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Three weeks—three lengthy, excruciating weeks—had passed since Jared had dropped out of his Literary Analysis class and Jensen found himself staring longingly at the empty seat in front of his desk before and after class and it had taken all the energy he had left to not gaze at it silently during a class discussion or lecture.

 

Jensen felt pathetic, but he could not help himself.

 

By the time the third week rolled around, Jensen had grown more used to not seeing the shaggy-haired, bright-eyed boy sitting in his classroom. Even at home, he had grown accustomed to not sharing an intimate moment with Jared over the webcam. Though it pained him and he felt hollow, Jensen knew that perhaps it was best in the end—for them both.

 

Just as Jensen was tucking his books away into his briefcase, he felt as though he was being watched and he lifted his gaze to meet two pairs of equally concerned faces, which belonged to Danneel and Genevieve—his two brunette chatterboxes in the back corner.

 

Jensen frowned at the worried glint in their eyes. “Is everything alright, ladies?”

 

The two girls shared a private, anxious glance—as though determining who should speak first—before Danneel turned her full attention onto Jensen.

 

“It’s Jared, Mr. Ackles,” The reddish-brunette began and just hearing someone speak the boy’s name caused his heart to flutter. “We haven’t seen him for three weeks.”

 

“I can understand your concern, Miss Harris, but there is nothing for either of you ladies to be worried about. Mr. Padalecki resigned from my class,” explained Jensen and he turned his attention back on to his task at hand. “Now I will see you both on Thursday--”

 

“It’s not just your class, Mr. Ackles,” Genevieve blurted out and the conviction in her tone caused Jensen to turn his gaze back up to her once more. “I haven’t seen Jared in any of my classes—and I have two others with him and Danneel. He hasn’t returned either of our texts or phone calls either.”

 

“We’re really worried about him,” Danneel finished quietly for her friend.

 

Seeing the genuine concern on his pupils faces caused Jensen to frown once more and he leaned against his desk, lowering his voice as he asked, “If you two are so apprehensive, why haven’t you gone to the Dean to see if he could reach out to Jared? What about the police? Or even his family? They would be far more help to you than I could be.”

 

“Because you’re the only person who seems to care,” Genevieve said and there was a sternness in her voice that allowed Jensen to know that she was not giving up that easily on the boy nor was she fooled by Jensen’s cold façade. “Danneel and I have tried to talk to our other professors but they keep brushing us off and telling us that ‘Jared is an adult and it is his own decision to not attend class’ but there’s got to be more than just that, Mr. Ackles. Jared isn’t the kind of guy to just not come to class—sure he’s late most of the time, but he still shows up--”

 

“And we can’t go to the Dean because he’s only going to tell us to go to the police and my father is an officer and there wouldn’t be much Austin PD could do unless Jared’s family reports him missing—which they haven’t done,” Danneel chimed in. “I’ve already asked my father to check for me.”

 

Jensen pinched the bridge of his nose in silence, trying to gather his thoughts. Was it that obvious that these two girls—young and attractive, though impeccably intelligent—could tell how Jensen felt about the boy? No. That couldn’t be it. Perhaps it was just that they were at the end of their rope and thus assumed that he could do more than his colleagues.

 

“Have you tried his place of residence? Surely Mr. Padalecki would answer if the both of you were to bang down his front door--”

 

“We don’t know where he lives,” Danneel admitted. “He never told us.”

 

Some friends you two are, Jensen thought in exasperation.

 

Deciding that he had heard enough out of the young women, Jensen finished packing his books away into his brief case and turned to face the two ladies once more before speaking in a calm tone made of conviction, “Listen, girls. I am not the person who can help you in your quest to find out what happened to your friend. I am just your Literary Analysis professor. Now please,” –At this, Jensen motioned with his free hand toward his open classroom door— “I will see you both on Thursday.”

 

The disappointment on each of the girls’ faces caused Jensen to feel a slight twinge of guilt, but he violently forced it down as he waited patiently for his students to exit his classroom before he locked the door after them.

 

As he made his way down the hall of the Language and Fine Arts building, the professor had to try and keep his mind off of the million and one thoughts currently taking up residence in his mind, but there was one thought that no matter how hard he tried to keep it at bay—struggling to preoccupy his mind with a mental list of everything he needed to do this weekend and when that failed, he attempted to count the linoleum tiles as he walked—it kept returning like a troublesome stray: was Jared really, truly, and honestly okay?

 

It was a question that Jensen had found himself asking on a daily basis, but he had never really considered the actual possibility that perhaps the boy really wasn’t alright and Jensen was not sure what he would do with himself if something had happened to Jared.

 

When Jensen paused to remove the keys to his car from his pocket, only for him to glance up and realize that he was a few strides away from the Student Record office, Jensen hesitated longer than he had intended. He could do it, he realized as he stared in debate at the closed wooden door, but would he take the risk was the ultimate question.

 

Jensen was never much of a risk taker—not even in his youth—but as he took in a breath to give him fool’s courage, Jensen opened the door to the Student Record office and ducked inside. Now in the quaint office, he made his way toward the lone woman in the room, who sat behind the front counter—her eyes currently glued to the cellphone in her hands.

 

The girl was a student—at least Jared’s age—with strawberry blonde hair cut into a harsh A-line and her fingers were cluttered with a plethora of different and unique silver rings. Although her head was down cast, Jensen could tell the girl was attractive, but his main concern was whether or not she was naïve enough to bend to his will.

 

Jensen cleared his throat to catch her attention and the girl’s head snapped up, her blue eyes blown open and her peach-toned mouth slightly ajar on a slight, astonished gasp as she fumbled to put her phone back into the front pocket of her too-tight jeans, a faint pink touching her cheekbones.

 

“Can I help you?” The girl inquired, her voice shaking slightly from embarrassment and Jensen could practically taste the girl’s shot nerves on his tongue.

 

He could not help the smile curling at the corners of his mouth—perhaps this would be easier than he initially thought.

 

“Hopefully you can, darlin’,” Jensen began, leaning against the edge of the front desk so that he could manipulate the girl into having no choice but to rest all of her undivided attention upon him. “I need to know a current student’s place of residence.”

 

“I’m sorry, sir, but it’s against our policy to give out that kind of information--”

 

“Oh, I do understand. Believe me, darlin’, if I had another choice I would use it, but you see, one of my students has not been in my class for nearly three weeks because he’s been home with a broken leg—horseback riding incident,” Jensen quickly lied when he noticed that the girl seemed to be leaning ever so slightly in his direction, caught up in the web of lies that he so effortlessly weaved, “It’s a shame, really. The poor kid hasn’t been able to come to class since then and I would really hate for an accident that was out of his control to have a major impact on his academic career. Wouldn’t you agree?”

 

“Yeah. Yeah, I completely agree,” The girl said, nodding her head in an influenced agreement.

 

“I understand that I asking a rather great favor of you, but I would momentously appreciate it if you could help, because you wouldn’t just be aiding me, but my student as well.”

 

There was a long pause as the girl debated on what to do, her teeth worrying her glossy, bottom lip before she gave a resigned sigh and presented Jensen with a kind smile. “What is the student’s name?”

 

Jensen’s own smile deepened at his well-placed, strategic victory. “Jared Padalecki.”

 

♥  ♥  ♥  ♥

 

He learned rather quickly why Jared had never wanted Danneel and Genevieve to know where he lived as Jensen sat in his vehicle with the doors promptly locked, his car parked across the street from a questionable apartment building. It wasn’t just the building that was problematic, but also the kind of people places like this brought—drug dealers, junkies, prostitutes, gang members—as well as the part of Austin that Jared happened to, unfortunately, call “home”: the sleazy, slums.

 

Jensen had lost count of the many times he had double checked the sticky note in which the girl had wrote Jared’s address on—hoping he might have mistakenly taken the wrong road—but to his dismay, this was no error. His beautiful webcam boy lived in a shady apartment with even dodgier people.

 

Pocketing the bright yellow paper, Jensen prepared himself for the worst as he climbed out of his car, locking the doors multiple times in order to make a statement before he made his way inside. The stairwells smelled of mold and poverty and weed as Jensen climbed the stairs and the hallways did not fair much better as he made his way to the correct floor and he did not stop until he came to the appropriate door number.

 

He rapped his knuckles on the door made of reinforced steel—which was as comforting as it was alarming—while he awaited a response from the boy dwelling inside. Moments later, Jensen could hear the clicks from the other side as what sounded like multiple locks were being dismantled before the door was propped open a crack.

 

Standing between the sliver of an opening and the doorframe, was Jared—or what appeared to be him. The boy standing before him had dark bags under his eyes and his skin was clammy with sweat and sickly pale, his chestnut hair in disarray and his kaleidoscope eyes were dull and lacking a spark of life in them.

 

“Jared,” Jensen said gently, hoping to get some kind of lively response out of the boy, but the way he was looking at him—with those dead eyes—did not give him much hope.

 

“Oh. It’s you,” sneered the boy, rocking back on his heels as he momentarily lost balance and his words were distorted. “If you were going to bug me, you should have brought more alcohol.”

 

Jared turned around suddenly and retreated back into his apartment, but he left the door wide open and Jensen—taking it as a form of invitation—allowed himself inside. He did not turn to face the boy until he had properly and securely locked the door and once he did, Jensen fully took in the disastrous state.

 

Liquor bottles of every country and origin—ranging from whiskey to vodka—littered the coffee table and kitchen counters. Pizza boxes and cheap Chinese take-out were discarded carelessly in the heap of empty liquor bottles and as Jensen walked a bit farther into the apartment, he could smell what could only be identified as vomit and sweat and sick mingled in with weeks old food and spilled alcohol permeated the air in the small living space.

 

To see Jared this way—to see the state of where the boy lived—physically caused Jensen pain, an ache in his chest and churning in his stomach and a stinging in his eyes that he could not rid himself of as he continued to take in the full, miserable picture around him.

 

Oh, Jared, he thought wretchedly to himself as he made his way father into the middle of the mess. What have you done? What have I done?

 

“Are you going to stand there with that stupid look on your face or are you going to tell me why you’re here?” Jared snapped from the kitchen counter, leaning his whole weight on it as the boy cradled his head in his hand, as if nursing it and an aggravated look still graced his facial features. “And while you’re at it, tell me how the fuck you got my address.”

 

“I came here to check on you,” admitted Jensen as his eyes scanned the boy momentarily—noticing that Jared was only dressed in one of his usual too-baggy sweaters, this one falling down to his bare mid-thighs—before he turned his attention fully onto the scowling boy. “You’ve given your friends quite the scare.”

 

Jared scoffed. “My friends? I thought you were my only friend,” The boy scorned, eyeing Jensen suspiciously. “Why are you really here, Mr. Ackles?”

 

“I told you,” began Jensen as he slowly and carefully approached the boy, treating him as if he was a frightened, injured animal—and he supposed, in a way, the boy truly was. “I came here to make sure you were still alive.”

 

“Barely,” Jared spat back venomously before the scowl on his lips turned to a knowing, sly smile and the boy wandered unsteadily toward him. “I know why you’re really here.”

 

Before Jensen could make a move—or even draw in his next breath—the boy rose up onto the tops of his toes and snaked his willowy limbs around his professor’s neck, using Jensen’s rigid body frame to hold up his unbalanced body as he leaned in, pressing his lips against Jensen’s.

 

For a moment, all Jensen could do was blink in complete shock, attempting to wholly fathom what was happening—that is, before his mind and body and desires fully clicked together into perfect harmony and Jensen found himself gingerly cradling the boy’s delicate face in his hands—as if he was holding the whole universe in his palms—surrendering himself to the kiss.

 

Jared’s lips were even softer than Jensen could have ever imagined and warm like the sun’s rays on his face in the middle of a summer day and when the boy willingly opened his mouth ever so slightly—allowing Jensen access that he had not even requested—he could not bring himself to hold back from the temptation as he licked inside of the boy’s mouth, their tongues briefly touching. Though he could taste the remains of whiskey on the boy’s tongue, he could also taste something else—something sweet, something that he had never tasted before now in his entire life, something that was wholly Jared.

 

And Jensen was tumbling harder and faster and further into temptation as his hands slid down the sides of the boy’s slender body, pausing at the curve of his hips and his hands gripped bruise-tight at the boy’s waist, pulling him flush against his own body. And when Jensen pulled back from the kiss to drag the boy’s bottom lip into his mouth, where he gingerly bit and sucked on the plush cushion of his mouth, the soft, needy whine at came from that back of Jared’s throat violently shoved Jensen back down to earth.

 

Swiftly, but carefully, Jensen’s hands returned to cupping the boy’s face in his palms and he pulled back from the kiss, holding Jared’s face away from his own, but still close enough that it was intimate. The boy stared at him with eyes that were still glazed over from the remainder of the alcohol in his bloodstream mixed with something else and his bottom lip—where Jensen had bit and sucked—was redder and more wet than the rest of his mouth.

 

“I know you want to fuck me,” Jared said softly and there was no anger, no venom in his tone when he spoke, but instead there was an edge of drunken arousal. “You can, if you want. I won’t say no.”

 

The temptation was far too much for Jensen because as much as he knew it was wrong to listen to a proposal from a boy still caught up in a drunken stupor—and God dammit did he really want to give in—Jensen could not bring himself to take advantage of the boy, especially since Jared was in no state of mind to make a reasonable decision.

 

Shaking his head gently, Jensen said in an equally soft, but firm voice, “I’m not here for that. I am here to make sure you’re okay.”

 

Something like a flicker of disappointment—and perhaps Jensen was only projecting at that very moment—flitted across the surface of the boy’s glazed over gaze, but whatever that emotion happened to be was gone before Jensen could fully register what it was. Suddenly, the boy paled and he pushed away from Jensen, stumbling over to the counter where he vomited aggressively into the kitchen sink, bowing his back from the force of it.

 

Jensen strode up to the side of the boy, running one of his hands in a slow, smooth notion up and down his back, trying to soothe him. Jared weakly pushed at him with one of his hands while the other gripped white-knuckle onto the edge of the counter as if waiting for the next round of vomit. Beneath his hand, he could feel Jared’s small frame shaking and it only brought back the many memories Jensen had in his younger years of college—in which he often found himself clinging to his porcelain prison and praying for the vomiting to stop.

 

They weren’t profoundly fond memories, but that was primarily because Jensen didn’t have anyone to take care of him after a night out—his fraternity brothers were in the same exact boat he was—and even though he could tell a part of Jared did not want his help, the other part of him pleaded for assistance as the hand that had tried to push him away, now clung tightly onto his shirt.

 

“Shh. Let me help you,” Jensen said softly as his other hand brushed a few strands of the boy’s sweat drenched hair back from his clammy forehead and the hand that was once running up and down the boy’s back, now stopped in between his shoulder blades.

 

Jared did not push him further away nor did he give Jensen any notion he was going to fight him as he grabbed the closest washrag—giving it a quick sniff to make sure it was clean enough—before he ran it under cold water. Gripping Jared’s chin, he gently wiped at the boy’s mouth to make sure there was no remnants of vomit still on his lips and he helped the boy over to the couch, where he laid him down.

 

After plucking a blanket off of the boy’s disheveled bed accompanied by a pillow, Jensen created a makeshift bed on the living room couch. He could have allowed the boy to sleep in his own bed, but this way, Jensen could keep a watchful eye on him while he tried to clean up the mess in the apartment.

 

Once Jensen had cleaned the washrag and rinsed it with more cold water and got the boy a glass of water, he placed the washcloth on the boy’s forehead and positioned the water on a cleared spot on the coffee table.

 

“You don’t have to be so nice,” Jared mumbled, his eyelids heavy from exhaustion as he looked up at Jensen.

 

“It’s no trouble at all, Jared,” replied Jensen as he began to collect all of the liquor bottles off of the table, dumping them into a garbage bag. “Are you even of age to be drinking?”

 

A slight, mischievous smile pulled at the corner of Jared’s mouth. “Twenty is the new twenty-one.”

 

“You’re the reason they should raise the drinking age,” mumbled Jensen to himself as he continued to toss the liquor bottles into the garbage bag.

 

Once he had disposed of the bottles and pizza boxes and Chinese take-out cartons, he began to wipe down the counters and sink and coffee table with disinfectant wipes that he had managed to find under the boy’s kitchen sink. Never did Jensen imagine that he would show up to check on the boy, only to turn into a temporary mother hen while the boy nursed a hangover, but Jensen supposed it could have been worse.

 

When he had finished, the apartment looked as though it was never struck with misery and the scent of lemon covered up any remaining odors of sick and old food. He paused by the couch to watch for a few moments as the boy slept, his chest rising and falling slowly and deeply, his face contorted in peaceful slumber.

 

Finding a piece of paper and a pen, Jensen wrote a note for the boy in which read:

 

I expect to see you in class Thursday morning.

Sober.

 

He placed his note beside the glass of water on the table and gathered up the garbage bags before he paused to make sure he could lock Jared’s front door before letting himself out. After he had tossed the garbage bags in the dumpster beside the apartment building, Jensen made his way home to his own apartment in order to shower and rid himself of any stench that his clothes and skin may have absorbed and once he was all clean, Jensen found himself waiting ever so patiently for Thursday to roll around.

 

And as the next couple of days passed by, Jensen could still taste Jared on his tongue.