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In the Small of My Heart

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"There's a new giant at the big house."

She says it casually, like it's just an interesting tidbit of information she picked up, and when Jared looks up from his bowl, Megan is staring back at him, an expression on her face that's both innocent and a little excited.

Ma chokes on her soup and Jared's fingers tighten around his spoon. There's only one way she could know something like that, and if she was stupid enough to go out alone, she should at least know better than to announce it at the dinner table.

"What do you mean, Meg?" Jared asks. His words are tight, and he makes a face at her that is trying very hard to say 'lie, lie through your teeth, make something up and I'll cover for you.'

"I was out in the garden," she begins. Jared sighs, sinking back into his chair, and Ma's eyes widen. The shit is about to hit the fan. "And there were tons of them walking around, back and forth. They were all wearing these dark blue uniforms and carrying big boxes from this huge van to the house. So I crept in and I heard them talking about—"

"Megan Padalecki, what have I told you about going out there without your brother?" Ma puts her spoon down and glares at Jared like this is his fault. "What did I tell you about watching her?"

"I can't watch her all the time," he defends. "I do have a job, you know."

"You could have been killed," Ma continues, now turning back to Meg. "They might have stepped on you without even noticing. Or—or worse. They might have caught you. They could have found us all."

"The cat could have eaten you," Jared adds, spreading his arms out and grinning. "Teeth this big."

"Yes, thank you, Jared," Ma snaps. "That'll be enough."

"Okay, but they didn't," Meg insists. "I was careful! I'm always careful. I'd be dead by now if I wasn't."

"Your father was always careful, too," Ma replies, slamming her hand on the table. As soon as she says it, her hand flies up to cover her mouth, but it's too late. Meg's defiant expression has broken down, gone all hurt instead, and her bottom lip begins to tremble.

Jared reaches out, putting a hand on her shoulder and looking up at Ma across the table. "She's careful, Ma. I've caught her a few times. Which, you know, bad. But it means I've seen her, and I promise she's real good."

"I know," Ma says, her tone softer now. She reaches out to pat Meg's hand. "I know you're both very careful, but that's not always enough."

"So maybe it's time I learn," Meg says, and Jared shakes his head. He should have seen where Meg was going to try to go with this and shut it down as soon as she admitted to going outside. "Maybe it's time for Jared to take me on a borrowing."

"Absolutely not."

"But Ma—"

"I said no!"

The both look to him to back them up, and Jared drums his fingers on the tabletop. "She has to learn eventually," he says as judiciously as he can. "And she is nearly 16 already. That's two years older than when Dad took me on my first borrowing."

"Things were different then," Ma replies. "The answer is no."

"This is so unfair," Meg whines, but Jared gestures at her to shut up, and by some miracle, she listens.

He leans closer to their mother. "Ma, she's going to keep going out there whether we give her permission or not and you know it. It's not fair keeping her cooped up, and if she's gonna be out, she might as well be trained." He raises his voice and gives Meg a confident smile. "Anyway, if there's gonna be another giant to watch out for, I could use an extra pair of hands to help me get things done faster. We'll both be safer if—"

"We'll have to move," Ma says. "We should have years ago."

The table goes quiet at the reminder. When Dad got caught, every other family had cleared out of the neighborhood, down the river to the next big house. The other borrowers had all been convinced Dad would give them up, whereas Ma had insisted they stay, just as sure he would get away from the giants and return to them. Turns out everyone was wrong on that front. Dad hadn't told the giants where to find more borrowers, but he hadn't come home, either. He wasn't ever going to.

"It's too late for that," Jared says, trying to keep his voice even. It is what it is, and it's over, and it's not Ma's fault she hadn't wanted to give up on her husband. But it is her fault they're alone—that Jared had to watch Genevieve and Misha and even Chad disappear, one family at a time. Meg can't help it if she's bored at home with no one but him and Ma to talk to. Jared can't blame her for wanting to explore a little. "You know it's too late, so drop it."

"There must be a way to get in touch with some of the other families. Someone must have left behind a hint of where they went. We can go looking for them and find them—"

"And if we don't?" Jared shakes his head. "We're more likely to die out in the world going on a wild goose chase for a new home than we are here because of one giant."

"He's not even dangerous," Meg says.

Jared and Ma both turn to her, raising their eyebrows. "And how do you know that?" Jared asks at the same time Ma insists, "They're always dangerous!"

Meg licks her lips and looks to Jared, apparently deciding he's more likely to hear her out. "I was trying to say earlier, before you both freaked out on me. When I snuck into the big house I heard the giants talking. It was the one who lives out back, the caretaker, and another older lady. The old lady was saying that the giant who's coming is sick, that he's out here to keep calm and probably won't even be getting out of bed very often. Then I saw him coming in through the garden. He looked like the walk from the car was too much—I can outrun him, at least."

"He's got pretty long legs, I bet," Jared says. "All he has to do is take a step."

"I thought you were on my side," says Meg.

Jared sighs. "I am, but if I'm going to take you out there, I need to know you won't underestimate them. Not any of them, okay? He doesn't need to be in good health to squash you like a microbe."

"Yeah, yeah," Meg says. She pouts for another second and then adds, "What if he's nice? Who says they all want to kill us?"

Ma's eyes nearly jump out of her head, and Jared just gives her a flat look. "Dinner is excused," he says. "Before you give poor Ma a heart attack. We'll talk about your borrowing later."

_______________________________________________________________

Jared goes out on his own the next day, hoping to get a glimpse of the new giant. Okay, so it's a stupid idea, but Megan didn't get her idiotic sense of adventure from nowhere.

He wants a peek—that's it—one quick look at the new giant so he can assess the situation and then he'll slip back home to safety and start planning how to deal with this. Decide if Ma is right and they should just call it quits and move. She's left the choice up to Jared; Jared really hates responsibility.

The fastest route to information is always the kitchen. In Jared's experience, giants love to stand around in there (not that Jared blames them for that, he'd probably never move either if he had one room so well-stocked with food), and the open space, tiled floors and walls, make sound carry better than any of the other usual gathering spots.

It's a nine-staple climb to the mouse hole he uses to get into the kitchen on his borrowings. Ma told him once that the holes are the main reason borrowers originally moved in here. The family of giants that own the house got rid of the mice decades ago, but they never found all the holes to close up. It made for ideal borrowing, as long as they were always careful to mind the hunting cats.

Jared's arms are already aching when he reaches the entrance, but he climbs out into the kitchen cabinet, relieved to see a bag of sugar in front of him. It hides him from the giants, which is damn lucky considering that the cabinet is wide open and there are voices coming from the room, just like Jared guessed there would be.

"No, ma'am," one of the voices rumbles, so low Jared feels the tremors as the sound carries. He talks softer than the other giants, like he can't quite manage to put force into it, but his words are deep and rich. "No girlfriend. In fact, I'm not expecting any visitors at all. I won't be making much work for you. You'll hardly know I'm here."

"Don't you worry about that none—I'm here to help out and happy to do it. You know where the staff house is?"

"Yeah," he says. "Down that way about a third of a mile?"

"You call me if you need anything and I'll be over in a second. Don't even hesitate." There's a pause, and then she adds, "And don't you think of walking over to get me, either. Your mother told me all about your tendency to push too hard."

"A third of a mile isn't really pushing that hard," he replies, but then he sighs. "Yeah, yeah. I promise. Thanks, Mrs. Ferris."

"Sam, Jensen. How many times do I have to tell you to call me Sam?"

"Thanks, Sam," he says, his voice a little thin.

Jared is curious enough that he can't help trying to push the sugar aside to see the giant for himself. He manages to get it a few inches over as the woman pats the man on his shoulder and watches him give her a smile that falls as soon as she's out of the room.

Then the giant's eyebrows draw together, and he looks up, confused, right in Jared's direction. Jared feels his heart stop as he pulls back and tries to be completely hidden behind the big white bag again, but it's too late. The giant's lips curve up into a smile at the corner, and he walks over to the cabinet.

Jared can't dodge back into his hole, not without risking drawing even more attention. So he pulls into himself and holds his breath and hopes that somehow he'll get past this.

"Hey," the giant says in a whisper. Jared can hear him approaching, the padding of his big steps as they make their way across the tile. "Is someone there?"

Still holding his breath, Jared risks peeking out from the very back corner. The giant won't be able to see him here—not unless he moves the sugar, and if he does that, Jared's done for no matter what.

"You don't have to be scared of me," the giant continues in the same hushed tone, as if they’re in on this together. "I saw you out in the garden yesterday, didn't I?"

Jared's hands curl into fists. Megan forgot to mention the part where the giant spotted her when she told the story. Not that Jared's been any more successful, but he wouldn't have even risked coming here if he'd known the giant was on to them.

The giant is right at the cabinet now; Jared can see his eye—this giant, monster thing that's the size of Jared's head if not bigger—as it darts around looking for him. The face is every bit as grotesque as the giants Jared's parents always warned him about, with big brown splotches all along the bridge of his nose, sharp hairs sticking out on his cheek, and pores so large Jared thinks he could drown in them. And that eye, that's even worse than his impossibly huge teeth. Jared knows it's silly, but it doesn't seem possible to hide from an eye that big. When it sweeps to the left, to where the bag Jared is hiding behind is propped, Jared half expects it to see right through his shield.

But then the giant blinks and pulls back far enough for Jared to see the whole. He's not as hideous when he's not so close. In fact, taken all together, the only really ugly thing about him is the pallid tone of his skin. Jared wonders if maybe, to other giants at least, this one is even kind of attractive.

He brings up a hand and grabs the sugar, and Jared's legs shake so hard he won't be able to hold himself up for long. The fingers pressing in on each side of the bag must be as big as Jared, if not bigger. It's all over.

But the giant stops before pulling the bag down, letting out a huff of a laugh that stirs the dust and spilled sugar around Jared's feet.

"Yeah, that's good, Jensen," the giant says as he turns away. "Might as well go crazy too."

Jared listens to the loud footsteps as they leave the kitchen and pokes his head out one last time. He's still shaking so bad it's hard not to fall as he makes for the mouse hole and gets the hell out of dodge.

"You left something out the other day when you were telling us about the giant," Jared says.

Meg hums and continues working, tying the hook of an earring to a string of floss. "What do you mean?"

Jared checks over their supplies, doubled now to accommodate his sister. He'd be nervous enough taking her on her first borrowing if the big house was still empty. But they need at least a thumbtack full of bread crumbs or a few crackers, and Jared can't really tell Ma he's choosing to starve them out because they both went and got spotted.

"He saw you in the garden," Jared tells her.

Meg's face pales, and she looks up from her work. "Jay, don't tell Ma. Please. I'll be careful from now on. It was an accident and I ran so fast, I bet he doesn't even believe what he saw—he didn't even try to catch me."

"Calm down," says Jared. "I wouldn't know he saw you if he hadn't told me."

"You talked to him?" she asks, her voice caught somewhere between admiration and wanting to stab Jared with the hook in her hand. "Are you nuts?"

Jared shakes his head. "I didn't talk to him. He talked to me."

"But he saw you?"

"Yeah, maybe, I don't know. I think he talked himself out of it. You know how good they are at that."

"He's pretty sharp for a giant." She kind of laughs as she says it, and Jared knows if Ma were here he'd have to give her a lecture about taking this seriously, but instead he smiles and holds his hand out for the coiled floss his sister prepared for him.

She grins back, helping Jared settle it safely into his pack. She's been doing this part for years, helping him prepare for borrowings, and his chest feels weird and achy watching as she hoists her own pack up onto her shoulder. This is it. She's all grown up, and Jared got her there.

He coughs and brushes the back of his hand over his eye, and Meg smirks knowingly. "Don't cry, you big pussy," she tells him.

He kicks her square in the ass. "Don't get us both killed, you big fuck up."

"Good luck to you, too."

They creep out just after 3:30 a.m. Jared figures they should be safe—even giants with hawk eyes have to sleep some time. They hit the kitchen first, though they use a less convenient hole to get in, just in case the giant decided to booby trap the one he used last time. Jared figures paranoid is better than stuck in a glue trap.

It goes better than he could have imagined. He sits back and lets Meg get the crackers. She hooks the top of the counter as easy as anything and climbs up with only a few setbacks. Jared nearly cracks up remembering how many times he'd slid back down the floss and onto the floor on his first borrowing. Dad had nearly had to step in. Meg doesn't screw up nearly as much, and Jared feels another stupid, warm surge of pride. He taught that kid everything she knows.

She scores two crackers and even tosses down a grape for Jared to bring back. That'll give them juice for a week, and there's no way Jared could have carried everything they need plus a grape back on his own. It's good to have a partner again.

"Anything else?" she asks once she's back on the ground, her feet safe and secure beneath her. She shakes until the hook comes loose and they both move a few inches out of the way so that when it falls to the floor it doesn't fall on them. Meg gathers it back up, starting with the floss.

Jared thinks it over. He'd only been planning to get the bare necessities, what with the giant being tipped off and this being Meg's first job. But it's going so well that he decides to get a little bolder. "We could use some tissue."

"I'll go get it!" she says excitedly, taking three quick steps toward the mouse hole they entered from.

Jared laughs and catches her by the back of her shirt, dragging her in. "We'll both go," he says, and then he catches her eye and gives her a small smile. "And just how did you plan to find the tissue when you don't know how to get to the bedroom?"

She looks humbled for all of a second before she's off again. "Okay, so tell me where it is, then."

Jared chooses one of the smaller bedrooms on the second floor to pinch tissue from. One of the bathrooms would have been the obvious choice, but Jared knows it's not out of the realm of possibility that the giant will go into one of them in the middle of the night. But he probably chose to sleep in the master bedroom, which means this one should be as empty as ever.

They're halfway across the nightstand when he realizes how wrong he was.

"I know you're there. And I know you're real."

Megan, good girl that she is, does exactly as she's been trained to do. She runs so fast she drops one of the crackers she'd been carrying as she goes. But Jared feels frozen to the spot. There's no way the goddamn giant is really lying in that bed, his back turned to the side Jared is on. There's no way the guy has caught him again—Jared is a better borrower than this.

"I can see your shadow," the giant continues in his usual, quiet tone. "It's okay if you want to run. I won't hurt you. I won't even turn to look if you don't want to be looked at."

Jared still doesn't move; it's like his feet are stuck. Something about the giant's voice is…almost heart breaking. He keeps talking, even though Jared's not answering, like he almost doesn't really care if someone's listening.

"My grandma used to tell me stories about you. Well, maybe not about you exactly. About the little people who lived in this house, though. She was friends with one of you." The giant laughs. "Maybe it was your grandma. Maybe we're old family friends."

Jared shakes his head, wanting to punch himself for it a second later. But he doesn't believe the story. Borrowers can't be friends with giants. Certainly not any borrower in his family. He would have heard about that.

"She forgot a lot before she died, but she was always so insistent about the little people. My mom and dad told me it was just a story she'd been telling so long she'd made herself believe it. They thought she was crazy. But she never, never got confused about it. Not even when she couldn't tell me from my dad, she never—" The giant is quiet for a long time before he adds, "She was the only person who ever treated me like I wasn't already dead."

Jared tries to take a step back, but the giant rises to his elbow in response. "Don't leave," he says. "She said she used to put out food for the little people. I can take care of you, too. Just please don't leave."

He can hear his sister whispering for him to run like hell, and he looks back at her, then to the enormous body spread out on the bed under him.

"I'm going to turn around, and if you're still there, we can talk, alright?" the giant tells him cautiously. "And if you're not, I'll just tell myself this was a dream when I wake up tomorrow."

Jared pulls his grape tightly to his chest and runs as fast as he can.

_______________________________________________________________

They don't tell Ma. For the first time ever, Jared ends up having to be the one to beg Meg not to squeal, but Meg's got just as much invested in convincing her the borrowing went well, so they just come home and set down their scores without comment.

Ma grins and congratulates Meg, and then she teases Jared that she could have used some tissue paper. He has to avert his eyes at that and heads straight to bed, not that he sleeps much. He's still got way too much adrenaline pumping through him, and, well. He knows you can’t trust giants. Of course he knows that. They'll say anything to make you show yourself, and then they'll trap you and you'll wish they'd only killed you.

But he'd sounded so sad.

Jared wakes up the next morning because Meg is shaking him roughly. He blinks his eyes open and then swats her away and is about to tell her just what a pain in his ass she is until he sees the worried expression on her face.

"You better come see this," she says.

She leads him to the garden, to the grate she likes to use when she's coming out here against Ma's orders.

"This is where he saw me the first day," she says. She points down at the ground, and Jared sees two crackers, one cracked just like the one she'd dropped on their borrowing. Under them there's a folded piece of paper, so Jared shoves them off and unfolds it.

Did you forget something?

"He brought us back what we dropped," Meg says when Jared stares at the note instead of reacting. "He even brought us extra. Maybe he really isn't so—"

Jared shakes his head. "Take these and get back inside," he tells her harshly. "And don't come back out here anymore. Not until he's gone or done being suspicious."

"But Jare—"

"Go, Meg, I am not fucking joking."

She pouts a bit as she picks up the crackers and starts off toward home, but at least she does it. Jared stands there like an idiot with the note in his hand, until he looks up and sees that the giant is still in the garden. He's sitting under a nearby tree, a book in his hand and the cat curled up on his lap like it's a pet and not a killing machine.

Jared takes a deep breath and sets his shoulders in a determined line and decides it's about time to end this. He marches across the yard, growing more and more unsure of himself with every foot he crosses. But he keeps going, keeps going until he reaches the flower closest to the giant and climbs up it, using the leaves as a ladder.

He stands in the center, braces one hand at his side, and holds out the slip of paper with the note the giant wrote on it. "Please leave us alone."

The giant startles, nearly smacking his hand on Jared's flower and sending Jared flying out to god knows where. The cat growls at the sudden movement and walks off, apparently unwilling to forgive her master for waking her.

"You're real," the giant says, his eyes growing wide when they settle on Jared. "Hi. You're really real."

"We don't need or want your help, so just forget you ever saw us. That's all I wanted to say."

Jared drops the note then and begins to climb down, but the giant reaches out to stop him. Jared tenses, ready to be captured and squeezed between two giant fingers, but it never happens. The giant is holding his hands up in surrender.

"Please don't go. I'm not gonna hurt you." He smiles and presses one of his hands against his chest, the other still up in the air. "I'm Jensen."

"Jensen," Jared says. "Please leave us alone."

Jensen's smile only widens. "What's your name?"

"Leaving," Jared replies, dropping down from the flower.

The laugh that follows him is warm and bright, and Jared gets distracted by it, so he doesn’t see that he's walking right into the cat until her paw is hovering just above him, and her mouth opens on a nasty sound. The gap between her sharp teeth is big enough for Jared to disappear into, but instead Jared feels his feet lift off the ground and he realizes he's caught up in one of Jensen's hands just as the other shoos the cat away.

"Bad girl," Jensen says. "No trying to eat the little man, Dani. The little man is our friend."

He holds Jared out to the cat, and Jared closes his eyes and turns his face away, but all that happens is a few seconds of sniffing before the cat begins to purr. She circles a few times and then sits back down, and Jared, recognizing that one threat is gone, begins to fight against the other.

"Let me go," he says, wiggling as much as he can in the tight grasp. "Put me down."

"Hey, relax," says Jensen. He sets Jared back on the flower he'd been standing on earlier and grins. "You sure have some balls for someone so tiny."

"I'm not tiny," Jared snaps. "I'm nearly four and a half inches tall." Jensen starts laughing as if that's the best thing he's ever heard, and Jared's eyes narrow. "Hey! That's really big for a borrower."

"A borrower," Jensen echoes. "Is that what you are? I thought maybe you were fairies."

"I'm not a fairy," Jared answers, crossing his arms over his chest. "I'm a borrower."

"Hey, don't look so insulted," Jensen says, grinning. "Being a fairy isn't so bad."

"What do you know about being a fairy?" Jared asks.

He laughs and ducks his head. "A little bit."

"Fairies aren't real," Jared tells him.

"Not the kind with wings, maybe." Jensen keeps smiling at whatever the joke Jared doesn't get is, then he shakes his head and returns his attention to Jared. "What's a borrower?"

"We borrow what we need to live off. We don't steal because we don't take enough for giants to miss, and we sure as hell don't need giants bringing us our food."

For the first time since Jared came over here, Jensen's smile turns down. "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. I was just trying to help," he says. "Won't you just tell me your name?"

"It's not any of your business," Jared replies, but he sees how Jensen's eyes dim and for some reason, that gets to him. "If I tell you, will you promise to stop bothering us?"

"If I'm bothering you, I'll stop." Jensen puts a hand down in the grass. "You don't have to tell me your name if you don't want to."

"It's Jared."

"Jared," Jensen says slowly, like he's testing it out. "It's real nice to meet you, Jared."

"The pleasure is all yours," Jared replies. "Please hold your cat back. I'm leaving now."

"We can be friends, Jared," Jensen says, even as he does what Jared asked and pulls the cat into his lap. "I'd like that."

"Borrowers aren't friends with giants," Jared tells him.

"Why not?" Jensen asks. "I'm very charming once you get to know me."

"Because when you change your mind and decide not to be charming anymore, we end up dead or in a jar somewhere being studied."

"I've got no reason to turn on you," Jensen insists. "I already have more money than time to spend it and it's not like there's any point trying to get famous when you're just gonna…" He breaks off and frowns down at the ground. "All I want is someone to talk to."

All he wants is a friend, and Jared can't help thinking me too. Ever since the other families left, he's had no one but Ma and Megan, and his sister is great, but it's just not the same. So, yeah, maybe a part of Jared is yearning to take the chance and try being friends with this giant.

But then he remembers what happened to his dad, and to all the stupid borrowers in the stories he heard growing up. He gives Jensen one last shake of his head and drops into the grass, disappearing into the tall, tall blades.

_______________________________________________________________

Jared doesn't go borrowing again for nearly two weeks. It's too damn risky with Jensen around now, and too confusing besides that. Jared watches him some days, because there isn’t much else to do when a giant moves into the house you've been working your whole life. You have to track him.

He's never seen anything as sad as Jensen. The giant spends most days in bed reading or on the couch in the living room watching TV. He only gets the energy to go out in the garden once after Jared meets him there, and he goes in after a few hours looking disappointed. Some days, even the walk downstairs to the kitchen leaves Jensen holding his hand to his chest and making a face like something is cutting right through every inch of him.

But that's not really the worst part. The worst part is that he's alone. The caretaker stops by every few days, like she said she would, but Jensen tells her he's fine, and she believes him. Not that Jared blames him. She comes in and fusses over him as if he's a sick child, but she doesn't stop to talk to him or really see how he's doing. She does her job and she leaves. Jared wouldn't really want that kind of company, either.

It feels like something slaps Jared across the face the day the phone rings. Jensen answers, and it's his mother on the other end. Jared listens to the back and forth, Jensen's end of the conversation a steady stream of reassurances that Jared is around enough to know aren't true. No, he's not doing fine. He's not feeling better. Everything isn't great in Texas, and he's not happy to be here. Jared gets irrationally angry, because anyone would be able to see that Jensen was lying if they'd just take the time to visit.

The call lasts about fifteen minutes.

And Jared thought being a borrower was lonely.

But it's not his problem. Jensen is not his family. He can't, under any circumstances, let himself care.

He finally ventures another borrowing because they're running so low on food that the only other option is to go hungry. Jared figures Ma will get pretty suspicious about his misplaced sympathy for the giant if he'd rather live without food than risk sneaking into Jensen's house and not being able to resist the urge to be nice.

He doesn't take Meg with him. She whines about how unfair it is and how what happened last time wasn't her fault, and Jared feels bad, because she's right. But if Jensen sees them (again) and calls out his name, Jared is going to catch hell.

He doesn't really get very far into his borrowing before he gets caught. Maybe he's distracted, or maybe—maybe deep down he wants to talk to Jensen again. He waits ten minutes to see if anything moves in the section of the kitchen he wants to work, which is the best he can do, because the only entrance he can see the whole kitchen from is the cabinet, and he's still too scared to use that one.

Nothing even stirs, and Jared has never known a giant to be that steady, so he starts out across the table, picking up a spoon and loading it with the cube of sugar he needs. About two-thirds of the way to the edge, he gets a real fright as what he thought was the wall curls down at the corner.

It's a newspaper. Jared wrote off that side of the table because the wall was there, and didn't even look hard enough to realize the 'wall' was a fucking newspaper, and hiding behind it…

"Good mornin', Jared," Jensen says.

Only the side of his face is poking out for Jared to see. One big, green eye, and the corner of a lip tugged into a knowing smile. Jared pauses, then turns to face the guy, because it's not like there's any point pretending he's not there now.

"Have you seriously been sitting there this whole time waiting for me to come out?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Jensen replies casually as he turns the page of his newspaper. "Just having breakfast and getting caught up on the state of the world."

"Uh huh," Jared says. "How many times did you read that one page in the time you spent sitting there not turning it?"

Jensen laughs and folds the paper, setting it aside on the half of the table Jared was making his way toward. "It pains me that we have to keep meeting like this," he says.

"We don’t have to meet at all," Jared tells him. "Won't you just let me do my job?"

Jensen scoops up a spoonful of cereal and shrugs as he chews and swallows. "Yeah, you can take whatever you want. But it's my kitchen, I'm allowed to be here when you do it."

Jared makes a frustrated noise, and Jensen just keeps smiling at him over the edge of a mug of coffee taller than Jared. "You're infuriating."

"Oh, you too," Jensen replies, sounding anything but infuriated.

"Fine," Jared replies. He turns his face to the floor and keeps right on walking, hoping to ignore Jensen, but the giant laughs at him again, and Jared can't help looking up.

For someone so unhappy, Jensen sure does spend a lot of time smiling. Jared wonders if the smiles are fake, or if Jensen's just that glad to have company. This smile doesn't look fake; it's a nice smile, incisors big enough to split Jared in half notwithstanding.

"What're you here for?" Jensen asks.

"It's not any of your business."

"You are a stubborn little—ah, but I forgot. You're not little."

Jared puts the spoon down, because apparently they're talking and giant-sized spoons are heavy. "No, I am not. Thank you very much."

Jensen leans in closer and looks at him for a long time. "You're beautiful."

"What?"

Jensen's eyes sweep over him one more time, and his smile loses the teeth. "I couldn't see you that well last time. But you're kind of beautiful. You know, for a Polly Pocket. If you were regular-sized, you'd be pretty hot."

"Uh, thanks," Jared replies. "Right back at you? I guess?"

Jensen chuckles. "Bet you drive all the little lady borrowers crazy."

Jared can't help frowning at that, and Jensen's tone softens. "Or all the other little gentlemen? No shame in being a fairy."

"There aren't any," Jared says. "Others."

"You're alone," Jensen whispers, like it's something dirty and if he doesn't say it loud enough it won't be true. "No. I saw the girl."

Dammit. So much for playing the 'last of my kind' card. "My sister," he says.

"It's just you two?"

"It's just our family," Jared answers. "Anyway, it's none of your—"

"None of my business," Jensen says. "Right." He takes another sip of coffee. "Well, I'm glad you have your family, anyway."

Jared hovers awkwardly over his spoon. Jensen has gone quiet, not trying to draw out a conversation for the first time in Jared's experience of him, and he can't tell what he should do. Maybe just pick up his work and get back to it. It's not his place to say 'I'm sorry your family sucks.'

For his part, Jensen has decided to stare down at his cereal, swirling his spoon in it. Jared watches, wondering if Jensen is trying to give him a chance to slip away quietly, but then the giant looks up at him; his smile is now very obviously fake.

"I'm being rude," he says in a shaky voice. "Would you like some breakfast?"

Jared raises an eyebrow at him and sits down cross-legged on the table. "Got a bowl my size in one of those cabinets?"

Jensen stands and crosses to the kitchen sink and returns with a bottle cap in his hand. It's already been washed out and Jared can't help wondering as Jensen sets it down if it was waiting there for exactly this kind of scenario. It's still way too big for him, but he'll at least be able to pick it up.

Jensen picks up a single flake of the cereal he's eating and crushes it, sprinkling it into the makeshift bowl. Then he grabs a container of milk Jared could use as a house and very carefully pours a few drops into it.

He bites the inside of his cheek. "I don't have a spoon your size."

"Got any tin foil?" Jared asks.

Jensen grins. "That's smart!"

He gets up and fetches a roll of aluminum foil out of one of the cabinets, tearing off a little piece and handing it to Jared so he can shape it into a spoon.

"I'll leave it here," Jensen says, patting the foil as he watches Jared work. "And that way if you need any, you'll be able to get it without trouble."

"We can manage on our own."

"I don't doubt it for a second," Jensen says. "But if I can make it easier for you, why shouldn't I?"

"Because we're not friends," Jared tells him. "We can't be friends. Don't you understand that?"

Jensen looks hurt for a half of a second, but then he shrugs and pushes the bottle cap of cereal toward Jared. "We don't have to be friends. We can make a deal."

"A deal?" Jared takes a bite of his cereal. "What kind of deal?"

"Come see me. You don't have to stay for long. Just come and talk to me for a little while every day, and I'll give you anything in this house that you want."

"That's not a real exchange," Jared says.

Jensen's smile finally slips completely, and he doesn't force another one. "Am I that bad of company?" he asks. "I can't even pay someone to come talk to me?"

"No, I didn’t mean that." Jared stands up and walks over to Jensen's hand, pressing both of his own against it. "I'm sorry, Jensen. I didn't mean it like that."

Jensen gives him a weak smile and wiggles the pinky of the hand Jared is leaning on. He laughs, because just that little movement makes him tumble face first into the back of Jensen's fingers. Jensen's skin is soft and warm as it catches him, and Jared finds his feet again in seconds.

"I didn't mean to sound pathetic," Jensen tells him. "You can earn what I give you. I'd really like to help you out and if you tell me what you need, I can carry it to one of the holes. That way you can take more stuff in one trip. It'll be good for you, too."

Jared looks down at his feet. He thinks of all the rules dad taught him about borrowing. Borrowers don't accept handouts. Borrowers don't make friends with giants. They certainly don't let themselves be dependent on giants.

But he looks up at Jensen as he's trying to think of a way to say this nicely, and there's so much hope in those massive eyes. So what Jared says instead is, "Just the sugar and some bread. That's what I came here for. But we could really use some tissue, too."

Jensen grins so wide it must hurt and tells Jared to eat his cereal while he fetches his things.

_______________________________________________________________

Even a stupid promise is a promise, so Jared returns to the house the next day to visit Jensen. He doesn't find Jensen in the kitchen (though he does help himself to the crumbles of toast left on the table from Jensen's breakfast), and one quick glance out the window tells him Jensen's not in the yard.

It's a long trip to Jensen's room from there. Jared can either climb down from the table, make the walk to the stairs, and then struggle up all of those while risking the cat coming up behind him, sneak back through his mouse holes and up about thirty staples to the one in Jensen's room, or he can leave through the window and go up the vines on the side of the house. It's risky to be in plain sight outside like that—it’s not like birds have never mistaken Jared for a worm before—but he decides to go the most direct route.

When he gets up to Jensen's window and is about to knock, he looks in and sees Jensen on the bed. He's not sure if the giant is sleeping or dozing, but Jensen is even paler than usual and Jared can see how labored his breathing is just from watching the rise and fall of his chest.

Jared knows Jensen's sick, has known since before he even met Jensen. But something about seeing him laid up like this makes Jared feel like he's wasting his time here. He can't help Jensen just by giving him a little company, and he suddenly really does want to help Jensen, no matter what his mother's voice is saying in his head.

Alright, so he really can't make Jensen healthy, but he can at least try to distract Jensen a little. So Jared slides down the gutter and lands plop in a patch of grass like so many drops of water. He'll bring Jensen back something nice, something from outside since Jensen is stuck inside. Something pretty to show Jensen he does have a friend, even if they're not going to put it in those words.

There's a small patch of flowers about three yards from the house. Jared thinks the daffodils are nicest, though he might be biased, because they're the ones he hides under when he gets caught out in the rain. He decides to take a yellow one back for Jensen.

It's easier said than done. Jared's picked flowers before, mostly purple and blue wildflowers for Megan's room, but never one as big as this, and the struggle just to get the thing out of the ground is nearly enough to make Jared reconsider. The daffodil is about twice as tall as Jared, and even though the stem isn't that thick, the weight of the big bright flower on top nearly crushes Jared once he finally gets the thing out of the ground.

Climbing back up the vines with it strapped to his back takes nearly three times as long as when it was just Jared, and he thinks about throwing it down a few times. Jensen probably won't even appreciate the gesture. He could probably pluck a daffodil without even having to cut through the roots first.

But Jared has come this far, so he's going to make it to that damn window with the stupid gift, and Jensen can bite him if he doesn't realize how much Jared went through.

Jared thinks of Jensen biting him and shivers, nearly losing his grip and falling. That was a poor choice of expression, considering just how big Jensen's teeth are.

When he finally makes it to Jensen's window, he feels like a champion. Never mind if the flower is all bent out of shape when he pulls it off his backpack. He tried. He knocks on the window, hoping it'll be enough to wake Jensen. It's not until he's standing on the ledge holding the big, yellow 'come eat me' sign that he realizes just how much he's tempting fate.

Not that it's all that much safer inside with that cat on the loose, but birds are worse than cats any day as far as Jared is concerned. Jensen will protect him from Dani, but if a robin swoops down and carries Jared away, Jensen will never even know how hard Jared tried to bring him this flower. And then Jared's gonna be pissed.

Surprisingly, it's the cat who comes to Jared's rescue. She hears him knocking and starts moving around on the bed as she hops onto the bedside table, swatting at the window and making a fuss. It wakes Jensen up, at first with a cringe and a confused look, but then he spots Jared at the window, waving like an idiot with his giant flower in hand, and he immediately gets up and slowly makes his way to the window.

He forces it up with a face like it's really pushing the limits of what he can do, but he's grinning by the time it's finally open, when Jared dodges under it, careful not to bang up or drop his daffodil.

Jensen closes the window as soon as Jared is in—and not a moment too soon, either. There's a big black bird circling above outside.

"You really came?" Jensen asks.

"No," Jared says flatly. "This is just a really bland dream." He holds the daffodil up in Jensen's direction. "I brought this for you."

Taking the flower in one hand (one hand! after everything Jared went through trying to carry it), Jensen holds his palm out for Jared with the other. Jared's still not on entirely on board with just climbing into a giant's hand and riding around in it, but Jensen is smiling at his flower and waiting for Jared to get in like he's not even asking for anything extraordinary.

So Jared does it. What the hell—if he's going to risk trusting Jensen, he might as well just do it all the way. It's not like Jared could forget who would be calling the shots if he wanted to, but Jensen doesn't.

Jensen carries Jared over to the nightstand and sets him down, still smiling as he twirls the flower in his hand. "Hold on a sec," he says, grabbing the vase behind Jared and picking it up. Jared ducks and watches as Jensen takes a fresh bouquet out of the vase and dumps it before replacing the flowers with Jared's one, lone daffodil.

It looks so stupid and dinky sitting there alone compared to how the roses had looked.

"You didn't have to do that," Jared says, frowning a little. "I didn't realize you already had flowers."

Jensen shakes his head, setting the vase back down where he'd taken it from and giving it a satisfied nod. "My sister and brother take turns sending me flowers every week instead of coming to see me. I guess it's how they convince themselves they're doing right by their poor bastard of a brother." Jensen laughs like it's actually funny, though Jared doesn't really see the humor. "I like this one better."

He braces himself, hand pressed tightly to his chest as he sits down on the bed and looks at Jared, inclining his head toward the vase. "I bet you risked life and limb to bring me that thing."

Jared glares. "I really did, actually."

Still pressing against his heart with one hand, Jensen lifts the other, his fingers a few inches apart. "Still don't want to admit that you're a little bit small?"

"Yeah, you're welcome, asshole."

Jensen's mirth dims a little and he casts his eyes away from Jared. "You really didn't have to do that. Just having someone to talk to is enough."

"I wanted to," Jared tells him. "You seemed like—" He frowns. "Like you—it seemed like you might want some cheering up."

"Yeah," Jensen replies softly. "I did, Jared. Thanks a lot."

"I mean, it's just a stupid flower," Jared says. "I know you could have picked yourself one just as easily—"

"Couldn't have." Jensen relaxes back into bed, his body turned on one side so he's facing Jared with his head propped up by an elbow. "How'd you get it up here?"

"Sheer force of will," Jared jokes, before he goes into all the details about the gutter and the climb up and the birds.

Jensen's still smiling by the time Jared finishes his story, and he sits up. "You're strong," he says, something like admiration in his voice. "To be able to climb like that. You must be very strong."

"Strong enough for a borrower," Jared answers.

"I wish I was as strong as you," Jensen says, lying back with his face turned up to the ceiling.

Jared hops down from the nightstand, landing on the mattress by Jensen's face with a small bounce that makes Jensen chuckle. "You're much stronger than me," Jared reminds him. "You could squash me into jelly."

Jensen threads his fingers together and rests them on his stomach, and Jared climbs up to sit on top of them. Jensen lifts his head a little so he can see Jared. "That's not the kind of strength I want. I don't want to hurt anybody. I just want to—fuck, I'd kill to be able to climb things and slide down gutters for a day."

"You wanna be a borrower?" Jared asks.

Jensen laughs. "Yeah, maybe."

"You'd have to give the cat up."

As if on cue, Dani snuggles up to Jensen's side and pushes her head into it, begging for attention. Jared stands up so that Jensen can untangle his fingers and bury one in the thick red fur on her neck. "Nah," he says. "Dani would be my noble steed. Ain't that right, girl?"

Jensen's noble steed purrs and turns over on her side. Jared laughs at this brilliant display of gallantry, which makes Jensen laugh, too.

"Tell me what it's like," Jensen whispers. "Being a borrower. So I can be ready."

Jared starts by telling Jensen about his first borrowing and all the stupid mistakes he made. Jensen laughs more than he probably should and asks all kinds of questions, about borrowing, about Jared, and about Jared's family.

"Being a giant can't be so bad," Jared insists. "You can reach anything."

"Hmm," Jensen agrees weakly. "We reached all the way to the moon, but…it's like we're so obsessed with reaching for everything we can think of that we don't care about anything else. And if you're not—if you're not strong, if you're not a reacher—" Jensen licks his lips. "If you're weak, your own family doesn't have time for you."

Jared frowns. "I'd like to think that's not all families. I'm sorry it's yours."

"They're not doing anything wrong," he says after a long, thoughtful silence. "Not like I can expect them to put their lives on hold for me."

"They could at least come to visit," Jared says hotly. Jensen gives him a weird look, like he didn’t realize how much attention Jared was paying, and Jared feels his cheeks as they start to burn with a blush. "I just mean you've been here for over a month now."

"It's almost better if they don't come." Jensen drums his fingers on his stomach and tucks the hand he'd been petting the cat with behind his head. "It's not that I don't love them. Of course I do, and I know they love me. It's just…I've always been sick. They've always known what was coming, and it's like, I don't know. Like they didn't ever want to get too attached. Whenever I'm around them, I feel like I've been dead for years and I'm making everyone feel really awkward by forcing them to pretend I'm not."

"That's terrible, Jensen," Jared says softly. "I'm sorry."

"They're not bad people," Jensen answers, staring up at the ceiling instead of at Jared. "Your family, you guys stick together?"

Jared nods. "We’re all we have in a big, dangerous world. We have to look out for each other or we don't have a chance."

"It must be scary," Jensen says. "It must be nice, too."

"It's pretty cool most of the time," Jared admits.

Jensen picks Jared up and sets him down on the pillow next to his face before turning over. Jared finds himself staring into one of those big green eyes. "Will you tell me about your family, Jay? I understand if you don't trust me."

"I trust you," Jared says, taking a seat on the pillow.

So he tells Jensen about Ma and about what a pain in his ass Meg is and even about Dad and how he got caught by giants and had to let one of the cats get him so that the giants couldn't use him to prove that borrowers exist. Jensen listens, laughing at the funny parts and nodding seriously through the bad ones, until he falls asleep to the sound of Jared's voice.

_______________________________________________________________

Jensen is stuck in bed for over a week, so when Jared sneaks into the kitchen for a little bit of salt and maybe a chocolate chip or two, he doesn't expect to see Jensen standing by the sink, singing to himself as he rinses dishes.

There's a teacup sitting on the table, hot water already poured in and smoke curling from the top, but Jensen hasn't put the tea in. It's way too perfect an opportunity to be a nuisance, and Jared jumps on it.

Very literally.

Jensen turns when he hears the splash and makes a face like he's trying very hard to look stern. "Jared, what the hell?"

"Oh, hello," Jared says, relaxing back against one of the sides of the cup. He props his feet up on the other side and grins as he kicks some water up, trying to reach Jensen. It doesn't go that far, but it does make a little mess, so that's something. "What's up?"

"I was gonna drink that," he says as he wipes the table dry.

"Mmmhmm," Jared replies, closing his eyes and letting the hot water work over him. "How about you grab a straw instead, servant. Blow me some bubbles in here, get a little Jacuzzi action going."

Jared's eyes are still closed, so he doesn't see it coming until he's pushed under by the weight of one giant bag of earl gray tea. He inhales some of the water while he's under—mmm, tea—and fights his way to the surface, spluttering. "Did you just teabag me?"

Jensen cracks up at that so hard he turns red, laughing and laughing way more than the moment calls for.

"What?" Jared asks, climbing out of the now smoking cup of tea and glaring. "What's so damn funny?"

"Nothing," Jensen replies, still laughing so hard he can hardly choke the word out. He smacks his hand on the table, which makes the cup and Jared both jump, and he just keeps laughing. "Oh god," he says. "Tell me again how I teabagged you."

"You did!" Jared insists, pointing to the cup. "I was just minding my own business and all of a sudden—"

Jensen starts laughing all over again, and Jared really feels like he's missing out on something here.

"I hate you," Jared tells him in a flat tone.

Jensen takes a deep breath and manages to hold in the rest of his laughter. "That was good."

"Why was that so funny?"

Jensen waves a hand at him. "No, nothing. Just—teabagging means something completely different for people my size."

Jared shakes his head. He doesn't even want to know. From what he can tell, giants are into some crazy shit.

"Will you get me a towel since you ruined my Jacuzzi time?"

Jensen looks down at him and smirks. "But this outfit is so flattering on you, Jared."

Jared can feel his skin getting hot as Jensen's eyes make no secret about what he's thinking. "Creep," Jared says, looking down at himself. He'd stripped to his boxers before jumping into Jensen's tea. "Give me a damn towel."

"Hey, it's not my fault you're weirdly hot for a tiny dude," Jensen replies, going to get a paper towel and shredding it so that it's just the right size for Jared to dry off with.

"You need to get out more."

"Eh," Jensen says with a shrug. "It's been years since I had the heart for sex. I'd much rather just objectify you."

"Fairy." Because Jared's at least learned that much giant lingo in the time since he started hanging out with Jensen.

Jensen grins. "And proud of it, Thumbelina."

_______________________________________________________________

"Where have you been going for the past few weeks?"

Jared stops in his tracks just as he's about to slip out and turns to look back at his sister. "What do you mean?"

"Yeah, cut the innocent routine." She crosses her arms over her chest. "You've been disappearing for hours on end every day and coming back with twice as much food as ever, which shouldn't really be possible since you're not taking me on any of the borrowings."

"I've been working out," Jared says with a grin, patting her on the shoulder. "Thanks for noticing."

"Jared, seriously," she says, taking a step forward. "How dumb do you think I am?"

"Not dumb at all. But kind. Oh so very kind." Jared gives her a pleading look. "I've been working extra hard, Meg. So have you. That's why we're coming back with so much."

Meg shakes her head. "How long do you really think Ma's gonna believe that? Seriously, Jay. I've been covering as much as I can, but she's starting to ask more and more often. You’ve got to cut this out."

"I—I can't," Jared says. "Meg, he's my friend and I care about him."

"He's a monster," she tells him. "How many times did you tell me that growing up?"

"I didn't know Jensen then," Jared says. "He's not like other giants."

"He would be if he had the strength."

Jared shrugs. "Maybe, maybe not. It doesn't matter. He is what he is and I like him."

"Ma would kill you if she knew about this."

"I know," he says. "And she'd be right to. But I can't just stop now. He needs me."

Meg sighs, pursing her lips. "Jared."

"You're the best," he says in a rush, pressing a kiss against her cheek. "Don't think I'll forget it."

"I don't know why I'm so good to you," says Meg.

"Thanks, sis," he tells her, walking backwards and giving her a shit-eating grin. "Gotta run! Got a big date."

"You're an idiot," she calls out after him.

Jared just keeps running along. He's late, according to the wristwatch he has hanging on the wall in his room, and he and Jensen are going to watch something called a movie on TV. Jared's never had the security to sit and watch the television for any period of time, but he's always been curious. And now he has his chance, but apparently movies start at a certain time whether Jared is ready or not, and Jensen informs him that he won't want to miss the beginning.

"Thought you weren't gonna show," Jensen says as soon as Jared arrives. He bends over and picks Jared up, setting him down on a pile of cushions Jensen set up next to his own spot on the couch. Jared laughs. On top of this many pillows, he's almost on eye level with Jensen.

He watches as Jensen closes the book he's reading and sets it aside, and Jared feels his heartbeat pick up triple time when he sees the daffodil he brought Jensen pressed between the pages as a bookmark.

"Did I miss the start?" Jared asks, swallowing the sudden rush of emotion.

"Nope," Jensen replies. "Commercials after the last movie just ended. You're right on time."

"Awesome," says Jared, his eyes widening when Jensen aims the remote at the TV and Jared gives the screen his attention. "Holy shit!"

"What?" Jensen asks, grabbing a big handful of white, cloud-shaped food and shoving it all in his mouth.

"It’s so big," Jared says, eyes scanning over everything in front of him. "Wow, wow, wow! It's like we're right there. I can feel us moving!"

Jensen chuckles. "Oh man, my TV is IMAX for you. That's fucking adorable."

Jared ignores the comment because he doesn't even know what IMAX means and, besides, Jared is not adorable. He's a tall drink of water and Jensen damn well knows it. Okay, maybe Jensen still doesn’t believe him on the tall thing.

"What are you eating?"

"Popcorn," Jensen replies through stuffed cheeks. "Classic movie food. Want some?"

Jared nods, and Jensen hands him a piece of popcorn the size of his head. It feels like a challenge.

Dani jumps up onto the couch next to Jared after about half an hour and doesn't even try to eat him. She sniffs him for a few seconds, which still makes Jared tense up every time, but then she licks him with the world's biggest, roughest tongue, and Jared laughs as he pushes her away, giving her an apologetic pat on the nose.

She sits with them while the movie plays, and Jared immediately gets sucked into the storytelling. They watch Citizen Kane first. Jensen's seen this one 'about a million times,' he tells Jared, but it's a classic, so Jared has to see it.

After that ends, Jensen clicks over to another channel, and they watch at least three versions of the same movie—something called Die Hard and its sequels Die Harder and Just Keep Fucking Dying Hard—because according to Jensen, some giant named Bruce Willis is 'a badass' and deserves their respect. Jared can only take so many explosions. He nods off at some point during the third one and wakes with Jensen's pinky prodding him gently.

"Hey," he says, sounding pretty sleepy himself. "Want me to take you home?"

Jared stretches out and nods, then grabs his stomach. "Ugh," he says. "I shouldn't have eaten that whole piece of popcorn."

Jensen snorts. "You'll feel better tomorrow," he promises, picking Jared up and placing him gently in the center of his palm.

Jared just snuggles into Jensen's warm skin and enjoys the few seconds he won't have to be walking. "Hey, Jensen," he says quietly.

"Yeah?"

"What's teabagging?"

Jensen chuckles softly to himself as he sets Jared down carefully outside his mouse hole. "I'll tell you when you're older."

_______________________________________________________________

Jared climbs up into Jensen's room the next day and finds himself standing in a living room, not a bedroom. Also, it is a living room that is exactly right for someone about Jared's size.

He walks across the room, peeking into the kitchen through the doorway to his left and takes a very confused seat on a nice, soft couch that might as well have been built for him.

"What do you think?"

Jared seizes up on the sofa and opens his eyes to see Jensen's great big face looking in on him. The living room is missing one wall, and Jared can see out into the rest of Jensen's actual bedroom when he looks that way.

"What the hell is this?"

"Technically, it's a dollhouse," Jensen tells him. "But everything inside it works." He reaches in and clicks a switch on the lamp that's resting on the end table by Jared's elbow, and the light comes on. "Stove gets hot, too! It's a house for little people. Or for borrowers, I guess."

"This borders on a fetish, Jensen," Jared says. He's mostly kidding. But also not at all.

Jensen laughs and reaches in, taking Jared off the couch and placing him in his palm. Jared doesn't mind it anymore when Jensen picks him up, and that's scarier than being picked up as far as he's concerned. Jensen reaches into each room, giving Jared a tour of the house as he does so.

"My grandma used to show me this whenever I would come stay here as a kid. She told me she left it up in the attic when she went away to college so that her friends could live in it without anyone else seeing them. I half-expected there to be a family in here when I went up to get it. But there wasn't."

Too far from the ground floor, Jared thinks. No good for borrowing. That family was depending on Jensen's grandma to bring them food, and they had to clear out without her. He wonders, not for the first time, just what the hell he's doing here.

"Why are you showing me this, Jensen?"

Jensen puts him down upstairs in one of the bedrooms and waits until Jared sits on the mattress—oh, wow, that's soft—before answering. "Isn't it obvious?" he asks. "I thought your family might like to live in it. Real furniture and appliances. Electricity. There's no running water, but aside from that—you won't have to salvage anymore. You won't have to make do. You can live like royalty. I'll bring you food and water, whatever you need. And I'll watch over you, make sure you're safe. No more running from other people my size or from cats or birds or cockroaches. I've wanted to protect you guys since I saw Meg out in the garden. Not a lot of people in the world I can do that for, you know."

Jared shakes his head. "It's tempting," he says, tangling his hand in the soft comforter on the bed. "This is a really nice bed."

"It's yours," Jensen says. "This whole house, it was built for you guys."

"We're not pets, Jen. We're people."

Jensen winces. "I—I wasn't trying to make you pets."

"I know, man. But this isn't for us. We're supposed to salvage. It's what we do, it's how we live."

"I know," says Jensen. "I mean, I think I knew you were gonna say that. But I had to try, right?"

Jared smiles. "I appreciate the gesture."

Jensen gives him a weaker smile and shakes his head. "Don't. You were right. I mean, not about me wanting to treat you guys like pets. I just…I wanted you near me. I wanted to know you would be near me."

"It's okay, Jensen," Jared says. "I like being near you, too. I'll always come visit you."

Jensen nods. "I just hate it when you leave. I hate it, and it's so stupid, because I know how lucky I am to have you at all. But I wish you never had to leave."

"I do have to leave." Jared keeps his voice soft and walks to the edge of the dollhouse, reaching out for Jensen. Jensen takes him in his hand and the corner of his lips turn up as soon as they touch. For all Jensen is still pretty miserable, Jared is pretty sure he is helping. "I've gotta go back to my family."

"Can I meet them one day?" Jensen asks. "Do you think I'll ever get to meet them?"

Jared shakes his head. "I don't know, Jensen. Meg maybe. I think Meg would give you a chance. Ma…wouldn't."

Jensen swallows hard. "Your dad. That was probably one of my aunts or uncles. I can't say I blame her."

"It's her loss, though," Jared tells Jensen. "I wish she could meet you. I wish they could both see how great you are."

"Doesn't matter," Jensen tells him. "I've got you. That's enough for now. And maybe soon—maybe in another life, I mean, I'll be a borrower, too, and they won't have to hate me."

Jared frowns at that but doesn't pick a fight. He hates it when Jensen talks like he's as good as dead, and he's been doing it more and more lately.

"Maybe I'll come stay here," he says, trying to sound cheerful. "Every now and then, I'll come and spend the night in this nice little bed you got me."

Jensen smiles. "I'd like that."

_______________________________________________________________

Jared rolls over and is immediately hit by a bright ray of sunshine. He grumbles, putting his hands over his eyes, and silently curses Jensen. "Close the dollhouse," he says. "Quit watching me sleep it's—" He breaks his words on a wide yawn and then finishes, "It's creepy."

"'m not watching you sleep, dumbass," Jensen tells him. "How interesting do you really think you are?"

"I'm fucking fascinating," Jared informs his pillow as he plants his face directly into it. There. No sun. That's better. "And if you're not watching me sleep, then would you kindly close the wall and make the sun go away?"

"I opened it to wake you up," Jensen tells Jared before lifting him a few centimeters off the bed and dropping him.

Jared bounces a few times and then makes a whining sound. "Well, you're doing a bang up job of that, at least."

"C'mon," Jensen says, prodding at Jared's side with a finger. He knows Jensen's trying to be gentle, but the force of it nearly rolls Jared right off the other side of the bed.

Jared sits up and bites Jensen, and Jensen laughs. "Is there a mosquito in there?"

"Hey, don't joke, man," Jared tells him as he rubs the sleep from his eyes. "Many a borrower has died from mosquito-related blood loss."

"That's tragic." Jensen makes a very solemn face, then grins. "I'm gonna make pancakes and try not to burn the tiny ones."

"Again?" Jared asks. "You've done that three of the four times I've slept over in the last two weeks, and you're not any closer to getting me a decent breakfast."

"Practice makes perfect, Jared." Jensen takes a jug from the dollhouse kitchen and fills it in the cup of water on his nightstand, then hands it to Jared so he can brush his teeth.

"Practice all you want," Jared says after spitting. "Don't see why you have to drag me out of bed for it."

Forty-five minutes later, Jared is happily munching away at a piece of pancake cut off Jensen's larger one. In front of him, there's a plate stacked tall with burnt attempts at making Jared a pancake. Jared gives Jensen points for effort and sharing and because he's not very hard to look at, even if he can't make regular-sized food to save his overgrown life.

"Why all this early morning excitement, anyway?" Jared asks, crawling on top of one of Jensen's croissant and seating himself. What? It's not his fault croissants are kind of bench shaped.

"I thought it might be nice to go for a walk out in the garden," Jensen says, laughing as he watches Jared tear off a piece of his bench and start eating it. "Wanted to get a little adventure in before you have to head home."

Jared swallows the bread in his mouth and nods slowly. A part of him wants to ask if Jensen's well enough for that much exercise, but he figures Jensen knows what he can or cannot do. He decides not to push it. Maybe a little fresh air and some sun will even do Jensen good. He's been looking more pale and sickly lately, and Jared's been trying to ignore it. "Yeah? Sounds fun."

"It's spring already. Didn't ever think I'd get to see another spring." Jensen licks his lips and looks out the window absently, then nods as if to himself. "I moved all the way out here because the climate was supposed to help me, and now I hardly even go outside. So, yeah. Walking is just what I need. Maybe we can even see the roses."

The roses are at least a mile out. Jared frowns. He's heard rumors about them, but never actually ventured that far. "You sure you can—?"

"You ever seen roses, Jared?" Jensen asks, pointedly cutting Jared off. Jared opens his mouth, but Jensen stops him in his tracks again. "And I mean out, growing in a garden. Not the morbid dead ones in bouquets."

Jared shakes his head.

Jensen smiles. "I can take you."

"Can I ride on your head?" Jared asks.

Jensen laughs, moving Jared and his seat croissant off his plate and carrying it to the sink. He shakes his head, and the sun catches in his hair as it filters through the window. It really is a shame. The sight makes Jared lament, not for the first time, that one or both of them were made the wrong way.

"What, really?"

"Yeah!" Jared stands up, grabbing one last handful of bread and climbing on the palm Jensen holds out for him. "It'll be so high up and we'll be going so fast. It'll be just like—"

"A rollercoaster," Jensen guesses.

Jared tilts his head to the side. "I was going to say branch jumping. What the hell is a rollercoaster?"

"Nothing, never mind." Jensen raises Jared up to his face and smiles. "You better not get any crumbs in my hair."

Jared shoves what's left of his croissant in his mouth and grins. "All done," he says through stuffed cheeks.

Jensen laughs and raises his hand a little more, until Jared can step from his hand onto the top of his head. "Hang on," he says warmly.

Jared takes a few strands of hair in each hand and looks up and out. It's scary at first. The fall from here could kill Jared easy. "You must be like five feet tall," Jared says in awe.

"Hey," Jensen says. "I'm 6'1", thank you very much."

"Are you serious?" Jared asks, sounding more afraid than he'd like to. Five feet had been an exaggeration. Jared can hardly imagine what it would be like to be three feet tall, let alone six. "I guess I never stopped to consider just how giant giants are."

"Do you want me to put you down, Jay?"

Jared shakes his head, even though Jensen can't see him up here. This was his idea, and he's not chickening out before they even go outside. "You'll, uh, catch me if—if I…"

"Always," Jensen promises, and Jared can hear the smile in his voice, and maybe he's a thousand miles up in the air right now, but he's with Jensen, so it feels safe.

Once Jensen starts walking, Jared loses the last of his reservations, because this is every bit as awesome as he thought it might be.

It's possible that he starts hooting and hollering after a while. Jensen scolds him at one point for letting go of the hair he's supposed to be holding on to, which is when Jared realizes he's holding his arms out, pretending to fly like that guy in the movie about the boat Jensen had him watch last week (which did not make Jared cry, for the record).

After a while, Jensen starts to slow down and then he heads off the path, toward a bench Jared can see under a tree a little ways off. Jared feels like he can see everything in the state of Texas from where he's sitting.

"Are we there?" Jared asks. The roses are the only thing he can't see up here. Maybe they’re around the bend or something. They haven't been walking that long, but Jensen's feet are so long that Jared figures they must cover a lot of land pretty damn fast.

"No," Jensen says, and that's when Jared hears that he's out of breath. "I need to sit for a while."

They make it to the bench and Jensen nearly falls down on it. Jared lowers himself from his seat atop Jensen's head, dangling off Jensen's left ear for a few seconds before dropping onto his shoulder. "You okay, Jen?"

Jensen side eyes him and nods, still breathing heavily. His hand comes up to press against his chest, and Jared realizes that he's wincing in pain.

He pushed himself too hard, that much is obvious, and it was for Jared's benefit. Jared was having so much fun he didn't even notice. He stands up and walks across Jensen's shoulder, pressing his hand firm against Jensen's neck in a way he hopes is reassuring.

"I'm fine," Jensen says, sending him a brief smile. "Few more minutes, that's all. We can still make it to the roses."

Jared frowns. Maybe they can make it that far, but Jared doesn't want to see what shape Jensen'll be in after they go the rest of the way and make the return journey on top of it.

"We don't have to," he says as gently as he can. "They're just stupid flowers anyway."

Jensen doesn't seem to take any comfort from it. He buries his face in his hands and kicks at the ground. "This is the most frustrating fucking way to go through life."

"Don't work yourself up," Jared tells him. "Seriously, we had a walk. It was great. We got to see so much."

"Do you have any goddamn idea how pathetic it is that I can't—?"

"You are not pathetic," Jared tells him firmly. "I've never met anyone who could walk this far without having to pitch a tent and spend the night halfway in my life."

Jensen laughs a little at that, even if he still looks pouty, so Jared continues, "I bet you could kill a cockroach single-handedly. I can't do that. I mean, I can fight one off, maybe, but."

"Low standards," Jensen mutters. "Gotta love 'em." He's staring down at his hands in his lap, so Jared slides down the collar of his shirt and lands flat in Jensen's upturned palm.

"You can protect me," Jared says. "Is that low standards to you?"

All Jared can see of Jensen's face as he looks directly up is the hesitant smile that takes it over as soon as he sees Jared.

"I really l—" He stops, then starts over. "I'm really glad I met you, Jared."

Jared can't decide if he wants to smile at that or frown at the sad way Jensen says it, so instead he sits down in Jensen's hand.

Jensen stands and makes a face, then shakes his head. "I don't think I can make it today."

Jared shrugs. "Next time," he says.

"Next time," Jensen echoes weakly. Something about the guilty way he cuts his eyes away, refusing to look at Jared, makes Jared's stomach fall into his toes. "Let's go lie out in the grass, huh? Catch some sun."

"You could use it, pasty."

Jensen laughs and walks about half the way back to the house before they find a good patch. Jensen kneels, slow and careful at first, and then he rolls his hand so that Jared tumbles out onto the ground. Jared laughs, caught off guard and even afraid for a few seconds, but the soft grass catches him. They spend the rest of the day lazing about on it.

From down here, the clouds are just as big and out of reach for Jensen as they are for Jared, even though he's lying on Jensen's chest as they look up at the clear sky. That somehow makes it easy for Jared to close his eyes and pretend they're the same.

_______________________________________________________________

Jared is out in the garden minding his own business, trying to decide if the baby tomatoes are too big for him to pluck, when Dani finds him. He doesn't feel any fear when he hears her yowling next to him. Instead he stops what he's doing and holds his hand out for inspection.

"Hey girl," he says, petting her once she's meowed her consent. "How you doin' today?"

To Jared's surprise, she doesn't hang around to be petted for long. She circles around Jared and nudges her face into his back, pushing him toward the house.

"What?" he asks. "What's up? Is it Jensen?"

She mews and keeps nudging at him, so he starts walking. Not good to be contrary when someone who is five times your size and bred for hunting is trying to tell you something. She comes up on his side when he starts walking and crouches down next to him, and Jared takes the hint. He grabs a clump of fur in each hand, whispering apologies, and climbs up onto her back.

Jared catches a hold on the edge of her collar just as he feels himself lurch back and then forward as she rises to her feet, and then she springs toward the house, Jared attached, and up the stairs to Jensen's room much, much faster than Jared is prepared for. He nearly falls off when she takes the running leap up onto the bed, but Jared understands her haste as soon as he sees Jensen.

He can hear sniffling before Jensen looks up, a sorry smile on his face when he sees Dani coming toward him. His bright green eyes are shot through with red, and Jared can see thick tear tracks shining down his cheeks.

"Jensen," he says, hopping off the cat's back and running up to Jensen's face. "Jensen, what's wrong?"

"Jared?" Jensen sounds both surprised and even a little amused when he sees how Jared got here. He turns to Dani and strokes three fingers under her chin. "That's quite the noble steed you've got there."

He smiles and tries to pretend he's wiping his nose when he passes his hand over his cheeks. As if Jared's really that dumb.

"What happened, Jen?"

"Nothing," he says, but his voice cracks. "Nothing, but I'm so glad you're here."

Jared reaches up, having to get on his tiptoes just to reach the water on Jensen's cheek. "Why are you lying to me?"

"Didn't lie," Jensen answers weakly. He tries to wrap his hand around Jared's but it's so big and Jared's is so small that he slips out of the grasp without meaning to. It doesn't seem fair that they were made this way, with Jensen needing so much more than Jared can offer and Jared wanting so badly to be able to give it to him. "Wasn't completely honest, either."

"Tell me," Jared insists.

Jensen swallows hard and nods. "I'm going to have an operation tomorrow."

Jared stares for a long few seconds, trying to comprehend what Jensen's saying to him. "Tomorrow? How could you not tell me this?"

"I didn't want you to worry," Jensen answers.

If Jared weren't four inches tall, he would throttle the giant fucker. "I'm worried. What is it, anyway?"

"My heart," Jensen says. "It's not a very good one. Never has been."

"Don't say that. You've got the best heart of any giant—anybody I know. Of anybody I've ever known."

Jensen nods. "It tries, poor little thing. It's kept on pumping longer than anyone expected, but 'm in a lot of pain, Jared. I know you know that, but I've been trying to hide just how bad it is. It's bad. Today it's really bad and tomorrow—"

"It'll make you feel better," Jared says. "The surgery, it's going to make you healthy."

Jensen shakes his head. "It's not that kind of surgery."

"What other kind of surgery is there?" Jared asks, and he knows he shouldn't be getting mad at Jensen, but he is. He's mad. He's fucking pissed. If Jensen is trying to get him ready for something, one day is not enough time to do it.

"Desperate last ditch efforts just to keep me alive. It's a risky surgery, Jay, but it's the only thing that might work. And if it doesn't…I'm not…"

"No," Jared says. "You're going to be fine. You're going to get better."

"You don't get better from this. I was never going to get better. I didn't come here to get better, I came here to have some peace and quiet and stay out of my family's way until I—"

"Until you what, Jensen?" Jared yells. "Until you made me care about you? You came here and you were so damn insistent that I talk to you, all so that you can try to tell me, oh, whoops, sorry, never mind about that?"

"Jared," Jensen says sadly. "Jared, please don't make this my last memory of you. Please don't be mad at me."

"That's not fair," Jared says, kicking at the sheet under him. "That's not fair. I didn’t even want to talk to you but now I can't—you can't."

"I wish you knew how hard I'm fighting," Jensen says. "I was ready to die the day I got here, and then I found you. I've made it for months just because I was fighting for you, Jared."

"Fight harder," Jared insists. "Fight more, fight tomorrow. Don't say goodbye to me like there's no chance."

Jensen reaches his hand out. "Jay, I'm not sorry we made friends. I know how hard this is for you, and I hate that you have to go through it, but I'm still—I can't be sorry. No one was going to miss me. Do you have any idea how scary that is? Dying and knowing that no one is even gonna notice? I wish you weren't going to get hurt. But I want you to miss me."

"I don't want to miss you," Jared replies. "Don't make me miss you."

Jensen smiles, one of those genuine smiles that don't belong in his shitty, unfair life. "You know you made me happy, don't you? And if I die tomorrow—"

"Jensen."

"No, shut up and listen to me, Jared. I've only got one regret, and it's not dying young. It's that I fought coming here so long. Moving in here felt like giving up, you know? But if I'd just come sooner, we could have had more time. If I die tomorrow, I don't care. I don't want to die, sure, but I'm glad I was sick. If I never got sick, I would be off somewhere living a completely different life. And maybe I would have gone on to be 100, but I never would have found you. I'd rather die tomorrow than even think of that."

Jared doesn't say what he's thinking—that he wishes that were the case, even if it meant he never would have met Jensen—because it seems too cruel with Jensen looking at him like he needs Jared to say something, and it has to be the right thing, or his last defense is gonna snap. "Are borrowers really that exciting to you?"

Jensen laughs and shakes his head. "Not because you're a borrower, Jared. Just because you're you. And…I love you."

"That's stupid, Jensen," Jared says, trying to choke down a sob. "We've only known each other for a few months, and anyway, it's not like we could ever—"

Jensen shrugs. "I don't care. You know me better than anyone else. I think about you every second of the day and sometimes it hurts so fucking much, Jared, because I know that we can't be together. I know that. And I'd give anything—but most of the time, it's worth it. Because you make me so, so happy and nothing has ever done that before. So I love you, stupid or not, I do. And maybe you love me too and maybe you don't and maybe you would have loved me if things were different and we were the same size, but you do care about me at least, and I don't need you to tell me so. I can see it in everything you do."

"Jensen," Jared says, feeling the first hot tear as it slides down his cheek. "Stop it. Pease stop it."

"I never meant to say all of this to you," Jensen says, watching him with sad eyes. "I never meant to see you cry over me."

"Well, too bad, I'm crying," Jared snaps.

"I had a dream once," Jensen starts, he smiles at Jared, but he starts crying again as he does it. "We were the same size. I don't know if you were my size or if I was yours or something in between, I don't know. I couldn't pay attention to anything but you. And you kissed me. It was all your idea, Jared. It was the happiest moment of my life and it wasn't even real."

Jared climbs into Jensen's hand. And Jensen looks at him intensely, "Would you kiss me? If we were the right size, would you want to kiss me?"

"Yes," Jared whispers. "I would never stop."

Jensen's eyes widen and his voice drops down so low it's like he's trying to make sure even the cat doesn't hear. "Do you love me, Jared? Just a little bit? Even though it's stupid?"

"If I tell you I do, will you promise to come back tomorrow?"

"I can't do that."

"I'll say it if you promise."

"I'll come back tomorrow," Jensen says in a second. "I promise."

He's lying. And, god, Jared can hear that he's lying and he hates him for it but he says "I love you," because that was the deal and it's at least kind of true.

Jensen lets out one loud hurt sound, but he smiles so wide. "Will you stay with me tonight, Jay? Sleep in the little bed so I can see you before I go?"

Jared lies down in Jensen's palm, in this big hand made for crushing that Jared wishes could soothe him instead. It's impossible to imagine now that he was so scared of it. "I'll sleep right here," he says.

Jensen's fingers curl around him like a heavy blanket, but Jared feels safe and guarded underneath them, not threatened. "You'll wake me up if I'm hurting you?"

Jared almost laughs at that. The only way Jensen could crush him now is if this weight is gone tomorrow.

"I'm going to be waiting for you," Jared promises. "When you come back tomorrow, I'll be right here. Waiting. And if you want me to stay, I'll never, ever leave again. All you have to is come back."

Jensen doesn't answer. From the soft breathing Jared can feel and hear, Jensen's already asleep. So he closes his eyes and starts his waiting.

Chapter Text

Jensen feels an odd sensation around him, like he's floating on too much air. He sits up. He doesn't recognize where he is, but it's beautiful, plants and wildlife all around him. He thinks…he looks down and laughs. He's sitting in the middle of a flower.

He laughs again and clutches his chest, not in pain this time, but because of the absence of it. Jensen feels his eyebrows draw together as he holds on, trying to understand. It's not possible. He doesn't remember the last time there wasn't pain.

It feels so good it makes his chest ache, and the irony of that is not wasted on Jensen.

He hops down from his flower, or whatever the fuck he woke up on, and lands on his feet a little ways down. He absorbs the shock without faltering, without needing to take a break for air.

Fuck, but he feels good.

Jensen looks around at his new surroundings and gasps. He's standing between blades of grass that must be ten feet tall. They reach up far over his head, puncturing the sky, and Jensen almost wants to try climbing one, but instead he walks forward a little while, looking for…something.

He's not sure what, but he really wants to find it.

"Jensen?" It's Jared's voice, and Jensen feels himself smiling before he can even tell himself to. If Jared is here, this is a good place, wherever it is. He looks to his feet, but he doesn't see Jared down there, so he crouches, wondering if the borrower is trying to hide from him.

"Jared," he calls.

"Jensen, there you are."

Jensen sees a pair of feet stop in front of him and looks up. And up. And up. He rushes to his full height immediately, and good god, even then, he's still looking up. "You're taller than me," Jensen says.

"Yeah, I told you I was tall," Jared replies with a self-satisfied grin.

"Why are you taller than me?" Jensen asks, before he realizes—it doesn't matter if Jared's taller than him. Jared is his height. Jared is his height and that means…

He flings his arms around Jared's shoulders and kisses him, and Jared laughs, apparently surprised at first, but catching on fast. He returns the kiss, and he is solid, strong, healthy flesh under Jensen's hands.

It doesn't feel like a dream this time.

"Jared," he murmurs against Jared's mouth. "Jared."

"Yeah," Jared agrees. "That does happen to be my name."

"But how are you big?" Jensen asks. "How are we the same size?"

"Okay, first of all, we’re not the same size, because I'm taller than you." Jensen rolls his eyes and Jared grins as he continues, "And I'm not big. You're small."

"I'm—" Jensen looks around again and, oh. Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. Giant flowers and grass, not so much. "I'm a borrower!"

"Yeah, welcome," Jared says, taking his hand and squeezing it. He starts leading Jensen toward—well, toward his own house, but it’s so big now Jensen can't even take it in, and it kind of scares him, except that Jared is here. "C'mon, I'll show you how we get into our house. It's right under yours."

Jensen stops after a few steps and pauses, looking up. "How am I a borrower?" he asks.

Jared's eyes go dark for half a second, but he tugs Jensen on a little. "Come on, Jen."

He remembers now. He remembers saying goodbye to Jared, to his tiny, perfect little Jared, and he remembers going to the hospital, but he doesn’t remember coming out. "I didn’t make it, did I?"

Jared shrugs. "Does it matter now?"

"Is this real?" he asks. "Jared, are you real?"

He squeezes Jensen's hand again. "I'm real. You're real. Come on, I'll introduce you to Meg and Ma."

"Your ma doesn't want to meet me," Jensen says stupidly. "She hates—"

Jared grins. "You're part of the family now," he says.

He looks at Jensen like this should be obvious and makes an expectant face.

Jensen wants it so bad. It's all he ever wanted. If it's a dream he never wants to wake up, and if this is Heaven, he hopes he stays dead. So he lets himself believe, and he follows Jared home.

The End.