Word Count: 2,500
Summary: Jensen's life changes forever the day he gets lost in the woods.
A/N: Written for irradiant for spnspringfling.
READ IT ON AO3
Jensen's life changes forever the day he gets lost in the woods.
It's not like he's really looking for it. This was all Danni's idea. She can see how stuck he is, how much he hates his job and needs a break, even if he can't see it himself.
"You need to travel," she says over dinner. "You need to get out of Dallas. Take a road-trip."
Jensen lifts his eyes, blinks. "A road-trip?" he repeats.
"Yes! You know, romance, adventure, the open road..."
When Jensen continues to stare blankly at her, Danni sets her glass down, leans forward across the table and puts her hand on his arm.
"Jensen, listen to me," she says. "You've lived in the same apartment, had the same job, even driven the same car for the past ten years. It's time for a change! Getting out of town is a great way to shake yourself free of all your old habits for a while. It'll be good for you, I promise! It'll make you see life from a whole new perspective."
"I like my perspective the way it is, thank you," Jensen protests as the waiter arrives to offer dessert.
Jensen declines, but Danni orders a piece of cheesecake and another glass of wine, and Jensen can't hide his smile. It's Danni's spontaneity and zest for life that makes her so appealing. She shakes him up, which she knows, and it's a good thing. Without her he'd be impossibly bored.
And boring, no doubt about it.
He's never been too sure why Danni hangs out with him, although he suspects in the beginning at least she had a serious crush on him. Once she found out he was gay, though, she seemed to let go of her disappointment without much difficulty and proceeded to take him under her wing, all but replacing his mother in his life.
Which Jensen appreciated, since his mother's death eight years ago left an enormous hole in his heart. Being a coddled only child could do that to a man, and losing the one person to whom Jensen meant everything had left an emptiness in his life from which Jensen wasn't sure he would ever recover.
"You've never even been out of Dallas, have you?"
Danni's question brings him out of his grief like the good friend that she is, and he stares blankly at her for a moment until he remembers.
"Yes, I have, as a matter of fact," he all but gloats.
"Oh, yeah? When? And Richardson doesn't count," she adds, thinking she knows what he's about to say. "I mean, out of Dallas and its surrounding suburbs."
"Actually, I spent a month in San Antonio in 1998," he says triumphantly, "visiting my grandmother."
"Really?" Danni seems genuinely surprised. "Your grandmother lives in San Antonio? How come you never told me that?"
Jensen looks down at his glass, letting his thumb slide through the condensation along one side.
"She passed away about a year later," he says quietly. "I went down a few times when I was younger, with my mom, but that time I went by myself. It was just after my sophomore year."
Memories crowd Jensen's mind, make his heart race as he flashes back the Austin Old Three Hundred reunion his grandmother dragged him to fifteen years before.
Jensen vividly recalls the moment he first laid eyes on the tall, lanky boy with the pretty multi-colored eyes and even prettier mouth, a wide smile causing his tan, pink-cheeked face to dimple deeply when he saw Jensen staring at him. He remembers breaking out in a cold sweat, despite the heat of the warm June day, and he remembers moving toward the kid at the same time the boy moved toward him, through the crowd of mostly elderly guests, like an invisible magnet was drawing them together.
"Hey, how's it going?" the boy asked as soon as they were face-to-face. "I'm Jared."
This close, Jensen could see the sweat on the kid's upper lip, on his forehead where his dark hair stuck in thick ropes like puppy-dog tails. Jensen had a sudden desire to lean in and press his face into the kid's neck, to lap at the sweat pooled in the hollow of his throat. The vision of himself doing it was so powerful he shivered as he stuck out his hand like the gentleman his mama had taught him to be.
Jared immediately enclosed Jensen's hand in both of his large paws, and Jensen glanced down to see for himself that the kid's hands dwarfed his own. They were hot and sweaty like the rest of him, and when Jared leaned into him, keeping their hands clasped, Jensen could feel the kid's heat, could smell his sweat mixed with something sweet and sharp that made Jensen's heart pound and his eyes water.
"So, which founding family are you descended from, Jensen?" Jared asked, and Jensen mumbled something about his father's side of the family and his grandmother's fascination with genealogy.
It turned out Jared wasn't related to anybody here, although there were some vague claims on his mother's side, he thought.
"Mostly, I'm just here for the food," he confided. He was still holding Jensen's hand, only his other hand had wandered up Jensen's arm and across his shoulders, kneading his muscles almost unconsciously.
When Jensen gave another involuntary shiver, Jared pulled him in so their bodies were flush.
"The air-conditioning at these things is turned up way too high," he said as he rubbed Jensen's back.
"You're sweaty," Jensen answered, surprising himself because he wasn't complaining. He was actually hoping Jared would never let him go.
Jared looked down at him from his height advantage of at least an inch or two and gave another wide, toothy grin.
"You wanna get out o' here?" he asked, eyes twinkling with mischief.
Jensen nodded so readily it made Jared laugh. Jared's laugh was awesome, loud and full-bodied and glorious.
Jensen checked with his grandmother, who seemed delighted that Jensen had "found a friend," and assured him that she'd be fine getting home on her own. She knew so many people here she was fairly convinced most of the descendants of the anglo settlers were related to her.
"Y'all are probably cousins," she told Jared and Jensen cheerfully.
Jensen's eyes widened and Jared laughed his full-bodied laugh and Jensen felt hot and cold all over again. He'd only known Jared half-an-hour and he was already crushing hard.
They were in Jensen's car in record time, heading for the closest movie theatre within five minutes.
"Are you eighteen? You're definitely eighteen," Jensen decided before Jared had a chance to lie to the bored ticket-taker, who sold them tickets to Dark City without even asking for ID.
They had the theatre to themselves, so they climbed up to the last row of seats and shared a tub of over-buttered popcorn with gusto, fingers tangling and slipping together. They sucked the grease off their fingers with intent, caught each other's gazes as they did it, then collapsed together in convulsive laughter.
The immediate chemistry between them should have scared Jensen; in the past he'd never trusted anyone who flirted with him as hard as Jared did. Their over-the-top mutual attraction seemed like a parody of the real thing, and Jensen was just sure it couldn't be real simply because it seemed too easy. Jared was amazing, gorgeous, funny and smart in a way that should have been disturbing. Jensen didn't hit it off this well with people generally.
Maybe it was the fact that Jensen was going home the next day that ratcheted up the urgency of their time together. In hindsight, Jensen figured they were just too young to know any better. Jensen had never been in love, and common sense told him that this jittery high he felt with Jared couldn't be it. He didn't believe in love at first sight. This was just chemicals and hormones.
When Jared slipped his greasy fingers behind Jensen's neck and leaned close, breath warm and smelling like popcorn, it was sheer instinct that made Jensen turn his head so that their lips met almost accidentally.
The kiss shocked them. Some little stray bolt of left-over static electricity must have lingered in the air between them, causing a spark to sting their lips as they connected, despite all the spit and grease and sweat.
"Wow," Jensen exclaimed as he started back, eyes flying open to find Jared's warm gaze smiling into his. "That was – "
"Yeah," Jared agreed, leaning in to try it again.
Jensen let it happen, let Jared kiss him and make out with him in the dark theatre, only pulling away when Jared's hand strayed down to press against Jensen's rock-hard cock, cupping his balls through his jeans.
"Hold on there, cowboy," Jensen murmured as he tangled his fingers with Jared's, pulling his hand up to his cheek to kiss Jared's palm. "How old did you say you were?"
"Didn't." Jared's lips trailed down Jensen's neck, nipped under his jaw.
"Yeah, well, I'm old," Jensen said, blinking through the haze of lust clouding his vision. "Old enough to know better, anyway."
"You're not old." Jared's tongue darted out, licked along the shell of Jensen's ear, making him gasp.
"I'm twenty," Jensen insisted, a little breathless. "How old are you?"
Jared sat back, stared into Jensen's face, eyes darting over his eyes, his cheeks, his mouth.
"You're not a day over eighteen," Jared protested.
"I am," Jensen said, licking his lips as his gaze locked on Jared's soft mouth. "I'm going into my junior year at UT."
"So?" Jared leaned in, nipped at Jensen's lips.
"So how old are you?" Jensen asked again, sliding his hands up between them to grab fistfuls of Jared's shirt. "Huh? Seventeen? Sixteen?"
"Sixteen next month," Jared confessed as he pushed a warm hand up under Jensen's shirt, tweaking a nipple with his thumb while plunging his hot wet tongue into Jensen's mouth, kissing him so deep and dirty it made Jensen's head spin.
Later, Jensen realized that was the moment he put his life on hold.
At the time, he told himself he was too much of a gentleman to take advantage of someone so young, as had been done to him when he was fifteen. He wasn't about to turn around and break this kid's heart the way Jensen's had been broken five years before, by the older man who was twice his age and taught him everything he knew about gay love. Jensen would not be another Jeff Morgan, and that was all there was to it.
When the movie was over, Jensen drove Jared home. It was dark by then, so Jensen let Jared make out with him in the car before walking him to the door and kissing him goodnight. He promised to keep in touch, after he got back to Dallas, but he knew he wouldn't.
"Hey! Dream-boy! Earth to Jensen!"
Jensen starts, shaking himself out of his reverie and back into the present, blinking as Danni snaps her fingers not two inches in front of his face.
"So what'd'ya think? Huh?" she asks, and it's obvious she's been going on and on about this road-trip idea of hers. She wants him to take I-35 North out of Dallas because Jensen's fortune cookie reads,"Your future lies due north at the end of the line," and Danni believes in those things.
The little shiver that goes up Jensen's spine makes him think of Jared again, so he surprises himself by agreeing with her.
Which is how Jensen ends up making a wrong turn a week later on his way to Grand Forks, North Dakota. He's driving along some dark country road, and he's about to turn around and try to find his way back to the fork in the road where he obviously veered off by accident.
That's when he sees the sign for Devil's Lake, and just below it, a smaller sign for The End of the Line Bar & Grille.
It makes him think about Jared again, which doesn't make a lick of sense, but he seems to be going with strange coincidences lately, so it doesn't surprise him as much as it probably should when he pulls into Devil's Lake and finds the cozy little bar right off the main street.
When he walks in, it takes him a minute to adjust to the warmth of the room. North Dakota is cold, especially in the early spring, and Jensen is relieved to get out of the elements. The place is busy, but not over-crowded, filled with local folk who all seem to know each other. Garth Brooks plays mellow on the jukebox, and a couple of lumberjack types in plaid flannel are playing a friendly game at the pool table.
As his eyes sweep the room, Jensen meets the gaze of the bartender, and the rest of the world falls away. The man is tall, gorgeous beyond Jensen's ability to describe, with sharp features and dark hair. There's an energy about him that belies his shocked stillness as he stares at Jensen, lovely pink lips parted enticingly.
Jensen raises an eyebrow, the corner of his mouth turning up in an inviting smirk as he crosses the distance to the bar. He knows he's good-looking, isn't surprised to have this effect on people, but it's been a while since a man this gorgeous noticed him quite so obviously. It feels better than it should, feels comforting somehow, like coming home.
Which makes no sense until the man speaks.
The voice is familiar, and it frustrates him because he'd remember a man this beautiful, surely. Jensen slides onto a stool and folds his hands on the bar in front of him, thinking hard.
"Do I know you?" he asks as he wracks his memory.
The bartender's cheeks flush a deep, dusky rose that is the prettiest color Jensen's ever seen. Then he ducks his head, grinning bashfully, and a shock of recognition shoots through Jensen's body like lighting.
He'd know that dimpled smile anywhere.
"Jared?" He hears himself choking a little as his dick hardens and his pulse speeds up. "Oh my God, you've changed!"
"You haven't," Jared answers, lifting his eyes, and they're full of tears.
Which is how Jensen finds out that Jared's been waiting for him, all these years, and Jensen's found the part of himself that he never knew was missing.
"I looked for you," Jared says later, after drinks and kisses and gentle touches. "I didn't even know your last name."
Something cold and hard unclenches in Jensen's chest, now that he knows what he's been saving himself for, now that his life can begin again.
Right there, at the end of the line.