Red and yellow flames spreading quickly, eating away the bottom of the pyre – a lone figure amidst the smoke, coughing and shaking. He can feel the heat on his face, hands all over his body pushing him back, trying to pin him down as the flames rise higher still and he’s screaming, oh God he’s burning – JENSEN!
Jared awakes with a start, still tasting the sickening mixture of wood, smoke and charred flesh – but it’s just a dream, just another memory from Zara.
Jensen is still asleep, laying peacefully on his side in his pallet, his breath soft and even.
Jared lays back down, still trembling from his nightmare. His new ghost, maybe, as he hasn’t dreamt about his old victims in weeks now. Not since Jensen’s trial.
He almost misses them.
“Are you sure you don’t want to see a physician?” sir Murray asks, frowning as he hands him a cup of wine.
Jared shakes his head. “Thank you, sir Micheal, but I am fine, really. You didn’t hit me that hard.”
In spite of his jovial tone, sir Micheal is not appeased: “I shouldn’t have been able to hit you at all!” He sits down beside him. “You are not yourself lately – not since that boy of yours got in trouble. What’s on your mind?”
Jared’s back stiffens, but he forces himself to relax: sir Micheal doesn’t mean anything by that and Jared should have known the whole ordeal would be all over the camp within an hour, let alone two weeks. Come to think, it’s strange nobody has accosted him before.
“I’m fine,” he insists. “Just...you know, there’s so much to decide now.”
The other knight nods: he knows that, in spite of their initial objective, most captains are satisfied with this new Latin empire. “Count Ventimiglia is among those who wish to go back home. Do you know what your lord thinks?”
“Count von Kripke wants to leave as well. I was hoping he would push for Jerusalem, but...” he shakes his head. “He too feels his vow is fulfilled.”
Sir Micheal smirks, although not unkindly. “You really did want to see the Holy Land, didn’t you?”
Jared takes another sip of wine and looks down at his cup.
“I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to go back home, but going on alone would be pointless.” Micheal is a good man, but he doesn’t have to know everything Jared thinks.
“Have you considered staying here?” he suggests.
“I have. Lord von Kripke promised to speak to His Highness the Emperor on my behalf, but it’s still uncertain whether I’ll be permitted to serve him.”
“I’m sure you will,” Micheal replies, amicably slapping his shoulder. “Shall we have another go? And please keep your head on training, this time.”
Jared drains his cup and stands. “Another time, Michael: I don’t think I’m up for it right now. Farewell.”
“Farewell, Jared. Remember I’m looking forward to our rematch.”
With one last farewell, Jared walks away from the training grounds, casually strolling through the camp as he allows his mind to wander.
As usual, when he tries not to think about his uncertain position or his restless nights, his mind ends up dwelling on the third cause of his distraction: Jensen.
Jared is not the only one who hasn’t been himself lately.
After the brief moment they shared, Jensen has suddenly become distant, closed off – as if they were back to the first days of their acquaintance.
Possibly even worse: Jared has no proof, but he knows that some of the other boys that used to be Jensen’s friends have turned against him.
I swear that boy is more frustrating than the current situation: at least I know I have done all I can there! If only he’d tell me what’s going on, I could find a way to help him. He sighs. He probably doesn’t trust me anymore – and how could he, I almost got him killed...
A sudden noise attracts his attention: looking up, he finds himself on the other side of the camp, not far from one of the wells. There’s a group of boys gathered in a circle about sixty yards ahead, shouting and yelling.
Jared frowns and starts moving towards them when the circle breaks for a second, allowing him to glimpse the true cause of their excitement: two boys rolling around in the dirt, locked into a furious fight.
For a second, Jared can but stare as Jensen viciously punches the other boy in the face, then the circle closes again and he breaks into a run, cursing his armour for weighing him down.
His curses double when he sees sir de Morgaine break in and drag Jensen off of the dark-haired boy: even at a distance, he can see the cruel satisfaction on the older knight’s face.
He forces himself to run faster.
“...deal with you as you deserve, you lying little shit!” Geoffrey is hauling back his arm for a punch while Jensen looks ready to give it back with interests.
“Morgaine!” Jared shouts as he pushes the other squires out of his way. “Take your hands off of him! What’s the meaning of this?”
Geoffrey lowers his arm, clearly disappointed, but his left hand remains wrapped around Jensen’s collar. “Padalecki. Your squire needs to be taught a lesson.”
“His teachings,” Jared growls. “are my responsibility, not yours. Unhand him.”
“Not until I’ve taught him his place! This rabid animal you have the cheek to call your squire has attacked my squire without provocation!”
Jared glances carelessly at the other boy still laying in the dust, his face covered with blood. “That seems debatable.” He remarks almost casually, then steps forward, looming threateningly over the other knight. “Let-him-go.”
Geoffrey sneers, but pushes the younger man away.
A quick glance assures him that Jensen has barely got a scratch on him: with a ripped sleeve and some bloodstains, his shift seems to have taken the most damage, but he is still staring at de Morgaine with rage in his eyes.
“Go back to my tent, Jensen. Now!” Jared barks when the younger man opens his mouth to protest.
With one last, resentful glare in his direction, he turns and strides away.
Jared doesn’t watch him go, immediately meeting de Morgaine’s cold gaze. “If you are not going to punish your boy, I...”
“You will kindly refer to me when there’s any punishing to be done. How I’m going to do it is none of your business and I will not tolerate any interference.”
Geoffrey glares at him and mutters, “This isn’t over yet, Padalecki.”
“I believe it is,” he replies coldly as he walks away.
It’s a long way to his own tent, crossing half the camp, but it’s not nearly long enough for Jared to calm down – with each step, his anger grows.
That bloody idiot, what the Hell was he thinking? Does he want to be hanged?! With all the squires in the camp, he goes and pick a fight with bloody Geoffrey de Morgaine’s! Christ’s blood, I thought he had more sense than that! If he doesn’t have a good explanation, I swear I’ll throttle him myself! He fumes silently as his tent comes into view. He better be there, or else..
Jared ducks inside and all his reprimands die on his lips.
Jensen is standing there in his hosen and drawers, caught in the act of slipping off his shift, but Jared barely registers it: he can only see Jensen’s back and the angry mess of scars criss-crossing each other everywhere he looks.
He lowers his arms and starts turning, perhaps feeling his gaze, but Jared crosses the space between them in two strides, his hands gently cupping Jensen’s shoulders as he takes in all his wounds.
His squire doesn’t move, just hangs his head as if in defeat, a flush already creeping over the back of his neck.
“Who did this to you?” Jared asks with murder in his eyes.
Jensen shakes his head. “No one.”
Jared doesn’t say a word. Slowly, gently, he spins the younger man around to face him, his hands still on his shoulders. “Who?”
Another shrug. “It doesn’t matter anymore. I deserved it.” Jensen steps back, away from him, and raises his head with a smile on his lips – a smile that strikes Jared like the blade of a dagger, so cold and detached. “I used to be a bad boy, you know,” he says mockingly as he puts on his clean shift.
Jared grits his teeth in frustration. “Help with my hauberk, bad boy,” he orders him harshly.
The younger man steps closer without a complaint as Jared bends at the waist, letting the shirt’s weight and Jensen’s efforts do their work.
In a minute, the mail finally falls to the floor. Jared moves to the water basin and starts washing himself with a wet cloth, leaving his squire to put away his armour. He can hear the links clinking as Jensen lifts the shirt and starts cleaning it.
Jared drops the rag, slips on a chemise and sinks tiredly on his pallet. For a while, he doesn’t say anything, just watches Jensen work – the angle of his neck, the way his fingers move, the calm expression on his face.
If it wasn’t for the red mark on his cheek that will soon become a bruise, he could hardly believe this is the same man who was rolling around in the dirt and throwing punches only half an hour ago.
“Why did you fight with Lord de Morgaine’s squire?” he asks softly.
Jensen’s shoulders stiffen noticeably, but he doesn’t stop working. “He deserved it!” he growls, angrier than Jared has ever seen him before. “I told him I’d teach him a lesson if he didn’t…” he cuts himself off abruptly, the broken sentence hanging in the air.
“If he didn’t what?” No answer. “Is he giving you trouble?”
Jensen shrugs. “He tries, but I know how to deal with him and his friends. Besides, some of the boys are still on my side.”
“Then what did he do to make you react like that? You can control yourself so well,” he adds, looking straight at him.
Jensen squirms uncomfortably under his gaze. “It’s just…he was talking of things he knows nothing about.”
“He was going to spread rumours?”
He winces. “Not exactly…but he did say it and…I had to make sure he wouldn’t repeat it.”
Jared nods. “Was it about me?”
This time, he hesitates – which all the confirmation Jared needs. “I see. What did he say?”
“He won’t be repeating that, sir, I made sure of it!”
Jared smiles a little. “I don’t doubt it. However, the damage may have been already done.” Silence. “Jensen, I need to know what he said.”
Jensen looks away. “I…I dare not repeat it, sir.”
That simple word is enough to break any resistance: Jensen slumps a little in his seat, then murmurs softly, “He implied you were a sodomite. It was a wicked thing to say!”
Jared swallows hard, trying to keep his fear in check. He was just baiting Jensen…I haven’t been with anyone since I left and my parents wouldn’t have told anyone, it was just a slander. My nightmares are just that, if they were prophetic dreams I’d be the one dying.
“Yes, it is,” he finally says, as calmly as he dares “And I believe his master won’t thank him, either. Lord de Morgaine and I might have our differences, but he is a honourable man.” He adds, noticing Jensen’s mistrustful face, then forces a smile. “Don’t worry about it, Jensen. He won’t be repeating that anymore. In any case, I’ll take care to pay a visit to Chrysanthe.”
The name of the notorious brothel owner has a curious effect on Jensen, almost as if he couldn’t hold back a start of recognition.
Before Jared can think about it, however, they are interrupted by a light scratching on the canvas and he has to greet the visitor – none other than von Kripke’s own quire. “Sir Jared, my lord has important news for you. He awaits you in his tent.”
Jared nods, already reaching for some finer garments. “Thank you.”
A few minutes later, as he follows his lord to the imperial palace for a short but vital audience, a sudden thought crosses his mind: at least, now he knows where Jensen stands – and, really, was there ever any doubt?