The place is a spit.
Somewhere north of Wheatland. Big Wyoming sky and damn all else.
The bus had smelt stale – stale sweat, and peanuts, and boiled egg. Too much perfume sprayed to cover the scents, kids' vomit and stomachs upset by sun-warmed Velveeta and canned ham. Jensen hasn't eaten since they stopped somewhere back before Cheyenne, stomach twisting into knots, choking down gritty black coffee and a plate of beans and franks.
He stumbles off the bus, legs wobbly from too long sat hunched in his seat, bag slung over his shoulder and ratty paperback in hand.
There's no official bus station here, but he knows that a bus headed west is due to come through tomorrow – he's just got to wait until it gets here.
For now he stretches, hearing his back creak and crack, a dull flare of pain at the base. The sun is sinking low, but there's a good hour left before the dark and the cold really sets in.
There's a cluster of buildings to the side of the highway; gas station, diner, and motel, a house or two set further back, paint peeling to show grey weathered wood beneath. A bar with broken neon-lights and a sign, decades old, proclaiming Girls! Girls! Girls! The dirt beneath his boots is solid brick-red, dry and musty. Black-eyed Susans bob a little in the breeze.
Motel. Diner. Bar.
Hard to decide which he wanted first, a good country fried steak, shot of whiskey or just a bed to sleep on. It's been near a week since he slept on a real bed, not just curled into his bus seat, or on the hard floor of the bus station, head pillowed on his rucksack.
He rubs his eyes, pushing his glasses out the way, grit sticking to his skin, thinks about stripping down and standing under a shower at the motel, washing away all of the road's dust and grime, working out the knots in his shoulders and collapsing damp and clean onto a bed.
As he steps toward the motel he watches a car, red and only a little rusted in places pull off the highway and into the motel forecourt. The guy that gets out is tall and dressed in the kind of shirt he doesn't expect to see in the backend of Wyoming – pale pink swirls and curlicues, something that would have been sneered at back home, and he can't imagine much is different here. The guy is talking on his cell, words rapid with big expansive gestures the listener cannot see, and Jensen smiles to himself shaking his head.
"Ain't gonna happen," the guy laughs sharply. "Dude, just quit whilst you're behind. Don't make no difference if she's changed her mind, had an epiphany, or god knows what and I --- don't try that bullshit on me."
There's a pause, and Jensen quickens his pace, dull twitch of conscience prickling at listening into a private conversation.
"Jesus, dude, you are crazy if you think I am going to turn my car around now. No. No, listen, you don't know a damn about what I want right now. No. No, really. Yeah, well, she can do as she likes, settled that before I left. Now I'm gonna hang up on you as I need a drink, a bed, and maybe even a warm body in it --- Yeah, well, sucks to be you I guess."
Jensen hears the click of the cell being shut whilst he's hovering by the door to the motel office, eyes scanning the room rates and trying to reckon out how far his last thirty dollars is going to get him if he plumps for a room here. Maybe he'll grab a sandwich at the gas station, or just some peanuts at the bar, skip the diner altogether. Wait until breakfast? That wouldn't be so bad, wait until then, and have a belly full of hash browns, French toast, and link sausages ready for the new day.
"Dude?" The tall guy is standing at his elbow, holding the door to the office open, head tilted in question.
"Yeah, sorry." Jensen nods his thanks and steps through to the office. The room is awash in beige, from the carpet to the walls and ceiling. The lady behind the counter is beige too, mousy hair scraped back, beige cardigan and beige slacks, skin a fine tissue of washed out tan.
"Gentlemen?" Her voice grates, thin and brittle, bitten nails tapping out an impatient rhythm on the counter-top.
It takes Jensen a moment to wrench up a smile. "I'd like a room for the night, ma'am."
Her eyes fix on Jensen before flicking over to the tall guy, standing just behind him. "You after a room as well, boy?"
"Yeah, if it's no trouble."
"Well it is." She clicked her teeth, leaning forward over a large coffee-stained ledger. Jensen can smell a faint scent of what he thinks might be the same perfume his Mom used to wear, low hint of vanilla. "Only got one room available. Which of you wants it?"
"Oh." Sleeping in the bus station had been one thing, using the wash-room to scrub up, bedding down on the floor, eyes caught on a candy wrapper beneath the vending machine, listening to the hum of the lights and the click of heels on lino. He won't pretend he got much rest but it had been pretty safe and warm. Here, there will be nowhere else to sleep but outside.
"Well, shit. You'll excuse us for a moment, ma'am?"
Jensen turns as the tall guy puts a hand on his elbow. "So?"
"Well, I guess I could drive onto the next podunk town, or even bed down in the back of my car, but, man, I'm beat." There's a pause, and Jensen has to look away for a moment, unsure how to respond. "Guessing you don't have many other options neither? So..."
Jensen nods. "You okay with that?
"Wouldn't have asked it I weren't." He sticks out his hand, "Jared."
"Jensen. And thanks."
"No need, you seen the size of the back of my car? I'd be lucking to get just one of my legs back there."
Jensen shuts his eyes as he eases himself beneath the water. The shower doesn't have much power but the heat is decent enough and he can feel the solid ache in his shoulders unfurl just a bit. He scrubs himself down quickly, turning his face into the warmth of the spray, one hand braced against the wall when his legs wobble a little beneath him.
The washcloth rubs over his belly, dipping down low and he thinks about taking himself in hand, slow grip and wet pressure. He's half hard just from the heat of the water and the rasp of the cloth, and it wouldn't take long, just a few slick tugs, a little twist to get him going, panting out into the steam of the shower and spilling against the tiles.
There's a yell from the other room, beneath that the rumble of the TV – low hum of baseball commentators, roar of crowd, thwack of leather on wood.
Jensen shakes his head and switches off the water.
The towel he slides around his waist is worn thin but clean, the material a pleasant scrape against his skin.
"All yours, man," he announces as he steps back into the main room. Without his glasses, and still blinking the steam out of his eyes, Jared is nothing a dark blurred shape, tall and imposing, all solid breadth. He can't make out the expression on his face. Can't see anything except for the line and size of Jared's body against the brown haze of the room.
"Thanks. Let me get cleaned up, then beer and nachos, yeah?"
"Fine by me." He's no truly clean clothes left, but with the comforting sound of the TV and his skin warmed through and flushed, he can't find it in him to care all that much. As long as he pulls on a shirt without mustard stains down the front he'll do. From the bathroom he hears the shower start up, accompanied by a low off-key singing.
The bed creaks and whines when he sits on it, mattress sagging dangerously. The baseball match is in the fifth innings and he has no idea who's playing, hasn't managed to catch a game since before he left Texas. He yawns as they cut to commercial, Wendy's and a trailer for some gorefest film, shutting his eyes, sound of the shower a steady rhythm in the background.
He wakes to a large hand on his shoulder then stroking up his nape to tug lightly at his hair. "Dude, Jensen, wake up." There's the smell of grease- onions, burgers, and fries, and he blinks dazedly down onto the blanket. "Come on, food'll get cold."
"Food, man. You've been asleep for hours, it's time to eat."
Jensen rolls onto his back, hand gripping the towel that's still slung around his hips as he sits up. "I slept?" his mouth tastes arid, and he swallows against the dryness.
"Yeah, dude, regular sleeping beauty, out like a light."
He fumbles for his glasses, turning so he can see Jared's face, his wide easy smile, and messy hair. "So not how I imagined Prince Charming."
Jared laughs, "Just for that you're not getting the extra fries I bought." There's a pause as Jared pushes a white paper bag towards him, the base growing slick and transparent.
Jensen thinks about all the polite things he should be saying, the demurring words of 'You didn't have to' or 'Are you sure? Thank you ', instead he tugs the bag closer with a smile. "Off the beer and nacho plan?"
Jared shrugs, "You falling asleep in your beer didn't sound like much of a plan."
He takes a bite of his burger, slightly burnt and delicious, sharp tang of pickles and the sweetness of tomato.
He's not going to ask why Jared didn't just go on his own.
They don't know each other. Don't know each other's last names. Have exchanged little more than two dozen words.
He takes a second bite of the burger, hearing his stomach rumble at the food.
Once the burger's demolished he takes the time to pull on shorts and a t-shirt, vaguely ashamed that he didn't pause in his eating to dress first. Jared has switched the TV over to a sports digest program, and stretched long legs out on the Queen size.
The curtains have been drawn but he can see that it's dark out now, no sounds from outside the room other than the occasional big rig on the highway.
He lies back down on the bed, Jared a constant inch from him. Shoulder. Hip. Knee. Tease of body warmth. The food lies heavy in Jensen's belly, and his earlier nap doesn't seem to have satisfied him, eyes still feeling dulled and slow, lids weighed down, body sluggish, toffee muscled and leaden. He squirms awkwardly, wriggling until he can get under the covers without having to get up out of bed, beside him he can hear Jared huff a laugh.
He falls asleep like that, blur of TV in the background, suggestion of heat to his side.
If he dreams they are nondescript. Maybe he's back on the bus. Maybe he's back in Texas, long hot days and slow-bruised nights.
The first time he wakes it is to Jared's hand planted square in the center of his back, their feet tangled together beneath scraped-thin blankets.
The second time he wakes, hours later, light is spilling anemic and skeletal through the curtain. Jared's face is pressed against his neck, breathing warm wet breath onto his shoulder, half blanketing him, one bony hip digging into his ass.
He's slept like this before, sandwiched between Steve and Chris, sloppy drunk and curling into each other's warmth. Then, it had been waking to stifled laughs and groans, too used to each other's bodies for any real embarrassment, one of them slinking out of the bed for a piss and the slow retreat.
Jared hums and leans in closer, arm around his waist tightening, drawing in nearer to the crook of his body.
He doesn't shift away, just lets the heavy swelter of Jared ease him back down into sleep.
Come morning, the real morning, when the sun has been up for hours and both their stomachs grumble for breakfast, Jensen slides out from beneath Jared weight.
The diner for pancakes, syrup, and bacon. Fresh ground coffee. Formica tables and vinyl seats.
Then the slow wait for his bus.
He steps into the bathroom, pisses, washes his hands, his face, his teeth. There are still dark smudges beneath his eyes, skin over pale, freckles sharp in relief, but not so much. Not so very drastic; he's ate, slept warm and safe, and even to himself looks less of a ghast.
"Hey," Jared is pulling on jeans, hopping on one foot awkwardly. "What are your plans?"
He shrugs. "There's a bus due."
"Specific destination in mind?"
"No. Not really." He rubs at the back of his neck, eyes skipping from Jared to the window. "Was thinking west."
"Okay then." Jared smiles, wide and sunny, "You wanna catch a ride with me awhile instead?"
"I..." Jensen shakes his head, wondering. "Yeah. Why not."
"Good." Jared shakes his car keys, turning to the door, "Time to go then."
"Yeah." And Jensen follows.