Jensen scowled out his window and dropped his pen and any pretense of studying.
Laughter disrupted the muffled hush of campus under the falling shroud of winter's first snow, one throaty shout louder than the rest, bright and giddy and achingly familiar. It carried to Jensen from the whitening green and criss-cross of pathways that spanned between his dorm and the next set of buildings, arrested his attention and tingled every nerve.
It'd only been a few minutes ago that the evergray sky had thickened with heavy swirls of huge, wet flakes, falling fast and relentlessly enough to have already blanketed the ground and was starting to accumulate on rooftops and window ledges. Inevitably, people had spilled into the world from whatever Saturday recluse they'd been ensconced within, to marvel at it and play and begin the construction of a few jaunty snowmen.
Jensen had been trying to ignore it--the snow and the laughter--but there was no use in that.
Of course he'd go millions of miles from home for college to escape home, and meet a fellow lanky Texan to become best friends with. Of course a year later he'd get stupid and foolish and always on the verge of wrecking everything about their friendship. Of course Jared was out there, in nothing but those same ratty blue jeans and flannel and cowboy boots, slipping and sliding and throwing snowballs like an irresistible little kid.
Jensen should have just gone to a state school and been done with it, admit he couldn't run away from who he'd realized he was. He should have said--a lot of things to Jared--before now. He'd have broken his neck and at least one arm if it were him out there, carelessly skating the concrete porch outside of the student union and down the sloping green.
Jared twisted and almost fell, laughed louder and caught himself in a loping run, flung a scraped handful of snow sideways. It smacked Justin's cheek, Justin one of the other loonies out there with Jared, Justin who probably hated the slick melting shock of the snow but was clearly pretending, to be able to laugh with and look at Jared like--
Jensen slammed his book closed, then picked it up just so he could slam it against his desk.
He stumble-stood and barged from his room after forcibly managing to jam sockless feet into his sneakers and Jared's forgotten knit beanie on his head and a hoodie hooked at his shoulders. He kept with the slamming because it felt good. Like foreboding and as if he was actually dangerous and offering some release, his door and across the hall and running down the three flights of stairs then without pause outside, sharp breath stung by the cold air.
"Goddamnit," he grumbled. "Goddamnit!" he said louder, not really intending for Jared to hear but wanting Jared to, same time.
Jared did, or at least caught sight of him stalk-clomping awkwardly across the quad, raised both arms and waved hugely, an even huger dimpling grin appearing to complement the enthusiastic greeting.
"Yay, first snow!" Jared lobbed a snowball at Jensen and it crumbled harmlessly against Jensen's arm.
"What are you doing?" Jensen demanded archly, grimaced at the squeak-sop of snow clogging his shoes as he reeled to a weird, abrupt halt in front of Jared. He glared at Justin. "Don't you have a chem lab paper due Monday? The one you keep complaining about having procrastinated even starting for the last couple of weeks?"
"Wow, Jensen. Hi. Did you, hey, see that it's snowing? And, whoa further hey, it's the really great, wet, construction-ready kind? And have you ever heard of taking a break from writing a mind-numbing chem lab paper? And just when did you turn into my mom?"
Jensen flushed and shot an aggravated breath, shook his head in a frustrated jerk. He was such a fucking mess and it wasn't Jared's fault and he probably looked crazed and angry and emotions as disheveled as his appearance, about to go off the rails.
Okay, it totally was Jared's fault, but unfairly so, considering.
"Forget it," he offered, tried to smile. "Sorry. Uh. I think I forgot to sleep and I guess that means I'm on the tail end of an all-nighter so I'm just going to go get breakfast then try to finish my Soph-Sem Descartes paper."
Jared almost let him go, almost let him get fully turned away crimped with annoyance and embarrassment, snagged his elbow at the last second before true escape.
"No, man, it's fine. No big. C'mon--stay a minute. We can catch flakes on our tongues and make slushballs," Jared urged, so tolerant of Jensen's moods and so happy to see Jensen, wanting to amend and appease. "Then we can go have breakfast together. I'll need like, gallons of coffee to get thawed, after this."
For a moment it felt like the bubbling-over gladness that Jared somehow managed to carry with effortless, sincere dorkiness at everything that could ever happen, anywhere, was solely for Jensen, and Jensen indulged. He tried to release the tension he always held around Jared, the check he had to maintain, braved a self-depreciating, apologetic smile, and Jared smiled back.
Then snow skiffed and powdered around Jared's head from behind. Jared's eyes went comically wide then Jared was laughing again, lost focus on Jensen to turn and teasingly menace the snow-offender.
It was Justin. Of course. Justin who still looked every bit effortlessly good-lookingly put together, smiling all fake-o oily past the obvious dislike for being mussed with snow and melt and exertion, giving Jared's wet clinging jeans a thorough once-over.
"Jared." Jensen reached out in a snap, forestalled Jared gathering more snow or retaliating before he could even think or retract. "Please tell me you're not--" He made a noise that was both shrill and guttural, past words.
"I'm not what?"
Snow continued to fall and fly, and the loose circle of people who were out here having fun continued to laugh and tumble around them, but Jared stilled completely, eclipsed the shadow of Justin in Jensen's periphery, stared Jensen down.
Jensen rolled his eyes. "You know what." He darted a glance over Jared's shoulder meaningfully, found himself scowling again, middistance nowheresville of Jared's forehead. "You don't even like--"
Jared hummed, noncommittal and tinged with warning.
For whatever reason, Jensen just barreled on. "--you know what I mean. And even if you did, he's the last thing you should want to like, of that."
"Mom time again then, hunh?" Jared flashed with mockery, bordering on as unkind as Jensen had ever seen.
Jensen bared his teeth. "Remember last semester, how fucked up Soph was? Who do you think did that to her? Justin is charming and amazing so long as it's all about the chase, but once the conquest is made, he moves on."
"Hey, are you... is this from personal experience?" Jared asked carefully, was suddenly all concern and warm eyes again, hand once more finding Jensen's elbow.
"No!" Jensen pulled back, scrubbed his face with a fist.
It's not like Jared hadn't figured what Jensen had fully realized since starting college--that he was definitely gay and that he was glad to be out but relieved the learning curve could happen here and not back home--but not like Jared knew about Jensen's quietly despairing want to be out with someone very specific.
"No," he said quieter. "I never liked the vibes Justin gave off and now I'm glad I was smart enough to go with my instincts on that but I'm just telling you that you really should do the same."
Jared waited for him to breathe then pushed him another step away, shivered and Jensen almost started fussing about Jared getting a chill. Jared sussed it, laughed shortly and past patience, palm-pressed the air.
"It's a snowball fight, Jensen. Not a mating ritual." Jared sounded flat, on edge.
"I'm just saying. Well. Maybe not but it is--this is just the beginning and not the first he's tried around you so." Jensen squared himself, full height, glowered at Justin who'd approached to hover just behind Jared. "Stay away from him."
"Was that for me, or?" Jared pulled a thumb to indicate Justin and smirked, then he squinted and flicked a glop of snow from his brow, dismissed. "I'd just say thanks for the advice, but orders aren't advice. You don't have the right to tell me anything more than that, because last I checked, we're just friends and friends give advice, not orders. We're not dating, we're not boyfriends or exclusive, and even if we were I'm not an orders-taking kinda guy. Or an interested in jealous controllers kinda guy."
Jensen's feet were screaming in cold complaint. His sweats were soaked through and a muscle in his thigh had cramped completely. He was actually starving and gritty-eyed from staying up all night, and coffee and food and Jared warm and curled close to him were the only things he could think about wanting. Justin was starting to look smug and Jared was starting to retreat. Jensen had the start of an awful headache and his heart was gonna break, either way.
"Fine, then." Jensen broke, grappled Jared to him, leaned up while he tugged Jared down. "We're exclusive. We're boyfriends and we're going to date and I'm asking-and-telling you, as your not-controlling but exclusive boyfriend who goes on dates with you, that you should stay away from Justin because I don't want him to have you or hurt you or mess with us. And I'm telling Justin outright that if he doesn't stay away from you, I won't be responsible for my actions."
Jared stammered and Justin sneered incredulously.
Jensen decided, go for the gusto. "Come on then, boyfriend. I mean it." He took Jared's hand, trudged them towards the dining hall. "Let's go get that coffee and steal some bagels and danish to take back to my room before I lose all my toes to frostbite and your jeans freeze and stick to you in a horrific denim-related tragedy."
"Jared?" Justin had his arms crossed, looked almost ready to reprimand Jared for making him come out here, and get in the snow and cold of all things, just to waste his time.
The snowfall kept on, steady and thick, but the flakes lightened to float ethereally, landed on their cheeks and eyelashes.
Jared started, came back to from an absorbed, wondrously distracted stare at Jensen, was overtaken with a slow grin that seemed to start at his very core then radiated out and out. "You heard my boyfriend," he said, tipped his chin towards Jensen. "Stay away from me."
They fell in step, automatically, slipping and catching each other uphill, and Jared slung an arm around Jensen's waist, compliant and content simply to go with Jensen's commands. The snow reasserted its hush, softened the sky and trees and ground, made it seem like it was just the two of them, out here, and for awhile they walked the winding path that'd take them to breakfast in thoughtful silence.
Eventually Jensen hipped into Jared, when the dining hall loomed in veiled profile, almost there.
"I thought you didn't take orders?" Jensen could tease, was suddenly unburdened and perfect and he finally understood that gladness as if it were his own.
Jared grinned, held them back from going inside. "My chem paper is theorizing the inherent value in making exceptions. I'm putting that into practice." He winked, cheeks pink with the cold and the exhilaration of what Jensen's irrational, wonderfully right, actions had stirred in him.
"We should--probably talk about this. A lot." Jensen frowned. "I also probably shouldn't have, well. I don't know. I'm sorry and I'm glad I did all at once, but."
"Yeah, we should talk. And we will. But I'm pretty convinced it'll go okay and won't be as much as you're worried about." Jared squeezed Jensen's hands, dusted a kiss over Jensen's knuckles. "But first we're going to get coffee and I want a waffle or three. Then we're going to your room to work and nap and, after talking, I'm hoping all that more stuff that boyfriends who are exclusively dating do."
Jensen wanted to just agree, outright, brave and without worry of consequence as he'd been so far this day. But this was Jared and it was them being boyfriends and it was racing heat in his veins and heart and dick and so the most important thing he'd ever confronted, so he hesitated.
"Jensen?" Jared raised an eyebrow, yanked the dining hall door open, made a sweeping point from Jensen towards the chow line. "Get inside. Coffee. Then everything else. That's an order."
He deserved that, grudgingly laughed and ducked under Jared's arm. Deserved it but it was okay, because they already knew each other inside-out, so well. Because they would talk, and it'd be okay. Because they were going to be way more than a chase and a conquest before moving on.
The snow outside danced, settled in all the world's hollows, slowed. Jensen laughed unreservedly when Jared's arm caught him around the hips, so Jared could breathe against his nape and tickle him with melting snow and affection and anticipation.