Jensen's best friend was an asshole.
"I'm going to kill him," Jensen muttered to himself, staring at the door like he could make Jared appear in it through sheer force of will. "Strangle him and toss his body off the damn roof. Twice."
"Sounds pretty serious," a voice said and Jensen turned to find Steve, the owner of the bar, standing just behind him with an easy sort of grin on his face. "Someone out there I need to warn?"
Jensen shook his head. A combination of nerves and disappointment teamed up to make the move jerky and unbalanced. "He'd need to be here first."
"Ah," Steve said, with an understanding little nod. "Jared running late?"
"Who knows," Jensen said without thinking, and immediately had the uncomfortable thought that he meant that in more ways than one. He flashed Steve a smile he didn't really mean. "His loss, hey?"
"It's not a show I'd want to miss," was all Steve said. He tilted his head. "You about ready to go on? The natives are starting to get restless."
Jensen rolled his shoulders reflexively, feeling the familiar bulk of his guitar shift in time. "Yeah, I'm ready," he said, because fuck Jared if he thought Jensen was going to put off his performance to make up for Jared's late ass.
Any more than he already had, anyway.
"Get yourself on up there, then," Steve said, with a nod towards the stage at the far end of the bar. "I'll get things squared off over here."
Jensen smiled again, and this time the expression was tinged with the eager excitement that had been bubbling up inside him all day. He'd been looking forward to this for months. "Hope you enjoy it, man."
Steve shrugged easily. "Wouldn't have offered if I didn't think I would." He waved a hand. "Now go play us some magic."
Jensen nodded and started making his way across the room, nodding his greeting at the people in the crowd whom he recognized. There were a decent number of them, though Jensen doubted he could identify more than a handful by name. In any other place, he'd have found that odd, but it was pretty well par for the course for the crowd at Roads; God only knew how far most of them had traveled just to be here.
No one ever seemed to be able to find words to explain exactly what it was that was so appealing about the place, but there was no denying that Roads was renowned as the place for good food, good company and amazing music across a good three states, if not further. For Jensen, stepping into Roads was like a full-body experience: it left him feeling satisfied inside and out, completely at ease with the world.
Jensen climbed onto the stage without ceremony, though it was hard to suppress the urge to do a victorious little fist pump as he sat down in front of the mic. He had seen many a ridiculously talented performer on this stage over the years and, though he had plenty of faith in his own skills, he'd never quite believed he was ever going to be one of them.
Music had always been Jensen's true gift. As a child, he'd been singing almost before he finished learning how to speak and he'd taken to his music lessons like he'd been born with a violin propped under his chin, a saxophone mouthpiece between his lips and piano keys dancing under his fingers. All of his instructors had lauded him as a prodigy, had had grand visions of award winning performances and international acclaim, but Jensen had never been interested in competing, so he hadn't. From what he'd heard, several of them were still quite upset about that.
As Jensen had grown older, he'd been told - by more people than just his mother - that he could have a career in mainstream music if he applied himself. There had actually been a few talent agents and record companies that had scouted him when he first went on the amateur circuit in college, but Jensen had never been interested in that either. For him, music was about breathing life into the world, not about making money. If he could live comfortably on the salary from his day job and still have time to make music on his own terms, he didn't see any reason to do otherwise.
So Jensen kept his musical aspirations simple. He stayed on the local music scene, doing odd gigs here and there when he felt like it. He wrote and played in his spare room-cum-music studio for hours on end. He sat on a bench in the park down the street from his house with whatever instrument had caught his fancy that day and played until he got hungry or tired enough to go home.
He met with varying shades of disapproval from the people in his life, most of whom thought he was wasting his talent where he was now. There had only ever been one person who'd known better, who'd understood that music was never wasted, not when it was honest and played with purpose.
Jared had been Jensen's friend since they were kids and Jensen's mother had insisted that Jensen teach the neighbours' son how to play the piano. Jared had turned out to have all the musical talent of a bucket, but they'd somehow managed to become fast friends anyway. Since then, their friendship had survived the four year age gap between them - which had been a crippling distance when they were in high school -, rooming together while Jared was in college - which had nearly driven them both to homicide on more than one occasion -, Jared's rather explosive coming out - which had given Jensen the dual opportunity to admit that he was mostly bi and to mock Jared for his shit taste in men -, Jensen moving to another state for work - which had made the both of them miserable and had led to them coordinating their next jobs so that they were in the same city -, and all the little everyday nuisances that made friendship such a wonderful pain in the ass.
Which was why Jared's recent inability to spend more than ten minutes in Jensen's company felt like someone had sucked all the air out of Jensen's lungs and then punched him in the face for good measure.
At first, Jensen had thought that it might have been a boy. Jared was a friendly sort of guy and he'd never had much trouble gaining admirers. He'd had a couple of serious relationships over the years, though recently he hadn't been doing much dating at all that Jensen had noticed.
If there was a new someone in Jared's life, Jensen would be manfully hurt that Jared hadn't told him, but he would at least be able to give a reason for the disappearing act.
But Jared wasn't acting like a man in love. Mopey and sort of moony, sure, but those weren't signs of dating. None of Jared's other friends seemed to think there was anything wrong with him, though the sidelong glances they gave Jensen when they didn't think he was looking made it pretty clear that they knew more than they were letting on. And, whatever it was, it looked like it was Jensen's fault.
The worse part was that Jensen didn't even know what he'd done. Jared had started drifting away so slowly that Jensen hadn't really noticed until he found himself alone at the park for the third weekend in a row, another flimsy excuse from Jared waiting in his inbox when he got home that afternoon.
Probably, Jensen should have done something about it then, but he'd been busy enough at work and irritated enough with Jared that he decided to give Jared the space he obviously wanted. Jared would get over himself sooner or later.
Except, he didn't. Jared grew more distant with each passing day and Jensen grew progressively closer to punching the bastard in the face until he told him what the fuck was going on. A couple of times, Jensen had thought that Jared was nerving himself up to say something, but those strange, tentative silences had never been filled.
Jensen had hoped that tonight would be different. Had hoped that, whatever else was going on, that Jared would at least have come to see him play here, at Roads. Jared knew just how important this was to Jensen; he'd sat here beside Jensen week after week while Jensen got lost in music so beautiful it was almost otherworldly, he'd seen Jensen's giddy reaction to Steve's offer, he'd always known just how much the music mattered to him.
But he wasn't here. And Jensen felt like a fool.
Finished tuning, Jensen took a deep, deliberate breath, looking for the place inside him that wasn't aching over Jared's sudden disinterest in all things Jensen. Then he released it, smiled at the audience and, without bothering with something so mundane as an introduction, let his music speak for itself.
It was much later. Last call had come and gone, the last few patrons had weaved their ways homeward, and Jensen was sharing a last drink with Steve in recognition of a set fucking well played, when the door banged open and Jared burst through - harried, sheepish and breathing hard like he'd run from the closest subway station.
"Jensen!" Jared started forward and, even from a room's length away, Jensen recognized the placating smile on his face. He'd seen far too much of it, recently.
Jared had changed out of his work clothes, Jensen noticed. Instead of a suit and tie, he was wearing a pair of worn-in jeans and his favourite shirt that he'd bought at the Our Lady Peace concert he dragged Jensen to a couple years ago. The thing was practically falling apart, he'd worn it so often, and the thin material hugged lovingly across Jared's broad shoulders. It was a good look for him, casual and confident, but mostly it felt like a reminder that, while Jensen's always made time for Jared - even at the expense of going to see fucking alt rock bands - Jared didn't care enough to do the same for Jensen anymore.
Suddenly, it was much easier to push aside the hurt and turn to the anger lurking beneath it.
Jensen set his half-full glass on the bar with a low tap and met Jared's sheepish expression with a bland one of his own. He crossed his arms over his chest. "You're late."
"I know. I'm sorry." Jared took a careful few steps closer. "I- how did it go?"
"Good," Jensen said neutrally. Out of the corner of his eye, Jensen saw Steve sliding away towards the back room, probably to give them space. "Really good."
"That's great, J-"
"Not that you care."
Jared's smile faltered. "Jensen, that's… you know that's not true, right?"
Jensen refused to soften. "Can't say I do, actually. Seems like there's a lot about my life you don't care about, these days."
"Look, I'm sorry," Jared said again, as though apologizing more than once showed that he really meant it. Considering how often he'd apologized for blowing Jensen off recently, Jensen figured he must be feeling pretty damn sorry by now.
Just not enough to stop ignoring the fact that Jensen existed.
"Sheppard caught me on my way out of the office tonight," Jared said, in his 'reasonable' tone of voice. The one he used on clients. Jensen's blood pressure ratcheted higher. "He made me do a full recount of Yubaba Corp's financial-"
The word was in the air before Jensen'd realized he was going to say it, but he couldn't bring himself to regret the sentiment. Especially when it made Jared's eyes widen while something like guilt lent tension to his shoulders.
Not that that was going to stop Jared from trying to get out of it. "I'm serious, Jensen, I-"
Jensen held up a hand. "No. Don't give me any of that crap. You haven't been to one of my shows in months."
"Yes I have," Jared protested and Jensen snorted derisively.
"Yeah. After they'd already ended." Jensen was distantly amazed that it had taken them this long to get to this point. He should have done something months ago.
Jared was starting to look defensive. "God, Jensen, it's not my fault the boss dumped a shit ton of work on me at five to five."
"But it's your fucking fault you didn't even text me about it, you spineless bastard," Jensen snapped. "And don't even try to tell me that whatever the boss gave you needed you working on it till midnight on a Friday night. You've got the day off, tomorrow, for God's sake."
"And maybe I don't want to spend it in the office," Jared shot back.
A frisson of hurt tried to slice through the anger. Jensen pushed it back ruthlessly. "So you'd rather miss my show. Again. Big plans for tomorrow, then? Hope you have fun."
"Give me a break, Jensen. I've been working all day and the last thing I want to do is get yelled at. I'm here, aren't I?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. Here I was thinking that you might have wanted to give me some moral support at my gig, which was really important to me, by the way. In case you didn't hear me any of the first six hundred times I said it. Guess I should have known better."
Jared ran a frustrated hand through his hair. "Look, I'm not dealing with you when you're like this. I'm sorry I missed your show. I'll make the next one, I promise."
"Seems like that's all you ever say these days." Jensen took a deep breath, fighting to get his temper under control. His voice came out far more vulnerable than he'd hoped when he asked, "Why are you avoiding me, Jared?"
Jared's expression faltered, something aching and lonely flashing across his face before an ugly sneer got pasted over top. "Maybe if you weren't such a jackass when I do see you, I'd want to do it more often," he snapped. "Ever think of that?"
"Me?" Jensen stared at him, shocked. "The hell have I done? You're the one who decided that… that fucking paperwork was more interesting than I was. Than my music was. I remember when you used to like my playing, you know."
Jared shook his head. "I- I can't…"
"Can't what, Jared?" Jensen got right up in Jared's space, a snarl curling his lips. "If you don't want to know me, Jared, at least have the balls to tell me to my face."
"You know what? Fuck you." Jared turned and headed for the door, his spine ramrod straight and his fists clenched.
"Should I go ahead a rip up that 'best friend' certificate from third grade now, or do you want to wait for the anniversary of when we met?" Jensen shouted after him.
"Fuck off!" Jared shouted over his shoulder, letting the door slam loudly behind him.
"Oh, no you don't." Jensen strode across the room and banged out the door on Jared's heels. "Get back here! Jared!"
The ground was slick and gleaming in the wake of an earlier rain and the light from the streetlamps cast orange-purple circles across the dark asphalt. Jared was marching across the street in quick, straight-legged strides and giving absolutely no indication that he'd even heard him.
"Nice to know I don't even deserve an explanation!" Jensen shouted after Jared's retreating back. "Why won't you just talk to me, you asshole?"
"Because I can't stand listening to you play!" Jared roared, and his heels made a sharp, skidding sound as he whirled.
Silence fell like a thunderclap between them, but Jensen could barely tell amid the roaring in his ears. "What?" he said, staggering back as though Jared had punched him. "Jared?"
Jared's chest was heaving with the same adrenaline that had been pushing Jensen all night and Jensen wished it hadn't been too damn dark to make out Jared's expression. Jared stood there for an eternal moment, then nodded once and turned away again.
Jensen stared after him, frozen in place by the loss rising up his throat. He opened his mouth, but the words died before he'd even figured out what they were going to be. What the hell could he say to that?
Something flashed in the dark on his left, a reflection there and gone in a second, and Jensen's eyes dragged instinctively towards it. It was a car, the light from the streetlamps glinting off the windshield as it careered erratically around the corner, far too quickly on the rain-soaked pavement.
Jared was still in the road.
Jensen's heart thudded, twice, far too long.
"Jared!" he screamed.
Wheels skidded, brakes screeched, and Jensen watched in horror as Jared was flung up against the windshield, his body colliding with the glass with a fleshy smack that was going to haunt Jensen's dreams for years.
The car fishtailed wildly as the driver fought for control; Jared's body rolled and skidded across the roof, then tumbled limply over the opposite side. Jensen was running before he'd even registered the sound of Jared hitting the pavement, heedless of the car peeling off into the darkness.
Jared was crumpled on the ground, head thrown back at an awkward angle and arms and legs spread in a grotesque parody of his usual exuberant sprawl. There was blood on his face, and more soaking through his shirt. He wasn't moving.
Jensen couldn't get enough air.
He was on his knees without any clear idea of how he'd got there, caught by the way Jared's eyes had gone glassy and strange in the orange light. Jared's shoulders felt impossibly solid under Jensen's fingers: too strong to be lying so still. Jared was never so still.
"Jared!" Jensen said, fighting the urge to shake him until he stopped fucking around and got up. "Jared, man, look at me." Jared's head lolled back, exposing the impossibly fragile curve of his neck. His shirt was ruined. He was gonna be pissed about that when he woke up, would probably make Jensen go to another damn concert so he could buy another one. "God, Jared."
Blood pressure. Jensen should be checking his blood pressure.
"You're gonna be okay," Jensen told him, scrabbling for his wrist. "You hear me? It's all gonna be fine." Jensen's hands wouldn't stop shaking and how the fuck was Jensen supposed to take Jared's pulse if he couldn't keep his hands still? "I got ya, don't worry."
Jared's skin was warm to the touch but still a little clammy from the damp of the night. Jensen couldn't feel a pulse.
Jared still wasn't moving.
"No, no, no," someone said, and Jensen hardly even cared that it was him. "You don't get to do this to me, you bastard. Open your eyes, godammit! Jared!"
A hand landed on Jensen's shoulder and he half-jumped out of his skin, would probably have managed it if his entire being hadn't been focused on Jared.
"Jensen," the hand said. "He's-"
Jensen shook his head. "Shut up."
"I'm sorry, Jensen, bu-"
"I said shut up!" Jensen roared, voice cracking around the words. He leaned in close to Jared's ear. "Come on, Jared," he said, low and entreating. "Open your eyes. Please, just… please."
He waited expectantly. Jared didn't move.
Jensen stared at him. "Jared?"
The hand gave Jensen a shake. "Jensen. It's too late. We can't do anything for him."
His fingers were in Jared's hair, Jensen noticed absently, threading through the long strands and catching on random tangles. There were a lot of them.
"Always said that haircut was a dumb idea," Jensen said and then he was crying, choking around the hot pain in his chest while tears tracked down his face like fire. He doubled over and kept sinking until he had his forehead pressed against Jared's chest. Right where his heartbeat should have been.
"Let's get him out of the road," the voice said, maybe more than once. Jensen wasn't really listening. The hand disappeared from Jensen's shoulder and reappeared on Jared's hip. "Help me lift him."
Mindlessly, Jensen obeyed. Between him and the hands, they got Jared off the ground and carried him. Some of Jared's bones slid sickeningly under his skin when Jensen tried for a more comfortable angle and Jensen fought the urge to throw up. He followed the voice's directions up over the curb, into a building and through a door.
"Put him down here," the voice said and Jensen absently registered the bump when they lay Jared on a low couch that wasn't quite long enough to keep his feet from dangling off the end. That wasn't unusual; Jensen had bought an extra-long couch for his house to make sure that Jared fit on it.
"Let go of him, Jensen," the voice said.
Jensen did. His hands came away red.
There was a sigh from somewhere nearby. "Sit down before you fall down."
A chair nudged at the back of Jensen's legs and he dropped into it, never taking his eyes off Jared.
"You take some time. I'll be right here. Okay?"
"Okay," Jensen answered blankly.
On the couch, Jared didn't move.
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