They have a little time before they need to leave, and while Jerry fusses at the dressing table, Dean casually reaches into his coat pocket.
Casually? Ha. That’s a laugh. His hands shake as though he’s downed ten cups of coffee. Casually. Fuck off.
In any case, he somehow retrieves the little box from the inside pocket of the heavy coat that hangs on the back of the door and, with an affected calm, turns to his partner.
“Jer?” His voice sounds good, steady.
“Mm?” He’s doing something over there, but Dean doesn’t think it’s all that important.
The words come out in a rush, nearly slurring into each other: “Happy Anniversary.”
Jerry turns so fast it’s a wonder his head doesn’t fall off. It’s almost funny, but right now Dean can’t risk a laugh, won’t risk his young partner thinking this is a joke.
Dean tries to speak, can’t. He holds out the box and offers a small smile.
“Are you for real?” No trace of the Idiot here; Jerry’s own legitimate voice adopts that juvenile phrase.
Stilted, uncertain, Jerry crosses the floor. He stares from the box to his partner, then back again. Dean can almost see the cogs whir and grind in his head. It’s a little sad, a little sweet, to see his partner this way. Dean realises with a dim sort of panic that he hasn’t really changed all that much; somehow, he’s still that eighteen-year-old kid, convinced no one could ever care enough to do something like this. Dean’s heart breaks a little for him, and he wonders how often he's had to break and mend his heart where Jerry is concerned.
“No fooling?” Jerry asks.
Finally, he can speak: “No foolin’.”
Jerry takes the box, turns it over and over in his trembling hands. “Paul, I love it.”
Dean laughs, too long and too loud, just glad of something silly to take his mind of this ridiculous gravity. “That’s just the box, Jer.”
“No, I know,” he says, and he looks at his partner with eyes that shimmer. “But I love it anyhow. Whatever it is.”
They look at each other for a minute. Dean suddenly wants to touch him, to reassure them both that this is real, that this is happening, but he waits, watches, as Jerry reverently opens the box to reveal the little watch inside.
“Oh, Paul,” he says. “You didn’t have to.”
“Yeah, I did.”
Jerry beams. He takes out the watch and instinctively turns it over.
He stares and stares and stares. Silently, Dean thumbs tears from his partner’s cheek. He keeps his hand there, stroking, stroking.
“Paul.” His voice is hoarse and small, and he stares at Dean with a desperate, hopeful disbelief. “Do you mean it?”
Dean smiles gently. “I mean everything I say about you.”
Jerry laughs a little at this. He takes off his old watch, drops it forgotten on to the dressing table, and then tries to put on the new one. His fingers fumble and falter. Dean steadies his hands and fastens the buckle at his partner’s thrumming pulse. Something crackles and sparks beneath his fingertips.
“There,” he says. “Perfect.”
Jerry nods vehemently. Then his head jerks up. “I-I gotta kiss you.”
Dean chuckles softly. “Sure.”
“It’s gonna be different.”
Dean knows. He nods. Jerry stands close and holds Dean’s face, breath hot and heavy on his mouth. Silence engulfs them. Dean feels long fingers slide into his hair, sees his partner’s tongue flick out to wet his lips. A ringing fills his head. Jerry’s kiss is soft and quiet. It lingers on his top lip. Then Jerry tilts his head and Dean feels something warm and wet slip against his mouth. A small moan shudders between them; Dean can’t quite believe it’s come from his own throat. Jerry smiles against him and opens his mouth a little wider to deepen the kiss, wraps his arms around Dean’s neck, presses so close Dean wonders they don’t merge into one. The thought makes his head spin; he thinks he almost blacks out, and grabs hold of Jerry just to keep rooted to the floor.
Then his young partner is pulling away and staring desperately at Dean, panting and flushed.
He blurts, “I love you, too,” as though Dean hasn’t figured that out, as though the kid’s almost daily confessions haven’t made it obvious enough.
Dean’s hands slip round Jerry’s waist, and suddenly he’s tired, suddenly he wants to sleep. He is dimly aware of Jerry’s hands inside his jacket.
“I didn’t get you anything nearly as good.”
Dean thinks about the gifts: the cufflinks, the cake, the comic books, the ridiculous number of golf clubs, all showered on a man who won’t reciprocate, who hasn’t made the effort until this far into the relationship. But none of that registers; he knows Jerry can’t see the disparity. In fact, Dean’s sure he doesn’t care, that he’ll keep lavishing gifts on his partner expecting nothing in return. And what can Dean give? Maybe nothing that Jerry really wants.
But a watch – a watch with an inscription that was too much for him to dictate, and even writing it down he had to add some empty endearments to temper the heavy truth: Buddy, like a child, like a stranger, Pal, which was closer, at least it sounded more like him; the hastily scrawled confession he could barely look at; and then his name, not Dean, because since when has he been that to Jerry?, but Paul seemed too much, too close, so Dino unfurled on the scrap of paper, which he shoved across the counter before he could change his mind.
Maybe a watch is all right.
“Sure you did,” he murmurs, and he slips his mouth against Jerry’s forehead.
Low and calm, head bowed, Jerry says, “Lemme do for you, Paul.” His fingers brush Dean’s belt.
“Lemme give you something.”
He finds the buckle; Dean catches his wrists.
“Jer, you don’t—”
“I know how to do it.”
Dean stares at him. He feels a thrill of fear, of recognition: something from years ago, before their partnership, when Jerry went away one night and came back different, older somehow. He didn’t say too much (and Dean thinks now he might have, if only Dean had asked), but didn’t he try something later on? Didn’t he do something in Dean’s hotel room? Then, as now, didn’t Dean reject him? You’re too young, whispers his younger self from far, far away.
“It won’t be as good as the watch, but you’ll like it, I promise.”
“Jerry…” He keeps hold of his partner’s wrists with one hand, while the other strokes his damp cheek, slips round to gently hold his neck. “You don’t have to do that.”
“I know, Paul. I wanna do it.”
“I love you, Paul.” He touches Dean’s face. “Don’t you know what I mean when I say I love you?”
“I know, Jer, I know.” He has to stop this, has to get back to where they were, the kiss or before, just Jerry delighted and touched to receive a gift from his distant friend, just Jerry happy even to receive a box, the promise of a present to come. That’s all, that’s fine. Nothing else. Please, nothing else. Just Jerry.
“Then let me make you happy.”
“Oh, Jer.” He links their fingers. “I am happy.”
“But I…” He frowns and shakes his head. “I don’t have anything else to give you.”
You’ve given me everything, but Christ, he can’t say that, can’t put that on the kid. He shoves it down, locks it away and forgets it, he has to forget it if he’s any chance of getting through this. He’s nodding, doesn’t know what he’s doing, and Jerry’s shrinking before him, sinking to his knees.
“Christ, Jer, no.” Dean all but collapses, clings to his partner. He holds so tight he worries the kid will snap in two. He’s shaking – or Jerry’s shaking. One or both of them, frightened or desperate, clutching each other. One of them is crying. Their hearts thud. Then, slowly, a sort of peace settles. The trembling stops. They breathe each other’s breath. God knows how much time passes, but Jerry’s moving, turning his head.
“It’s so beautiful.”
Dean looks; their cheeks squash together. Jerry has his arm out, twists his wrist so the gold bezel catches the light.
“You know what it’s called?” Dean whispers, like he’s sharing a secret.
“What?” His voice is soft and awed.
“The Beau Brummel.”
Jerry gasps, delighted. “It’s like it was made for us.”
Dean laughs, feels his every nerve unwind, relax, holds gently Jerry’s waist and listens to his partner’s gushing praise.
Us, he thinks.
There’s a knock at the door. They twist their heads, bumping noses and lips, and call for whoever it is to come in. Dick enters, regarding the two fellas on their knees with an expression that is not at all surprised.
Jerry leaps to his feet. “Look what Dean got me!” He bounds to the bandleader, bounces up and down and shows off his gift. Dick struggles to get a good look but tells Jerry it’s wonderful anyhow, and then raises an eyebrow at Dean, who’s clambered to his feet. He shrugs, hands deep in his pockets.
“Very nice,” Dick says, and watches with some amusement as Jerry plants a loud wet kiss on his partner’s cheek. Dean pulls a face and bats him away, while Jerry clutches his head and swoons into a chair, giggling.
Dick chuckles and goes to Dean. “Anyone would think you’d proposed.”
“Oh, you didn’t hear?” Jerry leans forward, eyes sparkling. “Spring wedding. Mark your calendar, Richard!”