Previous Chapters: One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight | Nine | Ten | Eleven | Twelve | Thirteen | Fourteen
See that’s the thing with really, really small towns and their even smaller bus stations. No security. Who the hell would ever want to vandalize a transit bus stop anyway, right?
It was close to one o’clock on a Thursday night and naturally (for Stars Hollow) the place was absolutely deserted. Jess parked his Buick and practically ran through the perfunctory gates to get to the other side that had three small terminals for buses to board and alight from, right next to each other.
He spotted Luke first.
The older man stood with his feet set apart, his hands in his denim jacket pockets and his cap turned around, at one end of the farthest terminal. It was the terminal for buses going to New York.
“Lu-” but he couldn’t finish, as his eyes followed Luke’s line of sight to find what his uncle was keeping a close watch on.
Dean Forester sat perched on the farthest waiting bench at the terminal, arms crossed tightly in front of his usual gray t-shirt clad chest, legs in black sweatpants pushed together, bare feet fixed on the cold, frosty ground. He was hunched forward, his head lowered into his lap. He was ‘sleeping‘, of course, but Jess could see his eyes were still half open, partially hidden by the long auburn locks curtaining his face. The eyes were why strangers didn’t recognize him as a sleepwalker.
Jess felt a fresh string of tears welling up in his eyes, and he didn’t seem all that inclined to stop them anymore. He felt Luke’s wary eyes on him as quietly, wiping the wetness of his face with his jacket sleeves, he moved toward Dean. From a corner of his eyes, he spotted Luke turning away, heading back to the parking lot.
Dean was still his long, lean, wiry self, shuddering now and then from a nip in the wind while he just sat there in his sleep clothes and no shoes. Jess hated that part the most. He couldn’t possibly carry on like this when in a matter of days it’d be the thick of winter and snowing everywhere. He found himself walking in a hurry, his feet carrying him closer to the subject of his dreams. And then he was sitting right beside Dean, on the bench, inching closer.
“Dean,” he whispered softly. To which, of course, he got no response.
The face was paler, thinner, lips chapped and pink from the cold. His slender but toned muscles bulged at his arms in stark contrast with the susceptibility of his pose. Jess drew closer and shrugged out of his long black jacket, gently bringing it around Dean’s shoulders and draping it there. He also left his right arm there, wrapped around the other boy, squeezing his frame closer to his own.
Maybe it was the warmth of the jacket. Or maybe it was the string of feather-light kisses Jess couldn’t help but press into the side of Dean’s face, kisses filled with sheer desperation to hear Dean’s voice. Maybe it was his forehead that came to rest on Dean’s shoulder, just for a little while, mouth pressing another long, urgent kiss into his collarbone. Who knew.
Jess felt the body in his arms suddenly stiffen then relax, slowly rousing from a deep sleep. He raised his head and looked up into the angelic face, eyes still brimming with tears.
Dean’s own eyes blinked a couple times, narrowed one second, and went wide the next… realization dawning of where he was, what he was doing (again), and – when he finally looked up and around himself – who he was with. So many shocks all at once, Jess thought it was a damn miracle the boy hadn’t passed out already.
“Welcome back…” he whispered, just as Dean continued to stare at him listlessly, seemingly petrified in his place.
“I’m dreaming,” Dean whispered back. And Jess chuckled ever so softly.
He looked right into Dean’s widening, waking eyes and lowered his mouth to the other's in slow motion. When Dean still didn’t react (or jump away), he pressed his lips against Dean’s, sealing the truth with a kiss that was gentle yet frantic, and very, very real. Neither closed his eyes.
When Jess pulled away, it was to bring his other hand up to Dean’s face, push the wild strands of hair behind his ear and caress his cheek lovingly.
“Looks like we’re even.”
“You just admitted you’ve been dreaming of me too.”
Dean seemed to come back to himself at that. When he froze up, Jess feared he was going to pull away, and found himself holding on to the boy with more ferocity that might have even hurt but he didn’t care. He didn’t want to let go. Not again.
“Looks like you missed the bus,” he murmured, willing the love of his life to hear it for the joke it was supposed to be, and not anything else. “May I give you a ride?”
Dean’s face, while still pale and stricken, looked like he couldn’t decide if he should react with a scowl or a smile at that. His crystal clear irises still seemed forlorn and so far, far away. He looked away, suddenly, hugging himself tighter and pulling away just enough to make Jess lose his grip around him. At least he didn’t walk away on him again; Jess could live with that for now.
“Why did you come back, Jess? I was just starting to…”
“What? Get over me?”
“Looks like you’re not having any better luck than me, Forester.”
Dean swallowed and looked back at Jess, his eyes questioning, hoping, but he didn’t say a word.
Jess exaggerated a sigh of exasperation. “You’re going to make me say it, aren’t you?”
“Fine, let’s talk. Don’t blame me if everyone calls you the girl in this relationship later.”
Dean cracked a smile at last. It was more of a smirk, actually. “With this height and your name? I doubt that very much, Mariano.”
Jess smiled, leaning in tentatively because he didn’t want to scare Dean away again. And when Dean stayed, he pecked at Dean’s willing lips again, stealing a quick kiss before pulling up to look into the blown, hazel pupils.
“I love you, Dean Forester. I have loved you since the moment you climbed into my bed and went off to sleep in my arms forgetting all your worries and burdens of this world.”
Dean went deathly still.
“I never felt like that before… never felt… responsible for someone else, you know? And… I liked it.”
He didn’t know if this was what Dean needed to hear from Jess, the one reason that could help sway his earlier decision. But it was all Jess had to offer and he could only hope and pray that it was enough. Jess swallowed nervously and meanwhile Dean just continued to look, well, terrified.
“You left, Jess…” the words were softer than a whisper, quiet as silence itself.
Jess straightened up, hearing the sadness in that meek reprimand loud and clear.
“I know, and I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I have a freak of a temper, and I’m sorry I said those things to you. It is all I’ve been all my life – a naturally sharp tongue and an unhealthy obsession with Oscar Wilde – that’s all I got. Guess I was always too damn weak or short or young or helpless to do much of anything else.”
Now Dean looked agitated. “What? You’re not any of those things, Jess. Except, short, of course.”
Jess chuckled softly, and so did Dean. “Smart-ass. But see that’s what you do to me! You make me feel helpless, Forester. You make me go weak in the knees, and every time you turned me away, I wished I was old enough that testosterone would cease to be such a dramatic problem.”
Dean really laughed then, a hot pink blush returning the color to his face as his eyes lowered into his lap and still he laughed. The careless laughter was like music to his ears. Jess could listen to that delicious sound on an endless loop forever.
“I am sorry too,” Dean suddenly said, slipping it in abruptly at the end of a chuckle and again blushing brightly. “I… I’m always testing you. Trying your patience, your… your feelings. Guess I have trust issues, which isn’t surprising under the circumstances and something you should know. If you don’t already.”
Jess smoothed the wild locks back from Dean’s face again. “Honestly, Dean, I love that we’re so different most of the time, it makes for interesting conversations. I mean, what’s the point to talking if you agree all the time, right? And I really don’t mind the uh, occasional exchange of heated words between us either. You know I love to see you riled up.”
Dean made a face at that and tried to pull away, and of course Jess wouldn’t let him. “But I promise to try and keep my mouth shut every time I think I’m about to lose it. Or at least stop before it goes too far, before I end up hurting you.”
Dean smiled. “You’d do it for me? Change your fucking personality type over, just for me?”
And that was the sixty four thousand dollar question, wasn’t it. Jess smiled, never before feeling as sure in his life, as he did right this very moment.
“I thought I could forget, Dean, thought I could live without you but I was wrong. There is no forgetting and no getting out of this one. This one… this is it for me, for this lifetime. With or without you in it.”
Jess licked his lower lip before biting down on it. A part of him was surprisingly – calm, calmer than he’d expected, that and content. He’d meant every word of what he said to Dean. For the first time, in his entire life most probably, Jess was not being selfish. For once he was okay with bidding farewell to someone important to him if that was really what they wished, without a shred of embittered resentment behind it. Course he couldn’t deny that another big part of him was still hoping… and it’d likely never stop.
“Say something, Dean.”
Dean stared straight into his eyes like he was struggling with something else and wondering if he should let Jess in on it or not. Jess waited patiently.
“Wh-what if I sleepwalk in Queens?”
The hopelessness in Dean’s eyes clawed at Jess’ heart, at his very being.
“What happens when it all gets too much to handle for you? ’Cause you know it will, Jess. I’m… I’m not an easy guy to love.”
Dean looked away, already starting to pull further apart. Jess just sighed and held on tighter, refusing to let go.
“I told you, Forester. I’m easy enough for the both of us.”
Dean smiled, despite himself, shaking his head for all he was worth. Jess went down on his knees in front of the taller boy. Dean was hunched as it is so Jess could be on his knees and still look Dean in the eye. He grabbed his face in both his hands, not letting Dean look away or shake his head anymore. Tears brimmed in the slit-shaped eyes that he didn’t bother to hide from Jess anymore.
“Let me be responsible for you, Dean. I want to! I miss that feeling so much.”
“I miss you.”
Because Dean couldn’t turn away, he just closed his eyes for another endless period of time that Jess didn’t think he’d see the end of in this lifetime. He squeezed Dean’s left hand in both of his, holding it close to his heart without even realizing it. And then Dean heaved a huge sigh and turned his gaze back up at him.
Jess felt his heart skip a beat. It was judgment time.
“On one condition. Actually, two.”
“I will pay my share of the rent.”
Jess blinked. He’d been expecting so much worse, like, no ‘coveting my ass’ or something. He raised his eyebrows then furrowed them and finally, just shrugged.
“Fine by me. What’s the second condition?”
Dean narrowed his eyes. “I get thirty percent.”
“Your business case - you split the landscaping three ways – forty, forty, twenty, right? I figured, if I’m doing the bulk of the work, I should get a bigger share. I want thirty-five, thirty-five, thirty.”
Jess took his time pulling his jaw back up and shut. “You read it?”
Dean smiled sheepishly, hugging himself a little against the sharp cold breeze. “I dug the file out from the trash later that night.”
Jess couldn’t help but smile back. A strong gust of wind pushed against him and he spotted Dean shivering. Without missing a beat, he tried to pull the jacket that he’d draped earlier on Dean’s shoulders, closer around him. That’s when Dean realized it was there and Jess caught a slight annoyance creeping up in the other boy’s face that stopped him short. No treating Dean like a girl… that was the third cardinal (and unspoken) rule, of course.
He backtracked and held the jacket out instead for Dean to accept, or reject, if he so chose to. Dean took it with a little smirk and pulled his long gangly arms into it.
“So it’s a deal, then?”
Jess chuckled. “Come here, you.”
With that he pulled Dean’s face down so he could seal their new partnership with a thorough, passionate kiss. And this time Dean gave back as good as he got, bringing his own arms around Jess’ torso and pulling him upwards from the ground.
Dean Forester didn’t sleep the rest of the night. Instead he spent it all in the back of Jess Mariano’s car, parked at the bus station with the heater on, making out like there was no tomorrow. Feeling each other’s bodies from heads to toes, cherishing every touch, every kiss, every pleasure and relief-ridden sigh that they drew from the other boy’s body. And they talked, and talked… confessing to their worst fears and immediately (in retrospect) laughing at them, planning what they would tell their families and friends, regretting the three months they lost but not so much because they knew they had the rest of their lives to make up for it.
“Jesse?” Dean whispered shyly, some time just before the break of dawn, his mouth pressed into the crook of the other boy’s neck, his arms wrapped snugly around Jess’ waist.
“I love you too.”
Jess couldn’t have gone to sleep even if he wanted to. He couldn’t risk waking up only to find this had all been nothing more than a dream. And if this was a dream, he never wanted to wake up.
The next morning, Dean took his boyfriend (now that it was officially official) to meet his mother and sister. Then they talked for a really long time, most of which Jess spent pacing outside in the foyer, giving the Foresters some privacy as they conferred in the living room by the furnace.
By afternoon he was all packed and ready to start a new life - a better life, filled with more prospects and less loneliness – only three hours away in Queens, New York. Clara was evidently more excited and happy for her big brother. For a thirteen year old, she sure saw and understood more than folks usually gave her credit for.
His mom, Marge, complied even faster than Jess had expected her to. With slightly limpid eyes but a bright reassuring smile on her face, she helped Dean pack, striding around the house gathering his stuff and voicing explicit parental instructions for his new life at the top of her lungs all the while.
By afternoon after one final family lunch, to which both Jess and Luke were invited and they gladly joined, Dean bid goodbye to Stars Hollow once and for all.
Course he would be back two months later for Thanksgiving. Armed with a check made out in the name of the bank, with an amount large enough to ensure the Foresters did not lose their house for the foreseeable future.
Neither Marge nor Luke was surprised to hear that Dean Forester did not sleepwalk in Queens.
Not until eight months later.
Next Chapter (Epilogue)