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An Exercise in Insanity

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When Jared’s mom calls him down to have a chat at the dinner table, he’s more than a little worried. He doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong, and his porn stash under his mattress looked undisturbed the last time he checked, so he’s going into this heart-to-heart completely unprepared as to what it’s about.

His mother seems calm enough; she’s cradling a glass of wine in her hands when he finally comes into the kitchen.. She’s kind of staring into space out the window, and only when Jared sits down does she look at him. “What’s wrong, mom?” Jared asks with trepidation.

She smiles then, warmly. “You’re not in trouble. You can do away with that whole hanged-man look.”

“Way to tell me that before you freaked me out,” Jared grumbles.

“I’m getting married,” she says, without as much as a segue.

If there is a word for beyond-surprised, Jared doesn’t know of it, but he sure felt like he could use one at that moment. “Um, okay,” he says. “To who? I thought you and Dave broke up just a couple weeks ago?”

“Jensen,” she says. “In about a month, in Hawaii. I’ve got everything planned.” Her smile has grown -- it’s now wide-toothed and elated -- but Jared can’t dredge up anything more than confusion.

“You mean your friend Jensen? Jensen Ackles? You’ve never dated him.” Jared narrows his eyes in suspicion. “Are you pregnant? Is that it? And you’re just getting married to make his parents happy and then you’ll have a kid and I’ll just be the other kid, the built-in babysitter--”

His mama’s laugh is not welcome, not as Jared’s building up a monumentally serious scenario in his head, but it does ease a little of his nerves.

“Jesus, no, Jared. I’m not pregnant. You can save the melodramatics for your school play.”

“I’m not in drama club,” Jared says, but she doesn’t notice; she never does. She probably still thinks he plays the trumpet in band even though he gave that up three years ago--she’d never remembered to come to a single concert. Not out of spite or malice, but because she was, in a word, flaky.

“It’s a... marriage of convenience,” she says. “I want a promotion at work, and with Missy retiring next year, I actually have a chance. But you know my boss—he’s a sexist dick-- he keeps hinting that he wants someone with a stable relationship. A marriage is perfect. And Jensen’s, well I dunno. Sick of looking, he wants to get his mom off his back. It’s a perfect solution.”

“A perfect solution you came up with last week when you guys went out to that club?” Jared asks sagely, and he doesn’t pretend not to notice her slight flush, cocking his eyebrow.

“I think it’s great,” she continues. “Even if we were a little tipsy when we came up with it, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad plan. We’re gonna go through with it, and if it doesn’t work out, then that’s fine too. We’re friends--it’s so much easier to have a relationship when you actually like the person you’re marrying.”

“As opposed to what?” Jared says. “Arranged marriages from the 1800s? You’re giving me a real good outlook on my romantic future.”

“Real marriages aren’t for everyone. You know me, hon. And this is gonna be great for you! We’re gonna move to a bigger house, and Jensen has a dog. You’ve always wanted one.”

“I’m not six anymore,” Jared grumbles. “Are you gonna tell Gramma?”

“No way,” his mom says, laughing. “You can keep a secret, can’t you? I know you’ll be okay with it, Jared.”

And that is the truth. Jared can’t not be okay with it, because she’s not gonna change her mind, not now. His mama’s nothing if not headstrong, and stubborn as all hell. Jared’s spent most of his life giving in to her plans, crazy as they might be.

“Sure, mom,” Jared says, sighing just a little.

“Knew I could count on you,” she says, putting a hand on top of Jared’s fingers. “You’ll see. Everything will work out.”

**

When Jared’s mama, Sharon was eighteen, she had a very secret, very taboo relationship with an older, married professor at the college she was attending. The way she described it made it seem to be an act of rebellion above anything else, but as soon as she’d gotten pregnant with Jared, Dr. Padalecki had cut his losses. He paid a healthy sum in child support, but Jared’s last name was the only contribution he had from his father besides a bit of financial padding. His mama had adapted--let it never be said that she was a quitter--but she was still young. She’d skipped some sort of emotional milestone, and at times, Jared thought she was more like his friend than his mother.

Jared tries to compensate for that as best he could, and as such, he’s pretty sure that he’s overdue some rebellion of his own after all of the responsibility he’s taken on himself.

And honestly, Jared has a feeling that Jensen is going to be very good for Jared’s regression into normal teenage behavior.

“Just this one, and don’t tell your mom!” Jensen cautions, sliding a glass across the table to Jared. One experimental sip later and Jared is officially partaking in his first whiskey and coke (or at least that’s what he thinks it was. Yeah, maybe it’s not the best idea to give a fifteen year old booze, but Jared feels wicked for having it. And besides, weddings are a special occasion, no matter your age.

No one could ever accuse his mama of not going after what she wanted, but this Hawaiian wedding was a bit much, even for her. It had been pretty routine, down to the beach wedding and luau necklaces, but their reception was being held in grand style, even if there were only ten of them, the resort bar theirs for the taking. It was so informal that Jared could almost pretend that he was celebrating something like a birthday, but the glint of his mother’s wedding band was enough of a reminder.

Jared had thought that this whole fake-marriage thing would get less weird with time, but it hasn’t. His mom and Jensen are good at acting like they’re in love, with their casual touches and big laughs. Sort of like a damn commercial, and even now his mom’s dragging Jensen away from their table to dance, and they look like a couple. Jared wonders if he’s the only one who’s trying to find the chinks in their charade. It’s harder than he thought it would be. And he still hasn’t gotten used to the idea of Jensen, Jensen who’s sweaty as he dances, with the first two buttons on his shirt undone. It makes him squirm with an emotion he can’t really put words to yet.

“Get out here, Jared,” his mama calls, and Jared doesn’t have a ready excuse to stay put, especially with his grandma trying to ask probing questions over the din of the music, so he goes. Jensen hooks an arm around his shoulders as soon as Jared’s close and his mama takes his hand after the bro-hug, kissing his cheek and maneuvering him to dance with her.
All Jared can think is how he feels like he’s fallen into a wormhole, stepped into an alternate reality, and is asleep and dreaming, because none of this feels real.

**

Jared keeps expecting things to change, to settle, and for Jensen to stop being his mom’s friend and morph into a parent, but it never happens. Even two years after the wedding, Jared is suspended in some sort of stepfather limbo, because Jensen is never anything more than friendly and understanding: there’s no discipline, no condescension, no siding with Jared’s mother when she’s fighting with Jared. He’s an impartial presence in a house, and he grounds his mother, makes her remember when Jared has a track meet or speech competition.

It should be a good thing, Jensen being awesome, but it’s not. It’s weird and unsettling, and as Jared grew into his feelings and hormones, it becomes uncomfortable as well.

Jared knew he was gay when he was thirteen, attending Sarah Leeman’s birthday party. She’d cornered him and told him that Jessie Brown wanted him to kiss her, and maybe go on a date, and Jared couldn’t care less. In fact, when Sarah suggested he take Jessie to Olive Garden that following Friday, all Jared could think was how he was supposed to go to his friend Jason’s house and watch kung-fu movies and generally have a kickass sleepover and how much he would prefer to do that over taking pretty, popular Jessie to dinner.

It kind of set things into motion in Jared’s head, and a couple months later when he kissed some girl at a dance, just someone random from another school, he felt absolutely nothing. That coupled with the way that his heart sped up when he partnered with Darren Holiday in biology, was pretty much the most tell-tale sign Jared could ever have hoped for.

And that’s where the awkwardness came in with him and Jensen, because Jensen, while not the most handsome person Jared had ever seen (hello, Brad fucking Pitt, anyone?), is still damn hot. So it probably would have been best for Jared if he’d turned into an actual stepfather instead of a friend-mentor-whatever-the-fuck-he-was.

Jared wasn’t stupid--he knew that Jensen wouldn’t go for him, not some scrawny kid, and especially not his stepson. He was super-sensitive around Jensen, extremely careful to not let anything show, and as far as he could tell, Jensen didn’t suspect anything. But still -- Jared felt like he was one step away from either a destructive, embarrassing situation or a weird Japanese cartoon porno.

So Jared ignores it as best he can and focuses his energy into being a normal teenager, one who doesn’t have a massively inappropriate crush on a quasi-family-member. He isn’t out at school, can’t afford to be after what happened to Jeffrey Daniels the year prior (and the school still hasn’t shelled out the money to paint over the crudely drawn penis and even crueler “fag” that had been scrawled on Jeff’s locker, as if they are keeping it up as a warning). So there is no real chance of finding someone to have a relationship with to take the edge off of the situation with Jensen, but Jared is a busy high school senior, so he makes do in other ways.

Until Matt Bomer comes along.

Jared’s school is big, big enough that it’s hard to keep up with kids in his grade who aren’t in the same class levels as he is, but if there’s one equalizer, it’s gym, and that’s the first time Jared meets Matt, when he’s sweaty from dodgeball and a little slow-witted after an entire day of class followed by a brutal face-hit from the game. Matt is cute and a bit dangerous with his tilted smile and too-tight t-shirt, and Jared might have stared a little too long. Instead of giving Jared a what-the-fuck look, Matt just smirks and plays it up a little until Jared looks away, red-faced.

And then he freakin’ corners Jared after school in his beat-up clunker of a car, offering a ride, effectively saving Jared from a walk home in the rain. And then, while idling at a stoplight, he point-blank asks Jared if he’s gay.

Jared’s first instinct is to deny, spluttering in a very awkward way, but Matt, smooth as ever, says, “No worries, man. I think I am too.” Easy as pie, as if it was just a comment about the weather. “You wanna maybe do something together?”
Even Jared, virgin that he is, isn’t naive enough to miss the double-meaning behind Matt’s words. His gut roils with uncertainty, because he doesn’t know Matt, hasn’t had a single substantive conversation with him ever, but Jared doesn’t know how to refuse him. And Matt’s hot, as previously mentioned.

“Sure,” Jared says as soon as his throat unsticks. “That sounds awesome.”

“Good,” Matt says. “It’ll be our little secret.” He programs Jared’s cell number into his own phone while parked in Jared’s driveway and they make plans to see a movie that Friday, two towns away so as to escape notice.

**

Jared has always been a people-pleaser. He doesn’t know how that habit became ingrained, but he’s always the one to apologize first, to feel bad about something ten minutes after doing it. His momma says it’s because he’s a July baby, but Jared doesn’t believe in that stupid shit. So he’s not really sure where it started, and therefore, he doesn’t know how to stop it.

That trait really bites him in the ass with Matt. Because Jared has a really hard time saying no, and an even harder time doing something that he thinks will hurt someone’s feelings.

It starts out slow--a kiss or two in the theater, but Matt is always pushing. It isn’t bad at first, a quick kiss that turns into making out, which turns into Matt’s hand sliding up under Jared’s shirt. But things just keep escalating, too much, too quickly. Them, in the car, parked out of the way so no one will find them. Matt will undo his jeans and pull out his dick, stroke it, and ask Jared to touch it, kiss it, suck it. Jared never can go far enough for Matt’s liking, because he’s not ready for it, and Matt always gives him an exasperated look before tucking himself back in. He never offers to reciprocate.

And then one night, when Jared’s mom and Jensen are supposed to be out, Matt invites himself over. Within twenty minutes of the movie they’re watching, he has his tongue halfway down Jared’s throat. Jared’s definitely a red-blooded male, has enjoyed kissing Matt before, but this feels invasive almost.

Jared’s too involved in how wrong it feels, how his stomach twists at every press of Matt’s mouth, to hear anything above the rush of blood in his ears. And Matt doesn’t care about what’s happening around them, so when he finally pulls away, it’s too late.

At first Jared thinks it’s because Matt’s finally picked up on the signals Jared’s been trying to send, but then Matt swivels his head towards the kitchen and says, “Oh, hi.”

Jensen is standing there, with his coat in one hand, almost as if he’s shocked. Jared catches a second of confusion on his face before Jensen relaxes. “Hi,” he says amusedly. “Didn’t mean to interrupt, boys. But you know how your momma loves that couch, Jared. Don’t leave any stains, you hear?”

Jared can’t do anything but splutter random words in embarrassment, but true to his word, Jensen disappears upstairs. “Your dad’s cool,” Matt says. “Mine woulda freaked.”

“He’s my stepdad,” says Jared automatically. “And I think you should go.”

“Seriously, man?” Matt asks, obviously annoyed. “We were just getting to the good part.”

“I haven’t come out to them yet,” Jared says dully.

“He seemed okay with it,” Matt says. “C’mon, we were in the middle of something.” He leans over, about to kiss Jared again, but Jared surprises the both of them by springing to his feet, holding his hand in front of his body in a defensive gesture.

“Really. Can you go?” Jared asks in a small voice. . “It’s just... I didn’t think this was how the night was going to go.”

“Jesus,” Matt says, running a hand through his hair. “Fine. Whatever. I’ll just take care of this myself.” He frames his hands around the tent in his pants to prove his point before retrieving his coat from the back of a kitchen chair and leaving out the back.

Jared sits blankly on the couch long after he hears the rumble of Matt’s car recede. He knows he has to go up, say something, and find out if Jensen hates him or is disgusted by him. He also knows that Jensen is probably going to tell his mom, and that is, if possible, even worse, because Jensen may be Jared’s stepdad/crush/something, but his mom is, well, his mom.

He gets up only when he can’t stand staring at the wallpaper anymore, and his feet take him automatically up the stairs to Jensen’s room. The door is cracked open a little, and that makes Jared’s heart race further. He wonders what Jensen was listening for. Steeling himself with a deep breath, Jared knocks on the door, waits for Jensen’s “come in” and pushes his way inside.

Jensen is sitting on the bed watching TV, looking just as relaxed and unconcerned as Jared isn’t, and he cocks an eyebrow when Jared comes to a halt at the foot of his bed. “Your friend left in a hurry,” he says blandly, no inflection to show that he’s doing anything besides stating the obvious.

“I made him leave,” says Jared. He’s shifting nervously from foot to foot, doesn’t know how to start this conversation. Jensen must sense it, because he sits up and does it for the both of them.

“I don’t care, you know,” Jensen says. “That you’re gay, I mean. Or bi. Or experimenting. There’s nothing wrong with it. Although I wish you’d told me before I caught you at it.”

“I didn’t want you to hate me,” Jared says in a small voice, looking down at his feet.

“Hey, c’mon,” Jensen says, “You’re not gonna get me to hate you that easily.”

“Are you gonna tell my mom?” Jared asks, feeling like a little kid.

“It’s your story to tell, kid. But if you’re freakin’ yourself out worrying about it, don’t. She won’t care. I promise.”

“How do you know?” Jared asks, looking at Jensen’s face directly for the first time since he’d come into the room.

“She didn’t care that I’ve had a couple of boyfriends,” says Jensen. “I mean, yeah, it’s been a while, but she didn’t give a shit when I told her about it.” The whole statement is point-blank, like Jensen is just commenting on the weather or some shit, but the words hit Jared like a weight.

“You’re...?” Jared says, his voice trailing off.

“Bi,” Jensen supplies, shrugging. “It’s not that big of a deal, Jared. I mean, yeah, people around here are dicks, but not all of us.”

“Oh,” Jared says, because he can’t think of anything else. “Okay then.”

“But you should tell her soon,” says Jensen. “And introduce her to your boyfriend.”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Jared blurts. “We just... hang out sometimes. I don’t even like him like that.”

“Then why were you kissing him?” Jensen asks shrewdly, and Jared can’t really answer. “Seems to me you shouldn’t really be doing that with someone if you don’t even like them.”

“‘Cause he’s the only one I know like me,” Jared says. This whole conversation is making his stomach ache with how uncomfortable it is, and he has a sudden urge to leave as soon as possible. “Actually, I have a lot of homework to do. So I’m gonna... go.” Jensen just does this one-armed shrug, a sort of “good talk” gesture, and Jared slips out the door

**

Jensen’s words stick with Jared for a long time, and not just the “Oh, Jared, by the way, I’m partly gay” part. Every time he sees Matt, Jared can’t help but hear Jensen’s question about their sort-of relationship. And really, Jensen hit the nail on the head. What is Jared doing with Matt? Now that it’s out in the open, every time Jared thinks of seeing another movie with Matt, or spending some time in his car, he feels vaguely ill-at-ease. He doesn’t want to any more, and that’s what he tells Matt after school one day.

“Seriously?” Matt says, his voice dangerously calm.

“I mean, we aren’t even serious,” Jared says, feeling guilty and awful because Matt’s face is strained in a way that doesn’t look good. “I’m sorry. I just, I think we’re moving too fast. Especially for something that isn’t even a serious relationship.”

“What the fuck ever,” replies Matt. “It’s not like you’re that good anyway. You’re a fuckin’ virginal girl.”

“Stop,” Jared says. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“You didn’t hurt me,” says Matt. “But now I have to go and someone else to fool around with because you’re too much of a pussy to have a friends with benefits relationship.”

“I’m sure you’ll be able to,” Jared offers.

“Yeah, fuck you, Jared,” Matt says, stalking off. And, as it turns out, that is exactly what Matt is planning to do.

**

Jared isn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary when he gets to school that morning. It’s a Wednesday, so there’s no speech club after school or the weekend to look forward to yet. It’s just a simple run-of-the-mill day.

Until he gets to his locker.

At first he thinks he messed up, took a wrong turn and ended up in front of the vandalized locker, the one the administration hasn’t bothered painting over yet, as if they’re imparting a lesson. But no, it’s Jared’s all right, across from the freshmen history classroom, and in lurid, pink letters, the word faggot is spelled out, spanning the entire width of his locker, running up and down vertically so it’s all that can be seen.

Jared’s stomach drops so hard he thinks he’s about to be sick in the hallway. People are talking and pointing, and Jared can’t piece things together. Someone has singled him out, found out what he was hiding, and revealed it with little empathy. And just then he’s knocked into the wall hard, his shoulder banging on the metal grates of his desecrated locker.

“Didn’t see you there, sorry,” some meat head sneers, but the point is received loud and clear. Get outta here. We don’t want people like you here. It hurts, Jesus, does it hurt, and Jared’s trembling without knowing it. He doesn’t even bother doing his combination, just shoulders his backpack and hightails it down the hall and straight out of the front door.

He can’t think of anything but to go home, so that is where he goes. Jared is the good kid, the responsible one; he’s never ditched school like this, but he can’t go back. Not today. He doesn’t even notice Jensen’s car in the driveway, but Jensen notices him as soon as he gets in the house, looking up from his laptop and immediately furrowing his brow. Jared must look as torn up as he feels.

“Jared--” he starts.

“Can you call me in sick?” Jared interrupts. “I can’t go back to school today.” Jared doesn’t even wait for a response, just goes upstairs to his room and lies on his bed, staring at his ceiling until he falls asleep, his emotions a painful knot in his stomach.

**

Jared’s not left to his own devices for too long; he’s awoken by a soft knock at the door and two seconds later the snick of it opening. His mom walks in, still in her pencil skirt from work, looking concerned. “Jared, baby, what’s wrong?” she asks, perching on the edge of the bed.

Jared’s tongue is cotton in his mouth for a good while before he unsticks it. His mom just sits there patiently, waiting for him to tell her, and it all comes out in a rush. “I’m gay,” he blurts out. “I’m gay, and someone found out, and then they spray-painted faggot on my locker and it’s going to be there for the rest of the year because no one ever fixed Jimmy Cullin’s locker, and I can’t go back to school.”

“Oh.” Jared’s mother looks shell-shocked for several moments before she furrows her eyebrows, looking as angry as she did that one time Jared hid a stray dog in his room for two weeks without telling her. Jared feels like he’s going to throw up--is this what it feels like in the seconds before being disowned?--but his mother surprises him. “That’s absolute bull,” she says. “I am going to call the school and throw a fit. This is not okay.”

That throws Jared for a loop and he just gapes at her for a second. The pit of misery that’s settled so heavily in his stomach eases just a tiny bit. “What’s not okay?” he asks tentatively.

“Your locker,” his mama says. “That’s not okay, baby. That’s harassment, and if the school doesn’t paint it over right this second, I’m going to CNN faster than they can build a defense.”

“But you don’t care that I’m gay?” Jared says in a small voice.

“Oh, baby, no,” his mama says, reaching over so she can hug him. “I wouldn’t care if you were fucking Elton John, as long as you were happy. And I always kind of knew. All that pink.”

“Straight men wear pink,” Jared says, blushing.

“Not all the time, baby.”

“It’s my color,” Jared defends.

“I know it is,” his mama says. “And that’s perfectly fine. But I’m not going to stand around and watch you be bullied.”

“You can’t just storm in and make them all stop,” Jared points out. “That will only make it worse.”

“I’m not gonna let you stay home for the rest of the year,” his mama says gently. “I’d be a shit home-schooler. You wouldn’t learn anything, and you’re too smart to be a drop-out.”

“I’d get my GED,” Jared mumbles.

“And I didn’t not raise my son to sit around and take it when people are being assholes,” his mom continues. “If you just hide here, it’s going to be worse when you run into them, at the mall or the movies, or wherever.”
“I’ll just be a hermit,” Jared says. “It’s totally do-able.”

“No it’s not,” his mama says, still totally serious. “You are going to go in there and show them that you’re not gonna take it, not anything they do to you.”

“I’ll get expelled for fighting,” Jared points out. “It’s going to be a shit time.”

“If it’s that bad, we’ll move,” she says. “No questions asked. I’m not going to wait for you to become another suicide statistic. But I’m also not going to let you run away from this. You have to try first.”

“Go back and let everyone spit on me and make fun of me and push me into lockers?”

“You might have more allies than you think, Jared,” his mama says.

“Thanks, mama.” Jared leans his head onto her shoulder like he used to do when he was young. “But you’re serious about the moving thing, right?”
“You know I am,” she says, smiling. “But I know how strong you are. I think it won’t come to that.”

“I hope you’re right.” Jared sighs, and he lets her pet his hair until he dozes off again.

**

His mama lets him take the next day off, but he’s back to school on Friday, shoulders hunched, waiting for the worst. And, yeah, there are the inevitable whispers that follow him down the hall to his locker, but nothing awful happens in the first five minutes. Jared almost wishes that something would happen, just to get it over with. His locker is freshly painted, the same gross green it was before the defacement, and it looks like his mama’s phone call worked.

Chad, who has been intermittently texting him throughout his absence, is completely the same as always, despite what Jared had confessed to the day prior. He slides into his seat in first period, and his “what’s up, motherfucker?” gets a sternly snapped Chad from their teacher.

“Or should I say cocksucker?” he asks, his voice pitched low enough that Mrs. Stein can’t hear him. There’s no censure in his voice though; it’s nothing more than the crude type of joke Chad likes to make.

“Shut up,” Jared says, but he’s almost laughing. “I’m not stuffed in a locker or unconscious in the hallway somewhere, so I’m doing fine.”

“Pft,” Chad scoffs. “Everyone knows that shit isn’t gonna happen to you. You’re a golden boy, not some freak like Jimmy Cullin.”

“Yeah, that’s real nice. Real assuring,” Jared says.

“Well, yeah, some of the dumbass jock jerks might do somethin’,” Chad says, waving his hand. “But you’re not gonna take that shit lying down. I remember when you made Robby cry in sixth grade just by insultin’ him.”

“He called me a whore baby,” says Jared.

“So he deserved what he got. And so will these motherfuckers if they mess with you.” Chad waves his hand again and looks at it in a scrutinizing way. “Hey, can I pretend to be a homo like you if I do this thing with my hand? Limp wristin’ it?”

“What the fuck are you even talking about?” Jared says, laughing all the way now even though Chad is crossing the line into offensive territory. “You are such a dumb shit.” The morning announcements begin before Chad can respond, and Jared listens to them with a stupid smile on his face.

**

The next week passes fairly evenly. Jared does get in a shouting match with Steve Crawlins in the hallway after he was summarily called a faggot (seriously, old material is old) but now that he knows he has people on his side, it’s a lot easier to not be hurt by the insults. He knows these kids, has known them since elementary school, and this gives him ammo to shoot back with. Still, he’s surprised that most people don’t even really mention it. There are some kids in class that edge away from him, which stings, but most don’t; most of them don’t give a shit.

Matt has been ignoring Jared, which makes him think that Matt’s the one who did the whole spray paint routine in the first place. Jared wishes he could out Matt in turn, but that’s a shitty thing to do. Besides, no one would believe it, not so soon after Jared’s little issue. They aren’t talking, they’re doing the don’t look at each other routine, and Jared’s pissed, but he can be the bigger man. Well, after he “accidentally” trips Matt on the track outside as they warm up for gym. That’s a given.

When the weekend finally comes, Jared’s dying for it. Things may have gone better than expected in the aftermath of the whole coming-out thing but they have been far from amazing. He doesn’t want to trivialize his mom’s support, or Chad’s awesome attitude about it all, but he has had to ignore quite a few pointed glances and deal with one too many shoves. He doesn’t lie down and take this shit, not when it’s not too bad, but it’s too much effort to make a big deal out of the small things. But those small things still hurt, much more than Jared anticipated they would.

The weekend is shaping up to be slow: nothing planned but homework and long naps in order to catch up on sleep. For once, Chad accepts Jared’s beg-off from a night of sneaking into bars or parties or hanging at the local shake shop, so he decides to lounge and watch TV and maybe play some X-box to pass Friday night. That’s why Jared is wholly surprised when Jensen knocks on his door at half-past six and tells him to get dressed to go out, adding that Jared should wear his black button-down, the one Jensen knows is too tight. As well as being surprised he’s definitely anticipatory, because Jensen is already done up for something; he’s wearing his pair of nice jeans and a polo that fits almost too well. Jared gets dressed in record time, trying in vain for a couple minutes to make his hair behave, and then goes downstairs to meet Jensen, who’s waiting by the backdoor with his car keys in hand.

“Where are we going?” Jared asks. “Is mom coming?”

“Nah, she’s out with some people from work,” Jensen says. “Just us tonight. And it’s a surprise.”

“I hate surprises,” Jared says automatically.

“You’ll like this one,” Jensen counters with a smirk, and Jared’s stomach does this completely inappropriate flip-flop

Not a date, he has to remind himself as he slides into the front seat. Stop being a stupid kid. He’s your stepdad.

Even though the traffic is light, the drive downtown takes a good forty minutes. Jensen keeps up a steady stream of easy conversation, expertly steering away from any talk about the whole coming-out debacle of the week, letting the radio cover any silences. They end up at a quiet, hippy sort of bistro along the main road in the city, and Jared has to keep on distracting himself from date-like thoughts.

“You brought me here to get dinner?” he asks. “That’s the surprise?”

“What’s after is a surprise,” Jensen corrects. “This is so you don’t throw a temper tantrum when you get hungry.”

“It was only that one time,” Jared says, half-seriously. “And you guys were trying to starve me, I swear.” This elicits a laugh from Jensen, and dinner conversation follows along the same vein as before.

When Jensen’s paid, he leads Jared out of the restaurant and walks past the entrance to the garage they parked in, instead following the road down a block or so before he cuts down a side street and promptly greets a bouncer in front of a brightly lit club. The bouncer must be a friend of Jensen’s, because he lets Jared in without even asking to see an ID. Once his eyesight has adjusted, Jared immediately knows why Jensen’s brought him here, because obviously,, they are in a gay club.

Jensen sidles up to the bar, raising an eyebrow at Jared before ordering a double whiskey and then a coke for Jared. As soon as the bartender’s gaze is adverted, Jensen pours a liberal amount of his drink into Jared’s cup. “Don’t overdo it,” he warns, and Jared just nods as if one shot of whiskey is going to make him go off and puke in an alley.

Jensen lets Jared just look for a while, watch as people accumulate, order drinks, dance and chat each other up over the pounding bass. It’s very overwhelming at first--Jared knew that there had to be other gay people around, but he’s never really encountered any before Matt. But here they are, congregated, laughing, and definitely gay if the grinding is any indication. It’s relieving to see that these people are normal. Most of them don’t fit the stereotypes perpetuated on television, and Jared feels less like a freak as he listens to them talk, and watches them with each other.

“Come on,” Jensen yells after a while, pulling on Jared’s sleeve. “Let’s go out there.” He gestures to the dance floor, which has filled up over the past hour. Jared feels sweaty just looking at them.

“I don’t dance,” he yells back but Jensen just rolls his eyes and pulls Jared out anyway. It’s easy for Jensen, Jared thinks bitterly, as he begins to awkwardly move to the music. Jensen knows how to move along with the beat, whereas Jared just looks like someone trying too hard to be the comic relief. But Jensen doesn’t seem to mind, he stays close to Jared, subtly keeping him from being groped by another person, sometimes trying to show Jared how to dance, guiding him with his hands on Jared’s arms, shoulders, and once, memorably, resting for an instant on Jared’s hips.

It’s heady, the way Jared feels, and definitely not good, the way this makes Jared feel about Jensen. It’s so hard to remember what Jensen is in relation to Jared--older, more sophisticated, his fucking stepdad. Jensen just feels like a friend, a hot friend, a crush, someone Jared could easily kiss right this second, and that is scary and wonderful and Jared can’t think of what else he thinks.

When they finally leave, Jensen doesn’t really talk, both of them nursing ringing ears. Jensen drives home carefully, slowly, as though he’s making up for the cacophony of the club. When they park back at the house, Jared thanks him quietly and sincerely, with a smile on his face before he goes up to bed. He doesn’t fall asleep for a long time, but that’s okay. He has a lot of sorting to do before his feelings can even remotely be unraveled.

**

Jared tries to get over his crush on Jensen -- he really does. It has solidified more than ever since the club and their outing. It’s near impossible not to think about it, due to Jensen being a perpetual staple in his house. Nothing has helped, not his friends’ advice about it (though perhaps Jared could have given them more to go on than his vague story about a crush on an unknown friend),.And Google is more of a hindrance than a help. He can’t just go up to Jensen and confess it all, Jesus. That would probably end in the worst possible way ever. Jared might even have to move in with his dad, and that would probably end in suicide.

Christmas break approaches without a shift in anything; school is still a mix of normal and shitty following the whole breaking out of the closet, his mom’s still spacey and mom-like, Jensen’s still gorgeous and unattainable, and Jared’s still a seventeen year old boy with inappropriate erections and awkward moments.

Jared’s mom flies down to Florida a couple of days before Jared’s let out for break, leaving Jensen and him to make their own way down together by car because Jensen’s terrified of flying. In retrospect, Jared knows it was a bad idea to agree to an eighteen hour car trip with Jensen of all people, but he’d felt bad, leaving Jensen alone to do that on his own. They leave later than planned due to a small crisis at Jensen’s office; the holiday traffic is heavy, and gridlocked at times. The drive is too long for them to make in one go, not without wanting to die of cramped legs and close quarters, so they stop six hours from Miami in a nondescript town, midnight come and gone before they get into their room.

As the door swings shut behind them, Jensen immediately groans at the lone, king-sized bed. “I booked a double,” he grumbles. “She confirmed a double when she checked us in.”

“I’m not moving,” Jared says, too exhausted to do much more than flop down on the right half of the bed. “You can pay for another room if you want to, but I’m staying here.”

“I’m not sleeping on the floor,” Jensen says.

“Neither am I,” Jared yawns. “The bed’s big enough. I’m going to sleep.” He barely pauses long enough to toe off his shoes before shimmying under the covers. Briefly he entertains the thought about how bad of an idea this is; sharing a bed with Jensen when there are times when sharing a room with him are unbearable, but Jared can’t muster up the energy to care. He falls into a half-sleep almost immediately, vaguely noticing Jensen putter around the room, and by the time the left half of the bed dips with Jensen’s weight, Jared is pretty much unconscious.

**

Jared doesn’t know what wakes him up the next morning, but the only explanation for what happens is that he thought he was still asleep. Jensen’s face is right by his, too close, and Jared thinks it’s a dream, just like any other that he’s had before, and he kisses Jensen before he can register that everything is real.

He remembers thinking about how good it is, how Jensen’s mouth parts below his softly, dryly, how Jensen kisses back after only a couple moments, how Jared’s stomach sparks with it. And then Jared opens his eyes again (when had they fallen shut?) and he’s staring into Jensen’s eyes, and they’re still kissing.

That’s when Jared flings himself backwards, falls out of the bed, and dashes to the bathroom, only seeing Jensen’s flabbergasted expression for the quickest of seconds before he shuts the door behind him.

**

By the time Jared gathers enough courage to emerge from the bathroom, Jensen’s already gone down to the continental breakfast, and the next hour is a practice in avoidance. Unfortunately, they’re due in Miami, and there’s only so long they can stall before they have to get on the road. And that pretty much sucks.

They make it maybe twenty miles away from Hotel Hell (Jared’s new pet name) before Jensen bursts out laughing. It lasts long, too long, and Jared finds nothing amusing about the situation, so he can’t force himself to join in, just sits there until Jensen tapers off. “Seriously, man,” Jensen says once he gets his breath back. “This isn’t the end of the world. So you woke up and thought I was, I dunno, Justin Timberlake and kissed me. I remember being your age, and ready to jump anything that moved.”

And, honestly, even though Jared should feel glad that Jensen’s able to laugh it off, he can’t feel anything but hurt. “That’s not how it was,” he says before he can stop himself.

That earns him a sidelong glance, and for a moment, Jensen looks off-put, maybe scared, and that ratchets Jared’s heartbeat even higher. “Jared--” he says, sounding much less confident than before, but whatever he’d been thinking must stick in his throat, because nothing follows.

And Jared can’t help it, not when he’s feeling scooped empty, dirty and freakish. He lets the words bubble out of his mouth unheeded, without thought. “I know I shouldn’t, okay? But I can’t help it. It’s like some weird compulsion or teenage hormones or--who knows. But I like you, Jensen. I like you more than I should, seeing as you’re my stepdad. And I’ve tried to stop, but I just--I can’t.”

Jared’s practically shaking by the time everything’s come out of him, and he’s half-tempted to bail from the car and hitchhike the rest of the way to Miami if it means he can get away from Jensen. Jensen, for his part, looks stunned, and he keeps running one hand through his hair, inadvertently allowing the car to slow below the speed limit. “Jesus,” he says. “Jesus, Jared.”

“Don’t be mad at me,” Jared says tonelessly. “It’s how I feel. If I could change it, I would.” And then, after a minute or so of silence as the thought occurs, Jared adds, “And you kissed me back.”

He’s waiting for a denial, something along the lines of being asleep and automatic response, but Jensen just sighs, his hand bone-white on the wheel from his tight grip, and says, “We can’t do this, Jared. It’s not right.”

If there was anything Jared had been expecting, it wasn’t that. “Wait, what?” he asks, more out of astonishment than anything else.

Jensen doesn’t answer, just fixes his gaze firmly on the span of road ahead of them. He’s clutching the wheel so hard that Jared can almost hear his bones creak. “Not doing what?” Jared presses quietly, the words reverberating in the vacuum of the car.

“Jared,” Jensen says, and there’s a note of panic in his voice.

“At least say it,” Jared says, sounding more courageous than he feels.

“You’re seventeen,” Jensen says. “You’re my stepson. It can’t happen.”

“But you want it to,” Jared says slowly. Jensen doesn’t answer again. “Do you?”

“I thought I was hiding it,” Jensen says, so lowly it’s almost a strain to hear him. “It’s sick--to want you, and Jesus, I never thought I was obvious enough for you to catch on.”

“But I didn’t,” Jared blurts. “Are you serious? I didn’t--Jensen, it’s just me! Or at least I thought it was.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Jensen says fiercely.

“It does,” Jared says. “If you--if you’re interested, and I definitely am, why can’t we?” Even as he says it, he knows it the dumbest idea ever. Jensen is still his stepdad. This should be fucked up, saying it aloud, but it feels normal, right, tantalizingly there.

“You’re underage and I’m married to your mother,” says Jensen evenly.

“I’m seventeen and a half,” Jared says. “And you’re married to my mom out of convenience. It’s not real.”

“That doesn’t mean we can do this,” Jensen says. “I’m sorry.”

“Jensen--”

“I’m not talking about it anymore, Jared,” Jensen says, in a final sort of way. He flicks the stereo on, the Queen CD taking up where it was last left off, loud enough to inhibit any conversation. Jared, his mind spinning, his stomach churning in a distressing sort of way, looks at Jensen until it hurts to do so, and then spends the rest of the trip in silence, watching the road goes by.

**

Jared doesn’t know how to approach this whole thing; he really doesn’t. Jensen spends the majority of their time in Miami subtly avoiding Jared, going out of his way to run errands or go for runs along the beach. But when he has an excuse to be in ear shot of Jensen, Jared just can’t dredge up what he wants to say.. It’s hard. It’s harder than Jared would have thought, given what Jensen’s admitted and Jared’s own feelings.

He doesn’t know what to do.

There are plenty of romantic-movie cliches that Jared could try to make Jensen capitulate, and he runs the scenarios over in his head. There isn’t anything that he can come up with that doesn’t feel forced and dumb, so when they get back to Texas, Jared hasn’t solved anything, and Jensen hasn’t said anything to him besides pleasantries since their car ride.

When they get home, Jared has an added worry to think about besides what’s going on between him and Jensen. He gets out of a movie to a voicemail from his dad, his absentee-see-you-once-a-year-maybe dad, requesting a dinner with him. Jared sorely wants to refuse, but the last time he’d tried that, his mother had gotten a verbal lashing from Padalecki Senior and spent the entire week in an upset snit.

His mom had been eighteen when she’d met Jared’s dad, taking college courses for credit even though she was still in high school. The way she told it, Gerry had been suave, an older man who taught her class and went over-time on his office hours expanding on his lessons for Sheri’s benefit only. Jared thinks that it was a particularly creepy seduction ruse on his dad’s part, considering how quickly he’d severed ties when Sheri ended up pregnant, but he doesn’t like to talk to his mom about it. She always purses her lips and gets very quiet; Jared’s dad had messed with her to the point where she wasn’t over it, even now.

So Jared dresses up in khakis and a button-down so as not to seem as though he isn’t trying, and waits outside to be sure he intercepts his dad before his mom can, and climbs into the car before it stops. It’s nice--too nice--and Jared wrinkles his nose as his dad admonishes him for closing the door too firmly. He’s in the back, sequestered with his half-brother, a little ten-year-old terror, with his step-mom in the front seat looking as though she’d just tasted a lemon.

They go through all the normal platitudes in a couple of minutes, the ‘how are yous?’ and the ‘how’s your mom?’ and the ‘how are things?’, and then his dad begins to talk to his wife, effectively shutting Jared out. Jared just crosses his arms and settles further back into his seat while his half-brother stink-eyes him. It’s twenty long, tortuous minutes before they reach the restaurant, and by that timeJared’s practically crawling out of his skin.

They’ve been sitting at the table for nearly ten minutes when Jared’s dad turns his attention back to Jared, smiling humorlessly when Jared accidentally snags the tablecloth with his shoe. “Have you heard back from any colleges yet?” he asks, his voice smarmy.

“Actually, I got something from Texas A&M last week,” Jared says. “Early acceptance. I wasn’t expecting to get anything so soon.”

His stepmother barely managed to conceal her scoff and his father raised an eyebrow. “Texas A&M? Surely that’s your safety school?”

“No…,” Jared says slowly. “I liked it when I took the tour. I’m still waiting to hear from some other schools.”

“How great,” Jared’s dad says, but it’s tinged with sarcasm.

“Only idiots go to state schools,” his half-brother, Ian, says. Nobody says anything to contradict him.

“I don’t wanna go too far,” Jared says defensively. “Tuition’s expensive, and there are plenty of good public schools here.”

“Very practical,” his father says. “But if you got a scholarship, it wouldn’t be so unmanageable.”

“I’m not exactly a minority here,” Jared points out.

“That’s not the primary motivator for many scholarships,” Jared’s father says. “You could get one for good academic presentation.”

Jared colors a little. With the whole coming out thing and being a senior in love with his stepdad, he hasn’t been paying as much attention to schoolwork as he should. He’s not dumb, and he’s not failing, but his grades aren’t super-stellar. Definitely not enough to get him a merit-based scholarship, at any rate. “It doesn’t matter,” Jared says. “I’m not enough of a genius to get a full-ride to a good, private school, and I wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise. Just because you’re ashamed of state schools, which, by the way, is hypocritical since you teach at one, doesn’t mean I have to be.”

He may have overstepped the boundaries a little, but his dad colors all the same. “Stop making excuses for not applying yourself,” he says, completely missing the point. “Just admit that you haven’t tried hard enough to get anywhere in life.”

That stings. Jared knows he’s touched a sore spot--his dad had tenure at a private school when Jared was ten--but he’d subsequently lost his job by being a little too friendly with some of his younger students. At the same time, this is Jared’s dad, the guy who only comes around once a year, sends the minimum in child support even though he could give more, forgets birthdays, and so on: in general, a giant dick.

“Not like you were around to give me any valuable tips or guide my moral upbringing,” Jared snaps. “I don’t think you get to sit here and judge me.”

“If it wasn’t for me,” his father hissed, his temper in complete control, “you wouldn’t exist.”

“Yes, thanks so much for your genetic material, dad,” Jared says.

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” his dad says, his voice still low as to not attract attention.

“Gerald,” Jared’s stepmom says, placing a placating hand on Gerald’s arm. “Don’t say something you’ll regret.”

“He needs to learn some respect,” Gerald says.

“Maybe when you deserve it,” Jared counters.

“And he’s old enough to know this,” Gerald says, his face contorted in rage. “If it wasn’t for me--if I hadn’t intervened--your mother would have aborted you before you were the size of a tennis ball.”

The silence is ringing, loud in Jared’s ears as his stomach slams to his feet. It takes him a moment to formulate his reply; he’s too preoccupied with the thought of his mother--his flakey, pragmatic mother, young and pregnant, considering an abortion. Considering aborting him. “So you convinced her to have me when she didn’t want me, and then disappeared. Am I supposed to be thankful?”

Gerald seems to finally have realized what he let himself do, over-run by anger, and looks just a little contrite. “She did get attached,” he admits. “After she hit the second trimester.”

“But it was those first couple of months when she didn’t want me,” Jared says dully. “Did she resent me? Or does she now?”

“That’s not what I meant,” Gerald immediately defends.

“I thought I was old enough to hear the truth?” says Jared. His voice sounds a million miles away.

“Don’t skew what I said,” Gerald defends.

“I’m literally repeating things here,” Jared says.

“You’re being a child, and feeling sorry for yourself,” Gerald says.

“Oh, fuck you,” Jared says, standing up so fast his chair topples over. “Fuck you and your sanctimonious bullshit and your holier-than-thou attitude. You were never anything to me. And you won’t ever be because you’re too full of yourself to see anyone else around you. So go to hell. And don’t follow me.”

Jared leaves before his father can say another word, his heart beating too fast in his chest, and his eyes stinging with tears. He walks, one block, two blocks, three, until he loses track, and turns enough corners to get lost. He then quite literally collapses against a brick wall and sits on the dirty concrete. Only then does he pull out his phone.

He dials his mom first, out of sheer desperation, needing to hear her deny everything he’s heard, but she doesn’t answer. The landline at home is his next attempt, and she doesn’t answer there either. But Jensen does.

Jensen’s voice is calm, grounding, and even though he hadn’t intended to get a hold of him, it makes Jared feel a little bit less like he’s about to fly off the handle. It takes Jensen two hellos before Jared takes a shuddering breath and manages to say, “Jensen, can you come get me?”

“Jared?” Jensen says, immediately concerned. “Jared, what’s wrong?”

“Can you come get me please?” Jared repeats.

“I’m on my way,” says Jensen, and Jared can hear rustling over the line. “Where are you?”

“Dunno,” Jared says automatically.

“Didn’t your dad take you to a restaurant in midtown?” Jensen says, sounding urgent. “I think that’s what your mom said.”

“Yeah,” Jared says slowly. “Some local joint--don’t remember the name. I’m not there anymore.”

“What’s the closest cross street?” Jensen asks. “I’ll come get you as soon as I can, but I need to know where you are.”

“Hudson and Lane,” Jared says after a moment. He’d had to abandon his vigil against the wall and walk to find the signs.

“Stay there,” Jensen says. “Do you need me to stay on the phone with you?”

“No,” Jared says. “I’m okay.”

“I’m coming, Jared,” Jensen says. “Just wait for me.”

“I will,” Jared says quietly, hanging up before Jensen can respond.

**

Jared’s numbly wondering if he maybe overreacted by the time Jensen pulls up, parks illegally and gets out of the car. He’s not fretting like Jared’s mother would, not feeling Jared’s forehead or going into hysterics--he just sits down on the curb next to Jared, not saying anything for a long time.

The silence is inviting, and after a couple of minutes, Jared can’t help but talk. “He said my mom didn’t want me. That she was going to get an abortion and he stopped her.”

“Who cares what your dad thinks?” Jensen says, very steadily, though Jared can see that his hand is clenched. “Your mom loves you and your dad’s a womanizing asshole.”

“He wasn’t lying though,” Jared says. “And I’m not just saying that --I know my mom. She’s flighty and irresponsible sometimes, and she hates being tied down. She would have thought about it. She would have gone through with it. She’s the only one who’s ever been there for me, and she didn’t even want me.”

“Jared,” Jensen says, almost sounding angry. “You’re here, you’re alive, and I’ve never met anyone whose mom loves him more. If you asked her, I bet you a million dollars she would say she wouldn’t trade you for anything. It doesn’t matter what she thought about doing eighteen years ago and ended up not doing. Don’t let one dick comment from your dad make you doubt her. She fucks up; she’s human, but she’s stuck by you.”

“Sometimes I wonder what she would have done if I hadn’t been born,” Jared says.

“Don’t do this,” Jensen says. “Don’t feel sorry for yourself. You’re not a magician. You can’t know what she would have done without you. If she had given you up, she could have gotten so depressed that she killed herself. Who cares about the might-have-beens? You’re alive, she’s damn happy, and your dad is married to some bitch who only cares about his money. You have so many people who love you, Jared. Don’t play this game.”

Jensen is the perfect choice, the one Jared needs even though he hadn’t been the first person Jared thought to call.. His stomach has settled, his knees feel less like jelly, and he’s beginning to feel stupid, like he’s blown everything out of proportion. He feels reckless; he can’t ignore this stupid, heady sensation roiling in his gut. So he doesn’t and instead says, “Thank you, Jensen,” and levers himself up a little so he can kiss Jensen, square on the mouth.

It’s not a chaste kiss, not meant as something quick. Jared thinks he’ll be rebuffed like the morning in the hotel, and that makes him desperate, hungry, and when Jensen hesitates, just for a second, Jared presses harder, curling a hand around the back of Jensen’s neck.

Jensen doesn’t pull away. He kisses back, several breathless seconds where Jared’s heart tries its damnedest to beat of his chest. Jensen’s hand falls to Jared’s arm, and it’s as if he’s been branded, the heat of it searing through his shirt.

All too soon, Jensen pulls away, looking shocked and upset. “Jared, we can’t.”

“I don’t care,” Jared says, lunging forward again. Their second kiss is equally good, and Jensen responds in the same way, responding to Jared’s desperation in kind.

“You’re seventeen,” Jensen says, pulling away again.

“It’s not illegal to kiss,” Jared counters, and they’re at it again, Jensen’s tongue slipping into Jared’s mouth for the briefest of seconds, causing sparks to fly up Jared’s spine.

“You’re my stepson,” Jensen says, separating again (and seriously, how does he keep doing that?). Jared almost can’t stand the lulls between kisses.

“You married my mother out of convenience,” Jared reminds him, and again, they’re together, kissing, fitting like they were molded for one another.

“We’re in public, and your dad could be driving around trying to find you,” Jensen says.

“Then take me home,” Jared says. He sounds wrecked, even to his own ears, and even though he didn’t mean for his statement to be innuendo, Jensen’s ears still go pink.

The ride home is quiet and anticipatory. Jared still doesn’t feel like himself, keeps giving Jensen defiant glances, but Jensen’s attention is steadfastly on the road. They go the speed limit the entire way home, as if Jensen’s afraid of something. But after they park in the garage, Jensen doesn’t move from his seat, and Jared follows suit. The way Jensen awkwardly uses the garage clicker to close the door behind them makes it a little more solemn and contained.

“This is wrong,” Jensen starts, and that causes Jared to laugh, just a little.

“This sounds like a conversation that belongs in Twilight,” Jared says. “What, do you want me to say, ‘That I don’t want to be right?’”

“You know what I’m saying,” Jensen says. “If your mother finds out...”

“It’s not like you two are exclusive,” Jared points out.

“That’s not what I’m saying, and you know it,” Jensen says. “You’re seventeen -- I’m thirty-five. We can’t do this.”

“You keep saying that,” Jared says, with something heavy settling in his chest. “But keep kissing me back.” Jensen’s so tense that he must be hurting. Jared wants to touch him badly, to relieve some of that stress, but he knows it’s a bad idea.

“I can’t keep doing this,” Jensen says. “Every time you push this, my excuses feel more and more like bullshit.”

“Then maybe that’s a sign,” Jared offers.

Jensen sighs. “This is so fucked up. If it was just you crushing on me--fine, I could take that. But me feeling the same way--I’m half a step away from being a pedophile.”

“I’m not a little kid,” Jared says. “Seventeen, remember? Eighteen in less than six months.”
“You’re just going to keep pushing this, aren’t you,” Jensen says. It’s not a question.

“I wouldn’t, if I knew that you didn’t want it too,” says Jared. “But it’s stupid--if we both want something, why aren’t we doing it?”

“So many reasons,” Jensen says.

“I’ll keep it a secret,” Jared offers. “I’m good at that. Mom hardly pays attention to anything anyway, and she always says I’m more grown up than I should be. I can keep quiet.”
“This is going to blow up in my face,” Jensen mutters.

“Not if we’re careful,” says Jared. “I can be careful.”

“Fuck it,” Jensen says, quietly, and then he’s twisting, grabbing Jared’s shirt and hauling him half over the middle console, kissing him so hard that Jared’s surprised his lip doesn’t split. It feels fantastic, coursing fire through his veins, but it’s over too soon.

“I’m not crossing the line with you,” Jensen says. “Not until you’re eighteen. Don’t push me on that.”

“I won’t,” says Jared, though he’s not sure he can keep the promise.

“I must be going crazy,” Jensen muses. “Let’s get inside. I feel stupid sitting in this car.”

The bubble of hope in Jared’s chest as he follows Jensen in is almost enough to outweigh his preoccupation with his father’s nasty revelation.

**

Things don’t really change.

Well, there are stolen kisses, taken in the hall or outside the kitchen, all initiated by Jared, because even though Jensen somewhat agreed to...this, he’s still skittish, still unwilling to make the first move. But he wants it; Jared can tell, and that’s why he keeps going in for it, kissing Jensen until Jensen makes a little growl in the back of his throat and pins Jared against the wall. Jensen’s a good kisser, borne from years of experience that make Jared’s stomach pang with jealousy. He knows just how to make Jared shiver, arch for more, susses out the spot on Jared’s neck that makes him practically collapse to the floor when bitten.

But he sticks to his guideline, always fastidious to keep their hips out of contact, even when he’s desperate and takes control. It’s frustrating -- Jared’s a teenager, stricken with inappropriate erections when he isn’t making out with his gorgeous (boyfriend? stepdad? what the fuck?) Jensen, but he doesn’t push. He’s smart enough to know that trying to coerce Jensen into anything besides the kissing is a bad idea, tantamount to causing Jensen to break the whole deal.

Jensen is above all things, a perfectly taught Texan male, because three weeks into their, well, their relationship, he takes Jared on a proper date. It takes Jared an embarrassingly long time to figure out what they’re doing, but in retrospect, it is pretty perfect.

“I’m bored,” Jensen announces, one rainy Saturday, looking out the window. “Let’s go see a movie.”

Jared, who has a killer physics test on Monday and a term paper to finish for Advanced English, doesn’t hesitate. “That sounds so much better than what I’m doing right now,” he says, smiling. So Jensen finds the showing times for some suitably gory horror flick at a theater forty minutes away (a strategic move to avoid prying eyes, obviously). Jared barely takes time to change his shirt, let alone get ready, casually sloppy next to Jensen, who’s always dressed nicer than the occasion calls for.

The movie has just enough blood and guts to keep them both cringing, and it’s about the time when the main girl’s friend shows her boobs that Jared realizes why he feels so on edge. Jensen keeps brushing his hand in the popcorn and letting it linger, his knee too close to Jared’s for comfort. The movie’s been out for a while, leading to a nearly empty theater, and they’re in the last row, and oh Jared’s an idiot.

He puts the armrest up, just to signal that he understands, cuddling a little closer into Jensen’s side until he feels a line of heat against his ribs. Jensen curls one hand around the back of Jared’s neck, and this must be what dates are meant for, because Jared never wants this warm weight in his stomach to disappear.

After, Jared takes him to an unassuming steakhouse and they make fun of the movie over baked potatoes, and share a humongous piece of apple pie while regaling each other with stories of their crazy neighbor. It’s domestic and perfect, and Jensen kisses him goodnight before they get home, just like any rom-com would prescribe.

And after that, they keep going on dates. Simple ones, far enough away so they won’t be caught out, not that Jensen isn’t perfectly gentlemanly as if not to arise suspicion. Jared is still baby-faced, after all, even though he’s almost legally an adult. His mom’s too busy to notice, not that she’d particularly care as long as she didn’t know about the kissing part, but Jared’s not as good an actor as he thinks he is; it’s only a month or so before Chad cottons on.

“Dude, what’s up with you?” Chad asks in trigonometry one day over their in-class worksheet. “You’ve been walking on clouds or some shit. If you have happy drugs that you aren’t sharing, I’m gonna shank you.”

“Chad,” Jared hisses, darting a glance at their teacher, who is, thankfully, preoccupied with helping some students figure out the answer to question three. “I do not need my locker to be drug-searched.”

“Whatever, like Mr. Stoner cares. His name is Stoner, Jared. He can’t judge.”

“He hates you, Chad. Don’t give him a reason to get you expelled,” says Jared.

“I’m not afraid of him,” Chad says, waving his hand in a dismissive gesture. “But don’t think I didn’t notice you changing the subject. You’re totally getting some ass, aren’t you? And you haven’t even told me! Weak, man. I thought we were friends.”

“Chad,” Jared splutters, looking wildly around. No one seems to be paying attention, but that doesn’t mean the school’s gossip mill isn’t whirring. “I am not getting any. Jesus!”

“You totally are,” Chad counters. “You keep walking around with a goofy smile on your face, and I knew that you were hiding a hickey with your mom’s make-up last week. I’m the master at hiding hickeys; you can’t keep that shit from me.”

Jared blushes a little; Jensen had gotten a little out of hand last week by accident. Jared had even hidden the hickey from him so he didn’t freak out about the physical evidence. “You’re bullshitting,” Jared says. “Unlike you, I don’t wear make-up.”

“Some chicks find eyeliner sexy, asshole,” Chad says. “And I know when you’re lying, you bitch.”

“You do not,” says Jared. “You’re no Sherlock Holmes.”

“I know what it looks like when someone is batshit deep in love,” Chad defends. “My mama gets that look on her face about a month into every relationship she’s had. Before he starts drinking or dealing or going apeshit, that is.”

“Jesus, Chad, will you drop it?” Jared says, something fluttering in his stomach. “I’m not in love, promise.”

“Denial ain’t just a river in China,” Chad says.

“You are so dumb,” Jared laughs. “Like, monumentally.”

Chad responds with a lewd gesture that is, unfortunately, timed at exactly the wrong moment, landing him with a detention a la Mr. Stoner. Still, Chad has something, some kernel of truth, and that sticks with Jared for the rest of the day.

**

It’s maybe three weeks later when Jared’s conversation with Chad really grows into its weight. He’s sitting in their backyard, sky impossibly blue, with Jensen next to him, and when he looks over, he catches Jensen in the middle of a thought, judging by his expression. It’s wistful, sad almost, and it takes Jared aback.

“What’s wrong?” he asks cautiously. He’s afraid of another conversation about how what they’re doing shouldn’t continue.

“Nothing,” Jensen says. “It’s nothing.”

“Something’s bothering you,” Jared says. “You can tell me.”

Jensen makes a little exhale, a half-laugh. “You sound like a therapist.”
“Well, you’d know,” Jared quips, but his stomach sinks as Jensen frowns. “Wait--I was joking. Seriously, what’s wrong?”

“Just wanted to let you know something,” Jensen says. “If you ever wanna walk away, you should. I’m not gonna be mad. I remember being seventeen.”

Jared swallows against the hard lump in his throat. “Do you want to walk away?” he asks.
“I would never have started this if I wasn’t sure about you, Jared,” says Jensen.

“The same thing goes for me too,” Jared says. “I mean, this is fucked up. I know it is. I just, I can’t help wanting it.”

“You won’t ever really be comfortable being out with me, with your friends. If your mom finds out--”

“When mom finds out,” Jared corrects softly, which startles Jensen. “If it gets to that point, if we both decide we’re completely serious, I have to tell her. I was gonna wait until I was eighteen, so it would be easier if she kicked me out...but I can’t hide it much longer than that.”

“It’s going to hurt her,” Jensen says miserably. “It’s gonna tear her apart, and I’m gonna be the one to tell her. I’m the adult.”

“Four months,” Jared reminds him.

“I’m telling her,” Jensen repeats.

“After my eighteenth, then,” Jared says. “If we’re still doing this by then.”

“If you still want to,” Jensen says. “Even if you don’t, I won’t keep playing your mom. We might not be exclusive, or really together like that, but I’m married to her. I already feel like scum for playing her for a fool.

“I know,” says Jared, very softly. “I just can’t see myself not wanting to do this with you, Jensen.”

“That’s the problem,” Jensen says. “Neither can I.”

“So we’ll leave it a little while longer, until we get our bearings,” Jared says, nursing the heavy weight of guilt in his stomach for proposing a plan that keeps his mom in the dark. “Until I’m eighteen.”

Jensen just inclines his head, and Jared scoots closer, linking his hand in Jensen’s and leaning against him, staring up at the sky. There, in that moment, Jared can tell why Chad thought that he was in love. Honestly, Jared doesn’t even know himself, but thinking about leaving Jensen, about exercising his right to be an indecisive, flighty teenager, is definitely not something Jared wants to consider. Jared might not be an expert in romantic love, but he knows the pain of loss, and just that hint of it is enough to make him hang on tighter to Jensen’s hand.

**

Jared starts counting down the days until July halfway through April, when things are really winding down at school. He feels like he should feel weird, more so that he already does with Jensen, and the way that he doesn’t is odd in its own way. Jared isn’t sad or nostalgic about high school ending; he’s excited. He doesn’t care that he can’t take his boyfriend to prom, because taking Jensen to prom means partying with Jensen and Chad, and that’s too much no for one room. He’s gotten his financial aid set up for college, he’s sent in his acceptance, and he’s ready to be an adult.

“You’re so calm,” Adrianne says to him one afternoon as she’s stressing about moving all the way to New York for college.

“I’m not going that far,” says Jared pragmatically. “And, I dunno. High school just wasn’t that great. I don’t think it’s anything to be sad about leaving.”

“You’re such a little adult,” she says. “I’m surprised you don’t wear a suit and hang out with the rest of the future business leaders.”

“I want to be a counselor,” Jared says, furrowing his brow. “I’d be a crappy accountant.”

Jensen loved that, when Jared told him, laughing about sweater vests over pink shirts. Jared likes that Jensen approves.

“Right, bad analogy,” Addy says, sighing. “I’ve seen you try to do math.”

“I’ve seen you try to write a story for English,” Jared counters.

“Touché,” Addy concedes. “Anyways, when am I going to meet this boyfriend of yours?”

Jared’s stomach flips. He’s not sure he’s ever going to be able to tell his friends about Jensen without their censure. “Have you been talking to Chad again?” he asks. “‘Cause he’s full of shit.”

“Honey,” she says, “it’s so obvious, I’m surprised more people aren’t asking.”

“I don’t have a boyfriend,” Jared says. He’s sick of playing this game with Chad--persistent fucker--he doesn’t need Addy in on it as well.

“If you’re ashamed of him, or if he’s ashamed of you, you shouldn’t stay with him,” Addy says quietly. “You know I’m your friend no matter what, but I’m a little worried here.”

“I’m fine,” Jared says. “Don’t worry about me. This isn’t like Matt.”

“If you say so,” Addy says.

Later, while his mom is upstairs folding laundry and he’s on the couch with Jensen, Jared says, “I’m not ashamed of you.”

“That’s good to know,” Jensen says. “What brought this on?”

“My friend,” Jared says. “Somehow Adrianne and Chad have become relationship gurus or something, because they know I have a boyfriend.” It’s the first time Jared’s used the b-word around Jensen, and he’s half afraid that Jensen’s going to object, but he just smiles very slightly, casting a look behind him to make sure Jared’s mother isn’t lurking.

“They sound like good friends,” he says.

“I can’t wait to tell everyone,” Jared says. “But I’m dreading it at the same time. I don’t want people to judge us.”

Jensen chews on his lower lip. “It’s probably going to happen, Jared. But they’ll be judging me.”

“I’d be part of it,” Jared says, almost miserably. “I wish things were different. I wish I could be with you without all this stuff in the way.”

“Hey, enough with the depressing stuff,” Jensen says. “Things might be shitty for a while, but that’s what’s gonna happen if you want to do this.”

“I do,” Jared says immediately. Jensen smiles.

“There’s no point worrying about it,” Jensen says. “I won’t leave because I’m gonna get shit for this. At least, I won’t leave without you.”

“I’m holding you to that,” Jared says. “You’d better not.”

“Promise,” Jensen says, and Jared kisses him, hard and altogether too brief because his mom is upstairs and could come down at any time. He wants to tell Jensen he loves him, but isn’t sure he should yet. Instead he just smiles, settles in a little closer than is strictly necessary, and watches the movie that Jensen has on the TV.

**

The weeks slip by without happenstance, coming ever closer to Jared’s birthday, the shifting calendar bringing with it anticipation and dread. Jared graduates without fanfare; throws his cap with the rest of his class, goes to a party with Chad, kisses Jensen--nothing unusual. He’s ready for college, and he’s ready for Jensen to be his, in full measures without all the stipulations involved.

His actual birthday is quiet, nothing special. He goes out to dinner with Chad and Addy and some other friends, brings them home for cake as his mom fusses over him and keeps talking about how she can’t believe that her baby’s grown up. He gets some stuff for his dorm at college, and a bunch of gift cards from his mom, and all in all, it’s nothing spectacular. The real show comes two days afterwards.

Before he turned eighteen, he told Jensen he wanted to go all the way when it was time. Jensen argued, something dumb about sexual progression within relationships, but Jared didn’t want to hear it. He knows what he wants, and if (when) things go sour after they tell his mom, he wants to have this. He isn’t going to let Jensen walk away from him, not without a fight, but he has a feeling that things aren’t going to be good for a space of time after revealing their secret.

He needs it, and it is his birthday after all.

Jensen waits until two days after Jared turns eighteen, picks a night when Sherri has plans with her friends and tells her he’s taking Jared into the city for dinner and a show, and that they might stay overnight at his condo, the one he still owns, and lived in before he married Jared’s mom. She agrees without thinking, and that makes Jared’s stomach twist with guilt just a little bit.

They drive to the city hand-in-hand, Jensen coolly navigating his car through heavy traffic, and true to his word, he takes Jared to dinner (somewhere low-key with exceptionally good food) and they see some comedian at a local club. It’s a date, and Jared treats it as such--he knows that Jensen is wining and dining him before taking him home to bed, and this ignites a heavy glow in Jared’s chest.

Jared is nervous when they stumble into Jensen’s condo, while Jensen laughs over a story Jared’s just told about Chad. The anticipation has been building all night, and it’s reaching its breaking point, with them there, ready to finish what was started six months prior. Jensen sobers instantly when he turns to look at Jared, his face smoothing out. “Jared, we don’t have to do this,” he says. “We can start slow.”

“We’ve been doing slow this entire relationship,” Jared says. “I’m ready.” And he is--ready, that is, or he feels it, at least. He wants this with Jensen, wants this penultimate connection. He doesn’t need to follow the orthodox methods of sexual discovery, not when he’s in this kind of relationship, not when he trusts Jensen as implicitly as he does. Jensen looks like he’s going to protest, try to work Jared down from his decision, and Jared isn’t having any of it. So he kisses Jensen instead, quiet, soft, but with a promise.

Jensen acquiesces almost immediately, sliding his hand into Jared’s hair. Jared can feel his arousal growing, slow, steady warmth in his belly, intensifying as Jensen kisses him, slides his tongue against Jared’s. It seems as though Jared’s nerves are on fire, his scalp tingling with Jensen’s touch, and he arches into it wantonly, feeling less inhibited than he’s ever felt.

“I’ve been waiting too long for this to let you talk me out of it,” Jared says softly when they break apart, and Jensen groans and buries his face into the curve of Jared’s neck.

“C’mere,” Jensen says. “You’re dangerous, kid.” He tugs at Jared’s hips, his hands settling in the grooves there and making shivers go up Jared’s spine, and then he aligns them, closer than he’s ever allowed Jared to get before. Jared’s half-hard, has been almost all night, because he’s a teenager who’s about to have sex for the first time. To have just the pressure of Jensen against him is almost overwhelming, a shrill of pleasure. Jared wonders vaguely about what he looks like, if any of what’s happening inside his head is showing on his face, and as he’s trying to work everything out, Jensen leans down and kisses him again.

Jared’s content to be kissed like this, teasing, Jensen in charge, his hips held tightly against Jensen’s, but Jensen has other plans. It takes him a few tries to get free enough of Jared, but he manages, laughing as he grabs Jared’s arm and starts to lead him down the hall. “Trust me, this’ll be better on a bed.”

“Too far away,” Jared whines, and with a mock growl, Jensen scoops Jared up and flings him over his shoulder in a fireman carry. Jared squirms, pleading between laughter for Jensen to put him down, but Jensen only lets him go when they’re in the bedroom, and even then it’s only to toss Jared down on the bed. Jared bounces once or twice, still laughing, and then looks up at Jensen, hitching himself up on his elbows. Any amusement on Jensen’s face has been obliterated by something deeper, something that makes Jared’s cock throb.

In a calculated move that just makes him feel like an idiot, Jared licks his lips. “You comin’ down here?” he asks.

“Just enjoying the view, kid,” Jensen says.

“Can’t you enjoy it from down here?” Jared grumbles. He shimmies a little to get comfortable, only realizing that he’s exposed a bit of skin when Jensen’s eyes catch there. Jensen’s color is high in his cheeks, makes him look like he’s just been caught out, so Jared scoots a little more, rucking his shirt up further.

“You are a tease,” Jensen says, and he climbs onto the bed, his legs on either side of Jared’s hips.

“I’m just not very patient,” Jared says. He pushes himself up far enough to kiss Jensen, and then Jensen eases him down, crouched above him, horizontal with Jared for the first time. Jensen’s a very good kisser, winds Jared up with hardly any effort, and by the time Jensen’s settled more of his weight on Jared, Jared’s mind has gone a bit fuzzy and his erection’s gotten a little more persistent.

Jared whines as Jensen eases off, moving over to Jared’s right side. It’ll probably be more comfortable, easier for Jared to breathe without Jensen’s weight on him, but he misses the pressure. He immediately turns to face Jensen, pulling himself closer until they’re jammed together, knees knocking and hips aligned. Jensen starts stroking under Jared’s shirt, pushing it higher and higher until it’s tangled up under Jared’s armpits. Jensen breaks contact to pull it over Jared’s head and then drops his lips to the sensitive joint of Jared’s neck, kissing lightly until Jared’s seized with goosebumps.

Jared can’t talk--can’t find words. He wasn’t expecting this to be so overwhelming, but it is. He feels like Jensen is all there is , the only thing left for Jared to focus on. He’s aware of Jensen’s breath against his skin, Jensen’s forearms beneath his hands, the press of Jensen’s erection against his thigh, the press of his own erection against Jensen, and that’s it. When Jensen runs his tongue over the nub of Jared’s nipple, he arches into it, feeling like a live wire is running through his spine.

“Shh, I gotcha,” Jensen says, drawing Jared’s attention to the low-level whine that’s erupted from the pit of his stomach.

“Take your shirt off,” Jared pleads. “Please.” Jensen complies, contorting until he’s bare chested, and the slide of skin against skin is new and intoxicating. Jensen keeps mapping Jared’s chest, paying attention to the spots that make Jared gasp and writhe as he slowly makes his way down.

Jared can’t seem to concentrate. He keeps getting distracted by Jensen’s lips on his skin, can barely do more than trace patterns on Jensen’s back with his fingers. Jensen doesn’t seem to mind, now skimming the top of Jared’s jeans with his tongue, playing idly with the zipper that’s strained against Jared’s erection.

“I’m taking these off , okay?” Jensen asks, and Jared doesn’t answer until the moment stretches out, assuming that the question is rhetorical. He crunches up, just a little, just enough to see Jensen, who’s looking at Jared, waiting, and barely manages a nod. Jensen’s gentle, pulling down the zip, coaxing Jared’s hips up so he can strip Jared free of his pants and underwear.

Jensen sits back on his haunches after he lets Jared’s clothes fall to the floor, just looking, and Jared feels -sharply and suddenly - self-conscious. He lets his head fall to the left, burying his head as best he can in his shoulder without thinking about it. He can feel his body burn with a blush and knows that he’s probably pink all the way to his chest.

“Hey, don’t,” Jensen says, leaning forward so he can guide Jared’s head to look forward again. “You’re gorgeous, Jared. You’re driving me mad.”

“You don’t need to lie,” Jared says. “I’m a sure thing right about now.”

Jensen grabs Jared’s hand and brings it blindly to the bulge of his crotch, holding it there. The heft of it makes Jared’s stomach throb with another pang of need, want, now, and he gulps. “Not lying, kid,” Jensen says, and his pupils are blown wide. Jared pulls forward enough for a desperate kiss, but Jensen doesn’t let it last long.

“Let me do this,” he says, and then he’s trailing kisses, down Jared’s neck, further, pausing briefly at one nipple and then the other and then following the dip of Jared’s stomach. Jared can tell where this is going, and he’s practically shaking with anticipation.

The first time Jensen’s lips touch Jared’s cock-head, he jumps, his body involuntarily arcing at the sensation. Jensen lightly holds Jared’s hips down, slowly teasing at Jared’s dick. As it is, Jared can’t hold back the little moans that are drawn with every pass of Jensen’s mouth. And when Jensen stops sucking and move down to mouth at Jared’s balls, he has to shove his hand in his mouth to stop himself from making too much noise.

“Don’t do that,” Jensen says, pulling his head just a fraction of an inch away from Jared’s skin, enough to be considered torture. “I want to hear you.”

Jared lets his hand fall to the bed, but it’s like a habit; he keeps covering his mouth whenever he feels he’s getting too loud. Jensen is thorough to the point of almost being cruel, following the seam of Jared’s balls with his tongue, up the shaft of Jared’s dick, pausing to tease at the head, then back down again, pressing his finger against the space between Jared’s balls and his asshole.

Jensen stops, grips the base of Jared’s dick, and then moves onto uncharted territories. When his tongue circles the rim of Jared’s asshole, Jared nearly pushes Jensen off the bed.

“Jensen,” he says, utterly breathless. “What are you doing?”

“Let me,” Jensen says. “I promise it’ll be good.”

Since Jared has no self-control left, no excuses, he just nods and lies back down. Jensen’s good with his tongue, thorough, and having it inside, down there, is very nearly too much. When Jared’s moans degenerate into a high pitched whine, his cock so hard it aches, Jensen pulls away. He looks wrecked, as if his are muscles tight.

“Are you sure?” he asks, because Jensen is a saint.

“Please, Jensen, yes,” Jared says. “Please.”

Jensen nods, almost imperceptibly, and Jared feels a little guilty, pulling himself up. “Wait--I haven’t done anything for you.”

Jensen laughs, a low sound, “Believe me, you’re good. Let me do this.” He gently pushes Jared back down. “It’ll be easier if you get on your hands and knees.”

“I want to see you,” Jared protests, and Jensen hums. He reaches into his back pocket, pulls out a condom and lube, and sets them on the bed next to Jared’s hips. Shucking off his jeans and boxers, Jensen settles back a little, gloriously naked, giving Jared a show when he probably doesn’t mean to.

Jared’s expecting the intrusion of Jensen’s finger, has done enough reading up on gay sex to know how it works, and his stomach is knotted in nervous anticipation, but it’s nothing but weird at first. Jensen goes slow, his fingers slick, and he keeps dropping kisses wherever he can, little pinpoints of wet pressure. It stings a little once Jensen starts to open him up properly, but Jensen seems to know this; he maneuvers so he can suck the tip of Jared’s dick, providing him with a counterpoint of sensation.

By the time Jensen pulls his fingers out, Jared feels empty and ready. “I’ll be slow,” Jensen promises in response to Jared’s please, and he is, lining himself up and pushing in inch by inch, giving Jared’s body time to adjust.

It hurts; of course it does, but there’s a connection between them now, something that’s doing wonky things to Jared’s heartbeat. Jensen’s staring at him, fully seated inside of Jared and when he begins to move, Jared feels like he’s almost at a breaking point.

As Jensen sets up a slow rhythm, the pain slowly lessens into a dull ache, and when Jensen starts to jack Jared with just the right amount of pressure, it becomes so much better. Jensen kisses Jared until it’s too much, until they’re just sharing breath with their lips pressed together, and when Jared finally falls over, coming between them, his whole body shakes with it.

It doesn’t take Jensen much longer, and Jared’s glad he lasted because that means Jared can see his face without being hampered by his own orgasm. It’s powerful, and Jared tries to memorize every moment before he forgets.

Later, when they’re lying together, Jared tangled up in sheets, half on top of Jensen, he says, “I love you.” His heart is hammering, and Jensen cards his hand through Jared’s hair.

“I know,” Jensen says, pulling the Han Solo line, but Jared can tell from his voice that he means I love you, too

**

The next morning, Jared’s pleasantly sore and trying very hard to forget what he and Jensen agreed on, months before. Just the thought of telling his mother pierces this moment, but it’s impossible to ignore. He knows they have to get it over with, and he knows it’s happening soon.

Things have changed overnight, and it makes Jared’s head swim. He woke up with his head pillowed on Jensen’s shoulder, with Jensen just looking at him, and it was so wholly different from what he expected. He felt, his chest expanding with how fiercely he loves Jensen. It’s scary.

They stay at Jensen’s condo for as long as they can, eating a lazy breakfast, lounging over each other, watching something inane on Netflix, kissing, lingering touches, but they can’t stay forever. The car ride home is somber, quiet, with the weight of what they have to do over Jared’s head. Jared huddles over the center console, letting his fingers brush Jensen’s arm, but he has to pull away when they come up into the driveway. Jensen parks, and they both sit in the car as it cools down.

“I’m going to tell her on Friday,” Jensen says. “This Friday.”

“Two days,” Jared says. His stomach is in knots, like the time he’d had to give a speech in front of the entire student body at high school for a competition.

“I want to do it alone,” Jensen says. “At least the first part.”

“That’s not what we agreed,” Jared says. He wants to let Jensen do it, and stay out of the way until the damage is done, but he’s too embroiled in everything to let it go.

“You can eavesdrop,” Jensen says. “Butt in -- I know you won’t be able to help yourself. But I have to end a marriage, Jared, and I need to do that on my own terms.”

Jared runs that over in his head for a little while. “I guess,” he says in a small voice. “But I am going to stand right outside to listen.”

“I’ll probably need your help anyways,” Jensen says. “Jesus, this is going to be awful.”

After a few more minutes, they get out of the car. Jared’s mother is lazing on the couch, watching TV, and she cracks a smile at them. “Good night?” she asks.

Jared feels guilty as he shifts his feet and answers, “It was a lot of fun.”

“Your kid’s crazy,” Jensen says. “He should have a warning label.” His tone of voice is a little stilted, not quite natural, but Jared’s mother doesn’t seem to notice.

“Not my Jared,” she says. “He’s always been the little grown-up.”

“That’s me,” Jared says. “I’mma go upstairs--I’m tired.”

Jensen inclines his head a little and then sits down in his chair. True to his word, Jared goes to his room and collapses on his bed, but he doesn’t sleep. A countdown has starting ticking in his head, and it’s all he can do to not hyperventilate as he worries about it.

**

Jensen has his mom sitting at the table, and Jared’s lurking right outside the doorway, careful to not be seen while trying his best not to vomit. His heart is hammering so loudly, it’s almost all he can hear, and he vaguely wonders if he’s working himself into a panic attack.

Jensen’s voice is cool and controlled when he starts speaking, rehearsed. “We always said that there were two things that we could use for a divorce.”

“If we started to hate each other or if one of us fell in love with someone else,” Jared’s mom says. “I remember.” She doesn’t sound sad or scared, just matter-of-fact. Jared hopes her mood will last.

“Don’t worry, I don’t hate you,” says Jensen. His attempt at being flippant falls flat. “But I have done the second thing. It wasn’t intentional.”

“Oh, Jensen,” Jared’s mom says. “Oh, don’t be so sad! You always said you would never fall in love. I’m actually kind of happy that you were finally proven wrong.”

“You always did say it would happen,” Jensen admits.

“You’re just too cynical,” Jared’s mom says. “Are you gonna tell me about her? So I can let all the office girls know about the scarlet woman? Do I know her?”

“It’s a him, actually,” Jensen says quietly.

“Oh, a him!” Jared’s mom says. “I wasn’t expecting that.”

“It just kinda happened,” says Jensen. The hard part is coming, Jared knows. He can scarcely swallow around the lump in his throat.

“Well, who is he?” Jared’s mom asks.

The silence is deafening. Jared can practically hear Jensen floundering through it, and when he can’t take any more, he steps into the kitchen.

“It’s me, mom,” he says. “Me and Jensen.”

His mom looks shell-shocked, and Jensen just looks resigned, his face a little gray. “What are you talking about, Jared?” she asks. “Have you been eavesdropping? This isn’t funny.”

“I wish I was joking,” Jared says.

“Jensen, c’mon,” Jared’s mom says. “Who is it really?”

Jensen swallows, once, twice, and Jared’s stomach aches. “It’s Jared,” he says, his voice very rough. “I’ve fallen in love with Jared.”

“I started it, Mom,” Jared interjects, feeling the inklings of panic in his chest.

“I let it go on,” Jensen says. “It’s not his fault.”

Jared’s mom keeps looking between them, turning a shade so pale that Jared thinks she’s about to faint. “Either you two stop this right now,” she says very shakily, “or explain to me why I’ve stepped into the Jerry Springer show.”

“I never meant for it to happen,” Jensen says. “Sheri, you have to believe me. It was an accident.”

“You break a glass by accident,” Jared’s mom says. “You crash a car by accident. You don’t start a relationship with my son by accident.”

“It was me,” Jared says. “Mom, I’ve had a crush on Jensen forever--I couldn’t help it. And it just--it went a little further than I meant it to one day, and Jensen didn’t push me away, and we couldn’t stop--”

“Don’t,” Jared’s mom says, very seriously. “Stop talking, Jared. I can’t hear this.”

“It’s not his fault,” Jensen repeats.

“I know,” Sheri says whirling. “I know it’s not his fault. I trusted you, Jensen. I married you. And you’ve done the worst thing I think you could have done. The worst thing.”

“I know,” Jensen says. “I know--I’m sorry.”

“Get out,” Jared’s mom says. “Get out now. Maybe if you’re lucky, I won’t call the police.”

“You can’t charge him with anything,” says Jared desperately. “He didn’t do anything to me. I’m eighteen.”

“Out,” Jared’s mom commands, pointing, effectively ignoring Jared. Jensen gives Jared one last look, nods at Jared’s mother with his lips pressed together so tightly they’re white, and disappears out the back door.

The silence is heavy, ringing for several minutes as Jared and his mother listen to the hum of Jensen’s car. They stand there, not looking, long after Jensen’s gone, and it’s Jared who speaks first.

“Don’t hate me,” he says, very quietly.

His mom whirls around at that, looking him straight in the eye. “Jared, you didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I seduced your husband, mom.” The words sound stupid, but they’re true enough to make Jared’s heart ache.

“He was the adult,” Jared’s mom says. She sounds like she’s about to cry. “He knows better.”

“I love him,” Jared says.

“You think you love him,” she counters. “He’s playing some sort of game, and he’s wrapped you in it.”

“This is Jensen you’re talking about,” Jared says. “Jensen. He’s not playing a game. He wouldn’t do that!”

“Jared, honey, you’re eighteen. You don’t understand. You think it’s love, but he’s so much older. He’s gotten bored of everything. And he’s going to want to get out and he leave you broken, hating what’s happened with your life.”

The words are like a slice across Jared’s jugular. “Are you...” he starts, tapering off when his throat gets too dry. “Are you talking about Jensen or are you talking about dad?”

Sheri jumps at that, looks at Jared with eyes that are too guilty. “Jared, no,” she says, but it sounds weak.

“Because I know you didn’t want me,” Jared says. “Dad told me. But I didn’t know I made you hate your life.” Jared’s eyes are stinging now, threatening to overflow.

“I didn’t say that,” Jared’s mom says, panicked now. “Jared, honey, I love you. Why would you think I didn’t?”

“You just said so!” says Jared.

“No, Jared, please--you’re misunderstanding.”

“Maybe you should have just gotten that abortion then,” Jared says.

“It was so much more complicated than that,” Sheri says. “Your father never should have told you anything. Jared, I fell in love with you the first time I heard your heart beat. I just was stupid before that.”

“But you just said you hated what happened with your life,” Jared says. He feels as though he is being overly-dramatic. He doesn’t care. “Maybe I should go too.”

“No, Jared, honey, stay--we can talk more--”

“I need to think,” Jared says. “Please. Just let me think.”

The silence that follows Jared out the door is more damning than what existed when Jensen left.

**

“Are you sure?” Jensen asks, speaking into Jared’s neck, a warm weight at his back. They’re in Jensen’s condo, fully dressed in bed, just talking. Jared doesn’t ever want to leave.

“I think she needs some time,” Jared says. “I think I do too. I’m only moving a month before I was planning anyways. There are plenty of long-term hotels by UT and I have some savings.”

Jensen doesn’t speak for a couple of minutes, softly stroking Jared’s belly in a comforting way. “I’m coming with you,” he says. “I’ll find a crappy apartment in the city somewhere.”

Jared can’t help but smile. “You don’t have to,” he says, but he wants Jensen to argue his words. Jensen doesn’t disappoint.

“C’mon, kid,” Jensen says. “I’m not letting you move to college alone. What kind of boyfriend would I be?” He says the b-word almost tentatively, and the sound of it in Jensen’s voice, talking about Jared, makes something explode warmly in Jared’s stomach.

“If you’re sure,” Jared says.

“We’ll do it right this time,” Jensen promises. “No more fooling around.”

**

Jared goes back home alone, packs up while his mom’s at work, puts everything in his car. He’s sitting at the kitchen table when she gets back, systematically shredding a paper towel, his duffel by his feet. She stops when she sees him, she looks awful and distraught. Jared feels so guilty that he’s almost nauseated.

“This isn’t goodbye forever,” he says when his mom makes no move to say anything. “I just think some time apart would be best.”

“Jared,” his mom says brokenly. “You don’t have to go.”

“I’ll be back,” Jared says. “I promise. But I’m sticking around with Jensen. And it’s not his fault I’m leaving. I have to do this for me. Even if things with Jensen end badly, I need to let them go my way. I need to make my own mistakes.”

“No,” Jared’s mom says. “No, Jared, I’m your mom. My job is to protect you. I can’t--”

“You’re gonna have to, mama,” Jared says. “Please, just trust me. You know I’m a good kid.”

“The best,” Jared’s mom says, very softly.

“Don’t go after Jensen,” Jared says. “For me. If he screws me over, you can do whatever you want. But he hasn’t hurt me yet. And I don’t think he will. Promise me.”

Jared’s mom closes her eyes, and when she opens them, they’re wet. “I promise. But only if you keep yourself safe. And call me every once in a while. I love you so much, Jared. You’re the best thing I’ve ever done.”

It doesn’t feel like compensation for her angry words the night before, however much the words sound like it. Jared gives her a small, weak smile. He feels like he’ll start crying if he stays any longer.

“I’ll see you around,” he says, standing up and hugging her. She holds on tight, too long, and Jared only backs away when he feels like he’ll break inside from it. He can feel her eyes on him as he leaves the house, his duffel over his shoulder.

Jensen’s outside, across the street and leaning on his truck and Jared smiles.

The Texas sun is warm on his face as he allows himself to look ahead.

THE END