The news breaks fast as Jared stays clustered in his bed. Apparently Danneel and Jensen leave, but not quickly enough for Danneel to not share what happened with Genevieve, and soon after, the whole town knows, probably just by the way Danneel wasn’t very quiet about it when she lets Gen know exactly what she thought of the situation in the diner in front of the morning rush.
Jared doesn’t know this.
He pretty much stays in his room and doesn’t do anything. His mama tries half-heartedly to get him to get up, shower, eat, something, and Jeff comes in mostly to tell him that he’s a lazy shithead, but nothing really comes out of it. He’s not dramatic enough to try to put it into words--it feels like dying, though, even though he knows he isn’t. There’s this sort of deep blankness that originates in his stomach and burrows itself into his head, and when he dwells on it, all he can think about is how things are never going to be right again.
Jared knows he’s pathetic. He knows it’s his fault. But he’s kind of fucked up his life so royally, he has no idea how to piece it back together.
By the time school rolls around again, Jared has lost about ten pounds, and hasn’t spoken a single word in over two weeks. His mother forces him to go, getting Jeff to pull him out of bed, and when she isn’t looking, Jeff uses some choice words to let him know that if he doesn’t get his ass to school, he’ll be fucking sorry. So Jared does, drags himself into the shower and washes the grease out of his hair and gets to school on time. It’s just as easy to be fucking miserable and empty in class as it is to be at home.
Genevieve has steered clear of him, and when Jared sees her for the first time in weeks, he knows she’s aware of what he did. The first look she gives him is kind of awful, but she does a double-take and her face floods with concern. Jared doesn’t fucking care. She can’t help, so he just walks past her, finds his homeroom, and sits down with his head on his desk.
Somehow, he makes it through the day, though he’s not entirely sure he took anything in. He feels tired, drained, and the thought of going home to sleep is so tempting that he could cry with it. Things are easier asleep. But if he calls off work one more time, he’s probably in a lot of trouble, and he needs the job. Jeff will whoop his ass if he gets fired, and even though the thought of going to the library--back to another place that he associates with Jensen--is practically overwhelmingly awful, he knows that shelving, in all its rhythm and monotony, will be calming, at least.
Genevieve catches him by his locker with a rough hand to his shoulder. Everyone else has been ignoring him all day, but she’s never been one to take his bullshit. “You,” she says, one eyebrow raised, her face set in a deep scowl, “are a dumbass. And you look like crap.”
“Thanks,” Jared mumbles, because what do you say to that? He can’t tell Gen what really happened, because she’ll tell Danneel, and then Jensen will come back and that is not happening.
“I’m serious. What the fuck, Jared?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Jared says staunchly. “Please--can we just leave it alone? Please?”
Genevieve sighs, a deep, put-upon noise. “You know, you’re not fooling anyone. Except maybe Jensen, who’s probably just as much of an idiot as you are, and, according to Danneel, practically suicidal at this point.”
“He’ll get over it,” Jared says, and what he meant to say was, He’ll get over me.
“I’m not taking any of this self-pity crap,” Gen says sternly. “So don’t feed it to me. Either you call Jensen and tell him why you decided to be the world’s biggest dick, or you stop moping around and take your decision like a man.”
“I’m trying,” Jared snaps, more vigor than he’s shown all day. “It’s just--fuck, Genevieve, I really don’t wanna talk about it. I did what I did, and I said what I said, and it’s all done and true, and I’ve just got to get on with my life. And Jensen has his own shit to deal with, and I’m sorry I hurt him--I am, but this is how it’s gotta be. I needed to do it. And I don’t care if you don’t agree or if you think I’m being stupid, but I made my decision a long time ago, and I don’t need you giving me crap about it.”
Genevieve looks at Jared for a long time, cool and calculating. “He’s not gonna wait around for you forever, you know,” she says, quietly, almost sadly.
“I hope he doesn’t,” Jared says shortly. “And I gotta get to work, Gen, I’m sorry.”
“See you tomorrow, Jared,” she says, and then Jared’s off, going to try and find some equilibrium again so he can at least feel as though he isn’t walking around spewing blood from some unknown wound.
It’s hard, and it doesn’t get easier, but Jared has to live his life. Even if he wanted to (and there are definitely times when he does), there’s no way he can just lie in bed and waste away. He’s not that much of a romantic heroine, and besides, home is a far cry worse than school. Genevieve, stubborn as she is, keeps pushing him, wanting to know about what’s going on with him, what happened, and he can’t tell her, so he takes to avoiding her. It’s incredibly lonely--besides Jensen, Gen and Danneel were the closest friends he had, and now it’s like he’s managed to alienate himself from everyone. He spends most of September at the library, doing homework, shelving books, trying to keep his mind occupied.
September is giving way to October when he first feels it, wakes up and immediately has to run to the bathroom to vomit. When the nausea persists, he wonders if he’s given himself stress ulcers or gotten sick from being so fucking pathetic, but when he’s still having to sneak out of fourth period art to run across the hall and upchuck in the boys’ bathroom--not even making it to the toilet sometimes--after two weeks, he’s getting really fucking annoyed by it.
He thinks about going to the clinic but dismisses the idea almost instantly--Jeff would be pissed at the copay coming due in the mail, and Jared doesn’t want to deal with it. So he’s getting sick--so what. He knows he’s not dying.
He’s sitting in a study carrel after his shift, idling on a computer that’s probably ten years old, playing around with web MD trying to get an inkling of what he might have. He’s almost 100% sure it’s going to say cancer, because Web MD is just a crackpot tool for hypochondriacs, but he’s bored, and he’s not going home, and playing around on the internet is a lot better than thinking about Jensen and shutting down for the night.
He scrolls through the results of his symptom checker apathetically--flu, food poisoning, gastritis, and then he hovers the mouse over one word.
He scoffs to himself, because come on, he’s being a fucking dumbass. There’s no way he’s that stupid--and the thought that Web MD is just making things worse makes him mad enough to click the window closed and slam the chair against the wall. He goes to a desk to read--read something that isn’t fucking psychotic, thank you--until he has to go home.
Except, now that the idea’s been introduced, it takes root in his head and won’t leave. He wakes up one morning, nauseous and exhausted, and rolls over and opens his bedside table. He hasn’t been taking his pills--not since Jensen--but the package is half-empty in even increments, not a day missed, and Jared makes a little noise in the back of his throat.
“Fucking stupid,” he mutters to himself, then gets up to hang his head in the toilet till he feels well enough to go to school.
Now that he’s gone and made a thing out of it, Jared can’t seem to shake whatever it is that’s made him sick in the first place. He knows he should go to a doctor--no way is this normal--and he’s about to tell his mama that something’s wrong, but he has to know. He has to make sure, because his mama has never let him go into the doctor’s office alone, especially since he’s not yet eighteen, and if the doctor tells him it’s...that he’ll never be able to figure out a contingency plan to get things under control again with her in the loop.
There’s one drug store in town, a mom and pop place that’s managed to not be bought out by CVS, and it’s general knowledge that the back corner affords customers the perfect blind spot for which to get up to no good. Jared’s never actually taken advantage of it, not like the kids who sneak back there with six-packs sneakily grabbed from the shelves to pilfer as many beer cans as possible for an illicit, under-the-radar party, or the jocks who know that if they actually buy the condoms, the whole town will know in a day flat.
Jared uses this to his advantage now. He waves at Mrs. Graham, who’s involved in her tabloid, and quickly gets down to business, plucking a shopping basket from the caddy by the front door. He wanders aimlessly up and down the aisles, picking up some candy at random and a toothbrush, and when he gets to the pregnancy tests, thankfully sequestered next to the hand soaps and lotions--the store’s not that big, after all--he sweeps two male-approved ones into his basket and tries as nonchalantly as possible to work his way to the back.
He keeps sneaking looks near the front to make sure no one else has come in and that Mrs. Graham’s attention is still focused on her magazine before he turns his back and makes quick work of the boxes, pulling them open to get at the contents, shoving everything deep into his sweatshirt pocket. It doesn’t take very long, and he spends the walk to checkout surreptitiously making sure that he doesn’t look obvious.
Mrs. Graham barely looks at him as she snaps her gum and rings him through, giving him his change, and Jared’s heart is beating a million miles a minute by the time he gets outside. But the sheriff doesn’t come out of nowhere, and Mrs. Graham doesn’t chase him down, so he figures he got away with it.
Jared isn’t stupid enough to go home with two pregnancy tests; Jeff might be dense, but he has a keen nose for when Jared’s up to no good, and getting caught like this is not in the plan. When he gets through the doors of the library, he ducks immediately into the men’s room, and thankfully, it’s quiet for a Wednesday night.
It takes him several minutes, locked inside the stall, to get up the nerve to actually go through with it. He waits as someone comes in, pees, and leaves, and then, with shaking fingers, takes the test and instructions out of his pocket. He reads through what he’s supposed to do four times, feeling sick in a way that has nothing to do with nausea, and then shakes himself out of it. It’s gonna be negative, he tells himself. Stop being such a damn coward.
It’s awkward, peeing into the little cup that came with the test, and he feels like a dumbass when he sets it on the floor and puts the little stick in it. This was such a stupid idea. It’s ages before he talks himself into actually reading the results, and even though he tries to tell himself that he’s being stupid, that it will obviously say it’s negative, his heart is beating so hard he thinks he might faint from it like a pansy.
For a long time, he just sits there and looks at the results, and nothing is registering anymore besides what’s in his hand, not how he’s started to shake or how someone’s just come into the bathroom. Just at the little pink plus, and he’s not stupid--he knows what that fucking means.
It’s sunny and hot as Jared stumbles outside, but he doesn’t feel anything but numb shock. He just walks, not any idea to where he’s going until he gets there, and even then he ducks into the field to sit down for a second and will himself not to vomit. He doesn’t even know if Gen is home or if she’s at the diner, but he needs her, suddenly, violently. He can’t keep doing this--he thinks he’s gonna explode from it, and she’s the only one left.
His footsteps echo on the porch, and he rings the doorbell; at first, he’s sure no one’s home, and he’s almost relieved by it, but then someone’s bounding down the stairs.
“Coming!” he hears, and that’s definitely Genevieve turning the deadbolt and opening the door. For a second she just looks at him, first with her eyebrow raised in a sort of accusing stare before her face softens in concern.
“Jared?” she says, stepping outside in her stocking feet, touching his arm. “You look like you’re gonna fall over.”
For a second, he can’t say anything, can’t voice what he’s feel, the overwhelming wrongness of everything.
“I’m so fucked,” he says, croaking, and he rests his head on her shoulder. “I’m so, so fucked.”
Jensen knows Danneel’s planning something even before she says anything. She’s been shooting him looks all evening, calculating and shrewd, and his skin’s practically crawling from it.
“Do you know what she wants?” he asks Chris, hunkering down on the couch and tucking his feet under him. “She’s freaking me out.”
“She’s your best friend, not mine,” says Chris, putting his arm around Jensen’s shoulder and pulling him in close.
“You’re my boyfriend,” Jensen says petulantly. “You’re supposed to, I don’t know, figure out these things and protect me from scary she-bitches.”
“I will cut your balls off, Jensen,” Danneel warns as she comes out of her kitchen, juggling three bottles of beer and a bowl of chips. But Jensen knows her, and she’s absentmindedly gnawing on her bottom lip as she sets everything down on the chipped, good-will coffee table. Chris immediately digs in, taking a long pull of his beer, but Jensen keeps giving Danneel the eye.
“Stop looking at me like that,” she says, too tersely for the situation, and Jensen has a feeling that whatever she wants isn’t something he’s going to be happy giving.
He sighs, low and heavy in his belly, and arches an eyebrow. “Will you just let it out already?” he says. “Stop beating around the fucking bush.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she responds, trying for airy, but he can tell she’s not going to last by the way she’s not looking at him. He just crosses his arms and remains silent, and sure enough, she snaps.
“Fine,” she says, raising her doe-eyes and doing a very good convincing expression. “I want to go home for Christmas break.”
Whatever Jensen had been expecting, that wasn’t it. “So go home,” he says. “I’ll just stay here with Chris.”
“I want us to go home for Christmas,” she says, stressing the word us to the point of annoyance. “You, me, and Chris too, ‘cause his parents are off being douchebags on an exclusive old-people cruise--no offense, Chris.”
“None taken,” he mumbles through his mouthful, because it’s not like he hasn’t said the same thing a million times since his parents abandoned him for another holiday alone.
The icy pit that had formed in the bottom of Jensen’s stomach at the mention of home starts churning. “Danneel,” he says. “No.”
“C’mon, Jensen,” she wheedles, somewhat desperately. “I haven’t been home since we came here. Everyone misses you, Sam and Dad and Gen. You don’t have anywhere else to be!”
“It might be home for you, Danni,” Jensen says stonily, “but it hasn’t been that for me for a long time.”
“I know--” Danneel starts, but Jensen cuts her off.
“Danneel, I can’t,” he says angrily. “You know how I feel about--there.”
“Exactly,” she shoots back passionately. “Bad shit went down for you, I know. I know, Jensen. But there are still people who love you and miss you and by avoiding home, you’re hurting them, you know. They understand, but they want to see you. Plus you haven’t visited your mama’s grave since the funeral.”
“Don’t talk about that,” Jensen says harshly. He can feel that Chris has tensed up next to him but at the moment, he doesn’t care. “Don’t you say anything about her.”
“I loved your mama, too, Jensen,” Danneel says, her voice wobbly. “And you’re my best friend. But you’re hiding here, and you have to stop!”
“What if I run into him, huh?” Jensen asks, and he feels Chris’s eyes on his face. “I’m not--I--Danneel.”
“It’s been three years, and Gen promises she’ll make sure he doesn’t stop by. Please. For me. I want to go home but I don’t want to leave you here.”
“Who’s he?” Chris interjects. “Who are you talking about?”
“No one,” snaps Jensen. “Danneel, come on. This isn’t fair.”
“I’m not gonna use the you-owe-me card,” she says quietly. “But think about it? For me? I haven’t seen Dad or Gen in over a year. I miss them.”
Jensen doesn’t know how to follow-up to that, so he just sinks back into the couch and takes deep breaths to distill the panicked feeling that clawed its way into his chest at the mention of home. Chris, for his part, is looking between Danneel and Jensen warily, confusedly.
The conversation moves on, somewhat stiltedly and heavily dependent on Chris, but Jensen hardly pays attention.
Jesus fucking Christ.
Texas is just how he remembers it, warm and dry, the same faded brown paint on every house. Nothing new has been built since he left, and it’s almost like he’s stepping into the past when Danneel pulls into town, driving too slowly down the one and only main road through town. Jensen is trying to pretend that he’s not about to vomit, and Chris has an arm slung comfortingly around his shoulders. Danneel is keeping up a steady stream of happy chatter, but the looks she keeps slanting Jensen’s way are freaking him out.
When they pull up in front of Danneel’s house, Jensen’s heart jumps so hard he thinks it might’ve broken free in his chest. He’s nervous--knows he shouldn’t be--but he can’t help but think Jared is behind that door, waiting. Stop being stupid, he tells himself, but he takes the longest unloading his stuff from the trunk so Danneel can be the one to go inside first.
He’s only halfway up the drive when Genevieve bursts out of the door and tackle-hugs him. He has barely talked to her in the past three years even though they’d been close before he left, but she’s the same, if a little older, all smiles and sarcastic humor. “Missed you, you big idiot,” she says warmly when she backs away. “Took you long enough to visit.”
“You could always come back up to Boston,” he reminds her, but he can’t help grinning. He feels abjectly bad that he hasn’t made the effort to keep in touch, but she always felt too close, too back-home, and in the end, he had never been able to reach out and make the call.
“I hate the city,” she says petulantly, scowling. “It’s dirty and loud and you and Danneel are frickin’ crazy for moving there.”
“Only because your dad brainwashed you into thinking like that,” he says lightly, ignoring her huff. Jim has always lived in small towns, and when he’d come to visit Danneel, he’d nearly had a heart attack from the busy-ness of Boston. It had been fairly amusing, but the result of the visit made Danneel hard-pressed to persuade her dad to come again. “Speaking of which?”
“He’s inside,” Gen says. “He’s been waiting all day for you guys. Sam too; she didn’t even go into the diner. Left Martha in charge.”
“Oh god,” Jensen groans. “She’s been cooking all day, hasn’t she?”
“Be prepared to gain ten pounds,” Gen says grimly. “And let’s get inside; my feet are frickin’ freezing.” Sure enough, she’d run out without shoes and Jensen looks down to see her toes curling against the pavement.
The house smells excellent, cinnamon-sweet and warm, and he’s barely over the threshold before Sam’s folding him in a tight hug. “About damn time you got back to town,” she says when she lets him go, only for Jim to give him a one-armed hug of his own.
“Sorry,” he says, feeling chagrinned.
“Just don’t make this visit a one-time thing,” Jim says sternly but Jensen can tell by the crinkle of his eyes that he’s not really mad.
“Promise,” Jensen says, but he’s not sure he means it.
“You’re too skinny, boy. Come on, supper’s ready. I’ll get some meat on your bones yet,” Sam declares, and Jensen can see Gen mouthing told you so behind her back.
“God, it’s been forever since a home-cooked meal,” Danneel moans, and Jensen can’t help but laugh.
“You got that right,” he says, and Chris sidles up, a solid weight beside him, and together they walk into the kitchen.
The week goes by with little drama. Jensen keeps thinking he’ll run into Jared or have to hear about him, but the family’s keeping surprisingly mum, and when they venture out of the house, he doesn’t see anyone he’s not expecting to. Genevieve has made good on her promise that Jared will stay clear, and Jensen can’t decide how he feels about it. Relief, of course, because Jared fucked him up so badly he’s still not sure he’s over it, but some vindictive part of him wants to find him. He wants to throw his new life in Jared’s face. Look, he’ll say. You didn’t ruin me. I’m fine. I’ve moved on with my life. I’m getting a degree at the best college in America and I have a gorgeous new boyfriend, and you’re nothing. You’re stuck in this stupid town, and you’ll die here.
He keeps running the words over in his head, a sort of vindictive litany that he doesn’t share with Danneel or Chris. Chris still doesn’t know what went on with Jared, but Danneel must have given him the bare bones of the story because Chris keeps shooting sidelong glances at Jensen like he expects him to break down. Which is just fucking ridiculous; it’s been three years, and no matter what Danneel says, Jensen feels as strongly for Chris as Chris feels for him.
Christmas is weird, especially since he’s back in town. Back when his momma was still alive, they’d wake up and go downstairs to huddle by the tree, an artificial plastic one covered in ornaments that’d been hand-crafted by Jensen over the years, bejeweled in hundreds of colored lights. They’d wait, and sure enough, Jared would come over with wide smiles and a bag-full of presents; his mom and Jeff never really noticed when he skipped out because Christmas wasn’t a big deal for them. They’d spend the morning passing gifts around and listening to the radio play Christmas music, and once everything was opened, Jensen’s mama would make them cinnamon rolls and afterwards they’d lie around and fool around with their new gifts and watch Christmas specials all day.
It’s different here. Present-opening is a giant melee, and by the time it’s over, Jensen doesn’t know what everyone else got. Chris had unearthed something from under a blanket that had turned out to be a secondhand guitar, which shamed Jensen’s present to him.
“I thought you deserved your own,” Chris said with a cute pink flush on his face, and Jensen can’t help but kiss him, short and sweet. He’s been learning how to play for the past year and a half, plucking out chords, and now he has a guitar of his own to play on. Danneel’s looking at him with this half-smile when he gets it, but there’s something about Gen’s face that twists Jensen’s stomach. It’s gone when he looks back, her expression cheerful again, but it sits with him for the rest of the morning.
They have eggs and bacon for breakfast, and Jensen can’t help but think of the last Christmas he had here, when his mama was sick and Jared made a mess in the kitchen making cinnamon rolls. Something settles in his chest, thick and heavy, and it stays with him for the rest of the day.
There isn’t much to do around town, so the four of them spend a lot of time streaming movies on Chris’s laptop and playing cards, talking and catching up. But there’s this thing that keeps niggling in the back of Jensen’s head, and one day, when Danni, Chris and Gen are off to the movie theater to see a movie, Jensen begs off sick. Chris wants to stay behind, but Jensen talks him out of it.
“I’ll just be sleeping, man. Go! Have a good time without me!” Chris gives him one last look as Danni ushers him out the door, and Jensen would feel guilty if he wasn’t feeling so damn anxious. As soon as he hears the rumble of Danneel’s engine leave the driveway, he sneaks out the door, past Jim who’s sleeping in his recliner, and starts on a steady jog down the street.
He feels like he’s doing something wrong, even though he isn’t, and his heart’s in his throat but not from the running. It takes ten minutes to get to his destination, which isn’t nearly enough time to prepare him, and he skirts around the back of Jared’s house, clenching and unclenching his hands.
Jared’s window is dark, which is a good sign, and Jensen hunkers down in the bushes to look in to the living room. He can make out Jeff, sprawled on the couch, and Jared’s mama, and then. Then there’s Jared, cleaning the kitchen. Jensen only gets a glance of him before he has to look away, practically shaking from it.
“Stop being a fucking coward,” Jensen hisses, and before he can talk himself out of it, he’s swinging himself into the tree that has a branch that extends right out to Jared’s window. It’s risky--something he hardly ever did back when he and Jared had still been...whatever they’d been, but Jensen can’t exactly go through the cellar. Half of him is screaming to go back, go to Danneel’s house and pretend nothing happened, but something stronger tells him he needs this.
It’s a quick climb, and Jensen’s luck holds because none of the branches have rotted away with age. He crawls close enough to try the window, and for a second, he’s sure that Jared’s started locking it, but it swings open without a hitch, and Jensen eases himself into the room. And then he promptly trips over Jared’s bed, which is not in the same place it used to be, and only by the grace of God does Jensen manage to not make a noise. He’s confused for a second, because Jared’s room had stayed the same since elementary school, the only thing showing the passage of time being the pictures on the wall, and only now has he changed it? He gropes around until he finds Jared’s nightstand and flicks on the lamp. The glow of the light is soft enough that no one will notice, and Jensen tells himself that he’s only going to wait an hour or so, give himself enough time to get back before Chris and Danneel, and if Jared doesn’t come up, that is that.
Jensen’s eyes skip over the room, taking it in, but before they can get too far, something catches his attention and he gasps, because where there used to be a bookshelf, there’s a crib.
“What the fuck?” he whispers, more mouthing the words to himself than saying them aloud, and before he knows it, he’s crossing the room. He looks over the edge of the bars, almost convinced that there’ll be nothing inside, but this little girl is sleeping there, rucked up on her stomach with her thumb in her mouth. Jensen’s breath catches immediately because it’s like he’s stepped into the Twilight Zone--there is a kid in Jared’s room, one with messy blonde hair, in pink pajamas, and what the fuck is going on?
The more he looks at her, the weirder it gets. He’s not wrapping his head around it, this toddler, staying someplace she shouldn’t be staying, and he has to wrench himself back from the crib. His eyes dart desperately, looking for something familiar in the chaos, and they fix on the picture frames on Jared’s desk. A couple of them are ones Jensen remembers; Jared and his mom back before Jeff, Jared and him when they’d been dating, their arms around each other, but several of them are new.
He crosses the room to look at them, not even caring that Jared might catch him now, and spends a good couple of minutes staring at pictures of a baby, a newborn in a pink cap, the same little girl at what looks to be her first birthday party. They go on and on, pictures crammed and folded, Jensen pulls one out at random, tugging to get it out from where it was wedged into the corner of the frame. It’s actually two pictures, one on top of the other. The first is of Genevieve standing next to a hospital bed, holding the baby that’s the star of Jared’s desk, while Jared lies next to her, looking tired but happy. The second is again of Jared and Genevieve, only in this one, Jared’s obviously pregnant, cradling his belly with his palm as Genevieve has her arm thrown around him.
Jensen sits heavily on the bed, and sort of stares for a second. This was not something he’d been expecting, not by a long shot, and he can’t wrap his head around it. He keeps looking over at the crib, waiting for the toddler to wake up, but she’s quiet as ever, just making these even-keeled little breaths.
Jensen’s eyes keep skidding over everything in the room, and when he stands up next, some ten minutes later, it’s to grab a garishly pink book from the shelf over Jared’s desk. It’s obviously not literature, and even though he keeps thinking he hears Jared on the landing, he sits back on the bed and flips it open.
A baby book. If Jensen wasn’t so fucking blindsided, he’d almost be amused, because only Jared is a big enough girl to keep one of these things. It’s mostly pictures, a lock of hair (which, okay, kinda gross), but Jensen happens upon a tiny little hospital bracelet and underneath, a little blurb written in Jared’s handwriting.
Hannah Beth Padalecki, it says. DOB: May 13, 2011. Seven pounds, three ounces. Nineteen inches.
Jensen’s breathing quickly now, and he starts counting backwards on his fingers, once, twice, three times until he’s sure. Unless the baby was early or late, Jared got pregnant sometime in the middle of August. Right when you left, something says nastily in Jensen’s head, and he immediately feels like he is going to be sick.
There are two options here. Either Jared was cheating on Jensen or had found someone right after Jensen left, which would’ve been a challenge given that Jensen’s pretty sure there aren’t any more gay guys in a thirty mile radius.
Or...or that baby’s his, and all of a sudden, Jensen remembers a conversation they’d had back when Jared was fifteen. He and Jensen had been fooling around, making fun of the name the Singers had chosen for their new baby.
“I think it’s sweet,” his mother had said. “And I’m glad they didn’t name him after Bob’s father. Alfred is an awful name.”
“So you wouldn’t want your grandkid named after you, would you?” Jared asked coyly. “You always say you hate your name.”
“If you name your baby after me, Jensen Ackles,” she said sternly, “I will whup you. I came outta my momma a fully grown fifty year old. Donna. What a geriatric name.”
“I’m just gonna call her Cinderella,” Jensen said airily, obviously joking. It’s lame, but it makes his mama smile.
“You should call her Hannah,” she said, the wrinkles at the corner of her eyes crinkling. “Or Beth. Those are good names.”
Jensen doesn’t know how long he sits there, staring at that same page as his world spins around him, but when Jared finally, finally comes into his room, Jensen doesn’t hear him until something clatters to the floor.
“What the?” Jared asks obviously flabbergasted, and he sounds angry at first until Jensen lifts his head and a flash of recognition flies over Jared’s face.
“Jensen,” he breathes, and he’s immediately pale, picking up the water glass he dropped and closing the door behind him. Jensen can’t say anything yet, doesn’t have the words, and Jared’s shaking, setting the empty glass on the desk as he walks over to check on his daughter.
Our daughter, Jensen thinks, and he’s surprised he doesn’t immediately burst into hysterical laughter.
“What are you doing here, Jensen?” Jared asks quietly, stroking his daughter’s hair, his back to Jensen. “Genevieve told me you wanted me to stay away, and I have. You weren’t supposed to come looking for me.” He sounds accusatory, and something about the way he says it unsticks Jensen’s voice.
“Doesn’t look like I’m the only one who wanted to make sure we didn’t meet up,” he says harshly. “Got a pretty big secret there, Jared.” He gestures towards the desk, where the picture frames have obviously been moved, to where the picture of Jared pregnant is lying in full-view.
Jared’s shoulders, if possible, get even tenser as he turns around to take in what Jensen’s pointing towards, his eyes skipping over the desktop. “I didn’t think you’d want to know.”
“No, of course not. It’s not that important, you know, having someone tell you you have a kid.” Jensen’s voice is razor sharp, thick with anger, and he’s shaking too now, digging his fingernails into his palm.
Jared turns around to face him fully then, and for a second, Jensen can see how hurt he is before stone settles over his face. “You know?” he asks, stricken. “I mean. That she’s.” The yours hangs heavy in the air.
“Hannah Beth,” Jensen clarifies tightly, holding up the book. “Birthday in May? I’m not stupid, Jared.”
“No, I know,” Jared says, and he’s looking at the floor and not at Jensen. “I had no clue I was pregnant when you left, Jen. I swear.”
“Don’t call me that,” Jensen snarls. “You don’t have a right to call me that.”
“I just--I found out after you were gone, and what was I supposed to do? You were off in Boston with a real life and I was stuck here. What did you want me to do, huh?”
“You should have aborted it,” Jensen says coldly. “Seeing how much you didn’t love me in the end there.”
Jared recoils as if Jensen’s slapped him across the face. “I would never,” he says, and now Jensen can tell he’s touched a nerve because Jared’s face is going blotchily red. “She’s my daughter and probably the best thing that happened to me, and don’t you ever fucking say something like that again. You don’t know her.”
Jensen feels a twinge of regret but it’s not strong enough to warrant an apology. “Whose fault is that, Jared? I seem to remember offering to stay behind for you. And you sure as fuck didn’t pick up the phone after you found out.”
“It was my problem,” Jared says stubbornly.
Jensen laughs, a short, ugly, unamused sound. “Yeah, fuck you, Jared. How many times did you listen to me talk about my deadbeat dad and how he fucking left my mom and how much I hated him for it? And now you’ve made me the same thing.”
“It’s not the same,” Jared says heatedly. “You didn’t know.”
“Well now that I’m in the fucking loop, what are you gonna do about it?” Jensen sneers.
“Jensen, I don’t know what you want from me,” Jared cries. “You weren’t supposed to be here.”
“I wasn’t supposed to find out, you mean,” Jensen corrects snidely.
“I didn’t want you to feel obligated.” Jared pauses, then continues, “And it’s fine--you don’t have to have anything to do with her.”
“Fuck you, Jared,” Jensen says. “Just--fuck you. I can’t fucking believe you.”
“Stop swearing,” Jared says. “And be quiet. She’s gonna wake up and she’ll cry and Jeff--”
“That’s right, Jeff,” Jensen sneers. “He’s obviously still here. You let him beat your kid, Jay?”
Jared flinches again, hard. “He’s never--never--touched her,” Jared says, his anger barely contained. “I wouldn’t let him. But it’s good to know you have such a low opinion of me.”
“I’m sorry--I’m supposed to respect you? You had a kid in high school, didn’t tell your ex about it, and you still live at home with your fucking abusive step-dad and drunk mom. What part of that should make me want to be nice?”
“I’d forgotten how much of an asshole you are,” Jared says tightly. “And it takes two to tango. I didn’t get myself pregnant.”
“You were the one who was supposed to be careful with birth control,” Jensen explodes. “You didn’t fucking tell me. I’m fucking allowed to blame you for this.”
“I did what I thought was right,” Jared says. “You don’t get to judge me for that.”
“I hate you,” Jensen spits, and whoa, he’s not sure where that came from, but it burns vitriolic in the air.
“Maybe you should leave,” Jared says, very quietly.
“Maybe you should fuck yourself,” Jensen says, and he can’t be here anymore. He stands there for a second, his fists clenched so hard that he’s surprised he isn’t bleeding, and then he breezes into action and is at the window in a split second.
“I’m not done with this yet,” he says. “I can’t even fucking look at you right now, but I want some goddamn answers.” He’s out in the tree before Jared can respond.
Jensen doesn’t know how long he wanders, but it’s dark by the time he trudges back up Danneel’s driveway. He feels like he’s been scraped clean, numb and sick with anger, and he doesn’t know what to do. He’d gone to the graveyard for the first time to see his mama’s grave, and it had flowers on it, as well as a laminated picture that looked like it was scribbled by a two year old. Jensen knows where it came from, and he’s so fucking confused and pissed and god, he can’t even put it into words.
He bypasses the family room quickly, ignoring how Jim and Sam look at him, because they obviously knew and didn’t tell him. He can hear Danneel and Genevieve, arguing loudly, and even though half of him wants to go and sleep for a decade and forget everything about this damn town, he needs to talk to Genevieve.
When he bursts into the room, Danneel only has to look at him for a second before she’s crossing the room, looking blind-sided and scared. She grabs a hold of his biceps, bracketing him with her body. “I didn’t know,” she says. “I swear to God, no one ever told me.” He can’t form words--just looks at Gen who is staring at the floor, and he gently pries Danneel’s hands off of him.
“Where’s Chris?” he asks quietly.
“Guest room,” Danneel says. “When we heard--well, he wasn’t sure....”
“Jared called you?” he asked, directing the question at Genevieve and when she meets his eyes, she’s stubbornly stoic.
“Right after you left,” she says.
“You were never gonna let me know, were you?” he says.
“No,” Genevieve confirms, and she doesn’t even sound ashamed. “It wasn’t my place.”
“It fucking was if Jared was too much of a pussy to come out and tell him in the first place!” Danneel explodes.
“No, you don’t get to say that,” Genevieve says, too loud. “You’ve been off in Boston, which is fine, but as soon as you left, you were done with Jared. I had to pick up the pieces. And you never tried to find out what happened to him or why he did what he did, and if I’m the only one in his corner, I’m going to fucking stay that way!”
“What he did?” Jensen says, and he’s incredulously furious now. “He broke up with me. He lied to me all goddamn summer and then when he found out he was having my baby, he didn’t even bother to mention it to me. He’s a fucking asshole, and you are too.”
“Fuck you, Jensen,” Gen says. “He may have made a mistake but he had a reason for it. He’s a fucking idiot, but so are you, and you do not get to say those things to me when I’ve stayed behind here.”
“I think he’s perfectly in line,” Danneel says coolly.
“And fuck you too,” Gen cries. “You never even bothered. Jared was one of our best friends for years and you cut him off without even trying to hear his side of the story.”
“I don’t feel bad for him,” Danneel spits. “He made his bed. It’s not my fault he has to lie in it.”
Genevieve’s eyes are blazing, and she looks about ten seconds away from flying off the handle. “Get all the fucking facts before you make a judgment. And that goes for you too, Jensen. You should actually fucking talk to him without being a douchebag. And I’m done with this fucking conversation. Come find me when you guys stop being so fucking elitist.”
She storms out of the room, and Danneel and Jensen stay in silence for a good couple of minutes.
“Are you okay, honey?” Danneel asks softly, laying her hand on Jensen’s arm.
“No,” Jensen says slowly. “No, I’m not.”
It takes him days to get things straightened out in his head. To be honest, he still doesn’t know anything more than the fact that he’s so angry it hurts. Genevieve is hardly home anymore, Chris is avoiding him, and Danneel keeps trying to talk, and it’s driving Jensen crazy. But the day before they’re due to leave, he knows he has to talk to Jared. Catching Genevieve before she has the time to disappear, he makes her call Jared to meet Jensen at the park.
“It’ll have to be at five. He has work this morning,” Genevieve says shortly, hanging up the phone. “And you’re a child for making me call for you.”
“Whatever,” Jensen says quietly.
“And fucking listen to him this time,” she says. “Don’t let him lie to you.”
Something about the way she said those words sticks with Jensen all day. He’s at the park two hours early, sitting on a rusty swing and kicking his feet as he turns everything over in his head. He’s so out of it that he almost doesn’t notice when Jared takes the swing next to his.
“You wanted to talk?” Jared says, and it’s so soft, the wind almost carries it away.
All of the anger that Jensen’s been carrying around all week evaporates, and all Jensen feels is tired. “What did I do?” he asks, and it wasn’t what he’d planned on, but he needs to know.
Jared’s swing squeaks as he turns to look fully at Jensen. “What do you mean?” he says, sounding genuinely confused.
“What did I do?” Jensen says, louder. “What was wrong with me? Why did you fall out of love with me? What did I fucking do?”
Jared looks stricken from what Jensen can see of his face. “Jensen, you didn’t do anything,” he says. “It was all me--I don’t know--”
“That’s bullshit,” Jensen spits, standing up abruptly and stepping around so he’s looming over Jared. “I had to have done something. Something happened. What was it? I need to know.”
“Jensen,” Jared says, upset, but he seems to be at a loss for words. He stands up too, shuffling backwards, still hanging onto the swing’s chain.
“So what? Was I too arrogant? Mean? Condescending? What? Did I do something to you? Did I not notice something? Jared, I’ve gone over that summer a million times, and I can’t figure it out.”
“You’re so stupid,” Jared says, but his voice is choked. Jensen can see his eyes are wet, and Jared rubs his face for a second.
“That’s why?” Jensen says. “I was stupid? What was so stupid that ruined us?”
“No,” Jared says. “No, that’s not what I meant.”
“Genevieve says I’m not supposed to let you lie to me,” Jensen says. “What did she mean? Just tell me the truth! I’m leaving tomorrow anyways, and I think it’s the least you can do after...after everything.”
“I--” Jared’s choking on his words.
“You what?” Jensen cries. “What, Jared? Just tell me.”
“I never fell out of love with you,” Jared explodes, and Jensen takes a step back without noticing, his heart going a million miles a minute.
“What?” he says. “What are you talking about?”
Jared laughs, and Jensen never wants to hear that sad defeated noise again. “You’re stupid,” Jared says again. “I loved you--but I couldn’t keep you here, Jensen. And I--I couldn’t go with you. So that was the best way, you know?”
“I don’t get what you’re saying,” Jensen says desperately.
“Your mama wanted you to go to Harvard so bad,” Jared says, and he’s so close to tears that Jensen almost aches. “And there was no way I could afford moving, and you were talking about staying and going to community college, and I couldn’t keep you here, Jensen. I couldn’t be the reason you ruined your life. And I’m sorry--I didn’t want to hurt you--but it was the only way I could think that would work.” He’s crying openly now, snotty and ugly, and he rubs at his face with his free hand.
Jensen feels gutted, and everything he’s told himself for the past three years falls away. He’s back to how he was, so fucking angry, upset, numb, everything too much to handle. “No,” he says.
“It worked out though,” says Jared, taking a deep hitching breath. “Y-you have a good life now. A new boyfriend and I’m sure you’re doing well in school, and your dreams--they’re happening, you know? And that’s what I wanted--so.”
“You bastard,” Jensen says faintly. “You just--what? Decided you knew what was best for me without talking it through? Made that decision without me?”
“I did what I had to do,” Jared says simply, miserably. “And it worked out--don’t you see! I didn’t drag you down, and you’re happy now.”
“God, you don’t even know,” Jensen says, and he’s so furious all of a sudden, kicking at the post of the swing-set hard enough that the entire frame shakes. “You fucked me up so bad, and you don’t even know.”
“But not bad enough that you didn’t go get a life--a good one--out of this town,” Jared says softly. “And you shouldn’t let whatever happened this week change that.”
“What?” Jensen says bitterly, whirling around and stalking up to Jared until he’s right in his face. “Like the fact that I’m a father and I didn’t know? Like that, Jared?”
“I already told you,” Jared says steadily, no longer crying but still as obviously upset as he’d been, his eyes red-rimmed and his cheeks wet. “You don’t owe her anything. She’s fine--I take care of her. She’s my life. And if you want to know her, you can; I’m not gonna keep her from you. Just...don’t take her away. Don’t do that to me. You don’t owe me anything--but give me that at least.”
For the briefest of seconds, Jensen entertains the idea of taking custody of Hannah, bringing her back to school with him, but it’s gone as soon as it enters his head. He can’t. There’s no way, not with everything that he is, that he knows.
“I don’t know what you want me to do,” Jared continues. “I’m--I’m gonna stay here, with her, and you can come see her when you want. Or don’t. It’s up to you.”
“You’re giving me a choice now?” Jensen demands. “After the fact?”
“What else am I supposed to do?” Jared asks stubbornly. “What do you want? An apology? I can’t give that to you. I did what I thought was right, and it tore me up, but I don’t regret it. I don’t regret you leaving, because you got so much more out of life away from here.” There it is--the defiant Jared Jensen’s always know, peeking out from the middle of this mess.
“I’m not going to be my father,” Jensen says. “She’s mine. I want to know her.”
“That’s fine,” Jared says. “She’s a lot like you, you know?”
“No, I don’t. Seeing as I’ve never met her,” he responds, with less rancor than he thought he’d have.
“I know you’re leaving tomorrow,” Jared says. “But when you’re back here? Just let me know.”
“I will,” Jensen says automatically.
“Well, I guess,” Jared trails off. “This is goodbye? For now? Unless there’s something else?” He seems anxious to go, and Jensen feels like he’s just hiked a million miles, torn up and sore. He has so many more things he wants to ask--what it felt like for Jared to give them up, why he hadn’t said anything, why he thought that Jensen was better off now, but in the end he shrugs his shoulders.
“Goodbye then,” he says, and he doesn’t touch Jared, not even a handshake, before he’s walking away.
They set out early the next morning, before the sun’s even properly risen. Danneel keeps shooting glances at Jensen, but he’s not sharing what happened. Chris is despondent, staring out the window, a thousand miles away, and Jensen can’t bring himself to feel more than a smidgen of guilt that he doesn’t care more. The drive is hellishly long, as it’d been the first time he’d left three years ago, and all Jensen can do is think. He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do now.
When they roll up in front of Jensen’s dorm after driving through the night, Jensen slips out of the car without a word. Chris is behind him, even though he lives across town, helping Jensen pull things out of the bed of the truck, and Jensen barely notices.
“I guess I’ll see you later, then,” Chris says dully.
“Sure, yeah,” Jensen responds, but he’s not quite sure what Chris had asked in the first place.
“Call me tonight,” Danneel says, leaning out of the window.
“I will,” Jensen promises, but really, he won’t.
The next couple of weeks pass in a blur. The new semester starts, and Jensen has a job as a resident hall director on top of his gig in a coffee shop on campus, and he throws himself into it full-throttle. If he’s busy with work or school, he can’t think about other things, and if he can’t think about that stuff, he can’t hurt with it.
Chris keeps trying to come by, and even though he tries not to be, Jensen knows he’s distant. Danneel keeps prying so she can figure out what he’s thinking, but Jensen doesn’t want that either, and when, one night, Chris comes over looking incredibly maudlin, Jensen knows what’s about to happen, and he doesn’t really care.
“This isn’t working,” Chris says after five minutes of silence on Jensen’s couch.
Jensen could say a million things to dispel that, things like I’m sorry--it’s my fault--I’ll be better or I love you but he can’t. He knows they won’t sound true, and it’s easier to just listen. After all, Chris is getting emotional enough for both of them.
“I mean, it isn’t even about the fucking ex-love-of-your-life,” Chris says. “Or the kid that you didn’t know about. It’s just--you didn’t tell me and I had to figure it out second-hand. And now you won’t talk to me, you won’t see me? I mean, what the fuck, Jensen?”
“It’s better this way,” Jensen says, mostly to himself, but unfortunately aloud.
Chris whips his head around. “What did you say?” he asks.
“You’ve always liked me more than I liked you,” Jensen says, and he’s going for the words he knows will make Chris leave and not come back. “I’ve tried, but I can’t be that for you. I’m fucked up.”
“Fuck you, Jensen,” Chris says, his voice shaking with anger and a thread of hurt.
“I shouldn’t have kept pretending,” Jensen says quietly.
“So that’s what it was to you?” Chris asks. “A joke? Something to pass the time?”
“No,” Jensen defends. “It just. It never got to where it should’ve been. For me.”
“Well thanks for sharing,” Chris spits, getting up. “If I had known this was all a big joke I wouldn’t have stuck around.”
“It wasn’t,” Jensen says heavily. “I just--I’m sorry.”
“Save it,” Chris says shortly. “I guess I’ll see you around. If I’m not being too pathetic about our obviously one-sided relationship.” He storms out and slams the door; Chris always was dramatic.
Jensen doesn’t care. That night he dreams of Jared, laughing and happy, and of an abstract little girl, and that’s what makes him feel like someone carved his heart out with a knife the next morning. Not anything else.
“You were kind of a dick to Chris,” Danneel says conversationally a couple of days later. She’s forced him to come over and he’s largely ignoring her as he pores over one of his textbooks. “You could’ve let him down easy.”
“This way he hates me,” Jensen says dully. “He won’t think we can get back together.”
Danneel sighs, heavy and deep in her chest, and sits down practically on top of him. “Honey,” she says placatingly, placing a small hand on his forearm. “You’re miserable. What are you doing?”
“Studying,” Jensen says shortly.
“No, you’re not. You’re deflecting. Running away.”
“I think I’m entitled to it!” Jensen explodes, slamming his book shut. “I mean, if you haven’t noticed, things haven’t exactly been fucking rosy here in the past month.”
“Well then stop moping and do something about it,” Danneel snaps. “You’re acting like a kid.”
“What do you want me to do, huh? What’s your magic solution to this shitstorm?” He’s being a dick, but he doesn’t even fucking care.
“I can’t tell you what to do,” she says hotly. “But you’ve gotta do something.”
“Great advice,” Jensen sneers.
“And stop fucking pushing me away,” she snarls. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m in your ring here. Always have been. So it would be nice if you stopped treating me like the fucking enemy.”
Jensen wants to say something, he really does, but his last bit of rationality is telling him he’ll just regret it. He’s angry at her for pushing, but nothing’s her fault, so instead of snapping back, he turns back to his book in an obvious snub.
“You know,” she says after a few minutes of awkward silence, “I don’t know why you think shoving everyone away is going to help. That’s what Jared did to you, and now you’re both miserable. So maybe you should use that big brain of yours right for a change.”
He doesn’t respond to that either, so she stands up, wipes her hands on her jeans as though touching him has sullied her somehow, and shuts herself in her room even though Jensen’s the one visiting her apartment. She doesn’t come out all night, and eventually Jensen just leaves.
Jensen can’t remember the last time he’s had so much space to himself. Danneel seems to be avoiding him, and he’s not making the first move there; not yet, at least. And sure, he’s always been busy, ever since he moved out to Boston, but the emptiness is new.
He’s not letting himself fall to pieces, is still keeping up with his classes and showing up to work, but he’s zoning out more than usual. It’s like back when he and Jared had first broken up, only the pain is different, less acute. He’ll snap back to attention in class and realize he’s absentmindedly spent the past five minutes thinking about a little girl with freckles and blonde hair and that there are dark pen marks scratched into his notes by his errant hand. Or he’ll make someone’s coffee and, lost in the familiar movements, remember how Jared would tease him about his caffeine addiction, all dimples and wonky smile.
He’s remembering how he felt when it was just his mama and him and stories of a deadbeat father who didn’t give a shit and how that had felt when kids had asked why he only had one parent. And all those times he’d spent awake all night with Jared, talking about the future and their plans, which always involved them going off into the world together.
He doesn’t know what to do, and even though he’s exhausted, he’s not sleeping well, startling awake at the slightest noise and then taking an hour to fall back asleep again. One night, he just stays awake, too on edge, and when the sun rises, he’s developed a sort of contingency plan, a what-if idea, that he’s not sure he can go through with. He thinks it over, every possible way, lists the cons in his head, but in the end, even though every part of his brain is telling him it’s not something to follow up upon, all he has to do is close his eyes before he begins the whole thought process over again. It’s what he sees in his imagination, not the facts, that makes him pick up the phone.
Katie, a girl he knows through working as an RA when he was a sophomore and now as a hall director, is someone he’s always gotten along well with. She doesn’t take shit, and he likes that about her, so even though it’s uncomfortable, when he runs things through with her, she demands answers, which makes her a good sounding board.
“You’re one big bottle of fucked up,” she says once he’s spilled a stilted version of the story; it’s the only way that she’ll go through the trouble to do what he’s asked for.
“You’ll help, right?” Jensen asks warily, but he can already tell from her tone of voice that she’s thinking about how late she’ll have to stay to start the paperwork.
“You know the rules?” she asks suspiciously. “This could get me in trouble if you decide to go rebel on me.”
“I know,” he says. “By the book, I promise. If it works out, that is.”
“Well logistically, it’s not an issue. December grads and all. I’ll put it through. Butter up the management for you, but they love you anyway.”
“Thanks, Katie,” he says, and when he hangs up the phone, he has to spend another hour trading shifts and talking to the RA’s in his building before he knows he can really put this plan in motion.
Can I borrow your car? he texts Danneel that afternoon.
It takes almost forty-five minutes, and the reply is short when he flips his phone open. Why?
Need to get out of the city for a couple days, he shoots back. Alone. Gotta clear my head.
A couple of hours later, he’s following the highway out of Boston, the sky darkening. He doesn’t have class till Monday evening, and that gives him three and a half days. Genevieve’s response to the question he texted her that morning sits saved in his inbox, and he turns up the radio, and drives.