His dad isn’t speaking to him. He ignores him if they pass each other in the kitchen or in the back corridor that leads to the shop. Jensen stays up in his room or rides his bike aimlessly. He eats dinner in silence, listening to his father ranting about the lorry drivers’ strike, about all the deliveries that haven’t come through to the shop.
He finishes up all his assignments, including the essay from Pickford and doesn’t think about whether he’ll ever get the chance to hand it in. He practices the subjunctive tense and learns his vocabulary lists for French. He reads Le Petit Prince again and swallows over the lump in his throat when he gets to the parts about the prince and the fox.
At night, he dreams about Jared and wakes up hard and aching. He brings himself off with thoughts of Jared and images of Jared and fantasies of Jared running through his head.
After three days, he decides to phone him.
He has to find Jared’s number first. The Bexley, Greenwich and Woolwich telephone directory is about as useful as a chocolate teapot because Jared doesn’t live round here, Jared lives in nice, smart, stockbroker belt Surrey. Jensen stands at the bus stop for thirty minutes before an old woman with a shopping trolley tells him that they’re all on strike again. He sighs and trudges back home to fetch his bike. He cycles to the centre of Bexley, heading for the library. There’s a picket line out the front and the library’s closed. He stares at it disbelievingly, and thinks that a whole world of things have been going on in the outside world while he’s been cooped up inside fucking Sanditon.
One of the picketers tells him that “those fucking scabs in Eltham” have opened the library there, so he thanks him, refuses to donate his last ten pence to the cause, and gets on his bike again.
The library is open, just a handful of half-hearted strikers outside, sitting muffled up in deckchairs and pouring tea from thermoses, Tupperware containers of sandwiches on their laps. They eye him belligerently as he chains up his bike outside the building. Jensen ignores them, and heads inside.
There are shelves and shelves of phone directories and Yellow Pages in the reference section. He grabs the three that cover the Surrey area. He starts to page through them, thanking God that Jared’s surname isn’t Smith or Jones.
There are only two Padaleckis in the Kingston upon Thames and North West Surrey directory. The first is a Mrs, but the second... Mr D Padalecki, he reads, The Pines, Godalming Drive, Esher.
His palms feel clammy as he dials the number in the phone box opposite the library. It rings four times then a woman picks up.
“Hello, um, is Jared there? Can I speak to him?”
The woman hesitates before she asks, “Who is this?”
“I’m a friend from school,” he says. He adjusts the grip on the plastic receiver, his heart is beating fast, his armpits feel sweaty. There are cards in the windows of the phone box, all of them for prostitutes and lap dancing clubs. He didn’t realise Eltham had so many prostitutes.
There’s a longer pause and then the woman says, “You’re him, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” he stutters out, which is entirely the wrong thing to say because he hears her suck in a breath like a hiss.
When she speaks again, her voice is harder, sharper: “You’re that boy. The one that seduced my son.”
Seduced? She’s making it sound like he’s a rake in an eighteenth century novel. It’s ridiculous. Besides, she’s wrong, it wasn’t him who seduced Jared, it was Jared who seduced him.
“No, I don’t know what you mean,” he says again, “I just want to see if he’s alright. We’re in the same class for English Lit, we were working on a project together--”
“Stay away from my son,” she hisses and then the line clicks off and he’s left with the dial tone buzzing in his ear.
“Shit!” he curses. He replaces the receiver, hears the chink of his ten pence falling into the box.
He can hear his parents arguing when he slips into the back kitchen. He hesitates by the door to the lounge and listens.
“This isn’t a discussion, Mary! We’re not letting him go back there and that is final!”
They’re arguing about him. Of course they are. Barely a crossed word for years and then all this happens and they’re at each other’s throats. Another thing he should feel guilty about.
“But, Jim, what about university? If he doesn’t pass his exams then they won’t let him in, you know that!”
“He can take his exams at the local Comp. If it was good enough for me then it’s good enough for him. You’ve always spoiled him too bloody much, letting him go off to that poncey place. It’s not for the likes of us I said, but you wouldn’t bloody listen to me!”
Jensen doesn’t wait to hear anymore.
He takes his bike out of the shed and heads north, taking a shortcut through Plumstead Cemetery and Bostoll Woods. He keeps going north until he’s surrounded by the new concrete high rises of Thamesmead. He doesn’t stop until he gets to the river. He pulls up along one of the river paths and climbs off his bike. He props it up against the metal railings, lights up a cigarette and stares out across the River Thames.
The river is dark and murky, at one with the grey, unrelenting drizzle. On the opposite north shore, the lights of the power station and sewage works of Beckton and Barking blink blearily back at him. He’s never been to Esher in Surrey where Jared lives in a house nice enough to not be known as a number, but he doesn’t think it looks anything like this.
He checks his watch. It’s half past four, the sky is already darkening. He thinks about what he’d be doing if he were at Sanditon now. He’d be in the Study Room, trying to study, or in the Common Room, messing around with Eggy or Toska or Lay On or even Percy, waiting for the bell to summon them to Supper. Eggy hasn’t rung him at all. He doesn’t know why he expected anything different. Eggy will know all about it by now, he’s probably trying to make out that he and Jensen were never friends. He doesn’t want to get mixed up with the dirty shirtlifter after all. It might be catching.
He chucks his fag end over the railings and into the river. He watches it disappear into the murky grey depths. He picks up his bike, turns it around and heads back towards home.
His mum is in the kitchen when he arrives back, slicing potatoes. The chip pan’s on the hob and the kitchen smells of grease. There are three unwrapped pork chops sitting on the worktop by the cooker, looking pale and unappetising.
“Oh, there you are,” his mum says, looking up from her chopping. “Do you want a cup of tea?"
"Um, yeah, thanks," he says.
She nods towards the kettle where it's plugged into the wall. "Well you know how to make it."
He rolls his eyes at her, but he's hiding a smile. This is normal, all entirely normal. Normal is good.
"Pork chops tonight," she says after he's filled the kettle and turned on the switch. "Mr Jones finally had a new delivery. They look good, don’t they?”
The pork chops actually look anything but good, but he nods in agreement anyway. “Um, yeah, of course.” She’s never asked for his opinion on dinner before.
She sighs and pauses in her chopping, turns around to look at him. “Jensen, the school rang earlier.”
“Oh,” he says. He swallows. “What did they say?”
“They want me and your father to come in for a meeting. But your father,” she breaks off, rests the knife down on the chopping board. He stares at her hands, her fingers look bright red and wrinkled, like she’s been running them under cold water for a long time, which is probably what she has been doing, scrubbing the potatoes. They get the last pick of the fruit and veg that passes through the shop. It’s always bruised or mouldy and the potatoes are always 50 percent dirt. It’s been even worse these past few weeks, since the strikes started and the daily deliveries stopped.
She sighs and curls her fingers around the edge of the warped worktop. “Your dad doesn’t want you to go back there. He thinks it’s had a bad influence on you.”
Jensen bows his head, resists the absurd urge to laugh. His dad is probably right. Sanditon can go to hell as far as he’s concerned, but on the other hand, it’s his way out - of here, of the shop and this street and fucking Welling, South East London. It was why he took the entrance exam in the first place.
“But I don’t agree with him,” she adds firmly. “You’re my boy and I’m going to make sure you go to university. You’ve worked hard for it. I don’t care what lies they say and what they think they know, I know you and you’re a good boy. You deserve this chance.”
He swallows over the lump in his throat, nods, feels the hot blur of tears in his eyes. He smiles weakly at her. “Thanks.”
“Come here,” she says, and her voice cracks a little. He takes a step towards her, lets her pull him in and wind her arms around him like she does at the beginning of every term when they drop him off. She’s a lot shorter than him now, her head only reaches his chest, but it doesn’t stop her from reaching up to ruffle his hair. She pulls back when she’s done and pats his cheek, smiling softly at him. “Such a handsome face,” she says.
He feels his cheeks flush and he rolls his eyes at her. She snorts and pulls her hand back, letting it rest on his damp sleeve. “Go get changed into some dry clothes. I'll finish up the tea."
He nods, “Alright, yes,” and heads for the stairs.
The next morning his dad wakes him at 5am. It’s dark outside and his head is pounding. He slept badly, worrying about everything and dreaming about Jared again.
“Get up!” his dad snaps. “I need you in the shop today.”
He groans, but he doesn’t dare say no. Not when his dad can barely look him in the eye. It’s a marker of how badly he’s fucked up that his dad has left it this long to demand his presence in the shop. Usually, he’s on him on his first day back.
About ten o’clock, his mum comes into the shop wearing her best coat, carrying her leather gloves and the handbag she wears to weddings.
“Jim, I’m going now,” she says.
His dad looks up from where he’s taking stock of the tinned fruit. He looks her over, his lip perks up into a sneer. “You look smart.”
“Want to make a good impression,” she says.
He doesn’t say anything and Jensen holds his breath, glances between the two of them. The moment stretches and holds and then his dad turns his head and looks at him. “Can you handle the shop for the next few hours?”
Jensen gulps and nods. “Yeah, yeah, course.”
His dad nods slowly, turns his head again. He straightens, moves to the counter where Jensen is sitting at the stool by the till. He puts the clipboard on the counter, says to his mum, “Give me five minutes. Get the car warmed up.”
She smiles and nods. “I will.”
They both hold their breath as his dad disappears into the back, then she moves towards Jensen, puts her hand on his shoulder. “It’ll be okay, love. I’m going to work things out for you.”
It’s the rugby that saves him.
“They know their season’s over without you,” his dad says as they celebrate over fish and chips and cans of Carling Black Label. “And those bloody old boys don’t want that. Clamouring to have you back, they were.”
His mum shakes her head. “Don’t listen to him, it wasn’t like that.”
His dad snorts contemptuously, and squeezes a large dollop of tomato sauce on his chips.
“Your teacher, Mr McKenzie, he spoke for you. He said he couldn’t win the cup without you,” his mum says, unable to disguise the hint of pride in her voice.
“Of course he can’t. The boy’s got a 92% conversion rate,” his dad interrupts. “I always thought that bloke was a bit dodgy, that P.E. bloke, but your mum’s right, he spoke up for you. He told them all you were a good boy, hardworking and talented, he said. Rain or shine, or freezing cold snow on the ground, you’re out there training. There’s not many like that, he said, Jensen's special. Those were his exact words.”
He can see from the look on his dad's face that he doesn't believe it now - not the stuff about him and Jared. In his dad’s view, a man can’t play rugby, train in all weathers, go out in short sleeves in the snow and hail, and be a poofter. The two things are entirely incompatible to his dad's view of life. It's ironic that it's McKenzie of all people that's made him believe that.
Still, Jensen supposes he should be grateful to McKenzie. It was his tearful character reference that swayed them in the end. He thinks about all the alcohol he’s stolen from McKenzie’s secret stash, he has to know that Jensen’s the one responsible and yet he hasn’t mentioned a word of it. He supposes he should be grateful for that too. But then he thinks about the way McKenzie looked at him when they caught him and Jared together, the obvious hunger and exhilaration in his eyes, and Jensen knows that this is not the end of it. He’ll be paying for McKenzie’s support of him.
“It’s only for a few more months,” his mum says, looking at him sympathetically across the table.
He nods, attempts to smile back at her. Only a few more months. He can do that.
His dad drives him back on Sunday, dropping him off out of site of the school gates. His dormitory is deserted. Instead of Eggy's enormous Kate Bush poster, a detailed map of Middle Earth is fastened above the wall of the other bed. Instead of the Fitzergerald family bed linen, there's the standard issue Sanditon sheets. The cardboard box of records under the desk is gone; the seven LP’s and five singles that belong to Jensen are tossed carelessly on his bed.
It all adds up to one thing: Eggy's ditched him and Percy has drawn the short straw.
The bastard owes him three quid.
He drops onto his own bed and tries to read Othello, their next English Lit text, but he can't concentrate. Instead he listens to both sides of Station to Station on Percy's headphones, his face burrowed under his pillow. When the album is finished, he drops the stylus back on the last track and listens to Wild is the Wind again, and then again, and again. He wishes he’d had a chance to make Jared listen to that song. He’s quite sure that Jared would’ve loved it too.
He doesn't see any of them until supper. The rest of the Upper Sixth watches him with a mixture of curiosity and revulsion, Eggy ostentatiously ignoring him. The grapevine has been working at full strength during his absence. Jared’s spot at the Lower Sixth table is ominously empty and Jared’s ginger friend keeps turning around and staring at Jensen throughout the meal.
"How are you, Ackles?" Percy asks, sounding his usual trying-too-hard self. He obviously hasn’t got the memo about Jensen being sent to Coventry. Then again, they're sharing a room now. Ignoring each other would be really awkward.
"Fine." He spears a potato with his fork, watches the thick brown gravy drip onto his plate.
"So is it true?”
“Is what true?”
“What Eggy said about you being bent?”
Jensen turns his head, blinks at him. “What?”
“You and that Padalecki kid being all bent together. Eggy said that Pickford caught you, you know--” he widens his eyes, leans in, whispers, “--having it off?”
“Eggy’s a cunt,” he says. It feels good to say it out loud, though Percy looks horrified, eyes widening in shock. Jensen licks his lips, adds, “Don’t listen to anything he says.”
"But everybody says that--”
"For fuck's sake, Percy!" He drops his fork to his plate with a clatter. Percy looks at him with reproachful eyes. He sighs. "Sorry. So, are you going to move to another room as well?"
"No. There's no one else who'd like to share with me."
Jensen represses the urge to roll his eyes and tries to ignore the sound of laughter from Eggy's end of the table.
His first practice with the rest of the team goes much better than he'd expected.
Shithouse greets him first, rising ponderously from the bench in the changing room and approaching him with a steely glint in his eyes.
"I don't believe a fucking word of it," he announces. All the other boys look up from whatever they're pretending to do and stare avidly at the two of them. "It's all malicious, spiteful bollocks." He drops a firm meaty hand onto Jensen's shoulder and stares into his face. "Don't take any notice of what any of those bastards are saying out there. You're alright, Ackles, anyone who can play like you is alright." He claps him heavily on the back then glares meaningfully at the rest of the team.
Jensen's surprisingly moved by the display. He still gets tackled a lot more viciously than normal in the Seven on Sevens, but he was expecting that, and this is rugby after all. Anyone who can't put up with having their face ground into the mud and fifteen stone of front row slamming the breath out of them shouldn't be playing the bloody game.
He sticks around as normal after practice is done, gathering up the balls for his usual three-kicks-and-in practice. He can feel it when McKenzie approaches him and he curls his fingers into fists, sets his shoulders and turns around to confront the man.
"Thank you for - speaking for me," he says. "I know if you hadn't said anything then I wouldn't be here. So, um, thanks."
McKenzie stares back at him, there's a look in his eyes that wasn't there before, and Jensen feels his stomach flip over, the nausea gather in his guts. McKenzie knows what he looks like naked now; he knows what he looks like when he's hard. He's seen his erect cock, he saw him and Jared together. That knowledge is always going to be there between them now, festering, and Jensen can't stop thinking about it.
"And I - I'm sorry, about the whiskey. I promise I won't take it anymore."
McKenzie shakes his head, he smiles at Jensen and Jensen feels his stomach plummet.
"Ackles, I was well aware it was you who was taking it."
"Oh," Jensen says lamely.
"In future, just come to me if you want booze. I'd be quite happy to help you get hold of some. You're eighteen years old; you shouldn't have to resort to these ridiculous subterfuges. I'm sure we could work out something between us." He takes a step towards Jensen, puts a hand on his arm.
Jensen resists the urge to flinch away, mutters, "Yes, thanks, Sir."
"And no more of this Sir business, it's Kelvin, alright, Jensen?"
"Good." McKenzie removes his hand slowly, fingers dragging down Jensen's bare arm, leaving a rush of goosebumps in their wake. "Now, let's see how your kicking's doing, shall we? After all, we don't want to be out here all night. I'm sure the both of us have other things we’d much rather be doing."
He confronts Eggy a week later in the Common Room. He’s sitting in their corner alongside Toska and Lay On and even fucking Cliff-Bentley, and who gave that tosspot permission to sit in their corner? He’s not part of their group.
“You owe me three quid,” he says.
Eggy pretends not to hear him.
“I’m speaking to you, Claude.”
He sees Eggy’s lips twitch, his eyes narrow at the hated name. In the background, Eggy’s copy of Rumours is playing on the record player, Go Your Own Way, it seems weirdly appropriate.
“Did someone say something?” Eggy says, looking around at their assembled, so-called friends. Jensen sees Toska smirk and hide a nervous smile behind his hand. Lay On is pretending to read the NME, and Cliff-Bentley is watching them both with obvious enjoyment.
Eggy was the first person who’d spoken to him when he’d started at this shithole school in his fourth year. Eggy had showed him around and told him all the secrets to getting on the right side of the masters and how to score extra pudding at lunchtime. They’d bonded over David Bowie and Eggy’s extensive record collection. “You’re welcome to play any of them when you like,” Eggy had said, acting the generous lord of the manor, and Jensen had over the years. He’d been a guest at the Fitzgerald family estate in Hampshire more than once. He’d even lost his virginity in Eggy’s bedroom with Eggy’s second cousin, Annabelle, four years his senior and a student at RADA, during the infamous Fitzgerald Family New Year’s Eve party of 1976. “You’re awfully good looking. We should go upstairs and shag,” Annabelle had said, pushing him up against the drawing room wall, Eggy giggling into his glass of port as he watched. Afterwards, he and Eggy had laughed about Jensen’s deflowering ,and drunk another bottle of Sir Gerald’s vintage port between them as they lay on Eggy’s bed and toasted the New Year.
They were supposed to be friends.
“You’re pathetic,” he says. His throat feels tight and his chest is heavy.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand you. Maybe you should try speaking the Queen’s English, instead of whatever that accent is supposed to be,” Eggy says.
Jensen grits his teeth, curls his fingers up into a fist, and punches him.
He gets sent to the Headmaster’s office again.
“This is becoming a regular occurrence, Ackles,” Dean Fallon says, steepling his fingers under his chin.
“I’m sorry, Sir,” he says.
Dean Fallon sighs. “I know. You’re always sorry. Everybody’s always sorry. But you’re not the one who has to deal with Sir Gerald when he phones me up and complains that someone has punched his oldest son in the face.”
Jensen bites his lip, doesn’t say anything.
“Still, boys will fight. It’s a natural fact of life, and I’m sure Sir Gerald will understand.” He leans forward, crosses his arms on the table. “In the meantime, detention, I think. Mr McKenzie tells me that he has a few jobs with which he could use your help. Now that won’t be so bad, will it?”
“No, Sir. Thank you, Sir,” he says.
He feels sick to his stomach.
The ginger kid, Jared’s friend, is called Paul Dwyer.
“He’s at home,” he says in answer to Jensen’s question. “His dad’s getting him a private tutor.”
“Oh,” Jensen says. He glances around him, lifts his hand to the back of his neck awkwardly. It probably doesn’t look good for him to be talking to this kid. Everybody’s treating Dwyer as just as much of a pariah as Jensen. Actually a lot more so because at least Jensen has Percy and most of the kids from the team still talking to him, even if his former group of friends are ignoring him since he punched Eggy in the face.
“He won’t be coming back,” Dwyer adds. His eyes Jensen accusingly, as if this is all his fault.
I didn’t start it, he wants to protest. And I’m back here. If I’m back here then Jared could be too, he’s got no excuse.
Except he’s not certain about that. He’s the star of the rugby First XV, Jared is the weirdo arty kid. McKenzie spoke for him, the only master who would speak for Jared is Mr Cross, the Art Master, and no one takes any notice of him. McKenzie has half of the alumni on his side.
“He’s still going to take his A levels,” says Dwyer. “He wasn’t expelled, that’s what everyone’s saying, but they're wrong. They’re all blaming him.”
“They’re not being exactly nice to me either,” Jensen says bitterly.
Dwyer shrugs. “S’pose so. But it’s his dad. I don’t know if he told you about his dad, but he’s not. Well, he doesn’t like the fact that his son’s...” he tilts his head, “you know, a homo.”
Jensen cringes. It's not like he hasn't heard the word numerous times since he's been back, along with arse-bandit, cocksucker, poof, bender, fairy, queer, shirt-lifter…
"He's a bastard, his father, they always hated each other."
He thinks about Jared saying, we’re going to become estranged at some point, it’s inevitable. He won’t want me around when he knows what I am, and I’m not going to lie for the rest of my life. But Jared’s brave, and Jared knows what he is. Jensen doesn’t know anything.
“Yeah, I know,” he says.
Dwyer nods seriously. He seems to be a serious sort of person: quiet, studious, with pale watery eyes and pale ginger hair and that look that Jensen had always considered sly. He feels bad for thinking that now.
“I’m going to phone him tonight,” Dwyer says. “If you want, you could speak to him. I know he’d like that. He asks about you a lot. He always talked about you. I used to take the mick, tell him he was obsessed with you.”
“Oh, right,” Jensen says. He likes the idea of Jared being obsessed with him. It makes him feel all warm inside.
“So, you want to talk to him then?”
“Yeah, yeah, I do.”
On Tuesday morning, Jensen pretends to be ill. It’s not difficult to convince Percy, who stares at him, horrified, from the other bed, when he starts coughing and spluttering and rasping at him.
He sneaks out of the building while everybody else is in senior assembly, and hitches to the town station where he catches the next train to London. He walks down Marylebone Road and then Euston Road, turns into Gower Street and pauses outside the front of the Slade School of Fine Art.
Jared’s interview is at 11 o’clock.
Jensen pushes his hands into his pockets and strolls down Gower Place and onto Gordon Street where the UCL Students Union building stands. There are students milling around outside handing leaflets out to passers-by. Three of them converge on him and he neatly sidesteps them, elbowing them away as he walks into the building.
He buys a cup of tea in the canteen and tries to look like he belongs here. He wishes he’d brought a book; he could’ve finished Othello if he’d thought about it. He glances at his watch again. Quarter past. Jared should be in the middle of his interview by now. He lights up a cigarette.
It’s another thirty minutes before he spots Jared. Jared’s dressed in his duffle coat and he’s carrying a bulky portfolio under his arm. Jensen sees the moment when Jared spots him, Jared’s face breaking into an enormous grin as he weaves his way between the mostly empty tables and chairs to Jensen’s table. He drops his portfolio on the floor and thuds down onto the chair.
“Hello,” he says.
“Hello,” Jensen says. “How’d it go?”
Jared blows out a breath that ruffles the heavy fringe of hair almost obscuring his eyes. His hair is a bit shorter than before and he pushes it out of his face with one big hand in that familiar gesture that makes the knots in Jensen's belly tighten.
“Good, I think. They’re going to write to me to say yes or no. They really liked the pictures - the ones of you.”
Jensen snorts a laugh, he’s smiling, he can’t stop it. He’s ridiculously happy to see Jared again. He didn’t realise he’d missed him this much, but it's been a month, a really long month when he hasn't stopped thinking about him. He'd worried that the real thing wouldn't be the same as the pictures in his head, and it's not, it's so much better. He wants to lean over the table and touch Jared's arm, run his finger over the tendons in Jared's hands. He wants to put his hands in Jared's hair and kiss him.
“They have good taste then," he says.
“Yeah, they do,” Jared says. He keeps staring at Jensen, keeps smiling, and Jensen keeps smiling back at him. They probably look deranged. People are probably staring. He glances around, but no one’s looking their way, all too involved in their own thing. He wants to laugh again.
“My dad’ll be here in an hour, he doesn’t trust the trains, though I told him they weren’t on strike today. I think it’s just an excuse because he doesn’t trust me.”
"Well, he's right about that,” says Jensen.
Jared laughs and Jensen grins again. He can’t help it. Infectious, he thinks, staring at Jared’s wide mouth and the dimples slicing into his cheeks. He wants to kiss him so badly it actually hurts.
“Are you hungry?” Jensen asks. “You want to get some food?”
They get sausage, chips and gravy and mugs of tea. Jared insists on paying. “It’s my fault you’re here," he says apologetically.
“Bollocks,” Jensen says, “I wanted to come.”
And that makes Jared grin again.
Neither of them manages to eat much. Jensen pushes aside his half finished plate, lights up another cigarette. He takes a drag, feeling Jared's eyes on him.
"I want to take pictures of you, like that, smoking," Jared says, his voice low. He puts his elbow on the table, leans his chin on his hand, staring intently at Jensen. "I want to take lots of pictures of you, of your body, of your face, of you naked. You're so perfect, Jensen."
"Shut up," Jensen mutters, blushing. His belly is churning, his cock fattening. The smoke burns the back of his throat when he inhales too deeply.
Jared smiles at him, soft and intimate, he pushes his hand across the table, brushes his fingers against Jensen's arm. "Let's get out of here," he says.
Jensen stubs his fag out in the mess of congealed gravy and sausage. He pushes his chair back so fast the legs screech on the floor. They hurry outside the Union building.
“Where should we go?” Jared says.
There are a lot more people outside the front now, some of them holding banners. They seem to be organising some sort of a protest.
They push through the crowd, Jensen’s fingers catch in Jared’s sleeve. “Round the back?” he suggests.
Jared nods and follows after him. Even in the freezing cold, they can smell the bins before they see them. The bags and bags of rubbish piled up and piled up, completely covering the small yard outside what looks to be the kitchen door.
“Oh, I forgot about that,” Jared says with a frown.
Jensen turns his head, widens his eyes incredulously. The binmen’s strike has been his dad’s main topic of conversation in every phone conversation they’ve had since Jensen went back to school. Apparently, their garden is covered in rubbish bags and his mum is terrified of going out there because of the rats. It’s one of the reasons Jensen’s not gone home since he went back. That, and McKenzie’s special detention of course.
He swallows; he doesn’t want to think about that now. He doesn’t want anything to spoil this time with Jared.
Jared drops his bulky portfolio to the ground and turns to face him. “I don’t care,” he says. “Come here.”
Jensen stares at him then he pushes him back against the brick wall, and crowds in close, feet knocking against the rubbish bags. He frames Jared’s face with both hands, pushing his fingers into Jared's hair just like he’s been thinking about since he saw him. It feels soft and silky and he cradles the back of Jared's neck, pulling him down into a kiss. The kiss is sloppy and heated and they're both groaning with it, rolling their hips together, both of them hard and aching. Jared scrapes his teeth against Jensen's bottom lip, tugging it into his mouth. When Jensen pulls back, Jared's eyes are bright and burning with the kind of intensity that steals Jensen's breath.
“I dream about you every night,” Jared says.
"Yeah, me too."
"I’m so pleased you came. I thought about you so much that I didn't think that you were real. It was stupid."
Jensen blushes, he tries to shrug. "Course I came, any chance to fuck over those bastards.”
“Just don’t get yourself expelled.”
Jensen exhales, steps back, letting his hands fall to dangle by his sides. “If they didn’t expel me for buggery then they’re not going to expel me for skiving off for one bloody day.”
Jared blushes. “It wasn’t - we weren’t doing that.”
“But you wanted to, didn’t you?”
“Maybe.” Jared ducks his head, his cheeks are flaming now. He glances up at Jensen through his eyelashes, his expression a little coy. "But we should save that. For later."
Later, Jensen thinks, will there really be a later? Can we really do this? Can we both escape here, to London? Be together like we want to be? They haven’t said it out loud yet, but they don’t need to.
"I can't, I don't think I can tell my parents," he blurts out.
Jared's expression softens. He cups Jensen’s cheek. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to. That's up to you. But I'm not giving up."
"It's just five months."
"Yeah, five months." It's become a mantra in his head these past few weeks: just five months, five months... No more Sanditon, no more hypocritical masters, no more hateful, contemptuous looks or names shouted at him down the corridor, no more graffiti on his and Percy’s door.
No more McKenzie.
Instead of that... freedom. University and Jared and doing what he wants when he wants, not pretending all the fucking time. Freedom. He didn't realise how much he was hanging on for it until now, until he can feel Jared under his fingertips again and hear his voice. He wants to keep holding Jared, feeling the reality of him block out all that other stuff and scrub away the memories of Eggy’s snarling hatred and McKenzie’s wandering hands and soft, insidious voice.
He turns away, putting his back to Jared. He wipes his hand across his face, smearing the stupid, hot tears. He can hear the chants of the protestors out the front. He should get back to Marylebone as soon as he can, try and catch a train back. He can’t imagine how much more detention he’ll get if he gets caught.
“We should go. Your dad’ll be here soon,” he says.
“Come here first,” Jared says, and then he’s there, wrapping his arms around Jensen from behind. He presses a kiss just below Jensen’s ear. “Just a few minutes longer,” he says. His breath puffs against the nape of Jensen's neck and Jensen's whole body tingles with it.
"Five months," Jensen says. His voice sounds hoarse and faint, so he swallows, says it again, louder and stronger: “Five months and then you can feel me whenever you want. I promise."
"I can't bloody wait," Jared sighs, and Jensen turns around and kisses him again.
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