Fandom: Supernatural RPS
Pairing: Jared Padalecki/Jensen Ackles, Jim Beaver/Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chad Michael Murray/Sophia Bush
Warnings: Well, it's still an Anne of Green Gables fusion. I feel that deserves a warning. Also, probably RAMPANT ANACHRONISMS. Seriously, I put almost no effort into historical accuracy here. I'm okay with that.
Word Count: 5400.
Summary: Sequel to The Coming of Wisdom With Time. Jared works on school, human relationships, and figuring himself out. Pretty much in that order.
Notes: I forgot! Title for last fic was from Yeats, this one is A. E. Housman. Also, the copyright is expired on all of L. M. Mongomery's novels, and they are available legally and free of charge at Project Gutenberg. If you have not read the originals, they are highly awesome and highly recommended. These fics draw from the first three, Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and Anne of the Island.
Disclaimer: I make this shit up.
ALSO: Podfic by juice817 is here!
At sixteen years old, Jared Padalecki is taller than anyone else he knows, and his shoulders and arms are finally beginning to catch up to his head. He is not yet broad, but there's certainly a promise of it. His hair is still unruly and cowlicked, his hands sometimes too large and clumsy for holding tools or needles, but Jared is, if nothing else, content. His hazel eyes sparkle, his laugh is quick, and he is so much taller than either of his caretakers that even Jim agreed new clothes would have to be bought for him. In the fall, he'll go to Queens College, and while he'll have to leave his comrade in arms behind, he won't be alone. He'll have Sandy, Gabe, Steve, Kate, and, of course, Jensen Ackles.
Jared sighs. Jensen Ackles is still something of a mystery to him. Jared has always been a grudge-holder--all of his relationship with Jensen Ackles until a few months previous is testament to that--and he has trouble believing that Jensen is willing to forgive him so quickly.
All evidence, however, points to exactly that. Jensen seems delighted that Jared is willing to be his friend, and is content to leave the past behind them and continue onward, no questions asked. Jared can't get over waiting for something to happen, some kind of karmic retribution.
Jensen will be coming over soon, to discuss the novel he loaned Jared the last week. Jim and Jeffrey always slant looks at each other when Jensen stops by, and Jared is baffled by that as well. After all, they never exchange looks when Chad visits. Or if they do, it's rather a different kind of look, something like "Here is that Murray boy, he had better not get drunk or set anything on fire again."
Jared doesn't know what to make of Jensen at all.
And now here he is, coming down the walk.
Jensen is not as tall as Jared, but he's only a few inches shorter. He's still, as he always has been, striking. Jared doesn't think very much about what women find attractive in men, but he knows that Jensen Ackles possesses many of those qualities. He is firm, strong, and looks, for lack of a better word, capable. Jensen Ackles looks like the kind of person who can be depended upon.
"Afternoon," says Jensen, smiling at Jared as he approaches the porch.
"Good afternoon, Jensen," says Jared, smiling back. "Thank you for the book."
Jensen immediately grins. "Did you like it? I thought you would."
"It was very romantic," says Jared, unable to stop himself. He will often try to hold himself back around Jensen, finding himself embarrassed of things he hasn't ever cared about before.
"I'm glad," says Jensen, ducking his head. "Have you been writing recently?"
Jared flushes. "I can't believe Chad told you that I write."
"I could have guessed it even if he hadn't. You're the type for it, Jared. I'd have been shocked if you didn't."
"It's nothing good," mutters Jared. "Childish fancies."
"I'd love to read it," says Jensen. "If you'd let me."
"Oh, no, I couldn't possibly! None of it's good enough for y--for anyone to see."
Jared isn't sure why Jensen seeing his work is so much worse than anyone else. He thinks it's because he hasn't gotten used to Jensen not being his rival yet.
"If it ever is," says Jensen, smiling hopefully.
"Yes," Jared stutters. "Of course."
Jensen's answering smile is unbelievable; Jared is surprised by it every time.
"You really should do something about Sandy, Jared," Chad says to him the next week.
"What about her?" asks Jared.
"The girl is clearly gone on you."
Jared considers this. Sandy is fond of him, and while she's a beautiful girl, Jared can't muster up anything beyond friendly fondness for her.
"Sandy and I are friends, Chad," he says.
"So are me and Sophia, and I convinced her to let me kiss her," says Chad smugly.
"You kissed Sophia Bush?" asks Jared, shocked. "When? Why didn't you tell me? What was it like?"
"The other day," says Chad, smirking. "Wet."
Jared isn't sure why kissing would be wet. His lips are usually quite dry. "Was it romantic?"
"Not really," says Chad. "She was late for milking, so almost as soon as we'd done it she had to leave."
Jared sighs. "I don't want my first kiss to be like that."
Chad snorts. "You want your first kiss to be with the girl you're going to marry, at sunset, with a rainbow."
"You know me so well, comrade in arms."
Chad is stopped from replying by the sudden appearance of the Widow Ferris. Jared is, in all honestly, a little frightened of the Widow Ferris. She's been visiting more often recently, to trade recipes with Jeffrey, and Jared has the distinct impression that she always and without fail disapproves of him. He isn't sure what it is. Perhaps his shirts are not ironed stiffly enough.
"She's been coming around a lot," says Chad, glancing over.
"Yes," agrees Jared.
"Do you think Jeffrey's going to propose?" asks Chad.
This had never occurred to Jared. Jeffrey and Jim had always seemed so happy being just the two of them--confirmed bachelors, as it were. But the Widow Ferris had been coming often, and Jeffrey seemed fond of her.
"I don't know," Jared manages, shaken to his very core.
"Jeffrey," Jared asks that night, "are you going to marry the Widow Ferris?"
Jim starts choking on his whiskey. Having smelled Jim's whiskey, Jared can't believe this doesn't happen more often.
Jeffrey just looks pained. "Jared..."
"She's been spending a lot of time here," Jared points out. "It's only reasonable to think you might..."
"Jared," says Jim firmly, "Jeffrey is never getting married."
"I wouldn't mind--" Jared starts, even though it's a lie.
"I love Jim, Jared," says Jeffrey.
"Of course you do," says Jared. Jeffrey and Jim are comrades in arms, bosom companions, all of that. Jeffrey is saying this like Jared doesn't know it, but of course he does.
"No," says Jeffrey, sighing. "As a man loves his wife."
Jim snorts. "Like hell am I your wife."
"You," starts Jared. "But isn't that...it isn't..."
"A lot of folks don't like it," says Jeffrey. "I reckon that's their business, and what we do is ours." He looks awkward, a little upset. "I'd best go get the cows in."
Jim keeps looking at Jared, steadily. "It'd kill him if you didn't approve," says Jim. "That man loves you like his own."
Jared swallows. "You never told me."
Jim shrugs. "Didn't know how. It isn't the kind of thing you can just say."
"I suppose not," says Jared. "I'll go talk to him."
In the barn, Jeffrey is sitting, stroking his hands over one of the cows' ears. Jared lets himself in quietly, kneels down.
"I wish you'd said something earlier," he says softly. "I feel foolish, never having known."
Jeffrey smiles. "Well now, we didn't want you to, exactly. Didn't want you having to lie for us, if push came to shove."
"You wouldn't tell the truth."
"It isn't accepted, Jared," says Jeffrey. His eyes are intense, as if he is trying to tell Jared something without saying it. "But that doesn't mean it ain't worth it."
"Thank you," Jared says. "I'm glad to know now. And," he adds with a smile, "I am very glad you aren't marrying the Widow Ferris."
Jeffrey laughs, loud and real. "Well now," he says, "Sam's quite a woman, but I can't say I disagree. She's a right terror when she puts her mind to it."
Summer turns easily into autumn, and before Jared knows it, he's back at the train station for the first time since he came to Green Gables, waiting to go to Queens.
"Are you excited?" asks Jensen, coming up suddenly behind him.
"Terrified," says Jared. "Elated, nervous, anxious, overjoyed. There are not enough words for what I am right now, or else there are too many."
Jensen laughs. Jared is entranced, every time, by Jensen's laugh, the low rumble of it in his chest. Now that he knows Jensen Ackles, he doesn't know how he did without him.
"You'll do well, you know," says Jensen. "I've never met anyone as smart as you, or as stubborn. It's a dangerous combination."
"I am bound and determined to do my best," says Jared.
Jensen smiles. "I'll hold you to that. It wouldn't do if I got first in class without you putting up a little bit of a struggle."
Jared knocks his shoulder against Jensen's, laughing. "As if I'd let you get it at all."
Jensen is grinning back, and Jared is hit with a sudden, fierce wave of contentment. He's never thought of contentment as an overwhelming feeling, but there it is, so strong he can feel it pushing down his chest.
"Jared?" says Sandy, shocking Jared out of his daze. He turns and smiles, a little shakily. Ever since that fateful conversation with Chad, Jared has been feeling strange around Sandy, unsure. He doesn't think Sandy is right for him. He always pictured his wife as someone with whom he would have an instant connection--an epic tale of love which he could tell children and grandchildren for years.
He met Sandy at a garden party. It's all very mundane.
"Hello, Sandy," says Jared, nervous.
"Would you like to sit with me on the train?" she asks, nervous.
Jared doesn't want to say no, but he doesn't want to say yes either. He looks for Jensen, hoping to be able to claim they're already sitting together, but Jensen has melted away, and Jared is alone without any good excuse.
He puts on his brightest smile. "Of course, I would love to."
With the rush of Queens, Jared barely has time to think about romance. He's in competition for the Avery scholarship, awarded to the best English student in their year. If he receives it, he'll be able to attend Redmond in the fall with a full scholarship. Jared had never dreamed of going to university, but suddenly it feels so close he can taste it.
Jensen, more than anyone, proves to be an invaluable study partner; Jared finds him even more motivational as a friendly rival than he had as a regular one.
Before he knows it, first term is over, and he's on his way home to Green Gables. The weekly letters from Jeffrey, Jim, and Chad did little to soothe his homesickness and missing them, so he's more excited than he can say when the train pulls in and he finds Jeffrey waiting for him. He lifts the older man up in a giant hug, smiles when he hears Jensen laughing softly as he gets off the train.
"Put me down," says Jeffrey, his voice gruff but amused. "You'll break an old man's bones."
"I missed you," says Jared softly. "It wasn't the same, being away."
Jeffrey smiles. "Then let's get you home."
Christmas is a blur of family and happiness and food. Jim grumbles that Jared eats enough for an army, but there's a twinkle in his eye as he says it, and Jared is sure he doesn't mind. Chad and Sophia had some sort of row, the details of which are sketchy to Jared, but Chad seems determined that he'll be able to win her back.
"When we're old enough," Chad says confidently, "we're getting married."
Jared swallows. Marriage is a huge prospect, something looming--he can't imagine himself being ready for it yet. Of course, he has never been in love. Privately, he doesn't think Chad has been either, but it's Chad's decision if he wants to pursue a girl he might not love.
On Christmas Eve, Jared is in the yard, trying to cut down a particularly stubborn bough of evergreen to put above the fireplace, when he sees Jensen Ackles for the first time since they parted at the train station. He comes across the yard in his winter clothes, his breath hanging in the air in front of him.
"Good evening," he says, his eyes crinkling as he smiles at Jared. "Need some help?"
"If you'd be so kind," says Jared, unable to keep from smiling back. "I can't get to the branch for all the needles. And, well, the other branches."
Jensen pulls the other branches away, advises him on which must be cut, and holds the desired bough up once the connection to the tree is severed.
Jared grins. "Thank you," he says, feeling his cheeks dimple. He's been told it's one of his nicer features. His dimples and his nose--the only things on his face he wouldn't change if he could. "I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't happened to stop by."
Jensen rubs the back of his neck. "It wasn't exactly chance, Jared."
"Oh?" asks Jared, hoisting the branch onto his shoulders easily.
"I, uh," Jensen's eyes dart away. "I wanted to..."
The air feels heavy, and Jared swallows. "Where are my manners! It's freezing out here. Won't you come in? Jeffrey made hot chocolate the other day, I could warm some up for you."
Jensen lets out a breath. "I'd like that, yes."
Jared brings the evergreen inside and hands it off to Jim, who spares a look at Jensen before going toward the fireplace. Jeffrey, on the other hand, grins widely.
"Nice to see you, Jensen."
"Merry Christmas, Mr. Morgan. Jared tells me you made hot chocolate."
"I did at that," says Jeffrey. "Let me get you some."
Jared tries to implore Jeffrey wordlessly to stay, but Jeffrey seems unable to comprehend his message. Possibly Jared's eyes are not intent enough. He doesn't know why he's suddenly so anxious at being left alone with Jensen, but the nervousness is there unavoidably, settled in the pit of his stomach.
Jensen rubs the back of his neck again. He looks flushed, but Jared can't tell if it's only from being in the cold, or something more.
"I, uh," says Jensen. He takes a breath. "I wanted to give you your Christmas present."
Jared startles. "A Christmas present? Oh, Jen, you didn't have to..."
Jensen smiles, small and sure. "I wanted to, anyway." He hands over a wrapped package. "Don't, uh, open it while I'm here. I'd get embarrassed. If you don't like it, just never mention it again and I won't be offended."
From the weight of it in his hands, the hardness of the package, Jared is sure it's a book, and he's filled with a sudden surge of fondness. If it were anyone else, he would hug them now, and he feels foolish thinking Jensen should be any different. He reaches over and pulls Jensen close, feeling Jensen stiffen before his arms come up to hug back.
"Thank you," says Jared softly. "I really appreciate it. I don't have anything for you..."
"I don't mind," says Jensen, his voice muffled in Jared's shirt. "I just hope you like it."
Jared lets go, does his best to tell himself there was nothing wrong with hugging Jensen there, but it still seems different and huge. Even after his arms drop, he and Jensen are close together, and Jensen is looking up at him, eyes green and full of a feeling Jared can't identify.
There's a clatter of dishes from the table and Jared sees Jeffrey putting down the tea set, hot chocolate steaming out of their best cups. "Here you go, boys," he says, smiling.
Jared takes the opportunity to put distance between himself and Jensen. "Thanks, Jeffrey!" he says brightly. He can feel Jensen's eyes, heavy on his back, and even when he sits down, the feeling of being watched doesn't go away.
He can't figure out, when Jensen leaves, if he's happy or sad to see him go.
The book is a slim volume of poetry, A Shropshire Lad, and Jared goes to visit Jensen and thank him for it as soon as he's finished, being sure to cite favorite poems. Jensen blushes and smiles and looks ridiculously pleased with himself.
Jared ignores the fluttering in his stomach at that; he's sure he just ate too much at Christmas dinner.
Jared's second term at Queens goes almost faster than his first. His aspiration in life is not to be a teacher, but he was eagerly excited for the possibility, to be able to say he could be. As finals approach, though, he becomes wretched; he feels tiny and out of place, sure that he could never be the smartest in a place as large as this.
"Nonsense," says Jensen, nudging his shoulder. "You're brilliant."
"You'll get the scholarship and the gold medal too, I'm sure," says Jared darkly. "And I will be reduced to 'Jensen Ackles' very tall friend,' no one knowing anything else of me."
Jensen grins. "Don't be an idiot, Jared."
"I'm not trying to be. But now I've gotten myself so excited for Redmond, I don't know what I'll do if I don't go. Teaching would be fine, but I am bound and determined to make more of myself."
"If you don't get this," says Jensen practically, "and I'm not saying I think you'll fail, but if you don't, then you will be a teacher until you can save enough to send yourself to college."
"But you'll have already gone," says Jared dully. "You, and Sandy and Gabe and anyone else who's going will already be gone, and I'll be lonely without you."
"Maybe you'll get the scholarship and leave the rest of us behind," Jensen says brightly. He shakes his head. "Take a deep breath, Jared. It's going to be all right."
And when Jensen says things like that, his voice calm and soothing, Jared can't help but believe him.
Jared arrives late when results are posted, having made himself sick with worrying. When he does come to the courtyard, he hears the crowd before he sees them, and he can't help breaking in to a wide grin.
"Three cheers for Jensen Ackles," he joins in immediately, "winner of the gold medal!"
Jensen is hoisted on some boys' shoulders, his face light and easy, but Jared can see him scanning the crowd. He knows the exact second Jensen finds him, because Jensen's eyes light up and he calls "Three cheers for Jared Padalecki, winner of the Avery!"
Jared finds himself suddenly overwhelmed by the crowd, his face almost splitting open with happiness, and when Jensen finally finds him among all the people and pulls him into a hug, he doesn't even notice the strangeness.
In the summer, Jared turns seventeen, and Chad proposes to Sophia Bush.
"It seems awfully fast, don't you think?" Jared asks Jensen. He's lying on the bridge over the Lake of Shining Waters, letting the wind ruffle his hair. Jensen is somewhere close, but Jared doesn't know exactly where. It doesn't matter; the knowledge that Jensen is somewhere close is a warm comfort around the edges of his mind.
"Not so very fast," says Jensen. "Not if they're sure."
"I wonder if he is, though," says Jared, sighing. "Chad always will be and always must be my closest friend, but I don't understand him sometimes. I think he just wants to be married so he can..." Jared blushes. "Enjoy marital duties."
Jensen snickers. "It isn't romantic enough for you?"
"It should be, don't you think? You want to marry someone you truly love, don't you?"
The pause is long enough that Jared almost opens his eyes. "I want to be with someone I love," says Jensen, voice tight. "As long as I have that, nothing else matters very much."
"I knew you were a kindred spirit," says Jared, before he can think better of it.
"Jared..." says Jensen, his voice heavy with something Jared can hear, but can't understand.
"I should get home," says Jared suddenly. "It's gotten late, I'm sure Jeffrey and Jim will be worried."
He sits up; Jensen is leaning with his back against the railing of the bridge, his expression wistful and a little sad. "You're right," he says. "I'll see you later, Jared."
"Goodbye," Jared echoes.
Some day, he's going work up his bravery and listen to whatever Jensen wants to say in that low voice of his.
He just isn't sure when.
"Your tie is crooked," says Jeffrey, shaking his head. "Let me help."
"I can't believe Chad moved the wedding up to before I was leaving," says Jared, sighing. "It all seems too quick by far."
"You wouldn't know this," says Jeffrey, not meeting his eyes, "but Mr. Bush is dying. The doctors say he won't survive the winter. So don't go judging Chad too harshly--Sophia rushed this wedding as much as he did. She wanted him to see it."
Jared swallows. "I didn't know."
"You ain't been home," says Jeffrey, patting his shoulder. "And they've been keeping quiet. Just thought you should know before you go thinking ill of your friend."
Jared is properly chastised, and redirects his guilty feelings into trying to be the best best man he can be.
His goodwill and shame continue on strong until he first catches sight of Sophia's maid of honor, a small girl with a gorgeous smile.
"You must be Jared," she says, smiling in a way that even Jared realizes is flirtatious. "I'm Bethany--Beth."
"Beth," says Jared, tripping a little on his own tongue. "Nice to meet you."
"Sophia said you're going to Redmond?"
"Yes," says Jared. "Why?"
She giggles, and Jared is spellbound. "I go there too. You'll have to look me up when you arrive."
"Yes," says Jared instantly. "I'd like that."
She grins up at him, and Jared's breath catches. This is a good story, he thinks. A good beginning. Meeting at a friend's wedding, finding each other again at Redmond...
Jared is in a wonderful mood all through the ceremony.
"I think I'm in love," says Jared blissfully when he arrives home.
Jim and Jeffrey exclaim glances.
"You seem happy about it," says Jim.
"Of course! Love is the greatest feeling in the world!"
Jeffrey clears his throat. "Anyone we know?"
"No," Jared admits. "Sophia's cousin, Beth. She's perfect. She's at Redmond; I'm going to see her then."
"Oh," says Jim, looking, strangely, a little put out.
"That's real great, Jared," says Jeffrey, after another odd pause. "We're happy for you."
Jared wrinkles his brow. "What's wrong?"
"Doesn't sound like you know much about this girl," says Jim.
"Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind," quotes Jared.
"You're not helping your case here," says Jim. "You even know her surname?"
"I can learn those things," says Jared. "I have plenty of time."
"You mention that to Jensen?" asks Jeffrey.
"No," says Jared, surprised. Jensen is a great friend, but not the kind of friend Jared talks about women with. Romantic theory, of course, but not specific people they know. Jensen has never brought it up--for all that there are girls who pursue Jensen, Jensen never talks about any of them. "Why would I?"
Jeffrey shakes his head. "No reason."
Jared continues to not mention Beth to Jensen. He talks Chad's ear off about her, hoping to get as much information as he can about his new girl. Chad gets fed up quickly, but Jared can't stop himself--he's so curious about her. Chad, of course, knows almost nothing, but the few facts he does know, Jared greedily devours. She's from Nova Scotia, her mother is Sophia's mother's sister. The two girls lived together until they were ten, when Sophia moved to Avonlea, and they see each other during the summers sometimes. They're tantalizing, these tiny clues.
With Jensen, he talks only about Redmond. Jensen has found a nice place to board, suggests Jared comes to the same house, and Jared readily agrees. He hasn't been on his own since he came to Green Gables, and before that he wasn't on his own enough--the orphanages were full of people, and it was almost worse than being alone. He doesn't know if the college will be an improvement or not. He knows it will be huge, it will be full of strangers, and they might not like him at all.
Jensen will help no matter what, whether he feels alone or overwhelmed, because Jensen is familiar, and Jared never feels unhappy with Jensen around.
"Are you excited?" Jensen asks on the boat. Jared can't help remembering this time last year, how he felt going to Queens, how Jensen asked the same thing. How much more sure he was of his feelings then.
"Homesick and terrified," Jared admits. "Already."
"We're going to have fun," says Jensen. "I promise."
Jared finds Beth a week after he arrives, and establishes that he is allowed to call on her weeknights after five, if he wishes. She agrees to allow him to escort her to the beginning of term dance, and it's the first Jensen hears of the two of them.
"Who is she?"
Jared hasn't had any problems telling anyone and everyone how he feels about Beth, but he still feels strange around Jensen. It seems awkward to talk about it with him, and Jared doesn't know why. Jensen just isn't like that--he isn't that kind of friend. "Sophia's cousin," says Jared. "She was at Chad's wedding."
"I thought she looked familiar. You're showing her around?"
"She's showing me," says Jared. "She's a sophomore."
"Older women, Jared?" asks Jensen. He's trying to make his voice light, but it's not working.
Jared shrugs. "It's romantic, don't you think?" he lets out a breath. "My comrade in arms, finding the love of his life, and at his wedding, I find mine. She happens to be attending my college," Jared lets out a dreamy sigh. "It's beautiful, don't you think?"
Jensen is smiling at him, fondly and a little confused, and sad. This is why Jared tries not to get carried away with romance while Jensen is with him. "Yes," Jensen agrees. "I'm happy for you."
It sounds as insincere as when Jeffrey said it. Jared doesn't understand it any better from Jensen.
Jared arrives at Beth's door and does everything right; he bows when she comes out, and offers his arm to walk her over. He brings her flowers, he is unfailingly romantic. She laughs and tilts her head just as she should, smiles and bats her eyelashes.
Jared's having the time of his life. When they arrive, Beth lets him sign her dance card twice before she finds her friends, and Jared slips off into the crowd to find Jensen and Steve.
His evening falters when Steve is alone and greets him with a flat, "You missed him. Left a few minutes ago."
Jared purses his lips. "He said he'd see me here."
Steve glares at him. Steve Carlson has never liked Jared, and Jared wasn't surprised at first, because Steve is Jensen's best friend, and Jared has been less than kind. But now, Jared doesn't think there's an excuse--after all, he and Jensen get along well, so he and Steve shouldn't have any conflicts. But Steve still hates Jared. "Guess he didn't want to be here anymore," says Steve.
"Is he feeling all right? Did something happen?"
"Would you care if something did?"
"Of course!" says Jared, more loudly than he should. "He's my best friend!"
Immediately, he feels a rush of shame at betraying Chad, even as he knows it's true. That it's been true for quite some time.
Steve sizes him up. "He's not feeling good. Maybe you should check on him."
Jared knows he shouldn't, because Beth will be angry with him. But if he doesn't, he thinks it will mean something to Steve, something terrible about Jared, and he's worried, truth be told. If something is wrong with Jensen, he wants to know.
"Yes," says Jared. "I should."
He finds Beth with a gaggle of friends, laughing. "I'm sorry," he says, "but something's come up. I really have to go."
She raises her perfect eyebrows. "Go where?"
"A friend of mine has taken ill," says Jared, aware that if he's lying, it's Steve's fault, so it's not a sin. "I have to make sure he's all right."
"You owe me two dances, Mr. Padalecki," she says, eyes twinkling.
"I'll have to claim them later," Jared says, smiling back.
Then, he takes off.
He pounds on Jensen's door, in case Jensen has fallen into a swoon. He could be in danger.
When Jensen opens the door, though, he looks fine, if a little tired and rumpled. He's unbuttoned the top of his shirt, and Jared can see his pale chest, dusted with freckles. The sight is surprising, and he blinks.
"Jared?" asks Jensen. His voice sounds like too many things that Jared can't understand in his present agitated state.
"Are you all right?" he asks at once. "Steve said you weren't feeling well."
Jensen mutters something under his breath.
"Nothing. You--what are you doing here, Jared?"
"I was worried," says Jared. "You were sick."
"You were at a dance," Jensen points out. "You didn't have to leave."
"Yes," says Jared. "I did. I was worried."
Jensen runs his hand through his hair. "What about Beth?" he says unhappily.
"I'll make it up to her," says Jared.
"Do you really love her?"
And Jared has been so sure, but he can't say it to Jensen. He doesn't know how to. "I," he says. "I like her a great deal."
Jensen looks up at that. "Never thought I'd see you unsure about love, Jared."
"Isn't everyone?" Jared asks, his tone light. "What's a true love story without some doubt?"
"I've never been uncertain," says Jensen. His voice is strong, laced with things, laced with that tone Jared has always stopped.
Jared forces a laugh. "You've never been in love."
"Yes," says Jensen. "I have. I am."
"You've never mentioned it."
"No," Jensen agrees. "I haven't."
Jared almost speaks, but Jensen keeps going.
"Cracking your slate over my head, Jared," he says, smiling a little. "It's a pretty good start to a story, don't you think?"
Jensen scuffs his foot on the floor, looks down at his own movement. "I know I can't give you the romantic wedding. I can't give you a house full of a children or a storybook ending. But I've been in love with you from the first moment I saw you. And I'd...I'll always love you. I can't give you anything but that, but it's yours, if you want it." Jensen looks up, and Jared suddenly recognizes that expression, knows in a sudden rush that this is love, what Jensen looks at him with. "If you'll have me," says Jensen, face broken open, hope and longing and love all on display, right in front of Jared.
And Jared thinks of Jeffrey and Jim, thinks of their faces whenever Jensen came to visit. Thinks of Steve, who must have known. Just thinks of Jensen, Jensen who never gave up on him, Jensen who has always tried so hard, who is the first person Jared tells his news to, the first person Jared finds when he needs to talk.
Jensen is his best friend, and has never been like Chad, not for a second, and Jared wonders if he avoided putting a name on Jensen just because he was waiting for the right one, trying to assign a thousand words that didn't fit because it never occurred to him to try the simplest one.
"Yes," he breathes out, almost without realizing it. "Yes, I'll have you."
Jensen's smile is like when Jared forgave him all over again, only somehow even more. Jared watches his face change and transform, feels himself smiling back, grinning, and then laughing, almost incapable of understanding what's happening. Jensen loves him, and he loves Jensen, and he feels as if the world is opening up like the best book he's ever read, full of plots he can't wait to chase down.
And then Jensen steps closer, puts his hand against the back of Jared's neck, and says, "Can I?" and Jared doesn't know what he's asking for, but the only answer is, "Yes."
Jensen kisses him, his lips soft against Jared's, and Jared feels like his heart might explode. Feels Jensen smile against him, knows he smiles back.
Jared rests his forehead against Jensen's. "You loved me when I cracked my slate over your head?" he asks.
Jensen smiles, can't seem to stop smiling. "Well now," he says, "I never said I had good taste."