Jensen was too out of sorts the previous night to do the homework that Jared had assigned, so instead he cranks it out during his computer studies class the next day.
It’s almost too hard to think about clearly so he just spews some stream of consciousness bullshit about how he admires that the story can mean so much to people and that he wishes that he had a better understanding of it. Maybe if he did, his life would be different. Five hundred words is nothing, done in the blink of an eye, and Jensen laughs to himself over how differently he viewed the length when he was in school.
At lunch he wanders away from his newly-earned seat at the popular table in search of a good cup of coffee. He’s out in the fresh air and approaching the teacher’s lounge before he remembers that he can no longer just wander in and pour himself a cup. He’s a student now, not the visiting partner of a staff member, and he slumps his shoulders slightly as he comes to a halt just outside the door.
He turns around and comes face to face with Chad Murray, basketball coach for John Adams High and Jared’s best friend that isn’t himself or Misha. Jared lingers behind him, swallowing hard when he catches sight of Jensen.
“Holy crap,” Chad says, and Jensen’s eyes narrow automatically. He’s never liked Chad. “So this must be the new little bastard clone.”
“You can’t talk to him like that,” Jared scolds, awkwardly looking anywhere but at Jensen’s face. “He’s a student.”
“Yeah, but he’s also your nephew,” Chad responds, and Jared and Jensen wrinkle their noses at the same time.
“I’m not his nephew,” Jensen says immediately, because labeling them as family opens a whole can of worms that Jensen’s psyche isn’t prepared to deal with. “Not technically, anyway. I don’t even remember him.”
“Did your parents not like to talk about your asshole doppelganger uncle’s lifestyle or something?” Chad asks, and Jared looks up at the sky helplessly.
“It never really occurs to you to just shut your mouth, does it?” Jensen asks, letting some of his usual snark when it comes to Chad slip out. Jared looks at him then, eyes narrowing curiously. “And don’t call him an asshole. Maybe you’re the asshole.”
“Oh no, he’s an asshole,” Chad says, glancing quickly at Jared. “Trust me.”
“Chad, just go,” Jared says, and Jensen is too busy feeling like, well, an asshole to notice that he and Jared are alone. “I’m sorry about him. He’s just, uh, overprotective? But anyway, did you need something?”
“Huh?” Jensen asks distractedly, wondering what Jared has told Chad. Jared never lies, wouldn’t make things up to paint Jensen in a bad light. That’s just not the kind of person that he is. So it must be true. He must be an asshole. It’s not something that he wasn’t already acutely aware of, but it still stings to know what sort of damage he’s caused.
“You guys don’t usually linger around the staff lounge unless you need something,” Jared says with a chuckle that makes Jensen’s heart clench. He missed that sound.
“Oh, well,” Jensen starts. “I’m still trying to find my way around. I just wanted a good cup of coffee, actually. All they have in the cafeteria is some weird frozen latte thing that comes out of what appears to be a repurposed slushie machine.”
Jared stares at him for a long time and Jensen starts to wonder if maybe he should act a little differently. Maybe Jason shouldn’t be an outspoken douche that likes strong coffee and stronger men, but a carefree spirit who likes… skateboarding and California Girls or whatever the hell it is that straight teenage boys like these days.
“Wow,” Jared says, eyes lingering on Jensen’s face in a soft, glazed over sort of way, almost like he’s trapped in a memory. Jensen tilts his head and smiles all content like he does when all of Jared’s attention is focused on him.
“What is it?”
“Sorry, just – that’s going to take some getting used to,” Jared says as he closes his eyes for a moment. “You, uh, really look like Jensen.” He reaches up to scratch the back of his head and there’s a flash of pain in his eyes, something that makes Jensen swallow back the guilt that rises up in him. “Hey, come on.”
Jared heads into the staff lounge and Jensen follows him, taking a seat at a table in the corner when Jared gestures at it. Jensen watches as Jared makes his way over to the coffee maker and comes back with two cups of sweet-smelling brew. He sets one in front of Jensen as he sits down and he peers down into the cup, noting the swirl of one single creamer mixing with the dark roast. It’s just how Jensen takes it, and Jared doesn’t seem to realize what he’s done. Jensen doesn’t mention it, choosing instead to blow on the rim of the cup and take a sip.
“You’re a saint,” Jensen says gratefully, and Jared smiles warmly at him. “But now I’m just going to be following you around like a lost puppy, begging for good coffee.”
Jared laughs and runs his fingers through his silky looking hair. He’s painfully beautiful and Jensen bites down on his lip. They’re both quiet for a moment, tucked back in the corner of a room full of hustle and bustle.
“I’m glad that I ran into you,” Jared says as he wraps his long fingers around his coffee mug. Jensen raises an eyebrow and looks over at him. “I know that we have an awkward situation here, but I’m your teacher. I’m here to make things easier for you, so if you need anything, just let me know.”
“Thanks Ja – uh, Mr. Padalecki,” Jensen says, clearing his throat slightly. “I’m doing alright. I did your homework.”
Jensen pulls the typed page out of his messenger bag and slides it over. He isn’t sure why he doesn’t just wait to give it to him in class. Maybe he doesn’t want this moment to end. Jared slides the paper over and sips from his mug as he reads it, eyebrows drawing together and teeth digging into his lower lip as he finishes it.
“This is, um, wow,” Jared says throatily, chuckling as he looks over at him with sad eyes. “This is great, Jason. For someone who claims to want to be able to understand the play, you sure seem to have a good grasp on it.”
“Not good enough,” Jensen finds himself saying. “I still have a lot to learn.”
“We all do,” Jared says with a slightly pained smile. “I’m going to keep this, if that’s alright.”
Jensen nods and Jared slides it into his bag. Jensen holds his coffee in both hands, nimble teenage fingers clasping it tightly. He feels very small in that moment, much smaller than Jared. It’s amazing how much he’s grown in the last twenty years – physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Jensen feels honored to have gotten to see it happen.
It hits him that he won’t be able to see it, not anymore, and his brow furrows slightly. He had been so sure of what he wanted, but in this moment he doesn’t really have a clue.
“He’s an idiot for letting you go,” Jensen finds himself saying, and Jared’s gaze snaps to him. His eyes widen and his cheeks turn pink, and Jensen just can’t stop staring. “And, uh, he knows it. Trust me.”
“I just couldn’t be what he needed,” Jared says, and the soft resolve in his voice nearly breaks Jensen. He did that. He dimmed the light in Jared’s eyes and wiped the smile from his face. “But uh, we shouldn’t talk about that. It isn’t really appropriate. I’ll see you in class, okay Jason?”
Jensen nods and watches as Jared gets up to leave the lounge, abandoning his cup of coffee. Teachers start to look at Jensen now that he’s unaccompanied by a staff member, so he downs the rest of the coffee and hurries out the door, blaming the knot in his stomach on the too-strong brew.
Jensen is quiet in Jared’s class that afternoon. He sits in the back with Jake, Kyle, and Katie and fiddles with a mechanical pencil as Jared speaks. He collects the homework and Jensen fidgets as he remembers what Jared’s face looked like as he read his paper. He can’t even remember exactly what he wrote.
“I can’t wait to read all of these tonight,” Jared tells the class. “But I already received Jason’s and I wanted to read a bit of it aloud.” Jensen looks up from his desk to stare disbelievingly at Jared, slumping down in his seat a little when he starts to feel eyes on him.
“Kissing Mr. P’s ass already, huh?” Jake says with a smarmy grin. Kyle turns to look at him and smiles with his tongue between his teeth.
“Do you love him?” He asks, and both boys hiss and look forward when Katie smacks their arms. Jensen swallows hard and looks at Jared, who clears his throat and begins to read.
“To truly understand Romeo and Juliet is to understand what it means to be in love,” Jared starts, eyes focused entirely on the paper and voice thick. “It’s almost always complicated, entirely frustrating, and rarely easy, but real, true love is worth giving up every bit of yourself for your other half. Love is worth fighting for. To lose that love would surely kill at least a part of you, a piece that you can never regain. Love can destroy you, but most importantly, it can make you whole.”
Jensen’s cheeks are aflame and he swallows hard. He makes the mistake of meeting Jared’s eyes and it’s like Jared can see right through him. He looks confused and a little disbelieving, and he shakes his head slightly as he goes back to his desk.
“Wow, Jason,” Katie says as she turns around to look at him. “You wrote that?”
“Uh, yeah,” Jensen says awkwardly. “I guess I did.”
Katie, along with every single other girl in the class, is looking at him with these big-eyed expressions and when Jensen looks up at Jared, he would swear up and down that the bastard was smirking.
It takes him half an hour to exit the school after class, and he does so with the numbers of at least a dozen girls in his pocket.
“Then have my lips the sin that they have took.”
“Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged!” Jensen says emphatically to Misha, reaching forward to place his fingertips under Misha’s chin. “Give me my sin again.”
“You kiss by the – okay, this is weird. I don’t want to do this anymore,” Misha says suddenly, grabbing Jensen’s wrist and pushing it away. “I’m playing the girl but you look like a girl, and just, I can’t.”
“Hey, fuck you, man,” Jensen tells him. “Come on, I have to rehearse. Auditions are tomorrow.”
“You know this play inside and out,” Misha says as he pushes up out of his chair and waves him off. “Your eyes are too big. I can’t look right at you. It freaks me out.”
“Are you high?”
“No, you are a teenager,” Misha replies as he snatches an apple from the bowl on the kitchen counter. “You look like you just walked out of a low-budget gay-for-pay porno, man. It’s fucking unnerving.”
“Okay, first of all, this face and this cock would star in porn of only the highest caliber –“
“Shut up. I hate you.”
“And secondly, you better get used to it,” Jensen says as he flops down onto the sofa like, well, a petulant teenager. “Because it looks like I’m stuck this way.”
“Speaking of,” Misha says around a bite of apple. “What are you going to do about your job?”
“Shit, I don’t know,” Jensen says as he pinches the bridge of his nose. “Quit, I guess. I mean, I hated it anyway and I’ve got a pretty good nest egg built up. And I can always mooch off of your fortune.”
“You’d think, wouldn’t you?” Misha asks with a hearty fake laugh. “You can become a famous actor and earn your own millions. If you hurry you can still win a Teen Choice Award!”
“Why are we friends?” Jensen asks forlornly, slumping back against the sofa. Misha reaches over and grabs his knee. “Remind me.”
“Because I’m the only one that’ll put up with you,” Misha says, and Jensen juts his lower lip out. “Time for bed, champ.”
“What? It’s like ten o’clock,” Jensen tells him. “You’re not my real dad.”
“Thank heaven above.” Misha reaches forward to grab the remote and then kicks his feet up on the table. “You should get some rest if you’re still planning on going through with this horrible idea of trying out for Jared’s play.”
“Why are you so against it?” Jensen asks, pulling his leg under himself as he turns to face Misha. “That’s why this happened. So I could live my life over, do what I was supposed to.”
“If you really believe that,” Misha says with a shrug. Jensen scowls and Misha rolls his eyes. “For as big of a dick as you are, you love Jared. You really think spending your life with him instead of being some big shot movie star was a mistake? If you do, I feel sorry for you. I really do.”
“Why can’t you be one of those friends that just shuts up and tells me what I want to hear?”
“Because a true friend tells you when you’re being a dumbass,” Misha tells him sincerely. “And Jensen Ackles, light of my life, you’re being a dumbass.”
“Thanks,” Jensen says scathingly. He pulls his legs up and wraps his arms around them, resting his chin on his knees. There’s this ache in his chest, deep and persistent, and his head is swimming. “Misha?”
“I… don’t really know what I’m supposed to be doing,” Jensen confesses, looking over at him brokenly. Misha’s gaze softens and he reaches over to touch Jensen’s shoulder. “I have no idea what I want.”
“Yeah, you and six billion other people on this planet,” Misha tells him, squeezing his shoulder. “You may be a dumbass but you’re not stupid. You’ll make the right choice.”
“What’s the right choice?” Jensen asks desperately. Misha makes a clicking sound with his tongue and settles back on the couch.
“Can’t tell you,” he says. “That’d be cheating.”
Jensen lays low on Thursday.
He doesn’t really have any trouble in any of his other classes, aside from brushing off the advances of plenty of girls and even a few boys. He hasn’t gotten laid in well over a month, not since Jared, and his teenage hormones are racing. All the attention isn’t really helping.
In English he finds himself staring at Jared’s ass as he writes something on the whiteboard, eyelids drooping slightly as he watches the soft black material of Jared’s slacks hug curves and muscle that he is intimately familiar with. He longs to touch, wets his lips and thinks about it until a hand slapping down on his desk disrupts his reverie.
“Might need to wipe the drool off of your chin,” Katie says with a knowing smirk. Jake and Kyle are staring at him and Jensen swallows hard and sits up a little, staring at them wide-eyed.
“So I guess we know what team the new guy plays for,” Jake says jovially, and Kyle snickers. Jensen simply shrugs and they roll their eyes fondly. It’s a much better reaction than the last time he came out, and he lets out a breath.
“You’re trying out for the play, right handsome?” Katie asks, and Jensen nods.
“Uh, yeah,” he says. “Going out for Romeo.”
“Ah, so all hopes of getting to kiss that mouth are not completely lost then,” Katie says with a sly smirk. “I’m trying out for Juliet.”
“Bring it on, blondie,” Jensen replies warmly, and laughs when Jake kicks Katie’s chair.
“Stop, you’re making me jealous,” Jake says. “Katie and I are going to run away together someday and make tall, lanky blonde babies.”
“Keep dreaming, swizzlestick,” Katie replies, batting her eyelashes at him. Jensen raises an eyebrow and Kyle leans in a bit closer.
“All day, every day with this shit, man,” Kyle says with a shake of his shaggy head. “I swear.”
“Y’all done chitchatting back there?” Jared asks loudly, and Jensen’s head snaps up. They all turn to face their teacher sheepishly, and Jared just smirks. “Class is just about up, and then tryouts for Romeo and Juliet will be held over in the theater. I hope to see you guys there.”
The bell rings not long after that and Jensen gets up to follow his new pack of friends out the door. He happens to catch Jared’s eye on the way out and he gets a soft, almost private sort of smile from his new favorite teacher. Jensen blushes and blames it on his stupid new teenage hormones as he scurries out the door.
The theater is quite nice for a high school, and Jensen is surprised at the crowd of people gathered and ready to audition. It strikes him over and over again how different this high school experience is from the last one. At his school only the drama geeks ever tried out for plays, and here there are boys in letterman jackets and pretty blonde girls fixing their lip gloss.
The cynic in Jensen wonders how many people are there because of their love of theater and how many know about the scholarship. He’s also willing to bet that there’s a fair few who just want a chance to work with Mr. Padalecki. Every school has a hot teacher, and Jared is theirs.
Jared auditions the minor roles first and Jensen sits in the back of the theater with Katie, Jake, and Kyle to watch. Jensen is a little surprised to find that he truly likes these kids. He wasn’t expecting to actually make friends during this little adventure of his, but sitting in the back of a high school theater and laughing with them is simple. He likes it.
He’s told that the students filling up the theater aren’t the usual drama kids. The most dedicated (and pretentious) of the group are bowing out of this play in a show of solidarity for Ms. Berry, who sounds like a bit of a psycho herself. These are all the kids who never get a chance for the big roles, and there’s an air of excitement and nervousness that Jensen is told isn’t normally there.
It’s Jake and Kyle’s first time at trying out for anything, and Jensen suspects that Jake is only trying out to impress Katie, and Kyle simply doesn’t have anything better to do.
It’s a while before Jared makes it through everyone and finally calls out for his Juliets. Katie looks a bit nervous and the three boys all lean in to kiss her cheeks until she giggles.
“Break a leg,” Jensen tells her as he shoos her up the aisle. “You’re the only girl I want to kiss, so you better nail it.”
Jensen actually gets up to follow her, lingering in the aisle and resting his hip against a chair. He crosses his arms and tilts his head, curious to see how she’ll perform. She holds a crumpled piece of paper in her hands and emphatically acts out one of Juliet’s monologues. And Jensen, well, is impressed. Watching her being up on that stage is a great feeling, and she absolutely nailed it. Jared claps at the end, and Jensen knows that he’s looking at their Juliet.
Katie hops off of the stage and runs right into Jensen’s arms. He lifts her up and spins her around a few times as she laughs happily.
“You did great!” Jensen tells her, and she grins radiantly. A few more girls try out, but none of them measure up to Katie. Jared gets up from his seat in the front row and stretches, arms going over his head as he twists back and forth.
“Romeo!” Jared calls out, and Jensen straightens up as Katie pats happily at his chest. “Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?”
Another boy hops up on stage before Jensen has a chance to, but that’s okay because there are butterflies in his stomach and his throat feels dry. Jake sidles up next to him with a bottle of water and Jensen holds his hand out in question. Jake nods and Jensen takes it, unscrewing the cap and letting the cool water slide down his throat.
“You’ll be great,” Katie tells him, and Jensen nods absently. The guy on stage does a fair job, but he spends more time looking at the paper in his hand than the audience and his voice doesn’t really carry.
“Go on,” Jake tells him. “I’ll try out after you. A bit of comedy will break the tension.” Katie laughs and Jensen smirks at him.
The current hopeful wanders off of the stage with his brows knitted together. Jensen jogs up to the stage and hops up onto it before looking down at Jared, who looks back at him curiously. He had been hanging far enough back in the theater that Jared hadn’t seen him.
“Jason Mitchell,” Jared says, making a note on his legal pad. “There’s a book up there that you can read from.”
“Don’t need it,” Jensen says, confident but not cocky, and Jared gives him an impressed look and nods.
“Okay then,” Jared says, running his fingers through his hair as he looks up. “Go ahead.”
Jensen takes a long, deep breath and closes his eyes for a second, gathering all the words on the tip of his tongue, and then looks right at Jared.
“He jests at scars that never felt a wound,” Jensen says quietly, and then looks up slightly before letting his voice carry. “But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, who is already sick and pale with grief.”
Jensen continues the monologue but he seems unable to look away from Jared’s face. Memories wash over him, memories of whispering sonnets into Jared’s bare skin when they were young, weaving words that rhymed just so that he could make Jared shiver. He looks at Jared’s face, and he feels young again, feels warmth and love blossom in his chest.
Jared is resting his hand on his cheek, propping himself up with an elbow on the armrest, looking slightly awed and a bit mystified. His pen is slack in his other hand and he hasn’t taken a single note, hasn’t looked away from Jensen. He swallows hard and gestures at Jared.
“See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!” Jensen says longingly, one hand reaching out just slightly towards Jared. “O, that I were a glove upon that hand, that I might touch that cheek.”
“Ay me,” Jared says quietly. Jensen wasn’t expecting to go further than that passage, but Jared looks so entranced by him that Jensen can’t help himself.
“She speaks!” Jensen continues, walking up to the edge of the stage and looking right at Jared. “O, speak again, bright angel! For thou art as glorious to this night, being o’er my head, as is a winged messenger as heaven.”
He finishes the passage strongly, chest heaving up and down and hands trembling as he looks at Jared for approval. His eyes are shining and his slack lips curve into a bight smile. It makes Jensen’s heart pound and then the theater is suddenly full of applause and he’s distracted, looking at his classmates with a proud, happy grin.
“That was wonderful, Jason,” Jared says, and Jensen is too busy drinking in the whoops and hollers of his new friends to notice how broken he sounds. “Just wonderful.”
“Jensen, goddamn it.”
He rips open a bag of Pizza Rolls and dumps them out onto a plate, arranging them with a giant grin on his face while Misha just stares at him. Jensen is hungry, like all the time hungry, and his metabolism is back to hummingbird speed. He’s going to take advantage.
“Did you want some?” Jensen asks as he sticks the plate in the microwave.
“I want you to stop eating me out of house and home,” Misha replies. “Don’t you have homework to do or something?”
“Finished it,” Jensen says as he takes a beer out of the refrigerator. “I’m an exemplary student.”
“Clearly.” Misha snatches the can back and rolls his eyes when Jensen pouts. “Look like a twink, drink like a twink. Have some juice.”
“You’re a dick.”
“My house, my rules,” Misha replies simply. “I have to go out. Don’t make any messes and please try to leave me something to eat.”
“Okay, dad,” Jensen jokes. “Can we get a pizza for dinner?”
“One, you’re taking this teenager thing way too seriously,” Misha tells him. “And two? You’re fucking heating up Pizza Rolls right now.” Jensen just looks at him, eyebrow raised like he’s waiting for him to get to the point. Misha’s left eye twitches and Jensen tries not to laugh.”Fine. I’ll be back later. Don’t burn the place down.”
“Aye aye.” Jensen gives a mock salute and Misha throws up his middle finger as he leaves the apartment. The microwave beeps and Jensen tries very hard not to let out an excited squeak.
He takes his Pizza Rolls and a beer, fuck Misha, over to the couch and climbs up onto it. He crosses his legs and sets his plate in his lap, cracking the beer open and taking a sip as he turns on the television. He puts on something mindless and digs in, chuckling at the screen every so often.
Two hours later Jensen is fast asleep, face mashed into the back of the couch and one leg hanging off of the side, body contorted in a way that would really hurt if he wasn’t eighteen.
The house phone rings, loud and shrill, and Jensen snorts as he awakes. He reaches blindly for the handset on the end table next to the couch and blearily jabs at it until it stops ringing.
“Hello?” He answers, voice rough with sleep.
“Oh, hey..” Jensen’s eyes snap open because he’d recognize that voice anywhere. He’d recognize the cadence of Jared’s breathing in a crowded room. “Jensen?”
“Jared,” Jensen says simply, pitching his voice low as he sits up and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Uh, how are you?”
“That’s sort of a stupid question,” Jared says bluntly, and Jensen grins so hard that he very nearly weeps. “I’m getting by. And yourself?”
“Things are, uh, kind of crazy,” Jensen tells him, taking in the greasy plate and empty beer can on the coffee table before eyeing his backpack on the floor near the door. “I’m sort of out of my element.”
“Ah. I was actually calling to talk to Jason, which thanks for telling me about that, by the way,” Jared chides, and Jensen almost chokes on a sharp intake of air. “Is he there?”
“No?” Jensen nearly squeaks before taking a breath. “He’s out with some friends. And, uh, sorry I didn’t tell you. It was a very last minute sort of thing. Can I take a message?”
“I just wanted to tell him that he got the part of Romeo,” Jared says. He sounds wistful. Jensen tries to picture him. Maybe he’s curled up in their bed reading a book, or maybe at the park overlooking the city. But then his words finally filter through the haze of his brain and he slaps his hand over his mouth to keep the triumphant yelp from slipping out. “I’m putting up the list on Monday, but I thought maybe I’d give him a call.”
“That’s great,” Jensen says happily. “I’ll be sure to tell him.”
“Well, I guess I should let you go,” Jared says, soft and quiet. The words feel heavy, but maybe that’s just because Jensen has heard them before. “It was nice to hear your voice, Jensen. It’s quiet here with you gone.”
“I bet there are books everywhere,” Jensen says suddenly, and he’s pleased to hear Jared chuckle softly. “Now you can read without me interrupting you.”
“The breaks weren’t so bad,” Jared says quietly, and Jensen is surprised to feel a lump in his throat. “Anyway, I’m going to go. Tell Misha that I said hi and give Jason the good news, okay?”
“I will,” Jensen replies, slumping back against the couch. “Take care of yourself, Jared.”
“You too, Jen.” There’s a click and the line goes dead. Jensen taps the phone against his forehead a few times and then lets it drop to the floor, pulling his knees up onto the sofa as he slumps over to the side.
Jason gets to see Jared all the time, almost every day. But Jensen? He misses him like crazy.
Jared puts the cast list up outside of his classroom after school on Monday. Jensen lingers in the hall with Katie, Kyle, Jake and a few other hopefuls as he tapes it up, and Jared is barely out of the way before Katie lunges forward to look at it.
“Oh my god,” she says. “I got it. I got the part!”
Katie squeals and throws her arms around Jared, who looks a little surprised and laughs as he pats her back. A surge of irrational jealousy swarms in the pit of Jensen’s stomach for a moment. He would like to hug Jared to thank him for his part too, but that would be inappropriate. Pretty much everything that Jensen wants to do to Jared would be inappropriate, given their current situation.
“You earned it,” Jared tells her as he gently extricates himself from her hug. She claps her hands together and bounces a few times before hugging Jensen. That’s just who Katie is. She’s a hugger.
“You’re Romeo!” She tells him, and Jensen grins as he gives her a squeeze. He catches Jared’s eye over her shoulder and smiles gratefully at him.
“Whoa, hold on,” Jake says as he skims the list. Kyle is busy having a bit of a panic attack over being cast as Mercutio. “Sampson/understudy for Romeo? Understudy?”
“In the event that Jason is unable to perform – “ Jared starts, but Jake cuts him off.
“I know what an understudy is,” he says. “I just, uh, wasn’t expecting to be Jason’s.”
“You did well,” is all Jared offers. The hall starts to fill up then, more people checking the list for their name. Soon all Jensen can see and hear are excited drama geeks, but it’s easy to spot Jared in the fray. “Listen up!”
Jared does his signature whistle and the crowd settles, turning and twisting to face him. Jensen leans heavily against the lockers. He’s happy to have gotten the part, over the moon even, but he can’t really feel it while he’s staring at Jared’s face.
“Our first rehearsal is on Tuesday,” Jared tells them. “There we’ll decide on an official schedule for rehearsals, and we’ll aim for opening night being in about six weeks.” There’s a murmur through the crowd and Jared waits a beat before continuing. “I know that’s a tight schedule, but it’s all the time we’ve got. I’m more than confident that you guys can pull this off.”
Jensen’s new classmates start babbling excitedly, and Jake turns to grip his shoulder.
“Dude,” he says, “we need to go get some food. Celebrate. Romeo and Juliet, you guys. That’s fucking awesome.” Katie smiles and ducks her head while Jared grins proudly. “Hey, Mr. P! Wanna come get some pizza with us?”
“Thanks for the offer,” Jared says with a polite smile. “But I have some work to do. You kids have fun.”
Kids, Jensen thinks with a snort. He’s almost surprised when those kids drag him down the hall, and he looks over his shoulder to see Jared, grown up and beautiful, duck back into his classroom.
Jensen had almost forgotten that he isn’t a grown-up, not anymore.
Things settle into a routine after that.
The leads have rehearsal three times a week – Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday – while the minor players and people not helping out with set production get Wednesdays off.
Jensen throws himself into the play, so much so that Jared jokingly calls him his assistant director. He just has so many ideas, and Jared and the cast are more than happy to listen to him. Sometimes Jared even lets him run rehearsal on the days that he’s too busy to be there.
There are three weeks until opening night, the halfway point, when Jensen’s friends invite themselves over to his place on Friday night to watch the original film adaption of Romeo and Juliet and get some more practice in.
Jensen is making sure the ice trays are full when Misha waltzes into the apartment. He’s wearing a black three-piece suit with a blood red tie loosened slightly at the collar and it’s moments like these that Jensen remembers that yeah, his best friend is fucking hot.
His best friend is also not supposed to fucking be here.
“What are you doing here?” Jensen hisses as Misha drops down onto the sofa. “Everyone is going to be here soon.”
“It’s cute how you think that you can kick me out of my own apartment,” Misha replies as he kicks his feet up on the table. “Real cute. Calm down, princess. I just came home from a meeting and I’m going to sit on my couch for a few minutes before my house is overrun by teenagers.”
Jensen lets out a huff and lingers near the door. They’re supposed to be there any second and Misha looks in no position to leave.
“Besides, I want to meet your friends,” Misha says with an amused smirk. “See what kind of crowd my boy is running with.”
Jensen gives him a tight, fake smile and then looks over when there’s a sharp knock on the door.
“Be good,” Jensen pleads, and Misha throws his hands up in the air, eyes all blue and innocent. “Fuck you. Be good.”
Misha chuckles as Jensen opens the door. Katie greets him with a hug and Jake and Kyle tumble in after her, followed by a few more of the major players. Jensen pulls away from the hug to see Misha looking at Katie with a gleeful expression and he rolls his eyes.
“Guys, this is Misha, my uncle’s roommate,” Jensen says flippantly.
“Roommate. That sounds… permanent,” he mumbles before getting up off of the couch. “Hello, children. It’s a pleasure.”
“His roommate or his roommate?” Katie inquires, tossing finger quotes up around the last word. Misha looks mildly perturbed and Jensen sort of blanches at the thought of being romantically linked to Misha.
“Strictly platonic, I assure you,” Misha says as he comes up to Katie. She eyes him appreciatively and ducks her head when Misha smiles warmly at her. “And you are?”
“She is seventeen,” Jensen cuts in. He steps in between them and levels Misha with a glare that does nothing to wipe the smarmy grin from his face. “And you were just leaving.”
“Are you sure that you guys don’t need any adult supervision?” Misha asks with a barely hidden leer in Katie’s direction. “Wouldn’t want you getting too rowdy.”
“No,” Jensen says, tugging Misha over towards their bedrooms. He points his index finger in Misha’s face and he looks mildly insulted. “Bad Misha.”
“But she’s so pretty,” Misha says as his eyes wander to something over Jensen’s shoulder.
“She’s so underage,” Jensen reminds him. “Get out of here and find something to do that doesn’t come with a prison sentence.”
“You never let me have any fun,” Misha says with a mock pout. He heads towards the front door still in his suit, looking at Katie over his shoulder one last time. “So, when does she turn eighteen?”
“Oh my god. Go, Misha,” Jensen says as he pushes him forcibly out the front door. He leaves with a cackle of laughter and he turns to see Katie patting the seat on the couch next to her.
He settles down as the movie starts up, Katie cuddled up against him, half in his lap, and Jake and Kyle already starting up a running commentary. He tries to focus on the movie and not think about how he knows that Misha is going to go meet up with Jared, about how much he would like to be with them.
Instead he slumps down on the sofa and rests his arms on top of Katie’s bony legs, playing the average high school student as he watches a movie he’s already seen dozens of times.
Sometimes pretending is just really exhausting.
Jared asks him to stick around after class on Monday, and Jensen saunters up to his desk with a vaguely confused expression as everyone else files out.
“What’s up?” Jensen asks, looking down at Jared’s upturned face. His hair is all fluffy like it sometimes gets when he doesn’t use conditioner and Jensen tries not to get distracted.
“I spoke with Mrs. Porter earlier and she tells me that you’re failing Chemistry,” Jared says, no preamble, and Jensen blinks.
Jensen is doing really well in all of his classes, except for that one. The failing grade doesn’t really bother him because, well, he already passed it once. And he doesn’t really need Chemistry. He doesn’t really know what to say, feeling like he’s disappointed Jared somehow, so he just shrugs a shoulder.
“Science isn’t my best subject,” he finally offers, and the corner of Jared’s mouth twitches like he finds something amusing and annoying all at once. Then he remembers: Jensen has always sucked at science. Funny that his nephew should too.
“Well, Jason,” Jared starts. He sits back in his chair and raises his arms to slide his fingers through his hair. “We have a policy here at this school. If a student is failing any core subject, they aren’t allowed to participate in any extracurricular activities.”
“Such as school plays,” Jared clarifies, and Jensen’s mouth drops open.
“Are you telling me that you’re kicking me out of the play?” Jensen asks, noting the slightly hysterical edge to his voice.
“No,” Jared is quick to say. “I spoke with Mrs. Porter and she agreed that if you spend the next week getting some tutoring, she’ll give you a make-up test on Friday. If you pass that, your grade will be bumped up and you’ll be fine. But you’ll have to stay on top of it, Jason.”
“Okay, yeah,” Jensen says quickly. “I can totally do that. You mentioned tutoring?”
“Yeah, she has this kid in her AP class, super bright,” Jared tells him. “His name’s Matt, and he tutors after school. You’re supposed to meet with him.”
“When?” Jensen asks.
“Right now,” Jared says with a smirk. “In the library. You’ll be doing that instead of rehearsal this week.” Jared looks up at him through the soft fall of his hair, lips stretched into a smile, and Jensen’s breath catches. “You better ace that test on Friday. I don’t want to lose my Romeo.”
“I won’t let you down,” Jensen says emphatically. Jared’s eyes turn serious at that and he clears his throat, gaze going back down to the papers on his desk.
“See that you don’t,” he says, and Jensen salutes before hightailing it out of the classroom to head for the library. It occurs to him as he walks inside that he has no idea who this Matt guy is, or what he looks like, but that doesn’t seem to matter because he barely has time to stand awkwardly in the middle of the library before someone is saying his name.
Jensen turns around and, wow, the guy standing in front of him definitely doesn’t fit his mental picture of a Chemistry tutor. He’s got big blue eyes and wavy black hair, body muscular yet compact. Jensen swallows.
“Matt Cohen,” the guy says, holding his hand out. Jensen takes it and Matt actually blushes a little before pulling it away. “Mrs. Porter tells me that you’re having some trouble in Chem?”
“Uh, yeah,” Jensen says as they head over for an empty table in the corner of the library. “I wasn’t really that worried about it, but I’m in the play. So I need to pass this make-up test.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Matt says with a charming smile and wow, he’s pretty much gorgeous, if not way too young. Or, technically, the same age as him. “I’ll take care of you.”
Jensen swallows hard.
Jensen and Matt spend a few hours together after school every day that week.
Matt picks him up dutifully from Jared’s class when the bell rings since his is only a few doors down, and they head out. On Tuesday they go back to the library, but on Wednesday they commandeer one of the picnic tables in the courtyard.
Thursday evening finds them at the pizza parlor across the street, textbooks and notebooks competing for table space along with pizza, breadsticks, and soda. Matt has made up a study game: for every question Jensen gets right, he gets a sip of soda. For every question he gets wrong, he has to eat a jalapeño.
“Maybe I like jalapeños,” Jensen says after completely bombing a question about photosynthesis. He pops the pepper into his mouth and tries his best not to grimace as it burns all the way down his throat.
“I’d be more inclined to believe you if it didn’t look like you were about to cry,” Matt says with a chuckle. Jensen flips him off and breathes heavily through his mouth to try and soothe the burn.
“This is cruel and unusual punishment,” Jensen pants. “We covered it in Government, a class which I am not failing.”
“It’s motivating,” Matt tells him, and flips over the sheet in his hand. Jensen continues to pant and watches the way Matt’s blue eyes go serious as he skims the question sheet. “Fine, you big baby. Here’s an easier one. How many valence electrons does an oxygen atom have?”
“Can you name an everyday scenario in which knowing the answer to that question will help me somehow?” Jensen asks as he stares at his glass of soda. Condensation runs down the side to make a puddle on the table and Jensen would suck the wood clean if it would make his tongue stop burning.
“Sure thing,” Matt says brightly. “There may come a time where your mouth is figuratively on fire and the only way to soothe the burn is to know how many valence electrons are in an oxygen atom.”
“Touché, asshole,” Jensen says, and then furrows his brow. “Six.”
“You may drink,” Matt says, and Jensen slides the soda over and sucks greedily through the straw, practically moaning as the cool liquid floods his mouth. “Whoa, chuggles. I said you could have one drink.”
“You don’t own me,” Jensen mumbles around his straw. He finds himself grinning when Matt laughs.
Matt offers to drive him home once their pizza is gone, Jensen’s mouth is no longer on fire, and he passed his practice test. It’s a quiet, comfortable drive and Jensen pats his full belly as Matt navigates the city streets.
“Thanks,” Jensen tells him, head lolling over to look at him. “For the help, I mean. Even if you are evil.”
“You’re welcome, man,” Matt replies, their eyes lingering on each other’s faces for just a little too long before the light turns green. Jensen directs him to Misha’s apartment building and Matt parks along the yellow curb in front. They both get out of the car and Jensen shivers a little at the cold before turning to face his tutor.
He really is gorgeous, so sweet and nice. Funny, too. He’s a good kid.
“Good luck on your test tomorrow,” Matt tells him, and Jensen nods. “You’ll do great.”
“I have to,” Jensen replies. “Or else I’ll forever be afraid that you’re going to come cram peppers down my throat.” They share a chuckle and Matt rocks back on his heels as he drags his fingers through his hair.
“So, uh, if you need more tutoring, I could do that,” Matt offers. “Or if you just want to hang out, or whatever.”
“Yeah, sure,” Jensen says amiably. “We could do that.” Matt looks at him, lips curving up into a smile, and Jensen is just about to ask him what’s up when Matt leans in and presses their mouths together.
The cool touch of Matt’s mouth on his takes Jensen by complete surprise and a shiver runs through him as flashes of no no wrong flit through his head. Matt apparently takes this as encouragement and presses his fingers to Jensen’s cheek, lips growing more insistent.
Jensen’s brain finally catches up to his pounding heart and he jerks backwards like he’s been shocked. Matt opens his eyes and drops his hand, cheeks immediately darkening with color. Jensen is breathing hard, eyes wild and wide as he takes a step backwards.
“Sorry, I just thought – well, I don’t know what I was thinking,” Matt gets out in a rush. “I just, I like you.”
“Matt,” Jensen says slowly, lips still tingling from their kiss. Jensen feels his eyes get wet, belly twisting with guilt. No one but Jared has kissed him in twenty years, and even if this wasn’t real, even if they’re not together anymore, it feels terribly, terribly wrong.
“No, it’s cool,” Matt says, trying valiantly not to let any hurt show in his voice. “I get it.”
“I don’t think you do,” Jensen finds himself saying, taking a step forward and putting his hand on Matt’s arm. “You’re fucking awesome, Matt, okay? I like you a lot. It’s just – “ He fights back the urge to say you’re too young for me because one, it’s not exactly true and two, it isn’t the real reason he pulled away. “I’m in love with someone else.”
Jensen lets out a breath and drops his hand, watching as realization dawns on Matt’s face. He actually lets out a relieved chuckle and runs his fingers through his hair again.
“Well, shit,” he laughs. “Love? Who can compete with that?”
“You come close,” Jensen lies, and he smiles as Matt ducks his head. “Sorry.”
“Hey, it’s okay,” Matt replies, reaching out to gently punch Jensen’s arm. “I’ll get over it, even if you are the hottest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“I suggest you tear your gaze away from me and find yourself a mirror,” Jensen replies, and Matt laughs again. “I’ll call you this weekend, okay? Let you know how all your hard work paid off.”
“Yeah, do that,” Matt tells him, and Jensen slowly feels the awkwardness start to dissipate. “I’ll see you later, alright?”
Jensen nods and watches as Matt gets back into his car. They share a soft smile through the windshield and Jensen turns away, hand coming up to his mouth as he lets himself into the building.
His lips feel raw from rubbing at them as he enters the apartment, and a low whistle alerts him to Misha’s position. He’s sitting at the window seat that overlooks the front of the building.
“Well, well. Someone’s been busy,” Misha says. He’s grinning, but his eyes are a bit hard. “Nice young thing you snagged yourself, Jason.”
“Fuck off, Misha, alright?” Jensen says as he lets his backpack drop to the floor. “That was my Chemistry tutor. He kissed me, and I let him down easy. Feel free to climb down off of your judgey high horse.”
“Fine,” Misha replies as he turns away from the window. “He was cute, I guess.”
“He was gorgeous,” Jensen clarifies. “Ugh, I feel dirty. Come here.”
Jensen grabs Misha by the waist and gives him a quick kiss on the lips, lingering for just a second. He lets him go and turns away with a sigh before dropping down onto the sofa. Misha stares at him and Jensen rolls his eyes.
“I didn’t want him to be the last person I kissed, okay?” Jensen admits. “I feel all weird and if it can’t be Jared then I’d rather it be you than some random teenager.”
“You’re such a fucking sap,” Misha says as he licks his lips. “Also, you taste like a whore.”
Jensen ignores him and falls over sideways onto the sofa, face buried in the cushions. His stomach is still all twisted in knots and he knows. It’s not that he isn’t over Jared yet. He’ll never be over Jared.
“Oh, come on, I was kidding,” Misha says, but Jensen isn’t paying him any attention. “You taste spicy and wonderful.”
He’ll never be able to kiss another person and not have it feel wrong.
Jensen takes his make-up test during lunch the next day.
He sort of blazes through it and doesn’t even really stress over any of the questions. Everything else aside, Matt is a damn good tutor.
He flits about while Mrs. Porter grades it and he can’t keep the grin off his face when she hands it back to him with a heartfelt congratulations. His overall grade in the class still sucks but at least he’s passing, and he tears out of her classroom after tossing a ‘thanks’ over his shoulder.
When Jensen gets to Jared’s classroom, he’s relieved to see him sitting at his desk and sipping out of a travel mug that Jensen bought him while in New York City on a business trip.
“Hey!” Jensen says as he barrels right up to his desk. Seeing Jared has the unfortunate side effect of bringing the previous night to the forefront of Jensen’s memory and he bites his lip. His stomach turns and he has to resist the urge to throw himself across Jared’s desk and cling to him. He wants to beg for forgiveness, which is just stupid because technically he didn’t do anything wrong.
Jensen didn’t have a good night. He tossed and turned and imagined a whole slew of scenarios wherein he showed up on Jared’s doorstep, each more implausible than the last, until he finally fell into a light, disturbed sleep. Standing in front of Jared now, taking in his pink cheeks and sleek hair, makes Jensen’s breath quicken.
Even if he did want to be with Jared, there’s no way it could work. Not given their current circumstances.
“What’s up, Jason?” Jared finally says, and Jensen smiles resignedly. He slaps the test down on Jared’s desk and can’t fight the grin that widens his cheeks.
“Bam!” Jensen points at the big red A- at the top of the page and only grins harder when Jared chuckles. “I will see you at rehearsal on Tuesday.”
“That you will, Romeo. I’m proud of you, man.” Jared holds up his hand and Jensen furrows his brow for a moment.
“Oh, we’re high-fiving?” Jensen asks, blinking a few times. “Okay, I guess that’s going to happen.”
Jensen presses his palm against Jared’s, lingering for a moment too long before he pulls away. Jensen’s cheeks burn and Jared clears his throat, both of them staring at each other. The bell rings then, startling them both, and Jensen bites his lip.
“Good job,” Jared says cordially, pointing towards Jensen’s desk with the end of his pen. “Have a seat.”
Jensen drops into his seat and tries his best to keep his nose buried inside of his book for the whole period.
He’s not exactly successful.