Exactly a month after he gets propositioned by Jared Padalecki, Jensen finds himself in font of the office of Dean Matson, wondering how it happened that he accepted a job offer with the Stanford department of Environmental Earth System Science. Chris had told him not to do anything stupid, but it wasn't really stupid to take a teaching position at an acclaimed university, now was it? So what, if it takes about six hours from Stanford to LA?
When Dr. Kripke had heard about his interest in employment as a teacher, he had offered Jensen a place at the Alpine and Arctic Research Department of UA. When Jensen had declined to move permanently to Alberta, Dr. Kripke had been eager to offer the possibility of a position as a guest lecturer.
So, now Jensen will start in about three weeks at Stanford, which is practically no time at all. However, since he's going to co-teach a seminar, and one external course in the winter semester, he can actually use the first two weeks, that are usually lost on arrivals and introductions, for preparations as well.
It had been difficult to make all his arrangements from Alaska while wrapping up his project, and packing. The dogs had to stay behind, they weren't his in the first place, but Jeff had promised to make sure that they would be sent to Kim after the whole research project was over. At least like this, Jensen would be able to visit them from time to time.
He had been surprised to hear that Danneel would be leaving the project as well; her part was done, just like Jensen's, and she had accepted the teaching position with UA that Jensen had declined. The two of them had joked about torturing students, and she had been steadily planning Jensen's first stint as a guest lecturer.
Finding accommodations had proven to be more difficult than he had expected. When Jensen had looked into real estate in the Palo Alto region, he had almost had a heart attack. The next logical step had been to move to San Francisco. The proximity to Tom and Mike, the relatively short commute to work, and the far more moderate prices made it a quick decision. Still, finding a place to live is something that can't be done in a week from some research compound in Alaska.
So, Jensen is staying with Tom and Mike, hogging the fold-out couch. Dean is happy to stay with the two of them. The dog had been very indulgent with all of Jensen's moving and traveling around this summer. Hopefully once Jensen has a home of his own, things will settle down to a more comfortable pace.
In all this time, Jensen hasn't talked to Jared. He hadn't wanted to be put under the pressure to give a declaration of his intentions. He's aware that he'll have to call Jared and tell him about his change in location, and he'll have to give him the answer to his question. As if any answer was really needed with Jensen's relocation.
Jensen leaves the building of EESS and walks through the campus. The warm sunny day has people sitting on the grass, reading, chatting, or simply resting. The semester hasn't started, but there are still students and faculty members walking here and there. Most of them are teaching, taking summer classes, or working with research projects.
Dean is with Mike and Tom, since Jensen hadn't been sure how long things would take with the Dean of the Department. Jensen sits down on a bench and fishes his cell phone out of his pocket. It had been on silent mode, and he finds a missed call on his display. His mum had called, most probably wishing him luck.
There is nervousness in his stomach as he opens his contacts and scrolls down to Jared's number. After a second of hesitation, he presses call. There's the sound of the connection establishing, and then the phone rings. It rings for some time, and shortly before the mailbox switches on, someone picks up on the other end.
"Jensen?" Jared sounds out of breath. His voice has Jensen's heart beat harder, and he swallows thickly.
"Hey, Jared." Jensen watches a group of students sitting together and having an impromptu picnic.
"I sent you e-mails, but you never replied." Jensen hadn't been sure if writing with Jared would be a good idea, so had just read the messages he got, and saved them in his 'Jared' folder.
"Yeah, I needed time to think, make some decisions." His voice sounds much calmer than he feels.
"Where are you now, Jensen?" There are barks in the background. Sadie and Harley are demanding their human's attention.
"I'm in Stanford. Sitting in a park on the university campus." He waits for Jared's reaction.
After a second of silence, Jared asks, his voice tinged with hope. "What are you doing in Stanford?"
"I'm starting as a teacher here. In three weeks, to be more precise." Jensen closes his eyes and tilts his head back, letting the sun warm his skin.
"You…" There's a sound of Jared taking a deep breath before he continues. "You are going to stay in California?"
"Yes." And they both know that this is the answer to more than one question.
There's silence on the other end of the line. Jared and Jensen are unsure what to do next. How to continue from here? It was easier to start a life in California than it is to talk about what is happening between them, what they want to happen between them.
"I want to see you, talk to you in person." Jensen nods, even though Jared can't see him. He wants to see Jared, too. Ever since he had started the process of moving to San Francisco, Jensen had equally wished for, and feared, their first meeting after Jared had showed up at his parents' house.
"I have Dean with me, but I can drive down to LA tomorrow morning." This gives him at least some more time to talk about it with his friends.
"I'd prefer to have this conversation sooner, but I can wait. Tomorrow is fine." Again there is an awkward lapse in conversation. If this is a preview what the future will be like, Jensen worries that it won't take long to fail.
"I'll leave early in the morning. D'you have to work tomorrow?" A shout to his right has him open his eyes and he turns his head to watch a group of people start a game of rugby. They are men and women, and they are all laughing happily.
"No, the movie is finished. At the moment, all I have is some promotional work." Jensen looks away from the joyous group and goes back to sun bathing.
"I should arrive around noon."
"I'll be at home." Jared takes a deep breath. "How long are you going to stay?"
"I thought about a couple of days. I have to bring some of my work with me, because there isn't a lot of time until the semester starts." He blinks against the ray of sunshine that blinds him. "Is that okay with you?"
"Yeah, that sounds great. Harley and Sadie will be beside themselves when you and Dean show up." Jensen can hear some of the old happiness in Jared's voice. It has been too long since he last heard that.
"Okay. Until tomorrow."
"Yeah, till tomorrow." Jared hesitates shortly and then adds, "Bye, Jensen."
"Bye Jared." He ends the call, but stays seated, the phone in his hands. He continues to watch the people around him for some more time, at the same time studying the campus. Maybe living here won't be so bad after all.
Once the heat almost has him stroke out, Jensen gets up from his bench and wanders on to his car. Inside the rental he has air condition, and on the way to it, he passes a small convenience store where he buys a bottle of water.
The drive back the Tom's and Mike's takes longer in the afternoon than it did in the morning, and he parks the car in front of the house almost an hour after he left the campus. Jensen cuts the engine and stays sitting in the car for a couple of minutes. His thoughts are already racing forward in time, going round and round about tomorrow's meeting with Jared.
When a car passes him by, turning into the driveway of the neighboring house, he shakes himself out of the trance and gets out of the car. He hurries to the front door, key already in hand. Noone greets him when he enters, but he quickly finds his friends in the back yard, Mike grilling, and Tom playing with Dean.
The dog barks enthusiastically when Jensen steps out of the house. He abandons Tom and the bright pink Frisbee and jumps Jensen. Laughing, Jensen rubs Dean's sides and scratches behind his ears. The husky will love going to Jared's, seeing Sadie and Harley.
"So, how did it go?" Tom strolls up to dog and human, grinning amusedly at them.
"I have one seminar and an external course. They said that should things work out, we could start a sub department in the field of glaciology." Dean licks his hand once more before he heads over to Mike in the hope to scrounge a burger.
"That's great!" Tom claps him on the back and steers Jensen over to the chairs next to the porch. "Maybe you can get some cooperation between UA and Stanford started."
"Maybe. We'll see." He smiles at his friend. Yes, the talk with Dean Matson had been a good one. Considering he had only contacted her two weeks ago, everything had progressed rather quickly. "I'll be away the next couple of days, maybe the whole week."
Tom just looks at him. Says nothing, and hands him a bottle of beer. Jensen takes it and takes a long swig.
"What did he say?" When Jensen had told his friends about him and Jared, they had at first reacted like Chris, threatening to do Jared bodily harm. But, when Jensen had stubbornly continued to turn his life inside out, they had stopped the threats and instead supported him wherever and however they could.
"Nothing much. He just said that he wants to see me, talk to me in person." Jensen takes another swig, carefully avoiding looking Tom in the face.
"It's just, I have been wanting this for so long, and even though it will most likely end badly, I can't help but take what's being offered." He frowns.
"Are you sure that it's the right thing to do if you are talking about it like this?" They are turning to watch Mike wrestle Dean for the apron that had dropped to the floor.
"Don't listen to me, Tom. I'm just tired; the last few weeks were very stressful. And I'm moving to a place I'm not sure I want to live. On top of that, I can't help but worry about everything that might go wrong with this, whatever it will turn out to be between me and Jared." He grins tiredly as Dean darts off with his prize, the blue and yellow striped cloth dragging behind him in the dirt.
"If you go into the whole thing, thinking like this, it's better you never start." Tom stares at Jensen's profile, studying his face closely.
"You're right, but I can't help but think that if I fully invest myself in the relationship, which we don't have yet, I will end up getting hurt. I mean, come on. Jared is surrounded by movie stars, models and music stars all the time. Why would he give that up for me?" Jensen glances at Tom. "What if he feels trapped, like he did with Sandy? And what about him never having had any kind of gay relationship? He might not want to define himself as homosexual."
"That's something you have to help him come to terms with then."
"Yeah, I know. I'm just not sure how much of a help I can be." They are then joined by Mike, who carries a plate of burgers.
"Come on, you two hot stuffs, dinner is ready." He leads the way back onto the porch where the table is already set.
Jensen sits down and waits for Tom and Mike to get their food before he starts to assemble his own burger. The meet is juicy and the bun is soft. Together with the onions, the tomatoes and the lettuce it tastes like heaven.
For the rest of the dinner no one says anything because they are all busy stuffing their faces. If Mike drops a burger, Jensen pretends he doesn't notice the innocent look his friend gives him, same as he pretends not to hear the squabble of toenails under the table as Dean makes for the meat.
It's afterwards, when Tom is carrying the dirty dishes inside, that Mike asks Jensen to stay. Tom had already had his talk with him, so now it's Mike's turn to be Jensen's conscious. His friends take their task very seriously.
"You going to visit LA?" Tom had mentioned Jensen's future absence during dinner. Only tossing a comment about eating without Jensen at the table, and then continuing to eat as if he hadn't said a word.
"Yeah." Jensen looks out over the yard. "There're things that need taking care of."
"That's what it's called nowadays?" Mike's tone is teasing. A welcome change to the reprimands and worried advices he has been receiving lately.
"Idiot." He chuckles quietly.
They don't say anything for awhile, Tom comes and gets the rest of the dirty dishes, and leaves again. There are children laughing next door, and a dog is barking somewhere down the street. Jensen likes the neighborhood, and hopes that he'll find something similar.
"So, how is this going to work with him in LA and you up here in good old Frisco?" The question has Jensen turn to his friend. Mike is attentively watching his face.
"I don't know, we haven't talked about it. He just found that I moved out here." Jensen takes his glass and takes a gulp of the water. "Most likely, I'll drive down to LA on the weekends, and maybe he can come up once in a while when he isn't busy with shooting a movie."
"Sounds good." Yeah, it does. And for the first time Jensen dares to hope that it will work. So far he had always kept reminding himself of the difficulties, the problems that lay ahead.
"It'll be good too." He gazes into Mike's eyes. "Do you think I'm making a mistake?"
"Jensen, it's your decision to make. I want to tell you that I think you shouldn't do it, but I don't know him, and what you told me so far wasn't really in Jared's favor." Mike bites his lip. "My opinion might be biased."
"I'm confused, and I hate second guessing and doubting everything I do, wondering about his motivations behind his actions. It's annoying and it's slowly but surely turning me into a schizophrenic." Jensen frowns. "It's just so stupid really. Maybe if I had told him about me earlier on, and he had made the offer without the external prompting, I would feel better about the situation. Sometimes I can't help but feel like the only reason why he came on to me was because there was nothing better around. Like I'm some kind of consolation price."
"Jensen, if you really feel this way, tell him 'no'. Do your semester as a teacher, and then go back to your own life again. You don't have to change everything you are for someone else. It's just too much, for you and for him." Mike's words are good advice, but Jensen knows that he's not going to take it. It's too late for it anyway, he's far too invested already.
They both know that Jensen is going to continue what he started, and so they just stay sitting on the porch, and watch Dean goof around, tearing the apron he won earlier into shreds.
Later on Tom joins them. He brings three new bottles of beer and sets them down on the table, taking one for himself.
"So, how about some poker?" Mike's question has Jensen snort and Tom roll his eyes. Ever since Jensen moved in with them, Mike has been making them play cards every day. He claims that he's finally getting in the necessary practice that he needs to make big money in Vegas.
At this Tom had just looked at him as if Mike was mad, and told the other in no uncertain terms that any kind of gambling was off-limits. The two of them had been to Las Vegas once, and only in the airport to change planes, but Tom claims that the air of place had made Mike lose all his inhibitions, which he doesn't have too many of to begin with.
Ever since that traumatic experience, places like Vegas and Atlantic City are taboo for Mike and Tom. He fears a repeat of the one time.
After some negotiating, promises of blow jobs, which Jensen had not wanted to know anything about, and plain old pleading, Tom had agreed to some friendly poker. No money involved.
Mike gets the cards, while Jensen gives his mum a short call. She doesn't pick up, so he leaves her a message, promising to call her once more later on.
"Okay, since there's no money, I thought, how about some strip poker." Mike waggles his eyebrows suggestively.
"Mike!" Tom glares at his partner and Jensen almost snorts his beer out of his nose. He wipes his face and laughs hard.
"What? No stakes is boring." This awards him a whack on the back of his head.
"No money, no stripping." Tom's voice is hard as he sets down the rules of their game.
"Boring." Mike shuffles the cards and deals them.
"I don't want to hear it." Tom glares once more at Mike and then the game begins.