Modern Love, David Bowie
Jared comes awake slowly. He blinks, registering the movements in the bed beside him with sleepy confusion. He turns his head. Jensen’s bare back is a firm, straight line beside him, though his right arm seems to be moving, his elbow making the covers peak in furtive jerks. Oh, Jared realizes distantly, Jensen’s jerking off.
He wriggles closer, presses his mouth to Jensen’s bare shoulder. “Jensen?” he whispers.
Jensen stills, his arm stops moving. “You’re awake,” he says. He doesn’t sound pleased.
“Yeah,” Jared breathes. He puts his arm around Jensen, skims his fingers over his chest and belly, his treasure trail, his pubic hair. “Here, let me.”
Jensen stiffens. “No. I, Jay.”
Jared registers Jensen’s soft cock in the same instant that Jensen pulls away from him and slides out of bed. His back is still to Jared, his shoulders high and tense. Jared’s heart sinks, his hand drops to the covers.
“It’s okay, man. I told you. It’s—“
“Don’t,” Jensen interrupts, his tone is clipped. “Gonna go shower.”
“Okay,” Jared murmurs. He falls back into the covers. He listens to Jensen enter the en suite bathroom, hears the snap of the light switch, the twist of the shower nozzle, the slap of the water on the glass stall. He pushes his hair off his face and sighs.
He checks the clock. It’s 6.37. Time to get up.
Downstairs, the French windows in the living room are half open, the floor-length white curtains rustling in a way that reminds him of the video for Total Eclipse of the Heart. The thought makes him smile as he pads towards the window. His toes curl in protest when he steps outside, the cold stone stinging his bare feet.
"Jared! Look what I found!" Jonah emerges in front of him and grabs at his robe, waving a muddy bare foot over an enormous toad lying motionless on the flagstones. "I found it near the driveway, but I think it might be dead. I'm gonna see if there’s another one!"
Henry, their border collie, is going wild at the bottom of the yard, running around the lawn, zig-zagging in and out of Jared’s rose bushes. Jared watches Jonah take off after him, calling his name as they both crash through the fir hedges that mask one side of the house. He glances down at the toad. Its skin glistens in the bright sunlight, it looks sad. He squats down to get a closer look.
“What’s that?” Jensen asks.
Jared straightens, watches Jensen step through the windows. His hair is wet from the shower and he’s wearing a robe and flip-flops.
“A dead toad. Jonah found it.”
Jensen grimaces. “It’s revolting.”
“That’s nature, dude.”
Jensen snorts, and Jared flicks him another glance. He thinks about saying something about this morning, but he’s distracted by a high-pitched squeal coming from the end of the garden. He looks up to see Jonah come running through the bushes after Henry, hair tangled, hems of his pajamas encrusted with dirt, feet still bare.
"Jonah! Come here! Jesus, look at you,” Jensen says when the boy screeches to a halt in front of him. “What the hell’s that?”
Jonah holds out his arm, another enormous toad dangling from the end of his fingers. "I found another one! And look! It’s still moving."
Jensen eyes the thing with disgust, raises his eyes to his son’s face. “Don’t even think about bringing that thing inside."
Jared sits at the breakfast table, listening to the sound of Jonah crunching his way through an enormous bowl of Cheerios. He feels uncomfortable and too hot, his dress shirt is sticking to his chest and back where he didn’t dry off properly and his new shoes pinch. A clear plastic container filled with the not-dead toad and several handfuls of grass (Jonah’s attempt at making the poor animal feel at home) is sitting in the middle of the table and he can’t stop watching it. It’s creepy and kinda gross, but also fascinating.
“You look like crap,” Jensen says, striding into the room. He’s gotten dressed, well, almost dressed. Dress pants and shirt, collar unbuttoned, tie looped and half-knotted around his neck. He pours himself a mug of coffee and takes a long gulp. He bows his head to fiddle with his cufflinks, and Jared's gaze is drawn irresistibly to the sweep of his thick, stubby lashes against the pale hollow of his cheek. He looks away, instead fixing on the glint of the silver cufflinks at Jensen's wrists. He bought Jensen those cufflinks as a birthday present about seven years ago. They were just getting to know each other at the time, Jared beginning to realize just how far in over his head he really was. The cufflinks were a last-ditch panic buy, one that turned out all right in the end. Jensen claimed to like them, and at least he wore them. Given how fastidious and unsentimental he can be, it’s definitely one of Jared’s better gifts.
Jensen finishes with the cufflinks and starts on his tie, effortlessly sliding the knot into place. He smoothes down his hair, flicks imaginary fluff off his shirt and picks up his coffee mug again. “Jonah, what are you doing with that?” he snaps. Jonah’s picked up the container of toad, holding it high above his head so he can peer up at the underside, eyes wide in intense fascination. “I thought I told you to leave it outside.”
"It's for school. Jared said I could for Science," Jonah protests.
“Did he?” Jensen flicks him a look and Jared just shrugs. Jensen rolls his eyes at him, mouths, “Pushover.”
“I’m gonna show it to Mr. Waters,” announces Jonah. He lowers the container and tilts his head to one side to look at Jensen. “Hey, Dad, do male toads have penises?"
“That’s something you’ll have to find out for yourself,” Jensen says, which probably means he has no idea. Actually, Jared has no idea either. He also has no time to think about it. Wednesdays are always like this. It’s their housekeeper and nanny, Rebecca’s day off, which means one of them (him of course) has to drop Jonah off at school. They’re already running late.
He rubs his fingers over his dry scratchy eyes, snatches up his suit jacket from the back of the chair and stands. "Go get your shoes on, get in the car,” he tells the kid. Jonah deposits the toad carefully back on the breakfast bar and slides out of the room, skidding in his socks. Jensen reaches out a hand to ruffle his hair as he slides past and Jonah ducks away from him, batting his father’s hand away.
“You going to be late tonight?” Jared asks.
“Define late,” Jensen replies.
He so doesn’t have time for this bullshit. He grits his teeth. “Like, here? Are you staying over in the city tonight or will you be here? With your family?”
Jensen holds his gaze; he takes another sip of coffee. “I’ll be here,” he says. His voice is bland, only the hard look around the eyes betraying how pissed he is.
“Right, that’s all I wanted to know.”
He doesn’t look at Jensen as he stalks out the room, yelling for Jonah. Jonah’s sitting on the bottom stair, holding one sneaker disconsolately in his hand. He looks up at Jared and narrows his eyes into an accusatory sort of look.
“My sneaker fell apart,” he announces, making it sound like it’s all Jared’s fault.
“Oh for. What the hell were you doing with it?”
"I wasn't doing anything! They're just, like, way old! I told you I needed new ones!"
"Right. Fine. We’ll get you some new ones. Go put on your dress shoes.”
"I can't wear them," Jonah's voice is pure despair, "none of the other kids wear dress shoes at school."
"Suck it up.”
Jonah glares at him as he gets to his feet and stomps up the stairs to find his shoes. Jared grits his teeth again, (seriously, at this rate, he’s going to need them capped), and goes to find his keys.
Jared sits in the car and drums his fingers on the steering wheel. He watches Jonah trudge through the school gates, deliberately scuffing the despised shoes against the tarmac. Okay, so they’re not exactly living on the poverty line but does the kid have to ruin every damn thing they buy him? Those shoes are only a few weeks old. Normally he wouldn’t let a silly thing like that annoy him so much, but right now he feels too tired and too irritable. He didn’t used to feel like this all the time, like he has a permanent itch, something crawling under his skin that he just longs to crush between his fingers.
He knows what Chad would’ve said. “Jared, dude, you so need to get laid.” And he’d be right. He and Jensen haven’t had sex in... God, he can’t remember the last time. One month... two... maybe even longer. They’ve both been so busy, Jensen particularly, working such long hours, events practically every night, and when he is actually home he’s never around, always working late in his office. On the few occasions Jensen surfaces to spend time with them then it’s Jonah that gets all his attention. Jared’s not selfish enough to complain about that, he would never begrudge Jensen time with his son, or Jonah time with his father. But Jonah’s nightmares have been getting worse and he’s been sleeping with them more nights than not these past few weeks, because these days, instead of insisting that Jonah needs to learn to sleep in his own bed, Jensen’s been giving into the kid. It took Jared a long time to figure out that Jensen was doing it deliberately in order to avoid sex.
But the entire situation is so weird for them. Their sex life has always been the solid foundation of their relationship, the one place where they’re equal and honest and expressive with each other, because God knows that they’ve always sucked at real, true-to-life communication. He worried at first that Jensen was no longer sexually attracted to him. They’ve been together over seven years, on and off admittedly, but still… Couples do go off each other, the sex goes bad, one of them starts looking elsewhere. But Jensen didn’t seem to be looking elsewhere, Jensen didn’t seem to be interested in sex at all. His porn collection was untouched, his internet browser history boringly work-related – which really made Jared start to panic, because if Jensen was no longer interested in sex and the two of them no longer had that to sustain the relationship, then they were really screwed. And then he figured it out.
It’s probably cruel of him, but he was relieved to realize that it wasn’t his fault. Jensen still wants him, he just – he’s currently not in a position to do anything about it. At least not when it comes to real sexual intimacy with just the two of them. He’s pretty sure Jensen’s still able to get it up on some occasions. The one time they actually spoke about the matter – after the best part of a bottle of single malt – Jensen admitted that he can jerk off. Sometimes. If he’s in the right sort of mood. For some reason, that right sort of mood doesn’t seem to include Jared anymore. Or at least, that’s how it seems to Jared. Jensen also admitted that he’d had tests done, which was a surprise. But Jensen’s not stupid; he knows that this kind of problem can be the precursor to some serious physical health issues, and Jensen’s always been obsessive about his health. Happily, Jensen’s in good shape, there’s no physical reason for him to be having these problems.
Which of course leaves them with psychological causes, and that’s not something Jensen is remotely prepared to deal with, or God forbid, ever talk about. And Jared gets it, of course he gets it. Jensen’s sexuality and virility have always been a huge part of who he is. Before the two of them got serious, Jensen was the quintessential alpha gay male on the prowl, with a laundry list of sexual conquests to his name. So Jared does understand, he gets how badly this must hit Jensen’s sense of self-worth. But it’s hard to be sympathetic when the fact of the matter is that it’s not just Jensen’s problem. If Jensen can’t have sex, then Jared can’t have sex. Jared’s willing to be patient and understanding and supportive, if he just knew that Jensen would actually do something about it, instead of forcibly ignoring it. He’s tried discussing it, but Jensen won’t listen, just shuts him down as soon as he dares to mention anything.
He sighs loudly, pushing the frustrating thoughts away. His gaze catches on the clock on the dash and he swears. He’s late for work. He puts the car into gear and pulls out into traffic.
Jared turns his head, sees Jensen leaning over him, coffee mug in hand. “Yeah, ‘cause I had to drop off your kid at school.”
“My kid, huh?”
“Yup, way he was bitching about those damn shoes this morning, he’s definitely your kid.”
“Hmm.” Jensen’s eyes narrow on Jared’s screen. “That the animation for the new Brown campaign?”
“It is. Do you want to see it? It’s only half done and it’s,” he hesitates, “I don’t know, I think I hate it.”
“Show me,” Jensen says.
Jared presses the play button and leans to one side to give Jensen a good view of his screen. He watches the animated fruit dancing around and winces internally. The brief had been kitschy, fun, something that could appeal to kids as well as adults.
“It’s crap, isn’t it?” Jared says when it’s over.
“It’s what they asked for,” Jensen says, which is not really answering his question. “They’re the client.”
“I know that.” He sighs. “I think I definitely hate it.”
Jensen chuckles, tips his head back to drain the dregs of his coffee. He drops the empty mug onto Jared’s desk. He’s always doing that. The entire office is littered with Jensen’s abandoned coffee mugs. Jared usually has at least three of them on his desk by the end of the day.
“I’m going to the gym at lunchtime. You want to come? Might make you feel better, get you out of that funk.”
Jared resists the urge to retort: what funk? But this is an olive branch, the nearest Jensen ever gets to “I’m sorry, I want to make it up to you,” because Jared knows that he hates company when he’s working out. Jensen likes to be in the zone, use the time to think things over. Having a workout partner just distracts him.
“God, I’d love to, but I can’t. I got so much to do.” He turns his head, looks up at Jensen. “Sorry, man.”
Jensen shrugs, but he does look relieved, which makes Jared want to laugh. Jensen’s so transparent sometimes. But this is good; this is Jensen actually making an effort to make up for whatever they were fighting over before, though he’s not entirely sure what that was now. He and Jensen seem to spend so much time being mad at each other these days, resenting each other, and being generally frustrated, that he loses track sometimes. Sure, they’ve always fought plenty, and in the old days Jensen would’ve just given him the silent treatment for 24 hours before making a show of reluctantly allowing him back into his bed for awesome make-up sex. Unfortunately, make-up sex is currently off the table, which means that offers of working out at the gym together are about as good as it gets.
“Okay, suit yourself. I’ll see you in the heads meeting,” Jensen says.
Jared smiles at him and reaches to pat his cheek. His hand lingers, thumb brushing over Jensen’s top lip. Jensen’s mouth creases into a smile; he makes a move to bite Jared’s thumb. Jared snorts and snatches his hand away. Jensen grins, says, “Later, man.”
Jared watches his ass when he leaves the room and groans inwardly. He’s as horny as hell now. Underneath his desk, his left leg is jiggling up and down. He stills it, tilts his head back over the back of his chair, and sighs again. His body’s aching like he’s in bad need of a massage and a long night’s sleep, but more than that, he needs to get laid. Badly. He drums his fingers on the desk, the gold wedding band on his finger catches on the sunlight flashing through the gaps in the velour blinds. He stops tapping, spreads his fingers across the top of his desk and stares down at the ring.
There was a time when that ring on his finger was all he ever wanted: marriage to Jensen, having Jensen to himself, the two of them in a real, grown-up relationship and not whatever the hell they’d fumbled through for all those years. He was even willing to give up his idealistic dreams of a family and kids of his own; he was willing to trade all of that if he could just have Jensen. Of course, the irony is that now he’s got the husband and kid he’s always wanted, and yet, he’d never have chosen for it to happen like this, for them to lose so much in the process.
He jumps up from his chair, knee cracking the underside of the desk, making his pens, stapler, phone and Jensen’s coffee mug clatter. He ignores the jolt of pain to his knee and wanders around the office, over to the window. He leans back against the ledge and surveys his office. It’s been over two years but this office, this job, still doesn’t feel like it really belongs to him. Sometimes, he feels like an imposter, like someone playing the role, and he finds himself wondering just exactly what he’s supposed to be doing here, who he’s trying to kid. There are people, those who were here (well, not precisely here in New York, those who were back in Dallas in the beginning with Jensen and Stefan) who still think of the Art Director job as Stefan’s. Hell, Jared still thinks of it as Stefan’s. He’s just the placeholder. He used to wonder if he’d ever stop feeling like that, now he knows he’s never going to.
They’re having dinner, well, take-out. No Rebecca means no dinner waiting for them, which means take-out. They sit around the kitchen table and eat pizza off plates because they’re not goddamn savages (Jensen’s words) while Jonah talks about his day. He talks about school, about what Mr. Waters said about his toad, about how they’re keeping it in a tank in the classroom and how all the other kids were really impressed and jealous that he found it in the backyard.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Jensen says. “Swallow first.” He’s got a thick deck of PowerPoint slides heaped up by his plate and he’s leafing through them, brow furrowed as Jonah speaks.
Jonah makes an elaborate show of swallowing his pizza and changes subject to the story book Mr. Waters is reading them in class. It’s just as well the kid’s got so much to say, because Jensen is paging through his papers, scribbling all over them in pencil, and snapping at both of them when he actually does say anything. Jared didn’t see him for the rest of the day. The heads meeting was cancelled due to some crisis that had Jensen pacing around his office, frantically making calls, only emerging to yell at Alison, his assistant. He’s pretty sure Jensen didn’t get to the gym in the end, which is another reason he’s so damn cranky. Jensen gets very obsessive about his work-outs.
Jonah finishes off his pizza, pushes the uneaten crusts around his plate into a smiley face. It’s artistic, in a way. “Can I have dessert?” he asks, kicking his feet against one of the table legs.
“Stop that,” Jensen says, not looking up from his reading.
Jonah stops and makes a face.
“And stop that too. Just ‘cause I’m not looking at you, doesn’t mean I can’t see you.”
“How can you see me?” Jonah asks.
Jensen looks up from his reading, taps his finger against his temple. “I got eyes in the side of my head.”
“No you haven’t,” Jonah scoffs. “That’s stupid.”
“Hmm, that’s what you think,” Jensen says. Jonah looks unimpressed; he gives a lofty sigh and turns his attention to Jared. “Can I have dessert now? Please, Jared?”
Jared does bath and story time, Jensen does the clean-up. Not that pizza involves much in the way of clean-up. Jared follows Jonah up to bed, oversees his bath and teeth brushing, watches him umm and err over his shelves and shelves of books before he picks out Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets.
“How many times have I read this to you?” Jared says.
Jonah shrugs. “I want it again. Please.”
“Okay,” he agrees. He doesn’t mind so much. After all, he did buy the last two Potter books on the day they came out.
Jonah gets into his bed, turning his face to Jared expectantly, ready for his story. Jared grins at him and opens the book.
He reads a couple of chapters; Jonah won’t let him get away with anything less than that. Jonah’s yawning by the time he closes the book and doesn’t protest when Jared pulls up the covers to tuck under his chin. Jonah rolls onto his side, brown hair spilling over his pillow case. He stretches out his hand to touch the photograph on his nightstand, finger caressing over Addie and Carmela’s smiling faces.
“Night, Momma,” he says. “Night, Carmela.”
And then it’s Jared’s turn: he brushes his fingers gently over Jonah’s finger smudges, over Addie and Carmela, as he says his own goodnight. They’re sitting on a hospital bed in the photo, newborn baby Jonah sleeping in Addie’s arms. Her face is red and shiny, her hair damp with sweat, pulled into a scruffy pony tail. Carmela’s arm is around her, her face just as shiny, eyes watery, but they’re both smiling, both alive and happy as they beam at the camera.
He can remember that day, Jonah’s birth. He can remember Jensen calling him from the hospital to tell him the news. Jensen was so excited, laughing and happy down the phone, so different from the Jensen he was used to. Stefan grabbed the phone from Jensen to shout something down the line, Jensen snatched it back, apologizing, “My friend’s an asshole, just ignore him, ignore everything he says,” – and then Stefan laughing, shouting in the background, “You’re a friggin’ parent, man! You’re a goddamned dad!” and Jensen laughing, saying, “You gotta come see him, Jay, he’s a bruiser, he’s a real bruiser.”
He’d only known Jensen five months when Jonah was born. Addie was already pregnant when he met her. He felt like he’d come in at the middle of the story, like he’d already missed too much important stuff, like it was too late for him to make a real impression on Jensen when he already had these other people that were older and more interesting around. Addie and Jensen were friends since high school, and Stefan was Jensen’s freshman roommate and the co-founder of Providence. They all had in-jokes and “do you remember when’s?” Jared knew that he couldn’t compete with Addie or Stefan, but he didn’t want to. He wanted to be something else to Jensen, something more than just the intern he had regular mid-blowing sex with. That phone call from the hospital on the day of Jonah’s birth was the first time he actually thought that Jensen might allow himself to reciprocate some of Jared’s feelings.
He can feel Jonah’s big green eyes watching him as he finishes saying goodnight to Addie and Carmela. He smiles down at him and smoothes the soft brown hair off his forehead.
“You all set there?” he asks.
Jonah nods sleepily.
“Okay, night then, kiddo.” He leans over to press a kiss to Jonah’s warm cheek.
“Night, Jared,” Jonah whispers. He’s still at the age when this special nighttime ritual makes sense, though sometimes Jared wonders how long that will last. He’s going to be seven in a couple of months, he’s a fiercely intelligent kid, never afraid to speak his mind or ask questions. A dominant personality, his teacher said during the last PTA meeting, which made Jared snort and give Jensen a significant look, while Jensen just shrugged, looking unrepentant and pleased.
He watches Jonah burrow down into his covers and twist onto his front into his favorite sleeping position. He turns on the nightlight and watches the soft focus airplanes and cars float and dance across the ceiling. He leaves the door half-open when he leaves, with the landing light on. Hopefully tonight Jonah might sleep through till morning.
Downstairs, the kitchen’s clean, the dishwasher’s on and the Italian coffeemaker’s gurgling on top of the stove. Jared rescues it, turning down the burner, and looks up to see Jensen enter the room. Jared watches him gather up the coffeemaker, whiskey bottle and two glass cups. He’s looking happier than he was earlier, like he’s pleased with himself about something and trying to hide it.
“Okay, what gives? Why are you suddenly in a good mood?” Jared asks.
“Just had a message from Phil. We’ve got an in with Markov Optical. They’re going to let us pitch to them.”
“Seriously?” Jared blinks, pleased, smile edging across his face.
“Yup, for sure. That blond dude, you know? Mark something, the blond and craggy one. Apparently he had lots of good things to say about you. He asked to set up a meeting.”
“Mark Pellegrino,” Jared says, remembering. “I’ve only met him twice, and one time was at that Awards thing. I can’t even remember what we talked about.”
“Well, evidently he does remember.” Jensen raises his eyebrows, pours a couple of generous measures of whiskey into the coffees, stirs both cups. “Something you want to tell me, Jare?”
“What? No, honestly, man, I have no idea.”
Jensen looks at him for a couple of seconds – it seems longer – then he shrugs.
“Jensen, c’mon, you can’t seriously think…” he trails off, spreads his hands in appeal.
Jensen’s still looking at him, he heaves out a sigh, tosses the teaspoon onto the counter. “Yeah, no, course not. I don’t think that. It’s just.” He shrugs, raises his hand to the back of his neck, ducks his head, avoiding Jared’s gaze. “I’m not blind. I know things aren’t great right now – with us.” He pauses; the corner of his mouth curls up wryly. “Let’s just say that if you started looking elsewhere for—“
“For sex,” Jared interrupts. “You mean, if I started fucking around with other guys, with potential clients? Is that what you’re trying to say? Do you want me to do that?”
Jensen’s not saying anything, a muscle jumping at his jaw as he keeps quiet. Jared’s fingers clench up at his sides, he wants to touch Jensen, to shake him. God, he’s so fucking frustrated. Why does it have to be so difficult? It doesn’t have to be. So why is it always so difficult? Why is Jensen so difficult? Jensen looks up to meet his gaze, he looks wary. His mouth opens, then shuts again, like he’s about to say something but hasn’t yet worked out what it is. It always surprises Jared that for someone who earns a living being good with words and slogans and copy and being able to hit people right where it hurts, Jensen is terrible at all types of real-life communication.
“I’m not going to cheat on you,” Jared says at last because it shouldn’t need saying out loud, it really shouldn’t, but evidently it does.
“I’m not discussing this with you,” Jared cuts him off. He raises his left hand, waves it in Jensen’s face, the gold band catching in the light. “You remember this? The promises we made? I meant them. Every damn word. And I don’t care if we – if you can’t,” he hesitates, not missing Jensen’s flinch, the blatant unhappiness and tension in the way his face tightens. “Well, I do care, obviously. But Jesus, dude, give me some fucking credit. I’m not going out slutting around just because we’re, you know.”
“Because I’m incapable of getting it up,” Jensen finishes. “You can say the words. I won’t expire just because you said it out loud.”
“Okay,” he swallows, takes a breath, “because you’re incapable of getting it up.”
Jensen’s mouth twitches, but he keeps holding his gaze. “You want cream?”
It takes Jared a second to realize he’s talking about the Irish coffees and he nods. “Yeah, yeah. You know how I like it.”
“Right.” Jensen moves to the fridge, opens the door. He pauses there, one hand on the handle, the other on the edge of the refrigerator, head bowed as he peers inside. Jared watches him; he wants to touch him, wants to go up behind him and pull him into his arms. Jensen looks vulnerable from this angle, his bowed head exposing the nape of his neck.
Jensen retrieves the cream, the fridge door closing behind him with a puffy clank. He pours it into their coffees and gives them another stir. Jensen picks up his own drink, takes a sip, his eyes closing for a second as he savors the strong flavors. There are things Jared wants to tell him, to shake him and shout at him and get him to listen: It’s always been you. Only ever been you. You know that. Whatever the fuck’s going on in your head, we can deal with it. You just got to let me in.
He doesn’t say any of that though, because it’s not the sort of thing they do. He watches Jensen turn and leave the room.
Jensen stands by the window in his home office and watches Jared and Jonah work on Jonah’s vegetable patch. They’re both kneeling in the dirt, elbow to elbow, Jonah digging enthusiastically at the soil with his trowel. The kid loves that damn vegetable patch. It was Jared’s idea of course, something he’d read about kids being more likely to eat and enjoy their vegetables if they’re able to grow them themselves. Privately, Jensen thinks Jonah just loves the excuse to get as dirty as he likes and not get yelled at for it.
He watches Jonah straighten up, brandishing a clump of turf and weeds in one hand which he waves in Jared’s face. Jared points him to the wheelbarrow, and Jonah trots across the grass to sling it in there, his rubber boots skidding on the damp grass when he turns back again. He’s wearing overalls, rubber boots and a plaid shirt. He looks like a 1930s dust bowl refugee, mud and dirt and grass stains streaked over the knees and legs of his pants, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows and cheeks pink with exertion.
He crouches back down beside Jared, pushing aside Henry who has come to nose around at whatever they’re doing. Jared produces a packet of seeds from his shirt pocket, tears it open and pours the seeds into Jonah’s cupped hands while Jonah stares down at them reverently. Jared pours a few into his own enormous hand and turns back to the earth patch to demonstrate how to plant the seeds. His shirt slides up and his jeans slip down as he bends over, and Jensen stares at the strip of bare skin exposed, the tantalizing flash of his hipbones, the curve of his spine outlined in his old ratty t-shirt like a string of beads. He shuffles out the way to let Jonah slide in beside him and turns his head to watch Jonah, his mouth creasing into a fond grin as he says something to the boy. With the smears of dirt and sweat stains on his t-shirt he looks good enough to eat, and Jensen’s pretty sure he once saw a porno that started like this – minus the six-year-old, of course.
Jensen feels the welcome stirring of lust deep down in his belly, the accompanying ache in his balls. It’s nice to know that he’s still capable of feeling like this, even if his stupid dick is incapable of doing anything about it. He turns back to his desk, falls down heavily into his chair and kicks out his feet, groaning out loud to himself.
His gaze catches on one of the framed photos on his desk: him and Stefan standing in front of the Grand Canyon, wearing I LOVE THE GRAND CANYON t-shirts and baseball caps and grinning cheesily at the camera. His own face is pink, nose burnt from the sun, cheeks covered in freckles, and beside him Stef doesn’t look much better with his terrible 90’s haircut. Two dumb college kids on sophomore spring break, that mini road-trip they took together back in ‘97. He slept with ten different guys on ten different nights over that trip, and the last night... the one night he tried not to think about for so long afterwards, the one that almost ruined their friendship… He can still remember the awful drive back to UTD in near silence, playing White Light, White Heat and Station to Station too loud on the hissing car stereo. He still can’t listen to those albums without an accompanying prickle of self-consciousness and dread.
Stef was the one who brought it up in a diner three hours from home. He’d always been the brave one. “I don’t want this to ruin our friendship,” he said and Jensen thought about what a strange word friendship was. Where did the “ship” part come from? Like relationship, that was another weird word, relation he got but the ship part?
He nodded, kept his head bent, too embarrassed to look Stef in the face.
“We were drunk, it was just a stupid mistake,” Stef said, his tone pleading.
And Jensen clung to that convenient excuse, raising his head to see Stef’s agonized expression. “Yeah, God, we were so drunk.”
“Right.” Stef tried to smile at him, weak and watery. “And I don’t want you to think – that you and me. It’s not like that. I don’t feel like that about you, Jen. You believe me, don’t you?”
“Yeah, course, man. I know that,” he said. But he wondered. For a long time afterwards, he wondered, unable to stop himself.
What would he have done if Stef said something one day, if Stef really did feel that way about him? He always seemed like the same old Stefan afterwards, but sometimes Jensen would catch him looking, and sometimes, when he remembered that night, when he remembered the shit Stef said and the way Stef had touched him and kissed him…
Maybe if Jared hadn’t come along, then perhaps Stef would’ve grown a pair and said something eventually. But Jensen’s so damn glad he didn’t. The thought is still too weird for him to contemplate, it’s just – just wrong. Stefan was his best friend, the brother he never had, his creative partner. They were going to do so many great things together. They’d already done so many things together: starting the business, growing it into something that was genuinely special. But their relationship wasn’t like that, and Jensen could never feel that way about him. Even in the beginning that kind of attraction just wasn’t there for him, despite everything they had in common, despite what Stef liked to call their folie à deux.
“Pretentious asshole,” he mouths, looking at Stef’s young, dumb, grinning face. He immediately feels bad, a painful twinge of remorse in his gut. “I’m sorry. You know I didn’t mean it,” he says instead.
And this is just great: he’s talking to a dead guy’s picture.
He smiles self-consciously and forces himself to look away from the photo of him and Stefan, back to his computer screen. He sighs heavily as he reads through the email open in front of him.
Jensen, I know you won’t want to hear this and I thought long and hard about contacting you in this way. You know that I don’t like using email, telephone is more my thing, but as you won’t answer the phone when I call or return any of my messages, I’m resorting to this. I need to know why you’re not attending the memorial this summer. Your sister gave me the news and I have to say I was very surprised to hear it from her and not directly from you.
Jensen grimaces, that’s typical Dorothy, that subtle, passive-aggressive dig. A sudden memory of Addie on the phone to her Mom, her eyes creased in frustration, mouth clamped shut as she holds the phone away from her ear. He used to be jealous of Addie’s relationship with her mom, of the fact that Dorothy was interfering but at least she gave a shit about her daughter. Sure, he had Diana, and his big sister was always there for him, but she was still just his sister.
Diana said you were all planning on going on vacation in Europe, which of course is very nice and a wonderful opportunity for Jonah to experience different cultures, but you must appreciate that this is the only time for Robert and I to see our grandson. We were counting on spending some time with him this summer. We’re not as young as we once were and with the loss of our darling Addie, it’s so hard for us to have our only grandson living so far away. We miss her and him every day and I know you say that we are always welcome to stay with you and Jared, but you live so far away and with Robert’s heart and my legs, it’s very hard for us to make the trip.
Oh God, it’s not even like the vacation-in-Europe thing is anything more than a pipe dream. One that he really fucking regrets mentioning to his sister now. It’s Jared’s idea of course, he’s always wanted to visit Paris and Rome and London and experience the art and culture, see the Mona Lisa and Big Ben and the Coliseum and every other tourist trap going. Jensen’s not against the idea, though he’s more enthused by the thought of a week in the south of France or on a Greek island than traipsing around a big city staring at art and buildings. Just give him a gorgeous beach, some gorgeous guys to ogle, (though just Jared would do him), and a reliable kids’ club where they can dump Jonah for the day. It’s been a long time since they had a vacation; hell, it’s been a really long time since they took any time off at all.
Jensen, you’re a good boy and you have a good heart underneath. You were always such a great friend to my daughter and I was so very happy when she told us all those years ago that you agreed to help her have a baby. I know we’ve had our differences in the past but I always hoped that we could get past them for Jonah’s sake, we are family after all. I remember all those dinners at our house and taking photographs of you and Addie before Senior Prom, you were such a handsome couple. Whatever has been said between us, you know that you and Jared are always welcome in our home. Please don’t shut us out of Jonah’s life and please think again about attending the memorial. I understand how painful the memories are for you both, they’re hard for us too, remembering what was done to our beautiful girl, but it’s so important to not let her memory fade.
With all my love, Dorothy.
He closes the email with a rough click of the mouse button. Jesus, he so doesn’t need this. He glances at the spreadsheet on the screen. Well, if things keep going the way they’re going in the Dallas office, he might be making the trip there sooner than anticipated. Maybe he could bring Jonah along for the ride, drop him with his grandparents for a couple of days while he delivers a major ass-whupping to Frank and Rudy and whoever else they’ve got running things into the ground over there. At least that way, if Dorothy gets to see Jonah now, she might shut up about them not attending the goddamn memorial this year.
He jumps out of his seat and paces across to the window again. Jonah’s holding his watering can, a smaller version of the colossal thing Jared’s got, and he’s frowning in concentration as he tips it up to water his seeds, using both hands. As if he can feel Jensen’s eyes on him, Jared turns his head and looks towards him. Jared smiles and nudges Jonah who looks up and waves, grinning toothily at him in a way that is pure Addie. People always say that Jonah is the spitting image of him, but in so many ways, he’s just like his mother. Jensen nods and waves back at them, before Jonah’s attention reverts back to his seeds.
He smiles faintly and goes back to the spreadsheet open on his computer, though God knows he doesn’t want to. Whatever way he looks at it, the Dallas office is not doing well. Sales have been down two quarters on the bounce now. Old accounts have left, and now even Morgan is threatening to jump ship, which, if it happens, could completely shut down operations in Dallas. Morgan Industries, their biggest client, is worth 40% of the Dallas office’s billings. Of course, Jeff Morgan knows this, and he’s flexing his muscles, and Jensen knows that it’s going to take a hell of a lot of diplomacy on his part to get Morgan back on their side once more. The entire situation is a royal fuckup, his fuckup. He’s taken Jeff for granted the past couple of years. When they were in Dallas, it was regular 1-1 meetings and plum spots at all their hospitality events, not to mention the very personal relationship he and Jeff enjoyed for so many years. Since he got married and moved out east all of that has tailed off.
The thing is he owes Jeff. Jeff came on board when Jensen was just a loud-mouthed 24-year-old with a tiny start-up who talked big and promised even bigger. Jeff gave him a chance, and okay, some of it was due to just how incredible the sex always was between them, but it wasn’t just about sex. Sure, Jensen knows he’s a damn good lay, but Jeff’s a damn good businessman and he wouldn’t be led around by his dick that much. No, Jeff believed in him and he showed it by removing his business from one of the biggest names in advertising and transferring it to a no-name Texan start-up. He bet heavily on Jensen and Stefan and they delivered for him. Unfortunately, it seems that they’re not delivering anymore. The work’s still good, Jensen would never allow subpar work to go out under their name, but producing good work for clients is only part of the job. Jeff expects a lot more than just good work. He’s feeling neglected and he’s letting Jensen know it.
Jensen opens up his calendar and drops a quick email off to his assistant, asking her to look into flights to Dallas next week for him and Jonah. He’s just about done when Jonah comes running into the room, still in his dirty overalls, though thankfully his shoes are off. The kid knows better than to track dirt on Jensen’s hardwood floors and angora wool carpets.
“Are you finished yet?” Jonah asks.
Jensen scoots his desk chair back, pats his knee. “C’mere,” he says.
Jonah clambers onto his lap, the chair groaning in protest. Jensen curls his arm around Jonah’s middle and pulls him in, pressing his mouth to his wind-tangled hair. He smells of earth and leaves and kiddie shampoo. Jonah squirms, rubbing his bony butt on Jensen’s thighs, feet kicking against Jensen’s shins. He’s all skin and bone, despite the amount of food he eats, and Jensen feels an intense urge to pull him in closer, hold him tight and not let go.
It surprises him sometimes, this overpowering love he feels for his son. He guesses most people wouldn’t feel like that, most people love their children and don’t even think about it. But he never wanted to be a father. He didn’t want ties or family. His business and his work would be his legacy. Something as banal and ordinary as having a kid would never be for him.
When Addie started her relentless campaign of persuasion, he first rolled his eyes at her and told her to quit yanking his chain. It took him a while to realize she was being deadly serious. She and Carmela wanted a baby and they wanted Jensen to be the baby-daddy. In the end, he gave in, as he always gave in to Addie. She was better than any account man he’d ever recruited, better even than him, and the persuasion business was his business. Half of it was pure flattery on her part, and the other half was her solemn promise that he wouldn’t have to be involved, not at all. “All we want is your sperm, babe. Just think of yourself as our personal stud-farm,” she told him with one of her infuriating smiles. “I don’t want you at Lamaze classes and you’d be a liability at the birth. After the kid’s born, he or she will already have two mommies, so it’s up to you if you want to be a dad or if you want to contribute. That’s your call. We won’t expect anything from you.”
But after Jonah was born, he felt differently. It shocked him, the sensation he felt holding this tiny person that was half him and half Addie. He hated babies, barely tolerated his sister’s two boys, preferring to abdicate his responsibility as uncle by just buying them shit instead of actually spending time with them, and yet, he couldn’t get enough of Jonah. Jonah fascinated him and moved him and made him feel things that he didn’t even realize he was capable of, and after Addie and Carmela died (were murdered), he didn’t even think twice. Jonah was his son; no one else was going to raise him but him.
Dorothy and Robert, Addie’s parents, had other ideas. Luckily, Addie insisted on putting Jensen’s name on the birth certificate, which he didn’t want at the time, stupid, selfish dick that he was. But it was his saving grace, and after he married Jared and hired the best lawyer he could get, Dorothy and Robert didn’t stand a chance. Still, things got more than a little unpleasant between them all, and his relationship with Jonah’s grandparents is still tense: exhibit number one being Dorothy’s email. But Jensen didn’t regret the mudslinging and accusations they threw at each other. It wasn’t pretty, but it was worth it.
Jonah shifts on his lap, pokes his elbow into Jensen’s stomach. “What are you working on?” he says, squinting at the screen.
“Profit and loss accounts for the last quarter,” Jensen tells him.
“It tells you what money the company’s made and what money we’ve spent,” Jensen explains, pointing out the relevant columns on the spreadsheet. He never dumbs things down for the kid. Jonah’s smart, all his teachers say so. “It’s very important for us to make more money than we spend so we can invest it back into the business to make the business better.”
“Are you seriously trying to explain microeconomics to a six-year-old?” Jared says.
Jensen looks away from the screen, at Jared leaning against the doorjamb watching them. “He’s a very smart six-year-old. He can handle it, can’t you, buddy?”
“Yup,” Jonah nods, looking pleased. “You make lots of money, don’t you, Dad?”
Jensen nods solemnly, “Yes, that’s right. So I can spend it all on you. Hey, how’d you like to go on a trip with me next week?”
“Jensen…” Jared pushes himself off the doorjamb, comes into the room.
“Where will we go?” Jonah asks, squirming on Jensen’s lap so he can look at him.
“Dallas. To go visit Granny and Grandpa. You want to go see them? We can go on a plane.”
“Can we stay in a hotel, too?”
“Maybe, we’ll see.”
“Jensen,” Jared repeats, sounding more annoyed. “He’s got school.”
“He can skip school for a couple of days. How important can it be at his age?”
Jonah whips his head around to look at Jared. “I want to go with Dad.”
Jared sighs irritably and glares at him – the look that means this isn’t over. Jensen ducks his head, feeling guilty, and presses another kiss to Jonah’s hair.
“You can’t just randomly take him out of school and on a trip to Dallas!” Jared protests. “And when the hell were you going to tell me about this?”
“I told you immediately,” Jensen answers. “I only decided to go three minutes before you guys came inside.”
Jared sighs loudly, waves his hands around some more. He’s always like this when he’s angry, agitated and dramatic, like he’s in front of an audience. “God! You can’t just decide things like that and then drop it on him and – what if you changed your mind? You’d just end up disappointing him. It’s not fair.”
“I have to go out there. You know that,” Jensen says, gritting his teeth, “you’ve seen the figures. You’ve seen how much we’re losing. And now Morgan’s threatening to drop us.”
Jared stops in his dramatic pacing and turns around. “Morgan?”
“Yeah, Morgan, our biggest client.”
Jared’s eyes narrow in on him suspiciously. Jared doesn’t like Jeff Morgan, never has. But then Jared knows about Jeff and Jensen, Jared was there. Morgan was one of the reasons Jensen refused to commit to Jared for so long. Jared’s got good reason to resent Jeff Morgan.
“If he pulls the plug, that would shut us down, you know that, Jay.”
“Maybe the Dallas office. We should be okay here.”
“So? You want Dallas to fail?”
“No, God, no, of course not!” Jared lets out a long exhale, throws himself down into the seat opposite Jensen’s desk. “I hate the idea of you going out there and – and being beholden to him, begging him to keep his damn business. I wish we didn’t need his damn business. This way he knows he’s got you in a corner and we both know what he really wants from you.”
Jensen looks at him. He looks genuinely worried, like Jensen’s about to start shit up with Jeff Morgan again, just to keep his business, like Jensen would actually consider doing that.
“Thanks for having so much faith in me,” he says dryly.
Jared darts a look at him, he looks surprised, hurt. “Jensen, no, I do have faith in you. I know how persuasive you can be, I know you can fix things. But you and him.” He pauses for a second then he bursts out abruptly: “I hate it. I hate the idea of the two of you. And me and you, the ways things are right now. I know they’re not perfect. What’s going on between us…” What’s going on with you and your useless limp penis, Jensen. We used to fuck three times a day, and now you can’t even get it up for three seconds... Jared doesn’t say that of course, but Jensen hears it, feeling the accompanying curl of shame and self-disgust in his belly.
“Nothing like that’s going to happen.” He leans onto the desk, meeting Jared’s gaze. “I mean it. But we got to be practical here. At the moment, we need his business. Without it we’re in serious trouble. This is our business – our life. This is…” Stef’s legacy, this is what he left me, he thinks. Jared’s watching him closely, as if he’s hearing the unspoken words. “You can work on the new Brown stuff and the Markov pitch while I’m out there. Hell, you’ll probably like having the house to yourself for a few days. Go out, have fun, hang out with some kids your own age.”
“Right,” Jared says. He blinks, tries to smile. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
On to Chapter Two