August 30, 2009
Waking up hurt more than passing out had. Once the fatigue was too much, even the burn and sting of his sore flesh couldn’t keep him from the sweet oblivion of his mind. It was a nice, dreamless place to be, a beautiful escape from pain. When he came to, however, the ache set in and he groaned against the burn seeping into his shoulders. Then, there was a section on him that hurt more then the rest of it. The pressure concentrated somewhere around the small of his back. He whimpered slightly and tried to shift so that it went away.
“Oh sorry,” came quiet mutter beside him. The pain went away and Lars rolled a few inches away. “I guess I moved in my sleep.”
Jensen turned his head and looked at him. Seeing Lars’ mussed, bed-head hair, he couldn’t help but smile. “It’s okay,” he replied. Last night was a vague memory and suddenly everything was okay between them. They would fall back into the good relationship, giddy over each other like high school sweethearts again. The pain was already starting to numb anyway.
“So…I was thinking, since we both have today off, want to go to the mall?” The suggestion wasn’t completely out of the blue, but Jensen still gave him the where did that come from look. “I was thinking we go around the shops and whatnot, looking at things we wish we could afford, make fun of some rich people, and then kick back at the food court and splurge, yeah?”
Laughing quietly, Jensen propped himself up on his elbows. “Um…I’d like that, but…”
“Come on,” he pleaded childishly, “I’ll get you some Italian food, your favorite.”
At that, Jensen’s face lit up. It was the little things that reminded him just how much Lars loved him. Sure, maybe food shouldn’t have kept them together, but it wasn’t just that, of course. There were some other things that made it just so natural for Jen to reach over and wrap his arm around the other lovingly. “Okay, that sounds great.”
“Alight then. I’ll go see if I can borrow Chris’ car, okay?”
Reluctantly, Jensen let him go and sat up in bed. “I’ll get dressed then,” he told the other. Lars leaned down and kissed his lips tenderly before he left the room. Jensen sat back on his calves for a moment, wondering at the tingle in his lips where he’d had such short contact. It was a nice reprieve to the night of violence.
For a moment, all Jensen wanted to do was stare at the door that was still swinging hesitantly on its hinges. There wasn’t a feeling he loved more than the one he got, knowing that Lars wasn’t mad at him. It was his own flavor of heroine—his blissful addiction.
Things went smoothly. Jensen liked their little outing at the mall. It wasn’t often that they went places together due to their work schedules. The only day off they shared was Sunday and usually Lars spent that with his family. So, all in all, the wandering around all of the shops was a good idea—and good exercise. Quite a lot of the proof that Jen was the girl in the relationship was his passion for shopping, even if he didn’t actually buy anything. He loved to look and pretend he wasn’t poor.
“You aren’t poor, dumb ass,” Lars teased, arm wrapped possessively around his boyfriend’s waist. “We both make enough cash to live in a nice apartment and eat when we’re hungry, so don’t even think you’re poor.”
“I just meant that I can’t afford some things that I might like to have. Speaking of which…” He trailed off, turning away and stopping Lars in his tracks as a shop display caught his eye. Breath catching in his throat, he gazed through the glass at the guitar standing beautifully before him. “Oh my God,” he muttered.
Confused for only a moment, Lars looked back and tried to decide if Jensen wasn’t going to have a heart attack or something. The wide-eyed, I’ve gone to heaven look was a bit alarming until he saw what it was directed at. “Oh no,” he murmured under his breath. He was well aware of Jen’s passion for music, but this was… “I said we weren’t poor, Jenny, but we’re not rich.”
Jensen didn’t seem to hear him. The glistening sliver of the engraving on the body distracted him. A fish jumped in thin black lines up the side against the silver plate. “Les Paul,” he whispered, half to himself. The thing was like a godsend to the world around him. For the longest of moments, he couldn’t think about anything else but this and when he fell in love, he fell hard and bumped his head. Lars would have had to pry him away from the window with a crowbar if he wanted instant response out of him now. “Gibson Custom. Oh, Jesus, Lars that has to be to most magnificent thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Maybe you didn’t see the price tag.” With a straight, thin finger, Lars motioned to the big black numbers that made Jen’s heart fall out of his chest. “Fifty-four hundred dollars. I really don’t think that’s gonna happen, baby.”
“Aw, but…but…” And just like that, that horrible knowledge made his day go to the shits. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he found cause for horror. Through the haze of his disappointment at not having a snowball’s chance in hell at owning that guitar, he spied the cause of his most recent beating strolling toward him. There was a little addition in the form of a pretty, petite brunette dangling from his arm, but it was James in all his six-foot-four, geeky college boy glory. Stomach dropping through the floor like a lead weight, he fought the sudden urge to run like hell.
Quickly, it occurred to him that he could just ignore the guy’s existence and nothing bad would happen, but then the little jerk decided to look his way and Jensen wanted to scream a melo-dramatic “NOOOOO!!!” like in the movies. And now, James was talking to his girl and motioning at Jensen and thank God Lars had his back to them.
“You know what?” Jen began, trying to plan his escape, “you’re right, forget the guitar.” Ouch, that hurt like a bite on the ass. “Let’s go to the food court. You promised me Italian.”
Smiling uncertainly, Lars nodded and put his arm around Jen once more, intent on leading him to the food court. They made it a few steps before a voice boomed towards them over the noise of the mall. “Jensen!”
Lars was more genuinely curious when he turned around, but Jensen tried to act like he hadn’t seen them coming. For a moment, he considered that maybe Lars wouldn’t be able to tell that he was nervous. Of course, that was a ridiculous hope in the situation. So he tried to stifle his urge to shake with fear when James came those few steps closer to say hi, or whatever.
“Hey Jensen, fancy seeing you here,” James state happily. The chick-a-dee on his arm was blushing slightly, probably a little embarrassed for her loud, outgoing boyfriend. “Small world, huh?”
Jen nodded, “Yeah, it is…” Subconsciously, he played with his collar. For some reason, he was nervous that James would see the bruises.
Abruptly, James noticed how timid the man was, unlike the day before at the bus stop. It confused him just a bit, and he began to rethink coming over to talk. The message he’d gotten yesterday was that Jensen was friendly and probably interested in being friends, but now he thought that maybe he was wrong. James prided himself on being able to read people, so having Jensen baffle him like this was really odd. Even more strange was the way that he clung to the man at his side—almost as if he was afraid.
“Um…well, I wanted to say thank you for the other day,” he said.
At that, Jen felt Lars stiffen at his side, suspicion came off of him in waves. Jensen could feel himself starting to freak out, but he couldn’t allow it, not right now. If Lars figured out who this was, then Jen could kiss his sweet ass good bye. For the first time in a long time, he decided to think on his feet and be completely underhanded. Promising that he wouldn’t let Lars see through him, he thought up a lie. “Hey, oh yeah,” he feigned delayed recognition, “Lars, this is Sam.” Silently, he hoped that Lars wouldn’t look up at the sign above them that said Sam Ash. “I helped him with his car on Friday. It overheated.”
The girl at his side looked up at James, utterly confused. She almost looked like she woke up in the wrong movie and was debating her sanity. For a fleeting moment, Jen was terrified that she would argue and reveal his ruse. Thankfully, James spoke up first. His eyes were locked suddenly on the dark marks over Jensen’s throat.
“Yeah,” he agreed, “He saved my ass.” In that very second, Jensen prayed his thanks to God that James was such a good liar. “So, is this your boyfriend?”
Jensen nodded, feeling suddenly more lax. He was going to get away with this, yes! Strangely, he didn’t lose his glee. The light feeling in his stomach that came with being safe didn’t fade into guilt that he’d been dishonest. It made him strong. “This is Lars.” His arms wrapped tighter around the other’s waist. Lars just raised an eyebrow, looking as confused as the girl was.
“Oh, then I should introduce Sadie,” James replied, “The love of my life.”
Sadie blushed even brighter and smiled shyly behind her hand. “It’s a pleasure,” she giggled lightly. After a brief hesitation, she reached out her other hand and shook with Jensen, then Lars.
“Hey, that reminds me.” James’s eyes didn’t leave Jensen’s face. There was something hiding there that made it so that Jen couldn’t look away. A glimmer of intensity that showed, even though it wasn’t in his voice. He was a damned good liar. “I wanted to see if you could check out something for me. I think it’s the transmission or something, but you know I don’t know crap about cars.”
“What kind of car is it?” Lars asked. The slight hitch in his tone made Jensen a bit nervous again. The one thing that was blatantly obvious when Lars asked for specifics was that he didn’t trust Jen.
Fortunately, James thought on his feet. “An ’84 Chevy Suburban,” he replied smoothly. “Anyway, you think I can get your number, call you when I can bring it in?”
When he let out the breath that he hadn’t even known he’d held in, Jensen gave a hurried nod. “Yeah, sure,” he said. He turned to Lars and did his best to meet his eyes. “Why don’t you go find us a table to sit at and I’ll be right there?”
Lars looked from James to Jensen, then back again, eyes scanning both of their faces for the proof of what he knew was true. He was damn certain that Jensen was lying, but this other guy was backing him up and Lars just couldn’t figure out why. “Okay, sure,” he muttered, leaning in to give his boyfriend a quick kiss before heading off towards the food court. His eyes snuck over his shoulder only once, sending a warning glance at Jen.
Once he was out of earshot, Sadie spoke up, a wry expression directed at James. “Okay, Sam, what’s going on?” she demanded firmly.
“Not to be pushy, but…Jensen, what is going on?” The look on James’s face was smooth, cool and collected. He didn’t look angry—but Jensen was always someone to distrust appearance—and he wasn’t quite annoyed. “Are you afraid of him, or something?”
“No!” The answer was automatic, trained even. Jensen found that only a little alarming in comparison to the fact that James was asking him about this. To him, this was like the cursed ground, he didn’t come within a mile radius of taking about this to friends. He barely met James yesterday. “I’m not afraid of him, I mean Lars isn’t at all scary.”
James got a look that wondered why are you lying, but he didn’t seem to want to ask. “If you say so,” he muttered, fishing his cell phone out of his pocket. “I still want some sort of explanation for why you told him that my name was Sam.”
Sighing, Jensen got his phone out and flipped it open. “Not to sound harsh, but I barely know you, so my personal life isn’t really any of your business.” He hadn’t quite meant it to come out that way. With a wince, he tried to fix it. “I’m sorry, I didn’t…that was just rude—”
“No,” Sadie assured him with a smile, “Not at all.” Despite her words, she suddenly didn’t look like she wanted much to do with Jensen anymore. “Just hurry this up a bit? We have a movie to get to, remember, Jay?”
Lars looked up at the man approaching him. Mastering his annoyance at the previous scene, he smiled and motioned for Jensen to sit down. At the back of his mind, he knew something was going on with this guy named “Sam,” but he couldn’t be completely sure without confirming it from Jen. Uncertainty definitely was not something that he was comfortable with.
On the other hand, Jensen was very certain at the moment. Just by the way that Lars was suddenly smiling and happy to see him after being suspicious moments before, Jen knew for a fact what he was in for. The cell phone was a lead weight in his pocket, screaming at him that Lars had figured it out. It almost dragged at him so much that he mused it was urging him to stop and turn around and run. Lars knew, knew that that wasn’t “Sam who’s car I’d fixed,” but in fact “James who I met at the bus stop.” Then again, maybe he didn’t know, but even if Lars had a vague notion of Jensen’s lie, he’d beat the truth out of him.
Trying to step lightly and seem nonchalant about the entire thing, Jensen battled his thoughts into submission. Running away wouldn’t help; Lars would find him and then really know something was up. As he sat down, he tried a smile, hoping it didn’t look as strained and frightened as he felt right then. He found it easier to focus on the spaghetti that Lars had bought for him. Don’t think about James, he reminded himself—which in turn made it impossible not to think about James.
Hm…James…To say that Jensen had a little crush on the college boy would be an understatement of monumental proportions. He wasn’t supposed to have crushes on anyone else but Lars, being that the man was his boyfriend, and besides James was straight, but… There was just something, one little thing that had Jensen hiding a guilty little desire in the back of his mind. Was it the simple fact that they’d talked at the bus stop like they had? Maybe it was James’s goofy smile? Either way, Jensen wanted to see him again—half of him was hoping that he’d call and actually set a date to take his “car” to the garage.
Then, he remembered the strange looks he’d gotten about ten minutes before. Sadie almost glared at him and bit his head off for something he wasn’t quite sure of. After that, James himself had looked down on him, like a hurt, little kitten, and Christ if that hadn’t made Jen feel like he had two heads. That in itself should have dissuaded him from wanting to be anywhere near James, but if anything, it made him want it more.
After unconsciously taking a bite of his food, he looked to see that Lars was eating quietly as well, and glancing up at him every once in a while. It kind of made Jensen wonder what was wrong with his food. “Sorry about that,” he apologized, out of a lack of something to say.
“About what?” Lars inquired around a mouthful of lasagna.
Timidly, Jensen slurped up a few noodles. He averted his eyes for a moment, wondering if it hadn’t been appropriate to say sorry for that. Realizing that it probably wasn’t the best idea to look like he was hiding something, he looked up, no doubt the spitting image of the cat caught in the fish bowl. “Just customers, you know,” he explained, “they shouldn’t come up to me on my day off.”
“Oh, so that’s why you’re so tense. You’re annoyed.”
At that, Jensen’s eyebrow raised like a puppet on a string. He was confused, genuinely. That statement held none of the expected accusation of anger. In fact, Lars actually seemed slightly amused, with light eyes and whatnot. The look was more like th way Lars was closer to the start f their relationship, before he figured out how much of a shameless flirt that Jen was and became all possessive of him. Suddenly, Jensen felt the old remnants of his crush on Lars resurface and mingle with his attraction to James. It made him lose his appetite.
“Yeah,” he said.
His negativity increased just slightly and his smile came just that much more strained because something wasn’t right about this. Jensen had manners, so he kept one hand in his lap as he ate—it just happened to be his unharmed hand. When Lars leaned forward, across the small width of the table, and grabbed Jen’s wrist, he started to think that it wasn’t such a good habit.
Jen flinched and his fingers twitched like a poised claw as that grip on his wrist pulled him forward. The flutter in his stomach that had been caused by memories abruptly augmented into an accelerated heart-rate. On a reflex, he dropped the plastic fork and grabbed the edge of the table to keep steady, his bulky, metal finger-brace clanking on the surface. A little frightened, he immediately lowered his gaze to stare at his food.
Lars’ voice grew threateningly quiet and stern. No one had quicker mood swings than Lars Ulrich. “Look at me.” His fingers tightened around Jensen’s arm until it was painful.
Uncertainly, Jensen began to say something, shoulder moving forward to try and take the pressure away from his wrist. “Lars, what—?”
“Shut up.” Just like that, Jensen shut his mouth with a solid clink of teeth. “Who was that guy, really? Don’t give me the ‘you told me to shut up’ card, I’m not in the mood. Now tell me who the hell ‘Sam’ really is and don’t lie.”
“You’re hurting me.” The ache was starting to creep up his arm and into his shoulder in little bursts that coincided with his heartbeat. In the tips of his fingers, a pressure built up and tingled under his fingernails. “Please! I told you, his name is Sam and I worked on his car.” But I didn’t, I’m a liar and you have every right to hit me, but I won’t do it, I won’t tell you who he is because then you really won’t ever let me see him again. Jensen kept that last half inside his head, but it didn’t help alleviate much of the fear he was trying to deal with. He’d never really wanted to stick to a lie before, never really felt like he had much of a reason to.
“Look at me!” Lars demanded more insistently this time. His other hand reached with a mock tenderness to Jensen’s chin and firmly lifted his head. Jen noticed that he didn’t look nearly as furious as he sounded. That was probably to avoid any unwanted spectators. Not many people would take much notice to a couple holding hands under a table, which was exactly what Lars wanted. The easiest way to get Lars off his back in public would be to attract attention. Lars caught on to this line of thought. “Don’t you dare.”
“Dare what?” Jensen’s gritted teeth hardly released any sound at all.
Unexpectedly, Lars gripped tighter and yanked him forward as what might have been a warning. Jensen’s upper arm slammed into the edge of the hard-plastic table-top, stopping his body from following the pull. In consequence, he felt his wrist pop and the pain increase ten-fold. Before he could let out the agonized cry that thrashed at the back of his throat, however, he heard Lars snap at him.
“Don’t scream, don’t make a fuss. You have got to stop lying to me, Jenny.”
Eyes starting to water, Jensen relaxed his arm in a desperate attempt to lessen the pain. “I’m not—” Lars yanked again and Jensen couldn’t help the tiny squeak that he voiced. A warm flush covered him and his heart pounded against the still-fresh sores on his back. Though he knew Lars wouldn’t do anything drastic in the food court of the mall, the ten-minute drive home wasn’t nearly long enough to calm him down so that it was safe for Jensen. “Please, let me go. I wasn’t lying, I swear. You saw Sam, come on!”
“I don’t know what is going on with you of whoever that was, but you know better.”
Jensen could easily tell that Lars wasn’t having it, any of it. That quickly made him nervous; added to the pain, he was starting falter. If this went on much longer, then they might not make it home before Jen blabbed and pissed Lars off even more. The older man would probably drag him to the restroom and beat the almighty shit out of him.
Thank the stars for small miracles when Jensen’s cell phone went off. It was his boss’ ringtone, so he had to take it and Lars knew that. After a sour look and a slight hesitation, Lars grumbled and let go of his wrist at last. “I’ll figure it out eventually,” he warned narrowly. “Answer it.”
Gently, Jen took his now-crippled hand out from under the table. Before he even reached for the device that was screaming “Wayward Son” by Kansas, he dried unshed tears from his lower eyelids and got his breathing under control. With his other hand, he maneuvered his broken finger so that he could get in his pocket and pull out the phone. Then it hit him, as he looked at the name on the screen, that he’d put James’s (Sam’s) number under “work.” He flipped it open quickly between rapid beats of his heart.
“I don’t see why you’re freaking out over him so much,” Sadie said softly, holding a tub of popcorn against her belly as she leaned back on the wall of the entry way to the theater. “Didn’t you, like, just meet this guy?”
“Shh,” James hissed, pressing the phone to his ear. “Hey Jensen, you okay?”
The responding voice was hesitant, a little strained. “Hey, Kripke, what do you need?”
Stopping abruptly in his thoughts, James wondered what the hell was up with that. “Another alias for me? I’m not sure I can keep up.” His only response was a muttered, mh-hm as some sort of positive. “So I’m guessing that Lars is there and for some reason, you don’t want him to know that you’re talking to me, right?”
“Yeah, I’m with Lars. You gave me Sundays off, remember?”
With a slightly frustrated sigh, James noted that Kripke must be Jensen’s boss or something. He put his hand over the microphone and looked up at his girlfriend. It was hard to ignore her impatient foot-tapping and slightly sour and forlorn glare. “You know what? Go in and catch the beginning.”
“Ja-aaay!” Apart from successfully making his nickname two syllables—defeating the purpose of the nickname—she got him to feel a bit guilty about neglecting her, with just one whiny voice. “We came together!”
“I’m worried about him,” James explained, “It’ll bug me if I don’t talk to him, so go and I’ll get in and find you in a bit.” When he heard Jensen ask if he was still there, he shooed Sadie away with a smile and a wave of his hand and returned the majority of his attention to the man on the phone. “Yeah, I’m here.” Finally, Sadie huffed and left to entry way in favor of whatever chick flick they had decided to see this month. “You gonna tell me where the bruises are from?”
Jensen paused, with a frustrated sigh before speaking again. “I don’t…I don’t want to go to the garage today.”
The code he was using was strange and hard to sift through for James. In response, he tried not to let it get to him, but at the same time, he realized that being that Jensen was talking to his “boss” it would look bad to hang up on him. James could ask him what he wanted and demand some sort of answer. It wasn’t very honest and it wasn’t very nice, but James really couldn’t do this deception thing without knowing for sure what he was hiding and from what. “Was it Lars, did he do that to you?”
“No!” came Jensen’s reply, loud enough that James winced. It was a bit too loud to be a nonchalant conversation and also enough on the high-pitched side that it couldn’t pass as an angry rebuttal. Jen’s silence was probably filled with a maelstrom of thoughts of how to cover that up. “I mean, it was my fault. I probably forgot to wheel my tool box into the garage.”
“Yeah, sorry about that.”
“Jensen…” Suddenly, James felt bad. A little of that was that he was prying into something that was none of his business. The rest formed a tightness like apprehension in his gut. If this Lars really was the reason for Jensen’s bruises and abrupt, timid attitude, James didn’t quite know what he should do. “That’s…Jensen, if he hurts you, that’s not right. It’s not your fault.”
“You don’t know that. It could be Chris’ part.”
“I do too know.”
“No…” For a moment, Jen sounded like his voice was cracking, then he cleared his throat. “I have to go, Eric. I can’t come in today. I fucked up my wrist.”
James hesitated thoughtfully. He could only imagine how many ways that Jen could have hurt his wrist in the last twenty minutes and have it not be Lars’ fault. It made him uncomfortable knowing that something like this was going on, that a man like Jensen was in that sort of situation. It was so bad that Jen had to talk in code? Then again, James wondered if he did that with everyone or was he just special. Suddenly, a thought hit him like a subway train. “Wait…answer me this. Did he hurt you because of me?”
The following hesitation was enough to tell James that he’d guessed right. “What the hell?”
“Look, don’t worry about it.” That almost seemed direction at James for the first time in the conversation.
“What did he do to your wrist?”
“I said don’t—”
“I need to talk to you,” James insisted, “Face to face, without Lars there. And I know that I don’t know you well enough for the right to ask for a true heart-to-heart, but damn it, if this is because of me, I need to know. I need to help.”
“Yeah…” Jensen’s voice dissipated into almost nothing. The theory was that if James could get him away, by himself for a while, he’d be that Jensen that he’d met at the bus stop. Lars seemed to have him under his thumb, so James would just as soon avoid ever meeting that man again. “Sorry I took Saturday off, but I’ll get in early tomorrow.”
“At your work? Okay, I can do that. What time?”
“I’ll be there at seven-thirty, how’s that?”
Quickly, James mentally scanned his schedule. On Mondays his classes started at seven, but the first one was Acting 100. Professor Fossum would forgive an absence if James made it up on Wednesday, so that was entirely doable. “Okay, seven-thirty, then. I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Yeah, see you tomorrow.” The call ended almost immediately after that.
The sinking feeling that was eating away at James’s insides didn’t get any better when he put his phone in his pocket. In fact, it kind of got worse. As he was walking into the darkness of the theater, he felt himself unconsciously worrying, the fact that something bad was happening because of him loomed over his head. He didn’t know how it could possibly be his fault, but then again, he didn’t know what kind of guy this Lars was. Maybe he was just an over-possessive bastard and the simple fact that Jensen had had contact with another man was what pissed him off. Th idea of it was enough to make him nauseous.He found Sadie because she shined her cell phone’s light at him when he’d entered. It did nothing to distract him from his thoughts. By the time the movie was over, he couldn’t tell what it was about—he couldn’t even remember the title.