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"JT! Don't get home too late, now, honey -- tomorrow's your first day!"

"Yes, momma," Jared hollered back, then let the screen door slam shut behind him. He yanked his bike up off the driveway cement and made his escape, flying down the road to Chad's house. His summer vacation might as well be over, and it hadn't even properly started yet.

"Come on in, bra'," Chad welcomed him with a sleepy grin. 

Jared shoved past him into the cool interior of the Murray house. "'Bra'?' Shut up, dude, you've never even been on a surfboard."

"Okay, dude, what's your problem?"

"Sorry," Jared said, shoving his hand through his hair. "It's just I start work tomorrow morning."

Chad winced. "Listen, if it's too bad, I can talk to my manager at Radio Shack. He might even let us split a shift if they really don't need anybody else." He sat in a beanbag chair and picked up an Intellivision controller. 

"Thanks, man," Jared said, slumping into the rustling beanbag next to Chad's and opening one of the beers Chad always pretended not to steal from his parents while they pretended not to notice. "But I don't think that's gonna fly. I made a commitment, what are they going to do without me, they were kind enough to hire me on just my daddy's say-so, blah blah blah."

"Your mom is one tough lady, bra'," Chad said. Jared just rolled his eyes at Chad's continuing attempts to sound like he was from Hawaii. "Well, maybe it won't be too bad."

"Maybe not," Jared said. "But it's just like in Fast Times at Ridgemont High -- you know that everybody ranks you according to where you work."

Chad tossed him the other controller. "It's not like anybody was going to think you were cool, anyway. Now shut up and race me."


Jared clambered out of his dad's car in front of the rink, and stretched to his full height (6'1" at last check) in the morning sunlight as the rumble of the engine faded away. He verified that he hadn't misbuttoned his turquoise-and-navy-striped shirt, then ran his hands through his hair in hopes that he was improving it rather than just messing it up. He had no idea why the building's roof was a wide, flat arc instead of a normal boxy building shape. He'd always thought it looked like a building that belonged on a farm or something, like some kind of silo, or where you would keep hay.

There was no point in delaying any longer, so he pushed his way through the double doors. He was immediately hit with the smell of popcorn and pizza with an underlayer of mustiness. He hadn't been here since Missy Parker's birthday party in the fifth grade -- flashback to his polyester party shirt, shiny and peach-colored with a bright pattern, his palms sweating as he asked Kim if she wanted to skate the Couples Only with him -- but the place still smelled exactly the same.

The rink area itself was dim, but there were lights on in the snack bar and popcorn popping away in the clear glass case. The too-bright fluorescents reflected off the orange plastic benches and the wooden tabletops bumpy with carved initials and other graffiti. (Mason sucks cock, the grooves under his fingers declared. The lightning bolt in AC/DC rocks was expertly done.) Jared pressed his fingertips into the uneven fake wood and looked around. The smooth surface of the rink looked unnervingly expectant when empty. The ranks of video games at the far end loomed blank-faced and quiet, and the darkened mystery of the DJ booth presided over it all. 

Everything was almost identical to the way it had been five years ago, just dirtier and dingier and kind of creepy with the lights off. "Uh, hello?"

Some short guy with long hair popped up from behind the counter. He tsk-ed sadly as he looked Jared up and down. 

"Excuse me, is this the right--" The guy just walked away and Jared had a sinking feeling that this job was going to be at least as bad as he'd feared. Maybe worse. He went to wander around the skate rental desk in search of adult supervision.

A firm hand landed on his shoulder and Jared jumped. "You must be Gerald's boy," a woman's whiskey-and-cigarettes voice said from behind him.

"Yes ma'am," Jared said, turning. He smiled. She looked nice. "Are you Ms. Ferris?"

"Sure am, but call me Sam. That's what all these reprobates do, anyway." She raised her voice to carry. "Rosenbaum! Get your itty-bitty mohawk over here and show the new kid around!"

Sure enough, a guy with a mohawk an inch or so high sauntered over. He held up his hands for Jared to slap. "Up high!" Jared obliged. "Down low. Now side to side. Too slow!" he snatched his hands away and cackled. Jared refrained from mentioning that that was his little sister's favorite trick, because at least this guy wasn't ignoring him.

"Hi, um, Rosenbaum?"

Rosenbaum grabbed him by the elbow and steered him back toward the snack bar. "It's Mike. No. Better yet, call me DJ Max, for I am the ultimate mixmaster, song spinner extraordinaire..." Mike was complaining about no one properly appreciating his musical stylings, but a man can only play Metallica so many times to please the crowd without compromising his artistic credibility something something -- Jared had been listening politely, but he was missing at least half the references, so his attention wandered a little.

"Give it a rest, Mikey," the spiel was interrupted, not unkindly. Mike bounced in place as if this was really what he'd brought Jared to see. They'd come up to a group of three guys, all older, all dressed in jeans and t-shirts in various states of repair. Jared fingered the popped collar of his button-down self-consciously, and belatedly wished he'd argued harder against his mom ironing it this morning.

One of them, the one who had spoken, was the rude guy from earlier. One of the others looked a little like a surfer -- he had a Vuarnet t-shirt and longish blond hair. The third guy was hanging back a bit, so Jared had to crane his neck to see him properly. He probably pulled a muscle or something in the attempt, because he finally got a good look at the third guy and then it was like his eyeballs got stuck.

The guy was, like, probably some kind of burnout. His heavy-lidded eyes were slightly red where they weren't blazing some kind of mutant green-brown, and his jaw was a mess of stubble. Jared had to wonder just how much older these guys really were, because he didn't have to shave more than once a week, honestly, but this guy could probably grow a beard whenever he wanted one. It was-- he was-- he was wearing a tattered Iron Maiden shirt, and Jared got a little uncomfortable just looking at it because even though he knew the monster thing on the front was named Eddie, none of his friends listened to that kind of music and he'd never really understood anyone he'd met who did.

That seemed upsetting, now. The guy was lowering his ridiculously long eyelashes and scratching at the scruff next to his lips. Jared's tongue felt thick and dry and stupid in his mouth.

"My boy that you're ogling there is Jensen. That's Steve and I'm Chris, and I don't want to get any trouble from you," Rude Guy -- Chris -- glared up at him like he actually expected Jared to start something.

"Oh, I'm not-- I wasn't--" Jared flushed and held his hands up nonthreateningly. "I mean I'm--"

"This here's Jared," Mike announced, and thumped him on the chest like he was a new prize possession. Jared was just glad the weird dude seemed to be on his side. 

He was glad when Mike pulled him away and led him to the skate rental area.

"Okay, don't worry about it, because there's nothing you can do, but Chris is probably going to be more pissed at you than he seems to be already because now he's got to do an extra shift in the snack bar. Sam wants you on register in the skate department with Steve since it's your first day and it's pretty hard to actually fuck that up."

"Okay," Jared agreed easily, deciding to ignore that bit about Chris entirely. "I've worked a register before, I guess all I need to know are the prices and what to do about getting the skates from Steve."

It wasn't exactly rocket science, and there was a huge sign right behind him in case he forgot the prices for the package deals. People started showing up around noon, and Steve kept to himself but seemed nice enough when Jared called out the sizes to him and took the skates. Jared was pretty sure it could have easily been a one-person job, but it seemed like Steve was used to working with someone else. Sam knew what she was doing, he guessed, so he shrugged it off and tried not to feel like he was being purposely babied.

They sprayed returned skates during the downtime and put them away in a mostly comfortable silence. Mike was playing the music loudly enough that it glossed over any potential awkwardness, although after Mike's diatribe he was surprised to hear mostly Top 40 stuff he recognized. "Jump" started up, and the sparse crowd on the rink fleshed out. People must like skating to their favorite song.

"Do you like working here?" Jared asked.

"Yeah," Steve said. 

"Do you ever skate?"


And that was pretty much that. Sam got him set up with a timecard and told him to come back at 10:00 tomorrow morning.


Jared's dad was already at work by the time Jared had to leave, so Jeff was driving him in under protest. Jared had lost the fight with his mom over whether he had to wear a nice shirt or not, so he was taking the magenta-and-navy striped duplicate of yesterday's shirt off to reveal the t-shirt underneath when Jeff turned down the radio.

"You okay?" he asked, pulling in to the parking lot around back.

"I'm fine," Jared said. Humiliatingly, he found himself muttering "I just really don't want to go back."

"Buck up, little camper. You'll be all right," and then much to Jared's shock, Jeff reached over and pulled him into a hug. Jared hadn't been hugged by his big brother in ages, but it was easy to hold on for a minute and then punch him in the arm.

"Of course I'll be all right," Jared grinned and bounded out of the car. It looked like some guy was watching them from across the parking lot, so Jared headed inside, this time using the "Employees Only" entrance. He heard Mike's raucous laughter and the opening strains of a really dirty Prince song as soon as he opened the door. 

A blonde and a brunette in full roller-derby regalia skated up to him. "I'm Allie, and this is Sandy. We didn't get to meet you yesterday." 

"We work here a couple times a week and get to skate for free," Sandy added. They both giggled when Jared bowed over their hands formally in return. Being an "Employee" might not be so bad after all.

"New kid, you're with me. Today you master the fine art of wielding a mop," Chris said. Bathroom-and-puke duty. Oh yeah, he loved this job.

"It's Jared," he sighed, and followed Chris to his rubber-gloved doom.


Chris got him set up with the minimum of fuss and left him alone until after lunch. "I've seen you riding around on your bike before. What's the matter, can't afford a car?"

Jared stared at him. "You know how much I'm getting paid here, right? And I just started. What the hell kind of car do you think I could afford?"

Mike fucking giggled.

"So where's your bike, Mark Gorksi?"

"For your information, I didn't--"

"Did your daddy have to drop you off?"

"That didn't look like his daddy," Jensen's dry voice broke into their conversation. He sounded knowing and a little sly, and his gaze flicked over to Jared in a sideways glance that Jared would have appreciated a hell of lot more if he knew what sort of joke they were supposed to be sharing. "Come on now, guys, don't let Sam find half her staff spoiling for a fight out by the dumpster."

"I wasn't picking a fight," Chris objected.

"No, I'm sure you were just being your usual charming self," Jensen said, still drier than dust and twice as able to get under Jared's skin. He bumped Jared with his elbow lightly on his way to herd Chris back inside, and Jared felt warm all the way through because he knew it hadn't been an accident.


There was a rotating roster so that nobody got stuck with the crappy jobs all the time, although Mike never did anything but deejay. It turned out that Jared hated snack bar duty -- he thought he'd love it, being surrounded by so many of his favorite foods, but in reality it was almost as bad as cleaning the bathrooms. Jared hated the stupid paper hat he had to wear. He hated getting all greasy while making food he wasn't even going to get to eat. He hated knowing what actually went into the chili nachos, and he really hated being stuck in the same area where all the burnouts and druggies spent most of their time.

He recognized Alona Tal from middle school. She'd been quiet and shy but pretty, and they'd gone to a few of the same pool parties even though she was a year above him. She still seemed quiet, but now she wore hot pink lipstick and blue eyeliner, and she sat with a bunch of shady looking kids. Jared knew for a fact that at least one of them had been to juvie.

"Here's your Dr. Pepper," he said, and concentrated all of his attention on counting out her change.

"Thanks, Jared," she said softly. Maybe that was why he pretended not to see her pour something out of a flask into her big styrofoam cup after she slid into the booth next to her friends. It still seemed all wrong to him.

"You okay, man?" Jensen asked, pausing on his way to carry a stack of empty milk crates out back.

"I guess so," Jared answered honestly, still too unsettled to fake being perfectly fine. Jensen propped the crates awkwardly against his hip and leaned across Jared's counter.

"Looks like everybody's set for now. Come out for a smoke and tell me about it?"

Jared didn't smoke, but he wasn't going to tell Jensen that. He locked the register and put up the BACK IN 10 MINUTES sign. "Sam won't fire me, will she?" he asked, just to be sure.

Jensen smiled. Jensen actually smiled at him. "She won't even know, but if she did find out, no, she won't fire you. She'll just be glad we're not smoking in front of impressionable young kids."

"Promise?" Jared asked, just because he liked the indulgent way Jensen was looking at him.

"Promise," Jensen said solemnly, but his eyes were laughing, and Jared was glad Jensen was only leading them out back because he probably would have followed him anywhere at all right then.

Jared just stood there and jammed his hands in his pockets while Jensen stacked the crates against the wall, staring idly at him while he continued working, moving a few of the other stacks around into more stable positions. When he was done, Jensen wiped his hands on his jeans and his steps rang out when his boots clanked against the metal stairs. He sat and patted the space next to him. Jared scrambled to sit down.

Jensen pulled out a cigarette and lit it. Jared didn't know where to start, or whether Jensen actually wanted him to talk at all, so he just memorized the elegant way Jensen held his cigarette in case he ever tried to smoke in front of anyone.

"So what's up?" Jensen asked on the exhale.

"Um, you saw that girl?" Jensen nodded. "I used to know her. We weren't in the same grade or anything, but ... why doesn't Sam ban them all? They never even skate."

Jensen squeezed his thigh and gave it a pat. He just left his hand there after like he forgot to remove it. "I can tell you were always a good kid, right?" Jared shrugged. He pretty much was. "What you've got to understand is that, you know, this place isn't all that popular. But it's cheap, and there's no one here to bother them. Sometimes it's worse at home, or they don't have anywhere to go. They might drink, or do some drugs, or wind up in juvie, but just because they've got problems doesn't mean they're necessarily bad. I mean, that's kind of how I ended up here. And Sam won't let anything really bad go down, but she knows some of them just need a place to be, so she turns a blind eye to a few things. She probably doesn't need all of us on staff either. And it's not like we don't smoke up," he snorted.

Jared couldn't believe Jensen had said so much. He wanted to ask him more about his past, but didn't want to scare him off. Jensen's hand was still rubbing soothing circles on Jared's thigh, and it made him feel full to bursting, it made him want -- something. He had to do something, had to let Jensen know how sorry he was for whatever bad stuff he'd been through. He grabbed Jensen and hugged him tight, until Jensen's squawk of surprise registered and Jared let go like he'd been burned. He fled without even saying sorry or thanks.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid," he banged his head against the grape drink machine, leaving an ugly greasy forehead mark and wishing for his shift to end so he could go hide somewhere.


As soon as his lunch break started, he was knocking on the door to the deejay booth. Mike took one look at his face and let him inside, and Jared relaxed for the first time since he'd practically smothered Jensen. Here, there was no distressingly fascinating co-worker, no puke, no popcorn to sweep, no Chris Kane.

There was only one stool, and that was for the DJ, so Jared sat on the floor, wedging himself into a corner. Mike announced an All Skate and played the Eurythmics. "And may all your sweetest dreams be about me," he murmured into the mic. He looked like a real disc jockey.

"What grade are you all in, anyway?" Jared asked.

"Grade?" Mike said, raising an eyebrow. "Well, I'm going back to UC Santa Cruz for my sophomore year. I think Jensen had a year of community college but I don't really know. How come?"

"Oh, uh, college, wow. I knew Allie was a senior over at Jefferson last year, so I just thought --"

"Wait just a damn minute, Pada-radical. Are you in high school?" Mike asked delightedly.

"Well, duh," Jared said, slurping on the suicide he'd made with just the perfect ratio of sodas. "Wait, did you think I was older?" he asked, pretty thrilled at the thought.

"Oh my god. Do they know? No, of course not. Oh, Christian is going to feel like HELL when he realizes he's been picking on someone younger than the kids he used to babysit. You are younger, right? Please be younger." Mike demanded gleefully.

"I'm going to be a senior."

"Even better! Oh, poor Jenny-boy is going to burn in hell."

Jared blinked. "No, Jensen's been plenty nice." He flushed a little at the thought. "And even Chris has never been worse than my big brother on a bad day."

Mike looked at him pityingly. "You really have no idea, do you."

Jared really, really didn't. But he couldn't bring himself to care, because those guys had all though he was in college, and they'd known him for a whole week.


"I'm telling you, they thought I was in college, man!"

"Sure they did," Chad said, obviously humoring him.

Jared was not sulking. "Anyway, it's not so bad. But I still don't want to go back."

"Why not?" Chad asked, stealing one of Jared's Twizzlers.

"Weren't you listening? I made an idiot out of myself and hugged a guy I barely know!"

"Yeah, and? You hug everybody, dude. You plan on being friends with this Jensen, he'd best get used to it."

"This is different," Jared said. Chad didn't seem to believe him, and Jared didn't feel like explaining any more.

"Just act like everything's normal and it will be fine, you giant dork."

"I don't know." 

"Want me to come down there, bra'?"

"No. And you do know you're still not a surfer, right?"

"Shut up."

"You shut up."

"Stop whining."

"Quit stealing my Twizzlers."

"Blow me."

"You wish."

"Shut up."

Not everybody got to have a best friend like Chad.


The next day was pretty uneventful. He rode his bike in, now that he had permission from Sam to store it inside while he worked. He had skate rental duty with Steve again, then a late lunch in the DJ booth with Mike, and then the girls showed him all about collecting the entry fees, taking party reservations, and answering the phones at the front desk. He'd only seen Jensen from a distance a few times, but the first time, Jensen had waved at him from across the room, so he figured everything was somehow okay.

It was only after they clocked out at closing time that things got weird. "Have you closed before?" Sandy asked.

"Last Wednesday," Jared said. "I've mostly been working the morning/afternoon shift. Why?"

"Did you stick around?" Allie asked.

"No, I just went home."

"Then you have to stay tonight! We can do pretty much whatever we want for an hour or two as long as we clean up after ourselves," Sandy said.

"Yeah, it's great!" Allie added.

Agreeing to stay was his first mistake. Mike must have said something to Chris as threatened because not only was he being a lot nicer, the shiny new hand of friendship apparently included membership in the Get Jared To Skate Club. Jared was the sole non-member remaining, so between them, Mike, Chris, Allie, Sandy, Jensen, and Steve alternately cajoled, manhandled, and whined at him until he found himself stumbling alongside the guard rail and trying not to fall while Mike blasted the entirety of the Misfits' Walk Among Us loud enough to damage less sensitive ears than Jared's.

"Wow, you're really bad," Jensen observed loudly, skating backwards effortlessly alongside him.

"Thanks for the newsflash. Why do you think I didn't want to do this?" Jared yelled back.

"You'll get better," Jensen said, and skated off. Traitor.

Jared's second mistake was allowing himself to be bracketed by the roller derby duo. They elbowed him with their hard plastic protectors to see him flail, and then whipped him around the rink at high speed to hear him "scream like a little girly man!"

He took a tumble at the far end and they loomed over him, hips cocked disapprovingly. "You wouldn't last five seconds on the circuit."

"But I don't want to skate," he protested. They didn't seem to hear.

His third mistake was letting his guard down when everyone finally seemed content to leave him alone. Steve skated up to him as he was heading for the one of the exits and said "welcome to the family" with a wry grin. That wasn't bad at all, but when he clapped Jared on the back, he fell half in and half out of the rink, soundly bashing his hip on the step up to the carpeted area.

"You all hate me, don't you," he muttered, and crawled over to the nearest bench.

He sighed with relief as he unlaced his skates. He'd only been out there for an hour and a half, but a grommet or something in the bottom of the skate had already raised a blister, burst it, and started a new one on the raw skin underneath.

"These must be defective," he said. He should put them aside to be re-soled or whatever got done to fix evil torture skates.

Jensen carpet-skated over to his bench and sat down next to him. "You doing all right?"

"My bruises have bruises," Jared whined.

Jensen laughed. "Poor baby."

"I need pizza."

Jensen cocked his eyebrow meaningfully in the direction of the snack bar.

"Real pizza," Jared amended. "Want to come with?"

Jensen hesitated.

"Come on, there's a Pizza Hut a few blocks from here, and they always look at me funny when I order more than one when I'm there by myself."

Jensen's eyes widened. "More than-- oh, okay, what the hell. This I've got to see."

"Cool," Jared said.

"I'll drive if you meet me out back in less than ten minutes. And don't let anyone else know -- they'll all want to come and last time we got kicked out, they banned us for good."

Jared got his shoes on and was out the back door in record time. He scanned the lot and saw Jensen leaning casually against a car, so he trotted over and got the shock of his life.

Jensen had a BMW. 

It was ratty-looking. It was a pale, faded blue, with rusted patches near the ground and a small dent in the rear left door. The inside was littered with cassette cases, empty cigarette packs, and take-out containers. The upholstery was dotted with cigarette burns, and it didn't have power steering.

"Dude, you have a BMW," Jared breathed.

"I know," Jensen winked and flicked the broken hood ornament strung on a Mardi Gras necklace hanging from the rear view mirror, setting it spinning.


Jensen got a double-take and a hard look from the hostess when they walked in. Jared played oblivious and charming. "Table for two?" he asked, and she visibly softened.

"Right this way."

Jared spun his sweaty red plastic glass around on the layer of condensation beneath it while they waited for their order to arrive. Jensen had assured him he didn't need more than half a pizza, and nobody seemed too weirded out by two tall guys ordering a couple of large ground beefs. Now that they were here, though, Jared wasn't sure what to say.

"Um, thanks for driving me," he said, which sounded weirdly formal and wasn't what he meant at all.

"No problem," Jensen said, studying him. "Do you have your license yet?"

"Oh, god, Mike talked to you, didn't he," Jared covered his face with his hand. "Yes, I'm still in high school, but I have my license already. I'm not a little kid, I just don't have a car."

Jensen laughed and seemed to relax a little. "Okay, okay, I won't tease you about it or anything."


"No problem, jailbait."

In retaliation, Jared balled up his straw wrapper and threw it at Jensen when he was looking down. It got stuck in his spiky hair, and, as a true expression of his outrage, Jared resolved not to tell him about it. "Pizza's here," Jensen said, and looked confused when the server caught sight of his hair ornament and smirked at him. Jared covered his own smile by slurping at his soda. 

"Okay, you can have half of that one, but if you eat any more than that I'm going to need another Coke and some dessert," Jared declared.

"Hey, who's paying for this, anyway?"

"You drove, so I am," Jared said matter-of-factly.

Jensen seemed surprised, but not unhappy. "How about I pay half and you drive back? If you're not in a food coma, that is."



"Really really?" Jared asked again, hardly able to believe it.

"Really really," Jensen said, looking at him with that fond kind of look Jared was already addicted to.

"Thanks! Um, I think you've got something in your hair." 


Jared didn't feel like going home yet, and maybe Jensen didn't either, because he suggested a game on the tabletop Ms. Pac-Man after they paid the check. 

The Cars playing on the jukebox, Jensen's little frown line of concentration, and the wokka-wokka-wok of the pellets getting eaten up beneath them somehow came together to become something Jared wanted to freeze in time and hang on to for as long as he could, dumb as it all was. He'd had a few moments like this now that he was thinking about senior year and graduating and moving on -- "preemptive nostalgia" his mom called it -- and it always made him hyper and depressed him in equal measure.

The noise of losing his last life burst the bubble, and Jensen's "in your face!" dispelled whatever remained of his strange mood.

"Yeah, yeah, you win. Now give me your keys?"

"You only love me for my car," Jensen sighed dramatically, and pressed his keyring into Jared's open palm.

"That must be it," Jared agreed.


After that, Jared never really complained about not wanting to go to work any more. Sure, it sucked when he had to wake up early, and he didn't get to hang out with Chad very much because they had different schedules, but he didn't really have time to notice the lack.

Chris was actually super-nice to him for a few days, until Jared said, "Stop it, man, you're freaking me out. You make a really disturbing Stepford wife." Chris definitely gloated a little the next time he pointed out a really messy accident in the bathroom Jared needed to clean. 

Thank goodness that was back to normal.

He mostly still invaded Mike's booth on his lunch break, but it wasn't to avoid anything, it was just to see the crazy fucker. 

He was still scared of the girls, and they still made him skate against his will when he stayed past closing.

Sam was an awesome boss -- very understanding, rarely seen -- and she let him take the day off to go to one of Megan's soccer games.

He found out Steve was a musician, and that Steve and Chris were trying to get a band together.

Jensen often collected him for company when he went on a cigarette break, even though Jared still didn't smoke. That never bothered Jensen, though, so Jared stopped feeling strange about it. They mostly just bullshitted, but sometimes they made plans for later, or talked about what they'd do if they had a million dollars, or got into heated debates trying to rate the best and worst movies they'd ever seen. (Jensen maintained that Cat People sucked, but Jared had a long list of reasons he was wrong, wrong, wrong about that, starting with Nastassja Kinski and ending with "cat people, Jensen. Cat. People.")

One Tuesday that Jared stayed for Roller Boot Camp Torture Period, he hobbled his bike out the back door and saw Jensen's car still in the parking lot. He propped his bike against the wall and went over. By the time he got there, Jensen had leaned over and opened the passenger door for him.

Jared slid inside and inhaled. "I thought you left. Hotboxing on company property?" he asked.

"Mmm, nowhere better," Jensen said, and reached across him to pull the door shut again. His shoulder brushed against Jared's chest. "Sam's long gone, nobody from the street can see back here, and the other buildings are all empty this time of night."

"You make a convincing argument. Pass it over." Jensen did, staring at him as he took a drag with an intensity that was almost unnerving. "What?" Jared asked, sure that he wasn't getting paranoid already.

"Nothing, I guess. I've just never seen you smoke before."

"Yeah, cigarettes. Those things stink and they don't get you stoned," Jared grinned.

"Learn something new every day," Jensen drawled at him.

Jared took another hit and passed the joint back. He watched Jensen in return, trying to see why it was so interesting to look at someone else smoke. He couldn't put his finger on the why of it, but he guessed Jensen had a point. It certainly wasn't boring, the way Jensen's lips clasped the roll-up, or the way his eyes closed in pleasure as he drew the pot into his lungs.

He noticed other things while he was at it: Jensen was wearing a plaid flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up over the Metallica tee he'd worn yesterday, layering up in spite of the heat. Jared was pretty sure the jeans were the same as the day before, too. Jared's momma would never, ever let him out of the house wearing the same clothes two days in a row, even if they weren't really dirty. Even if they'd been washed the night before, come to think of it. 

He wondered who washed Jensen's clothes, and then felt like an idiot when he realized it was probably just Jensen.

"I don't even know where you live," he said, plucking the joint out of Jensen's hand and taking another drag.

Jensen blinked at him. "I don't know where you live, either."

"No, okay, I live on Jackson. You should totally come over. But that's not what I mean. You know I live with my parents and my brother and my sister. Don't you live with anyone?" If Jensen lived all alone, that would be sad.

"Well... I used to live with my uncle," Jensen said thoughtfully. "He left, but I didn't, and now I have my own apartment."

"Oh," said Jared.

Jensen widened his eyes at him. "You should totally come over," he said, in a fake breathless voice.

"Shut up. You know what I meant."

"Mmmm," Jensen agreed.

"How much is Sam paying you, anyway? I can't even afford a car, let alone an apartment."

Jensen laughed at him. "It's kind of a rathole, but. This isn't my only job. I work here in the summers, mostly, because it's fun and I'm used to it, but I work at the university during the school year and do some house painting and construction on the side year-round. This is more like an extremely low-paying hobby."

"Oh," Jared said again, feeling foggy with weed and kind of stupidly young.


Jared was going to kill Mike. He'd been playing almost nothing but love songs all day, with short breaks for things like "Sexy and 17," "Edge of Seventeen," and "I'm Coming Out."

This was not greatly different from the usual playlist, but Jared just knew he was doing it on purpose. Especially with commentary like, This is for all you girls and guys -- or guys and guys -- still in the first sweet flush of love. Jared stormed into the booth and slammed the door shut behind him. "Stop it."

"Awww, whatsa matter, sweet cheeks? I'm just trying to help you get your man."

"I don't need your help!" 

Mike took that as an opportunity to open his big fat mouth again. "Obviously, you do--"

"I mean I'm not trying to get anyone! Cut it out!"

"Okay, okay. Whatever you say, cowboy. Just trying to help." The thing was, he looked completely earnest, in his own twisted way.

"Then I say go back to the normal ... thing you do. Leave me out of it."

"Say hi to loverboy!" Mike called cheerily after him. Jared let the door slam shut again on his way out.

He was not going to let Mike make him be weird around Jensen. Just because he thought whatever he was thinking in his strange little mind. All that skin on his head exposed to the air and sun couldn't be good -- it looked like his scalp had gotten sunburnt over the weekend. Served him right.

"Thank god this night is almost over," he said to himself.

"Not staying after closing?" Steve asked.

Jared waved his hand in the air. "Not today. I just want out of here."

"You had to clean up after that birthday party," Steve said, and Jared knew he had his blessing to leave without getting hassled by everyone to hang out. It was odd, but pretty much everybody deferred to Steve that way.

He managed to make a clean escape after they closed up. He stuck his bike in the usual place when he saw Jensen stretched out on the hood of his car, a bright ember glowing above his face in the dark. Jared slid onto the hood next to him and took a welcome toke.

They passed the joint back and forth in silence for a while, and Jensen must get some really good shit, because whenever Jared smoked up with Chad, he just got hungry and laughed at Chad's face a lot. But getting stoned with Jensen made him giddy and warm and it felt good to lie on the hood of his awesome car, looking up at the stars. They couldn't see many, because they were still in the downtown area even if it was a nearly-deserted parking lot, but there were enough stars showing to know that they were all still there, and that was enough.

They killed the joint between them, and then another, and Jared felt the car beneath him and the clouds above him and Jensen beside him all breathing in and out along with him. Jensen rolled his head to look at Jared, and Jared rolled his head to look back. "Hey, you wanna?" Jensen asked, those laser eyes staring right at him.

Jared couldn't think what he meant for a minute. "Aw, man, I am so baked I can not smoke any more. Not if I gotta walk past my folks when I get home."

Jensen banged his head against the windshield a couple of times and he must have been even more stoned than Jared because he just started laughing helplessly.

"Jesus, you really do have some good shit. Hey, can I come over? That way we can both smoke more and I'll order a bunch of pizzas and I think they're showing a couple of old Twilight Zones tonight."

"You want to come over? To my place?" Jensen croaked, lifting his head to look at Jared.

"Of course I do! Come on, can I? I just have to call home first, but I can stay over, it'll be fine."

"Oh god. Okay."



Jared was on the phone with his parents. He was on the pay phone out back, and he was talking to his parents, and he had not been smoking anything at all. Nothing was funny -- not even the way his dad sneezed right after he answered the phone -- and Jared was Not Stoned. 

This was his mantra, and as long as he remembered that he was Not Stoned, his parents would be none the wiser.

"Yes, from work. No, that's Chris. He's actually cool, too, but this is Jensen. No, we're going over there -- I have not been talking about him nonstop. We'll come over next time, I promise. Because Meg's not going to want to watch Twilight Zone. Okay. Okay. Yes I will. Love you, too."

He hung up the phone and rested his head against the cool metal for a moment, even though it was probably filthy. Why did he always forget how stressful it was to talk to his parents when he was hiding any sort of intoxication?

"We'll come over next time?" Jensen asked, eyebrow raised.

"I had to give them something."


"Okay? You mean you'll really come over?" Jared asked.

"Sure, why not. Just -- not for family dinner or anything, all right?"

"Um. How about a barbecue? Some time we have other people over, too? Because my momma's going to want to feed you, I can't have you over for the first time and just play Atari and eat popcorn or something."

"All right," Jensen sighed, like he was making a huge compromise. "Now let's go."

"Wait, my bike!" 

Jensen didn't have a bike rack. "Don't worry about it. I'll just drive you back in the morning."

"But you don't start till noon." Jared did not want to miss out on going over to Jensen's just because he had to work the early shift.

Jensen shrugged. "I can go get a coffee or something, it's no big deal. Just get in the car already, you stoner."

On the way to Jensen's, Jared entertained them both greatly with his rendition of the scenes he remembered from the Twilight Zone movie -- entertained them bothgreatly, no matter how many times Jensen begged him to stop -- and Jensen managed not to drive them into any telephone poles like he'd threatened to do on at least two occasions.

It turned out Jensen's pizza place didn't deliver very late, so Jared made them grilled cheese sandwiches instead. (It was very important to melt the butter first and then put it on the bread, not just melt some in the pan and throw the bread on top. Jensen thought that was too complicated, so Jared appropriated KP duty and ordered Jensen to just sit down and wait for his damn sandwiches.) They kind of forgot about smoking more pot until they were already watching TV, and then they remembered, but it was all in the car, so Jensen offered Jared a beer instead and that was fine. Jared kind of slouched next to Jensen on the couch, and Jensen kind of slouched right back. Jensen's hair was really soft under Jared's fingers. Jared didn't remember when he'd started stroking it, but Jensen didn't seem to mind and Jared liked it a lot, so he didn't stop.

"Mmmmm," Jensen said, and Jared realized he had no idea what they were watching anymore.

"Jensen, I --"

Jensen interrupted him by hauling him closer and then Jared's tongue was in Jensen's mouth and it was so, so good. He cradled the sides of Jensen's head with his hands and kissed him again and again, pressing down against Jensen's hip with no finesse at all.

"Fuck, Jared," Jensen said, breaking away. Then Jared's dick was out and Jensen's pants were unbuttoned and Jared got to push up against the skin of Jensen's stomach. Jensen shifted further back onto the sofa and Jared moved with him, bracing his arms on either side of Jensen so he could see where they were touching better. When he accidentally brushed across the smooth, plump head of Jensen's cock, he thought he was about to die. He tried to do it over and over, it was so amazing, but sometimes he just got Jensen's stomach and sometimes the skin of their shafts caught and dragged against each other. That was good, too.

Jensen licked his hand and gripped them both loosely together. He stroked a couple of times before dragging Jared's whole spine out of his dick as he shot his load all over Jensen's cockhead and stomach. 

Jared had never imagined anything nearly that hot.

"You're all wet now," he murmured. Seriously, Jensen was right there, hard as a rock and dripping with Jared's come. Jared reached out and gave Jensen a few experimental pulls. It was all nice and slippery, and Jared rubbed at the little scar with his thumb, the way he liked. Jensen made an "Nnngh" noise in the back of his throat and spurted between Jared's fingers.

"Wow," Jared said.

Jensen shifted the arm he'd thrown across his face and opened one eye. "You've never done that before?"

"Not with a guy," Jared happily admitted. "That was awesome."

"Awesome. Yes." Jensen looked a little shell-shocked, so Jared kissed him again.


They woke up almost-late, still tangled on the couch. Jensen got the first shower -- he obviously needed it more -- so Jared ate Boo Berry cereal out of the box and rooted around for the superhero sticker advertised on the front. 

"Stupid things always wind up on the bottom," he said.

"Actually, I poured the cereal into a bowl and got it out already," Jensen said, toweling off his hair. Jared hadn't thought it was physically possible to like Jensen more than he did already, especially after the night before, but he'd been wrong. "Clean towels are in the cabinet under the sink." 

Jensen's eyes crossed all funny when Jared kissed him on the nose and plucked the towel out of his hands. "Your grody towel is good enough for me."

"You are such a weirdo!" Jensen hollered after him, so Jared decided morning-after nose-kissing was still okay.


They were working different shifts in different parts of the rink all day, but that probably wasn't a bad thing. Mike was watching Jared like a hawk, and Jared was just barely remembering to hold on to his pissy anger at Mike from the day before when he really just wanted to hug everyone in the whole world.

"Hmmm. I sense that something is afoot, young Pada--"

"Can't you just call me Jared?" he demanded. Pretty lame, but it was the best Angry Response that Jared could muster up at the moment.

"Nope," Mike said smugly.

"Fine," Jared sighed. Obviously, they were on good terms again. And, bonus, Mike was so pleased with himself that he'd forgotten whatever he was going to ask.

Sandy skated up to them. "Are you coming to the movies?" 

"I can't tonight," Jared said. He already had some parental placating to do, especially if his mom saw his two-days-in-a-row clothes.

"Good, because we're going tomorrow."

"We're in," Mike declared, hanging his arm around Jared's neck and pulling him down. Jared batted off the attempted noogie and agreed. "Yeah, I'll go, as long as it's after closing."

"Everyone else is coming, too. I'll tell Allie, she's going to wait in line for us." Sandy popped her gum and skated off.


Jared was glad they were going to the movies for two reasons other than just going to the movies, which was always fun. First, he was glad it was a group outing so he didn't have to convince his parents it wasn't their turn to host, and, second, he was glad that everyone was going because it seemed like Jensen might be avoiding him.

He didn't run away whenever Jared walked by, or anything, but he didn't grab him for a smoke break and he barely said anything other than "hi" (and that was only after Jared said hello first).

And they hadn't really seen each other the day before.

And Jared missed him.

Beverly Hills Cop was pretty popular, so even with Allie holding their place in the ticket line, by the time they got into the theater there weren't enough seats for everyone to sit together. The biggest batches of free seats were closer to the front, so Steve picked a row and waded in.

"I'm pretty tall, so I really shouldn't sit up front anyway," Jared offered, hanging back. "My head's not exactly see-through."

"Okay," Allie said, squeezing past him.

"Jensen, you're as tall as I am. You should sit in the back with me." 

"I should, should I?"

"That's what I just said," Jared huffed for the benefit of the studio audience. Mike was avidly watching them both, eyes bouncing between them like he was watching a tennis match, and Chris was just looking at Jensen with an amused expression.

"You heard the man. See you guys later," Jensen said.

Jared found a pair of seats in the very last row. He tugged Jensen down by the wrist and kept his fingers looped there even after Jensen was sitting down. "Aren't you glad you're in the tall club with me?" he whispered in Jensen's ear.

"Are you flirting with me?" Jensen leaned away and asked, obviously trying to sound stern, but the smile in his voice came through and twitched around his lips.

"Maybe," Jared said, not trying to hide his own smile at all. "Is it working?"

"I'll let you know," Jensen said. When the lights went down for the previews, he slid his arm behind Jared's shoulders.


Chad had a girlfriend. 

Jared was happy for him, but he was really tired of hearing how hot she was and where their next date was going to be and how far she'd let Chad go the last time they saw each other. Especially when he wanted to say all those same things about Jensen but had to bite his lip instead.

"And then she invited the Dallas cheerleaders into the hot tub with us and we all got naked."


"Come on, man, I listen to you talk about your boyfriend all the time. The least you could do is pay attention when I'm talking about Sophia's tits."

"My -- what?"

"Jensen, I'm talking about Jensen, you know, the center of your universe, the cheese on your burger, the only damn thing you know how to talk about any more. I'm sorry if he's not putting out for you, but Sophia kind of is, so just listen to me for a second, all right?"

Jared coughed into his fist to cover his surprise. "All right, sorry." He'd forgotten that Chad wasn't as oblivious as everyone thought he was. He wondered what Chad would do if he told him last night I let another boy put my dick in his mouth. Probably just ask how it was or say congratulations. Suddenly, it was a lot easier to care about what Chad had been saying. "Please, proceed."

"So, anyway, we're in the back of my car, and I'm all, 'please' and she's all 'no' and I'm all 'pretty please' and she goes, 'not here' -- which you'll note is not another 'no'..."


Jared could not believe it was the beginning of August already. School started in September, so he was only working at the rink for another month. It almost hurt to think there would soon be a time he wasn't coming here practically every day.

"Jared, front desk, now," Sam said, hurrying past. "I have to go."

"Is everything all right?"

"Sweet boy. Everything is fine, but I really am in a rush. You know what to do!" She waved and practically sprinted for the door.

"Weird." Jared found Steve and told him so that he could rearrange the schedule, then settled in at the front desk with a slushee and a notepad to doodle on. It was always really slow this early in the day.

Mostly he just saw customers, but Chris sauntered over in the afternoon when Jared was on the third page of the robots vs. Godzilla war he was drawing. "There's a pool party on Monday." Everyone was free on Mondays because that was the one day the rink was never open. "You should come."

Jared blinked. "You're inviting me?"

"Everyone's invited, twerp. But yeah, I'm inviting you."

"Sure, I'll be there. Where is it?"

"You'll find out." 

Chris always had to be so freaking annoying.

It turned out that Allie had a pool and her parents were away on a second honeymoon, hence the party. "Thank god you brought beer," she said, welcoming him and Jensen inside. "It's just us, but I didn't have nearly enough drinks for everyone."

"I'm sure Chris and Steve will bring some, too," Jensen said. "Or you can always send them on a beer run. Don't worry."

Allie beamed and grabbed both of them by the hands, swinging their linked fingers back and forth. "I knew there was a reason I invited you! Now come on, the pool's out back."

"Actually, Chris invited me," Jared said, allowing himself to be dragged along.

"Sandy told me about it," said Jensen, smirking at Jared.

"You sure this is actually your party?"

"Shut up or I'll push you both in the pool with your shoes on."

Jared sipped his beer and looked around at everybody having a good time. He'd been right when he figured the other guys weren't going to bring bathing suits. They were pretty much all in cutoffs, but Jared didn't feel out of place in his corduroy Ocean Pacific board shorts and checkered Vans. It was what he normally wore on his days off, anyway.

Mike gave a whoop and cannonballed off the diving board, splashing everyone. Jensen looked at the damp splotch on his side and shrugged. "Guess I'm already wet," he said philosophically, then kicked off his shoes and pulled off his t-shirt. 

Jared swallowed and had to remind himself not to grab. Jensen was tan and freckled and more than half-bare, and he looked completely glorious in the bright sun. Jensen gave a startlingly full-throated battle-cry and threw himself into the water.

Of course, Jared stripped out of his shirt and shoes and gave his best Tarzan yell, following splashily after.


Chris had just gotten back from another beer run, and Sandy of all people was winning the belching contest. Jared was not sulking because he'd been disqualified.

"Hey." Jensen came up to him, smiling and leaning on the wall of the house.

"Hey." Jared smiled back, and put his hand on Jensen's hip on the house-leaning side, where no one would notice. He let his thumb stroke the warm skin at Jensen's waist.

"Let's go inside," Jensen said in a low voice, and Jared practically pushed him through the doorway in his haste. "I think the guest room's this way." Jared crowded up against Jensen and ran his hands up and down Jensen's sides. Jensen shivered a little and then yanked him into the room, pulling him down on top of the bed's slippery floral coverlet. Their bare chests brushed as they kissed and crawled around against each other.

"You've been driving me nuts all day," Jared confessed against Jensen's jaw, biting at the scritchy skin there.

Jensen just grunted and pulled Jared's mouth up to where he could get at it. Jared happily went along, lingering over Jensen's incredibly full lips and teasing them both with slow little swipes of his tongue. His hips were more blatant, grinding up against Jensen's thigh with an insistence he couldn't quite control even if he'd wanted to.

Jensen pulled his neck back at a weird angle, pressing deep into the pillow beneath him to gain some room. His hands were still in Jared's back pockets pressing him close. He looked up at Jared with a wild intensity and Jared's breath caught in his throat. "Do you want it?" Jensen asked quietly, like he wasn't sure he wanted to be heard.

Jared wasn't entirely certain what "it" meant in this case, but goddamn, whatever it was, he wanted it bad. He squeezed Jensen's shoulders, probably too hard, and his hips stuttered. "Fuck, yes," he gasped.

"Mmmph," Jensen pushed him off and rolled over. Jared was about to complain but then Jensen pulled his cutoffs down below the curve of his butt, lifted his hindquarters on splayed knees, and totally blew Jared's mind. 

Jared moved behind him because he had to see, had to touch with his eyes and look with his fingers. He ran his thumb down the spread valley of Jensen's crease, and the skin was smooth like Jensen shaved it, with the soft-looking pink bullseye of a pucker right there in the center. Jared pressed the pad of his thumb against it gently, and he could've sworn it twitched beneath his touch.

"What should I..." do, he was going to ask after he trailed off, but Jensen obviously thought he'd been asking something else when he said in a slightly strangled voice, "--use? Check the bathroom cabinet, I bet there's some lotion in there."

It happened again when Jared climbed back on the bed, holding the bottle of baby oil he'd found in one hand. "How--" should I do this, he was going to ask, thinking assfucking had to hurt whether they had oil or not, but Jensen said, "Two. Two fingers," into the pillow mashing his face and the picture clicked in Jared's mind, clear as a photograph.

He upended the bottle over his right hand, spilling some oil onto the bedspread as he hastily squeezed. He clicked the cap shut and tossed it to the side, sliding the two requested fingers around Jensen's hole and then dipping his fingertips right in. Jensen lifted his ass a little more and reached back, pulling on his own buttcheek to spread himself further. "Deeper," he said, and Jared pressed slowly until his fingers were, like, all the way inside. He slid them out a little way and then pushed them back in, gaining a grunt and a wriggle from Jensen.

He did it again, and again, finding a good tempo. When Jensen said "Gimme three," Jared flipped the cap of the oil bottle open with his teeth and drizzled his hand. He gave Jensen three fingers working in and out steady and hard and fast, because he knew what he was doing now, Jensen's body was telling him with every push back onto his fingers and every aborted grind downward. 

"God, can I do it now?" he asked, ready to beg if Jensen said wait.

"Yeah," Jensen said, thank god, and Jared fumbled at his damp shorts and underwear with slippery fingers until he was naked and putting the oil on his own desperate erection. 

Jensen was still holding himself open, and Jared was ready to plunge right in, but he didn't want to do this wrong. "Do you want fingers again first?" he asked.

"No, Christ, Jared, just fuck me."

Jared was halfway in before he knew it, after hearing that, and he slapped his hands down hard on Jensen's hips to hold them both still for a second. The smack echoed loudly and Jensen gasped, and it seemed like they might both lose it before Jared even got to fuck himself all the way inside of Jensen. But he took a deep breath, and the tension in Jensen's back eased a little, and then Jared pushed forward a little slower until his whole length was clasped tight. His stomach did a somersault. "Oh, shit," he said. 

He moved a steadying hand to press down on the small of Jensen's back and watched himself slide partway out of Jensen's body. Jensen's hole was shiny and red stretched around his dick, and it looked like some kind of dirty, fucked-up miracle. He stayed that way and watched himself give it to Jensen, boning him like a pro, in and out for a long minute until he was stretched too thin and ready to pop.

"I'm gonna come," he panted, putting his hands on the bed and pressing his chest against Jensen's back, rutting into him without any rhythm. The hand that Jensen had been holding himself with disappeared beneath him, and from the way his arm moved Jared could tell he was jacking himself off.

"Oh, that is so wild," he said wonderingly, and his hips stilled their frantic plunging as his body let go, emptying out into Jensen in a rush he felt all the way down to the soles of his feet.

Jensen made an urgent noise and his elbow jiggled faster. Jared made a few last splishy thrusts while he was still hard and Jensen grunted out his own orgasm, unseen but not unfelt as he spasmed around Jared's sensitive dick. Jared huffed out the breath he'd been holding as he slid out and collapsed onto his back. Jensen just slumped forward onto his stomach and turned his head to the side.

Unfortunately, it was the side away from Jared. "Hey. Hey, Jensen. Hey," he said, tangling their feet together and plucking at Jensen's shoulder.

Jensen turned over to face the right way, and Jared latched on, pulling him closer and kissing his cheeks, his eyelids, his nose, before settling one lingering last kiss on his mouth. "Take a nap with me?"

"We can't," Jensen said blearily. Jared didn't want to hear that, so he humped Jensen's leg a little with his mostly still-soft dick. Jensen chuckled. "But if you help me try to clean this up, we can probably sneak out and go back to my place, pretend we left a while ago."


"I'm glad your friend is finally coming over," Jared's momma said, taking the giant bowl of potato salad out of the fridge and setting it on the counter.

Heaven forbid Jared should have a life of his own, or that his mother couldn't woo one of his friends into thinking he had the most awesome mother in the world after tasting her cooking. But he did have the most awesome mother in the world, and he was kind of glad that Jensen was coming over, so all he said was, "So am I."

Chad was coming, too, and he was bringing Sophia, who Jared had only met once before. Megan's three little friends were coming, and so was Jeff's date. This wasn't a big barbecue, so only a couple of neighbors were invited rather than the whole block. Jared hoped it was enough other people that Jensen wouldn't feel uncomfortable. He knew his family could be a little overwhelming.

The first batch of ribs was almost done by the time Jensen arrived. It was noisy enough out back that Jared hadn't heard the doorbell, and he wondered who had let Jensen in. Then Megan and her friends trailed after him, hearts and stars and unicorn stickers practically sparkling in their eyes, and Jared didn't have to wonder any longer.

"Let me rescue you from the soccer brigade," he said, and nudged Jensen over to the drinks. "Uh, lemonade?"

"Sure," Jensen said, obviously willing not to push for a beer although he was legal even with the new drinking age. Jared shot him a grateful smile and handed him a glass.

"Let's get seats before the rush." Jensen followed him over to one of the big picnic tables covered with red gingham paper tablecloths. They sat down and Chad appeared, sliding in at Jared's other side and helping Sophia settle next to him. "Since when are you such a gentleman?" Jared whispered, a little taken aback to see Chad acting gallant.

"Probably the same time you started getting funky with pouty lips over there," Chad whispered back, and Jared spluttered in what he feared was completely transparent protest.

Jared's parents didn't get to question Jensen until everyone was stuffed and Jared was comfortable enough to get lax in his efforts to run interference.

"So, son, I don't think we've met," Jared's dad was already saying by the time he realized what had happened.

"Sorry," he mouthed silently at Jensen, and Jensen gave him a tight but reassuring little nod back. Jared just observed for a while, Jensen obviously tense but being politely amiable all the same. Sometimes Jared forgot how Jensen really looked, all striking eyes and luscious mouth and gorgeous face wrapped up in a vague air of gruff kindness and open-wound sexuality. He hadn't been able to see all that when they'd first met, of course, and now when he looked at him he normally just saw Jensen, but he thought it was no wonder that everyone seemed to have to look at him a little extra long when they first saw him -- even the neighbors and Jeff, for goodness sake -- and he didn't think it was because of the slightly shabby clothes.

Jared's daddy had Jensen good and cornered, though, so Jared decided to make a late stab at being a good host.

"Hey, Sophia," he said, approaching her seat. "So, Chad tells me you like volleyball?"


Megan's friends had taken her off to the movies, chaperoned by somebody else's parents. The neighbors were drifting back to their own homes and Jeff and Cindy were going out for a drive.

"Hey, mom. Chad and Sophia are going to the lake, so Jensen and I are just going to go downstairs and play video games, okay?" Jared said. He knew he'd be doing lots of dishes later, so he wasn't surprised when his mom just waved them off.

They thundered down the steps to the console in the finished half of the basement, and Jared stole a quick kiss with plenty of tongue before offering Jensen first choice of games.

"I'm hungry," Jared announced, as he lost another game of Pole Position.

"You just ate half a cow," Jensen said.

"So? Don't you want some more?"

Jensen followed Jared's lead as they tiptoed up the steps and put their ears to the door. Jared wasn't ready to get roped into cleanup duty just yet. He motioned for Jensen to shush as he heard his parent's muffled voices.

"...that boy... a little old?"

"Just ... worried, not very... influence."

Jared was suddenly angry, so angry at his parents who made him parade Jensen around in the first place. Jensen, who didn't really want to come at all but showed up willingly because it was important to Jared, and then to talk about him like that while they knew full well he was still in the house? Jared clenched his fists and swallowed hard.

"Come back down. I'm not hungry after all." His voice was thick and he dragged Jensen down the stairs with an iron grip.

Jensen looked embarrassed. "Look, Jared. It's no big deal. I know I'm--"

"They're wrong. They don't even know you," Jared said fiercely. He kissed Jensen and bore down on him until they wound up on the floor.


"Can I come over after?" Jared asked, skating alongside Jensen. Jensen looked around and waited until Steve passed them to answer.

"Won't you get into trouble?" Jensen asked with a discouraging tone in his voice.

"No. I won't get into trouble. And I'm not asking to stay over, not if you don't want me to."

"Yeah, okay," Jensen said. "Why not. We can pick up some Chinese on the way."

"Don't sound too enthusiastic, now, or someone might get the wrong idea," said Jared, changing direction almost gracefully and skating away backwards with a grin.


They had been making out on the couch, and Jared didn't know exactly what happened, but he thought it all started to go wrong when he straddled Jensen's hips and said, "You do me this time, okay?" into Jensen's mouth.

Jensen had stiffened and pushed him back, but Jared didn't want that, so he eeled around Jensen's pushy arms and slithered against his chest. "Don't be like that, I want you to. You like it, don't you?"

"No, Jared," Jensen said, no give at all in his voice.

"No?" And Jared stared at him, not sure he was hearing that right. "You don't like it?"

"Oh, for Christ's sake, Jared, of course I like it. I just mean I'm not doing that." Jensen sat up.

"Why not?" Jared scrambled upright to face him.

Jensen was silent for too long. "It's just probably not the best idea," he finally said.

"Is this about what my parents were saying? Because that's bullshit. You're not a bad influence and you're not too old! And it's not like we haven't been having sex anyway!"

"Look, Jared. They're not entirely wrong."


"Listen to me. The summer's almost over. You're going back to school, and I'm going back to my real job. And I've been thinking, I dunno, maybe I should try going back to college. Do a little something more with myself."

"That's great." Jared bit out. "And?" 

"Come on. It's not like-- It's not like this is going to last through that."

"So, what, that's it? Don't I get a say?"

"I'm sorry, Jared."

"Fuck sorry," Jared said, feeling the hot wetness of tears starting to make his lashes heavy. He left before they got to eat the Chinese.

"I fucking love you and you dump me," he said into the crook of his arm late that night.


Jensen was doing that thing again where he avoided Jared without really avoiding him. He was taking his cigarette breaks somewhere new, though, and he almost never stayed after closing. It was pretty much impossible for Jared to get to talk to him alone. 

On Monday, Jared had even gone over to Jensen's apartment and knocked on the door, but there was no answer even though he was pretty sure Jensen was actually home.

"Jensen, wait up," he called out, as Jensen and Chris were walking out to Jensen's car. Chris stopped, and so did Jensen, a beat later. Jared jogged over. "Hey, Chris. Jensen. Can I talk to you?"

"Sure," Jensen said, and made no move to step away from Chris. 

If that was the way he wanted it, fine. Jared wasn't going to not say anything just because Chris was there. "I know you might not be around much in the fall, and I'm going to be busy too, but I think it's stupid to miss you more than I have to. Can we make plans?"

Jensen stared at him, jaw working and a hint of redness crawling up the back of his neck. Jared nodded at him brightly, like a deal had been made, and turned to go back inside.

The fact that he overheard Chris saying "You got yourself a real pit bull there, didn't you, boy?" to Jensen in an amused voice as he was walking away was just gravy.


Jared started staying after closing every night, even if he worked the earlier shift. At first, it was just for the slim chance of seeing Jensen. Although that kind of worked, eventually, once Jensen figured out he could either risk seeing Jared or never stay late with his friends ever again, that wasn't the only reason Jared kept coming back.

He started training in earnest, getting the girls to teach him the basics and getting some help from Steve and even Chris with some of the showier tricks. (The girls thought that "that figure skating crap" was beneath them, they just wanted to teach Jared how to knock people over without getting disqualified, and the guys had been hanging around the rink long enough to know how to do some neat things.)

His dad made the mistake of asking after Jensen, once. Jared was too mad to be nice about it. "Actually, I hardly get to see him. He heard you and mom saying he was too old and a bad influence, so now I get to go to work and be constantly reminded how my favorite person doesn't want to talk to me at all any more." His dad looked sorry, but not sorry enough for Jared's satisfaction. "Don't be surprised if he never comes over again, assuming I can get him to hang out with me. I don't care about your every-other-visit rules."

"Fair enough," his father said.

"Not really, but then again, maybe you don't really deserve to get to know him. I think he's the nicest person I've ever met." He could tell his dad didn't really know what to make of that, so he shut up before he started confessing anything else.

Jared didn't have any luck pinning Jensen down to any specific plans after the summer was over, but Jensen obviously knew that he was serious about it and yet had never given him a definitive "no." They spoke a little, now, mostly just work stuff, but still. Jensen even let him come out for the occasional smoke break or two, as long as he kept from being too pushy.

When Sam had them both work the skate rentals together, though, Jensen couldn't run away. Jared made the most of it. He trailed Jensen into the deepest part of one of the aisles between the shelves of skates and went right up to him. He braced his hands up against the top level of cubbyholes, and crowded forward, until there was no more than half an inch between them. He didn't kiss Jensen or anything, he just hovered and told him, "I miss talking to you. I miss having fun with you. I want you all the time. Why don't you believe that?" 

Jensen put his hand on Jared's chest and left it there for a long while before using it to gently push him back.


The next step was also his last resort, and probably also his final hope.

He knocked on the door to the deejay booth. When it opened, he said, "Mike, I need your help." 

Mike lit up and beckoned him inside with a sweeping gesture. "You came to the right place, Rad-alecki."

Jared was pretty sure he was committed to whatever crazy scheme Mike came up with when the door swung firmly shut behind them.


It was the last day of the last weekend before school started, and the place was packed. Everyone was working from morning till night, even Sandy and Allie. Jared wiped his sweaty hands on his jeans when he heard Mike fade the music down and start his spiel.

"Hey there, lords and ladies, chicks and dudes, one and all. This is the last hot time of the summer, am I right?" He paused for cheers from the skaters. "Of course I'm right!" More people skated up to the rink, curious as to what was going on. Steve and Jensen wandered over from their stations and stopped near Jared's spot. "And what better way to finish out the season than with a contest!" There was more cheering, and Mike said, "Now, this isn't the kind of contest with a cash prize or a trophy. No, siree. But what better way to capture the heart of that special guy--" "Or girl!" shouted someone from the ever-growing audience. "--or girl, or guy, than to prove your dedication and prowess? That's right, suckers, it's a Skate Off!" 

The opening strains of "Jump (For My Love)" started up, and people poured into the rink. Mike came out from the booth, ready to start tapping people out pretty much immediately.

Jared took a deep breath and Jensen looked over at him. His eyes widened when he realized he had to look up, because Jared was taller. Because Jared was wearing skates. Because Jared was going to slide over the barrier and join the contest. 

He had almost finished Bo Duke-ing his way over the wall when Jensen shouted, "Dammit, Jared, no! There will be NO Skate Off!" 

Jared started off with a respectable forward crossover. 

Jensen jumped over the barrier and ran across the surface of the rink in heavy work boots to crash into Jared, whose skates went flying out from under him. Jared bashed his thigh with a whack on somebody else's skate as he went down hard, pulling Jensen down with him. 

Jared was going to have an incredibly nasty bruise on his shin, and his thigh already throbbed with pain, but he was on the floor of the roller rink -- the best place in all the world -- with Jensen kneeling over him and gripping his shirt tight. 

Skaters flowed around them like water rushing around a boulder. He settled his hands on Jensen's hips and pulled him close. Jensen just looked down at him with that fond look Jared loved so well and twisted his shirt tighter like a warning and a promise. The track flipped over to "Rock You Like A Hurricane" and somebody let the confetti and balloons go from the trap on the ceiling.

Jared threw his head back and laughed as the glitter rained down around them.