Kings Of Queens - Part 2
Jensen manages to convince his roommate, Chris, to lend him the money for a bus ticket. Jensen’s scholarship pays for his tuition but he barely has enough left over to cover the cost of his books let alone enough to feed himself, an always-hungry still-growing teenage boy.
He wasn’t raised to ask for things. His family is proud, they don’t take handouts but for Jared, Jensen doesn’t care about his pride. Anyway he’ll pay it back. He’ll find a way to pay it all back.
His cell doesn’t have much power left on it but he manages to ring the Padaleckis’ apartment from his seat on the bus, groaning in frustration when the call goes unanswered. He tries his own parents next and after several rings gets through to his dad.
Alan Ackles sounds shocked that Jensen is coming home, shocked but not entirely surprised, more resigned that his son is abandoning his studies. He doesn’t try to dissuade Jensen when he’s already fully aware how much both boys mean to each other.
Alan explains that Jared is in the ICU under observation and the doctors suspect he’s slipped into a light coma as a result of a blunt head trauma. Jensen feels nauseous by the time he hangs up the phone. It’s not the comforting news he had been hoping for. Jensen wonders how much his dad knows about how Jared hit his head.
The journey home is seemingly endless and one day melds into two. Jensen doesn’t eat much besides sugary junk from vending machines, he doesn’t sleep and he doesn’t close his eyes. He sees Jared whenever he stares out at the unexceptional landscape flashing by the window, hears Jared’s voice over the sound of the bus’s rumbling engine.
Jensen's knows the minute he's back in New York. He doesn't know it because he can see familiar landmarks such as Liberty Island or the Brooklyn Bridge. He knows because he can feel it in his blood. A strange mixture of sick discomfort and a profound sense of belonging.
He has some serious neck ache going on from sitting with his forehead pressed against the cool glass window. He feels stiff and sore, muscles complaining, legs demanding to be stretched. As the bus finally enters Queens, he recognizes the familiar sight of the church of Our Lady Of The Miraculous Medal close to where Sophia, the St. Francis High School Prom Queen of 1999, now works. If you can call peddling her ass on a street corner for dope money working.
On Myrtle Avenue he sees his dad’s friend, Jim, ambling inside the deli where he and Jared used to waste most of their pocket money on licorice sticks, peppermint patties and ice-cold cans of soda. Everywhere around him are sights and sounds that Jensen knows as well as he knows the back of his hand and he looks at it all, detached and empty.
It doesn't feel good to be back.
The minute the bus pulls into the transportation hub on Wyckoff Avenue, Jensen hops off and flags down the first cab he can find. Tired joints popping as he races to get his bag into the trunk. He asks for The Hospital Medical Center of Queens even as the cab driver is still negotiating the traffic, waiting for a gap so he can pull out from the curb.
The cab drops him off right outside the main entrance to the hospital. Jensen stands in a trance, gazing bewildered at the numerous signs pointing to different sections of the hospital. He's not spoken to anyone since his cell battery died late last night so he's not even sure whether Jared's still in the ICU or been moved into a regular room.
He stumbles though the glass sliding doors and frowns when he sees the long line of people waiting at the reception desk. He joins the end of the queue; a large middle-aged lady with glasses fighting to stay on the end of her bulbous nose turns around to glower at him when she overhears him swearing under his breath. Jensen glares back and something about his eyes, his 'don’t fuck with me' persona has her twisting back to face front again pretty damn fast.
Jensen’s been here once before when Jared injured his knee but at that time he’d borrowed his mom’s old Ford Mustang and was only stopping by to pick Jared up, he never actually made it through the doors. Now that he’s actually inside he wasn’t expecting it to smell like a toilet, but it probably has everything to do with the frail looking old guy sitting in a wheelchair over by the TV, the one who reeks like he’s crapped himself and nobody’s been bothered to come change his pants.
The place is crowded. Druggies and drunks standing side by side with baby-faced gang members who’ve had a tooth knocked loose or more often than not, something much more violent. There’s harried parents clutching screaming red-faced infants and Jensen moves out of the way as an arguing Latino couple push noisily through the mass of bodies. Odds-on that at least a quarter of the people taking up seats in the waiting room are only there because it’s somewhere dry and reasonably safe to get some sleep.
Megan, thank God. Jensen spins on his heels and drops his bag from his shoulder just in time to scoop up an armful of tearful adolescent girl. Megan clings, arms wrapping tightly around his neck before he sets her down.
“Papa is telling everyone it was an accident, that Jared tripped and fell but I know...I know it wasn’t an accident,” Megan says hurriedly, her obvious distress making her neglect the need for something as simple and as obvious as hello.
“He’s okay isn’t he, Meggy? Please? I need to know if he’s okay?”
“He’s not okay. He’s not been okay since you left.” Megan sounds riled, she might be just a little kid—five feet nothing and less than a hundred pounds—but she’s fiercely protective of her big brother.
Jensen swallows dryly and looks up, noticing Jeff for the first time standing a few steps behind his sister. Eyes weary and face drawn, his arms are folded across his broad chest. “Jeff?”
“Hey, Jensen.” Jeff smiles but it’s gone again in a heartbeat, like a magical illusion and Jensen’s left with doubts that it was even there to begin with. Jeff strides over and draws Jensen in for a brief hug. “Thanks for coming.”
Like Jensen wouldn’t have come. “Where’s...”
“He’s upstairs, come on, we’ll take you up there.”
Jensen picks up his bag ready to go but he’s nervous. Scared about what he’s going to see, what he’s going to feel, what words are going to fall out of his mouth without his permission.
Jeff pushes the door to Jared’s room open and motions for Jensen to go inside. Jensen moves forward, not pausing when Jeff grips hold of Megan’s shoulders holding her back so that she doesn’t follow and the pair of them stay standing out in the hallway.
Jensen winces when the door closes behind him squeaking on its hinges. He has the absurd notion that he doesn’t want to wake Jared up, even though that’s exactly what he does want to happen.
Jared’s lying on the bed, the outline of his body clearly visible under his blankets. His head is wrapped in bandages and his eyes are closed, curled dark lashes standing out against pale cheeks.
Jensen shuffles forward, feeling oddly out of place. It’s like walking on hallowed ground, the inside of a church, sacred and serene. There’s nothing but the occasional beeping of machines that Jensen doesn’t even fully register because all of his focus is on the person in the bed.
He reaches out, bridging a gap wider than the Grand Canyon to put his hand on top of Jared’s.
The warm feel of Jared’s skin is like an electric shock and Jensen tears his hand away and clamps it over his mouth but he can’t hold the feelings back any longer that have been kept captive for so long. It’s emotional overloaded joining forces with sheer exhaustion and Jensen’s helpless to stop it from spilling out of him like a burst water main.
“This shouldn’t have happened to you...this isn’t how your life was meant to turn out...Jared. Jared.” Jensen breathes out shakily; it's a mantra, a prayer. A name he’s repeating over and over again in his head and has been doing his entire life.
Jensen kicks off his shoes and shucks out of his jacket, he lowers the rail and crawls up onto a bed barely big enough to contain Jared, let alone two people.
Carefully squeezing himself into the tiny space, his cheek rests by Jared’s shoulder as he lightly fingers the off-white dressing covering most of Jared’s head, only the odd curl of hair peeking out in places. He plants soft kisses on the still and silent figure, imagines Jared laughing his loud rumbling belly-laugh and telling him, “Dude, quit slobbering on me,” but every time he glances at Jared’s face he’s met with the same unresponsive relaxed features as before.
He shouldn't fall asleep there but the utter hell of the last forty-eight hours wins out and that’s exactly what he does do.
The doctors keep repeating things like light coma and mild traumatic brain injury. It sounds ludicrous to Jensen because he can’t imagine any type of brain trauma being mild. It’s like saying having your leg chopped off is no big deal because, you know, you still have the other one to hop around on.
The words are something for him to cling on to though, the life raft he needs.
Jensen spends long hours in Jared’s room, splitting the time between staring avidly at Jared, waiting for him to wake up—what is it they say about a watched pot?—and trying to think of things to say to Jeff and Megan which don’t come across sounding too much like; so how’ve you been?
Eventually he picks up one of the pamphlets a nurse left in the room and leafs through it. It explains more about brain injuries and how mild traumatic brain injuries can affect balance, coordination, fine motor skills, strength, and endurance. As well as how such injuries can often cause cognitive deficits of language and communication, information processing, memory, and perceptual skills.
Jensen puts it back down less than five minutes later. It’s all too much to take in.
“Where’s your mom?” Jensen’s eyes dart restlessly from the faint up down movement of Jared’s chest to the ceaseless blipping monitors and then to Jeff’s troubled expression. Jeff’s girlfriend Lauren took Megan back to their place over an hour ago and Jensen has been sitting in quasi silence with Jeff ever since.
“She’s at the police station with Dad.” Jeff says, leaning to one side so that he can knead his knuckles into the painfully tight knots in his back muscles.
Well, that’s fucked up. Jensen hasn’t let himself think about Gerry because he didn’t have room in his head for anger but now, now he’s back in Queens and Sharon is with her husband instead of by her son’s bedside, Jensen’s anger is red hot and blazing.
It’s the same anger which raged in Jensen’s chest whenever Jared turned up sporting new bruises and however hard he tries he’ll never understood how a mother could stand by and allow her own child be hurt—abused—because that’s exactly what this is.
“What’s going to happen to him?”
“To Dad? Jail, he’ll do time, Jensen.”
“That’s not nearly enough.” Jensen replies automatically before shuffling uneasily in his chair. However much he wants to tear Gerry Padalecki into teeny tiny bloodstained pieces, the man is still Jeff’s dad, Jared’s dad. “Sorry, I’m just...” going insane with rage.
But Jeff nods, head hanging between slumped shoulders. “It’s okay. I know I should have done more. Protected Meggy and Jared somehow...I don’t deserve to be their brother.”
“Don’t say that. This is your dad’s doing, not yours. You never lifted a hand to Jared.”
“I didn't lift a hand to stop it either and that means I'm at least partly to blame. I’m sorry Jensen but you can’t convince me otherwise.” Jeff swipes roughly at his eyes with the heel of his hand before laughing humourlessly. “Look, Jensen, you should go home. Get a shower and some sleep because no offense dude but you look worse than my Grandpa did lying in the open casket at his wake.”
Jeff waves a hand towards the door absently, eyes fixed on his brother’s unconscious form. Jensen doesn’t move. “Look, anything happens, anything at all...if Doctor Ross comes in to empty JT’s catheter, I’ll call you and give you a blow by blow account. Promise.”
Jensen makes a face. He doesn’t feel happy about the prospect of leaving but he can smell himself and he does smell vaguely like the alleyway which runs behind their apartment block, the one where all the local neighbourhood winos go to take a piss—and maybe Jeff wants time alone with his brother. Not that he’d ask Jensen to leave for that reason but Jensen can see it in Jeff’s weary eyes that he needs some space to get his head straight.
Perhaps he could slip home for a little while. “Okay but I’m coming straight back in a few hours.”
Jensen wakes up to the sound of his cell phone buzzing, it’s barely seven am and he didn't crawl under the covers until turned two. He gropes around groggily for a few seconds before he manages to pick up his phone from his nightstand.
It’s a text message from Megan.
Over the fastest breakfast on record, Donna Ackles flitters around her small tidy kitchen as Jensen hurriedly inhales a plateful of pancakes, his mind already out the door. “Mom. I don’t think I’m gonna go back to college,” Jensen says matter-of-factly, taking a large gulp of orange juice like there’s a citrus fruit shortage looming.
Donna stops cooking and turns away from the stove. The spatula in her hand is dripping hot fat onto the linoleum. She frowns as though she doesn’t understand but the expression on her face tells Jensen that she understands perfectly well. She takes a seat at the table, reaches out to stop Jensen’s loaded fork as it’s moving towards his mouth. “Honey, college is your future. It’s your whole life.”
“Jared’s my life, I’m in love with him.” Jensen blinks. He didn’t plan to blurt it out like that, he didn’t plan on blurting it out period but now it’s out there, there’s no taking it back. No erase and rewind. Donna opens her mouth to speak but Jensen gets in first, “can we have the ‘my son’s a gay college dropout’ fight later? I gotta get to the hospital, I told Megan I’d be there by nine.”
He picks up his jacket, pecks his mom on the cheek and darts off without waiting to hear her reply.
It’s weird because Jensen knows right down to the core of his heart that he loves Jared and always has, knows it like he knows the earth is round and the sky is blue and he knows he’s absolutely not going back to Washington State but he doesn’t know what’s going to happen now. Everything is so uncertain he almost wishes he had one of those lame magic 8-balls so he could shake it and have his fortune-told but as he’s walking towards the bus stop he feels lighter than he has done in weeks, months.
Jared’s showing signs of waking up and Jensen’s just got a load off his chest the size of an elephant with a penchant for Big Macs. He’s almost tempted to do a Gene Kelly and swing himself around a lamppost, click his heels together and start singing. For the record, he doesn’t but it’s a damn close call. Instead Jensen makes do with setting off in a sprinted run in the direction of his bus.
Jensen arrives at the hospital just after the breakfast trolley has been doing the rounds and he follows the lingering scent of porridge and hot coffee down the winding corridors as he makes his way towards Jared’s room.
His earlier feeling of cheerfulness turns into a lump of solid stone in his belly and he almost loses his shit when he gets to Jared’s room to find the door closed and Megan and Jeff pacing the hallway.
Turns out Jared has decided to go one step further than merely showing signs of regaining consciousness and actually has woken up, barely thirty minutes earlier. Jensen takes the news on the chin and it’s hard hitting relief which makes him totter the few steps forward to take a seat in the nearest chair.
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