No matter how many times Jared gets to wake up next to Jensen, long limbs wrapped around the other man as he sleeps, he doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to it. The sunlight drifting in through the cracks in the blinds casts a golden glow on Jensen’s skin and Jared traces one of the beams with his tongue, a slow worship of his gorgeous boyfriend. It’s nothing less than what Jensen deserves; Jensen has almost single-handedly saved their entire relationship, and nothing Jared can do will ever be enough to thank him for that.
Jared was wary at first, still is some days, but he’s come to accept the fact that he needs a Dom in his life, needs someone to take control for him because all too often he lets himself get distracted by one thing and then everything else goes to pieces. It certainly wasn’t an easy realization to come to about himself but yeah, Jared’s fine with it most days.
It certainly helps that Jensen handles everything with an exact perfection that manages to leave Jared in awe. He gives Jared enough freedom so he doesn’t feel trapped, but knows when to reel Jared back in so he doesn’t screw things up again. He doesn’t ask for much, nothing that Jared wouldn’t give him anyway- his love, respect, and submission. And fuck, does Jared get off on giving him all that, and more.
Jensen shifts beneath him and Jared pulls away just enough to look down at him as he finally wakes up, blinking against the bright morning light. “Time is it?” he asks, voice sleep-rough and Jared can’t help but shiver at it, cock twitching where it’s pinned against Jensen’s thigh.
“Almost nine,” Jared says softly, nosing at the side of Jensen’s neck. Jensen slides a finger under the front of the locked choker that Jared wears, smaller than a collar, which they save for actual scenes, but serving the same purpose, and tugs the younger man up. Jared goes willingly, relishes the pressure against his throat as Jensen pulls him into a lazy kiss.
Jared slips a hand under the covers and down the flat planes of Jensen’s stomach, stopping just above his Dom’s hard cock. “Please,” he whispers. He knows better than to go any further without permission, but god he wants it so badly.
Luckily Jensen doesn’t seem to be in the mood for his usual teasing, just nods and lets Jared move down to swallow him whole. Jared teases along Jensen’s length with his tongue for a few minutes before relaxing his throat and letting his Dom take control. Jensen fucks his throat until it’s raw and Jared can’t breathe, tears streaming down his red face, and when he finally comes Jared swallows it all.
“Good boy,” Jensen purrs, thumb teasing at Jared’s lower lip. “So fucking good, Jared.”
Jared whimpers, the praise and the slight pressure on his swollen lips tripping signals in his brain and making him just that much harder. And then Jensen snakes his hand down and starts stroking Jared’s cock, feather-light touches that drive him completely, eyes-rolling-back insane, even as he shakes with the effort of not bucking his hips.
“God, look at you. So fucking close already and I’m barely even touching you,” Jensen says, his breath hot against Jared’s ear. “Bet you want to come, don’t you? Make a mess all over my hand, then lick it clean for me.”
Jared can’t help but moan at that, cock twitching and precome oozing from the slit at the thought. “Jensen, please.”
“Or maybe,” Jensen continues as if Jared hadn’t said anything. “I could just leave you like this for a while. Wouldn’t even need to break out the cuffs or the cock ring, would I? You’d keep yourself hard and desperate all on your own, waiting for me to give you permission to come…”
And fuck, fuck Jared knows from first-hand experience what that feels like, how fucking amazing it is to give Jensen that much control over him, to stay on that edge of wanting to come for ages just because his Dom wants him too. Jared lets out a broken sob as Jensen flicks his thumb across the slit of his cock, precome smearing over the head, and he doesn’t even know what he wants anymore, release or this ever-building, almost painful, pleasure.
But the decision isn’t his to make and Jensen starts stroking him harder, thumbs under the head, and orders, “Come. Now.”
Jared obeys, choking on a sob as his cock spasms and he comes all over his stomach and Jensen’s hand. When his Dom raises his hand to Jared’s mouth he doesn’t hesitate, immediately licking it off, sucking lightly on Jensen’s fingers until he pulls his hand away and instead tugs Jared closer to him. Jared curls up next to Jensen, sighing in contentment as Jensen gently pets his head, comforting him as the endorphins slowly leave his system.
“So what’s on the agenda for today?” Jared asks once he feels a bit more like himself. It’s a Sunday, the only day he closes his bookstore, and he’s hoping that Jensen has something planned.
“Writing,” Jensen says and Jared can’t stop his whine of disappointment. Jensen rolls his eyes and adds, “You have that luncheon at your parents’ house to go to. Remember?”
Fuck. Jared shakes his head miserably. The last thing he wants to do is visit his parents on his day off and he clings tighter to Jensen, burying his face in the crook of his Dom’s neck, as if by doing so he could hide for the rest of the day at least. He doesn’t even realize he’s started shaking until Jensen begins rubbing soothing circles on his back, trying to calm him down.
“Jared, I know they’re not your favorite people in the world but they’re trying,” Jensen says softly.
“Don’t care,” Jared mutters. “They can go fu-”
“Jay,” Jensen says warningly and Jared shuts up. “Talk to me. Why is this bothering you so much?”
Jared stays silent for a long moment. Jensen knows his relationship with his parents is rocky, has been since he told them he’s bi and has a boyfriend, and Jensen knows that they found out he was Jared’s Dom, but what Jensen doesn’t know is just how much they disapprove of that. Jared has barely even talked to them in months because he can’t stand how their conversations eventually turn to his parents trying to talk him into stopping things with Jensen, which he flat-out refuses to do.
“Jared,” Jensen says, voice a low order and nails digging a slight warning into his back.
And damnit, now Jensen’s losing his patience with him, which is the last thing Jared wants. “I just don’t want to have to listen to their snide comments,” he says quickly. It’s not a lie, but it’s not the whole truth either. But Dom or not, Jared isn’t going to explain to Jensen that his parents are going to be even worse than usual because he’s been ignoring them. “And I’d rather spend the day with you,” he adds, hoping the comment will appease Jensen a little.
It seems to work because Jensen smirks a bit and gently soothes the scratches on Jared’s back, causing the younger man’s breath to hitch. “Go visit your parents,” Jensen says, and Jared bites back his disappointment because he knows an order when he hears one. “You just have to stay for a few hours. When you get back we’ll have an early dinner so I can spend the rest of the night rewarding you. Or punishing you, if you don’t make nice with your parents today.”
“Yes sir,” Jared breathes, Jensen’s words sending a jolt of lust through his system; he doesn’t even know whether he wants the reward or the punishment but if he has to go deal with his parents to get either, he’ll gladly suffer through it.
Jensen chuckles and gently pushes Jared off of him as he sits up. “Come on, get up,” he says. “We should grab some breakfast before you head out.”
Jared groans, rolling over and taking a moment to watch Jensen dig through his dresser for clean clothes before swinging his legs over the bed and standing as well. He wants to wrap him arms around Jensen again, try to talk his Dom back into bed until he has to leave for his parents’, but Jensen turns around before he has a chance to do anything.
Jensen pauses, head slightly cocked to the side as he studies Jared carefully. “What?” Jared asks, eyes flicking down to see if there’s a new bruise or something that Jensen is admiring, but there’s nothing that wasn’t there last night. “What is it?”
Jensen steps closer and slides a finger under Jared’s choker, tugging gently. “Would it be easier for you if you weren’t wearing this?” he asked softly.
Jared’s eyes widen and his breath hitches. Was Jensen stopping… Did he not want…?
Sensing Jared’s impending breakdown, Jensen quickly adds, “Not permanently. Just for today, at your parents’ house. You could wear one of the cuffs instead or something.”
Some of Jared’s panic eases at that, relief flooding through him as he realizes that Jensen isn’t calling off their relationship, but he still shakes his head emphatically. “No. I mean, yeah, it might be easier if they don’t see it but I’m not ashamed of this, Jensen. Don’t take it off, please. I want to wear it.”
“Shh, alright, I won’t,” Jensen says reassuringly, wrapping his arms around Jared and pulling him close. He kisses softly along Jared’s jaw and murmurs, “Go get the coffee started, and then take a shower and get dressed.”
It’s just enough of an order to soothe the rest of Jared’s worry, and he presses a soft kiss to Jensen’s lips in gratitude before leaving to do his as his Dom commanded.
Jared stands outside his parents’ place for several long minutes, taking in the house that he hasn’t seen in what seems like ages. He can’t believe he used to live here, in this giant mansion that seems too perfect to be actually used. He much prefers the small apartment he has with Jensen, the coziness and comfort found in every corner of the place, and he has half a mind to return home, his parents be damned.
But Jensen gave him an order, and Jared knows that while returning now would ensure a punishment it certainly wouldn’t be one he would enjoy. So he reluctantly rings the doorbell, hears it echoing through the vast house, and waits patiently.
After a few painfully long moments his mother opens the door, and Jared is immediately hit with a feeling of homesickness. Maybe he made a mistake in avoiding his parents-
“Still involved in that disgusting relationship then?” his mother says disdainfully, her eyes already fixed on the locked choker around his neck.
All charitable feelings disappear immediately and Jared has to force himself to stay calm, to remember Jensen’s orders to play nice. “Yes, I’m still involved with Jensen, and still very happy,” Jared says, his voice cool but civil. “I hope you’ve been doing well, Mother.”
“Well, you’d know if you ever bother to answer our calls anymore,” his mother sneers. “That man’s been keeping you on a tight leash, hasn’t he?”
Jared knows he’s supposed to be polite today but he can’t stop himself from smirking and saying, “Leash, no, but believe me the collar is more than enough.”
His mother scowls at him and turns back towards the inside of the house. “I trust you can be civil long enough to say hello to your father?” she calls over her shoulders.
Jared sighs, his shoulders slumping as he seriously considers backing a hasty retreat. He’s been here for only a few minutes and already he’s already sniping with his mother; once he sees his father, he knows things are only going to get worse. He reminds himself that he just needs to get through this then he can go back to Jensen, go back to the collar that he knows Jensen has waiting for him, go back to the safety and comfort and love of their relationship and forget about his parents for the foreseeable future. So he straightens his back and follows his mother into the house, letting the door slam shut behind him.
His mother leads him towards the living room which Jared knows for a fact is the one they use when greeting formal guests, and he can’t decide whether he’s upset at that fact or not. His father is waiting there, a flicker of disproval showing on his face for a brief moment before the impassive mask is back. “Jared. It’s… good to see you,” he says politely. “To be honest, we weren’t expecting you to accept the invitation.”
Jared can hear the unspoken We weren’t expecting your boyfriend to let you accept and he’s immediately on the defensive again. “Well, Jensen thought it would be a good idea for me to visit,” he says, stressing Jensen’s name just enough to make sure his parents’ take notice of it.
“And you didn’t want to?”
“I didn’t want to listen to you insult my relationship with him,” Jared says carefully. “I have no problem with seeing you, if you can be civil.”
“We only want what’s best for you,” his mother says coolly. “And that man is not what’s best for you.”
“Why?” Jared demands. “He makes me happy, he lets me live my own life-”
“He controls you, Jared, gives you orders and makes you wear a collar like a dog,” his father says. “That’s not going to get you ahead in the world.”
Jared exhales slowly, trying to get his anger under control. If Jensen can get under his skin and make him submit like he was born to do nothing else, Jared’s parents can make him more aggressive than anything else in the world. “Firstly, I don’t want to get ahead in the world. I’m happy with my bookstore, happy with the progress I’ve made there, and I don’t want anything else. And second,” Jared’s face hardens as he glares at his father. “I am not Jensen’s dog, and not only because we’re not into that. He knows my boundaries and doesn’t push them more than he knows I can handle, and if something happens where I want out there are safewords and signals that I know he’ll respect because he’s respected them in the past. He doesn’t control me more than I need, doesn’t hurt me more than I want and consent to, and I don’t want anything else in life.”
Jared turns, fully intending to storm out of the house, Jensen’s orders be damned, when his mother stops him with a gently hand on his arm. “Jared, please. You only just got here; surely it won’t kill you to at least stay for lunch.”
Jared is still feeling less than generous towards his parents, but as long as his parents behave he’ll stay and he doesn’t hesitate in letting them know that he’ll leave as soon as they start insulting him and Jensen again.
“Fine,” his mother says, a bit frostily but perfectly polite, and Jared knows he can’t expect much more than that. “You mentioned your bookstore. How’s that going for you?”
Jared knows that his parents don’t approve of this aspect of his life either, always wanted him to follow in his father’s lawyer footsteps, so he takes a certain joy in being able to say, “Never better. I’ve finalized a deal with Genevieve Cortese, the owner of the coffee store next door, to sort of combine our businesses. We renovated both buildings so the wall separating the two stores is open, mostly a low-wall with lattice work, and seating areas on both sides so our customers can get coffee and books and then sit and enjoy both.” He accepts a drink that one of his parents’ wait staff hands off to him, smiling up at the girl in thanks, and continues, “The renovations are almost done, and most of the customers seem to be as excited for this as we are.”
“You used to date Genevieve, didn’t you?” his mother asks. “She seemed like such a nice girl.”
Jared takes a sip of his drink, choosing his words wisely before admitting, “Yes, I did date her for a little while, and yes she is nice. But she wasn’t what I was looking for in a relationship.”
His mother ‘hmms’ quietly, but doesn’t say anything. Jared’s head is pounding slightly and he feels dizzy, and he takes another sip of his drink hoping it will help clear his mind. His hand is shaking as he sets his glass back down and Jared swallows harshly, not sure why the hell he’s suddenly feeling so… off.
“Jared, are you feeling alright?” his father asks, but to Jared his voice seems distant and everything is starting to go fuzzy.
“No, I… I think I should... should go…” Jared tries to stand, but has to catch himself against the back of the sofa. Something is seriously wrong and he wants Jensen there to take care of him, but instead it’s his father who steps forward as the world tilts and Jared blacks out.
Jensen knows the second the door closes behind Jared that he’s not going to be getting any work done that day, though that doesn’t stop him from trying. He gets out his laptop, grabs another cup of coffee, opens the novel he’s working on… He still ends up staring at the clock, lost in thought, waiting for Jared to come home. God, the things he has planned for his sub that night…
The hours tick by slowly, and the more time that passes without sign of Jared the antsier Jensen gets. For all that Jared was reluctant to go this morning, he doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to leave. Part of Jensen wants to call Jared and order him to get his hot ass back home, but he also knows that Jared should try to reconcile with his parents. Jensen knows what it’s like to lose contact with his family; he doesn’t want Jared to go through the same.
By the time mid-afternoon rolls around he’s damn near crawling out of his skin with anticipation. He keeps grabbing the phone, dialing half of Jared’s number, and hanging back up. He trusts Jared and knows that he has to give him some freedom, but that’s not going to stop him from punishing his sub a little bit if he doesn’t get home soon.
Dinner time comes and goes and Jensen has gone past antsy straight through anger and headlong into worry. This isn’t like Jared at all, not with how reluctant he was this morning, and when he tries Jared’s cellphone and it goes right to voicemail he knows something’s wrong. Jared knows better than to turn his phone off, especially when he’s running so late.
Jensen tries to stop himself from assuming the worst, forcing himself to pull back his panic and think logically. He can’t call the police yet, not when Jared’s been gone less than a day and not before trying anything else. So against his better judgment he finds Jared’s old address book and flips through it until he sees the scrawled entry for his parents’ house.
His heart’s pounding as the phone rings and he half-expects no one to pick up when he hears a man say, “Padalecki Estate, can I help you?”
“Yes, my name’s Jensen Ackles. I’m Jared Padalecki’s boyfriend, and I was just wondering if he was still there,” Jensen says, far more calmly than he feels.
“Please hold on, sir,” the man says, and Jensen sighs as he waits for him to return.
But the next person who speaks isn’t the man; it’s a woman who introduces herself as Jared’s mother. “Yes, Jared is still here; he wasn’t feeling well earlier and is lying down now. He’s also decided to stay with us for a little while, if that’s alright by you.”
Jensen can hear the sarcasm in the last part of that sentence and has to stop himself from responding in kind. “Of course,” he says smoothly. “Could you please ask him to give me a call when he has a moment?”
“Of course,” Jared’s mother says, the forced politeness obvious in her words. “Good day, Mr. Ackles.”
Jensen stares at the phone for a long moment after she hangs up. He knows something’s going on, something not quite right, and that tiny insecure part of him is screaming that this is it. Jared’s finally come to his senses and left him.
But then Jensen thinks back to that morning, of Jared’s open panic at the thought of their relationship ending, and he knows that that’s something that can’t be faked. Jared wants this to continue as much as he does. So what’s going on, then?
Jared wakes slowly, head buzzing and mouth dry. He feels like he had a hard night of partying the night before, but considering his last memories are of talking to his parents and he’s in one of their many guest rooms he doubts that was the case. So what the hell is going on then?
Jared forces himself upright despite his body’s protests, and takes a sip of the water that’s sitting on the bedside table. The room is sparse; it’s one of the older guest rooms on the upper floors that haven’t yet been renovated, and he can’t figure out why he would be in here and not his old bedroom. He stumbles across the room towards the door, fumbling with the handle, and it takes him a long moment to realize that it’s not opening because he can’t figure out how to it but because the door’s just locked from the outside.
No amount of pounding seems to be making a difference and Jared goes to dig his cellphone out of his pocket as he sits down on the edge of the bed, only to realize that his cellphone is missing. And it isn’t until he whips his head around to see if maybe it’s sitting on the nightstand that he realizes that the familiar light weight of the choker is missing from around his neck.
That’s all it takes to get Jared panicking. He can feel his pulse racing against the hand that’s pressed to his throat and he knows he should calm down, try to think rationally, but he can’t. His choker is missing, gone, and that shouldn’t be possible. No one has the key to remove it except Jensen, no one has the fucking right to remove it except Jensen, and-
Jared’s so wrapped up in his thoughts that he doesn’t hear the door unlock, doesn’t realize something’s going on until the door actually opens and his father walks in. “Ah, we thought we heard you banging around up here,” his father says calmly.
Things suddenly click into place at the sight of his father. The only way his choker could be removed was if someone cut the lock off, and the only people who would have done that were his fucking parents. Combine that with the locked door and the missing cell phone and, well, Jared doesn’t know exactly what’s going on but he can certainly guess.
“Where the fuck is my choker?” Jared demands, because while he’s not afraid of his parents hurting him he’s terrified of what they might have done with that.
“Disposed of,” his father says, confirming his fears. “It’s time you break away from that man’s influence, Jared.”
“I don’t fucking want to break away,” Jared snarls. “And you had no right to take my choker from me, no fucking right at all!”
“We’re your parents,” his father says, as if that alone was reason enough. “And to be perfectly frank, I’m appalled at your behavior, Jared. For someone who claims to enjoy being subservient, your manners are atrocious.”
“My manners are fine, but you’re not my Dom and at this point you don’t deserve my respect,” Jared says coldly. “Now get the fuck out of my way.”
But Jared’s father stands firm, and even in his rage Jared can’t bring himself to actually push or hit him. “No. You’re not going to leave here until your mother and I know that you’re saved from whatever brainwashing that man has done to you,” his father says. “You can settle down with a nice girl and live a normal, healthy life.”
“There’s no brainwashing, and you can’t just fucking kidnap me like this and force me to marry some girl!” Jared shouts. “These aren’t the Middle fucking Ages, and I will not stay here and let you try to do this!”
“It’s for your own good, Jared,” his father says. “And if you try to leave before you let us help you your mother and I are prepared to press charges against Jensen, and you know we would win.”
Jared stops short, jaw clenched and practically shaking with anger. His father is a highly respected lawyer with connections anywhere; if his parents pressed charges, he knew Jensen wouldn’t stand a chance. This changes everything and he switches tactics. “Can I at least send a note to… to Genevieve, regarding my store?” he grinds out as civilly as he can manage.
Jared’s father narrows his eyes. “You’re going to try to contact Jensen, aren’t you?”
“No, I’m going to contact Genevieve. I’ll even let you read the letter if you don’t believe me.” Of course Jared is planning on contacting Jensen through Genevieve, but he isn’t going to be stupid enough to be blatantly obvious about it. He knows this is his only chance to get word to his boyfriend and he’s going to play this as carefully as he can.
His father is silent for several minutes. Jared is starting to think that he’s anticipating Jared’s plan and is simply going to refuse, but he finally nods. “Very well. I’ll get you some paper and if I don’t find anything suspicious in your note, I’ll have someone drop it off at Genevieve’s shop tomorrow.”
Jared breathes a sigh of relief when his father leaves the room, immensely grateful that his plan is working so far and even more thankful that his father doesn’t stay in the room while he writes. He plans each word carefully, slipping in phrases and references that he knows Jensen will pick up on and praying that Genevieve is smart enough to show the letter to Jensen.
And while he works he keeps one hand pressed lightly against his throat, the barest shadow of sensation not enough to completely take away his anxiety at losing the choker but still helping him remember what’s worth fighting for.
Jensen barely sleeps that night, too busy turning possible scenarios over in his head and missing Jared so much he can barely breathe to get any actual rest. He’s still lying awake when the sun rises, only then dragging himself out of bed to start his day. Despite the fact that his days don’t depend entirely on Jared’s presence he still feels off-kilter, unsure and uneasy in a way he doesn’t think he’s ever felt before.
He spends the morning alternating between calling Jared’s cellphone and his parents’ house. There’s no answer at either place; he has a feeling that Jared’s parents have started blocking his calls at least and he’s torn between anger at them and guilt over forcing Jared to go visit in the first place.
He’s at his wit’s end by the time lunch rolls around and when the phone finally rings he lunges for it immediately. “Jared?”
“Not quite.” Jensen can’t quite bite back his disappointment at Genevieve’s voice. “But it is about him. Jensen, what the hell is going on?”
Jensen sighs. “I wish I knew. He went to visit his parents yesterday, never came back. I called their house and his mother gave me some line about him staying with them for a few days, but his phone’s turned off and he hasn’t gotten in touch with me.”
“Jensen… Someone just dropped off a note at my store,” Genevieve says quietly. “It’s from Jared.”
Jensen has never been so grateful that their apartment is over Jared’s bookstore because it’s only a few short minutes before he’s bursting into Genevieve’s coffee shop. Genevieve looks up and quickly passes her customer off to one of her other employees before dragging Jensen into her office.
“Someone came in not fifteen minutes ago and dropped this off,” Genevieve says, passing a piece of paper to Jensen. “It’s signed from Jared, and looks like his handwriting but… Well, it’s pretty strange.”
Jensen’s heart is racing in his chest but he doesn’t let his anxiousness show as he begins reading the letter.
Sorry about the letter, but everything just happened so fast. I’ve had a change of heart about some things and will be staying with my parents for the foreseeable future until I work everything out. And let me tell you, being here with them is like a literal weight off my neck.
Anyway like I said, things are happening fast and I’m not sure what to expect. But my parents have assured me that this is for the best and they’re going to look out for me during this rollercoaster ride, so don’t worry about me and don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone. My employees know what to do with the shop and I should be back to help them, and you, in no time at all.
And who knows, maybe there’ll be a new Mrs. Padalecki by then.
Jensen hands are shaking as he sets the letter back down on the desk. Detachedly, he know that it’s a fucking work of art, the way Jared put in enough subtle clues to tell him what’s going on, but he can’t even begin to appreciate that. Not when the pieced-together idea of what probably happened is shredding at his heart.
“Jensen? Is Jared… Is he okay?” Genevieve asks hesitantly.
Jensen takes a deep breath and tries to force his emotions aside to answer. “He’s fine. Physically, he’s fine,” Jensen says because that’s part true. “He’s with his parents and they wouldn’t hurt him, not like that. You were right, though, the letter was largely meant for me. The Gen at the beginning instead of Genevieve. Like Jensen. And…” He rereads part of the letter again, stomach clenching uncomfortably at what he finds.
“And…?” Genevieve prompts, after a moment of silence.
“Well, his parents don’t approve of our relationship,” Jensen says. He’s not sure how much Genevieve knows about them, but he’s fairly certain she has some idea of what Jared’s choker means so he feels safe in elaborating. “The comment about the new Mrs. Padalecki, and Jared’s supposed “change of heart”? I think they’re trying to get him to leave me, settle down with some woman. And he-” Jensen cuts off, has to take a moment to reign in his fury and fear.
But Genevieve isn’t easily deterred. “What? He… what?”
It’s clear that she cares about Jared, whether because of their past or simply because they’re still friends Jensen doesn’t know, but he finds himself explaining things to her anyway. “He’s scared,” Jensen says. “The ‘literal weight off his neck’? They cut off his choker and he’s… he’s safewording. Rollercoaster. That’s his way out, when he wants to stop something but doesn’t want to stop the relationship.”
Genevieve gasps, eyes wide, and Jensen is grateful that she seems to understand what that means because he honestly doesn’t have it in him right now to explain things further. “What are we going to do?” she asks.
“His parents are lawyers; there’s not much we can do without risking being dragged through the legal system and ultimately loosing,” Jensen says slowly, thinking through their options. “But I have a friend. A good guy, bit out there, but not always on the right side of the law. He might be able to help.” He motions towards the phone sitting on the desk. “Can I…?”
“Yeah, sure, of course,” Genevieve says. “I’m just gonna check on things out front, I guess.”
After she leaves Jensen picks up the phone and dials, hoping that it’s still the right number. It wouldn’t surprise him if Misha had another run-in with the law and was forced to change it. Again.
But luck seems to be on his side because it isn’t long before an all-too-familiar voice says, “Collins Catering Service, best in the world for everything except food.”
“Do I want to know what you’re catering these days then?” Jensen asks, unable to keep the amusement completely out of his voice despite the anger and emotion still burning under his skin.
“Jenny bean, it’s been awhile!” Misha says, obviously pleased to hear from his friend. “To what do I owe this honor? How’s your little subby Jay-Jay doing?”
“That’s what this is about,” Jensen admits. “His parents-”
“Say no more,” Misha interrupts. “Come talk in person.” He rattles off a convoluted riddle that’s supposed to pass as an address, but Jensen is used to this from his friend and it doesn’t take long to decode it- which is good, because Misha hangs up before Jensen can say another word.
It doesn’t take Jensen long to get to the address Misha gave him. It’s a small apartment across town, and his friend opens the door before he even has a chance to knock. “Good to finally see you again, even if this isn’t a social call,” Misha says as he ushers Jensen inside. “Though if you’re interested, I just got some damn fine weed…”
Jensen’s lips quirk up in a smirk. “Not now, Misha. I need your help.”
“Ah yes, Jared’s parents,” Misha says, sprawling out on the old couch and motioning for Jensen to sit in one of the other chairs. “What have they done?”
“They’re keeping him at their place, against his will,” Jensen says. “Knowing them, they’re threatening him with legal action against me if he doesn’t do what they want.”
“And let me guess, they want him to renounce his wicked relationship with you and conform to their ideals of how he should live his life?” Misha says. For all that he dropped out of college and spends more than half his time high off one thing or another, he really is insightful and smart.
“And marry him off to one of their “approved” girls,” Jensen adds.
“You’re sure?” Misha asks. “Because this is huge, Jen, and you won’t be able to win against them in the courts. You know that.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jensen says. Because he does- it’s the reason he’s sitting across from Misha; he’s the only one who can help now. He passes Misha the letter and continues, “He sent this to Genevieve. He… he fucking safewords in it, Mish. He safewords and I can’t do anything to help him.”
“Then it’s a good thing you have me,” Misha says, eyes quickly skimming over the letter. He’s frowning slightly, the only change to his usually impassive business face, the only indication that this isn’t just another client that he’s working with. Jensen knows Misha cares about Jared; the two of them have become close friends during the time Jensen’s been dating Jared and it’s clear Misha wants Jared returned as much as Jensen does.
“Right,” he says briskly, handing the letter back to Jensen. “Whatever you want to do needs to be done in public with an audience and it needs to be obvious that he wants it, so his parents can’t use anything against you in a court. I can monitor the house, let you know when he leaves but until then our hands are tied.” He smirks slightly. “Metaphorically, that is.”
“You can do that?” Jensen asks. Even though he’s well aware of his friend’s shadier abilities he’s still surprised.
“Easy as pie,” Misha says. He grabs his laptop, some Frankenstein-esque creation that Jensen can’t believe actually runs, and begins typing away. “Here, watch.”
Jensen moves to stand behind Misha and watches him work. The computer coding he sees doesn’t make any sense to him, but it isn’t long before a video feed appears showing the outside of Jared’s parents’ house.
“Hacked into one of their external security cameras,” Misha says proudly. “And I think… Hold on a second…” His fingers fly over the keyboard again and the video zooms in on one of the upper windows. “There’s our little Jay-bird.”
Jensen leans in closer, can just make out Jared’s face distorted from the window and the video quality, and his breath hitches. From what he can tell Jared looks fine, and that does a lot to ease some of his worry and guilt, but the absence of the choker only serves to fuel his anger. No one removes that but him, and as soon as he gets the chance he’s going to stake his claim on Jared for the world to see.
Jared hears the door to his current cell unlock and turns away from the window. It’s the therapist his parents had hired to try to “fix him”, and he forces the scowl off his face. He’s been playing nice, feeding the guy the lines he wants to hear in hopes that if he acts the part his parents will let him go, hopefully before they have a chance to actually force him into a marriage he doesn’t want.
“Good afternoon, Jared,” his therapist- a guy that Jared’s been calling Frank simply because he never bothered to learn his real name- says. “How are you doing today?”
“Fine,” Jared says. He doesn’t add that, after a week of being confined to this room and the few adjacent to it, he’d be a hell of a lot better if he could leave and see his boyfriend. If Jensen could refresh the bruises and marks that have all but faded. If he was still wearing his Dom’s collar.
“Good, good,” Frank says, sitting down on the only available chair in the room, leaving Jared to sit on the bed or remain standing. He chooses the latter. “Now, last time we discussed why you felt you had to enter such a dangerous and abusive relationship. Working off of that, is there anything you felt you gained from your relationship that you wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise?”
Jared knows this is only ever going to end with his therapist twisting his words, trying to show him how what he felt was “diseased” or “wrong” and trying to convince him that he’d be happier in a completely vanilla relationship with a woman. He sighed, already feeling exhausted simply from the thought of going through all that yet again, but he knows that not answering is only to hurt his goal of getting the hell out of here as quickly as possible.
“He… It made me feel safe,” Jared says. He hates having to admit things like this when he knows it’s going to get analyzed and ripped apart, but he can’t see any other way out of this damn situation.
“How so?” Frank asks.
“Just knowing that I’d be taken care of,” Jared says, intentionally being as vague as possible.
“But you weren’t being taken care of, Jared,” Frank says. “He was hurting you, using you. That’s not healthy.”
Jared doesn’t point out that he wants that, or that Jensen did take care of him in every step of their relationship. His therapist wouldn’t listen to him anyway. Instead he lets Frank ramble on about what a healthy relationship “should” be like and gives the answers that are expected of him when necessary, but otherwise lets his mind drift back to thoughts of Jensen. He hopes that his father actually passed his note on, and that Genevieve was smart enough to contact Jensen. He doesn’t know what they’re doing now, if they have some plan to help him, and he hates that; Jared’s pretty sure he’d be okay if he only knew that Jensen was doing something. It’s the not-knowing that’s killing him.
“So Jared the real question is, do you think you’re ready to try a healthy, normal relationship?” Frank asks, interrupting Jared’s thoughts.
Not a chance in hell, Jared thinks viciously but aloud he says, “I’m… I don’t know?” That at least is true. He doesn’t know whether he’s “expected” to be ready by now or not, and doesn’t want give the wrong answer now, not after a week of treading carefully.
Frank shakes his head. “It doesn’t work like that, Jared. You have to start getting used to taking control for yourself.”
Jared wants to scream. He doesn’t want control, he just wants Jensen. But no one here is ever going to believe that or understand it, so instead he forces himself to say, “Yes. I think I’m ready for that.”
Frank’s grin tells him it was the right answer, even if Jared wants to shoot himself for ever saying it. “I’m proud of you, Jared,” he says. “You’ve made a lot of progress in the past week.”
Jared says nothing, returning to stare out the window as Frank leaves the room. He wants Jensen so badly it’s like a physical ache, wants the weight of his collar around his neck and the taste of his come on his tongue. He wants Jensen to show him his love in the physical way that only he can, then whisper the words in his ear anyway just because he knows Jared still wants to hear them. He wants to curl up around Jensen like he always does after a particular good scene, and wants to wake up next to him and watch the sunlight play across his skin.
He hears the door open again and frowns, wondering why the hell Frank would be back so soon. But when he turns around it’s not his therapist he sees, but his father. “What do you want?” he asks tiredly; he’s long since lost the energy to actively fight against the man.
His father sets a pristine suit down on the bed. “Put that on,” he orders. “We’re going out tonight.”
“Where?” Jared asks. He doubts he’ll be able to get away and return to Jensen, especially since his parents will only press charges against his boyfriend if he did, but he’s still curious as to why his parents are finally letting him out of the house.
“We’re meeting up with an old friend of mine and his daughter in the city,” his father says. Jared’s surprise show on his face because he continues, “Yes, daughter. She’s a lovely young woman.”
“I bet she is,” Jared mutters.
His father rolls his eyes. “Don’t tell me you actually expect to be able to run back to that man? It’s been a week already and he hasn’t shown any sign of even wanting you back. He hasn’t called, hasn’t stopped by. It’s like we’ve been telling you, Jared. He doesn’t actually care about you at all.”
Jared swallows harshly and tries to tune out his father’s words. He doesn’t want to believe it, doesn’t want to give in to the quiet fears in the back of his own mind. He has to believe that Jensen is doing something, even if it doesn’t seem like it.
“Get dressed, Jared,” his father says, and leaves the room again. Jared stares at the suit lying innocently on the bed for a long moment, heart heavy and thoughts dark, before sighing and reaching for it.
Jensen never wants to have another week like this ever again. He’s accomplished nothing, and not for a lack of trying. He’s barely turned off his laptop and has attempted to write something several dozen times, to no success. During the day he’s exhausted and on edge, making himself practically sick from anger and fear in equal parts. His nights are spent sleepless, tossing and turning and feeling uneasy without Jared draped over him.
It doesn’t help that he hasn’t gotten off since Jared’s been gone, hasn’t really wanted to, not when he’d only be thinking of Jared and making himself miserable anyway. He swears to himself that when he gets Jared back- not if, when, because there’s no way he’s not getting back what’s his- he’s going to fuck him through the mattress and never let him leave their bed again, their jobs be damned.
Misha’s been good about giving him updates, texting him pictures of Jared at the window from the security cameras he hacked into, and it ignites Jensen’s fury how much his boyfriend has seemed to diminish over the course of the week. But as much as the pictures tear at his heart he can’t bring himself to delete them from his phone, and he finds himself scrolling through them and studying them intently several times a day.
Still, by the time the week is drawing to a close, he’s unbearable to be around. Genevieve has given up on talking to him, knowing that she’ll find out when Jared comes home anyway, and Jensen suspects that Misha’s only talking to him because he’s too stoned to realize how much of an ass Jensen’s really being to him. And because he’s supposed to be giving Jensen updates on what Jared and his parents’ are up to, of course- that’s probably the only reason Jensen’s still tolerating him.
So when Jensen sees Misha’s name flash across the caller ID on his phone, he sighs but picks up immediately. “Please tell me you have something,” he says without preamble.
“Jensen, just how good do you think I am?” Misha asks. Jensen’s heart starts to sink just as Misha continues with, “I have a hell of a lot more than just something, my friend.”
Jensen freezes, heart racing in his chest. “What do you have?”
“Jared and his parents left their house, seem to be heading towards the city,” Misha says. “Based on their dress- Jared at least was definitely in a suit- I’d guess they’re heading to a restaurant. A couple possibilities, but give me half a second and I can tell you exactly where…” Jensen can hear his fingers flying over the keyboard quickly for a moment before he shouts. “Fuck yes, I’ve got it!”
“Great, now where is he, Misha?” Jensen demands, already making his way towards his bedroom to get changed.
“That new French restaurant that just opened up, you know it?” Misha types some more. “And fuck, looks like his family isn’t dining alone. Some old bastard and a young chick are greeting them. She looks a bit too happy to see Jared, if you get my drift.”
Jensen unfortunately did and he asks, “And Jared?” He needs to know that his sub is waiting for him, hasn’t cracked, because he doesn’t think he’d be able to take it if Jared’s parents won after all.
“Forcibly polite, but looks like he wants to bolt,” Misha says gleefully. “Our boy’s holding out for you, Jenny bean. So go get him and fuck him into tomorrow, otherwise I will be coming over there with enough weed to forcibly calm you down via contact high.”
Jensen rolls his eyes but can’t help chuckle anyway. “Thanks, Misha,” he says, and he means it absolutely.
He hangs up and stares into his closet, pushing aside his typical dress clothes and looking for something a bit more suited to his purpose. He finds what he’s looking for at the back of the closet, and smirks. He’s going to claim his sub once and for all, and Jared’s family isn’t going to know what hit them.
Jared feels about ten minutes away from picking up his fork and stabbing someone, quite possibly himself. His parents are locked in a deep conversation with their friend, leaving him to deal with the daughter- some girl named Melissa, or Melinda, or something like that; Jared never bothered to actually catch her name.
She is the last person he would ever voluntarily want to associate with. When their parents are paying attention she is the perfect, demure socialite, letting Jared lead and make decisions, which only makes him anxious and uneasy. He doesn’t want that control, wants to give it to someone else, and it’s fucking unsettling to have someone looking to him for direction.
But once their parents start ignoring them again she becomes more forceful, subtly demanding in a way that gives Jared the impression that she would be a raging bitch in private. Maybe dominating, yes, but nowhere near in the way he would want, not the least of which is because he just doesn’t want her at all.
He feels like he can’t breathe, feels smothered by his parents and their friends and the expectations they’re placing on him. The only way he knows how to deal with this is to go to his Dom, to beg to be put in his place and used and controlled until everything else fades away and he’s utterly consumed by the sense of being owned. But he doesn’t have that, can’t feasibly get that, and without even the comforting weight of his choker around his neck he feels like he’s drowning.
“Sir? Sir! You can’t go in there, sir!”
Conversation at their table stops at the commotion in the main part of the restaurant, and Jared looks up just in time to see Jensen brush past the maître d’ and walk into their private dining room. His breath catches in his throat, his blood racing and singing, cock slowly filling out in his suit pants as he takes in the breathtaking image of his Dom.
Jensen has gone all out, as he rarely does. Leather pants are molded to his legs as if they were painted on, and his black shirt is stretched deliciously tight across his chest underneath the leather jacket that he knows Jared loves but practically never wears. He’s also got on his combat boots and black leather, studded cuffs, even put fucking eyeliner on, which only make his predatory eyes seem even brighter in the dim lighting.
Jared still feels like he can’t breathe, but it’s for an entirely different reason now. He’s frozen in place, mouth dropped open in shock, eyes locked with Jensen’s heated gaze. He feels his stomach drop in wonderful anticipation as Jensen slowly smirks, flicks his eyes down to the space of empty floor in front of him. That’s usually all the order needed to get Jared on his knees, but Jensen is leaving no room for interpretation and says firmly, “Sub, heel.”
“Who the hell are you?” Jared’s parents’ friend demands. “What’s going on?”
Jared’s already rising from his seat, cheeks flushing slightly from embarrassment but mostly from arousal. He can feel all eyes on him, everyone around his table and the restaurant staff still hovering around the doorway, as he begins to move towards Jensen. Jared’s father catches his arm, stopping him short, and hisses, “Jared, don’t you fucking dare.”
Jared wrenches his arm away. “Don’t fucking touch me again. Don’t call me, don’t try to contact me at all. And good luck arguing that I don’t want this.”
With that he starts forward again, moving quickly away from the reach of his father before dropping to his knees. Jensen watches him impassively as he crawls the last several feet into place, stopping a respectful distance away before sinking down into the appropriate kneeling position, legs spread wide and hands resting on his thighs. He can hear a commotion behind him at the table but doesn’t pay it any attention, all his focus directed at his Dom standing in front of him, waiting for his next order.
Jensen looks down at him, face impassive even as his heart is trying to beat its way out of his fucking chest. An admittedly large part of him wants to pull Jared to his feet, hold him close and never let him go, but an even larger part is screaming mine and Jensen wants the entire world to watch him claim his sub.
“You’re not wearing the choker,” he says, his voice cool and stern but not cold. He knows it’s not Jared’s fault that he doesn’t have it on, but that’s not the game they’re playing now.
Jared shudders, knows better than to offer up excuses no matter how true they may be, torn between hoping Jensen goes easy on him and praying that he does nothing of the sort. “I’m sorry, Master,” he murmurs, deciding to play it safe- dangerous?- and use the more formal title.
Jesus Christ, Jensen considers it’s a fucking miracle that he doesn’t cream himself right there. As it is, it takes every ounce of self-control that he has to stay where he is and say, “Hmm, I bet you are. It’s still a shame though, because I was planning on giving you this.”
Jared watches as he reaches into his pocket, breath practically knocked out of him when he sees what Jensen’s holding in his hands. It’s a fucking collar, not a choker like he had on, and not even the one they had back home for scenes. This one’s new, soft leather with a small, silver padlock hanging from the clasp, and Jared whines as Jensen casually runs his hand over it.
Jensen’s eyes flick over to him and he fucking smirks, knowing goddamn well what he’s doing to Jared. “You want it?” he asks, and Jared nods vigorously, having lost the capacity for speech at the site of the collar. “Would you take better care of it than you did with the choker?”
“Yes, Master,” Jared manages to croak out. “I promise, I swear. Master, please…”
Jensen pretends to consider, drawing out the moment as long as he dares, before ordering, “Jacket, tie, and shirt off.”
There’s a commotion around them even as Jared moves to obey, but a quick glare from Jensen at least momentarily stops everyone else. They may not like or approve of what’s going on between the Dom and sub, but none of them seem to want to get in the middle of things either, which suits Jensen just fine. Let them look on as much as they want; Jensen wants them all to see him claim and collar Jared.
Jared makes quick work of his tops, and it’s only once he’s naked from the neck down that Jensen steps forward. He turns the collar over his hands, smirking as Jared visibly gulps and ducks his head in submission. “Gonna make you mine, Jared,” Jensen promises. “Gonna collar you so the world knows you who belong to. You want that?”
Jared whimpers, unable to really do much else at this point, and bares his neck for Jensen. Without hesitation, Jensen slips the collar around his neck, locking the padlock in place. It’s not a true collaring ceremony; they’d done that in private not long after starting everything. But there’s something so much more symbolic about this, more important, because this is Jensen letting the world know that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jared is his.
Jared goes lax as soon as it’s locked in place, a weight being lifted off his shoulders at the familiar weight around his neck. Jensen pulls him up by the D-ring on the front, and it takes all of Jared’s self-control to not come as his air is momentarily cut off and Jensen kisses him roughly. Jared’s eyes are blown wide when they pull away, his lips swollen from Jensen’s bites, and all he can do is breath, “Thank you, Master.”
“Mmm, I’ll bet,” Jensen says, his smirk dark and promising. “Want to get you home so you can show me just how thankful you are.”
Jared moans lightly, doesn’t resist when Jensen slips his hand down to Jared’s lower back and starts leading him from the room.
The crowd around the door parts easily for them, but there’s another commotion at the table as Jared’s father shouts, “Stop it! I won’t let you do this to my son again!”
Jensen whirls around, fury in his eyes. “Do this to him? I don’t think anyone here can argue that I’m doing anything Jared doesn’t want, and you’d be better off leaving us both alone in the future. Or do you want to try kidnapping him again?”
There’s a murmur from those who weren’t aware of that little detail, suspicious and stunned eyes fixing on Jared’s parents. Even their friend is looking at them incredulously and asks, “What’s he talking about?”
Jared’s mother stands next to her husband. “You little-”
“Save it, lady,” Jensen says. “You’ve already ruined your reputation enough for one night.”
No one stops them as they leave the restaurant and get into their car that Jensen has waiting outside. “Misha should be picking yours up from your parents’ house now.”
“Misha?” Jared asks, surprised.
“He helped with this,” Jensen explains as he pulls out into the road. “And Gen, because of that fucking amazing note you sent-”
“Jen, as interesting as this is, can we please discuss it after you’ve fucked me through the mattress?” Jared interrupts, voice barely above a whine.
Jensen chuckles. “Someone’s pushy, tonight,” he says. “Maybe I need to punish you instead…”
It’s an empty threat and they both know it; after the past week, neither of them have the patience for an actual scene of any sort. For all that they played their roles perfectly in the restaurant, they’re both far too aware of close they came to not only losing their relationship but simply each other, and the need to reconnect at a basic, primal level far outweighs their desire to continue with their Dom-and-sub dance of earlier.
But that doesn’t stop Jensen from taking control the moment they enter their apartment, shoving Jared against the door the second it’s closed and pressing close, tongue practically shoved down his throat as his hands fumble with the younger man’s belt. Jared moans, tries to strip Jensen of his own clothes with little success apart from pushing his jacket down his shoulders.
Jensen finally steps away, ignoring the whine from Jared. “C’mon,” he says, tugging Jared away from the door and down the hall towards their bedroom. He strips off t-shirt with ease, and curses his choice in footwear when he has to stop to struggle with his boots.
But Jared’s already beaten him to it, having sunk to his knees the moment he took off his own pants and underwear and started untying the laces for him. “Jared, fuck,” Jensen says, the sight of Jared on his knees in front of him going straight to his cock.
Jared unties the shoes and lifts Jensen’s feet to pull them off, before moving to quickly unzip his pants and tug them and his underwear down Jensen’s body. Jensen steps out of them, goes to move towards the bed because Jesus Christ he’s not going to last long at all, and he wants, needs, to be in Jared when he comes, but his sub stops him.
“Please,” he whispers, nuzzling at the juncture of Jensen’s thigh, just barely brushing along his cock. “Please, wanna suck you. Been dreaming of it, dreaming of tasting you…”
And fuck, how the hell is Jensen supposed to say no to that? He grips Jared’s hair tightly, just the right side of painful, and guides him towards his cock. He lets Jared control the pace at first, gathering up every bit of his own control to keep from coming embarrassingly fast. He eventually tightens his grip slightly and Jared just opens up for him, letting him sink in almost all the way and fuck Jared’s mouth raw.
Jared seems intent on getting Jensen to come then and there, pulling out all the tricks in the book, but Jensen has other plans. “Bed,” he orders as he pushes Jared away, sounding far less dominating than he would have liked. But Jared obeys anyway, scrambling up onto their bed immediately. Jensen stops him as he goes to kneel, instead directing him onto his back; he needs to see Jared, can’t have it any other way.
Jared’s so far gone already that the prep is almost torturous, hips canting back onto Jensen’s fingers eagerly, desperately, and it’s only the fact that Jensen has enough of his senses still about him not to aim for his prostate that stops the younger man from losing it then and there. “Jensen, please, fuckfuckfuck, just get in me, please, need you…” Jared babbles and really, Jensen doesn’t know why he’s taken so long already.
Jared could have sworn that Jensen splits him open as he slides in, but Jared is far past the point of being upset at a little pain and Jensen seems past the point of caring if he’s causing any, setting a fast pace from the start. Neither of them are going to last long and they both know it, but when Jensen finally wraps his hand around Jared’s cock and starts stroking Jared’s orgasm hits him immediately and by complete surprise. Jensen lasts only a few thrusts longer before coming deep in Jared, breathing heavily as he collapses on top of the younger man.
Jared arms around Jensen and rolls them over so he’s lying on top of his boyfriend, holding him close the way he usually does after a scene and shaking like he’s just been put through one. “Jay? Talk to me, what’s wrong?” Jensen asks quickly, running a soothing hand through Jared’s hair in an attempt to calm him down.
Jared buries his face in Jensen’s neck and whispers, “I didn’t think I’d see you again.”
Jensen can almost feel his heart breaking at the admission, and now that his anger has largely been worked out he’s hit with the guilt all over again. “Fuck, Jared, I’m so fucking sorry,” he says , pressing a soft kiss to the top of Jared’s head. “Shouldn’t have made you go over there, shouldn’t have pushed you into it…”
Jared shakes his head. “Not your fault,” he murmurs. “Fucking parents are to blame, not you.”
Normally Jensen would chastise him for swearing about his parents like that, but this time he feels like it’s more than perfectly justified. “But I didn’t protect you,” Jensen points out quietly. “Couldn’t get to you soon enough and… Fuck, Jared you fucking safeworded and I couldn’t do anything to stop it.”
“Not your fault,” Jared repeats, and starts sucking on the juncture of Jensen’s neck. “You saved me. Would’ve been married to that fucking girl if you hadn’t shown up.”
Jensen can’t stop the low growl at the reminder of the bitch who thought she had a claim to his sub. “Wouldn’t have let that happened, Jared,” he swears, tugging Jared up with the collar to kiss him once more.
Jared melts into it, making pleased little noises in the back of his throat when Jensen tugs on the collar one last time. “Mm, I like this new collar,” he admits when they finally pull away. “I like it a lot.”
“Good,” Jensen purrs. “Because I like seeing it on you.”
Jared hums happily and snuggles back down next to Jensen. “Maybe we could put it to good use tomorrow,” he suggests, eyes already starting to slip shut from exhaustion. There’s still too much to talk about between them, guilt and fear to admit to, apologies to air. Jared needs to tell Jensen that he had been avoiding his parents for a while, and Jensen owes Jared an explanation of how exactly he managed to hunt him down at the restaurant. But for right now, Jared was more than content to stay like this, curled up with Dom.
Jensen laughs softly, and pulls his sub closer to him. “My thoughts exactly.”