It’s almost bedtime but Jared isn’t really sleepy. He and Jensen were watching TV but he retreated into the bathroom for a shower and left Jared bored and alone.
Jared walks down the hallway and picks at a piece of string cheese he pilfered from the fridge. He goes to turn into his room but stops by his mom’s door. It’s slightly ajar, and he raps on it with the back of his hand before popping his head inside.
“Hey buttmunch,” he says, puffing his cheeks out and crossing his eyes. Sherri laughs from her spot in the middle of her bed as she runs a brush through her hair.
“Hey kid.” She gestures him in with a nod of her head. “Friends is about to start.”
“Oh wow.” Jared pops the rest of his cheese in his mouth and drops down onto his mom’s bed. “Haven’t done that in awhile.”
Almost every night Jared used to lay in his mom’s bed with her and watch old Friends reruns. They’d wind down and catch each other up on their day. Jared told his mother he was gay over the sound of Chandler and Joey fighting over a chick and a duck.
She didn’t even really say anything, just pulled him in close and rested her chin on his head as she rubbed his back.
“Where’s Bean?” Sherri asks, whapping Jared’s knee with the brush before tossing it on her nightstand.
“In the shower,” Jared replies. Sadie and Harley are passed out on the floor in the corner, and Jared scoots back to lean against the headboard. Sherri sits cross-legged next to him, flipping her damp hair over one shoulder and picking at her nails. She looks so young. Sometimes Jared forgets she was barely older than he is now when he was born.
“He seems to be doing good here,” she says casually. “He looks happy.”
“Yeah,” Jared replies on an exhalation of breath, smiling to himself. “I don’t think I ever told you how grateful I am for what you did.”
“You have,” Sherri says with a wry smirk. “About a thousand times.”
“Oh. Well, I am grateful,” Jared tells her sincerely. The words still don’t seem like enough.
“You’re welcome.” The familiar Friends theme song starts up and Jared hums along. “But don’t think I don’t hear your little feet tiptoeing across the hall all the time.” Jared whips his head around to look at her so fast that his neck cracks slightly. “Don’t worry. That’s all I hear, thankfully.”
“Sorry. It’s just – it’s hard to be away from him,” Jared confesses. He smiles sheepishly and runs his fingers through his hair. “Especially when I know he’s right there across the hall.”
“I get it,” his mom says warmly, patting his knee. “I just don’t want you two getting in over your heads. Sex is a big deal – “
“God, Mom,” Jared cuts in. He’s never had a problem talking to his mom about touchy subjects like sex, but now it feels different. It’s like he knows how much Jensen would blush if he were in the room and it makes him think twice. “We haven’t – we’re not there yet. Probably won’t be for awhile.”
“Oh.” Sherri furrows her brow. “I thought – “
“We’ve done stuff,” Jared mutters, staring at a suddenly fascinating spot on the wall. “Just not that. To be honest, most of the time when we sneak into each other’s rooms it’s just to sleep next to each other.”
“That’s nauseatingly adorable,” Sherri replies with a soft chuckle as she glances at the television screen. “That’s good though. It’ll happen when it’s supposed to.”
“Can we talk about something else?” Jared pleads, knocking his head against the wall once.
“Prom is coming up pretty fast,” she says suddenly. Jared looks over at her with an eyebrow raised skeptically.
“Losing your virginity on prom night is the biggest cliché in the world,” he tells her. “I thought you were a little more creative than that.”
“I was actually trying to change the subject,” Sherri says as she leans back against the headboard next to him. “But either way, you’re not a virgin.”
“Don’t remind me,” Jared groans grumpily, slumping down a little. “I’m just – I regret that so much now. I wish I was. I wish I would have waited for him.”
“Hey,” his mom says, reaching over to poke his cheek. “You didn’t know he was out there waiting for you. And it’s in the past. No use beating yourself up now.”
“Yeah,” Jared sighs. They watch the show in silence for a little while, and when a commercial starts Sherri clears her throat.
“So, uh, there was something I wanted to talk to you about,” Sherri says quickly. Jared blinks and looks over at her, raising an eyebrow. She sounds oddly serious and a niggling fear settles itself in Jared’s belly. “When this whole thing with you and Jensen started, I started going to PFLAG meetings again. Just to ask for advice.”
“You did?” Jared blinks in surprise. His mother joined the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays support group, PFLAG for short, within weeks of him coming out and she was very active in it. That is, until she was promoted to general manager of the store and the hectic, ever-changing hours made it hard for her to attend the meetings. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You were already worrying yourself sick over the situation,” she tells him seriously. “I didn’t want to make it worse. And I never should have stopped going in the first place. Just because you were doing well doesn’t mean there weren’t people I could have been helping.”
“Mom, you help people all the time,” Jared reminds her. “Where do you think I got it from?”
“Anyway,” she says, biting her lip. She looks nervous and Jared leans in. “I –uh, I met someone?”
“His name is Alex, and his brother is gay,” she begins. “That’s why he goes to the meetings. And um, he’s a few years older than me. He’s attractive, and smart. And really funny. He asked me to have dinner with him on Saturday. And I said yes.”
Jared blinks again.
“And I wanted to let you know,” she continues. “And get your opinion. I know I haven’t really dated since your father died. And I’ll never stop loving him. I’ll never get over him, not really. Since then it’s just been you and me, and I liked it that way. But Tig, it’s been twelve years and – well, I’m lonely. You’re heading off to college soon and I’m still in my thirties. I just – I think it’s time I put myself back out there.”
Jared opens his mouth and snaps it shut.
“Tig, please say something,” she pleads, and Jared looks over at her. Truth is, he isn’t sure what to say. It’s not like he wants his mother to be alone forever, but at the same time he never really thought about her actually dating anyone. But he knows what the right thing to say here is, and once the initial shock wears off, he’s fine.
“No, sorry,” he says. “You just surprised me. That’s great, Mom.”
“Really?” She looks so relieved and a little hopeful. Jared smiles and reaches out to touch her arm.
“Yeah,” he assures her. “I want you to be happy. Dad would want you to be happy.”
“I think he would.” She looks down at the tan line on her left finger. She’s been wearing her wedding ring off and on since the day her husband died. Jared swallows hard. Sometimes he forgets how much pain his mother has dealt with over the years. Jared hugs her suddenly, burying his face in her damp hair and smelling sweet vanilla. She lets out a choked laugh and hugs him back.
“Just make sure he knows that I have friends. A lot of them,” Jared tells her. “Big, mean ones that like to beat people up if they go around hurting awesome moms.”
“I’ll tell him, Tig,” she laughs, and Jared nods as he pulls away. He settles back against the headboard and looks over at her. She’s smiling, looking relieved.
“There’s no reason you shouldn’t be dating, Mom,” he tells her. “I mean, you’re beautiful. Still moderately young, I guess.”
“You little shit,” she shrieks. She leans over him with her arms extended and her fingers curled into claws. Jared’s eyes widen.
“Mom, don’t,” Jared warns, scrambling back against the headboard. She dives in and starts tickling his sides relentlessly. Jared howls with uncontrollable laughter. “STOP! Mom, I am a grown ass man! I’m too old for this shit! Mom, I will pee. Do you want me to pee all over your bed? I’ll do it!”
“Uh, am I interrupting something?” Jensen says suddenly. Sherri pulls back and Jared catches his breath, face red and eyes watering. Jensen is in the doorway of his room, looking sideways into Sherri’s with an eyebrow raised.
“Uh, tickle party,” Sherri admits. “We’re feeling nostalgic.”
“Oh,” Jensen replies. He rubs his towel through his shaggy hair and wrinkles his nose. “I can’t decide if that’s adorable or creepy.”
“Oh, I’ll show you adorable and creepy,” Jared cackles, surging off of the bed and running for Jensen. His eyes widen and he tries to duck into his room, but Jared catches him around the waist. He drags him into Sherri’s room and tosses him on the bed. “Tickle Bean!”
“You’re such a homo,” Sherri tells him. “Sometimes I feel bad for never even giving you the chance to be straight.”
“I don’t!” Jared announces as he hops on top of Jensen and tickles his sides. Jensen squirms and giggles a little, pushing ineffectually at Jared.
“Okay, now it’s creepy,” Sherri admits as the bed bounces from the force of Jared tickling Jensen on it. Jared stops and flops down on Jensen with a sigh. Jensen lets out an oomph as the air gets knocked out of him and his arms instinctually go around Jared’s waist.
Another episode of Friends starts and they settle on the bed – Jensen then Jared and then Sherri. Jared and Sherri speak along with the funny lines and they make Jensen laugh without tickling him at all.
It’s a good night.
Jensen knew prom was a big deal to most seniors. It’s a milestone – a rite of passage, whatever. He never really gave it much thought because he never imagined actually going to his own prom.
He never imagined how much work went into getting ready for a simple dance. Especially when all your friends are either gay, girls, or gay girls. He thought maybe that last one would cancel itself out, but Sandy and Sophia are apparently what Jared calls lipstick lesbians and that means they are just like all the rest of the girls he doesn’t understand when it comes to fashion and make-up.
Jensen spends his afternoon trapped in one of those shopping montages from pretty much every romantic comedy or 80’s movie ever.
They caravan to the mall early on a bright and sunny Sunday afternoon. Jared, Jensen, Chad, Sandy, and Sophia all pile in Misha’s car and Adam and Danneel meet them in the parking lot. Adam is wearing a gauzy tight pink v-neck tee and matching pink Ray-Bans. His jeans are skin tight and he has what appears to be a rubber band around the top of his head, keeping his perfectly coiffed hair in place.
“Thank you, Adam,” Misha says as they approach, “for being a walking stereotype.”
“You’re welcome, darling,” Adam replies, blowing him a kiss. He turns to Chad and nods. “Hey Chad. Still claiming straight?”
“Hey Adam,” Chad replies sweetly. “Fuck you.”
Adam laughs, pulls Chad in for hug, and smashes his lips against Chad’s cheek. Chad merely sighs and takes it. It took awhile for Jensen to understand the way that these friendships, and apparently most friendships, work. You insult the crap out of each other all day long, but if anyone else tries the same thing, they’re fucking dead. It’s sort of funny.
The boys get shuffled off to find tuxes while the girls go look for the perfect dresses. Adam keeps Jared and Jensen separated the entire time like they’re shopping for wedding gowns or something. Jensen doesn’t really know how this all works, so he just puts on whatever Adam brings him.
He (technically Adam) finally settles on a traditional black tuxedo with a vest instead of a cummerbund. The vest is a sort of a shimmery lavender color that, according to Adam, he pulls off splendidly.
“You and Jared will look so perfect,” he gushes, hands clasped under his chin. Jensen turns to the full length mirror. He smoothes his hands down the front of the tux and quirks an eyebrow at his own reflection. Adam comes over to him and wraps an arm around his waist as he leans in to kiss his cheek. He leaves a smear of lip balm behind. “God, you are gorgeous. Lucky, lucky boys, the both of you.”
“Hey, homolicious!” Jared calls as he pounds on the dressing room door. “Can I have my boyfriend now?”
“In thirteen to seventeen minutes,” Adam calls back as he looks Jensen over with a flirty smirk. “Ten if he uses that little drawl of his. Mm.”
The doorknob rattles and Jensen hears what sounds suspiciously like a growl.
“Out so I can change,” Jensen tells Adam. He pouts and looks up at Jensen through his mascara-tinted eyelashes. Jensen chuckles. “Go!”
Adam huffs and then winks at Jensen before slipping out of the dressing room. He takes off the tuxedo quickly but carefully, folding it up and setting it on a chair after pulling on his old clothes. He leaves the dressing room and Adam ducks in to grab the clothes to take them up front with his and Jared’s.
Jared pulls Jensen into a hug, kissing him and biting softly at his bottom lip. Jensen blushes as a surge of sudden heat rushes through him and he pulls away.
“Where’s Chad and Misha?” Jensen pats Jared’s chest before taking a step back. Jared wrinkles his nose.
“They’re off getting mandatory haircuts,” Jared says, running his fingers through his own hair. “And we’re next.”
“Haircuts?” Jensen echoes. Jared shrugs.
Jensen hasn’t got his hair cut since he left Texas, and it’s grown a lot in four months. It’s shaggy and unkempt looking, but Jensen likes it. It’s different. The stylist doesn’t change much once he’s in the chair; he just cuts his hair into a trendy sort of style – shorter in the back and on the sides and still a little long and shaggy on top.
“Honey, you can totally rock the bedhead look,” the guy says as he waves his scissors around in the air. Jensen raises an eyebrow as the guy scrunches his hair in both hands, looking at it appraisingly in the mirror with one perfectly groomed eyebrow arched high.
Jensen has pretty much gotten the exact same haircut since he was five. He had a standing appointment every six weeks with Barber Bob back in Richardson. He never missed it, and he never changed it. So this is new for him.
He even lets the guy put some barely visible honey blonde highlights in his hair after he gushed over how it would bring out the gold in his pretty eyes. Jensen caved. Jared loves the flecks of color in his eyes.
When he’s all cut, colored, and blow-dried, the stylist rubs some wax between his fingers and gives Jensen sort of a messy faux-hawk. He claps his hands together with a grand ad a! and shoos Jensen out of his chair.
Jensen reaches up to touch the soft spikes of his new haircut and worries his bottom lip between his teeth. It’s… different. In a good way, though. Maybe.
Everyone is already in the waiting area when he emerges. Apparently he took the longest. They all look over at him and he clears his throat, blushing at the sudden attention.
“Holy shit,” Danneel says breathlessly. Jared looks up from the issue of Cosmo he’s reading and drops it on the floor. He stands up slowly, eyes trained on Jensen’s face as he speaks.
“You look – “
“Like a big fat homo!” Adam cheers suddenly. He flings himself towards Jensen and wraps his arms around him, pressing his face into Jensen’s hair and breathing in.
Adam is fucking psycho.
Jensen tenses a little, eyes widening at his words. Jared seems to notice and looks at Jensen with soft, pleading eyes, like he’s praying Jensen takes it for the joke (and compliment) that it was intended to be. Jensen lets out a breath and pats Adam’s back gently. “I’m so proud,” he sniffles.
Jared steps up behind Adam to grab the back of his shirt and pull him backwards and away from Jensen. He’s glad to see that Jared’s hair didn’t change much – it’s still wild and messy, but now it looks like it was out of intent rather than laziness. It’s straighter than normal and falls in his eyes in the most adorable way.
Jensen is glad he didn’t get a lot taken off. Jensen likes to bury his fingers in Jared’s hair and tug when he’s – well, he just likes Jared’s hair a lot.
“Do you, uh, like it?” Jensen asks, lamely gesturing towards his head. Jared grins and nods, leaning in to kiss the corner of Jensen’s mouth.
“So fucking gorgeous,” he mumbles, and Jensen shivers.
“Okay!” Sandy shouts. “Time for Sephora!”
All the boys groan. Well, with the exception of Adam, who squeals and claps his hands together.
By the time they get back to Misha’s car the girls have so many bags that it’s a wonder they all have room to sit. It’s a good thing the boys all made arrangements to pick their tuxes up the day before the dance, otherwise someone might have had to hoof it home.
“Red Robin?” Misha asks suddenly. They’re only a few blocks away from Jared’s house – from home. It’s still a little strange to think of it that way. “Burgers and fries? I’m fucking starving.”
Jared and Jensen look at each other, noses scrunching up slightly as they shake their heads.
“Nah,” Jared says. “My mom should be home soon.”
“Fucking invite her!” Chad calls out from the passenger seat. He could probably put calling shotgun on his resume as a special skill. He’s that good at it. “We love us some Mama P.”
“Maybe another time,” Jensen says, and he sees Misha shrug.
“Count us out, too,” Sophia says. She’s braiding Sandy’s hair while she dozes. “We’ve got that Spanish project to finish.”
“Looks like it’s just you and me, baby,” Chad says in a sugary sweet voice. He reaches out to touch Misha’s hand where it rests on the gearshift. “My sweet little sugar plum.”
“Chad, seriously,” Misha says as he pulls up in front of their house. “When are you going to suck my dick?”
“Pay for my burger and I’ll think about it,” Chad says blandly, not even missing a beat. “But if you want a money shot I better at least get some dessert, bitch.”
“Oh god,” Jensen chuckles, covering his face with his hands and shaking his head. Jared and the girls crack up and Jared leans over the back of the seat to give them both kisses on the cheek before they exit.
Jensen and Jared hop out of Misha’s car and he’s still chuckling when Jared shuts the door. Jensen takes a step forward and nearly tumbles when Jared pounces on him, arms wrapping around his chest as he bites playfully at the back of his neck.
Jensen laughs hard and his hands come up to rest on Jared’s arms as they awkwardly stumble up the walkway. Jared freezes suddenly and his arms slip away until his hands are resting lightly on Jensen’s hips.
“Can I help you?” Jared asks politely, but Jensen can sense the hesitancy in his voice. He looks up to see someone standing on the porch and his heart drops into his stomach. He fights against the urge to pull away from Jared and move even closer all at once. He finally takes one step forward and the action causes Jared’s hands to fall from his hips.
“It’s my brother,” Jensen says shakily. Jared immediately takes a step forward and places himself at Jensen’s side, one hand low on Jensen’s back. Jensen reaches up to ruffle his hair, messing up the ridiculous faux-hawk the stylist had given him.
“Hey Jensen.” Josh clears his throat nervously. Jensen doesn’t look up to meet Josh’s eyes, too afraid of what he’ll see. “I, uh – I wanted to talk to you. Privately.”
Jared scoffs and his fingers twist themselves into the folds of Jensen’s tee shirt. Jensen finally looks up at his brother. There’s no look of contempt on his face; he doesn’t look disgusted or angry. He just looks a little lost, out of his element. It’s an unfamiliar look on Josh, but then again, pretty much everything about his big brother is unfamiliar by now.
“It’s okay, Jared,” Jensen assures him, looking over at him and touching his wrist. “I’m fine. I’ll meet you inside.”
“You sure?” Jared leans in so close his lips nearly brush Jensen’s ear. Jensen nods and gives him a little smile as he tugs on Jared’s bracelet. Jared lets a breath out through his nose and kisses his cheek. Jensen looks over at Josh in time to see him avert his eyes.
Jared walks past Josh without so much as a glance in his direction. He opens the front door and Sadie comes barreling out. Jensen catches her by the collar and Jared gives him a look before going inside and shutting the door, leaving Sadie wiggling happily at Jensen’s feet.
A guard dog. Jared is ridiculous.
Jensen heaves a sigh and sits down on the top step of the porch, making Sadie sit at his feet while he rubs her ears.
“So that’s Jared, huh?” Josh asks as he sits down next to Jensen. He looks over at his brother with a raised eyebrow and he shrugs. He holds his hand out for Sadie to sniff and she licks it. Such a ferocious guard dog. “Mackenzie told me where to find you.”
“Oh,” Jensen replies stiffly. They sit there for a long time, and Jensen can barely stand the awkwardness. He thinks of how he never sees his brother, how he’s lived just over an hour away from him for the last four months (god, has it really only been four months?) and the only encounter he ever had with Josh was when he gave him a bag of booze and porn in passing.
There may as well have been a stranger sitting next to him.
“What do you want, Josh?” Jensen finally asks. Sadie whines and eyes Josh suspiciously like she knows he’s the one causing her new human such anxiety.
“I wanted to apologize,” Josh finally says, and Jensen blinks. That was not what he was expecting. He looks over at Josh to see him staring down at his wedding ring, spinning it slowly around his finger. Sometimes he forgets how grown up his brother is now.
“For what?” Sadie flops down onto the grass, apparently finding their stilted conversation not worth her interest.
“For being a shitty big brother,” Josh replies bluntly, and Jensen’s mouth falls open slightly. Josh looks over at him and shrugs helplessly. “I know what Mom and Dad are like. They’ve always been like that. And as soon as I graduated high school, I took off. I got out of there as fast as I could and I never looked back.”
Jensen doesn’t know what to say. He picks absently at his bracelet while Josh rubs at his chin.
“I left you guys there to deal with it all,” Josh continues. “And Jensen, you were just a kid. I saw how bad they ragged on you and I just left, worried about all my own shit and forgot I had a kid brother and a baby sister that looked up to me.”
Jensen was twelve when Josh left for college. He remembers how much it hurt that the big brother that taught him how to ride a bike and catch a ball was just gone all of a sudden, like he vanished into thin air.
“I always suspected you were a little different,” Josh says quietly, and Jensen’s gaze snaps over to him. Josh huffs and scuffs the toe of his sneaker against the ground. It’s sort of odd to see him dressed so casually. He usually only sees his brother on special occasions, dressed to the nines and ready to impress. “Not in a bad way, and I don’t just mean – you know.”
“Thanks for making yourself clear,” Jensen says derisively, and Josh sighs.
“I meant that you’ve always been a thinker, and I knew how much trouble that could get you in with our parents.” Josh looks up and stares out at nothing, squinting against the sun. “Then when I found out you were gay, which was only a week or so ago, it made me think. I couldn’t even imagine what you must have felt like, how scared you must have been. And I realized that maybe if I hadn’t been such an asshole, you would have had someone to talk to.”
Jensen feels a familiar prickling behind his eyes and looks out into the sun, biting his lip to keep from getting upset. He doesn’t like the think about how isolated he felt before Jared – how he longed for someone to tell him that there was nothing wrong with him, that’d he be alright.
“So, you don’t care that I’m – that I’m gay?” Jensen asks hesitantly, eyes drifting to the side to look at his brother’s face. Josh reaches out to put his hand on Jensen’s shoulder, a firm but caring touch, and he shakes his head.
“I honestly don’t, Jensen,” he says, patting Jensen’s shoulder and letting his hand drop to the porch. “I don’t really get it, but I don’t have to. I mean, I figure if it’s not me you’re having sex with, I shouldn’t give a shit. One of my best friends from college is gay. We still keep in touch and I was at the wedding when he married his partner last year.”
“Really?” Jensen asks incredulously, and Josh smiles at him. He never would have guessed that his brother would be so tolerant. Then again, he’s just basing that on the way they were raised. By his standards, Jensen should also be a homophobe. He shakes his head at the irony and smiles at his brother. “That’s pretty cool.”
“Dude, come on. I live in San Francisco. If I didn’t like the gays I would have gone crazy by now,” Josh jokes. He clears his throat as his expression goes serious again. “I know I act like the picture perfect son when I’m around Mom and Dad, but I just want them off my case. Truth is, I’m my own person. And now, so are you.”
“It’s a nice feeling, isn’t it?” Jensen asks. Josh grins over at him as he knocks their shoulders together.
“I just wanted to come out here and see you,” Josh says earnestly. “I needed you to know that I don’t care who you’re with. You’re my brother and I love you. I just want you to be happy.”
“Thanks Josh,” Jensen says with a soft smile. “I – that really means a lot.”
“I need you in my life, dude,” Josh says suddenly. “My kid needs an uncle.”
“Yeah, it’ll be – wait, what?” Jensen says, whipping his head around to look at Josh. He’s grinning ear to ear, eyes bright and happy. “Your kid?”
“Lisa’s pregnant,” Josh says. He’s practically bouncing. “Shit, Jensen. I’m gonna be a dad.”
“Holy shit! Congrats!” Jensen pats Josh on the back and he nods. “I’m gonna be an uncle, wow. Well, I guess Mom and Dad are happy someone’s gonna carry on the family name.”
“They don’t know yet,” Josh says, and Jensen blinks in surprise. That’s all Josh says on the subject. He leans back on his elbows and laughs when Sadie rolls over onto his foot. “So, you’re happy here.”
It’s not a question. Jensen just nods and smiles serenely. Josh looks over at him.
“Being in love does that to a person, I guess,” Josh says casually, and Jensen feels his cheeks heat up. “I saw the way you guys looked at each other. No denying it.”
“He’s… pretty great,” Jensen says. He pushes at Sadie’s ribs with the toe of his shoe and she kicks her back leg rapidly.
“Can I meet him?” Josh asks. “Like, now that he doesn’t have to be all protective and threatening?”
“Uh, sure,” Jensen says. He pulls himself up onto his feet and yanks open the front door. Jared is already standing there, eyes fixed on the ceiling as he whistles innocently. Jensen raises an eyebrow and Jared smiles sheepishly. “Hey. Wanna meet my brother?”
Jared nods rapidly and follows Jensen out onto the porch with Harley following close behind. Josh stands up and dusts off the seat of his jeans as Harley sniffs him. He and Jared regard each other for a moment, almost like they’re sizing each other up. Jensen rolls his eyes but it feels good to have two people he cares deeply for trying to look after him.
“Jared, this is my brother, Josh.” Jensen puts his hand on Jared’s arm. “And Josh, this is my – my boyfriend, Jared.”
Jensen has never introduced Jared as his boyfriend before. Actually, he’s never introduced Jared to anyone before. It’s always the other way around. It feels good to say out loud.
Jared puts on his most charming grin and reaches out to shake Josh’s hand. Josh takes his hand and shakes it, taking it one step further to lean in and give Jared that awkward half-handshake half-hug hybrid thing straight guys seem to enjoy. Jared raises an eyebrow and gives Josh one quick pat on the back before letting go.
“It’s good to meet you, Josh,” Jared says sincerely, eyes shining. Jensen can hear what he’s really saying underneath the cordial words – thank you for being here for him, thank you for not hating me.
“You too, Jared,” Josh says jovially. Despite the awkward handshake, this seems to be going really well. Jensen can’t contain his megawatt grin.
They hang out on the porch for awhile, exchanging small talk until the sun starts to dip below the horizon. It’s comfortable and easy. Jensen sits on the bottom step between Jared’s legs and rests his elbows on Jared’s knees as his brother leans against the side of the porch across from them.
“But seriously,” Josh says as he buries his fingers in the fur between Harley’s ears. “You guys should come visit us. We have a nice place in the city with an extra bedroom. You could even bring some friends. Make a weekend out of it.”
“That sounds great, Josh,” Jensen says brightly, tipping his head back to look up at Jared. They’re sporting matching grins. “We should do that.”
“Definitely.” Jared leans down to kiss the tip of his nose and Josh lets out a snort.
Sherri’s car pulls into the driveway and all three of them look over as she gets out. The dogs run over to bark at her feet and she merely rolls her eyes and ignores them. She’s still wearing her uniform, a white button down and black pants under a green apron. She stops when she reaches the porch and her eyes slide over Josh appraisingly.
“And who is this fine, young specimen of a man?” She asks, looking him up and down again. Jensen snorts. She must have had a long day and now she’s delirious.
“This is my brother Josh,” Jensen says. Sherri blinks and her expression smoothes out.
“Oh,” she says flatly. “Hello embarrassment, my old friend. Does this officially make me a cougar? I could totally be a cougar.”
“Someone needs a nap,” Jared laughs. “This is my mom, Sherri.”
“What? No way,” Josh says as he gets up to shake her hand. “You do not look old enough to have a teenage son.”
“Oh, I could definitely be a cougar,” she says, and Josh laughs. Jared rolls his eyes as she pulls away from Josh and climbs up on the porch, whistling for the dogs to follow. “Are you staying for dinner, Josh? I’m making – no, fuck that. I’m ordering Chinese and you’re staying.”
Josh raises an eyebrow as she shuts the door behind her, chuckling as he looks over at Jensen.
“I can see why you love it here so much,” he says, and Jensen beams at him.
After dinner Jensen walks Josh out to his car so he can head home. Lisa usually craves Starbursts and chocolate milk before bed every night and if he’s not home with them on time it’s his ass.
“You’re lucky you’ll never have to deal with a crazy, hormonal pregnant woman,” Josh tells him, and Jensen chuckles. Josh’s expression goes serious and Jensen looks over at him when Josh’s arm goes around his shoulders.
“I really want us to be brothers again, kid,” Josh tells him, and Jensen swallows hard. He nods and pats Josh’s shoulder. “But you have to learn from my mistakes. Don’t repeat them. The little squirt is all alone now. I’m trusting you to be the big brother I never was, okay?”
“Yeah, okay,” Jensen says instantly. He thinks of how he felt when Josh took off, how Mackenzie must be feeling right now.
“Call me when you guys want to come down for the weekend,” Josh says. “I think it’ll be fun.”
“Yeah, sure,” Jensen replies. Josh nods and turns to get into his car. “Hey Josh?” His brother looks over at him, one eyebrow raised in question. “Thanks.”
“You’re my family,” Josh says simply like that’s all that matters, all that should matter. With that, he gets into his car and drives away.
The next day Jared and Jensen ditch last period to go make camp in the junior high parking lot. Jared sits on the hood of his crappy car and Jensen chews his bottom lip nervously. What if surprising her like this is a bad idea? He just wants to take her out for ice cream so she can meet Jared and they can talk. Maybe he should have called her first.
But then Mackenzie comes out and sees her big brother and his boyfriend waiting for her. She stumbles to a stop, blinks a few times, and then grins harder than Jensen’s ever seen.
Jensen grins back.
Jared’s hair isn’t cooperating.
Which, Jared’s hair never cooperates. But it’s prom. It could work with him a little. Jared huffs and smoothes his hair down with his hands again. There’s a knock on the door and his mom walks in with various bottles and a flat iron in hand.
“Mom, no,” Jared whines, but she just pushes him down on the side of the bed and goes to work. By the time she’s done his usually unmanageable mop of hair actually looks, well, good. He tucks a stray lock behind his ear and turns to face her. “Thanks.”
“Welcome,” she replies. “Now back to Jensen. He’s having bowtie issues.”
Jared wants to ask her if Jensen seems excited, if he seems like he really wants to go, but she’s out of the room before he has a chance to open his mouth. Jared pulls on his tuxedo and takes extra care to make sure his lavender cummerbund is straight before pulling on his jacket. He fiddles with his bowtie before deciding to just leave it undone with the ends hanging over the lapels of his jacket. He reaches for his shiny black dress shoes, but his eyes drift to the left. He smiles as he grabs his worn-in black Converse with the rainbow laces, the same pair he was wearing on the day he met Jensen.
He checks himself one last time in the mirror, making sure he has everything he needs before taking a deep breath and leaving his room.
Jensen is leaving his at the same moment and they crash into each other, chuckling slightly as they clutch each other’s arms.
“Wow,” Jared breathes. He looks Jensen up and down and his eyes widen slightly. The cut of Jensen’s tuxedo is more traditional where Jared’s is more contemporary. He contrasts the timeless style of his tux with a slightly messy hairstyle, soft looking strands sticking up in the slightest fauxhawk. The lavender vest he’s wearing is the exact shade of Jared’s cummerbund, and that makes Jared grin. “You look… wow.”
“Thanks.” Jensen blushes as he tugs on the ends of Jared’s tie. “You too.”
“No glasses?” Jared swipes his fingertip gently under Jensen’s eye. They’re a tiny bit pink and watery. Jensen blinks and scrunches up his nose.
“Sherri took me to get contacts.” He blinks a few more times. “Still getting used to them.”
Jared’s toe bumps up against Jensen’s foot and Jensen looks down, raising an eyebrow at Jared’s choice of footwear. He looks back up with his tongue in his cheek as he smiles at Jared, who just shrugs with a smirk.
“Boys!” Sherri calls from the living room. “Your ride will be here soon. I want pictures!”
Jared and Jensen roll their eyes and head down the hallway together to greet Sherri in the living room. The dogs are barking at the back door, but the last thing either of them needs are muddy paw prints on their rented tuxedos.
“Oh my god,” Sherri says, bringing her hand to her mouth. “You boys are so gorgeous. I just – stay there!”
She rushes into the kitchen and comes back with two small plastic boxes. She hands them each one and Jared chuckles as he looks inside. In the boxes are two matching boutonnieres; tiny bouquets of baby’s breath and lavender. Jared takes his out and pins it carefully to Jensen’s lapel, taking extra care not to stick him as flashes from his mother’s camera make his vision dance.
“This is so surreal,” Jensen says softly. His fingers are shaky as he pins his own boutonniere to Jared’s jacket. When he finally gets it fastened, Jared lifts Jensen’s chin with his index finger and looks at him questioningly. Jensen swallows hard and curls his fingers around Jared’s wrist. “I just never thought I’d be going to my senior prom with my boyfriend.”
“Believe it, baby.” Jared grins and leans in to press their mouths together just as another flash goes off.
They pose for the traditional pre-prom photography session with broad grins on their happy faces as Sherri snaps picture after picture. The doorbell rings and their friends file inside without bothering to wait for an answer.
Sandy and Sophia look so breathtakingly beautiful that Jared knows if there ever was the slightest chance of him being straight, he’d know it then and there. But once he’s done appraising Sandy and Sophia, his eyes go right back to Jensen.
Chad comes in wearing a traditional black tux with a blue cummerbund and bowtie in a shade that brings out the color in his eyes. He actually looks really grown-up and handsome. But of course he’s going stag, because Chad is Chad and some things never change.
Misha comes in next with his date trailing behind him. He’s bringing a boy named Shane that Jared doesn’t know very well. He’s sort of pretentious and weird. He and Misha probably get along like a house on fire.
Adam and Danneel bring up the rear and they look absolutely fabulous. There is just no other word to describe them. Danneel is squeezed into a hot pink dress that leaves little to the imagination and Adam is rocking a tight black tuxedo with a shirt the color of Danneel’s dress and a black skinny tie. His black hair is styled in an impressive bouffant and his eyes are lined with kohl. When they both raise their hands to clap them together, Jared notices that their fingernails catch the light, shining with glitter. Jared sort of wants to applaud them.
“Look at you guys!” Sherri exclaims, coming forward to hug them all. “You all look so beautiful. Pictures!”
They spend another fifteen minutes or so posing for pictures – some serious, but mostly ridiculous. Through the front window Jared can see the limo idling on the curb. It was sort of extravagant, but once they all pitched in the cost was actually pretty low.
“Okay, Mom, we gotta go,” Jared tells her. She nods and puts her camera away.
“Bye Mommy!” Sandy and Sophia chirp in unison. They each give her a hug before simpering out the door.
“Later, Mama P,” Chad tells her, saluting her before exiting as well.
“See ya, Ma,” Misha says, kissing her cheek before heading out to the limo, pulling Shane along by the hand. Jensen steps forward excitedly and hugs Sherri quickly.
“Bye, Mom.” He grins at her before heading outside to join the group cramming into the limo. Sherri gasps a little, eyes going wet and wide as she looks over at Jared. His breath catches in his throat as he smiles.
He decides not to make a big deal out of it.
“Love you,” Jared tells her, kissing her cheek before going out to join his friends. He squeezes into the limo next to Jensen and leans in to grab his chin and press a quick kiss to his lips.
Since the school really isn’t that far away and they’re sort of early, they have the limo take them around town while they blare loud music and drink sparkling cider out of flutes, pretending it’s champagne.
By the time they finally make it into the gym they’re all giggly and happy. The theme Kristen and her committee finally landed on was ‘The Last Night on Earth’. The walls have been covered in dark blue butcher paper and white star cut-outs. White and silver stars and streamers hang from the ceiling along with overinflated balloons. Each table is covered with a dark blue tablecloth and a liberal amount of glitter. Adam and Danneel immediately start to play in it.
The decorations are cheesy, the music is too loud, and the food is crap – but hey, it’s their prom.
They lay claim to a large table near the back so they can watch over the festivities. The girls leave their purses and drag the boys out onto the dance floor against their will. They dance as a group until they’re breathless and sweat dampens Jared’s temples.
As soon as a slow song starts, Sandy and Sophia wrap their arms around each other and Chad grabs the nearest blonde underclassmen he can find. Misha and Shane start to awkwardly sway and Danneel kicks her shoes off and hops up on Adam’s feet.
A few people give their group a quick askance glance and a few eyebrows quirk up questionably, but no one says anything. Jared is proud of how tolerant his student body is.
Jensen and Jared just sort of stare at each other for a moment before wandering over to the refreshments table.
“Are you having fun?” Jared asks as Jensen fills a cup from the fancy punch fountain situated in the middle of the table. He takes a long drink and refills it before handing it to Jared.
“Yeah,” he says over the music. He turns to lean against the table and watch the couples dancing to some cheesy slow song. Jared wants to take his hand and ask him to dance, but he isn’t sure how Jensen would react in such a crowded room.
Another fast song starts up and Jensen heads back over to the group. Danneel grabs his hands and starts doing some crazy dance, dragging Jensen along for the ride. He laughs hard and throws his head back. The blue and purple lights look amazing dancing across his skin.
Jared’s heart skips a beat or two, and he falls a little further.
He dances with Sandy and Sophia, twirling them in dizzy circles in time with the music. After a bit another ballad starts and everyone pairs off. Jensen is a few feet away, and he looks over at Jared with his teeth firmly planted in his bottom lip. Jared takes a deep breath and holds a hopeful hand out to his boyfriend.
Jensen steps forward and takes it, wrapping an arm around Jared’s waist as they dance.
Jensen has to admit that he’s having a lot more fun than he thought he would. He’s danced with everyone at least once, including a somewhat hilarious waltz with Adam as Jared watched and laughed hysterically.
But the crowds are starting to get to him. It’s a little too hot, a little too stuffy, and a little too loud.
He’s sequestered himself in a chair at their table, surrounded by purses and high heels. The punch tastes a little funny, like maybe someone tried to spike it but only put in enough alcohol to give it a bitter tang. Jensen wrinkles his nose and sets his cup on the table.
Jared comes up behind him, wrapping his arms around him and resting against his back. Jensen smiles and tilts his head to the side as Jared presses a soft kiss to his neck.
“Hey,” Jared says. He lifts up a little and tilts Jensen’s head back to look at him. He gives him a quick upside down kiss and nips the tip of his nose. “Wanna get out of here? Go for a walk?”
Jensen nods gratefully and allows Jared to pull him out of his chair. The air outside carries a slight chill but it feels wonderful against Jensen’s overheated skin. The farther they get away from the gym, the quieter the music gets. Soon all they hear is the thump of the bass.
They’re not supposed to be walking around campus like this, but it seems like Jared always has a way of bending the rules until they work in his favor.
A slight breeze ruffles the leaves of the trees and Jared moves closer, reaching out to snag Jensen’s hand and tangle their fingers together. Jensen smiles at the familiar touch and squeezes Jared’s hand tightly for a moment.
They walk through the senior lawn and pass posters reminding them to pick up their caps and gowns and sign up for senior graduation activities. Jensen doesn’t really like to think about it. It figures that as soon as he finally starts to enjoy going to school, it comes to a swift and sudden end.
But he has come to realize that his happiness is not tied to this school or the memories he made in it. And although he’s a major factor in Jensen’s happiness, it isn’t tethered to Jared either.
Jensen is the only one that holds the key. It was a long, hard road that led him to that realization, but he’s finally made it. As long as he is happy with himself, no one else’s opinion matters.
And he is. Happy with himself, that is. It feels good not to hide. He likes who he is and he likes being honest with both himself and everyone else. His life has been sort of like bungee jumping – this intensely terrifying, never ending freefall. Finding Jared had been the snap in the cable, the moment he stopped falling and started shooting upward. And now, finally, his feet are on the ground.
He’s a little dizzy, but he’s feeling good.
“And here we are.” Jared’s voice snaps him from his thoughts. He blinks a few times and it sends his new contacts slipping across his eyeballs. He blinks once more, slow and careful, and waits for them to slip back into place.
He looks over to see Jared extracting a set of keys from the pocket of his pants. A small silver one catches the light of the moon as Jared holds it up.
“You’re telling me you’re one of those students that have an ambiguously acquired set of spare keys to the school?” Jensen arches an eyebrow and Jared gives him that sly little grin – the one where his eyes get bright and the tip of his tongue presses against the back of his teeth.
“They’re not to the whole school,” Jared replies with a smirk as he unlocks the photo lab. He ushers Jensen inside and flips on one set of lights. It’s sort of eerie to be in such an expansive, empty classroom after dark – also a little thrilling, like breaking the rules. “And they’re not ambiguously acquired,” Jared continues as he slips out of his tux jacket and then helps Jensen out of his. “Wags gave me a set last year because I never had time after school to work on my projects, so he let me come in early. He never asked for them back, and I never offered.”
“Precarious,” Jensen comments. Jared flicks the end of his nose. “Why are we in here?”
“I’m feeling nostalgic,” Jared says wistfully. They leave their jackets on a table as he leads Jensen towards the back of the classroom. “And we had some good times in this classroom, if I recall correctly.”
Jensen’s heart skips a beat as Jared opens the door to the darkroom and ushers him inside. Jared shuts the door and it’s pitch black inside, too dark to even see his hand in front of his face.
Jared turns him around in the darkness, presses him up against the counter and leans in to whisper in his ear.
“Scared?” He breathes as one arm curls around Jensen’s waist. Jensen blinks like his eyes will suddenly adjust and lets a breath out through his nose.
“No,” he replies truthfully. His lips brush Jared’s smooth jaw as he wraps his arms around Jared’s waist. He can hear some shuffling around and suddenly the safelight comes on, bathing the tiny room in a soft orange glow.
Jensen remembers how scared he was last time he was in this room, trembling and nervous just from being in a small space with Jared. Now he’s all wrapped up in Jared’s strong arms and he tilts his face up to kiss him without a second thought. Jared responds immediately, tongue parting Jensen’s lips and dipping inside.
Jensen groans softly as Jared grabs him by the hips and lifts him with little effort to place him on the countertop. The angle changes so Jared is now the one with his face tipped upwards as they kiss. Jensen puts his hand on Jared’s cheek and kisses him passionately, feeling his lips tingle with overuse.
Jared reaches up to undo Jensen’s bowtie and the top button of his dress shirt. A soft sigh escapes his lips as he leans in to nuzzle the soft, smooth skin of Jensen’s throat and press soft kisses to his collarbone. Jensen tips his head back and relishes in the sensation of Jared’s lips on his skin.
“A little different than last time,” he mumbles, and Jared chuckles against his skin. Jared stops kissing him and wraps his arms around Jensen’s waist, holding him tight against his body as he breathes softly against Jensen’s shoulder. Jensen cups the back of Jared’s head with one hand, the other resting between his shoulder blades as one leg stays loosely wrapped around his hips.
They’re quiet for a long time, just embracing under the dim red light bulb. Jared opens his mouth against Jensen’s neck but closes it again, swallowing hard as his lips travel to Jensen’s ear. He puts one hand over Jensen’s heart, palm flat against his pulse.
“I’m so in love with you,” Jared admits in a whisper. A shudder runs through Jensen’s entire body at the words and makes him tremble in Jared’s grasp. Jared pulls back slightly and Jensen clutches at the back of his dress shirt to keep him close. But Jared just looks up into Jensen’s wide eyes and reaches up to place his hand on Jensen’s cheek. “I love you, Jen.”
Several emotions run through Jensen’s mind much too fast for him to pin any one of them down, but one thought finally settles itself at the front of Jensen’s mind – yes, yes yes yes.
“I love you,” Jensen tells him. The words ring truer than anything he’s ever said in his entire life. He’s a little surprised at how easily the phrase tumbles from his lips, but then again, not really.
He thinks a little part of himself has loved Jared from the moment they met, since Jared introduced himself with mashed potatoes in his hair and gravy on his shirt. He’s been inexplicably drawn to this boy since day one – something made him keep going back to him when everything else was telling him to run away.
Maybe it was the same thing that’s running wild and rampant through his veins right now.
Jensen spent the first eighteen years of his life thinking he would never know what love felt like, that he’d never get to experience it first hand.
Now he knows exactly what it means to be in love. It’s scary and intense, white-hot and all consuming. It’s powerful and everlasting.
He puts his hand on Jared’s chest and smiles at the way his heart is beating a little faster now than it was before. He looks into Jared’s eyes and presses their lips together, soft and sure.
It’s this, right here.
Onto the epilogues.