, crowding Jensen back against the door. If they’re going to have this out they’re going to do it properly. “Not until you admit you have feelings for me too.”
“Misha,” Jensen warns again.
“Fuck, Jensen!” Misha snaps, loudly, throwing his hands up in near defeat. If Jensen leaves, he leaves. “Is the idea really so repulsive to you?”
“Seriously?” Jensen is incredulous, but he makes no move to leave. “You’re the one who’s fucking withmy feelings.”
Misha can feel the heat coming off Jensen’s body in waves, the tension radiating from his tensed fight-or-flight stance.
“Oh my god, Jensen. How fucking dense are you? For the next Dux of the school you’re being a god damned idiot. I already told you: I don’t want to fuck with you, I want to fuck you. Big difference.”
Jensen opens his mouth to reply, but then shuts it again. His eyes are a dark green that reminds Misha of wet moss. They stare at each other, neither saying anything. Jensen seems to be processing, or maybe planning Misha’s death, he can’t quite tell. Misha’s about to pull away, to spare them from a stalemate of anger that will have them standing there all night, when Jensen seems to shiver and take a breath. Jensen’s hand darts out to catch Misha’s wrist before he can move away.
“I don’t... I never...” Jensen babbles.
“First time for everything,” Misha says softly, not allowing the hope building in his heart to take flight.
Jensen nods and then, as easy as if they’ve done it a million times, he’s pulling Misha into him, his mouth finding Misha’s.
Misha goes slow, allowing Jensen to take control of the pace, scared he’s going to run again. But Jensen has clearly made up his mind, and having done so, Misha notes, he’s clearly going to try and excel at it like he does everything else. Jensen opens to him, gasping as Misha presses himself in, presses Jensen back against the door with the weight of his body. Jensen matches him move for move, pulling at Misha’s belt loops and hauling him in flush. Their kiss is a battle for dominance that neither wants to lose, or win.
Their breath mingles, the temperature rising between them as the kiss deepens, sharing and darkly intimate in a way Misha can’t remember it ever being with someone before. Jensen sucks on Misha’s tongue, runs his own over Misha’s bottom lip before pulling back to suck on that too.
When Misha moans, instead of pulling away, Jensen slides his hands around Misha’s waist, up to his shoulder blades and down again, touching and clawing, pulling at Misha’s t-shirt. A second later, as Misha presses his filling erection into Jensen’s thigh, Jensen moans for himself.
Mutually, they decide to move. Misha fumbles with the chair at his desk, scraping it loudly across the floor and jamming it under the doorknob as a makeshift lock. Then they’re shuffling backwards towards the bed, a mess of arms and legs and lips. They hit Jensen’s bed first, and suddenly the world turns horizontal as they lie side-by-side, hands petting and touching. Learning.
Misha can’t help the goofy smile he wears as he takes in Jensen’s pink-flushed lips and cheeks. Their legs tangle together as Misha darts back in, presses his lips to a pulse point in Jensen’s neck and sucks in a way that makes Jensen shiver and press his own hardening cock against Misha.
They go slow, Misha checking each step of the way to make sure that Jensen is still okay, to the point where Jensen rolls his eyes and takes control, flattening Misha to the bed and though somewhat cautiously, mapping and marking every inch of Misha’s body. In the end, they go for fumbled hand-jobs, mostly clothed, Jensen’s breath hitching and his voice catching in glorious mewls as Misha brings him to orgasm with his fingers wrapped tight and lovingly around his cock. The look of wonder that transforms Jensen’s face is worth every argument they had to get to this point.
Misha starts to bring himself off, careful to not assume Jensen is ready to touch another guy’s cock, but Jensen stops him, gently removing Misha’s hand and replacing it with his own, kissing Misha slowly and sure as he does it. Misha’s moans get swallowed by Jensen’s mouth; he tries to be quiet. It’s imperative that they are, that they don’t draw attention to themselves, draw a teacher, or, worse, the dean. But he can’t help it. Jensen’s hand is firm and warm, pulling against his sensitive cock, and the gasps and growls that come out of him are not Misha’ fault. When he comes, stunned and breathless, Jensen pulls back and looks at him with such amazement that Misha almost has to look away, unused to such raw emotion being thrown his way. But he doesn’t. Couldn’t, anyway.
As they fall asleep on Misha’s bed to avoid the mess, Misha can’t help but think that maybe coming down here, to this school and its entitlement, its money and expectations, wasn’t all that bad. He nudges Jensen’s nose with his own.
“What?” Jensen asks, a sleepy mumble.
“I told you I wasn’t fucking with you,” Misha says.
“Okay. I might believe you now.”
“You’re pretty magnanimous that way,” Misha concedes.
“I am,” Jensen agrees cockily and squeezes Misha with such familiarity and ease that Misha can’t believe this is the same boy that was so angry with him these last few weeks - hell, even an hour ago.
This development, the warm body in his arms, Jensen slipping into sleep contentedly, doesn’t change anything. He’s still determined to get out of here the second he turns eighteen next year.
But, he thinks, allowing his own eyelids to slide closed, his thoughts to muddle and swirl in the dance into unconsciousness, it just got a hell of a lot harder.
The quiet is what’s always gotten to him in the past, that inevitable vacuum left behind by the mass exodus of winter break. This year’s different. Even after the last bus bumps down the long, white drive for Charleston International, Jensen’s days skip along much as they have for the last three months.
The first Wednesday blurs by, half lost to sleep and the other half to rambling around the old barn on the southwest corner of the property. He and Jared found it completely by accident the summer they were ten, and Jensen privately deems it a miracle the thing’s still standing, given the condition it was in back then. Jensen and Misha stumble back to the dorm after dark, their jeans crusted with mud and briars. Both of their coats tell the tale of their day, littered from collar to hem with dried leaves and old, grey straw. Misha’s cheeks are windburn-pink to match his swollen lips, and when Jensen teases him about his newly cherubic complexion, Misha does his very best to prove otherwise.
After, they sleep like the dead.
Or Jensen does.
When he wakes Thursday morning, he’s freezing. The furl of blankets wrapped around him doesn’t stand a chance against the chill of December, even in South Carolina. Thirty feels good on the lacrosse field at an open sprint. Not so much lying in bed. What he doesn’t understand is why the window’s yawning wide, propped open by an inconvenient towel in the track. Misha’s nowhere to be seen, bed rumpled and sheets askew, but when Jensen squints across the room in the murky darkness, his Ellis-issued bedding is missing.
It can only mean one thing.
Jensen pulls on a pair of socks before he risks the journey to the window and the balcony beyond. Misha can be forgetful, especially in the early hours. Based on that knowledge, Jensen grabs a second pair before he shimmies out the window with every last blanket he owns. Predictably, he finds Misha swaddled in a spill of covers with his back pressed to the wall beneath the window. In spite of the steaming mug of tea cupped between his hands, Misha’s teeth chatter violently.
After the day they had yesterday, Jensen expects some sort of response when he settles in beside Misha. It doesn’t come, and Jensen refuses to pry. He wants to. More than anything. He settles for dropping the balled-up pair of socks between Misha’s bare feet and sitting with him in companionable silence.
He has time enough to discover the shape of Misha’s damage. If anything, this life has taught him the value of patience.
After an hour or so, Misha crawls back through the window without a word, socks untouched, cold tea abandoned at Jensen’s hip, and he’s forced to exercise exactly that - patience. Jensen desperately wants to push, would push if he thought he could get away with it. The slam of their door confirms his suspicions. Instead, he collects his dad’s Lions mug, hauling it in along with the mound of blankets and Misha’s socks, closing and latching the window behind him.
This has happened before, will most likely happen again, and Jensen knows to give Misha a minute to get himself settled into a shower before he slips out to begin his own morning routine. It’s easier to respect buffers when the rest of the guys are here. Since it’s just the two of them on the wing right now, he has to work harder to accommodate Misha’s occasional need for personal space.
It’s hard to be here alone now, though. The room’s too quiet and cold without another person rustling around. Not that Jensen’s the type to cling; has never had the luxury, in fact. He forges his own path, makes his own luck. Partly it’s because he’s had to. Mostly it’s because, very early on, he learned to want it for himself.
That life can get lonely, empty.
And it’s not like he doesn’t have friends. He does. Dudes from the lacrosse team he talks shop with, fellow members of the student council, floormates, classmates. Then there’s Chris and, to a lesser, more annoying extent, Dave. Silly as it sounds, in Misha he feels like he finally has someone who likes him. Despite their recent misunderstandings, Jensen trusts Misha to always have his back and to listen when he needs to talk. That Misha might not feel the same bothers him.
Misha’s had ample time to skulk around and warm the water at this point, which makes belaboring, well, pointless. So Jensen drops the impressive knot of blankets on Misha’s bed and plucks his towel from its hook.
Just as he slips on his shower shoes and goes for the knob, the phone rings.
It, like everything else, sounds deafening in the stillness of an empty dorm, and he grabs it before checking the caller ID.
“Now, I know I’m paying for better manners than that.” The voice that drifts down the line is familiar, and Jensen’s heart sinks.
There’s an awkward pause on the other end of the line, the clacking of a keyboard and the buzz of a cell. Jensen feels nine inches tall, but he refuses to offer an easy out, to fill the silence left by his father’s inattention.
“How’s school?” he asks, obviously distracted. “Still killing everyone at trig?”
“Winter break started Friday so, no, I guess not. Fall finals aren’t until the end of January.”
Dad huffs a harsh breath into the receiver and if Jensen didn’t know better, he’d guess Mr. High-Powered Executive was embarrassed.
“I meant in general, Jensen. Are your grades good?”
“Same as always.” Jensen sighs, frustrated but with no idea what to do about it. “Speaking of the break, do you think I could bring someone with me? There’s more than enough room and I don’t think he knows how to ski.”
“Could be fun to teach someone, y’know? Run him down the bunnies and watch him wipe out?”
“Son, I don’t…”
“Or we could just go terrorize the town, harass the Nelsons next door when you have one of your conference calls.”
Jensen snaps “What,” he says - says - and doesn’t ask, because there’s never been a question of how this is going to go down.
“I hate to do this, kiddo, but…”
Jensen’s tired of excuses. More than that, he’s tired of empty promises. Fuck if he doesn’t need to call Chris and go get shitfaced. Maybe a little liquid lubrication will do both of them some good, considering the mood Misha’s been in this morning.
“If you really hated it, you wouldn’t do it,” he grits out. His jaw aches with the effort.
“You know I don’t have a choice.”
“Yes, you do, Dad. Unfortunately, you always seem to make the wrong one.”
The voice drifting down the line changes, finally focused but softer, wounded. “I’m still your father,” it says.
“Since always, Jensen. It’s just that your father happens to be tied up in Bangalore until at least the thirtieth.”
Which, whatever, at least he picked up the phone. Most of time, Dad’s assistant Darla makes this call.
It’s his father’s turn to sigh, and Jensen waits, using the time to button himself back up.
“I touch down at CHS on New Year’s Eve. I’ll see you then, son.” Then there’s a click and he’s gone.
Jensen settles the phone back in its cradle, gently. For a second he simply breathes, focusing on the movement of his lungs, the tightness in his ribs. This is fine. Better. They’ll be on familiar turf and he won’t have to worry about Misha turning down the trip out of guilt or indifference or simple disinterest.
Their door slams again in his wake, the bang of it incredibly satisfying as it echoes down empty halls.
It’ll be fine.
He’s the first to admit that life at Ellis has not been as bad as he thought it would be. Okay, that’s bullshit. He’d be the absolute last to say any such thing, but that doesn’t change the fact that he suspects it’s true.
He enjoys the classes, as much as that makes him a bit of a loser. He’s always been an avid reader, escaping as quickly as he can into other people’s lives, other people’s turmoil. This is different though. Here he has to read and then do shit with the knowledge he gleans. It’s harder than he thought and yet satisfyingly pleasurable when he comes up with the goods.
He’s safe. No one is going to come into his room at night, drunk and angry. No one is about to kick him out for being ‘too much’ for foster parents sliding down the other side of fifty.
He has a constant supply of food. Not the best food. Nothing like Gray’s Papaya or the chow mien Large Eddie ladles out down on 72nd. Granted, it’s probably far more nutritious. But it’s plentiful, and Misha is thankful for it. He still keeps a stash of pilfered edibles in the back of his second desk drawer. And there’re some individually wrapped graham crackers hidden under his mattress. But their fate doesn’t constrict his heart and crush his lungs the way it once would have without constant checking.
Old habits die hard.
Really though, a lot of the not-sucking has to do with Jensen.
Misha had half-expected Jensen to bolt as soon as the come dried on their skin, crackled and beginning to itch. He hadn’t expected Jensen to gaze at him with wide eyes, almost scary in their intensity. Nor had he expected Jensen to then fall asleep.
But there you go.
It’s new, and Misha doesn’t want to spook him. He’s had his fair share of hook-ups in back alleys, darkened corners of parties with kids he didn’t even know. Jensen is different. And so Misha goes slow. Which works right up until Jensen pushes him into a pile of leaves in the old barn, and slowly but surely, owns every inch of him. He goes along with it.
He knows Jensen is meant to go somewhere with his dad for the holidays. Whistler or Aspen or some other pretentious place with pristine snow and big-bosomed ski bunnies. He expects Jensen will invite him along, but knows he’ll decline when he does. Not because he doesn’t want to - he does - but tagging along on someone else’s family time is weird. Thanksgiving was awkward enough, with Jared staring at him with murderous intent, and Jensen’s eyes flicking back and forth between them as if at a tennis match, waiting for Misha to fuck up and embarrass him, or Jared to go mental and launch himself across the table.
Actually intruding on time with someone’s father - and Misha knows Jensen has little of it - that would be too much. Misha’s own father might be a loser, in and out of jail and generally fucking up all over the place, but Jensen’s father is some high-rolling businessman. The likes of Misha and his grubby background have no business being chummy with that, pretending to like the foie gras and caviar.
So Jensen will up and leave him, and he’ll be stuck at Ellis while Jensen lives the high life. He’s been trying not to think about it, pretending it isn’t an eventuality until it is. And for the most part, that’s going pretty damn well. Sucking on Jensen’s tongue or biting teeth-marks into his hips turn out to be pretty distracting distractions. As is watching the way Jensen battles his own inner phobias and inexperience to wrap his fingers around Misha’s dick, eyes dark and wanting despite the abortive hesitation. Jensen may have never done it before, but fuck if he doesn’t know how to bring Misha off in under two.
It’s pretty easy to pretend, after all, that Misha’s been doing it all his life. And it nearly works, too, right up until the mail slips under their door early Thursday morning, and Misha finds himself with an envelope from the Petersons. Inside is a note, carefully written in Mr P’s just-so handwriting on embossed stationery. Telling Misha how proud they are, not that they’d even know, and how he needs to buckle down for the next semester. It’s formulaic and impersonal and it comes with a twenty, so that’s not even a blink of an eye. What upsets everything is the other envelope tucked in with it, another letter from his parents, once again asking the Petersons for money.
Misha knows better than to let it get to him, but as they’d fallen asleep last night, in separate beds, kiss-blushed and sated, Jensen had started talking about the fun they’d have with his dad. The combination of the two, the proof of his own parents’ life of worthlessness and the knowledge that Jensen’s dad provides for his son, not only in necessity but excess, gets the best of him. By the time Jensen finds him out on the balcony, his fingers and toes have gone numb and he can’t feel his face.
He’s grateful that Jensen leaves him be, doesn’t force him to talk or bare any more of his soul than he’s capable of. That Jensen doesn’t follow him to the shower right away speaks volumes to how far they’ve managed to get into each other’s skin and lives and, if not until recently, each other’s pants.
Misha turns the water up as hot as he can, until it’s near scalding, turning his skin pink from the shoulders down, and stands there for at least ten minutes as the feeling returns to his fingers and toes. He can’t be fucked washing, the soap sitting untouched in its dish and his shampoo and conditioner abandoned on the floor.
Jensen bursts in sometime later, a gust of cold air swirling into the room with him. Misha ignores him, though he can feel something is off. Can hear it in the way Jensen shoves his locker door open with a clang to get at his toiletries. Misha wants to question, but he can’t. The quagmire of murkiness he’s in won’t let him up to care about anyone else with any amount of effectiveness.
What he doesn’t expect, given the communal nature of the bathroom, is Jensen sliding up against him under the spray of his shower, and Misha starts in surprise, rounds to query Jensen and ends up with a mouth against his own, a tongue pushing aggressively in to claim. Misha doesn’t bother trying to question again, he just goes with it, lets Jensen’s mouth ravage his, the hot spray bouncing off them and into their eyes, Jensen’s hands sliding over his naked skin. They’ve never been this naked with each other, but Jensen doesn’t seem spooked; quite the contrary. His hand is wrapped around Misha’s erection before Misha is even fully cognizant of having one, and Jensen jacks him off hard and rough, Misha’s desperately quiet mewls echoing off the bathroom tiles.
As Misha’s come swirls down the drain and he goes limp in Jensen’s arms, his face tucked into the burning wet crook of Jensen’s neck, Jensen mutters that his dad isn’t coming, as it turns out. Better things to do. The barely contained bitterness makes Misha tighten his arms around Jensen’s waist.
Disappointment, he understands. Maybe Jensen’s father isn’t as wonderful as Misha’s isn’t.
He feels so guilty at the flutter of joy that winds its way up his throat at the knowledge Jensen won’t be leaving him, he slides to his knees and takes the hot length of Jensen’s cock in his mouth. He tries to pull the anger out with a ferocity that surprises even him.
The way Jensen’s fingers curl painfully tight into Misha’s shoulders tell him all he needs to know about betrayal and hope.
* * *
By late afternoon the conversation with his father has faded down to white noise. Experience has always taught him to choose apathy and, if offered, silent endurance, but something has changed, opened him up to both good and bad, and the excuses hurt more than ever. So the ache persists, even if it is manageable. He has Misha to thank for the respite, his deft hands and his cunning mouth, the care he’d shown in taking Jensen out of himself. Without it, this could have been a repeat of almost every other time Dad has ditched him – a long night spent getting blind, stinking drunk and a longer day nursing the hangover after.
It’s easier to forget when there’s someone there to distract you, he guesses.
Jensen has no memory of deciding to roam campus, and yet they are, aimless beyond the pure need to escape the confines of the dormitory and the oppressive cloud left behind by the early hours of their day. The cold front that threatened this morning has settled in to stay, driving the temperature well below freezing, and so they’d sought shelter quickly, flying past the soaring pillars of the main building at a run to get out of the cold and wind.
Misha’s shoulder bumps against his as they skulk down the darkened halls, bony through two layers of sweatshirt. The coat he’s dragging behind him was never meant to ward off this kind of cold, and Jensen frowns at it, this proof of the Petersons’ indifference in the face of their other extravagances, and wishes he’d insisted Misha took his spare for good. But Misha smiles and whispers, “Beautiful,” his voice filled with wonder and fingertips pressed to frosted glass, and Jensen gets distracted.
When Jensen looks, it isn’t the frost fractal that has him mesmerized, or the tiny glittering rainbows caught in the water. For a split second, the word hangs between them, fragile and unexplained, Misha’s eyes gone glassy and grey in the shadow of the shapeless old oak outside, and Jensen thinks, maybe. Then Misha smirks, every inch the devious pain in the ass he’s always been, and flicks his wet fingers at Jensen’s face.
“Thanks,” Jensen mutters. “But I already had a shower today.”
The smirk stretches, goes toothy and broad, and Jensen feels the heat rise in his cheeks at the memory when Misha says, “I know,” and, “I was there,” like either of them needs to be reminded. Jensen certainly doesn’t.
Because as long as he doesn’t look too closely, his world still makes perfect sense. He plays lacrosse. He goes to bed and gets up in time for class. He raises hell at the local watering hole. He bums cigarettes from Ms. Dinwiddie. He shaves and showers and eats cafeteria food.
But he also knows what Misha tastes like after he’s been shooting Darjeeling tea all morning. What the soft space cradled between the crescents of Misha’s hips feels like beneath his stupid, shaking hands. He knows the shape of Misha’s hands, the spread of them against his thighs, the unexpected strength in them when he bears down.
He may not know them well, but Jensen has always been a quick study.
Perhaps he’s been looking closer than he thought, and that “perfect sense” he’s so desperate to hang onto is only an illusion he employs to comfort himself when he feels out of his depth. He does, all the time, but it has never had anything to do with Misha being a guy. Or it had, but only for scant seconds, long enough for him to taste his father’s disapproval and write it off as unimportant.
At least he has an idea of what feels good when he touches Misha, and it doesn’t matter to him if the person on the receiving end of his inexpert fumbling has a dick or tits, as long as they need him at least half as much as he needs them. If he hesitates, it’s not for lack of desire or in the interests of overcoming some deeply ingrained phobia, but for fear of fucking up, of not being able to give enough to earn the right to keep him.
And he wants to keep Misha, wants it so bad his throat closes up around Misha’s name when he says it sometimes, but he also knows Misha well enough at this point to appreciate the wisdom of keeping that fact to himself. Jensen scrambles for an alternative topic of conversation. If he doesn’t find one, he’ll say something he shouldn’t.
A familiar voice saves him the trouble.
“Well, look what the cat dragged in,” it says, and Jensen turns, smile tugging itself into place before he’s even laid eyes on Sam. “You boys looking for trouble? Or do you just miss going to class so much you had to visit?”
“Stir crazy,” Jensen answers. “And there’s only so long I can stand to stare at his ugly mug without a change of scenery.”
“I, on the other hand,” Misha says, syrupy sweet, and Jensen can feel the heat of him – close but not too close – at his back. “Can’t bear to look away.”
Thankfully, Misha exercises what little discretion he’s learned and pinches Jensen’s cheek instead of his ass. Small favors.
Sam laughs, a soft punch of air. “Well, seems to me you both just volunteered to help sort out the mess in the library. I’ve got six hundred new volumes to index and shelve before Christmas break ends.”
Jensen asks without asking, a raised brow Misha must read right because he shrugs like he doesn’t care one way or the other.
“There’s pizza in it for you,” Sam adds, tone light, though the darkening hall renders her expression almost entirely unreadable. “I’ll even spring for Nonni’s.”
In the end, Misha makes the decision, slipping past Jensen to offer Sam his arm and a “Shall we?” that almost makes up for the fact that he flips the end of his scarf in her face when he tosses it over his shoulder.
“Be careful with that thing, Dumbo. You’ll put someone’s eye out.”
“Blame that one,” Misha says, nudging at Sam’s side with an elbow. “It’s his scarf.”
Misha casts a lingering glance back over his shoulder, and Jensen follows without question.
Three hours later, Jensen’s beyond questions. Sam left them to their own devices long ago. Having fed and watered them as promised, she retreated to the depths of the stacks to break open crates and key the new arrivals into the system, barcode them with the appropriate ID. On the table behind him, the mountain of books continues to grow and they haven’t even started on the non-fiction yet. Much as he craved a change of pace, what Jensen really wants to do right now is haul Misha to bed and craft a happy end to this clusterfuck of a day.
Unfortunately, Misha’s engrossed. Were it a simple matter of shelving the books Sam tagged and stacked, they would have been able to keep up easily. Where Misha’s concerned, nothing’s ever quite that simple. He handles each book like a lover, checking the condition of the dust jacket and spine. He flips the pages and chuckles at the ridiculous portraits of the authors on the back flap, carries on a running commentary about the relative quality of each one he touches, whether he’s read it or not. Sometimes he even skims the body of the text. When multiplied out, it means minutes with each volume instead of seconds and, at this rate, they’ll still be shelving when they’re eighty.
Jensen pinches the bridge of his nose and rolls his shoulders. In the past half hour, he’s put away thirty books to Misha’s two.
“Maybe we should just come back tomorrow,” he says, knees buckling until he’s slouched against the curve of bookcase at his back, his ass planted firmly against one of the hundred vintage rugs that litter the grounds. This one seems to be an artistic rendering of a peach tree. “Sure as shit ain’t gonna finish tonight.”
Misha graces him with a smile, a tiny twitch at the corner of his lips, without ever looking up.
“She doesn’t expect us to finish, Jensen,” he says to the book in his lap. “She wanted the company. More than that, she wanted to feed us. I think she worries.”
Jensen tracks the path of Sam’s boots from one end of the library to the other. He doesn’t recognize the song she’s humming under her breath, but she’s clearly in her element and seems completely unconcerned by their lack of progress.
“Wish someone had clued me in,” Jensen grouses, picking at the threads dangling from the fraying hem of his jeans. “I’ve been busting my hump while you expand your literary horizons.”
“If I’d told you, I wouldn’t have had opportunity to admire your assets as you climbed the ladder.”
Jensen checks for Sam on instinct, and Misha sighs.
“Relax,” he says. “She’s halfway across the room. And it’s not like she’d give a damn, if she wasn’t.” The ridge riding Jensen’s spine feels unforgiving, suddenly, and if none of this matters, he really wants to get back to the room. Misha shoves a thumb between pages and eases the book he’s been poring over closed around it. “Like it or not, Jen, not everyone in the world is as hung up about this stuff as you are.”
One long, sinuous slide and Misha unfolds, resettling next to him close enough that they’re touching hip to shoulder.
“I’m not hung up about anything,” Jensen snaps, the long day honing his tone more sharply than he’d intended. “Unlike you, I’d rather not get kicked out.”
Misha avoids his gaze, drawing nonsense shapes on the cover of his book with those ridiculous fingers of his. “So you’re telling me this isn’t the big, gay freak-out I’ve been anticipating? That you’re not at DEFCON 1 from sitting this close to me where other people can actually see?”
“Dude, no.” Misha’s pattern pauses then picks up at a more manic pace. It’s making Jensen dizzy, so he stills the furious figure eights with his own hand, leaves it as reassurance. “Not gonna claim this is easy for me, but I’m not ashamed. Freaked out? Maybe a little. I just… like I said, I don’t want to get tossed out. There are rules about this for a reason. At the very least, they’d split us up if they caught us. Call our parents.”
Jensen thinks the sound Misha makes is supposed to be a laugh. To be honest, Jensen doesn’t know what to make of it. He gets that Misha’s family situation is fucked up. There’d be no reason for him to lie about it if it wasn’t. Misha pets the book in his lap twice, then takes a deep breath.
“I never really had a home,” he says, tone lifeless and so brittle that Jensen wants to reach out, pull him closer, kiss the laughter back into him and damn the consequences. If he wasn’t so afraid of the reaction he’d get, he would. Instead, he offers what he can – silence and patience.
“I remember them, though. Enough of them. They loved each other. And me, I think. Just not enough to be anything beyond what they are.”
Jensen curses, and out of sympathy tries to stop him. “Misha, you don’t…”
But Misha presses on as if he didn’t hear, like he’s relating the details of someone else’s life instead of the truth of his own, which is pretty fucking ironic. “I was eight when they went to prison. White-collar stuff. I hopped around between family members for a couple of years but…” He pauses, laughs mirthlessly, and scrubs a rough hand across his face. “But I was born into a fucking clan of black sheep. Drugs, alcohol, arson, petty larceny. None of them were fit to keep me, not by DCS standards. So into the system I went.
“I never made trouble; I’d already learned how to take care of myself, after all. Of course that meant I took care of the others too. All it earned me was a quicker ticket to the next home when times got tough because no one ever doubted I’d land on my feet. I saw them a handful of times through the years. They’d show up on the playground or find me at a convenience store. But they never tried to get me back. Not once.”
When Misha finally looks up, his eyes are bright, his jaw tight with a whole host of emotions Jensen can’t fully identify. Defiance, definitely. And pain. Maybe that’s why he deals with it the way he does – deflection instead of anger. For some reason, Jensen suspects an angry Misha is a force to be reckoned with. “So, you see, I don’t give a shit what my parents think of me.”
“Jesus, Misha. I’m so sorry.”
Misha fidgets and goes back to studying the book in his lap. “Don’t need your pity.”
“Sympathy is not the same as pity, man.”
“Just the fact that you think that…” he says, and Misha makes a face. “Whatever. Fair is fair.”
“No such thing.”
Jensen doesn’t roll his eyes, but it’s a close thing. He sympathizes, sure, but he’s never condoned the drama queen approach to dealing with shit. For one thing, Misha’s not the only kid who’s ever been fucked over by his parents. Not by a long shot. Jensen gets it, maybe better than anyone else ever will, but damn. There’s a reason he doesn’t talk about this. No matter how much distance he puts between himself and what he remembers of that time, it still hurts. He curls up as best he can – chin to knees and arms banded tight around his shins – then sets himself to the dubious task of meeting truth with truth. He owes Misha that much.
“Mom died when I was five. Her family’s old money with their fingers in a hundred different pies – securities, politics, manufacturing, but mostly energy. Oil. Dad took a job with them straight out of college.”
He can feel Misha’s eyes on him again, but doesn’t want to risk getting derailed. Instead, he thumbs the dirt from the toe of his shoe and presses on.
“They had the perfect life. To this day, I don’t know for sure what really happened. Only that the energy arm of the business collapsed in spectacular fashion. Then, a month later, Mom was gone. A handful of prescription sleeping pills with a thousand-dollar champagne chaser will do that. According to everyone else, it was an affair. Dad never would say one way or the other. I quit asking a couple years ago.
“After the funeral, Dad basically disappeared. Last time I saw any of Mom’s people was the day we laid her to rest at the family plot. I spent most of that year with Dad’s sister and her husband.
“He enrolled me at Ellis as soon as he could. Nobody wanted me here. I may have been young, but I’ve never been dumb. Dean Morgan was actually a student here that first year. He kind of saved me. When he took me under his wing, things quieted down some. Even then, he had clout.
“Anyway, it’s not that I care what my father thinks of me,” Jensen says on a sigh. “He could disown me and I wouldn’t give a shit.” That’s not the complete truth, because he does care. He just wishes he didn’t. “I want to make something of myself, though, and Ellis offers me the tools I need to do that. Is that so bad?”
Misha doesn’t answer, but Jensen wasn’t really asking. They will probably always have a difference of opinion when it comes to the value of conventional education. Jensen’s not in the mood to argue. What he wants to do is go to bed. Beside him, there’s a rustle of fabric as Misha pushes himself to standing, and for the first time, Jensen realizes Misha’s wearing his jeans, that he put the creases behind the knees, not Misha. His throat closes again, the lump in it stifling anything he might want to say, and his vision blurs before he blinks it away.
When he finally does speak, Misha’s voice startles him, and Jensen couldn’t say how long he’s sat there staring at the rug and the way the table legs put divots in it.
“We’re going,” Misha calls out, and for a second Jensen thinks he means that he and Sam are going somewhere and Jensen will be left to find his own way home. He doesn’t mind. He knows this campus like the back of his hand and even in the dark he’ll make it.
But then Sam answers from the depths of the stacks, a distracted, “Take care, boys. Make sure you bundle up on the way back,” and Misha wedges his hands between elbow and knee to help him up.
Jensen blinks at Misha, the emptiness filling up like some unknown levee finally broke open. There’s still a twinkle of mischief caught in the corner of Misha’s eye, but the smile he smiles is small and sad and a little too real.
“You should read this,” Misha says, and Jensen grabs the book Misha shoves at him, if only to keep it from falling. “I think it’ll help.”
He must look about as skeptical as he feels, because Misha shakes his head.
“You never know until you give it a chance,” Misha says, shrugging into his coat and re-wrapping his scarf. “It could change your life.”
Jensen scoffs. “It’s got a chick on the cover. With crazy hair and wings. Don’t think it’s my kind of thing.”
He’ll never be sure if the coat that hits his chest was actually intended for his head. Regardless, he has to juggle the book into the crook of his arm to keep from dropping it.
“I thought you might have learned by now not to judge a book by its cover.”
Which, yes, he should have. For Misha, he’ll at least try. Jensen zips himself into his parka, grateful to have it even though he shouldn’t need it, and tucks the book away carefully for transport.
The laughter is back in Misha’s eyes when Jensen looks at him, his cheeks red with the heat of the library, his face more open than Jensen’s ever seen it.
“Let’s go home,” he says, and turns on his heel without waiting for an answer.
Misha would be quite happy to stay inside their room, holed up in the pocket of warmth away from the snow and cold and general unreasonableness of the weather outside. At least in New York, winter was doable; jackets were fashionable and the subway was always warm. There was really no need to go above ground for more than a quick dash across a street. The fact that somewhere this far south can get this damn cold is a ridiculous fact no one has ever talked about before; one he wouldn’t believe but for the evidence piling up against the window-sill.
But when it comes to holing up in the warmth and hiding in Jensen, apparently, Ellis has other ideas.
Rob hand-delivers two cream-colored envelopes with fancy calligraphy on them just days into their supposed ‘free time’ - invitations from the Dean to Christmas Eve dinner. It’s a tradition, that the boys who are unlucky enough to be forced to spend their vacation at school are ‘gifted’ a dinner in the dean’s personal quarters. Naturally.
The look of horror on Jensen’s face when Misha actually suggests playing hooky, curling up in bed to explore each other - instead of looking for quarters in puddings - puts an end to such a fantasy before it even begins to form.
Jensen is going, and so Misha is too.
It’s not like Misha dislikes the dean, he really doesn’t, but seriously. They’re expected to play happy families and pretend like it’s a normal way to spend an evening?
Despite his grumblings, Sunday comes around like it always does, and with it, dinner.
“You absolutely cannot wear that.”
Misha looks up at Jensen’s dismayed disapproval, then down at his ‘Reagan for President’ t-shirt. “Why the hell not? It’s politics, that’s educational.”
Jensen rolls his eyes. “No.”
“If you tell me we have to wear uniform, Jen, I will not leave this fucking room.”
Jensen sighs, and despite having caused it, Misha has the uncontrollable urge to kiss away his frustration. “Of course not, the dean isn’t a martyr. But you gotta look presentable; a shirt at least.”
Misha considers this new bit of unwelcome information. “Can I wear my sweater around my neck and iron a crease in my chinos?”
“If that’s what floats your boat, man,” Jensen replies, rifling through his wardrobe and pulling out an offensively plain white button-down.
Misha pouts. “You’re no fun anymore, you know me too well.”
Jensen just thrusts the shirt at him. “And here I was thinking you liked me ‘knowing’ you well.”
“Did you just euphamize ‘knowing’ me with sex in order to distract me?”
“I don’t think euphamize is a word.”
“Whatever,” Misha sniffs. ‘I’ll euphamize you if you’re not careful.”
This night is going to be a fucking drag.
And it is. There are a handful of younger-year boys, all combed side-parts and polished shoes. Rob is there, and another guy Misha recognizes from one of his classes, but couldn’t name for the life of him. The food is decent enough. By which he means it’s pretty amazing, but he isn’t about to compliment it and have Jensen smugly grin at him the rest of the night.
The conversation starts out torturous, but Morgan puts them all at ease by telling them stories about the school and it’s checkered past of secret societies and ghost sightings. Misha’s pretty sure it’s all bullshit, but the younger kids seem rapt and it loosens them up enough that they talk and snigger and start kicking each other under the table instead of sitting in petrified silence.
The dean’s quarters are nice, if old. They’re in a sectioned-off part of the main building, so they’re cramped and small, made for people at least a foot shorter than today’s average. But the furnishings are lavish, all oak and oriental rugs. Shiny silver appliances gleam from the kitchen Misha spies as the cook and helpers bring out the food. The table has napkin holders.
They retire to a comfy den, complete with crackling fire and flat screen television on the wall. All Misha wants to do is curl up next to Jensen and doze, stomach stuffed full of rich food and a real nap right around the corner.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, given the circumstances and need for propriety, Rob flops down on the two-seater next to Jensen, and Misha is left to fold himself into an over-stuffed armchair to the side. Some of the younger kids lounge on the floor near the fire playing checkers like they’ve been lifted out of a Fitzgerald novel or something. It’s pretentious as all hell, and if Misha weren’t quite so sleepy from dessert he’d absolutely be making snarky comments about it.
As it is, he’s apparently telegraphing more than he thinks as the dean hones in on him and sits down in the armchair’s twin with a chuckle.
“One of those ‘is this my life?’ moments, Misha?” he smiles, and despite Misha wanting to mock, Morgan’s eyes twinkle with humor and he can’t help but be somewhat mollified.
“First-world problems, sir,” Misha replies in what he hopes isn’t too inflammatory a tone. “There’s a hashtag.”
“Yes,” Morgan agrees, which makes Misha look at him in mild surprise. The dean laughs, “What, I'm too old to tweet?”
Misha throws caution to the wind. “I imagine it’s hard to tweet on a typewriter is all.”
Morgan laughs loudly at that, a dark chuckling sound of amusement that makes Jensen look over curiously from his conversation with Rob.
“You’re one to talk, Mister Collins. I happen to know Ms Ferris has been trying to get you into her chess club since day one.”
Misha shrugs. “Ms Ferris is as full of stories as you are.” A beat. “Sir.”
The twinkle is still present, dancing merrily in the dean’s eyes along with the fire’s flames. “Yes. How about we keep that one between you and me, eh? She’d hang both of us out to dry before we could blink.”
Misha nods. He’s not suicidal. Even if it would be a hell of a way to die.
Morgan sits back in his chair, looking over at Misha contemplatively. There’s no malice to it, but it makes Misha’s skin crawl nonetheless. He likes to be the one watching people, not the other way around.
“So, Misha. What are your plans once you turn eighteen next month? Will you be staying with us and our first-world problems?”
Misha shifts uncomfortably and lies. “I hadn’t really thought about it.”
The dean hums noncommittally and says nothing, though that in itself says volumes. “You could stay,” the dean says eventually, tone neutral.
“Like I said -” Misha begins, but Morgan cuts him off.
“I’m not the Peterson’s, Misha. And unlike a lot of those around here, I’m well aware how the ‘real’ world works. It doesn’t take a genius to realize you plan to run the second the clock strikes twelve o’one.”
For once, Misha finds himself without words. He knows the dean isn’t stupid, but the fact that he’s calling him on it, here, is somewhat gobsmacking. He was under the impression people simply didn’t speak something so dangerous as the truth.
Instead of answering, Misha picks at a stray thread on his pants. He’s aware of the dean’s eyes still on him, but for once in his life, he doesn’t want to falsify an answer.
“I actually have a proposal for you, if you’re interested,” Morgan says, and his voice is kind.
Misha looks up. “A proposal?”
Morgan nods. “Up to you, of course. But if you’re willing to wait the year out, finish your high school education, I’m willing to make a few calls on your behalf. Tee up an internship for you once you finish. Or, if you’d rather, to pull some strings in college admission offices.”
Misha blinks, aware he probably looks like an owl. He understands the individual words that come out of the dean’s mouth, but he can’t for the life of him parse the sentences into anything resembling sense.
“Well?” Morgan asks. “Would that be something you’d be interested in, Misha?
Misha manages to find his voice. “Why the... why would you do that?”
He leaves the “for me” unsaid.
This time Morgan shrugs, a casual gesture that smacks of the young man he is, rather than the old seat he holds. “Why not?”
Because I'm not worth it, because I'm an orphan, because I'm one of many, because I haven’t done anything to deserve it, because of my parents, because you’ve had a rough life, because I want to make you my humanitarian project, because, because, because. The litany of reasons that have been given to him over the years run through his head, an unstoppable, hyperactive-tickertape.
“Despite what you might think, Misha,” Morgan continues, “this place isn’t as bad as it might seem. People don’t send their children here because they have money to spend, or rights to uphold... well, most of them don’t. They send them here to prepare them for the best possible future they might have.”
Misha stays silent, and Morgan smiles slightly before continuing. “You have smarts many of these kids won’t get without a great deal of strategy. You have more life experience than many of them will ever have or want. You could do amazing things, Collins. Of that I have no doubt. But what you don’t have is a history to live up to, parents who inspire you. From what I've seen, there’s not many people climbing over themselves to help you for your sake, rather than theirs. And if I were to let that be the status quo, then I wouldn’t be doing my job and preparing you for that possible future, now would I?”
Misha shakes his head, tries to navigate himself out of the quagmire in his mind. “I appreciate it, sir, but I don’t think -”
Again, the dean cuts him off. “The most important reason, though, is that I want to. I think you’re worth it. I also think that others would benefit from having you stick around, no?”
The dean looks pointedly at Jensen, and for a horrible second Misha thinks this has all been some great cosmic joke, buttering him up before yanking the wool from over his eyes and expelling the two of them without further ado. But Morgan looks only fond as he looks over at Jensen, who is trying, mostly in vain, not to look bored at whatever animated story Rob is chattering at him.
And just as quickly as the dean brings Jensen into the conversation, he moves him out, focusing exclusively on Misha again.
“As I said, it’s up to you. I just wanted you to know that it was an option you might not have considered.”
And with that, dean Jeffrey Morgan pats Misha on the knee and rises from his chair, shuffling over to sit on the floor with the younger kids.
Jensen is looking over at Misha again, a question painted across his raised eyebrows. For the life of him, Misha wouldn’t even know where to begin.
* * *
Normal kids look forward to Christmas Day. No matter how hard he tries, Jensen hasn’t been normal in a very long time. That belief other kids suspended for Santa died for him when he was eight, when Dad was stuck in Morocco and there’d been no presents around his plastic tree when he woke Christmas morning. He’d known then what he knows now - adults lie. Sometimes they do it to save themselves, sometimes to save you. Neither reason changes the fact that Jensen hasn’t slept restlessly on Christmas Eve for years.
Even then, it’s not so much that he’s on edge, but that Misha is.
Whatever it was that put Misha off at the dean’s dinner has festered and rooted, his typically sharp wit so dulled by distraction that he provided straight answers to nearly all of Jensen’s questions. All except the ones that matter. Jensen still has no clue what he discussed with Jeff, and whether or not that conversation had caused the change. At this point, the answer to the latter at least seems a given.
Once they hit the door, some unknown switch had flipped and Jensen lost the chance to ask again, caught as he was by the cut of teeth against his collarbone and the slim fingers fumbling at his belt. After, Misha hadn’t lingered, rolling away and into his own bed with a dramatic yawn Jensen knew was mostly for show. They’d both been up past two every night since break started, and this morning had begun much closer to noon than nine.
In spite of everything, his natural inclination towards paranoia begins to get the better of him. After Misha gets up a fourth time and slips silently from their room, Jensen sincerely believes that at some point he won’t be coming back. Misha always does, but every time the mattress springs squeak on the other side of the room, Jensen’s instantly awake. For what, he couldn’t say. It’s not as if he could drag Misha back forcibly if he chose to leave, but he’d sure as hell try.
Exhaustion eventually wins out, and when Jensen blinks himself awake the sun has risen far enough to paint the sky gold and pink. Through the fog of waking he remembers, cursing the fact that he fell asleep and hoping that when he turns over, Misha’s still there. It’s hard to tell, sometimes, where the blankets end and Misha begins. He has a disturbing tendency to cocoon himself overnight, but the wild shock of hair ruffed out against what looks suspiciously like Jensen’s Panthers jersey is unmistakable.
He thinks he should be ashamed of how bright the flare of relief burns in his gut. Caring this much about anyone has only ever gotten him in trouble, Jared notwithstanding. There are days Jensen wishes he could stop. For as deep in as he is, he knows, like he knows the Pythagorean Theorem, someday Misha will leave. They always do. For now at least, he’s here.
Luck keeps the bed quiet when Jensen leaves it, the carpet muffling his footsteps as he creeps to his wardrobe to liberate the gifts hidden there. In the stillness, the crinkle of paper sounds a thousand times louder and Jensen sneaks a glance over his shoulder to make sure Misha’s still asleep. The mound spread across him rises and falls with his breath, but aside from that doesn’t move. Boxes in hand, Jensen shuffles back between their beds and sets his bundle down. He has to kick Misha’s oxfords out of the way to do it, the hard heels striking the leg of the bed with a thump when he does.
Misha stirs, and that’s okay, because the next order of business was to wake him up anyway. But beyond kicking a foot free of the blankets when he turns over and throwing an arm across his eyes to block out the light filtering in through the window, all Misha does is grunt before his breathing evens out again.
Jensen accepts it as invitation and a chance, hoping desperately there’s nothing in Misha’s past to spook him. This time, the bed does creak as it takes his weight, and he wavers for a moment, trying to get the angle right, perched as he is, his thighs bridged carefully across Misha’s but not touching, not yet. He feels the pull in his back, in his stomach, as he bends and braces against the headboard to keep from falling too far.
“I can feel you breathing,” Misha slurs, voice slow with sleep and his lips are too close to be denied.
So Jensen doesn’t.
Kissing Misha is always a very good thing. Sometimes careful, sometimes consuming, sometimes it’s a war for when they run out of words. This is different. It sneaks up on him in the way Misha’s lips part with a sigh, the soft slip of his tongue contented rather than restrained or directed and pushing. For once, he simply lies there and lets Jensen kiss him and that, of all things, is what ends it too fast. Because Jensen smiles into it and Misha nips at his lip.
“Something funny?” he mumbles, eyes still squeezed shut beneath the band of his arm.
Jensen rocks back to sit on his heels and feels the muscles in Misha’s thighs bulge as he stretches.
“Not funny,” Jensen deadpans. “Funny-looking, maybe.”
It’s hard to keep a straight face when he says it. Every hair on Misha’s head seems oriented in a different direction. The crumpled jersey currently sliding into the crease between pillow and headboard left a smooth place on Misha’s cheek shaped like a “C.” The Ellis creed is inexplicably scrawled and smudged across the back of his forearm in what appears to be black eyeliner. He looks ridiculous, but somehow that’s part of his ineffable charm.
“I have the leverage here,” Misha says, finally shifting into something that resembles wakefulness. “Don’t test me or you’ll end up on the floor.”
“And destroy the pile of presents Santa brought you?” Jensen grins wider when Misha’s brow furrows. “Why on earth would you want that?”
“One, if there were really a pile of presents beside my bed, I wouldn’t want that. And two, Santa’s a myth. Or, more like folklore that’s been misappropriated several times over so that parents can pretend someone else has bequeathed an obscene volume of toys upon their offspring.”
Looking at the sad stack of boxes, Jensen’s inexplicably nervous. He’d thought wrapping everything in the funny pages was a good idea at the time, an irony only Misha might appreciate. Now, though, it seems like the dumbest idea in the history of dumb ideas.
He plucks the top package from the heap and drops it on Misha’s chest anyway, then waits.
Misha opens his eyes slowly, each lid peeling back out of sync, the whites behind them bloodshot with sleeplessness. It takes a minute for him to process, chin tucked tight to his chest, but eventually he gets there.
“That’s a box,” Misha says, matter-of-fact. “Why is there a box on me?”
“I told you, Santa came.”
The paper rips, Misha’s fingertips smudged blue and yellow and green until it runs together into a weird brown black. It had taken a couple weeks to track down everything he needed, the last of the packages arriving just before break. Sneaking the stuff into their room without Misha noticing had been the bigger challenge, but somehow Jensen managed.
“It would help if I could move, you know.” Misha grouses, but his fingers never pause in their process and when he breaks the tape on the box, Jensen’s glad he didn’t move away to give Misha room. While it definitely would have been more comfortable for both of them, it also would have meant missing Misha’s face when the threadbare scrap of cotton tumbles out and he shakes it open.
“Fuck you, Jensen.”
“Fine, fuck Santa.”
“Is Santa really your type? I thought you liked lean and lanky. Should I be jealous?”
Misha barks a sharp little laugh and shoves at him, eyes shining bright, and Jensen’s skin itches with the look. He expects Misha to twist his words, turn them into an escape from the awkward crawling feeling in his gut. Contrary as ever, Misha doesn’t.
“You didn’t have to do this,” he says instead, tracing the cracked, peeling letters emblazoned across the front of the shirt.
“Of course I did.”
It’s only here, in this room, that this could happen.
Two pairs of jeans, four authentic band shirts from the 80s, and a pair of well-worn black motorcycle boots will never mean to anyone what they mean to Misha. Jensen still isn’t sure about the hat, will probably never be sure about it. If everything else goes over, he’ll break it out, but only then.
For all his other virtues, Misha has always been fairly impatient, so his careful handling of the t-shirt makes Jensen grin. Before long, though, he leans up on an elbow to peer over the side of the bed and shakes his head at the pile.
“No, you didn’t,” he says softly. “Jen, I don’t know what to say.”
“I think the traditional response is thanks.”
“You aren’t nearly naked enough to receive my gratitude, and I apparently have a shitload of presents to open, so that’s just gonna have to wait.”
Each box Misha unwraps rubs down another layer of whatever the fuck was bothering him last night until he’s just the him behind the armor - a smart-ass, streetwise kid with a brain the size of a fucking moon colony, and a libido to match. And in that second, just for a second, Jensen thinks maybe Misha belongs to him. Or could someday.
Holidays always turn him into a girl.
Thankfully, the sentiment fades into something more manageable when Misha squirms, insistent, and Jensen realizes why. The boots. They’re nothing special, really. Just a black harness boot with steel toes, scuffed by the long use of some dude in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Misha swings out of bed like his ass is on fire once Jensen lets him, stepping into them as easy as breathing.
“I never say this to… well, anyone.” Misha beams at him in nothing but his boxers and boots and the Sex Pistols t-shirt slung around his neck. “You, Jensen Ackles, are a fucking perfect human being.”
Damn if he doesn’t mean it too. Jensen palms the back of his neck and chews on his lip, lost for words like he sometimes gets in the face of praise. Under any other circumstance, he’d deflect, but this means too much to Misha, to him, for him to cheapen it by pretending it’s nothing. So, for the moment at least, he holds his tongue, curling himself to kneel on the floor until he can reach the box that’s tucked in the far corner under his bed.
“The hell,” Misha mutters, the boots beside him shuffling against the burnished carpet. By now the sun has crept up over the curve of the horizon in the east, and even though their room faces west, the rays are catching on the snow-laden branches of the tree outside and making them sparkle.
Considering the reception of the rest of his gifts, Jensen figures the hat’s probably a safe bet. He’d found it not on eBay, but through a website that acts as a clearinghouse for estate sales. It’s not what Jensen typically considers Misha, but he’d been unable to forget it once he saw it. After staring at it for three days straight, he’d spent the sixty bucks and had them ship it overnight. He didn’t get a chance to wrap it.
Jensen hands the box to Misha with as little fanfare as he can manage, and says as much.
It’s soft, that he knows, with a gentle texture woven into the fabric. It’s a deep blue-grey with a sort of green undertone, the exact color of the ocean before a storm sweeps through and froths it into whitecaps and foam. But he can’t watch Misha open it. Instead, he levers himself up, busies himself collecting the discarded scraps of newspaper and wadding them up to throw away.
Misha says his name, but Jensen pretends not to hear because now that he’s done all this, he feels like the ground is tipping further and further away from him, and nothing he does will bring it back to rights. It is too much, and even though he gave every bit of it from a desire to do so, he knows he went too far, pushed too hard. He’d done that with Jared at first, too, and should have learned his lesson.
“Jensen,” Misha says again, firm, and Jensen looks up because he refuses to let this scare him. It’s not who he is. No matter how completely fucked things get, he survives, even thrives.
The hat fits. Not in size, though it does sit right atop Misha’s unruly mop, but it fits Misha. With the brim tipped forward, Jensen can hear the scrape of his eyelashes against the wool each time he blinks. It shouldn’t stir him the way it does, given the rest of Misha’s hodgepodge getup, but there’s a part of him that wants things. More so when Misha thumbs the brim and licks his lips, his gaze suddenly, inescapably heated.
“Yeah,” Jensen croaks. How his mouth ended up so dry, he can’t figure.
“I’m gonna fuck you in this later,” Misha says, so certain that Jensen doesn’t even think to question or even ask what that means, and he’s too focused on the fact that Misha’s not backing him down to freak about which parts might end up where. “But for now,” he continues, “Fuck. Here.”
Misha thrusts a package at him, small enough it fits completely inside his fist. Once upon a time, it had been wrapped perfectly in bright blue and silver stripes, but the paper’s crinkled now, the ribbon smashed and a little lopsided.
“I didn’t expect…” Jensen starts.
“Just open it, okay. And you’re welcome.”
The ribbon slides off easy and there’s a gap in the corner just large enough to accommodate the tip of his pinkie finger. Beneath the paper, there’s only the flocked black velvet of a jewelry box and he frowns at Misha, who makes an exasperated gesture and plants a hand on his hip. Nestled atop the padding inside sits a medal, Saint Christopher, identical to the one his mother wore.
She’d never been without it and when she… when she was gone, it went to Jensen. He’d kept it close, sacred, been as careful with it as any small boy can be with anything. It had disappeared along with most of their luggage on fateful trip to Hawaii in his early teens. He doesn’t remember much of the vacation beyond the fact that he was inconsolable. After the loss of it dulled, Jensen had grown to appreciate the irony that the patron saint of travelling could get lost in transit.
It’s not until Misha clears his throat and says, “I can return it,” that Jensen realizes he’s been staring in silence for too long.
“Not unless you’re willing to break my arms.” The chain slithers free of the packing, and although it doesn’t sit the same place it used to when he fastens the clasp, he wouldn’t have expected it to. “How did you…?”
Misha smiles and resettles his hat, leaning to pluck a picture frame off Jensen’s own desk. “She’s wearing one,” he says. “In every picture. When I found it, I obviously didn’t know what happened. I’ll admit the choice was a gamble, but you always seemed like you wished you could be closer to her, so I thought it was a fairly safe one.”
The medal isn’t hers, couldn’t possibly be. Jensen doesn’t give a shit. The fact that Misha cared enough to notice means everything and he moves without thinking, Misha’s chin sharp on his shoulder, the brim of his hat scratching at Jensen’s ear. For all the other things they do, hugs aren’t typically part of the repertoire. Misha melts into it all the same, his arms wrapped as tight as Jensen’s when Jensen squeezes and whispers, “Thanks,” into Misha’s hair.
* * *
After Christmas, the holidays pass in a blur.
If it weren’t for the fact that it would look decidedly suspicious, they’d have spent the entire remaining week huddled in their room with Jensen’s desk chair wedged up against the doorknob. Really, it’s not even that it would look suspicious that stops them, so much as it is they keep getting interrupted while making out by Rob or the dean or junior kids on dares.
It doesn’t really bother Misha, he’s used to having to get his rocks off fast and with a potential audience. Jensen, however, isn’t quite so immune. As fun as Jensen’s startled deer-in-headlights look is, and Misha finds it pretty damn amusing, the point-blank refusal to keep making out after the coitus interruptus is over wears off fast.
They end up being more imaginative because of it, so Misha figures there are mixed blessings in this much as there have been in most of his fucked up life. They spend an afternoon in the barn, tucked safely in the hayloft, straw prickling somewhat painfully through Misha’s shirt as Jensen pants and squirms on top of him. He doesn’t even mind when Jensen lords it over him that, if it weren’t for horses, they wouldn’t be able to make out there. Misha’s pretty sure that’s some faulty logic right there, but he lets the argument go as Jensen’s breath hitches and his cock twitches against Misha’s thigh.
Chris comes by, all furtive whistling and hiding-behind-trees, and Jensen yanks Misha right out the window with him and into the evening light. They spend a pretty enjoyable night down at the bar where Misha had first decided Jensen might not be as awful as he seemed. More enjoyable in some respects for the absence of Dave. Jensen goes loose and pliable with drink in him, and Chris’, hollerin’, and ribbing when Jensen slings an arm around Misha’s shoulders only makes Jensen grin wider than the Mississippi in spring. Misha wants to jump him right there and then, but has to make do with waiting until they make it back to the dorm and Jensen’s bed. He covers Jensen’s mouth with his palm to muffle the moans and sighs that also apparently amplify with Jensen’s alcohol intake.
Sam corrals them into the library every time she sees them wandering the halls, and every time they let her see them. The re-shelving project never seems to end, but somehow it doesn’t matter. Jensen’s annoyance at Misha’s inability to not fondle every book he picks up is more than enough to keep Misha doing it. The small smile that Jensen thinks he hides when he turns away with a huff of annoyance is something Misha knows he’ll treasure forever. So he reads him premises on particle physics and chapters of Harry Potter, random pages of Gatsby and the bits of Brideshead with the bear (upon which Jensen points out Misha’s similarity to Sebastian, and Misha proclaims that to be the nicest compliment anyone has ever given him). Sam drifts around the stacks, occasionally giving them a reproving look or smile she also thinks is hidden.
He thinks about the offer the dean made him. The potential for a job he’d never even have considered prior to the Petersons and their meddling ways. Misha had always been pretty sure he was destined to be a hot-dog vendor or municipal worker or, if he was very lucky, maybe own an alternative book store down in the Village, the kind that had bowls of water outside for customer’s dogs and a big orange cat that sat on the counter disinterestedly. All versions had him eking out a fairly meager living. The possibility of college at a good school, or an internship somewhere where Misha would be bored but obscenely rich, able to buy things new and shiny and not second-hand, things like comfort and privacy and safety that he’d only up ‘till this point dreamed about...
He almost doesn’t want to think about it, for fear of it all being a sick fantasy that disintegrates and slips through his fingers. But he knows it won’t. It’s a real possibility. If he doesn’t leave. It sits heavy on his shoulders and it’s uncomfortable, so he pushes the decision to the back of his brain and distracts himself in sucking the inside of Jensen’s elbow, biting at the ridges of his ribs, burying his nose into the crease of his groin. Anything to dull the ache of possibility that threatens to imprison him, in a way all his actual prisons have failed to achieve.
For now, he has Jensen, and that’s more than enough.
Sunday comes again, sooner than he thought it could, the last week having flown by like a dream within some impossible dream. Jensen’s enjoyed success in the past—the thrill of sneaking off campus without being caught, the first time he charmed a waitress into serving him when he was obviously underage, kicking ass on the lacrosse field. But he’s never felt quite as untouchable as he has since Christmas.
It suits him.
Even with Dad winging his way south after connecting at LaGuardia, there’s none of the familiar acid in his gut. He doesn’t forgive his father for screwing him over again, but it matters a little less than it did.
Jensen suspects he has Misha to thank for that too. Not that he ever would. Not out loud, anyway.
As a matter of fact, the only thing he can’t bring himself to thank Misha for these days is the book. Fifty pages in, Jensen still can’t quite figure out how it relates to his life. Whether he’s enjoying it or not—and he is—seems a little beside the point. Unlike the stodgy but necessary literature that makes up the Ellis curriculum, Dangerous Angels delivers honesty with a side of whimsy. It’s fun and funny and heartbreaking and completely Misha, but Jensen has yet to discover why Weetzie and her cohorts should have any deeper meaning for him.
Maybe Misha has a Weetzie in New York that he misses—a wild fairy princess that accepts him for exactly who he is and prowls for dudes with him when he gets lonely. It took less than ten pages for Jensen to see the obvious parallels between Misha and Dirk.
Seconds later, Misha slinks in as if summoned by the thought, his hair towel-mussed and skin flushed from the heat and pressure of the shower. He grins until his nose crinkles when he sees the book. Though Jensen would never cop to it, he’s spent a probably inordinate amount of time cataloguing Misha’s smiles; he likes this one best. That smile makes it instinct to slide Misha’s ratty scrap of orange yarn between the pages and ease the book closed, because it deserves his full attention.
“Don’t stop on my account,” Misha says. “Hell, I’d ask you to read to me if I thought you would.”
“I will,” Jensen says, on the tail of a laugh, “If you’ll tell me why I’m reading this.”
Misha frowns and fidgets with the tag on the towel slung over his shoulder. “You don’t like it?”
“No, I really do. I just…I don’t get what it has to do with me.”
Mollified for the moment, Misha settles himself cross-legged at the foot of Jensen’s bed.
“Where are you?”
“Last I checked, I’m here,” Jensen answers, prodding at Misha’s hip with his toe. Even with the blanket between them, he can feel the warmth of Misha’s body, his closeness, the nudge of his bony fucking knee against shin. Misha retaliates by grabbing the offending foot and pulling it into his lap. It’s short work from there for Misha to get his fingers in under the band of Jensen’s sock and thumb at that sensitive spot behind his ankle bone that never fails to render him pliable and useless and a whole host of other things that someone like Misha shouldn’t be allowed a fucking button for.
“Smartass.” Misha’s fingers wrap around the curve of his heel, sweet pressure, and it’s all Jensen can do to hum his response. “I meant what page.”
Jensen shoves the book towards him and watches as Misha flips it open one-handed, the elegant dance of his fingers across the pages entirely unaffected by the strange position. That grin blooms again, bright and unguarded. Misha bears down with those stupid nimble fingers and before he knows any better, all Jensen’s watching is the backs of his eyelids. Whatever delusions he’d had about this being a coincidence fly straight out the window when he forces his eyes open to find a familiar smirk twisted into the corner of Misha’s mouth. Misha knows exactly what he’s doing. The only thing for it is to prove he’s unaffected. Otherwise, he’ll spend the rest of his life at the mercy of Misha’s knowledge.
“Duck just ran,” Jensen mutters and Misha’s fingernail catches against a particularly sensitive spot. He closes his eyes again, because he has to. “Because love is a dangerous angel. Because Duck loved Bam Bam and he’s dying. Because he’s scared. I’m not Duck, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“No,” Misha says, absent for a moment in that way he is sometimes, when Jensen wonders if he’ll ever return. Eventually he does, leaning back to pull the book into his lap and tangle their legs up, his foot planted alongside Jensen’s ribs. Jensen touches him because he can, because he fucking wants to and that fact is as terrifying as it is revelatory. “I’m more worried about Pups than Ducks,” he continues. “Though a part of me wants that unattainable Bat thing, I’m not insane enough to expect it.”
“So I guess that means there’s not a Weetzie back home you want me to make a baby with? Gotta say, that’s a relief. I’m still getting used to this, and threesomes aren’t really my speed.” Misha starts to shift away in earnest and Jensen grabs for him this time, fingers catching on his calf. “All I mean is that I see a lot of you here, Mish. Just show me where you see me.”
Misha smiles then and settles back in, the book set aside but not forgotten on his desk.
“It doesn’t matter,” he says, his voice smudged soft around the edges but not sullen. If Jensen didn’t know better, he’d call it indulgent. “Ask me again when you finish.”
The sun must be rising, slipping towards its crest, because the shadows beyond the window are shorter now, sharper. Dad will be here soon, and Jensen wishes he felt truly ready for it. Despite the calm that’s swept through his life of late and his own deep desire to keep these visits from affecting him, his father still has all kinds of potential to tie him in knots.
“Not for nothing, Jen. But you should probably take a shower before Daddy Warbucks comes to sign us out.”
“You trying to say I stink? Because damn, I thought you got off on the eau de Ackles.”
The nose crinkles show for an encore and there’s a flash of white teeth before Misha throws back the blanket and nips at the tender inside of his thigh. Jensen thinks it’s meant to motivate, but it only makes him want to pull Misha down and muss him up again.
“Far be it for me to imply I don’t appreciate every last note of your singular bouquet.”
“But you smell like sex.” Misha leans closer, his nose pressed nearly flat and his lips dragging against each strand of hair as he speaks. When he does again, it’s only to say, “And me. But mostly sex,” in that fucked-out rumble of his. If he doesn’t stop, they really won’t make it to brunch.
Jensen glances at the clock above the door and does some mental gymnastics to figure out when they’ll need to be presentable. Sadly, there isn’t time.
“Since when are you the responsible one?”
“I guess you’re rubbing off on me,” he answers, pairing it with an exaggerated brow waggle that’s more ridiculous than it is lascivious. “Though not, perhaps, right this minute.”
“Later,” Jensen says, cheeks twitching with the grin he’s trying to hold back. Finally, he stretches and swings his legs over the side of the bed. Whether he wants to admit it or not, Misha’s right. “I promise to rub off on you as much as you want when we get back.”
Misha’s laughter follows him out into the hall and down the corridor.
When the phone rings in their room, Jensen’s ready. Wound a little tight, perhaps, but dressed and pressed, combed and groomed with Misha at his side. Jensen considers it a small miracle that, upon returning from the bathroom, Misha was dressed himself. Not in the Ramones T-shirt, raggedy jeans, and boots Jensen expected to fight him out of, but in his best pair of Ellis grey slacks and one of Jensen’s blue button-downs, the one with the white cuffs and the navy pinstripes. With his hair pushed back off his face in some semblance of order, Misha would look at home in the swankiest place Charleston has to offer.
And all Jensen wanted to do was kiss him.
The moment slips away, though, in the trilling of their phone and his father’s voice drifting down the line from across campus. Then they’re bumping out the door and across the quad at a respectable distance, and Jensen’s left to regret not succumbing to the urge.
Under even the most mundane circumstances, Carter Ackles cuts an imposing silhouette. He wasn’t born to power, that much Jensen knows, but he has nonetheless thrived under the application of time and pressure, and the wealth power has brought him. He has expectations, ones Jensen’s not sure he wants to live up to, even if he could. And though Jensen’s pretty sure his father only wants the best for him, the fact remains that he doesn’t really know the man well enough to make any kind of decision about following in his footsteps.
Standing beside Dean Morgan in the foyer, lost in some apparently very important discussion, his father is little more than a stranger in a tailored suit and expensive shoes.
Jensen couldn’t say with certainty how long it’s been since they last saw one another, but just as his stomach roils, Misha nudges an elbow between his ribs and mutters. “So are we just going to stand here and stare, or are you going to introduce me?”
Nervous laughter isn’t his style, and though Jensen tries to swallow it, it bubbles up anyway. The sound calls attention to their lurking, both his father and the dean turning to it.
“Jensen?” Dad looks tired, sounds it too, the hollows cut under his eyes deeper than Jensen remembers them being, and the grey at his temples more pronounced.
“Sorry,” he says, adding the ‘sir’ at the last moment. “I didn’t want to interrupt.”
His father smiles then—half sales-slick and half himself—and huffs a little laugh. “Don’t apologize, son. I am here to see you, after all.”
The way he says it makes Jensen feel like an obligation, and he nods even though he doesn’t really agree. He watches his father turn back to the dean, watches him shake Jeff’s hand like they’re friends or colleagues, like they’ve been trading secrets about him, and he wants to puke. Misha clears his throat, pointedly, and Jensen shakes the impulse off. That’s not who he is anymore. He hates that his father is the way he is, but bending over backwards to please him won’t make the man any less of a dick. What, then, is the point of caring? There isn’t one. That knowledge gives Jensen his voice back, his steady footing. So he smiles the warm, impersonal smile he used when he was on the debate team in the days before Misha, and says, “Dad, this is Misha. Misha, my father.”
For a minute his father simply stares, eyes narrowed to slits, but when he breaks he does it with such an economy of motion that Jensen can’t be sure he saw the hesitation.
“Pleasure to meet you, Misha…” he says, hand extended.
Once upon a time, Jensen would have wasted time praying for Misha to meet courtesy with kind. Now, he doesn’t give a shit. Misha must, though, or he’s doing a fine job of pretending, because he shakes Dad’s hand like he’s on a job interview and says, “Collins, sir. The pleasure’s mine,” as if he actually means it.
Relief eases the hot thrum of anxiety in his veins, and for a second Jensen thinks he might get through this unscathed. If he can follow Misha’s cues and treat it like a business luncheon, rather than the awkward family outing it promises to be, he could still make it out the other side in one piece.
The dream holds right up until his father says, “Did you and Jared have a falling out?” and Jensen’s forced to hem and haw his way around the question because he doesn’t want to talk about it. He and Jared have had a hundred disagreements over the years that Carter fucking Ackles didn’t give a shit about. Frankly, it’s none of his goddamn business.
Again, Misha saves him. “Jared and his family are in Florida for the break,” he says. “They won’t be back until the Friday before school starts.”
Dad squints again then shakes his head, says, “Of course,” and motions for them to lead the way.
The drive into Charleston takes both no time at all and forever, the canopy of moss-draped trees sending fingerling shadows through the window that stripe across his father’s face. Under the pretense of having unencumbered time to visit, Dad hired a car and driver to ferry them around, leaving the three of them with nothing to do but talk and stare at each other the whole way into town.
Oddly enough, it’s Misha that carries the conversation, regaling them with tall tales about backpacking the Appalachian Trail and the time he and yet another fictional version of his parents spent in Tibet. They’re all bullshit, Jensen knows, but there’s no way Dad could tell the difference. If he can, he doesn’t let on, and Jensen is perfectly content to let that particular sleeping dog lie for as long as it will.
Mostly, his father ignores them, only paying enough attention to nod in the right places and mutter about a particular detail being interesting in others. Of course, Misha being Misha, that indifference means his stories take a turn for the absurd. By the time they pull up outside the White Point Grill, he’s explaining how he finger-painted Picasso forgeries with a traveling troupe of burlesque dancers at the tender age of five, and Jensen’s ribs ache from trying to contain his laughter.
There are moments, brief though they may be, where Dad looks like he wants to say something, times when he seems to be studying Misha more closely than necessity dictates. Each time his eyes narrow, Jensen’s stomach flips over on itself, and he braces for the onslaught. The questions. The unfortunate insights. As much as part of him still wants his father’s approval, needs him to like and get along with Misha, Jensen fears his intellect, the sharp observational skills that make him so good at his job. He’s not ready to try to explain something he doesn’t understand himself. If Dad figures out what they are, things will get messy, and fast.
But he doesn’t say anything, and eventually Jensen relaxes.
The driver knocks on the privacy window to let them know they’ve arrived. His father smiles, a flash of too-white teeth gone too soon, and levers himself out of the car, taking the cloud of his aftershave with him. Misha moves to follow, but Jensen catches him.
“Just be honest,” he says. “For my sake.”
Misha frowns, then deadpans, “Because he was hanging on my every word on the way here.”
Jensen doesn’t know how to impress upon Misha the importance of this brunch. Telling him how Jared handled it the first time will only scare him, and this, well, this is different, anyway. In the end, Jensen settles on, “Please,” and tries to put it all out there in his face.
“Okay, okay,” Misha says, risking everything to cover Jensen’s hand with his own. It’s welcome comfort, if ill advised. “Don’t stroke out on me. I’ll behave.”
Outside, there’s the clack of well-heeled shoes against concrete, undoubtedly his father coming back to collect them, and Jensen jerks his hand back with a whispered “Sorry” he hopes Misha hears.
Dad is indeed standing right outside the open door. He doesn’t bend to peer inside, thankfully, but slips his mobile into his lapel pocket and calls out, “Coming, boys?” as if they had a choice in the matter.
Jensen scoots across the long bench and out, leather sticking to his sweaty palms. He turns to watch Misha emerge and slam the door, following the limo with his eyes as it slides away from the curb and turns the corner. When the taillights disappear, Jensen falls into step behind his father, trusting Misha to follow. Or not. If he wants to make a run for it, Jensen would understand completely.
The restaurant looks the same as it always has, the antique fixtures and furniture painstakingly maintained in pewter and blue, and if Jensen weren’t otherwise preoccupied, he’d appreciate the historical significance. The place was here before Charleston burned in 1861, and they try to keep it looking that way. At the best of times, Misha distracts him, but right now Jensen’s so hyper-aware, he can hear the brush of his sleeve against his pants leg. Misha bumps into him, a sharp elbow in his side. No way to know without asking if it’s intentional, but Jensen appreciates the show of solidarity.
Ahead of him, his father hands their invitation over to Mandy, the hostess. She smiles wide, then winks at Misha, and Jensen thinks maybe he should be jealous. But it’s never been in his nature to be so, and he’s secure enough in Misha’s affections to weather a little harmless flirting. As they walk through the dining room, Dad nods to several folks and stops to glad-hand a few others. They end up at the same table as they do every year, so it’s not like he needs Mandy’s direction to get there.
His father gets caught up talking to a well-heeled older couple, all slick smiles and manufactured warmth, and it takes everything Jensen has not to roll his eyes. Mandy knows the song and dance of dealing with Dad, so she sidesteps him to guide Jensen and Misha the rest of the way.
“Thanks, Mandy,” he says once they’re seated, Misha on his right and his father’s menu set at the empty place across from him. “Can you get us some coffee?” He remembers at the last moment. “Oh, and some hot water for tea.” He looks at Misha, and Misha squints back like he’s trying to decipher the undecipherable. “Darjeeling, right, Mish? They have a really good ginger pear if you want something else.”
Misha still looks wary but mutters, “Darjeeling is fine, thanks.”
“Not a problem,” Mandy says. Her eyes flick to Misha again but don’t linger. “Charla will be taking care of you today. I’ll send her over once Mr. Ackles joins you.” She fills their water glasses with practiced ease, then slips away, weaving through the tables and around servers like she’s been doing it all her life.
Misha chuckles, picking at the embossed leather of the menu in front of him. “Tongues will wag,” he says, flipping it open to peruse the offerings.
It’s Jensen’s turn to squint, but Misha’s apparently too fascinated with the fucking menu to meet his gaze. “What do you mean?”
“I can’t touch you, I get that part,” he says. He unrolls his silverware to drape the napkin across his lap, but still won’t look at Jensen. “Necessary evils and all. Ordering for me is not going to disabuse anyone of that notion you’re so keen to keep under wraps.”
Jensen hadn’t even thought about how it would look. It was instinct. The same one that makes him give Misha his extra apple, or flip his collar right side out, or fix his stupid crooked tie every morning. It’s not fair to him. Never has been. And Jensen’s heart breaks because of it, every day. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I wish like hell I was ready, but I’m not. Not yet. I thought you were okay with it.”
“I am, for now,” Misha sighs. “Like I said, necessary evil.” He does look up then, smiling still, even if it is sad. “I won’t be your dirty little secret forever, Jen.”
Jensen pulls at his ear to keep his hands busy, so he won’t reach out and make things worse. “That’s not what you are. My number-one goal is to make sure we get to stay together. If my dad even suspected…”
Misha cuts him off. “I know,” he says, his features softening. “Seriously, it’s fine.”
“What’s fine?” The chair across from Jensen moves, and his father is suddenly right there, no longer distracted but focused completely, unwaveringly, on Misha.
“Nothing,” Jensen says, maybe a bit too quickly. “Misha was hoping for a hash, and there’s not one on the menu.”
Misha laughs, stilted, and flips a page. “You know me, crazy for hash. I’ll find something else.”
His father hasn’t looked at the menu in all the time Jensen’s known him, and he doesn’t today either. Pity, Jensen thinks he could have used the time to regroup, to pull his armor back in place before the inevitable interrogation begins. True to her word, Mandy sends Charla their way almost as soon as Dad settles in, coffee pot and carafe of hot water in hand. In the time it takes her to pour, Jensen has almost pulled himself back together.
Dad orders his usual—shrimp and grits, with a pair of eggs sunny-side up and a side of bacon. Jensen orders the Eggs Benedict and a basket of biscuits with gooseberry jam and apple butter for all of them to share. Misha, predictably, orders the cheapest thing on the menu. Charla sets the carafe and a couple of extra tea bags for Misha in the empty place at their table, and then leaves them to it.
“So, Misha,” Dad says, unrolling his own set of silverware to liberate his napkin. “Where are you from?”
The question is harmless enough as an opener, and Misha’s good at being vague when the situation calls for it. Jensen breathes a sigh of relief.
“Around,” Misha says. “New York, mostly.” He makes a show of pouring three teaspoons worth of sugar in his tea along with a splash of creamer, his spoon clinking against the cup with a tad too much force.
“New York. Really?” Dad takes a sip of his coffee, his brows pulled together, and Jensen mirrors it out of habit. “What brings you to South Carolina, then? Plenty of reputable academies in the city. Odd that your parents would send you so far from hearth and home.”
Jensen bites his tongue, quite literally. The coffee in his mouth stings. Hypocrisy is nothing new to him, especially where his father is concerned, but this takes the fucking cake.
“Well,” Misha says, swallowing visibly before he continues. “They’re foster parents. I don’t think they have a vested interest in keeping me around.” In his lap, his hands are restless, and Jensen longs to reassure him somehow. He doesn’t like talking about the reality of his life. Considering how long it took him to be honest with Jensen, it must be killing him to tell the absolute truth now.
“What does it matter, anyway?” Jensen asks, and Dad’s attention shifts, no less cool or calculating because it’s directed at him. “He’s a friend and I’m glad he’s here. If you have a problem with that, we can leave.”
“No need for ruffled tail feathers, son. Since when is making conversation a crime?”
Jensen wants to protest, wants to say he’s never seen his father engaged in idle conversation, but for some reason, he can’t. The table between them helps. Misha beside him helps. He simply needs to remind himself getting emotionally involved is a choice, and a bad one when it comes to this man.
Instead of saying something really stupid, Jensen turns to Misha instead, pitching his voice low. “You don’t have to answer anything you don’t want to,” he whispers. “Forget what I said.”
“No shit,” Misha mutters. “I can handle myself. Trust me when I say he’s not the first person to interrogate me. But he is your father…”
Misha never finishes the thought, because Dad chooses that moment to insinuate himself into the conversation again. “Your parents passed away, then? We lost Jensen’s mother when he was very young. Some days I still can’t believe she’s gone.”
The teacup in Misha’s hand never falters in its journey from saucer to mouth, but he takes his time sipping at it, as if he can’t quite decide how much to tell. Eventually, he clears his throat. “Not dead,” he says. “Just unfit.”
Jensen tries to change the subject, desperate to find a way out of the hole his father has dug for them in the past five minutes. “So, how was your trip? I bet LaGuardia was a mess today.”
Dad refuses to rise to the bait, scowling at him before he turns back to Misha, and Jensen can see puzzle pieces being pushed around behind his eyes, even if he has no idea what picture they’ll turn into in the end. “I’m sure it was luck that landed you with a well-to-do foster family.”
Misha opens his mouth to answer, but Jensen cuts him off. “Jesus, Dad, relax with the third degree, okay? Can’t we just have brunch and be normal for a couple of hours? Maybe you can even pretend to care what I want.”
His head snaps back like Jensen slapped him, and damn if he didn’t deserve it. Jensen feels guilty anyway. It’s not in his nature to hurt people either. Even those that hurt him.
“I wrote an essay,” Misha says, choosing his words carefully but delivering them with confidence. “My Lit teacher submitted it to some statewide contest, and it won. Got my picture in the paper and everything.” He breathes deep and gulps down another swallow of tea before continuing. “The Petersons plucked me out of a tiny walk-up in Jackson Heights, an 8x8 room I was sharing with three other boys. Rescued me from a school where the faculty was so busy trying to keep us from killing each other that I learned next to nothing. So, yeah, I guess you’d call it lucky. As much as I can’t stand them sometimes, I probably would too.”
“And your parents?”
“Seriously, Dad, give it a rest.” His gut churns, and he can feel the color rising in his cheeks. Grilling him about his life and schoolwork is one thing, but not Misha. Jensen tries and fails to keep his tone even, unaffected. “Misha doesn’t owe you anything.”
“Harmless,” Misha says, quietly. “Harmless but also ill-equipped to care for their unfortunate offspring. They tried for a while, I think, settled down and got real jobs. Didn’t last.”
Charla chooses that moment to swing by, her tray laden with plates. Jensen has never been more grateful for an interruption in his life. Everything smells delicious and he digs into the basket of biscuits as soon as it lands, slathering one with enough apple butter to choke a horse, hoping his father will follow suit.
Dad doesn’t, of course. That would be too easy. When Jensen looks up, he can tell whatever pieces he’s been pushing around have finally fallen into place.
“I knew a Misha Collins, once,” Dad says, and Jensen frowns at his plate, the words skittering through his brain in a pattern that doesn’t make sense. “He was a rambunctious, exceptionally curious four-year-old with skinned knees and his mother’s eyes.”
That stops Jensen cold. The “What?” springs to his lips the same time it rolls off Misha’s.
“She was… I took a chance on her,” he continues, finally taking up his silverware to spear a chunk of shrimp and liberate it from the pool of grits. “She and her husband. She was so impassioned about building a new life for her child, so determined to turn over a new leaf. And I believed her. I was a new father myself, you see. I understood what it was to want something better for your children. She took advantage.”
Suddenly, Jensen can’t breathe right, all the air gets stuck halfway to his lungs in little hitches that don’t help anything. “What the hell are you talking about?” He gets the question out, barely.
His father’s focus swings suddenly, and Jensen feels the weight of his gaze, the yoke of all those expectations he’s been subjected to his entire life, and none of the warmth. “Son, I don’t know how or why he’s here, or what he is to you, but his mother is the reason your mother’s dead.”
He has a thousand reasons to doubt, not the least of which is the way his father delivers the blow, like he’s ordering dessert or asking for the morning edition at the convenience store down the street. If anything should stir Dad out of his habitual reticence, it should be this; but he’s as even-tempered as ever, so it takes a full minute for the words to hit home. A minute while Misha sits beside him in silence, a flush rising behind his ears that destroys Jensen just that little bit more.
His mother is the reason your mother’s dead.
There’s a ringing in his ears that drowns out the rest of his father’s answer, but Misha bristles beside him and leans forward, eyes flashing, and Jensen sees his mouth move, making shapes that Jensen can’t parse into words just yet because he just can’t.
Jensen feels like maybe he should go to the men’s room and puke or possibly die. Anything that would mean not being at this table right now, surrounded by people who are beginning to look, and Misha’s complete lack of understanding about what is and is not appropriate indoor volume.
Jensen’s legs carry him in the opposite direction, past all the lookie-loos and the hostess stand until he’s free, a patch of old crumbling brick at his back the only thing that lies between him and his imminent collapse. Outside, the ringing dies down, frigid air settling into his lungs and opening them up until he can finally catch a breath. A bank of angry-looking clouds is moving in from the west, no lightning yet, but certainly rain. For the moment, though, there’s peace—the wind in the trees, a dog barking a couple blocks away, a child laughing across the street. There’s peace because he refuses to think. But denial only works so well, no matter his wishes, and Jensen’s falters fast. Doubt rushes in to fill the void and his chest feels like someone carved it open, only to drop a heavy bag on it.
Because if what Dad claims is true, then this could be a fucking long con, and everything Misha has said or done since they met is suspect. Not only the sob story he told about bouncing around foster homes for his entire life, but also the tales about his parents and the rest of his wayward family. Hell, Jensen never met the Petersons. Do they even exist? Misha doesn’t talk about them. That’s not what turns Jensen’s stomach, though, and certainly not what doubles him over, bile rising in his throat.
Every kiss, every touch, every moment they shared could, in fact, be a lie. Jensen’s brain betrays him, sending him reeling even with the building at his back, all of those memories spooling out to be judged and questioned: The fierce joy splashed across Misha’s features as they’d wrestled in the barn. The ease with which he worked his way into places Jensen never thought to share. The first time they’d kissed. The taste of his skin. The press of his lips. The confidence and possession in his hands. The brightness of his smile and that indefinable thing caught in his eyes sometimes that Jensen could almost call love.
That all of it, everything, might be a game, fucking figures.
Even if it is real and everything Misha’s said to him since they made their peace is true, his mother is still the other woman. Has to be. Nothing else makes sense. Not if Dad truly does know Misha. It’s his mother, his mother.
A door slams, a heavy thunk that jitters up his spine and down to his toes, and Jensen hears Misha before he sees him.
“Hey,” Misha says, a hand wrapped around Jensen’s elbow to tug. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
Jensen holds his ground and shakes out of Misha’s grip, leaning back to stare across the street. The awnings are green. The third one on the right needs to be replaced, the scalloped edge of it flapping loose and lazy in the wind. “Is it true?” he asks. There’s a stupid tremor in his voice.
Misha shoves a hand through his hair, stalking the length of sidewalk between the door and the corner twice before he pulls up in front of Jensen. “Does it matter?” he asks, half hoarse and struggling to keep his voice even. He doesn’t deny it, and Jensen notices. “I’m sure my parents screwed over hundreds of people. I told you they did.” His tone softens, but Jensen still can’t meet his eyes, and when he reaches out, trying to re-establish contact, to evoke the closeness from this morning, from the last month, Misha hesitates. “I’m not them,” he says, finally.
“How can I be sure?”
Misha hisses, “Fuck,” through his teeth, and slams a fist against the wall. His knuckles come away bloody. “Jensen, how could you not be?” And then Jensen’s forced to look, because Misha’s right up in his space, his words fierce as he delivers them. “You left me in there. With him. And I can forgive you that because I know what she meant to you. But this, after everything I told you, if you can still hold me responsible for them…”
Misha’s voice changes, all the passion stripped out of it like he’s cauterized something in the scant seconds Jensen spent thinking.
“Forget it,” he says, cold and quiet. “Your father, who has done nothing but screw you over and let you down, shows up and accuses me of shit I don’t even remember and sure as hell didn’t do, and you…” Misha stops and swallows, his face contorting for a split second before that mask Jensen hasn’t seen for ages drops again. “I’ll find my own way back.”
Coat pulled tight and collar turned up, Misha sets off the way they came at a lope. Watching him, Jensen wonders if he intends to walk all the way back to Ellis. That’s if he plans to return to Ellis at all.
There’s a moment where Jensen almost calls out, where he almost sets aside his own feelings long enough to look at things logically. But then he remembers those gingerbread houses and her perfume and the damned Saint Christopher medal, and he can’t. Much as he cares about and wants… things from Misha, it hurts too much.
Some wounds never really heal. And whether he was raised by them or not, Misha’s apple fell from that rotten fucking tree.
Losing something should make you feel lighter, Jensen thinks. This doesn’t. If anything he feels the weight of his father’s accusations and Misha’s departure more keenly. Like they’re grinding at him, extracting all the awesome and terrifying moments of whatever this thing with Misha was until he’s empty. Done.
He’s still staring at Misha, he realizes—the hunch of his shoulders, the rigid line of his back—and sensible or not, all he feels is betrayed.
The door to the restaurant whumps open a second time. Dad’s shoes scuff the sidewalk when he shifts his weight and Jensen’s attention snaps to the sound.
“Come inside, son,” he says. “Let’s get some food in you.”
Maybe it will help, Jensen thinks idly. Maybe it will keep him from fading away.
It takes Jensen half an hour to claw his way back to truly rational thought.
He’s been dutifully answering any question asked of him and smiling in all the right places when Dad introduces him to the movers and shakers of Charleston society. Whatever came over his father is gone, lost in the frenzy of an impromptu networking event. If nothing else, the complete about-face arouses suspicion, and when Jensen’s brain reboots enough for him to doubt the right fucking person, he does.
Appearances are everything to his father, and Jensen understands him well enough by now to know he’s more likely to get answers if he waits for the right moment to ask. Opportunity presents itself when Kitty Kurtweiler waddles back to her table of twenty, leaving behind only the remnants of her heavy floral perfume. Their dessert arrived minutes before, so the likelihood of being overheard by an overly enthusiastic member of the wait staff seems slim.
Were he feeling less exposed, Jensen hopes he’d find the courage to look his father in the eye when he asks. Right now, addressing his fork is the best he can do.
“Where did you meet her?” he says, pleasantly surprised when the question comes out as he intended—firm but hushed. Jensen does look then, bolstered by his ability to compartmentalize and modulate, to maintain his polite façade even in the face of this.
Dad’s fork pauses halfway between plate and mouth, and he doesn’t return the courtesy. Instead he studies the napkin ring he’s relocated to his saucer, and works on forcing his fork back into motion. “I don’t see how that’s any of your concern.”
Jensen’s eyelid twitches, twice, and he wraps the napkin in his lap around his fist, focuses on the silken slip of fabric against his knuckles instead of doing something stupid. “I lost a friend today, Dad. And Mom…well, I lost her so long ago I barely remember. I think I deserve some answers.”
Nonplussed, his father dabs at his mouth with his own napkin and finally meets Jensen’s gaze. “It was a long time ago, son, and there’s nothing to be gained in reopening old wounds.”
Jensen sighs and stabs a chunk of sweet apple, dragging it aimlessly through a pool cinnamon-sugar glaze. He’s not hungry and, even if he were, this is more important. Especially if Misha is the price he has to pay.
“Maybe not for you, but I wasn’t there. I need to know what happened to her. I need to know why she…”
His father’s tone goes suddenly sharp. “No, Jensen, you don’t. It happened. It was a tragedy. Let the dead rest.”
Charla arrives to fill their coffee cups, smiling politely and pretending there isn’t a cup of tea and an abandoned bowl of fruit salad sitting at Jensen’s elbow. Dad pointedly changes the subject.
By dusk, he’s back at Ellis, dumped in front of the main building with a pile of pleasantries and promises for a summer in Europe after he graduates that will never happen. Apparently the need to keep up appearances doesn’t extend to empty campuses, because Dad doesn’t even leave the car to say goodbye, claiming a flight to San Francisco and the need for a hasty departure.
Seeing his father is never a picnic, but above all others, this visit takes the cake. Jensen stomps his way into the waiting room of the dean’s office, the tide of emotions he’s trying to ignore lapping at his heels, threatening to take him under. He’s spent his day among strangers and is rattling apart—thinking about what happened way back then, what’s happening now, and trying desperately to figure out what the fuck he’s going to say to Misha when he sees him again. Jensen signs himself back in and slams the clipboard down on Julie’s desk so hard the pewter frame beside her lamp topples.
And that’s the last straw. A dam breaks in the time it takes him to reach over and right the photo, the smiling faces of her sister, brother, and father mocking his solitude without meaning to. Jensen suppresses the urge to chuck the thing at the wall just to watch it shatter, but it’s a close thing.
What he needs right now is to be very drunk, and there’s no reason to wait for Chris to come get him, no way he’s going back to the room and risk running into Misha before he’s ready. He’ll call Chris from the bar. Lizzie will let him.
But then a voice breaks through the cacophony in his head and his goddamn manners stop him in his tracks.
“Back so soon?”
When Jensen turns, Jeff’s propped against the doorframe that separates the inner sanctum from the outer, a mug of steaming coffee clutched in one hand. He sips. The clock ticks. Jensen breathes.
They’ll probably never have a normal student-dean relationship. History prevents it. Honestly, it’s a miracle Jensen manages to call him Dean Morgan when they’re in mixed company, considering all he did for Jensen when he first started at Ellis. All that he’s done since.
“Dad had to catch a flight.”
Jeff hums and transfers the mug to his other hand, fingers tapping. In the back of his mind, Jensen realizes he’s being handled. That Jeff’s waiting him out because they’ve been through this enough for him to know Jensen doesn’t do pushy.
“I just…fuck. Shit, sorry. Jeff, I...Dean. Damn.” Jensen scrubs a fist across his mouth, mostly to keep his traitorous jaw from flapping. Then he can’t. “I really need a friend right now,” he says. “I know that it’s against protocol, but can you just be Jeff for the next ten minutes?”
“You know my door’s always open, Jensen,” he says, pushing away from the frame and backing into his office with an absentminded wave.
Jeff’s office is cozy but chaotic, the same as it has been since he returned to Ellis six years ago. For some reason Jensen assumed the move from professor to dean would make a difference, but all that seems to have changed is the kind of papers strewn about, and how many stacks of them there are. It makes Jensen smile in spite of everything.
“Something funny?” Jeff says, an answering smile twitching at the corner of his mouth, his coffee abandoned on the warped coaster stationed in the far corner of his desk.
“No,” Jensen sighs. “It’s really not. But it’s nice that this place never changes.”
Jeff chuckles quietly and throws his hands up in mock surrender.
“That pile is new,” he says, pointing. “I swear.”
There’s a packet laid atop the pile to his immediate left with Misha’s name on it. Jensen has no idea what’s inside, but the solace he’d found slips sideways at the sight of it. He doesn’t mean to grab at the packet. It just happens
“Can’t what, Jensen?”
“Can’t,” he says again, but Jensen has no idea how to finish that sentence without incriminating himself.
Unfortunately, Dean Morgan has always had scary deductive powers. “Did you and Misha get in a fight?”
Jensen puts the envelope back. A part of him still wants to know what’s in it, but there’s a larger part that’s still having trouble even thinking about Misha without also thinking about what happened to his mother. “Not really,” he says finally, settling back into his chair until it creaks.
“Well, if you’re not fighting, then it can’t be that bad,” Jeff says with a soft smile. He has this non-threatening way of listening that Jensen can’t figure out how to replicate. You can tell he’s paying attention, but he’s not paying so much attention that you can’t say things and pretend you didn’t. It’s an art. Even now, he’s rifling through his top drawer, eventually unearthing a one-off humidor that must hold a cigar.
Jensen sighs. Distraction only gets you so far. “Yeah, you’d think that.”
“So tell me why it is that bad,” Jeff says, smoothly. The scent of tobacco hits his nostrils when Jeff flips the cap off the tube and clips the end, and Jensen breathes it deep.
“His mother screwed my father, and my mother ended up dead.”
That stops Jeff cold, the match caught between his fingers burning down until he shakes it out. “Jensen, I don’t think…”
“We’ve both heard the stories,” Jensen says, plucking idly at the buttons of his dress shirt, mostly to avoid looking Jeff in the eye. “Nothing else makes sense. Dad said she’s the reason Mom’s dead. What the hell else could it be?”
There’s a rustle of fabric, and suddenly Jeff’s sitting beside him instead of across the desk. He’s turned the chair around, angling it towards Jensen, and there’s no way to avoid him anymore, so Jensen looks. In the warm, golden light of his old stained-glass lamps, Jeff’s expression matches his state of mind so perfectly that Jensen can’t stand it.
“There are things you don’t understand,” Jeff says quietly, and he reaches out, his hand landing on Jensen’s shoulder. “Not yet, anyway. You were too young for a long time, but…” Jeff pauses, swallowing before he squeezes Jensen’s shoulder and pulls away. “But the story isn’t mine to tell, it’s your father’s. I wish he would, Jensen, more than anything.”
All Jensen hears is that Jeff knows what happened, knows and has been keeping it from him. Try as he might, he can’t pretend it doesn’t hurt, and his words ring sharp in his own ears. “Did you know who he was? Before you assigned him to me?”
“You think I’d do that to you?” Jeff has the decency to grimace when Jensen shrugs.
At this point, he wouldn’t put anything past anyone. It’s not fair, but he’s also not all that interested in justice. Jeff sighs and scrubs a hand over his face, leaning to retrieve the forgotten cigar and light it finally, the smoke curling between them a heavy blue-grey screen. “I don’t think I need to remind you that sometimes a child is cut from the parents’ cloth. Even if they’re assholes, that doesn’t mean Misha is. He’s still your roommate and your friend. Whatever his mother did shouldn’t have any effect on your friendship. I’ll admit it’s complicated, but not insurmountable.”
“It’s more complicated than you think,” Jensen says, the words leaving his lips without his permission and a flutter of panic kicks up behind his ribs. If he could call them back, he would.
Maybe it’s for the best. Maybe it means they’ll be split up. If he can convince Jeff to leave it at that, coming clean might solve all his problems. Or it might not. Misha’s lodged so far under his skin that this might make it worse. Conflicted, he shoves himself up and out of his chair to pace. Movement seems to help, his thoughts less jumbled when he focuses on the thump of his own footsteps.
Maybe Jeff won’t make the connection. Of course, you don’t get to be dean at a prestigious prep school by way of stupidity.
“Please elaborate,” Jeff says, and his posture changes, the set of his shoulders screaming “dean” instead of “friend.” He leans to flick a ring of ash from his cigar, but never looks away. Jensen can feel the weight of his gaze.
It’s an out being offered. Jensen can tell by the clench of jaw muscles and the jackrabbit twitch beneath his right eye. No one understands the meaning of complicated better than Jeff, but he’s willing to let it go as a favor because Jensen is Jensen.
The relief that wells up in his gut should tell him something, Jensen thinks, but he’s not sure what.
“It’s nothing,” Jensen mutters and Jeff nods, pulling another puff off his cigar, decided. “I’ve just never had a friend like Misha.” With any luck, the emphasis on “friend” lands true.
“—was great until he made the football team. I made my peace with the fact we’re not going to be as close as we were.”
“So what’s the problem with Misha, really?” Jeff asks, earnest, stubbing his cigar out in the ashtray, dispensing with pretense. “Because I know you’re too smart to judge a friend on someone else’s sins.”
Caught, Jensen flushes and studies the well-worn leather of Jeff’s shoes. In the heat of the moment, he had judged, his grief too blinding for anything else. But he has legitimate concerns too, mostly because he doesn’t understand the circumstances surrounding what happened back then. “I don’t know if I can trust him,” Jensen says, finally. “I want to, I think. But I have no idea whether a single word that’s come out of his mouth since I met him is true.”
“I think you should give him the benefit of the doubt.”
Jensen shakes his head, frustrated, daring to meet Jeff’s gaze. “He lies all the time.”
To his credit, Jeff refuses to waver or give in to melodrama, which Jensen appreciates. He simply looks Jensen in the eye and asks, “To you?” like the answer is so obvious the question needn’t be asked.
All Jensen can do is sigh. “Not recently. Not when I don’t know it’s a lie. A joke.”
“So maybe you’re being a little hard on him?”
“She’s my mother,” Jensen says, matter-of-fact, because it’s all he should really need to say.
“Which is why you’re forgiven for being a temporary dumbass,” Jeff says with a smile. “But that doesn’t excuse willful short-sightedness. Talk to your father, find out what happened. If you still have concerns after you do, come and see me.”
That flutter of panic returns with a vengeance, and Jensen swallows against the rise of it in his throat. “I’m going to bed,” he mutters, slipping away as fast as he can, bar forgotten. Jeff lets him, keeping quiet until Jensen’s safely in the waiting room before he speaks again.
“Really think about it before you decide, Jensen,” Jeff says to his back, and Jensen stops, studies the paisley pattern woven into the rug because he’s too raw to be having this conversation, but is also too polite to walk out. “I won’t split you guys up unless you want me to. Just consider how much happier you’ve been the past three months before you ask.”
Jensen nods automatically even though the dean can’t see it and does the only thing he can—he drags himself back across campus and into his room, grateful to find it empty.
He contemplates going straight to bed like he promised, but his sheets smell like Misha and he just can’t. Instead, he digs down in the toe of the boot shoved under the edge of his bed and tugs out his hard pack, rescues his lighter from the back of his desk drawer and crawls out the window onto the balcony. The cigarettes went stale a long time ago. Jensen smokes them anyway, one after another, watching the swirl of blue grey smoke disappear against the night sky. His ass is wet from the rain that swept through earlier but he doesn’t give a shit, just like he doesn’t give a shit about the fact that he’s probably ruining his pants.
All he cares about right now is the tang of tobacco on his tongue and the answers he’s probably never going to get.
He coughs on the exhale, chest seizing up and lungs pushing empty, then he lets go. Every last duct-taped, shoe-horned, pitch-patched chink in his armor falls away and he feels it, really feels it for the first time. Not just Misha but his mother and his fucking father. His face is wet and he’s shaking, full on shivering like he’ll never be warm again. Even with the dorm practically empty, he keeps quiet, sucking the smoke deep when he can manage and letting it curl into his mouth and right back out when he can’t.
The only reasonable explanation for any of this is that he’s cursed.
Jensen stubs the last butt out against rail and tosses it over, beyond caring whether anyone finds it or not. For a long time, he just sits, his back pressed against the wall, trying not to think about the last time he was out here, Misha beside him but silent. The thought of Misha is enough to stir him to motion. It takes every last shred of his willpower to lever himself up and shimmy back through the window, but at least when he lies down to pass out, all he smells is smoke.
Until this moment, walking as fast as he can through a drizzly city he doesn’t know, biting his lip to keep from yelling, or worse, Misha is pretty sure he has never actually understood the phrase ‘seeing red’. Now, he does.
He’s sure the city around him is gray. Whether that’s from the dirty snow melting in the gutters, the storm blowing in across the coast, or the fact that he never wanted to come here in the first place, is a toss-up. Regardless, all he sees is crimson. Maroon. Vermillion. Scarlet. Ruby. Blood.
He concentrates on it, feels the pulse of his heart echoing behind his eyelids. As long as the anger drives him, one scuffed footstep after another, the acid roiling in his stomach can be ignored. The terror can be kept at bay.
Blindly, he turns a corner, slides into a side street and out of sight of the scene he’s left behind. If the scene is even still there. Perhaps Jensen has gone back inside the restaurant already, calmly ordering another meal to replace the one gone cold on his plate, or maybe he and his dad have left already, driven away from Misha and his brokenness. Left him to rot in the streets like his parents, like the ilk he’s so clearly derived from. It doesn’t matter either way - he’s not turning around to check. No, all he can do right now is get as far away from Jensen and his dad as possible. And maybe get lost in the meantime.
“The reason your mother is dead.” It echoes in Misha’s head, over and over, louder and louder with each step he takes. It can’t be true. He has no delusions about his parents, or thought he didn’t. They aren’t good people, he knows that. They were put away a couple of times, mostly for petty larceny and fraud. One time his dad went away for breaking and entering, Misha thinks so anyway; at some point all the stories became a blur of disenchantment. He had other things to think about, like where he was going to get his next meal, or whether or not to bail on the newest foster situation.
But as far as he remembers, the crimes were always ones of opportunity, of potential payoff. Murder is a whole other thing.
There was never any violence in the stories he heard from his aunt, nor from the various cops that showed up at front doors, or the notices of legal proceedings that made their way, pointlessly, to Misha. Maybe it’s some vestigial parental love that will be disproved with the last rending of his faith like tendon from bloody bone, but he just doesn’t, can’t, believe they would hurt anyone. Not... seriously.
But the look of hatred in Jensen’s father’s eyes, the look of betrayal and pain in Jensen’s, surely that could only be borne of something terrible.
Whatever the reality, Jensen’s father, and now Jensen, certainly believe Misha’s parents are responsible for the death of Jensen’s mother. He tries to remember the details of the stories Jensen told him about what happened, but his head is too chaotic to focus in on anything. All he remembers is that Jensen was five and his mom committed suicide. There’s more to the story, tantalisingly out of reach, but he can’t recall it, and even if he could, he’s consumed with the need to flee. His pace quickens as he puts more distance between himself and the Ackles family. What’s left of it.
Jensen’s dad might be an asshole, and everything Misha knows about him says it’s true: the way he’d abandoned Jensen to Ellis as soon as his mom was in the ground; the times upon times he hadn’t shown up; the look of sadness and anger that flitted over Jensen’s face when he’d get the call that he wasn’t as important as Mr Ackles’ work, but Misha doubts, even with all that, that he’d cause Jensen such overt pain as to bring up his mom’s death.
Thinking about Jensen causes Misha’s breath to catch in an ugly hiccup. A phantom pain slices through his side. He stumbles on the toe of his shoe and rights himself with a palm to the gritty wet wall of a antebellum era building.
Misha has filled a lifetime distancing. He’s poured his emotions and wounds into calluses and sarcasm. It’s easy to appear disaffected when you are. But Jensen changed all that, or if Misha is realistic, he changed some of that, and some is a lot more than none. Jensen, fucking Jensen, got in under the walls and lies and stories and bravado.
Only to be a chimera.
He can’t believe how much it hurts. A dull throbbing is beginning to ache through his chest, and the anger at what he’s lost sinks in. Jensen’s chuckling laugh, the seriousness reflected in his eyes when he stares at Misha, strong legs that would wrap around Misha and anchor him to earth, a companion he doesn’t have to be wary of. Most of all, someone who was trusted enough to be allowed close, to be intimate with in a way Misha’s never had before.
Tears sting at the back of his eyes, but he refuses to let them fall. He needs to get home, for whatever value of home there is left. He can’t go back to their dorm room, but at least if he can get back to Ellis he can find somewhere safe to be alone. Somewhere alone to be safe.
He makes another turn into a side street, and then again into what seems to be a main road. The rain is beginning in earnest now, light but persistent. It make his hair droop in readiness of being plastered to his scalp. Misha could get around New York with his eyes closed, no matter the alley or suspect subway station, but in Charleston he has no idea. Do they even have public transport here? He figures it’s a good six miles back to Ellis and his fitness regime consists solely of the mandatory P.E. sessions twice a week and, well, Jensen. He doesn’t have money for a cab, even if his frugal upbringing would allow him to take one without guilt at the waste.
Fumbling with cold fingers, he manages to liberate his phone from his pocket. Praying for 3G, he opens up Google Maps and tries to work out where he is. Charleston does indeed at least have buses, and not far from where he is. His world might be ending, but at least he’ll be able to get back to school.
What he’ll do once he gets there, he has no idea.
* * *
He has to wait an hour for the bus. Sunday timetable. He’s freezing, shivering lightly and hugging himself to keep warm by the time it pulls into view. He hands over his last dollars to the bus driver and takes a seat up back. The windows are grimy with dust and things Misha doesn’t want to think about. He hunkers down and watches the rain fall down the outside of the glass. There’s a woman with a baby that screams for most of the forty-five minutes it takes for the bus to wind its way inefficiently through the city and into the suburbs. The old man in front of him keeps coughing like he’s from a 19th century tuberculosis ward. Two teenagers make out up the front.
A headache forms in the middle of Misha’s forehead and he wants nothing more than to close his eyes. But he won’t know where he is until he sees familiar terrain outside, and so he forces himself awake and his thoughts idle.
The bus doesn’t make it all the way to the school grounds, instead stopping at the little strip of buildings that houses the bar, a convenience store, and a dilapidated fast food chicken place. Rain is pouring down as the bus rumbles off in a cloud of gas fumes, and Misha decides he can’t face the walk back to Ellis in it. He heads for the bar.
Inside it’s dark, and the heaters that are on full bore pump humidity around the room as it mixes with the cold wet coming through the door.
Misha lets his eyes adjust before heading for the booths at the back. He orders a bourbon from the flat-chested waitress with the limp hair who comes by perfunctorily. She doesn’t ask for ID, but Misha doesn’t worry; without Rob in tow there’s much less risk for them, and they’d have a much easier story of believing him to be over 21. Much better to take his money and not ask.
The liquid burns as it goes down, matching counterpoint to the heat of his eyes from holding back emotion. Misha never cried. Not for any of the places, nor for any of the ‘siblings’ he left at foster homes. Not when his parents were hauled off to jail, not even when he was beaten for standing up for one of the younger kids at the one house in Astoria. But right now, he knows that, given the slightest provocation, he could end up losing his shit in an incredibly embarrassing way.
He stares morosely at the tabletop, nursing the glass between cupped hands. There are sticky rings where beer bottles have left their trail of condensation on the wood.
Another sip, another grimace, another breath that feels like it’s being flayed off his spine.
The thought of going back to Ellis fills him with dread. He was stupid to trust, to care. Going back will just embarrass him further, prove what a stupid idiot he was to let down his guard. By now Jensen and his father must surely be halfway through dessert, if not pulling up the sweeping white-gravel drive at Ellis, finished planning his eventual removal from Ellis. It’s not that much of a stretch. Even the Petersons won’t want to be associated with Misha once they’re informed his parents are not the down-on-their-luck lower-class trash they thought them to be, but actually, an unforgivable and much less poetic pair of murderers whose son must surely be shunned.
What he knows for sure is that he doesn’t want to see anyone. He doesn’t even want to crash in Rob’s room. The pitying glances - or worse, open disdain - would be too much to bear. Depending on where Sam is, he could maybe sneak into the library and spend the night in a deceivingly uncomfortable chair, but eventually it will be tomorrow and it won’t stay quiet for long.
What he should do is just leave. Leave Ellis, leave the Petersons, leave the ridiculous idea that he might become something. Leave Jensen.
But he isn’t eighteen yet. There’s still another month to go. Any act of escape will surely bring the wrong kind of attention. Misha isn’t sure how the system works across state lines, but in any case, if he were to leave he’d go straight back to New York and back into their territory.
“Fuck,” he mutters under his breath. He throws the last of his drink down and glances up to see if he can see the waitress. But instead of someone who can bring him alcohol, he catches sight of Julie making her way over to Misha’s table. Her red hair is pulled back into a simple ponytail, her clothing consists of simple jeans and a sweatshirt. She’s not working, then. She isn’t the last person Misha wants to talk to right now, but he’d rather be alone all the same.
“Hi,” she greets, sitting across from him at the table, pretentious micro-brewed beer in hand.
“Hey,” Misha answers morosely.
Julie raises an eyebrow. “What’s up?”
Misha snorts, finally catches the eye of the waitress and indicates for another drink. “What isn’t?”
“Trouble in paradise with our Mr Ackles, then,” Julie surmises.
“Paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” Misha says before realising the import of what she’s said. “Wait, what? You know about me and Jensen?”
Julie laughs, but it isn’t malicious. “Mish, anyone with a brain can see the two of you are besotted. It’s adorable. Jensen hasn’t been this happy in years,” she notes matter-of-factly, takes a swig of her beer.
“Were,” he replies as the waitress arrives with his glass. He takes a grateful sip, grimacing as it burns down his throat. “Past tense.”
Julie puts the bottle down on the table and reaches out to cover his hand where it cradles his glass. Her fingers are cool and wet from the beer’s condensation. “You broke up?”
Misha actually laughs at that, but the sound is bitter and wrong. “Hardly. That would be too mundane.”
“Well, what happened?”
“Oh, apparently I killed Jensen’s mother. No big deal.”
To her credit, Julie doesn’t pull away. “What? That doesn’t even make sense.”
He shrugs. “No. But it hardly matters. Jensen’s dad thinks so and thus, Jensen thinks so.”
Julie’s brow furrows, confused. “I know Jen’s dad is an asshole, but seriously, what on earth do you have to do with his mother’s death?”
“Didn’t stick around to find out. Seems my parents were involved. And as far as the Ackles family is concerned, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
“Oh,” Julie says, digesting. “Well I’m sure Jensen won’t-”
Misha cuts her off. “Jensen does, and has.”
Her fingers tighten around his. “Misha, if anyone can work it out, I know it’s you. Someone doesn’t turn another person upside down and inside out without a fair amount of tenacity.”
Misha pulls out of her grip to take another mouthful of bourbon. Fuck, but it tastes awful. The numb heat suffusing his limbs tells him it’s doing its job, though. Another few and he won’t even remember this fucked up day. That’s the plan, anyway.
“It’s not like we argued about who left the cap of the toothpaste, Jules. It’s over. End of.”
Julie sighs, but remains quiet.
They sit in silence, Julie picking at the label on her beer bottle and Misha trying not to swig down his bourbon and ask for another.
“What are you going to do?” she says, softly.
Misha shrugs. “Don’t know.”
“You’ll have to go back to school eventually.”
“Going to tattle on me?” Misha snaps, and it’s meaner than it should be, but he just can’t.
Julie rolls her eyes. Her pony tail swings, a copper slash of colour behind her head. “No. But you can’t just hang out at a bar for the rest of your life.”
“Says the girl having a beer in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday,” he mutters.
“Funny,” she deadpans. “I was having lunch with girlfriends when I saw your sorry ass. You looked like you could use the company.” She pauses. “You should go back, though. To Ellis.”
Misha stares down into the liquid in his glass and says nothing.
“If nothing else, Jeff will look after you.”
It’s fairly well known, or so Misha has gathered from Chris and Dave and Jensen, that Julie has had a massive crush on the dean since she got the job as his secretary. For a moment, Misha feels like throwing it back in her face, making a mean comment about unrequited crushes and how she isn’t in any better off a situation than he is. But being a bastard isn’t going to help any. He sighs and tells her what she wants to hear.
“I’ll go back, don’t worry. If nothing else, I have to pick up my stuff before Jensen’s dad has me kicked out.”
It’s a lie. He isn’t going back to that dorm room ever again if he can help it. And there’s nothing there, not any more, that means anything. The only things that do are all because of Jensen. Ruined now. No matter if Julie says she won’t tattle on him, he knows that, if it comes to it, she will have to. She may not be a teacher or bound to the same ethics as them, but if people are worried, she’ll say something about him. Because she cares. Hell, she may even say it to Jensen. Not that he’d be worried.
“Jeff won’t let you be kicked out,” she says reassuringly. Misha knows better. Money talks in that school, and the Ackles’ have more of it than the Petersons. Blood too.
He says nothing in reply to her and they sit in silence.
* * *
When Julie leaves the bar, buying the drinks Misha hadn’t even considered the ability to pay for, he decides to do the same. He’s not nearly drunk enough, but for some reason the idea of sitting in there alone until he’s paralytic doesn’t sound so great a plan anymore. Besides, if he gets that drunk someone might check his ID, call the school. Which ends with him in the dean’s office, and then in his room - with Jensen.
Before she leaves, Julie hugs him and double checks he’s going back to the school. He says yes to stop her looking at him with eyes full of sadness, but in the end it isn’t as much of a lie as he’d thought it was. In case she’s watching him he ends up heading back in the direction of Ellis. He follows the route he took with Jensen that first night they became friends and fell asleep against the tree. He avoids the spot completely.
It’s still drizzling lightly, and the ground underfoot is squelchy. Mud and sand coat the bottom of his shoes and rain seeps in, soaking his socks. Instead of providing cover, the trees drip larger drops of water down on him, hitting his neck and sliding, cold, under the collar of his shirt and down his back.
When he reaches the outer boundary of the school’s property, he finds himself metaphorically lost. He can’t go back in there. He’s about to turn around and go back the way he came - maybe he can find a bus shelter to spend the night in or something - when he spots the staff cottages down by the far side of the grounds.
Alona would absolutely let him sleep on her floor. Hell, she’d probably let him spend the night in her bed with him. Platonically, of course. But Jared and Alona are still off on holiday, something about visiting their grandmother or great aunt or whomever.
With relief, Misha realises it means the Padalecki house is vacant, and he knows from following Alona home on rare occasions exactly where the spare key is kept.
Most of the faculty is away on holidays, so he figures as long as he’s careful, he won’t be seen. Slipping through the trees, he stops by the compound. No one’s around; the day is too drizzly and wet for people to be out wandering. If he gets caught, he’ll say something about seeing if Jared was back.
It’s an unnecessary excuse, as he makes it to the Padalecki house unquestioned. The key is exactly where he’d seen Alona use it, tucked under the eaves in a little nook. Ten seconds flat and he’s inside, staring into the dark afternoon gloom and not daring to turn on a light.
It’s still a vast improvement to a bus shelter.
He carefully takes off his now squelchy shoes, places them by the door, and pads through the dark house. Upstairs and first door to the right, and he’s in Alona’s room. There are posters on the wall of celebrities he doesn’t know, and a desk in front of the window with her stereo and a neat pile of school books, abandoned for the winter break. The bed has been made and no clothes litter the floor. He guesses the Padalecki children were made to clean house before they went away because he’s never seen Alona’s room this clean. Usually it’s a whirlwind of destruction: undergarments, books, dirty plates and CDs all haphazardly tumbled on top of each other.
He closes the door behind him even though there’s no one in the house. It feels safer that way. Old habits - sometimes confined spaces are easier to hide in. He doesn’t put the chair up against the door knob, though. Ellis has managed to break some of the habits, though whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen.
He sits down on Alona’s bed. The navy-blue bedspread is soft under his fingers and he’s suddenly so overwhelmingly fucking tired. He shudders as a hiccuping sob breaks out of his chest and it’s all too much and too hard. He lets the tears fall, hot rivulets down his rain-chilled face. He wants to be stronger than this, hates himself because he isn’t.
It’s all Jensen’s fucking fault. He was safe before Jensen, he had his walls up and no one could touch him. Not his parents, not his foster parents, not the Petersons and certainly not Ellis Fucking Academy.
Jensen swept in and got under his skin and now Misha’s been flayed open. Alone, sitting in the dark in the house of a boy who hates him, with wet socks and a gaping hole where it feels like his heart has been torn out.
And despite it all, despite the fact that it’s Jensen who has done this to him, who has inflicted this wound, all his stupid fucking heart wants is to have him back. To have Jensen walk in the door and say it was all a mistake, that he wants him and that everything is okay.
Only he won’t. Because Misha’s parents murdered Jensen’s mom. And there’s no getting over that.
When the tears subside and the shivering sets in, Misha decides he’s had enough of this consciousness thing. He strips off his wet clothes, a fresh ache as he pulls off the blue striped shirt he’d borrowed from Jensen’s closet, and leaves them in a pile on Alona’s floor. He slips under the covers and pulls them tight around him. The bed smells like Alona and he lets it comfort him as he wills himself to sleep.
Later, he’ll think about how he’s going to get out of this mess. Where he’s going to go or how he’s going to get there. For now, though, he’s had enough. He doesn’t want to think or see or cry or emote. There’s only so much a person can take in the way of life-altering revelations for one day.
* * *
When he wakes up, he has a terrifying moment of not knowing where he is. Night has fallen and the rain continues to patter down on the roof. When it floods back to him where he is, and why, he groans and pulls the covers back up over his head.
Now that he’s a bit more clear-headed, he has to figure out what he’s going to do. He certainly can’t stay where he is for more than a night or two. Eventually the school will figure out he isn’t in the dorm anymore, if Jensen doesn’t tell them first. He has two options, as far as he can see. He stays, figures out a way to move dorm rooms and suffers through seeing Jensen every day of his life until he’s free. Or, he flees now.
In the back of his mind, the dean’s offer is sitting patiently, waiting for him to make a decision. He’s never had an opportunity like that handed to him before. One that would greatly improve his future prospects. Internship or ticket to an Ivy League college, either one will give him a chance he could never hope to get on his own with his background. Assuming the offer is still there. He thinks it is. Morgan might be a young dean, but he’s fair. Even if he favours Jensen, Misha doesn’t think he’ll take it out on him. Anyway, that’s a hurdle best dealt with when and if he decides to vault it.
To run... well, it was always his plan, wasn’t it? Granted, he was planning on waiting until he hit eighteen, to make it legal. He’s close now. If he ran and remained off the grid for a month or so, then they’d be forced to stop looking. If he makes it back to New York he’ll at least be on familiar ground. He knows where to get free food, where to make some quick money, and he’s amassed enough connections, shady though they may be, to at least not be sleeping on the streets at night.
If he can get back to the city. He has no money and is in ass-fuck nowhere. It’s not something he’s thought about for awhile, but there’s probably stuff he could ‘liberate’ from the dorms to sell for a Greyhound fair. With most of the boys gone for vacation, it wouldn’t be as easy as boosting the cash that would normally be laying around as casually as if it grew on trees. Which for some of the boys, it probably does.
For a brief, insane moment, he thinks about calling the Petersons, making up some story to see if they’ll wire him some money. He dismisses it almost as soon as it enters his thoughts. They’d call the dean first thing.
Thinking about the Petersons makes him think of his own parents. He can’t understand how they were involved in Jensen’s mom’s murder, though he’s sure, with a heavy sick feeling in his stomach, that it’s true. He tries again to remember what Jensen told him. Jensen was five. Something about his dad working in oil, his mother being the one from money. There was fraud, or a collapse or something? His parents definitely could have been involved in that. Any way for a dollar. But there was something else Jensen had said. Try as he might, Misha can’t zero in on it.
With a sigh, he pushes the covers back down and contemplates the risk factor of taking a shower. His skin is clammy and his face is tight with salt. Plus, he’s cold. The heating is turned off while the Padalecki’s are away, and although he’s inside, the chill is seeping into the house’s bones from outside. A shower would be fucking awesome. He wouldn’t turn the light on, of course, but it’s possible someone might hear the water. It depends on what the time is. Leaning out of Alona’s bed, he searches for the pile of clothes on the ground. It takes a second, but he locates his phone in the pocket of the dress pants and manages to extract it.
No missed messages. No call from Jensen explaining it was all a horrible mistake, an unfunny joke, a dare. Despite it all, he wants to call him. To thumb down to the little icon of Jensen and press it into calling. But there’s no point calling him, he thinks, with numb resignation. That’s not a thing he can do anymore. One of many things he can’t do with Jensen ever again.
Glancing at the time, he finds it’s 11 PM. He’d been out a long time. Booze and crying like a fucking girl will do that to a person. Using the light from his phone as a flashlight, he makes his way out of bed and Alona’s room, pausing on the landing to make triple sure there’s no one home.
Misha leaves the lights off in the bathroom, feels his way to the shower and turns the water on as hot as he can stand. Lets the water rinse the dirtiness of the day off him. He uses the shampoo that’s sitting in the rack, something that smells like roses or peonies or some other flower Misha wouldn’t know if he put it in a posy himself. Tilting his face up into the stream, he lets it sting, burn at the flesh of his cheeks and eyes.
What a fucked-up day. It had started so innocuously, him and Jensen discussing a fucking book in bed, waiting to get a brunch over and done with so they could head back to their room and fuck; Misha planning to hold his hand over Jensen’s mouth to stop the moans from travelling into the corridor where a random kid stuck with them over the break might pass by and hear them.
The image stings at his eyes as much as the water and he blinks furiously, keeping the stupid tears at bay by force of will. No more. He isn’t an eight-year-old in a new foster home that smells funny with foster parents who aren’t his real parents. He wouldn’t cry then, and he won’t cry now.
He’s reaching for the soap when Jensen’s dad’s words to Jensen echo in his mind, unbidden. “His mother is the reason your mother is dead.”
Hadn’t Jensen said something about an affair? Oh god. Misha feels sick, falls to his knees on the tile and retches. Dry heaves of nothing but anguish.
Had his mother seduced Jensen’s father? For money? Had Misha’s dad encouraged her? The images fly through Misha’s head faster than he can process them. His mom coming on to Jensen’s dad, investigations of fraud and embezzlement, the Feds taking boxes of files out of the offices, Jensen’s mom with her long flowy skirts and seventies hair catching them in the act, her crying, distraught. Jensen’s mom and a bottle of pills. A five-year-old Jensen holding onto his father’s hand as they stand by a coffin.
He can’t know if it happened that way, but it fits. It all fits. And his parents, the sorry excuses for human beings that brought him into this world - and oh, but how he wishes they hadn’t - did it all. They killed Jensen’s mom.
And now Misha is dead to Jensen.
The promise of dawn wakes him, or more specifically, the sharp nudge of belt buckle against his navel does. As tempting as a night out initially sounded, he’s grateful now he stayed in. Hangovers make him foggy and he’ll need his faculties intact if he wants to unravel the mess his father left behind.
Beyond the window, the sky has just begun to turn violet, strips of grey clouds threaded along the horizon like someone painted them. While the rest of the world won’t be up for hours, Jensen stretches and steels himself. Even half awake, he remembers what happened yesterday, the hollow feeling in his gut, and though Misha hadn’t been here when he fell asleep, chances are he is now.
The stillness of the room indicates otherwise, nothing to disrupt the silence beyond the birds chirping their heads off in the tree outside and the sound of his own breath. When he turns over, the bed on the other side of the room stands empty. Everything is exactly as it was when he stumbled in last night, and the thought that Misha might be out there somewhere without a change of clothes or even a fucking toothbrush bothers him more than it probably should, given the circumstances of their parting.
In a perfect world, morning might have offered clarity, distance enough to decide how to deal. So far, he’s only more muddled, fighting against instincts that draw him in opposing directions.
“C’mon, Ackles,” he mutters, levering himself up on an elbow. “Pull it together.”
It takes an inordinate amount of effort to roll out of bed, strip off yesterday’s clothes, and slip into a pair of running pants. This far south, his Under Armor crew doesn’t see much use, but he tugs it on now to combat the potential distraction of being too cold. Two socks, two shoes, two gloves, and a hat later, he’s ready, the door snicking shut behind him and the halls echoing back every squeak of his rubber soles.
When he breaks the seal on the front door, the wind knocks the air out him. The rush of it also clears his head, his focus snapping back to the mechanics of physicality. His trot down the stairs wasn’t enough to warm him up, not nearly, so he jogs to the edge of the building and back, stopping only to run through his usual battery of stretches. Routine has always, will probably always soothe his unsettled mind, and at this point he can’t do more than hope history holds. Normally, he’s running from poor performance on an exam or the evidence of his father’s indifference. This is different, the pain more keenly felt because there’s a hole in his heart for her that can never be filled, though Jensen can’t claim to know whether excising another will bring him any peace.
All he can do is try to figure out whether or not it’s necessary, whether it’s just.
No matter what other issues stand between him and that precarious balance he fights so hard to maintain, he’s missed this, he thinks, pushing off the bottom stair. With nowhere to be, over a hundred acres of land on which to stretch his legs, and no one to make demands on his time, Jensen sets off without a destination in mind. For the first two miles, he feels the cold - frigid air biting at his nose and the tips of his earlobes. After that, there’s nothing but rhythm. The ground rises up to meet him, sweat trickles down his back to be wicked away, his lungs work overtime to keep up with his pace. Negotiating a steep hill at full speed makes his thighs burn with the effort, but Jensen doesn’t slow, relishing the endorphins that flood his system as he barrels down the other side.
Before long, he can ignore the physical altogether. In the east, the sun glows and the sea of frosted grass sparkles with it, pink and gold, and Jensen smiles. The wind pricks at his eyes, making them water. It has to be the wind. He’s avoiding his problems, that much he knows. Fear is a surprisingly effective motivator, and denial is so much easier than dealing. Jensen’s got plenty of it to go around – fear that he won’t be able to get past this or that he will but that he’s already damaged his relationship with Misha beyond repair. More than that, he's terrified that forgiving past slights in some way cheapens his mother’s memory. But he owes it to them, and himself, to get to the bottom of things. Jeff had been right about that much.
Gravel crunches as he slows his pace, pebbles ground together beneath his heels, and when Jensen looks up he realizes his feet are psychic. The main building has always been impressive, but today it seems foreboding, the columns crowding close instead of soaring towards the sky. He climbs the stairs slowly, on wobbly legs, shaking the fatigue out of his muscles as best he can. Chances are the doors are locked. Even as far away from town as they are, with the campus abandoned for break, the maintenance crew keeps things secured. This early the day after New Year’s, there’s no reason for any of the staff to be here. Still, worth a shot. When he tries the front door, it stubbornly refuses to budge, and Jensen’s resigned to finding what he can online when he hears keys jangle behind him.
“Now that’s something I’ve never seen before – a teenager breaking into school.”
Jensen huffs a laugh that comes out more like a cough, because he hasn’t quite caught his breath. “You know me,” he gasps, wiping the sweat from his brow. “Never been the type to color inside the lines.”
Sam’s dressed down again, lilac flannel and blue jeans, and she smirks at him in that way of hers before resettling her bag and pushing past him to unlock the door. He should probably ask why she’s here, but then, she likely wouldn’t answer. “You may be a charmer, Jensen,” she says. “But you’re a lousy liar.” The deadbolt clanks clear and the hinges on the old oak door creak when she pulls it open. “Until that hellion roommate of yours landed in your lap, you were the poster boy for good behavior.”
She leaves him standing on the porch, and for a moment all he can do is blink at the pockmarked surface of the door. Pride eventually spurs him to motion, the door whumping closed behind him as he follows in her wake. “I was not,” he says, wincing at the whine. “You make me sound like I wear pocket protectors and read the dictionary for fun.”
Peals of laughter bounce off the walls, and Sam stops short, her careworn satchel thumping down beside her. “What you are, honey, is easy. Now are you planning to tell me why you’re here or am I supposed to guess?”
“I’m on a mission,” he answers, hooking Sam’s bag and slinging it over his shoulder. Jensen checks the fastenings and plays with the little whale-shaped keychain hooked to the zipper to keep from having to look at her. “There’s a mystery I need to unravel.”
When it falls, her hand is warm, the band of her arm a comfort that he didn’t know he needed, and Sam pulls him into step with her effortlessly. “Do tell,” she says. “Always did enjoy an opportunity to play Poirot.”
Jensen snorts. “Please, I’m cooler than that. At least give me Marlowe.”
“Wow me with your deductive skills, and we’ll see.”
The library, at least, is unlocked, and Sam only moves away once they’re inside, finding the switches in the dark with the ease of someone long familiar with their surroundings. Now that he’s here, Jensen has no idea where to begin, and his stomach churns with it and the fact that he’ll have to give Sam more specifics if he wants her help. He trusts her, that’s not the issue. But that pesky fear still lingers, clinging like a virulent Virginia creeper to what he felt – what he feels – about his parents and about Misha.
It’s not like he hasn’t been here before. In the summer between eighth grade and freshman year, he combed through stacks of old newspapers searching for answers and came up empty-handed. He doesn’t know why he believes this time will be different, only that he does.
“Earth to Jensen?”
Sam’s planted in front of him, waving her hand in his face, and he focuses on it instead of the unfortunate and likely grueling task still ahead of him. And there’s no way to say it, really, without just saying it.
“I’m here to find out what happened to my mother.” His mouth goes dry and he coughs around the lump that’s lodged itself in his throat. “And why.”
Sam frowns and plucks an invisible piece of lint from his shirt before taking her bag back. She refuses to meet his eyes. “Truth can be painful, kid,” she says. “And gain you nothing.”
“I can’t believe that, right now,” he says and sighs. “I have to believe that knowing will help. It can’t be any worse than…” Jensen trails off, unwilling to say the words. Why does this mean so much to him? With some distance between him and all those painful revelations, he thinks maybe Jeff is right. Misha is no more cast from his parents’ mold than Jensen is. And yet, he can’t set it aside. Can’t bring himself to call his father. Not yet. Perhaps with all the cards on the table, he’ll be able to finally put it to rest.
“Worse than what?” Sam is looking at him now, her brows drawn together with a sorrow and sympathy that rattles him.
“Nevermind,” he says, but his fingers go to the medal around his neck, the one he still hasn’t taken off, even though he knows he probably should. Not that Sam would read it as anything beyond nervous fidgeting. If only he himself were so easily fooled. He doesn’t want to lose Misha, but he can’t begin to work his way through until he sees the true shape of the mire. “I just need to know, okay? Isn’t that enough? All my life, people have kept things from me, supposedly in my best interests. I think I’m old enough now to have a say in what those interests are.”
“If I had a dollar for every kid who thinks he's old enough to handle the truth, I'd own a villa on the French Riviera.” Sam reaches out again, wraps his hand in both of hers, and squeezes. “But you’re way more together than they think you are. More than you even realize.” She smiles up at him, then, quiet for a moment and thoughtful. “I’m proud to know you, Jensen, no matter what,” she says, then disappears into the stacks like she was a figment of his fucking imagination.
Jensen waits until the count of ten, hoping she’ll come back, that she’ll relent and at least point him in the right direction. When she doesn’t return he settles in at one of the computers, launches the virtual card catalog, and initiates a search. Four pages of results later, two microfilm cartridges land on the table beside him.
“The hell?” he mutters and glances up to see Sam stalking off in the opposite direction. “What are these for? I thought you digitized everything years ago.”
She stops, hair fanning out when she turns to look back over her shoulder. “It’s microfilm, Jensen. I need you to put it away for me, but I misplaced the labels.” There’s a sticky residue on the spine of one cartridge, as if someone just recently pulled the sticker off and Sam smiles at him when he tests it. “Be a dear and find out what’s on them?”
Apparently, it’s as close as he’s going to get to an outright answer, so he shuts down his search and makes his way to the far corner of the library and the reader he remembers seeing abandoned there.
The thing about research is it takes time. Two reels of microfilm last forever when you view them frame by frame and by noon Jensen’s eyes are crossed from scouring grainy pictures for familiar faces and pouring over poorly focused words. There’s a headache threatening behind his eyes at least until he squeezes them shut, pressing the heels of his hands against them to earn some relief. He blinks away the bright spots and slots his fingers back against the cogs on the wheel, advancing to the next page with a gentle twist of his wrist.
And there it is.
His father looks younger but no less tailored, his hand extended to keep the photographer from coming too close. At his right, Jensen expects to see his mother, her face drawn and features pinched like they were in every other picture of her from those days, but she’s not there. An insert in the corner shows another woman altogether, her hair dark and wavy, her nose both sharp and slightly Slavic, and her lips a more feminine version of a pair he knows well. As if that weren’t enough to confirm her identity, the caption below does.
The article covers the basics of the trial. So now he finally knows what his father had been accused of all those years ago, accused but acquitted. Insider trading. Embezzling. Even technical innocence doesn’t remove the stain of suspicion, and that’s why he’d fought so hard to rebuild his reputation. That makes sense. What the piece doesn’t specifically say is how Misha’s mother had been involved. It alludes to a possible affair and that she, as a disgruntled mistres, may have come forward with the documentation that allowed the prosecution to press charges. But there’s no proof. Not here, anyway.
Frustrated, he moves on to the next frame, then the frame after, and just when he’s about to give up hope of finding anything else, another picture catches his eye. His father again, smiling brightly. Not at the camera, but at her. There’s another couple seated at the table that may as well not exist. Her hand rests in the bend of his elbow and her head is thrown back with laughter. And she is most definitely not his mother. Jensen recognizes her all the same, the hair and nose and lips, and there’s nothing he can do to contain the fury that burns in his gut.
Because it’s true. Every nasty thing they whispered behind his back, every slur they tossed around had been true. Heart in his throat, he grabs his gloves and hat and heads for the door. If there was ever a time to confront his father, this is it. Halfway there, he hears Sam call his name but he can’t stop, not now. If he overthinks this, he’ll never call, and he can’t.
Jensen makes it back to the dorm in record time, dialing the phone before he even sits down. Darla answers on the third ring, quietly professional, and Jensen wants to launch himself through the phone at her, ask her if she too knew about this.
“I need to speak with my father,” he says, instead, trying desperately to keep his cool at least until he’s got the man himself on the line.
“I’m sorry, he’s in a meeting, but I’ll be more than happy to...”
Jensen breaks in, unwilling to wait. “Then get him out. Tell him Ellis is on fire or I’ve been hit by a car. Tell him whatever you want, but get him on the phone.”
“Jensen, you know I can’t do that.”
“You will, though,” he grits out, and his jaw aches with the effort. “Or so help me I will keep calling until you do.”
“Hold one moment,” Darla says, sharp and cool, and Jensen throws himself at his bed just to keep from pacing a rut in the rug.
New-Age Muzak tinkles in his ear for what seems like forever, each trill of flute and harp string pluck driving him just a little bit more insane. Jensen kicks his shoes off just to give himself something to do beyond listen and wait.
Soon enough, the line clicks and his father’s voice filters down. “Jensen, what’s wrong? Are you okay?” It’s the first time Jensen’s heard that kind of concern in years, and it makes him ache in places he thought long dead that this is what it took to inspire it.
“No Dad,” he says. “I’m not.”
Dad sighs, and Jensen hears a door open on the other end of the phone, then Dad whispering at whomever it is to give him a minute. “I just saw you yesterday, son. What happened?”
“You mean the incident with your friend?”
Jensen laughs, tinny and a little crazed. “The incident. Yeah, I guess if that’s what you want to call it. That’s not what I’m talking about, and you know it. I’m talking about why. It takes two to tango, Dad, and his mother couldn’t have been your fucking mistress if you weren’t looking for one. I saw the pictures. How could you do that to Mom? She loved you more than life, and you just shit all over her. You didn’t even try to hide it.”
“Son, it’s not what you think.”
“Like hell it isn’t.” Tears sting behind his eyelids, but Jensen refuses to let them fall.
“How did you even get a hold of that—” That he’s even asking means he took measures to make sure Jensen couldn’t. Of course he did.
“Doesn’t matter,” Jensen hisses. “What matters is you’re the real reason she’s dead. You couldn’t keep it in your pants, and she couldn’t take it.”
Were it possible to reach through the phone and put hands on his father, Jensen would. Yesterday’s anguish returns with a vengeance, his stomach churning with all that knowledge Sam warned him about. He tries to focus and hang onto the anger, but regret keeps getting in the way.
“You don’t understand,” his father says, trying to make it sound like the apology it clearly isn’t.
“Explain it to me, then, Dad. Because it seems like you’ve gone out of your way to keep me in the dark. Those aren’t the actions of an honest man.”
“It’s not that simple.”
Jensen pinches the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes to put down the urge to scream. “But it is.”
“What do you want from me, Jensen?”
“Just the truth. No more, no less.”
His father sighs again and pauses, his chair creaking as he resettles himself and Jensen’s about to give up, hang up, and go get wasted for real because Jesusfuckingchrist, he turned on Misha for this when his father’s voice filters down the line.
“So, is it enough to know that your mother was ill?” he says, and Jensen freezes, too scared to breathe because maybe, just maybe, he’s finally going to get some answers. His heart thumps hard in his chest and the press of the receiver against his ear is almost too much to take. “Or that she’d suffered from depression as long as I’d known her? That her brothers, your uncles, were bilking their investors out of millions, and after I shared my suspicions, she nearly fell apart?”
“Or do you need to know that Lena Collins was my assistant for three years. Not only that, but a trusted friend that helped herself my private files. If she hadn’t your mother might still be alive. The company your great-grandparents sacrificed everything to build could still be as viable as it was in 1952.”
“Does that fix anything for you, son? Will it be easier to get up in the morning, knowing what you come from? I tried to spare you this. Hell, I’ve busted my ass to give you the life you would have had before her family cast us out. But you refuse to let sleeping dogs lie.”
There’s a burst of chatter in the background, Darla’s voice rising above the others, saying, “Carter, I can’t hold them off any longer. We need you in there.”
“Of course,” his father says, and Jensen has nothing to say now, his tongue tied by the thousand different questions he wants to ask, but can’t. “I’ll talk to you later, Jensen,” he mutters, then the line goes dead.
It’s a dick move, one he should expect from the man who truly has done nothing but let him down and screw him over. Whatever grand statements he might make to the contrary, Carter Ackles has always been in it for himself. Jensen never asked for this, any of it, and his gratitude for the opportunities it offers should never be confused with greed. He’d be just as happy, perhaps happier, as the son of a mechanic or librarian, and even if that meant student loans and after-school jobs, Jensen swears he’d do it all for even the faded shade of what Jared and his parents share.
To be loved so cleanly without judgment or expectation.
Realization, when it strikes, lands low, a firm fist in his gut that causes no less pain for the fact that it’s phantom. The phone offers no answer when he stares it down, though the plastic casing squeaks when his grip tightens. Stupid, he thinks, so stupid, to take his father’s words as gospel truth. After all the damage they’ve inflicted on one another over the years, he should have known to exercise caution, to reserve judgment until he was sure. Misha’s mother only did what Jensen might have in the same circumstances. And while, yes, her actions were the catalyst that set his own mother on a terrible path, they were also just.
Phone still in hand, he thumbs the keypad, tapping out the digits of Misha’s cell number, as if doing so could summon him home. There are no enchanted lamps in Jensen’s future, though, and rubbing on a battered cordless set is not going to repair what he destroyed in a moment of madness.
For once, instead of wishing, he takes the leap and hits send. Two and a half rings in, the call goes to voicemail. This means two things. First and most importantly, Misha’s okay. For Jensen to get pushed mid-ring, he has to be. But it also means that Misha doesn’t want to talk to him. He hangs up without leaving a message. Whatever they have to say one another, they’ll say it in person, if for no other reason than Jensen wants to be sure his apology is heard.
At some point, Misha will have to come back. Maybe even tonight.
Absent of any other course of action, he settles the phone back in its cradle and tries to begin his day in earnest. It works to some extent, though he feels thin, worn through by tension and sorrow and frustration. Every movement in the tight space between their beds reminds him of Misha’s absence. There are no hips to bump, no elbows to tangle. He shuffles to the window and back, aimless beyond want of something to do, and it’s only decision that gives him purpose, the salt-lick state of his skin and the less-than-fresh stench of his earlier run clinging to his clothes. He rifles through his drawers for clean pants and a shirt, but stops halfway through, jeans slung over his shoulder. Something catches in the corner of his eye, grey with red lettering, and he grabs for it without allowing himself acknowledge why.
One thing Jensen can happily acknowledge is that he can’t wait for Misha to come to him. After he cleans up, it’s time to hunt.
There are few people to interrogate, unfortunately. Many of those who stuck around for Christmas are gone now, either with family or friends, and the ones that stayed have spent as much of their time off campus as they can. That doesn’t rule out the possibility that they’ve seen Misha in and of itself, but if they’re telling the truth, none of them have.
Late afternoon sees him back at the administration building, tail between his legs. Sam will understand, she always does, but he still feels like a dick for running out. After what she gave him, he owes her more than he’ll ever be able to repay. No matter how painful, to Jensen the truth is priceless.
The doors are still unlocked when he arrives, the library bright with sunlight and fluorescents. Dylan wails his nasal wails from Sam’s office, the volume bumped up high enough for him to hear, though he can’t make out the song, and Jensen heads for the sound hoping he’ll find her there. He doesn’t, of course, and since he isn't really in the mood to wander the stacks, Jensen flicks the power off and settles in to wait.
Sam stalks in, brow furrowed and a little breathless, and Jensen smiles.
“I’d bake you a cake,” he says. “If I had access to the kitchen.”
She’s got her sleeves rolled up, her hair bound in a messy pile on top of her head. Smudges of ink and dirt adorn her forearms and wrists, and she laughs when she turns to face him, hands planted on her hips.
“Thanks,” she says. “But I’m pretty attached to this novelty called being alive.”
Jensen chuckles and palms the back of his neck, tracking Sam as she sidles around the end of her desk and sinks into the chair opposite with a sigh. “I didn’t poison you last time,” he says.
“No, you didn’t,” Sam answers, shuffling absently through a sheaf of papers before settling, elbows propped on the arms of her chair and her fingers steepled. “But I think it was more luck than skill, kid. No offense.”
“None taken,” he says. “Pastry chef is not a title I aspire to.”
Sam smiles, but beneath it her expression seems sad, almost wistful. “So, can I assume your presence means all’s forgiven?”
Confused, Jensen squints at her. “There’s nothing to forgive,” he says, honestly. “I came to thank you. And to apologize for running out the way I did.”
“You’re a curious creature, Jensen,” she mutters, leaning forward to study him with a furrowed brow. “Too damned sensible to be a teenager. But you’re welcome, and thank you for easing an old lady’s mind.”
Jensen scoffs. “One, you’re not an old lady,” he says. “And two, you should probably hang onto that gratitude until I tell you the other reason I’m here.”
Sam’s eyes narrow, and if Jensen didn’t know better, he’d call it the Mom-stare, but he knows she has no children of her own to practice on. “I’m listening,” she says, wary.
“I need your help. To find Misha.”
The sun has begun to set when Jensen leaves the library, and in its absence the temperature has dropped ten degrees. Lost in thought, he swings by the cafeteria and feeds a five into the vending machine. Pre-packaged chicken salad and Doritos aren’t his idea of haute cuisine, but he missed the short service and the hot meal that was on offer. Between this and the apple on his desk upstairs, it should be enough to tide him over until morning, since his appetite has gone to shit. Despite the very vocal protest his stomach is staging, he has no interest in food.
To be honest, he feels a little sick.
It doesn’t matter that Sam listened patiently to his story, or how hard she hugged him before he left or how many times she promised to be discreet when she asked around. What matters is that she hasn’t seen Misha either.
With any luck, he’ll be waiting. Righteous fury, Jensen can deal with. Never getting to put things right, he can’t.
He takes the stairs two at a time, shoving down the hope that burns bright, because he knows better than to think things will work out the way he wants them to. When he pushes his way into their room, everything is still as it was this morning – Misha’s sheets rumpled but unmoved, a pair of his jeans slung across the end of his bed, the hat Jensen gave him in its customary place atop the bedpost.
Something inside him breaks open until there’s just this yawning nothing, and he tosses the food at his desk, past caring whether or not it lands. His heartbeat thrums in his ears like a freight train, the rush of blood drowning out sense and thought, and he throws himself at Misha’s bed hard enough that he almost bounces back. His fucking father. Why had he listened? Why hadn’t he stopped to think? Why had he judged, as his father judged everyone and everything? Whatever happened between their parents, Misha is still Misha. Surrounded by his scent, his things, Jensen loses it a little, slams his eyes shut until the crippling wave of guilt and fucking worry moves over and through him, taking the roar with it.
Then, and only then, does he hear the music drifting down the hall, the guitar jangling merrily in a way that can only mean Rob’s back from wherever the hell he’s been all afternoon, and Jensen can finally ask his stupid question – the one he already has an answer for.
He heaves himself off the bed with a groan, scrubbing at his eyes, because damn if they aren't watering like a son of a bitch right now, and shuffles two doors down to knock. Rob is all smiles when he answers, then his eyes skirt down and away, his fingers rattling against the doorknob, restless.
“Jensen,” he says. “What are you doing here?” He titters then, a soft thing in the back of his throat, and sighs. “I didn’t mean—I just—to what do I owe the pleasure of your company?”
For a moment, words fail and Jensen stares at him, the faded band shirt and battered blue jeans too Misha for him to wrap his head around completely. Eventually, he stammers out his question, already prepared to turn and leave, when the inevitable answer comes.
But it doesn’t. Rob’s brows pull together, and he props himself against the door jamb on an elbow when he says, “Yeah, like an hour ago. Maybe more like an hour and a half. Ran into him on my way back. That’s, um, kind of why I was surprised to see you. He said something about Alona having a cat, which was kind of weird. I always thought of her as more of a dog person. Since, y’know, they have those ginormous dogs and stuff. But to each their- ”
Skittish as Rob can sometimes be, when he gets going, he could ramble for hours.
Jensen doesn’t have hours. “Where,” he says, only able to keep his voice in check through sheer force of will.
If Jensen were a more patient person, he’d be happy to wheedle until the cows come home if it meant finding out where Misha’s holed up. As it stands, his patience has worn too thin to attempt an indirect approach. “Where is he?”
Rob shrugs, not because he doesn’t know, but because he doesn’t understand why it’s so important, and Jensen barely resists the urge to reach out and shake him. “Um, yeah, he was headed for Mr. and Mrs. Padalecki’s place when I saw him.”
Fuck. Of course, Jensen thinks, hope finding purchase again in the hollows and he spares enough breath to thank Rob before he goes flying down the hall. Frigid air greets him again when he slams through the outer doors, but Jensen ignores it, too intent to care. Beneath his boots, the ground is uneven and, though he wound his way all over the grounds this morning, he stumbles a time or two in his haste and the dark. When he crests the hill at the edge of campus proper, the house stands still and silent, and Jensen’s chest goes tight. What if Rob was wrong? What if Misha already left? Jensen takes the slope at a sprint anyway, only pulling up once his heels catch porch and stick. He reaches for the spare key before he can even begin to figure out how to fix this, before he can settle into his worry about whether Misha will actually be there.
It doesn’t matter.
Whatever he needs to say or do, he will make this work. And if Misha’s already gone, Jensen will fucking find him.
When Misha wakes up the next morning, it’s because a weak but persistent ray of sunshine is filtering through a gap in the curtains and hitting him square in the face.
Blearily, he tries to open his gummed-up eyes, but they hurt and his vision is fuzzy, so he closes them again. After puking up the contents of his stomach last night, which wasn’t much, given he hadn’t eaten all day, he’d sat numbly in the shower until the water started to run cold.
Maudlin, he’d noted that it would match the temperature of blood in his veins.
It was chilly in the house, and despite the warmth of Alona’s bed, he’d needed more insulation. Clothes that weren’t Jensen’s. Jared would kill him if he knew, but Jared wasn’t here, so Misha had rummaged through Jared’s meticulously clean closet and found sweats and a t-shirt to put on. The legs were a foot too long and the t-shirt looked more like a dress on Misha’s smaller frame, but at least he was warm and in Jensen-less attire.
Now, with the light of the morning bringing a dusty haze to the room, things don’t seem as bleak as they did the night before. Misha waits for the rush of despair to hit him when the knowledge of yesterday sinks back in, but it doesn’t. Instead he feels numb, resigned to his new world-view.
His phone lets him know it’s around lunchtime, and that no one called while he was asleep. Jensen mustn’t have alerted anyone. Misha doesn’t know what that means, but it makes him feel queasy. Which is ironic, since his stomach chooses right then to grumble and alert him to the fact that, ill feeling or not, he hasn’t eaten in almost 24 hours.
Pulling Alona’s terrycloth robe off the back of the door and on over Jared’s gigantor clothes, Misha makes his way downstairs and into the Padalecki kitchen. The fridge is on, but there isn’t anything in it that would spoil, which pretty much amounts to condiments and some margarine.
He opens random cupboards, finds cereal in one and a bowl in another. The idea of eating them dry makes him gag, so in the end he pours in a small amount of water. He eats standing up. He doesn’t want to sit down or make himself comfortable. He’s trespassing as it is; there’s no need to enjoy it.
It feels more illegal somehow, downstairs. Upstairs in Alona’s room he at least feels familiar, invited even, at a stretch. It occurs to him, as he forces the soggy, tasteless cereal down his throat, that if he leaves Ellis, he probably won’t ever see Alona again. The thought makes him even sadder. Jensen is one thing to leave; he’s given him reason to do so without looking back. But Alona is innocent in all this, has been nothing but a friend. He’ll miss her a great deal.
For the first time, Misha realises the gravity of leaving. It isn’t just a relationship or even a fake family; this time he’s leaving friends in a way he’s never had to deal with before. Sure, he’s had faux siblings he’s grown close to in the past, but they were more like cellmates than chosen confidants. At Ellis, that was different. With so many other inmates, he’d been free to make friends selectively. Even if he hadn’t really made many, there were some. Alona, Rob, Julie. Sam. Even the dean had made an impression on him.
Sighing, Misha rinses the bowl in the sink and dries it off on the dish-towel before placing it back in the cupboard.
The effort of feeding himself tires him out and, frankly, he’s sick of thinking. Of having been forced into a situation where he has to think about every facet of his life in new and painful ways.
He makes his way back upstairs, wonders what he should do next. Go back to Ellis, leave outright, sleep some more so he doesn’t have to think anymore. He’s just thinking about how best to get out of the house without being seen when his phone starts vibrating in his hand. The sound is off, but there’s no mistaking an incoming call when Jensen’s picture flashes up on his screen. In it, Jensen’s hair sticks up every which way as he looks angrily at the camera. Misha had snapped it after they’d fucked one time, the spikes of Jensen’s wayward hair sculpted there by Misha’s own fingers. Jensen had been alarmed and then pissed in quick succession at Misha’s phone coming out, and then he’d punished Misha for taking the picture; it had been awesome.
The picture now serves to remind Misha of what he’s lost, and he quickly silences it, swiping to reject the call. It isn’t until after, when it doesn’t ring again, that Misha wonders what Jensen wanted. What he could possibly be calling for.
He flings the phone across the room, cringes, and yet enjoys the dull thud it makes as it hits the drywall and thumps to the carpet.
Sleep it is, then. He crawls back into bed.
* * *
The next time Misha wakes, the sun is painting shadows on the far wall of Alona’s room. Judging by the hollowness in his stomach, it’s starting to get late. His sense of time is all fucked up, and his meager breakfast-cum-lunch has already worn off. If he wants to not starve to death, he’s going to have to venture out and find something to eat.
He still has no money, and he’s not going to steal from the Padaleckis even if he were to go through their things and find an errant stash of money, which leaves him with few options. The best he’ll be able to do is see if he can somehow get into the school’s kitchen. It won’t be easy; it tends to be locked up tight during the holidays due to the low number of staff needed to man it for so few students. It means less kitchen staff to bribe, and less to be too distracted to notice (or deal with) an errant kid poking around in the fridges.
It’s really his only chance for food right now, though. If he ventures out now, there’s a hope that the kitchens will be open in preparation for the night’s dinner. He’d attend the dinner itself, but nothing in the world would make him run into Jensen while waiting in line for corned beef.
Groaning at the ache in his limbs, he retrieves his phone from its exile in the corner of Alona’s room. There are no more calls from Jensen, thank god. Even though part of him kind of wishes...
Dwelling on it will fill him with pain, though, so he forces himself not to think about it. Food, he needs to focus on getting food. Misha heads back downstairs and slips his shoes on; they’re damp, but not soaking wet. He has to roll Jared’s sweat pants up to keep from tripping in them...but inside they keep him warm like some kind of weird adult onesie. Outside, they’ll trip him and have him face first in the mud. Not to mention if someone sees him... Even if they do see him with them rolled up, he looks somewhat ridiculous, wearing clothes that are at least four sizes too big on him.
He watches through the glass panels in the door, and when he’s sure the coast is clear - there really is no one around during the holidays - he slips out, slides the key back into its hiding spot. He wanders oh-so-casually towards the school proper. Once inside the main buildings, it’s easier. He knows the corridors Jensen is unlikely to be in, that anyone is unlikely to be in, and five minutes later he’s at the cafeteria kitchens.
They’re locked, but he’s sure they must open soon for the dinner meal, so he waits. Sure enough, not five minutes later one of the cooks, Christopher, comes down the corridor. Inwardly, Misha curses his luck. Christopher is not who he wants to deal with. The guy is tall and beanpole thin, sharp, hawk-like nose, and eyes light yet somehow still foreboding. He has always given Misha the creeps, staring just a little too long, or making snide remarks at the kids who took second helpings. Regardless, he has two large trays in his arms, and Misha is quick to duck out of his hiding place and offer to help with the door.
“Thanks,” Christopher nods, allows Misha to take the tray and help him back into the stainless steel hub of the work-space. “You all might be few, but you eat enough for an army.”
Misha forces a laugh. “Growing boys, man. It’s what we do when we’re not thinking about chicks.”
Christopher laughs, its quality somewhat off. “Guess I’m lucky I’m the cook and not housekeeping, then.”
Misha nods, and tries not to think about it. He picks up an apple out of a nearby fruit basket, as if checking its quality. He watches as Christopher starts up the ovens, gets things from the large refrigerator like lettuce and tomatoes. The guy doesn’t seem to care that Misha is still standing there awkwardly.
“Um, so, I don’t suppose I could get mine to go a bit early?” Misha tries for casual, but isn’t sure if he succeeds or not.
“Hot date?” Christopher sneers.
“Something like that,” Misha says, trying to look like an eager kid with a hook-up planned. Whatever that might look like.
Christopher looks at him, his gaze too sharp, seemingly weighing up whether Misha is going to nark on him or not. Finally he shrugs. “Sure. Why not. But it’ll be cold, you’ll need to heat it up somehow. Don’t go bitchin’ if you get food poisoning.”
Misha shakes his head and crosses a finger over his heart. “Not a chance, man. We’re cool.”
He watches as the guy takes the tinfoil off the trays he’d brought in. The smell of freshly baked, though cold, lasagna wafts towards him and Misha’s stomach rumbles loudly. Christopher just raises an eyebrow at him. Misha watches as he cuts a large chunk out of the tray and slaps it down on some tin foil. Seconds later, it’s being handed to him.
“Keep the apple,” Christopher says and turns back to his preparations. It’s a dismissal and Misha is glad for it.
He heads out of the kitchen and winds his way back through the corridors to the outside. Dusk is starting to fall, and the oak trees take on a menacing darkness in the gloom. It’s amazing how fast a day goes when you sleep through most of it.
He’s almost in the clear, turning down one of the gravelled paths that will head back to the teacher’s housing complex, when he sees someone coming the other way towards him. It’s too late to hide so he keeps walking, heart sinking as he recognises the person as Rob.
Does he know? Has Jensen told him that he was room sharing with the son of a philandering murderer?
“Hey, Misha,” Rob says brightly as soon as he’s in conversation distance.
So Jensen hasn’t said anything yet. Weird. What’s keeping him from telling everyone?
“Hey,” Misha replies. He tries to act normal, like he isn’t wearing a giants clothes and holding cold lasagna in his hand. “What’s up?”
“Oh, you know,” Rob says. “Spent the day in Charleston visiting an aunt. Well, she’s not really an aunt, not by blood. More of a family friend, really,” he rambles.
“Ah,” Misha says, at a lost for words.
“What about you?” Rob asks innocently.
“Oh nothing much,” Misha replies. “You know, just catching up on sleep and that.” It isn’t a total lie.
Rob nods then looks back over his shoulder, as if realising Misha’s walking away from the school. “You headed out?”
“Nah, I have to go feed, um, Alona’s cat...” Misha holds up the aluminum foil package as evidence of his lie.
“Alona has a cat?” Rob queries.
Misha nods. “Yeah, just recently. His name’s Cyril. Anyway, I better go... he gets mean if he’s hungry.”
“Oh, okay then. See ya later.” Rob beams, and with a wave he heads off towards the school.
Misha sighs in relief. That was close. Too close. He needs to get out of Ellis, and fast. He hurries back to the Padaleckis’ and Cyril, their new and imaginary cat.
* * *
Back inside the safety of Jared’s house, Misha heats up the lasagna in the oven. With the lights off, the house is succumbing to the dusk that falls outside, and he squints to make out the temperature dials. Wouldn’t do to burn down the house that’s hiding him.
After eating, he feels, if not a hundred, at least eighty percent better. The remaining twenty simply isn’t going to be satiated by food, anyway. Throwing the empty tinfoil into the trash, he heads upstairs. It’s time to make some firmer plans, work out where buses leave from and how much money he’s going to have to find before they’ll allow him to get on one.
He debates turning on Alona’s computer, but he worries the glow will be too obvious through the curtains. Instead, he pulls out his phone and lies back on Alona’s bed.
It looks like - if he can get back into Charleston - there’s a direct Manhattan route he could get on at 1.50pm tomorrow afternoon. Assuming he can get the same bus back to Charleston that he took to get out of there yesterday, that could work. The problem will be getting back to their... his room. He doesn’t have much stuff there he’ll miss, it’s true. But he can hardly get off the bus in Manhattan dressed as he is now. If nothing else, he wants his phone charger and a change of clothes.
He’s contemplating a way to get into his room without Jensen being there, maybe involving some kind of distraction by way of an unknowing Rob, when he hears wood creaking. He sits upright, blinking in the pitch-blackness and pushes his phone dark.
Seconds tick by with nothing else pinging his radar and he’s about to breathe out a sigh of relief and berate himself for being such a paranoid freak, when he hears the distinct metallic whisper of a key being slid home in a lock. The front door.
Panicking, Misha gets out of bed, pads quietly over to stand behind Alona’s ajar door. The sounds don’t get louder; not the booming voice of Jared calling dibs on the first shower, or Alona’s higher-pitched snort that he’s welcome to it, would be doing all of them a favour. There aren’t suitcases being thumped onto floors or lights being switched on. Just a silent, barely there creak as floorboards are pressed, stairs climbed.
It would be his luck that while hiding from the danger of ex-boyfriends, he’ll end up the star of a break-and-enter. He wishes he had something heavy at hand, a baseball bat or academy award. Alona is not un-sporty, but all her equipment is stashed away somewhere not within Misha’s easy reach.
The creak of the floor on the landing indicates that, whoever it is, they’re right outside Alona’s door. Misha can practically hear them breathing. He’s about to bolt, take his chances past the intruder and down the stairs, when the person speaks.
“Mish?” comes the whisper, soft and unsure.
Jensen. It’s goddamn, fucking Jensen.
Wildly, Misha yanks the door open as he steps out, adrenaline flushing through him and anger rising at being made to cower like he did when he was a child. “What the fuck are you doing?” he snaps, barely keeping his voice down.
Jensen’s eyes go wider than seems possible, already black and large in the darkness of the house. His hand flies up over his heart, and Misha would be ashamed at the flare of petty smugness he feels at startling Jensen, if he weren’t still scared himself.
”Jesus, Misha!” Jensen cries out in alarm. “I was looking for you. What the fuck are you doing?!”
Misha steadies himself and takes a distancing step backwards further into the room. Unsettlingly, Jensen takes a step forward. “I thought you were someone breaking in,” he says.
“And you were going to, what, scare them to death?” Jensen asks, a tinge of the sarcasm Misha used to love threading through his now calmer voice.
“Seemed to work,” Misha shrugs.
They stand there in silence, watching each other in the gloom, shadowy but incredibly familiar figures.
“So,” Misha eventually says, breaking the silence. “What are you doing here, Jensen?” His voice is cold, and he’s careful not to shorten the name to ‘Jen’ like his tongue is trained to do.
Jensen takes another step forward. His hand reaches out beseechingly, not touching, but clearly asking for something. Peace, a chance, space - Misha has no idea.
“I want,” Jensen begins and then seems to reconsider. “I thought you might have gone. Rob said he saw you, but when the lights were off, I thought maybe...”
Jensen trails off and Misha snorts softly. “What, and you were worried? I find that difficult to believe.”
Misha can see Jensen shaking his head. He doesn’t know where this is going, only knows he has to be careful, push the walls back up and hold them together for dear life.
“I talked to my dad,” Jensen tries again.
“Didn’t we all,” Misha snaps, and this time the anger flares in him. He lets it, stalking back towards the bed.
“No, wait,” Jensen says, and there’s an urgency to his tone, something that sounds like fear and stops Misha in his tracks. He turns back, but says nothing.
“I talked to him, and I went looking for... I don’t... I mean, I know now that it wasn’t like he said, man. It wasn’t your parents’ fault, it was his.”
Misha reels, confusion warring with the need to run, to fight. “What the hell do you mean?”
“There was a fraud... embezzlement and your mom, she must have found out, told the authorities. She did the right thing, Misha. I mean, I don’t know why she did it, and maybe it was just for money, but morally it was what should have been done.”
Jensen’s words are in English, but they don’t make any sense. Misha’s parents are always the ones in the wrong, that isn’t even a question. His whole worldview is built on that one true fact.
“Sure, while she was fucking your dad, right?” Misha’s used to making up lewd stories about his parents designed to shock, but this one, its truth, tastes bitter and horrid on his tongue.
He can practically see Jensen rolling his eyes, even though there’s no way he could make it out in the darkness.
“I don’t really know,” Jensen admits, quietly, brokenly and Misha’s heart betrays him, aches to go to Jensen and soothe him. “I think, I think my mom was sick, Mish,” Jensen says and this time his voice does break and, before Misha’s realised his brain has given him the order to move, he finds himself standing directly in front of Jensen, feeling the puff of ragged breaths ghosting across his face.
Jensen seems unaware of Misha’s proximity, or steadfastly ignores it, instead continuing on in the same broken cadence.
“There were rumours, but I don’t know if they were true, and anyway, it was all my dad. My asshole of a father once again fucking things up and running away from the blame. It wasn’t your parents fault,” Jensen repeats, talking but not really aware of it. “And they’re not you, Misha, they aren’t you and my dad is a dick, and I’m so sorry, man, I’m so, so sorry.”
“Hey,” Misha says softly, and just like that he’s reaching out, putting his hands on Jensen’s shoulders to steady him as the anger, the built-up, justified, terrifying anger simply evaporates inside him like a mist of rain on hot metal. “Hey, it’s okay.”
“It’s not okay,” Jensen says, shrugging as if to dislodge Misha’s hands. “What he accused you of, what I accused you of. Fuck, Misha. I know you can’t ever forgive someone something like that, I know -”
Misha cuts him off, words coming of their own accord. “I do.”
It surprises him about as much as it seems to surprise Jensen, going by the sharp intake of his breath.
“What?” Jensen sounds hesitant, as if waiting for Misha to pull the rug out from under him. It should make Misha feel vindicated, but instead it makes him sad.
“I forgive you,” he repeats, and it feels so undeniably right that suddenly he can breathe properly again, the pain and weight lifting as if it were never there.
Jensen has been struck dumb, apparently.
“Hey, I may not forgive your dad anytime soon, or like, ever,” Misha attempts humour, hears it fall flat, but carries on. “But you aren't your father, Jensen. You never would have said those things, never would have come back to find me if you were.”
“I’m so sorry, Misha. I know better than to listen to his bullshit. I don’t know what really happened, but I’m sure we can find out if we just -”
Misha steps in and kisses Jensen; it seems the only way to get him to shut up. He finds his mouth instantly, despite the darkness. He knows Jensen and knows how to do this like he knows his own name. Jensen’s lips are salty with tears they’ll both pretend were never there, but his mouth is warm and familiar and, when Jensen kisses back, tongue slipping in tentatively, Misha knows everything is going to be alright.
Jensen must feel it too, because suddenly he’s in Misha’s arms, pushing him backwards with his weight, and they tangle as they cross the room, a weird blind tango until Misha’s calves hit the back of Alona’s bed and they topple down onto it.
“Fuck,” Jensen breathes, and this time it’s not timid or scared. This time it’s awed. “Misha.”
“I damn well hope so.” Misha grins and pulls Jensen’s mouth back to his.
Jensen presses against him and Misha hooks a leg over him to keep him close, the action bringing Jensen’s pelvis flush against his, aligning their growing erections through denim and fleece. Misha moans, fingers gripping and flexing against the back of Jensen’s t-shirt. It isn’t enough, it won’t ever be enough. Not after the last two days.
“Skin,” Misha murmurs as Jensen breaks for air, starts to bite along Misha’s stubbled jaw. “We need more skin, Jen.”
“Yes.” Jensen laughs euphorically against Misha’s throat before levering himself up. He’s pulling off his shirt and unbuttoning jeans, and Misha can only watch in amazement as the paleness of Jensen’s skin is revealed, glowing slightly in the moonlight that comes through the window.
“You too,” Jensen says and Misha can just make out the raised eyebrow as Jensen kneels above him. Jensen goes to help him with his clothes and then stops, frowning. “Dude. What the fuck are you wearing?”
If it were light, Misha might be embarrassed to be caught out by the flush suffusing his cheeks. “Well, it was either this or Alona’s school uniform.”
“You’re wearing Jared’s clothes?” Jensen asks, voice rising at the end. “Man, that is so wrong.”
“Well get them the fuck off me, loser,” Misha grouses.
Jensen laughs, throaty and aroused. “Don’t have to tell me twice.”
Misha’s about to retort that apparently he does have to, but Jensen is sliding the sweat pants down his legs, and cold air hits his skin like a physical slap. Then Jensen’s mouth is on him, kissing up his inner thighs and into the soft hair at the base of his cock. Misha only has seconds to bunch the sheets beneath him into his hands before Jensen's mouth, hot as a furnace, descends on his cock, and Misha’s arching into it, hips threatening to jump off the mattress.
“Jesus,” Misha hisses as Jensen’s hands find his hips, spread and hold him flat. Jensen just hums in acknowledgment, the reverberation travelling down Misha’s dick and straight to his spine.
Misha’s eyes screw shut tightly as Jensen sucks, laves his tongue against his cock and mouths at him with the pursed circle of his lips. It’s too much, way too fucking much and Misha’s dying a tortuous amazing death as the tension ratchets up his spine. He’s about to push Jensen away, stop him before this is over about an hour sooner than he wants it to be, when Jensen pulls off him, string of saliva glistening in the moonlight like an obscene tether that Jensen breaks with the back of a hand across his mouth.
“I want you to fuck me,” Jensen says, voice deep and full of emotion.
Misha moves to sit up, the length of Jared’s t-shirt falling to tent over his cock. Jensen can’t possibly mean what Misha thinks he means. They’ve fooled around a lot, but most of the time they bring each other off by hand or mouth, or simply by rutting against each other until it becomes too much. While they’ve maybe explored here and there with caresses and touches, it’s never gone further.
“You mean...?” Misha asks, voice carefully neutral in case he’s reading the situation wrong.
Jensen pulls at Jared’s t-shirt, lifts it up and over Misha’s head and flings it aside before he presses Misha back down into the sheets, covers him with his body. Jensen kisses him again, soft and less urgently than a second ago. Misha stares up at him as Jensen pulls back.
“Yeah,” Jensen whispers. “Please?”
Misha groans. “Fuck, Jen. Are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” Jensen affirms, eyes glittering down at Misha.
The worry must be playing on Misha’s face, because Jensen smiles softly. “This isn’t some weird form of penance, Misha, I swear.”
“Thank God.” Misha blasphemes without any sense of irony and pulls Jensen back down, recapturing his mouth. Jensen’s body covers him, a warm slide of muscle and skin melding into Misha’s body. Their cocks slip together as Jensen moves, their gasps loud in the quiet of the room. Misha wants more, wants to take Jensen apart piece by piece and make him safe again, remove any doubt, any lingering hurt.
Jensen starts biting at the bared skin of Misha’s neck, sharp pin-pricks that ride the line between pleasure and pain, thrilling electricity down Misha’s veins. It takes every ounce of self-control to not give in, to remember there are things they need to sort out.
“Wait, Jen,” Misha gasps as Jensen’s hand slides downwards, caressing the side of his ribs, his hip. “We need stuff, if we want to...”
Jensen rises off him slightly, elbows to either side of Misha’s head. “Got it covered,” Jensen says before mouthing across Misha’s cheekbone. It tickles and Misha laughs.
“What, you have lube in your pocket?” he teases.
Jensen pulls back fully this time, his smile bright even in the dark. “No, but I know where Jared keeps his.”
“Okay, gross,” Misha replies.
Jensen laughs. “It was a dare, he had to admit to liking Alona’s friend Jess or go into the nearest 7-11 and buy an armful of lube. Guess which option he chose.”
“Of course he did,” Misha says.
“Well, anyway, I know where he keeps the twenty-five bottles he had to buy,” Jensen finishes. “Wait here.”
And with that, Jensen is up and off, Misha left with nothing but cold air hitting his overheated skin. A series of bumps and what Misha is pretty sure is muffled profanity comes back to him before Jensen is back, triumphant.
“I hope you’re not about to tell me we’re borrowing his condoms too,” Misha remarks as Jensen settles back next to him. “Because if you thought his clothes were too big...”
This time Jensen is the one grossed out, if the groan he makes into Misha’s shoulder is anything to go by. “Oh my god, can we stop talking about Jared now?”
Misha considers that a victory. “Yes, gladly. But do you have protection, Jen?”
Misha’s eyes have adjusted enough that he can make out Jensen rolling his eyes just fine this time.
“Of course, ever since we, well, you know. I’ve been thinking about...well, you know,” Jensen says, sounding so bashful that Misha loves him a thousandfold more.
“Good,” Misha says, and with a quick maneuver he isn’t sure he’ll pull off, but does, he flips Jensen onto his back.
He can practically feel the nervous energy coming off Jensen, so he does nothing but kiss him. He pours into it everything that he’s felt over the last months, the joy, the relief, the safety, the pain and regret, and now the undying need that he feels for the boy beneath him. Jensen matches him every step, pulling Misha down into him and arms tightening around his back, keeping Misha close.
The kiss quickly intensifies, and Misha can feel Jensen pressing up into him to increase friction, Jensen’s erection slip-sliding against Misha’s stomach in a cool trail of pre-come. Which Misha is fine with; the feeling is mutual, and he can’t help but grind back down into Jensen, pulling out groans and sighs as the intensity heats up.
“Mish,” Jensen whispers, full of want. “In my wallet.”
Misha understands, and it takes only a wayward flinging of his arm before he finds Jensen’s pants on the floor, extracts the leather wallet and slips the foil packet out of the sleeve. He waits to open it, though, reaches instead for the bottle of lubrication Jensen put on Alona’s nightstand. The liquid is cold and slick, sliding down Misha’s fingers and across his wrist. Yeah, this is gonna be messy.
He leans back down, recapturing Jensen’s mouth and sucking on his bottom lip, teasing with nips and slides of his tongue as he gently parts Jensen’s legs with his hands.
Jensen yelps. “Fuck, that’s cold.”
“Shhh,” Misha chuckles. “Not for long.” He trails the wet of his fingers up Jensen’s inner thigh and then threads them through the coarse hair at the bottom of Jensen’s cock, smearing the mess. Jensen fidgets and Misha pacifies him, wrapping his fingers around Jensen’s erection and stroking, the lube heating with the friction and Jensen gasping at the touch.
When he’s satisfied Jensen isn’t going to be complaining again anytime soon, he applies more of the liquid and trails his fingers downwards, over the gentle give of Jensen’s balls, the soft skin behind them. He watches Jensen’s face as he does it, the open trust shining at him. His heart feels like it’s growing ten sizes bigger, and Misha leans back, licking across Jensen’s mouth. With his fingers he teases at Jensen, gets him used to the feel of light touches like they’ve done before, until Jensen is whining at him and Misha laughs into his mouth, pressing his finger in slowly and sure.
They continue like that, a slow quiet bubble of only them, experimenting and learning. The noises Jensen makes are like nothing Misha’s heard before, and he has to concentrate not to come from that alone.
“More,” Jensen whispers into the darkness, and Misha knows he’s ready, knows himself that he needs to be in Jensen right now, or it will all be over.
He moves up to his knees, situates himself between the V of Jensen’s splayed legs, smooths his hands down over Jensen’s thighs.
“Okay?” he asks one more time. Just to be sure.
“Misha, I swear to god, if you don’t fuck me right now...” Jensen growls, and the vibrato in his voice makes Misha’s cock jerk almost painfully where it rests against his stomach. He reaches for the discarded condom packet and tears it open, rolls it on with patience he didn’t know he had.
And then he’s there, Jensen’s knees threaded over his forearms and his cock pressing in. Jensen hisses at the feel of Misha breaching him, and Misha holds still until he feels Jensen push toward him.
“Oh my god,” Jensen whispers, so full of emotion that Misha wants to look away.
“Just wait,” Misha whispers back and starts to move, sliding slow and sure into him.
It feels like hours, but is only seconds before Misha adjusts the angle, leaning awkwardly down to be closer to Jensen. It feels amazing and he can’t believe it’s come to this, of all the things he thought when he woke up this morning, to have Jensen, to truly have him in every way possible right now, is so far removed from that reality he can hardly parse it.
Misha groans as he feels Jensen tight around him. It’s too much, and he isn’t going to last, not this time. Just the thought that there will be a next time makes him impossibly harder.
Jensen wraps his legs around Misha’s lower back, pulling him closer, and Misha obliges, pushing in harder and quicker, letting the sweat of their skin slick the skin between. The angle changes as Misha moves and Jensen cries out, swearing loudly. Misha is about to lose it. He levers himself back up onto one arm and uses his free hand to wrap around Jensen’s cock, pulling countertime to the thrusts of his pelvis.
Jensen seizes up as if electrified, and with a shout he’s coming, cock steely hard in Misha’s grip and come spurting onto his stomach in white ropes. Misha shudders, riding the wave with Jensen before he, too, comes, long and hard and buried deep inside of Jensen.
They lay there, nothing but harsh breathing and pounding heartbeats for a long moment before Misha pulls out. He’s careful and slow, removes the condom and ties it off before discarding it.
And then he’s straight back in Jensen’s arms, like he never left. Jensen pulls him in tight, despite the sticky mess, and they lie there, saying nothing, feeling everything.
* * *
When Misha wakes, they’re tangled together in a heap of limbs, unconsciously knotting themselves together in an effort not to fall off the bed during the night. Misha blinks the sleep from eyes and concentrates to make sure his eyelids aren’t going to slide shut and pull him back to sleep. If he were asleep, he wouldn’t be able to see Jensen’s dazzling smile, and that would be a crime. He’s pretty sure he’s grinning like a loon himself.
“Hey,” Jensen says, voice still raspy from the night before.
“Hey, yourself,” Misha replies.
“So that was...” Jensen starts.
Misha laughs softly. “Yes.”
“We need to do that again,” Jensen says seriously, but the spark of want in his eyes betrays his cool demeanour.
“How about now?” Misha asks, fairly reasonably, he thinks. He dips his head and sucks a bruise onto Jensen’s collarbone.
Jensen groans and wiggles underneath him in a way Misha is definitely amenable to.
“As much as I’d love to, and seriously Misha, I want to. I kinda have to go and stop Sam.”
Misha pulls back from Jensen’s throat and raises an eyebrow quizzically. “Stop Sam what?”
Jensen blushes and Misha wants nothing more than to nuzzle at it, to lick it and see if it turns even pinker. “Um, I might maybe have enlisted her in the search for you?”
Misha tenses immediately at the implications, but Jensen soothes him immediately, a hand sliding down Misha’s arm. “No, don’t worry. She’s not going to say anything... At least, she promised she’d wait until I confirmed you were gone.”
“And you believed her?” Misha asks, genuinely asking despite the worry that skitters through him and urges him to snap.
Jensen nods. “Yeah, man. I think it went against every bone in her body, but she’s known me since I was a kid. And she knows you. She’s giving us the benefit of the doubt.”
Misha relaxes slightly. “Hmmm. You better go pacify her before that benefit goes away, then. It’d suck to make up, only to get thrown out of school for running away.”
Jensen nods solemnly. “Yes, yes it would.”
Jensen kisses him chastely before extricating his arms and legs and standing, stretching unashamedly. Misha likes that about Jensen, that despite his hardwired acceptable behaviour and uptight monied decency, when he’s alone with Misha, especially post sex, he’s unabashed about nakedness. Misha likes to think of it as a show of trust. It’s one he appreciates.
Jensen starts pulling on underwear and pants, reaches for his shirt but then stops, turns to Misha as if uncertain. “You’ll be back... later?”
Misha nods, warmth spreading from his stomach and through his limbs. “Yeah, I’ll be there.”
* * *
The bad part about surreptitiously breaking into someone’s house and not wanting them to find out is that you have to leave it in the same way you found it. Which means Misha spends the next two hours washing Alona’s sheets and Jared’s clothes before running them through the dryer.
While he waits for them to be done, he gets a chance to reflect, finally alone in his own thoughts after the tumultuous night before.
He has to admit it scares him, how easily he let Jensen back in. It wasn’t the wrong decision, he’s sure of it, but the fact remains that he’d been ready to leave his entire life to get away from the pain Jensen caused him. To handwave that away for a few tears hides something so monumental that Misha can’t even focus on it without his brain hurting. He’s pretty sure it’s way too terrifying to poke at, and so he doesn’t, tucks it away inside himself to be examined later, when they’re both more sure. Both together.
If they are, that is. Because, of course, he could still run. Leave that worrying tidbit of information and flee to safer ground. But the way Jensen had looked at him and asked if he’d be back tugs in his chest and Misha knows that he could never. Would never.
Still, it’s problematic; he’d always planned to get out of Ellis as soon as his birthday came around, not more than a month away. Now, though, he doesn’t know. As terrifying as the thought is, as constricting as the idea feels, he thinks he maybe wants to stay. He wants to be with Jensen. The past few days have done nothing to diminish that; if anything, they’ve made the reaction stronger.
In fact, when he’s really honest about it, he wants more than to stay until the end of the year. He wants to stay with Jensen forever. It’s stupid and makes him feel like a lovesick teen, fawning over a pin-up like those on Alona’s walls. He’s been around too long to think life will turn out that way, happily ever after, one true love, et cetera.
And yet... for Jensen, he wants it to.
He hasn’t completely lost his mind, he reasons. It’s not like he’s going to sacrifice his own future to follow Jensen around in his. But a future is something Misha has never had before, and suddenly he finds himself fiercely protective of it. Wanting to do what’s smart, rather than what’s safe. And he wants to do all that with Jensen by his side.
If Jensen goes to college, and Jensen has always said he would, wanting to get away from his dad and be independent from him in money more than just living arrangements, then Misha wants to do it too. It’s such a simple, startlingly easy decision that Misha laughs out loud in the laundry room, the sound echoing off the tiles over the thrum of the dryer. He probably startles Cyril.
They’ve had so much baggage, him and Jensen. Crap that has rained down on them from parents neither of them really know. They’ve been hurt, abandoned, used, and exploited. Probably, in their own ways, none of their parents are even bad people. Just selfish and caught up in their own lives.
Hell, maybe the way Misha feels about Jensen and, he’s pretty sure, the way Jensen feels about him, is just as batshit crazy selfish. Will lead them down roads like the ones their parents travelled. Nothing but time, and probably intense therapy, will tell if that’s true. In the meantime, it’s time to do things on their own.
He pulls the sheets out of the dryer and remakes Alona’s bed, places Jared’s clothes back in his closet. Lets himself out and heads back into the main grounds.
He trudges back over the icy, crystalline grass towards the imposing stone buildings of Ellis and the knowledge and history contained within them. Even the pillars look stately rather than pretentious today, reflecting white from the pockets of melting snow on the ground. There are no leaves on the oaks, just icy water dripping off their branches and through the Spanish moss like water down an old man’s beard.
It’s still a prison, in its own way. Walls defined to keep people in and fill them up. It’s not freedom by a long shot, but somewhere in there is Jensen, and somehow that is home.
Misha’s never been happier to have one.
The cold snap that swept through with winter vacation eases as the other kids return, the halls filling with familiar faces and voices and endless stories of time spent away from Ellis. Jensen doesn't envy them. This time he has stories of his own, and for once they're about more than Christmas at the Padalecki house or New Year’s Eve at the bar. Not that he'll ever tell anyone; he’s been at the center of the jet set soap opera for too long to invite more attention.
Since that night, he and Misha have been solid, as easy as breathing. Misha's still borderline insane and they still argue like their very lives depend on it sometimes, but it's good. Better than. Mostly it’s because Jensen refuses to recognize this for what it is—the calm before the storm.
Three days from now, Misha turns eighteen.
And it would be different, Jensen thinks, if he hadn’t almost lost Misha once. If he hadn’t sought and earned forgiveness for slights spawned in equal parts by his father’s supposed innocence and his own stupidity. To have the decision taken out of his hands completely seems unfair, but then, life rarely is. Were Misha a different kind of guy, and if Jensen knew how to swallow his pride, he'd ask Misha to stay.
But he won't.
He'd like to say it's because he's not selfish enough to try to impose his will on someone else, and that's part of it. If he's being honest, his reluctance probably has more to do with fear and the blissful, familiar state of denial he's trying so hard to hang on to. When he asks, Misha will answer, and it might not be the answer he wants. Whether or not things shake out in Jensen’s favor, Misha has a right to decide for himself, absent the guilt born of someone else's unhappiness. So no, Jensen won't ask.
Instead, he plays to his strengths. He plans a kickass birthday party and a more private, though no less kickass after-party, and pretends he doesn’t care.
He can do that. His entire life has prepared him to.
Renting out the bar on a Tuesday night is easier than he thought. Jensen's been a regular long enough that they all know him and trust him to abide by the rules. Though the night manager draws the line at booze, she's willing to comp them on soft drinks thanks to the ridiculous food order he placed. The band, on the other hand, proves a problem. A European mini-tour stands between Jensen and booking the guys that played that first night, the first time he and Misha sat next to each other without secretly wanting to strangle each other. In their place, he ends up with a punk cover band out of Mt. Pleasant that's happy to have the gig.
Between the prep and Misha, Jensen stays busy enough to avoid thinking about what the party means, right up to the moment there's nothing left to do. So it's not until he's smoothing the tablecloth down over the corner of the gift table that it hits him—tomorrow Misha could be gone. His departure isn't a certainty, of course. Not yet. As tied up as he's been, Jensen thinks he would have heard about bus tickets purchased or plans for hitch-hiking north. But then, he obviously hasn't been with Misha every second.
And even though it hurt too much, he should have been. Regret hits him like a freight train. Not only for the hours lost in the here and now, but for the ones before, the ones his father took from him. The last few days bother him more, because if he wasn’t so hell bent on pretending, he could have enjoyed weeks of making every moment count instead of saving it all for tonight. Hindsight. He’s so lost in a fog of pre-emptive grief that he doesn’t hear Alona until she’s almost on top of him.
"Damn, Jenny. When the hell did you learn to throw a party?"
Jensen takes a moment to soak it in before the room fills with cheers and shouts and the laughter of their classmates. He planned hundreds of events when he sat on the student council, but this one may well be his crowning achievement.
Alona beams at him, rosy-cheeked and radiant. He suspects she left the house in a different outfit, since the one she's wearing couldn't possibly be Mrs. Padalecki-approved. If Jensen weren't completely and irrevocably taken, he'd be happy to appreciate the effort. He is, though, and so he pastes on a smile for her, because conjuring a real one is more than he can handle right now.
"Too much?" he asks, already knowing the answer. Of course it is.
Alona slides in close. He can smell her perfume, something exotic she probably poached from her mother’s vanity, when she slips an arm around his waist to squeeze. "No such thing when the birthday boy has never had a party, hon. Trust me, he’ll love it."
"Thanks, squirt." A genuine smile tugs at the corners of his mouth for half a second before he feels it fade. Even if this party is a barn burner that people talk about for years, there's still no way to guarantee Misha will stay. Stupid to believe otherwise. Jensen scrubs a hand across his face and sighs.
He can feel her eyes on him, but doesn't dare meet them because she'd know and he's not in a place where he can talk about it.
"Everything, okay?" she asks, and all he can say is "Sure, yeah, I'm good," and try to ignore the look she’s giving him, like she’s about to call bullshit and beat the truth out of him.
Chris saves him the trouble of stammering through an excuse, his boots thumping against the floorboards like he's got some kind of point to prove. "Shit, son. Who the hell are you trying to impress?" Chris says and Jensen rounds on him, fuse burnt short.
"Sure as hell ain't you," Jensen barks and Chris waves it off, refusing to take the bait.
"Just mean that it looks like you went to a lot of trouble, man. I'm sure he'll appreciate the thought. Especially after... y'know."
Jensen squeezes his eyes shut at the casual reminder of their fight. It's still fresh enough that he feels guilty for the shit he put them both through, and he wonders how much of what he's done today is to make up for that, how much is to distract himself. Too much a mix of both, he thinks, to really suss it out. Alona's arm tightens for a second, like she understands more than she's letting on, and then she slides away, dealing Chris a playful punch in the arm.
"You're kind of a dick, you know?" she says. Chris laughs, then nods and makes a beeline for the platter of potato skins.
After that, people filter in pretty steadily. Some of them Jensen knows, some he doesn't. Alona invited a handful of girlfriends from school. Between them, Julie, and Sam, it's not a complete sausage fest but near enough to make him glad he went with the all-girl band instead of holding out for the dudes.
Misha, of course, arrives fashionably late, if gloriously unencumbered. Matt and Rob spill in behind him, which means they probably walked together. Jensen’s grateful they saved him the unfortunate awkwardness of trying to get Misha alone without making it seem like that’s what they’re doing. Even with the lights dimmed, Misha’s eyes shine, and it takes every last ounce of restraint Jensen can muster to hold his ground, to not grab Misha and steal him away to the barn before the party has even really begun. Because he is selfish, so fucking selfish. The fact that Misha looks like sex tonight doesn’t help matters.
“I don’t even know where to begin,” Misha says, and grins Jensen’s favorite nose-crinkling grin. “Jen…”
“It’s nothing,” he answers, thumbs tucked in his pockets so he doesn’t do something they’ll both regret in the morning. “Least I could do.”
“You didn’t have to, you know.” Misha leans close, so close Jensen can feel the puff of breath on his neck. “I would have been perfectly fine with a private party.”
In spite of himself and the completely shitty situation, Jensen smiles. “Now you tell me.” Misha shrugs like he really doesn’t care, but Jensen knows better. “Truth is, you live for this stuff. You like it when I make a fuss.” Jensen refuses to finish the thought out loud, but it comes through all the same. Misha loves to be loved, wants to be shown how much he means even if it terrifies them both, because he’s never had it before and needs it more desperately than Jensen does.
Misha squints at him, swaying impossibly closer to whisper, “Maybe,” in his ear, and Jensen forces himself to shift away. If he doesn’t, there’s no way Misha will get a chance to enjoy all this hard work.
Jensen’s voice doesn’t sound like his own when he croaks out, “Go on,” and, “Have fun,” even though the last thing he wants is Misha anywhere but at his side. It’s a necessity. “I’ll make the rounds and come find you.”
From his post by the door, Jensen watches Misha thread his way through the crowd, the way they smile and clap him on the shoulder and offer him awkward one-armed hugs, and his heart aches. Whether Misha knows it or not, they’ve accepted him into the fold with fondness.
Not for the first time, Jensen wonders if Misha would let him tag along. He’s asked the question a thousand times in the past week, has actually weighed the pros and cons with no clear solution in the offing. Is he willing to sacrifice his future if it means having Misha?
It’s the eleventh hour, and while the right answer, the true answer still evades him, with every minute that passes Jensen leans a little further towards yes.
Jared shows up three hours in, which Jensen wasn't expecting. They’ve said maybe six words to each other since Thanksgiving, and he hates it. He's tried, but he knows better than anyone what an immovable object Jared can be when he sets his mind to feel a certain way. Between their schedules and the holidays, it’s been a pain in the ass to find time to mend fences.
The music's too loud for real conversation. On any other day Jensen would weave his way outside, but tonight he’s playing the dutiful host, so he doesn't. The only reason he isn't with Misha now is because he's supposed to be circulating again, making sure everyone has what they need.
Jared leans in, though, familiar furnace-heat and sweat, and half shouts in his ear, "Sorry for being an asshole,” and Jensen shrugs, the anger and frustration so far gone for him that it’s become a nonissue. They're both at fault in some ways, and he doesn't want to make a big deal. If things go down like he expects them to, he's going to need all the friends that will have him. No need to alienate the best one he’s got. The best one he’s not also fucking, that is.
"Alona explained some things," Jared says. "I get it now. Sort of. More than I did, anyway.”
Jensen squints up at him, trying to decide how much he knows. Jay just smiles and claps him on the shoulder, says, "I'm happy for you, Jen. Can't say I saw it coming, but you deserve this more than anyone I know. Doesn’t mean I have to like him."
All Jensen can do in response to that is laugh and take a long pull off the bottle of water he's been nursing. Habit makes him scan the mob for Misha, but there are too many kids between them. Figures Jay would wish him well just as the whole thing unravels around him.
"Thanks, I think," Jensen says eventually. Whatever problems they've had over the years, however pigheaded Jay can be, he's trustworthy to a fault. "Don't think I’ll get to have it much longer, but thanks."
It's Jared's turn to narrow his eyes, but Jensen only shakes his head and slips away to search for Misha and their coats in no particular order. If this really is their last night, he's damn well going to make it count.
When Jensen finally tracks Misha down, he's tucked into a booth by the stage with Rob and Julie, drink in hand. The band is on a break, which everybody has moved outside to cool off. Thankfully, it's quiet enough that he should be able to cut Misha from the herd without shouting his way through. Chris apparently smuggled some whiskey in to mark the occasion, and Misha's beaming blearily, sweat glistening at his hairline and his arm slung around Julie's shoulders like he's hanging on for dear life. As long as the bar staff doesn't catch them with the liquor, Jensen can't see the harm in it, but he's getting ready to extricate Misha anyway when Alona catches him by the elbow.
"Can I talk to you for a second?" she says, her hand tangled up in his sleeve. Jensen grunts and lets her drag him into a patch of shadow a good six feet shy of where he wants to be.
Exasperated, he glances around the corner in time to catch Misha with his head thrown back in laughter. "What?" he says, and grunts, anxious to get on with the day seizing while he still can. They’ve been here long enough that no one will miss them when they leave, and there’s a barn out there stocked and waiting for them.
"I should be asking you,” she says.
"Asking me what?" Jensen breathes deep and takes another sip of water. He won't be rude if he can help it, but damn if the clock isn’t already mocking him with its tick-tick-tick towards midnight.
Alona plants her hands on her hips, a glint in her eye that makes him wonder if she's going to clock him one. "What's with you tonight?
"I don't know what you mean."
She does hit him then, once on the chest, not hard enough to hurt but enough that he stops craning around her and actually looks at her. "The Jensen I know is not a mopey bastard."
"I'm not being—"
"Yes, you are," she says, fond and frustrated. "Jesus, you should be dancing on the fucking bar or drinking tequila out of his navel. You look like someone put your lacrosse stick through a mulcher."
Jensen sneaks a peek around the corner again and sighs, pitches his voice low. "He's leaving, ’Lona. Probably for good."
"Are you tweaked?" she says, tone sharp and eyes wide.
"God, I wish." The collar of Misha’s jacket is turned up where Jensen has it draped in the crook of his elbow, and he rights it, fingers lingering a little too long. He’s turning into a sentimental asshat. Awesome.
"What on Earth made you think he's leaving?"
"He said he was," Jensen murmurs, and he can't resist reaching out to brush a wayward strand of Alona's hair back over her shoulder. "Actually, ‘said’ is too tame a word for it.”
"Why is it my lot in life to be surrounded by drama queens with dicks? I love you like a brother and most days I'd claim you. But today is not one of those days."
"The hell is that supposed to mean?"
An amp squeals and the band begins to tune back up, erratic bass line thrumming underneath the arrhythmic pluck of an electric guitar.
"It means you're an idiot. And that he's not going anywhere," she says, matter of fact. Jensen stares her down until she continues. "Dean Morgan set him up with a scholarship thingie.” She pulls a face and flutters her hands like it explains everything. It doesn’t. “It’s Misha. The details are a fuzzy. I do know he has to graduate to get it."
"Don't fuck with me. Not about this."
Alona rolls her eyes and mutters, “Drama queen,” under her breath again. As long as she's being honest about Misha, she can call him whatever the hell she wants. She draws a cross over her heart and gives him the three-fingered Girl Scout salute before she says, solemnly, "I promise that I talked to Misha this afternoon and that, to my knowledge, he plans to stay through the end of the year."
And just like that, a weight is lifted. The bands wound tight around his chest ease, and he can breathe again, finally. Joy makes him a little loopy and before Jensen knows what he's doing, his hands are wrapped around Alona's shoulders to pull her close so he can plant a messy kiss on her forehead. She squeaks and shoves at him, grinning as fiercely as he must be grinning at her. "Go get him," she says. "And next time, ask before you go all emo, okay?"
"Thank you," he says. "You don't know..."
Alona's eyes slide past him, over his shoulder, and Jensen turns to follow the line of her gaze. When it lands, it's Matt, Rob's odd-couple roommate on the other end. He’s one of the few football players other than Jared that Jensen can actually see himself spending time with voluntarily. When Matt sees Alona, he waves and flashes his dimples. Alona flushes. "I have an idea," she says, already angling herself for an escape. "Now, why in the name of all that's holy are you still standing here?"
She disappears without further comment, swallowed by the crowd as soon as she leaves the little bubble of personal space they built between them. Jensen spies a flash of long blond hair in Matt's general vicinity, and trusts that Alona is in good hands at least.
By now the band's humming into a punked-up cover of the Replacements’ "I Will Dare," the slim brunette on lead picking up the rollicking main line with the expertise of someone intimately acquainted with the song. Jensen lets it drive him. The band, the bar, everything blurs down and goes dark, and there's just Misha, his skin slick with sweat and condensation when Jensen grabs his hand to drag him out.
Misha laughs, stumbling along behind him without protest, and when they push through the outer doors the room erupts, the sound of it deafening if he cared to stay and listen. He should be worried, they should both be worried about who might see. But there's a curl of hair plastered to Misha’s forehead and Jensen aches to push it back, to touch, to reassure himself that he really is there.
"Hey, you," Misha says once the door swings closed on their heels. His voice is rough with the grate of raucous laughter and long hours spent trying to talk over the music. "To what do I owe the manhandling?"
Something in the question strikes a chord, an echo of a place they've already been, and Jensen wonders if he just grabbed for what he didn't really know he wanted back then, if things would have turned out differently. He thinks about answering, really thinks, because there are so many things he could say.
He's just no good at saying them.
Instead, he cages Misha against the side of the building and kisses him, pushing all the anxiety, all the desire, all the relief across on his tongue. Misha's breath hitches, hands fisting against his back then flaring wide and Jensen feels him sway into it, his boots scuffing against the uneven pavement. That reminder of where they are should break the spell, should be reason to ease off. But he doesn't care. Misha makes him reckless in all the ways he wishes he could be, hungry in all the others. So Jensen grabs at him, fingers fitted to the damp curve of jaw, thumbs tracing the lines of his cheekbones even though he has no idea what he wants beyond the want. Distantly he hears Misha’s coat slither free and catch gravel. Not that it matters. Misha's lips still part sweetly when Jensen edges closer, knee between knees, Misha's hands hot and equally hungry when they slip the tail of his shirt to get at skin.
What eventually does it is the scrape of nails, blunt but insistent, climbing the ladder of his spine. He feels each crescent like a brand in spite of the chill, Misha's urgency catching and terrifying and intoxicating all at once. Jensen forces himself back, kisses the corner of Misha's mouth in apology and rests his forehead against that stupid curl that started all this before he was really ready. He has plans, and they don't involve green dumpsters filled with beer bottles or getting caught with his pants around his ankles by one of their less discreet classmates or, God forbid, Sam.
"Hey," Jensen says, finally, though it’s madness to try to carry on a conversation with all that heady need fizzing his veins to soda pop. He smiles because he feels like a fucking lovesick idiot, because Misha's not leaving, but mostly it's because he's happy.
"Fuck." Misha sighs and squirms against him, pawing at his back. "Where did that come from?"
Jensen licks his lips, itching to lean back in and begin again. The thump of his heart thrums in his ears, singing to him to do exactly that, but he can’t. Won’t, because his plan dictates that they move, and if he kisses Misha again right now, there’s no telling what might happen. Words fail—too small or too big or too embarrassing to put out in the air between them, regardless of the truths they both silently acknowledge. Instead he shuffles back a step, bending down to recover Misha’s jacket and shove it at him. Misha just looks at him for a second, puzzled and hazy, shrugging into his coat on autopilot.
Jensen doesn’t answer the unasked question, but threads his fingers through Misha’s with a mumbled “Let’s go,” and gets them moving in the right direction.
They stick close to the road but avoid the shoulder, ducking instead between the crackling remnants of wildflowers and weeds that adorn the banks. From bar to barn, half an hour passes, and while Misha questions him more than once about their destination, he seems willing, even eager, to follow Jensen without answers. That someone could trust him so much renders Jensen mute, completely tongue tied. Someday he’ll find a way to pull the knots free. He’s just glad to have the chance.
When Jensen planned this, it was something born of desperation, one last bid to keep Misha in the only way he could bear to ask. And as much as he hated the necessity of it all, he dreaded this march towards the end the most, insult piled upon injury. Reality tastes sweeter, lighter, because Misha’s rambling along beside him, crashing through the underbrush and grinning like the buzzing lunatic he is. A lump lodges in Jensen’s throat, maybe to stay, and when they stomp through the thorny bushes at the edge of the property, he takes Misha’s hand again, not because he’s afraid Misha won’t follow but because he wants to. And if he can’t nut up and say what needs saying, at least he can show it.
The moon hangs low, almost daylight bright, and Jensen’s glad for it because maybe it means he’ll be able to see. Wood crackles and hinges creak when he hauls open the door to the old barn, the musty scent of disuse overlaid with his more recent comings and goings. This, more than anything he did today, was a pain in the ass to execute. He pilfered surplus stock from bedding storage and hauled an old fifty-gallon drum from the stables on his back, taking time to liberate a bale of sweet golden hay from the same. Just this morning, he’d put the final touches in place: spread the hay and blankets, pulled the pillows from their protective plastic sheeting and stuffed them into cases, and loaded the drum with enough newspaper and wood to keep them warm for a lot longer than they’d need. Then there’d been the incidentals—fruit and bottled water, Misha’s favorite brand of beer, a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, and the lube he liberated from Jared’s stash over New Year’s.
He bolts the door behind them, and though it’s nothing fancy, the board he slides home to hold the doors shut feels solid. Jensen leans against it, borrowing some strength and centering himself for what’s to come while Misha picks his way further in. Moonlight cuts between the slats, laying silver shafts of light in the rafters. Bright as it is, the moon can only provide so much illumination. They’ve been here before, sure, but there’s no way Misha could know he carried everything potentially life threatening up into the hayloft, so his steps are careful, measured. Jensen shuffles his way toward the barrel and strikes a match to set its contents alight. The tinder goes up fast, twisted newspaper and twigs flaring and catching, coaxing flame to kiss the larger branches and logs, embers and ash swirling lazily. Wind whistles through the cracks, bringing a fresh burst of chilled air that Jensen feels now that they’re not in motion, and he hears Misha scuffing through the dirt behind him towards the glow of the fire.
The earlier urgency has guttered, the flash of it banking to smoldering coals, and while it doesn’t mean he wants any less, it makes it easier to be patient, to take his time, because he has the time to take.
“So, is this where you axe-murder me and feed my liver to the gulls?” Misha says, and Jensen breathes to steady himself and recommit to his purpose when Misha’s lips brush the side of his neck. “Or is the plan just to freeze to death?”
He knows what Misha’s doing, has done it himself a hundred times, but that’s not what tonight is about.
Jensen turns, and it means losing the bony hook of Misha’s chin over his shoulder, the heat of his cheek pressed close. Somehow he doesn’t mind, because Misha is glorious like this—wide eyes and wild hair and wearing a smirk only Jensen can tell is uncertain, one that says he understands the what but not the why. Jensen strips out of his coat, tossing it in the general direction of the corner he cleared, then moves to help Misha do the same. Each button feels like a victory, and when Misha slips free of the sleeves, Jensen allows himself a smile.
“You were leaving,” he says, by way of explanation. “I couldn’t let that happen.”
Misha laughs, his nose crinkling and breath fogging out on a cloud. “Because that sounds less like a serial killer.”
Jensen shakes his head and sighs. He really is no good at this, but he has to try. Especially now. The firelight won’t reach where Jensen needs it; he was too nervous about starting a real fire to put the barrel any closer to that much hay. He leans for the wall, grabs the flashlight he stowed there and flicks it on, shines the beam at his corner, the thick blankets and pillows, the long bench decorated with the other provisions before he turns it off again.
“It’s my Hail Mary, Mish,” he says, not daring to look Misha in the eye. His intentions were pure, even if the execution seems to be riding the line between stalker and romance novel heroine. “Why didn’t you tell me you’re staying?”
“I thought I did,” Misha whispers, too quiet for it to be anything other than truth.
It takes a second for Jensen’s eyes to adjust to the darkness again, but in the soft spark of firelight he thinks Misha looks guilty, and that’s not what this is about either, so Jensen tugs him in by his belt loops and kisses him. His lips are cool and chapped and they still taste like whiskey. Jensen savors it, the slick, slow slide of tongue, commits it to memory along with all the other things, even though they’ll have another thousand times to do this. More, if he’s lucky. Misha’s hands flex and flit, trying to pull him under, trying to invoke the dizzying thing they conjured earlier, the speed and flayed-open need they’ve always lent to this.
Jensen resists, barely. It’s a heady thing to burn so brightly, and they do, but this is about reinforcing certainties, making Misha understand what this is to him without being required to say the words. Fingers still hooked through the loops on Misha’s pants, he backs away, dragging Misha with him. Lucky, he thinks, that he came here so often during the day; now he knows exactly when his ankles brush the makeshift bed he fashioned. He pulls up short, slips his fingers beneath the hem of Misha’s T-shirt, flattens his palms against the flutter of Misha’s stomach, and slides them up, catching as much skin as he can on the way.
Misha breathes his name, either benediction or warning, but raises his arms obediently when Jensen’s ready to get rid of the offending fabric. Jensen takes his time, careful to map every nook and cranny with fingertips and lips, kisses away the goose bumps raised on Misha's skin wherever he can, and he’s sucking a bruise into the bend of an elbow when Misha finally breaks, moaning like Jensen’s giving him head instead of just touching him, marking him, memorizing him.
“Death by blue balls, then?” Misha says, angling his hips against Jensen’s thigh. He’s hard, Jensen is too, but he’s not nearly ready for this to be over.
“Kiss my ass, Collins,” Jensen murmurs, nipping at the tender flesh beneath his lips. “We have all the time in the world now, and I intend to enjoy it.”
Misha’s laugh lacks substance to begin with, but goes thready when Jensen pops the button on his fly and pulls the zip. Misha ruts against the ghost of his hand, his own scrabbling for purchase on Jensen’s shoulder and in his hair. Jensen uses the distraction to his advantage, spinning them and shoving Misha at the blankets. He goes down without a fight, though he tries to use his weight to bring Jensen down with him, impatient as ever.
It would be easy to fall into, but Jensen doesn’t. Not yet. He’s nothing if not a slave to his plans, so instead of giving in, he tugs Misha out of his boots and socks and pants and looks his fill. He knows this body as he knows his own now, each subtle curve and plane beautiful as it ever was, but after all they’ve been through it’s hard to accept that he gets to have this, much less keep it.
“Planning to do something besides watch?” Misha says, and reaches down to cup himself through the thin material, pale fingers curving expertly around his length. “If not, I’m happy to take care of this myself.”
For a split second, the image flashes against the back of his eyelids—Misha on his knees, wanton and writhing, jacking himself just for Jensen—and his dick twitches in his jeans.
“Patience,” Jensen says eventually and bats Misha’s hand away, adding a quiet “Trust me” that stills the restless motion of his limbs. Misha’s skin feels cool to the touch, though, and not for the first time, Jensen curses the necessity that brought them here instead of to their room. Here at least they’re guaranteed privacy, if not complete comfort. Pity it also means he won’t be able to draw this out as much as he wants to.
The long, lean muscle of Misha’s thigh jumps when Jensen drags his knuckles against that sweet spot so near the cradle of his hips. He follows it with his fingertips, reverent, learning Misha’s flesh as if for the first time: The bend of his knee. The curve of his calf. The sensitive knob of his ankle. Above him, the steady pull of Misha’s breath has stuttered, his lungs expanding and contracting in a way that puts those delicious spurs of hipbone on display.
He’s shaking himself now, aching his way through the act of holding back. The kiss he presses to Misha’s shin makes the other boy gasp, his hand flailing out to try and catch skin, so Jensen does it again, littering those long legs with sweet nips and bruises until Misha hisses, “Fuck,” through his teeth, followed quickly by, “Jensen.”
Close enough to what he wants, he thinks, and the throb of his own cock and the push of pre-come have officially become uncomfortable. As good as the idea may have seemed at the time, he needs to get this show on the fucking road.
He’s careful with Misha’s boxers, pulling the band away and over the jut of his erection. It’s still too dark for Jensen’s taste because he can’t really see, the shadows too long and the fire too far away to do more than lick at Misha’s skin like a wicked promise. Misha lifts his hips, the graceful bow of his back an invitation, and then the boxers join the rest of Misha’s clothes in the corner.
Jensen mouths at him, teeth light and glancing, taking special care with the soft crease where thigh meets torso. He’s always loved it, the scent of Misha stronger there than anywhere else, his sweat and arousal mixed with the sweetness of the hay. And Jensen takes his fill, at least until Misha bucks, his hands slapping against the expanse of Jensen’s back, tangling in the cotton and tugging with a furious kind of purpose.
“You’re overdressed,” Misha says, giving the shirt another yank, and Jensen relents, rocking back to pull it off over his head. When he tries to shuck his jeans, Misha’s heel is wedged firmly behind his knee, presumably to keep him from wandering away.
“Gonna have to let go if you want me to fix it, Mish,” he whispers. “Just for a second.” As soon as the last word leaves his lips, the pressure’s gone and he makes quick work of the rest of his clothes.
He strokes himself because he can’t help it anymore, one long pull he feels in his gut and his throat and the soles of his feet. The path of least resistance would be to kneel down between Misha’s thighs and let the fire take him, but he’s stubborn, so Jensen stretches out beside him instead, yanking the extra bundle of blankets around them to ward off the cold.
It doesn’t take long to warm up, cocooned together beneath fleece and down with their own body heat, but Jensen doesn’t wait for the temperature to rise. He’s too focused, too intent, and when he reaches for Misha, Jensen finds him already in motion, turning towards him in a tangle of legs and sweet bare skin.
He'll never get over this. Or, at least, he hopes he won't. Every time they come together feels like the first time, save the fact that he's gotten better at knowing the steps. Now, though, he's without a pattern to follow, because he wants so many things at once he might fucking explode.
He settles for burying his hands in Misha's hair and pulling him in, rocking his hips against Misha's thigh and swallowing the soft grunt he earns in response. He licks at the seam of Misha’s lips, needing to taste, wanting to swallow Misha whole. Misha’s more than happy to comply, his jaw hinging and tongue lapping lazily at the roof of Jensen’s mouth, like he finally gets the point of all this. His hands are everywhere, but not to push, not to urge them faster or wrest control, like Misha wants to make the most of the time they have too, even though he knew they had it all along. When they eventually land and stay, they’re not cold anymore, but Jensen still shivers when Misha’s fingers dig in, because that spot, the place where his thigh ends and ass begins, has always been sensitive.
Misha breaks away, gasping, head tilted back like he’s drowning, and Jensen presses his smile into Misha’s neck so he doesn’t have to own up to it.
“Fuck, Jensen,” Misha says after a beat, fingers flexing. “Your ass is a fucking peach. A naughty, delicious fucking peach.”
Jensen chuckles, low, feels it vibrate back against his lips from Misha’s skin. “You’re so drunk,” he says, and tongues that tendon he loves so much just to feel the scrape of stubble. “I shouldn’t take advantage of you in such a state.”
He’s kidding, of course. If ever he had anyone’s consent to take advantage, he has Misha’s. And there’s something about that, about knowing that whatever he does, whatever he wants to do, even if it’s out there, he’s safe. Misha will be honest with him, will still be there no matter what, because Misha wants him. Not the squeaky-clean image he projects for his father and the teachers at school or the rebel he tries to be, but the truth of him. The real truth. Jensen buries his face in the curve of Misha’s shoulder and lets that knowledge simply sink in, right down to his bones.
Misha brings him back, inevitably, bucking against him in one long, slow slither.
“Please,” he says. “Take advantage. Or I will.”
Jensen sinks his teeth in, mindful of where Misha’ collar falls even now, because he wants to mark him but has no interest in answering uncomfortable questions. Misha doesn’t disappoint: his back arches and a sound rattles up his throat that Jensen couldn’t put a name to if he wanted to. It winds around his spine and goes straight to his cock, so he gives in to it, finally. Maneuvering takes longer than he’d like. The blankets aren’t sheets, unfortunately, so there’s more friction when he slides and slots himself into place, chest to chest, stomach to stomach, dick to dick. He grabs at Misha’s leg, catching him by the knee, shifting it up and over until his heel taps out their rhythm on the back of Jensen’s thigh. It gets Jensen where he wants, closer, tighter, so they’re riding flush and he rolls his hips into the space between, slick now with sweat and pre-come.
And fuck, but Misha undoes him. His thigh twitches twice before he gets leverage. Jensen hisses when he does, stroking the length of Misha’s flank and wrapping him up. He kisses because he can, because he has to. There’s no skill to it, but Misha doesn’t seem to mind. Even buzzing hard, he’s holding his own, and Jensen moans outright when Misha catches his lower lip with teeth and sucks, fumbling and clutching at Misha like he’s the only thing keeping him grounded. He may well be, but even that’s okay because Jensen’s suddenly on even footing again; he knows what he wants and how to get there.
It’s easy as breathing to find his way, the crease of Misha’s ass just beyond his fingertips, so he slides them closer, nudging, massaging but not breaching, and Misha groans, a down-deep primal kind of sound that makes Jensen’s heart thump hard in his chest. They’ve done this before, but not often. With school back in session there are too many ears, and without locks to spare them the embarrassment of interlopers, they still end up with hasty hand jobs most of the time.
Out here, there’s no one to hear if he screams.
Decided, he turns away and reaches for the lube he knows is there. There’s such a thing as too much, he knows that, but he wants this to be good, so fucking good that he errs slightly on the side of safer than sorry. Jensen’s hands are shaking again, but Misha opens to him when he presses in, his breathing ragged and neck bared as he grinds back against the intrusion.
“C’mon,” Misha says, even though it’s really too soon, too tight for more. Jensen knows better than to ask, though, and he wants this, wants to sink into Misha so much it suddenly doesn’t matter. He can feel the stretch, everything snug and hot and perfect when he sinks three fingers home to the knuckle and Misha jerks like a livewire.
“Jesus,” he says. “Jesus, fuck, Misha,” babbling because he doesn’t know what else to do with his mouth and Misha’s squirming against his fingers, panting like there’s not enough air in the world. And damn if he doesn’t need to be there right now, riding the same wave. So much for taking his time. “You good?” he asks, wishing and hoping and gritting his teeth against the possibility of a “no.”
But Misha’s breath catches in his throat, his voice pitched at that register that has a direct line to Jensen’s animal brain, so when he says, “Yeah,” and, “I’m good,” Jensen doesn’t even question him. He feels for the condom, Misha twitching and cursing when his fingers pull free. The foil he tears with his teeth, but he has to squeeze his eyes shut when he rolls the latex on and slicks up, because fuck if he isn’t already right on the edge. Misha lolls back against the blankets on his own, hands drawn to his cock like a magnet, and Jensen has to stop and breathe, breathe and try to hold on. Just for a little while longer.
When he lines up, Misha sighs. It hits Jensen right where he lives because it’s a “finally” sigh, a “no-place-I’d-rather-be” sigh that curls between them like a promise. And he can’t. His chest isn’t big enough to hold all this, it just isn’t, so he pushes, feels the give as Misha’s body opens to him willingly, and lets it out. Misha rears up, and it’s only the grip Jensen gets that saves them. Despite his deceivingly wiry frame, Misha’s solid, and it takes everything Jensen has to right him, to bend his own knees and lift until Misha settles, his arms slung around Jensen’s neck, his thighs spread around Jensen’s hips and every muscle in his body drawn taut with the effort. Misha's eyes are closed, though, a truly impressive furrow caught between his brows that eases when Jensen strokes the length of his spine. He can’t help but reach down to touch where they’re joined, to feel the impossible stretch of Misha’s body, and Misha curses, hips shifting to take more, head bowed until it rests against Jensen's shoulder.
Behind them, the fire blazes on, brighter now that the large logs have caught. As cool as the air must be, Jensen can't feel it with the barrel burning at his back and Misha, well, every-fucking-where. His chest aches and he doesn't realize until the sensation hits him that he's holding his breath. When he exhales, he lets go of all the tension he's been hanging on to, feels the shift of Misha's arms to accommodate the slightly different angle, the sweep of his lashes against over-sensitized skin.
There's a moment where he feels caught in a kind of stasis, like he could live an entire life between that breath and the next, and he cards his fingers through Misha's hair to push it back off his face, so close, so close to saying something really fucking stupid.
He doesn't doubt that he loves Misha. Jensen's known that for a lot longer than he's ready to admit. But love is a dangerous angel, both blessing and curse, and he's spent too much of his life getting stomped on for this to be easy. Maybe when they get away from Ellis. Maybe when they're no longer under anyone's thumb and they can live exactly as they want to. Maybe then he'll trust that won’t be taken away. Because even though he thinks and hopes and prays for “when,” in his heart of hearts he's still saying “if.”
Besides, he has no idea how Misha would react, and that's not something he’s willing to leave to chance. What he does know is Misha’s here, Misha’s staying and, for the moment at least, Misha’s his.
The thought stirs him to motion, thighs clenching when he curls his hips under, heels digging into his ass. Misha arches into it, babbling nonsense against Jensen’s skin with teeth and lips until he finally shifts back where Jensen can see him again, his features caught in firelight and shadow and a mind-altering kind of rapture that Jensen can’t comprehend. He grabs at Misha’s hips greedily, driving them both further and faster because it will never be enough.
His grip slips when Misha bends, and if they weren’t in such a precarious position, he’d reach down, wrap his hand around Misha’s dick and send them both over the edge. But they are, and Misha seems perfectly equipped to take care of it himself, his slender fingers tight and flying as he rocks himself into Jensen’s thrusts. And Jensen can’t help himself, has never been able to where Misha’s concerned, so he sucks a bruise into the curve of Misha’s collarbone and relishes the way his body goes tight, the way Misha’s skin sings against his own, the breathy little fuckfuckfucks Misha whispers until he feels the warm, slick splash of come against his stomach and Misha howls. The clench of Misha’s thighs around his hips, the claw of nails, is enough to send Jensen tumbling after him.
He does scream, he thinks. It’s hard to know for sure, because the next thing he hears is Misha’s laughter, a low, breathless chuckle that tickles his ear and raises the hair on the back of his neck. Somehow they’re horizontal again, Misha caught between him and the blankets, and his ass is fucking freezing.
“Mmmph,” he mumbles helpfully, and Misha wriggles beneath him in a way that makes his dick twitch.
“Mrrrphmph.” Apparently coherent speech is beyond him right now, and he thinks it’s completely unfair for Misha to sound so together.
His brain starts firing again, little pops and sparks of activity, even if his mouth won’t behave. Misha’s hands at his shoulders are message enough, and he reaches down to pull out, tying the condom off and tossing it at the deep shadows on the opposite side of the barn. The move takes him over onto his back, his arm flopping uselessly, knuckles catching dirt. Distantly he feels the brush of fabric, never more so than when it drags across his cock, the pull of it catching in the mess on his stomach and sticking.
“I guess I should consider that a compliment,” Misha says, his voice stripped down to that delicious rumble that makes Jensen want to do things even though he can’t remember what fucking day it is.
In a perfect world, he’d have all kinds of swagger-laden pillow talk at the ready, but all he gets out is, “Yeah?”
He feels the press of Misha’s nose against his cheek, the slick slide of tongue against his jaw, and manages to coordinate his limbs enough to bury his hand in Misha’s hair. The curve of his skull fits perfectly against Jensen’s palm, and he heaves a shaky breath to keep from suffocating. They lay in silence for a while, stuck together by sweat and skin, and Jensen doesn't mind at all. Words can be terrifying if you think about them long enough, and he's spent too much time lately inside his own head. Kissing quiets the noise, and there's no reason not to now.
They have time. The certainty of it makes him smile, fills him with an unbearable lightness, a rightness with the world he's only ever felt here with Misha, and he turns his head blindly, knowing Misha will be there to kiss him back.
This could have ended very differently. And even if it was mostly a fevered daydream spun from an absence of choice, Jensen believes he would have forsaken all his father’s trappings in the interest of happiness. Even if it meant he’d spend the rest of his life penniless, it would have been worth it. The absolute improbability of that future makes it safe to talk about now, just as the clarity of this moment makes him brave. More than anything, he wants Misha to know he was willing.
"I was going to follow you," he says, finally breaking away. His hand drifts on its own to trace the curve of Misha's bare shoulder, the bumps of his spine. "If you let me." Misha blinks but holds his tongue, and Jensen laughs. "Would have been hilarious."
When Misha finally finds his voice, he sounds guarded, defensive. “Because my life is a nonstop fucking laugh riot?”
Jensen can’t help but kiss him again, taste the salt and sweat of his temple. “Because as awesome as I am, I’ve never really had to fend for myself. Not out there. Not really.” He feels Misha relax, the tension in his shoulders melting away.
“I think you underestimate me.” Misha says, teeth finding skin. “I’d have you trussed up in a pink apron and baking cookies in no time.”
“That, I’d like to see.”
“Sometimes, Jen”—Misha grins, wicked and perfect, his eyes flashing— “you don’t think before you open your mouth.”
And he’s right. Misha makes Jensen stupid. Stupid and reckless and hopeful and all the things he’s always wanted for himself, and he can’t begin to defend his honor because he probably would sling on an apron under the right circumstances. He may never know the precise moment he lost his mind, but when doesn’t matter in the grand scheme. Fact is, he has nothing to say that won’t incriminate him further, so Jensen falls silent again, determined to enjoy this while he can. Before they get too fucking cold and have to tromp across campus and back to the dorms.
After a minute or an hour, Misha says, “So,” and Jensen recognizes the tone. It’s a tell, one of many that means Jensen’s about to be pushed outside that well-established comfort zone. “I was thinking about Columbia.”
“The country? You got a coke habit I don’t know about? That might explain some things.” Misha nips at his earlobe and Jensen forces his eyes open to turn and look. As close as he is, it’s impossible to read Misha’s expression, but he doesn’t really need to. Jensen knows what a leap of faith sounds like.
“Now you’re being purposefully obtuse.” Apparently deflecting wasn’t the right choice, because Misha starts to lean away, reaching for the bench or his beer or, hell, his clothes. Jensen doesn’t let him get very far, and Misha relents too easily to be serious about retreat.
“No,” Jensen says, shifting onto his side and tugging the blanket tighter around them. “I’m still trying to get my brain back online. There’s a difference.”
“It’s only the rest of your life, right?” Jensen says, and that lands. He feels the weight of it on his tongue, but it’s not a burden.
Columbia has been on his short list for a while now, for obvious reasons. Along with NYU and Cornell. Dad spent his undergrad at Notre Dame, Mom too, but there are different expectations Jensen wants to live up to these days. Misha levers himself onto an elbow and frowns down at him, lower lip sucked between his teeth like he can’t figure out if Jensen’s fucking with him. The smile that tugs at the corner of his mouth comes from a place Jensen never thought he’d see this morning. It makes him reach out, drag a thumb across the crest of Misha’s cheekbone.
“Don’t think so hard,” Jensen says. “Columbia works for me.”
Chapter 14: Epilogue
2 years later
Misha struggles to get the street entrance door open, balancing library books and clutching at the scarf that threatens to whip off him and disappear down Broadway. The door has been sticking lately despite, or perhaps because of, its increased use. No one wants to use the entrance on 116th because of the ice situation. Although a broken coccyx is inherently funny when it happens to someone else, the humour fails to translate when it’s personal. Jensen had advised Misha that any body part of theirs with ‘cock’in it was best kept intact, for reasons, and despite the vagueness of such a thought, Misha finds it hard to fault the logic. It hadn’t stopped him from making a really inappropriate joke about body parts with cocks in them, though.
Shouldering his way inside, Misha dislodges snow from his boots on the edge of the bottom stair, then begins the trek up four floors of echoey stairwell. The fourth-floor corridor is a ghost town, students huddled in the warmth of their own rooms and not up for the open-door socialising the summer months bring. Distantly Misha can make out the sound of someone playing something hideously like Spice Girls or some other decade-inappropriate tune.
Thankfully, it isn’t coming from their place. They call it their apartment, but really it’s no more than a set of two bedrooms and small living area. When he slides home the key and bursts into the room in a scattering of books, it is, or rather was, blessedly silent.
A wave of heat hits him and he starts pulling off clothing before he roasts. Jacket over the back of their slightly threadbare sofa, scarf on the kitchen table, boots beside the door, extra sweater atop the television cabinet as the television itself plays a muted scene from a WWII doco. The little heater they purchased in their first year, when the cold became too ridiculous has served them well. It works just fine to keep them warm as long as they plug up the drafts from under the doors and tape plastic over the windows...
Misha has to admit that finding ways to keep warm that first winter was initially something of a boon. It was really only Jensens’ chattering teeth that finally convinced him the method was perhaps a little out-of-hand and that, really, they could still have lots of obscene sex in the comfort of a warm room, as opposed to a cold one.
He finds Jensen in their bedroom, the one of the two that had immediately become the only bedroom they’d ever use for sleeping. Knees propped up, back against the headboard - Jensen reading one of his classic lit texts is a familiar sight.
Jensen glances up when Misha enters the room, newly acquired reading glasses falling down the bridge of his nose. Misha will never not find it sexy, even with Jensen’s mortification at needing them. It has quickly become one of his kinks to have sex with Jensen’s glasses left on; Misha thinks there’s really nothing like getting blown while Jensen looks up over the rims.
“Tell me again why I wanted to take this subject?” Jensen asks, pushing the glasses back up as Misha crawls onto the bed and settles in next to him.
“What, Oedipus still isn’t floating your boat?” Misha asks, wiggling his toes in under Jensen’s socked feet to warm them.
“No,” Jensen answers grumpily, shifting to allow Misha room. “I have enough daddy issues without reading about fictional douchebag fathers too.”
Misha makes a tsk-ing sound at him. “Your dad has his priorities all fucked up, but at least he didn’t leave you out on the side of a mountain.”
Jensen chuckles darkly, casting the book to the floor and turning to wrap his arms around Misha’s cold body. Misha shivers and burrows in closer. “He almost did, when I changed from economics to literature,” Jensen says.
“But he didn’t,” Misha reminds. He begins the process of finding bare skin under the layers of Jensen’s clothing. “He came ‘round eventually. Same as he did with me. You gottta give him some credit.”
Jensen sighs, but sounds more resigned to Misha’s logic than annoyed. “Fine, no, he didn’t, and yes, he did. But I still hate Oedipus.”
“Think of the credits.”
“It’s hard to think of anything when your fingers are where they are,” Jensen observes.
Misha laughs, lets his fingers dip further under the waistband of Jensen’s sweats, feels the soft tickle of hair brush the pads of his fingertips. “I have no idea what you mean, Ackles,” Misha murmurs.
“They’re also very cold,” Jensen says, squirming against Misha as his fingers follow the dip and grooves of Jensen’s body and find the soft line of his cock. Jensen shudders against him bodily as Misha closes his hand around flesh.
“So warm me up,” Misha says into the shell of Jensen’s ear, pulling gently at Jensen’s cock, feeling it fill and harden.
“Nggh,” Jensen mutters eloquently. “This is why I nearly failed last semester, you realise.”
“Would have been worth it,” Misha replies. He lets Jensen go so they can rearrange, sliding down until they’re horizontal, pulling the blankets up over them.
“Not if I was kicked out of college and you had to find your fun elsewhere,” Jensen says on the end of a sigh as Misha’s hand find his now-full erection.
Misha leans up on an elbow, stares down at Jensen as he stills his hand. “I wouldn’t,” he says, and he’s never been so serious in his life.
Jensen’s eyes soften and he smiles up at him. “I know, Mish. Was a joke.”
Misha shakes his head. “Not funny.”
To prove it, he leans in and kisses Jensen, hard and demanding. It’s only when he’s certain Jensen is breathless, in absolute need of air that he pulls back.
“It was a little funny,” Jensen still manages to say, but he’s almost panting, eyes glazed and hair skewed from Misha’s fingers.
Misha laughs. “Whatever. You know you want it.”
Jensen nods philosophically, all the more studious for the glasses skewed on his nose. “I do.”
“Well then,” Misha says and shimmies down the bed. The first touch of his tongue to Jensen’s cock elicits a moan that goes straight to his own erection where it’s now pressed against Jensen’s calf. Jensen tastes warm and slightly salty, and Misha will never get tired of it, the feel of Jensen’s cock jerking against his tongue, the softness of the skin and the give of the head. The way Jensen’s breath hitches in a broken growl when Misha dips the tip of his tongue into the slit. The sensation and taste of Jensen as his cum bursts across his tongue.
Jensen in turn presses Misha down against the bed, into the pillows, teases him and toys with him until Misha is forced to beg. He would never, could never... but with Jensen, everything is fair game, everything somehow acceptable. And it’s worth it, as Jensen’s thighs clench against Misha’s hipbones, as he rises and falls above him, around him, the perfect ebb and flow of a wave of want. And Misha clings on with his fingernails through the tightening, the tingling, the catch of his breath in his lungs, but inevitably, as always, he has to throw himself over, break himself against the rocks and enjoy every drawn-out second of it.
Later, as they lie boneless and content, Misha wrapped around Jensen, who is playing with Misha’s fingers where they lie against his stomach, he can’t help but be amazed at the way things have played out in the last few years.
Jensen’s dad had indeed come around to him. Mr Ackles might not quite know the nature of his son’s relationship with “the Collins boy,” as Misha was referred to for a good six months, but even he must surely suspect. In some proper, businesslike way, his silence on the matter seems akin to acceptance of Misha being Jensen’s choice of acquaintance. Misha was not, apparently, worth losing his only son over.
Of course, when he was informed that Jensen quit his path towards an MBA at NYU, having transferred to Columbia to study a liberal arts degree...
The fight that ensued was intense, even with Jensen’s dad half a country away. Misha felt like electricity was hotwired through the walls; the set of Jensen’s shoulders angular and sharp, conversation barbed for a week.
It wasn’t aimed at him, but witnessing the turmoil in Jensen meant it might well have been. In any case, Misha suspected Jensen’s dad thought this was his doing. Despite intentions to go to university together, it turned out the MBA at NYU was a better idea for Jensen, and really, it’s not like they couldn’t still live together when they were just a subway ride away. Jensen’s decision to transfer to Columbia had nothing to do with ‘them’. Well, mostly. It has its benefits, as their current home attests to.
Things were frosty, though, for a good couple of weeks after. And it was only with a knock at the door, of their disarrayed new “apartment” full of moving boxes, that heralded a delivery of unordered literature text books - a peace offering - that the tension ebbed. Truthfully, Misha hadn’t thought Jensen’s dad capable of it, and yet there it was, a cardboard box full of words that said otherwise. Misha is pretty sure Jensen is still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t; Misha will be there regardless.
He can’t say he’s glad for the way the mutual neglect by their parents has been a bonding experience, but he can’t argue it wasn’t some kind of heaven-sent arrow that nudged them both together. Sure, Misha’s own parents aren’t really capable of the redeeming qualities Jensen’s dad has shown glimpses of, but even they stopped asking for things sometime into Misha’s first year at college. Misha suspects Jensen had something to do with it, though Jensen refuses to admit to it.
One time they even sent a letter that didn’t ask for anything, and there’s no way that happened by accident. The soft smile that played around Jensen’s mouth as Misha read the letter was downright suspicious.
Bizarrely, it’s the Petersons that turn out to be the redeemers in their story. They adore Jensen. Possibly more than they adore being able to shock their socialite friends when they introduce him as Misha’s partner. It doesn’t happen often, just on the rare occasions they get sucked in to the high life with the promise of filet mignon and French champagne. It beats leftover pizza.
Their lives revolve around all the normal things college kids do, things Misha never in a million years thought he would get to experience. Sure, he still hasn’t managed to pick a major, and he’s maybe changed his mind on what he wants to be when he grows up more than a few times, but he’s happy.
He’s gotten wasted with Jensen at mixers, both of them staggering home giggling and holding each other upright in the wee hours of the morning. He’s taken history classes on Mesopotamian architecture and feminist critique, Japanese language classes and, once, an ill-advised foray into psychology that didn’t last more than two weeks.
In the midst of trudging between classes and buildings, their apartment in the esteemed Ellis College, traversing the well known haunts of his city, his home, is Jensen.
Jensen, who keeps him grounded when he freaks out about chimeras and rugs being pulled from beneath him. Jensen, who grins at Misha as he comes through the door after Spanish Lit late on a Tuesday night, cheeks ruddy with cold. Jensen, who backs him against the couch and lets the pasta burn to the saucepan while he devours Misha instead. Jensen, who makes him laugh, cry, want, need.
Sometimes, when they’re maudlin and drunk on cheap red wine, and the television has turned to evangelical proselytizing, but they’re too far past tired to be able to sleep, they talk about the fact that they don’t have typical families to share their lives with. Sure, they have Jared and Alona who come by fairly frequently, a couple more people from Ellis who migrated north after graduation, and the Petersons are there with their warm smiles and large cheque-book. But at the end of the day, they don’t have mothers and fathers the way most people do.
More often than not, hours after the sombre mood strikes, there will be a point in the evening, morning, whenever... when Jensen will look across at Misha.
They’ll be sitting on the floor, backs against the sofa and feet splayed out under the rickety coffee table, or maybe Jensen will be spread across the couch, his head resting in Misha’s lap. Jensen will look at Misha, at some point, is the thing, with the television light a blue cast across his face, eyes dark and only pinpricks of light glittering in their depths. And Misha will look back.
And they know that, really, that’s just fine.