Jensen, 8th November, 2009.
Jensen abruptly halted in the middle of the street.
He frowned so hard, his forehead started to hurt. If Jared was turning twenty-one in July 2010 then back in 2007 when they met he must have been–
“I cannot fucking believe you were not even legal!”
“I was like nineteen days shy.”
“That doesn’t fucking matter!! I could have gone to jail for making you pose for me, do you understand that?”
“I guess we’re both delinquents then, huh?”
Jensen did not find it amusing, even as he spotted a devious little smile threatening to break out on Jared’s face. He wanted to kick something, hard. He wanted to stop biting his lip and let out that scream of exasperation bubbling at the back of his throat, along with a surprisingly genuine fit of laughter tailgating right after it.
He settled for glaring and stomping his way out of the market.
They made one last pit-stop: Jensen’s usual haunt for picking up art suppliers – canvases and oils and the like.
“You go ahead, I’ll wait here.” Jared said, digging his hands in his jeans pockets outside. Jensen for a moment wondered what the kid might be up to, then pretending he didn’t care either way, he shrugged and went in.
“Well, if it isn’t my best-est customer ever!” The girl at the cash register greeted him as warmly as she always did.
Genevieve was a part-time art student herself so they actually had lots to talk about. Too bad you’re gay, she’d mumbled once, blushing and apologizing immediately for the inappropriateness of it. Jensen had taken it as a compliment and promptly forgotten all about it.
“You again?” Jensen quipped. “Why haven’t you graduated from school yet?”
“You’re one to talk, Mr. Duke University dropout!”
That made Jensen laugh and they bantered on for a few minutes, Jensen rattling out his list of requirements and Gen collecting and ringing them up. Jared, in the meantime, tired of waiting in the cold, quietly slipped in but hung back at the aisle closest to the exit, keeping his gaze away from Jensen at all times.
Gen whistled low under her breath, but loud enough for Jensen to look up at her in question. With a practiced jerk of her sexy eyebrows, she gestured towards the newcomer. “Just so we’re clear, I saw him first.”
Something tugged at Jensen’s core, a mild but persistent prickling that rose from his gut up to the hardening veins in his neck. Gen was fixing her hair already, licking her lips moist. Jensen should have just rolled his eyes and let her be, really he should have.
“Something tells me he’s not your type.”
“What, you mean he’s gay?”
Jensen just shrugged and Gen looked at Jared again. They were whispering, obviously, so as not to weird the object of their attention out.
“No way, not with that scrawny face, and that bird’s nest of a hairdo? All gay men I know take really, really good care of themselves, dress sharp, are prettier than most women.”
Stereotypical. “Why, thank you.”
“Oh, you know what I mean.” Gen winked at Jensen quickly before turning to Jared again. “In comparison, this one’s way too… too…”
“Too what?” Jensen asked, his curiosity piqued.
“Gauche. Inelegant. Not like you at all.”
“And yet I see you raring to jump his bones right here and now.”
Gen smiled coyly, checking Jared out from head to toe. “What can I say, sweetie, I like ‘em big.”
Jensen had heard enough. The prickling returned with a vengeance and he felt the need to mark his territory, except he was way too not-gauche for public urination, so he settled for the next best option instead.
Gen watched, her mouth falling open, as Jared responded to Jensen’s call, looked up and walked towards the counter. Jensen stretched one arm out, and for a second, he watched both surprise and suspicion flutter across the angular face. But it didn’t break Jared’s pace and steadily he reached Jensen, allowing Jensen’s hand to rest in the middle of his back and gently tug him closer.
“Jared, this is Genevieve. She wanted to say hi.”
The girl stuttered for a second but quickly recovered, narrowing her eyes at Jensen and accepting defeat. She offered her hand to Jared pleasantly. “Call me Gen.”
Jared looked like a deer caught in headlights, wary and unsure of what he was supposed to do. He shook her hand and smiled back (tightly) before glancing at Jensen, as if for approval. Jensen’s hand slid around Jared’s waist, possessively, holding him closer than he needed to.
Later, on their way back to the Vanguard, Jensen held his bags in both hands, white-knuckling around the coarse jute strings. He strode away fervently, not looking back to see if Jared was following or not. His head was a maze of accusatory questions and no answers, but more than anything he was just plain mad. At himself, at Gen, at Jared even, when technically neither did anything wrong.
What in the name of fucking hell was THAT?
They got home after sundown. Jensen dumped his bags in the studio, then shrugged out of his jacket.
“I’m gonna go hit the shower,” the artist announced, after Jared followed him into the studio and set his own bunch of bags on the couch. He crouched on the floor, his knees pulled up to his chest and his hands resting carelessly on top of them. He followed Jensen with his eyes as he strode back out of the studio and into his bedroom.
The water felt great, petering down full force on the back of Jensen’s neck as he stood facing the shower, his head bent forward in contemplation. What the hell was he doing? He asked himself the same question over and over, in vain, because none of the answers he came up with helped. Like in a lost game of solitaire, every card he upturned was useless, and try as he might to fit them together in a pattern that made any sense, he just couldn’t. Like the whole deck of cards he’d been dealt was fucking wrong. And worse, he didn’t even know how to fold.
He wasn’t sure he wanted to.
Over the loud whirring of his thoughts, Jensen didn’t hear the stall door opening. Panic rose when he realized there was someone behind him but before he could so much as move, a gangly pair of arms encircled him from behind.
Jensen’s first reflex was to flinch and shove the intruder away. That instinct however was shockingly easy to suppress.
Jared’s temple dropped to rest on the back of Jensen’s neck, and he stayed like that, perfectly still, seemingly happy to drench his clothes (Jensen’s clothes) under the torrent of hot water.
“You’ve had your back turned on me all day,” the low voice whispered behind him.
Jensen sighed deeply, his senses completely attuned to the pair of hands gently exploring the expanse of his chiseled chest and stomach. It was true. Jensen had gone ahead and done exactly what he’d intended not to: let his guard down around the ex-con who once almost got him killed.
The hell with it. Jensen let his head fall back, resting on top of Jared’s behind him.
“Think you’re starting to slip in your old age, maybe?”
Jensen smirked. Guess the kid wanted to play. He turned around, pushing Jared’s arms away and instead gripping the sides of his face, drawing him down into a smothering kiss.
“Get these off,” he grunted, clawing at the shirt on Jared’s back while Jared kicked his jeans off. Once the clothes were out of the way, Jared broke open the kiss and looked into Jensen’s eyes. There was no uncertainty there, none of the hesitation that had hounded him all day long. Just an eerie calmness, a quality of determination that Jensen wasn’t sure what to make of.
Then Jared went down on his knees.
Jensen gasped silently, settled his hands on the sides of Jared’s head again as Jared reverently took the semi-engorged shaft into his mouth. He opened wide and swallowed inch after hardening inch, until his nose was buried in the bush of dark blond hair at the base of Jensen’s cock.
Jensen’s eyes rolled up in his sockets and his head fell back, as a hot tongue pressed against the sensitive underside. His grip around Jared’s head tightened when Jared pulled back, only to slide forward again eagerly. Jensen bit back a strangled string of curses, after all it was his first blowjob in twenty-nine months (hell yeah, he’d been counting). He started to move himself, retreating from and slamming back into Jared’s mouth with reckless abandon. He felt the exact moment in which Jared let go of the reins, letting Jensen run the show as he saw fit. Jensen fucked the willing mouth vigorously until the sharp, lust-ridden pressure gathering in his balls started to push him over the edge.
He pulled back, just in the nick of time. “Stand up,” he whispered roughly, “Turn over.”
Jared rested his hands on the glass door for support and spreading his endless legs while Jensen reached for the condoms and lube he kept in here behind his conditioner. Quickly dipping two fingers into the gel, he rubbed Jared’s little rosebud opening for awhile, then gently slipped two fingers inside, massaging the channel generously.
“Yes, now, now.... please, damn it! Jensen, please…”
Jensen tugged and teased Jared’s cock until it was dripping with precum, just as he pushed himself in firmly, at last. Matt once said he’d never known anyone who could fuck him as hard and as deep as Jensen did, and by the time they’d be done, Matt’s legs would be shaking and utterly useless for a good hour. He couldn’t wait to hear Jared whine and bitch about his shaking gargantuan legs too.
It was just as rough and fast as the first time, and just as desperate and unrelenting as if they’d never get to do it again. Jared pressed his forehead into the glass, fisting himself and moaning louder than he had the night before. Every thrust, especially the ones that hit his sweet spot, was greeted with a resounding ‘ah’ or a breathless ‘oh’ or a high-pitched keening monosyllabic sound that was operatic to Jensen’s ears.
Jared came first, spraying the glass door with his release. And if it weren’t for Jensen’s hands gripping his hips, his knees would have surely buckled to the watery floor. Jensen continued to thrust in and out, relishing the way Jared’s ass undulated around him, until he couldn’t sustain himself any more. He let go with a loud, guttural moan, then promptly collapsed against Jared, pushing him further into the glass wall. The other man seemed perfectly okay with being crushed and stood panting breathlessly, supporting Jensen’s dead-weight behind him.
“So,” Jared rasped, after a while, rousing Jensen from the zombie state he was in. “What do you say?”
“My cocksucking skills?”
Jensen dragged himself apart, his sated cock slipping out easily. Couldn’t believe they were still stuck on that stupid Pretty Woman reference.
“Richard Gere married Julia Roberts in that movie.”
“Rudimentary at best,” he mumbled, cupping water from the running shower in one hand and gently dripping it into the crack of Jared’s ass. Jared shivered as Jensen’s hand wiped him clean. He spread his legs farther, as if he couldn’t get enough of Jensen touching him so intimately.
“You wanna… maybe, show me how it’s done?”
Jensen smirked, pulling Jared away from the glass and turned him around. “You sure you’ll be up to it so soon?”
“Are you? Old man?”
“Is that a challenge?”
“Maybe…” Jared blinked innocently.
They fell into bed almost immediately, not even stopping to dry off. Jensen arranged Jared on his back and sat on his haunches, hitching Jared’s hips up onto his lap to get easy access to Jared’s crotch. And then he lowered his mouth down to the shaft at half-mast and went to town on it.
It took longer this time, obviously. Jared whimpered and bunched up the bed sheet in his fists, unable to escape Jensen’s mouth, unable to squirm, given how Jensen held his hips down. With one adept little finger, Jensen kept worrying his perineum, knowing the effect it would have on Jared’s already over-sensitized nerves.
“Ah, okay… God, okay! I give… ah, fuck…”
Jensen laughed around the weeping member still in his mouth, the vibrations leading to a lot more creative cursing than he’d heard or even expected to hear from his model. Every sound that escaped Jared’s mouth went straight down to Jensen’s cock, and he started to fill up without once touching himself.
He donned another condom and dove right back in. Placing his hands under Jared’s knees, he lifted them up and folded the boy in two, pushing down with all his weight until he was buried to the hilt inside Jared’s ass. Jensen couldn’t even begin to comprehend where this unbridled hunger for Jared came from. This mind-numbing Molotov of desire and contempt drove him to fuck Jared harder and longer than he’d fucked anyone else his entire life. The bed whined and groaned under the force of his thrusts and so did Jared, biting his lip raw, tiny droplets of sweat dribbling down his face and neck as he rode his second wave of back-breaking pleasure for the night.
When they were done, and they were really done this time, Jensen collapsed on his stomach onto the bed beside Jared, head turned away from the other man. He was sweaty and hot and as the adrenaline coursing through his body slowly dissipated, his eyes started to droop with exhaustion. He could hear Jared’s rapid breathing behind him, and it made him grin almost drunkenly.
“You’re gonna be the death of me, Tristan.”
He didn’t realize he’d just reverted back to Jared’s alias, and he should have stopped at that. But he didn’t realize that either, not until it was too late.
“This time, for sure…”
Jared froze behind him, the harsh breathing pausing with an inhuman abruptness. Jensen opened his eyes but otherwise pretended to not notice. A few seconds later, Jared got out of bed as silently as he could manage, and slipped out of Jensen’s bedroom.
Jensen’s first reflex was to stop him, hell, apologize even. And it wasn’t an easy instinct to suppress. But he did it anyway.
Jensen, 8th November, 2009.
Fatigue was replaced by anxiety in a matter of minutes.
Jensen tried to tell himself that he didn’t care, that Jared deserved to be taunted, and that he had every right to this… this… whatever it was Jensen was doing. He even managed some self-righteous conviction for it, for a whole nine seconds.
The old grandfather clock struck seven in the evening, galvanizing him into action. He tumbled out of bed and back into the shower, standing under a deluge colder than usual until he felt his fingers wrinkling and going numb. Then he slipped into his favorite pair of jeans and a white linen shirt, finger-combed his wet hair out of his face, and stepped out (bravely) to face Jared.
Jared was in the kitchen, standing in front of the open fridge scouring the insides looking for something to eat. Jensen couldn’t help but smile. The twenty-year old was perpetually hungry all the time.
“How about we order in today?”
Jared jumped, just a little bit, before turning towards Jensen. His face was blank, the way it’d been the day before, all signs of animatedness from their roll in the sack a half hour ago completely gone. He shrugged and closed the freezer door behind him before gingerly walking over to the kitchen counter.
Silent treatment. Jensen could live with that, for now. At least Jared was wearing the black track pants and baby blue long-sleeved t-shirt they’d bought together. It looked good on him, Jensen noticed, trying very hard not to.
He pulled the phone off its dock and started to punch in a memorized number. “I know this great Chinese place, delivers round the clock.”
“Can we…?” Jared started, but didn’t complete.
Jensen raised his eyebrows, pausing. “What?”
Jared bit his lip and looked down at his hands, tugging at the ends of his sleeves subconsciously.
Jared shrugged, still not looking up.
Jensen smirked. “I know, All-American hot dog, right? No? Burgers? Steaks?”
Jared just pouted and Jensen huffed, amazed the kid actually was back to making demands again. Expensive clothes he didn’t pick, snazzy new-age shoes and accessories he didn’t want, but when it came to food…
Jared fixed Jensen with a pair of freakishly lethal puppy dog eyes. Thirty minutes later, they were wrapping little portions of naan around delicious tandoori chicken and lamb roganjosh, making a grand mess and having a blast doing it. Jared especially was about as maladroit as they came but going by all the finger-licking and lip-smacking along with the sporadic laughing, neither could possibly care less. Jared liked his food hot, which wasn’t all that great news for Jensen, if they kept sharing all their meals like this.
Not that they would... keep sharing all their meals like this. For very long.
After cleaning up, they headed to the balcony where they stood dragging on their respective cigarettes. It was a cold night, but Jared hadn’t bothered to pick up a jacket. He just stood there leaning his back against the rails, bending over backwards to look down at the city bustling beneath them. The wind blew his long hair into his face and he closed his eyes, letting the winter of Manhattan seep into his skin, welcoming it like an old friend. With those intriguing eyes closed, the rest of his face seemed almost, peaceful.
Jared opened his eyes.
“Go inside, to the studio. Strip, wait for me there.”
Jared’s eyes darkened, but without a word of protest, he obeyed. After he left, Jensen lit up another cigarette and used it to appease his frayed nerve endings. Ten minutes later, he changed into his own work-shirt and went into his studio. Without acknowledging Jared’s presence or even checking to see if he’d followed his instructions, Jensen headed to the stack of open-faced shelves where he kept his art supplies. He went past the fresh canvases they got earlier that day, and pulled out the longest piece of canvas he’d bought several months ago.
It was almost seven feet wide and five feet tall, yellowing at the edges from long being ignored and just sitting there gathering dust. Jensen set up two more easels and used the three to mount the giant canvas like a vast landscape. He felt Jared’s eyes following his every move curiously, and if they made Jensen self-conscious and even somewhat nervous (which of course they did), he didn’t let it show.
Jared for his part stayed in position on the floor on his stomach. One arm lay folded with the loosely curled up fingers resting deceptively close to his face, almost as if he were about to kiss them. The swelling profile of his perfectly shaped ass, with the crack teasingly visible from the distance and angle Jensen stood at, threatened to distract Jensen from the job he was hell-bent on tonight. The legs stretched infinitely into the fading darkness just where the glow of the yellow overhead lamp ended. Jared’s face was turned towards the artist, of course, eyes fixed pointedly at Jensen’s.
Jensen always noticed the little details. It was his job after all, what he was supposed to do. And after two days, he’d started to piece them together to form a cohesive pattern. He could now document all the colors Jared’s eyes changed with his state of mind, possibly his biggest tell, other than the sudden stiffening of his limbs when he was challenged, or hurt.
Crystal clear hazel when he was calm, like when he smoked, or sat across the kitchen counter satisfied to have his fill of a warm, healthy meal not rescued from the garbage. Sea-green hazel with tiny flecks of gold when he was excited or feeling mischievous, like the time he’d ambushed Jensen in the shower. The more excited he got (like with every thrust of Jensen inside him) the bigger the flecks got. And glittering, almost metallic, golden green with just a hint of liquid accompanied the times Jensen barked an order at him. To which Jared would stiffen, as if his first instinct was to bristle and tell Jensen to go fuck himself, but he’d curb it instantly, replace it with resignation, or defeat, whichever – Jensen couldn’t be sure.
Then there was the darkest of them all, Jensen wasn’t sure what to call it, or if there was a name for it at all. So he termed it… lull-before-the-storm brown. It happened when Jared looked at him, no, stared, glared more like, wanting something intensely – maybe sex, maybe forgiveness, maybe an apology, maybe something else…
It was the most enrapturing shade of them all. And it was happening right now.
Call it morbid curiosity, but Jensen really wanted to know what color Jared’s eyes would be when he got angry, or scared, or maybe both. So far he’d had no such luck.
Two hours passed in a blink, at least for Jensen they did. It took him that long to realize how long it’d really been, and this time when he looked up at Jared, he did so with amazement. The kid must be painfully stiff by now, yet he hadn’t given Jensen any excuse to remember that he was a living person pretending to be a statue, not the other way round.
“I could use a smoke. Do you want one?”
For half a second, Jared allowed himself to be visibly relieved. Jensen put his brushes down and lit up a cigarette. He watched as Jared rotated his shoulders to ease the tightened muscles there, kicked empty air with one cramped leg, and completely oblivious (or unconcerned) to the fact that he was still nude, walked over to where Jensen stood. He accepted a cigarette and a light from Jensen without looking up into the artist’s face. A couple of drags and the tension seemed to melt away from his face, like he’d been craving nicotine for days. Finally he looked up at Jensen and nodded, gratefully.
Jensen cleared his throat and nodded towards the easel. “So what do you think?”
Jared turned towards the work in progress, licking his lips. What he’d expected, or hoped for if anything at all, Jensen had no way to know. So he just watched as Jared’s back stiffened, his head bent frozen in time and space, the cigarette between Jared’s fingers forgotten.
“I… is this me?”
Jensen stood up straight, frowning a little.
“That bad, huh?” He was only half-joking.
Jared shifted and a quiet shudder ran through his spine. Jensen left his cigarette standing in the ashtray and reached for Jared’s bathrobe from last night. He approached the taller man slowly, and draped the robe over the tense shoulders. The action, gentle as it was, startled Jared and he remembered his cigarette. He dragged on it a couple of times, keeping his back turned to Jensen, his eyes fixed on the canvas before him.
“Jared, what is it?”
Jared dropped his shoulders then, craning to look at Jensen once before looking away and concentrating on the painting.
“This is bullshit, man.”
“Whoever you’re painting, whatever this is… it’s not me.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because…” Jared started and paused abruptly. He bit his lip and hugged himself, seemingly unsure how much he was allowed to say.
Jensen walked up to him, anxiety clouding his eyes. “Jared, you can tell me. What’s going on?”
Jared swallowed. “Okay, well, where are my scars?”
“This one?” Jared pointed to the side of his ribs, at what must have been a deep round-ish gash about two inches wide.
“And what about these?” He demanded, holding out his wrists, the rings of darkened, once broken and imperfectly healed skin encircling them both.
For once, Jared looked both scared and enraged beyond belief. But the stormy blackness of his eyes brought Jensen no pleasure whatsoever.
“Did you really not notice them? Or did you decide not to spoil your signature masterpiece with this ugliness?”
Jensen started to reply but Jared didn’t let him. “Doesn’t matter,” he narrowed his eyes, now limpid and almost snarling at the artist. “You’re airbrushing everything that’s real about me. Because what’s real is pathetic and despicable, I get that.”
Jared stretched one arm out, index finger pointing at the painting. “This imaginary perfection, this fucking innocence, whoever it is… it’s not me.”
Jensen stayed silent, letting this tumultuous explosion of Jared’s long pent-up emotions play itself out. And after it did, after the wildness in Jared’s eyes was replaced with mortification at what he’d just said and done, Jared hugged himself again, gathering the open ends of the robe together as if to hide the lifetime of vulnerabilities he’d just laid bare.
Now he feels shy, Jensen mused.
“J-Just so we’re clear…” Jared mumbled, before striding back to his spot across the room. He sat down, folding his legs Indian-style, rocking himself back and forth ever so slightly. And he refused to look back up, glaring at his recently clipped toenails as if they were the ones to blame for his outburst.
Jensen licked the lingering taste of tobacco on his lips as his eyes flickered back from the clearly miserable kid to the painting before him.
It was a large canvas, and the large dimensions would allow him to blow up every single minuscule detail, eventually. He hadn’t gotten there yet. The lines on the corners of Jared’s lips, for example, were yet to be deepened along with a whole gamut of spots and smudges and his two hundred moles and, yes, scars, that add depth and character to any portrait. Jared had no way of knowing but Jensen had had no intention of leaving any of his scars out. Although now, given Jared’s curious reaction, he was having second thoughts.
He walked over to Jared and crouched in front of him, keeping his distance, unsure of what he was supposed to say, or do. After a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, he cleared his throat. “What is that?”
“That gash? Tire iron?”
Jared still wouldn’t look up. “Close. It’s the end of a broken brake pedal from a ‘68 Camaro.”
“My… mom’s second husband, he called me down one night to his garage where he liked to work on his vintage cars on weekends. He told me, in no uncertain terms, to stop being gay, stop seeing guys, and stop dragging the Winslow name through the mud with my disgusting behavior.”
Jensen closed his eyes for a minute, vaguely recalling that Jared had introduced himself as Winslow the first time they met, but didn’t he say his last name was Pada-something two days ago?
“I was young. I was in love. I was a moron.” Jared’s voice was filled with bitter sarcasm. “I started mouthing off and it turned ugly and he… well, let’s just say he did his absolute best to beat the devil out of me, anything to secure his spot in the seven-star Presidential suite of the good Lord’s heaven.”
“Please tell me he didn’t get away with it,” Jensen whispered, feeling his temper rising irrationally.
Jared scoffed and finally looked up to meet Jensen’s eyes. “He was a public prosecutor back then. He is District Attorney for San Antonio now. What do you think happened?”
Jensen was the first to look away, unable to hold Jared’s mordant gaze any more. No way could the kid, or anyone really, fake raw emotion like that.
“What about those?” He glanced briefly at the wrists that Jared reflexively pulled into his chest and out of Jensen’s sight. Well, he shouldn’t have pointed them out if he didn’t want Jensen to see, but it’s not like Jensen hadn’t noticed them two and a half years ago.
“Dirty cops. Two months later.”
“San Antonio cops?”
Jared just nodded, and Jensen didn’t like the sound of where this was going.
“You know how it is, how it can be for the homosexual stepson of a public prosecutor with Republican ambitions in the South.”
“They kept me locked up in some kind of a solitary holding cell for three days, without warrant, without reason. Hands cuffed behind my back. Stripped to the skin. Cold. Blind…” Jared pointed absently at his face, “eyes swollen shut, either that or it was pitch dark all the time.”
Jared fell silent then, for so long Jensen thought he was done, or had shut down mentally.
“They used to bring me food, if you could call it food, and water in these dirty, leaking tin cups. Very Shawshank Redemption really. I remember looking at ‘em that first time and the first thought in my mind that first day was, man they must have been saving these for like, ever, for special cases like me. And for some reason, that made me laugh every time. Even when I couldn’t actually see, I’d hear them being slid through this mousehole in the door, and I’d start splitting my sides like a fucking psycho.”
Jared laughed, to illustrate his point maybe. It was a sad, bitter sound, and it broke Jensen’s heart.
“Did they… uh…?” Rape you? Jensen couldn’t bring himself to say the words.
Jared shook his head, getting what was left unsaid. “The cops? No, they wouldn’t have touched me with a ten-foot pole, except for their hourly fun of kicking and punching me around, of course. What they did do was leave me locked up on the fourth night with this hardened criminal who had a reputation for fucking his bitches so hard they’d end up in the ER for days, some even traumatized for life. But that guy didn’t touch me either. Maybe he was onto them. He had no love for me but he hated those cops just too damn much. Maybe I was a bloody fucking mess, ugly to look at by the time he got me. Maybe he just liked to hurt straight men, I dunno.”
“It was supposed to be a lesson I wouldn’t forget. It was supposed to turn me not-gay, or something.”
“Does your step-father know where you are now?”
“I’m sure he’s just glad to be rid of me. The official story is that I went to live with my dad in Europe.”
“But you’re using his last name.”
Jared scoffed bitterly at that and didn’t explain but knowing a bit of how Jared’s mind worked, Jensen could guess the rest. The bastard hadn’t wanted Jared dragging the Winslow name through the mud, so that’s exactly what the kid did, in ways worse than just being queer, miles away from home where he couldn’t be touched (hopefully) by a corrupt DA or his goons.
“What about your mom?”
Jared just shrugged. The truth was probably too painful to talk about, and Jensen didn’t push.
“You didn’t run to Manhattan just for a guy.” It wasn’t a question.
“I came ‘cause I thought Chad was the only one who'd take me in.” He murmured the rest reluctantly, “And he did. For awhile.”
Jensen got up abruptly and went over to look at his canvas one more time. There he stood with his fists resting on his hips, head tilted to one side as he glanced back and forth between his subject and his work of art.
“You’re wrong, you know.”
Jared blinked as he looked up at Jensen, his eyes narrowed in confusion.
“These scars don’t make you ugly. They don’t make you beautiful either. They don’t add or take anything away from your body, Jared. Physically, they are insignificant.”
“They matter to me,” Jared whispered, almost sounding hurt by Jensen’s hard words.
Jensen nodded gently and walked back to where Jared sat. “Let me try this again.” And he opened his mouth to do just that, except he didn’t know where to start sorting through the jumble of his thoughts.
“Like, okay, uh, like in a painting at like a gallery… you know there’s the frame and there’s the picture inside it, right? The frame might be all, ornate, eighteen carat gold, the most beautiful specimen of craftsmanship ever. But that’s not what folks come to a gallery to look at. It’s the picture inside the frame that matters, right?”
Jared frowned, not following, and Jensen stepped closer. “The body’s the frame, Jared. It’s what’s inside that matters. The frame might help catch eyes from a distance, and functionally hold the picture down in place. But it’s the spirit and character of a person that draws the crowds closer, keeps ‘em coming back for more.”
“You know what fascinated me the most about you, that first time I saw you? What fascinates me about most people, actually? It’s the eyes. Windows to the soul and shit? All true. Everything that’s unique about you, everything that’s worth knowing and sharing with the world, is in your eyes.”
“And if I were a better artist, a more gifted painter?” He used the quoty fingers when he said ‘gifted’, “That’s all I’d need to paint. Why do you think I keep trashing sketches after sketches, paintings after paintings? Because I just can’t seem to get them right – your ridiculously complex eyes.”
Jared blinked a couple of times as mild color started rising to his cheeks.
“In fact,” Jensen stretched an arm out to gesture at the canvas behind him. “This is the closest I’ve ever come, I think, and I’m still not sure I’ve done justice to you. Uh, I mean – your eyes.”
Jensen looked away then, embarrassed, while Jared just stared at him, open-mouthed. “Maybe, now that I actually know a little something about what’s going behind them, I might do a little better.”
“So, you won’t…”
“I’ll keep your scars if you want me to. If you don’t mind strangers gawking at them, I will. I still got a few hours’ worth of detailing left to do.”
“It’s not done yet?”
Jensen sat down on the floor so they were at eye level with each other. He was grateful that Jared’s rocking had stopped at last. Didn’t know about the boy, but it sure was making him dizzy. He stayed quiet, giving Jared time to process everything.
“What if people think these scars make me look like… a victim?”
“They’d be stupid if they do. Your eyes tell a totally different story.”
Jared almost smirked sardonically. “And what’s that?”
Jensen bit his lip. “You’ve got the eyes of a gambler… shifty, distrusting, but resilient. Down on his luck, but stubborn enough to keep coming back to the game he’s lost way too many times before.”
Jared lowered his gaze, didn’t react. But Jensen wasn’t done yet. “You wanna know what I see? I see a guy who’s just been dealt a hand and he’s looking at his cards. Your face… it’s blank on purpose, it’s goddamn annoying, but I see now why it’s necessary, why you do it.”
Jared paused to think for a second. “What do the cards look like?”
Jensen shrugged. “I don’t know. They’re your cards.”
“Do you think I’m bluffing?”
“Jury’s still out on that one.”
Jared fell quiet at that. Jensen stood up again, lit another cigarette. He opened a window to blow the smoke out through, watching his painting, which he still wasn’t happy with, and his model, who still sat curled up around himself.
“I want you to keep ‘em. My scars.”
“Who cares what people think? Most people are stupid anyway.”
Jensen smirked. In his own crass way, Jared was echoing Jensen’s thoughts. Except for genuine art lovers, most people didn’t have the slightest clue about art. They completely missed all the subtleties, mostly because they never really took the time to look for them at all.
“I like ‘em,” Jared said, with conviction bordering on sullenness. “So long as I have ‘em…”
“…you don’t have to feel so guilty about everything you’ve done since then?”
Jensen looked away before Jared could. He recalled how desperate he’d been for his plastic surgeons to take every single reminder of Tristan’s betrayal away. And it still hadn’t worked. He snorted. QED. Scars really didn’t matter, least not the ones on the outside.
“Come on, back in position.”
Jared obeyed, almost happy to end the conversation at that point. He disrobed and stretched out on the floor as was expected of him. Jensen stubbed his cigarette and went back to his easel. When he looked up across the studio and caught Jared’s eyes, they were a clearer hazel than they’d been all day.
Two hours later, Jensen stood back flexing his wrist and scrutinized his handiwork. Let out a sigh of contentment and looked up at Jared, who’d fallen asleep at last. Jensen put his paintbrush down and wiped his hands clean. Gathering the comforter from the bed, he went to Jared, and gently draped the fabric over him. He switched the overhead light off, casting the long frame in darkness. Then quietly tiptoed out of the studio and went to the balcony with his cell phone.
The call was picked up on the third ring. Samantha’s sleep-filled voice sounded worried. “Jensen?”
“Sam! Hi, uh, I’m sorry to bother you this late…”
“It’s alright, sweetie. Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, everything’s fine. I just need a big favor, a very urgent favor, actually.”
Jensen rubbed the five o’clock shadow on his chin with his free hand. “There is a DA in San Antonio, last name Winslow. You got that?”
“Winslow? Isn’t that…” Sam didn’t quite finish her sentence, already knowing the answer to her own question. Jensen was grateful for her restraint as always.
“I want you to find out everything you can about him and his family. And I mean everything.”
Sam’s curiosity came over the line clear as crystal. “You’re not going to tell me what this is about?”
Jensen bit his lip. “Just wanna verify certain… facts, for now. That’s all.”
Samantha was married to a senior FBI detective. And she herself had a vast network of sources spanning half the country and then some. If what Jared told him tonight was true, then Sam would find it herself soon enough.
She exhaled loudly into the phone. “I’ll get back to you when I have something. Anything else?”
Jensen grinned. “What would I do without you, Sammy?”
“Crash and burn? Good night, sweetie.”
After they hung up, Jensen returned to his easel and continued to work until two in the morning.
Part Four >>