Chapter 7 …
Five minutes to six in the morning, Dean opened his eyes. Birds were chirping right outside the bedroom window, and muted sunlight streamed in through the panes, throwing playful shadows on his face – the face Jess still couldn’t take his eyes too far away from.
Dean sighed heavily, slowly coming to realize, but thankfully not freaking out this time, where he was this morning. He looked around quietly, sleepily, until his eyes landed on the other person in the bedroom.
Jess was still sitting; leaning against the far wall with his legs stretched out on the mattress before him and crossed at the ankles. He was holding a book, Kissinger: A Biography, that he hadn’t managed to read a word of all night.
Their eyes met, and for a minute or maybe a decade, neither seemed willing to look away. Dean was the first to blink. He sighed again and looked up to the plain white ceiling.
“Bet you stayed up all night just so you could be awake to gloat.”
Jess smiled. “I stayed up all night, alright.”
… to watch you sleep. And wow if it sounded that psychotic in his head, no way was he going to say it out loud.
Dean turned to him, frowning, but he didn’t ask for an explanation. He looked away, maybe disappointed when none was forthcoming on its own, and gulped hard.
“I told you, Jess. I’m not gay.”
Jess frowned impatiently. “Why do we have to be anything at all? Gay, straight, how does it matter? I just want you to be you and that you let me be me. Don’t worry, Forester, I don’t expect anything from you.”
Dean turned to him again. “You don’t?”
Jess shook his head, hoping the other boy couldn’t decipher the sharp trembling in his lower lip.
“And it’s not like you need to be scared of me or anything. Hell, I know if I was stupid enough to try something, you could snap my neck in two like a twig.”
Dean laughed shortly. “Damn right I could, midget.”
Jess smirked, hoping his giddiness at hearing Dean laugh for once wasn’t too evident. “Yeah alright, but no need for personal attacks, dude.”
Dean smiled, and their eyes met again. It was… like getting locked into a trance, unable to leave, unwilling to leave, until Dean pulled his gaze away abruptly. Leaving Jess feeling alone and distressed like he’d never felt before.
“How long are you here for?”
Jess had decided to stay longer, for obvious reasons. And his partner Dillon had reluctantly agreed. “Two more weeks, I think. Why? Want me to stay longer?”
Dean didn’t respond to the goading. Instead he continued to lie on his back with his hands entwined over his chest, staring up at the blank ceiling.
“You used to hate my guts, man. Wh-what happened?” he whispered, as if he couldn’t believe he was asking this himself.
Jess smirked, and shrugged lightly. “Guess I grew up.”
“Or, maybe, you did.”
Dean frowned and turned to look at him then.
“Into your gargantuan arms and legs.”
Jess couldn’t help but laugh at the incredibly shocked expression on the tall boy’s brightly blushing face. Dean decided that was the time to make his swift exit and got out of bed in a huff. Jess didn’t stop him, and was still chuckling quietly when Dean glared at him one last time before pushing the bedroom door shut behind him.
Jess fell asleep soon after Dean left, collapsing into a dreamless sleep that didn’t turn him loose until after noon. Luke just shook his head amused and waved him off when Jess said he was going to the book shop.
Luke understood of course. The bookshop was almost like a spiritual retreat for Jess; his haven. It was where Jess would run off to when the turbulence inside him got too much that he couldn’t fight or deny or curse at it enough to make it go away. Instead, he would choose to simply… ignore it. And the only way for Jess to do that was to immerse his mind into someone else’s world.
Fiction or otherwise, a book gave him the reprieve to pretend he was someone else, living someone else’s life. Put himself in someone else’s shoes – some days he chose the shoes of the tragic but eventually victorious hero, some days he’d rather be the bad guy ‘cause let’s face it – there is indescribable freedom in villainy. And then there were days he’d go with the gray characters, or the guys on the sidelines watching it all unfold for someone else; guys free from the moral obligation of having to do something, anything. Nor were they important enough to be judged or debated upon for the choices they eventually made.
Like today. Today he’d rather be the Robert Ross to his Oscar Wilde, watching the love of his life waste away through his self-imposed exile to the last days of his life. Everyone always focused on the celebrity’s suffering; no one saw the pain Ross lived to feel for the rest of his life – knowing that were it not for the exile, he would have never been enough to keep this beautiful, eloquent, way ahead of his times genius by his side.
The last thing he’d expected to happen at this time was… was something that’d also happened the last time he was here in this book shop, two years ago. But he didn’t get up and run this time like he did back then. He felt no need to.
Rory Gilmore walked into the store and stared at him for a whole minute blankly.
Jess smirked and stood up from his cozy little spot on the floor. “That is one of my names.”
Pretending he wasn’t annoyed that his quality alone-time was being intruded upon (in a public bookshop but never mind that), Jess smiled at the tall, slim girl before him. Still beautiful, as ever, eyes still sparkling with the same wit and magnetism he’d fallen in love with years ago.
Rory looked up into his face and smiled brightly. “My God, the prodigal nephew returns and slinks in corners of book shops like he’d never left!”
Jess laughed and took a step closer, wondering if it would be appropriate to give her a hug. While he was still contemplating the possible consequences in case it wasn’t (appropriate, that is), it was Rory who made the decision for him.
She took five odd steps slowly, hesitatingly, until she was right in his face and looked up into his eyes expectantly. And so as was expected, Jess wrapped his arms around the narrow waist and buried his nose into the ever sweet-smelling hair on Rory’s shoulder. He took a deep whiff, and for some reason that will never ever be clear to him, he was reminded of… of Dean. Of how soft his hair felt under Jess’ stubbled chin, the fresh minty clean scent clinging to his slender, sleep-heavy body…
Jess pushed away from the hug and from Rory, digging his hands in his pockets and pointedly ignoring the confused look on her face. “So h-how’ve you been?”
Rory pushed a lock of hair behind her ear self-consciously and launched into a long tirade about Yale and semester systems and something about the impact of Elizabethan literature on contemporary English that Jess didn’t bother to keep up with.
“So anyway, wow, look at me go, like I haven’t seen you in years which actually is true, I haven’t seen you in years and I don’t even know what you’re doing and where you’ve been and…”
“Rory stop.” Jess laughed and took a step closer again. He used to adore her ramblings once, now he just found it amusing while part of him longed for the stoic but comfortable silences of a certain Sasquatchian hazel-eyed boy.
“There’s lots to catch up on, I know. How long are you here for?”
“Just a couple of days. I drive back tomorrow.”
“Okay, so how about tonight then?”
Rory looked pleased, more so than Jess expected. “Wanna come over to my place for dinner?”
“How about Sookie’s for a quick bite?”
“Works for me. What time?”
“Too early, how about nine?”
“Okay, but I have to get back by eleven.”
Rory laughed. “What, Luke has you on curfew?”
Jess grinned sheepishly. “Something like that.”
Rory looked at him, as if studying him closely. “Something’s different about you.”
Jess laughed. “Why, because I’m abiding by my uncle’s rules? I guess that is different.”
“No, it’s something else…”
Jess was starting to get really uncomfortable with this line of questioning. And to think this was what he’d have to put up with tonight. He forced out another chuckle and looked at his watch.
“Wow, look at the time. I have to get back and help out at the diner and… I guess, we have two hours tonight to discuss the evolution of Jess Mariano then, huh?”
Rory looked disappointed but nodded. “Right. So it’s a date?”
Jess’ smile faltered for just a second, but then he figured – what the hell. He took the hand Rory held out and shook it like he’d shake a client’s hand in business.
“It’s a date!”
It wasn’t until Rory had walked away and Jess was turning towards the exit door himself that he noticed the tall boy lurking just outside. He caught Dean’s eyes, and they looked… decidedly not happy – yeah, that was all Jess could decipher, before Dean quickly backed out of the shop and strode away.
Jess wanted to call out to him, stop him, ask him how much exactly he’d heard and what exactly he’d concluded. But those freakishly long legs had long disappeared around the corner by then.
That night, it wasn’t just drizzling. It was raining shrieking cats and barking dogs.
Jess paced back and forth in the diner again. He was aware of Luke’s bemused eyes following him from one end of the room to the next, but he was just grateful the old man wasn’t saying anything.
“He’ll be fine, Jess.”
Guess he expressed his gratitude too soon. Jess acted like he didn’t know what Luke was talking about. And Luke just laughed.
“It’s only been… six minutes since Marge called. If he’s not here in another nine minutes or so, then we can panic.”
“In case you didn’t notice, Uncle Luke, it’s a bad storm outside, not to mention it’s pouring like buckets and buckets of iced water.”
“So he’ll be a little drowned, that’s all. This has happened before, you know. The rain doesn’t seem to bother him at all and he walks right over, as always.”
“What will he sleep in?”
Luke’s eyes twinkled. “In the bed, of course.”
“No, I-I meant…” Jess felt his face burn hot and quickly turned away.
He heard Luke chuckle softly again and walk over to him, putting a hand on his shoulder from behind. “How about you let me take care of him tonight, okay?”
Jess heard the disguised order in Luke’s soft voice and nodded. Honestly he was relieved, well, kind of. Maybe.
“Why don’t you tell me how your date with Rory was?”
Jess rolled his eyes. “Why does everyone keep calling it a date? It wasn’t a date.”
“Dean seemed to think so.”
Jess started. “You… he… did… did he say something to you?”
Luke looked like he was biting another chuckle back. “Kids your age won’t be caught dead talking to me, you know that! I just happen to see things no one else does. Dean didn’t seem as disturbed by Rory’s return last month or even the times she visited before that, not like he is this time.”
Well, Jess thought about it for a second. That didn’t exactly tell him anything. What could Dean be so upset about? That Rory went out on a date? Or that Jess did?
Jess scowled as haughtily as he could manage. “So you’re the resident expert on Dean Forester these days then?”
“Why? Would you like to be one instead?”
Jess gulped and could not meet his uncle’s suggestive gaze any more. Obviously Luke saw more and understood more than he liked to let on. Jess turned away, slightly embarrassed, but deciding not to waste too much breath denying something he would have to eventually admit to anyway.
With a loud put on huff, he started to walk up the stairs when someone thumped the door, at last. He stopped immediately, cursing his helplessness in the face of those loud, clumsy knocks, then followed Luke to the door (pointedly refusing to look up into his uncle’s eyes again).
“Come on in, Dean.”
The boy was completely drenched from head to toe. Drowned sure was an apt word for how he looked. Not that Dean seemed to even notice. He stood like he always stood at their doorstep, staring down at his bare feet, drenched all over and trembling from the cold but clearly not enough to wake him from his deep, abnormal, sleep. Jess watched from the sidelines as Luke led Dean up the stairs.
“Here, Dean, come on here.” Luke put one hand in the small of Dean’s back and with the other he held the closest shoulder to turn his direction towards the bathroom across the hall from Jess’ room. He flicked on the lights and gently pushed Dean inside. The boy, soaking and dripping wet as he was, left a trail of water so thick all the way from the main door that Jess almost slipped.
“How can he be sleeping through this?” Jess whispered, only to be hushed up harshly by Luke.
Luke tilted his head to indicate to him to get lost. And Jess, reluctantly, backed away. Only to go as far as his bedroom door, from where he peeked out – he just had to – he couldn’t get his eyes off Dean.
“Alright, kid. Let’s get you into some dry sweats so you can turn in for the night, okay?” Luke spoke as offhandedly as he always did. Not like Dean heard him at all.
All Jess could see was the ramrod straight back, the tight fists hanging deceptively loose by his sides and his head lowered, exposing the paleness on the back of his neck to Jess’ seeking eyes. Jess found himself fixating on the locks of wet chestnut hair curling up on top of that expanse of skin more than he thought was warranted, or healthy.
Luke stood in front of Dean and gently tugged his Smurfs t-shirt off his torso. Dean let the older man raise his arms and pull off the shirt like it was no big deal. And when Luke slowly pulled the pajama pants down the boy’s waist, Jess gasped soundlessly and turned away as quickly as he could. He leant against the wall, needing the support to keep him on his swaying legs.
The brief vision of Dean’s bare back and… backside, the spotless and perfect alabaster skin that looked so sinful and so untouched, so… so unattainable because damn that was Dean Forester in there, not three yards away from Jess. Completely naked.
Jess closed his eyes and pressed the heel of his right hand into the base of his shaft, pleading with his blooming erection to go away. So not the time, so not the frigging time!
Luke already had some of his old clothes handy in the bathroom. He dressed Dean in a pair of sweats, both the top and bottom of which were not long enough, but the waist on the pants was so wide that Luke had to hold it up with one hand as he led Dean into the bedroom. Jess stepped away from the door soon as he heard them approach. He jumped into his floor bed and kept his face buried in the Kissinger book, still on page three since yesterday.
“There you go, Dean.”
“It’s alright, kiddo. You’re safe here.”
Jess swallowed, vehemently not looking. But Luke’s next words drew him out instantly.
“He’s still shaking. Will you go grab an extra blanket from the closet in my room?”
Jess strode out before Luke could finish the sentence. He came back to find Dean horizontal in the bed, his eyes dropping shut at last. It was still creepy to him how the boy’s eyes stayed half-lidded but open throughout his sleepwalking every night, closing only once his head hit the pillow on Jess’ bed. Luke took the second blanket from him and tucked it around the sleeping boy more… caringly than Jess had ever seen his uncle behave.
Luke straightened up to his full six feet height and turned to him. His face was somber and his eyes meant business like he’d never seen before.
“I can trust you with him, can’t I?”
No. Yes. Maybe. I don’t know.