The buzzer for the front door of the clinic sounds and Jared looks up from the medical text he’s been studying in a quiet moment. The glare on the glass hides whoever is on the other side and he walks close and cups his hands around his eyes to make sure it’s somebody who looks legitimate. That’s kind of a hard call to make in this neighborhood--sorting homeless-legitimate from homeless-not. Just three weeks ago some junkies held the place up and wiped them out of painkillers and Jared is gonna be sure that doesn’t happen on his watch. Also, he’d rather not be stabbed tonight.
Luck’s with him, and he knows the guy on the other side--one of them at least. Jeff Morgan. Tall, dark and scruffy in his green military jacket. He’s one of the few down here on the streets who’s not addicted or crazy. Okay, beyond some claustrophobia like Jared’s never seen before. People say he’s a vet, but nobody can agree on what war. Jared sees his battlefield though, putting himself between the poor and the weather and the cops and the gangs and the dealers and the pimps.
Jared hits the button to let him in and sees that Jeff isn’t alone. He’s got some street guy with him, bloody-faced and dazed looking, cradling one arm. Jared thinks one of the sad things about street people is how they all look alike--lanky, unwashed hair, scraggly beards. This guy’s eyes are a bright green though, the whites not yellowed by liver damage and Jared thinks that’s hopeful.
“Presents? For me?” Jared jokes, but he’s helping take the man off of Jeff’s hands and easing him into a waiting-area chair. He pulls on gloves and checks the guy’s pupils with a flashlight as Jeff stands just inside the door, his foot propping it wide open. The wind whips cold through the opening but neither Jared nor the wounded man complains. Jared doesn’t want to be there if Jeff’s ever trapped in a room and feels like he can’t get out.
“Any idea what happened?” Jared asks Jeff as he starts to feel over the greasy head for lumps or bumps. He’s got a few spots that are freshly swollen, and one where a scar parts the hair on the side of his head, old trauma that doesn’t look like it was ever treated. The guy smells, but Jared’s used to B.O. He reeks of alcohol too and Jared’s wondering if he’s drunk on top of beat up.
“Contagion,” the guy answers instead of Jeff, “Crawling like a blemish over the face of the earth smiting the wicked blue bottle flies in swarms to blot out the sun with their brown bottles and wretched deeds.” His voice is oddly dispassionate and Jared looks up at Jeff again.
“Rolled by frat guys,” Jeff explains, “Kicked the shit out of him, doused him in vodka. Think they were plannin’ on a barbeque.”
Jared really hopes those frat guys walked away in better shape than the man in the clinic, but only because he’d hate for Jeff to get in trouble with the law.
“Hey,” Jared says to the patient, “Hey, what’s your name?”
“The lost, the found, a prince among men.”
He glances up at Jeff and catches a quirk of the older man’s lips. “We call him Jensen,” Jeff says, “And yeah, he’s always like that.”
“Smith or Doe?” Jared asks as he folds up a piece of gauze and presses it to the oozing cut over Jensen's eyebrow. Yeah, that’s gonna need stitches or at least a butterfly. Jensen hisses at the painful touch but doesn’t pull too far away for Jared to keep the pressure on.
“Ackles,” Jeff replies and Jared snorts.
“Jensen Ackles? That’s not a name, it’s an intersection.”
Where Jensen Street and Ackles Road cross isn’t even a nice intersection.
Jeff shrugs in that ‘what can you do’ way he has. “It’s his corner.”
Jared watches from the corner of his eye as the banter calms his patient.
“He use?” he asks Jeff.
“Use flues snooze,” Jensen whispers to himself.
“Not that I’ve ever seen,” Jeff says, “He has a hard enough time keeping himself fed, much less getting his hands on booze or drugs.”
“Blues, sues, lose,” Jensen adds.
“Hey Jensen,” Jared says from where he’s kneeling at the other man’s feet, “How about we take you in the back and get you cleaned up some?”
Jensen looks from Jared to Jeff. “Roads going nowhere through fields of green,” he says. He wraps his good arm around himself a little tighter. His jaw works like he’s trying to make better words to express what he wants.
“It’ll be alright,” Jeff soothes from his spot in the doorway. “This is Jared. He’ll take good care of you.”
“Heartless,” Jensen says in his distress, “No song, no beat, no color.”
Jared looks to Jeff for a translation of that, but the man just shrugs.
“I’ll make you better,” Jared promises his patient, “I’ll try my best to not hurt you and it’ll feel better when I’m done.” He means it, and Jensen must see that in his eyes, because he nods. He’s still fearful, but he lets Jared help him out of the chair and he doesn’t look back at Jeff as the door closes.
“It’s okay,” Jared says as he leads Jensen towards the examination areas in the back. Five AM is a dead time in the clinic, and Jared’s glad there’s not some louder patient back there to upset Jensen. He seems so fragile, the way his eyes dart around the room, never focusing on any one thing for long and showing too much white around the edges.
“Go ahead and sit up on the table and take off your jacket for me?” Jared makes everything a question. He knows his height makes him intimidating enough without being bossy on top of it. He turns so he’s not looking directly at Jensen while he starts to gather the things he’ll need to clean and treat the wounds, but he keeps him in his peripheral vision.
Jensen starts to pull his jacket off his shoulder, and Jared can see the instant it hurts, hear the hiss of pain. “Here, whoa,” he says, low and soothing, “I’ll help you with that, okay?”
Jensen doesn’t give him any outward sign yes or no, so Jared walks up to him slow, reaches out a hand and rests it on his good arm. “If you let me, I’ll help you,” he says, as gentle as he knows how, and then he waits until finally, finally, Jensen nods.
Jared eases the outer layer of Jensen's clothing off, careful not to move his arm too much. The jacket smells bad, sweat and garbage and alcohol mixing in a particularly unappealing way. He folds it with respect and sets it aside where Jensen can still see it. It may smell bad, but it’s all that’ll keep Jensen warm in the spring chill that’s lingering well into March, and Jared’s learned not to mistreat a man’s lifeline.
Under the jacket Jensen has a few button-up shirts and under those a t-shirt. Everything else he’s been able to get off without scissors, but the last is going to be a problem. There’s a mass of swelling at the homeless man’s collar bone, and Jared really doesn’t want to move his arm if it’s broken.
“Wait right here,” he says and steps over to a storage cabinet. He grabs a sweater and a clean t-shirt that a local thrift store donated and brings them back to Jensen.
“I know your shirt is yours,” he says, “And I don’t want to cut it, but I have to. So I’ll trade you this sweater and this shirt, for your shirt. Would that be okay?”
“Into the dark, a light shone,” Jensen replies, his attention on a random spot over Jared’s shoulder, “A black horse and upon him a white knight.”
And Jared--kinda thinks that means okay, so he puts the new clothes on top of Jensen's old ones and starts working on getting that final layer of dirty cloth off of him. Six months of this job has prepared him for what’s underneath. Pale skin and not enough meat to keep the bones from looking like they want to poke through it. Dirt gathered in little dots at the pores of his skin until he looks dusted with grey. Scars and bruises and a rash from being unwashed for so long.
“Can you lay back for me?” Jared asks. Jensen doesn’t reply but he starts to lean, and Jared helps him ease down to the table’s padded surface.
“I’m just going to touch your ribs with my hands,” Jared says. “I want you to tell me if I hurt you. Okay?”
“It rains,” Jensen says, or maybe he means “Reins.”
Slow and gentle, Jared runs his hands over all the bruised spots, feeling for swelling or softness or anything out of the ordinary. When Jensen winces he murmurs “I’m sorry,” and it’s the truth every time. When he’s done he’s still worried about the collarbone and one area of ribs. The clinic doesn’t have an X-ray, and the chances of talking the homeless into walking to the real hospital are pretty slim. They’ve got a low-tech alternative though.
Jared pulls the tuning fork from its drawer and shows it to Jensen. “This is going to help me find out if your bones are broken,” he says. He takes Jensen's good hand. He strikes the fork on the metal edge of the table and then touches the base of it to Jensen's palm. The man twitches and looks confused as the vibration tickles through his skin, but not afraid. Jared works his way towards the bones he suspects may be broken, watching Jensen's reactions with each touch. He squirms and grimaces, but never makes the reaction Jared knows he’d see if the vibrations were going through broken bone, making the ends tremble against each other.
“That’s good,” Jared says, “That’s real good.” He pulls a thin blanket over Jensen and turns back to his tray for the hypodermic of pain killer. He keeps it out of Jensen's line of sight, hidden in his palm. He smoothes a lock of hair away with his left hand. “I’m going to take care of this cut now. It might hurt a little, but I’ll try to be gentle.”
“Force the walls and break the chains,” Jensen whispers. He jerks a little at the touch of the needle, but the anesthetic comes with the prick and he settles again. Jared’s good with a suture; his knots are tidy and quick.
When he’s done, Jensen's half-asleep on the exam table. There’s nobody else in need of it at the moment--although technically Jared’s not supposed to be alone in the clinic, there’s too many shifts spread too thin, and George usually heads home for a few hours nap during the quiet period. Jared brings Jensen a few ice packs, putting them on the worst of the bruises.
“It burns,” Jensen whispers, and Jared thinks it’s the most coherent thing he’s said yet.
With the sun’s rise comes the return of patients, the arrival of more clinic workers, the end of Jared’s quiet time with Jensen. Between assisting with a teen with pneumonia and an old man with an infected scrape on his knee, Jared calls every shelter on their list, looking for a place Jensen can sleep off his beating in warmth and safety. The weather’s still too cold though, too many need services meant for too few.
The waiting room’s filling up, and the five beds they have in the back are all needed. Jared sees George looking at him, looking at Jensen and wondering why he’s not been kicked out in favor of someone in more critical need.
There’s only one thing to do, and screw the rules that say he shouldn’t. Jared can’t just dump him on the street. He grabs his car keys and goes to wake Jensen up.
Jensen's still on the exam table where Jared left him, blanket pulled up around his ears and the battered and filthy sneakers poking out of the bottom. “Hey,” Jared says, reaching to touch with the one hand, the other ready to restrain Jensen if he rolls off the bed or block a blow if he comes up fighting.
Jensen wakes slow and easy, the pain killers making him groggy. His color’s good though, and it looks like the Pedialyte has put a little moisture back into him. Keeping up a steady stream of soft words, Jared gets him dressed again, the clinic’s blanket wrapped around his shoulders. Dried blood is caked around the edge of his hairline where Jared missed a spot, and he makes a mental note to get that later.
Jensen rubs at his eyes like a child as Jared gets him on his feet. “Other people need the bed,” he says, “but I’ve got somewhere warm for you to rest for a little while.”
“Believes everything it sees,” Jensen replies, but he lets himself be lead through the back door of the clinic and into the little fenced-in parking lot behind it. “No filters, no lens.”
Jared squints against the bright sunlight and thinks that a filter would be kind of nice right about then, or at least some sunglasses. He unlocks the back door of his car. She’s ancient and half-rusted from the salt on the roads, but she still gets him to work and the heater runs.
“Watch your head,” he says and helps Jensen duck as he climbs inside. “Go ahead, lay down. You’re safe here. Nobody can get in here from the street, and nobody can come out of the building without me seeing them.”
While Jensen squirms around in the back seat, getting comfortable, Jared folds himself into the front seat and starts the engine. He looks back and catches a glimpse of wide eyes, too much white around the edges.
“Hey,” he says, “It’s okay. We’re not going anywhere. I just want to get the heat running before I have to go back in.”
Jared takes fifteen minutes, getting Jensen settled in his car, the heat turned down to a level that’ll keep it warm but won’t get too hot for comfort. George gives him a look when he comes in through the back door.
“I didn’t see that,” his superior says, worry etched into the lines of his face. The man’s seen a lot of hurt and hopelessness and Jared can’t take it personal that he doesn’t feel optimistic about Jared taking home a stray.
“Thanks,” Jared says. He’s not sure why he feels the need to justify this breech of conduct, but he does. Maybe because it’s so major, maybe because another man could do the same thing for reasons so much worse than Jared’s. Either way, he can’t come up with words to explain the sensation that he can help this man. Of all the starving, filthy, crazy souls to come through his door on a daily basis, this is the one worth risking his job and career over. “I just can’t leave this half-done,” he says, and hopes it’s enough.
There’s just an hour of Jared’s shift left, and when he gets to his car he’s glad to see Jensen's still curled up asleep in the back. He doesn’t stir when Jared puts the vehicle in drive and passes through the clinic’s gates, doesn’t even make a sound as he slides the car through rush hour traffic towards home.
With calm words and no small amount of manhandling, Jared gets Jensen out of the car and up the stairs of his apartment building. He’s still drowsy and easy to maneuver and Jared wonders how long it’s been since he felt safe to sleep somewhere. By the third landing, Jensen is awake again, hesitant and wary as Jared draws him upward and onward.
Jared’s glad to see it, glad to see Jensen's sense of self-preservation is intact enough that he thinks twice about going up to a strange place with someone he doesn’t know. He stops guiding Jensen along and lets him just stand for a minute.
“Falling alone,” Jensen murmurs, “And one path leads two ways, towards and away.” He seems emotionally withdrawn, staring off to the side, his shoulders tense. “The television calls in sparks of words.”
“Hey,” Jared says at last, “Hey. You don’t have to. You don’t have to come with me. I’ll take you back to where you want to go, or you can just walk out the door.” He waits, watching Jensen mutter to himself, frown and look around.
“I won’t force you to come with me,” Jared says, low and soft, “I won’t ever force you to do anything.”
He waits, and Jensen fidgets, shifting his feet and shaking his head. But each time his feet move, they’re closer to Jared, and when he’s close enough, his hand reaches down, catching the cuff of Jared’s jacket in his fingertips and holding on. Jared lets him keep that grip, and reaches with his other hand to pat Jensen's shoulder. So many of the homeless are denied simple human contact for so long that it’s enough to drive a person crazy. This act of reaching out, small though it is, gives him that little spark of hope, that he wasn’t wrong, that this one can be saved.
Jared starts up the stairs again and Jensen follows with him, compliant as Jared could want.
The apartment isn’t much. Jared usually doesn’t bring people up. It was his ex’s idea, a place Darren could practice with his band, close enough to the club district to make getting to gigs easy and Jared got stuck with it when they broke up. What it’s got in space it loses in amenities like carpet over the bare plywood floors or fresh paint or a super that sets the heat on higher than sixty degrees all winter. A working stove would be nice too. At least the hot water works and it’s not like Jared spends much time there. Three more months, and Jared can’t wait for the lease to be up.
He leaves Jensen standing near the door and gets the space heater running in the bathroom. That done, he heads to the stretch of counter that passes for a kitchen and digs through the fridge, looking for something not-too-rich, not-too-heavy.
“Beans and rice?” he asks and Jensen cocks his head. “Beans and rice it is,” Jared decides. He nukes it and serves it to Jensen in a small bowl with bread. Jensen doesn’t sit at the table, and Jared’s not surprised. He stands in a corner at first, ignoring the spoon and using the edge of the bread as a scoop. When Jared doesn’t come close, doesn’t try to take the food back or take advantage of his distraction, Jensen seems to relax a little more, sinking down to his haunches in the corner and eating like he’s starving. Which he probably is.
After the food Jared gives Jensen a sports drink, getting some more calories and electrolytes into him. “Ready to take a bath?” Jared asks, and he gets that head-cock and a flicker of a frown again. Jensen follows him to the bathroom though. Jared starts the water running and takes off the other man’s jacket and shirts just like he had back at the clinic. A glimmer of guilt tickles along the back of his brain, but he reminds himself he’s doing nothing wrong, nothing he wouldn’t do at the clinic if it had the facilities and more time per patient.
The skin on Jensen's privates and legs is as bad as it is on his torso, and his feet worse. It doesn’t look like he’s had those shoes off or changed socks for much too long.
The socks go in the garbage. The shoes would too, but Jared can see that his would be about four sizes too large for Jensen's feet, so until he has something to replace them with he can’t dispose of them. He helps Jensen into the tub and gets him started with soap and a washcloth before he gathers up the soiled clothing and takes it to the washer. It might not all survive, but Jared’s willing to risk having to give up some of his wardrobe to get Jensen into clean clothes.
Back in the bathroom, Jared gives Jensen the minimum amount of help he can and still have the job done right. The bruised collarbone makes washing his own hair and back impossible for Jensen, but everything else he seems to reach alright on his own. They wash, rinse, repeat three times before Jared’s satisfied with the healthy clean of Jensen's skin.
Jared shows Jensen how to put the ointment on his skin, lets him again do every part he can reach, except his feet. Jared takes his time with those, cleaning between his toes one last time with an iodine mixture and then treating and bandaging the raw skin. He gets Jensen into a set of his own sweats and socks and then brings him into the living room, bringing the space heater along with them.
Jensen doesn’t speak throughout the bath. Thinking back, Jared realizes Jensen hasn’t spoken since they came into the apartment. He wishes he knew if that was a good sign or not. Either way, the night spent in the clinic and morning getting washed and treated is starting to show, and Jensen looks ready to fall asleep on his feet. Jared leaves him on the couch while he goes to the bedroom for a spare blanket.
When he comes back, Jensen is curled up in the corner of the couch, knees pulled up against his chest, arms wrapped around himself, half asleep. Jared wraps the blanket around him and his eyes flutter open. For half a heartbeat, Jared’s struck by how beautiful those eyes are, so green and luminous, edged with some of the longest lashes he’s ever seen on a man.
“Go back to sleep,” he says, and touches Jensen's hair. The other man seems to accept the comfort in the way it was intended--he closes his eyes and snuggles down a little more into the blanket.
Jared feels a sense of peace, and he has no doubts that he’s done the right thing.
Jared knows he should be sleeping. He just finished a twelve hour shift and then another hour of extracurricular nursing. He should be in his own bed, not sitting on his coffee table watching Jensen.
He knows it’s just the mystery. When he put Jensen's jeans into the dryer he caught sight of the tag. If Jared and Darren hadn’t had one of their huge blowouts of a fight over Darren buying the same jeans with almost two hundred dollars that should have gone for rent money, Jared wouldn’t have recognized the brand. That was enough to get him curious. Watching Jensen sleep, he notices that his hair, now that it’s clean, has darker roots where the highlights have grown out. The line of demarcation is too well defined to be a natural streaking.
So now he’s sitting, watching the mystery on his couch. This situation has to be new for Jensen. At some point within the past three months or so, a drastic change has occurred in his life, leaving a man that had some level of wealth and probable self-sufficiency homeless, confused, half-starving on the streets.
Jared scrubs the heels of his hands against his eyes. Schizophrenic, most likely, he thinks. Late bloomer with his first break from reality, or else just another statistic who decided he didn’t really need those meds and the side effects they brought.
Someone, somewhere, has to be missing him. People don’t just drop off the face of the earth without somebody looking. Jared sighs. He needs to take a picture and get fingerprints, see if Jensen's a missing person. That’ll have to wait for after Jensen wakes up though, and Jared’s getting close to the point where he needs to get to bed himself.
The drier buzzes that the clothes are done, and Jared folds them on the end of the couch. Jensen might wake up confused, and it’ll be good for him to see his own things if he does.
That taken care of, Jared’s done. Feeling like he’s run a marathon, he crawls into bed. He’s asleep before he knows it, dreams of being alone in an empty city stirring through his mind, making him feel restless, lost.
There are three things that Jensen knows: cold, pain, fear. He’s felt all three, in varying degrees for as long as he can remember. Fear is a whisper of dread or a sharp stab of panic. Cold is a knife that peels the skin from his face or an ache that makes him tense against it for hours or the wind dancing through him soft and sweet and calling to him to sleep. The pain is in his head always and sometimes his joints or his feet when he walks too far. Other things come and go--hunger, fever.
When Jensen wakes and finds nothing, no hurt, no chill, a new terror blooms to life in his chest, a fear of the unknown, a fear that he’s lost everything he can remember. He freezes, heart pounding and muscles clenching. Quiet. A slow steady hum. Alone, which is safer than not-alone.
He’s warm, completely warm, not the one-sided heat of a steel-drum fire. There’s softness all around him, cloth over his body, cushions under and behind him. He doesn’t know what it means for a long, terrifying while. His memory wakes slower than he did, images, thoughts coming to him like the sun dawning on the sleepy dark places of the city.
He remembers a voice, soft and strong. Talking in questions and askings. Never through him, only to him. Gentle hands. Bath. He’d known the word, but not what it felt like to have the water around him, prickling like needles and then soothing all the places where his skin is raw.
A crawling is in his chest, twisting around with restless squirming. He doesn’t--he doesn’t know. This isn’t his place. The man with the hands, the Jared, it’s his place. Even if he wants to share, it’s not Jensen's place.
There’s plenty of light, from the squares of the windows. Jensen sees his clothes there near his feet, and he reaches out to find them with his fingers too. He watches while he pulls the bundle nearer, searching the shadows for anything bad, for anybody bad. He hasn’t been inside much. Jeff doesn’t like the insides of buildings, and Jeff keeps him safe, so there must be danger inside.
Still wary, still watching, Jensen wriggles out of the clothes he’s in and pulls on the clothes that are his. His own things feel good, even if the shirt and sweater and socks are new. He flexes his toes in his shoes, feeling the differences. Not just different, he decides after a second, better.
The sun is up, daytime. Time to find a safe place to sleep, a warm place to sleep. He doesn’t know where he is, how to find the bridge or the alley or the doorways he knows. He can’t be out when the sun goes down. The wind will cut him and the bad people will find him and Jeff will worry. Jeff hates to worry. He says so.
He remembers the way they came in, the door. There’s a chain and a turn-thing. A lock. Jensen slips out into the hall and nobody is there either. He finds one down and follows it. Another door and then he is in the sun, cold and sharp. He squints against the glare of it, searching for marks he knows, places or signs.
He doesn’t see anything he knows so he walks. Cars drive by. People pass him on the sidewalk, going to wherever the people go. “For the light will make you whole,” Jensen says as a girl in a denim jacket looks at him. He doesn’t know her. She’s not his friend. He wants her to not-look and he says things to be invisible to her, bits and words like Whiskey Dan says, moves like Old Hettie, rocking his head from side to side. “Lost children in the big world stolen from the green places.” She steps further away from him and he feels safe again.
Jensen walks until he’s tired. He doesn’t know how far it is. He rests in a corner in a shadow. It’s colder than in the sun but it feels safer. His chest hurts, high up by his shoulder and lower, around the side. Breathing hurts. Cars go by on the street and he sees one he thinks he knows, light blue with dapples of darker color along the bottom. It pulls into the far lane and turns left and he thinks it was Jared driving it. Maybe Jared’s going back to the light place.
The sun is leaving and Jensen is very hungry and very thirsty when he finds the street with the sign that has a triangle on one end and a snake on the other. He knows the sign but not the corner so he follows it until the area starts to look familiar, bright cars and dark shadows, signs that blink and girls that don’t wear much clothes, even if it’s cold.
Weariness is in his bones but he’s glad to be where he knows again, he’s not so afraid. He shuffles towards one of the places he sleeps if nobody is there before him, and then Jeff is in front of him, hands on his shoulders, calling his name, asking things that Jensen doesn’t understand or doesn’t know how to answer. Jeff’s big rough hands smooth over Jensen's hair, and Jensen leans in against him.
“Son of a bitch,” Jeff is whispering, over and over, “Son of a bitch, I’ll fuckin’ kill him.”
From a doorway across the street, Jeff watches the front of the clinic. It’s been a full hour since he left Jensen there with Jared. No ambulance has come, so that has to be a good sign. As thorough as the ass-kicking Jensen had taken was, he had been moving under his own power, lucid (for Jensen) and not screaming in pain. Maybe Jared can just fix it, Jeff thinks, and when he’s done, Jensen’ll need somebody to get him where he needs to go and watch his back until he’s settled someplace safe.
He settles in, sniper-still, to watch the door and wait. There’s so much else he could be doing, people to protect and check on and feed and clothe and reassure, but he failed Jensen once tonight and he’s not going to let that happen again.
As bad as Jensen had looked when Jeff found him with those guys standing over him, one of them with lighter in hand, it’s nothing compared to the first time Jeff had seen him, some pretty-faced stranger staggering down the sidewalk like a drunk, clinging to the graffiti covered brick to keep him upright, slack-jawed with green eyes that stared out almost like he was blind. He’d been in rough shape in those days; Jeff had thought he probably burned out his brain on whatever new designer drug was popular at the time. Jeff had figured somebody would start missing a guy like that, with his nice clothes and sharp haircut, somebody would come looking for him which made him not Jeff’s problem.
Except he was. Nobody came. Nobody looked. He ate the kibble that the Cat Lady put out for the strays and burrowed down in piles of garbage when night fell. He skirted the little family-like clusters of homeless people, not too close, but like he was afraid to be too alone. And if Jeff shared a burger from a dumpster in those days, or dropped a threadbare jacket across his shoulders, it didn’t make him one of those Jeff watched out for. It was just enough to keep him alive until the missing person’s report was filed, until the cops came looking for him and his family got him a hundred-an-hour-shrink to help unfry his brains.
The only person that came looking for Jensen was some scumbag that tried to drag him down an alley for a little party. No way in hell Jeff was gonna let that happen. After that it was like ‘You touched him last, you can’t throw him back.’ Jensen was his. His responsibility.
The sky lightens. A pregnant woman waddles up to the clinic door and goes inside, and later a skinny guy doubled up with coughing stumbles over. Jeff waits. It’s not like the clinic is a hospital. They don’t keep people overnight or all day or whatever. Jensen has to come out soon. There hasn’t been an ambulance. Jensen has to come out.
Jeff realizes he’s starting to feel trapped, even though it’s not him that’s stuck indoors, in the roofed in walled in peopled in confines of the clinic. He gets up and starts to pace the full length of the block and back, trying to stuff that feeling of being closed in down into his guts, trying to breathe easy and free.
Fuck it, just fuck it all. He storms up to the clinic door and pushes it open, propping it there with is foot while he braces a hand on either side of the frame, bracing himself against the gravity of the room sucking him in and never letting go again.
“Hey, Jared still here?” he asks, loud enough that everybody looks his way. He doesn’t see Jared.
The acting receptionist shakes her head. “Sorry, honey, he left hours ago.”
Jeff swallows hard. He trusted Jared. He doesn’t really know the other doctors. They don’t work his shift. Even if they did, he doubts any of them would have come out to treat his stab wound on the sidewalk like Jared had that first time they met.
“He was taking care of a friend of mine, John Doe that goes by Jensen Ackles?”
The woman looks at some sort of chart. “Nope,” she says, “checked out at six this morning.”
Shit, Jeff swears, shit. Jensen left and he missed him. Son of a bitch.
Jared wakes up and a wave of dread sweeps over him. He knows, knows before he even steps out his bedroom door that the living room is empty, that Jensen's gone. He wishes he was wrong but he’s not. Everything is still out there, the little heater humming away, pointed at a couch that is vacant except for a set of folded up sweats on the corner.
He swears, colorful words slipping from his lips as he runs out the door and to the stair’s railing. He looks down but doesn’t see any movement. He shouts Jensen's name because it doesn’t hurt to and is answered only by his own tinny echo.
He steps back inside, grabs his keys, shoes and a shirt. It’s cold as fuck when he steps out half-dressed, shivering as he waits for the old car’s engine to warm up enough to risk pulling away from the curb. She still sputters and almost stalls on him, and it’s only by luck or miracle that the motor catches and drags her tired tin carcass out onto the streets.
Jared doesn’t know what else to do. He’d tried to make it better and this is not better. Jensen's lost, in a strange place. So what that it’s five miles from the clinic. For a man walking who doesn’t know where he is, it could be the same as twenty with a good map. Maybe worse. Jensen doesn’t have food or water or anything, and how the hell could Jared be so stupid as to not expect this?
He circles the block surrounding his apartment, and then the one-block radius around that. He criss-crosses the area, one eye on traffic and one on the sidewalk. Horns bleat at him, irate drivers venting their frustration at how slow he’s driving. He could care less.
He drives his car’s tank empty, refuels and goes back to his apartment just in case Jensen ended up there. No such luck, and it’s getting late, so he grabs what he needs for work. On a last minute impulse, he digs an old backpack out of the bedroom closet. If he does see Jensen, he wants him to have what he needs. Jared packs a roll of toilet paper, deodorant, the toothbrush Jensen used the night before and a tube of toothpaste in the bag. From the bedroom he puts in three pairs of socks, bundled up tight. In the kitchen he stuffs in two bottles of water, two of Gatorade and an assortment of pop-tarts and granola bars.
Just having the bag ready makes him feel better, like Jensen will come because he has it, like a gesture of friendship and charity can’t be wasted. He puts it in the car as he leaves again, and brings it into the clinic with him like a security blanket.
George is giving breathing treatments to a scrawny girl that can’t be more than fourteen when Jared gets in to work, putting the tang of Albuterol into the air.
“Hey,” he says when his boss finishes up, “I need to take my lunch break out tonight.”
“Yeah?” George has this way of looking at him, like he knows all his secrets.
Jared nods. “I have to go looking for Jensen. He ran out on me while I was asleep.”
George snorts. “How much of your stuff did he take with him? Anything pawnable?”
That rankles, because Jared’s judgment may have been bad, but it wasn’t that bad.
“Nothing,” he says as he walks away. “He didn’t take anything of mine.” Not that Jared had anything worth pawning. Not that Jared even checked the things he does have.
The night passes in tense silence. Jared and George don’t say anything that’s not necessary to the work. It’s not comfortable, but Jared’s thinking about Jensen too much to be worried about it.
There’s the usual 2 a.m. rush, when drunks get brought in and hookers get roughed up and a teen overdosing on Sudafed and sleeping pills needs his stomach pumped. Same old, same old. Not long after that the stream peters off to a trickle.
“I’m taking lunch,” Jared announces and George waves him out the back door.
“If he comes here looking for you, I’ll keep him here,” the older man promises, and Jared smiles. They’re cool again.
Jared considers himself a smart guy, street-smart and aware. He’s worked at the clinic for six months now, and almost two years as an EMT before that. He’s driven into turf wars and helped the homeless and nearly gotten shot in a domestic disturbance. He feels he’s pretty good at watching his own back, being aware of his surroundings.
He doesn’t even know someone’s behind him before his feet are swept out from under him, his arm is pulled back at an angle that shoots a sick wrong fucked pain through his shoulder and the side of his head is slammed into the hood of his car. He’s held like that, helpless and helpless and helpless for long seconds, his attacker proving to him that he can’t do shit to get out of this.
“Did you fuck him?” a voice growls in his ear and it takes a second before his panicking mind can make sense of it.
“What?” His voice is a ragged whisper against the pain and fear. “Fuck who?”
The fingers clenched in Jared’s hair tighten, pressing his cheekbone harder against the icy metal. “Jensen. Did you fuck him? Did you fuck him before you kicked him out in a strange place?”
Jared hisses in a few more breaths, his body heat puffing white with the cold. “Jeff?”
There’s no response. The hands on him don’t loosen at all. “I didn’t fuck him,” Jared says. “I got him a bath and took care of his skin and got him a good meal. I didn’t fuck him.” He tries to put all the sincerity a guy who’s telling the truth can have into the words. “I let him sleep on my couch and he split before I woke up.”
He waits, listening to his own heart beating out a frantic pattern in his chest. “Jeff. I didn’t hurt him. I wouldn’t hurt him.”
“You’d get him hurt, cleaning him up like that,” Jeff says, and pushes away. Jared catches his breath before turning around.
“So he’s alright?” he asks, knowing he sounds more than, less than, absolutely not professional.
“He’s not--he’s not talking,” Jeff says, his frustration evident. “He won’t talk and he’s limping and still hugging that arm. I don’t know if he’s still in too much pain or what happened to him after I left him with you.”
Jared leans against his car, freezing his ass against the metal, but he wants to look as non-threatening as possible. He puts up with it when the donors show up to see how things are doing at the clinic. Dealing with Jeff’s not so hard by comparison. “He stopped talking on me too,” he puts in, “But he didn’t seem upset.”
Jeff nods, shaky like dealing with this uncertainty is more frightening than any act of violence he’s put himself in the middle of in the six months Jared’s known him.
“Look,” Jared says, “I’ve got a lunch break. Let me run in and get him some Tylenol. I’ve got some stuff I want him to have, and we’ll go together and make sure he didn’t get more injured on his way to you. Alright?”
“Yeah,” says Jeff. “Yeah, let’s go.”
Jensen closes his eyes and leans closer to the fire he shares with Whiskey Dan and Little Angie. Not too close though. Not close enough for the flames to touch him. Not close enough for the people to touch him either.
His neck is cold and he cozies down deeper into the jacket’s collar. It smells like the rainbowed cement Jeff rubbed it on. It smells safe again, the motor oil covering the sharp chemical ‘clean’ that Jared had put on it. Jeff hadn’t found Jensen's hat after the men hurt him but he promised a new one. Jensen thinks maybe that’s why Jeff left him here, with people he likes but doesn’t trust. Jeff said he’d come back and he never makes promises he doesn’t keep.
The fire flickers lower and Jensen reaches for more fuel to put on it. They’re burning pizza boxes, a whole stack that Angie found, almost as tall as she is. They open each one before tossing it on the flames. Some still have crusts and even the empty ones smell like spices and salt mixed in with the cardboard when they burn.
He finds most of a slice of pizza in the box and passes it over to Angie. She’s the smallest person he knows that’s not a kid. Her face is sharp like a bird’s and her skin is tight over the bones like the surfaces of her shrunk more than the insides did. Her eyes are bright and hard and see everything. She takes the stiff bread in her bony fingers and tears at the edge of it with her long teeth.
Whiskey Dan protests, “We didn’t know! How could we ever know?” but he’s not talking to anyone there when he says it and his old eyes are staring far away.
Jensen hugs his bad arm against his chest and watches the flames change color as they find the ink in the cardboard. He wants Jeff to be back. He wants to go find his own place for the night. Jeff said stay though. Jeff said it was important.
Figures move through the shadows; Jensen sees them over the fire coming closer. Two men walking side by side. Big men, tall. Jensen stands up and Angie catches his movement and backs away from the fire, from the men.
“It’s just me,” a voice calls, strong and gentle, rough and soft. Jensen wants to touch that voice, feel the contradictions of it with his fingertips. Angie goes back to the fire but Jensen waits. Just me would be one person and this is two. Words of no meaning gather on his tongue, his only defense. He waits until Jeff walks close and he can see the other.
The fear uncoils then because he knows Jared too, likes Jared and trusts him both. Jensen had been in Jared’s place so maybe it’s right that Jared comes to one of his. Jensen sits down again, scooching over to make room for at least one person between him and Angie.
“Hey,” Jared says. “How’re you feeling?” He settles in beside Jensen, looking him over, checking him out.
The sick fear in Jensen's chest changes to a new thing, a fluttering thing like a moth, a humming thing like the little heater from Jared’s place. He understands, so suddenly that he feels dizzy.
Jeff gives people things they need. Jeff gave him to Jared. Jeff gave Jared to him.
The side of Jensen's face twitches, the corner of his mouth pulling towards his ear. He bites the edge of his lower lip to hold it back.
“Do you hurt?” Jared tries again. Jensen wants to answer him, he does, but it’s so scattered to find the right way, to remember the words and what they go with and the order to say them. Speaking sense is so hard and the other words try to slip out of him while he’s trying to find the right ones.
Jeff’s hand settles on Jensen's other shoulder and Jensen realizes he’s been breathing funny, each breath bigger or smaller or shorter than the one before.
“You want me to get rid of him?” Jeff asks, his voice like the low growl of the fenced-in dogs that tell Jensen that they can’t eat him but they would if the gate was open and he should walk wide in respect of that.
Jensen reaches out and grips the cuff of Jared’s coat in his fingertips. No take-backs. No do-overs.
“I’ll take that as a no,” Jeff says and it’s hard to tell if he’s smiling without looking at him.
“You want me to get rid of him?” Jeff asks, and for a second Jared’s scared that he really is doing something wrong, bringing Jensen distress that he wouldn’t have otherwise. Then Jensen reaches out and grabs his sleeve again and no matter what mistakes Jared’s made before, he’s forgiven.
“I’ll take that as a no,” Jeff says. A frown wrinkles his forehead.
That settled, Jared can get back to the important issues. “Jensen,” he says again, and gets the man’s full attention. “Hurts?” Jared asks, hovering his hand over where Jensen's collarbone is so bruised, hovering but not touching. He makes the universal grimace of pain, the owie-face that even three-year-olds recognize.
“Hurts?” Jared asks and motions to Jensen's collarbone again. Jensen grimaces and direct communication is great, even if it’s non-verbal. Jared moves his hand to the worst part of Jensen's ribs. They work like that together, until Jared’s satisfied that nothing new has happened to justify bringing Jensen back to the stress of the clinic.
“Fourteen hundred men,” the bundled up codger by the fire says in a voice filled with despair. “Forever gone but not forgotten never forgotten I swear I swear.” Nobody looks over but Jared.
When the old guy doesn’t follow up his ranting, Jared takes the Tylenol out of his pocket and a bottle of water out of Jensen's backpack and shows him how to swallow the pills. There’s a little more choking and sputtering than Jared’s seen lately but he gets them down and drinks a little water besides
When he’s done everything he can for Jensen's comfort, he looks up at Jeff again. “Can we take a little walk?”
Jeff nods and Jared gently disengages his jacket cuff from Jensen's grip. “I’ll be back,” he promises, talking to Jensen like he understands every word. For all Jared knows, he does.
They step away, far enough to have a private conversation and still keep the little group by the fire within view. Jeff doesn’t offer an opening so Jared is forced to break the ice.
“He hasn’t been out here long, has he? Couple months, tops?”
Jeff rubs at the stubble on jaw. “Showed up around Christmas sometime, yeah. Fucked up six ways to Sunday.”
“He getting better or worse?” Jared asks, trying to feel his way through the situation. He wants to help, to find some way to improve Jensen's life because what he has now isn’t so hot.
“Better,” Jeff answers without hesitation. “Much better, if you believe it.” He pauses. “You think anybody’s still lookin’ for him?” There’s something in Jeff’s voice, a hesitancy, like letting Jensen go is gonna hurt like hell but he’d do it to get Jensen to a safer place.
“I still know cops,” Jared offers. “I could ask around. Maybe take Jensen's fingerprints, see if he turns up anywhere.”
Jeff shakes his head. “No way. What if he’s wanted. What if he’s in trouble or ran away from some place. I don’t want the cops lookin’ at him.”
Jared nods despite his frustration. He considers going around Jeff and doing it anyway but Jeff isn’t asking, he’s telling, and Jared can’t risk Jeff hiding Jensen somewhere that Jared will never find him. Jared might be able to get Jensen locked up for a fourteen day observation, but he’s pretty sure even Jeff’s mammoth claustrophobia wouldn’t stop him from going and getting Jensen, and anyplace Jeff couldn’t get him out of wouldn’t be a place Jared would want him to be in the first place.
“Okay.” His brain scrambles for ideas even as his tone is calm and even. “Okay, how about I go to the cops and say I ran across a guy and I’d like to look at missing persons photos from that time and see if I recognize him. He won’t raise any flags unless I find him there.”
Jeff looks relieved and Jared’s annoyance fades as he realizes he’s offering a resource that the man didn’t have. Of course Jeff can’t go in to the cops and ask about this, and if he tried to do it curbside he’d risk getting picked up himself. It probably never even occurred to him that legal channels were an option.
“That would work,” Jeff says. “You be careful.” Jared figures he’s the only one of Jeff’s friends that isn’t in danger from the police on a daily basis. He feels like the emissary to the outside world, the strange creature who can breathe in the air as well as under water. He wonders if Jeff thinks of him as a friend too, and realizes it doesn’t matter much. They’ll get done what they need to.
“I’ll take care of it as soon as I’m off shift,” he promises.
“You’re a good guy,” Jeff says, “I’m glad I didn’t have to beat your head in.” He turns and walks back to where Jensen and the others are.
Jared watches for a little while from outside the circle of light as Jeff goes through the backpack with Jensen, stuffing most of its contents into Jensen's coat pockets and jeans pockets and the little pocket on his flannel shirt. The rest, the toilet paper and bottles of water and Gatorade, he sets aside while he takes the bag itself and grinds it into the asphalt with his heel, roughing the fabric, staining it and taking the almost-new shine off of it before he repacks it and tucks it in against Jensen's side. Jared watches and he’ll remember the next time he gives Jensen a gift, to make sure it doesn’t look like it’s worth stealing, not to anybody.
When Jeff settles, Jared steps back over, crouching close enough that Jensen can touch him again if he wants to. He can’t help but smile as his sleeve is once again gripped in Jensen's fingers. “I need to go back to work in a minute,” he says directly to Jensen. “If you ever need anything, if you ever need anything at all and you can’t find Jeff, you can come to my work, okay? I’ll tell the others to watch out for you, and if I’m not there, they’ll call me and I’ll come. It might not be right away, but I’ll come, I promise.”
He watches for a reaction, but he feels it first, as Jensen's fingers clench on his sleeve, tightening the fabric around his wrist. Then Jensen leans in, resting his forehead for a moment on Jared’s shoulder as his hand relaxes and Jared is sure his words were understood.
“I’ll come back another time,” Jared promises, and Jensen sits back up and lets his sleeve go. He looks away as Jared stands and as many times as Jared looks back over his shoulder, Jensen never turns to watch him go.
Jensen wakes in the morning with an old couch cushion between him and the alleyway’s asphalt, cardboard sheets and some bubblewrap covering him and a wooden pallet keeping the chill of a metal dumpster from leaching the heat out of his body. It’s good. It’s the most warm he’s had except the day he stayed at Jared’s place. Jeff finds the best spots and the warmest places but Jensen's never seen where Jeff sleeps, never seen Jeff sleep at all.
He stretches a little to loosen his joints -- knees and hips and elbows stiff from sleeping in a ball. The back pack that Jared gave him is tucked safely between his side and the wall. Jeff said it wasn’t important. Just things. Not worth getting hurt over. Jensen thinks it is important. The bag and the things in the bag aren’t things he needs, they’re nice. All nice things and Jensen's never had a nice thing. The water tastes clean and the roll of paper is soft to wipe with, softer than newspaper even, and he feels glad to know that when the socks he wears are stiff and old that he can put new ones on.
He counts the things that Jared gave him. Nineteen, counting the bag. Nineteen things he doesn’t need. Nineteen things just to be nice.
And he wants for the first time, wants to give nice things back. He crawls from his night’s shelter and feels the sun on his hair. He swings the nearly empty pack onto his shoulder and starts to walk. He’ll find food somewhere in a garbage can or at one of the shelters if he gets there at the right time.
A shattering of bright green glass spills across the alleyway like moss growing in the cracks and Jensen considers the effect of it for a moment, cocking his head to get a new perspective.
He turns away for long enough to find a piece of newspaper and to take some of the softer paper out of his pack. He picks up the bits, sharp and hard and bright and rests them in their new nest. He balls the papers up and tucks them into one of the pack’s little pockets. The green glass isn’t nice yet, isn’t a gift, but it’s a part and he just has to find the rest and it’ll be special. Good enough for Jared.
Before he leaves work, Jared calls a guy he knew back in his EMT days, a motorcycle cop that had flirted with him when they got a call together. Not a bad guy, but a little pushy and overconfident in his advances, and not Jared’s type with his 70’s mustache and swaggering attitude. The grapevine had mentioned Alan getting banged up in a wreck, his knee screwed so bad it put him on a desk job. If Jared’s any judge, the guy’s doubling up on his PT and doing illegal steroids to get back on the streets. While he’s desk-bound though, it’s an angle Jared can work to get to look at missing persons photos without too much of a fuss.
It takes half an hour of chit-chat on the phone, catching up on old times they never had and good times that didn’t quite happen for Jared to get to ask his favor, and then Alan schedules for him to come down to the station as Alan’s getting off work so they can “maybe” go get a beer after.
Jared gets his foot in the door with that maybe, and as he’s sitting and looking at the computer screen paging through the few pictures of men 25-35, brown hair, green eyes, 5’9”-6’3”, reported missing between December first and January thirty-first, he makes his apologies and says he’s sort of seeing someone and really hoping it can be more, but if he’s ever single when Alan’s single maybe they should hook up then. He’s not really sure why he says it but it hardly feels like a lie. At least the seeing someone part. The idea of being with Alan, being with anybody right now, twists in his stomach like a bad burrito.
He leaves the station around noon, glad that he got in and glad that he got out un-obligated, but wishing like hell he’d found a familiar face among those that someone actually cared enough to miss. It hurts, to know a person can end up on the streets in such a short time span and nobody thinks it’s odd, nobody misses him or gives a damn where he’s gone.
It makes him think of himself, so far from home. He wonders if George would go down and file the paperwork if he didn’t come in to work, how long it would take before his mom’s unanswered calls prompted her to call the police all the way from San Antonio. Who would walk the streets for him, peering at the unwashed and unloved, looking for his face?
The wind feels colder when he steps out of the station and the sun does nothing to warm his mood. He drives home alone and gets dressed for bed. He’s got the next day--night--whatever off, but it screws him up to flip his sleep schedule so he sticks with the vampire lifestyle. The blacked out windows in his bedroom lie and say the time for resting has come. He falls asleep thinking about the warmth of his bed and the electric blanket and how he never really appreciated that before. He thinks of Jensen, and hopes the cold weather breaks soon.
He dreams of summer days and a bright park with white flowers. The sky is so full of sunshine that it hurts to look at and a light rain mists down at the same time. He laughs and twirls in the sprinkles and someone spins there with him, dancing in the rain. He can’t make his dream-self focus on the man’s face, but he feels loved. He feels not-alone. He feels happy.
Jensen walks all day, eyes to the ground, searching for the rest, searching for perfect things in the rubble of the gutters and alleys and plazas. He finds a tool, a rusted box-cutter blade. He rubs it on the smoothest brick he can find until the edge shines bright again and the point can work and bend and poke.
He finds a tangle of wires in bright colors, blue and white and red and green and yellow. Inside they’re orangeish metal and bright like dreams and fire. Jensen sits in a doorway and cuts the plastic away. He wraps the sharp-green glass with the copper wire to see how it can fit together and how it can be made to stay. What it wants to be.
He doesn’t mean to make a little man from the wire, the glass shining in his chest like a heart to light the world. It’s just that one wire wants to bend and wrap and fold again and another on top of it and the glass only fits one way, has to be that way. The figure looks like he might stand at any moment, one foot under him and the other in front, knees bent. His hands are stretched out for help or to help or for both.
Jensen holds it between his wind-cracked hands and watches to see if it holds together strong enough to last. He takes a slow breath in and feels his thoughts slotting into place. “Jared,” he whispers. Even though he talks all the time, saying go-away words to keep himself safe, it feels new to speak on purpose and know before the word comes out what it will be.
“Jared’s,” he clarifies to himself. “For Jared. For you.”
The sun is down and the cold is coming but the little wire man needs to go to Jared. Jensen needs to go to Jared.
It’s not hard to get to the clinic. Jensen knows the way--one step and another step then a turn and a cross the road. He follows the signs and colors on the walls. He follows the cracks on the cement that tell him the way in their broken lines language.
Outside the clinic he watches through the window into the inside. People are there being helped and people are there helping but none of them is Jared. He holds the wire man with one hand while he tucks the other one down in his pocket until he’s too cold and has to switch. He switches hands six times and he still doesn’t see Jared. He puts the little man down and puts the socks Jared gave him on his hands and the cold can’t get him so easy. With his gift in hand he walks to the back. The cage behind the clinic has many cars but none of them is the blue with the dark spots along the bottom. None of them is Jared’s.
The cold makes his ears ache and the high-pitched hurt in his head grinds hard against how much he wants to take the little gift to Jared. The dark sky means he should find a place to sleep warm and safe.
The best spots have people in them already and Jensen knows he should have started looking earlier. Under the bridge he can’t sleep with all the people so close they could touch him and so close they could hurt him and no Jeff there to keep him safe. He walks to a sunk-back door he knows and the place under the stairs but people sleep there already. He goes by the place Jeff found for him with the crates and cardboard and cushion but it has feet sticking out and it was never his anyway.
He goes to the last place where the wind will stay away and if somebody is already there he’ll have to pull garbage out of a dumpster and sleep on top of it. Never in the dumpster, Jeff always says, never in the storm drains even if he could fit and the wind can’t find him.
Nobody is there and Jensen brings some flattened boxes with him to the building site with the big cement pipes. He pushes them in one of the bottom-row pipes and looks to be sure the other end is open. He knows not to sleep too long because the men in the morning won’t like him there. He curls up in the rounded space and listens to the distorted echoes of his own noise.
Beyond his feet a slow rain starts to fall and Jensen feels sad for the people in the places he looked first. He closes his eyes and curls up a bit more. He’s cold. He hurts where the men hit him and where Jared stitched him together again. He fears that it will be too frozen to look for food the next day or that the bad men will bother him and that fear never goes all the way away. He has a plan for the next day though, so many things to do and it feels good to have a Jared to see. He feels real and awake and that frightens him too but it’s a nice scared and he thinks he can live with that.
The glowing numbers on Jared’s bedside clock say 9:47 when he wakes up. In the blacked-out darkness of his room he experiences the familiar disorientation of not being sure if it means morning or night. His sleep-addled brain decides on PM. He couldn’t have slept all the way through morning, twenty hours or more.
A couple of months ago he would have been starting his day--night--whatever with Darren, Jared getting ready for working in the clinic and Darren for his bartending job on the strip. He had friends then, Darren's friends yeah, but people to hang out with.
He thinks about that in the shower, how few people he spends time with these days. All the people he knew before Darren are headed for bed about now. Normal people, normal lives, normal schedules. The thought of going back to school has its temptations. He’s talked to George about it though and the chances of staying at this clinic and working a day shift are really slim. He considered taking just one class or something, but it would be like a normal person getting up at three in the morning to go to school and he’s not sure he can take it.
After he gets dressed, Jared pokes around the apartment. With the little things he packed up for Jensen, his kitchen seems sort of empty and he needs more toilet paper.
The twenty-four hour grocery’s lights cast a sickly glow over the store. Jared finds himself buying more pre-packaged things than he would in a normal week, small items in single servings along with his staples of black beans, rice, peanut butter, jelly and two loaves of bread. He knows he’s thinking about Jensen, knows he’s stocking up and that he’s not going to be the one eating half of what he puts in the cart.
The sky opens up as Jared walks to his car, great fat drops falling straight down. It feels like ice slithering down the back of his neck and he can’t even imagine having nowhere to go in this crap, not even a car to get into. He takes the long way home, circling a few blocks around the clinic and crisscrossing the neighborhood between there and his apartment. There aren’t many homeless visible on the streets though, and the few that are all look the same, faceless bundles of rags tucked into the nooks and crannies of a building.
He’s got no hope of finding Jensen from his car and very little even if he went out on foot. He still worries as he heads back home. Getting Jensen into a shelter has to be a priority. Whatever luck has kept the man from a hundred different ways to die so far can’t hold out forever. If he thought Jensen would stay he’d offer his own couch, but the way he bugged out before Jared woke up last time is a pretty clear sign of how uncomfortable he is with the idea.
Jared hits the phone book after the groceries are put away. He lists out city programs and government assistance. Longer-term options than he had considered that first night. He’ll find something, damn it. He compiles a list of everyone he knows who might have a lead on a safe place for Jensen so he can start making calls when the rest of the world wakes up.
The dawn never comes for Jensen. The world outside the pipe he sleeps in goes from dark to grey and the misting rain muffles the sounds of life. He sleeps through the break of day and doesn’t wake up until footsteps tromp through the wet gravel outside.
Jensen looks up and a young man in a hard hat looks down. “Hey, man,” the construction worker says and looks back over his shoulder. His eyes aren’t hard. “Hey, you can’t be here. You gotta go. Vaminos.” A warning, not a threat.
With one hand Jensen grabs the strap of the bag Jared gave him and the other takes the little wire man he made for Jared in return. He scrambles out of the pipe on the far end from the younger man and runs. He splashes through a deep puddle and the cold of it cuts like stepping through a sheet of glass. The chill of it soaks his shoes, his socks, the cuffs of his jeans.
He runs until his ribs burn and his head aches and the bruise on his collarbone throbs with every step. He stops then and hides and waits for one of the construction men to follow him but nobody does.
He sits for a while there and gets his breath back. He thinks about where he is and how far to the clinic where Jared might be later when the sun goes down and how far to Jared’s place and how tricky maybe to find it. He eats one of the bars Jared gave him and drinks a water and decides that if he’s careful he can try to find Jared’s place and if he can’t he’ll know how to get back again this time. He’ll try to find Jared all day and if he can’t then he’ll go to the clinic.
Armed with a plan and some food in his stomach he gathers his treasures and starts to walk. He tries to pay attention to the sidewalk and remember when he went this way the other way looking for Jeff. Concentrating is hard in the face of so much to look at and so much to see. The world is washed clean by the rain and he keeps stopping to pick things up, nails with potential, a pretty beaded thing that a girl would wear in her hair, metal circles that might go with other things to make a new and beautiful thing.
He loses the way a few times and the buildings beside the road get too big or too shiny or too little to be where he needs to be and he has to turn around. He’s stronger than the last time he walked from Jared’s place though and not so afraid of never being found again.
He sees Jared’s car before he recognizes the building. He had been too tired when he went in to see it and too in a hurry when he left to pay attention. He knows the car though and he stops for a minute to run his hand over the metal and look inside and see the place where Jared let him sleep.
Getting inside the building is easy. The knob doesn’t even have to turn to open the big door. The little metal notch beside the knob where the lock is supposed to hold tight and safe is all bent like it was broken a long time ago and the door opens when he pulls. Inside a hall goes off to the side and stairs go up. He knows Jared is up and starts to climb. He tries to remember how far it was but he’s not sure.
He walks and all the halls and all the doors look the same. One door is all the same but different too and Jensen doesn’t know why but he knows Jared’s place is there. He turns the knob but it doesn’t open and he doesn’t see a button to push like Jeff did at the clinic. He sits down against the door and closes his eyes. Jared will come in or Jared will go out and Jensen will be found and that is enough for him to stay out in the hallway. He feels exposed and unhidden but tired too and the hall is warmer than outside.
Jared will come, he thinks to himself and even in his head the words are soft and full of comfort. Jared will come, he thinks until he sleeps.
The world falls away and Jensen cries out in terror. For half a second he knows he fell asleep in a dumpster even though Jeff says never to and he’s being dumped and he’ll be crushed and killed and Jeff will be so mad at him.
Then he feels himself hit denim-covered legs and he can see battered black boots and rough wood floor under them and he looks up as Jared’s crouching down.
“Bent over backwards to roll in the coal,” Jensen babbles as hands reach for him. He scrambles back even as he knows this is Jared and Jared won’t hurt him his fear screams to look away and be too loud and not make sense so he’ll be alone again.
Jared doesn’t chase and that makes it so much easier for Jensen to stop when he hits the far wall of the hall to stop and breathe and not fall any more.
“Hey,” Jared says, looking at Jensen from where he squats in his doorway. “Hey, you okay now?” He backs into the apartment and smiles soft at Jensen. “You want to come in?”
Jensen does, he wants. He swallows down big gulps of air until his heart has no room to beat so hard and frantic on the inside of his chest. He doesn’t need to be afraid. He can see the words in Jared’s eyes even if Jared doesn’t say them. It’s okay. You’re safe.
Jensen stands and then looks around. His bag is there, and the wire man he made for Jared. His heart starts pounding again as he straightens the sculpture’s foot where it bent a little.
“Here.” It’s not the word he had meant to say but it’ll do. He thrusts the gift towards his friend with the same force he thrusts the words from his throat. “Jared. Here. For you.”
And Jared just takes the little man and stares at Jensen, his lips doing this funny twitch and his eyes all glittery. “That’s great Jensen, that’s--” He looks down into his hands and looks at the present for the first time.
Jared looks from the gift to Jensen with something unreadable in his eyes, something that puts a shiver through Jensen that isn’t fear.
“This is awesome,” Jared says in a way that Jensen believes him. He hadn’t realized up to that point that it might not be, that Jared might not like it and the relief makes him dizzy. Jared reaches out and puts his hand on Jensen's good shoulder up close by his neck where Jensen can feel how warm it is through his shirt.
“Come on in, where’d you find this?”
Jensen lets that warm hand guide him into Jared’s place. He feels his throat catch at the question and close hard against the go-away words that want to come out in his confusion.
“It was--” he says and makes a gesture with his hand. “It was.”
Jared smiles and it makes Jensen feel warmer than the heater does. “Complicated, huh?” But Jared doesn’t seem to want an answer to that and it’s all okay.
Jared puts Jensen in one of the chairs by the table and Jensen goes with it because Jared makes it so easy. “Hungry?” Jared asks, and he watches until Jensen nods.
Jared puts the wire man on the middle of the table and then starts making food again. Jensen stays in the chair while he eats this time and he thinks maybe Jared likes it when he does.
“What say we get those wet shoes off, huh?” Jared asks when Jensen has eaten as much as he can. It hadn’t occurred to Jensen, but now that Jared mentions it his toes are all squelchy with the gauze still between them and the wet socks all sloppy.
He can take them off himself. Jared sets up a heater to dry them and gets Jensen new socks and a towel to dry off the damp edges of his jeans. While Jensen's socks are off already Jared puts on his plastic gloves and cleans Jensen's toes again and puts new gauze and ointment between them. It’s so nice, being touched. Jensen's forehead itches where the stitches are and Jared sits down beside him in a chair and re-cleans and bandages that too and doesn’t mind when Jensen leans into Jared’s touch a little more than he has to.
Jared sighs and Jensen wonders if he’s done something wrong, but Jared’s still close to him, still touching him.
“Look,” Jared says, “I’ve got to head to work. Your shoes are still wet, do you want to stay? You could. I won’t be back for hours. You’d have the place all to yourself.”
“It’s warm here,” Jared says and he says it like he needs this to be okay again. Jensen reaches out and touches his sleeve and Jared closes his eyes. “I just don’t want to have to worry about you.”
“No,” Jensen says with the word feeling strange in his mouth. Jared starts to look sad and Jensen shakes his head. “No worry.” That’s…not quite right. “Don’t worry.” He tries again and Jared’s smile comes back.
“You don’t have to stay all night if you don’t want to, but you can,” Jared tells him. “And eat whatever you want, okay?” He bustles around the room opening little doors and putting things on the table and Jensen isn’t quite sure what to make of it.
“You’re safe here,” Jared says again and touches Jensen's shoulder. “Okay?”
It feels just like when Jeff puts Jensen somewhere warm and safe for the night only bigger and with food.
“Here,” Jensen says with no question in the word. His lips try to quirk again, crooked and strange and this time he lets them.
Jared turns the sculpture-thing Jensen gave him around on the table one last time before he leaves. Unbelievable. The guy can’t keep himself fed but he can find Jared a present, and a really cool one at that. He doesn’t know if he should be flattered or worried. He does know that the idea of leaving Jensen alone in his apartment puts a twinge of uncertainty in his guts. “Don’t mess with the stove,” he warns, “And make sure the heater isn’t blocked and doesn’t fall over, okay?”
And every question makes Jensen look less at ease. Jared finally has to shut his mouth and smile and wave goodbye before he really freaks the guy out. It isn’t easy to light an apartment on fire. It doesn’t just happen. Jensen can survive months on the street with Jeff’s occasional help; he’s not going to find a way to kill himself in Jared’s place in one night.
Jared gets to work and it looks like the full moon came early. The waiting room is packed and all the medical personnel have their hands full. Busy is good. Busy is great, in fact. Jared may be a bit on the enthusiastic side sometimes, and he might be naïve to go with it, but he’s not stupid and he sure as hell doesn’t tell his boss that he let the homeless guy who split on him two nights before back into his apartment. A steady stream of patients roll through the clinic and Jared’s never been happier to be too busy to make small talk between jobs.
He wants to go home during his lunch break but besides visiting Jensen he doesn’t have a good reason and they’re too busy for either him or George to leave anyway.
He aches when quittin’ time comes around. His feet and shoulders and even his face hurt from smiling that mild, supportive, encouraging smile. The last thing he wants to see in the morning light is Jeff Morgan leaning on his car, inside the damn locked gate again waiting for him. Not that he minds seeing Jeff, but the last time they met inside the fence hadn’t been the happiest ten minutes of Jared’s life. Still, he makes an effort to be polite.
“Jeff, hey, what’s up?” He wishes Jeff smoked or something. He sits too still. Calm in a way that can be freaky when Jared has a guilty conscience even though he hasn’t done anything wrong.
“Seen Jensen?” Jeff asks, and Jared feels the weight of his impending doom. And tonight? He’s just way too tired to deal with it.
“He’s at my apartment,” he says with maybe too much blatant honesty.
Jeff’s eyes narrow.
“Look,” says Jared, “He needed a warm place to sleep. He was wet and cold and he came to me. And no, I’m not fucking him. Seriously Jeff, have you looked at him?”
Jeff’s flinch surprises Jared and regret rushes up to fill his chest. Okay, so that was a little harsh for the situation.
“I looked at missing persons reports,” Jared says to change the subject. “He wasn’t in the citywide listing that I saw. I think I need to try looking at the national NCIC, but that pulls up a lot of names and faces.”
Jeff nods like he expected that news. “Whoever he was doesn’t change who he is,” Jeff says, and Jared thinks maybe he’s been hanging out with Jensen too much.
“Yeah,” says Jared because that sort of makes sense. “Look, I don’t want to leave Jensen on his own for too long. You need anything?” He realizes he means the offer, that he’ll give Jeff anything he can that Jeff needs, like he would give Jensen whatever he needs. The thought worries him. It feels like the first slippery step on the burnout slope. Giving too much and not holding enough back. Trying to help them all. Jensen isn’t a possession and Jared still feels like he has to compensate Jeff for taking him away for even one night.
“Nah,” says Jeff, “I’m good.” He walks to the gate--not the center where the chain locks it together but the side where it attaches to the fence. He lifts and the hinge separates and he swings the whole thing open so Jared can pull his car out. Jared stifles the feeling of guilt as he leaves, as he drives away and leaves work and Jeff and the other people in impossible situations behind. He concentrates on Jensen, on helping one person at a time and not losing himself in the mass of need pulling on him like the gravity of an unseen planet.
Rush hour traffic never bothers Jared, but it does today. The snags and snarls of accidents and idiocy frustrate him like trying to get out of a stretchy sweater that’s two sizes too small and he thanks Darren for the experience to make that stupid analogy.
He takes the stairs two at a time and rushes past his morning-people neighbors with a bare Hi-and-Bye. He slows down just outside his own door and takes a deep breath. Right. Not freaking Jensen out. Great plan.
He turns the knob and the distinctive sound of a Gatorade bottle falling to the floor and bouncing away comes through the peeling wood. He opens the door and the container rolls out into the middle of the room. He looks around but doesn’t see anything living. His guest has to still be there though, if his homemade security device is any evidence.
“Jensen?” he calls, and steps in.
“Jared!” Jensen's voice is colored with relief as he ducks out of the bathroom where he seems to have been hiding. “You. Came back.”
He looks well rested for the first time that Jared’s ever seen and Jared searches his lean face, his ragged beard, his tangled hair and wind-chapped lips for the man Jeff thinks would be so damned irresistible but he doesn’t see it. He’s just Jensen, wild and starveling and maybe crazy. Generous and broken and uncomplaining. Trusting and trying and finally making some damn sense.
“Of course I came back,” Jared says. “It’s my apartment.”
Jensen makes a soft “Oh,” at that and Jared looks around to see what sort of damage his place has sustained with having a crazy homeless man spend the night there. The furniture has been moved around. The coffee table is over near the kitchen where the space heater is plugged in and cushions from the couch are leaned up against one side. It makes a tiny shelter to hold in the warmth of the heater (which Jensen doesn’t appear to have moved an inch) and inside the shelter lie the throw rug from the kitchen and a pillow from the couch. If Jared hadn’t seen the nooks and crannies that people will tuck themselves in to keep warm he wouldn’t believe Jensen could fit under there, but he has seen and does believe and the hidey-hole Jensen made in Jared’s living room is pretty ingenious.
And then Jared looks over at his kitchen table and his attention is caught and held by what’s been done, what Jensen must have done. The glass and wire sculpture Jensen gave him is framed by a swirl of silver. Every one of Jared’s knives and forks has been taken out of the drawer and linked together, blades in tines and held by gravity and their own weight together to form a twisted cresting wave that leaves a void space for the tiny man to wait in.
It’s…Jared’s breath catches. It’s beautiful and so careful and so very precise. He creeps up to it like the whole thing will fall apart if he breathes on it wrong. This isn’t something that Jensen found. Jensen made this for him. He created something new out of normal things. He thinks about the wire man again with its bright heart of green glass and the subtle way it reaches both hands out towards the viewer. He wonders if Jensen has always been artsy or if his current state, whatever exactly that is, is somehow responsible.
“Jensen?” Jared turns and Jensen is standing halfway to the door. His head is tipped to the side and he won’t meet Jared’s eyes. “Jensen, this is amazing. Is this a gift for me?”
Jensen chews on his lower lip and shakes his head. “Was always yours.”
Jared knows he’s risking having everything he owns altered in a similar manner, but he can’t help his enthusiasm. “Dude. The forks were mine but they were never like this. This is awesome. You know that, right?”
Jensen shakes his head again but Jared can see him fighting to not smile. His green eyes dance with an energy that Jared hasn’t seen in them before and a blush warms the pale skin between his freckles and Jared thinks maybe this is what getting hit with a taser feels like. He gets it and wishes he didn’t, what Jeff is so worried about, the man Jensen used to be and might be again. The potential for beauty is there under a thin veneer of street dirt. Now that Jared has seen it he can’t not see it and he feels like all his harmless desire to help a fellow human being has been tarnished.
It’s not that he wants to screw Jensen now. But he can see why someone would. Maybe why he would and it unbalances his confidence.
He forces himself to turn away and pull himself together. He needs a distraction and food has never failed him yet. “Breakfast?” he asks, and Jensen returns with a definitive “Yes.”
Jared cooks a stack of French toast on an electric skillet. “Hey, can you put the couch back together while I finish this up?” Jensen gives him a short and doubtful look like he can’t imagine why Jared would want his living room in such an inefficient configuration. Then he cocks his head to the side and seems to accept Jared’s insanity and humors him by putting everything back in the exact place it had been.
With the table full of art and Jared afraid to even touch it for fear of destroying Jensen's creation, they sit on the couch and to eat their French toast with the spoons Jensen didn’t use in his sculpture. Jensen eats slower than Jared has seen and it makes him feel like he accomplished something good.
With all the subtlety of a ninth grader on his first date, Jensen scooches closer with every third bite of his breakfast until his elbow touches Jared’s and his knee does too. Jared smiles and indulges his need for touch. It feels nice once he thinks about it. Months ago, his relationship with Darren self-destructed and even before that it had been weeks since they last touched with affection. He hadn’t realized how good it felt to not be alone. To have another person’s warmth at his side and to give and take comfort through such casual contact.
“Tired,” Jensen says. Jared looks up from the plate he’d been staring at instead of eating from. Jensen shouldn’t be tired, and if he is, Jared needs to worry. Jensen had looked well-rested before breakfast. He looks well-rested now and Jared doesn’t understand why he says he’s tired.
“Tired,” Jensen repeats and takes the plate from Jared’s hand. His weather-roughened hands are gentle as they push Jared back against the couch. He wriggles out of his jacket and goes to lay it over Jared’s chest and God, if Jared looks so tired that Jensen's worried about him maybe it is time to go to bed.
Jared manages a smile and puts the jacket back into Jensen's hands. “It’s okay, I’ve got a blanket on the bed.” When Jensen looks doubtful Jared leads him over and opens the bedroom and points over. “That’s where I sleep.”
Jensen puts his jacket back on.
“You can stay here while I sleep if you want,” Jared offers. Jensen makes a face like he tasted something strange and a little bitter and Jared smiles. “But you’re probably bored out of your head by now. Jeff was looking for you, you want a ride back down to that neighborhood?”
Jensen shakes his head and goes for his backpack. “I’ll feet.” He blinks at his own words. “I’ll walk. My feet will walk.”
“Okay,” says Jared, unsure how far to push things. “If you want to come back here tonight, when it gets cold, you can. Just knock on the door and I’ll let you in, okay?”
Jensen nods and he’s so damn serious. “Okay Jared.”
Jared smiles at the progress. Jensen's thinking seems to be getting more organized, clearer. Progress.
Jensen gives him a sketchy smile in return, crooked and uncertain but real. Jared locks the door behind him as he leaves and crawls into bed. He’s warm and comfortable and surrounded by soft blankets but he still feels an ache in his chest, a cold and lonely place he hadn’t even known about a week ago.
Jensen wanders back towards the places where Jeff and the people Jeff watches out for stay. He goes slow and he doesn’t mind it. He needs to find more things for gifts for Jared and he needs to think too.
Jared’s nice. He knows that. He likes Jared and that’s a true thing too. He doesn’t want to be with Jared what he is with Jeff--broken and taken care of and helped and hidden. Or he does but he wants to watch over Jared too and keep him safe and make him sleep when the time comes. He wants to give Jared gifts that make his eyes light up and his dimples show by his mouth. He wants something like a hunger in his chest but he has no words for it.
He needs to find and see before he knows how to be so he watches the people. So many are so busy and all alone walking to their work or the bus or getting in cars. He looks for people close to other people and he doesn’t see many. In the middle of the day the shiny girls come out in their glitter and bright hair and high heels. They get in cars with men or go down the alleyways and come back again in a few minutes. Jensen doesn’t want to be that. All quick-done and finding another one. He wants to be long-time and forever-good and kept and keeping.
He watches men who touch men but they are always so quick and rough. They punch and shove and grin. He sees Marie and her man who don’t stay at the shelter because there are no beds there for men and women together. He likes the way they touch and the way they smile and he doesn’t know if men can be that way together with men.
He looks for Jeff even though he doesn’t know what to say or how to ask what he needs. He finds his friend talking to some people near one of the shelters that serves lunch from the kitchen so he sneaks by and goes through the line. The big man behind the counter talks to him and he won’t look up. “The roses are burning,” Jensen says and the man looks sad and passes him a plate with a sandwich on it. .
Jeff looks surprised when Jensen brings the sandwich out for him and then happy and then worried all so quick it makes Jensen dizzy. He puts his hand on Jensen's shoulder and guides him over away from the crowd. He tips Jensen's head towards the sunshine and looks for something Jensen doesn’t understand in his face.
“Are you okay?” Jeff asks and Jensen nods his head. He ate and slept safe and Jared was nice and he can’t imagine being more okay than he is. He holds out the sandwich for Jeff but Jeff doesn’t see it.
“Did he hurt you?” Jeff tries again, “Did he touch you?”
There is something more Jeff is asking but Jensen doesn’t know what it is. “Soft,” he answers, “Soft soft.”
Jeff makes a growl in his throat. “Jensen, did he touch you naked?”
And Jared did but not this time and Jeff’s questioning is so confusing and there is so much Jensen doesn’t remember how to say. Words rush through his head and he can’t find the order for them to be in. Of course Jared touched him naked. Jensen was hurt and Jeff gave him to Jared and Jared had to fix him. Jeff knows that but he asks anyway so he has to be asking a different thing.
Jensen grabs Jeff’s hand from his jaw and moves it down to the center of his chest. The more he practices the easier the words come. “Safe,” he says. “Jared is. Good. Safe.” He wants Jeff to feel his heart beat so steady and strong and sure.
Jeff makes growls in his throat but he doesn’t ask about Jared again. “You hungry?” Jeff asks and Jensen pushes the sandwich towards his friend again. “Yeah, okay.” He sits down on the curb and Jensen sits beside him while Jeff eats.
Jeff had always known someone would come for Jensen. He just expected it to be someone who knew him, a wife or girlfriend maybe, or a sobbing older couple with a wrinkled photograph. Until that happened he thought Jensen would be his responsibility, his project.
Jeff watches Jensen from the corner of his eye as he eats the sandwich Jensen brought him. He’s not sure when the man he’d thought was broken beyond repair had started to heal but he can’t miss it now. Jensen's standing straighter and interacting with the world. The changes started before Jared came into Jensen's life but since then his progress has been rolling along like a semi with air in the brake lines.
With a gun to his head Jeff wouldn’t admit how much it hurts. He wants Jensen to be healthy. He wants him to be happy and find a place to sleep out of the weather and have enough to eat and he’d swear that’s all he wants. But somewhere along the way Jeff went and got attached and it hurts to feel another one slipping away from him even if it is to a better life.
Jensen pulls a yard-long strip of wire from his backpack and starts stripping the plastic coating off with a box cutter blade. He seems content to sit and work on whatever strange thing has caught his interest. Jeff watches for a while--partly to see if Jensen's gonna cut his thumb off and partly out of curiosity about what he’s trying to accomplish but Karen Hall scurries up the sidewalk to them and he turns his attention to her.
She was probably pretty once, before bad choices and two kids and a husband who did more communication with the back of his hand than his voice came into her life. Her hair hangs dull blonde to her shoulders and her brown eyes are tired and glassy. The boys cling to her hands, the youngest one with a cast still on his arm and Jeff needs to ask Jared if he can take care of that when the time comes.
The kids sit down as soon as she stops walking and Jeff watches Jensen's shy smile at them. Jeff talks to Karen and Jensen sits with the kids and makes them little toy animals out of twisted blue-coated wire. Jensen doesn’t speak and the kids don’t say a word but they take the toys and the pop-tarts he gives them and eat like they’re starving.
Jeff and Karen decide on the shelter most likely to be able to take her broken family for the night. Jeff offers to walk her there and carry one of the kids and he’s surprised when Jensen holds his arms out to the smaller one. Together their mixed group walks the mile to the Watt street shelter and Karen sags with relief and exhaustion as they get admitted. Jeff watches from the door and Jensen waves goodbye to the kids and then stands and leans his shoulder against Jeff’s.
This--this was a good day.
Jared sleeps in short snatches until a little after noon when the restlessness overwhelms the aftereffects of a hard night’s work and he can’t stand to be in bed any longer. Being awake with the rest of the world has some advantages at least and he wanders downstairs. There’s a Salvation Army thrift store down the block and he hits there first. He knows he isn’t responsible for keeping Jensen in decent clothes but he’s already offered his couch and it would suck for Jensen to sleep there smelling bad and make it stink, right? Clearly it wouldn’t be a bad idea to grab some clothes for him to change into while Jared does laundry.
Two jeans, four shirts and a heavy jacket later he pokes through the house-wares section before he goes to the checkout counter. They’ve got silverware sets masking-taped together in groups of four place settings for three bucks and Jared picks up a couple. He hopes Jensen figures out what to do with the leftover spoons, especially if the knives and forks of this bunch end up added to the sculpture.
Bored still he wanders through the nearby dollar store looking for something else Jensen would like maybe something to make more stuff out of. All of it looks too cheap and crappy and made-in-China to end up as part of a beautiful sculpture and he’s almost out the door when he notices the tool isle. And yeah, they aren’t the best things to work with but who knows if Jensen will like them or use them or just end up making art from them. Jared picks up a pair of wire cutters, some pliers, a utility knife and some cheap multi-tool thing with screwdrivers and other useful looking tools in it. He considers superglue but vetoes the idea for safety reasons. A roll of electrical tape can’t do too much damage though, right?
He walks back to his apartment thinking about the clothes and wondering if his hope has overrun his sense, if Jensen will come back like Jared said he could, if some ulterior motive lurks behind Jared’s generosity. And god, it’s not like he got Jensen leather pants and a mesh shirt. He snorts out a laugh at his own mental image. Jensen all bony shoulders and brushy beard in club clothes. Maybe his motives are safe after all, because that? Not a sexy thought at all. Jared’s type has never been heroin chic. He likes his men fit and strong, passionate and just this side of dangerous. Jeff’s paranoia is fucking with his head and he’s gotta stop thinking about not-thinking about Jensen's dubious charms.
He washes Jensen's new clothes and thinks about taking a nap but he gets distracted following the lines of the knife and fork wave that swirls around his kitchen table and never quite gets to bed again before the load’s done. The shape of the art reminds him of something. Something not made out of flatware. The edge loops around and leads his eye back to the beginning. Not that there’s a line that connects the two, but there’s nowhere he can look when he gets to the end except back at the beginning.
For the first time he wishes that he hadn’t let Darren take the camera in the breakup. This can’t last beyond the next time the table gets bumped and he feels like he should record it for posterity or something. Not that a two-dimensional photo would do it justice or capture just how strong the piece is. He snaps off a few low-quality pictures with his phone and tries to think of somebody to send them to.
The dryer’s buzz draws Jared back to the ratty apartment and the chores to be finished. He folds Jensen's new clothes but doesn’t have a proper place to put them. Maybe next week, maybe if Jensen comes back enough to make it worthwhile he’ll go back to the thrift store and pick up one of the bedside tables they had for twenty bucks and keep it next to the couch for Jensen's things. In the meantime though he sets them on the coffee table. Which reminds him of the other thing Jensen had worked on while he’d been at the clinic.
Jared walks back to his door and tries to remember exactly where the coffee table and heater had been after Jensen rearranged. He gets them set up and then pulls the cushions off of the couch to build a lean-to wall against the backside. The rug from the kitchen and a throw pillow from the couch finish the little shelter.
Jared can believe Jensen fit inside but doesn’t imagine he will. Still, he lays down and scooches back into it. He twists his shoulders to fit their width and folds his legs up tight until he gets his feet tucked inside the far table legs. He knocks the cushions over twice and bumps his head once but after he settles himself it feels close. Safe.
The heater’s fan blows warm air towards his midsection and the underside of the table catches the heat and keeps it in the hidey hole. He can’t really move. Constricted like some weird experiment in self-bondage. There’s no way he’s sleeping either, but if the table was three inches higher and about a foot longer he can see how he could. As scrawny as Jensen is, Jared can imagine him here, tucked away in a place that feels familiar.
Jared dreams of the city and a winter like old people talk about seeing in their youth. The wind tears through his clothes and crushes his lungs and burns his cheeks and eyelids and lips. People walk by in business suits with their shiny black shoes or high heeled pumps clipping against the frozen cement. Their faces are all the same despite the differences in their coloring, like one man and one woman repeated in endless variations. He tries to reach them but they always stand just out of range. Further than he thought and further than they could be. He cries out but no face turns towards him and no hand offered to him in compassion. Blue eyes and brown and green stare through him like he doesn’t exist.
He falls and the wind was so cold that the snow drift feels warm by comparison. He knows, he knows he has to keep moving keep walking keep searching for a warm spot or a kind stranger but the place he has fallen offers the sweet comfort of oblivion and he can’t lift his head.
In his muffled white world a noise reaches his ears. Tap. Tap. Tap. Steady like a blind man’s cane. Tap. Tap. Tap. And a blind man shouldn’t be out in this crap. Too cold too thick too lonely. He struggles to move and wakes up in his living room under the coffee table with that tap tap tap still prodding him to move and fix and do.
Jared doesn’t consider himself more than half awake when he gets to the door and opens it. The tapping stops and Jensen stands outside looking shy and skittish. He takes one look at Jared though and frowns and steps in the open doorway. “Tired,” he says like they are picking up the earlier conversation without a break.
Jared rubs a hand over his gritty eyes. “Are you telling me I look like crap?” And Jensen nods with all due gravity.
“I tried to sleep,” Jared says as he closes the door and walks over to put the cushions back on the couch. “Just restless, I guess.” He turns the heater back towards the couch.
Jensen's hands on his shoulders are determined and sure and Jared lets himself be pushed back onto the couch. Jensen turns him and tucks his feet up onto the seat and then strips his jacket off like he had that morning. Instead of covering just Jared this time though, he settles beside him and leans against his shoulder and lays the jacket over both of them.
Jared is torn between amusement and frustration, because as sweet as the gesture is, he won’t sleep. Not this late and not with someone else on his couch with him. He thinks about telling Jensen that. So he won’t be disappointed. Wouldn’t be fair for Jensen to think Jared doesn’t sleep because of him.
Jensen's hair rubs against Jared’s cheek. “Safe here and warm,” he whispers. “No more hungry or cold or scared, Jared. Sleep here, it’s good I promise.”
Should just sit up and say it. Maybe ask about Jensen's day. It’s not right, Jensen helping him. Should be the other way around. Jensen has enough of a job just taking care of himself never mind the man who should be his doctor or whatever. Heat leaches into Jared’s side and he leans a little more against Jensen. Slow breathing. Steady. Any minute now. Getting up and making something to eat.
The alarm in the bedroom goes off and Jared startles awake and Jensen beside him stands like he needs to run or fight now. “’S okay,” Jared mumbles. He stands up and seats Jensen back on the couch. Their eyes meet and Jared smiles. “Thanks. For helping me sleep.”
Jensen doesn’t look pleased with the turn of events and reaches out and cups his hand around the back of Jared’s neck. “Sleep,” he says. “Jared you sleep more.”
Jared can’t remember the last day he’d rather have spent at home than going in to work but the urge to call in dead nearly overwhelms him. “Can’t,” he whispers back to Jensen. “I have to go work. I have to help people.”
Jensen's determination softens and he pulls Jared down to press their foreheads together and Jesus, Jared’s sure Jensen is gonna kiss him but he just holds the contact for a moment before he releases Jared again. He looks thoughtful and Jared would like to ask him about it, what he’s thinking, but he has to hurry if he wants to get a shower to wake him up and cook something hot for him and Jensen before he leaves.
Jensen watches Jared. He watches him cook and wash the dishes and get clothes out of his room. He would watch him in the shower but Jared closes the door and leaves Jensen waiting outside while the water runs and Jared makes swishy noises in it. Jensen listens to the patter of the drops and the way they break like rain in a hard wind. Unsteady. Beautifully unsteady.
The water stops. He listens to the quiet and tries to imagine the towel on Jared’s skin, and is all his skin as soft and pretty and smooth as it looks? Thinking about Jared’s skin puts a shiver through Jensen to his toes and back up again. He thinks about his hand on Jared’s skin. Touching his face and breathing his smell.
Jared opens the door wearing different clothes and gives Jensen a look that Jensen doesn’t understand. “Hey, help yourself to the bathroom while I’m gone. If you want a shower or whatever. Just don’t let the tub overflow.”
He shows Jensen the knobs and what they do and how to turn them to get hot or cold or on or off. Jared turns to the sink while Jensen tries out the knobs. There are smaller knobs on the sink and Jensen watches as Jared turns those. He has a little bar he holds in his hand that has another piece that goes across the top. Jared gets white foam stuff from a can and puts it on his face and then pulls the tool across his chin. The foam goes away and the short hairs Jared had on his face go with it.
After that Jared talks about work again but before he leaves he gives Jensen a bag from a store. “I got you some things,” Jared says like he’s nervous and Jensen doesn’t know why he would be. “There’s um, some tools in the bag, and clothes for you to change into on the couch.”
Jensen reaches into the bag and draws out the new gifts. More nice things. More useful things and he’ll never keep up but he doesn’t really mind because he can try forever this way. The tools feel good in his hands and he likes the weight of them and the strength.
“You are. Nice,” Jensen says and Jared smiles until the dimples show by his mouth and his eyes dance, and Jensen would give anything to see that smile forever. Jared starts to step away but Jensen reaches out and holds the end of his sleeve.
He wants to say something else. He needs to tell Jared. He needs Jared to understand. An empty spot gapes where the words should be in his head and no matter how hard he digs for them he finds nothing but a black void.
“Hey,” Jared says all gentle and quiet. His hand touches Jensen's bearded jaw and his thumb strokes over Jensen's cheekbone. “Hey. It’s okay.” And it is and Jensen feels the tension of not finding those words start to leech out of him. It’s okay and Jared will come home and Jensen can sleep safe and warm until then.
Jared hugs him then, all slow and careful like Jensen will break and it feels good and strong and close and Jared smells like Jared and clean.
After Jared leaves Jensen sits down with his new tools and his new clothes and smiles again at how good Jared is to him.
The night is still early. Jensen doesn’t have to find a safe and warm spot to sleep. He doesn’t have to stay there even when he’s not tired yet so nobody else takes it. He walks around Jared’s place for a while and explores the cabinets in the kitchen again and the big empty side of the biggest room where wires lay on the floor but look dusty and old. He goes back to the bathroom and considers the tub. Jared said he could. Jared maybe said he should?
Either way Jensen remembers how nice the bath felt the first night he came to Jared’s place and how warm and encompassing it had been. He slides his clothes off and unwraps the bandages from between his toes. His shoulder still hurts but not so bad as it had before.
While the water runs Jensen looks down at himself. He only remembers being all the way naked twice--the first time in Jared’s bathroom and now this time. His body seems odd and alien. He traces a hand down his side and watches how the skin slides under it and how it wrinkles and gives and stretches. His skin glows so white and the dark reddish color of the curly hairs by his thing seem even darker against it. He touches his own arm and the skin inside his elbow is very soft like he imagined Jared’s would be. He found a feather once and carried it for days and he thinks that would be how Jared’s skin must feel. Soft.
He runs both hands over his chest and feels the slim muscle there. Jared would be bigger he thinks. Stronger. The little dark parts--the nipples--they tingle when he touches them and he does it again to see if it will be just once. It feels good to be touched. Not as good as Jared’s touches but different, too. He smoothes his hands down his stomach and on either side of his thing and it starts to wake up starts to grow. It’s grown before but never when he was alone and naked and in a room that smells like Jared’s wet hair. His knees feel wobbly and he folds the toilet lid down and sits there. The porcelain is cold on his butt and on his shoulder blades but he leans back and spreads his legs and touches his thing with his hands.
The very tip leaks moisture. Not pee but something slow and slick and thicker and Jensen slides his finger through it, slides it around over his skin. It makes him shake and ache and want. He’s never done this before, never touched in the way that made him tremble.
He wonders if Jared does this and how he smells when he does and how he looks and how he feels. His hips jump at the thought and his head goes white and his body goes white and his vision goes white and he almost falls off the toilet. When he’s done and it’s over and he’s sprawling there panting he looks down and white is on his stomach and he smiles.
He’s almost done with his bath before the ache in his head starts to whisper again, starts to push and whine and scrape and he has to wrap up in the towel and blanket and lay on the couch until it goes quiet again.
The first one comes in an hour after Jared clocks in at work--a woman in her fifties with scraggly hair and too many layers of clothing. The shirts and scarves and skirts don’t hide the blood that drips from her nose and mouth or the trail she leaves on the linoleum. An old man brings her in but his babbling and shaking don’t help with the diagnosis. The desk girl calls 911 while George and Jared get the woman up on a gurney. This--this is beyond the clinic’s capability and Jared feels a tremor of terror.
“Can you hear me?” he asks as George gets the charcoal ready to pump into her. When the woman nods he asks his question.
“Bread,” she croaks through the blood, “I ate the bread in the dumpster.”
“I’m sorry,” Jared tells her and touches her hair with his gloved hand. “What’s your name, ma’am? Is there anybody we can call?”
“Hettie,” she says and coughs, “Hettie Hall.” She gags and chokes and they do CPR until the wagon comes but it was already too late when she walked in the door.
“I gotta go,” Jared says before the flashing lights have faded. George looks at him like he’s gone nuts.
“Somebody put poison out--to kill rats or to kill people. Either way I’ve got to get the word out before someone else finds that bread.”
George sighs but Jared can see that he’s already planning how to replace Jared for this shift. They both know that rat poison is easy to tell from food. If it wasn’t in pellets or bricks then somebody is poisoning the homeless on purpose.
“Go on then. I’ll call the cops and you tell as many as you can.” He hesitates, then “Your guy out there? The one you let sleep in your car?”
Jared shakes his head. “Home safe.” And god, he hopes he’s right and Jensen didn’t get restless feet again.
Jared’s night stretches like a nightmare of running and praying and being too late. He finds a body at Sixth and Warren and calls it in. He orders every person he finds to not eat found food because of the poison but he can’t be sure how many believe him or how many think he’s a new crazy. Some stare at him or through him and you can’t warn people who aren’t in your world.
He looks for Jensen in every silhouette passing by and every sleeping ball of humanity on the sidewalk. He doesn’t know if he’s happy or terrified that he hasn’t found his friend.
He asks for Jeff at every fire-can and flop-pad and group-huddle he sees but hours pass before he hears the older man’s voice echoing down an alley crying, “Hold on damn it, just hold on!”
Jared runs up out of breath and finds Jeff cradling a skinny little baby-hooker in his arms. She’s all banged up knees and sweet round face and just starting to blossom under her skimpy clothes and harsh makeup. Must have been cold and starving and too late in the night to hope for another trick. Not too proud to dumpster dive and it cost her life.
Jared feels his head start to close up with tears and his chest clench around the strain of running and the breaking of his heart. “Jeff,” he calls while he still can, “We have to get the word out. Somebody poisoned the food. This many, I think it was on purpose.” Jeff looks up and his eyes are shattered and tears track down his cheeks.
“I’m sorry,” Jared says over and over. “I’m sorry but we have to move. I have to call her in.”
Jeff stands and lays the girl down. So tiny. So frail. He crosses her arms and closes her bleeding eyes and looks like he wants to wipe the blood from her magenta lips.
Jared makes the call and they move again, looking in dumpsters in the area and warning whoever they can. The poison could be anywhere. It could have been hours, maybe a day ago that it was ingested. Dawn comes and with it the garbage trucks and some small measure of relief. Whatever poison lingers there now will be swept away and unless fresh death is laid out during the day the threat could be over.
“Jensen safe with you?” Jeff asks when they meet up after taking separate sides of the street.
Jared nods. “Yeah. He was when I left last night.” Exhaustion weighs down his limbs and worry over Jensen has never left him, even though Jensen was probably the least endangered of all the street people Jared knew. “I need to check in at work and then I’ll go home. I’m gonna try talking him into staying indoors for a few days.”
Jeff nods and Jared never really thought of him as old before but the night has lined his face deeper than the weather or poverty had.
Jared digs in his pockets and passes over a twenty. “Get yourself something to eat,” he says, “Something safe. I mean it. You’re no good to anybody if this shit gets you too.”
Jeff nods and Jared wouldn’t be surprised if the money went to buying a butt-load of cheap food for as many as Jeff could afford to feed. Fair enough though--it’s Jeff’s money to spend now.
“Get out of here,” Jeff says and Jared stumbles back towards the clinic.
He misses Jensen so much he aches with it.
Jared takes the stairs two at a time with his bag from work banging against his shoulder with every upward surge. His muscles ache and his lungs burn and he can’t stop running until he sees Jensen and knows he hasn’t eaten rat poison. He just about busts the door down getting the key in the lock and rushing in. The Gatorade bottle that was perched on the doorknob bounces off the door and goes clattering off towards the far wall.
Jensen comes up to his feet wide-eyed with fear and Jared realizes that bursting in on a person used to living with the uncertainty of street existence may not have been the best plan of his life.
“I’m sorry,” he starts, but he can’t stop himself from crossing the room even as Jensen shies away from him. “It’s okay,” he tries again and slows his advance. When Jensen stops retreating he reaches to pluck at Jensen's sleeve like Jensen does his. Jensen doesn’t struggle and less white shows around his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he breathes as he gathers Jensen up against his chest. “Bad things happened at work today and I was scared for you.”
Jensen smells like shampoo and Jared’s laundry detergent. He’s wearing the new-used clothes Jared bought him and Jared feels the anxiety grounding out of both of them as Jensen hugs him back.
“I have to know,” Jared says. “You have to tell me. Did you eat any food I didn’t give you? Since we first met, did you eat anything out of a dumpster?”
“Eat?” Jensen says and his face twists into a mask of distress and confusion. “It was. Days was. I. Ate many days.”
Jared flinches because he’s just upsetting Jensen and not getting an answer.
“It’s okay. Everything’s gonna be okay.” He moves Jensen to sit in one of the kitchen chairs. He crouches in front of Jensen and looks up at him.
“Are you bleeding anywhere? Your nose or in your mouth? Are you coughing?” He pulls on gloves and gets out the ENT light. He shines it up Jensen's nose and in his ears and examines his gums and everything looks normal.
“Was there any blood in the bathwater?” he asks and he can hear his voice grow calmer. “Maybe in the toilet?”
Jensen shakes his head and Jared holds both Jensen's hands in both of his for a moment while he thanks whatever saint watches over those who can’t watch over themselves.
“It’ll be okay,” he says as he pulls off the gloves and he’s not sure if he’s reassuring himself or Jensen or both. If Jensen only got a shadow of the poison that the ones who died ate, it could be days or weeks before the anticoagulant starts breaking down the tiniest blood vessels and he begins showing symptoms.
“It’ll be okay,” Jensen parrots back at him and Jared believes it for the first time.
Jared takes a deep breath. “I have to go back to work soon.” He looks up into Jensen's eyes and Jensen glances away like he isn’t used to such direct attention. “I need to ask you a favor.”
Jensen tips his head and Jared can see him waiting to hear it. “I need you to stay here for a while. Bad things are happening on the streets. I told Jeff I’d keep you safe. Can you do that for us? Can you stay here?”
Jensen looks pained at that and Jared has to admit that he wouldn’t like to spend a week locked in his own apartment. He’s home so little that he never bothered to replace the television that Darren took or buy more CDs. He doesn’t expect to be living here long enough to make the comfort or attractiveness of the place a priority.
“When I come home again, and after I sleep, we can go out together, okay? And maybe things will quiet down and I can drive you to Jeff to hang out during the day. It might not be for too long at all.”
Jensen nods and looks at the floor and Jared’s heart breaks with the resignation he sees on the other man’s face.
“If you have to go out,” he says even softer, “If you can’t wait for me to come home to go with you, please, please don’t eat anything that I didn’t give you, okay? Promise me that?”
And Jensen mouths the word ‘promise’ and Jared is grateful for even that small thing. He pulls Jensen in and rests their foreheads together and draws what strength he can from the contact.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers and Jensen squeezes his hand tighter. “I’m sorry but I have to go back to work now. A lot of people are really sick. I want you to stay here so you don’t get sick too, okay?”
He gets that half-hearted little nod again and thinks that’s as good as he can hope for.
Boredom is a new thing for Jensen. Jared leaves him. Again. And he is all alone in Jared’s place and the sun is up and he should be walking and moving and searching and doing something. Jared’s talk about bad things happening outside worries him. He thinks of Jeff and Angie and Karen and all the kids and all the old people and Whiskey Dan and the people who are even less here than Jensen. He wonders who watches them and how they can be safe too.
He walks all over the apartment and opens all the cabinet doors and tries to sleep for a while but it’s no good. He takes another bath and tries to touch himself happy again but he worries about Jared and all the people who aren’t safe at Jared’s place with food and warmth and a bathtub and his thing won’t work.
When he gets out of the tub he notices the mirror by the sink and the man who moves around in there. He knows the man is him but he never saw him before or he did but he didn’t really look. He stares for a long time at the stranger in the glass. His eyes are green and he has tiny dark flecks on his pale skin. Jensen touches his eyebrow and the man touches his and they are the same person and it makes him shiver how weird it is to have an outside person.
He pulls his hair back and touches his face. He tilts his head to the side and tries to see what the other angles of him look like. He scratches the mustache under his nose and the beard along his jaw and tries to think who he’d be without those and if he was smooth like Jared. Would he know that guy or is his face a stranger under a stranger under a stranger.
Jared cuts his face hair off and Jensen is bored except for the worrying and he has a lot of face hair to cut. He starts with the foamy stuff and the tool Jared used but it stops working after one stroke and he thinks maybe he broke it. He washes it and sees the hair is stuck to it so he wipes it off with his thumb.
The blood wells up like it was always there before Jensen even fills the prick. He fears for a moment, fear bright as the red on his skin, before he remembers Jared was worried about nose blood and ear blood and toilet blood but not thumb blood. He sucks the cut into his mouth but it tastes like chemicals like weird flavors he never had before and he spits the taste out. He washes the thumb and washes his face and thinks more about the how of this.
The little blade-thing didn’t get stuck on Jared’s hairs so it must be that Jensen's are too long and too many. He goes out into the other room and gets the tools Jared gave him. One is a bright-sharp blade and he smiles because he knows it can cut any hair.
He goes back to the mirror. He pulls the hairs away from his face with one hand and saws so slow with the other. The hairs come off and he wiggles them off his fingers. He knows the blade will cut him sharp so he goes careful and takes off only tiny bits each time. Once he pulls too hard and a tiny piece of him comes off with the hair and it bleeds.
He doesn’t know how long he works but when enough hairs are gone he can look at the mirror and see the new stranger under the old one. He doesn’t know this man either and he feels sad for him all lost and nobody knows him not even him and thinking those ways makes his head hurt.
Not thinking about the man only the beard he gets the foam stuff again and Jared’s blade with the plastic around it and runs it over his jaw. The foam burns and the blade scrapes but it feels clean too. He tries to remember the days before but he only knows a hurt and a fear and a sorrow and he wonders if sorrows can fly like sparrows or swallows and he likes that idea of them fluttering away with soft wings.
When the last of the foam is gone and his face is as smooth as he ever remembers he stares for a long time at his own face and tries to remember the man who looks back at him.
Jared’s phone rings on his way back to the clinic. For an irrational second he thinks Jensen's calling him, but he doesn’t have a land line at the apartment and he hasn’t given Jensen the number and he’s pretty sure it wouldn’t occur to Jensen to pick up a phone.
“Hello?” he answers as he threads his way through traffic.
“Jared Padalecki?” the voice on the other end asks. “This is detective Hanson. I understand you reported two deaths last night and were involved with the treatment of a third person who is now also deceased?”
“Um, yeah, that’s correct.” And okay, maybe some of Jeff’s paranoia has rubbed off on him because getting a call from the cops on his way to work freaks him out.
“I was wondering if you can come down to the station this morning and give a statement.”
Jared doesn’t think he saw anything that the cops wouldn’t have found when they got to the scenes but he’s not gonna argue that over the phone.
“Sure, yeah. Uh, now?”
“That would be fine, Mr. Padalecki.”
Jared tries not to get more nervous as he calls the clinic and lets them know he won’t make it in. Everybody who can be on shift is needed today and he’ll go in as soon as he’s done with the cops. George says nobody else died at the clinic, and that Jared’s impromptu public service announcements the previous night about anticoagulant poisonings have sent a dozen people in with early symptoms at the treatable stage.
The police station is every bad cop show Jared’s seen growing up. Crowded with detectives and uniforms and suspects and frightened people. Controlled chaos and it reminds him of the clinic on a bad day.
Detective Hanson is a big guy, salt and pepper hair and a jaw like a sledge hammer and Jared manages to not make a 21 Jump Street joke. Hanson leads him to a small room that smells like a gym locker.
Jared’s half expecting some good cop-bad cop or a hardcore interrogation. Instead, Hanson seems bored as he gets the facts, the where and when and what. Suspicious activity and anything noteworthy. He asks Jared about the rat population and hell if Jared ever paid attention to any of that. He says he’ll ask some of the street people he knows but he never mentions Jeff’s name and sure as hell not Jensen's.
From the questions Hanson asks it doesn’t sound like he has any leads and Jared’s not surprised. The only people who might have seen something aren’t the type to talk to the police. Jared gets the feeling more people died than the three he saw and he wonders how many.
Jared feels useless when he leaves and promises himself that he’ll ask Jeff if he has anything Jared can give the cops anonymously.
He gets to the clinic around eleven in the morning. Arriving at work three hours after he’s usually done for the day and after a full shift and a quick run home and hours spent giving his statement sucks big-time.
The line of patients stretches out the front door and halfway around the building. It looks more like a soup line than a shot-line and Jared’s never seen it like this. A new illness--say a vicious flu virus--wouldn’t get this kind of response. Poisoning though? Everybody reacts when they think they’ve been poisoned and everyone on the street could have been. Fear whispers down the line--and anger. Already those borderline mental cases are mumbling to themselves or ranting at the world and a fight in line could break out with one wrong word. George sends Jared down to pull any obvious priorities up to the front and Jared’s half afraid and half relieved when he sees Jeff Morgan walking up to join the line with a tiny bird-like woman.
Jared heads over. They make sure the woman is settled in line and he draws Jeff to the side. “You okay yourself?” Jared asks and Jeff runs a hand over his stubbled face.
“I’m alright,” he says, “Just tired. Not more tired than I should be though.”
“I need your help,” Jared says without shame. “This crowd could turn ugly but if we call the cops down to manage things people will leave without getting treated.”
Jeff looks over the line and Jared goes on. “We need somebody to keep it calmed down, somebody the people respect and trust.”
Jeff arches an eyebrow. “Me?”
“Yeah. Nobody else would be able to manage it.”
He can see Jeff calculating in his head, probably weighing the people who are hiding with their illness like wounded cats and the folks in line who might leave before they get treated if things get crazy or the cops show up.
“Couple hours,” Jeff promises. “We’ll see how it goes after that.”
“Thanks,” says Jared and he’s already planning how to talk George out of some petty cash or make it up to Jeff out of his own paycheck.
Jeff works the line at the clinic with a hand on a shoulder here and a calming word there. Jared pulls a little girl with a nosebleed out of the row and Jeff soothes the irate man in front of her with an assurance that the girl needs help right this second. He drops his voice low and dangerous when he does it and the guy gets a clue and shuts his hole and waits his turn like most everybody else.
He watches Jared’s back and even though Jared isn’t a fighting man he knows Jared has his. The way Jared gave him money the night before was new too. Not some stranger giving him a handout to soothe their guilt or stop their fears from whispering ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’ No, that was Jared sharing what he had because he could. Because Jeff needed and Jared had. No strings and no stipulations on how it was spent. Not really.
A guy like Jared, Jeff can’t figure how he’s still single unless the job takes too much of his life. Jeff can understand that. Been there done that himself back before when the walls didn’t close in on him so viciously and normal people didn’t step around him on the street. He remembers the days of wife and kids and going off to work. He tries not to think about it too much. He doesn’t know exactly how many years he’s spent out here. Lost a few drinking and a few just drifting from city to city. He figures his kids are teens by now. Lisa remarried. God he hopes so.
This though, working for Jared and helping at the clinic--makes him feel a man again. As much as helping strangers on the street but in a different way. Part of a team doing more than any five guys could separately.
Jared lets him be a man again. A man takes care of his own and Jeff will find whoever’s done this to the people Jeff cares about. He’ll find him and do whatever it takes to eliminate the threat.
He makes the silent promise to be sure Jared has an alibi when the time comes.
Thirty-six hours of fear and work and running around like a crazy thing stand between Jared and the last time he saw his bed by the time he stumbles up the stairs to his apartment. The drive over had him biting his lip and slapping his own face to not fall asleep at the wheel and run a red light or rear-end a taxi. His apartment lock is his downfall though. The key refuses to fit and he can’t--he just can’t and it won’t work and he’ll cry if he isn’t in bed in like thirty seconds. The jiggling tips the Gatorade bottle off the other side of the knob and Jared’s glad every time he hears that because it means Jensen hasn’t left while he was gone.
“Jensen?” he calls and taps on the door. He knows it freaks Jensen out when he comes home so Jared tries to get his attention as gently as he can.
He hears a little scratch against the other side of the door too quiet to be heard if he wasn’t leaning against it for support.
“Jared?” The deadbolt clicks back and the door opens. Jensen blinks at him and the first thing that registers is that Jensen has cut his beard off. Mostly. Small patches and tufts of reddish hair still cling here and there between the razor burn and tiny cuts. Just another thing Jared should have planned for and taken care of ahead of time. He should have made sure Jensen had help with it or at the very least a couple fresh razors instead of the weeks old disposable Jared left him.
The second thing to register is that at least now Jared doesn’t have to worry about Jensen’s blood’s ability to clot.
The third thing that registers is that Jensen isn’t a bad looking guy without all the hair and Jared feels the slip-slide of an understatement so big that it’s almost a lie. His jaw is stronger than Jared would have guessed. All the proportions fall into place--eyes with nose with lips with chin and Jensen is so classically handsome that all Jared can do is stare. A few months of good meals and good sleep will fill him out and fade the last signs of wear and Jensen will be handsome like a soap star or male model.
He must be really out of it because Jensen waves a hand in front of his face and then grabs him by the arm and drags him inside. He looks worried and Jared wishes he knew what to do to make that go away but he’s having a hard time putting one thought in front of the other. He’s still sort of stuck on “Oooh, pretty,” when Jensen sits him on the couch and floats a light touch over Jared’s face and head and shoulders, down his arms to his wrists.
“Hurt?” Jensen asks and Jared manages to pull himself together.
“Huh? No. Just tired. Sorry.”
Jensen pushes him down to lie on his back and pulls the blanket up over him, shoes and all. He almost drifts off there and then but Jensen's back in a second with a pop-tart and a full bottle of yellow Gatorade urging Jared to eat and drink before he crashes and wow, Jared never realized how badly those two things go together, how sickly sweet the pop-tart jelly is or how sour the lemon-lime drink.
Still the combination puts some nutrients back in his system and he doesn’t feel so much like he’s dying. Tired though, so tired and Jensen kneels at his side and rests his head against Jared’s shoulder and Jared threads the fingers of his other hand through the hair at Jensen's nape and he feels too safe and content and loved to stay awake.
It isn’t the first time Jared’s slept on the couch. It was the one piece of furniture he lugged all the way up north when he moved out of his parents’ home and there was no way he was parting with a couch long enough for him to stretch out on and then some. Back when things went to shit with Darren he spent weeks out here avoiding the bed that smelled like them. Weeks or more.
He wakes up on the couch with the glow of streetlights and the passing of night time headlights shining soft on the room which is strange enough. The feel of another person’s warmth tangled up with him confuses him half awake. For a moment he freezes but then his brain kicks in. Jensen. That helps and he starts to figure out where he is and that Jensen is sharing the couch but with his head on the other end. One of his feet pokes Jared in the armpit and the other is slung over his hips to become a heavy warmth pressing against Jared’s crotch.
It feels wrong. Un-right to want Jensen and Jared’s erection shames him. Makes him feel dirty and selfish and he knows he just has morning wood and any touch would have gotten a rise out of him but he can’t help the guilt that fills him. So tired though and Jensen sleeping so sweetly against him. He shifts his hips and turns so the pressure is on his thigh and not his crotch. All he can manage before he slips under again and it’ll have to do.
Jensen wakes Jared up again for cheese crackers and water. He never saw anybody sleep for so long but he never knew anybody that was awake for as long as Jared either except maybe Jeff, who he never sees sleep at all. The bad things at work must be very bad and Jensen wants to pull all of Jared’s clothes off and check for bruises or cuts or some sign of what happened. That would wake Jared up too much though and Jared looks so tired with the dark under his eyes and in his eyes and his hand so heavy on Jensen's hair.
One time Jared’s pocket makes a noise and Jensen finds a little black box-thing inside and he has seen people talking to them but he doesn’t know how. He doesn’t want it to wake up Jared so he puts it in the bathroom under all the clothes in the basket to make it be quiet.
He doesn’t know what else to do to help Jared sleep and get better. He puts the bottle back on the doorknob so he’ll know if anybody comes in and he puts food on the table for when Jared wakes up--all the food he can find. The heater hums dry hot air into the room but a foot away from the grill there isn’t much hot left. He pulls his jacket off and puts it over Jared to keep him warmer.
Having Jared home but sleeping is like having Jared not home except Jensen can watch him while he sleeps and Jared is much better to watch than the him in the mirror. He does. Watch Jared sleep. The curve of his eyelashes and the tiny crease on his forehead. The line by his mouth from a smile so big it leaves a mark and the dark flecks on his cheek and jaw and throat. He watches Jared sleep and when Jared frowns or twists like the blanket ties him up Jensen touches his hair and says soft words that don’t mean any meaning until Jared finds his quiet again.
When he gets hungry he eats and when he gets bored he takes the forks and knives and shapes them into a new shelter for the man with the green glass heart. A place with spaces between the walls for doors all around and a top to twist the wind away if it was solid and so all the rain would go off one side like a sheet. He thinks about the roof and if the building faced where the wind came from the rain would go up instead of down the slant and fly from the top like a veil of water.
When he gets tired he crawls back into the other end of the couch and sleeps again and keeps Jared warm and he doesn’t worry about Jared because Jared is right there beside him and he can feel the beat of Jared’s heart with his leg against Jared’s chest and hear him breathing close and slow and so very steady.
Jared wakes up with the sun filtering through the dirt on his windows but he has no idea what time it is. Jensen is stretched out against him. Still or again, he can’t tell that either. Jared looks around and sees that every bit of food he had in his cabinets has been moved to the coffee table and artfully displayed in towers of water bottles and walls of silvery pop-tart packets. A pyramid of tin cans forms a solid backdrop and Jared doesn’t know if he should be amused or dismayed that all the labels have been stripped off.
He looks back at Jensen and is struck by the warmth and concern in the other man’s eyes and the razor-burn on his jaw reminds Jared he has some wound treatment to see to as soon as he’s awake enough to be competent.
“Hey,” Jared says and Jensen smiles at him.
“More sleeps?” And it’s good to hear Jensen's voice. Jared knows the more he uses it the more sense he makes and the practice has to be a good thing.
“Nah,” Jared says and untangles himself. He can’t believe he slept in his jeans and shoes but then again Jensen has no reason to think of changing into something more comfortable when it’s time for bed. “I’m gonna--” and he gestures towards the bathroom.
Jensen starts to get up and Jared smiles again.
“It’s okay. I won’t fall in and drown, I promise.” Jared closes the door behind him but his amusement fades when he sees the towel hung over the mirror. He takes care of the business he came in for because the call of nature waits for no man and then he pulls the towel down.
The mirror behind the makeshift cover has been smeared with shaving cream and Jared finds his own features distorted beyond recognition. A chill of dread sweeps through him and suddenly the small nicks on Jensen's face seem so much more sinister. He walks back to the living area and sees Jensen crouched by the kitchen table peering intently at whatever new thing he’s done to Jared’s silverware.
He doesn’t look like a man at war with his own face and Jared relaxes at the obviousness of that. Still the mystery will eat at him if he lets it so he draws Jensen away from the project.
Jensen balks at going into the bathroom and Jared soothes him with quiet words. “Not mad at you, I promise. I just want to understand why you’re uncomfortable. I want to make this better so you don’t have to hide the mirror.”
Jensen allows himself to be guided to stand by the sink but he won’t look at the smeared surface.
Jared holds Jensen with his back against Jared’s chest and touches his shoulders and arms until Jensen relaxes.
“What do you see?” Jared asks as gentle as he knows how to. “What did you cover up?”
“Strange.” Jensen says and tries to press back into him. “Stranger ghost.”
“It’s your reflection,” Jared tells him. “You know that, right?” He hugs Jensen around the shoulders and Jensen doesn’t try to leave the room.
“I’m me,” says Jensen. “The man.” He gestures at the mirror. “He was.”
Jared can’t understand despite how he wants to. “He can’t hurt you, Jensen. He’s just your reflection in the glass.”
Jensen squirms out of Jared’s grip and lifts the towel from the laundry basket. He rubs a circle clear of shaving cream. “Is,” he says and points to his own face. He taps the glass. “Nevermore.”
“Is.” Himself again so emphatically that Jared chooses not to argue but Jensen almost acts like he has. “Never him again. Not to be. Right?”
Jared pulls Jensen into the safe bubble of his arms. “I don’t know,” he says and hopes it’s the right thing. “I don’t know what’s going on in your head. But I’m here. I’ll always be here.”
Jensen's fingers clench in the fabric of Jared’s jacket at both sides as he holds on like the mirror or something will reach out and tear them apart. And Jared lets him and holds on just as tight. He realizes then what he just promised and is surprised to find he means it. More than means it he wants it. To be there for Jensen always.
Jared follows the muffled bripp of his phone to the bathroom and from there to the bottom of the laundry pile. It must have rung while Jared was sleeping and only Jensen would banish a noisy electronic like that without worrying about what the incoming call was for.
The caller ID says “work” and Jared flips it open with a quiver of worry in his guts.
“Hey,” says Becky, the girl who works with the morning doctor. “Just letting you know we got some volunteers from County General. Med students getting chemical warfare extra credit or something. You’re off tonight and all day tomorrow. Be back Thursday at your usual time.”
Jared laughs. “You have no idea what a happy man that makes me.” A thought occurs to him. “Hey, when George comes in can you have him call me? I need to get some changes in my schedule. Cut back on the overtime.”
Becky is quiet for half a beat and her voice worried when it comes back. “You okay? I know it was rough out there the past couple days…”
“It’s not that,” Jared tells her, “I’ve just got some stuff I need to do.” He looks over to where Jensen is restacking the canned goods into a structurally improbable shape. “I’m spending too much time on the job and not enough where I need to be right now.”
“I’ll tell him,” Becky says and she sounds soft and not-so-worried. “You go be where you gotta be.”
Jared hangs up the phone. Where he needs to be is out with Jensen keeping the other man from going stir-crazy locked in this rat hole of an apartment.
Jared is beginning to think that Jensen-watching is his favorite new hobby. He really shouldn’t find it all that fascinating to watch the guy pick through piles of trash and put miscellaneous crap into his backpack. The way Jensen looks at things and weighs them in his hands and holds them up to the sunlight is like watching backstage at a magic show. He wonders what Jensen thinks and what he sees. He wonders who Jensen is and what he was before all this.
Sometimes Jensen tries to explain. “For the eyes,” he says and shows Jared a piece of plexiglass that’s long and square. Or, “Reinforcing the structural integrity.” Which makes Jared laugh and shake his head because he has no clue how Jensen could use a tangle of floppy speaker-wires to accomplish that but he believes it anyway.
Jensen looks like hell with his scraggly little bits of beard left and the scrapes on his chin that Jared put ointment on and the few spots where he’s smoothly shaven looking like patches of scar. Jared still feels his own face light up when Jensen finds something that makes him smile or go quiet with wonder. He feels whole. More than he ever did with his ex. More whole than he is as a workaholic EMT or overly-dedicated clinic tech.
Jared does his own share of garbage-picking while they’re out. He finds a table with no legs and leans it up against a wall so he can come back later with the car. If Jensen is going to stay and not go crazy with boredom he’ll need space and surfaces and places to put the things he hasn’t worked into one of his sculptures yet and areas to keep the things that are done so they won’t get bumped or keep Jared from using the necessary parts of his apartment.
The part of the oversize living room where Darren and his band used to practice their music is big enough and Jared thinks he should be able to clean the wires and junk that Darren left and get an area set up for Jensen in a few hours. He likes the thought. Giving Jensen more than just a place to crash. Giving him a home and room where he can create and belong.
They work and play and build side by side. Jared can’t find a base for Jensen's table and Jensen convinces him to hang it from the ceiling with cables that Jensen had found earlier. They make a run to the store for hardware and cheap-ass shelves and underwear for Jensen since it seems like a kind of creepy thing for Jared to keep loaning him.
Going to the store is strange. Jensen gets attention. A stock boy frowns at the way he touches things. Everything. Shiny and new and different and Jared can understand Jensen's need to touch. He gives the guy a “You got a problem” glare and jut of his chin and tries not to feel so damn triumphant when he disappears behind a display and doesn’t reappear.
In such a mundane setting Jensen's differences really show. The way he moves and the way he interacts with the physical components of the store. He shies away from the other customers and when the clerk in menswear asks if he can help them Jensen shifts from pretending to be invisible to bright and alert and too-there.
“My heart is a car and the road never ends.” He declares in a voice too loud to pass as casual conversation. He looks manic for a second with his wide eyes and the weird tilt to his head.
Jared soothes Jensen with a hand on his shoulder and tells the clerk they’re fine. Jensen really does look fine as he turns off the defensive craziness like a switch.
“Talked to me,” Jensen whispers as Jared finds the right size underwear and they leave that department. He sounds halfway between puzzled and offended.
“I talk to you,” Jared says to see what Jensen will think of that.
“My Jared.” There’s no question at all in that reply and Jared almost laughs.
They’ll need to work on this more. How to talk to non-threatening strangers. But not now. Not on Jensen's reward day for staying in the apartment for so long and keeping himself safe when Jared couldn’t be there. Jared thinks he’ll ease into it. Show Jensen with small examples that all strangers aren’t trouble.
Jared turns in around seven at night--halfway between Jensen's day-schedule and his own vampiric hours. He thinks it’s a good plan to let Jensen have the couch back to himself. His own space in Jared’s home--consistent and his alone. When he wakes up and feels restless around three AM he finds Jensen sleeping propped in the corner between the bathroom door and Jared’s room like a neglected puppy and “abandoning Jensen to sleep alone” goes on the list of things Jared’s fucked up and won’t do again if he can help it.
It breaks his heart that Jensen would be so obviously miserable without him and even more so that Jensen wouldn’t try to wake him up to fix it.
Jared wakes Jensen with soft words and calming touches along his shoulders and helps him to his feet. “Come on,” he says as Jensen blinks at him in confusion. Jensen is too tired to protest and Jared leads him into the bedroom and puts him in bed.
All that space is weird. He can tell by the way Jensen squirms to get comfortable and finally curls himself tight on the very edge. He looks like he belongs there in Jared’s bed and Jared tries not to think like a villain as he stretches himself out on the other side on top of the blankets. All is quiet for a little while and then comes a shuffle from Jensen's side and then another. Jensen presses his back to Jared’s side and sighs and sleeps.
His first day back on the job Jared calls Detective Hanson, just to see if any progress has been made on the case. He gets some schmuck instead who tells him the case has been determined a case of accidental ingestion of dangerous substances. Nobody’s fault. If people want to break the law and trespass in private dumpsters it’s impossible to protect them all.
Jared snaps his phone closed on the man’s explanation and is glad he didn’t go down to the station. He isn’t a man given to outbursts of anger but he would've had to do something else or say something else if he was there and at his size angry and loud means threatening and next thing he knew he’d be in cuffs.
George and one of the volunteers are working with Jared and when lunch comes he steps out front to eat his sandwiches under the sky. Jeff waits for him across the street and Jared moseys over. He hands Jeff one of the sandwiches and Jeff pulls an apple and knife from one of his pockets and gives Jared half an apple.
Jared bites in without worrying if the knife is clean or what dumpster Jeff got the imperfect fruit from. He trusts the man to not feed him anything unsafe.
“Jensen's still good,” Jared offers when Jeff doesn’t start a conversation. He grins as he chews. “I came home and he’d half-shaven his beard off.”
Jeff unwraps the sandwich and takes a hearty bite.
“He’s opening up,” Jared continues. “Not so much in words, but he’s been building these crazy sculptures. Like stuff I can’t even wrap my head around. And he took care of me. When I came home and crashed. Made me eat and put me to bed on the couch.
“He won’t--he won’t let me sleep alone anymore. I mean he will, but he sleeps against the wall by the door if I don’t let him in.”
He can feel Jeff’s gaze on him.
“You gonna hit me now?” Jared asks and he’s half kidding.
Jeff is quiet for a long time then shakes his head. “Sounds like whatever you’re doing it’s working for him. Take care of him. I mean that. You make sure he doesn’t get hurt.”
“I’d rather hurt myself.” The truth was never so simple before. He thinks Jensen's good for him, too. Simple.
It takes a few days for the scrapes and scratches from Jensen's experiment in shaving to heal and Jared checks them every day to make sure infection doesn’t set in.
“So,” he says one night when he finishes getting ready for work with time to spare. He looks over to where Jensen's working on some strange teepee looking thing that he’s weaving strong with thin wire. “The beard. You want to grow it out again or shave it all the way off?”
“Off,” Jensen replies without hesitation. “Itches."
“You mind if I do it for you this first time and show you how and you can do it from now on?”
“You,” Jensen says and gets up from where he was working.
In the bathroom there’s a little shuffling for logistics sake. Jared needs Jensen still and eye-level. He ends up closing the door and leaning Jensen against it. He tries not to notice how trusting the other man is, how easy and pliant. God, he could do anything and he doesn’t think Jensen would stop him and the weight of that trust presses down on him like Jeff’s hand clamped around the back of his neck. He can not--will not--betray that trust.
He touches Jensen's face with the cool shaving cream. Jensen smiles and then closes his eyes at the pure relaxing pleasure of being touched. Jared takes his time getting a smooth even coat over every bit of beard he’s going to take off. The razor comes next. Sharp and new fresh out of the package. Jared takes small parts of the beard off and washes the hair from the blades often. Jensen's breathing comes slow and steady and half-asleep as Jared tips his head from one side to the other.
“I need you to do this.” Jensen opens his eyes to see and Jared demonstrates the face he wants. Upper lip stretched down so he can get at Jensen's mustache and Jensen complies. Makes the stretched-left and stretched-right so Jared can get under the curve of his jaw. Tips his head far back so Jared can shave his throat down.
Jensen's Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows and Jared’s breath catches in his throat. Jensen looks so good. Smells so good.
He catches himself staring and Jensen staring back. He pulls himself away and turns back to the sink to wet a towel to wipe away the last of the foam. Jensen reaches out and rests his hand on Jared’s hip just above the waistband of his jeans. His thumb ghosts over the front of Jared’s hipbone and Jared has to pull away or do something he shouldn’t.
“It’s okay,” he says when Jensen looks confused and hurt. “It’s okay.”
He draws Jensen's fingers to his lips and presses a kiss across his knuckles.
“Yours,” Jensen says and Jared can see him struggle for the right words. His brows pinch together. “Mine.”
Jared sighs and tries to put things as honestly as he knows how.
“Jensen. You’re changing so much right now. I don’t want to take from you something I shouldn’t. I don’t want to do something we can’t undo.”
Jensen won’t look at him and Jared thinks he’s made him angry and Jared can’t take that.
“I’m sorry,” he says and draws Jensen against his chest and Jensen lets him. He feels the other man’s wiry body relax by inches as they rock gently together. “Yours,” he whispers and kisses the top of Jensen's head. “I just want you to know yourself better before you’re sure you want to be mine.”
They stand together there in the bathroom. It feels peaceful. Jensen tips his head and touches his lips to the corner of Jared’s mouth. Just a press and not a real kiss but Jared knows he can’t take advantage of this innocence.
“I need to go to work,” he says as he eases Jensen back and squeezes his shoulders. “I’ll be home by morning, okay?”
Jensen nods and still won’t look at him but Jared thinks he’s confused and thoughtful instead of angry.
The third time Jared calls Hanson he actually gets the man on the phone.
“Can I come and talk to you?” he asks and he’s sure he has his temper under control this time.
“Mister Padalecki, the case has been determined to be an accidental incident. I’m not sure what else we could have to talk about.”
“Please,” says Jared. “It’s important.”
Hanson agrees after some grumbling and Jared goes down to meet him after work. He brings along a box of rat pellets and another of poison blocks.
“This wasn’t an accident,” he tries to tell the man. “Somebody wanted them dead. I had patients from different neighborhoods, different territories.” He opens the boxes and rattles the content around and congratulates himself on having the strength of will not to pour them out on the man’s desk. “People don’t eat this stuff by accident. Exterminators don’t put pure poison on foodstuffs. Maybe peanut-butter smeared on the ground or something but not loaves of bread. Do you know how little it takes to kill a rat and how much to kill multiple people?”
Hanson’s eyes go hard and Jared feels a jab of worry. “Tell me, Mister Padalecki. You feel like a hero when a big crisis like this hits your area? That overtime cash must have come in handy. You spend it on underage hookers?”
Jared’s been threatened a few times in his life but never so blatantly. He stares at the guy and Hanson stares back.
“You really want to push this?” the cop asks and Jared knows he can’t. Not that he has a lot of secrets in his life and there's nothing he’s done wrong but he sure as hell doesn’t want this guy following him home and messing around with Jensen's safety.
“No,” he says and the words grate on his throat on the way out. “No, never mind.”
He turns and goes but he doesn’t feel safe. Won’t for days. Son of a bitch.
Jensen wakes up and Jared is wrapped around him with his arm so tight on Jensen's ribs that it holds the breath in him. It feels good, like being kept and cherished. He realizes it has been days and days since he was afraid or hungry or cold. Even when he goes outside with Jared the world is different. The wind is soft and doesn’t cut him with icy teeth and the trees all have tips of glow-bright green or fuzzy white or buds that Jared says will be flowers.
Jensen is happy but he doesn’t think just being inside makes him that way. Inside and fed and warm don’t make happy. He feels like the pieces of him are more together and the headaches come not-so-often. He makes things and the busyness is quiet. He lives with Jared and he doesn’t know anybody else that lives inside but he doesn’t think he would be happy with anybody else so that’s okay.
Days off are the best. When Jared doesn’t have to go to work and they walk and talk and go to the store. On payday Jared buys him new shoes and three kinds of shampoo for the way they smell and pajamas, even if Jensen thinks he doesn’t need pajamas. Jensen didn’t understand before that jobs had paydays and paydays paid for things but he does now. Jared explained it and Jensen thinks maybe one day he’ll have a job. For fairness.
Jared doesn’t like it when the paper comes off the food cans. Jensen tries to tell him how better they are shiny with lines and how it creates visual unity but the words don’t come out right. The food inside is the same but Jared says that sometimes people want to find what they want to eat and Jensen never thought of that before. Choosing. Jared is smart though and he puts the name of the food on the top with a marker and then Jensen can throw away the stuck-on papers and the cans are good again.
Jensen watches Jared and he likes when Jared watches him. Sometimes when they are close he sees a look in Jared’s eyes like he wants to hold Jensen and bite him and burn him up with happiness. He always says sorry when Jensen sees him looking like that and Jensen figures maybe it’s bad to feel that way. Like the touching and hurting that Jeff asked about together. He isn’t sure how it could be hurtful to touch each other because it feels nice to touch himself and it feels nice when Jared holds him.
Jared brings Jensen things. He brings a book with squares on the pages. Jared explains that the first five boxes are in order and the bottom three are ones that might go in the last empty spot and Jensen has to pick the one that makes sense. To take his time and think which ones should go next. Jared checks if he picked right or wrong and almost none are wrong and Jared hugs him and tells him he’s awesome.
Jared asks Jensen if he can read one day when they write on the cans. Jensen feels the shapes squirming in his brain just out of reach of being things he knows and he shakes his head. Jared sits down with him and tells him the letters as he writes them and then the words they make. He brings books another day and they sit together and Jensen works really hard to remember and to learn again. Even when he knows the words he has hard times saying them on the outside but he tries.
He likes it when Jared smiles and if he knew how to make it be forever of Jared smiling he would.
Jared drives Jensen to stay with Jeff some days while Jared sleeps. Not because he keeps Jared awake but so he can find things to make with when Jared doesn’t have days off and so he can see the sun and be outside. He wants to ask Jeff about touching Jared. Why it would be wrong or hurt or be bad but he can’t find the words.
They walk all around and bring things to people who need it like food and bottles of water and diapers and clothes and a crutch. Everybody is more quiet than Jensen remembers. Jeff says people died. Cinnamon Girl and Hettie, Tom Tom and Eli White, Junkie-Sean and a boy that even Jeff didn’t know the name of. More people got sick from bad food and Jensen is glad he wasn’t outside on those dangerous days but he’s sorry because he was hiding instead of helping anybody.
Jensen helps Jeff carry the things people need but he has his back pack and he stops sometimes and picks things up for later. They help people get to the shelters or the soup kitchens or the clinic. Jensen finds a pile of rolls of old carpet that is thick and soft and he cuts pieces off as big as a person and rolls them up and he and Jeff carry them down to the place under the bridge for people to sleep on.
They come back after that and Jensen sees the sign on the street as they walk by. The name is his name that Jared taught him to write and the surprise stops him to stare. Jeff stops beside him and sees what Jensen looks at and makes a face all surprised and guilty at the same time.
“I am a road?” Even Jensen can tell those words sound silly.
“We didn’t have anything to call you,” Jeff says in his “making friends” voice. “If you’ve got something you’d like better…” He trails off as Jensen shakes his head. He can’t remember when Jeff started calling him his name and he sure doesn’t remember a name he had before that. The mirror man is nobody. A ghost of no remembrance. Jensen shivers as he thinks about being a different guy and he doesn’t know who that guy was. He wonders if anybody else has ever been new like he is. Unfitting in their skin like he would be unfitting in that man’s life.
He can’t imagine anything worse than not being himself. He wonders if the mirror man thought the same way.
Jared brings Jensen down to the clinic one day in the day and takes the stitches out of his head. It itches more than hurts but Jensen is still glad that Jared does it instead of anybody else.
After, Jared gives him a book of blank paper and some pens and pencils. Jensen draws lines on the paper. Mostly straight. Lines beside each other up or sideways. Lines that come to points or corners or angles. Horizontal members and supporting--supporting somethings. A few pages have ellipses over the lines all stacked on top of each other and tied into straight columns by the hard lines.
Jared asks him what he draws and what it means but Jensen doesn’t know either. When the book is full on all the pages he glues pieces of cord in the cracks between the pages until the book is splayed open like a flying bird and he ties it from the ceiling over the table to look up at sometimes when he works on new things.
Jared is special. Jensen has no doubt about the truth of that. He is strong and gentle and bright like the sun. He is the warm day after the cold and Jensen feels like he could just be by Jared and never feel hungry again. He thinks of Jared every time he touches himself in the bathtub and the one time he does it in the bed after Jared goes to work.
He wants to show Jared right touches. Good touches, but Jared shies away from it if Jensen is fast and hungry. He has to go slow. Slip into Jared’s space and make sure to never hurt him and never scare him.
He begins a campaign of good touches. Hands on Jared in all the small ways. His hips or his hands or his hair or his neck. Touches with parts other than hands--sliding their legs together in the bed or leaning shoulder to shoulder when they walk or eat or read the learning-book together on the couch.
When Jensen touches low Jared will hiss and squirm and stop Jensen's hand. “I can’t,” he’ll say, or “I don’t want to hurt you.” Sometimes he says, “Oh god you don’t know how much I want to…” but he stops Jensen's hand anyway.
“You want,” Jensen tries to explain to him one night in their bed.
“That doesn’t make it right,” Jared says and rests his forehead on Jensen's and closes his eyes.
Jared sighs and Jensen rubs his cheek against Jared’s.
“I can’t…” and Jared sounds so trapped and scared and torn Jensen has to pet him and whisper soft words of not worrying and being okay and he touches Jared so gently until he goes asleep.
When Jared wakes up Jensen wakes up too and follows him in the kitchen and they make breakfast together even though the sun has gone down. Jared asks him, “Are you okay?” four times while they cook and eat and Jared gets dressed. Every time Jensen says yes. It is hard to think of the way to put his words and be here-now-happy at the same time but he doesn’t say that to Jared.
When Jared goes in the bathroom to brush his teeth, Jensen goes with him. He catches Jared’s hand before he can get to the toothpaste and Jared looks at him funny and worried and Jensen kisses his fingers to show it’s not a bad thing. He turns Jared towards the mirror and stands in front of him and wraps Jared’s arms around his body and holds them tight to his chest.
“I know I want,” Jensen says. “I know me. I know you.” He gestures towards the faces looking back out of the mirror and back to their real selves. “You and you. Me and not-me.” The words aren’t coming out like he wants but he hopes Jared understands. “I know me. He is nowhere now.” Jared’s arms tighten around him and he can see Jared frowning as he tries to get it.
“He is not. Not here. Not loving you. Not yours. Not me.”
Jensen's nose burns like smoke is in it and his eyes start to be watery and he wipes at them.
“You are his?”
Jared buries his face in the crook of Jensen's shoulder and shakes his head.
“Don’t be scared,” Jensen whispers and squirms around in Jared’s arms and ducks under his bowed head and nudges their lips together.
Jared’s lips slide on his and Jared’s tongue touches his lips and Jensen does the same. Jared tastes like Jared and toast and jelly and he holds still and lets Jensen flick his way over Jared’s lips. It is more good than Jensen ever thought and it makes his thing hard but he doesn’t want to scare Jared again so he makes sure not to rub against him.
When he pulls back to see Jared is smiling but his eyes are wet and Jensen hopes he is happy.
“See?” Jensen asks and smiles back. “Didn’t hurt me. Knew that. Knew for me the good.”
He steps away to show Jared that was enough and maybe because he doesn’t know what the next thing to do would be and he doesn’t want to mess it up when it is right between them.
“It can be good,” Jensen promises. “It can be slow.”
“Okay,” says Jared and his hand goes around the back of Jensen's head and he pulls them together and kisses Jensen like fire and water and storms over the city before he pushes him back and laughs and shakes his head.
“Sorry. Couldn’t resist.” And Jared adjusts himself in his pants like his thing is excited and says he has to leave for work even though the clock says it isn’t time yet.
Jensen watches him go and smiles and knows he won just a little bit.
Finding the guy takes Jeff a month or more. Watching. Talking to people who were poisoned and others who knew them. Figuring out who had a hate-on big enough to want folks dead.
He ends up with a list of six. Owners of buildings or small businesses. The dude who keeps petitioning the city to build a shelter out in the country and bus the homeless out to somewhere too far to walk back from if they didn’t like it. The lady who calls the cops three times a week on the kids who sleep on her stoop.
He can feel parts of his brain he hasn’t used in ages waking up. His old skills of observation and interrogation and pattern-finding reawaken to this new purpose. He watches the people on his list. Checks their garbage. Looks for odd packages being brought in or going out.
He assesses the threats each may pose and calculates his windows of opportunity. The first four locations he breaks into have tissue-paper for security. Deadbolts on the doors but a window unlocked around back or on the second floor. Maybe a sliding glass door that he can lift off the tracks and circumvent the bar keeping it closed. Nothing difficult for a man who has seen hundreds of B&Es in his day. Heart pounding and the smell of his own panic in his nose he searches for some sign or proof. The fear wells up and he locks it away in a cell of stone. The mission is everything.
The fifth--a mid-renovation storefront on the strip--has security with a capital S. Metal grates over the windows and welded-on padlock latches on steel doors. Jeff watches his mark going in and out with his hardware and supplies. Broad daylight is too risky and the guy never comes or leaves at night.
Jeff goes to the store next door and buys a soda for the privilege of using their men’s room. He pulls his gloves on even though the weather is too warm for them now. The ceiling is hung tiles and he climbs from the back of the toilet up into the crawl-space. He has to move carefully to keep from falling through but he smiles as he sees the spaces are open up top. Nothing at all between him and his suspect but another layer of acoustic tile.
He hides up there for hours until the construction noises below stop for the day. The drop to the floor is longer than he would have hoped for and he isn’t as young as he used to be. The fall twists his knee and ankle but he shakes it off as he walks around searching the place.
Hidden between some buckets of spackling compound he finds what he’s looking for. Eight boxes with the skull and crossbones on the side. Long chemical name he doesn’t recognize but he knows what the hell WARNING! POISON! means and this has to be his guy.
Still, never pays to be impatient or jump to conclusions. He finds a yard-long wooden rod that fits nice in his hand. Thinks it was probably a closet rod at one time. Heavy enough to do the job and already on-site.
He waits. Sitting most of the time but walking enough to keep that knee limber.
He guesses it must be just past ten in the morning when he hears keys outside the door. He pulls the brim of his hat low over his eyes and moves into position.
Jared is a man desperately in need of someone to talk to. He can’t talk to Jensen because Jensen is the topic at hand. He can’t talk to George because as his boss George doesn’t officially know about Jensen and it doesn’t help anything to keep challenging that willing ignorance.
Frightening as the concept is, Jeff seems like his best bet. Somebody who knows Jensen and can give an honest evaluation of his progress and capabilities. Jeff, of course, decides that this is the one night not to come by for their Tuesday late-night lunches. Jared hates him a little for that.
Jared is a man with a problem. He thought about all that Jensen had said or tried to say as he drove into work. As far as Jared can figure it boils down to this: Jensen doesn’t feel like the man in the mirror has any relevance to his present self. And Jared can either wait for that man who may be dead and gone or he can love the Jensen here and now and that should include some physical lovin’ because the Jensen of here and now is horny.
Jared thinks the problem over all night at work. What to do and how to make sure Jensen doesn’t get hurt in the process. In a way he’s almost glad the winter lull is over and patients come in at all hours. Having George there all night keeps him from totally brooding about his issues and having people to treat distracts him from thoughts of Jensen at home spread out on the bed--their bed--in nothing but a bow. Twelve hours thinking about that would give him a medical condition of his own.
There’s nothing like a teenager injured in a knife fight to take the glow off of a sexy image and after that an immigrant mother’s concern for her baby’s life overwhelms her fear of INS and she brings in a two year old with a raging fever and Jared has his hands and mind full with cooling packs and thermometers and the sound of sobbing prayers in Spanish behind him.
By sunrise he nearly forgets his relationship issues and his worry about what kept Jeff. He is turning the key in the door when he remembers and sudden worry clenches his guts because what if Jensen wants too much too fast? What if Jared isn’t strong enough to resist and take things at the right speed for Jensen? What if he does something that hurts all the wonderful progress Jensen has made in his life these past few months?
Jared takes a deep breath and turns the knob. The Gatorade bottle on the other side falls in its comforting predictability and Jensen looks up from where he sits fully dressed and working on a new project.
“Come see,” he says in his happiest voice and Jared doesn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed to not be pressured into awkward eager sex the minute he walks in the door.
He goes though, to see whatever has Jensen so happy. The thing on the table has to be the ugliest blob of crap Jensen's ever made. Jared circles it twice and looks for any redeeming beauty in it but all he can see are random bundles of garbage and wire and paper and cardboard all glued or taped or tied together.
“It’s um…I don’t get it?”
And Jensen grins like that was the point. “Here.” He pushes Jared to sit on the couch and starts turning off lights and pulling the blackout blinds over the windows. When only the one bare bulb by the table is still lit Jared sees it. The shadows of the ugly thing on the wall. Stretched and distorted they have become people. A couple. Two men embracing.
“God,” Jared breathes. “It’s beautiful.” And more than that it shows a complexity of thought he can’t even imagine. To build it for the shadow of one light in one place. He wonders if it would work at all if the light was an inch off or the table an inch higher and he doesn’t think so.
Jensen comes over and sits beside him with his knees curled up to his chest. He leans against Jared’s shoulder and closes his eyes and says “Yes,” like he’s not talking about the sculpture at all.
Jared runs his fingers through Jensen's hair and he’s happy to be home and happy that Jensen's happy and whatever happens with them they’ll work it out together.
Getting a confession is easy, Jeff thinks. Make a man more afraid of what will come if he lies than if he tells the truth and the words spill out. Let him think the truth won’t hurt him. Beat a confession out of a man and it won’t stand up in court. Let him think you want to see him in jail. Let him think you already dialed 911 and just want someone else to hear him admit what he’s done. Let him think there are witnesses.
The man would rather spill words than blood. What sane person wouldn’t? He gives dates and places. Where and when he put poison out for people. Hettie and Cinnamon Girl. Tom Tom and Junkie Sean. Eli White and some poor runaway. Dead for property values and his kids’ college funds and decent neighborhoods for decent people.
Jeff hits him then. Gloves doing nothing to pad the impact that runs up to his shoulder. That he feels all the way down to his sprained knee. Hits him until the chair he’s tied to falls over and Jeff gasps for air like his first day at boot camp.
“You die here,” Jeff tells him and opens one of the boxes. Hard fingers crush in at the corners of the man’s jaw and Jeff tips the white powder into his mouth. The guy chokes on the dryness of it. Coughs as it takes the moisture out of his throat and dusts his lungs.
Jeff stands back and watches the man squirm. Slows his breathing. Feels the weight of what he’s done and righteous violence never felt so good before.
He makes one last check of the scene. No fingerprints. No footprints. Not so much as a drop of his blood or sweat. Clean as a CSI’s nightmare.
Beside the door he opens the bastard’s fancy little phone and dials 911. Death would be an easy way out. Let him try to explain the poison and why he was beaten. Let him try to feel safe again when every shadow and every shuffling street person could be his attacker come back to finish the job. Jeff knows fear. How to make a victim slow to recover and never to forget.
Jeff slips out the door and down the alleyway and nobody looks at him at all.
Hours later he sits on a rooftop and the enormity of what he’s done hits him. Inside. The small places and crawling through the ceiling. He didn’t even think of it at the time. Mission overtook fear and he just did it.
He shakes and vomits and thinks of his wife’s hand cool on his forehead and how he misses her and all the mistakes he’s made.
Jared has a plan. A three-hour nap and then a trip to the Museum of Modern Art. He’s already tallied up bus fare, admission and a nice lunch for the two of them. That’ll leave gas for the week plus grocery money and a small cushion in his checking account.
What he hadn’t planned on is waking up with Jensen stretched out against him and a warm hand rubbing slow strokes up under his shirt. He shivers at the light touches and he moans before he’s quite awake.
“I made it shush,” Jensen whispers in his ear. The door to the living room is cracked open to let some light in.
Jared mumbles some variety of “Buhwha?” and Jensen pushes up on one elbow and smiles down at him.
“The noise thing. I made it shush. I was to wake you up.” He reconsiders. “I wanted to wake you up.”
“Alarm,” Jared corrects out of habit, “You turned off the alarm.”
Jensen smiles again. “The day is off.” His hand slides lazily across Jared’s hipbone. “The day for us.”
And god. It feels so good and it’s been so long. Jared hears his own ragged breathing, feels his head swimming with sudden want and need and hunger. He clenches his fingers in the sheet. This is Jensen and he doesn’t know and Jared can’t… Won’t… Fuck.
Jensen nuzzles in against his jaw with shy little kisses and brushes of his lips and the tease of his tongue. Jared can feel the line of his dick against his side and as Jensen brings his knee up over Jared’s crotch he has no doubt the other man can feel his.
“Say to me,” Jensen whispers. “Of the how. Of what to do.”
“Anything,” Jared groans. He can’t stop his hips from their slow roll up to rub against Jensen's knee. “You can’t do it wrong.”
Jensen slithers down the bed with his legs still tangled with Jared’s. He pushes up the t-shirt Jared went to bed in and brushes kisses across Jared’s ribs so light they wouldn’t hurt the wings of a moth. As much as Jared wants to treat Jensen like he’s precious he never expected to feel so cherished himself or so loved or so protected.
He looks down into the endless green of Jensen's eyes and feels found for the first time in his life. Like everything is right.
“Could I see you?” Jensen asks and Jared nods. He can’t think of anything he would deny Jensen at that moment.
Jensen helps him to sit up and Jared just goes with it. He lets his body be moved and manipulated as his shirt is pulled over his head and he’s laid down again.
Jensen straddles his hips and leans down. He kisses along Jared’s collarbone and runs his hands down his sides. He nuzzles into Jared’s hair and flicks the tip of his tongue against the corner of his mouth.
Not even Jared’s first boyfriend gave him this sensation of being explored like a glorious new country. The act is so primitive. So simple. Jensen shows no embarrassment at all. What is, is, and we are, Jared thinks and maybe he’s starting to think like Jensen.
Jensen shifts and rubs down on him and their cocks are separated by nothing but the thin cotton of their pajamas. Jensen likes it. Jared likes it. No harm is being done and Jared starts to let himself relax.
“Here,” he whispers and tugs at the hem of Jensen's shirt. Jensen obliges by pulling it the rest of the way off and Jared touches him back in the dim light from the doorway.
Jensen is still lean. Jared knew that already. But months of good nutrition have put more mass on him. Awkward boniness has faded into graceful musculature. He looks thin but strong and Jared likes that. Likes that Jensen is healthy and fit. He’s proud of himself but also proud of Jensen.
“You are so beautiful,” he whispers and his fingers drift over the glowing smoothness of Jensen's skin. The words catch in his throat. “I love you.”
Jensen leans low over him and presses their cheekbones together so hard it almost hurts. “Yours.” He says with fierce determination. “Yours ever forever.”
He finds an awkward rhythm and Jared grabs onto his hips and guides him and they thrust together a few more strokes until Jensen makes a broken cry and grinds down on top of him. Jared’s never seen anything so open and free. Jensen loses himself in the orgasm and even though Jared’s still short of his own release he holds Jensen and strokes his hair and pets him as he comes down.
“Sparkles,” Jensen laughs all breathless and sweet. “In my head.”
Jared smiles back and tries to adjust himself in his pants without drawing attention to it. Jensen catches it though, too observant for Jared’s good sometimes.
His smile fades and his hand drifts down to cover Jared’s. “Tell me the how,” he says. “Tell me how to make it finish.”
“I don’t--“ Jared starts, but the end of that sentence treats Jensen like the child he is not. “Anything,” he begs. “Anything. Just touch. Me. It.”
Jensen reaches for him without hesitation. Those clever artist’s fingers slide down between cloth and skin and wrap around Jared’s dick. He can see the wonder of discovery in Jensen's eyes and the fascinated smile on his lips.
“This?” Jensen asks, “Like touching me.” He strokes and Jared arches against the touch. He feels his sense of self slipping away under the heady wave of sensation. And god it’s good with that half-beat of a pause at the tip and a little twist before Jensen's hand strokes down again.
Like riding a bike, Jared thinks and he would laugh at his own absurdity but he’s too busy losing his mind to the pleasure for that.
Jensen eases him down with soft touches and whispered words of “So pretty” and “Mine for always.” Jared looks up and Jensen seems so at peace. Seems like the older man for the first time. A tiny part of Jared wonders what could have been if they’d met somehow without Jensen being hurt but it doesn’t matter and he’s sure he wouldn’t want to trade that life for this.
Showering with Jensen is one of those things Jared doesn’t realize he misses until he gets the chance. Intimate and sensual and more than he could have experienced before without jumping Jensen's bones. One of those things like assisted orgasms that he has denied himself for so long but once he has the chance again he doesn’t know how he lived without.
Jared takes the opportunity to reacquaint himself with Jensen's body. His skin is healed like the rashes had never been there. He’s filled out--added on muscle and just enough body fat to put him in the healthy range. He must walk ten miles or more on the days he goes with Jeff and his body is lean and toned. Freckles are scattered fine over his shoulders and the bridge of his nose and Jared thinks maybe he loves every single one of them.
Jensen touches Jared shyly and Jared realizes this is the first time Jensen has seen him. “Touch me where ever you want,” Jared tells him, “You can do that here, in our home. It’s okay.” And Jensen does. His fingertips trace down Jared’s neck and shoulders, over the firm muscle of his chest, over waist and hips and against the line where his thighs meet torso.
Jared would be embarrassed by how little it takes to get him hard again so soon except that months have gone by since another person touched him and this is so much more than just another person. It’s Jensen touching him like he’s made of gold. Jensen worshiping the lines of him. Jensen who is so beautiful and so gentle and his, all his.
Jensen's hands slide around behind Jared. Feeling the muscles of his back and cupping his ass cheeks and drifting back around to the front. Whatever concerns Jared might have had about Jensen wanting this for himself dissolve as he looks down and sees that Jensen enjoys this touching stuff just as much as any healthy gay man in his late twenties.
Reassured that he isn’t fucking this up, Jared feels bold. He presses Jensen back against the water-warmed tile and they kiss and Jared pushes back the sodden strands of Jensen's hair. He pins Jensen's shoulders there and Jensen seems too pleased with this turn of events to struggle against him.
Jared watches his face for any sign of unhappiness as he sinks to his knees in front of Jensen. He sees only arousal and love and lust and wonder. Jared makes it good. Makes it last. He touches Jensen in all the ways a lover should. Brings him to the edge and keeps him there until it’s a mercy to finish him off and let him come.
They laugh together after, with water falling all around them and their bodies slick against each other. Jensen seems so happy. So normal. Just a guy who talks funny. An eccentric artist. And Jared isn’t an asshole for loving him in the physical way. Not a monster or an abuser. The last piece falls into place and they are a couple. Complete.
Jensen doesn’t know if he likes the bus. Jared is by him and there are people to watch and buildings outside going by but it is so close inside; so many people near him could touch him, could talk to him. Jared keeps saying they are going to the museum and Jensen doesn’t know what that is but Jared’s excited so Jensen relaxes and trusts him. They ride together until the streets are clean and all the buildings shine and nobody sleeps on the sidewalks .
They get off there and the new of it makes Jensen want to go back and hide away and find a shadow where nobody will see him. Jared stops though and gives him time to be not-afraid with Jared’s arm around his waist and the two of them standing together looking up at the huge of the building.
Nobody talks to him or them and the fear floats away like the white poofies on the dandelions at the park. Scatter until he doesn’t know where they went but it doesn’t matter anyways.
After minutes of standing on the outside Jared asks him if he wants to go inside and see the artwork. Jensen thinks that would be worth being some scared for. To see things that other people made. They walk to the front and Jared pays money for little pieces of paper with bright colored paintings on them. They walk together in the big rooms with no furniture and Jared asks him what he thinks of the drawings on the walls and the things on the pedestals in the middles of the rooms.
Jensen is awed because he never knew other people made things and some of the things make no sense but some are so clean and strong and right that he can’t even make words about them just squeeze on Jared’s hand and once the shapes are so powerful that he hides his face on Jared’s shoulder and Jared hugs him until he can look at it again.
He wants to touch things. All the things. Feel their roughs and smooths and hold the mass of their shapes in his hands but Jared won’t let him. “They’ll throw us out,” he says and Jensen doesn’t want to be thrown. “If everybody touched them it would mess up the things you like.”
Jared doesn’t stop him from doing other stuff like lying down on the floor to look up and see how the thing looks from underneath off the side. Jared just sits beside him and watches Jensen instead of the art and smiles like what he sees is good.
Jensen watches the art and walks through the rooms and sees all the things people have made until Jared starts to look sleepy again. He only slept for short whiles before the alarm was going to make noise and Jensen thinks they should go home again. Maybe he can touch Jared with his mouth before Jared sleeps and that will be nice to do.
They walk to the door and Jensen can feel the free that is outside as they step into the fresh warm air. Behind them a woman yells and he turns to look to see if he should help or run away or call for Jeff. Jared turns too and the woman is running towards them and looking at him and she looks so broken in her eyes that he doesn’t know what to say.
“Davis!” she yells again and reaches for Jensen and he pulls away from the crazy.
“Oh my God where have you been? You worried Mom sick, you asshole!” She’s frantic and making no sense and looking at him like she knows him and the wrong wrong wrong of it is cold through him like the worst rainy wind.
“Worms!” he yells back and grabs his chest and stumbles away from her. “Worms in my heart and they’re filling up my veins and I can’t breathe. Can’t breathe can’t breathe!”
And then Jared is there between the girl and Jensen, making no room for her to be so close and he wraps his strong arms around Jensen's shoulders and holds onto him tight. “It’s okay,” he says low and soft and so sure Jensen has to believe him. “I’ve got you. Nobody’s gonna hurt you. I promise, Jensen. I promise.”
“What the hell is going on and who do you think you are? What have you done to my brother?”
And Jared tells her “Wait. He’s scared. He does this when he’s scared. Just give him a minute.” And he keeps holding Jensen and the woman is quiet and Jensen feels woozy in his head like the last second before he goes to sleep and Jared keeps holding him.
“Better?” Jared asks at last and Jensen nods even though it isn’t better and the woman has to be crazy because if she isn’t then she knows the mirror man and not Jensen and Jensen will lose all the things he wants and worked so hard to have. She’ll take his life away and he’ll be dead and he doesn’t want to die when he has a Jared to live for.
Jared wipes his face and he knows he’s been crying.
“Jensen,” Jared says, “Listen to me. I won’t let anybody hurt you. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. I promise.”
Then Jared turns towards the woman who looks like she might cry too. Looks like she’s trying to be mad so she isn’t sad. “Come on, lets take this somewhere a little more private.” And people are staring all around and Jensen is dizzy and he lets Jared pull him up and they walk away with the woman to a new place where people are sitting at tables and eating food.
“I don’t know her,” he whispers to Jared as they walk. “Please. Please. I don’t know her. I’m not the who she thinks I am.”
Of all the ways Jensen's family could have made contact, this is the one Jared least expected. Mackenzie Carr came to town with girl friends on a summer trip and turned his life upside down again. He tries to be happy. This is Jensen's family. The mystery is over and Jensen's been found.
The fear that their life together is over and Jensen will leave back to who he used to be near breaks his heart.
Looking at her Jared is sure she’s related to Jensen. Her hair is a lighter shade of his sandy blond and they’ve got the same nose. It looks better on Jensen than it does on Mackenzie.
At a back booth in a quiet restaurant she tells what pieces of the puzzle she knows.
“They found your car and your phone in Miami,” she says directly to Jensen even though he refuses to look at her. “There was--there was blood on the outside of the window. Caught in the crack. Your blood. We thought--we thought you were dead.”
“I looked through missing persons reports,” Jared puts in.
“We filed before they even found the car,” Mackenzie counters. “There was no reason to expect him to be this far from home.”
“Roam foam gnome,” Jensen whispers and leans his head against the wall of the booth.
“I need to call mom,” Mackenzie says but she doesn’t reach for her phone. Jared figures it’ll take a bit for her to get it straight in her head enough to make the call.
“Home,” Jensen whispers. “Jared please home. Yours not hers. Yours Jared.”
Jared rubs Jensen’s back and nods. “Hey,” he tells Mackenzie, “I need to take him home. This has been too much too quick, y’know?”
She doesn’t nod. “What’s wrong with him? I mean…what’s happened? Has he seen a doctor?”
The question scares Jared more than it should. “He was hurt. When his car was stolen or whatever. He spent a lot of time on the streets.”
Mackenzie’s face loses its color.
“A couple of months ago he got beat up and ended up at a clinic where I treated him. “ He tries to put every bit of how serious he is into his voice.
“He was too coherent for me to send him for a psych evaluation. That’s…not a place I would want anyone to end up that didn’t have a clear need to be there. He was too healthy for an emergency room and too hurt to be out there again.”
Jensen's hand rubs Jared’s leg under the table and Jared realizes how upset he’s getting at the insinuation that he did something wrong.
“A CAT scan and MRI might give us a better idea of what’s happened to him, but nothing is immediately wrong with him. He’s not in pain. He’s happy and functioning at a high level of cognition.”
“So you just--kept him?” Indignation rises in her voice again. “We thought he was dead. He’s been gone six damn months and we thought he was dead and the whole time you just kept him?”
“Is dead,” Jensen says loud and clear enough that he’s not to be ignored. “Died and is new and I. Don’t. Know. You.”
He pushes Jared and tries to bodily move him out of the booth. “Don’t know you and don’t like you.” Jared moves out to let Jensen stand up and feel less trapped.
“Look,” Jared says as Jensen tries to drag him away. “I just want what’s best for him.”
“We’re his family,” she snaps back as she stands too. “You can’t expect to get away with this. Davis, what are you thinking, going off with this guy?”
Jensen ignores her and keeps pushing Jared. The waiter comes over to see what the fuss is and Jared hands him money for the food they didn’t eat and snags the pen out of his apron.
“I’m not trying to get away with anything,” Jared says and writes his number down on a napkin. “You’re pushing him away by freaking out like this and I’m taking him home. You calm down and call me and we’ll talk this over like civilized people. I’m not putting him through this stress for something he doesn’t want.”
They walk away and get into a cab even though Jared’s budget really can’t afford it. He rubs Jensen's back and gives him most of the ride home to calm down and collect himself. Truth be told he needs a little time himself to push his own fears aside.
“I want you to stay if you want to stay,” he whispers against Jensen's hair. “But people might come to the apartment and ask you if you want to stay.” Jensen squeezes his hand tight. “When they do,” Jared continues, “When they do, you have to not be scared. You have to be brave and tell them what you want. Can you do that?”
Jensen nods against his shoulder and Jared tries to put aside his fears.
Mackenzie stares down at the napkin for long seconds. She would have followed them but Davis really was freaking out and it scared her to see her brother who had always been so strong and steady, so bold and sure, acting like that.
She runs her fingers over the edge of the napkin. It has an address as well as the phone number and she calculates what she can do with that. She should call home. Let mom know what she’s found. She can’t though. Can’t put her mother through more uncertainty when even she doesn’t know what is wrong with her brother.
She has to fix this first. Bring him home. She slowly opens her phone and pushes three buttons and then send.
“I’d like to report a kidnapping,” she says when the call is answered. “My brother, Davis. A man’s taken him.”
She’s transferred off to a detective Browning who asks questions like “How old is your brother?” and “Are you his legal guardian?” and “He left with this man without a struggle or protest?”
In the end it boils down to the fact that her brother is capable of making his own decisions until a judge says he isn’t. There’s no law saying he has to be nice to his sister. “I’ll send a patrol car,” he says when she starts to cry. “But if there are drugs involved or signs of illegal activity at the location your brother may be arrested as well.”
“Please,” she says, “I just want him somewhere safe.”
She waits in the diner drinking coffee for two hours before her phone rings again.
“My officers separated him from the other man and spoke to him,” Browning says, “They said he seemed slow but not retarded and not high. If you still feel like he isn’t competent to be making his own decisions, I suggest you contact a lawyer to help you petition a hearing with a judge.”
Mackenzie sits in the back booth. Her tears are spent and her shoulders ache and her head hurts from too much caffeine. She thinks through her options. A lawyer would take too long. Even if they tried to say Davis is in danger, and there’s no proof of that, it won’t be overnight. She wants her brother back. Wants him back now and the law can’t do that for her.
She wishes more than anything that Davis was with her to help her plan her options. He was always so organized. So practical.
She takes a deep breath and dials.
“Hey,” Jared answers the other end. “Hang on.”
She hears a door closing and then “Okay, I’m back. He’s working and I didn’t want to disturb him with this call.”
“I’m sorry,” she blurts out. “About the police. I just want what’s best for him.”
Jared sighs. “I understand that. And believe it or not, I do too. I don’t want to discourage him from seeing his family and then later have him hate me for it. I don’t want to tell him what to do with his life. I don’t want to force him to do something he’ll regret either way.”
“Let him come home,” she begs and hates the way it sounds. “We love him.”
“I know,” Jared says and it sounds like he really does. His gentleness almost makes her feel worse. “But right now he doesn’t know you.” He takes a breath. “Look. Come by tomorrow around lunch time. Don’t call him Davis. Pretend you don’t know who he used to be. Just meet him. Okay?”
“Yeah,” she says and her voice sounds so thick she barely recognizes herself. “I’ll be there.”
The police who comes inside to talk to Jensen is a woman and Jensen remembers what Jared said about being not-afraid and strong and calm and they can’t take him away if he isn’t scared and isn’t angry.
He thinks maybe it’s easier that the cop is a woman because her eyes are calm and quiet and she is strong in a way no woman he knows is. Inside herself strong and no trying to prove it because she knows it. She’s like all the things he is supposed to be and he pretends to be her mirror and breathe when she breathes and tip his head when she tips her head and feel the mirror of her strong heart in his.
Jensen watches the officer from the side of his eyes and wonders if she can see the inside of him where he is bits of days tied with wire and string like a bird’s nest of a person.
Jared waits outside with her partner and Jensen hears them talking through the door but he can’t understand their words. Can’t listen to the words because he has to be busy being calm now.
“Hi,” says the woman-cop. “What’s your name?”
And even that is a hard question because he knows who he is but not who she thinks he is. He wants to tell her words to make her not look at him but he doesn’t think she’ll go away. He breathes slow through his nose like she does and smiles back her tiny smile.
“Jensen,” he says. “The street is Jensen too.”
She smiles like Jared did the first time Jensen met him. Not mean and not scary.
“Is this where you live?”
He nods. “I like it. Here. Jared is good.” His heart pounds in his chest thump ditty thump.
“Do you want to go somewhere else?” She asks. “We could take you. Nobody could follow you or hurt you.”
“No going. Don’t want to.” He can think of nothing worse than being taken away from Jared.
“Are you scared, Jensen?”
He remembers what Jared said but she has to see it has to know and he says “You put scared in me.”
She makes a laugh at that and shakes her head. “That explains my lack of a social life. Does Jared ever hurt you?”
He coughs in his nose at a thing that couldn’t be and shakes his head. “Ever never. Jared is good.”
She smiles then some sad and some tired.
“Okay then. That’s all. You have a nice afternoon.”
Jensen sits back down at his working table and finds the tweezers and the copper and starts to work again. He doesn’t know how many days there will be or how much time he has and he wants this one thing to be perfect.
Jensen's already working on a project when Jared comes back through the door. He tries to respect Jensen's working time. If the inspiration has struck he obviously needs to work through whatever project has caught his fancy.
Now though, Jared worries. About the day and Mackenzie and the police and who Jensen might be under the injury that changed his life.
“Hey,” he says and drifts over. Jensen is working on something so tiny Jared can barely see it. Strands of copper from an old phone cord nearly as fine as human hair. Tweezers to pull and twist and poke one thread through the others. Jensen's fingers hide the rest from his sight.
Jensen leans back against him and closes his eyes and Jared feels relief that whatever may be going on in Jensen's head it isn’t anger at him.
“Want to come sit on the couch for a little while?”
Jensen shakes his head and goes back to working. He looks more tired and worn out than he has in months and god how could a stupid trip to the museum go so wrong?
Jared could take it personal that Jensen doesn’t want to cuddle but he doesn’t. Just lets Jensen take whatever he needs at whatever speed feels right. Jensen reaches for Jared’s hand when he thinks to step away and Jared pulls up a chair behind Jensen's and sits down. He smoothes the hair away from Jensen's neck and places a gentle kiss there behind his ear.
“I love you,” Jared whispers in case Jensen has forgotten it or stopped believing in it. “No matter what happens. No matter anything. I love you.”
“Yours,” Jensen whispers. “Ever forever.” And even not facing each other he puts more truth in those words than Jared has ever heard.
Jensen works and Jared watches until the buzz of his cell distracts him.
The number that caller ID brings up is an out-of-town area code and he knows who it is before he answers. “Hey.” Jensen looks puzzled and Jared hugs him around the shoulders. Leaves him to his tiny project. “Hang on.”
He goes into the bedroom and when he glances back before closing the door Jensen's complete attention is focused on his work. And hell if he’ll let a stranger know how hard this day has been even if she is a blood relation to the man who was.
“Okay, I’m back. He’s working and I didn’t want to disturb him with this call…”
Jeff watches the investigation. Cops everywhere talking to the good citizens of the neighborhood. A forensics team checking out the shop where Mr. Ratt-kill got the crap beat out of him. Not a long checking out though and Jeff guesses the guy is still breathing somewhere.
Things are rough for the first couple days. Probably will be for a while. People who work legit jobs and live in apartments they actually pay rent on get jumpy when someone they think is like them gets beat up. Jumpy but not organized. Not supportive of each other or watching their neighbors’ backs. Suspicious of everything and Jeff supposes it’s because they feel like they got a lot to lose.
He keeps what street people he can out of the area. Karen and her kids. No sense child services looking to take a good mom with bad luck away from her little ones. He finds Whiskey Dan a place to sleep it off for a few days so he won’t get picked up for pissin’ on the walls in front of the police.
He borrows one of Dan’s empties for a prop and spills the last drops on his shirt before he weaves his way to a corner he can watch from. It doesn’t take long to figure out which cops are involved in this case and who is just stoppin’ by to collect evidence. Big guy built like a side of beef seems to be in charge of hassling people. Makes his way through the people who have ties to the area and then starts on the people who just sleep on its streets and live in its alleyways.
When he gets around to Jeff he doesn’t get anything useful. Jeff knows how to play it too sober to be taken in for a D&D charge but too much of an alcoholic to have any brain cells left.
Jeff doesn’t like the questions the cop with the jaw asks. Looking to see if anybody saw a tall guy, young, go in a couple of nights ago. Night of the beating. Jeff knows the vic didn’t get a good look at his face but still. Even if he had he wouldn’t call Jeff young by any stretch.
The only guy Jeff knows that’s tall and young is Jared and worry makes him slip up his act. Seem too drunk. The cop grabs him by his shirt and pulls him in and shakes him like a rat.
“You even listening to me you waste of fucking air?” he shouts in Jeff’s face. Being an asshole is no reason for a man to die but it takes Jeff a breath to stomp down on the urge to smash the man’s windpipe all exposed there at eye level.
“Ain seen no tall boys,” Jeff slurs and the cop half shoves and half-drops him. Jeff takes the fall but lines up the sprawl he ends in so that he can kick the cop’s knee out if he has to.
“You remember seein’ something you call me.” He drops a card on Jeff’s chest. “You see that tall guy doing anything suspicious you call me. If shit goes down and you didn’t call me I’ll find you.”
Jeff doesn’t laugh. He’d have to fight or get hurt if he laughs and he doesn’t have time for either.
“The patina needs a seal,” is the first sentence from Jensen's mouth when Jared comes back out of the bedroom. He sits on the couch with his feet tucked up half under him and watches Jared like he holds the mysteries of the universe in his hands. Maybe for Jensen he does.
“What’s a patina?” Jared asks as he kicks off his shoes and they stretch out side by side and half on top of each other on the narrow cushions.
Jensen holds up a warm-shining copper ring. It’s flat as a keychain ring and almost a quarter inch wide. He hands it over and Jared turns it to the light to admire the work. A sparse framework of copper threads appear to be the base for layers and layers of intricate weaving and twisting and swirls of wire sewn down in complex abstract designs.
“Patina lets the old in,” Jensen says and rests his head on Jared’s chest.
Jared holds the ring and tries to figure if Jensen means the gift the same way most lovers would. He can’t know for sure though and he asks “Is this for me?”
Jensen pinches the skin of his ribs hard enough for Jared to squirm but not hard enough to hurt. Okay, maybe it was a stupid question. He slides the ring onto his finger and isn’t surprised that it fits. His Jensen is amazing after all.
“Forever ever,” Jensen whispers. “If the man takes me. For memories.”
“What? What man? Nobody’s taking you, Jensen. Not without a judge making me let you go and the chances of that are pretty damn slim.”
“Him,” Jensen whispers against Jared’s shirt and softer “Davis.”
Jared counts to ten to gather his thoughts and put things the right way.
“Do you remember at all? Now that you’ve met Mackenzie?”
Jensen is still for long moments. “I remember hurt. Cold. Scared so deep. I remember stealing of the cat’s food. Hungry and lost and more more scared.”
Jared strokes Jensen's hair and soothes him as much as he can.
“But no family memories? No memories of being him?”
Jensen shakes his head again.
“Look,” Jared says. “I’m not an expert on brain damage, but if you were hit and lost your memory because of that, the chances of you just remembering everything one day aren’t very likely.”
He thinks about the dregs of his savings account and how many favors he could possibly call in and from who.
“Do you want to go to a real doctor? For--tests. To see what’s going on in there and what could happen next?”
“Don’t want him back,” Jensen whispers and Jared kisses the top of his head. God damn why does this have to be so hard on the best person Jared knows.
“I don’t want you to be afraid forever,” Jared says. If there’s a physical reason for Jensen's mental state then Davis might be gone for good. If not--if this is all some extreme reaction to an psychological trauma-- Jared crushes the thought. Jensen is not going to wake up tomorrow as Davis. Not. End of story. He can’t even bear to think about it. Jensen is happy and Jared would give anything to keep him that way.
“You’ll be with me on the tests?” Jensen's voice is so small and so lost.
“As much as they’ll let me,” Jared answers. “I can’t be there for everything but I’ll stay as much as I possibly can.”
Jensen nudges Jared’s jaw with his cheek and then his lips and Jared recognizes it for the affection it is and not as an invitation for sex and he kisses Jensen slow and gentle. Breathes in the scent of him and savors the taste. If this is one of their last nights together he wants to remember this. The soft touches. The closeness.
He tries not to hate Davis. Without him Jensen never would have been. Never would have come to Jared’s life. Davis can stay gone at this point as far as Jared is concerned. Far gone.
The cab drops Mackenzie off in front of an aging brick building and Davis would never live in a place like this, is her first impression. The cracked parking lot and rusted-bottom cars, the crooked cement stairs and the door that doesn’t even catch.
She can imagine him saying “Just looking at that place hurts my soul,” like he was standing right beside her. She stomps down on the ache of loss the thought puts in her chest. This isn’t the time to think about her. She’s not the little sister anymore and it’s time to become the responsible one. To take care of her brother like he had taken care of her when they were growing up.
She has to believe he’s not gone. That what makes him himself wasn’t stolen with his credit cards and keys. If she can just find that spark of him under the stranger everything will work out. They’ll be okay and she can call Mom and tell her the good news.
She climbs the stairs and knocks on the door and Jared smiles down at her like he isn’t secretly pissed that she made it.
“Hey,” he says and pulls the door wider so she can come in to the dingy and cluttered apartment. “Lunch is just about ready. Pasta with canned tomato chunks and garbanzo beans if you want some.”
“Sure, thanks,” she says but all her attention is on Davis and she couldn’t say what she just agreed to eat.
Her brother is stretched out in a square of sunlight like a cat. He has a playing card sized piece of glass in one hand and is turning it to watch the reflections and refractions of the light on the wall. Mackenzie has a flash of memory of him at his drafting table with a material sample. Turning it over in his palm and a thoughtful frown between his eyebrows as he figured out how it would fit in his plan. Working while she did her homework on his couch.
Something. Something is still there. Davis is still there. Somewhere.
Like he knows she’s watching he glances in her direction and then away. To Jared. “Cans time?”
“Yup,” Jared says and Davis rolls to his feet and pads over to the kitchen. He pulls down three un-labeled cans from the cabinet, checks the tops of them and then takes the can-opener to them. His shoulder brushes Jared’s like he isn’t even aware there is such a thing as personal space.
“He’s reading now,” Jared says, to nobody in particular. “I’d guess he’s up to about a third-grade level, which is damn good for less than two months of practice. His progress hasn’t leveled off. Seems like a good sign.”
Davis passes the cans over and Jared dumps them into the freshly drained pasta. He doesn’t look at Mackenzie at all.
“He always was the smart one,” she says. The Davis she knew would have protested that. Bragged on her grades and reminded her of the academic scholarships she qualified for. This one doesn’t even twitch.
She waits and the two men finish mixing up lunch. The kitchen surprises her with how clean it is in contrast to the clutter that fills half the oversize living room. Davis gets bowls and forks and Jared carries the pot to the table.
“So what’s the plan for today?” she asks when the silence gets to be too much.
“Jeff,” says Davis.
“If we happen to see him,” Jared adds. “Jensen likes to take a long walk around this time of day. He collects art supplies and I’m always keeping an eye out for more work surface for him.”
She looks around. You’ve got to be kidding, she thinks but doesn’t say. This junk is supposed to be art?
“And this Jeff person?” she asks because putting down Davis’ “art” isn’t going to get her anywhere.
“Friend of me,” Davis says. He’s still not quite looking at her and when he does his glances are wary and almost petulant. Jared does a much better job of pretending to tolerate her.
“Back when Jensen was on the street, he had a rough time looking out for himself. Jeff’s this local guy. Helps whoever he can. He’s the one who brought Jensen to the clinic the night he got the crap beat out of him.”
That gives her a spark of hope to counteract the shots of annoyance at hearing her brother addressed by a name that isn’t his. Maybe this Jeff guy cares enough about Davis to want to see him back where he belongs. No real friend would want to see him kept like a pet or worse when he’s got a loving family to go to. Maybe Jeff can hook her up with a local lawyer. Somebody to advocate for Davis when he won’t stand up for himself.
She eats the food they put in front of her and watches her brother and tries to figure out how she can fix this.
After lunch they put their shoes on and grab empty back packs. Davis brings her an oversize hoodie even though the weather is too warm for it. Even though neither of them has a jacket.
“I’m fine, thank you,” she says. The last thing she wants is to reject her brother’s first attempt at making contact with her.
He shakes his head. “Too fine. More to be invisible.”
She looks to Jared to decipher that for her.
“He’s right,” Jared explains. “You’re dressed too nice for where we’re going. You’ll attract too much attention. You might want to leave everything but your driver’s license and cell-phone here too, just in case. We’ve never had a problem, but we’ve never had a young lady along with us either.”
A flutter of worry clenches through her stomach. They’re going somewhere dangerous. On purpose. Her brother can’t even put a sentence together anymore and this guy is letting him go somewhere dangerous.
She takes the jacket Davis offers her and pulls it on. Leaves everything but her ID and phone on the table and off they go.
The sun is warm and bright and they walk a leisurely pace south from the apartment building. Everything is dirty here. Worn and ugly and it just gets worse with each block they walk.
“If you get tired let us know,” Jared offers. “Jensen probably walks ten miles a day or more when he’s out and about with Jeff and I’ve gotten used to keeping up with him on my days off.”
“I’ll let you know,” she says but she’ll be damned if she calls uncle before they do.
Davis starts wandering more than walking. Poking down shadowed alleyways and kicking through trash in the nooks of the buildings. He walks along the gutter with his head down looking at something. For something. He stops and picks up some bent piece of metal and stuffs it in his bag and moves on again.
Jared stays back. At the mouth of the alley. Watching, she realizes. For cops or trouble she’s not sure.
“I talked to Jensen,” Jared offers when Davis is too far away to hear his soft voice. “About getting the MRI and some other tests done.”
Her heart pounds with hope. If she can show Davis he’s hurt and there’s a good reason for how he feels, maybe he’ll come home.
“He’s terrified,” Jared admits. “He’s so scared and I think the testing will ease his mind. I don’t--have much money, but I’ve got friends in the medical field. I think I can swing it.”
“Oh.” She’s caught off guard at that. Hadn’t even realized money could be a problem. “He still has insurance. He was self-employed. Paid it yearly.”
Jared nods and his shoulders sag. He really was intending to bankrupt himself to get Davis the help he needs and the thought unbalances what she had assumed about him. Not now, but maybe soon she can convince him of what she knows. That Davis should be with his family.
“I’ll call home tonight,” she offers. “Get the paperwork sent by Fed-Ex. We can take care of the co-pay too. Would you mind setting up the appointments?”
“No problem,” Jared says, “And thanks. All this--you coming back in his life. It’s disrupted his entire world. I just--wanted to be able to give him something solid. Something he can count on.”
Mackenzie watches her brother dig through a dumpster and she tries to imagine the Davis she knows being so delighted by so little.
They walk a while more and she watches Davis. He seems happy and free. He might be a different person (temporarily) but he doesn’t seem hurt or sad or like Jared’s been taking advantage of him.
“Tell me what he used to be like?” Jared’s voice is soft. Wary like he isn’t sure if he wants to hear the answer to his question.
She laughs and it hurts. “Nothing like he is now.” She hesitates. Memories rush at her. Davis walking her downstairs to her prom date. Davis helping with her homework in fifth grade. Davis becoming the man of the house in all the ways that matter to a little girl when their dad left when he was twelve. Davis at their mother’s bedside day and night through weeks of chemo.
“He was brilliant,” she says to preserve the fragile memories of their childhood. “His homes have been in Architectural Digest three times. Three times before he turned thirty and that’s serious. He designed the condos he lives in. Did you know that?” She looks away because of course he doesn’t know that. He doesn’t know Davis at all.
“And he still wasn’t some asshole all obsessed with his career. He made time. For us. Mom and me. My plays and high school graduation. He took us to charity events. He loved us.”
She presses the heels of her hands against her eyes to stop the tears. God, she can’t cry here. Not in front of this guy. Not with Davis so close and needing her to hold it together.
“I’m sorry,” Jared says and offers her a folded up napkin. She blots at her eyes and blows her nose.
“He still cares about people,” Jared says and she watches his eyes to see if he’s trying to lie to her face. “As messed up as things are for him, he still tries to take care of everybody. Me when I had a rough day. Street people.” He swallows like he’s steeling himself for a big truth. “Even if this is as better as he gets--even if he never really remembers, you can be his friend again. He can care again.”
It’s only natural if she hates him a little for saying that.
It’s not that Jensen dislikes Mackenzie. She isn’t bad. She doesn’t hurt him. And walking around he doesn’t think she wants the police to take him away anymore. He hurts for her though, for the sad in her eyes when he isn’t Davis. She looks at him and she doesn’t see him and he doesn’t know who to be for her.
Being for Jared is easier but with Mackenzie there Jared is different too. He touches less and smiles less and he talks to her in soft words and Jensen knows the words are about him.
He doesn’t need always Jared’s whole attention and they walk and he finds things to build from and sometimes Jensen smiles at Mackenzie and sometimes she smiles back.
They go back to home and Jensen unpacks his new treasures and Jared tells Mackenzie to come again tomorrow to spend time.
She goes and the quiet is good again and Jensen goes to Jared and nuzzles in against his jaw to see if they can be touching again. Jared holds both sides of Jensen's face and kisses him slow and gentle on his mouth and Jensen breathes in the love and comfort Jared offers.
“I was missed you,” Jensen whispers and Jared says, “But I was right here.”
So Jensen puts his hands on Jared’s waist and his thumbs rub the dip in the front of his hips and he nips at the corner of Jared’s mouth to be his attention.
“Missed you,” he says again in his hungry-voice and Jared chuckles down low in his chest.
“It’s like that, is it?”
Jensen presses up against Jared and the love he has is so big he can’t make enough of him touch enough of Jared to show it and he wishes he could be inside Jared’s skin and safe forever against him.
Jared brushes the tips of his fingers over Jensen's cheekbone and makes a low groan in his chest. “This doesn’t have to be sex. If you don’t want to…”
And that makes Jensen stop and look up at his Jared. “Do you un-want to?”
“No,” Jared says and a spike of hurt starts to go through Jensen before Jared finishes “I want to. I just don’t want you to feel like you have to.”
Jensen laughs all bright and free and he loves his Jared so much even when he says silly things.
“I feel like I want,” he grins and he guides Jared’s hand down against him and even though he’s the one moving Jared’s hand it still feels so good he bumps against it and shivers at the sparks that go through him.
Jared smiles too and draws Jensen to the bedroom even though Jensen would be happy on the couch or against the wall. If Jared likes the bed best Jensen can go there for him.
They stretch on the bed together and rub against each other in all their clothes and Jensen loves the way Jared feels with his chest against Jensen's chest and their legs sliding together. He wants but he needs too and he opens Jared’s pants and puts his hand inside and feels Jared wanting him too.
He isn’t sure if the mouth thing is a shower-only thing but he moves down between Jared’s legs and Jared rubs his legs against Jensen's shoulders and his ribs and when he kisses Jared’s parts Jared makes a funny breath and calls his name. It feels good. To feel Jared coming apart with the feeling good. To know he’s the one who makes Jared say the happy words with all their meaning in the tone. That he’s the one Jared says love to and oh god to.
He touches with his hand and his mouth and tries to remember how Jared did it. It must be right how he does it because Jared calls his name and reaches to pull him up and he does the mess thing just as Jensen is drawing away and the white and wet catches him under his jaw and across his lips. Jared tasted it in the shower. Swallowed it all and Jensen flicks his tongue out to taste the salt and bitter of it.
It isn’t bad but it isn’t good either and it turns cold fast. He wipes his face on the shoulder of his shirt and Jared laughs and asks him if he’s alright and he tells Jared he’s the most right any person could ever be ever.
Mom answers on the third ring. Always has, always will. Mackenzie tries not to think about how her mother looks old for the first time since the cancer went into remission. How Davis going missing has aged her more than illness or her husband leaving did.
“Hi Mom,” she says and tries not to let her voice crack. And before Mom can say “Oh honey what’s wrong,” she blurts out, “I found him. Oh god, I found him mom, he’s alive.”
And they cry together on the phone and she manages to tell what she knows between sobs. That Davis was hurt so bad he’s not himself anymore. And they still don’t know why he’d driven the three hours to get there or if there was a reason for the attack besides someone else wanting his car and his wallet.
“He’s living with some man,” she says. “This guy Jared who took care of him a few months ago at a clinic and then--just kept him. He kept him mom, like a stray with no tags.”
“Mac,” Mom cuts in, “Mac, if anybody deserves a guardian angel when they can’t look after themselves it has to be Davis, doesn’t it? Is he safe? Is he happy?”
And to admit that would be to accept that her brother doesn’t need them so she bites her lip like a child and refuses to answer.
“I’ll drive out first thing tomorrow,” Mom promises. “You have a hotel and everything? Do you need any money?”
“Yes Mom, no Mom,” Mackenzie sighs. “Bring his paperwork with you though. The new driver’s license and the photo album and his insurance card, okay?”
“I’ll call you when I get to town,” Mom says and they exchange goodbyes and I-love-yous and Mackenzie closes her phone.
Sleep isn’t going to come easy.
Jared doesn’t come home.
He sleeps with Jensen and wakes up when the alarm wakes him up and goes to work even though his eyes are dark around and his feet slide on the floor like they’re too heavy to lift right. He goes to work and Jensen goes back to sleep and when he wakes up again Jared isn’t home. So Jensen waits and the sun comes up all the way and he eats breakfast and drinks a bottle of water and Jared isn’t home.
The clinic isn’t far and he knows the directions Jared drives and he doesn’t want to be home and alone when Mackenzie comes to see them. He puts another bottle of water in his backpack and some aspirin and a pack of band-aids. He walks to the clinic and Jared’s car is there but he watches through the windows and Jared isn’t.
The people inside that work there look too awake. The moves of their hands are too big and too sharp. Agitated. Jensen wants to know what they know but he never spoke to them before and he doesn’t know if they’ll understand him. Jared says Jensen can go there if he has trouble but he doesn’t have trouble. Jared does.
For fixing trouble Jensen doesn’t know anybody better than Jeff and he walks for the places Jeff goes. The shelters and the kitchens and the bridge and there is no Jeff either.
A yellow car stops beside him as he walks to the next place Jeff might be and he shies away without looking at it.
“Davis!” a girl-voice calls and he doesn’t want it to be Mackenzie but it is. He hears steps running up and turns towards the brick of the building beside him and puts his head against the warm and rough and closes his eyes and doesn’t know what to do without Jared.
“Davis?” Mackenzie says again and another female voice says, “Mac, hush.”
A hand touches his shoulder like a whisper and the lady says, “Jensen? Are you all right?”
He looks at her and wants to drive her away but he wants his Jared more. “Everybody flew away the rabbit hole dream of being not.”
“Shhh,” the older lady says. Older than him. Older than Jeff. Not so old as Whiskey Dan is or Hettie was. “Jared is fine. He can’t come to you right now but he told us to take you somewhere safe while we wait for him. Would that be all right with you? Can you do that for him?”
Jensen looks from Mackenzie to the lady and neither has lies in their eyes. “To wait. For Jared.”
The lady smiles like an angel and holds out her hand for him to take. “I’m Donna Carr. It’s nice to meet you, Jensen.”
Jeff watches from the alley as Jared’s led out of the clinic by a uniformed officer and detective big-jaw who had been so hard-up for a witness placing a ‘tall young guy’ at the scene. Didn’t take the asshole long to find someone willing to swear they’d seen Jared.
Jeff figures his timing must have been off on when he beat the guy. No clock and waiting in the dark he’d started too late maybe. After Jared had left work. No alibi and that’s all Jeff’s fault.
Jared looks shell-shocked as they lead him to the squad car. How the cops can believe he’d hurt anybody, even someone as evil as the rat poison guy, is beyond Jeff’s understanding. Just as the officer is helping Jared duck down into the car Jared’s eyes meet Jeff’s. He mouths something that Jeff can’t catch, and then flicks his head in the direction of the apartment building he lives in.
Jensen. Shit. If they’re arresting Jared they’ll be searching his home too. Looking for blood-stained clothes or something belonging to the vic. They’ll be at his door with a search warrant and there’s no way Jensen can deal with that. He’ll freak and they’ll have him in a mental ward in an hour. As much as Jeff wants to keep Jared out of custody he figures Jared can handle it a lot easier than Jensen can.
Jeff hunches his shoulders and shuffles down the sidewalk. As soon as he’s out of sight of the cops he breaks into a ground-eating jog. The five miles to Jared’s place make his chest burn and his legs ache and he berates himself for being so out of shape.
The police beat him there. A CSI team’s Blazer and another squad car are already in the parking lot. He waits because he knows he’ll be more together if he talks to them outside than in but when they come down Jensen isn’t with them.
He walks. Looking for Jensen. Thinking about how to get Jared out of jail and back where he belongs. He asks around and Carlos saw Jensen getting into a cab with two women. Neither one he’d seen before. Jeff doesn’t know if they’re social workers or what but Jensen's beyond his reach for the time being.
Jared could find out though. Where he’s been taken. What’s happened. And even if Jeff hadn’t been the one to do the crime he’d still be tempted to take the fall. For both of them. He has to turn himself in. Has to make sure Jared doesn’t lose everything for his mistake.
He’ll need some courage for that. For facing a cell and a lock and the walls of an eight by eight closing in around him. Couple shots worth or maybe a small bottle. He goes to the people he knows. People he’s never asked for a penny. The girl at the lunch line and Gertie at the shelter. A dollar here, two there. A shining bottle of amber liquid and it burns going down worse than he remembers.
He’s staggering when he gets to the police station. His head three sizes too large and his feet numb and distant from his body. He pulls himself hand over hand up the rail in front and leans heavily on the counter. He stares through the plexiglass at the clerk and takes a deep breath.
“I need t’ turn myself in.”
As much as she’d wanted to shelter her mother from the pain and uncertainty of Davis’ condition, Mackenzie is glad to have the older woman at her side when she returns to the broken down apartment he and Jared live in. Their mom doesn’t put up with nonsense and she’ll take control. Take care of Davis and straighten things out with Jared. Donna Carr is a woman who gets what she wants and the determined way she walks up the four flights of stairs does her daughter proud.
They step off the landing and Jared’s door is open. A police officer stands there beside it.
“Here?” Donna asks and Mackenzie nods.
And Donna strides up to the officer like he’s the interloper. “What’s going on here and where’s my son?”
Mackenzie half-listens to the interrogation as she peeks in through the open door. The apartment has been turned upside down. Davis’ accumulated junk is strewn across the floor. The cushions are off of the couch and all the kitchen cabinets have been emptied. She might not exactly like Jared but nobody deserves to have their home trashed like this.
“Mackenzie,” her mother calls, “We’re finished here.” And the two women walk back out the way they came in.
“Jared’s been arrested, apparently.” Donna does not look pleased. “Nobody has seen Davis and there’s no record of someone else living here.”
They step back into the bright spring sunshine and walk across the parking lot to the cab. Mackenzie’s phone rings with an unknown number and she answers it.
“Mackenzie? It’s Jared.” He sounds tense. Scared. “I’ve been arrested. I didn’t do it. I swear to god I didn’t do it. You’ve got to get Jensen. Pick him up and take him somewhere. They have a warrant to search the apartment. He can’t end up in a mental institution, do you understand me? He doesn’t deserve that. He doesn’t need it. Please.” Like she wouldn’t take care of her own brother.
“Jared, he’s not there,” she says. “The police haven’t seen him.”
Jared swears under his breath and Donna reaches for the phone.
“This is Davis’ mother,” she says with the voice of authority. “Where the hell is my son?”
Mackenzie almost feels bad for Jared right then.
Her mother nods to the phone. “Mmhmm. Yes. We’ll look there. Right.” There’s another pause and when she speaks next her voice is gentler. “And where are you? Jared, listen to me very carefully. I’ll have Davis’ lawyer there for you within the hour. Don’t speak to anyone. Don’t explain anything. Don’t tell your side of the story. Do you understand me? Good. We’ll see you very soon.”
They get into the cab and Mac gives the driver directions to just drive around the area and crisscross as much as possible. The car pulls away from the curb and Donna starts making calls.
“Why are you helping him?” Mackenzie asks between calls. She watches out the windows of the cab. Looking for Davis.
“He’s important to my son,” Donna answers and watches out her own side of the car. “If he helped Davis then we owe him our gratitude.” Her voice sinks to a tone Mackenzie hasn’t heard since she first started dating. “And if he hurt my child, any help I give him now can be undone with a phone call.”
Being arrested is by far the most frightening experience of Jared’s life. They pick him up at the tail end of his shift at the clinic. He’s in shock as the warrant for his arrest is explained and the cuffs are fastened around his wrists in front of his boss and co-workers and patients. They read him his rights like on television and it’s surreal to hear those words in real life. Officer Hanson watches him like he’s going to enjoy the taste of Jared’s liver and Jared doesn’t even know who it is he’s supposed to have beaten up.
“There’s some--some mistake,” he says as they take him out of the car but nobody listens. He thinks of Jensen at home alone and it just adds despair to his fear. They take his fingerprints and his picture and put him in a room with three chairs and a table.
A long time passes. He’s not sure how long but it seems like forever. He knows from TV that the mirror along the wall must be a window from the other side.
“Hello?” He asks his own reflection. “I just need to make a phone call.”
He can think of only one person who has a phone that can help Jensen now. She might take him away. Jared may never see him again but he’ll know Jensen is safe and loved and cared for which is more than he can hope for if Jensen ends up in police custody or in a mental hospital.
He talks to the glass and paces the room. The cuffs chafe and he needs to take a piss. He knows they’re letting him work himself up. Anticipation doing more to get through his defenses than questions would at this point. He knows it and still he can’t stop himself from getting more and more worried.
When the door opens and Hanson steps in it almost comes as a relief.
“So,” the big man smirks, “You just had to take the law into your own hands.”
And somehow seeing that smug grin turns all the fear and worry Jared had into pure stubborn anger.
“I want my phone call,” he says. He feels himself center down and in. Fuck this guy. He can wait. He can trust whoever is on the other side of the mirror to keep him from getting hit. He can outlast Hanson until he gets his call and that’s all there is to it.
“Lemme guess. You found the guy. Figured the law wasn’t going to make things happen your way so you beat him up. Am I right? You know what? I can almost respect that. Giving the bastard what he deserves.”
Jared has no clue what the hell he’s talking about but to say so would be contrary to his master plan. “I want my phone call,” he repeats. Slower this time.
Hanson blusters and bangs his palms on the table. He yells in Jared’s face and tries sweet-talking him. Another cop comes in and tries to cajole a confession out of him. And if they had enough evidence why would they even need that?
“I want my phone call,” he tells the new cop, meeting his dark eyes without flinching. “I want my phone call and I want it now.”
Hanson makes a disgusted noise but they bring him a phone and get Mackenzie’s number off of his for him.
Jared can’t remember having a more nerve-wracking phone call in his life. Jensen missing. Mrs. Carr promising him a lawyer. He isn’t sure he believes her but he has nothing to lose at this point. He tells Hanson he’s not talking until his attorney gets there and he’s put into a holding cell with five guys--one of whom he stitched up after a knife fight. He never thought of himself as a man with friends in low places but he feels safer in the cell than he had in the interview room.
He has no way to tell what time it is but a while later the door at the end of the hall opens and Hanson escorts a sharp-dressed little man up to the bars.
“Mr. Padalecki?” he asks and Jared steps up.
“Edgar Marshall,” the other man says by way of introduction. He never smiles even when he says, “The District Attorney has reconsidered the prosecution of this case and you are released on your own recognizance until such time as they have some definitive evidence against you.”
Jared rocks back on his heels. “That--I can go?”
Hanson unlocks the door. “I’ll be watching you,” he threatens low and dark.
“And I’ll be very pleased to handle the suit for police harassment,” says Edgar and Jared thinks that sharp glint in his eye is as close to a smile as he’ll ever get.
Jared feels underdressed next to his lawyer but he guesses everybody does when they come out of jail.
“Mrs. Carr has asked me to inform you that her son has been located and awaits your company. If you would like to share a car my driver can drop you at her hotel on the way to my residence.”
Jared blinks and puzzles that out. “Uh, sure. If it’s no problem.”
They walk out through the front lobby and a slurred and familiar voice catches his attention. Jeff leans against the front desk arguing with the sergeant on duty. “Turn myself in,” he’s saying. “Did it. He deserved it.”
“Go sleep it off somewhere else,” the haggard officer tells him. “We got better things to do with our budget than give three hots and a cot to your type. Go on. Go bug somebody else.”
And Jared grabs his arm and forces a smile. “Come on Jeff. Let’s get you out of these nice people’s way.” He’s still wearing his scrubs so he gives an apologetic shrug to the face of authority and hustles Jeff out the front door.
Jeff stumbles and clings to Jared’s arm and Jared hates to see the strong man in this condition. “Lost him,” Jeff mumbles. “Thought you could get him back.”
“It’s okay,” Jared says. “Come on, Jeff. One foot in front of the other.” And with the lawyer looking on with distain they exit the building.
A big black car sits by the curb and a smartly dressed driver opens the door for him. Jared wants nothing in the world more than to go straight to Jensen but Jeff is at that fucked-up level of drunkenness where he shouldn’t be allowed to walk across the street by himself. Living like he does it’s too risky that someone he’s stood against could find him for revenge or one of the people he tries to protect would roll him for his shoes.
“Hey,” Jared calls, “Mister Marshall. Can you give me the address of that hotel? I gotta get Jeff somewhere quiet before I go there.”
The man looks perplexed by the situation but he writes out the address on the back of his business card and passes it over along with a crisp hundred dollar bill. “For your cab fare,” he says and Jared can’t imagine thinking so little of a hundred dollars that he’d give it away without at least asking first if it was needed. On the other hand he’s in his scrubs without even a pocket to his name so the cash is more than welcome.
“Thanks,” he says and he walks away with Jeff. It takes a while to get a cab with an inebriated man hanging off his shoulder but one stops with the on-duty light on and Jared may or may not step in front of some guy with a briefcase to drag Jeff inside.
It takes time. It all takes time and Jared feels his patience fraying away like the knees of a ragged old pair of jeans. He needs to get to Jensen but he has to find Jeff a place first. The Watt Street shelter doesn’t have a bed but the guy in charge there knows Jeff and says he can sleep it off in a chair in the back office. Jared thinks that might be a seriously bad idea but he can’t come up with anything better. He just makes sure to tell the guy to have the doors open and a visible way out when Jeff sobers up.
Finding a cab is easier once Jared walks a few blocks to a higher tax bracket.
Mr. Maxwell and his big black car had been a little much. The hotel Jared’s dropped off in front of is even more intimidating. Not some new luxury high-rise, this one is old elegance. Old money. Jared tries to straighten the scrubs he’s still wearing as he goes up to the front desk.
“I’m here to see Mrs. Carr?”
The clerk treats him like he’s invisible as she makes a call on a sleek black phone. “Room 308,” she says when she’s done then gestures towards the elevators.
Jared stops being intimidated by the building and all he can think of is Jensen. How he’s here with strangers who call themselves family and how much they need each other. He knocks on the door and doesn’t see Mackenzie as she opens it. Jensen is his entire world and Jared sees him rushing across the room.
Jensen wraps him in a hug that makes his ribs creak with the tightness of it.
“Why why why?” Jensen whispers against Jared’s neck. “Why gone where? No more. No going Jared. No going.”
And all Jared can do is stroke Jensen's hair and hold him just as tight and murmur nonsensical reassurances to him.
“I’m sorry,” Jared whispers. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t. The police made me. They took me.”
“Were you strong?” Jensen asks. “Did you be not scared?”
Jared swallows hard. “I was really scared at first but then I thought about you and how brave you had been and they let me go again.”
They stand together rocking slow and soft. Jensen clings like his life depends on it and Jared can’t find a reason to not do the same. He can imagine how this looks to Jensen's sister. His mother. And fuck it all. He loves Jensen. He loves him enough to fight for him if that’s what they want and he’s not gonna pretend otherwise.
Davis paces and it breaks Mackenzie’s heart to watch it. He moves like a trapped animal. Stopping and turning and taking a few steps at random places in his back and forth path across the hotel room’s windows. He carries around his ratty backpack like he thinks one of them will steal it if it touches the floor.
“No waiting. No more.” He says and heads for the door with determined steps but Mom intercepts him.
“Jensen, if you leave Jared won’t know where to find you. He’s on his way, honey. Just wait. I know it’s hard.”
And Davis goes back to his pacing. Muttered words spill from his lips. A steady flow of random whispers and the occasional fully-spoken “Has to, he has to.”
Different expressions flicker over his face like a television with the remote in the hands of a bored teenager. Anger. Fear. Sorrow. She can barely stand to see it. She can’t understand how this Jared can be so important. Nobody has been important to Davis but his family. Ever.
Her Davis doesn’t even know how to show his hurt. He always has a strong face. A smile when friends stabbed him in the back. A joke when a job was handed to another architect. A week of focused working when his fiancé broke off their engagement. Mackenzie has never seen him like this. Broken.
Mom’s phone rings and she leaves to answer it in the other room. Mackenzie feels like she has to stay. To watch Davis and make sure he doesn’t leave or jump out the window or something. It scares her to not know him enough to guess how he’ll react in an unwatched moment.
When Mom comes back into the suite’s common area a frown creases her forehead. “Davis’ friend has been delayed,” she whispers and Mackenzie frowns too. What the hell could be more important than taking care of his so-called friend right now?
She wants to point this out but her mother’s already moved back to Davis’ side.
“Come sit down a little while,” Mom says and holds out her hand. He doesn’t take it but he nods and follows when she leads him back to the sofa.
“Jared’s coming,” she says and he doesn’t look much reassured. He looks down and starts picking at a stray thread on his jeans. “You care for him very much, don’t you?”
Mackenzie settles into the furthest chair. She wants to hear what Mom wants to hear but she doesn’t want to distract Davis at all.
“He cares me,” Davis says. “Of me. For me. I care him back.”
Donna smiles. A genuine smile and Mackenzie can’t get how she can be okay with this. Her son. Diminished.
“How long have you known him?” She rests her hand on his and he allows it. One more small step to coming back to his family. To them.
A frown flickers over Davis’ features and Mackenzie has never seen him so transparent. So open.
“Many days.” He pushes his hair back and shows a scar over his eyebrow. “This many days?”
Donna reaches out and brushes her thumb over the old hurt. “Who did this to you?” Her voice is almost a whisper.
“Rolled,” he replies. “Rolled fold mold. Jeff made them go. Jared made the hurt better. Was. I was hurt everywhere. I was cold everywhere and sore and dirty and all hungry. All cold.”
He shudders and Mom hugs him around his thin shoulders. He doesn’t fight her off but his face scrunches up in an expression of discomfort.
Mackenzie has never seen Davis hugged before. Somehow that and his words have made this all real. That he’s hurt. That he doesn’t know her and she has to reach to him like Mom is. Make the effort to connect with this stranger in her brother’s skin. At least until they get the tests and find out if he can be well again.
But hell if she knows how to do that.
They talk more. Mom and Davis. About his life. About the people he’s met and things he’s made. He talks about Jared helping him learn to read again and how he writes the names on the cans so he can take the labels off. How Jared lets him have all the forks and all the space except he can’t build on the stove or on the bed or on the couch.
Moment by moment Mackenzie can’t decide if she really hates Jared of if she’s unbearably grateful to him. It pisses her off if she’s honest with herself. She doesn’t really appreciate that he’s putting her in this spot. Stupid emotions.
It takes her a minute but she can see what Mom is doing to her. Showing her in Davis’ own new words how Jared has helped him. How Jared hasn’t tried to control him or manipulate him. How Jared gives in little gifts and big gestures. How Davis is both safe and independent in this life.
A phone rings--the room’s phone this time. Mackenzie answers it so Mom and Davis can stay together on the couch. The downstairs desk clerk asks if they’re expecting a Mr. Padalecki but then corrects herself, “A mister Jared.”
“Send him right up.”
She turns to her brother. Davis. Jensen. Whatever. “He’s on his way.” He draws himself up tight like he’s almost afraid to hope that it’s the truth. “He’ll be here any minute.”
And in a minute there’s a knock on the door and she opens it and Davis is at her side as Jared steps into the room. They embrace. Davis’ arms around Jared and Jared’s arms around Davis and it’s impossible to tell which of them is more relieved by the reunion. It all clicks into place as they stand and reassure each other. It’s true. It’s impossible but it’s true. She’s seeing love. They love each other. For real.
Jared has never seen Jensen so upset or so tense. It takes every reassurance he can come up with to get Jensen to accept moving with him to the couch. After his first rush of adrenaline has died down he can feel the energy gushing out of his pores. He feels shaky as Mrs. Carr introduces herself. “Donna,” he says, “I’m glad to meet you.” And since she hadn’t taken Jensen away while he was in jail it’s the honest truth.
“It is my pleasure,” she returns and holds tight to his hand. “I want to thank you so much for taking care of my son while he was away from us. To think that he had someone for even part of those dark months is a comfort to me.”
“He was different,” Jared says because he can’t honestly claim he’d have done the same for any patient he treated. “I knew it the first time I saw him.” He wants to say more. How he loves her son and will do anything in the world for him. Anything at all but that’s a sure way to get fired from his job for sexual misconduct and he’s too lightheaded to explain how they came together as a couple and how long it took and how careful he was to be sure this was something Jensen wanted and needed too.
“Home,” Jensen says. Just to Jared. “For you for sleep. And breakfast. I’ll make you eggs.”
Mrs. Carr. Donna. She has a hurt in her eyes and Jared can imagine how scary it must be to let her son leave so soon after finding him again. Jared knows he’s got no time at all left until being deprived of food and sleep makes him useless but he wants Jensen to have this. To have family. His own mom would say he has middle child syndrome but he really does just want everybody to get along.
“You stay,” he suggests and Jensen's head jerks like he’s been slapped. “I’ll just be asleep anyway. You can get to know your family more…” but Jensen's already shaking his head no.
“Yours. Your family. No more away.” His fingers clench in the cotton of Jared’s scrubs. “Please, Jared. Please.”
There aren’t many times in Jared’s life when he’s felt more like an ass and he holds Jensen close and promises him he’ll never go away for good. He’ll always come back.
“Jared?” He’d almost forgotten Jensen's family was there. “Why don’t you and Jensen spend the night here? Your home is in no shape for you to sleep there without cleaning it up. Mac and I will just get a nearby room when we’re ready for bed.”
“I’ll order us room-service,” Mackenzie offers. Something has changed in the way she looks at him. She seems gentler. Less like she’d be pleased to see him get hit by a bus.
The food smells delicious but Jared’s so hungry he doesn’t really taste it. Afterward he leans back into the sofa’s fluffy cushions and listens to Donna and sometimes Mackenzie talking to Jensen. Asking him questions and telling him about themselves. Neither of the women mentions before or Davis and Jared’s glad for that. Mackenzie won’t say “Jensen,” but she makes creative use of pronouns and that’s enough for now.
He’s not sure when he falls asleep but he wakes up stretched out on the couch with Jensen laid out against him.
“You are home to me,” Jensen whispers into the darkened room. “You are family. All my for-real family.”
Jared kisses him on top of his head and Jensen settles again and Jared won’t be sure later if either of them woke up at all.
Jared’s drowsing. Caught between needed sleep and a restless sense of worry. Only Jensen's warm body keeps him on the couch instead of going back to the apartment to see how bad the mess is. He needs to do something constructive. Something to stop the cycle of “what if they take him away and what if he wants to leave and what if he’s gotten worse because I didn’t try to get him more help sooner?” that spins around in his head like the Tilt-a-Whirl at the county fair.
The soft rap on the door comes as a relief if only because it gives him a new Oh God what now? to worry about.
He untangles himself from Jensen. Rubs his back until he settles again and stops searching for Jared with his fingers. The knock on the door doesn’t repeat itself and he wonders if whoever it was gave up that easy.
He peeks through the eyehole and Donna Carr is standing there looking composed and regal at who-knows-what time in the morning. He rubs a hand over his face to wake himself up and opens the door.
“Mrs. Carr. Donna,” he corrects before she can. “What can I do for you?”
She smiles but her eyes seem sad. “I was wondering if I could have a talk with you while my children are both asleep? If it’s not an imposition.”
And yeah, of course he’d like to still be in bed but getting along with his maybe-possible future mother-in-law sort of takes precedence. “No, not at all.” He props the door open with his shoe and follows her barefoot down the hall. They stop at the settee by the elevators.
Donna takes a moment to gather her thoughts and Jared folds his hands together to stop himself from fidgeting like a first-grader caught writing dirty words on the board.
“I’ve never seen my son in love before,” she says soft and wistful. “Although I have seen him try very hard to be.” And Jared feels a pang of sadness for Davis.
She stares at her hands for another moment and Jared isn’t sure if he should say something.
“I can see that you love him too,” she says without raising her head. “You wouldn’t have come here if you didn’t love him. He needs that. Even. Even before. He needed something more than Mackenzie and I could give him.”
She brushes an angry hand over her eyes before the fall of tears can shame her. She squares her shoulders and looks him in the face.
“I found things in his condo. Before I called the police. Prescription drugs. From different doctors. Different pharmacies.” Color rises in her cheeks but she seems determined to go on. “Pornography.” Her lips quirk but it isn’t a smile. “The kind without women in it.”
She takes a slow breath. Lets it out. “And other things. Hurtful things. Things no mother wants to think of her son using or allowing someone to use on him.”
And the thought of that. Jensen so gentle and sensitive using drugs and rough sex to fill some unknown hole in his heart. Jared has a hard time picturing it but the glimpses his imagination provides him with twist his stomach.
“Why are you telling me this?” he asks and his voice fails him. His words are whispers in the quiet of the hotel hallway.
“I need a promise from you,” Donna says. “No one can swear their love forever. But I want you to promise to try.” Her eyes are hard like stone. “I want you to promise me and him that you’ll try to keep loving him forever. No matter what happens. Do you understand?”
Jared swallows but his throat is too dry. “I’ve promised him,” Jared says. “For as long as he wants me. And I’m promising you. As lover or friend or whatever. I’ll be there for him as long as he needs me. I love him.”
“Thank you,” she says and it sounds so sincere. “And now I have a second favor to ask.”
Jared doesn’t sigh but he wants to. Here it comes.
“I want to take Davis home for these tests. To his usual doctor and the places he knew. I want him to see his old home. In case something comes back to him. I would like for you to come with him. He loves you. He needs you.”
Jared hears her out. To the last word.
“You need to ask Jensen if he wants to go.” He wills her to understand. “If he does, I’ll do my best to come with him but this is his decision.”
“I see,” she says but he can tell that she doesn’t. Not quite.
“Look,” says Jared. “He makes his own mind up about what he wants. If I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t be in a relationship with him. I couldn’t be.”
That takes her aback and color rises on her cheeks. “Of course. Of course. But you’ll come with him if he agrees to go, won’t you? I don’t want him to have to choose.”
Jared sighs. “I’ll try. I’ve got to go back to work and there’s rent due and I’m not sure how--“
“We can take care of all that,” Donna cuts in. “You cared for my son when nobody else would. There is no way I can repay you for that.”
Jared shifts in his seat. Pride wars with his need to provide for his lover. “That wasn’t a request for money. I never--this was never about money.”
“I’m sorry,” Donna says. “I didn’t mean to insult you. Please.”
He can see how afraid she is. Of losing her son. Of forcing a contest she isn’t sure she can win.
“I’ll think about it,” he says, moving to his feet. “If Jensen wants to go I’ll figure out a way to go with him.”
“I’m glad we had this talk,” she says, even though Jared doesn’t think she got everything she wanted. “Thank you again. For taking care of my son.”
Jared finds a polite smile to give to her. “Taking care of Jensen was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
He turns then and walks back to the room with the propped-open door. To his beautiful Jensen asleep on the couch. He fights the urge to grab Jensen and just run. To go home or all the way back to Texas. He wonders if Mrs. Carr is feeling the same thing. If she’ll decide she’s what’s best for Jensen and turn her money and lawyers to the task of separating them.
Jared doesn’t mean to wake Jensen but the couch shifts as he lies down again and Jensen's eyelashes flutter open.
“Jared?” he whispers and Jared runs his fingers through the soft strands of his hair.
“Shhh, just me,” Jared whispers back.
“I want home.”
Jared takes a second to process that. To make sure he isn’t hearing what he wants to hear.
Jensen nods against him and holds tight to Jared’s shirt and fuck it. Enough is enough. Jared wants to play nice but not at this price. Not if it means Jensen scared and stressed and unhappy.
“Okay,” says Jared. “Okay, we’ll go home now.”
They put on their shoes and gather up the few possessions they brought and together they walk out the front doors of the hotel in the pre-dawn hours of the morning.
As a man who expected to wake up in jail, Jeff is far from disappointed that the first thing he sees when he pries his eyes open is a crowded and dingy office and an open door. It takes his brain more than a second to process the information. That he’s inside but not held. Not closed in.
He waits for the rush of terror. For the walls to close in and suffocate him. For the feeling of being enclosed to overwhelm the pounding in his head and the roiling in his stomach. The last of the alcohol in his system is more of a nuisance than helpful in counteracting the fear.
He waits for the fight-or-flight impulse. Steels himself to keep it under control. To make sure he doesn’t hurt anybody on his rush to a place where nothing stands between him and the sky.
He waits and nothing comes but a vague tickle along his spine. The feeling that maybe there’s a little more air outside but here isn’t bad. He waits and he breathes. The indoor/outdoor carpet prickles his palms. He can hear a radio in another room playing festive-sounding Mexican music. The door stays open and the walls don’t move.
Jeff pushes himself to his feet and stretches. He’s hung over but he’s had much worse morning-afters in the course of his life. Waking up in strange places. Beaten and robbed. The morning his wife had a bruise on her cheek and she wouldn’t tell him where it came from. Bad days.
He puts aside the memories that do nobody any good and tries to piece together the previous day. To figure out where it went wrong. He remembers Jared in a police car. Jensen gone. The bottle and the station and then a vague recollection of Jared dragging him into a cab.
He pinches the bridge of his nose between his eyes and waits for the fading of the headache. When it lessens to the point he can think straight and form a plan he knows he has to find Jared. Make sure he got out all right. Make sure Jensen is safe.
After that he isn’t sure. Maybe he still needs to turn himself in. Stop the investigation. Maybe he should move on again. Look for a new city. A new place he can do a little good to make up for his sins and his shortcomings.
He makes his way down the narrow hallway. Each step is steadier than the last. He comes out into a dining hall setting up for dinner by the smell of it. Potato soup and hotdogs. He’s never been inside here before but he recognizes the windows. Knows where he is.
Gotta find Jared, he thinks. Gotta find Jensen.
He moves through the common area and keeps in mind that the door is right there and nothing will stop him from getting out and he doesn’t need to panic. Movement to the side catches his attention though and a blonde woman struggles to carry an industrial size pot of stew much too big for her and he takes the three quick steps it takes to get in front of her.
“Can I help you with that?” He reaches out and takes the weight of it before she stumbles. She looks up and he recognizes her. Karen Hall, looking pale and delicate and prettier than he’d remembered.
“Jeff?” She smiles and lets him have the towel-wrapped handles of the pot. “Are you--wow, it’s nice to see you in here.”
He knows what she’s saying but lets it slide on by. He helps with getting food on the tables and serving the line. When there’s no more work to be done he finds himself at loose ends. Not sure what to do with himself inside. It’s been so long he’s forgotten how to be around so many people. What to do with himself.
The sidewalk outside is warm and he settles down with his foam cup of soup and hotdog on a napkin. A shadow crosses over him and he looks up. Karen is there again with a shy smile and both her boys.
“Can we join you?” And he’s embarrassed to have her come out to sit with him. That he didn’t know how to be indoors anymore. She looks like she wants to be there though so he stands up and puts his jacket on the ground.
“Please,” he says and holds her tray while she sits down.
“Will you say grace?”
It’s been a while since Jeff found any sort of peace in faith but he bows his head for her and says the words of hope and gratitude. They eat together and it feels like he’s part of their family. It feels good. To spend just a few hours on himself. To feel a part of something close and warm and safe. Just a couple hours before he’ll go looking for Jared and nobody would begrudge him that, would they?
“Son of a bitch!” Jared says. He sounds like Jeff. Mad hurt scared and he stands in the doorway of their apartment like he doesn’t want Jensen to step past him. Doesn’t want Jensen to see.
Jensen looks past anyways because he can be strong and see anything Jared can see.
The room is all sideways, Jensen thinks. Like it rolled over and all the things slid to one side and then flipped and flipped again and finally fell in the place they started but all upsides down and backwards. His gifts to Jared. The forks and the towers and the waves and the maker of story shadows. All are in their pieces again and bits and already he thinks of new ways to put them into new gifts.
“Son of a bitch,” Jared says again and his knees go funny and Jensen catches him before he can fall and they go down slow together to the floor. “God, I can’t keep anything safe.” And Jensen hugs his Jared tight and tries to make words that it’s okay and it doesn’t mean anything when your house gets rolled if you aren’t in it because houses don’t bleed and things don’t hurt. He isn’t sure Jared hears over the wheezy sound of his breathing. He needs a thing to show him. A real thing Jared can touch and Jensen leaves his side and goes through the piles of once-was searching for one piece to show Jared that everything is okay.
He finds the little man with the green glass heart. It’s all bent. Twisted like a big foot stepped down on it. He leaves it that way. Wires only bend so many times before they break and it’s better to be bent on accident than broken on purpose.
He goes back to where Jared is looking at the pile like it is too big for him to see all of it. Like the weight of it is inside his head crushing out his thoughts. He goes back and he sits beside Jared and puts the little man with the green glass heart in his hands.
“Still it shines,” Jensen says. He leans in and nuzzles Jared’s cheek with his own. “Everything can change and still it shines.”
Jared’s lips twitch and Jensen worries less. “Only it is things,” Jensen says and he gets up and straddles Jared’s lap and puts their foreheads together. I am safe. You keep me safe, he wants to say but if Jared doesn’t want to talk about that part of anything then Jensen won’t make him. “I’ll make new things. Promise. New things until all the bits are done.”
Jared smiles a tired smile and Jensen kisses the corner of his lips. “Now we go sleeping.” They get up and walk to the bedroom and put the mattress back on the frame and the sheets on the mattress and they curl together in the dark and Jensen pretends that everything is like it was days ago before Mackenzie and the police and he hides his face in the curve of Jared’s neck.
Jared sleeps but Jensen is still awake when the phone in Jared’s pocket in the jacket on the floor makes its noise. Too late to hide it far away and so he grabs it and holds it tight between his hands and takes it out of the bedroom and through the apartment and out into the hall before Jared wakes up.
The name on the little square that Jared looks at when it rings says MAC and Jensen worries for her worrying and opens the phone. He has never talked to one before but the green button blinks at him and says TALK and he’s not stupid. He can read. He pushes the button and waits and listens and Mackenzie’s voice comes out strange and shivery.
“Hello?” She breathes and he breathes and nobody says anyting until she asks “Jared?”
“Jared sleeps,” Jensen tells her. “I took him home.”
She sounds funny. Scared maybe and sad maybe too. “That’s fine,” she says. “I just worried when you weren’t here.”
Jensen doesn’t think he likes talking on phones. It’s too far from the person and the plastic doesn’t smile or cry or frown and he doesn’t know how to know what she feels.
“Jared sleeps,” he says again.
“But you can talk to me, right?”
He leans against the wall and slides down. The hallway is all quiet and the doors of the neighbors are all closed.
“Right” sounds like the thing to say so he says it.
Mackenzie laughs a little. Nervous still and he doesn’t know why people laugh when they don’t feel good.
“So you and him, huh?” She doesn’t give him time to say anything. “I kind of thought--I mean, I had an idea. Back before. There was this girl and she left and she said some things as she went.”
It seems like she just needs to talk so Jensen just listens.
“He never told us. He--my brother. He hid that. And now you. It’s all messed up.”
He closes his eyes and has no idea how to deal with her pain.
“Jensen?” and she’s never called him that before. “My brother’s gone, isn’t he? I mean--it’s like he’s dead.”
“I am me,” he whispers.
Mackenzie is quiet again and he doesn’t know if he said what she heard.
“You were smiling,” she says at last. “When I saw you at the museum. You were happy and it made me so mad because we’d missed him so much.”
Jensen doesn’t like the phone because there’s no hugging on the phone.
“We should just go away and leave you alone. It’s not--it can’t be fair. And you’re not him.”
“I am me,” Jensen says again. “And you are you and maybe you could be my friend and I could be your friend.”
She cries but she doesn’t say no. Jensen wishes he knew if he was saying the right things. He tries to comfort her over the phone and when she stops her quiet sobs she says, “Go back to Jared. I’ll keep Mom out of your hair. Call me when you want to see us, okay?”
“Okay,” Jensen says and he means tomorrow and don’t be sad.
He goes back to Jared and he thinks about how if he lives in Davis’ body maybe he owes Davis’ family. Not things that will unmake him. Not things that will take him from Jared. But being a friend and giving them the hugs Davis can’t anymore. He can give them that.
They wake up together around noon. Jared calls to check in with his work and finds out that the police coming to the clinic has chased away half of the people who need the help and George is happy to give him a few days off. As he hangs up Jared has to wonder if part of it is that it was him getting arrested. If the donors would be pissy about employees causing that sort of a stir. If his boss was any less straight-forward of a guy he’d wonder if he was officially on suspension.
Jared makes breakfast and Jensen works on cleaning up the mess of his artworks. Jared can’t even look at it. Every broken bit of sculpture screams an accusation at him. That he couldn’t keep it safe. That he couldn’t keep Jensen safe. And maybe it would be better if Jensen went with his family to a world with all the safety money could by. Back to his crystal tower like a fairy tale.
Strong arms circle Jared’s waist and Jensen's warm body presses against his back. He realizes the eggs are burnt beyond eating and he shoves the pan off of the heat and turns around and they cling to each other like they had the night before.
“I talked to Donna last night,” Jared says and Jensen tenses in his arms. “She wants you to go stay with her while you get the testing done. I told her I’d go with you if that’s what you wanted, but it was your decision where to do it.”
“Here is home,” Jensen says without hesitation. “Days away would be bad.”
“Davis had a doctor there. Someone who would be able to see the changes you’ve gone through.” As he says the words he wonders if this doctor saw the changes when Davis started popping script-pills like Chiclets.
“Davis’ doctor.” Jensen makes a face. “Here are good doctors. You could check me or George.”
Jared has to smile at that. “You need a different kind of doctor. A brain-doctor. But yeah. There are good doctors around here.”
“Here,” Jensen says and he sounds so sure.
Jared fries up some more eggs and then calls around. George knows a doctor in family medicine who he thinks will be a good first experience for Jensen with strangers examining him. There’s little doubt she’ll prescribe the further tests and after that they should have a better idea of what’s happening physically in Jensen's head.
Donna Carr takes the news that Jensen wants to see local doctors with better grace than Jared would have expected. She asks to be in on the meeting where they discuss the doctor’s findings and she offers to have her driver pick them up.
The ride over is tense. Jensen closes his eyes and leans on Jared. He’s not asleep but he doesn’t want to talk. Doesn’t want to be where he is and Jared can sympathize with that.
Donna passes Jared the bottles she’d found in Davis’ apartment. Uppers to wake up and muscle relaxants to stop the shakes. Pain pills and anti-anxiety medication. Two kinds of sedatives for him to get to sleep at night. Four different doctors and five different pharmacies. Jared reads the labels and puts them in his knapsack. For all the hurt he’s seen Jensen survive he can’t imagine him so broken that he turned to self-medicating the pain away.
Nobody says another word for the rest of the drive.
The doctor’s office is ready for them when they get there. Jensen is taken straight into an examination room instead of the waiting area and Jared is ushered on along with him when Jensen won’t let go of his hand.
The doctor introduces herself as Jillian and she talks with Jensen for a while before she starts the exam. Easy questions about how he feels and what he eats and how much he exercises. Jared sits back and just listens as much as he can. Letting Jensen find his own words for how he feels and how he relates to the world.
She starts the exam by taking Jensen's temperature and blood pressure. When Jensen looks uncomfortable at the tight cuff around his arm he looks up at Jared and a single reassuring half-smile is enough for him to relax and wait it out.
Jillian moves slow and deliberate through looking in Jensen's ears and nose and down his throat. She shines a penlight in his eyes and lets him listen to his own heart and breathing with her stethoscope before she takes her turn. She checks the scar that Jared noticed that first night and frowns softly.
“All the time for long times,” Jensen answers her. Jared has a frown for that himself. “Then more less and less and no more at all now.”
Jared touches his elbow and has to ask, “Why didn’t you tell me if you hurt?”
Jensen shakes his head as Doctor Jillian watches. “It was always. I didn’t know it could stop. So.”
Jensen looks guilty and Jared feels like an ass. “It’s not your fault,” he says. He should have asked direct questions. He should have known better. How long had Jensen hurt because he hadn’t done his damn job, much less been a good friend?
Jillian leaves while Jared helps Jensen into the thin hospital gown. She comes back and explains that she’s going to feel his belly and then check his joints and Jensen lies back to let her. She doesn’t seem to find anything abnormal. She presses around his abdomen and then he sits up and she checks out his reflexes and his joint motion at wrists and elbows, knees and ankles, neck and shoulders.
She goes out again and Jensen changes back into his clothes. They go down the hall next to a room with a treadmill and Jensen walks and then runs on it and she monitors his heart.
Jared sort of wonders at that. How much it must cost to have a doctor overseeing what a tech usually would. He’s glad of it though. That Donna has paid the money to make things as easy on Jensen as possible.
Last of all is a visit to the lab to get blood taken. Jensen looks like he might panic for a second when the nurse there sits him down and starts wrapping the rubber tube around his arm.
“It’ll be okay,” Jared whispers to him. “It won’t take long at all. It’ll pinch but she won’t hurt you. I’ll be here the whole time.”
Jensen hides his face against the crook of Jared’s neck. When the nurse says “Okay, make a fist,” he waits until Jared repeats it to him before he does. He flinches at the prick of the needle and squeezes Jared hard enough to bruise but he doesn’t twitch his other arm.
The nurse takes vial after vial. Four in total, so Jared guesses that Jillian is running all the basic tests. It’s a smart decision with a patient who isn’t so good at explaining how he feels. Jared feels incompetent. Not that he had a reason to think Jensen needed testing. Not that Jensen showed any symptoms of anything wrong. Still. He wonders if he didn’t want to know. Didn’t want to draw anyone else’s attention to his Jensen.
The post-exam meeting in Jillian’s office gives him some measure of reassurance.
“You seem fairly healthy at this point, considering where you were three months ago,” she says to Jensen. His eyes are fixed at her left shoulder and Jared recognizes his look. Tired and wanting to go home.
“You’re still putting on weight. I’d like to see you up around one-fifty or so before it levels out. If you stop gaining a pound a week or more, let me know and we’ll look at your diet to see what we can do to add some calories in.”
Jared is the one to nod and remember but she keeps talking directly to Jensen. Jared sort of wants to hug her for that.
“I’m recommending you see a neurologist for your brain and a psychologist for your mind. Do you understand?”
Jensen nods. “Meat doctor and think doctor.”
Jared wants to gather him up but Jensen's almost withdrawn and he is afraid to push the contact here in front of strangers.
Jillian smiles. “Other than that, I think you’re making great progress. I’d like to see you again in a month.”
They stand to go and Jensen grabs for Jared’s hand as soon as they’re on their feet.
“You really are good with him,” Jillian smiles and Jared wonders if she knows they’re lovers. What she’d think if she did.
Many days become one day of test and wait and pokes and doctors.
Jensen goes to the brain-meat doctor and Jared can’t come in and the doctor asks him questions forever about when and where and how his head got hurt and like a man of plastic and gears the same questions over and over like he can’t hear Jensen say he doesn’t know. He asks but doesn’t listen and then he pokes Jensen's head and says letters that don’t make words.
They put Jensen in a big dark tunnel and Jared goes with him but can’t stay. His voice is there though. He talks to Jensen softly and says it’ll be all right and that he’s so good and so brave. The thing makes noise and lights and takes pictures of the inside of Jensen's head and they look at them later with the lights behind them.
“A miracle,” the doctor says and he talks about how Jensen should have died and he can’t explain how he didn’t. He says Jensen shouldn’t walk or talk or breathe and Jensen thinks it’s silly to say that something shouldn’t be when it is but maybe that’s just the way doctors talk.
“I see nothing that can be repaired and no reason to perform surgery at this point,” he says. “I’d like to see him again in a month and do another scan to make sure there are no changes, but I don’t foresee that happening. As far as I can tell, he has managed to heal on his own as much as he is going to.”
“What about--his memory?” Donna asks and Jensen wants to know too so he leans on Jared and listens.
“I’m sorry,” the doctor says and Jensen isn’t. “If he was going to remember his former life he’d have done it by now. At least some glimmer. Memory is a funny thing. If he’d been found earlier. Recuperated around family. It may have been possible to teach him the things he had known before and his imagination would have filled in the gaps. Maybe even enough that he thought he was actually remembering.”
“I am me,” Jensen says. And he might not know much but what he knows is real.
Jared rubs his back for a second and then Jensen gets up and takes Jared out. Donna can talk more to the doctor if she wants to but Jensen is done with him.
The mind-doctor is better in some ways than the meat-doctor but still it isn’t fun. She talks to him for long times and she listens but still she asks the same things many ways.
Jared can’t come in with him for the mind-doctor either but he waits out in the magazine room for Jensen to be done each day. He has to go to her many times. Sometimes they just talk. She tells stories and asks what the people should do or she gives him tests. Matching things and reading and numbers that he barely knows at all. She watches him build a present for Jared and always she writes in her little notebook with her shiny pen.
After all those days she sits in her office with Jared and Jensen and Donna and says what Jensen already knows. That he isn’t dumb. That he just doesn’t know some things yet and that’s okay. That he does know what he wants and what he needs and he should be able to make his own legal and moral decisions if he understands all the details. She says sometimes things don’t fit right in his head and he knew that too. That things slip or words bump each other out of the way.
She says he can take some pills to make it more easy to concentrate but he likes the way his head works and Jared and Donna both look unhappy with the idea so he shakes his head and thanks her anyway.
She says he should go to a word-therapy person to make him talk better.
When he and Jared get home again he crawls up on Jared and tries to touch all of them together which isn’t fair since Jared has more of him than Jensen does.
“My talk is ugly to you?” he asks and Jared shakes his head. “It is bad to understand?”
Jared brushes the hair back from his face and that’s Jensen's favorite thing ever.
“Have I misunderstood you in a long time?” Jared asks and Jensen has to shake his head no. Jared always understands. Jared always sees the true in his words sometimes even when Jensen doesn’t know what that was. Jared sees the true in his go-away words when he’s scared and nobody else ever did.
“You talk different and you see different.” Jared breathes in against Jensen's neck and maybe there’s gonna be sex. Sex would be good.
“Different isn’t bad.” And Jared never lies so it must be the truth. “When you talk sometimes I have to think different. See different. But I like sharing that with you. I like how you are.”
“I am me,” and Jared holds him tight.
“I love you,” Jared says and Jensen knows it’s true. Jared kisses his eyebrows and his cheeks and his nose and whispers, “All of you. The way you talk and the way you think. I love the things you build and the way you’re always helping people. I love the way you take care of me and I need you.”
“Need you too,” Jensen says back. “Love and need for all forevers.”
A week goes by and Jeff doesn’t manage to run into Jared and Jensen. He starts to wonder if Jared’s left town. Gone back to wherever it is that people too generous for this city come from. If he’s gone then Jeff hopes he took Jensen with him. Somewhere safe where the sky knows what the color blue should look like. Somewhere the trees aren’t stunted and twisted from the struggle to grow inside a three foot wide hole in the cement.
He watches for cops. For more investigation but it looks like the case has gone cold for them and he makes sure not to do anything to breathe warmth into it. The storefront that the guy with the poison was working on gets a for-sale sign nailed to the boards over the window and Jeff has to smile knowing that every day it’s on the market costs him money.
He feels new in his own skin some days. Being inside is still something he doesn’t do without a conscious decision but when he wants to he can walk through a door and into the shadows. He can go in and help Karen with serving meals to the steady stream of mid-summer homeless who have come up north to get away from the worst of the heat.
She and the boys have a place of sorts. Just a closet in the kitchen at the shelter where they share a cot over the industrial sized cans of vegetables. The latch on the inside isn’t much and Jeff replaces it with a solid bracket and a two by four to cross over it. Nobody’s getting in that she doesn’t want to.
They talk a lot. Karen about how she ended up on the run from her psycho ex. Her family was so busy with the “I told you so” that they wouldn’t help her and the boys get settled. She had a waitress job a few weeks ago. On the first day she was away some creep at the shelter tried to touch her youngest son and only the older boy making such a fuss stopped him. She’s scared to work now. Scared to let them out of her sight.
Jeff tells her things nobody ever has. How strong he thinks she is and how brave. They watch the kids play on the tire swing Jeff tied to the fire escape and he tells her things he’s never said to anyone else. How scared he is so much of the time and how ashamed for the wrongs he’s done to the people who loved him.
She doesn’t reply and Jeff thinks that’s for the best. He feels lighter for having spoken and he can’t imagine words that would improve on that feeling.
Mr. Marshall makes an appointment with Jared to talk about the assault charge and with Jensen about Davis’ legal status.
He doesn’t have an office in town so they meet at the back booth of a restaurant where the waiters must make twice in a week what Jared does. The place is dark and quiet for lunch with carpet so padded every step sinks in and the white pressed cotton of the table cloths untouchably immaculate.
They dress nice for the occasion. As nice as they have. Jeans with no holes and button-down shirts steamed and smoothed in the shower.
The attorney is there when they arrive and Jared never expected to see the man shaken but the sight of Jensen seems to do it. He half-stands and doesn’t seem to know if he should reach to shake Jensen's hand or hug him or remain on the other side of the table. He sits abruptly and pulls out his briefcase. He flips through papers like he doesn’t even see the pages.
“Mr. Padalecki, mister--Jensen.”
Donna must have coached him which makes Jared a little nervous for reasons he can’t explain. He asks if Jared wants Jensen to leave while they discuss Jared’s case and Jared shakes his head. There is nothing about his life that he wants to hide from Jensen.
“You are officially no longer a suspect in the assault on Mr. Grady. It appears the District Attorney had little confidence in their so-called witness and has withdrawn all accusations. You are free to travel as you wish.”
Jared sags with relief and Jensen squeezes his hand under the table. He knew he’d done nothing wrong. The weight of the accusation still hung more heavily on him than he realized.
“Mr. Carr. Jensen. We need to discuss your financial situation and legal status. Would you like for Jared to go elsewhere while we have this talk?”
Jensen shakes his head and clings tight to Jared’s hand and Jared is secretly relieved. Jensen isn’t good with numbers and money means numbers.
Mr. Marshall talks for a while about legal name changes and the use of a legal alias and Jensen decides to become “Jensen Davis Carr.” Partly for convenience’s sake--Davis’ life came with a lot of paperwork--and partly to keep the name alive for Mackenzie and Donna’s sake.
There were three projects Davis was contracted to work on when he disappeared. Mr. Marshall is certain he can nullify the contracts if he can have a copy of all Jensen's medical and mental evaluations and Jensen agrees. He doesn’t want them to be mad but he can’t build their houses.
“This brings us to your financial status,” Mr. Marshall says and pulls out even more papers and Jared feels a shiver of dread in his stomach. God he hopes Jensen isn’t like deep in debt or something. They’ll fix it if he is but Jared has no idea how.
“Your mother has expressed an opinion that you would want to liquidate your material assets?” Jensen nods and this isn’t the conversation Jared was expecting.
Mr. Marshall takes a deep breath and looks down at the ledger sheets in front of him. “Estimating the current market price for your condo at the Cerulean, your cars, investments and cash savings, your approximate net worth at this time is five hundred sixty thousand dollars.”
Jensen blinks. He looks at Jared and then back at Mr. Marshall.
“My payday?” He seems worried and Jared hugs him for reassurance.
“Yep, your money,” Jared says and he has this moment of dread that Jensen will try to give it all away in the next sentence.
“I don’t even know a number that big.”
Mr. Marshall’s voice is gentler than Jared would have expected and he begins to wonder exactly how close the attorney-client relationship had been.
“If you’d like we can set up a monthly or even weekly distribution of the funds.”
Jensen gnaws on his lower lip and considers it. “For paydays like Jared’s paydays and I could pay half on rents and bills?”
“If we take out some set expenses for him, like health insurance, how long would the money last him, at say, five hundred a week?”
Mr. Marshall does some quick number crunching on a shiny black calculator. “I am not an accountant, but assuming a minimal rate of return on his investments, the principle divided into five hundred dollar payouts, distributed weekly, should last him around twenty years.”
“Is that what you want?” The last thing Jared wants is to railroad Jensen into a decision. “You don’t have to do this at all. You can just leave it there in case you want to have more to spend later.”
Jensen shakes his head and Jared recognizes the determination in the set of his jaw. Jensen doesn’t get stubborn often but when he does it’s near impossible to change his mind.
“If I am half of us I should pay half of us bills.” He meets Jared’s eyes in a rare challenge and there’s no way Jared can argue without contradicting the respect he feels for Jensen and the confidence he’s trying to help him build.
“Okay then,” Jared says and Jensen smiles and Mr. Marshall makes some notes.
“That just leaves the dispensation of the personal effects in his previous residence.”
Jensen goes pale between his freckles and shakes his head. “For Donna and Mackenzie. Not mine.”
Jared bows his head. He doesn’t want to push but he doesn’t want to deny Jensen this last chance to know who he used to be.
“I’ll go with you if you want. We can come home at any time. They’re only things, Jensen. They can’t hurt you.”
“Only things,” Jensen whispers back and rests his forehead on Jared’s shoulder.
Mr. Marshall passes over a key and a printed out map. “I can delay putting the property on the market until you have decided what to do.” His eyes glance off of Jensen's display of affection like it isn’t happening in front of him.
“Thank you,” Jared tells the man and Mr. Marshall has Jensen sign some papers. He looks so very serious as he writes his name in the same careful print he uses to put the labels on the canned goods at home.
Jared says their goodbyes and Mr. Marshall looks on with a melancholy expression as they take their copies and leave.
When Jared pulls up in front of the condo where Davis lived--the condo Davis designed--he recognizes it. The sweeping lines and easy curves. It’s like the sculpture of forks made in steel and concrete and glass.
“Oh,” says Jensen from the passenger seat and Jared can tell he sees the familiar shape too. He looks and Jensen is smiling. After the two hour car ride with Jensen sitting beside him like a man going to his own funeral the smile is as unexpected as it is welcome.
He parks in a visitor’s spot and go inside. Mackenzie meets them in the lobby. Jared knows she’s been talking with Jensen on the phone and he isn’t too surprised when she hugs Jensen and he allows it. Together the trio ride up in the elevator. Jensen touches the slate-paneled walls and where the dark stone intersects with tall panels of mirrors. Jared steadies him with a hand on his lower back and wonders if Jensen is remembering somehow or if he just knows that his former self designed this elevator.
They step out into the hallway and Mackenzie takes the key from Jared. She opens the door and Jensen hesitates fearful in the corridor. Jared waits with him. He’s not going to push at this point. Not going to force Jensen to do anything.
In slow little half-steps Jensen makes his way forward. Feeling his way to the threshold with his toes.
Inside it’s like a cover-story on Architectural Digest. Seriously. Leather couches and frosted glasses in tasteful contrast to a collection of primitive masks and bold abstract paintings. It doesn’t look like a place a person lives and that alone is enough to chill Jared. Jensen too by the way he clings tight enough to Jared’s arm to bruise.
“This way,” Mackenzie says like she knows nothing in the living room is personal. She leads them past the kitchen with a comment. “You might want some of his cooking stuff. He never used it but it’s all professional-grade.”
It’s like walking through a mausoleum. A home for the dead. Jensen doesn’t fit here. Not among the modern art or eclectic antiques.
Mackenzie leads them to a room almost as big as the front public area. This one is more comfortable feeling. Half office with a computer area and drafting table. Half den with bookshelves and couches and a huge television. Jensen stands and looks around and doesn’t seem to recognize anything.
“You should take the laptop at least,” Mackenzie says. “And the table to work on. Do you like movies?”
Jensen shakes his head in the way that means he has no idea.
“Is this okay?” Jared asks. “Being here. Are you alright?”
Jensen nods and stays close and they continue the tour. “Guest bedroom is through here.” Mackenzie’s voice is quieter. “Master bedroom on this side. You should keep a few suits at least…”
Jensen peeks in both of those rooms but doesn’t go in. “To home now,” he says and Jared hesitates. “Is his things and he is gone and dead man's clothes don’t fit on me.”
“You don’t want anything?” Mackenzie’s voice is sharp with distress. Jared doesn’t know what she expected but this isn’t it. “Nothing?”
“His,” Jensen says again and there is nothing but certainty in his voice. “All his. For you and Donna now if you want but not me.”
He turns and walks out the way he came and Jared goes with him.
Months go by and the summer is hot and autumn is cool and Jensen is happy.
He is Jared’s and Jared is his and nothing ever could be better.
The money from Jensen's paydays is nice. It doesn’t change anything but it makes some things easier. He can buy glues and strings and what he needs to make stronger presents for Jared. Presents that will survive more than the last ones if they get rolled. He and Jared can do more little things like trying new food and going out to eat or going to art places to see new art stuff or to movies sometimes.
Jensen takes classes while Jared is at work. Cooking and welding and design. Classes to keep him busy and to learn the things he wants to know.
Jensen still goes out. Sometimes with Jared and sometimes alone. He has a phone now to carry if anything goes wrong. Some of the people he knew are still on the streets but some have gone away and new ones have come in.
Jeff lives with Karen and her boys now. Some days Jensen sees him still sitting outside when inside is too small to breathe there but that’s okay. He can go home again and he says Karen is never mad. He works for the salvage place at night as a watch guard and the sky is good for him. Jensen doesn’t think they have sex. Jeff and Karen. They never kiss but always she stands close in his shadow and his hand on her shoulder is gentle but strong. It makes Jensen smile to see them together.
Mackenzie changes to a school more close and she comes over mostly one day in every week or sometimes more. Donna comes too on special days and they talk and eat in fancy restaurants.
He builds things for Jared until there is no space anymore. Jared helps him build stands and Mackenzie asks one day if she can have one for auction for her school and Jared says it’s okay with him if it’s okay with Jensen. When they see her again she looks happy and guilty all at the same time.
“I put your old name on it,” she admits. “And it sold, Jensen. It sold for a lot of money.” And Jared says how proud he is and Jensen never thought anybody but Jared would want what he makes but they do.
He makes more things for Mackenzie to take and sell and she starts saying she’s his agent and that makes him smile to give her a job.
The weather starts to be cold again and Jared talks about going back to school. He likes what he does. Helping people. He wants to help more though and Jensen calls Mr. Marshall and Donna and Mackenzie to see how to let Jared go to school again.
He tells Jared on Christmas. That he can go to school. That it’s all taken care of--school money and rent money and car money. That he can go to school for four more years and it will be okay.
“I can’t accept this,” Jared says and he looks like his heart breaks. “It’s too much, Jensen. It’s too big.”
“If I wanted something so big and you could give it for me you would.” Jensen replies. “I want to give this for you to be happy.”
And Jared kisses him and thanks him and promises to think about it. Jensen thinks to have Donna explain it to Jared better on the next day and she does and Jared starts studying for the tests to be in school.
Jensen goes sometimes. To the places where he used to sleep when it was cold. The places he slept before Jared. He brings things like the hot-hands packets that warm up when you shake them or a jacket from the Goodwill or packs of Pop-Tarts. He finds her there where it used to be him. Skinny and cold and snow on her eyelashes. She whimpers when his shadow goes over her and tries to curl into the place under the stairs more.
He talks slow and soft to her and he pets her fur until she comes out enough to let him pick her up. He puts her in his coat front and she whines and struggles and scratches him with her nails and he holds her and rocks until she settles down with her cold wet nose on his neck and her tail all tucked against her belly.
Her spine pokes hard through her skin and already he can feel the fleas on him from her fur but he takes her home.
Jared fusses that they don’t need a dog and puts her in the bathtub where she can’t run away while he cleans up the scratches on Jensen's chest.
“She needs us,” Jensen says and Jared’s eyes roll and show white.
“I was filthy.”
“She’s too skinny. I don’t even know if she’ll live.”
“I was skinny.”
Jensen doesn’t argue he just says things that are true for every thing Jared says that doesn’t matter until Jared sighs.
“I suppose you have a name for her already?” He looks down at the cowering yellow puppy and Jensen can see he is just afraid to love her because she might not get better.
“Sadie,” Jensen says and her ears prick up and Jared smiles just enough for his dimples to show.
Jared laughs the way Jensen knows always means yes and shakes his head and puts his arms around Jensen. “Fine. You get to wash her.”
He knows Jared will help.
Mackenzie says once that it’s like a fairy tale. With happy ever-after and two princes and a good the-end.
Sadie curls asleep in his lap as Jensen sits on the floor and works on a new project. He looks over at Jared and Jared looks up from his big book and they smile and Jensen thinks Mackenzie might be right