Thursday passes in a blur of mad activity, no chance for anything but frantically working on getting everything just right. Jensen hammers and paints and even sews a little, only leaving it to Megan after he almost manages to sew right through his own finger. Jared leaves them to finish up on Friday as he runs the kids through their paces one last time before the big show. They're bursting with excitement about the new costumes and scenery, and Jared struggles to get them to concentrate. It's only after he threatens to cancel the performance that they settle down enough to get the job done. Because of the delay, some of the kids miss their bus and Jared has to take them home.
Dusk is setting in by the time they finish, the worst of the heat beginning to fade away. Jensen tells Megan to leave without him, preferring to walk back to the house by himself. It's that magical time of the evening when the streets are almost empty and it's quiet enough to hear nature coming alive around him. He can hear friendly chatter spilling from homes as families sit down to dinner and the slight breeze feels good against his sweaty skin. His time in Texas is almost at an end and he's gonna miss it when he gets back to the city.
Only a few days left and things are even more confusing than we he got here. He still doesn't know where things stand with Jeffrey, hasn't heard a word from him since he walked out on him. And now ... now he's got this hopeless crush on someone that's still in love with his dead wife. Maybe it is for the best that he's leaving sooner rather than later, before it gets even worse and his heart ends up broken.
As if thinking about Jared draws Jensen to him, he sees Jared's truck parked by the side of the road. At the cemetery. Jensen crosses to where the gate wasn't closed properly and enters, his eyes having already picked out Jared sitting in front of a grave a few yards in. He makes sure to make enough noise so that Jared can hear him coming, but Jared doesn't look away from the headstone bearing his last name.
"Megan told me about your wife and baby. I'm so sorry, Jared."
"Did she tell you how my baby girl lived for three days? How I held her in my hands as she died? How I prayed for them? How I couldn't save them?" Jared's voice breaks at the end and he drops his head down into his upturned palms, quietly sobbing into them.
"Jared, there wasn't anything you could have done, that anyone could have done," Jensen says as he steps forward to lay a hand on his shoulder.
Jared shakes his head and turns his tear streaked face up to Jensen.
"No, it was my fault. I didn't, oh God, I didn't love them enough, want them enough. I don't deserve another chance."
Jensen breathes against the dull thud of his heart in his chest as he falls down on his knees next to Jared. Jared stays still as he reaches out, lets him frame Jared's face in his hands. Jensen feels like he's finally seeing another part of the real Jared for the first time. Something that's just as much a part of him as the few warm smiles he's been letting slip lately. The part that could love someone so deeply that he's still clinging to her even after death, that's gotten so hurt he has to fiercely hide behind anger and indifference to just survive. Jared is letting him in, letting him see. Jared closes his eyes when Jensen wipes his thumbs under them, gathering the moisture from his cheeks.
"No," Jared breathes as he wrenches his head back, twisting his body up and away. He leaves Jensen on his knees, his hands still hanging in the air.
"Yes, you do," Jensen tells him as he walks away. His broken voice is barely above a whisper and he doesn't know if Jared even heard him.
He slowly makes his way back to the house, unsure of how he's supposed to look Jared in the eye after that and pretend nothing happened. Only Megan's car is in the driveway though. She's sitting on the couch and looks up from the television when he closes the door behind him. He just mumbles out a vague excuse and escapes to his room. There's a quiet knock against the door a few hours later as Megan checks if he wants any dinner. He feigns sleep and doesn't answer. Jared never comes home.
"You've been quiet all morning," Megan says as she clears the breakfast dishes the next morning. "You want to talk about it?"
"Whatever has my brother sleeping on my parent's couch and you hiding in your room like a emo teenager."
"Nothing happened. And I wasn't hiding."
"Right," Megan says, drawing it out. "Anyway, we have to be at the school at about three to help get the kids dressed and ready. You want a ride or you gonna walk again?"
"I don't think I should go."
"See, I knew something was up," Megan says, interrupting him. "But I don't care, you have to come."
"It's meant for the people of this town, the kids' families," Jensen continues. "I don't belong there."
"Jensen, you've done so much to help make the play happen." Megan threads her arm through Jensen's and pulls him closer until their hips bump. "You belong."
Jensen looks away and Megan tugs at his arm again until he looks up and nods.
"Okay, now, I need a dress for tonight. How's your sense of style?"
"Impeccable," Jensen answers and lets Megan drag him to the mall where they spend hours moving from dressing room to dressing room as Megan tries on every dress in creation. Jensen doesn't complain too loudly. He loves hanging out with her and left to his own devices he would have spent the morning in a brooding heap.
They make a quick pit stop at the house to get ready before heading to the school. Jensen has a moment of panic when he sees Jared's truck already parked in his usual spot, but Megan's watching him like a hawk so he forces himself to relax. Jared's parents pull up behind them and they all walk in together. There are already a bunch of kids that have been dropped off by their parents. Jared's trying to dress three kids at once and Jensen rushes forward to save the one being strangled by his shirt.
Jared flashes him a grateful little smile before they're overrun by the next wave of hyperactive superstars. Between trying to keep the kids clean and undamaged and organizing a few last minute repairs, Jensen barely has a chance to breathe. He leans back against the back wall with a bottle of blessedly cool water as the kids finally take their places. The others take their seats as Jared makes a short introduction and then it's showtime.
The curtain rises and Jensen feels the familiar thrill running through him. It's been a long time since he's been up there himself and he's so grateful to the kids for letting him share in their moment.
Jared hovers just off-stage, giving cues and encouragement, sometimes madly dancing along where only the kids and Jensen can see him. The performance is flawless and Jensen's practically beaming at the crowd's thunderous applause and ear-splitting cheers. A couple of the kids veer off in his direction as they run off the stage, and he kneels down just as the first sweaty little body hurtles into his arms.
There's a mad rush of parents collecting kids, a few here and there stopping for a quick word of thanks to Jared or himself. Just as suddenly they're all gone again, only Jared's family and a few of the other teachers left behind. Megan herds them all out into the foyer where there are tables laden with food and drink. Jensen is embarrassed by Megan constantly dragging people over to meet the big time actor from LA and to fawn over how awesome he is. He's walking over to hide in the company of Jared's parents when a sudden hush descends over the party. He turns to find Mr. Cortese's imposing figure filling the doorway and looks over to gauge Jared's reaction, ready to step in if needed.
Jared's the first to move, bending to place his can of soda on the floor. Jensen watches the principal walk over to him as he straightens and takes an involuntary step forward himself. Jared's mom stops him with a hand on his arm and he has to watch helplessly as the two large men come face to face.
They stand regarding each other wordlessly for a second and then Mr. Cortese reaches out and offers Jared his hand. The tension visibly leeches out of Jared as he shakes it. They still don't talk, but the older man claps Jared on the shoulder before stepping away to fix himself a plate. Jared looks over at them and Sherry rushes forward to pull him down into a hug. The rest of his family aren't far behind, crowding in around them and Jared steps back to let them in. Jensen enjoys their smiling faces for a minute before quietly slipping away.
He makes his way backstage and finds a roll of garbage bags in the maintenance closet. He starts stuffing the mess littered on the floor into the bags, quietly humming one of Chris's tunes. The bag is almost full and Jensen's contemplating tying it up and swapping it for a new one when the door behind him slams shut. Jensen jumps a little and turns sharply. Jared is right there, his fingers sliding along Jensen's jaw. Jensen gasps and Jared smooths his thumb over his lower lip, chasing the rush of Jensen's breath with his mouth.
Jared kisses him, a trembling pressure that lingers against his lips, not pushing his advantage. Jensen drops the bag still in his hand and fists it into Jared's shirt instead, pushing him back until Jared's back hits the wall with a dull thud. He kisses Jared back, opening his mouth to him. Jared takes the invitation, the tip of his tongue tracing along the seam of Jensen's lips before plunging inside. Jensen opens his mouth wider, wanting more, wanting everything, and sucks him in deeper.
The slam of Jared's palm against his chest punches all the breath from his lungs as he pushes Jensen away.
"I can't do this," Jared says, squeezing past Jensen. "I'm sorry."
Jensen wraps a hand around his arm, holding him back.
"No, you're here under false pretenses. I never wanted anything to do with you."
"I know," Jensen says and tugs until Jared turns to face him again. "Megan told me."
"I'm sorry," Jared says again "I didn't expect this."
"I didn't either." Jensen rubs a hand over the back of his neck. "A week ago all I wanted was to move in with Jeffrey."
"Jeffrey? Is that your boyfriend?"
"Yeah," Jensen admits. "We've been dating for a long time now, but he wants to keep it secret, hide me away like something he's ashamed of. My friend Chris answered your ad my name. He thought it would make Jeffrey jealous."
"I don't know. I don't care. I want you to talk to me about Genevieve and why you can't move on."
Jared pulls his arm out of Jensen's grasp and shakes his head.
"Go home, Jensen."
"Jared," Jensen tries, but he's already through the door, disappearing into the night.
Jensen kicks the abandoned garbage bag, curses as its contents spill out onto the floor again. He grabs his jacket and goes in search of Megan. There aren't many people left and he spots her easily, leaning against the wall as she chats with her mom.
"Sorry to interrupt," Jensen says and Sherry turns to him in surprise.
"Jensen!" she exclaims and throws her arms around his neck.
He can't help it and smiles as he hugs her back.
"Thank you," she whispers in his ear and he freezes.
He steps away from her embrace and pretends not to see the glance she gives Megan.
"Is something the matter?"
"I was just wondering if I could borrow Megan's car to go back to the house."
"Sure," Sherry says, "we'll drop her off later."
"No, that's okay, Mom," Megan says, peering at him. "I'm feeling a little tired myself. I'll take Jensen home."
Jensen keeps his face carefully blank as he nods his thanks.
"I'll see y'all later," he says as he kisses Sherry's cheek and waves goodbye to Gerry and Jeff.
Megan remains silent until they're in the car.
"Are you alright?" she asks, leaning forward over the steering wheel, pushing the key into the ignition.
Jensen honestly doesn't know, so he just shrugs. Megan pats his knee and then drives them home in silence.
Jensen's so lost in his own thoughts that he doesn't notice the car in the driveway until Megan says something about it.
"Who could that be? And at this time of night?"
The moment he sees the luxury sedan, Jensen knows.
"Oh my God."
"Jensen? Do you know who that is?" Megan asks, but Jensen's already getting out of the car.
"What are you doing here?"
"I know I hurt you," Jeffrey says. "I know I have no right. But I can't lose you, Jensen."
"Jeffrey, I ..."
"I love you," Jeffrey says, hooking a finger around his belt and tugging him closer as he interrupts him. "I want to spend the rest of my life with you."
Jeffrey is close enough to kiss, but Jensen doesn't want to. He can still feel the brush of Jared's lips. And the sting of his rejection.
"Do you even know what that means?"
"It means I want you to live with me. It means I got the funding for the play, Jensen. The lead is yours. We're going to make it great, together."
"Together?" Jensen asks, faintly aware that Megan is still sitting in her car, that she must be hearing every word.
"It's not too late, right?" Jeffrey says hesitantly. "You and the teacher aren't..."
"No," Jensen says shortly. "We're not."
"So what do you say?"
This is what Jensen wanted. Jeffrey is here, actually came after him and he's willing to give it all to him.
"I say lets go home."
Jeffrey's smile is victorious, pulling Jensen in the rest of the way for a quick kiss.
"Let's get you packed."
Megan clears her throat behind them and Jeffrey lets him go, reaches past Jensen to introduce himself. Megan accepts his offered hand with a polite smile and steps around them to unlock the front door. She offers Jeffrey something to drink, but Jensen hears him decline as he goes upstairs to pack.
Jeffrey carries his baggage out to the car, escaping the awkward silence while Jensen says his goodbyes to Megan.
"Thank you so much for having me, Megan. I'm going to miss this place."
"Jensen, are you sure?"
"He's here," Jensen says and kisses her cheek. "You have my number and e-mail address. Don't be a stranger, okay?"
"Are you kidding? You can't get rid of me that easily."
"Good," Jensen says, laughing. He gives her one last hug and then lets Jeffrey pull him away.
Jensen doesn't look back.
Jeffrey's got a big welcome back party arranged for him the night after they get back. Jensen wonders if it says something about him that Jeffrey was that sure of himself.
Less than five minutes after they step through the door, Jeffrey abandons him to go talk business with his cronies. Jensen grabs a glass of champagne and finds a quiet corner to hide away in.
Chris finds him anyway, snorts as he takes away the champagne and hands him a beer instead. He leans in next to Jensen, poking him with an elbow.
"So is this what you wanted?" Chris asks, sweeping his arm in a wide arc to encompass the whole room.
"It's a start," Jensen says, taking a drink from the bottle. It's cool and crisp. "It's enough."
"Enough? Fuck, Jensen, why are you settling for enough?"
"Why are you mad at me? You're the one who set this whole thing up with Jared to get Jeffrey jealous. And now you're giving me shit because it worked?"
"No, I didn't do it to get Jeffrey jealous. I did it to open your eyes, show you what else is out there so you wouldn't have to settle. You deserve better."
"We're perfect for each other."
"Do you even love him?"
Jensen doesn't answer. He takes another deep pull on his beer bottle, but then it's snatched from in front on his mouth.
"What are you drinking?" Jeffrey asks as he motions a waiter over. He dumps the bottle on his tray and lifts two champagne flutes, handing one to Jensen. Wrapping a hand around the back of his neck, he steers Jensen towards his study. "Come on, I've got something to show you."
Chris rolls his eyes at Jeffrey's exaggerated wink and mimics puking into the fake potted plant when Jensen shoots him a warning glance.
Jeffrey drops his hand to steer Jensen with the merest touch of his fingertips at the small of his back when they walk through the main room. Jensen realises that to anyone looking, they would appear as no more than casual acquaintances and he feels his face burn with humiliation.
As soon as the door closes behind them, Jeffrey has him pinned to the door, his fingers fumbling with Jensen's belt. Jensen turns his face away when Jeffrey tries to kiss him, gently trying to push him away.
"I thought you wanted to show me something."
"I did. I got it for you right here, baby," Jeffrey says, grinding his pelvis against Jensen's.
Jensen pushes him back more firmly and Jeffrey drops his hands, stepping back sharply.
"What's wrong now?"
"Nothing," Jensen says, plastering on a fake little smile. "It's just been a long day. I'm exhausted."
"Want me to call you a cab?" Jeffrey asks, but Jensen's already shaking his head.
"I'll catch a lift with Chris. See you tomorrow?"
"Definitely. I still need to welcome you back properly."
Jensen keeps a tight hold on the smile and pecks Jeffrey on the cheek.
Chris is already standing at the door, holding out his jacket.
"You knew to wait for me?"
"I was hoping," Chris says, straightening Jensen's collar. "Come on, we've got a six pack in the fridge and Sunday's game on TiVo."
Jensen wakes up the next morning with a slight hangover and a firm determination to get his act together. Jared's in Texas, and he's in LA. And so is Jeffrey. After everything he's done to bring him back, Jensen figures he owes it to him to give this a chance. Chris is out of town for a few days to help Steve in the recording studio, which means he has the apartment all to himself. He texts Jeffrey before he showers and dresses quickly, then heads to the market to pick up what he needs for dinner. He chooses some of Jeffrey's favourites, even the pickled eel he can't stand. If all goes according to plan, they won't get around to eating anyway.
Cooking isn't one of Jensen's strongest points and when the food's finally done after some blood, sweat and tears, Jensen gratefully escapes the kitchen. He showers again, takes his time getting dressed.
He's just sitting down on the couch, switching on the TV to kill the few minutes before Jeffrey's due to arrive when his phone rings.
"You're bringing the wine, right?" Jensen asks as he answers.
"Uh, hi. I'm sorry, babe. I'm afraid I'm gonna have to take a rain check on that dinner. Some last minute trouble with investors that needs to be worked out. You understand right?"
"Yeah," Jensen lies, "completely. Not a problem."
"Great! Love you."
"Love you," Jensen says before he realises the line has gone dead. "Too..." he tells the empty apartment.
Jensen dumps the food into the trash can, the neighbour's cat jumping in through the kitchen window to come begging for scraps. Even he turns his nose up at Jensen's attempt at cooking though and Jensen scoops him up with a chuckle. They settle back on the couch with Jensen still in his good black pants, sharing a can of tuna. He falls asleep with Law and Order on the television and the cat purring on his chest.
Jeffrey pretty much avoids him in the week that follows, not answering his calls or returning his texts. He even goes so far as to have Jensen's copy of the script delivered via courier. Jensen writes it off to him being busy, and keeps himself occupied learning his lines and packing up his stuff in boxes whenever he takes a break. Jeffrey's assistant phones him a few days later to schedule a read-through and he has to ask her if Jeffrey will be there.
The read-through goes as well as can be expected and Jensen has to grab hold of Jeffrey's arm before he runs off again.
"Jensen, can this wait? I really have to talk to Melinda about the costuming."
"No, Jeffrey, it can't. It'll just take a few minutes though."
"Okay, fine. Do we need to sit down?"
"I think that might be a good idea," Jensen says, taking the nearest seat.
"Well?" Jeffrey asks, sitting down next to him.
"I don't want to move in with you, Jeffrey. In fact, I'm breaking up with you."
"What are you talking about? I thought this was what you wanted."
"I thought so too. But Jeffrey, if we're honest, I think we both saw this coming. If I had to trick you into doing it, then it'll never work out."
"We could have a perfect life together, Jensen. Think about what you're saying."
"I did. And I'm thinking nothing is going to change. I'll keep waiting for the day you realise that you were forced into doing something you didn't want and end up resenting me for it."
Jeffrey gets up and shoves his chair to the side.
"Is this about the teacher?" he asks, his hands curled up into tight fists at his side.
"No," Jensen answers truthfully. "I'll probably never see him again."
Jeffrey stands looking down at him for a long time. Jensen meets his gaze calmly.
"Well, then it's his loss," Jeffrey says softly and reaches out to squeeze Jensen's shoulder.
"Thanks," Jensen says, "and I'm sorry for leaving you in the lurch with the play."
"What lurch? Jensen, this doesn't mean you lose your part. You're still the best man for the job and I expect you bright and early tomorrow morning for rehearsals."
Jensen can hardly believe he's leaving with his jaw intact, nevermind his job. Somewhere along the line he's forgotten that Jeffrey's actually a good man. It convinces him all over again that he's made the right decision, because Jeffrey deserves better.
He throws himself wholeheartedly into preparation for the play. He revels in the opportunity to completely lose himself in the character, thankful that he at least has his work to distract him. And when distraction doesn't work, he can always channel the pain and heartache he's feeling into his performance.
Megan e-mails him regularly, but beyond the cursory replies about his health and the weather, it's pretty much one-sided. She tells him about moving out and going back to school. That her parents are doing good and that Jeff and his wife are expecting another baby. She is kind enough not to mention Jared at all and Jensen alternates between being grateful and wanting to drag every last bit of information from her. She doesn't seem to mind his short and infrequent replies, possibly attributing it to him being busy and he feels like a Grade A asshole. To try and make up for it, he sends her two front row tickets for opening night, even though he knows she won't be able to make it. It's the thought that counts.
When his phone rings the day before they're set to open, he's not surprised to see Megan's name flashing on the display.
"Jensen!" Megan squeals into his ear and Jensen can almost feel her arms wrapping around him like the first time they met. He suddenly misses her so fiercely he can scarcely breathe. "Are you there?"
"Yeah. Hi Megan," says Jensen after he clears his throat.
"I just got the tickets! It's all so exciting, seeing your name printed right at the top. I read on the internet there's already quite a buzz going about your performance!"
"Really? Well, you shouldn't believe everything you read on the internet, you know."
"Shut up and stop being so modest! I'm just sorry I won't be able to come. But you know I would if I could, right?"
"Yeah, I know. I figured as much, but I didn't want you thinking I didn't want you there. I... I miss you guys."
"We miss you too! Mom and Dad still can't stop gushing about you. And I'm so proud of you, Jensen!"
"Thanks," Jensen stammers and he's glad there's no one around to see him blushing.
"Anyway, tell me how it's going with you! Your emails are so boring. How are things going with Jeffrey."
"It's over with Jeffrey," Jensen says, "but I'm good. Everything is good. Really."
Jensen knows he's trying too hard, like he's trying to convince himself that it's true. There's a moment of silence where Jensen's working hard to resist asking about Jared.
"Jared's an idiot," Megan says like she can read his mind.
"Aren't we all?" he asks with a rueful little chuckle. "Listen, I'm sorry, but I gotta go. You take care of yourself, okay?"
"You too. And Jensen? Good luck."
Jensen ends the call and yells at Chris, asking what he wants on his pizza.
Somehow Jensen gets through the next twenty four hours with a minimum of puking and anxiety attacks. He blinks and suddenly it's time. He's here, costume riding up in the back, microphone taped behind his ear, on stage with the curtain about to go up. He glances to the side and Jeffrey's there, brow knit in stern concentration as he gives Jensen a thumbs up. Jensen breathes out slowly and feels his surroundings fade as he prepares to give life to the story on the page to the best of his ability.
Jensen knows he's succeeded in doing just that when the delivery of the last line is met by an expectant moment of silence, like a breath being drawn. Then the crowd erupts and Jensen's fellow players join him on either side as the lights go up and they take a bow. Some people are throwing things onto the stage, mostly their programs and a few scattered roses.
Jensen is still high from the performance, his blood pumping so fast he can hear it rushing in his ears. He feels something heavy land next to his foot and has to blink at it a few times to make sure it's real.
He bends, picking up the Texas belt buckle and lifts his eyes to the still cheering crowd. There, right in front, in one of the seats he expected to be empty, sits Jared. He's applauding too, grinning madly as he makes loud whooping noises. His hands slow and stop as Jensen's eyes lock on his, but he doesn't stop smiling and Jensen is powerless to resist.
Jensen frantically looks for a way to get off the stage, but there's no other choice than to go round the back. He tries to direct Jared in the same direction, but Jared's got another solution. With a powerful heave from his strong arms, he lifts himself up onto the stage. Jensen has to quickly step in when security grabs a hold of him.
"He's with me," he tells them and drags Jared back behind the curtain.
"You were amazing, Jensen."
"Jared, what are you doing here?"
"I've come to make you an offer."
"Well, St Mary's still needs a drama teacher and though I know it could never compare to all of this ... apparently the principal already thinks the sun shines out of your ass."
"And what do you think?"
"Well, I've never seen actual sunshine coming from it, but I still think it a mighty fine ass."
"I think you made feel again. Made me love again." Jared leans in and kisses him softly, just pressing his lips to Jensen's experimentally. When Jensen presses his lips back, answering the kiss, Jared smiles against his mouth and continues. "I think I want you to take the job. I think, I know I want you to come back home with me. Come home with me, Jensen."
"Mmm," Jensen says, "that's a really tempting offer." He tilts his head and pretends to seriously contemplate it, but in the end there's only ever going to be one answer. He kisses the corner of Jared's mouth, his cheek, the shell of his ear, lingering there to softly whisper, "I'd love to."