Jensen closed his eyes and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. The weather was shit and the headache that was steadily drumming in his head was only getting worse. He couldn’t have picked a better day to finally tackle the remnants of the slush pile Misha had passed onto him. Though Misha’s idea of getting Jensen to do it was to leave it bundled on Jensen’s desk with a Post-It note saying, ‘Read or suffer my wrath.’ Other editors might have dismissed it. However, having suffered Misha’s wrath before and a chaotic week in the process, Jensen figured what the hell. It was generally a good idea to keep Misha happy anyway, just for both their sakes.
He looked down at the half-finished manuscript before he turned and looked out the window. Grey clouds rolled through the sky, promising one hell of a thunderstorm in a bit. Why the hell was it raining so much this time of year in Dallas anyway? May was almost dry and sunny, without a cloud in the sky. Not quasi-hurricane weather. He rubbed at his forehead absently, thinking over his workload. His latest rounds of projects were done and he was sifting through, looking for something else. He didn’t have to work on the slush pile bits Misha had picked out.
“Christ,” Jensen turned the chair and tilted it, placing his feet on the desk and resting his head against the backrest. “Maybe I’ll just take them home with me.”
As if in response, a knock came on the door. When he called out ‘Enter’, he wasn’t half-surprised when Misha came in. Misha had an almost prescient ability to know the moment Jensen entertained any idea of skipping out early. Misha had another fat manuscript in hand and slipped it to the bottom of the bundle before he looked at Jensen.
“Period piece, has something.”
Jensen eyed the pile before looking at Misha and he made up his mind, “I’ll finish up at home. My head is killing me.”
“Need an aspirin?” Misha’s glance flicked to the window and then back to Jensen.
“Nah,” Jensen pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and rubbed at his eyes. “Just this shitty weather is all.”
Misha didn’t seem convinced but let it slide. “Well, before you take off, just hang tight. Jeff’s around and he wanted to talk to you. I said you were busy finishing off the cover requirements for that Hodge piece,”
Jensen raised his eyebrows. Considering Aldis got here at what had to be the crack of dawn, all of that had been resolved by lunch time. He didn’t know what Misha was playing at. But he let Misha talk.
“I told him to try about now. Jeff says it was important, about a new opportunity.”
“Uh thanks,” Jensen didn’t have the faintest idea why Misha was looking at him pointedly. “I’ll stick around then. Did he say what time exactly?”
“Knowing Jeff, he’s probably getting off the elevator right now,” Misha glanced at the door. “Kripke was out on a coffee run and saw him coming up and called me.”
There was that look again. Jensen scooped up the manuscripts and tucked them away in his briefcase. Seriously, Misha was going to have to explain what the hell was going on because damned if he knew anything. Though, he didn’t know why Misha should have thought that Jensen should. He’d spent the past year immersed in projects from start to finish. Aldis Hodge’s had been the last of the current block and Jensen was especially pleased with how it turned out. Dealing Aldis Hodge was infinitely better than having to deal with Arthur Boye. Boye was a damned nightmare. If Jensen had to sit through one more impassioned speech about the ‘artistic integrity of the ouevre’ then he felt that there was no way he could be held liable for justifiable homicide. It wouldn’t be so bad if Boye wasn’t so damned sanctimonius about it. Bad grammar was bad grammar, any way you diced it.
He rubbed at his forehead again. Maybe Misha had been right on the aspirin thing. He’d take two and have something good to eat. He hadn’t really eaten anything all day between the coffee and donuts Aldis had brought with him in the morning and another coffee sometime in the afternoon.
Another knock sounded on the office door. Jensen took his feet off the desk and Misha gave him a quick, ‘Good luck’ before opening the door. Misha slipped past Jeff with a nod and waited until Jeff stepped inside to close the door after him. Jensen stood up and gestured to the empty chair in front of his desk.
“Good to see you again Jeff,” he still held his hand out.
“Always good to see you Jensen,” Jeff shook his hand, a thick manila envelope tucked under his other arm. “How are you doing?”
“Got a killer headache that won’t go away,” Jensen sat back down as Jeff took the seat.
Jeff winced in sympathy. “Well, I won’t waste too much of your time since you look like you’re gunning to be out of here. We’re negotiating to takeover a small French printing house in the south of France, around the Nice area.”
That was certainly the last thing Jensen was expecting to hear out of Jeff’s mouth. It took him a few seconds to pull his thoughts together and start speaking. “Breaking into the European markets? That’s an entirely different game Jeff. It could be profitable, but it could blow up in your face.”
“In inexperienced hands, yes,” Jeff paused for a moment. “But the marketing figures show that there is a demand for our titles over there. Especially in regards to our fiction and a good portion of our periodicals. Not to mention we’re looking to expand our translations, starting with French. We thought about starting in the UK, but the potential growth in the French market is better. With the right person at the helm, the France branch could be very successful.”
And with that Jensen could see precisely what Jeff was driving at. “Forget it. You can get someone else to do it.”
Jeff looked Jensen in the eye. “You turned around the LA branch first. Then you came to Dallas and made it a winner, in five years. You’re one of our top editors and given your track record for turning things around, I’d rather see you helming this new branch. Harris just got started and while she’s good, she just doesn’t have your experience.”
Silence fell as Jeff took the manila envelope out from under his arm and placed it on the desk. Jensen looked at it, unsure of what he should, or even could, think of the envelope on his desk. And as if he could further entice Jensen…
“You’ll have our best translator working with you. He lives and works in France mainly, commutes to our New York offices when needed.”
“That Jared Leeks guy, right? Heard good things about him,” Jensen lapsed into thought for a moment. “This isn’t something that I can just give you an answer to.”
“I wasn’t expecting that. We’re in the acquisition stage. By the time the negotiation is done, the contracts drawn up and payments made, we’re probably looking at the end of summer, start of fall once it’s all said and done,” Jeff slid the manila envelope in closer to Jensen. “Read over the contract and see what it says.”
Jensen looked at it and picked it up. Of course the thing weighed about eight fucking pounds. He glanced at Jeff before saying, “I don’t know a single word of French.”
“You have time to learn. Take a week, think it over and then let me know.”
All Jensen did was nod his head and say, “You’ll hear back from me in a week.”
“Thank you,” Jeff rose. “I really would prefer it to be you.”
“Who are your other choices?” Jensen was curious now. This was the third time Jeff said that.
“Tom from LA and Chad from New York.”
Jensen managed to not make an audible sound as Jeff kept talking – something about this being a big opportunity and whatnot - and made appropriate sounds. When Jeff finally left, Jensen snapped himself out of it long enough to grab his briefcase and leave. Misha didn’t even look up from something as he walked by and wished him a good evening. All Jensen got in return was a hand raised in acknowledgement.
He got to his car and drove home, managing to stick to side streets and avoid the worst of the traffic. The clouds had worsened as he arrived at his condo and and shit was Jensen ever glad for underground parking. When he walked in and locked the door behind him, he was feeling bone weary and he was doing his best to avoid thinking of the thick manila envelope in his briefcase.
After a shower and taking two aspirin, Jensen opened his briefcase and riffled through for the first of the slush pile manuscripts. The red pen was taken out, tucked behind his ear, and as he fixed himself some dinner, he started fixing errors and making comments in the side margins. Once the food was done, some rice stir-fry thing with some chicken and vegetables, he ambled out to the living room. The single lamp was turned on and in the soft light Jensen settled himself on the couch. His dinner plate was left on the coffee table and through the evening, he ate slowly, determined to make some headway through a surprisingly solid piece of work.
By the time he finally finished eating his eyes were starting to feel a bit tired and gritty. A glance at the clock said that it was almost midnight.
“Damn, did it again.” Jensen yawned as he stretched.
He flagged where he left off on the manuscript and took his plate into the kitchen. When he finished up, he ambled back into the living room, flicking off the light before headed to the bedroom. The manila envelope was left in his briefcase, completely forgotten about.
Friday was the best day of the week, in Jared’s opinion. His day usually started with a quick run to the market and picking up some stuff for the weekend. Some beer almost always found its way back. He’d work on some translation project and then pack it in about four. Sometimes he’d head down to the bar and meet up with some friends for a drink. Or sometimes, they’d come and when Genevieve came home, they’d all start relaxing and unwinding for the weekend.
But right now, it was the moment of quiet in the early afternoon. He was sitting outside on the small balcony, his latest project in front him. Aldis Hodge’s new book, Stars Fall Down, had just been sent over from the Dallas office. There was nothing Jared loved more than getting his hands on a new novel and translating it. Bringing that novel to an entirely different language, keeping the nuance and such… there wasn’t anything quite like that.
The balcony had called to him around eleven in the morning, with its shaded awning and the scent of wildflowers from Mrs. Valois’s hanging baskets next door, and the fruits and vegetables from the outdoor market around the corner…
This was definitely the upside to working from home.
He stretched and looked down at the nearly one hundred pages he had translated already. Not a bad start, considering the book was about five hundred pages. Jared knew plenty of other translators who relied on computer programs and the like to do the bulk of the translating. But Jared found most of the words lost their nuance. Sure it took him a bit longer to get the translation done, but the quality wasn’t something that any computer could give. He tapped his pen absently against the manuscript before deciding to pack it in. It would be three soon enough and he’d done more than enough work already.
His things were collected up and put away at his desk. He’d ambled into the kitchen when a shout from outside caught his attention. When he walked over to the balcony and looked down, there were Sandy and Alexis, squinting up at him. He leaned on the wrought iron barricade and grinned down at them.
“All done then Padalecki?” Alexis grinned up at him, a smile on her face.
“Just packed up. You slackers want a drink?”
“And how,” Sandy said emphatically. “Wait until you hear.”
That made Jared pause as they started walking for his building’s door. If Sandy and Alexis didn’t bring him the latest news, he’d be completely out of the loop sometimes. Gossip wasn’t exactly Genevieve’s thing. Jared went to the front door and unlocked it before heading to the kitchen and pulled out three cold beers before taking out a bottle of wine and pouring out a glass. Genevieve would be home any minute now. The door creaked as it opened and he came over, beers in hand.
“Lovely to see you as always,” Jared handed over the beers in quick succession.
Alexis grinned, took hers and tipped it to him. Sandy just took hers and took a big gulp from it before giving a heavy sigh. Jared watched her for a long moment.
“That bad a day, huh?”
“You’d think so too if unemployment lay in your future.” Sandy groused as she headed for the living room.
“Um,” Jared looked at Alexis, who just shrugged and rolled her eyes. “What?”
“Don’t mind her. She’s been on like this all day. But hey, we stopped off and got some fruit, cheese and bread.”
“Great. Pass it here.”
It didn’t take long to prepare the food and soon they were sitting the living room, eating and talking. Well, more like he and Alexis were eating and drinking. Sandy was the one doing most of the talking. Jared only really paid attention when he heard a familiar name.
“… I mean, who does Morgan think he is, taking us over. I mean… corporate takeovers don’t happen here,” Sandy sniped, though the look on Alexis’s face said she begged to differ. “And you just know he’s going to put some asshole American in charge, fire us all and bring in new staff.”
“Wait,” Jared put down his beer. “Morgan? As in Jeffrey D Morgan? Of Morgan & Co. Publishing?”
“One and the same,” Sandy said bitterly. She finished off her beer and stood up. “Why?”
“I got it,” he took her bottle and rose. “And Morgan is my boss. I work for him.”
“Ah, so this is your mysterious employer.” Alexis grinned. “You’ve been working for him for how long?”
Jared had to think it over quickly before he called back, “About eight years now, almost nine. Yeah, I applied when I was back in New York to visit Chad and he told me about the position.”
When Jared returned to the living room with more beers, Sandy pounced. “What’s he like? You don’t think he’ll toss us out?”
“I can’t say. But I do know that he won’t waste potential. If you’re good at what you do then you should be okay. If not, well…” Jared shrugged loosely. “I wasn’t exactly scraping the bottom of the barrel when he interviewed me.”
“Yeah but, do you really think that Morgan will head up a small branch like this?” Alexis looked between them. “Especially one that’s been losing money hand over fist for the past five years?”
“He probably thinks he can turn it around,” Sandy snorted. “That Éclat has broken even is nothing short of miraculous, c'est mon avis.”
The words were slurred nastily. Jared rubbed at his face before he took a swig of beer. Yeah, Sandy was not thrilled about this. Alexis huffed in resignation and slouched back against the couch. Sometimes, there was no shaking an idea once it was stuck in Sandy’s mind.
“Well as you’re fairly determined to get drunk tonight, I don’t think you should go mouthing off about your opinion on anything. That’s gotten you into trouble enough times,” Jared said as he pointedly ignored Sandy’s pout. “Besides, Jeff’s been nothing but fair with me and –”
The faint melodic ring of Jared’s cell phone from the bedroom interrupted his sentence. With a sigh, Jared got up and went to answer his phone.
“Padalecki,” he said easily as he sat down on the bed.
“Ah, I haven’t caught you at a bad time have I,” Jeff sounded apologetic. “It’s only four there, right?”
“Yes. Where are you now?”
“Out in LA.”
Jared did some quick math and then winced. “It’s eight in the morning for you. You’re up early.”
“Too much to do and I wanted I’d catch you before you disappeared for the weekend or something. And I figured you should hear it from me instead of Chad.”
“We’re buying a small printing house in the Bouche du Rhône region.”
Jared glanced toward his bedroom door. “Really?
Jeff made a vague sound of agreement. “We’re looking to expand more into the French market and think the region would be the perfect spot.”
“Paris would be better for something like that, don’t you think? More connected. People mostly come here to visit.”
“Tourism is never a bad thing. And it’s right next door to Cannes and Nice, not to mention Italy,” there’s a moment of silence from Jeff. “It’s a very strategic location.”
“Okay, so why are you calling?”
“Well, the person I’ll eventually send out to be the editor in chief won’t know a lick of French.”
“Oh no. No, no, no,” Jared could see where Jeff was heading with this one. He’d tried teaching adults once. And he never would again, if he could help it. “I’ll end up with some jerk that makes a half-assed attempt or uses it only to pick up someone at a bar. Forget it.”
“And do you really think you’ll be able to just watch the trainwreck?”
There was a dry tone to Jeff’s voice, because, well, fuck Jared wouldn’t sit by and watch it. It was different for him. He’d been here since he was little, learned to speak the language when he was still impressionable enough. Hell, his bilingualism had landed him a cushy job that some people would kill for. And he’d be damned if some American asshole tried to learn French from him and butchered it only to then turn around and claim that Jared taught him.
He’d rather not be the laughingstock of the town, merci beau-fucking-coup.
“Okay just...” Jared trailed off thinking as he rubbed at his chin. “Okay, don’t have them read a thing unless it’s either the Rosetta Stone or the Bescherelle programs. Anything else is just a waste of their time and makes my life more difficult.”
“I’ll let them know as soon as the candidates get back to me,” Jeff said. “We’re hoping to send them over by the end of May.”
“Everything will be finalised by then?” Jared couldn’t keep the surprise from his voice.
“No, but it’d be easier for them to acclimatise first and then get into the swing of things. It might help them get a better feel for the market and what might work better there.”
Jared couldn’t find fault with that. It was something he probably wouldn’t have thought of. “Okay. I guess I can teach them at home or something. I’ll get the translation of Hodge’s new book done as soon as possible and ship it back.”
“When you can,” Jeff said. “I know I’m asking a lot of you but I can’t think of anyone else more suited to the task.”
Jared didn’t say that it also meant that they didn’t have to find an instructor and pay any additional money. “This comes with a bonus?”
“Naturally.” Jeff chuckled. “Okay, Tom’s waiting for me. We’re going over some the short list for the possible fall titles today. Full day.”
“Mm-hm,” Jared agreed. “Don’t let me keep you. I’m sure you’ll call me later with something else.”
“Don’t I always. Take it easy.”
Jared murmured ‘Au revoir’ and flipped his phone shut before he tossed it back on the nightstand. He stared at it for a moment before he got up and made a direct beeline into the kitchen. The only indication that Sandy and Alexis had seen him was the brief lull in conversation. But Jared dug out the bottle of tequila and whiskey along with shot glasses. He paused with a frown when he noticed the wine glass still sitting on the counter. Weird, Genevieve was almost always home by now on a Friday. It was heading on five. She was probably having a late day and would be back by six at the latest. He pushed the thought aside and went back out the living room.
“What prompts this?” Sandy sat up on the couch as she finished off some cheese and bread.
“Just got off the phone. Jeff called,” Jared plopped himself down on the couch, cracked open the tequila and poured three shots. “Guess who gets to teach the American asshole how to speak French?”
The tequila would have gone down easier, Jared figured, if both Sandy and Alexis weren’t laughing their asses off at him.
“Okay, Jensen, if you don’t take this, I might kill you.”
Danneel was giving Jensen an intent look from over the dinner table. Jensen just decided that paying attention to his spring roll appetizer was a better idea. Inviting Danneel out for dinner and drinks had been a great idea at first. But then she’d asked him, of all things, if he had accepted Jeff’s offer or not. Sometimes, Jensen was sure that he didn’t want to know how she found out all these things. Given enough time, Danneel’s personal network would be formidable enough and could probably rival the Queen of England’s.
And she hadn’t let it drop. Through the first few drinks – apertifs, to get him in the French swing of things, she so claimed – she’d tried to pump him for information. Jensen had hoped that his simple answers would have been enough to tell her to leave it alone.
When he’d slid the potential contract over to her, she’d spent about fifteen minutes flipping through it before she slid it back and uttered her pronouncement. So when their food came and they started eating, he should have expected her to get back to the subject at hand.
“I’m serious. I know I’ve only been here two years, so no chance in hell of me getting something like this,” Danneel picked up a French fry before pointing it at Jensen. “And do you really want to let Chad lose on France?”
Jensen simply took a deep sigh and elected to focus on his steak. Chad going to France was something that had international incident written all over it. A few weeks over there and Chad would have managed to convince an entire population that all Americans were complete and utter assholes. Danneel was giving him a pointed look as she ate some fries and licked the salt from her fingers. After a few minutes, she spoke once more.
“Not to mention he’d probably butcher the language,” Danneel continued. “And thereby piss them off even more.”
“Yeah, because I won’t do that,” Jensen groaned as he slouched back in the chair a bit. “And how the hell did you know Chad was up for consideration.”
“A little birdie told me. Just like I know that Tom’s the other one.”
“Yeah, well fat chance of Tom taking it. He and Mike just adopted a baby girl apparently.”
Danneel made a sound of agreement. “Well, I know you’ll put in more of an effort than Chad,”
There was absolutely no reason to tell Danneel that he’d already gone out and paid a ridiculous amount of money for some language CDs. None at all. He just grunted in reply and ate a few of the mushrooms that came with his steak. But her next words took him by surprise.
“Besides, I’ve worked with Jared before. He’s a real sweetheart.”
Jensen frowned at that before he remembered that Danneel had transferred down from the New York office. “Aside from that, what’s he like? Born and bred Frenchman?”
“No actually. He said he used to live in San Antonio and then the Dallas area before he moved to France. He must have moved there when he was really young. Can barely hear the Texas in his voice. And that accent of his… hooo! If I wasn’t with Chris…”
“Yeah, don’t go telling Kane that you have the hots for some French guy,” Jensen rolled his eyes. “He’d wonder what kind of girl I introduced him to.”
Danneel licked her lips and winked at him. “A firecracker. This could have been yours, but Chris was much smarter. But you had to stick it out with Mark.”
“After the Joanna fiasco, I thought it was worth a shot,” he shrugged as Danneel pulled a face and then took a drink of her Dr Pepper. Then he added on, “Hey, you got a problem with me liking cock and pussy, I can go.”
Danneel choked a bit on her drink before she sputtered out. “Quit being a douchebag. It’s not always about the trainwreck your lovelife becomes sometimes. Okay, almost all the time.”
The grin on Jensen’s face disappeared as Danneel kicked him in the shin. She grinned in return but it disappeared a moment later as she said one simple thing.
“Seriously Jensen, you’ve been sitting on this contract for a few days already. And it’s France.”
And just like that, the issue was back to the forefront. Jensen huffed and ate a bit more of his steak. He’d bought the CDs and if that didn’t say, “I’m going” he didn’t know what else did. Danneel took his silence as continued reluctance since she started talking once more.
“Okay, look. You go to France, you’re there for what, five years or so? What’s the worst that can happen? I mean you’re heading up the project. If I had half your talent for picking fiction, I’d be set.”
Jensen shrugged. “You do have an eye for it. But you’re just better with the non-fiction stuff. Besides there’d be until the fall to learn French.”
When he said it like that, it sounded like he had to verbally list the reasons to convince himself. Danneel had finished off her fries and had started on her chicken strips. Her lips were pursed slightly and Jensen barely stifled his sound of annoyance.
“Spit it out. I know you’ve got something else to say.”
“You could always get someone in the sack and have them teach you. You’re a quick study.”
Jensen wished he hadn’t driven here tonight because a beer would go really well right about now. “You make it sound like I’ll sleep with anyone that has a libido.”
“And this is different from?” Danneel asked pointedly.
That got her a scowl. “Having a high sex drive doesn’t make me a slut.”
“No, it makes you horny all the time. Much different.” Danneel glanced at her watch before she swore. “Damn, I told Chris I’d pick him up at the airport.”
“Isn’t his flight landing at Lovefield?”
“Nah, he had to change at the last minute. Fort Worth,” Danneel didn’t bother to hide the sneer on her face. “The next taxi that thinks they can cut me off when I’m driving through there is in for a rude awakening. But I’ve still got some time. We’re not that far away.”
Jensen gave her a look. “Don’t let me keep you from bringing Chris back home. I sure as hell don’t want to be around to hear that racket.”
“You wish you were,” Danneel grinned at him and waggled her eyebrows before she nudged Jensen with her foot. “But I seriously think you should take it. I mean, what do you really have to lose?”
“… You mean aside from my cushy, rent-controlled apartment?” Jensen didn’t even want to think of the nightmare that alone would entail.
“Fuck, if that’s worrying you so much, I’ll move in. I’ve been meaning to get out of the dump that I’m in right now. Rent me your place and you’re set for however long you’re over there.”
Jensen narrowed his eyes slightly. “You make it sound like I’ve made up my mind already.”
That got a long laugh from Danneel, which earned her a few stares but no comments from other patrons. When she got her breath back, she watched Jensen for a long moment before speaking. “Honey, if there’s anything else I have learned about you over these past two years it’s that you love a challenge. You sometimes bitch and gripe about it at the start, but you knuckle down and do what needs to be done. So you bitch and gripe now, but come next Wednesday, you’ll call Jeff and tell him what’s what before demanding a comfortable place in France.”
And just like that Danneel had hit the nail squarely on the head. “God, I hate you sometimes. You know that right?”
She just grinned and blew him an air kiss. “Love you too. If you need a hand, just let me know, okay? I’ve wanted to get my hands on your walk-in closet since I first saw it. All that shoe space…”
“Oh, purely altruistic reasons I see,” Jensen drawled dryly. “You tell Chris yet?”
“No. I’m waiting to see what you tell Jeff.” The innocent look on her face wasn’t fooling Jensen. He stared at her for a few seconds before she followed up with, “Hey, you never know. You might surprise the hell out of me and say ‘no’ after all. Deny me my shoe space…”
“You know,” Jensen said slowly. “You’re either some kind of evil or psychic. Haven’t decided which one yet.”
“Just remember, it was all done in the name of your closet space.”
“Bitch.” Jensen grinned at her.
Danneel raised an eyebrows again while purring, “You love it, don’t lie” before turning her attention back to her chicken fingers. There was just no getting around it really. Tom wouldn’t take it and Chad… well, New York was perfect for Chad, no point in dislodging him from there only to have to ship him back within a few months. So Jensen figured the first thing he’d do when he got back home was figure out just where the fuck Aix-en-Provence was in France.
The ring of the phone roused Jared from his nap on the couch. He turned over on the couch and reached over for the handset that was on the side table. He knocked it from the cradle, swore and managed to find it before pressing the button and dragging it to his ear.
“Allo? Qui est à l’appareil?”
“Qui est à l’appareil,” a familiar voice parroted back. “You know who this is. How about you wake your drunk ass up, Jare?”
“Chad,” Jared groaned and rolled over onto his back. “How are you not the one hungover and pissy? It’s… I dunno… one in the afternoon over there?”
“Nope, try almost three. Eight in the evening for you, sunshine.”
Chad did sound entirely too cheerful for a Sunday afternoon… evening… fuck, Jared shouldn’t be trying to figure this out – or talking to Chad, for that matter – so soon after waking up.
“Not drunk. Some asshole called and woke me up from a nap,” Jared didn’t stifle his yawn as he rubbed at his face. “How’s it going man?”
“Not bad. Didn’t get a promotion,” Chad made an annoyed sound. “They gave it to the douchebag down in Dallas.”
Jared got up from the couch and ambled into the kitchen. “You’ll live, I’m sure.”
“Do you know what a pain in the ass it is to call you all the time? It’d be easier to just show up at your front door with a six-pack.”
“Yeah, thanks. See if I bring you anymore shit the next time I’m in New York,” Jared rummaged through the cupboard, first for a mug and then for an herbal teabag. “Besides, maybe you can switch to the Dallas office?”
Chad made an exasperated sound. “No thank you. Anyway, Danneel is down there already, so she’s probably waiting for the position. Pissed her off once and I’m not walking down that road again. Whatever you do man, don’t get on Danneel’s bad side.”
“She doesn’t have a bad side. She has an opinionated one. You’re just dumb enough to set her off,” Jared clarified. “Your moments of stupidity are not my problem.”
“Whatever man. You done translating Hodge’s new book yet?”
“I’ll have it done by Saturday,” Jared didn’t want to think of how late he’d be up this week to do that. “Because I get to play teacher.”
“Teacher?” Chad sounded puzzled. “What do you mean by that?”
When Jared explained, he had to wait a few minutes for Chad to stop laughing at him. He let the kettle boil and by the time he had a mug of tea steeping, Chad had calmed down enough to keep talking.
“So wait, you’re teaching the uptight, workaholic Dallas douchebag?” Chad now sounded way too gleeful. “Good luck to you man. You’ll need it.”
God, Chad was making this person sound like a nightmare. Honestly, that was the more worrying thing because, in his usual crude way, Chad could accurately describe people almost all the time. He was kind of dreading the phone call that would come from Jeff tomorrow.
“So is there any other reason why you called. Besides to spread some joy?” Jared asked dryly.
“Nah. Just thought I’d give you a call and see how you and Gen are doing. Make sure you haven’t drowned yourself in the Mediterranean for some stupid reason. Gen there? How is she?”
“She’s been busy,” Jared said as he glanced up at the clock. Quarter after and she still wasn’t back from her girls day out. “Some late nights at the spa and whatnot, but nothing unusual. It’s summer and tourist season.”
“Oh yeah? Just tonight?”
“Past few weeks actually,” the worry that twisted his gut a bit was surprisingly easy to ignore. “It’ll slow down.”
There was a long silence from Chad and then, “Huh, wasn’t like that last year. You sure everything is okay with you two?”
“Yeah, fine.” Jared said easily.
Chad was silent for a bit and Jared vaguely wondered what he’d say next. “Alright. So when the hell am I going to see you, dude? Last time you were in New York it was fucking January. Bring along your hot Italian lovah if you must.”
“Freak,” Jared muttered under his breath, but he couldn’t help but smile. “And why the hell don’t you come here for once, cheap bastard.”
“Not eating snails or frogs, thanks.”
Jared dumped in some honey in his tea, thinking it was possibly a good thing that Chad didn’t get the promotion. And he wasn’t launching into the, ‘that shit is not French food’ spiel again, for the billionth time. Well, it technically was if you wanted to pay ridiculous amounts of money to say you ate something that was caught in a pond. He gave the tea a quick stir and then headed back into the living room with the mug in hand.
“Well, whenever you show up, I’ll make sure they find the biggest ugliest frog in all of France for you to eat.” Jared placed the mug on the side table before he sat back down. “You maybe know when I should expect aforementioned douchebag?”
“Dunno,” Jared could practically hear Chad’s shrug. “Jeff’ll probably call you tomorrow and let you know.”
“Yeah. Not to mention –” Jared paused as he heard the sound of the key in the door. “Hey, Gen’s home. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Whipped,” Chad said. “Better fucking call me. Later man.”
The line disconnected and Jared hung up the phone and headed for the door. When he walked into the front hallway, Genevieve was there, locking the door behind her. Her hair was mussed and when she turned around, there was a smile on her flushed face. Maybe it was just Jared, but her smile faltered a bit but it returned a second later as she toed off her heels and wove towards him.
“Bon soir, mon poussin.” Genevieve slid her arms around his waist and nuzzled against his chest. “Did you make dinner?”
Jared pressed a kiss against her hair. “I made ratatouille. You should have called. I’d’ve warmed it up.”
“S’okay. We ate at the restaurant. I’ll have some tomorrow,” Genevieve sighed and tightened her arms around him. “Feels like I haven’t seen you in forever.”
“You saw me last night.” Jared followed as Genevieve tugged him back towards the living room.
“Mais n’étais pas seul,” Genevieve pouted. “You’re always with Sandy and Alexis. They hang off you like puppies.”
Jared just stared at her for a moment, almost utterly convinced that he was seeing a stranger. “They’re my friends. We have been for almost ten years now. Just… what’s with you?”
“I don’t really like sharing you,” Genevieve sat down on the couch, spied the mug of tea and took a sip. “I want you for myself. All to myself.”
Jared found himself hard pressed to argue that when Genevieve gave him that look from half-lidded eyes. That was the look that was undressed him and said that she was more than willing to take him for a ride. He coughed, clearing his throat. She laughed, rich and throaty in a way that made his skin tingle.
“Had fun with the girls?”
Genevieve nodded her head slightly. “They say hello. You look a little out of it.”
“Chad woke me up. I fell asleep on the couch,” Jared looked around, trying to recall what he’d been doing before falling asleep. “Reading.”
“Mm. And that translation project, how’s that?”
Jared watched as she picked up his mug of tea. When she snuggled against his side, Jared slid an arm over her shoulders. He pulled her in closer and she made a content sound. He just sat there for a moment before he started on about the new project and filled her in about the latest request from Jeff. That made her huff in displeasure but she didn’t say much about it.
“So that’s why you’re determined to finish translating the book so soon? To play language babysitter?”
Genevieve didn’t sound too thrilled and Jared couldn’t blame her. “My guess is that they will be opening up a branch office here. Which is good, no more commuting to New York every three months or so.”
“Definitely,” she agreed. “However, if Chad comes over here, he doesn’t have free reign to hit on any of my friends.”
That made Jared laugh and he pressed a kiss against the top of Genevieve’s head. And he frowned a bit as he breathed in and caught a whiff of cigarette smoke in her hair. He froze for a moment, and inhaled once more. Yes, definitely cigarette smoke. After a moment, Genevieve shifted and drew back to sip at the tea. Jared thought about asking her where she went and immediately decided against it. Asking her where she went with the girls tonight and then why her hair smelled of cigarette smoke… yeah, that didn’t smack of jealous, possessive boyfriend. Jared had gone down that road once and the resulting argument had resulted in him looking for a lot of new coffee mugs.
“Hey,” Genevieve drew back to look at him. “Everything all right?”
Jared just looked at her for a moment before he blinked rapidly and nodded his head. “Yeah, just… thinking… you know… busy week ahead.”
Genevieve leaned in and pressed a kiss against his cheek. “Mm. Why don’t we turn in early and unwind a bit?”
“Or maybe just sleep. I’m still feeling tired.” Jared stretched lazily before he rubbed at her shoulder. “Besides, you’ve got an early start at the spa too, don’t you?”
“Rather not. But someone’s got to keep that place running.” Genevieve gave him a sidelong look as she reached over and squeezed his thigh gently. “Fine, we’ll just turn in.”
Jared just made a vague sound of agreement as he let his head loll against the back of the couch. Genevieve laughed and got up, taking Jared’s hand in hers and tugging him to his feet. She led them to the bedroom, tucking his hand under her arm as she interlinked their fingers. Jared squeezed gently at her hand, and for some reason he couldn’t quite shake the nagging feeling that he was looking at a complete stranger and not Genevieve herself.
There was a lot of stuff. Jensen looked around at all the things that still needed to be boxed up and felt like he was insane for actually agreeing to this. Just figuring out how to get his stuff there was something in and of itself. And given all of his free time was now either spent packing, giving Danneel a hand or listening to those French lessons on his iPod, it was all Jensen could do to not let his head just explode.
“Never again,” Jensen grumbled as he flopped down on the couch.
A knock on his door made him look over and after a moment, he decided to ignore it. He still had too much to do and –
“Hey jerkwad, open up!” Steve’s muffled voice came from the other side.
“Fuck.” Jensen muttered but he got up from his seat to open the door.
Dealing with this wasn’t something he was looking forward to at nearly nine in the evening. But when he opened the door, there was Steve and Chris with a six-pack in hand and a bag of something that looked greasy and quite possibly deep-fried.
“So what, my girlfriend’s gotta tell me when my best friend is fucking moving an ocean away?” Chris looked at Jensen with a raised eyebrow.
“I only confirmed it two days ago. Christ,” Jensen stepped aside for them to come in. “And I’ve been busy preparing, thanks for asking.”
“Uh huh. Pretty sad when we hear it from Danneel and not from you.” Steve said as he and Chris walked in and made a beeline for the couch.
Jensen just closed and locked the door before joining them. “Aldis already gave me enough shit for abandoning him. Don’t you two start.”
“Maybe you should have said something,” Chris said pointedly as he opened up the bag. “I mean, we didn’t have to bring your sorry ass barbecue.”
“Or you know…” Steve held up a beer can that was free from the rings of plastic.
Jensen just sighed and sat down on the couch. “I leave in about a week and a half man. The visa, the passport, place to stay, everything’s all been done already.”
That got a snort from Steve and the comment of, “Jeff doesn’t waste time.”
“Yeah, tell me about it.” Jensen agreed before he looked at Chris. “Oh hey, Danneel tell you she’s renting my place?”
Chris snorted as he cracked open a beer as well. “I think she loves your closet more than me at the moment.”
“You’ll live,” Jensen freed the food from the takeout bag and the familiar scent made his stomach growl. “Holy Smokes?”
“You think you’re gonna find good barbecue over in France?” Chris tilted the beer can in his direction. “Good luck with that.”
Jensen stared at the styrofoam container and felt it all sink in like a heavy fist to the gut. He was moving to France. No more having Steve and Chris over and drunken ragging on one another. No more seeing his family every other week for Sunday dinner. It would just be him in France, learning a language, trying to become fluent and just him by himself. It was a kind of strange concept to wrap his mind around. He’d been to different places in the course of his career, but he was never too far from home. For the next five years, France would be his home. Never in his life had he thought Danneel’s suggestion of getting someone in his bed would be something to seriously consider.
“Yeah well,” Jensen said as he took a rib and settled back against the couch. “Someone’ll have to show them how it’s done.”
“Won’t be you. I remember that crap you tried to foist off three summers ago as barbecue,” Steve snorted as he picked up a piece of brisket. “You could have used it as a hockey puck.”
Chris gave a disparaging snort and Jensen flipped them off before they settled down to eat and drink for awhile. The TV was flipped on and a Cowboys game playing. When they finished off with the barbecue and wiped their hands clean, Steve turned to look at him.
“So this might be last minute, what with nearly half of your shit packed up,” Steve looked around. “But you sure this is what you want?”
“It’s good for my career.” Jensen finally said after a moment.
“That’s not what he asked.” Chris spared Jensen a glance before he looked back at the football game.
Jensen shrugged and took a gulp of beer. He should have known there was no getting off the hook when Steve shifted to stare at him. He huffed a bit, took another drink of beer and gave a half-hearted shrug once more.
“It’s a good opportunity. And it’s not like I’ve got too much holding me back here. So why not go to France and –”
“Is this about Mark?” Chris sounded pissed off now. “Did he do –”
“Fuck, it’s not always about Mark,” Jensen snapped before he added on, “Or Joanna. I’m just doing this for me, for my damned career and you know, maybe I do need to change things up a bit. Did either of you think that just maybe, I’m doing something for me and not for or because of someone else?”
There was a pronounced silence from both Steve and Chris. For a moment, a single moment, Jensen felt fairly sure that he’d pushed back far too hard and he’d have some stupid argument with his friends before he left. But then Steve started laughing and reached over to clap him on the shoulder.
“About damned time you did something entirely selfish.”
Jensen stared at Steve for a moment, utterly confused before he said, “Um, what?”
“Seriously, you always worry about someone else. I was starting to think we’d have to have one of those stupid interventions.” Steve squeezed his shoulder
“More like I’d beat some sense into your fucking ass,” Chris grumbled before taking a drink. Then he added on, “And I’d get Danneel to hold you down to make sure the lesson sunk in good.”
“Thanks.” Jensen said dryly as he tipped the neck of his beer bottle in Chris’s direction. “She’d want in a bit. And she’s got a mean left hook.”
Chris grinned. “That’s my girl for ya.”
“Chauvinist.” Jensen fired back with a responding grin.
“Colour me proud.” Chris said easily. “So, moving to France for yourself, huh?”
Jensen just nodded his head. This was probably something that he needed. He loved living and working in Dallas, but in all honesty, it felt like life was in a bit of a rut. And if moving over five thousand miles away didn’t jar him out of that rut, then it was all him and Mark was probably right to leave him. He rubbed at his face before he finished off his beer and plunked the empty can on the coffee table.
“Yeah. Besides, I’ve been listening to these audio lessons non-stop. Hell, I might be halfway to fluent by the time I get there.”
“That’d be something at least,” Chris looked around the half-packed apartment before he shook his head. “Man, I’m coming over tomorrow and helping you pack up the rest of your shit.”
“Ditto.” Steve chimed in.
“I got it, you don’t need to.” Jensen said as he opened his second beer.
“You say that like you expect us to listen.” Chris mused.
“Fuck,” Jensen muttered even as he smiled. “There’s no winning with you guys, is there?”
“Bah,” Steve waved a hand. “You’ll miss us. Now shut up. The Cowboys have possession.”
Jensen settled back against the couch, beer in hand and watching football with his friends. This, he was going to miss. Just having Steve and Chris show up at his front door… then something occurred to him and he kicked at Steve’s shin.
“Your stupid ass better not be calling me all the time.” Jensen said.
“You wish. I’ll call once in a while to make sure you haven’t done something phenomenally stupid. How’s that?”
Jensen was laughing way too hard to answer properly.
Jared was pretty sure that he didn’t want to get up and deal with today. Two weeks felt like it passed by far too quickly. Though, in between finishing off the translation and drafting up French lessons, it felt like three weeks had passed. Maybe it had been three weeks? But the days felt like they blurred together and he fumbled for his phone and squinted at the tiny display. He blinked and then swore before rubbing at his eyes and looking at the screen once more.
Right, three weeks had passed. Jared tossed the phone on the bedside table and stared at the ceiling. Jeff had asked him to start the lessons a week after this person showed up. In retrospect, if Jared hadn’t been so rushed trying to polish off the translation, he would have bothered to ask for a name and not have to deal with this looming nightmare scenario. First impressions usually went better if he knew the person’s name.
He lay there for a bit longer before he looked over at the other side of the bed, which was empty. Genevieve was up and gone already, probably prepping things at the spa. Maybe after lessons today, Jared would pop in to see her. Though it was already eight in the morning and if he lingered any longer, he’d be late for his appointment. At nine.
“God, now I remember why I avoided the office job.” Jared groused as he got out of bed and shuffled to the bathroom.
It took him a bit longer than he figured to get ready and close to nine, he found himself rushing out of the house, with notes stuffed into a file folder and checking frantically on his phone for the address. When he stopped off for a coffee, he took the time to search through his inbox and find it. The name was also there as well took. It made Jared stare at his phone screen before deciding it was a very bad typo and pay more attention to fixing up his coffee.
So when he found the building and hurried up the flights of stairs inside to the apartment, he started smoothing out his shirt as best he could and tried to smooth back his flyaway hairs. Because surely the name he saw was wrong. It was some kind of karmic joke and he’d completely missed the punch line.
He cleared his throat and knocked on the door. The sound of footsteps from inside came and then the lock turning and the door open. Jared had an apology half planned out. But when the door is opened and he saw the person on the other side, the “Monsieur, je suis désolé” just dried right up. All he did was stare with a semi-slack jaw.
It was Jensen Ackles. Jensen fucking Ackles, who Jared hadn’t seen or heard from since moving to France when he was like seven or eight.
After a few seconds passed, Jensen raised an eyebrow at him before asking, “Monsieur Padalecki?” When Jared just mutely nodded his head, Jensen stepped aside and pointedly said, “Bonjour monsieur. Entrez, s’il-vous plaît.”
That startled Jared and he nodded before stepping into the apartment. Just hearing the door shut and the lock turn made Jared feel more nervous than he ever had in his life. Honestly, just what was he supposed to say? ‘You may not remember, but we used to be super best friends forever… until I moved away and you completely forgot about me?’ Christ, he wished he read the email better because seriously, Jared could have been doing anything else. And –
Jared jumped at the sound of Jensen’s voice, coffee sloshing out of the drinking spot of the cup and onto his shirt. “Um, no, no. Merci.”
He flapped his shirt from his chest as Jensen gave him a weird look and disappeared further into the apartment. Once Jensen was out of sight, Jared breathed a huge sigh of relief. The next time Jeff asked him to do something like this, Jared was demanding full names and possibly a background check. Because now, he just couldn’t stop staring at Jensen.
It was the same Jensen Ackles, it had to be. Because how many Jensen Ackles could there be in the fucking world? He had the same coloured eyes, the same brown hair, even that slightly bowlegged gait… all Jensen. The huge horn-rimmed glasses he wore as a kid were now gone and replaced with some stylish, sleek wire-rimmed frames. It was Jensen… just a bigger, thirty something year older version of Jensen. And this might have been a lesson, but Jensen was making Jared feel horribly overdressed. If Jared had known he could wear a t-shirt and jeans instead of a business shirt and slacks, then he wouldn’t be standing here feeling like the biggest jackass in the world and –
Jensen’s voice was quiet and Jared jerked again in surprise. More coffee sloshed out and Jensen raised both eyebrows now as he handed it over. Jared took it and dabbed at the brownish stains on his blue shirt.
“Sorry. Just… I’m not very used to the nine to five thing. I set my own hours so this is…new to me.” Jared finished dabbing at the coffee.
“Ah,” Jensen made the word sound like he was reserving judgment until he had more information. “We can work at the living room table. I’ve got it all set up.”
Jared just nodded his head and took a drink of coffee. Clearly his higher cognitive functions and basic motor skills were temporarily fucked over and just agreeing until he could pull himself back together was the smart thing to do. He toed off his shoes and followed Jensen. The living room was bright with the curtains pulled back to let in the morning sun. There were a few boxes tucked away into a corner of the living room and a few things already out and nestled in spots in the living room. Some books on shelves, framed photos and little knickknacks. The big leather couch shoved against a wall looked entirely comfortable and inviting and Jared found himself stifling a yawn.
When he turned his gaze back, he found Jensen looking at him. All Jared did was smile, feeling his nerves start to go jittery again. But he gestured to the table where he saw a creased notebook, a pen with a chewed cap – Jensen still chewed his pen caps after all these years – and an iPod with ear buds wrapped around the body. Okay, so Jared had a new plan of attack. Look anywhere else because if he looked at Jensen, he’d just stare. The last thing Jared needed was to leave the impression that he was either stoned or borderline psychopathic. He placed his file folder on the table close to Jensen’s notebook and slid into a seat. Jensen did the same and Jared opened the folder and pulled out his slim notepad.
“If it helps,” Jensen offered at he sat down. “I’ve been listening to those Rosetta Stone lessons. I would have ordered the Bescherelle stuff, but it would have taken too long to get to me.”
“Okay. That’s good,” Jared dug in his pocket for a pen and started scribbling. “I’ll just figure out where you’re at today. Tomorrow, it’ll be something more comprehensive.”
Jensen made a sound of agreement. “So how long does fluency take? A few months?”
“No. It’ll be a year, year and a half at the earliest. But my goal is for you to have an excellent basic command of French by the time September rolls around. Not stuff you’ve memorised by rote, but an entire simple conversation with a complete stranger if need be. Since you’ve started studying with the program, have you tried to talk to anyone in French before coming over?”
“No. Didn’t know anyone else who spoke French.” Jensen had picked up his pen and was idly tapping it now.
Jared stared for a moment, watching the muscles in Jensen’s forearm twitch and flex with the simple movement. He hastily looked back down and cleared his throat.
“French is mainly spoken here in Aix, but there’s English as well. But the more French you speak, the faster it’ll come. It’ll be hard at first and you’ll feel like a complete idiot but stick with it and it’ll come eventually.”
“Aren’t we going to be practicing here?” Jensen frowned.
“We will. Real world situations though are best. And there will be a slight difference in the French you hear in the lessons and the French I speak.”
“Dialects?” Jensen asked.
“Kind of. Most programs like that, they stick with the basic Parisien French. I’d imagine you want to sound like a local, right?”
A smile came to Jensen’s face and Jared had to forcibly drag his eyes away. Christ, Jensen smiling was a billion times better now. When they were younger, Jensen’s smile could have lit up a whole room. Now it was like being allowed a glance into something secret and private that he chose to share. Jared quickly looked down at the few notes he had written and tapped his pen for a few moments, trying to pull his thoughts together. Then after a few moments, Jared thought of something.
“How many lessons did you go through with that?” Jared gestured to the iPod.
“Almost three CDs worth.” Jensen rubbed at the back of his head. “It’s all I’ve been listening to when I was packing up the last two weeks.”
Jared leaned back in the chair slightly before he closed the folder and tucked his pen away. “Okay, come on. We’re going out.”
“We are?” Jensen was clearly surprised by this.
“We are,” Jared confirmed. “That’s a good chunk of the program you’ve worked your way through. Let’s see how much you’ve retained. Nothing too complicated. We’ll go to the bakery and get something.”
Jensen looked reluctant for a moment before he nodded. “Sure. Thought you weren’t hungry though.”
“I’m not. Another coffee is a different story. Milo makes a very good cup,” Jared closed his folder and tucked his pen away. “Have you been out in the area?”
“Just took a couple walks to figure out my way around. But I haven’t really talked to anyone.” Jensen shrugged. “I’ve been busy unpacking. Nearly done.”
All Jared did was nod his head and silence fell between them as they got their shoes on and headed out. Jensen let Jared lead, easily following beside him. Not that Jared rushed. The walk was leisurely, Jared slowly talking in French and managing to coax a few words from Jensen, names for the things and places they passed. Jensen looked like he was a bit uncomfortable at first but as they walked it gradually disappeared.
By the time they reached the bakery – boulangerie, Jensen easily said with a small grin – Jared could hear his stomach grumbling a bit. Even Jensen had perked up, though Jared suspected it might have been from a definite sense of accomplishment. It was either that or quite possibly the smell of bread and herbs that was wafting from the shop. It was empty as they walked in, and from behind the counter, Jared could see Milo place out a fresh basket of bagels out on display.
“Bonjour!” Milo’s eyes rested on Jensen and his eyebrows rose. “Bonjour, bel homme.”
“Just ignore Milo,” Jared said easily. “He’ll flirt with anything on two legs and a pulse.”
“Buzzkill,” Milo shot Jared a withering look before he looked back at Jensen and walked to the counter. “Milo Ventimiglia. Baker by day, lover by night. What can I get for you?”
“Not too sure. I wasn’t too hungry until I came in,” Jensen fell silent for a moment as he eyed the baskets of rolls, croissants and other things. “What would you recommend?”
“Cet,” Milo pointed to an herb flecked bagel. “Herb de Provence avec fromage a tartiner et un café. Can’t go wrong. ”
“So an herb bagel with cream cheese and a coffee?” Jensen chuckled. “Hell, it even sounds better in French.”
Milo just raised his eyebrows for a moment and grinned before he looked over at Jared. “You’ll have your usual?”
“Yeah,” Jared agreed as he scrubbed a hand at the back of his head. “And toss in a chocolate roll too?”
“You got it,” Milo said as he started on their order. “So, since you’ve got all the manners of a complete idiot Jared, who’s your friend?”
Jared glanced over to see Jensen staring at him with a rather intent look. It was a bit disconcerting and it left him momentarily speechless. But when a corner of Jensen’s mouth started to curl up into an amused smirk, Jared snapped out of it and looked back to Milo.
“Sorry. Just... not usually up this early in the morning,” Jared tried. Milo looked back at him but didn’t say anything as he cleared his throat and continued with, “This is my new co-worker, Jensen Ackles.”
There was a sharp thud and mutters from Milo at that, but nothing that could be definitely heard. Yeah, when he saw Milo again next, the questions would be coming rapid-fire fast. After a few minutes, Milo brought their tray with their food over. He placed it down, wiped off his hands and offered one to Jensen.
“Nice to meet you, Monsieur Ackles. You know where I am. If you need anything, just let me know. This one,” it kind of annoyed Jared that he got rude gestures today and Jensen got all the charm, “Sometimes, he’s no good until he’s had a second coffee in him. Today is clearly one of those days.”
“Hm,” Jensen murmured in agreement. “And thank you. Merci beaucoup... um, pour le petit déjeuner. Combien - ? ”
Milo waved a hand. “De rien. And don’t worry about breakfast; I put it on Jared’s tab.”
The door jingled as it opened and a few more people came in. Milo gave them a grin and a wave before he went off to help the next batch of customers. Jensen picked up the tray, looked at Jared and asked, “Outside?” Jared just nodded and followed Jensen to one of the small table sets that sat outside under the striped, outstretched awning. They settled down and even Jared had to admit, it looked like it would be one of those days. There were a few clouds in the sky, but the sun was bright against the blue and while it was warm, there was a good, gentle breeze.
“So, Milo doesn’t sound so French at all.” Jensen said after half of his cream cheese bagel was gone.
“Nah, he bounced between here and America. Anaheim,” Jared said as he finished off his fourth toast slice. “Spent his summers here with his dad and the rest of the year with his mom.”
“Looks like it’s a nice place to grow up.”
Jared didn’t respond for a bit as he watched Jensen look around. He could remember coming here on vacation with his family after they’d first moved here. Milo had stuck to his side like a burr and Jared still couldn’t remember how, but they’d been best friends ever since that one summer. When Jensen suddenly looked back at him, he just shrugged, took a bite of his chocolate roll.
“You’d have to ask Milo. I grew up in Chateauroux. When I came here to Aix, it was vacation time which meant I ran off as much as I could and got into as much trouble as possible.”
That got a laugh from Jensen. Jared felt an almost irrational urge to just tell Jensen. Tell him about the past and that it hadn’t been his fault. To be honest, Jared was surprised he still remembered Jensen after so long. But there wasn’t even a glimmer of some recognition from Jensen. And if Jensen didn’t remember him, then Jared figured that it was probably best to leave the past buried where it was. Besides, they were so young way back then...
“What, did you come here as a teenager and break someone’s heart?” Jensen took a drink of coffee.
Jared just chuckled with a smile and murmured “Among other things,” before quickly finishing off the last of the chocolate roll. Jensen’s simple response was a soft laugh before he finished off the bagel and coffee quickly. Jared made the last of his chocolate roll disappear and sipped at his coffee. Jensen was still looking around and –
“Okay,” Jensen suddenly looked back at him. “Are you good for your assessment?”
To be honest, Jared hadn’t been expecting the question. But he nodded his head. “Yeah, you’ve got a good grasp on vocabulary and basic grammar. I can make some adjustments. Plans?”
“Not really,” Jensen shrugged. “But I think I’m going to explore for a bit.”
Jared scrambled for his pen and a piece of paper as Jensen got up. He scrawled out his name, address and cell number before offering it to Jensen. “In case you get lost or, you know, you need anything. I swear I’m usually more awake than I have been.”
“Uh huh. Night owl?” Jensen asked as he took the paper and pocketed it.
“Yeah. That’s when I work best.”
“Good to know. I’ll keep that in mind,” Jensen gave him that quick grin again but it was replaced by that same intent look. Then another question came that completely threw Jared off-kilter. “Maybe we’ve met, you know, before this?”
Jared just stared back at Jensen, his brain just drawing a complete blank on how to actually answer. But then Jensen saved him from that.
“Yeah, okay, ask a stupid question. All right. Thanks. I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning then. A bientôt!”
“Um, yeah. Okay. Yeah. A bientôt.”
Jared said slowly as Jensen gave him a wave and started walking along the cobbled street. He stared, watching as Jensen disappeared around the corner. He looked down into his nearly finished cup of coffee before he quickly downed the last of it. When he took the dishes back inside, Milo gave him a look and simply asked, “Eight? At Mirabeau?” When Jared nodded his head, Milo did the same and didn’t ask him anything else. He left the shop and Jared remembered that he had meant to pop in and see Genevieve today. But now, he wasn’t really feeling it.
“Fuck it, just fuck it.” Jared muttered.
He tucked his folder under an arm and started back to the apartment. He had enough work to do to keep him busy for the rest of the day anyhow. He might as well focus on the one thing that wouldn’t leave him with a vague sense of frustration.
It only took a week for the sense of progress to settle over Jensen. Everything was unpacked and arranged and his French lessons were going well. Danneel had been right about Jared Padalecki. He was basically a nice guy, even if he was a little bit spacey sometimes. But he was good at slowly drilling some French into Jensen’s head. The schedule he and Jared drafted up after that first day wasn’t too bad. Four times a week Jared would come over, and after the lesson they’d take a walk. Jared constantly encouraged him to just try talking in French as much as possible.
Jensen had to admit, that first day at the bakery, he’d felt like a complete idiot. But he’d kept at it. When he took his afternoon walk, he’d pop into the bakery. Milo would shamelessly hit on him and offer the most basic conversation in French. It was nice to have at least someone else to talk to. Not to mention Milo made an amazing stew that was offered only on Thursdays at lunch.
When he woke up and realised it was Saturday, he did breathe a sigh of relief. It had been non-stop since leaving Dallas and arriving here. It also helped that there was no French lesson, he’d already done some grocery shopping and had nothing else to do really. So he’d taken his afternoon walk, just wandering along the cobbled side streets, large main ways through the pale stone buildings. It was a little bit overcast, but the sun peeked out between the clouds occasionally and Jensen couldn’t help but smile. The weather had been practically perfect since he got here, he was in France and this suddenly seemed like the best thing that had ever happened to him. He had no real responsibilities at the moment, barring one and the entangled mess that was his love life was far behind him. This really was –
“Ta tête est dans les nuages?”
Jensen glanced over, catching sight of Milo from the corner of his eye. He just grinned in response and shrugged loosely. Milo laughed and fell in step beside him.
“See, we’ll make a Frenchman of you yet.”
“Uh huh,” Jensen drawled. “Pour moi, ça n’est pas possible. Je suis un vrai Texan.”
Milo just looked at him before finally saying, “Oh, give it time. Next thing you know, you’ll be wondering when it happened. So, what are you up to this evening?”
“Nothing much. Have to get back and call home soon,” Jensen glanced at his watch. It was just after five in the afternoon which mean, “My mom should be home from church in a bit.”
“Dutiful, aren’t we?”
“More like I don’t want my ass kicked,” Jensen snorted. “I said I’d give her another call when I was totally settled in. And I think my sister figures I’ll be practically French now, after two weeks.”
“In time. Well, if you’re not doing anything afterwards, I’m meeting Jared for drinks down at Mirabeau.”
“Mirabeau?” Jensen frowned and then recalled passing by a sprawling bar that crammed full of people eating, talking and drinking. “The bar that’s down on Cours Mirabeau, c'est cette rue avec la plate-bande d’arbres, exact?”
“Same one,” Milo nodded. “We usually get there around seven-ish. If you like that is.”
Jensen thought it over for a moment. “Sure why not.”
“Bien!” Milo clapped him on the shoulder quickly. “I figured I’d have to convince you or something. Okay, I need to get going. I saw you across the street and figured I’d ask.”
“All done for the day?”
Milo nodded. “Last thing for Saturday, I drop off Madame Pinto’s weekly loaf of bread for her. She’s got bad knees and sometimes the stairs are too much for her. Give her a hand if you ever spot her, eh?”
“Sure. A physical description is helpful for these sorts of things, you know.”
“Can’t miss her, trust me. When you see her you’ll know.” Milo grinned. “Okay, I’m off. Maybe see you later?”
Jensen waved farewell as Milo gave him a quick salute while jogging up the street. He wasn’t entirely too sure if he wanted to go grab a drink with Milo if Jared would be there. Granted, Jared was an excellent teacher, but that habit he had of staring sometimes… it was a little bit off putting. One moment he was figuring out how to properly conjugate the basic forms of ‘avoir’ and ‘etre’ and when he looked up, there were those green eyes fixed on his face. Not that Jensen should be talking. There was something about Jared that seemed familiar. Only, Jensen didn’t stare for inordinate lengths of time that bordered on awkward tension.
He sighed and checked his watch before shoving his hands into his pockets. By the time he wandered home and called Texas, it was quarter to six. He settled down in the couch, listening to the double ring. Then there was a clunk and the answering machine picked up. The message ran through and then came the long beep.
“Hey guys. Guess you’re not back yet so –”
Jensen stopped as the sound of the phone being picked up came and was followed by a breathless, “Hello?!”
“Kenzie,” Jensen started when he had his laughter under control. “Did you just run for the phone?”
“And in fabulous shoes nonetheless.” She sounded quite proud of herself.
“Crap, I figured you guys would be back already. I didn’t mean to catch you coming in the front door.”
“Don’t worry about it… hang on,” Kenzie’s voice sounded faint now, but he still heard everything. “Mom, it’s Jen! Yeah, the ungrateful wretch is finally calling us. Jensen? Okay, hang on, Mom’s coming.”
The sound of cloth rustling and the phone being passed came and then his mom was speaking. “Jensen, honey?”
“Hey Mom,” Jensen stretched his legs out, plunking his heels on the coffee table. “How’s it going?”
“Oh good. Just walked in the front door. Can’t complain much. Going to put the roast into the oven soon. And how are you? All settled in? Made any friends yet? How are the lessons going?”
Jensen was sure she had a barrage of more questions but stuck to the most pertinent ones. “Completely unpacked now. The place is really nice. I might ask Jeff if I can keep it after we’re up and running.”
“And my teacher is pretty good. He takes me out and makes me use what I’ve learned. So when I go to the bakery, I can almost not sound like a complete jerk to Milo.”
Jensen could have laughed at how fast the name was latched onto. “Yeah, he’s a baker. But he’s cool. I might maybe go have a drink with him tonight, I dunno.”
“That’s great. You should know honey, your father and I are very proud of you. Neither one of us could have done what you did. Just up and going practically halfway around the world,”
“France isn’t that far Mom. It’s just across the Atlantic. It’s not like it’s Tahiti or Polynesia.” Jensen interrupted.
“Far enough,” she continued on like Jensen hadn’t interrupted. “And to start something from the ground up.”
“Mom.” Jensen really wished he hadn’t just whined and sounded like he was five all over again.
“It’s true. We just… well, I know you’re not one for praise, but we are very proud of you. And the French lessons are going well?”
“Well, I should hope so. You had your earbuds glued to your ears for half of your going-away party. Say something in French to me.”
“Um,” this one threw Jensen for a loop. “Like what?”
“Ah,” Jensen floundered for a moment. “Ma mère est très jolie et généreux. Je pense que je suis très heureux d’avoir une mère comme elle."
There was a moment of silence and then, “Well, I didn’t hear any back-sass in there.”
“My mom,” Jensen tried very hard to not laugh. “Is beautiful and generous. I think I’m very lucky to have a mom like her.”
“Aw, honey,” and in the background, Jensen clearly heard Kenzie holler, “Suck-up!” There was a brief spat of scolding and then, “That’s sweet of you.”
“And you know Dad’s pretty awesome too.” Jensen added on.
“I’ll let him know when he emerges from the basement. Apparently the roast wasn’t taken out of the deep freeze yesterday morning. So dinner tonight is going to be interesting. And what about your teacher, hm? Doesn’t he have a name as well?”
“It’s Jared. Jared… um, crap, I wrote his last name down. I always get it wrong. I spent a few years thinking it was ‘Leeks’.” Jensen leaned forward and found the scrap of paper with the surname. “Ah, it’s Padalecki. Jared Padalecki.”
“No, are you serious honey?” there was a tone of disbelief in her voice that puzzled Jensen.
“Yeah. Padalecki. Though when he says it, it’s like there’s no ‘c’ in there at all and he’s talking about leeks,” Jensen rolled his eyes before he chuckled. “So what, do you know him too?”
“Well, with a last name like that, it has to be the same Jared.”
The same Jared… Jensen frowned at that. “What are you talking about Mom?”
“Honey,” her voice lowered a bit. “You don’t remember? The Padaleckis that used to live out here. Their son, Jared, he went to the same grade school as you.”
Jensen’s response was to take the phone from his ear and stare at it for a few moments before replacing it back to his ear. “Ha ha, funny –”
“I’m serious Jensen. He was only there for two years. He was… oh, I think he was four when they moved here. You were eight. They lived in the same neighbourhood as us. You two were inseparable until they moved, you know. And I’m almost positive that they moved to France. Something for work, I think. Jensen, honey, you still there?”
Jensen made a vague sound of agreement. It felt like his mom was telling him about a whole chapter of his life that he had absolutely no recollection of. He sat there listening as his mom continued, going on about Jared and how they’d been thick as thieves and always getting into trouble and being the sweetest little boys imaginable.
The only problem was that Jensen figured that this could possibly explain why Jared kept fucking staring at him all the time. Either he wasn’t too sure if it was actually a person he remembered from his childhood. Or Jared damn well remembered and didn’t say a single thing. He gripped the phone tighter, and glanced at his watch, wondering how in the hell nearly an hour had passed when it felt like he’d just sat down. And how he hadn’t really heard a thing his mother had said after anything involving Jared fucking Padalecki.
“Oh, and Danneel asked me to let you know how much she and Chris love your old apartment.”
Jensen snapped out of it. “Yeah, that’s good to hear. Um, what were his parents’ names again? Do you remember?”
“Him? Oh you mean Jared? Ah… Gerald and Sherri I believe ,why?”
“No reason. Okay, I’ve actually gotta get going Mom. It’s almost seven and –”
“Oh, so you are going to go out for drinks with Milo,” there was a pause as Kenzie’s laughter was heard and her exclamation of, ‘Who names their kid, Milo?’ before his mom sighed. “Well, then I won’t keep you. If it is the same Jared, tell him hello and maybe some snickerdoodles will find their way to him. If he still loves those cookies.”
“All right,” Jensen tried his best to not grit the word out. “I’ll talk to you next week?”
“Same time. I’ll make sure we get back home a bit earlier. I swear Kenzie nearly broke her neck scrambling for the phone. Take care honey, all right?”
“I will. You too. Bye.”
Jensen hung up the phone before slamming the receiver back into the cradle. His jacket and shoes were found in quick order. Five minutes later, he was heading down to Cours Mirabeau, intent on finding Jared. The stupid fucker had to have remembered him. It was the only thing that made sense, because Jared didn’t strike him as the kind of guy who just stared so randomly at other people. Everything he’d seen of the other man… there was always an intent and purpose behind what he did.
When he finally reached the tree-lined street, he took a minute to compose himself. Though, it felt more like five minutes and a hell of a concerted effort to do so. Golden coloured light spilled out from Mirabeau onto the street, along with the murmur of conversation and the clinking of glasses. He clenched and released his hands a few times, in a futile effort to get rid of the excess energy that felt like it was careening around in his skin, demanding release. He might as well go in there and get this over with. Jensen didn’t see this going any way but badly.
He walked into the bar and Milo, lounging against the bar, spotted him almost immediately. He waved him over. Jared wasn’t there yet and Jensen felt mildly grateful for that. When he leaned against the counter, Milo slid a glass over to him.
“The night is young yet.”
“You always start drinking at seven on a Saturday?”
“Only because I’m up horrendously early on Sunday.” Milo grinned at him. “Nobody else is going to make those bagels you inhale like mad.”
“More like you’re trying to make me fat.” Jensen grumbled as he lifted his glass.
“Then quit buying them. It’s not my waistline. Though if you ask me,” Milo shrugged as he let his gaze wander down Jensen’s torso. “There’s nothing wrong with yours.”
Jensen gave a dry chuckle as he let his eyes wander over Milo. When he looked back at Milo’s face, he found Milo looking him directly in the eye. He gave a grin at that and took a slow drink of his beer. Sure enough, Milo’s eyes flicked to his mouth and then to his throat. When he put his glass back down, he shifted to face Milo more directly.
“So do you ever get a day off?” Jensen asked quietly.
“Usually Tuesdays,” Milo was silent for a moment and then, “Why? Would you like to do something?”
“I should get out and see things here. Maybe the beach?” Jensen suggested.
A grin came to Milo’s face. “There’s a little beach that’s –”
The smile that came to Milo’s face vanished as he looked over and saw Jared waving and heading over to them, a wide grin on his face. Jensen took another quick gulp of his beer and pushed off from the counter. The grin disappeared from Jared’s face when he saw Jensen. It quickly descended into puzzlement and confusion when Jensen came to a stop in front of him and said softly, “I need to talk to you now.” Jared glanced back at Milo and Jensen stood there until he got a nod of agreement. They walked outside to a quiet spot a block down from Mirabeau’s. When they came to a stop, Jensen found that half the words he had in his head had up and fled on him.
“All right,” Jared asked. “What’s this about?”
Jensen took in Jared’s stance, with the crossed arms and worried expression. Just outright saying it would probably be the best thing.
“This is about you lying to my face for a week.”
Jared’s jaw dropped open for all of five seconds before he snapped it shut and spluttered out. “I never lied to you!”
“… Your parents’ names are Gerald and Sherri, right? You went to Richardson Public School for two years? You fucking love snickerdoodles apparently,” Jensen paused for a moment taking in the surprised look on Jared’s face before he finished off with, “Yeah, my mother filled me in on all of this earlier on in the early evening.”
Silence remained for a moment as Jared opened his mouth and closed it a few times. Then he frowned and said, “But I never said anything. You just assumed that my reply was a no.”
Jensen’s face flushed red and fuck it, Jared was right. “So what, you just decided to remain quiet on that until just now and make me look like a complete ass?”
“I didn’t mean that,” Jared said quickly. “Just… I didn’t know if it was actually you, you know? And when it seemed like you didn’t recognise me…”
There was a long moment of quiet as Jared simply shrugged and looked at Jensen. Well, just what was he supposed to say to that? He met Jared’s gaze and thought about continuing the fight. But where the hell would that get him exactly? After a moment, the very obvious thing to do was staring him right in the face. So he simply sighed heavily and motioned for Jared to follow him as he started walking.
“Okay, most arguments don’t end halfway through.” Jared said pointedly.
“Well, what’s the point in staying mad at you? Won’t do the both of us any good. So, I say we head back inside, have a drink and get reacquainted,”
“That’s the sane thing to do,” the relief was evident in Jared’s voice for a moment before he hastily said, “The sensible thing. Sensible.”
“It’s the sane thing to do instead of keep fighting,” Jensen gave a dry snort as he glanced at Jared. “Besides, I might be halfway to a date with Milo.”
“Oh, um,” that set Jared into a spate of half attempted phrases before he seemed to settle on, “Well, Milo knows his way around.”
Jensen paused and stared at Jared. It took a moment for the meaning of Jared’s words to catch up with his brain. Then he turned bright red and looked mortified.
“No, no, no, Milo n’est pas… No, I meant he knows his way around here. All the little things. You’ll have fun with him.”
It was so hard to just not outright laugh as Jared went a brighter red and looked like he wanted the ground to swallow him whole. Jensen shrugged and Jared looked relieved. That it until Jensen spoke again.
“It could have just as easily have been someone of the opposite gender.”
Jared’s face couldn’t have flushed any more, but there was an intent studious look on his face. Then he turned to Jensen and grinned, wide and easy.
“Still take any chance you can, huh?”
All Jensen did was stare at Jared as they walked up to the door to Mirabeau’s. Holding back on the grin was harder than he thought. But when he opened the door, he let it loose while saying, “You should have seen me in high school.”
Jared looked back at him and after a few minutes they just looked at each other before they both dissolved into laughter. Jensen followed Jared inside, letting the door close behind him. Well, that went a lot better than he had possibly imagined.
Two weeks had never passed by faster for Jared. The days seemed to blur together with Jensen, French lessons and just catching up. The past twenty years they missed out on came out in a mad tumble, mostly in English and a smattering of French. It felt delirious, heady and just plain fun to reconnect with someone he thought he’d never see again. Jensen admitted that he didn’t really remember Jared, but his face looked vaguely familiar.
For all Jared really cared, Jensen could have thought he looked like a potato.
Though, it felt like his days revolved around Jensen more now and he was going to have to ease on up and spend some time with Genevieve. Whenever she was around the house, she didn’t say anything much. But as Jensen’s name increasingly popped up, her smile and expression went from genuinely happy to strained and closed off.
Not that it was really fair to her, since she was working so much and they hadn’t really spent much time together. Jared had come home a few times to find Genevieve sitting on the couch, her glass of wine in hand as she channel-surfed. In all honesty, Jared was surprised she hadn’t text messaged him to see where he was.
When Jensen had found that out, he’d all but kicked Jared out and given him a message to give to Genevieve. And that’s how Jared found himself heading home well before eight in the evening. He walked up the steps to the apartment and was greeted by the smell of something delicious as he opened the door. His keys were dumped in the bowl by the door as he closed and locked it behind him. Shoes were shucked off and his messenger bag placed on the floor by the wall as he walked into the kitchen.
Genevieve was standing in front of the stove, stirring something in a pot, with a glass of wine in hand. Jared didn’t say anything as he quietly walked up behind her and slid his hands over her waist.
“You’re back early,” her voice was a bit biting and her body tense. “Jensen kick you out already?”
“Yeah, actually,” Jared leaned down, resting his head on her shoulder. “He says he’s sorry for monopolising my time and that I must be an idiot to be spending all this time teaching him and catching up if I have a beautiful girl at home waiting for me.”
All Genevieve did was snort and take a sip of her wine. “I made bourguignon. Are you hungry?”
Jared was silent for a second. The tense tone in her voice said she figured he’d eaten already but was just being polite and asking. And he had eaten already, but he wasn’t about to say that to her. He could eat a bowl easily. So he moved in closer and murmured, “Mais bien sûr, mademoiselle” while nibbling on her ear. She relaxed back against his chest and made an appreciative sound.
“Well, it’s got another two hours. I didn’t think you’d be back home until much later.”
“I’m sorry. You’ve been so busy and I’ve been wrapped up in teaching Jensen…” Jared lapsed into silence for a moment. “Do you think you can get someone to cover your shift on Saturday?”
“Possibly. What did you have in mind?” Genevieve asked.
“You. Me. The beach and a picnic?” Jared nuzzled against her neck.
“That sounds nice. I’ll see what I can manage. Hopefully. We’re so busy on weekends.”
“Well, if you can.” Jared murmured.
It was pretty hard to not take it like a brush off. Before if he had suggested something like that, Genevieve would have had her phone out and would have started making calls. The quiet in the kitchen was broken by the sound of the pot’s contents gently bubbling away and Jared felt the sudden need to fill it with something before it felt weird and strained.
“I’ll ask Milo to throw himself at Jensen for the weekend, how’s that?” Jared offered after a few seconds.
“Milo?” Genevieve looked back at him. “Jensen’s friends with Milo?”
“No, he has a date with Milo tonight. I think that’s also why he kicked me out so early too.” Jared chuckled.
“So he’s gay. Wonderful.”
Jared frowned as Genevieve stabbed at the pot and took a gulp of wine. Okay, just what was going on here? It didn’t seem to matter what he said lately, there was always something just wrong with it in Genevieve’s eyes. He drew back a bit and stood up straight.
“He’s bisexual actually.”
“Oh, so that makes him trying to steal you away even better.” Genevieve drained the rest of her glass and placed it on the counter. “If that’s the way it’s going to be Jared, then –”
“Steal me away?” Jared stared at her in disbelief before he snapped out, “That’s not the way anything is! Christ, Gen I told you! We used to be friends in grade school before I moved to France with my parents. I mean… what am I supposed to do? Just completely ignore him and pretend that you’re the only thing in my life?”
Genevieve slammed the spoon down on the countertop and turned to face him, anger plain in her face. “Well, what exactly am I supposed to think when you talk about the man non-stop for two weeks straight? I know you’re enthusiastic, but it’s beyond ridiculous!”
For a few minutes, Jared had no idea of how to actually respond to that. He was too busy staring at Genevieve in disbelief to think that she actually thought that he was cheating on her with his new friend… well, his rediscovered friend. It was just so absurd and ridiculous and… he narrowed his eyes when he realised what she was really getting at.
“That was one time Genevieve. One time.”
“One time too many!” she fired back, voice ratcheting up in anger.
Jared sputtered for a moment, the rapid words choking in his throat. “We were on a break! You said so yourself. It’s not Renaldo’s fault.”
“When most couples are on a break, one doesn’t usually run out and sleep with another man. And I can safely say that wasn’t me who went and spread their legs.”
The look Genevieve gave him could have sliced meat from the bone and Jared just felt like thumping his head against the wall. Fuck, that one fling was just going to haunt him for the rest of his life. The one time he and Genevieve agreed to take a break and he’d ended up with some Italian guy named Renaldo for three weeks. And when Genevieve had found that out… well fuck, any male friend he had or made was suspect ever since, which was beyond ridiculous. He scowled at her and crossed his arms.
“At that point you’d kept your legs closed for so long, I’d take it from anybody. Did you really expect me to stay celibate for that fucking long?” Jared fired back.
Genevieve’s eyes widened and her lips thinned as she clenched them together. “Oh, so this is my fault, is it?” she finally spat out as she ran a hand through her hair.
“No, I think it’s both our faults,” Jared scrubbed at his face. His normally boundless patience was thinning rapidly. “We both know what we want, so why, why, do you constantly suspect and second guess me when things like this happen? Do you see me throwing around accusations about all those late nights you’ve worked?”
A guilty look flitted across her face and she crossed her arms. “And you fail to see what I see half the time. People all but throwing themselves at you and you… you just flirt right back, so forgive me if I get a little paranoid sometimes.”
“Gen,” Jared walked up to her, cradling her face in his hands. “I’m with you. There’s no one else. And we were on a break when Renaldo happened.”
Anger snapped in her eyes at that and Jared felt his heart beat a faster as she glared up at him. If there was one thing about Genevieve, it was that she was breathtaking when she was angry. It was like she was comprised of all fire, biting words and claws. When Jared got this close to her, it felt like something that sucked him in and demanded some sort of physical reaction. She looked at him and held his gaze for a few seconds before she pressed herself against him, kissing him soundly. The anger simmering inside flashed into desire and Jared went along with it.
They moved along the countertop until Jared felt the back of the fridge and started to slide down it. Genevieve held on, sinking down with him. She nipped her way down his neck, licking at the exposed skin as she quickly undid his shirt. It was hard to think with her rubbing against his groin, all heat and friction. And he had never been more thankful for the summer heat when he slid his hands up her legs, the skirt rising up along with his wrists.
She shuddered against him, fingers digging into his shoulders as he pulled down her panties and slipped a hand between her legs, fingers working between her folds to find her clit. When Genevieve brought her mouth back up to his, kisses desperate and biting at his lips, Jared just lost it. He groaned, a hand going up to tangle in her hair as he slid in one finger then two into her, moving them in and out. She levered herself up onto her knees and spread them a bit to give him better access. She started whimpering into the kisses and Jared just crooked his fingers, pressed hard and watched as Genevieve came apart against him.
Watched as she shuddered, lip bitten hard before her mouth fell open, gasps and cries coming from her throat. He kissed her, swallowing her cries and let her ride out the aftershocks of her orgasm before he slipped his fingers from her. It took a bit to get her panties off one leg, and it twisted around one of her knees. She was whispering his name as she clung to him with one arm and fumbled with the fly of his jeans with the other. Jared didn’t waste any time, helping her undo the fly of his pants and she freed his dick with a hand. When she guided it to her, he thrust in with a smooth roll of his hips. His fingers gripped her hips tightly and he waited a moment, giving her time to adjust.
When Jared felt her rock her hips against his a bit, he took his cue. Carefully, he rolled her over onto her back, guiding her legs to his hips. She hooked her ankles against his ass and he started moving, slow rolls of his hips that she moved into. Her breath was hot against his ear and her hair all around his face and he drew back a bit, kissing her hard. He braced himself on one arm and moved his other one down, fingers seeking her clit once more.
“Mon Dieu,” Genevieve gasped, her voice sounding wrecked. “Jared, je ne peux pas… I can’t, I can’t, it’s too soon.”
“You can,” Jared whispered hoarsely, fingers moving in slow circles against her clit as he continued to move in and out of her slowly.
And when Genevieve came a second time, it was with a nearly breathless gasp, body locking up around Jared. He felt like he was going to pass out and thrust a few more times slowly into her before he came as well, feeling like everything he had was wrung out from him. Breathless and wiped, when Genevieve unhooked her ankles, he rolled off her, lying on the cold kitchen floor and trying to catch his breath back. Genevieve turned onto her side, throwing an arm and a leg over Jared and snuggling in closer.
“Jared, je t’aime,” her voice was quiet and hoarse. “I do so very much.”
And Jared waited. He waited to feel the rush of love that was supposed to come, like it usually did every time he and Genevieve had explosive make-up sex like this.
There was nothing. It had been fantastic sex and that was all Jared could think of it as. Nothing else. Genevieve was talking still, about doing her best to get Saturday off so they could go on that picnic. All Jared could feel was a mild panic and wonder what that lack of feeling meant for the both of them.
The ring of the cell made Jensen look up from the pillow and glare at it for a moment. He swore when he saw the name on the screen. Jeff. He groaned and reached for the phone. An arm slid over his, pulling it back down gently.
“Let it ring.”
Jensen smiled into the pillow at the sound of Milo’s sleepy voice. “Kinda have to. It’s my boss.”
Milo gave a grunt of displeasure but let Jensen’s arm go. Jensen quickly sat up and grabbed the cell, slipping out of the bed and the room before he answered it.
There was an amused chuckle on the other end and then, “So everything’s going well I take it?”
“Yes. Jared’s an excellent teacher. I think I’m making great progress. How are things going on your end?”
“The deal’s all but final. We’re looking to enter the market by sometime next year after everything is taken care of and we have a few titles ready to go. It’s already mid July, so there’s plenty of time.”
Jensen opened his mouth to say otherwise and realised that Jeff was right. Time was really flying by. Next thing he knew, it would be September and it would be fairly strange to not have the usual September rush of things to deal with for the Christmas season. He ran a hand through his hair and leaned against the wall.
“What about staffing for the house?” Jensen asked. “Because to be honest, there’re probably qualified people working there now that we can keep on.”
“You’re ahead of me on this one. I was going to ask you to take a poke around and see how the place is run. They’ve been losing money hand over fist and there’s got to be a reason why. Their titles are sound, so there’s something else afoot.”
“Bad marketing?” Jensen frowned. That did sound weird. “Something in accounting maybe?”
“Not too sure. We’ll definitely have our accountants go over their books again. Everything came up fine the first time, but you know how things change.”
There was a dry tone to Jeff’s voice that Jensen couldn’t help but respond to with a snort. It was always funny how large amounts of money just fluidly came and went in acquisitions like this. He idly traced out random patterns with his toe against the floor as he thought for a moment.
“So I’m popping into the office and doing reviews?” Jensen finally asked.
“Nothing formal. Just get a feel for the place,” Jeff said. “I need to fly out there to have a walkthrough myself when I can spare the time.”
Jensen made a vague sound of agreement. “Well let me do one first and get back to you on it. It might save you a flight over here. I’ll drag Jared along. I know I’ll definitely want him in on the team for the new office in some sort of capacity.”
“I’ll float the idea by him. I just wanted to run that by you and get some feedback.”
“Not a problem. I’ll call and make an appointment and send you a report when I’m done.”
“All right. You just keep doing whatever you need to. I’ll check in later with you.”
“Sounds good. Later Jeff.”
Jensen hung up and tapped the phone a few times against his hand before he headed back to the bedroom. Milo was still beneath the covers, looking at him with sleepy eyes. Jensen smiled and slid back into bed, moving in closer.
“Business all done?” Milo stifled a yawn and slid an arm over Jensen waist.
“Mm, yeah. Just stuff to do later on. So it’s your day off. What do you want to do?”
“Never move,” Milo lapsed into silence. “Or go to the beach.”
“So stay in bed or get sand in places,” Jensen gave it some thought. “I can see why you’re terribly torn.”
“The one I go to, there’s no people. Mainly because it’s a bit of a hike and a pain in the ass. Mais, cet endroit… juste être seul sur la plage…”
“How long is the hike?” Jensen asked, wondering how much it was worth it just to be alone on a beach of any size.
“About forty minutes. If we are going, we should get going before the day gets any hotter.” Milo slid him a look and grinned. “You don’t have to wear a swimsuit.”
“You’ll have to try harder than that to get into my pants.” Jensen snorted.
“And I was so very close last night. Give it some time.” Milo chuckled, his fingers starting to stroke Jensen’s hip. “So, la plage, à la maison… qu’est-ce que tu voudrais faire??”
For a few minutes, Jensen wasn’t too sure which one to pick. But he’d been wandering around town since he’d gotten here. Actually seeing what was outside the town and who knew what else… that was sounding like a better and better idea.
He shifted slightly, moving into Milo’s hand and leaning forward to whisper in his ear, “Peut-être la plage…”
Milo drew back at bit at Jensen’s words, eyes wide and searching. “Si tu joues avec moi…”
That made Jensen chuckle and Milo’s pupils widened slightly. “Mais tu aimes ca.”
All Milo did was mutter, “Damn it” under his breath before sitting up. “You’re figuring me out far too quickly.”
Jensen laughed and slid in behind him. “Yeah, but you’re just straightforward with me. And you have no idea how much I appreciate that.”
Milo glanced down at him, just watching him for a few moments. “Likewise. Okay, so we’ll go to the beach. If we leave now, we can get there in an hour, including the walk.”
“I’ll go pack something to eat,” Jensen got up out of bed again. “And let Jared know that I won’t be here.”
“Good idea. Do you have towels?”
“Linen closet by the bathroom.”
It felt kind of strange and surreal, just tossing things together into a bag and throwing on whatever cool clothes he could find. Jensen was sure the hurried voicemail message he left Jared would prompt a hell of a lot of questions when he got back. But then again, spur of the moments things like this hadn’t really happened with his exes. With them, things had to be planned out and organized and certain expectations met. But now, as he yanked on a pair of board shorts and threw on an old shirt and Milo added some more things to their food bag, it was kind of nice to just go with the flow of things.
They had tossed the food bag and towels into the trunk, piled into Milo’s tiny car and had some music blaring as they headed out of the city to the coast. Jensen had never heard of Revolver before but as Milo drove along, the wind blowing through the cabin and ruffling his hair… he couldn’t deny there was this feeling of playing hooky for the day and enjoying himself.
And maybe, he mused to himself, it was something that was long overdue.
He looked out the window watching as the hills grew bigger, becoming mountains with craggy rock faces. Trees and grasses looked like coloured bits of fuzz, giving the mountain a patina of green and brown. The heat from the sun was getting stronger and damn, Jensen was glad they were heading to the beach. When they got to the public beach parking lot, Milo parked in a tiny little spot all the way at the back. Jensen wasn’t too sure of that until he saw the number of cars parked closer to the front. Yeah, he couldn’t blame Milo for not wanting to get caught in that crush.
“Hey, petit rêveur,”
Jensen glanced over at Milo’s words, holding a hand up to his eyes for the glare. Milo was grinning at him, food bag in one hand and towels in the other one.
“Petit rêveur?” Jensen asked with raised eyebrows.
“Little dreamer. You’re almost off somewhere else whenever I look over at you.”
Jensen wished he could have stopped his face from flushing as Milo leaned forward and took his hand. “S’not intentional,” he mumbled. “There’s a lot to see.”
“Nah. I like that about you,” Milo led them through the half-empty parking spots. “You take the time to look. I mean, really look. People just glance over and that’s it. But when you look at something, you take in everything, see as much as you can about it.”
Jensen just blinked in the face of that before saying, “Thanks.”
“So what did you think of me when you first met me?”
Milo glanced back at him and Jensen wondered how he was able to ask such serious questions and make it sound like it was a game, nothing more. Milo glanced back at him a few times but Jensen didn’t answer until they reached the foot of a hill and started up a faint trail.
“Handsome,” Jensen finally said. Milo looked back at him, but didn’t speak. “Determined. Confident. You almost always know what you want. And then you go about getting it. And you might bluster a bit, but you’re a good person. Well, you always try your best.”
“…You must have gotten all the girls in school,” Milo finally said with a laugh. “Nobody’s ever reached that conclusion so quickly.”
“It’s my job to pick things apart. Just… habit now,” Jensen shrugged. “Not to mention –”
The ring of his phone made him stop and pull his hand from Milo’s to get it. He snorted when he saw Jared’s name on the screen but he stared at it, half wondering if he should answer it or just let it go to voicemail. When he glanced up, he found Milo watching him patiently. He gave an apologetic grin, hit ignore and then turned the phone off before shoving it back into his pocket.
“No interruptions today,” Jensen said firmly, trying to not feel like a total asshole for hitting the ‘ignore’ button. “Just you, me, the beach… and possibly sand in places we’re rather not have it.”
“Sounds like any day at the beach,” Milo chuckled. “C’mon, we’ve still got a bit to go yet.”
Jensen grinned as he followed Milo up the path. The sun climbed higher into the sky and by the time Milo came to a stop, Jensen was fairly sure that he’d be peeling a bit tomorrow. Applying sunscreen had been the last thing on his mind. But as he looked down the winding trail from the top of the hill, he had to admit that Milo was right.
The small cove down below was hemmed in by sheer cliffs. Pale sand was lapped by blue ocean waves and Jensen swore he could see straight down along the bottom. Milo took his hand and tugged gently before they started walking down. The dirt beneath Jensen’s feet softened and once they hit the sand, he paused to take his sandals off. The sand was warm and fine beneath his soles and he dug his toes in, wiggling them about.
That was all Milo said as he took off his sandals as well. Jensen grinned and grabbed the ends of the towels Milo had draped around his neck.
“Monsieur,” Jensen murmured against Milo’s mouth. “Merci beaucoup.”
Milo smiled and whispered, “De rien” before Jensen kissed him.
Jared knew he was being stupid. He knew it and yet it felt like he couldn’t think of any other reaction. Here he was walking with Jensen to Éclat, supposed to be thinking about performance reviews and such. All that was running through his mind was that it felt like Milo was spending a hell of a lot of time with Jensen. And Jensen had plenty of stories of the past week and a half. There had been the beach trip last week. Then to the small museum, a tour of the churches in the area – Jared had tried to seem interested but when every other phrase was, ‘then Milo’, he found his interest waning quickly – and yesterday, the story had been about a Sunday outing spent in an orchard eating delicious, ‘melon marzipan’ candies and something else Jared didn’t quite catch. At least, when Jensen described the outings with Milo they sounded more like something out of fantasy rather than a mundane date.
When Jensen arrived at seven thirty in that morning, bearing croissants and chocolate rolls, Jared didn’t need to be told that they weren’t stopping off at the bakery. He grabbed some fruits from the kitchen and they had been walking and talking. Or rather, Jensen was talking. Jared was trying to keep his mouth full of food in order to avoid a conversation. Between hearing Jensen rattling on about Milo and wondering where the hell the spark with Genevieve had gone, Jared wasn’t feeling like saying much of anything.
There was a silence from Jensen and Jared thought for a moment that he’d eased up. A second later and Jared was abruptly disabused of this notion.
“Am I fucking boring you or something?” Jensen snapped at him.
Jared looked over at him before he shook a head. “No, no you’re not.”
“Could have fooled me. So what the hell is wrong?”
That was something Jared honestly didn’t know how to reply to. He wasn’t about to admit that he was, possibly, a bit envious of all this time Milo was spending with Jensen. After a few seconds, he just shrugged.
“Not feelin’ it today. I was up at seven.”
Jensen gave Jared a long look, but didn’t say anything else. The rest of the walk to Éclat was silent. As they turned the corner on the street where Éclat was, Jared glanced over at Jensen to see his reaction. The building was old, with a stucco façade and three stories capped off by terracotta tiles. There were basket of flowers hanging from the windows and it looked so much like a house. There was a small patio set beside the small flight of stairs up. Seated at the set were two women, sipping on something and talking quietly. No one ever believed this was a printing house when they saw it. And Jensen was clearly thinking the same thing, judging from the look on his face.
One of the women glanced up, then smiled and waved when she saw them. Jared grinned and waved back when he saw it was Alexis. Either he needed more coffee or to get more sleep.
“Bonjour monsieurs</spam>,” Alexis stood up as they approached. “Here bright and early. You couldn’t schedule it a bit later?”
“Might as well get it out of the way.” Jensen smiled and offered his hand. “Jensen Ackles.”
“Ah, so you’re the one here to toss us all out,” Alexis said dryly as she smiled back. “I’m Alexis Bledel. And this is Lauren, Lauren Graham. She’s our in-house illustrator.”
“Nice to meet you,” Lauren finally spoke, sticking her hand out as well. “I’m just going to say it. Please don’t fire me.”
Jensen blinked at that before chuckling. “We’re just looking. No firing unless there’s some gross incompetence somewhere. And I’ve seen your work. You did the cover for the translation of ‘Luna nuova dal mare’, that Random picked up, didn’t you? Gorgeous.”
“Thank you. But Signora Bianchi,” Lauren paused for a moment as she poked Alexis. Keys were yielded up. “She has this precise and evocative way with words. It was harder trying to convey the overall tone of the book.”
Jared smiled thinly as Jensen followed Lauren up the steps, talking about potential authors, chromatic schemes and line art now. When a finger jabbed him a bit hard, he looked over at Alexis.
“Tout va bien?” she asked, peering at him. “You seem –”
“I’m fine.” He said quickly.
Alexis snorted and Jared wasn’t too sure if he heard her mutter, “Liar” under her breath. He brushed it off as they stepped inside. If there was one thing that Jared loved about Éclat, it was how the place always smelled of paper with just a hint of the faint acridity of ink. The spacious front foyer was cool while the long sleek front desk sat empty at the moment and the stairs swept up the wall behind it to the second floor. Lauren and Jensen were leaning against the desk, talking animatedly. Jared watched as Jensen gestured around and then caught the words of, “…remodeling or the like.”
That caught Alexis’s attention too. They both stared at Jensen and Lauren for a moment before Alexis spoke.
“What? We’re remodeling?” Alexis asked.
“No, no remodeling,” Jensen smiled as he looked around the foyer. “This place has a nice feel when you walk in, something cozy and intimate. There’s a smaller feel to the place and I think it’ll work.”
“What, like we’re artisans?” Lauren prompted.
“Aren’t you?” Jensen replied with a raised eyebrow. “I’m just here to meet the current staff and see how you all work together. I want a good solid team in place when we start. No… aberrations or the like.”
There was a way Jensen said the word that made Alexis and Lauren look between themselves. Then Lauren cleared her throat.
“I’ll tell you what. Why don’t I show you me and Alexis’ studio and then when Sandra comes, you can sit down and have a chat with her.”
“And I’ll show Jared the printing press and upper offices. Who knows, you might end up there eventually, mister translator.”
Alexis slipped her arm around Jared’s and next thing he knew, he was being dragged up the stairs. Just what was going on that he missed? Or rather, what had Alexis and Sandy not been telling him about on their usual Friday nights?
“Jared,” Jensen’s voice made him stop and look down. “A midi, déjeuner pour tout le monde”
“Um, yeah. C’est bien.”
Then Alexis was tugging him up the stairs again, chattering on about the offices and the ergonomic chairs or something. Jared was half paying attention, just smiling back as a grin came to Jensen’s face. Then Jensen turned back to Lauren and they walked down a hallway, disappearing into the depths of the building. Once they reached the top landing, Jared looked at Alexis.
“Dans l’entrée … qu’est-ce… what was that?”
“Well, there’ve been some issues with accounting,” Alexis looked around. “Sandy accidentally found out and then Monsieur Delacroix hung her job over her head.”
Jared stared at Alexis in disbelief. “So she tells you but not me?”
“She doesn’t know that I know!” Alexis looked around hastily. “He’s gone and found himself some girl in Paris and she’s bleeding him dry. So he’s been dipping into the coffers a bit.”
“Merde,” Jared swore. “Mais elle ne devrait pas s’inquiéter … she should have done something. I mean, either way, she could have been out of a job. Not that she’d have to worry but –”
“I know, I know. But the point is Jensen knows, which means this Jeff we ragged on,” Alexis rubbed at his shoulder and she gave him a wry grin. “Knows and wants something done about it. Delacroix is going to be gone soon. She doesn’t have to worry.”
That helped ease up on the worry that Jared felt. “Okay. Good. I mean, she’s a phenomenal copy editor. If Jensen thinks he’s firing her for any reason then he’s an idiot and I’ll make him see reason.”
“I’ll let her know that nepotism is alive and well to some degree.” Alexis laughed. “What about you? You looked kind of tense this morning. Everything okay?”
“Oh, so your plan was to drag me up here alone and get answers from me?” Jared said dryly as he plunked himself down in a chair.
“Transparent and thin, I know,” Alexis shrugged as she seated herself on the desk. “But I heard from Giselle at the market that you and Genevieve had a fight two weeks ago?”
And there it was. Jared scrubbed at his head with a hand before he shrugged. It was easier to do something physical than think of the oddly numb sensation thinking of that fight had left in his stomach. Not to mention the gut feeling he had that something bad had taken root because of it. And he really wished that the market owner wasn’t so gossipy that she made everyone else look like prudes.
“Your silence is starting to tell me that everything isn’t well.” Alexis said. “Why didn’t you mention anything?”
“We’re working on it.” Jared said simply.
Alexis pegged him with a hard look and he simply shrugged. So they’d gone on that picnic date and Jared had tried but found himself just… wondering when he looked at Genevieve. And after a few days, she was back to working the long hours at the spa. Jared had the distinct feeling that he was just sharing a room and a bed with someone who was starting to become a complete stranger to him. And yet it hadn’t bothered him as much as he thought and –
“Et Jensen? Qu’en pense t’il ?”
“Eh?” Jared snapped out of it. “I don’t know what he thinks. I sort of mentioned a girlfriend when we met again. He hasn’t met her though.”
“And it’s been, what, a month, right? Or almost?” Alexis waved a hand. “I swear you spend more time with Jensen than you do your own girlfriend.”
“Well, he’s got Milo now,” Jared muttered.
“Pardon?” Alexis eased forward a bit. “Didn’t quite hear your sullen mutter there.”
Jared frowned. “Well he hasn’t been blowing me off, but he’s been spending a lot of time with Milo.”
“They’re dating?” when Jared nodded his head, Alexis followed up with. “How is that a problem?”
“It’s not. Just…” Jared trailed off before he shook his head. “Never mind. It isn’t a problem. I’m just being stupid.”
“Right,” Alexis drawled. “So your jealousy –”
“I’m not jealous!” Jared snapped.
Silence fell as Alexis remained quiet. Jealously wasn’t how Jared would phrase it. He’d just gotten too used to spending all most of his time with Jensen. But he still went out and did things and such when he had time. Well, when he could spare it. And it seemed that he had less time than he realised lately. His nights were spent reviewing and just being a general hermit.
“Uh huh,” Alexis said, breaking the silence that was bordering on awkward. “Okay. Whatever you say. So after we’re done here today, why don’t we all go out for drinks?”
“Jensen probably won’t finish up until close to six.” Jared glanced back at the door, as if expecting Jensen to pop up. Then Alexis’s words sank in. “We all?”
“Oui, tout le monde, y compris Milo,” Alexis slid off the desk and nudged his foot with her own. “Now c’mon. I’m getting tired of seeing you sitting there like a pouting diva. Let me show you around the offices properly and then I’ll take you into the bowels of the building where the printing press lurks.”
“Really, a pouting diva?” Jared grimaced as he got up.
“Well, it sounded much more mature than saying you’re having a sulking temper tantrum that would put a five year-old to shame.”
The bar was noisy and crowded with the loud music mingling with the sound of conversation. Jensen was relaxing against the bar, listening to Jared and Sandy argue about something, he honestly wasn’t too sure. All he knew was that he had more than a few beers and was feeling the warmth and buzz of alcohol. The performance reviews hadn’t even felt like work. Everyone pretty much knew what they were doing. The chief editor had been the main problem and when Sandra McCoy had shown up, a quick ten minutes with her had solved a lot of problems.
Buying lunch had helped to ease peoples’ worries. By the end of the afternoon, some of the frostiness vanished when it became clear that their jobs weren’t precisely on the line. There had been some laughing at his attempts at French, but most people admitted he was much better at it that they had initially suspected.
Jensen was just glad to see some sort of visible result. All those hours and listening to those lessons on his iPod were paying off. Plus it was nice to follow the flow of conversation and get the gist of it when everyone switched over to French.
Then Alexis had insisted everyone come out for drinks after work and that was how he found himself here three hours later. Conversation and people swirled around him and Jensen was just content to watch it all.
But Jared… Jared was in a damned funny mood today. Well, he had been for the past week to be honest. Any conversation outside of French lessons had degenerated into simple answers and what could be considered monosyllabic grunting at best. Jensen was starting to wonder just what had crawled up Jared’s ass and died to make him act like such a dick. Though, truth be told, Jensen was wondering if Genevieve might have had something to do with –
“Jensen, you’re doing it again.”
He looked over as a body pressed against him and found Milo giving him a wide grin. He smiled back and said, “Doing what?”
“Thinking. You scrunch your brow a bit,” Milo turned around to the bar and ordered a beer before he nudged Jensen with his shoulder. “Alexis called me and said that you were all out drinking. I didn’t realize she meant everyone.”
“Tout le monde est venu,” Jensen leaned back against the bar. “Nice to see you could make it.”
“For you, yeah,” Milo flashed him a smile. His gaze flickered over to Jared and he gave a dry snort. “Jared, I don’t know what’s up with him.”
Jensen’s smile grew into a grin as he nudged Milo with his shoulder. Milo moved in closer to him until their arms were pressed close. He shifted slightly when Milo’s arm went behind and around to the small of his back. When Milo’s hand slipped beneath the band of his pants, fingers stroking along the top of his ass, all Jensen did was inhale a bit deeply and take a drink of beer. Jensen slid his arm over Milo’s shoulder and pulled him in closer. Milo huffed a bit, but Jensen could practically hear the smile behind it. He finished off his beer, felt the rush of warmth from the alcohol and suddenly all he wanted was to get out of here.
“Hey, I know you just got here,” Jensen leaned down to murmur in Milo’s ear. “But you want to finish off your beer and have another at my place?”
Milo made an indecisive sound that vanished a second later when Jensen nipped on his earlobe gently. He licked at it with his tongue and earned a glance from Milo.
“C’est vrai?” Milo’s voice was low and husky, barely heard over the noise. “Tu es –”
“Je pense,” Jensen began but then changed his mind. He didn’t think, he knew. “Non, je sais… je sais que que cette fois ça ne sera pas comme à la plage.”
That was all Jensen murmured but Milo stiffened a bit against him, inhaling sharply. Jensen pressed his mouth against Milo’s temple and kissed it as Milo’s hand slid completely under the waistband of his pants and gave Jensen’s ass a quick squeeze.
“Quand j’aurais fini.” Milo said as he tilted his beer glass slightly.
“Mm, excuses, excuses.” Jensen murmured, his tone amused.
Milo replied by squeezing his ass again and taking a gulp from his bottle. Jensen looked up, still holding Milo close. He found Jared’s gaze on him and a slight frown on his friend’s face. The anger that flashed through Jensen was surprisingly strong but he ignored it. He had definite plans for tonight and chewing out Jared’s stupid ass wasn’t part of them.
As soon as Milo finished off his beer, Jensen started saying his goodbyes. When he finally got to Jared he managed a cool, ‘Bonsoir, mon ami’ before leaving and not really giving Jared a chance to say much of anything. It would have taken an idiot to miss how Jared’s gaze had flicked between him and Milo, rapidly putting two and two together. The pissed off expression said it all.
Though to be perfectly frank, Jensen wasn’t dealing with Jared’s damned hang-up. When Jared worked up the bloody nerve to act like an adult about whatever the fuck was bothering him, maybe then Jensen would deign to talk to him. Maybe.
It was warm as they stepped outside and Jensen paused as he pulled Milo in closer. Milo simply tightened his grip on Jensen’s waist. The entire walk back was silent. But there was something nice about not saying anything at all. There was a cool breeze, and the sky was still orange from the dying sunset. It seemed like the houses glowed and there was a definite surreal feeling of just floating along the cobbled street. Though, that might have been the alcohol talking.
When they finally got back to his apartment, Jensen let them in before closing and locking the door. He turned around and found Milo standing in the middle of the hallway with an intent look. Jensen grinned and stepped in closer to him, sliding his hands along Milo’s hipbones. A momentary smile came to Milo’s face as he ran his hands along Jensen shoulders.
“How many beers have you had?”
Milo always managed to throw Jensen for a loop somehow. “Four. Why?”
A smile came to Milo’s face as he said, “Good. I just wanted to be sure you’d remember this.”
There was no rushing, nothing frantic about it. Milo simply pressed himself in closer, brushing his lips over Jensen’s. There was the soft rush of warm breath with the faint scent of hops and Milo’s tongue darted out to flick against Jensen’s lips. Jensen inhaled deeply, sliding his hands down and splaying them against Milo’s hips for a moment before he gripped them gently.
“Pendant tellement de nuits…” Milo breathed. “J’ai vu tes yeux, ta bouche et tes mains dans mes rêves.”
With a sharp inhale, Jensen leaned in the last few inches and kissed Milo, tongue moving against his lips before sliding in smoothly. All that sounded in the hallway was a soft groan and Milo pressed himself against Jensen, backing him up. His back hitting the door registered dully in Jensen’s mind. It was all focused on Milo and how tightly he pressed himself against Jensen and wedged a thigh in between Jensen’s legs, leaving nothing to the imagination.
This… God had Jensen missed this. Having the press of a body against his, breathing heavy and labored with the mutual need to come. Milo wasn’t anything like Mark, all lithe and whip thin in comparison to his ex. But the thigh between his legs was well muscled and Milo’s dick was easily felt through the layers of cloth. He brought a hand up to Milo’s head, threading his fingers into the dark hair and started rocking slowly.
Milo matched his motion, hips grinding up and his thigh rubbing against Jensen’s cock. A chuckle came from Jensen’s throat as Milo’s hands slid down, making quick work of his button-down shirt. The chuckle turned into a hiss a second later as Milo found his nipples and rolled them roughly underneath his thumbs. Milo grinned into the kiss and did the same motion again. Jensen groaned as his dick twitched in the tight confines of his pants. He untangled his fingers from Milo’s hair and slid them underneath the light jacket Milo wore, stripping it off and tossing it aside. When he started tugging up on Milo’s shirt, Milo broke off.
“Do you think we should –”
That was all Milo managed to get out as Jensen pulled his shirt up and off, forcing Milo to raise his arms. The shirt joined Milo’s jacket and Jensen let go of Milo for a moment as he was stripped of his shirt. The shirt joined the pile of clothes and Milo stepped back quickly out of Jensen’s reach. It was almost like a pull, Jensen following Milo into the living room. The room faced the west and caught the sunset light. It looked burnished in the deepening orange. In between the couch and the coffee table, Milo looked like he was ablaze with the light against his skin.
Jensen swallowed hard was he walked up to him, sliding his hands over Milo’s sides, before he slid them along ribs and up against shoulder blades, pulling Milo in closer to him. He rested his forehead against Milo’s, nuzzling against his cheek before ducking down and catching Milo’s mouth for another kiss. Milo moved his hands up to cup Jensen’s jaw, tongue moving out to slide along Jensen’s lips and flicker against his teeth.
“Tu es,” Jensen breathed as Milo broke off, hands wandering down to undo his pant buttons. “Mon petit Apollo.”
A chuckle came from Milo’s throat and Jensen stilled it. He dropped a hand down and palmed Milo’s dick through his pants, squeezing gently and sliding his palm against the hard length. Milo swore softly under his breath before he slid a hand up to Jensen’s neck and pulled him back down again. The kiss was a little bit more urgent this time and now it felt like Milo was burning up, skin getting hotter in Jensen’s arms. He moved his hands back down, undoing Milo’s pants before he slid his hands around to Milo’s ass. It was simple, so simple, to slip his hands underneath the loosened waistband and follow the curve of Milo’s ass. The slacks dropped easily and Milo stepped out of them before pushing Jensen back against the couch.
Jensen swallowed hard as Milo crouched down between his legs and started tugging on his pant legs. Point made, Jensen lifted his hips. The pants and underwear were tugged off a few seconds later and Milo crawled right into his lap. When Jensen leaned over, trying to reach into the drawer, Milo pushed him down before straddling his hips. Jensen found it very hard to complain as Milo leaned down and kissed him, slow and drawn out. Milo rolled his hips gently and Jensen groaned, sliding his hands down to cup and squeeze Milo’s ass a bit before pulling him up a bit.
An explosive sigh came from Milo and he thrust his hips against Jensen’s sharply. The dry slide of skin against skin dragged a rough groan from Jensen and he moved a hand, back to seeking out the drawer of the side table. Milo broke off the kiss, biting his way down Jensen’s neck to a nipple.
“Fuck,” Jensen jerked his hips up as Milo bit down hard on the nub before dragging his tongue against it.
Milo chuckled, low and entirely dirty as he looked up at Jensen through his lashes. Jensen fumbled around in the drawer for a moment before he felt the round bottle and pulled it out. The lid of the slim black bottle snapped open easily and Milo raised his head at the sound. Jensen sat up and squeezed a bit of the lube out onto his hand, spreading it over his fingers.
“Moi aussi,” Milo’s voice was rough as he started nuzzling his way back up.
Jensen obliged and once Milo was at his neck, he asked, “What do you want?”
Milo sat up at that and Jensen sat up so he was leaning against the back of the couch. Jensen squeezed out some extra into his hand before snapping the lid shut with his free hand and tossing it onto a cushion. He took Milo’s right hand and started massaging the lube into Milo’s hand. Jensen felt his throat dry as Milo just watched him, pupils widening and the brown irises almost gone.
“What I want,” each word sounded like it was dragged from Milo’s throat with a lot of effort. “Are your fingers in my ass, spreading me open, making me come…”
And with that Milo detangled his hand from Jensen’s and slid it down. It was hard to concentrate as Milo wrapped slick fingers around Jensen’s cock and started stroking lazily. When Jensen slid his hands back to Milo’s ass, he moved his slick fingers in against Milo’s hole, stroking and pressing gently and slowly. Milo rocked back against his fingers, the ring of muscle relaxing slowly.
When Jensen slipped that first finger in, Milo pressed himself in closer to Jensen and took both their cocks in hand, stroking regularly and firmly. His head rolling back against the couch, Jensen forced himself to take a few deep breaths to steady himself. He wasn’t about to come all over himself and Milo like he was in high school once more. But Milo kept rocking back onto his finger before groaning in his ear, “Another.”
Jensen obliged and a shuddering breath was Milo’s reply. His hand stopped, squeezing a bit and Jensen pressed his fingers in. It didn’t take that much longer. He found the small bump and started stroking it with small curls of his finger. Milo swore harshly and removed his hand from their cocks and just started rubbing against Jensen with stuttered thrusts of his hips.
All it took was a few thrusts of slick cocks together and Jensen pressing up firmly. Milo clung to Jensen as he came, come spurting up onto Jensen’s belly and Milo’s breath hot against his ear. Feeling Milo clench around his fingers, spasmodic, tight and warm… God, Jensen just wished he was buried in there, right to the root. And then he was coming, eyes squeezed shut, face buried in Milo’s neck and his teeth biting against Milo’s shoulder with the salt of sweat-soaked skin against his tongue.
A few minutes later, Milo sagged against him, breathing hard and skin warm. Jensen opened his eyes as he slowly and carefully withdrew his fingers from Milo. The light of the dying sunset changed the colour on the walls from burnished orange to a dark blue. That, Jensen thought in a daze, couldn’t be more fitting. Milo shifted, and in the dim light, he looked at Jensen with a content expression in his heavy-lidded eyes. A smile came to Jensen’s face in response.
“Usually I like to make it to bed first.” He murmured.
Milo chuckled as he leaned back a bit. “I’m not complaining. That was,” he paused for a moment before shrugging and finished off with, “Amazing.”
“Amazing?” Jensen didn’t keep the question from his voice. “That didn’t sound so to you.”
“I was trying to think of something that didn’t sound so cliché.” Milo huffed as he leaned back forward and started to card his fingers through the hair on the nape of Jensen’s neck. “It’s Tuesday tomorrow. Did you have work?”
“Just a few reviews. And Sandy directed my attention to some manuscripts that are worthwhile. And French lessons in the morning.”
That was all Milo said, but there was a thoughtful tone to it. Jensen rested his hands on Milo’s hips, fingers stroking against the hipbones softly.
“Stay the night,” Jensen murmured. “You don’t have to be up ridiculously early.”
“Yeah, but I don’t want to deal with Jared and his –”
Jensen rolled his eyes and gave a derisive snort. “Fuck Jared. I’m going to have a little chat with him tomorrow anyhow.”
“Il faut cultiver ton jardin.” Milo said after a few moments.
“Um, what?” Jensen still hadn’t gotten the hang of the expressions.
“Just… maybe it’s something else with Jared. Don’t go sticking your nose where it shouldn’t be.”
That made Jensen pause before he leaned over and finally flicked on the tableside lamp. Milo blinked for a moment as his eyes adjusted before he looked back at Jensen. There was a clearly guarded look on his face and Jensen wasn’t too sure what to make of it. He leaned in and pressed a gentle kiss against Milo’s mouth.
“Considering Jared started tromping through mon jardin, I think I can safely do the same to him,” Jensen buried his face into the crook of Milo’s neck and bit gently. “Besides, I’m definitely thinking we should move to the bed.”
Milo made a pleased sound of agreement as Jensen dug his fingers in slightly. “After we get cleaned up.”
“Know what Milo,” Jensen chuckled as he kissed his way back to Milo’s lips. “I like the way you think.”
The morning felt like it dragged by for Jared. After going to the bar last night, he’d come home. He’d spent a quiet evening with Genevieve, catching up, watching TV and eating dinner. And all throughout the night, certainty sat in his stomach like a cold hard lump of ice. Certainty that, yes, Jensen and Milo were now dating for sure.
Or rather, fucking like rabbits if the sly, heated looks they gave one another at the bar were any indication. And when they left, when Jensen came up to him and gave him that cool goodbye… when Milo had slid up beside Jensen, a hand going to the small of Jensen’s back… Jared found himself hard pressed to control the damned irrational surge of anger that welled up.
Jensen and Milo were his friends. So if they chose to sleep together, then who was he to say anything about it?
Genevieve had picked up on his discontent and tried to ask him about it. For a moment, for a brief moment, Jared considered telling her. And then, like a bucket of ice-cold water, he recalled the pissed look on Genevieve’s face and her throwing his past fling with Renaldo back in his face. And so Jared had just shrugged and said something stupid about the show they were watching. Her gaze had been heavy and it had been hard to just look back at her with a blank expression on his face. But then she’d shrugged and turned back to the TV as well.
That hard lump in Jared’s gut felt like it grew even more. Because for all the arguments and disagreements he had with Genevieve, he had never outright lied to her face. And now he’d done it, just to avoid the argument that he knew his answer would have sparked.
And then not to mention when he’d arrived at Jensen’s the next morning, Jensen… well Jensen looked like he’d been well and truly fucked. Or he had been fucking. Either way, it was quite clear that Jensen had been up half the night doing something of the pleasurable sort.
It made it damned hard to concentrate. Because Jensen’s lips were still puffy, he kept fidgeting in his seat and seemed to keep spacing out halfway through something when Jared was talking.
How Jared managed to keep his patience through the lesson, he didn’t know. But when Milo came ambling out of the bedroom, through the living room to the kitchen with nothing but boxers and a shirt on – one that was clearly Jensen’s – well, Jared thought he did an admirable job of not losing his temper. Milo’s eyes rested on him and he got a brief head nod in acknowledgment. Christ, was he really being that pissy with everyone?
Then when he looked back, Jensen’s gaze was on him. Those eyes were intent and Jared could see Jensen’s brain working, as if trying to puzzle him out.
Jared had never been happier when the lesson was over. He packed up his stuff and amid the smell of baking croissants from Jensen’s kitchen, he bolted. And now he was sitting here on the balcony, beer in hand with a few empties neatly lined up against the wall out of the way. The afternoon was winding down and Genevieve was still out at… something for work. Though, Jared could not remember a time when Tuesday nights had been so busy. He dug his phone out of his pocket and texted her. If he knew when she was coming home, he could make her dinner at the least. He barely had time to stick him phone back into his pocket before it chimed with a reply.
“Désole, mon poussin,” he muttered as he flipped it open again. “J’ai besoin de travailler plus tard…”
He snorted as he flipped the phone shut. No need to finish reading the message. Same old excuse, yet again. God, so here he was sitting on the balcony, halfway to drunk, his girlfriend working late, fucking yet again and –
The sharp, heavy knock on his door took him by surprise. He glanced at the door, finished off his beer and got up. He scooped up the empties and was going to simply ignore the knocking before he heard the bellow of, “I know you’re in there, Goddamn it.” That made Jared pause as he stacked the empties in the sink to be washed. What the hell was Jensen doing here? He made his way to the door and opened it.
Jensen was standing there, looking more than ready to tear Jared’s head from his shoulders and stick it somewhere entirely painful. And then as if to confirm this…
“I swear Padalecki, if you want your head up your ass, I’ll be more than happy to give you a hand, what with how you’ve been acting lately.”
“Please, come in.” Jared said dryly as Jensen barged in. He closed the door and turned to face Jensen. “Need something?”
“How about an explanation?” Jensen scowled. “Because quite frankly, who I sleep with isn’t exactly your business.”
That icy lump in Jared’s stomach seemed to intensify a bit and he shrugged as he motioned for Jensen to follow him into the living room. He plunked himself down on the couch and rubbed at his forehead. That warm glow of alcohol in his system wasn’t going to do a thing to help him now. Jensen sat down on the couch as well, still waiting with his arms crossed. Though, the anger radiating off of him could have probably set off a war.
“You’re right. It isn’t my business,” Jared finally said as he rubbed at his chin. “I mean, it’s not like Milo’s a bad guy. And hell, you’re probably thinking I lied right to your face about being okay with your bisexuality and whatever…”
Jared waved his hand vaguely and lapsed into silence for a moment. The expression on Jensen’s face didn’t change one bit. And maybe, Jared thought vaguely to himself, he totally deserved it for being such a dick to someone he wanted to keep as a friend.
“But I got a little jealous, I guess.” He finally said.
There was a long silence and when Jensen spoke, it was the tone of someone trying to see things from Jared’s point. “You were jealous. Over me?”
“Kinda makes sense,” Jared shrugged loosely again, and wondered why he actually said that. Or even admitted to himself that Alexis had been kind of right. “I mean… I do wanna be friends with you. And we’ve barely spent any time together outside of lessons because you’re either working or with Milo… I mean… wouldn’t you be?”
“I guess. But you know, I’d say something rather than keeping my trap shut, being such a bitch and pissing people off.” Jensen uncrossed his arms. “Just say something next time. It’s not the first time I’ve done something like this and not quite realized it.”
“Focused on work?” Jared tried.
“And other people sometimes. I have been spending a lot of time with Milo,” Jensen shrugged. “I do like him. After my last few relationships… well, I guess it’s good for me to be with someone like Milo.”
“Hm,” Jared rose from his seat. “Beer?”
“Thanks.” Jensen nodded.
Jared walked to the kitchen and grabbed four more bottles before he came back to the living room. They made a dull clink as he rested them on the table. Jensen leaned forward and twisted the cap off one. For a second the only sound was the hiss of escaping carbonation and the sound of beer sliding down Jensen’s throat. After a few minutes, Jensen leaned back completely into the seat.
“Sometimes, I can get tunnel vision. Just so focused on one thing, you know,” Jensen shrugged. “Joanna hated it and Mark tolerated it for so long. Both ended up calling me a workaholic.”
“There’s a difference between being driven and being a workaholic,” Jared started picking at the label on his beer bottle. “And in our field, there’s sometimes insane deadlines, all that editing, meetings, you know… insanity. Especially now, with Christmas looming.”
“Well thank God, we’re missing the Christmas rush,” Jensen raised his bottle to that. “And thank God Jeff has the sense to not try and rush it. Summer’s flying by.”
Jensen’s words were a bit startling, especially when Jared realized he was right. August had pretty much snuck up on them and next thing he knew, it was going to be September soon. Jared just nodded his head and took a gulp of beer. After a few moments, he looked over at Jensen.
“Milo still at your place?”
“Nah. He went home. Said he wanted to pop in and see how Madame Quinto was doing. And possibly water his plants he said,” Jensen watched him for a long moment. “Though I can safely say that he thinks you’ve been a supreme asshole.”
Jared just sighed and nodded his head. “I’ve got a lot of ass-kissing to do.” He said before taking another a drink of beer.
“I’ll happily do that with Milo for you.”
Jensen broke out laughing as Jared choked and sputtered on his beer. Jared wiped at the beer that dribbled onto his chin and said, “Yeah, that’s really selfless of you. Don’t bend over backwards or anything. Milo would be put out with me, I’m sure.”
A grin came to Jared’s face as Jensen doubled over, eyes crinkled with his wide smile. It was nice to have conversation that flowed easily again. By the time they’d finished off their beers, the sound of a key in the lock made Jared glance at his watch and then at the door. It was already quarter to nine. Jensen looked at the door and then at him with a raised eyebrow. Jared just shrugged and finished off the last of his beer.
The door opened and a few minutes later, Genevieve walked into the living room. Her eyes rested on Jared and she smiled. Then her gaze slid along the couch and her eyes widened slightly when she saw Jensen. However, Jensen was up before Jared could even think of getting up to say anything.
“Mademoiselle Cortese,” Jensen offered his hand. “I’m Jensen Ackles. I’m terribly sorry for monopolizing your boyfriend’s time. Constantly, truth be told.”
There was silence for a moment as Genevieve’s gaze flickered between them and to the empty bottles of beer on the table. But then she seemed to regain her composure and gave Jensen a smile and took his hand with a gentle shake.
“Enchanté, Monsieur Ackles. I have to say, I’ve heard plenty about you.”
Jared finally got up, wondering how Jensen was managing to just be so cool about this. That look on Genevieve’s face would have spelled trouble for anyone else. He walked over to her and slid an arm around her waist before leaning down and pressing a kiss against her forehead. Only now, Jensen was looking at Genevieve and there were a sense of strain to his face that hadn’t been there before.
“Okay, so,” Jared hoped he didn’t sound too cheerful. Because on top of everything else now, it was starting to see like Jensen and Genevieve just didn’t like one another. “You’re done work, we haven’t eaten yet. Should we just get take-out?”
“That would be great,” Jensen began and Jared could feel Genevieve stiffen at that. “But it’s late enough already. And I’ve got some things to do for tomorrow. I want to pop in by Éclat and talk to Sandy and Heather about staffing. Might have to shift some people around, you know.”
“All right. Did you want to get the take out menus?” Jared asked Genevieve.
Genevieve nodded her head and made her way into the kitchen after offering Jensen a murmured ‘Bon soir.’ Jared watched her go for a moment and when he looked back, Jensen gave him a grin and started for the front door. He waited until Jensen got his shoes on and when Jensen stepped outside, Jared stepped out as well.
“You sure she’s not going to flay you for doing this?” Jensen asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Hah,” Jared drawled. “She’s just tired and stressed from work. They keep calling her in.”
There was a strange look on Jensen’s face before it vanished after a few moments. Almost as if Jensen had something to say about that, but decided not to. For a brief moment, Jared considered asking him about it but couldn’t think of a single damned way to ask just what bothered him about that. Jensen clapped him on the shoulder before he started walking away.
“What, that’s it?” Jared called after him as he started walking down the street.
Jensen turned and smiled at him, still walking. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, bright and early!”
He stood there watching as Jensen disappeared up the cobbled street, and went back inside. Genevieve had taken the empties to the kitchen and spread the take-out menus on the coffee table with two cups of tea. He sat down beside her and she snuggled in against him. As they sat there and figured out what to order, Jared couldn’t help but wonder just what Jensen would have said to him. And if it was something he really would have wanted to hear it.
The pen tapped idly against the notepad as Jared stared out the window. There was the bright haze of the sun in a brilliant sky that belied the cold outside. Almost halfway through December and not a cloud in the sky. The last days of summer and fall had felt like a hazy blur, filled with lessons, paperwork and so many meetings that Jared’s head spun. The major shakeup at Éclat had consisted of the editor being fired and a slight staffing shuffle.
Initially the grumbling had been vocal but when people settled into their new positions, it quieted down. Then again, Jensen’s changes meant that everything was running much more smoothly. Nobody was arguing with that. But now, he found himself with a desk job and –
“Jared!” a sharp rap on the desk in front of him made him look up. “Still with us?”
He glanced around the table to see everyone looking at him. “Ah, yeah. Sorry just… you know.”
When he gestured vaguely to the window, that got a chuckle from everyone. With Christmas around the corner, almost everyone had opted to use up their last few vacation days and take off by next week. This meeting, the last meeting Jensen had said in an internal memo, was for the final selection of manuscripts to start putting through for the next summer when they went live again. It was all Jared could do to keep his mind on work, with the rollercoaster life had become in the past few weeks.
“So,” Jensen sat back down in his seat and looked at the pile of manuscripts. “Final nominations?”
“Definitely Hodge’s new one,” Alexis said emphatically. “Can we get the exclusive rights for it in the European markets? We can get Anton from our rights office in touch with Danneel in the Dallas office.”
“I’ll look into it. The translation is done, so I’ll talk to Jeff and convince him.” Jensen shifted forward in the seat. “I’m for this manuscript that was still on the former editor’s desk, ‘maîtrise a pied.’ It’s got something. Anyone else give it a spin?”
“Kinda of derivative in some parts,” Lauren spoke up. “It would need some serious editing.”
“Good thing I’m an editor,” Jensen said dryly. “What about the ones you were glancing at?”
“I’ll have you know that I read them,” Lauren said primly, though she smiled as she moved her chair in closer. “But ‘Manque’ was the one that struck me the most. It’s very raw, evocative and bleak. I mean, post-apocalyptic scenarios aren’t everyone’s thing but I think it’ll work.”
“God, they weren’t channeling ‘The Road’ by McCarthy, were they?” Jared asked. “There’s only so many of those that can be in a niche market before they all blend together.”
“This one stands out. I started doing some conceptual sketches,” Lauren reached down beside her and pulled up some large sheets of paper. “I’m telling you, this one is good.”
Sandy shook her head. “Lauren, maybe that’ll work for the fall, but we’re looking to head into a summer market. Something light, quick and enjoyable. Something to read on the beach or on a plane.”
“Well, that’s not to say it still won’t sell. We might even be able to do an early push, nothing too big and then build up some interest in ‘Manque’ for the fall,” Jensen paused for a moment, staring at the table before he glanced at his watch. “Okay, just draft me up a quick report for tomorrow. I want this put to bed before Christmas, if possible. It’s late enough and I think we’re the last ones here. Let’s just pack it in and head home.”
There were murmurs of assent from around the table and Jared was inclined to agree. Nothing would be worse than having to bring home some work on the holidays. Jensen rose from his seat and dismissed the meeting. Everyone made a quick beeline out and Jared was sure they’d be picking up their selected manuscripts and giving them the once-over before submitting the report.
Personally Jared was glad that he had the task of translating and not really one of selecting manuscripts. But meetings, that was something Jensen insisted department heads be present for, to keep up with current happenings. It was a far cry from how things had been run and everyone had been thrilled to be included in something so crucial to the company.
“Hey,” Jensen waved a hand in his face before looking over. “You okay?”
“Fine. Just thinking. Distracted a bit,” Jared shook his head and ran his hand through his hair. “What about you? Holding up okay?”
“Yeah, I’m good. I mean,” Jensen shrugged. “Things come and go, you know.”
Jared got up from his seat and stretched. “Sure, but you and Milo… I mean, it seemed like it was going to work.”
There was nothing but silence from Jensen as they packed up their notes,put on their jackets and hats before the meeting room. A quiet murmur of voices came from down the hallway, of everyone else packing up for the evening and getting ready to head on home. They headed to the front door, Jensen digging the key out of his pocket. Jared lingered as Jensen waited for everyone else to leave the building. Farewells were said and once the last person left Jared slipped outside to wait. He leaned against the handrail for the steps, as Jensen locked the door.
He couldn’t quite explain the urge he had to make sure that Jensen was okay. And it wasn’t so much nosiness as it was concern. Jensen and Milo had only broken up about three weeks ago. Jared had no idea what happened but Milo had headed off to America early for the holidays, leaving the shop in his co-workers’ capable hands. Jensen hadn’t said a single word of what had driven them apart.
Which, okay, was fine in Jared’s book. But sometimes, when he wasn’t paying attention, Jensen’s brow would furrow and a distant look came to his eyes. Truth be told, Jared was more than willing to pick up the phone and ask Milo to reconsider Jensen. If there was anything that Jared had learned in the past few months of spending time with Jensen, it was that the other man took internalisation to new heights.
Oh he spoke and was direct enough. But sometimes, Jensen kept things to himself and puzzled them over until he reached what he deemed a suitable answer. Whatever happened with Milo shook him up. And acting like it hadn’t happened couldn’t be any good for him. Somehow, Jared was pretty sure that wasn’t going to work this time.
He glanced over to see Jensen staring a bit blankly ahead, that same furrow on his brow once more. He snorted and elbowed Jensen. “What are you feeding me tonight?”
“Mm?” Jensen blinked and looked up. “Je te nourris?”
“S’il-vous plait,” Jared looked over at Jensen and grinned. “Gen’s working late again and I don’t want to cook.”
“Lazy bastard,” Jensen grinned. “Well, she won’t be working late for too much longer. I mean, half the town’s in Christmas mode already. Hm…”
A speculative look came to Jensen’s face and Jared couldn’t help but blurt out the, “What?”
“You been to the market yet? I’ve been thinking of going and seeing all the Christmas stuff, but I didn’t really want to do it alone.”
It took a moment for Jensen’s look to sink in. Jared shook his head. “Not yet. Gen and I usually go, but I was starting to think that I’d have to make the trip myself this year.”
All Jensen gave in response was a mumbled sound of sympathy. Jared stared at him for a long moment before he pulled his hat down a bit more over his ears and kept walking. There was some bite to the air and it smelled a bit of lingering autumn, that peculiar mix of dead leaves, dirt and cold. But there was mainly the scent and feel of the approaching Christmas. He could practically smell the olives from here, the tart unique scent carrying on the breeze. Baking was there too and carols were blaring from every open shop front they passed.
Even with everything feeling so mixed up, this was the one time of year Jared couldn’t help but like. When he’d been little and hating every second of having to move here, Christmas was the one thing that invariably cheered him up. It was similar and distinct at the same time. Then again, he’d been swayed by the réveillon.
“What’s so funny?” Jensen’s elbow jabbed at his side.
“Hm? What?” Jared looked over at him.
“You were laughing. What’s so funny?”
“Nothing, just,” Jared grinned as he rubbed at the back of his hatted head. “When I was a kid, Christmas was one thing I loved here. Had the big reveillion at midnight on Christmas Eve, opening gifts afterwards. Finally going to bed exhausted at eight in the morning on Christmas.”
“And réveillon is?”
“Huge Christmas feast. You get this cake afterwards and man, it’s just awesome,” he eyed a window display full of wrapped boxes. “When do you fly back home?”
“… I’m not,” Jensen said quietly after a few minutes. “I’m staying here.”
That took Jared a bit by surprise. He looked over at Jensen to find him frowning. “Yeah, but… it’s Christmas.”
“I know. But I’ve still got too much to do here. And travelling during off-season was crazy enough. Now? I’m not going through de Gaulle during Christmas time. I think that might count as pure fucking insanity Jared.”
“I can’t argue that but still –” Jared began.
“Don’t worry. I’ll probably just spend half the day on the phone with them.” Jensen shrugged. “Wait, are we heading the right way for the Rotonde?”
Jared looked around before he realised they had overshot it a bit. This always happened when they took the twisting, narrow side streets from Eclat. He looked around until he spotted a walkway. After motioning to Jensen to follow, he started towards it. The murmur of voices grew louder and when they stepped onto the street packed with people and stalls selling the usual Christmas fare. Jensen crowded in behind him, head craned as he looked around at everything.
“Shit, this is huge.”
“This is seriously your first time at one? You don’t have anything like this in America?” Jared looked back at him.
“It’s called a shopping mall. And it’s nothing like this,” Jensen slipped around, standing beside Jared. “So dinner first I guess.”
Jared followed Jensen into the crowd and watched as he made a beeline for the food stalls. Olives were the first thing Jensen bought and they slowly made their way down, buying cheese, bread and some usual things. Though Jensen made a face when Jared went back and got a fresh batch of tapenade to go with the bread.
“Seriously man,” Jensen picked up the jar and peered at the stuff inside. “Pureed olives?”
“Green and black. S’good,” Jared took and put it back in the bag. “Give it a try when we get back.”
“With what? Those disgusting looking walnuts you bought?”
“Those are for dessert. And they’re preserved in honey,” Jared said snippily.
Jensen looked in the bag, the expression on his face saying that he begged to differ. With a huff, Jared pulled the bag away. A grin came to Jensen’s face and Jared cuffed him gently on the back of the head before grinning as well.
“Quit being a shit and winding me up on purpose.”
“Stop being a stick in the mud.” Jensen replied easily. “We getting anything else for dinner?”
“Nah. I’ve got some at home.”
At Jensen’s words, they started weaving their way through the crowd. The babble of voices grew fainter and by the time they were winding through the smaller side streets back to Jensen’s, Jared just couldn’t shake the fact that Jensen would be spending his Christmas alone.
“Hey, why don’t you spend Christmas with me and my family? I’m sure they’d love to see you again.”
“What? No, I don’t want to intrude –” Jensen started.
“You won’t. I mean, it’s a bit up there but you should,” Jared watched as Jensen opened his mouth once more and cut him off at the pass. “I’ll talk to Genevieve.”
Jensen frowned a bit at that before he just shrugged. “If it’s a problem, I’ll just ignore you knocking on my front door.”
“Aw, c’mon. No one should be alone on Christmas day.” Jared “That’s just awful. Every one should be together.”
For a moment, there was a long silence from Jensen, as he eyed Jared. And then, “Yeah, all right there Cindy-Lou. But only if it’s not an imposition on anyone.”
“You won’t be. Besides, my mom does an amazing turkey. Stuffs it with chestnuts… man, you’ve gotta come.”
“Hungry much?” Jensen laughed as he broke off a piece of bread and handed it to Jared.
“Yeah, finally you feed me,” Jared grinned as he dug into the bag and pulled out the jar of tapenade. “Open this.”
Jensen did so, pausing long enough to bring the jar to his nose and sniff. “Well, it doesn’t smell as bad as it looks.”
“What did you think it looked like?” Jared asked as he tore off a small chunk of bread and scooped up some of the pureed olive.
“Honestly? I thought it look like a tub of pu –”
Jared cut off Jensen’s sentence by popping the morsel of bread into his mouth. There was a moment of sputtering from Jensen. Jared watched and grinned as the pissed off expression on Jensen’s face slowly disappeared as he chewed. Jensen glared at him. Jared simply responded by dunking a chunk of the bread in the tapenade and eating it as well.
“C’est bon, non?” Jared asked a few minutes later.
“Merde,” was Jensen’s succinct reply as he took another piece of bread and scooped up some tapenade. “This is really damned good. Maybe I should have just gotten some of this and not some whole olives.”
“Martinis?” Jared ventured after he swallowed his mouthful.
“I guess,” Jensen eyed the jar of tapenade in Jared’s hand. “Pass that over here.”
Jared grinned he handed it over and they ate in silence the rest of the way back to Jensen’s place. It was so much easier to be with Jensen than to think on the fact that Genevieve was working late again. Or the unholy fight she’d raise when Jared said that Jensen was invited along to Christmas at his parents’s place.
“I should have known you were ditching us for Christmas,” The pout in Danneel’s voice was evident. “Seriously, there’s no way you can make it?”
“Sorry,” Jensen felt like he’d said that word five millions times today. First to his parents and then everyone else under the sun when he called them. Chris, Steve, Aldis… Mackenzie alone about fifteen times. “I’d literally be there for two, three days at the most before having to fly back and get things set up for January.”
Danneel made a sound of agreement. “Okay, that I can understand. I don’t even want to think of the number of author meetings you’ll have to sit through.”
“Necessary evil. So long as they can take some criticism,” Jensen wasn’t looking forward to it as well. “How are things on your end? Doing okay?”
“Pretty good actually. Think I’ve managed to scoop up an amazing new writer. She’s a bit rough around the edges, but I’ll polish her up. And everything I’ve been hearing about you mister, fuck me it’s like you’re the second coming of Christ or something. Turning things around so quickly –”
“I only had to fire one person.” Jensen said defensively.
“And you’re more than on track for getting books out for next summer. Crack team in place too,” there was a smile in Danneel tone. “How’s Jared doing?”
“Pretty good,” Jensen felt a bit like he was lying. He could see the huge gaping cracks in Jared’s relationship with Geneveive. Cracks that Jared seemed pretty intent on ignoring. “He’s really into the Christmas thing.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“I’m honestly surprised he’s not wearing reindeer sweaters and a Santa hat. The past few days…” Jensen trailed off, at a loss for words as he stared at the floor where his empty weekend bag sat.
“He’s been on Christmas overload? Singing carols and whatnot? His girlfriend must love that.”
Jensen just grunted at the dry tone of amusement in Danneel’s voice. Granted though, Geneveive might actually have to be home to be annoyed by that in the slightest. The past week, he doubted even Jared saw her before nine at night. No one worked that much overtime. How Jared was swallowing that thin excuse, Jensen had no idea. Hell, even Milo had raised his eyebrows when he found that one out. Then again, Milo had thrown out a simple sentence that had ended their relationship.
And the more Jensen looked at it, the truer it had felt and he really didn’t want to crash Jared and Geneveive’s Christmas. Hell, Genevieve could probably see it, which is why she didn’t like him. He could easily say he didn’t really like her, given her shitty treatment of Jared.
“So, what are you doing for Christmas then? Having people round? Going skiing in the French Alps? Eat some, I dunno, frog legs and foie gras?”
Jensen didn’t hide his initial revulsion when he said, “No, nothing poncy like that, thanks. Jared actually invited me up with him and his girlfriend to his parents’ place. He’s been going on about this reveillion thing.”
“Revel thing?” Danneel echoed. “What’s that?”
“Some big dinner thing at midnight apparently. We’re leaving at four in the morning. Apparently there’s less traffic and we’ll get there in time for a late breakfast.”
“Oh, that sounds nice. Is it bad that I still think it’s hilarious that you knew him when you were a kid?”
Not for the umpteenth time, Jensen sometimes wished Danneel didn’t have long, in-depth conversations with his mother. And his father. And his siblings. But Danneel kept talking and Jensen just grabbed a few sweaters, turtlenecks and jeans from their hangars before folding them up.
“I mean, what are the chances? And now you’re heading up for Christmas at his place with him and the girlfriend? You sure you’re not being vetted for a threesome there Jensen?”
That got a sharp bark of laughter from him. Yeah, that would happen the day Geneveive looked at him without convenying the intent to eventually claw his face off with her bare hands with a stare. That girl took territorial and possessive to a new level. It wasn’t like Jensen was going to pounce on his freaking best friend.
“Trust me. That’ll never happen in a million years. Besides, it’s almost four in the morning, and I still haven’t packed much.”
“Have clean underwear? Socks? Toothbrush? Toothpaste? Clothes?” Danneel paused for a moment before adding on, “Lube? Dildo?”
“Ha. You’re funny.” Jensen drawled as the clothes went into the bag and he headed to the bathroom. “Knowing my luck if I did pack that, something would happen and it’d be a scene worthy of a sitcom.”
That got a round of laughter from Danneel. “Yeah, something happens, the contents of your bag spill out and, hey, there’s a vibrator buzzing away in the snow.”
“Always nice to have a sympathetic ear.” Jensen grabbed the necessities from the cabinet before heading back to the bedroom.
“S’what I’m here for,” Danneel purred. “Aw well, I’m going to miss you this Christmas.”
“And I’ll miss your egg nog. Though I swear it’s just basically mulled rum,” Jensen answered easily, ignoring the homesick pang that settled in his chest. “But I did finish off shopping and shipped gifts over.”
“Great big huge box going to your parents’s place, right?”
“Should get there by the twenty-third.”
“This Thursday? Damn, that’s fast.” Danneel sounded suitably impressed. “Okay, it’s almost four there, Jared’s probably charging up the stairs to your place so I’m going to let you go so you can finish packing, ‘kay?”
“All right,” Jensen didn’t hide his reluctance to get off the phone. “I’ll call you all again on Christmas, okay?”
“Right. I suspect you’ll be stuffed with food to within an inch of your life. As such if Jared needs to roll you to the phone, you make him do that.”
Jensen laughed. “Bye Danneel.”
The line disconnected and that pang of homesickness felt like it throbbed. Maybe he should have just gone through the insanity of the airport and flown back home for a few days. But he looked back at his half full bag and found himself wondering if he really would have done that. Because, honestly, he was starting to think Jared might have needed him more than he realised.
Milo’s kind, sad words to him reared up in his mind and he pushed it aside for now as he slipped his cell phone back into his pocket. Socks and an extra pair of gloves, a hat and a scarf made its way into the bag before he zipped it shut. He dragged out a messenger bag and tossed in a few manuscripts and a couple red pens. The camera went in – his parents had demanded pictures – and after a moment of thought, so did the iPod. He turned off the bedroom light, then carted the bag out to the front door. He made a large thermos of hot chocolate, put it in the messenger bag and was going through the house unplugging things when a brisk knock came on the front door.
“It’s open.” He called as he reached behind the TV and yanked the cord out.
The hinges creaked a bit and then Jared’s voice echoed slightly as he asked, “Just the two bags?”
“Yep.” Jensen left the living room and headed to the kitchen. “Want anything before we head out?”
“Have any –”
Jensen cut him off at the pass as he reached into a cupboard and pulled out a brown paper bag. “Plain croissants and those chocolate rolls you’re addicted to.”
“Awesome,” Jared peered into the bag before taking a chocolate one and making half of it disappear. “All set in here too?”
Jensen nodded his head as he unplugged the few appliances. “All set. Let’s go.”
Jared grinned at him around a mouthful of pastry and chocolate as he stepped outside the front door. Jensen threw on his jacket, grabbed his bag and locked the door behind him before they headed down the stairs. The air was much colder when they stepped outside and he stuffed his free hand into his jacket pocket as Jared started down the street.
A tiny little Volkswagen sat at the curb, black paint gleaming dully in the street light. It took more willpower than Jensen realised he had to not laugh outright. The mental image of Jared trying to drive that thing was hilarious. But that amusement disappeared when he realised something.
When Jensen glanced over, something in Jared’s face was shuttered as he shrugged. “Apparently, she got called up to Paris yesterday. Some bigshot client asked for her specifically and they sent her up by train.”
There was a part of Jensen that wanted to ask if Jared had double-checked that but the look on his face said not to push it. So Jensen just nodded his head and looked back at the car.
“You actually fit in this thing?”
“I can,” Jared fired back as he walked to the trunk and popped it open. “I like Golfs. Can’t justify buying one though when I can walk to get whatever I need to get.”
“Rental?” Jensen threw his bag in and closed the trunk door.
Jared flashed him a grin and unlocked the door. The beep that came from the car seemed unnaturally loud in the early morning. “Every year, since I moved down here.”
All Jensen did was shake his head as they got in. He was a bit surprised to see that the interior was much roomier than he suspected. He buckled up and rubbed his hands together as Jared fiddled with the heat controls. After a few minutes, warm air blasted out from the vents and Jensen stuck his hands over it.
“Man, how do you get used to the cold?” he rubbed his hands together before placing them back over the vent.
“My blood thickened up when I was a kid. If we’re lucky, there should be snow in Chateauroux.”
A wide grin came to Jared’s face as he looked over Jensen before starting the car and pulling out onto the street. Jensen just stared at him for a few minutes incredulously before speaking.
“How in the hell is that a good thing?”
Jared’s response was to dig a croissant out of the bag and reply with a simple, “You’ll see” before turning his attention to the road. The first hour of driving consisted of them just eating and Jensen doling out hot chocolate by the capful. They had split the last croissant and Jensen finished off the hot chocolate when Jared spoke again.
“So,” there was silence for a moment and then, “Okay, I can’t think of a polite way to ask this. Why did Milo break up with you?”
Jensen inhaled sharply and swore he felt a flake of croissant try to lodge itself in his nose. When he finally finished coughing, he looked over at Jared.
“I told you already.” Jensen said before he finished off the croissant quickly.
“You really expect me to buy that reason?” Jared snorted. “I mean, things were going well and then, bam! Right out of nowhere you break up. I’m not buying the ‘we had a falling out’ line you fed everyone else.”
“Seriously, you want to have this conversation now?” Jensen groaned as he looked out the window.
Quiet fell again and then Jared broke it with, “I just seriously don’t get it. You ever going to tell me?”
Jensen simply shrugged at that and continued staring out the window. That would probably happen when pigs flew. “It’s not like it was a bad break-up. I did talk to him you know.”
“Not a bad break-up?” Jared sputtered. “He disappeared practically right after you two broke up.”
“That was just the timing. You know he spends a month with one of his parents around this time of the year.”
A frown came to Jared’s face. “It’s too coincidental if you ask me.”
It was so hard, so damned hard to not say the same thing back in response to Jared. He would not drag Genevieve into this at all. It would be a low blow and Jensen would be damned if he was the one to say anything to Jared about her. These things had a way of blowing up in his face. This one… Jared would probably have to see for himself.
“We still talk you know. I just talked to him a few hours ago before I called Danneel. He’s out in Anaheim with his mom. They just got back in from Christmas shopping.”
“He won’t pick up when I call.” Jared sounded a bit petulant.
“I’ll yell at him for you when I call him again,” Jensen said easily. “Really, everything is fine between us.”
Jared spared him a glance before looking back at the road. The expression on his face said that he didn’t buy it for a second. But he didn’t ask anything else about it. Jensen breathed a sigh of relief. He didn’t want to lie right to Jared’s face but if Jared had pressed for the reason… well, Jensen knew that he would have evaded the truth as much as possible. Because there was no way in hell that he would tell Jared that unless he absolutely had to.
“Oh hey, did you bring a camera?” Jared’s question was a bit abrupt.
“Um, yeah. Why?”
Jared’s response was to pull over onto the shoulder and kill the engine. Jensen frowned as Jared opened the door, a gust of cold, salty air coming in. He dug out the camera before pulling out a hat and scarf. He bundled up and got out of the car The stretch of highway was empty this early in the morning. The sky was brightening with the coming dawn, streaks of bright blue chasing away the grey and navy. Jensen looked over to see that Jared had his hands in his pockets and a soft smile on his face as he looked out at the ocean. Before he even realised what he was doing, he’d flicked the camera on and snapped a picture.
The sound of the shutter going made Jared look over. A corner of his mouth crooked up and Jensen found himself snapping another.
“Wait until the sun rises.”
The minutes slowly went by and as the sky lightened, Jensen felt more sure that there were better things he could be doing rather than freezing his ass off on a highway as sunrise came. But then, a tiny sliver of orange appeared on the horizon line of the sea. It slowly rose up and even as a few cars came zipping along past them on the highway, Jensen stood and watched. Watched as the sun rose in a triumphant blaze from the sea, casting light along the water and into the sky. When Jared nudged him gently, he yanked his hands from his pockets and fumbled for the camera.
His fingers didn’t really want to work in the cold, but he managed to get a few good shots before he shoved his hands back into his pockets.
“We just stood here for half an hour watching the sun rise.” Jensen finally said as the sun continued.
“Yep.” Jared agreed.
“Totally worth it,” Jensen added on a few minutes later. “Even if I’m freezing my ass off.”
Jared laughed at that. “Okay, on the road then.”
When they got back into the car and started on the road again, Jensen didn’t even feel a little bad that it was just him and Jared heading up to Chateauroux. He supposed he should, but honestly, it was Christmas. He wasn’t heading home but he got to spend it with Jared and his family… which Jensen strongly suspected would almost be like being back home. He took a deep breath, shifted in the seat and smiled as he started tapping his fingers along in beat to the carol blaring from the radio. It was Christmas and he was going to just relax, unwind and enjoy himself.
The road curved along the coast and then started north, passing through stretches of farmland. Time seemed to meld together, though Jensen wasn’t sure when Jared had turned on the radio and cranked it up. It was hard to concentrate as Jared started singing along to the carols, fingers tapping against the steering wheel. When he glanced over at Jensen and started singing more loudly, it was hard to not grin.
Jared kept singing and poked at Jensen with a finger. After a few minutes of this, Jensen caved. The manuscript was shoved back into the bag and he joined in. The rest of the drive up was spent alternating between singing carols – badly – and just talking. Jared didn’t bring up Milo again and Jensen mainly asked about Jared’s family.
By the time they turned off the highway and onto a street, Jensen knew plenty about Jared’s family. Jared’s mom teached American literature at a university and his dad, Gerald, was a corporate tax accountant. His older brother, Jeff, was a doctor up in Calais and his younger sister Megan was finishing up her studies at some school in Toulouse. When Jared mentioned something about some chemistry program, Jensen felt the first tendrils of panic creep in. So far, Jared’s family was sounding ridiculously accomplished.
Though Jared hadn’t found his comment of, “So an editor, translator, chemist and doctor walk into a bar…” very funny. And now, they were driving down some quiet country road and –
“There’s the house!”
Jared’s excited tone even had Jensen leaning forward to see. The terracotta roof winked between the trees and as the car came around the bend and up to the driveway, a white house was revealed. There were three cars parked in the driveway and Jared pulled the Golf in beside a tree then honked a few times before killing the engine.
That nervous feeling in Jensen’s gut twisted sharply as they got out of the car. He slung his bag over his shoulder and closed the door before heading for the trunk. They’d just pulled their bags out when the sound of the front door opening came and feet pounded down the steps and driveway.
All Jensen saw was a blur of motion and then someone had plastered themselves to Jared, a babble of rapid-fire French leaving him confused. After a few minutes, Jared eased back, revealing a woman with long brown hair. Her eyes settled on him and her gaze flicked back to Jared.
“Genevieve n’est pas avec toi?” one of her eyebrows arched up.
“Non,” Jared pointedly ignored his sister’s snort. He turned and gestured to Jensen. “C’est –”
She gave Jensen an appraising look and then asked, “Ton nouveau copain, il s’appelle comment?”
Jared’s face went bright red and he started sputtering out answers that were tripping up his tongue. Jensen just stepped forward, offering his hand.
“Je m'appelle Jensen. Jensen Ackles.”
“Megan Padalecki,” she said, narrowing her eyes at him. “You’re the one he keeps talking about?”
“I guess,” Jensen said in surprise. He hadn’t been expecting Megan to talk in English. He looked back to see Jared’s face bright red. “I know he wouldn’t take no for an answer when I said I wasn’t heading home for Christmas.”
“That sounds like him all right,” Megan took in his confusion and laughed. “Our parents made us keep speaking English. Hopefully, I don’t sound too dreadful?”
“No. Just… I’m hoping my French doesn’t sound godawful.”
“With my brother teaching you I doubt it. He’s finally putting one of his degrees to some use.”
“One of?” Jensen asked. His education was something Jared was surprisingly tight-lipped about.
“Why don’t we head in instead?” Jared said easily shouldering his bag. And then as if to deflect the conversation, “Do you know when it’s supposed to snow Megs?”
“Vendredi. Pourquoi?” Megan looked at her brother.
“Jensen’s never seen snow before.” Jared said simply.
At that pronouncement, Megan’s eyes went wide and before Jensen knew it five million suggestions of things to do while he was there were being flung his way. Jared looked at him over Megan’s head and Jensen pulled a face while mouthing, “Merci beau-fucking-coup.”
Jared’s mouth twisted into a strange sort frown and it took Jensen a moment to realise that he was fighting the smile, and probably laughter, that wanted to escape. As Megan started up the stairs, still talking, Jared simply murmured, “De rien. Et merci beaucoup” softly enough for Jensen to hear. All Jensen did was huff and smile a bit in response.
The dim sunlight filtering through the curtains made Jared blink and look around. It took him a moment to remember he was in his old room at his parents house. He’d driven up with Jensen two days ago. His brother Jeff had arrived later that same evening and now, two days later, it was Christmas Eve. The past two days had been fill with carols playing, his dad’s amazing mulled wine and just catching up.
Everyone had taken a liking to Jensen. That first night there, they’d all sat around the fireplace and talked. His parents especially remembered him as the ‘scrawny kid who looked after our boy.’ That had earned a bright red face from Jensen and a half-hearted shrug before he took a long swallow of wine.
Though, Jared was sure Jensen must have picked up on his family’s dislike of Genevieve. His mom and dad kept exchanging glances when she was mentioned. Megan didn’t bother to hide her dislike, made no effort to. Jeff was the only one to treat the situation with some degree of privacy and tact. However, Jeff’s exact words were, “You’re here, she’s supposedly off in Paris. Think it’s odd that she’s gone so much? Or that in one day you’ve relaxed more with Jensen here than you ever did with her?”
He hadn’t said anything else afterwards.
Jared tried to not think about Jeff’s words and had managed not to for two whole days. And later on that afternoon as Jensen helped him set up the thirteen desserts on the table, he realised that Jeff was right. He had more fun and was more relaxed with Jensen around than he had realised. If Genevieve had come, there would have been underlying tension. Genevieve had always said that was because his sister was borderline rude. But Megan was doing the exact same thing with Jensen… and he wasn’t having a problem with it.
He sat up on the bed and ran a hand through his hair as he took a deep breath. The smell of turkey and stuffing reached his nose and he breathed a bit more deeply. His mom had kicked everyone else out of the kitchen barring Jeff and insisted on them being left alone to finish off the meal preparations. Jared had helped his dad string up the last few lights while Megan insisted on showing Jensen around the house a bit more. What good that would do, Jared didn’t know but –
A soft knock on the bedroom door made him reach over and flick on the light. “Mm, entrez.”
Jensen’s head poked around the side. “Sherri was wondering if you were up. She said it’s time?”
“It is?” Jared glanced at the clock and saw that it was just after nine. “Crap, it is. Um, gimme a bit, I’ll be down in a second.”
“You take too long and I might eat all the calisson you brought.” Jensen warned as he closed the door.
It took Jared a moment to pull himself together and head to the bathroom for a quick leak. When he came downstairs, everyone was in the living room. Jeff, Megan and Jensen were all squashed in the large leather sofa while his parents were on the loveseat. The single arm chair was pulled in closer and a mug of mulled wine waiting for him on the coffee table. He blinked and sat down, picking up the mug and letting the flow of conversation wash over him until he really woke up. Jeff was the first to notice when he really came to.
“Finally with us?” Jeff raised his own mug in salute with a grin.
“Leave him be. He was helping me string up lights.” Gerald gave Jeff a stern look.
Jared added on, “A nap never hurts.”
“You slept for almost four hours,” Jensen chimed in. “That’s a pretty long nap if you ask me.”
Jared made a face and took another drink of wine. “Next time, you can do it.”
That got a roar of laughter from everyone and Jared would have grinned. But there was a momentary guarded expression on Jensen’s face that made him think that he might have crossed some line without knowing it. But then his mom was up saying she had made some fougasse that Jared loved so much and the eating started. More drinks flowed and the food came on steadily. It seemed to all blur together and the next thing Jared knew, it was just midnight and the remains of the Christmas dinner were left on the table. Megan shooed everyone off to the living room, but roped Jensen into helping her put stuff away. Jared had lingered, now sure that Megan was up to something. But Jensen had shoved him out, claiming, “If I can handle my own sister, I can handle her. Go bug your parents.”
He plopped himsef down on the couch beside Jeff, comfortably full and pretty sure he couldn’t possibly eat anything else. An elbow nudged into his side and he groaned.
“No more.” Jared tried to roll away from the offending prod.
Jeff chuckled. “Tu as oublié le gâteau?”
Jared groaned again. The cake was eaten last and signaled the start of opening Christmas gifts. A small part of Jared wished that they hadnt messed up the date of when the cake was supposed to be eaten. It meant they’d be eating it in January rather than now. There was just no way –
Megan came out of the kitchen with slices of cake arranged on a plate. Jensen followed behind her, small dessert plates and forks in hand. Mugs were hastily moved on the coffee table and space made. There was a grin on Megan’s face as she handed a plate to Jared and then everyone else. Jensen sat down beside him, looking at the fruit flecked pastry as Megan went back to the kicthen and came back carrying a large carafe of some kind.
“Hot chocolate.” Jared explained. “And then it’s presents.”
“Ugh,” Jensen took a bite of cake. “So, Provence is downhill, right?”
“It’s to the south. Why?” Gerald asked.
“I’m just thinking we might not fit in the car. You can just sort of start us home by rolling us in the right direction,” Jensen paused for a moment as he took another bite of cake. “This is really good though.”
Snickers started at that and Jeff piped in, “Don’t worry I’m a doctor. I’ll prescribe you two of something and send you and Jared on along your merry way.”
“And we can always trundle you off on the train and Megan can drive the car back.” Sherri pointed out.
“Mom.” That was all the protest needed from Megan.
“What? Toulouse isn’t far from Provence.” Sherri looked at her mildly. “Besides, you probably don’t visit your brother enough.”
Yeah, that’d be my excuse if I was about a day’s drive away from him,” Jeff said mildly.
“Hey, lab work is intensive and time-consuming. You should know that, what with neurology and all.”
Jensen’s elbow prodded him gently. When Jared looked over, Jensen mouthed, ‘Lab work?’ A quick glance between Jeff and Megan showed they were still arguing so Jared nodded and mouthed back, ‘L’Oreal.’ Jensen barely suppressed his snicker and took another bite of cake. And then promptly swore. Jared looked at him for a second, puzzled before he realised what Jensen must have found in the cake.
“Ah! Il a trouvé la fève!” Sherri got up from her seat and came over.
There was a confused look on Jensen’s face as he spit a ring out into the palm of his hand. The ring was deftly scooped up before she disappeared down the hallway. Jared just grinned and shovelled cake into his mouth. When the old, battered gold crown was brought out, Jensen managed to protest for all of five seconds before anything further just stopped. Jared couldn’t hide the snicker that escaped as the crown was settled on Jensen’s head.
“Pour mon fils.”
That earned laughter from everybody else and wiped the grin from Jared’s face as his mom took his hand and shoved the ring on the pinky finger. He opened his mouth to protest but his mom gave him that sweet smile and followed it up with,
“Garde-la pour Jensen?”
Just how was he supposed to say no to that? She went to sit back down beside his dad and Jared could have sworn there was an inordinately pleased look on her face. When he looked over at Jensen, all he got was a raised eyebrow before Jensen ate a bit more cake. Not that the eating lasted much longer since Jeff declared it was well past the time for gifts to be opened. The next two hours were lost in a flurry of wrapping paper being opened and squeals of delight. What Jared hadn’t been expecting was for Jensen to have gotten stuff for his family.
By the time it all winded down, the minute hand on the clock was creeping close to half past, while the hour was just past four. His mom and dad had been the first to go up, thanking everyone for the lovely gifts and admonishing them to not stay up too late. Megan went up soon after and Jeff made a half-hearted effort to help them clean up. When Jared caught him practically dozing on his feet, he sent him upstairs.
He and Jensen cleaned up the scattered bits of wrapping paper, stuffing them in a large garbage bag before Jensen started clearing away the dishes. Jared killed the lights in the living room and ambled to the kitchen, dropping the garbage bag in a corner.
“For the record,” Jensen rubbed at his eyes before he picked up the scrubber and started cleaning. “Your family is pretty awesome. Megan reminds me of my younger sister.”
“Mackenzie, right?” Jared picked up the tea towel and started drying and putting the cups away. “And your older brother, um, James? How’s he doing?”
“Josh,” Jensen corrected. “They’re all asleep right now. I’ll give them a call when I wake up later.”
“Use the landline. It’s cheaper,” Jared paused and frowned. “I should be washing up you know.”
Jensen’s response was to shrug and place another wet cup in Jared’s hands. A sigh came from Jared and Jensen snorted in amusement. After a few seconds, Jared looked over to find Jensen looking at his hand absently, where the gold ring gleamed dully in the dim kitchen light.
“Is there a reason why there was a ring baked into the cake?” Jensen asked quietly.
Jared chuckled and shrugged. “Funny story about the cake. It’s really not supposed to be eaten until Epiphany.”
“Um… no idea what that is. Not Roman Catholic.”
“Right. Epiphany. January sixth, when then wise men found baby Jesus. That’s why it’s called galette des rois. King cake. Genevieve always called it Three Kings cake. The ring, well that was all we could find to bake in it our first year here. No dried bean, no baby figurine… nothing. So Mom cleaned up this old battered ring she had and baked into the cake.”
“And the crown is for…”
“You ever know a king to not have a crown?”
That got a laugh from Jensen. “Think I’ll take the ring, thanks.”
“Ah, no can do. You find the ring, you wear the crown –” Jared started.
“Eat the cake and pay my dues?” Jensen interrupted.
“Precisely,” Jared took the mug from Jensen and looked at the counter. “Just the carafe left?”
“Yeah, then we can pack it in for the night.”
“All right. You finish that and I’ll get the couch set up.”
Jared didn’t really leave Jensen with room to protest as he quickly put the mugs away, threw the tea towel on Jensen’s shoulder and headed back to the living room. The cushions were taken off and the mattress pulled out. By the time Jensen finished up in the kitchen, Jared had the bed made and the cushions tucked back into place.
“God, what time is it now?” Jensen pulled the crown from his head and rubbed at his eyes once more.
“Just after four thirty,” Jared stifled a yawn of his own. “Just wake up whenever you like. We all sleep in anyhow.”
“Sounds good.” Jensen walked over to the window and pulled back one of the venetian slats. “Well, I guess the weather report was right for once.”
Jared came over as Jensen opened the sliding door. The air was cold, but Jensen stepped out onto the terrace in his socked feet, head tilted back to look at the sky. A grin came to Jared’s face as he stepped out as well. Snow was falling rapidly from the sky, piling up on any available surface. He leaned against the door frame, watching as Jensen just stood there,. After a few moments, Jensen closed his eyes and a slow smile came to his face.
And just like that, Jared was sure he didn’t want to look away. That this serene, exhausted look on Jensen’s face as the snow fell and stuck to his hair and sweater, it was probably one of the best things that he’d ever seen during his Christmas holidays. Jared blinked a few times and when he looked, Jensen was standing in front of him, limned in snowflakes.
“You’re falling asleep.”
For a moment, Jared thought about denying it but just shrugged and nodded his head. “It’s been a long day.”
That was the only sound of agreement that Jensen made as he shook the snow from his head. Jared shifted feeling the sudden urge to do something, anything. He crossed his arms and shifted leaving Jensen enough room to slip back inside the house. When Jared closed the door and locked it, he still stood there, trying to shake that feeling that demanded action.
“Um, have enough blankets? Pillows?”
“Yeah,” Jensen sat on the arm of the couch, watching Jared quietly before asking, “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Mm. Just crashing,” Jared ran a hand through his hair and gave a faint smile. “I’ll see you in the morning, all right?”
There was a murmur of agreement from Jensen followed by a soft, “Bon soir.” Jared murmured the same as he started for the hallway and then the stairs. And even as he walked up to his old room, Jared was sure that if he went back down, he’d find Jensen sitting there and waiting for him.
This was not a spring like Jensen had ever known. In Dallas it was either pleasant or raining, though the latter option seemed to happen more often than he would have liked. Here in Aix-en-provence, for some reason, the cold gusts of wind were still coming. And it was April. He slouched on his couch and debated turning the heat up… which sounded more than a bit ridiculous in his mind.
The days since Christmas seemed to blur together. The edited manuscripts were looked over once more and the authors brought in for a meeting. Jensen knew a lot of editors who just sent out letters detailing the content changes needed. But he preferred to sit down with the authors and discusss their work with them. It was much easier for someone to get non-confrontational about changes when the person suggesting them was right in front of their face. Well, usually.
But all the authors he met with took the changes well and when the manuscripts came in again, the office had been buzzing. Sandy had grinned like a loon and predicted their best summer season ever. Jensen wasn’t saying anything yet.
Weeks later, and so many meetings on cover design, licensing, marketing and five million other things, Jensen had everything ready to go. The books were ready to be released at the end of May, a few weeks ahead of schedule. Jensen was also pretty sure that he was glad to be nowhere near the office this weekend. That being said, there would probably be something that would crop up.
Jared… all Jensen knew was that Jared had turned into a work machine. The manuscript went home with Jared and he usually had it turned around in two weeks. And he managed to do it without turning into a virtual zombie.
No point in dwelling on work though. He was off and intent on relaxing. A growl from his stomach proved that something to eat wouldn’t be amiss either. When he went to the kitchen looking for the bread, he found himself lacking bread. And the fridge was looking a little bare too. With a huff, he threw on a hoodie, stuffed his feet into a pair of sneakers and opened the door.
He wasn’t expecting to see Milo there, a hand raised about to knock. A smile came to his face as he stepped out and locked the door before giving Milo a hug.
“I was just stepping out to buy some bread.”
“And I was wondering if you were doing anything,” Milo wrinkled his nose. “I don’t want to go back to the bakery.”
“Well, I’m not going to Aldi. Your bread is better.” Jensen pulled Milo into a brief hug. “Last I heard you were seeing a certain Zachary?”
Milo’s face flushed and he said politely. “He’s back in Madrid for a bit.”
“And he doesn’t have a problem with you visiting me?” Jensen started walking. He couldn’t have stopped the bitter tone to his voice if he tried.
“No, why would he? I explained that we’re friends now. And besides I’m with him, not you so if he can’t get his mind wrapped around that… ce n’est pas mon problème.” Milo was quiet for a moment, taking in Jensen’s expression. “Oh. Never mind.”
Jensen just shrugged and they walked in silence for a moment. Ever since spending Christmas with Jared and his family, Genevieve didn’t even attempt to hide her dislike. Jared usually came over to his place and Jensen stayed the hell away from Jared’s. The last thing Jensen wanted in any shape, form or fashion was drama. Milo sometimes came over and the food and drinks would flow and it would all be relaxed. Milo had picked up quickly that Jared didn’t really want to talk about Genevieve with them. He just lapsed into silence or simply wouldn’t answer the question. But Jensen could see the turmoil in his eyes and wondered why the hell Jared would putting himself through this for so damned long.
“So, the tickets I got for me and Zach, they’re for a play tonight. Hate to see them go to waste,” Milo patted his jacket pocket.
“I’m not really –”
“I’ll throw in some of those bagels you like.” When Jensen remained silent, Milo added on, “Croissants? Those chocolate rolls Jared likes. Hell, I’ll make him a fougasse, how’s that?”
Jensen snorted. “You’re trying to bribe me through Jared? I mean… you do know how bribery usually works, right?”
“I do. I also know that you’d pretty much do anything to make sure he’s not miserable.”
Jensen snorted and Milo gave him a sly look that said he begged to differ. With a dry laugh, Jensen rubbed his hand over his face. God, was he really being that transparent about it? He’d hoped he was doing the mature thing and not being obvious. Even if it was getting him into a lot of shit with Genevieve. This whole situation was fucked up and felt like a powder keg waiting to go off and –
When they turned and looked down the narrow street, Jared was jogging up to them with leashes in hand and…
“Deux chiens?” Milo sputtered in surprise. “Où as-tu trouvé ?”
“Gen les a rapporté de la fourrière.”
If Jensen hadn’t been looking, he wouldn’t have seen the displeasure flit across Jared’s face. Milo didn’t say anything as one of the dogs enthusiastically started sniffing at his feet. The other one made a direct beeline for Jensen’s crotch.
“Someone has manners.” Jensen chuckled as he stepped back and crouched down.
He got a near lapful of enthusiastic dog and a tongue licking his face. When he petted the head and slid his hands down to the ruff for a good scratch, the dog leaned in against him while panting happily.
“What’s her name?” Jensen couldn’t help but grin as he looked up at Jared.
“Sadie. The joker here is Harley. Sorry Milo.” Jared tugged on the leash gently, pulling Harley back. “So what are you guys up to?”
“I’m trying to get rid of some tickets for a play and Jensen’s not biting. Sandy likes plays, right?”
“Alexis does more. Try her.” Jared said.
“I’ll do that. You busy later on?” Milo turned to Jared.
“Don’t think I’ll be, why?”
There was a puzzled look on Jared’s face and even Jensen found himself curious about what Milo had to say. But all Milo did was say that he’d call later and next thing Jensen knew, he was jogging off. When Jensen straightened up, Jared was smiling at him.
“Let’s go to Cours Mirabeau.”
Jensen really hated to be a wet blanket but, “I just popped out for bread.”
“We can pick some up there.”
There was a oddly strained expression to Jared’s face, so Jensen just nodded and they started walking. Nothing was said and all that broke the silence was the sound of the dogs panting and sniffing at things. After a few minutes, Jensen decided to go for it.
“What the hell is wrong?”
And just like that, there’s tension crackling between them. Jared didn’t say anything for a few minutes. He just watched as Sadie and Harley ran with the bit of leash they had. They just walked through the narrow side streets. It was only when they stepped out onto Cours Mirabeau, with it’s flowering trees, that Jared finally said something.
“Genevieve and I had a talk,” Jared paused for a moment. “About us. About her being away so much.”
“Yeah? And?” Jensen didn’t want to say how all her absences had smacked of an affair, but he wasn’t going down that path.
“She says she’s put her foot down. Not working all those crazy hours. But she thinks she might get promoted sooner after all that solid overtime she put in.”
Jensen had a sneaking suspicion that there was something else. “You sound thrilled about that.”
“I should be, shouldn’t I?” Jared switched both leashes to one hand and rubbed at the back of his neck. “But it feels like it’s too little too late. But I should give it a shot, you know?”
Just like that, worry needled Jensen’s stomach. He looked around, thankfully spotting a bakery up ahead. “Give me a second. Gotta go… you know, get my bread.”
When Jared just nodded instead of cracking a joke of some kind, the worry immediately morphed to nausea. He felt like he was going through the motions of buying the baguettes. Euros were retrieved from his pocket and doled out. Walking out of the bakery with two loaves, it felt a bit like walking towards something unknown and horrible. All Jensen could think was he had breakups that went like this. He didn’t see Jared immediately when he came back out but he spotted the dogs.
Leaning against one of the trees, Jared had his arms crossed and a thoughtful look on his face. And Jensen just knew that whatever Jared was going to tell him, it wasn’t going to be good. He schooled his face into a stoic expression and just stood there, waiting for Jared to notice him.
“Oh, back,” Jared shot to his feet. A smile came to his face and vanished when he saw Jensen’s expression. “What?”
“There’s something else you’re not saying. Just spit it out.”
Now Jared looked uncomfortable but he didn’t skirt around it. “She wants me to stop seeing you.”
It took Jensen a moment to pull his wits back together. “Excuse me?”
“It’s the whole Renaldo thing again,” Jared paused for a moment before he added on quietly, “I told her I’d think about it.”
With one sentence, Jared left Jensen speechless and unsure of precisely what to do. It took a few minutes for Jensen to decide that he officially had enough of this Saturday. He just nodded his head and started walking away.
“Jensen, wait –” Jared started after him.
“No, you know what? You obviously need to think about it. So that’s what I’m gonna do. Let you think about it. Because the last thing you need is more problems from Genevieve. When you’ve decided on her shitty ultimatium that’s making you choose between her and a friend, you let me know what you’ve decided.”
He didn’t bother to hide the sneer in his voice. He walked away quickly, fingers digging into the ends of the baguettes. If he didn’t grab them, he was liable to try and punch something.
Jensen didn’t, and couldn’t, bring himself to look back at Jared once.
Jared wished he could say that the week was going well for him. He and Genevieve were trying to make it work. And he was trying to put the effort in, but Genevieve’s request and Jensen’s reaction had left him feeling strained and pushed to the limit. He didn’t really go into the office, finishing off the last of his translating projects. There was nothing new at the moment that required his attention.
So he spent the time at home, training Sadie and Harley. He loved the dogs, he really did. But they kind of felt like a buy off, like Genevive got them for him to keep him happy. Happy, distracted and quiet, truth be told. It left a bad feeling just thinking about it. But true to her word now, she was coming home earlier. She didn’t seem as snappish as she has been. Plus she just seemed happier all around, about everything.
All Jared could wonder was how long it would take for everything to backslide again. For Geneveive to be back at the spa working those ridiculous hours.
The phone rang, startling Jared a bit. He reached over and picked it up. Before he even said anything, Megan’s voice sounded on the line.
“Jared, don’t you answer your cell? Christ, I’ve been trying to get a hold of you all day.”
“Hi to you too,” Jared glanced at his watch and realised Genevieve would be home any moment. “Hey, can I call you back?”
“No, you can’t,” Megan said. “Milo called me. And it’s –”
The sound of a key in the door caught Jared’s attention. The dogs scrambled to the door, tails wagging in anticipation. “Gotta go” was all Jared said in reply before he placed the reciever back down and jogged over to the door. Genevieve just cracked the door open when he got there. He pushed Sadie and Harley back with his feet as she slipped in with a bagful of groceries.
“I thought we could make tuna tonight. You know, à la Provencal.” She paused as he remained silent. “What, what’s the problem?”
“I want us to work,” Jared spoke slowly. It felt like he was forcing himself to say rote words he didn’t believe himself. “I’ll do what you asked.”
She turned to look at him for a long moment before she leaned forward, rubbing his arm. “You’re sure? Absolutely sure?”
That made a flash of irritation go through Jared and his voice was a bit clipped as he replied, “Yeah, I am. I just, you know, need to go let Jensen know.”
“Last time, okay?”
Jared nodded and headed for the living room. After a moment, he changed his mind and headed to the bedroom. His cell was still sitting on the nightstand charging. When he picked it up and unplugged it, his heart felt heavy and almost everything in his brain was screaming at him that this was a bad idea.
His mouth felt like dry sandpaper as he dialled the number and waited. It rang once, twice… by the sixth ring, Jared was half convinced that Jensen wouldn’t pick up and he’d get to do the truly asshole thing and leave a message. But Jensen picked up on the seventh ring, before it went to voicemail.
“Hey Jared.” Jensen’s tone was cool.
“Hey,” Jared didn’t blame him for that. “So, um, I’ve decided.”
There was a long silence from Jensen. “And?”
“…I’m going to try and make it work. I’m sorry, but I’m- I’m going to try.”
Jared finished talking and stared at the phone. All he heard was the drone of the the disconnect signal. It went on for a few seconds and then silence. Pressing the end button on his phone had never been so depressing in his fucking life. And Jared still couldn’t shake the feeling like he was making one of the biggest mistakes of his life.
Pissed didn’t even begin to cover how Jensen was feeling. True he’d been a bit of a workaholic, but damn, he’d never did anything like what Jared had done to him a couple of days ago. The rest of the week had loomed ahead after that evening phone call. At work, well, he and Jared all polite professionalism. Once five in the afternoon hit though, Jensen was out of there. He didn’t know what he could say to Jared that wouldn’t be angry.
On one hand, Jensen could truly commend Jared’s commitment to making it work. But fuck, when it came at the expense of friends, Jensen didn’t think it was well worth it. And so here he was staring down another weekend with nothing really to do. He wouldn’t touch the booze, because alcoholics drank alone and the last thing he wanted was to go out and bump into Jared fucking Padalecki.
What he did have were some new manuscripts he was eyeing for the upcoming fall and Christmas season. With a good amount of work, there were some that he was convinced could –
A soft knock on his door made him look over. With a frown, he jammed the pen behind his ear and went to answer it. He was not expecting to see Megan standing on the other side, along with Sandy and Alexis.
“Ladies,” Jensen stepped to the side with a flourish and let them in.
“We heard what that asshole did,” Sandy said viciously as she walked in. “I have a right mind to –”
“Wait, what are we talking about?”
Megan looked confused. Jensen waved a hand but Alexis spoke up.
“Geneveive gave Jared an ultimatum: her or Jensen.”
“Are you kidding me?” Megan looked incredulous for a moment before she settled for angry. “Je vais tuer la salope –”
She turned to leave when Jensen caught her arm and pulled her back in gently. “No, Jared’s made his choice –” he started.
“The wrong damned one. And I just came by to see if he was here. Guess not, the fucker.”
Megan stomped into the apartment. Jensen took a deep breath before he closed and locked the door behind him. Sandy and Alexis were already in the living room. Jensen made a beeline for the kitchen and started taking things out of the cupboard. He had fresh tapenade and probably enough meat and vegetable for a quick stew and –
“Are you really going to just let him do this?”
Jensen jumped a bit. “God, you walk like a freakin’ cat. Quit it. My sister did that enough to me.” He finished off with a grumble.
“Well?” Megan demanded as she leaned against the counter.
“Megan, we’re just friends –”
“Bullshit,” she snorted. “Anyone with half a brain can see that –”
“And that’s how it’s going to stay!” Jensen snapped in exasperation as he banged a jar down on the counter. He remained silent for a moment and then said, “Look. Jared’s made his choice and I’m going to respect it. End of the matter.”
“Even if Genevieve was cheating on him?”
Just like that, the ugly words that Jensen couldn’t bring himself to say were out there. He scowled and unscrewed the lid from the tapenade jar. Megan’s gaze was heavy on him, unwavering, as he doled out tapenade into a dipping bowl and started slicing up bread. He tightened his grip on the bread knife and looked at her.
“What? Seriously, what?”
“You’ve got nothing to say to that?”
Jensen just stared at her for a long moment. “You think I’m just going to go waltzing up to my friend, who just agreed to not see me ever again, and start spouting off about Genevieve cheating on him? How the fuck do you think that would look?”
“Like you give a shit, that’s what.”
“Yeah, won’t look self-serving in the slightest.”
He finished setting up the plate and started for the living room. Megan grumbled something he didn’t quite catch and slipped the plate from his hands before heading to the living room. Jensen didn’t question it, just got a pot of water on the stove to start boiling and pulled things from the fridge and cupboard. By the time Megan ambled back in, he was finishing up washing the vegetables. She had a bottle of wine that she placed down on the counter. When Jensen fished out the corkscrew from the first drawer and handed it to her.
“Thanks,” Megan screwed it in before she stopped, hands on the bottle. “So the fact that he’s in love with you –”
“I’m not in love with him,” Jensen said before the words sunk into his head. “Wait what? No he isn’t.”
Megan’s voice was crisp when she said, “I think I know my own brother, thanks. And everything I’ve seen says that he’s in love with you.”
“No he’s not. He’s trying to make it work with Genevieve.”
Jensen started chopping up vegetables, not looking Megan in the face. Because anything else was preferable to those dangerous words she just said. There was a softly uttered, ‘Merde’ and Megan was popping the cork from the bottle. He silently opened the cupboard, revealing the wine glasses. She took four and headed to the doorway.
“You know,” she paused there for a moment. “I can’t believe the two of you are going to let your pig-headedness get in the way. Just… incroyable.”
Jensen didn’t say a thing, just finished chopping stuff up for the stew before he dumped it into the pot. The meat was quickly sauteed and then tossed in the pot. By the time Jensen left the kitchen, dinner was simmering on the stove and well on its way. Sandy wasted no time as soon as he sat down on the couch, shoving a beer into his hand and pulling him into the conversation.
It seemed like there was always a beer in his hand and something bitingly hilarious being said. But Megan’s words echoed in his head, something he wasn’t quite able to shake. He got up every once in awhile to check on the stew. As soon as it was done, he doled out huge bowls, brought out a baguette and everyone dug in. The conversation somehow settled on terrible things exes had done and halfway through the night, Jensen was pretty sure he’d laughed himself sick. Or at least so much that he had to run to the bathroom to take a leak. When Sandy and Alexis got started, there was no stopping them. And Megan, her sarcasm would have left more insecure people begging for a shrink.
It was so much easier to sit here, to laugh, talk, eat and drink and try to not think of Jared. Not having him there felt like a dull ache and Jensen figured the best thing to do was just keep on. So when four in the morning rolled around and they were polishing off the last of the beer, Jensen couldn’t deny that he was buzzed, comfortable and happy to stay this way for the rest of his life if he could. Alexis slouched forward, pressing another beer into his hand. It took him a few seconds to realise she was talking to him.
“… know what you should do,” she stared at him intently. “Go to Italy for the weekend. Forget him. Just… go for a weekend or until Monday, Tuesday… you know. And find someone good looking –”
“Good looks count for shit sometimes,” Sandy snorted before she pounded back the rest of her beer.
“No no, I think she’s onto something,” Megan pushed herself up from the couch and leaned in closer to Jensen. “You might as well try to move on since you’re too chickenshit to do anything about it. Just go have some weekend fling. Work, I dunno, something out of your system.”
“Italy’s too far away,” Jensen snorted. He took a pull of beer, then, “Besides, there’s too much to do.”
“Pfft,” Sandy waved a hand in dismissal. “Torino’s like, two hours away. And your job is nothing I haven’t done before. I say you go, have a great weekend, get laid,”
“Often!” Alexis said as she staggered to her feet and disappeared down the hallway.
“And seriously just forget about Jared. He’s made his bed, let him lie in it. That damned weird, miserable thing that he calls a bed. Relationship. I dunno.” Sandy shrugged and blinked at the table. “No more beer.”
“I’m not going to run away from the problem –” Jensen began.
Megan snorted beside him while Sandy sputtered, “That’s what any sane person does! You have to get away from the problem, step back, in order to figure out how to solve it.”
“No point in you staying here and mooning over him,” Megan stood up. “They’re right. Try to move on and develop something with someone who realises what a fucking catch you are.”
Jensen blinked as Megan settled a hand on his shoulder and stared at him… well, owlishly. Her eyes were huge and she was blinking slowly. After a few minutes of this, Jensen broke down laughing. When Megan didn’t say anything or move, his laughter died.
“You…” she began but stopped as if rethinking her words. “Jared’s damned stupid sometimes. Don’t let that hold you back. Land yourself some amazing person and be happy, ‘kay? I like you, I really do. Don’t stay,” she flapped a hand at him. “Mopey.”
“Mopey?” Jensen repeated.
“You have been mopey,” Sandy concurred with a nod of her head. “Holing yourself up in your office, just work, work, work. We don’t truck with zombie editors, thanks.”
“And you know… you’re competent and we’d like to keep you that way.”
Alexis’ voice made him turn to see her coming back from the bedroom with a bulging overnight bag in hand and a laptop bag in the other. He staggered to his feet, swaying a bit. Okay, so a bit more alcohol than he realised. When he made his way over to Alexis, he looked at the bag and then at her.
“What’s this for?”
“Italy!” she beamed at him.
That got hollers from Megan and Sandy. Next thing Jensen knew, his jacket was shoved on and he was being bundled out the door to a waiting taxi. He had no idea when Alexis had even really called. Or figured out where his passport was. Or arranged a rail ticket. He dozed off a bit in the taxi and when Megan was shaking his shoulder, he woke with a start. They all piled out to a fairly empty rail station and Alexis went up to the ticket vendor, jabbering on about something. She still seemed loose and happy from the alcohol buzz. When he looked over at Sandy she had her smart phone out and was tapping away furiously on it.
Jensen was still farily drunk and bemused that he was at a train station, it was almost six in the morning and it felt a bit surreal as to how he got here. Megan looked at him and handed him his bags.
“Alexis says your camera is packed as well as your laptop and enough clothes for a couple of days. How are you for money?”
“Good?” Jensen was sure he had plenty of euros stuffed into his wallet. Then there was always his credit card if push came to shove.
“All right, Your train leaves… in a bit actually. Now, your hotel,” Sandy dug into his pocket and retrieved his cell phone and started pressing buttons. “It’s called Hotel des Artistes, great little place, you’ll love it. Programmed it into your phone for you on the notepad.”
“Your ticket!” Alexis crowed as she came back over and tucked it into the inner pocket of Jensen’s jacket. “Vendor says the train’s leaving in five minutes, so let’s go.”
Jensen wondered how drunk and bemused he looked as he was shoved over to the woman waiting by the steps onto the train. She took one look at him and then at the three women behind him. Not a word passed her lips as Jensen handed over his ticket to be checked. It got a cursory glance and it was handed back to him and Jensen was sure she was trying hard to not grin and laugh.
“Have fun!” Sandy called as she waved. “We’ll look after your place for you!”
It was all Jensen could do to stumble down the aisle, stow his bags in the overhead compartmentand then crash into a seat by a window. Megan, Sandy and Alexis stood there grinning and waving until the train started pulling out of the station with a loud whistle. He gave a tired wave before he sank back into the seat. His eyes were closed before the train even left the station.
The loud pounding on the door startled Jared from a solid sleep. He groaned and rolled over, trying to pull Genevieve closer. She inhaled deeply and snuggled in closer to him. When he closed his eyes and tried to drift off, the pounding came again, followed by a, ‘Jared! Ouvre la porte immediatement!”
Grumbling he rolled over and sat up and fumbled for his phone. Eight something in the morning. And now Sadie and Harley were barking like mad at the noise. Genevieve wrinkled her nose in her sleep and burrowed in underneath the pillow. Jared rubbed at his face and got up, pulling his boxers up a bit more as he walked out. Sadie and Harley were circling the door. He took them into the spare room and made sure the door was firmly closed before he went to the front door and opened it.
It could be said that Jared thought he did fairly well to just blink and not respond when he found himself facing four angry, glaring people. One of who was his own sister.
“You’ve got some fucking nerve, you know that?” Megan shoved into apartment.
Jared watched as everyone else stomped in after her. And he could practically smell the alcohol fumes coming off Megan, Alexis and Sandy. Milo just looked alert and really furious. Jared closed the door and was kind of starting to wish he had on something more than just a single piece of clothing.
“Nice to see you to Megs. I didn’t know you were coming to visit.” He scratched at the nape of his neck.
“Well, I was until I found out about the absolutely shitty thing you did to Jensen,” Megan had her hands on her hips and Jared could tell she was just getting started.
“You three are drunk and –” Jared started.
There was a frown on Milo’s face as he crossed his arms. “I didn’t think you’d go and cut Jensen out of your life like that.”
“Really,” Jared was rapidly loosing patience with all of them. “Should I have picked Jensen over Genevieve?”
“I would have.” Milo snorted.
For some reason that set Jared off. He glared at Milo and snapped, “No, you dumped him about a month before Christmas and then up and disappeared. That’s much better.”
“Don’t turn this around on him!” Sandy got right into Jared’s personal space. “Genevieve’s always been weird about us. So why’s Jensen the only one she asked you not to see, huh?”
Milo’s gaze flicked away and Jared had a horrible suspicion that he knew more than he was letting on.
“Yeah,” Alexis said slowly as if the realisation was dawning on her now as well. “She didn’t ask that you stop seeing Milo. Or us. So… just why Jensen?”
Jared rubbed at his brow as Alexis started rubbing at her belly. He knew what that was a precursor of. “Bathroom’s that way.”
Alexis slunk off, looking increasingly sick. He turned to look at Megan, Sandy and Milo. This was so borderline ridiculous that he wanted to wanted to just kick them out. Hell, he should just kick them out. But he just stood there, wondering what new thing they’d come up with to dump on him. Because honestly, a small part of him felt like he deserved it.
“Look, I didn’t question it. She hasn’t been working as much anymore and I want to make this work.”
Megan and Sandy rolled their eyes and Milo’s jaw just about hit the floor. He scowled and crossed his arms now, waiting for the barrage of protest to come. Megan just simply dusted her hands off before she uttered, “You’re so not fucking worth the time and effort any more, you bastard.” All Sandy gave him was a disappointed look before she walked out after Megan. Milo stayed though, looking like he definitely had something to say.
“So that’s your reasoning? Heh, Genevieve made sure you were good and whipped ever since Renaldo, huh?”
“What does that have to do with –”
“Eveyrthing!” Milo snapped loudly. “Because she’s got you denying –”
“Nothing!” Jared snarled back. It felt like a small ball of ice was forming in his gut.
“Nothing right,” Milo shook his head and dug into his pocket. “And while she has you denying nothing, she also has you right where she wants you.”
That made Jared furrow his brow. He watched as Milo pulled out his smartphone and silently handed it to him. At first, Jared wasn’t too sure what he was supposed to be seeing. It took a bit for his brain to put the pieces together from what he was seeing. There was Genevieve against a wall… and another man kissing her. But surely he was seeing someone else. He flicked through to the next picture and his stomach fell. After a few minutes of scrolling through he tossed the phone back to Milo.
His stomach was roiling with a sick feeling, mixed with some trepidation and a hell of a lot of anger.
“She’s had you at home, keeping everything nice and cozy while she’s been out… working overtime.”
That sick feeling in Jared’s stomach intensified. “She’s been doing this before Jensen even showed up. But why –”
“Mon Dieu, tu es un peu débile.” Milo scrubbed a hand over his face. “The reason why I broke it off with Jensen is because he was in love with you. Anyone with half a brain could see that. And that’s probably why she didn’t want you to be around him any more. Sick irony, she didn’t want to lose you.”
Jared just stood there for a moment, unsure of what to do or how to feel beside so fucking messed up and conflicted that he didn’t even know where to start. Milo looked a bit abashed and uncomfortable now.
“I didn’t want to tell you like this. But seriously, when the girls came over and told me what you did, I had to come over. Not to mention you’ve been kinda dodging the issue,” Milo watched him for a long moment. “Why do you think he took it so badly?”
“I…” Jared broke off, profusely swearing. “I need to go talk to him.”
He started for the door before Milo coughed loudly and said, “Few things. Firstly, put some pants and a shirt on. Secondly he’s not here.”
“Not here, what do you mean he’s not here?”
“The girls shipped him off to Italy in an effort to, ‘help him get over that asshole we thought we knew.’ I think he’s back some time next week. Not too sure when Alexis said his return ticket was for.”
“Alexis?” he looked around for her and then remembered. “Oh shit, Alexis.”
Jared ran to the bathroom and breathed a sigh of relief when he found her curled up in a corner against the bathtub and the wall snoring. The room still smelled faintly like cleaner, and Jared wondered vaguely if she puked and then cleaned. He picked her up and brought her out to the couch, laying her out on it. Milo watched him for a bit as he straightened up.
“So what are you going to do?” Milo finally asked.
“What do you think?” Jared looked over at Milo.
Now that sick feeling was replaced with nothing but pure nervousness. Because he was about to take the train to Italy, try to track down Jensen in Torino and this was probably going to backfire horribly on him. Maybe he made some sort of physical sign because Milo had a hand on his shoulder and was shoving him towards the bedroom.
“Do whatever you need to do. If I can find out where he’s staying I’ll let you know. Don’t think you should ask right now, as your name is currently mud.”
Jared just nodded his head and watched as Milo roused Alexis and helped her to the door. There were murmurs in the hallway before Megan and Sandy came and scooped her up.When Milo started closing the door behind him, Jared moved, darting around the couch and lunging for the door. Milo opened it a bit more, looking at him.
“What the hell am I going to tell him?”
“Honestly,” Milo began after a dry chuckle. “I don’t have a clue because he was pretty pissed off at you. You can figure that out on the way there.”
And with that Milo pulled the door gently closed. Jared yanked it open, making Milo jump.
“God, what now?”
“Can you take Sadie and Harley?”
And before Milo had a chance to protest, Jared ducked into the kitchen and grabbed the leashes and baggies that were hanging there before he went to the spare room. He quickly attached their leashes and came back.
“They get fed twice a day. Dry kibble in the morning and some wet food mixed in with half the amount of kibble for dinner. They get a walk in the morning and a really long one in the evening after they’re fed. Thank you!”
Milo just stared for a second before he walked away, trying to control two eager dogs while grumbling. Jared closed the door and ran back to the bedroom. Genevieve was still asleep, head buried under the pillow. He quickly went to the laundry hamper and sniffed a pair of shorts from the other day. They were tossed on and a fresh shirt yanked down from the closet. The overnight bag was pulled down and thrown on the bed before he started rifling through the dresser.
“Jared?” He looked over to see Genevieve sit up sleepily, blinking at him.“Qu’est que tu fais mon– ?”
“Don’t call me that,” he bit out harshly before he added on hastily. “I’m going to Torino.”
“Why? Is it for work? On a weekend?” Genevieve looked confused.
Jared have a harsh laugh. “No, I’m going to make sure Jensen doesn’t do anything stupid.”
“You agreed Jared, you weren’t going to see Jensen any more.” Genevieve sat up and ran a hand through her hair.
“Yeah, well,” Jared grabbed a few shirts and shorts, stuffing them into the bag before going back to the dresser. “That was before Milo showed me pictures of you sucking face with some other guy.”
If Jared hadn’t been facing the bed, he would have missed how Genevieve’s shoulders stiffened and her entire body went rigid before it relaxed after a second. And in that one motion Jared knew that he’d been had for so damned long. His face went red, though he wasn’t sure if it was anger or humiliation. Genevieve pulled the sheet up around her and looked at him in the eye.
“You’re taking Milo’s word and a few questionable pictures over –”
“Just…” Jared interupted her before he fell silent and then spoke. “Milo’s never lied to me about anything. Fuck, I’m surprised he didn’t say something to me sooner. But nothing’s been right between us for a long while and you know it. I’ve been… an idiot for trying so damned hard. We both can’t keep clinging to something familiar.”
Genevieve’s face was pale and looked drawn in the light filtering through the blinds. Jared tossed on a jacket before going to the bathroom. When he came back into the bedroom, Genevieve was out of bed and in her robe. Her arms were crossed and she was staring at a random patch of carpet. He made his way to the dresser and dug in the drawer for his passport.
“So what now?”Genevieve’s voice was quiet.
Jared stuffed the passport into his pocket and grabbed his wallet and phone from the sidetable. “We stop hurting each other unnecessarily. Move on and…” he shook his head. He couldn’t offer platitudes in the face of her quiet acceptance of this. “I want you out by the time I get back.”
“You’re kicking me out?” Her voice was strained, as if she was trying to hold back on some of the anger.
“Look at it however you want but when I get back in a few days, I want you gone.”
Genevieve nodded her head silently. Jared picked up his bag and started for the bedroom door.
“Jared, I really do love you it’s just…”
He didn’t want to hear an sort of excuse, whatever she used to justify an affair to herself. He walked out of the bedroom and walked to the front door to grab his keys from the bowl. Slamming the door shut behind him wasn’t something he planned but all things considered staying focused on one thing at a time seemed like the best thing to do. He took a few steps before he went back and dug his keys out and locked the door.
His phone was out and he called for a cab as he walked down the stairs to the main street. It didn’t take long for it to show up and he threw his bag in the back before squeezing himself in and asking the driver to get him to the train station as quickly as possible. It was easier to just not think, to go through the motions. When he got there, he bought a ticket for the next train to Torino, a book at the gift shop and sat waiting.
It was easier to just not think for the moment, than try to figure out what he was going to say to Jensen.
So far, Jensen was having a great time in Torino. When he got off the train and staggered to a taxi, it got him to the hotel in what he figured was a decent amount of time. He kept dozing off during the ride. But he paid the driver, signed in at the desk and when he was shown to his room, there was no denying that Sandy had some excellent taste.
He barely managed to peel out of his clothes before he crashed on the bed around nine in the morning. When he woke up, the LCD display read two something in the afternoon and somehow, he wasn’t nursing the mother of all hangovers. A shower did help him to feel more human and after that, he threw on a fresh set of clothes, jammed his wallet, camera and passport into his pockets and left the room.
When he asked at the front desk, he found himself getting directions to a number of sights in surprisingly clear English from the receptionist. When he left, he had a glossy map in hand and after a brief look at it, he just started wandering down the streets. After popping into a shop, he grabbed a toasted sandwich and some fizzy soda that looked like it was too dark to possibly be orange.
But he managed to find the statue on the map and settled down at the foot of it to finish off his food and just enjoy the rest of the day. That was when Rubina literally fell over him. Nose deep in a newspaper of some kind, she stumbled over Jensen’s feet. He’d apologised and after mentioning that he was just trying to figure out what to go and see, he had himself a guide who spoke English and was more than willing to show him around. Not that he was complaining. Rubina was pretty and she was honestly fun to be around. Hell, it wasn’t every day that Jensen could say that he met a opera singer.
Which is how Jensen figured he’d whiled away the afternoon at a museum full of ancient Egyptian artifacts and then wandered around a garden in an old palace until the place closed. He and Rubina walked, talked, bought cheap snacks and ate them as they walked and talked some more. He’d almost forgotten how much fun it was to just go and do something, connect with people and have fun. So maybe Sandy and Alexis had been right to do this. God only knew what he was like before.
And now, Jensen found himself in a tiny restaurant that was slowly emptying out. But he and Rubina were still steadily eating their dinner. Or rather, Rubina was shamelessly stealing bits of his gnocchi with a wink and a smile. It was damned hard to not think back to Christmas when Jared had shoved bread and olive paste into his mouth with that secretive smile on his face.
“Are you okay?” Rubina nudged him with her foot. “You drifted off again.”
Jensen nodded his head and finished off the last of his gnocchi. “Just a lot on my mind.”
“Mm, I do know that,”” she paused as the waiter came and took their plates away. “So, you’re here in Turin for a few more days. Is that enough time?”
“Enough time for what?”
Quiet fell for a moment as the waiter brought out their food and side dishes. Jensen eyed the lasagne and wondered if he made a mistake ordering it. Rubina’s grilled trout was looking like a much better deal. When he glanced up, he found her eyeing his pasta with a gleam in her eye. With a snort, he picked up his fork and started to cut it in half. With a chuckle, Rubina picked up her fork and knife. After a few minutes, and a quick exchange of food, she spoke again.
“For you to get started.”
Jensen frowned as he chewed his bite of pasta and swallowed. “Get started?” he echoed.
“You came here to forget about something for a bit,” Rubina paused as she filled up their wine glasses again. “I know the look. God only knows I see it enough during dress rehearsal.”
“No, it’s just –” he cut himself off before he picked up his wine glass and said, “He picked his cheating girlfriend over me. My co-workers got me drunk and poured me onto a train and here I am.”
Rubina’s eyebrows rose but she didn’t make a single sound. Jensen downed half the glass before he set it back down and started to make a determined effort to get through his half a lasagne. There was a thoughtful look on Rubina’s face and then she laid her fork and knife down.
“Jensen, does he know she’s cheating on him? And were you planning on telling him? Because that sounds like a bad idea.”
“No, I didn’t tell him. Didn’t tell him about her. Though, I just suspected it more than anything else. Didn’t have concrete proof,” He shrugged loosely and stared at the drops of wine on the side of the glass. “Not that it matters anyway at this stage of the game.”
“Povero Jensen,” Rubina leaned forward and patted his hand gently. “You fell so hard for him, didn’t you?”
“Didn’t even realise it,” Jensen wished he didn’t feel like there was a hole in his chest or that his appetite was rapidly fading. “Which is the really stupid part.”
“No, it’s not,” Rubina paused as Jensen started in on the fish. “The heart wants what it wants. And rarely does it come easily. You should go back, fight for it!”
Jensen shook his head and opened his mouth to speak but Rubina banged a fist on the table. She was giving him the same intent gaze that Sandy and Alexis had given him yesterday… or rather ridiculously early this morning. But there wasn’t a gleam of alcohol in there. Just pure determination, if the set of her mouth had anything to say.
“You love him, you think he’s worth it and yet you’ll just stand aside?”
“It’s what he wants and –”
“Cazzo!” Rubina snapped before she sighed and said, “You’re one of those kinds. Chivalrous.”
Well, that was a description Jensen hadn’t heard about himself before. He watched as Rubina stared at him, fingers drumming against the tabletop regularly. She was thinking of saying something probably. And just when he thought she was going to say something, she just sighed and picked up her fork and knife again.
“What?” Jensen demanded.
Rubina started in on her lasagne, a frown twisting her lips. After a bit, she paused and looked at Jensen. “Did you think that maybe what he was waiting to hear you say something to him first? If he’s closeted… that’s an entirely new set of problems.”
“He’s not. He mentioned being with a guy. Once. Ronnie… or something like that.”
“Mm-hm. Do you know that for sure? Get details from him?”
“I wasn’t about to go perving in on Jared’s sex life!” Jensen just about choked on disbelief. “I mean, yeah, I know things here and there about what he likes, but not the whole damned thing. Besides, you’re taking this rather well.”
“Very liberal parents,” Rubina waved a hand. “But I feel like some sick, twisted person, asking questions about something you’d clearly rather not talk about. And you’re here to forget. So, we’re going to officially drop that right now. Oh, I know! Why don’t you come by the opera house tomorrow? I’ll give you a tour and we have a run-through tomorrow afternoon.”
“Opera? I don’t know,” Jensen made a face, seizing on the change in topic. “I mean three hours of watching people sing at really high pitches in a language I don’t understand…”
Rubina playfully kicked him underneath the table. “Just for that I’ll tie you down to the seat and then you’ll have no choice. C’mon, you’re in Italy. Try something new, get out of your comfort zone,” a sly look came to Rubina’s face. “I can introduce you to Arturo…”
“I’m not easily bribed,” Jensen said dryly as he picked up his wine glass. “But it beats walking around.”
“Excellent,” Rubina smiled, wide and brilliant. For a moment, Jensen saw Jared’s smile, vivid and exeuberant. “I’ll come and get you around one in the afternoon?”
“That works. I’ll just look up stuff to do before you show up –”
“Nonsense,” Rubina said as she dismissed Jensen’s words with a wave of her hand. “You’re with me. And I have nothing pressing to take care of after the run through. You leave the rest of the week to me. Now, mange, mange, the food is getting cold. And I think we’ve been here almost four hours, which is a new record for me.”
Jensen slowly relaxed again as Rubina talked, outlining something called the libretto – as far as he could tell, she was talking about the opera still – and all the interesting things lurking in Turin that she could show him. It also helped that they finished off the bottle of wine and had a few shots of liquor. Or a digestivo, as Rubina insisted he call it.
And when they finallly parted ways at the trattoria, with numbers programmed into cell phones, Jensen felt full, comfortably buzzed and feeling like maybe he’d actually accomplish his goal by the time he had to leave.
For once in his life, Jared felt that he was suddenly reaching his wits end. He’d arrived in Turin, managed to find a hotel, even if it was a bit crappy. Finding Jensen proved to be the more difficult part. Wherever Sandy had shacked him up, she wasn’t spilling the beans to Milo and fired off a text to him saying to ‘leave Jensen the hell alone until you get your head firmly on your shoulders again.’
Looking through the phone book was enough to make him despair. There were over a hundred hotels listed and he was pretty sure there was no chance that he’d get through them all before Monday rolled around. So he’d racked his brain, called the few hotels that he thought Sandy might have stayed at when she was here before. When that didn’t pan out, Jared just hit the streets and walked. Thursday and Friday passed by and it was now Saturday afternoon and still no luck. The streets were clogged with people, all out doing something.
Jared had lost count of how many hours he’d been wandering the streets. When his phone vibrated in his pocket, it was late afternoon and his eyes felt tired and gritty from constantly searching for any sign of Jensen. He rubbed at them as he dug it out. Then he froze, staring at the screen and wondered what miracle Milo had managed to pull off.
Sitting there on his screen was the name of a hotel. Hotel del Artiste, which Jared had only passed by a few times every day since he got here. He quickly texted Milo back and made his way over to the area of the hotel. Finding a café with an empty table took him a bit, but as soon as he found one, he grabbed it. He decided to take it as a good sign that it was against the wall close to the window. The afternoon was spent slowly drinking espressos, fizzy drinks and eating so many biscotti that Jared was sure he’d die happy if he never saw another one again in his life.
Evening came and the glow of streetlights made it a bit harder to see who was passing by. The café slowly emptied out and Jared still waited, keeping at eye on the hotel across the street. If anyone else was here, they would have told him to quit acting like a stalker and just find Jensen already.
Jared looked up to see an older man standing there, giving him a worried look. Then he looked around and realised that he was the only one left in the place. With some hastily muttered ‘scusi’ he bought a bottle of Limonata and left. The door locked behind him and Jared dug into his pocket to check the time on his phone. Just after ten at night. Considering he’d done nothing but sit at a table almost all day and drink nothing but caffeinated and sugary drinks, it was no wonder he didn’t feel the slightest bit exhausted.
It was also probably a wonder that he didn’t look more crazy or stalker-ish than he already did. Hell, this had been a bad idea. What he should have done was waited until Jensen got back and then talked to him.
He leaned against the brick wall of the building and rubbed at his eyes. That wasn’t such a bad idea in all actuality. Because all he was doing now was dragging it out for himself and still trying to figure out just what it was that he was going to say to Jensen. He still wasn’t sure because maybe he’d completely fucked things up by staying with Genevieve so long and –
“Okay, so it’s, ‘quel destinata pour te –’”
Jensen’s voice was easily recognisable. And then came the response from a clear precise voice he didn’t recognise.
“No no, you’re still confusing your prepositions, God, I could have told you this wasn’t the best idea. If you’re still learning French, you’re going to get confused.”
“S’il-vous plait mademoiselle, je ne suis pas trop embrouillé. Je comprends les prepositions et les autres points de grammaire perfectemente.”
The amusement in in Jensen’s voice was all too obvious to hear, especially when he tacked on, ‘Merci beaucoup.’ Jared waited and a second later, on the opposite side of the street Jensen appeared from the shadows into the puddle of light for a few seconds. And on his arm was some gorgeous blond woman. Jared stood there, watching as they walked past, still talking excitedly.
“Oh, Arturo would have eaten you up with a spoon,” the woman said as she patted his arm with a sympathetic expression. “Look at the two of us, unable to keep those special people in our lives.”
“Yeah well,” Jensen rubbed at the back of his head. “From what you told me, Timoteo is a complete jackass. You can do way better than that.”
“I know, which is the truly stupid part. But he comes back and…”
Jensen and the woman walked out of earshot now, the rest of her words unintelligible. For a moment, he had some vague idea of just turning around and going back to his hotel, packing up his things and heading back to Aix. Clearly Jensen was doing fine if he was already that chatty with someone after three days here.
But then the surge of jealousy that swelled up surprised even Jared a little bit. Because he came all this damned way to try and find Jensen. He wasn’t about to turn tail and slink back home because of seeing a woman on Jensen’s arm. He quickly glanced down the side road, not seeing a car and walked across the street, heading in the direction of Jensen’s hotel.
When the hotel came up, Jared slowed his steps and watched as Jensen gave the woman a hug before heading inside. He waited until she walked away a bit before jogging across the street to the hotel. He caught sight of Jensen stepping onto the elevators and sprinted towards them just in time to see the elevator doors close. A quick look up – thank god the hotel only had five floors – and he was running for the staircase. Each floor was marked by him leaning out of the stairwell and waiting a few seconds to hear the ding.
Naturally the elevator was going to the top floor. He staggered out of the staircase just as the elevator arrived with a ding. Jared was resting his hands on his knees, catching his breath when the door opened. He heard footsteps and then,
“Jared, what the fuck are you – holy hell, you look like shit.”
He straightened up all the way as his breath slowly came back. The Limonatta bottle in his hand felt absurdly warm and he switched it to his other hand.
“Who was that?” he managed as he waved his free hand.
“That? You mean Rubina?” Jensen looked puzzled for a moment before he frowned. “Have you been following me?”
“I’ve been trying to find you for the past three days.” Jared ran a hand through his hair. “And –”
Jensen interrupted with, “Let’s get to my room first. Then we can take it from there.”
That seemed like a good idea to Jared because exhaustion was starting to creep up on him. He followed Jensen down the hall and into the room. The click of the door from behind made him turn to look. Jensen simply stood there in front of the door with his arms crossed and curiously blank look on his face. His shoulders were squared up, as if he was expecting a fight coming. But the blank look on his face extended to his eyes and Jared realised that Jensen was expecting to hear the worst, whatever that could be. However, even Jared wasn’t expecting the words that he blurted out.
“Why didn’t you tell me anything? Merde, pourquoi tu n’as rien dis?”
A strange look of disbelief and astonishment flitted across Jensen’s face. “Why didn’t I never say anything? You’re kidding me right?”
There was a thread of anger in Jensen’s voice. Jared just simply let it wash over him because, hell just spending time with Jensen again after what felt like forever of not having him around… it was better than he thought it could be. Jensen pushed past him into the room to sit on the edge of the bed, toed his shoes off and then yanked the socks off. Jared watched him, trying to think of what to say. But if the flush on Jensen’s face was any indication, it was just ticking him off more.
“You wanted to make it work with your girlfriend, who…” Jensen trailed off as he shook his head.
Jared finished the sentence for him. “Was cheating on me?” That made Jensen look up and the words just started coming. “Yeah, I know now. And I was stupid to tell you what I did and I’m sorry okay.”
For a long moment, Jensen just stared at him before he got up and nodded his head. “Okay then.”
Somehow, this was not quite going the way Jared saw it going. “That’s all you have to say?”
“What?” Jensen demanded testily. “Did you think I’d just be cool with that and everything would go back to the way it was?”
“Well, no, but I didn’t think you’d be colder than a fucking glacier.” Jared sniped back.
“Jared, you cut me out of your life to try and fix a relationship you kinda knew was broken but didn’t want to admit to yourself. Much as I love you, I can’t forget that so easily.” Jensen rubbed at his face as he made his way over to the minibar. “I mean, fuck if I did that to you, you’d be having a shit fit, so be glad I swallowed that with some degree of grace.”
There was silence as Jensen pulled out some small bottles and after a moment, came over to Jared and held up a few of them. Jared reached up and took the nearest three. On impulse, he grasped Jensen’s wrist with his other hand. There was a wary look in Jensen’s eyes when he looked at him.
“Nobody’s perfect. And I know I screwed up. Massively so as everyone has been kindly pointing out since it happened,” Jared swallowed hard and licked his lips nervously. “Just… what can I do?”
“You can let go of me for starters,” Jensen said after a moment of silence. When Jared did, he continued, “And you can tell me precisely what you did today, because you look ready to pass out.”
“Woke up, went looking for you, Milo texted me the name of your hotel. Then me, like a weird loser stalker, sat in a café nearby drinking coffee and pop all day waiting to see if you’d come back or head out.” Jared let go of Jensen’s wrist. “I didn’t think you’d have company that fast.”
Jensen took a gulp from one of the bottles in hand. “Rubina? I met her my first day here. She thought I was being too chivalrous and should have fought for you,” he was silent for a moment and his next words were quiet as he said, “And I think she might have been right,”
For a moment, Jared was sure that he misheard. But Jensen continued on.
“I’ve spent so long just trying to make nice and keep the peace that… you know what, I’m just going to come out and say it: I want you, all right? I just had to say that, get it out there. I’m sure you don’t but Megan seems convinced that you are and I…”
He trailed off, draining the rest of the small bottle before he shook his head. Jared fought the urge to fidget, the nervousness inside making him feel like he had to move. Doing something had to be better than standing here and watching Jensen and his withdrawn expression. He stepped in closer, tossing the Limonatta bottle on the bed. He clenched and unclenched his hands, mouth going dry. Jensen was warm and he smelled like wine with a hint of some kind of aftershave underneath.
When he cupped Jensen’s face in his hands, those hazel eyes flicked up to look at him. It took Jared a moment to steady himself as he looked back. He didn’t flinch from Jensen’s gaze, simply met it. It felt like his heart was thudding in his chest and after a moment, Jensen lowered his head with a huff.
“I’m sorry,” Jared murmured as he pressed kisses against the top of Jensen’s head. “I’m so sorry.”
All Jensen did was wrap his arms around Jared and hug him tightly. Jared slid his arms around Jensen and buried his face in Jensen’s short hair. God, he’d been so fucking stupid and Jensen was still here and…
“Hey, you need to sleep. You’re halfway to becoming an extra in a zombie movie.” Jensen pulled back. “C’mon, bed.”
“I don’t want to go back to my hotel,” Jared murmured. That relief was rapidly changing into bone-deep exhaustion. “I’m going to stay here with you.”
For a moment, Jared thought Jensen was going to protest. But then all Jensen said softly was, “Okay.”
The bed looked huge and inviting. He sat down on the edge, sinking into the duvet as he toed his shoes off. Jensen walked over to the phone and there was the low murmur of conversation for a few minutes. It was all Jared could do to not just stretch out and fall asleep.
“Hey,” Jensen hung up the phone and came over. “C’mon, lie down.”
There was no complaint from Jared as Jensen’s hands slipped underneath his light jacket and started stripping it off. He leaned forward, resting his head against Jensen’s stomach. Once his arms were free from the jacket, he slid them around Jensen’s waist. For a moment, Jensen didn’t move and then his arms were around Jared’s shoulders.
Then Jensen was moving, crouching down a bit. His fingers threaded into Jared’s hair, scratching at the scalp lightly.
“They’re bringing your stuff over and settling your account. Just sleep, all right? I got you.”
Jared nodded his head and yawned. Jensen’s fingers left his hair and held the side of his jaw. Then he was leaning in and a light kiss pressed against his lips. Eyes closed, Jared kissed him back softly. It was damned hard to muster up any more energy to do more than that.
His eyes didn’t open again as he slipped into a half asleep state. He more felt Jensen strip his clothing off, then manhandle him beneath the covers. Time seemed to pass slowly and the next thing he registered hearing was a door closing shut and Jensen coming back into the room.
“Ne vas pas domir?” Jared murmured sleepily as he opened his eyes a bit.
“No, I'm going to sleep. Coming to bed right now.”
That was Jensen’s reply as a bag thunked on the floor. Jared let his eyes slid shut again and he heard the rustle of clothing and the click of the lightswitch. The bed dipped slightly, and more cloth rustled. Then there was the hesitant touch of skin against skin. Jared fumbled with a hand, and smiled when he touched bare skin along Jensen’s side. Some of Jensen’s hesitance disappeared and he moved in closer.
It didn’t take very much more for Jared to fall completely asleep.
Waking up to the chirp of birds at a ridiculous hour wasn’t Jensen’s idea of the best way to start his day. Especially when he’d been out drinking the night before with a certain contralto opera singer. Why he let Rubina ply him with alcohol was painfully obvious but at least he drank enough water and ate enough bread that his head only felt like it had an oncoming headache. Not to mention he was very grateful that he brushed his teeth last night. It was almost a novelty to wake up and not have what felt like carpet coating his tongue.
He also wasn’t used to having what felt like a furnace on top of his chest and snoring gently.
When he lifted his head, he found himself looking at a tousled head of hair and last night came flashing back to him. Jared was currently half on him, out like a light and probably drooling on his chest.
Getting on the elevator last night, Jensen hadn’t expected to see a glimpse of Jared as the doors shut. He’d managed to convince himself that it was all in his head and hell, it would take awhile to get Jared off his mind. So when the elevator doors opened on his floor and he found Jared there, out of breath and looking like death warmed over with a pop bottle in hand…
Well, Jensen hadn’t been sure what to really think and say.
But Jared had come all this way to find Jensen and started to explain himself. Jensen only vaguely recalled something of what he said, but there had been a stretch of silence that stood out. Of Jared just standing in front of him. And when Jared had opened his mouth, it had been a simple and nearly broken sounding ‘I’m sorry’ that had left his lips repeatedly. As if the litany could somehow fix things between them.
Crazy thing was, Jensen almost felt that it had. That with two simple words, Jared had managed to somehow roll up every apology under the sun and offer it to him. And when he’d gotten into bed, and Jared reached out for him, every single reservation that Jensen still had just disappeared. For one night, he was with Jared. It was uncomplicated, nothing hovering over them and just so simple, it was as easy as breathing.
Even now, in the dim grey light of dawn that filtered through the curtains, it still felt uncomplicated. He lifted a hand and started running it through Jared’s hair. A quick turn of his head to look at the bedside clock showed that the time was almost six in the morning.
Stifling a yawn, he shifted a bit, trying to get out from underneath Jared. After a few moments, he gave up and just continued to run his fingers through Jared’s hair. He wasn’t too sure when he dozed off again but when he woke up, Jared was gone from the bed and he could hear the tap running in the bathroom. He rolled over and looked at the clock. It was only six thirty in the morning. He flopped face-forward into the pillow and stayed there, wondering if he should even bother to get out of bed.
The tap turned off in the bathroom and then the bed dipped a few moments later. Jensen just lay there as he felt Jared move in closer to him.
“Jensen?” Jared’s voice was soft and his breath warm against his bare shoulder.
The reply of ‘Mergh’ came from Jensen’s throat and he rolled over to blink and look at Jared. Obviously Jared had just woken up as well. He still had a slightly sleepy, wild-eyed look to him, not to mention tousled hair. There were faint circles under his eyes and Jensen wondered just how much sleep Jared had actually gotten since arriving in Turin.
“Gonna go back to sleep? Jensen murmured half into the pillow.
“Don’t think so. I’m up and hungry.”
But even as he said that, he slipped back beneath the covers. Jensen lifted his head long enough to raise an eyebrow in question. Jared chuckled at that.
“I can stay in bed for a bit longer. Or until the room service comes.”
All Jensen did for a moment was flop his head back into the pillow muffling his laughter. He closed his eyes and yawned once more. Next thing he knew, Jared had snuggled right into him. Which was nice and all, but Jensen nearly had his head in Jared’s armpit. He lifted his head resting it on Jared’s chest. For a bit he was content to just lie there, drowsy and listening to Jared breathe.
Jared’s voice was quiet as continued, “When Genevieve and I first broke up, Renaldo was my rebound.”
“Um,” Jensen frowned, wondering what tact Jared could possibly take with that. “Okay.”
“It was just three weeks and… honestly, it felt so liberating being with him.” Jared moved a hand up, fingers strokng the delicate hairs on the nape of Jensen’s neck. “But I did miss Genevieve. I did truly love her. So when she said for sure that she wanted me back, I jumped. Just left Renaldo and went back to her. Probably too blindly.”
“Hm. How did Renaldo take it?” Jensen moved his arm, draping it over Jared’s hips.
“Surprisingly well. He just wished me the best and went back to Rome. Haven’t heard from him since, so that should tell me something.”
“…You are eventually reaching a point in this, aren’t you?”
Jared shifted, half angling his body towards Jensen. “With Renaldo it was this frantic sort of feeling, intense and heady. But you, mon Dieu, Jensen, you just managed to slip into everything for me. Hell, some mornings I’d be brushing my teeth and I’d wonder what you’d look like brushing your teeth beside me.”
“Horrific. I’m not a pretty sight in the morning.” Jensen snorted.
When Jared chuckled, he leaned his head down more, faintly minty gusts of breath skirting over his skin. His fingers were still stroking Jensen’s nape in a soothing rhythm. His other arm was trapped against the bed, but he shifted, bringing it up and took Jensen’s hand in his.
“You’re so much a part of my life that the idea of not having you in it honestly… it terrifies me. Not having you around me, fuck I just felt like I was going through the motions…. comme si quelqu'un m’avait arraché le coeur et qu’il l’avait tué.”
Jensen wished his throat didn’t close up at those words. Jared pulled his hand in closer and grasped it tightly. It seemed like it took a monumental effort to not move in closer to Jared. If anything, Jensen would rather not have this conversation, to just let things be and accept them as they were. But he opened his mouth and made the words come out.
“Everything’s hinged around Genevieve for so long with you,” Jensen absently started stroking with his thumb. “I’m not going through that twice.”
“Don’t you get it. Everything’s you. I just never realised it. Maybe Genevieve did and that’s why she asked what she did,” A flush came to Jared’s face as he finished off with, “And I just stubbornly denied it until I thought I had lost you.”
“Okay, but - ” Jensen started.
Jared shifted his head, looking him directly in the eye. Jensen clenched his jaw in response and met Jared’s gaze. It didn’t break and Jensen almost felt like Jared was looking right down into his soul.
“I told her to leave,” Those quiet words surprised Jensen more than he could have admitted. “Said that I wanted her gone by the time I got back. And I mean it. I’m not doing this roundabout thing of giving and giving and she just takes and takes. It’s over and done and I will do whatever it takes to prove that to you.”
There was an intensity to Jared’s voice left Jensen unsure of what precisely to say. “Um…”
A deep breath was the only sound that came from Jared and then Jensen found himself on his back with a smooth motion from Jared. His throat went dry as Jared looked down at him, hair falling forward and shadowing their faces. Slowly, silently asking permission, Jared leaned in and brushed his lips against Jensen’s.
“I want you. I need you.”
The words were soft and made Jensen swallow hard. He wished Jared wasn’t right on top of him, because it was suddenly too hard to think of something, anything appropiate to say in response. There was skin against skin, Jared was warm and all that Jensen found himself stupidly saying was,
“I haven’t brushed my teeth for the morning. I mean, I did last night, but -”
All that came from Jared was a huff of amusement before he kissed Jensen soundly. For a moment, Jensen really wished he could think of anything to say. But then Jared slid a hand up and grasped Jensen’s hair. He felt his head being tilted back and Jensen just gave into it. He moved his arms around Jared’s midsection, pulling him in closer. A muffled groan came from Jared as Jensen licked at his lips and rolled his hips up.
Jared’s voice was strained and with every fiber of his being, Jensen believed him. Believed it when Jared pressed his hips against Jensen, hard cock easily felt through thin boxer shorts. After a few seconds of shifting he managed to insinuate a leg between Jared’s and hitch it up. When Jared’s thigh fell between his legs, Jensen rolled his hips again, rubbing himself against the limb.
“Jared,” Jensen tried again when Jared moved down to his neck. “It’s just… oh…”
Any further thought dissolved away as Jared’s hands slid down to his ass and lifted him up while rocking into him. Jensen ground his head back into the pillow as he dug his fingers into Jared’s side. It was just the right amount of friction, the right pressure and he needed more.
“Just like that,” Jensen lifted his head, burying it into Jared’s shoulder as he kissed and bit gently before gasping out, “Right there.”
Something was mumbled in response, but Jensen moved his hands down to cup Jared’s ass. And the moment Jensen started rocking against him in a steady rhythm, Jared’s fingers tightened, grabbing his ass hard.
“Il n’y a que toi,” Jared gasped as he rocked faster against him. “Seulement toi.”
Everything felt like it was on sensory overload and Jensen was sure he babbled out, “je t’appartiens” and then his orgasm stole through him. Left him clinging to Jared and rocking through the waves of pleasure that felt like they were smouldering outwards and leaving ash behind. Jared kissed him again, hard and deep as if to steal his very breath, rocking against him a few more times before he gasped through the kiss, the rhythm of his hips stuttering.
Jensen kissed around Jared’s mouth, holding him through the last of his orgasm. And when Jared sank on top of him, seemingly boneless and content, Jensen simply turned his head and kissed his temple. After a few minutes, Jared stirred and raised his head. There was a grin on his face and Jensen felt one spreading on his own face as well.
“So, morning breath doesn’t bother you so much apparently.”
The laugh that Jared gave was loud, made the bed shake and Jensen found himself laughing as well. The giggles were the last thing Jensen had expected and it took them a few minutes to get it out of their system. Though, Jared had tears in his eyes that he wiped away as he rolled over onto the free side of the bed.
“God…just…” he glanced over at jensen, lips still curved in a smile.
“Yeah, you’re lucky I love you.” Jensen leaned in and kissed him.
Jared made a content sound, hands reaching up to run through Jensen’s hair. After a few moments though, Jensen pulled back and made a face.
“Wet spots, I don’t love so much though. Hang on.”
It didn’t take long to roll out of bed and wipe himself off in the bathroom. He damped a washcloth and walked back out, only to see Jared’s boxers go sailing through the air and land against the wall. He looked over to see Jared sitting up in bed.
“I still want the washcloth.”
With a grin, Jensen lobbed it towards him. He wasn’t expecting it to catch Jared smack in the face, or the affronted look in response. Snickering, he walked over to the bed and sat down on the edge. His sleep pants were shucked off and left at the side as he got back under the covers. Jared crawled over him and dumped the washcloth on the side before just resting against Jensen.
They didn’t say anything else and Jensen slouched back against the headboard as he started running his fingers through Jared’s hair. Jared shifted a few times before he got comfortable, stretched beside Jensen and his fingers randomly tracing patterns on Jensen’s hip.
“Je t’aimais et et ne m’en suis même pas rendu compte,” Jared lapsed into silence for a moment before he added on, “If I ever do anything that stupid again, just ignore me and do what needs to be done.”
Jensen turned his head towards the window. The sun had risen, casting away the dull grey colour. There was splashes of pink and orange in the sky. When he looked back, Jared was looking at him. He continued to lazily run his fingers through Jared’s hair as he spoke.
“Before, my life was…” Jensen trailed off, fingers idly tracing the shape of Jared’s ear. He wasn’t too sure how to say what his life was like before Jared. But afterwards was something else entirely different. “Mais quand je t’ai rencontré… mon coeur s’est ouvert à ta voix, comme s’ouvrent les fleurs aux baiser de l’aurore.”
There was a moment of silence, a deep breath and then Jared’s reply of, “Moi aussi.”
And as they lay there in the bed, just holding one another, Jensen was pretty sure they didn’t need to say anything else.