He'd read Flowers for Algernon, cover to cover, a splendid thrice by that point. Well worth the steep $1.85 he'd paid for it. It was, however, quite unfortunately, not nearly enough to keep Jensen's hyper-querying mind occupied for long.
"But why must we go," he whined for the twenty-eighth time as they rumbled past out-of-service cotton mills and remote petrol shacks peppering the other side of the window Jensen had been glowering out of ever since they packed up and locked the door of the colonial estate on Pembrook Grove in which Jensen was birthed, brought up, and buoyed thus far.
"And how come it's so far away?" he asked again, to which Mother tutted him from the flip-down passenger mirror, refluffed her bob. "And why must we move smack in the middle of the summer? I'll be bored stiff."
And he would, too, nary a drive-in or milkshake shoppe for miles, as he'd understood it.
"What a friggin' crock," Jensen huffed for the twenty-ninth time, hunching down lower in his seat, though it was mostly for show by then; nobody was paying him much attention.
Nobody ever much did.
The abrupt grinding halt was what roused him initially, wheel-crunch of gravel, but it was the intake of his surroundings that held him captive. Curious cranium, mother was fond of saying.
"Where are we—" he'd just started to say, heavy lidded blinks, dry mouthed, when a crackly voice nasaled out of the intercom they'd stopped at, beeped them through, and sent them gravel-gliding forward again.
As the wrought iron gate began to close with them inside, Jensen got a brief peek in over the headrest at the black metal letters built upon faded old stone — Ranston Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Why, Father's brought us to a lunatic asylum, Jensen thought elatedly, already adrift with finally, finally being allowed to observe Dr. Ackles in his element outside of the dinner table.
He had one fleeting, preposterous thought, the idea that they might be leaving him there, committing him and moving on, abandoning him with nothing but his buckled leather suitcase and the torments he was mostly over, until he realized that was absolutely farcical and went back to tittering with excitement.
It was nothing to look at really, the stucco house on the hospital property, at least nothing compared to their manor back home, but it was much less stuffy and completely livable, and it'd do just fine, Jensen decided, for however long—
"Are we staying here?" he asked then, flitting from room to room, inspecting.
There was a burgundy-gold wingback chair he wouldn't mind shoving next to a window, curling up on with a novel, his diary. Seashell lamp nearby, an older model rotary phone mounted on the wall — sparsely decorated but Mother would soon take care of that.
"Yes, love," she said from up the stairs somewhere, whimsical tone, "we are."
She sent him off exploring — a thing that would otherwise cause him ire, revolted at the childlike phrase, some baby catching salamanders in the ponds — and stayed behind to help the staff unload their belongings. Mother's version of helping included directing traffic and cooing, a little further back, no maybe not, how about, oh perfect, I need my sunlight, and Jensen basked in cutting loose.
He was out wandering the gardens, skirting the controlled population area, not getting too close, years of warnings coming down on his head out of habit, and admiring the Spanish moss cutting the horizon in the distance, when he first saw him.
"Oh, hello," Jensen said, politeness ever instilled. "I hadn't realized anybody else was out here. Here, let me—"
He reached out to retrieve the watering hose he'd tangledly tripped over in his absent admiration, knocking it out of the guy's hands, and as Jensen was handing back the dripping thing he belatedly noticed the full white garb, the state-issued resident uniform.
"Oh," he said again, a little more stupidly.
Jensen gathered his wits, blinked up, then up a little more, and saw that it was not a man at all, at least not yet. It was just a boy. A very tall, rather weedy stick of a boy, but no more than sixteen by Jensen's covert calculations through his lashes.
"You're new," the boy said, assessing, voice wooden as though with disuse, and Jensen was stumbling his way through a confirmation, "I — yes," when the boy leaned further into his space, too far to touch but close enough to send a cold bolt of panic skittering down Jensen's spine, and said, like a secret, "You have a beautiful orbital bone."
He left on his way, quieted, rambled down the trail like a rain god, wetting the plants and whetting Jensen's syrup flow of blood; Jensen tried very hard, and failed very good, at not letting himself think that was the most absurdly romantic thing he'd ever heard in his life.
"Who is that?" he asked Father the next day, during brunch.
They were clustered at the little patio portion of their quarters, seated around the table under a canvas umbrella. Father was flipping through patient files right there in the middle of spinach quiche, low-brow, elsewhere. Mother was happily oblivious to everything behind her Jackie-O sunglasses, a couple of mimosas well underway.
"Hmm?" Father said, hardly looking up to follow along, answered choppily, "One of Dr. Guffrey's, I'd imagine."
Jensen didn't know Dr. Guffrey well, was only familiar with having overheard her name in association with the Men's Ward. He pondered momentarily, sipped at his tea. "Isn't he quite young to be here? I thought there were separate institutions for—"
"Special case," Father murmured, not glancing up again. Scribbled something in the margin of his notes.
Oh, Jensen thought, wondered, how special? "Is he — safe, then?"
To be around, he meant. "Safer than he'd be outside, I'd imagine," Father said instead, and seemingly all but forgot about Jensen after that. Which was fine as feathers, burlesque marabou, because Jensen had already forgotten about Father as well, continued to steal ganders at the swaying sapling figure spraying the lawn a distance away. Jensen imagined being drenched.
"Hi again," Jensen said, approaching, circumspect.
The boy was on his knees in the grass, tugging a gaggle of dead red wildflowers out of the green, trampled aside by one of the lamp posts dotting a staff circulation path.
He didn't seem much bothered by Jensen looming, looked up then quickly away, but never startled, acknowledged, plucked at thorny clusters here and there until his chewed down nails rung with red splash, little gullies in the whorl of his thumbs. "You shouldn't get too close."
"Why? Are — are you crazy?" Jensen asked, and footed in a little closer, just to see. To say nothing of the little buzzy kick in his gut when he did.
"No, but they might think you are," the boy told him, dirty knees slogging along, slogging and picking.
"So you're not? Crazy?" And Jensen was appropriately appalled, red-shamed, at the tiniest weave of disappointment that came threading out in his voice, and he had no idea where it came from, or why.
"I was," the boy said, dim, to Jensen's croquet shoes. His gaze touched higher, his calf, slid up Jensen's bare knee under his twill shorts, then more, right there, stopped looking, said again, eyes fixed on nothing, "I can be."
That night he carried his embossed leather notebook into the bathroom with him, too gratified at finally having something stimulating to write about to wait until after, and climbed into the clawfoot tub, soaked for hours 'til pruned.
Fountain pen stuck between his lips, he deliberated, and at last set pen to paper: Last night I dreamt I was a venus flytrap, stuck in a swamp. I snatched and bit, but consumed nothing I truly desired, tiny carcasses. I spoke with him again today...
In the morning, the saggy bundle of flowers was as he'd left it, in a shot glass he'd discovered in the cabinets, placed on his mirrored chest next to his bed, dried out stems like baby bones, only a few red petals still clinging. Jensen grinned soft, thinking they were truly lovely, thinking about how that boy's face might've looked as he placed the fetid, bloodied bouquet on Jensen's doorstep.
Jared, as his name turned out to be, was fifteen years old, and he'd been a resident since his thirteenth year when he was brought in. A good behavior one for a full year, he mentioned to Jensen one day.
That meant that he was allowed more free roam, more exercise time in the mornings, was able to eat one lunch meal outdoors per week, and was frequently called upon by staff to help out. Sorting bed linens, laying out safety utensils to go along with the trays in the cafeteria, garden detail, and thus had greater access to the main building than those with sullied charts.
It was better than waiting for a turn at the ping pong table or watching Casablanca all day, he said. Recreational therapy came in air quotes. Jensen commiserated externally.
"What a drag," Jensen said, kicking pebbles while they walked the perimeter, Jared raking up litter.
Internally, he grinned savage, pleased as poison punch; Father too busy making diagnoses, Mother too interested in leafing through an issue of McCall's. Jensen relished all that time with his new friend, greedily sucked from the source. For Jared was a cunning thing, sharp-minded and dastardly deviant, if only in glimpses, spoke in a manner of years tacked on, and he was hopelessly, impossibly beautiful.
Jensen's hours spent in bed that night, a night of promiscuity and reckless hunger, were soaked through with thoughts of what this other Jared might've been like, unpolished and untamed, who he was in that year he wasn't good.
Soaked and seeping, and Jensen rolled around in it after, humped the mattress, longed for, cried boy, boy from deep in his medicated veins.
He was able to do a lot, there was truth to that, much of it, but the leash still bore an inescapable end, was made of welded chain, and Jared knew better than to bark. Still, he had access to very little in his birdcage and Jensen, marginally more connected to civilization, was able to obtain something of cheer to the boy.
Jared especially seemed to enjoy the pennysavers Jensen brought in; the fashion inserts, the obituaries.
"Dear Abby," Jensen would read, feet up on a sun chair, "My mother-in-law is coming to stay with us next month and she's always taken issue with my being in her son's life."
Jared wrestled weeds, Jensen carelessly flicked at cheap pages, imbibing every decibel of attention Jared threw his way when, after listening up to the very last word, would offer something such as, "Decapitation should do the trick. Write that in," and Jensen would cross his browning, freckling legs and bite down on his lip, at the side, like Jared was making eyes in his direction, courting words against the goose-flecked flesh of his proffered neck, wooing him.
"I'm sick, too," Jensen found himself admitting on an unimportant Sunday, helpless, watching Jared's curtain of hair ruffle with the threat of a nightstorm, thinking of caramel apples. "I — well, not. There used to be these, um, weekly sessions. Now they give me something for it. So, I'm not. Not sick anymore, but I was."
Jared was stood at the entrance of the chapel, fingers on the handle, one step from walking in. He turned, bestowed upon Jensen the eye contact he hardly gave another living being, a thing Jensen wanted most ardently, and said shrewd, slowly warm, "But you can be?"
"I, yeah. I can be," Jensen said, and watched as Jared climbed down off the stairs, skipped service altogether, and spent the evening with Jensen squishing ants beneath their thumbs against hot concrete until Jared had to go in for the night.
Once upon a boy, he began.
And wrote and wrote until his hand cramped up, then continued to write through the pain, blinked down at the sloppy scrawl of it, fed off the ugly marring the page.
The admittance form stated plainly: Severe personality disorder with notable features of morbid jealousy. Patient demonstrated hostile contempt toward staff members and other residents upon arrival.
Jensen hadn't known, but it hadn't mattered anyway.
On visitation day, he woke extra early; no bird, all worm.
"Fancy date, mister?" Mother asked after he was all finished sudsing and scrubbing, pinking himself up fine, and she'd walked in on him reaching for his best hair tonic, dabbing his wrists and jaw with spritzes of Brut, behind his knees.
He ignored her, and she laughed like it was a joke, twirling in her lemon-yellow swiss dot dress. Jensen left the home with his cardigan draped over a shoulder, held with one bent, hangered finger, a hop in his step, a hum in his mouth.
Jared didn't have visitors, this Jensen knew, but he was still permitted the allotted hour of time and Jensen happily spent it at his side out in one of the open rec areas, stone benches and marble fountains, still on the property but far enough out that it allowed the illusion of a pervert's privacy.
"This is nice," Jared said, looking around. Just like a diner date, Jensen thought. "You smell nice."
Jensen preened, and went forward with his plan.
They were shaded sweetly by a wide-set southern bayberry, nature's canopy, and Jensen held up his newest issue, pressed the span of his shoulders to the bench, and began, "Dear Abby."
Jared settled in for the read, smiled lax up at the branches.
"A gentleman in my area has captured my heart's attention. He is really cute, and very tall, a few years younger than I, and great fun to be around. He doesn't talk much, but sometimes he looks at me like," Jensen went on, probably putting on a poor performance of reading from the page, noting the way Jared's jittering thigh grew still. How his eyes fixed on Jensen's mouth. "Like that. And I don't know what to do, Abby, I don't know if he even really notices me in that way."
He waited, and then.
There was so much shouting after that, whistles blowing, Jensen too swept in it all, voices roaring, "Contact! Contact!", that by the time he realized Jared's hand was cupping the side of Jensen's own face, tip of his thumb dragging down over Jensen's trembled-open lip, three orderlies were already on him, pulling him off and away.
One had a baton, in case Jared resisted. He didn't.
They dragged Jared off, back to the hospital, Jensen watching wide-eyed, a child at the circus, and just before Jared was taken, Jensen heard him say, "He notices you."
Jensen didn't see him again for three days.
"No, thank you," he bit out, as Father tried to hand sugar cubes to him over breakfast coffee.
"Excuse me, you're in my way," he said frostily to one of the staff counselors near the gazebo.
"Leave me alone," he seethed when Mother got too close.
Jensen was crotchety while he waited for the return, insolent and inconsolable, screaming in silent-red, already beginning to unspool.
If word ever reached Father of what happened that day out on the lawn, how one of the low-risk patients broke regulation and laid hands on his son, right there in broad daylight, we got there soon as we saw, sir, Father never mentioned it, at least not to Jensen.
Their dismal little life continued on, Father confined to his office, Mother phoning her Bridge Girls long distance, Jensen writing terrible, lovesick odes to skinny wrists and big hands, tearing the pages from his diary, after, sick of it all, shredding them in frightened fists, outlining his body in chalk, dead-shaped.
By the end of the fourth day Jensen was so agonized by the idea that he'd never see the boy again, and it'd all been his fault for being so selfish, so impatient, that when Jared was let out on the grounds again at last, bee-lined to Jensen and tugged him by the wrist to an unmonitored section behind the dining hall, Jensen nearly screamed.
"Oh," he said into their first kiss, over and over, a knobby leg shoved between his thighs, pushed to his crotch.
"I'm not a gentleman," Jared said, as he licked a long taste up the side of Jensen's face, snuffled at his hair. Held both of Jensen's hands in one of his, and kept the other around his throat, low growl.
"No," Jensen wheezed, more breathless from dizzying excitement than any sort of pressure against his windpipe. "I should hope not."
And when Jared skimmed craggy, rawboned fingers across Jensen's belly and down into his good tweed pants, Jensen actually did scream that time, high and wet and embarrassing. Jared snuffed it out quick, pressed in with lips like LSD to muffle the sound.
He couldn't come away as often, he never said, but Jensen understood, not with being watched the way he was, a distrustful eye constantly vigil for the next wrong move. But there were blind spots, fleeting stolen minutes in the tool shed, the old dormitory in section B that had been boarded up due to an asbestos problem.
Jared Padalecki at fifteen was all elbows and knees and ceramic flamingo legs, still skinning into a growth spurt that left his ribs countable and his hipbones at 90° angles, his cock almost laughably large where it hung between gaunt, boyish thighs, where it pressed into Jensen the first time, and he was a god; grand, golden, larger than life.
He wasn't very coordinated, not in those initial moments, and Jensen knew by the stop-and-start of it, the jerky churn of his hips, his concentrated brow, that Jared was giving him something special, was gracing Jensen with the gift of the innocent, perhaps his last shred of it.
"Please," Jensen said when Jared began to fuck him into the musty bed, wordless, learning his way around Jensen's burning body, and Jensen thrashed against the salmon sheets, rasped throaty, like cinder, heels skidding the mattress, "Please do it, please dirty me. I— please, Jared."
There was an unpracticed wince when the child came, a shaky sigh, four-minute fuck and Jensen was in love bad, had already sprayed himself all wet just from watching.
It came back in spurts after that, little blobs of remembrance, scattered feelings, nostalgic for the taste, the smell of it, salty on his hands, pillowcases caked in sex-stink, how it wasn't enough, no matter how much, how often, how good.
Walking past the old dorms would tent his khakis, spying the two loose boards only cosmetically put back in place would leave him pulsing sweet in his shorts, a little boy with a bed-wetting problem, and that was him utmost.
The thought alone of his little ruined romeo, pink-cheeked and black-eyed above him, would hurdle him over the edge he remained perpetually tipped over, always a nudge away from free-fall, would have him locked in his sleek bathroom, fisting himself fast, sobby and weak and nothing but white noise when he was done, replete, sterling silver handle of the crumb brush in the corner dribbling milky white.
Jensen was relapsing hard.
This morning he tapped on my window at six o'clock. He must've skipped the trail run. I wasn't asleep. I'd been thinking of him in that moment actually, have been thinking of him a disturbing amount as of late, the little upturn of his nose, the length of every toe, he's too much. I went to the front door and the skeletal thing slid in, snuck upstairs with his hand in mine like a curl of hair kept safe in a ruby locket. He confessed a drugged-dream he had about carving me up and then he put his fingers in me, so many, and it made me cry.
I made him promise he'd do it again someday. Maybe tomorrow.
"This was it, wasn't it?" Jared asked, holding Jensen's knees apart, spidery hands gone sweaty, clenched on.
Jensen was used to Jared's ceaseless staring, the way he loved to watch himself part the flesh, sink into Jensen's softest, most pinkest parts, loved to watch it spill out around his cock, made him seize and cry and go again, dry throbs, concave chest panting weakly. Jensen was a holy whore for the way it made him feel redeemed, absolved, as though the seed of the young and twisted was an ablution, cleansing anew.
"This is your disease."
And Jensen nodded, legs trembling tight, and reached down to grab at Jared's slippery, spent cock and rub it against himself, where he was all sore and warm and still gaping open.
"I don't suffer anymore," Jensen said later, when he could, face all tucked into Jared's gawky neck, happier than he'd ever been.
"You won't again," Jared said like a swear, and whispered instruction into Jensen's listening ear.
Eight weeks worth of disguises floated along the top of the toilet bowl water, waited while Jensen bit his cheeks and unzipped his pants, giggled, wept, gasped from the grasp of his fingers, and spilled hot over his knuckles, on their surface, little lavender 50 mg tablets swishing and spinning as they tornadoed down the drain when he said his goodbyes and flushed.
Father got promoted to deputy superintendent, likely the fiscal reason for the move in the first place, Jensen presumed, the position having come up when the late Dr. Briton passed on. Mother put on pearls for the annual gala, stepped out in her finest silks, kitten pumps, and boozed the night away monster-mashing out on the dining hall linoleum, which had been given quite the makeover for the occasion.
Even the residents were able to attend, refined to societal standards, shiny and healing and dressed to the nines.
Jensen, hair no longer looking like somebody ran their hands all through it while he ate out their hot little ass not two hours earlier, was combed slick, ironed out, and danced five numbers with some of the grizzled, back-bent ladies from the violent behavior unit, calm as lambs.
Jared himself bore a peculiar sight, crushed velvet blazer and pants that hardly covered half of him, button-front stretched crudely over the girth of his too-big anatomy, hems skimming his ankles, pants that just wouldn't do.
Pants that Jensen dutifully removed, eager tugs and ears already ringing, clenching up good at the knowledge of soon, when Jared led them out of the building and down the main corridors to his windowless room, staff nattering busily over cheddar logs and deviled eggs.
In those early days, Jensen existed mostly in a fugue state, only the very surface of him awake when Jared had to attend group therapy or speak with his doc one-on-one, help the counselors sanitize bedpans, mollified solely by the boy's touch against his skin, copacetic kisses.
"Like this," Jensen said that night, holding youthful hips down flat, climbing over him creature-like and devoid of rationality, sick with it, freed.
He spread awkward-gaited legs, bowed by birth in a slutty embrace, perfect for holding a boy between them, and situated himself above Jared's head, nearly came unfuckingglued at the sight of it, his whorish sprawl, Jared's flushing cheeks, and when Jared grabbed his ass to pull him down enough to reach, to taste, Jensen howled freely into the echoing space of the empty ward.
Jensen was made of supple spine and neckbreaks, bending to get it into his watering mouth, sucking messy, all fogged sighs and choky-wet noises when Jared caught the rhythm, commenced to fuck slowly up into the hot cup of Jensen's mouth while he ate Jensen up at the very same time.
And Jensen was certain he could go down on him for hours and never tire, would break his jaw if it meant he could stay there forever.
"More Jared, more, again," and Jensen's orgasm was like an exorcism.
The webby corner of the wall had a motley collection of scratch marks in the plaster that Jensen fixated on while he was shuddering, hashes, like someone was counting their days inside and then suddenly stopped. Gave up.
Nearer the floorboards it read shut up shut up shut up, in cracked, bled-out brown.
Jared painted the back of Jensen's throat in heavy rushes and Jensen said I love you as he was flying apart.
"Tell me how you did it," Jensen would say sometimes, when he'd reached a certain point in their activities, stomach juddering tellingly.
That was his favorite thing, hearing about Jared's adventures with the childhood nanny who tried to leave when Jared grew too old. It was mostly the same story told and re-told, slipped against the cradle of Jensen's head, mouthed along the soft inner part of his knee, arch of his foot, stuttered out when Jared was shoving at Jensen's backside, thrusting relentlessly, perfected.
"I — I used a blade," Jared said, piano-ing his way up the side of Jensen's fragile-flutter ribcage, sweaty, fiddly fingers groping.
"It, it was sharp?"
"Yes, but," and Jared lifted up, pressed back in, "but maybe not as much as it could've been, I think. But it worked."
"Step by step, Jared," Jensen reminded, face all chokecherry and pushed into the pillows, ass lifted, hair matted unflatteringly at his temples, eyes lost to the back of his head, "Please, you have to, I—"
"I sunk it into her throat, and then again in her heart, once in her belly. It was fat like bread dough and it ripped open, and oh, Jensen, it just — blossomed, I wish you could've seen it. Some of it got on my shoes," Jared offered, reverent, hips snapping forward, pinning the convulsing worm of Jensen down as best as he could. "And then I cut off her nose."
A wrecked little whimper, hard-fucked out of him.
Jensen was already body-kissed, fuck-weak, fondling himself between the legs, grinding the blankets, ready, ready.
"To spite her face," Jared said, all punchline, smile in his voice, crack of puberty still going through it, "she really liked that saying. And I, I did too, after that. I kept her snout in a milk jug in my room for two days."
Mother was downstairs, watching American Bandstand perhaps, or the latest vacuum cleaner infomercial, Ed Sullivan. She might've been blending things in her new GE, pulpy tomatoes. She was — around. He never could quite say where.
Elsewhere in the house a record was playing, and the Righteous Brothers were crooning high about something beautiful dying. Jensen hummed along.
It was a lady-leg knife purchased in France at a specialty store, elegant scrimshaw, bone handled, one carbon steel blade. No more than the length from his wrist to the tippy-top of his longest finger, but it was thin as a scalpel and easy to maneuver, and it loved boy blood.
Jared was an expert sculptor, knew how and where and when to press, and the way Jensen preferred it most, slow, like unhurried arteries.
One sluicing slice in his upper thigh, drawn out, sucked to white, crushed to wine again, and Jared sipped like old money, pinky out, Jensen only partially lucid for the feeling, sparklingly aware of the sight, his veins making lipstick on beautiful boys. Another etch, another drip. Another freshet of sloppy scarlet kisses painting love down his weak knees.
After, when he was drained at the cock and full in the heart, Jensen blacked out exquisitely.
He came to with a bite block in his mouth, immersed in a tub of swampy hot water, a month gone by off his pills, blubbering for his young one.
...features of morbid jealousy. Patient demonstrated hostile contempt towards staff members and other residents upon arrival. Patient has become withdrawn, continues to show an increasing detachment from reality and becomes engrossed in frequent delusional behavior, still expresses deep excitement when shown images depicting varying levels of violence...
Dr. Guffrey snapped the file closed, tab at the top marked as Ackles, J.
"Are you ready to talk now? About you? About Molly?" she asked, causing Jensen to snigger at her tomfoolery. Molly was Jared's nanny, not his. "About — Jared?"
"Yes, where is he? Can I see him?"
Dr. Guffrey smiled, but it was strained. "You tell me, Jensen."
She escorted him down the left wing that day, past the library and the common areas, up one flight of creaky stairs and squeaky floors until they reached the residential corridor, a déjà vu tingle stabbing at his groin. He silly-smirked into his fist, sneaky with his secret, such a hussy. He knew that area.
Father walked beside him in shrink mode, calm, concerned, and only showed the barest hint of distress when Jensen, who was brought to a door tucked into a tricky shadowed corner, said, sunny, adoring, "Oh. This is Jared's room," and walked in touching the walls like old friends, familiar, dainty-like.
"No, son," Dr. Ackles said, "this has always been your—" but Dr. Guffrey cleared her throat, shook her head curt, spoke tiny words behind her hand that Jensen only half-heard, coping mechanism and this Jared person being his ideal, yes, yes, and eventually they left back down from whence they came.
He didn't see Father again after that, nor Mother. But Jared came back to stay with him, remained there at his side day by day, ideal.
Jensen sat on the floor and added another hash mark, fresh.