"Remind me why we’re here again?“ Tom asked for what must have been the thousandth time as they weaved their way through the crowd at the 42nd annual Grind'n'Gear Biker Show in South Boston.
People were streaming in from all sides of the exhibit hall, most of them male and in their late fifties, wearing stereotypical biker boots, leather jackets and sporting ridiculous amounts of facial hair.
There was a rock performance on stage and the music was loud enough to wake the dead, drowning out the steady rumble of voices and the screeching of chairs against the linoleum floor.
Customized motorcycles of all shapes and sizes were displayed on platforms and in glass cubicles, some of them suspended from the ceiling and Jensen didn't even know where to look first.
His whole body was thrumming with excitement as he breathed in the mixed scents of petrol and hot rubber that lingered in the air.
“Seriously, Jensen, what the hell are we doing here?” Tom repeated as he eyed the skimpy looking girl that was busy straddling a red chopper in front of them.
“Don't be such a prude,” Jensen rolled his eyes and pulled a sketchbook from the back of his jeans. “I told you I needed inspiration for my new—”
“—art project,” Tom finished, voice dripping with annoyance. “Yeah I know. Question is why a Harvard med student needs to do an art project in the first place. I mean isn't it enough that you’re some kind of child prodigy? Do you have to be Vince Van Gogh, too?”
Jensen snorted. “I’m not as much of a freak as you make me out to be, you know?”
So maybe his IQ was slightly above average and maybe he had skipped a grade or two in high school and graduated at the sweet age of sixteen, but honestly, Jensen had never thought of himself as being all that special.
At his inner core, he was just an average Joe kind of guy from Dallas with a sharp sense of humor and a heart as big as Texas.
“Yeah, you keep telling yourself that, Einstein. Do I really need to remind you about the time you calculated the square sum of our bathroom tiles because you were bored in the shower?”
“So what?” Jensen huffed, eyes never leaving the motorcycle in front of him as he continued to sketch a draft into his booklet. “It’s basic mathematics. Anybody can do that.”
“It was a freaking mosaic, dude,” Tom insisted, shaking his head as if he still couldn’t believe how Jensen had pulled that little trick off. “You ended up with a ten digit number.”
Jensen laughed at the memory. “And you ended up spending half the night counting tiles because you wouldn’t believe it was correct.”
“Shut up,” Tom groused good-naturedly. “I’m still convinced that you cheated on that one. Maybe you used an app on your phone or a calculator, I don’t know. But you must have had something—”
“Guess you’ll never know,” Jensen winked at him before flicking his sketchbook closed, seemingly satisfied with the drawing he had made.
Tom snatched the booklet from his grasp before he could do anything to prevent it.
"Hey!" Jensen exclaimed, trying to retrieve the leather-bound book from his friend’s fingers, but it was already too late and Tom had opened it.
"God, I hate you," his friend sighed, eyes roaming over the painfully realistic sketch of the chopper Jensen had drawn in crosshatched pencil strokes, so accurate that it was practically jumping off the paper. "This is freaking fantastic. Is there anything you are not good at?”
Jensen felt his heart stagger in his chest at the compliment. He swallowed, tongue peeking out to run over dry lips.
"Firearms," he answered honestly before retrieving the booklet back from Tom's fingers. "My dad took me to the shooting range when I was fifteen. I nearly shot my own kneecap off. Didn't hit the target once."
He wasn't particularly fond of that memory or anything, but sometimes it was necessary to remind his friends that he was just a regular person with faults and weaknesses just like everyone else. That being said, he hoped that shooting someone in the chest wasn't going to be a necessary skill for him in the near future or you know, ever, because hurting somebody on purpose, blasting a bullet into a walking and talking human being? Yeah, not something he even wanted to be good at.
Tom frowned at him in surprise, probably not having expected an answer to his question.
Jensen shrugged. "Can we move on now? Or do I need to list a couple of other things I suck at? Because I can guarantee you, there's quite a few of 'em."
"Fine," Tom relented as he picked up his pace.
They passed by a biker who could have easily been their grandfather, rocking a pair of tightly fitted leather jeans and aviator glasses.
Jensen had to give the man credit for having the courage to wear an outfit like that in public, especially considering he was nearing his nineties and barely standing upright.
“Do you even realize how out of place we look?” Tom asked under his breath as if the sight of the old man had suddenly reminded him of his own appearance.
Jensen couldn't deny it.
They certainly stood out from the rest of the crowd.
Tom was wearing a pair of designer Jeans and a dark blue V-neck, completing the poster image of the typical teacher’s pet with a yellow Polo sweater that was draped casually over his shoulders.
Jensen had at least been wise enough to put on a pair of ripped jeans and a plain gray T-shirt, figuring that he would need some casual attire if he went to a Motorcycle Show.
But his gold-brown hair was too styled and his fingernails were too clean and his features were just a little too pretty to blend in with the rest of the crowd. And then there was also their obvious lack of knowledge in all things related to bikes while everybody else around them was sprouting stories and enthusiasm.
Jensen sighed, feeling several pairs of eyes on him as he moved further into the crowd. "Relax. It's not like there is a dress code or something."
Except that there kind of was.
Apparently leather was the way to go.
“I bet half of these guys have seen the insides of a prison cell before,” Tom muttered with a brooding expression on his face and Jensen rolled his eyes at the blatant jaundice in his friend's tone as he strolled over to the array of helmets that were displayed in a showcase. “Give me another year or two and I might be the one bailing their asses out of jail.”
The burly looking vendor of the booth shot Tom an undeniable glower through the tinted glass of his Aviators and Jensen quickly dropped the studded leather belt he had been inspecting and turned to leave with an apologetic smile before the guy decided to kick Tom's ass.
"What the hell, man?" he hissed as soon as they were out of earshot. "You can't just run your mouth like that in front of a guy that's five times your size. What's wrong with you?"
"What's wrong with me? I wasn't the one with the brilliant idea to stick our necks out for some stupid art project!"
"Nobody forced you to tag along!" Jensen shot back with a scowl.
In fact, he remembered trying to talk Tom out of accompanying him to the show out of fear that his friend would freak out. And now look where that got him.
“Oh and just so you know, wearing a leather jacket doesn't automatically make you a criminal. Just like wearing a polo shirt, apparently, doesn’t make you any smarter. So how about you lose the attitude before one of your future clients decides to beat it out of you, huh?”
Tom looked taken back for a second, but he recovered quickly. "Gee...you don’t have to be an ass about it. Don't know why that project means so much to you, anyway."
Jensen bit his lower lip and let out a slow breath.
He hadn't told anybody that he had signed up for the graphic artwork competition in New Haven. But if his plan worked out accordingly, Jensen would add the project outcomes to his portfolio and send it to the School of Art at Yale University.
He had been playing with the thought of applying for a different study program for a while now and this project would finally make it possible.
Because as much as Jensen loved his medicine major, he just couldn't picture himself as a doctor.
Deep down inside he had just always craved the serenity that flooded him whenever he wrapped his fingers around a pencil.
Art was the thing that made him whole- the thing that made him happy. And Jensen figured that was a pretty solid basis to build his future on.
"Look, it just does, okay?" he brushed Tom's question off, before redirecting his attention to the booth at the far end of the exhibition hall, where a large crowd of people had gathered. "Let's see what the commotion's all about and then we can go, okay? I can come here again tomorrow and do this by myself. No need for you to stick your neck out for my stupid art project."
So maybe he could be a little bitchy, too, sometimes.
More proof to the point that he was only human.
Tom grimaced at getting his earlier words thrown back at his face. "I didn't mean it like that."
Jensen sighed, knowing he was being unfair.
Tom didn't know how important this project was to him. He really couldn't be blamed for being suspicious of Jensen's unreasonable overnight enthusiasm for motorcycles. "Let's just get this over with and get home, alright?"
Jensen was starting to have doubts about finding what he was looking for, anyways.
And of course, call it Murphy's law or whatever, the second Jensen started to lose hope, was the moment his eyes fell onto a sign reading 'Black Legion Customs' in intricate bold letters and the mother of all motorcycles showcased in flashing headlights on a rotating platform below.
And Jensen couldn't say why, but deep down inside he knew, he knew that this bike right in front of him and everything it entailed was going to be his golden entrance ticket to Art School.
What he didn't know, however, was that the first time he laid eyes on that vehicle and tentatively l tried out the words 'Black Legion' on his tongue was going to change his life forever.
"Hey man, are you okay?" Tom’s voice ripped him out of his thoughts and it was only then that Jensen realized he'd be frozen in place.
"This is it," he mumbled, legs moving forward as if he was somehow magically drawn in by the sleek curves of the Harley's black iron armor and the extended handlebars in front of him.
"This is what?" Tom frowned, obviously not getting Jensen's excitement.
"My project,” Jensen muttered in a faraway voice, eyes glinting with awe as he let them glide over the exposed tank, fenders and six-piped power engine.
The bike looked like it was turned inside-out, stripped to the bone and laid bare for everyone to see. Engraved in the center of the silver fuel tank was an emblem of a black phoenix with spread wings and a large tail of fanned feathers.
The letters 'Black Legion' were intertwined with the phoenix wings, completing the design and Jensen had never wanted to run his fingers over anything more in his life.
"Like what you see?" a voice drawled out from somewhere close by and Jensen's head snapped up to look into the most gorgeous pair of hazel eyes he'd ever seen.
His mouth opened in response and Jensen found himself speechless, words crumbling like ash on his tongue.
Hell yes, he liked what he saw.
The tall, broad-shouldered guy in front of him was the fucking incarnation of every wet dream or dirty thought Jensen had ever had.
Thick brunette hair framing a gorgeous face with eyes bright enough to light up the whole room.
Miles of tan skin stretching tauntingly over sculpted muscles and black ink covering practically every inch of flesh that wasn't hidden by the grease-stained wife beater he wore.
Jensen gulped, mouth going dry as his eyes traced the intricate ink pattern that ran across the guy’s arms and vanished beneath the hem of his shirt, possibly spreading further down across his chest and around the curve of his broad shoulders.
Damn, the guy was hot.
Jensen had seen plenty of tattoos before in his life, a good share of them even today, but nothing could even begin to compare to the elaborate artwork that was displayed on the man in front of him.
“Cat’s got your tongue, hot stuff? You plannin’ on buying or what?" Jensen had been so busy dissecting the tattoos that the sound of the guy’s gruff voice startled him a little.
“Depends…” he gave back once he had gathered enough working brain cells to form the words.
“On the price?” Tall-and-gorgeous hazarded with a cocky grin on his lips and Jensen almost groaned at the sight, imagining how soft they would feel to the touch, how much he’d like to dig his teeth into that pouty mouth.
“On what you’re selling,” Jensen corrected without missing a beat. Because if that motorcycle came in a package deal Jensen would take up a fucking loan to pay for it, no questions asked.
The guy smirked, dimples on full display as he rounded the bike and came to a hold before him.
“Name’s Jared,” he said, holding out a hand and Jensen a jolt of electricity shoot up his entire arm when their palms met in a firm shake.
“Jensen,” he gave back in an uncharacteristically small voice, lashes fluttering as he looked up to meet the tall man’s eyes.
It wasn't like he was shy or anything, far from it.
Jensen’s never had problems meeting new people, but there was just something undeniably intimidating about Jared, not so much in the way he towered over Jensen, practically dwarfing him, but rather in the way that he was stunningly beautiful.
“So,” Jared took a step forward, running a hand through the thick curls of brunette hair. “What brings a guy like you to a place like this, Jensen?”
Something stirred deep inside of him at the way Jared said his name, at the deep rumble and tiniest bit of Texan in the guy’s voice.
“He’s doing an art project,” Tom answered for him, effectively breaking the moment and Jensen could have hit his friend over the head for butting into the conversation. “And we were just on our way out.”
Jensen cut a look at his friend in warning, but Tom’s eyes never left Jared’s.
That little shit.
“Your friend doesn’t look like he’s planning on leaving,” Jared cast a glance back at Jensen as if to gauge his reaction. “Maybe you should go ahead without him. Exit’s right around the corner.”
Before Jensen got the chance to respond, a somewhat older looking guy appeared behind Jared with a brooding expression on his face.
“Jay, a second?”
“Can’t it wait, Jeff? I’m in the middle of something,” Jared said without even glancing back at the older man, his eyes still fixated on Jensen.
Jeff’s expression went from mildly annoyed to pissed in a second flat.
He dug out a set of keys from the pocket of his leather jacket and tossed them at Jared, who snatched them mid-air without even looking.
“Chad’s in the ICU at Saint Andrews. Figured you’d wanna get a chance to see him ‘for they wheel him off to surgery, but if you’re too busy charming your way into the kid’s pants I’ll just tell him you said hi.”
“What?” Jared’s voice rose up in tone and volume at the news, his face falling and Jensen felt oddly detached from it all- like a silent spectator caught in the middle of something he didn’t understand.
“The fuck happened? Is he okay?”
“Highsided into traffic trying to do a wheelie on the highway.”
Jensen had no clue what that meant, but it sure didn’t sound good.
Jared’s reaction confirmed it. Blood was rapidly draining from his face as he took in Jeff’s words.
“Fucking idiot,” he pressed out under his breath, before grabbing the worn black leather jacket from the backrest of his chair and throwing it on. Jared turned to leave and Jensen felt a pang of disappointment at the way the dark-haired stranger had all but forgotten about his presence, not even offering a word of goodbye.
It was completely unreasonable given that he and Jared had only known each other for a second and the guy had just been told one of his friends was in the hospital.
But that didn’t change the fact that Jensen felt like a little kid who had been given the shiniest, greatest toy in the world, only to have it taken away again the next second.
Before he knew what he was doing, Jensen had started after Jared, shoving and pushing his way through the crowd to catch up with the taller man.
“Jensen, stop. Where are you going?” Tom’s voice rang out from somewhere behind him, but Jensen didn’t glance back, couldn’t afford to take his eyes off of Jared for even just a second out of fear that he would lose him in the crowd.
Picking up his pace, Jensen managed to catch up with Jared outside the convention hall, seconds after the other man had stormed out through one of the back exits.
They were in some sort of parking lot, probably only accessible for exhibitors and Jared crossed over to an old ape hanger without wasting time.
“Wait!” Jensen yelled, voice bouncing off the outside walls of the building and Jared’s head snapped up from dash panel in surprise. “Take me with you.”
Jared opened his mouth, closed it again, Adam's apple bobbing. He looked taken aback by Jensen’s words. “The hell are you talking about? I barely know you. Just… get back inside, enjoy the show.”
Jensen took a few steps closer. “Look, I know this sounds crazy, but maybe I can help you… I’m a med student in my fifth year. Chances are, you’re gonna show up at St. Andrews and they won’t give you squat on your friend’s condition. I could negotiate for you, check his vitals and translate whatever medical terms the doctors are gonna throw around with.”
Jared looked skeptical.
“Why? What's in it for you?”
Jensen honestly didn’t know.
Rationally, he was aware that he shouldn’t be doing this. That he shouldn’t be begging some random stranger with a devil-may-care attitude and a pretty face to take him out for a spin on the back of his motorcycle.
But there was something else deep inside him, something much more instinctual, that told him to trust this guy with the soulful look and dimpled smile, something that told him not to let this intriguing stranger slip through his grasp.
“I don't know. It just feels right.”
He licked his lower lip, eyes wandering over the black phoenix that was stitched into Jared’s leather jacket. It was the same emblem he had seen on the Harley. The same one that had also been on the backside of Jeff’s jacket, spelling the words 'Black Legion'.
It wasn’t the name of their store, Jensen realized.
It was the name of their syndicate -their gang.
There was a moment of tense silence.
Then Jared jammed the keys in the ignition and reached back to pat the back of the seat. “Hop on before I rethink this.”
Jensen quickly settled on the seat behind him, heart threatening to beat right out of his chest as he awkwardly shifted around on the smooth leather, trying to find a good position.
“You’ve never been on a bike before, have you?” Jared asked and Jensen felt his cheeks flush with embarrassment.
Jared cursed low under his breath, taking his silence for the answer it was. “Scoot forward, arms around my waist and feet on the rear set.”
Jensen did as he was told, hesitantly snaking his arms around Jared’s middle and moving forward until Jared’s broad back was pressed against his chest and Jensen could feel the other man’s heartbeat thrumming against his palms.
“Hold on tight. Ride's gonna be fast and dirty.”
"No helmets?" Jensen felt stupid for asking, but if he was gonna do this, he would have liked an illusion of safety, at the very least.
Jared reached back to pull Jensen closer with a sharp tug on his leg.
"No helmets," he confirmed in a dark voice, leaning back against Jensen's chest and pressing their bodies together. "Like I said, you better hold on for dear life."
If Jensen hadn’t been scared shitless at the prospect of racing off with the wayward stranger in front of him, he might have actually enjoyed the way Jared’s firm ass was pressed against his groin and the way his ripped muscles felt against his sweaty palms.
The engine howled to life with a flick of Jared’s wrist and Jensen had about a flash second of time to lock his arms in place before the bike pulled away in a spray of gravel and dust, racing down the road.