The room is quite at this moment.
There’s an arm loosely resting on his back.
Someone’s soft exhales are sweeping along his skin, and it’s the only thing that’s shattering the all-pervading silence in the room.
The bed is not an ideal place of grading assignments and Jared knows it very well.
But he’s helpless….
It’s just that Jared has final gotten his husband back.
Worse for wear, with bandages all over his body, a gash on his face and a protective guard on his chest that’s supposed to help but is bulky and itchy as hell, making his movements strained and clumsy.
But it’s Jensen nevertheless.
Who proceeded to glare and pout at Jared when he tried to get him to take a bedrest alone.
So, to cut the long story short, a bed rest for Jensen automatically entails that Jared should take one along with him as well, however ridiculous the logic might seem.
So in the interest of Jensen’s health, and his students grades…
Jared has shifted his study to their bed.
And it’s working so far.
He circles the C on the top of the latest assignment with his red marker and shakes his head.
It’s a simple assignment for his freshmen class and all this student had to do is pay attention in class.
She has flown so many miles off the tangent that Jared’s head is starting to ache.
The sudden sensations of arms tightening around his waist prove to be a welcome distraction.
Hazel eyes spill with barely contained happiness as they melt into a pair of sleepy green ones.
Ever since that day in the ICU, Jared waits for these moments.
Jensen’s eyes unfurling slowly in tiny green slits, and his lips curling up in a barely there grin at the sight of Jared are something he lives for.
Many a moment, he would shift his office to the bedroom, just to be there when Jensen wakes up.
Sammy would be babbling half-coherently at the foot of the bed at his play books and teddies.
And Jared would be typing away at his laptop or grading papers, body pressed against Jensen’s so he would be aware the moment he opens his eyes and moves.
The body against him makes a subtle movement and Jared jerks away from his papers in seconds.
He moves infinitely closer till he’s resting on the same pillow till he’s hovering over the face that makes up all his dreams.
Jared can see the eyeballs moving leisurely behind the closed eyelids and he finds himself breaking into a smile in spite of himself.
Jensen’s waking up.
It’s silly …
Jared can’t really put words to this.
He feels he has to be physically present, every time Jensen opens his eyes.
It’s as if, his heart’s trying to make up for those harrowing seven hours when Jensen wouldn’t.
“Sleeping beauty didn’t drool…did she?” Jared whispers, and sure enough the arm around him tightens. Perching over Jensen with his elbow, he finds himself doodling all over the face he loves so much
This is how he teases his boys out of their slumber.
“M not freakin beauty Jay…” Jensen grumbles as if on automatic, burrowing himself closer to Jared’s heat in the process.
Jared gives in to this elusive contentment spreading through him and closes his eyes for some precious moments…
He rarely feels this way, and it’s pleasantly disconcerting.
As if there’s nothing else he needs, and that fierce ache always burning within is finally gone.
This happy bubble would have flourished a little longer, but the inevitable happens.
Jensen’s stomach growls and Jared breaks into a helpless giggle.
“Come on. Gotta feed my two babies…”Jared murmurs against the sleep warm skin and tries to slither off the bed, only to be held back by fingers around his wrist.
Suddenly, Jared finds himself hastily pulled back to Jensen.
“Nuh..uhh. Not hungry. Jus you and Sammy…” Jensen’s grumbles into Jared’s chest and tightens his hold on Jared.
By the looks of it, he has no plans to get up in near future what so ever.
Jared can’t help but bite back a smile at how impossibly funny this is.
To him, Jensen and wanderlust have always been synonymous.
His husband’s incessant calling to court every danger around the world has given Jared horrible nightmares throughout his life.
And here he is, imitating a sloth.
“Not hungry huh? What ‘bout work? Jeff called you know?” Jared whispers, his chin resting on Jensen’s chest.
He waits for the inevitable.
This is the easiest way of rousing his husband.
Jeff had really called. But it’s not about work. He had called on Jared’s phone to inquire about Jensen.
But Jensen doesn’t have to know that.
“Don care’ bout work…tired of running Jay. Jus you…” And Jensen burrows into Jared yet again.
And that’s when Jared’s heart truly stutters.
The sheer simplicity of the moment throws him off.
Deep inside, he had sort of built up this moment in such a way that it was impossible to imagine it without tears, heartbreak and resentment.
Jared had always imagined sort of the worst when it came to get Jensen to stop leaving.
And here is it, like a half-spoken sleepy grumble against Jared’s chest, as if it’s the most mundane occurrence in the world.
Jensen has just said that he won’t leave any more…
And he isn’t even opening his eyes to acknowledge the profoundness of the moment.
Jared has no idea when his eyes had started to fill.
All of a sudden his arms feel like jelly and the sheer vastness of the moment catches up on him.
He drops on Jensen’s pillow and covers his face with his hands, unable to find it in him to meet those green eyes and blurt it all out.
“Jay?” Someone close to him whispers.
Jared just shakes his head in response. Suddenly he feels as if all his courage has escaped from the backdoor.
He refuses to uncover his face even after he feels Jensen tightening his arms around Jared’s body.
He’s feels helpless as his palms get wrenched away from his face. He wants to avoid Jensen’s eyes as that old dread of feeling emotionally exposed suddenly rushes in.
Jared fights to avoid meeting Jensen’s eyes, trying with all his might to turn away from the body pinning him to bed.
But Jensen as it seems, is relentless.
“Jay?” Jensen whispers again.
This time he’s much closer…
As Jensen looms over him, eyes brimming with unspoken promises, Jared can finally see the face he loves so much.
This is the same Jensen of all those years ago…just a little battered and worse for wear.
Jared can feel the raised flesh of an old scar on Jensen’s back under his fingertips.
There’s a shrapnel wound on Jensen’s chest under the ratty old tee-shirt , a remnant of the land-mine explosion all those years ago.
It’s effectively hidden and healed, but very much alive for Jared.
There’s one on his thigh as well.
The gash on the cheek adds to everything else.
They’re a reminder that every time Jared has shared Jensen with the world, it has bitten off a part of him as the price.
“Jay?” Jensen tries again and it seems to shatter Jared’s reverie.
“You m…mean it?”
It’s not the words in themselves that did it…
Rather it’s the disbelief that spills through.
As if it’s too good for Jared to believe, and it cuts through Jensen.
And words fail him for the first time ever.
Jared’s looking up at him as if he holds all the answers, moist eyes and clouded face. .…
Suddenly he has no idea what to say.
But Jared seals it before he can even form a cohesive reply.
“Say it again…just..”
And Jensen does just that.
And he pours himself in it.
“Just you, me and Sammy from now on…” Jensen can feel his heart beating itself out of his chest.
And he’s sure Jared can feel the emotional aftershock.
There’s something else he needs to say...
Because it’s their life, and there always seems to be a large shadow lurking around the corners…
“And if ever….” And he feels himself hushed against a fingertip.
“Then I’m gonna bring you back…okay? Drag you back by the collars.” Jared whispers, hazel eyes at last clearing up in a sunny smile.
And Jensen can’t help but smile back. He can live with that.
He can do anything for this smile.
It’s so sweet and so rare that it breaks his heart.
He just wishes that he could have been wiser, that he could have done this before the pain and insecurity bled into their beings and became one with their very selves.
And he just wishes he was brave enough to tell Jared so.
He finds himself sinking into Jared’s chest and close his eyes, sighing when he feels warmth gradually seeping in as he’s enclosed in a hug.
The moment could have continued, but a shrill cry on the baby monitor finally manages to shatter it.
And they start laughing.
Life it seems is hiccupping its way back to normalcy and Jensen wants to revel in it.
It’s Jared who rises first.
“Naptime’s over…come on.” Jared grins as he pulls Jensen behind him, who seems rather reluctant to leave the bed at first.
“Come on ….he’ll be screamin bloody murder pretty soon you know?” Jared warns.
The mention of their son does it .
Jensen nods and holds out his hands with a grin.
And Jared takes it with a smile.
Jared supports his back as Jensen slowly rises from bed, the bulky chest guard making it a little harder than usual.
Once up, he raises his eyebrows in a silent query.
“You bring the baby and I’ll make some sandwiches.” And Jared’s already on his way, suddenly anxious as the wail gets louder.
And then he pauses, making Jensen stop on his tracks as well.
“Something’s the matter Jay?” Jensen asks.
“How does PBJ sound?” Jared smiles, knowing the answer already.
It’s Sammy and his Dee’s favourite.
And green eyes brighten into a childlike glee just as Jared had expected.
“Awesome!! Lots and lots okay?” Jensen nods excitedly as he departs.
There’s nothing like PBJ and happiness when combined together.
Snack time proves to be both educational and informative.
Informative for Sammy, who instantly tears his PBJ into tiny shreds and discovers at least twenty new places all over the room to stash his loot.
Educational for Jared, who not for the first time learns it the hard way the dangers of implicitly trusting your toddler with food.
Some of the food made it to Sammy’s mouth who insisted on feeding himself, and to Jensen’s whom Sammy insisted on feeding his mash.
At the end of the impromptu meal, Dee and Sammy went on a treasure hunt to recover the lost shreds of sandwich …
At Jared’s insistence that is…
Or to put it better, it was his puppy dog eyes.
As they’re finally lazing in the living room, Jared erupts into a helpless giggle at the spectacle before him from his position on the couch.
Jensen’s lying on the floor, eyes closed and arms loosely resting by his side.
And Sammy’s lying on the top of him, eyes closed and spread eagled.
From the looks of it, it might appear as if they have fought a war.
The hunt for the shredded sandwich started as an adventure and ended up as a massive battle of wills.
Mainly because Sammy insisted on eating them as they were being rediscovered and Jensen had to distract his son from doing so.
Jared sinks back against the couch and closes his eyes, as something very akin to contentment floods through him.
It’s then that he finally feels it.
That always fleeting , always elusive puzzle piece that has evaded his grasp every time it was time to finish his jigsaw is finally his.
He’s no longer afraid that Jensen’s gonna go back to the world.
He knows it this time.
Jensen’s gonna come back to him at the end of the day.
SOME DAYS LATER…
It’s right towards the end of the introductory freshmen class that it happens.
His iPhone chimes in the familiar sixth sonata and Jared scrambles to organise all his papers one handed to receive the call.
He throws a cursory glance at the first year students streaming out of the classroom where he had been teaching the Basic Price theory for the last hour or so and pulls out the phone from his coat pocket.
The name of the caller makes him smile.
“Hey.” The hazel eyed man lets out an anxious breath and closes his eyes.
Jensen’s calling him…
He has been doing that a lot lately…
And it gets Jared every freaking time.
It’s not that they never call each other.
They do and they always have, as much as is possible.
Just not as much as others.
The nature of Jensen’s profession and the pallor of danger staining it had made Jared give up these little pleasures that most other couples take for granted.
To him, having the one person who matters the most within reach is still a novelty.
It had never been easy. But circumstances had taught him to be careful.
The sheer unpredictability of Jensen’s profession and the cloud of danger looming over him at all times has always made him hyper aware about the fact that one call from Jared’s end might end up blowing whatever flimsy security cover his husband is under.
Thus even when he thirsted to hear Jensen’s voice, his ingrained habit always prompted him to seek information through network hierarchy or Jeff, unwillingly hanging on to the old adage that no news is actually good news when his frantic queries returned empty handed.
Old habits apparently die hard.
That he wants to call Jensen and he can actually do it without having to weigh millions of pros and cons feels rather surreal, and Jared has no idea how to handle these myriad sensations flooding through him.
And the fact that Jensen is calling him, that Jensen is near?
It takes Jared’s breath away almost every time.
This regular and mundane is rather new to both of them…
This Jared who goes to work in the morning, sure that Jensen will be back in the evening is someone new.
The Jared who does Jensen’s laundry and gleefully appropriates a soggy $100 dollar bill he finds in one pocket to the infinite exasperation of his husband is new as well.
Every day he packs Jensen’s lunch in the morning in a lunch box with everything that Jensen hates but is good for him and something that Jensen loves but has no nutritional value what so ever.
Who would have known that something so inane could make him so damn happy?
That Jensen will surely bring half of it back, pouting “You want me to graze in the pastures next… huh?” and Jared will tear him a new one about it and relent shouldn’t make him ecstatic.
But it actually does.
So Jared doesn’t really mind.
A silly smile creeps into his lips as he recalls their last few cell phone conversations.
One isn’t supposed to be this tongue tied when calling his husband of almost ten years.
But it happens every time.
It’s as if those adolescent years he has spent crushing over Jensen are happening once again. He can feel himself blushing even before the conversation has actually begun.
“Jay? You there?” Comes an anxious query and it shatters Jared’s reverie.
“M here. You okay?” The hazel eyed man scrambles to grasp the lost thread of the conversation.
“Minions givin any trouble yet? Call me if they do huh?” And there’s that giggle in the tail end of the sentence.
It’s so like Jensen to answer a question with another question that it isn’t even funny.
There was a time when Jared found this habit of his husband really infuriating. But not anymore.
“Yup. My hero.” Jared smiles.
“Naah. Not a hero Jay.” Jensen hits back with a tiny snort.
Suddenly there’s a pause on the other side and it makes Jared straighten up.
“Jen? What’s goin on? ” Jared nods at a group of students passing by in the corridor and purses his lips.
Last few weeks have made him rather wise.
So far, he has lived with the illusion that he and Jensen had been gifted two halves of a whole. That his half is marred with cracks and is barely holding to its shape while Jensen’s half is unmarred and pristine as ever.
Now that Jensen’s near again, far more near than he has ever been, Jared can finally see the cracks in Jensen that he has so far been blind to.
Their distance had prompted either of them to create an invincible barrier of emotional defence within.
It, as Jared has come to realize, is but an inevitable mechanism of the human psyche when it has to weather storms without anyone to lean on. That they both have insecurities and demons lurking inside, effectively hidden from the other is something that tears Jared up all the time.
“Jen?” Jared pushes again.
“Yeah... Just wanna hear your voice.” Comes the reply and Jared’s chest does that weird flip once again.
There’s something and Jared can’t quite put his fingers on it.
“Jen? Everything’s okay…right?” He whispers, voice hoarse in a sudden anxiety.
And then he remembers it.
“Your chest? ” He asks once again as he nears the Professor’s Room through the bustling milieu of people all around him, their cheerful cacophony failing to shatter the stormy silence raging within.
“It’s fine Jay….just aches a little if I move fast.” There’s a sudden pause and Jared knows somehow.
Jensen’s beating himself up for having blurted it out. As if he had said too much. He would rather tough his way through it than cause Jared to worry.
It’s something they have always done. Being too much in love to hurt the other.
And look where it has led them.
“Then don…don’t Jen. Worked enough for today. Just come back…okay?” Jared bites his lips as he reaches the door of the lounge.
“Yeah Jay. There’s something that needs to be done. Then I’m gonna …” Jensen murmurs, sounding a little distracted all of a sudden. Jared can hear other voices through the phone, faint and indistinct over this end.
Someone’s talking to Jensen for sure.
“Take care?” Jared whispers into the phone with his other hand firmly on the door
“More than anything Jared….’member that kay?”
And that was it. The beep makes it clear that the call has ended
“Jen? …” The beep makes it clear that Jensen has ended the call.
Jen rarely calls him Jared.
The thump-thump in his chest is suddenly too erratic and he has to lean against a wall for support, the loud unspoken words of that torn sentence echoing in every corner of his mind.
“Love you more than anything…”
It’s so like his husband to leave out the most important words of the sentence, always trusting Jared to hear them anyhow.
And Jared does.
He pushes the iPhone back into his pocket and opens the door of the lounge, sighing in relief when there’s no one nearby.
It’s too soon for Jensen to be up and about, and he knows that.
Sadly two weeks were all that he could manage.
The hospital had released him with firm admonishments of taking it easy. But they don’t know Jensen as well as Jared does.
Easy and Jensen have never been on the same page.
Jensen has joined work after just two weeks of staying in bed, somehow convincing Jared that all he has to do is sit in a chair in his office.
“Come on Jay…it’s not like I’ve to cross deserts!”
He’s still wearing his chest guard and bandages, and is far from being driving fit.
But somehow Jared had to concede.
He was as willing to let Jensen go as Jensen was.
And isn’t that funny.
It’s one thing to argue that Jensen needs an extended bed rest. But it’s completely different to watch Jensen listlessly lying on the bed.
With him dreaming of keeping Jensen close since forever, he still can’t believe that he relented this easily. And that’s the real kicker.
It’s just that the treacherous voice deep within that never ever shuts up convinced him that this way, Jensen is less likely to miss it.
Miss going out there.
Jensen’s return to work seemed the only way Jared could come back to himself through the meandering pathways of self-doubts.
So he did it as much for himself as much for Jensen….
He’s too immersed in thoughts when he enters the teacher’s lounge, Jensen’s broken words and strange behaviour still ringing loud in his ears, when a hand on his shoulders jerks him back to awareness.
“Sam?” Jared’s eyebrows wrinkle at the sight of her.
She’s supposed to be at a meeting of the Research Advisory Council at this moment.
Being the head of the faculty of Economics of Jared’s college, Jeff’s wife and Bee’s mom all at the same time makes her one of the most vital life forces Jared depends on.
There’s nothing like Sam’s signature no nonsense stern love to set him at ease.
All these years of being so intrinsically connected in work and family has made him a master in guessing Sam’s mood. Dr. Ferris’ mood is legendary in the campus and there’s not a single soul in the academia or the college who isn’t awed or scared by her.
But Sam in her ‘Dr. Ferris’ face has never really scared Jared.
Sam in her worried mom face does.
It’s the face she’s currently wearing.
“Sam? What’s the …” Jared starts to ask when she cuts him off abruptly and drags him towards the TV in the room.
“There’s been something Jay…JD called.” She picks up the remote and switches on the TV, without even looking at him.
There’s been something.
Jeff and Jensen work in the same place now.
And Jared can feel that he’s starting to shake.
Sam shares Jared’s weird habit of going straight to BBC World’s channel and she does just that.
It’s apparently a commercial break but the screen is flashing some breaking news at the bottom in bright bold letters.
And that’s when he sees it.
BBC-WORLD’S WEBSITE HACKED BY PRO- ISIL HACKERS …..
The break ends even before Jared can read the rest and the midday news hour begins.
“This is your host Karen Jones and you’re watching the Midday Headlines.”
“BBC-WORLD’S Middle-Eastern news outlet becomes the latest victim of pro-ISIL hackers who have hacked into the bulletin boards to post gory videos of death of two journalists who were killed in two different regions of Mosul last night. While identity of the group behind the attack isn’t clear but it bears resemblance with the similar hacking efforts that have affected media outlets in New York, Washington, Massachusetts, Maryland and Ohio this year. Hackers posted footages of killing of two eminent journalists, Valerie Petit and Hafiz Addad along with an Arabic Logo saying "I Love Islamic state." at the bottom of the hacked pages and a warning that said ‘You bastards will be held accountable for every drop of our blood.’ The websites were taken offline for an hour and are now back to fully functioning mode.”
And Jared’s up in an instant.
Time and again the truth, dark and insidious makes itself known and shakes the floor beneath his feet.
It’s moment like this that makes him want to hold on to Jensen harder and never let go.
The screen fills with the image of a pretty brunette woman with bright black eyes and an easy smile looking through the screen. Jared doesn’t know her.
“Valerie Petit, 38, the acclaimed war reporter who was working for the European News Network (ENN) has lost her life yesterday when her car was attacked by terrorist snipers on her way to the Old City of Mosul. She has been covering the long drawn bloody battle between the Iraqi - Kurdish forces and the ISIL militants.”
As the news reader tells her story, the accompanying video segment of the news attempts to sketch her thirty eight years of life in two short minutes.
“38 year old Petit and video journalist Eric Roberts, who had been covering the protracted battle for the news programme Affaires Internationales had stopped at a gas station on their way to the Old City when they were seriously injured due to the onslaught of sniper bullets. Terrorists had posted a grainy footage of the shooting of what appears to be the black Chevrolet Petit was riding, in the website. Petit was declared dead on arrival when she was taken to the army hospital in Mosul, whereas Roberts received multiple injuries in his head, spine and lower limb.”
Jared can see greyish images of a coffin covered in French tri-colour being loaded on a car by some grim faced army men.
“Petit, an alumnus of the hailed Lille School of Journalism - École supérieure de journalisme de Lille is a critically acclaimed reporter who has worked in multiple war zones across the world. She was also an active member of the global journalists’ rights watchdog organisation ‘Reporters without Borders’ and has received multiple awards for her work. Petit’s husband Samuel Petit , also a journalist working for the French daily Le Figaro was unavailable for comment. BBC- World family is extending deepest condolences towards Valerie’s parents, her partner and their daughter in this difficult time.”
Jared can see so many moments of her life as they fly by on the TV screen….of her in her graduation robe, of her accepting some award, of her writing attentively on her desk with glasses perched on her nose….and of her holding a baby with man smiling at her by her side.
It’s all media can afford for a lost journalist.
And then the screen fills with the image of a stunning middle-eastern man in an olive green tee.
“In another incident, renowned Iraqi war correspondent Hafiz Addad of the Middle East News Agency (MENA) was killed by ISIL militants in Western Mosul where he was covering the operation of Iraqi army to regain control over the area. ISIL militants captured Addad and his crew in the western district of Tal al-Rumman and shot them on camera.”
Jared closes his eyes when a blurred footages of the shootings air on the TV, and not for the first time he curses at the sheer insensitivity of newsmakers who don’t even spare a person some privacy even in gory death.
He can hear their screams even with his eyes closed.
Everything is scoop and everything is saleable.
And then then a similar video segment on Hafiz’s life follows.
Jared finds himself sinking on the couch as the shaking gets stronger.
If Jensen dies, this is what he’ll get in return.
And suddenly there’s Jensen’s face on screen and it makes Jared’s heart stutter.
He can see Hafiz standing with Jensen amongst some villagers beside an obscure run down building, talking seriously about something.
Of them drinking tea in what appears to be a tiny middle-eastern café.
Of them with some children in a room in what appears to be an orphanage.
“Addad, an alumnus of the American University of Dubai (AUD) has had a series of highly acclaimed multi-level collaborations with BBC- World’s war correspondent and current Bureau Chief Jensen Ackles.”
“Pro ISIL hackers hacked into the BBC’s website and posted the gory video of Addad and his crew’s ruthless killing and a series of photos of his beheaded corpse which they had hung in a town square in Mosul as a warning for all their detractors, before the area was recaptured by the Iraqi forces. In the sick video made by ISIL jehadists, they are seen giving warnings to all the journalists and media people who are working on field , referring to many by name.”
“Hafiz has been actively involved in social work and his death has seriously jeopardised the fate of the orphanage that he was running in Baghdad, which currently shelters around 450 children maimed or orphaned by war. ”
“BBC-World family is extending deepest condolences towards Hafiz’s wife Salma, their two sons and his family who live in Baghdad.”
Jared starts to rise when something clicks and makes him falls back.
And it takes his breath away.
The way he was biting back words….
The way it abruptly ended….
“Just wanna hear your voice.”
In all their years together, Jared doesn’t ever remember Jensen seeking him out like this.
He rises from the couch, completely unaware that Sam’s calling him.
He doesn’t realize when hazel eyes start to fill blurring the rest of the room in a watery haze.
He’s devastated at his own blindness.
Somehow through all these years, Jared had come to believe that Jensen is rather well conditioned to everything happening around him. That he’s strong enough.
That his being a journalist has given him the power to see it all with an impartial gaze.
Jensen has just kept Jared outside the purview of his pain .
And Jared couldn’t hold him the one time he didn’t.
Jared has no idea of the uncountable times this must have happened before.
Of the times Jensen must have seen the gruesome dance of death this up close, and actually had to swallow it down.
He wipes his face with his sleeve and pulls out his iPhone once again
“Call him Jay. JD’s worried.” Jared’s faintly aware of Sam’s voice.
But his fingers are already on his phone, much before that.
He has to call Jensen.
And Jensen answers…
Just, it’s not him.
“Hello. You’ve reached the voicemail of Jensen Ackles. I’m currently unable to receive your call. Please leave your name, phone number and message after the beep. I promise I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Have a nice day!”
“Hey.” Someone’s calling him.
Jared can feel fingers carding through his hair.
It makes him strive to clutch on to that sweet state between wakefulness and slumber for a bit more….. until reality strikes.
“Jen?” Jared almost falls off the couch he had been dozing on in his haste to get up, only to be held securely by a pair of familiar hands.
“Hey..hey…be careful.” Jensen huffs as he seats both of them on the couch, and it’s the first time Jared gets a good look at him this afternoon.
Jensen looks a bit tired and pale and Jared’d heart latches on to that in an instant.
“Jen? What ‘bout the….” And that’s all Jared can manage before Jensen hushes him with a tiny kiss.
“It’s fine Jay. No worries.” Jensen it seems is pushing through and Jared suddenly doesn’t know what to do. He had been expecting many things since he left for home this afternoon, but this Jensen bearing two large takeaway bags from Mastro’s Steakhouse, smiling brightly isn’t one of them.
Jensen shouldn’t be smiling at this moment.
He should be…
Jared doesn’t know what Jensen should be doing…
But this put upon smile isn’t one of them.
Somehow he had expected that Jensen would let him in.
But that’s apparently not the case.
He has no idea what Jensen’s trying to do, and he has no idea how to react.
“You went all the way to…” Jared shakes his head as he suddenly finds himself with a lap full of dirty blond hair on the couch.
Jensen groans in pleasure and puts his foot over the armrest of the couch.
And he closes his eyes.
Jared feels strange.
After spending most of the day in sheer agony, this strange normalcy isn’t sitting well with him.
Is this the same Jensen who called him this morning?
He’s not sure any more.
He pulls Jensen further into his body and begins doodling all over his head out of habit.
And Jensen relaxes at last.
Jared can almost feel it as the last remnants of rigidness leaves Jensen and he loosens up.
“Naah. It’s on the way. Thought you don hafta cook then. Got steaks and sushi. Sammy can have sushi right?” Jensen turns and burrows his face in Jared’s belly.
“We can try and see may be?” Jared murmurs.
He has never felt so out of place with Jensen before.
He was prepared for Jensen to tell him that he needs some time alone, for Jensen to be angry and sad and everything in between.
He was even prepared for Jensen to have a meltdown.
But this Jensen who’s neither letting him in and nor letting him go has thrown him off his loop.
He wishes he could give Jensen a hug.
He wishes Jensen would ask for one.
“Jen?” He looks down at Jensen’s sleeping face and tries one last time.
“Hmm?” Jensen replies somewhat indistinctly. He doesn’t seem too keen to do anything for that matter.
The morning with its horrific remnants seems to have dissolved into oblivion. “Jus…just talk to me?” Jared tries hard to keep his voice from breaking, to keep Jensen from seeing just how shattered he’s feeling right now.
Jensen opens his eyes yet again and looks up at Jared’s face.
And he smiles, but it isn’t quite reaching his eyes. Jared’s eyes tears up once more.
He closes his eyes as a callused hand reaches up to touch his cheek gently…
“Nothing to talk ‘bout Jay. Just stay here okay?” Jensen closes his eyes.
Jared has so much to say.
He wants to ask Jensen to change from his work clothes into something more comfortable.
He wants to tell him that he had made mac n cheese for him ….from scratch. It’s Jensen’s mom’s recipe.
He wants to let him know that he’s here to hug and hold him…all Jensen needs to do is to let him.
But just as always, words seem to abandon him just when he needs them the most. He cards his fingers through the spiky blond hair and lets his eyes fall on the sleeping face on his lap he loves so much.
“Not goin anywhere Jen. Just close your eyes…” He whispers.
He can wait…
“Jay? What are you doin down there?” A voice shatters Jared’s reverie and he looks up to find two worried green eyes directed at him.
Jared refuses to respond and looks away from his seat on the floor.
He has no idea what he’s doing up so late. But he couldn’t sleep and didn’t want to disturb Jensen.
The evening had gone steadily downhill since Jensen’s return.
It’s not because Jensen fought with Jared, or because he was rude and pissed off.
Rather it’s the opposite.
Jensen continued to act normal and smile, and it didn’t reach his eyes.
By the end of the evening it felt like he won’t be able to breath.
That Jensen is capable of this smile, that he would actually think that Jared wouldn’t get past this put upon happy face, made him want to kill someone.
Who would have thought he would hate to see Jensen smile?
Jared continues to look away even when he feels Jensen sitting down beside him on the floor.
He bites his lips to keep himself from responding as he feels Jensen inching closer towards him and laying his head on Jared’s shoulders. He strives to fight the pleasant sensations coursing through him and jumps away from Jensen’s touch...
Only to have Jensen hold on to him even harder.
“Talk to me Jay…please?” Jared can sense Jensen’s desperation in his tone but he refuses to relent.
If anything it makes him madder.
He wipes off the wayward unruly tears that seems to have suddenly taken hold of him without notice and tries to forcibly wrench himself off Jensen’s arms…
Only to have Jensen hug him once more.
“Don…don’t cry Jay. You’re scarin me…”Jensen’s voice trembles as he whispers into the hollow of Jared’s neck.
And that’s what does it.
Jared has never known this feeling before…
To love someone to the point of wanting to kill him.
“Yeah….m cryin Jen.” He wrests Jensen’s face from his neck and cups it with the palm of his arms, voice hoarse with exertion.
He can see Jensen lifting his fingers towards the tears from his cheek, and catches them midway before they can wipe off the moistness away.
“Don’t..” He glares, voice firm once again .He has no idea where this sudden bravado is coming from but he pushes on.
“Wanna know why m cryin?” He looks into the emerald eyes once again. One glance at Jensen’s face and fight leaves him as hastily as it had arrived.
Jensen it seems is hanging on to every word of his and Jared loses it finally, all his carefully constructed defensive anger giving way to an outburst.
“I’m cryin as you aren’t Jen! When…when did you turn into this?”
There’s pin drop silence all of a sudden.
Jared’s eyes widen just as the words leave his mouth as the true magnitude of what he has just said hits him.
What is he even accusing Jensen of?
He hasn’t even done anything to deserve it.
“Jen? Just look at me?” Jared implores, eyes awash with tears as the sudden rage dissipates.
Jensen has suddenly gone stock still. Hands in pocket, he keeps staring at the patterns on the floor and refuses to look up.
He just wanted Jensen to open up, not break him further.
It makes Jared’s insides seize up. Whatever he wanted, Jensen pulling away even further wasn’t one of them.
“Please Jen? Jus…just talk to me?” Jared hugs the sullen man and decides to go for the broke.
He doesn’t think he can go on any more.
He doesn’t remember ever really fighting with Jensen.
He’s not even sure if this is a fight…
And if this is, he’s no longer sure what he’s fighting about at this hour of the night.
And that’s when he feels the familiar weight of two arms tightening around him.
“It just Jay…it’s really messy in here. I didn’t…”Jensen shakes his head and relaxes into Jared’s neck, body going lax all of a sudden.
Jared’s heart goes on an overdrive.
“Hey…hey…Jen? Hey….just look at me? Jus…just talk to me okay?” Jared whispers, raining desperate frantic kisses all over the freckled face and closed eyelids, as if trying to make up for the last hour.
He would rather have Jensen calling him names and fighting with him than this.
And then it happens.
“You promise to do that some more?”
It’s spoken like a murmur, tinged on the edges with a tiny yet to happen smile.
A real smile.
And Jared finally knows for sure that it will be okay.
It’s this smile that he has been striving for this entire day. Suddenly there’s air all around and that invisible choke hold around his throat is gone.
And it unconsciously prompts a smile on Jared’s own lips.
It’s exasperated, relieved and bordering on hysteria at the same time.
This here is them.
“Do what? Drool on you some more?” He mock glares.
Jensen smiles faintly.
He nods his head and looks down, but refuses to speak.
Things are still not okay and it makes Jared hold on to the straws of whatever little hope he can lay his hands on.
“Anything Jen…and it’s yours. Jus….just talk to me?” He rasps when Jensen looks up and starts pulling both of them towards the bed.
Jensen nods and takes Jared’s hands as they sit facing each other.
“ I don’t know what you’re lookin for Jay…but it’s not nice ….jus…just promise not to flip out? I…I can’t do it if you..” Jensen’s eyes are firm as he speaks and Jared shakes his head before he can finish.
“Jen? Anything’s better than this you know? Whatever it is…jus..just lemme in. I don’t care if it’s a mess…. We can be messy together right?” Jared holds one of Jensen’s hands captive in both of his as he speaks.
That lost look in Jensen’s eyes finally seems to have dissipated and it makes him smile.
They’ll get through this.
“Jen?” Jared whispers anxiously.
“Yeah…we gotta talk.” Jensen just nods and closes his eyes. He’s still far from his usual self and it shows in his face.
It reminds Jared of something. It’s an old trick he often tries with his tiny rebel when he’s being really difficult.
“Hey…come on…” He pats his lap invitingly.
And just as always Jensen falls for it.
His face breaks into a dopey grin and he doesn’t hesitate for even a second before summarily dropping on the bed till his head is resting on Jared’s lap. He brings both of Jared’s arms around his neck in an old gesture and groans with pleasure.
Jared has lets out a relieved breath.
It’s as much for his own comfort as Jensen’s.
This way Jensen won’t be able to see his face.
“You know them…don’t you?” Jared’s hushed words spear through the silence hanging in the air of the room and Jensen makes a little movement in response before settling down again.
“Jay....remember the whiteboard at the entrance of our department? ” Jensen asks out of the blue.
It’s not quite the answer but Jared strives to pick up the threads of the conversation.
“Beside the main door….right?” He recalls.
The few times he had been to Jensen’s department in the university, his eyes had fallen on it every time. It was a simple white board on the wall near the entrance. They had a tradition of scribbling a quote in it every week.
It’s the teachers who mainly did it, but sometimes students did it as well. They were mainly inspiring, but sometimes they bordered on sad and pensive.
Jensen had once told him that the board was never left blank.
“Yeah…that one. It was around the end of my final year… you know? I was runnin late for a class one Friday. Tried to dash in and ended up almost fallin flat on my ass near the board….”Jensen shakes his head and grins faintly, fingers running absently through Jared’s arms on his chest.
“That’s when I saw what’s written on it.” He pauses.
“What was it Jen?” Jared audibly wonders.
He wants to know what might made Jensen to save it within him for all these years.
"News is history shot on the wing." Jensen’s voice cuts across the imperious silence of the room and it stills the hands running through Jensen’s spiky blond hair.
“We’re the broken wings Jay…..but damn we can fly.” Jensen tilts his head up and meets the hazel eyes looking down at his face.
It’s not a particularly happy smile, and Jared just helplessly watches on.
Jensen’s not talking about them and he won’t ever be a part of the ‘we’.
This world belongs to them.
Valerie and Hafiz.
And so many more.
They talk well into the night and no one sleeps …
The room is quite at this moment.
There’s an arm loosely resting on his back.
Someone’s soft exhales are sweeping along his skin.
Jared’s awake, but not quite.
He’s in that enticing dreamlike state stuck between wakefulness and slumber that makes one reluctant to fall sleep and yet too comfortable to open his eyes.
Even with his eyes closed he’s firmly aware of a familiar touch moving up and down his back.
“Jen? Couldn’t sleep?” Jared sits up and arrests the wandering hand once it starts to retreat.
Jensen doesn’t answer audibly, and just shakes his head.
“Feelin okay?” Jared asks anxiously.
But Jared’s not convinced.
They talked late into last night.
Like always Jensen tried to conceal as much as he revealed. He has always shielded Jared in this way.
And again, just like always, Jared caught all those unspoken whispers mid-flight.
He has inched towards Jared and has pressed his back against Jared’s chest, enabling his husband to wrap his arms around him.
As if to subtly let Jared know that it’s not outright rejection.
But he still won’t speak.
Jared knows this feeling.
Jensen’s feeling mortified at this sudden exposure.
It’s the same sensation Jared had when he had aneurysm, and he’s well aware the numbness that sets in when the inner defences go down.
Jensen’s gearing up for another heart to heart and Jared wants to save him from that.
He chooses a nice distraction.
“I made mac and cheese you know?” He whispers into the ears resting near his lips and waits.
And the man in his arms turns almost instantly.
“What? And you didn’t tell me?” The relief at the change of topic and the happiness that explodes in his eyes is so palpable and so childlike in its innocence that Jared doesn’t know what to do for a moment.
But Jensen takes the decision from him.
He closes the distance between them and engulfs Jared in a kiss.
At first it leaves him stupefied.
And then, as that old sensation takes hold, he grabs Jensen’s hair with both of his hands and loses himself to it.
Jensen has always kissed him this way.
Soft and tentative at first, as if still fighting for control.
And hard with teeth and tongue, when he finally loses the inner battle and gives in to the temptation of possessing Jared.
And Jared wouldn’t have it any other way.
Their lips are numb when they part, tongues unconsciously trying to retrace each other’s taste in the corners of their mouth.
But Jared has known Jensen for too long to expect a romantic declaration after this stormy kiss. He finds the other grinning smugly at Jared’s dishevelled state.
“You didn’t hafta bribe me you know? It’s for you anyway.” Jared teases, as he rises off the bed.
“Hey!” Jared shrieks, letting out a surprised laughter when a finger pokes his ribs in retaliation.
“You know what? No mac n cheese for you. We all know what happens when you eat late.” Jared huffs, battling a barge of unruly fingers as they relentlessly tickle him.
“Come on! That was just one…. okay three times. And you fed me Mexican! With beans…and burritos.” Comes the indignant reply.
Trust Jensen to be righteously flatulent.
“Okay okay…but you gotta have Pepto after that okay?” He raises his eyebrows and Jensen concedes.
“Okay Mom.” He grunts half-heartedly, the twinkle of his eyes betraying the fact that he’s not as mad as he’s posing to be.
Jared gets off the bed and starts to leave.
But something hold’s him back.
He perches beside Jensen on the side of the bed and rumples his hair.
“Feeling okay now?” He whispers as he minutely takes in Jensen’s expression to know otherwise.
“Got you to return to. How can I not be fine?” Jensen pinches Jared’s cheek and gives him a push.
“Now off you go…we gonna have an early breakfast in bed!” Jensen’s ecstasy is the last thing Jared sees as he leaves the room.
Jensen sits up just as Jared exits the room and shakes his head fondly at Jared’s hurry.
It’s Jared who makes everything better.
He picks up his iPhone lying near his pillow and scrolls through the hundreds of unanswered calls from his phone.
Noor hasn’t answered even once.
Jensen has called this number for so long that his fingers tap almost on muscle memory when typing the country and area code.
About those kids.
About that dilapidated house that shelters them.
About that little one he wanted to bring home to Jared.
He scrolls through the photo gallery and taps on one of them.
He has shown it to Jared.
Him with a tiny boy amidst blankets.
Both of them smiling brightly, chubby little fingers holding Jensen’s callused ones captive. They said he’s the only one that baby had clung to since they brought him to the orphanage after he lost his entire family in a day.
Dark hair, blue eyes and dimpled smile.
He looks just like Sammy except for his hair. It had taken mere moments for Jensen to fall for that tiny boy.
He has been calling Noor and Hafiz almost on a daily basis to enquire about him.
Video calling to see the kids.
Noor looks after the children, and he’s missing.
Hafiz is gone.
Jensen doesn’t know what to do.
Somehow the little boy had found his place in the happy ending Jensen had pictured for himself and Jared.
And now it’s gone.
He’s feeling so much better now that he has started talking to Jared.
It was difficult last night and Jensen had to fight his inborn instincts stubbornly, to talk it all out.
To fight against the voice nagging him to keep Jared safe, in unawareness.
He’s one of the five journalists from three media houses who have received a written threat from some terror outfits today.
It has taken the three of them and the CEOs of all the three media houses an entire day to arrive upon a mutual consensus of suppressing that letter.
The rest of the five are away in Syria and Israel with assignments.
These are nothing new.
Jensen is used to receiving such threats all his life.
They are an indication that he is doing his job properly and he takes them as laurels.
While Jensen has told his husband about that hit list, he hasn’t revealed that he’s the first one of the five.
That there were seven in the list they had received last month...and two are now gone.
And Jensen wants to keep it that way.
He runs his fingers through his hair in irritation.
He’s has stretched himself so thinly all over the world that it will take him some more time to gather all his parts back in one place. He has so much to tell Jared, and he has no idea where to begin.
Jensen will just trust his boy and let him take the lead.