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“Would you like to hear a story?”

Not so long ago, a father held a swaddled bundle in his arms. It was his only son, less than a year old. His pride and joy. He looked to his wife as he rocked the boy back and forth. She smiled indulgently, tiredly, from her place in the corner of the room.

“It’s a very important story,” he told the boy, who blinked up at him with big green eyes. He waved a tiny, chubby hand around and the air shimmered for a moment, blue and sparkling. “It’s your story.”

The boy giggled and the father became even more enamored, heart swelling with so much love that he’s surprised it doesn’t burst at the seams.

“Long, long ago there was a young man who lived for adventure,” the father began. “He left home with every intent to see the entire world, but while on the sea he fell in love with Poseidon’s daughter Rhodos and vowed to sail forever so that he could be near her.

“But soon his tiny ship wasted away and he had no choice but to settle on the shore of an uncharted land. He could no longer venture onto the waters any more than she could touch the sand, but their love remained true.”

The father took a moment to smile at his beautiful wife, fully understanding what a love like that can feel like.

“Poseidon was angry that his daughter had fallen for a mortal and took her form to lure the young man to his death. Mad with love and grief, he threw himself into the sea just to be near her. Rhodos discovered her father’s plan and retrieved her mate from the bottom of the sea to bring him onto the shore. She began to dry up in the bright sun and ignored all of her father’s pleas to return to the sea, choosing instead to coax life back into the young man. He opened his eyes and shared his first kiss with Rhodos even as she died in her arms, refusing to live if she could not be with him.

“Out of contrition, Poseidon gifted his daughter with long legs and a healthy set of lungs so that she could stay on the shore forever. He reveled in his daughter’s happiness and the young man’s eternal gratitude, and kept a watchful eye over the couple as they built a home right there on the shore so Rhodos would never be far from home. The young man was eternally grateful, wading into the sea to shout his thanks to the god that had tried to kill him, harboring no ill will. Poseidon grew fond of the young man, despite himself.

“Soon the couple birthed a son – a human gifted with the magic of the sea. The family grew and remained on that same stretch of beach as the world developed around them. Soon their magic faded, and the truth about their family became no more than fairytales, but there was one boy that believed.

“He believed in the magic lying dormant in his blood and pledged his life to the sea. He vowed to do everything in his power to protect it. He grew up and fell in love at a young age and married the most beautiful woman in the world.”

The father paused again to smile at his wife, and she blew him a kiss.

“They conceived a child and his wife fell ill. There was nothing any doctor could do to save her, and soon the man would lose both of them. That night he ran into the sea, pounding his fists into the waves and begging for Poseidon’s help. The god could not deny him, not when he was reminded of Rhodos herself. He gifted the man with a bit of seaweed, and the tea made from that single leaf was enough to heal her.

He always got choked up at this part.

“A healthy, beautiful baby boy was born, with seaweed green eyes and golden hair. And they cherished him with all their hearts.” He brought his son up to kiss his forehead, and chuckled when the boy’s tiny fingers, glowing a faint blue, touched his cheek. “That child is you. You’re descended from gods, and you’ve been gifted with their magic.”

The boy cooed and the father laid him to rest in his crib, watching as his wife kissed their son goodnight. He went to bed the happiest he had ever been, and immensely grateful for his perfect life.

But it was not to last.

A man hired to protect the family had fallen deathly ill and, twisted by desperation and the knowledge of what the child could do, took the boy from his crib and disappeared into the night. The young couple, wrought with grief, searched and searched for their son, but he was never found.

The man used the child’s powers to stave off his illness, keeping him locked up in a small cabin in the forest as far away from the ocean as he could manage. The child grew up thinking of the captor as his father, remembering nothing from his first short, wonderful year.

The child’s name was Jensen, and not a day of his lonely life passed by without him dreaming of the sea and never knowing why.

Chapter Text

“What should we do today, Rigby?”

Jensen’s pet hedgehog stares up at him with a dark, blank expression and he chuckles, twirling his finger in the shallow water. The ripples he creates glow a soft blue and Rigby squeaks happily as tiny waves rock him back and forth.

“You’re right.” Jensen sighs and lifts his hand in the air, making the water swell up underneath Rigby for a moment before settling him back down in the calm spring. “Silly question. More of the same as usual, I suppose.”

Rigby may be a hedgehog, but he’s also Jensen’s best (and only) friend. His father brought him home after Jensen spent a whole month asking for a puppy. Rigby is way better than a puppy. The animal chirps up at Jensen, floating happily on his back in the gentle stream behind Jensen’s well-hidden home.

Jensen flops back onto the grass and dips his fingers into the tepid water. It takes a bit of concentration, but he’s able to conjure up a tiny storm cloud that hovers threateningly over his head. Raindrops fall, fat and cold, on his cheeks. Rigby squeaks admonishingly and Jensen sighs, waving his hand through the cloud until it dissipates.

“I know,” Jensen replies. “Feeling sorry for myself is pointless, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wallow every once in awhile. It’s not like I don’t have all the time in the world to waste.”

Rigby narrows his beady eyes, but Jensen creates another gentle set of waves to distract him.

“Jensen!” He perks up at the call and creates a small swell of a wave to push Rigby onto shore. He rolls onto his feet and shakes the water out of his quills before crawling into Jensen’s outstretched hand.

“Coming!” Rigby scurries up to Jensen’s shoulder as he runs through the back door of his small cottage home. He finds his father, Jeff, looking weary and aged in the living room, and Jensen furrows his brow as he sits down on the sofa. “You’re back early. I thought you were going to town?”

Town is a vague, relative term to Jensen. He knows there is a town nearby, just outside of the forest they live in, but Jensen does not know where it is or how to get there, no matter how much he’d like to. He doesn’t know if it’s a big town of a small one, if it’s sleepy or bustling. There’s a lot he doesn’t know.

“It was a madhouse,” his father says on a long exhale. “The damn circus is in town, of all things, and – “

Jensen perks up and his father seems to sense his mistake, cutting himself off and looking at Jensen apprehensively.

“The circus?” Jensen’s always wanted to see the circus. Well, to be fair, there are a lot of things that Jensen really wants to see but the circus is definitely up there. His dream is to visit the ocean, to dip his toes in it and feel the salt spray on his face. Jeff has never told him where his power comes from, but he suspects it’s the ocean. He’s seen it a few times, glimpses of it in movies, but his ultimate wish is to see it in person. He’s nearly given up on getting Jeff to take him, but the circus is close. It could be a start. “My birthday is coming up. Maybe we could – “

“Absolutely not, Jensen.” His father pinches the bridge of his nose and Jensen visibly deflates. “Must we discuss this again? You know that it isn’t safe for you out there.”

“You say that, but – “

“Jensen, please. I’m not feeling well. Could you…” He trails off and waves his hand in a now familiar gesture.

Jensen swallows hard and nods, stepping up to his father and reaching out to place his fingers on his rough, stubbled cheek. Jensen lets out a hum of concentration, fingertips glowing pale blue as he conjures up his power. His father closes his eyes and Jensen thinks about him being healthy, young, and strong. He watches as wrinkles smooth out and gray hairs turn black, eyes getting brighter and lips filling out until Jeff pushes his hand away, breaking the connection. He still has flecks of grey in his beard and wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. That’s odd. He usually doesn’t let Jensen stop until they look nearly the same age.

But Jensen’s grateful for it. It’s so hard to think of Jeff as his father when he barely looks older than Jensen himself.

Jensen’s fingertips tingle and he pulls them away, rubbing the tips with his thumb absently until they stop glowing. “Better?”

“Wonderful, Jensen, thank you.” Jensen runs a hand through his short-cropped hair, gearing up for another argument, but Jeff must notice. “Now, as I was saying – “

“But Dad, I’m almost eighteen. I’m old enough to know how to be safe out there. You taught me how!” Jensen pleads, same argument as always. Jeff hardens his gaze and Jensen knows that he’s lost yet again.

“Jensen, why do you always have to make me the bad guy?” Jeff stands up and walks a circle around him, throwing his arms out wide. “You weren’t old enough to remember those animals trying to take you away to use you for your magic. Do you really want to put me through that again?”

“But Dad!”

No, Jensen. You cannot ever leave this house!” Jeff’s voice is harsh, sharp, and Jensen winces a little as Rigby brushes his sharp quills against his neck in fear. “You have everything you need right here. There’s nothing out there but awful people doing awful things. That’s it, Jensen. There’s no place for you out there. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.” Rigby must hear the sadness in his voice because he noses wetly under his ear, chirping in quiet sympathy.

“Good. Now that we’ve got that tiresome argument out of the way,” Jeff says, much more energetic and spritely now that he’s healthy again, “here.” He pulls a bulging plastic bag from his larger leather satchel. “Full of new books for you to read while I’m gone.”

“Gone?” Jensen’s voice is despondent as he takes the bag from Jeff. Almost one entire wall of their small cabin is covered with used books all of which Jensen has read at least twice over. He sets the bag down on the floor to organize later.

“Yes, Jensen, gone. I have to go out of town on business.” Jensen has no idea what this ‘business’ his father is always doing actually is, but he has better sense than to ask. “I’m leaving tonight and I’ll be gone at least a week. You have more than enough around here to keep you fed and occupied.”

“I’ll be fine,” Jensen says flatly, reaching up to scratch under Rigby’s chin.

He’s always fine.

“Jared!”

He knows, just by that one screech of his name, that his short-lived days as a carnie are over.

The twinky animal trainer that had just a minute ago been pressing so eagerly up into him gasps and rolls away, knocking Jared off of him as he scrambles to find his shirt. Jared’s pants are unbuttoned and he looks up at the intruder, annoyed that she couldn’t even have waited until they got to the good part.

“What the hell are you doing?!”

Katie is the star of the show. The feisty little trapeze artist that had been a firecracker in the sack unfortunately turned out to also be the ringmaster’s daughter. Jared normally wouldn’t have harbored any reservations about banging the boss’ kid, but Katie has a screw loose somewhere up in that pretty blonde head of hers. Bitch is crazy in a big way.

Jared supposes that growing up in the goddamn circus will do that to you. Not that Jared’s childhood was any better. In fact, it sucked ass and he didn’t even have unlimited cotton candy and tigers to soothe the pain.

“Oh, did we have a date?” Jared says lamely, and he swears he sees Katie’s eyes flash red. Turns out that it was just the reflection of her father’s dumbass ringleader jacket reflecting off of her giant, angry pupils and oh shit, he’s fucked.

“What’s all this?” Katie’s dad, Jared’s boss, the lion tamer, fuck his life, stares Jared down with pure hatred in his eyes. Katie cries into her daddy’s barrel chest and Jesse, Danny, whoever the hell Jared was about to fuck squeaks and tears out of the room without so much as a glance over his shoulder.

The ringleader has henchmen with him, for fuck’s sake. Jared has no idea why he even took this stupid job. Oh, right. Homelessness.

“So… now probably wouldn’t be the best time to talk about that raise, huh?” Jared grins disarmingly while zipping up his pants.

“Oh, you better run, boy.”

“Come on!” Jared shouts. “It’s not cheating if you were never in a relationship in the first place! It was just sex!”

The ringleader lunges forward with a growl and Jared takes that as his cue to mosey on. He grabs his duffel bag, always packed in case of emergencies, and ducks under a bulging, swinging arm and high-tails it across the makeshift fairgrounds.

“Get back here!” Jared laughs and crashes into the main tent, dodging straggling workers and running across the stage before tearing through the other side. The fairgrounds are pushed up against a dense forest and Jared casts a glance up at the waning sun before heading straight for the trees.

“Don’t lose him!”

Jared hears the shout and cackles loudly as he jumps over a fallen log. They’ll never find him.

Getting lost is what he does best, second only to running away.

“You’re leaving now? But it’s dark out.”

Jensen watches his father pack a bag and thinks once again about how he must have some sort of vehicle hidden out there in the woods. It bothers Jensen how little trust he is given, whether it be for his own safety or not.

“I’ll be fine, Jensen.” Jeff ruffles Jensen’s short, dark gold hair and steps past him, swinging his bag over one shoulder. “I’ll be gone at least a week, maybe longer.”

Jensen just nods, looking down at Rigby on the floor nestled between his feet. Jeff doesn’t watch where he steps so the hedgehog never strays too far from Jensen’s toes if he’s on the ground.

“Be good, kid.” His father pats him on the cheek and smiles awkwardly. Jensen has no way of knowing if all parents are as awful at physical affection or if he’s just special. “Be safe.”

“You too, Dad.” Jeff nods and heads out the front door. Jensen stands on the porch, barefoot and chilly, until Jeff’s form disappears into the trees. Rigby climbs up onto Jensen’s foot and nuzzles against his ankle, squeaking quietly. Jensen stoops down to scoop him up and sets him on his shoulder.

“Looks like it’s just you and me.” Rigby pokes Jensen’s cheek with his nose and he chuckles, running the back of his hand carefully along the hedgehog’s quills. “But it’d be nice to have a little excitement around here, wouldn’t it?”

Rigby squeaks.

Fucking trees.

They’re everywhere. Jared is man enough to admit that he might be a little in over his head with this whole forest thing. It’s dark and he’s cold and hungry and he’s probably going to be eaten by wolves or stumble across Bigfoot’s lair or some shit.

He comes across a shallow stream and decides to follow it, because that always seems to be what they say to do on nature shows. He walks along the crumbly bank for an hour or so before he starts getting cranky.

Jared doesn’t often set aside time to wallow in the mess that his life has become. Not that there isn’t anything to be bummed about, because seriously, take your pick, but because Jared doesn’t really see the point in it. Nothing good comes from feeling sorry for yourself and he knows that, but sometimes he can’t help but to let the depressing thoughts creep into his mind.

Especially at times like these, when he’s lost in the godforsaken woods with wet shoes and no food. He’s mulling over the whole ‘basically an orphan’ thing when he wanders into a clearing and looks up to see his salvation.

It’s a small and rugged-looking house, wooden with no paint to brighten it up. Jared assumes that it has to be someone’s hunting cabin, all the way out here, and he perks up when he doesn’t see any lights in any of the windows or any cars out front.

“Jackpot.” He grins to himself and jogs over to hop up onto the sagging porch.

Jensen wakes up to the sound of a knock.

It’s on autopilot that he rolls out of bed and climbs down the ladder leading up to his loft with Rigby clinging to his shoulder, assuming that Jeff must have forgotten something.

He’s halfway through the living room before awareness catches up to him and he realizes that Jeff wouldn’t have to knock. He freezes, clutching at the back of the sofa as he stares at the front door.

“Hello?”

Jensen jumps a little at the sound of an unfamiliar voice. He’s never heard another person’s voice before, other than Jeff and the actors on the movies Jeff brings him sometimes. Jensen doesn’t reply, too stunned to react.

“Hey, so, I got lost in the woods,” the voice continues, rich and warm even through the thick wooden door. Jensen continues to stand there and do nothing while Rigby quivers on his shoulder. “I’m cold, wet, and tired as hell so I’d love some help.”

Jensen continues to stare.

“I’m assuming no one is home.” There’s a beat of stillness and Jensen swallows hard. “So… I’m going to take your continued silence as permission to enter. Cool?”

The door knob twists and rattles, and of course Jensen forgot to lock it after Jeff left because he always forgets to lock it. The door sticks and Jensen gets his wits about him in time to dive behind the door before the intruder sets his shoulder into it and pushes it open.

“Hello?” He calls out again, tilting his head up for a response. When getting none, he cackles softly and immediately starts toeing off his shoes as he shuts the door. This leaves Jensen exposed, standing frozen behind the stranger. He’s male, tall with shaggy brown hair and a skinny waist.

Rigby scurries down the side of Jensen’s body and runs right past the guy’s feet, squeaking as he passes.

“What the fuck was that?” The guy jumps and Jensen uses the moment to sidle up behind the stranger. Jensen isn’t weak. He chops firewood and runs admittedly small laps around his house, whatever he can do to stay strong. Jeff taught him how to fight just in case this exact moment ever arose.

Jensen told Jeff that he could take care of himself. Here’s his chance to prove it.

He pushes the guy’s shoulders, sending him stumbling forward. “Okay, ow, shit. I’m sorry! Occupied, I get it.”

He spins around and instinct overcomes Jensen as he swings his fist with all his might, connecting with the guy’s jaw. Pain shoots through Jensen’s knuckles like fire and the guy lets out a shocked grunt. He holds his hands up, peering into the darkness, and Jensen is glad that he’s obscured in shadow.

“Look, can we just – “ He reaches out towards Jensen and he panics, punching the guy square in the nose. He crumples to the floor, unconscious, and Rigby barely manages to move out of the way before he hits the hardwood.

Jensen erupts in laughter, hopping up and down as adrenaline rushes through him like an electric current. “Did you see that, Rigby? Did you see? I can so take care of myself, ha!”

Jensen is so busy being immensely proud of himself that it takes a moment for Rigby’s squeaks to filter through the excited haze. Jensen turns and looks down to see him gesturing at the unconscious figure with his nose. He crawls onto the guy’s chest and makes a circle before looking up at Jensen and squeaking pointedly.

“That’s a good question.” Jensen rubs his sore knuckles against the opposite palm, chewing on his lip as he looks down at the crumpled figure. “What am I going to do with him?”

Jensen decides that his first order of business should be getting the guy tied up because he doesn’t really have any idea how long unconsciousness lasts. He makes a quick trip outside to find the rope they use to tie up bundles of firewood and tosses it on the floor.

Jensen pulls a kitchen chair over to the middle of the room and hooks his hands under the guy’s arms. “Wow, you are heavy.”

Jensen’s feet slip out from under him and he somehow ends up under the guy’s limp body. After a lot of struggling and squeaking from Rigby that Jensen swears sounds a bit like laughter, he gets the guy into the chair.

“Oh, no you don’t.” Jensen presses his palm against the guy’s chest when he starts to slip. His body is firm under Jensen’s palm, warm and well-defined, and Jensen snatches his hand back as if he’d been burned.

It’s with little incident that Jensen gets him tied to the chair, knobby wrists and ankles bound carefully to the wooden arms. Once he’s secure, Jensen decides it’s time that he gets a good look at his would-be attacker and flicks on the light switch.

“Oh wow.” Jensen leans in to get a better look and is surprised to find that the intruder isn’t a man at all, but a boy barely Jensen’s own age. He’s too skinny, for one, and Jensen ignores Rigby’s admonishing squeak as he reaches forward to move the hair out of his face. He’s all angles – prominent cheekbones and a tilted nose giving way to a sharp jaw line. Guilt surges through Jensen when he sees that nose all puffy and bruised, blood clotting over lips as pink as bubblegum.

Now that Jensen has calmed down as all the adrenaline has ebbed away, Jensen’s head is clearer. This boy doesn’t feel dangerous to him, and Jensen doesn’t think he deserves what looks to be a broken nose.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Jensen tells Rigby, who is perched on the boy’s shoulder. He merely squeaks as Jensen cups the boy’s jaw, thumb brushing the broken line of his nose. His features twist even in unconsciousness, and Jensen takes a deep breath. His fingertips glow a bright blue and Jensen concentrates on just letting his power heal new, fresh wounds. He smiles as the boy’s face smoothes out, blotchy skin fading back to a rich tan and blood flecking away until it’s disappeared. The boy’s skin glows faintly, the lightest shade of blue, and Jensen pulls his fingers away.

“He’s beautiful,” Jensen whispers in wonderment, and then blushes violently as he snaps out of his trance. He looks at Rigby and nods decisively. “But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have to explain himself, right?”

Rigby huffs in agreement and Jensen holds out his hand for the hedgehog to climb onto. It’s nearly daybreak outside and Jensen yawns as he collapses onto the sofa behind his sleeping prisoner, intent on waiting for him to wake up.

The first thing that Jared does when he wakes up is brace himself for intense pain.

When it doesn’t come, he scrunches his brows in confusion. He could have sworn that he felt his nose crunch right before he passed out. And oh shit, that’s right. He got knocked the hell out.

He goes to raise his arms but finds that he can’t because he’s tied to a goddamn chair. Oh god, he walked right into a serial killer’s lair. He’s going to get taken out Hansel and Gretel style because he was tired and cold and wandered right into a strange cottage in the woods without a second thought. Stupid, Jared. Stupid.

“You’re awake.” Jared jumps at the sound of the voice and turns his head, trying to find its source. He doesn’t see anyone and squeezes his eyes shut tight. “Who are you?”

“Don’t eat me!” God, Jared. Smooth.

What? I’m not going to eat you.” The voice sounds closer now. It’s soft and calm, and doesn’t really sound serial killerish at all. But Jared isn’t taking any chances. “I just want to know what you’re doing here.”

“Look, I’m sorry that I stumbled upon your lair, or whatever, really.” Jared curls his hands into fists and rocks the chair back and forth, testing his bonds. They’re fucking tight. “I’ve seen the way this horror movie ends, but it doesn’t have to go down that way, alright? I am like, the best at keeping secrets. Just let me go and – “

“Horror movies? I like horror movies.” That makes Jared pause. Those words in his invisible captor’s voice should be terrifying, should be getting him prepared for some Saw type shit, but Jared doesn’t feel like that at all. The voice is boyish and young, tinged with apprehension and a cautious excitement, like he was just as afraid of Jared as Jared was of him. “Like Hitchcock? Those are good. I just saw Dracula last week. Spooky stuff, right?”

“What? No.” Jared shakes his head. Dracula? “I was thinking more of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre type situation.”

“Oh.” A pause. “I haven’t heard of that one.”

One of the longest, most awkward silences that Jared has ever experienced in his long, awkward life follows, and he clears his throat just to break it.

“So, uh,” he ventures, “you’re not going to kill me?”

“I would never,” comes the reply so emphatic and sincere that Jared experiences a moment of guilt for ever having the (completely justified) thought in the first place. “I thought you were here to hurt me.”

“No,” Jared replies. He twists his wrists uncomfortably. He also kind of has to pee. “Like I said, I was lost in the woods and I found this place. I didn’t think anyone was home. Sorry I broke in.”

“So you – you really don’t know who I am?”

“No, I really – “ Jared looks around again and huffs in frustration. “Look, now that we’ve established that we’re not here to kill each other, could we maybe have this conversation face to face?”

“Uh.” The pause is long and skeptical enough that Jared’s overactive imagination kicks into overdrive. The guy’s voice is pleasant enough, but what if he lives out here in solitude because he’s hideously deformed and sends people screaming at the very sight of him. “Um, yeah. Okay.”

There’s a slight shuffling and Jared clutches the arms of the chair, preparing himself not to react to whatever horror he’s faced with. He’s still tied up, after all, and it wouldn’t do well to piss off the only guy around that can set him free.

A lean figure steps into the shadow across the room and Jared squints, trying desperately to see. The guy that steps into the light is so drastically not deformed that Jared’s mouth falls open in shock.

“Holy shit. You’re beautiful.”

The guy, who can’t be older than Jared himself, blinks in response. Jared feels his cheeks heat up and curses himself inwardly. He prides himself on being able to smoothly charm his way in and/or out of any given situation and one look at this frankly perfect being reduces him to the blubbering preteen that stumbled across his first skin mag.

Not to mention that he’s in the middle of the woods in a no-name town in fucking Kansas, of all places, and calling some reclusive dude who lives in a remote cabin beautiful may not be his best bet.

“Thank you,” is what the guy says. That doesn’t surprise so much as what comes after. “You’re very beautiful as well, if you don’t mind me saying.”

What the fuck?

“Uh, thanks.” Jared’s never really thought of himself as much of anything. He’s too tall and skinny with teeth that aren’t quite straight and a smile that’s a touch too wide. He’s never looked in a mirror and saw someone worth sticking around for looking back at him. Maybe that’s why everyone always leaves.

“You know, I’ve seen pornos that start this way too,” Jared says, mainly to distract himself from the sneak attack of feelings currently twisting around inside his chest. He knows it was the wrong thing to say when the guy’s pretty face twists up.

“What’s a – oh.” Jared watches delightedly as his cheeks turn a delicious shade of red, eyelashes fanning demurely over his cheeks. He’ll be lewd and crude as possible if it means he’ll get to see that face again. “I doubt this will end like any movie I’ve ever seen.”

“You never know. We could end up writing our own.” Jared squirms in his bindings, desperate to get closer, to know more. “How about you untie me and tell me your name. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in that order.”

The guy chuckles and takes a step forward, running his fingers nervously through spiky golden hair as he looks Jared up and down. “You don’t have to worry,” Jared says emphatically, suddenly desperate to have this gorgeous stranger trust him. “I’m one of the good guys! Well, okay, good is sort of a loose term but I’d never hurt anyone, least of all you. I promise.”

There’s a long silence in which Jared notices that the stranger’s eyes are a brilliant green and shinier than emeralds. Jared’s never been one for sappy metaphors but damn, he could get lost in those eyes.

“Jensen,” the guy says, offering Jared a tentative smile. “My name is Jensen, and I’m very happy to meet you.”

Jensen comes over to untie the ropes and Jared catches a whiff of him – sunshine and salt, like the beach on a hot summer day and Jared sort of wants to creepily bury his nose behind Jensen’s ear and sniff him forever.

He doesn’t realize that he actually is sniffing him until Jensen chuckles self-consciously. Jared opens his eyes and for a moment it’s like he’s peering into the sun. “I, uh, like your shampoo,” Jared says lamely, but seriously, he should get the name of that stuff before he goes, because it smells like bottled sunshine and that’s awesome.

But – oh right, he has to go. Just as well, probably. Jensen’s a little too beautiful and Jared’s just a little too entranced with him. It’s creepy in that it doesn’t feel creepy, not at all. Jared wants to wrap Jensen up in hugs and never let go and that, right there, is enough to tell him that he should run far, far away because Jared Padalecki does not do hugs. He’s tough. He’s from the streets, cold and hardened and –

“What’s your name?”

“Jared,” he says instantly, dreamily even, and he’s aware of the dopey smile on his face about thirty seconds too late. Jesus. Jared’s always been a sucker for a pretty face but this is getting ridiculous. He needs to get out of here before he does something ridiculous like ask Jensen to snuggle or something.

“Jared,” Jensen repeats, and Jared has never heard his name said so warmly before, not since –

He needs to go.

“Yeah, so, uh.” Jared gets up and shakes out his hands, feeling blood flow back into his fingers. “Thanks for not killing me, or calling the cops or whatever.” Jensen tilts his head, looking every bit the woodland creature Jared’s overactive imagination is making him out to be. “But I should really get out of your hair.”

“Get out of – oh, you mean leave.” A flurry of emotions flicker over Jensen’s face. Jared’s never met someone who displays their emotions so openly before. Jared can read Jensen like a child’s picture book and he stamps down on the irrational urge to tell Jensen to be more careful or he’ll get himself hurt.

Jensen’s face finally seems to settle on resigned, eyes a bit sad. “That would probably be best, Jared.” He nods to himself and sucks distractedly on his lower lip.

“Yeah, okay,” Jared says, heading for the door.

“It was nice to meet you, Jared, truly,” Jensen says as Jared’s pulling on his boots. They’re still a bit damp from the night before but it’s nothing that he can’t handle. “No matter how odd the circumstances.”

“You too, Jen.” He rattles the nickname off without realizing he’s done so, missing the way Jensen’s eyes soften. “So, if you could uh, point me in the direction of the nearest civilization? Somewhere I could catch a bus, maybe?”

“Oh. Um.” Jensen follows Jared out onto the porch and peers out into the distance. Jared squints against the sun but Jensen doesn’t, eyes going even greener in the light. He looks back and forth a few times, feet shuffling a bit before he finally points uncertainly toward the west. “That way.”

“Thanks.” They stare at each other for a long time, seconds ticking by faster than Jared can count. Jared can’t think of anything to say, so he reaches out to squeeze Jensen’s shoulder before nodding to himself and hopping off of the porch.

Every step he takes away from Jensen feels a little colder, and he blames it on the thick cover of the trees overhead blocking out the sun.

Jensen has absolutely no idea how to reach civilization. He almost told Jared, almost blurted out that he didn’t know because he’s never left this house, but he knows that’s a bad idea. Jared’s a stranger and Jensen should be glad to be rid of him, but he’s not.

He watches Jared walk away, ducking into the shadows at the edge of the clearing, and all he can think about is how warm and tingly Jared had felt under Jensen’s fingers as he’d used his magic on him, not thick and prickly like Jeff always is.

Jensen knows he should let Jared walk away and never think of him again, but this could be his only chance at ever having a friend. Even if it’s just for one day, just one short afternoon, Jensen wants that so badly that he can feel it in his bones.

He’s running across the grass before he even realized that he’d made the decision to do so. The bottom of his feet sting as the soft earth in front of his porch gives way to unforgiving forest floor. The skin breaks but Jensen barely notices, the small wound healing before he even reaches his goal.

“Jared.” He’s breathless, dazed and excited, ignoring how monumentally stupid this idea is. “Jared, wait.” Jensen grabs Jared’s shoulder and there it is again, warm and tingly, pleasant and comforting like a hot bath. The feeling washes over him and it’s good. Jared is good. Jensen can tell. He knows these things.

Jared turns slowly and Jensen catches something that looks like hope in his eyes before they go shuttered and dark. “You don’t have to go right now,” Jensen blurts when Jared quirks a curious brow at him. “I mean, you must be hungry, right? I could make you breakfast.” Jensen taps his lips with his fingertips, energy zinging all over the place in his excitement. He hopes Jared can’t see. “Do you like breakfast?”

“Yeah, Jen,” Jared says after a long moment in which Jensen doesn’t dare to breathe lest he ruin it. “I like breakfast.”

Jensen grins and it isn’t anything for him to reach out and take Jared’s hand. He laces their fingers together as he walks them back to the house. Jared seems stunned but then relaxes into it, fingertips digging into Jensen’s skin like he’s just as starved for physical affection as Jensen is.

He doesn’t know what’s right, what’s okay and what isn’t. He doesn’t want to do anything wrong, but touching Jared feels good, all bubby like the sodas Jeff brings him sometimes.

“Your feet,” Jared says after they walk in silence for a few yards. “You shouldn’t run around out here barefoot.”

“Oh, I’ll be fine, Jared.” Jensen gives him a reassuring smile and flexes his toes. “Don’t worry about me.”

The scratches heal by the time Jensen pulls Jared past the threshold, and only a bit of dirt remains.

Jensen makes coffee, Rigby perched on his shoulder after remaining hidden through the mornings events, as Jared cleans up in the restroom. Jensen loves everything about coffee but Jeff doesn’t bring him all that much of it. Jeff says it’s hard to get but Jensen thinks it’s really because Jensen gets loud and bouncy when he drinks it and Jeff can’t get him to shut up for hours. But maybe Jared likes coffee. Maybe he’ll stick around and talk to Jensen for awhile if there’s coffee.

He’s cracking eggs into a mixing bowl when the bathroom door opens. Jared comes out in a cloud of steam and Jensen turns his head, mindful of Rigby’s quills as he calls out. “I’m making omelets!”

“Well, I’m not one to turn down a free – what the hell is that?” Jensen turns around, fully prepared to ask Jared what he means, but he finds himself monumentally distracted. Jared has his shirt tucked into the pocket of his jeans, clearly not on his body, and Jensen’s favorite towel is slung over one shoulder. `

The view is not unpleasant.

“Is that a gopher?”

Rigby squeaks angrily next to Jensen’s ear and he blinks, shaking his head a little. “What? Oh, no. This is Rigby. He’s a hedgehog.”

“You have a pet hedgehog?” Jared moves closer and closer until Jensen can smell his own soap on Jared’s bare skin. “I’ve never seen a real hedgehog before.” He reaches out, fingers nearly skimming Jensen’s cheek as he cautiously touches the soft, non-spiky part of Rigby’s head. He squeaks indecisively, unsure of how he feels about his current predicament.

Jared suddenly tousles Jensen’s hair, leaving it sticking up all over the place. “You’re much softer.” Then Jared winks and Jensen’s insides feel like mush.

“Thanks.” Jared nods and pulls his shirt on. Jensen feels vaguely relieved at that, but the weird feeling in his belly doesn’t have time to go away before Jared is stepping up next to him at the stove.

“Let me help.” Jared starts snatching up Jensen’s breakfast supplies, messing up his neat and orderly layout. “I make a mean plate of bacon.”

Jared grins over at him and Jensen gets to experience preparing a meal with someone for the first time in his life. There are so many questions that Jensen wants to ask Jared about what it’s like out there, but he doesn’t know how much information is safe to give away about himself.

Basically, Jensen is on complete overload. He’s trying to decide what to ask first when they sit down at the table with their food. Rigby scurries down Jensen’s arm and plops onto the table. Jensen gives him an apple slice and turns to see Jared smiling happily into his coffee cup before taking a sip.

“So, where’d you come from?” Jensen asks, and Jared turns to look at him skeptically. “I mean, how’d you get lost out here in the woods?”

“Oh, well.” Jared pauses to take a sip of his coffee. “I was working with that traveling circus that’s in town –“

“You work in the circus?” Jensen can’t contain his excitement. Jared has his full attention and he doesn’t even notice when Rigby steals a strawberry from his plate. “Were you a lion tamer, or a fire breather?”

“No, I – “

“Trapeze artist?” Jared chuckles at his exuberance and Jensen feels his cheeks heat up. He stuffs his mouth full of omelet just to keep from talking.

“Nah, nothing as exciting as all that.” Jared smiles bashfully and takes a bite of bacon. “I just sold hot dogs. Nothing important.”

“You gave hungry people food,” Jensen assures him. “That’s plenty important.”

Jared stares at him for a long moment and Jensen sips at his coffee, unable to look away. “Yeah, I guess. Well, anyway, I just decided that it was time to move on and ended up getting lost. Luckily, I found you.”

“Or not so luckily,” Jensen mumbles. “I punched you in the face.”

“Yeah well, I broke into your house,” Jared replies, knocking his shoulder into Jensen’s playfully. “So I guess that makes us even.”

Jensen grins widely, not in any hurry to pull away from Jared. It’s thrilling to be so close to someone like this, especially someone his own age. The sunlight spilling through the kitchen window filters through Jared’s brown hair and Jensen wants so badly to touch it all of a sudden. Out of the corner of his eye he notices a few drops of water dancing excitedly above his glass and he shakes his head, chuckling nervously as they fall.

Jared makes no indication that he saw the bouncing water droplets, and Jensen lets out a relieved breath.

“So what’s your deal?” Jared asks, and Jensen’s stomach clenches nervously. He isn’t sure how to answer the question that he knows Jared is about to ask. “Why are you all cooped up in a cabin in the woods?”

“Uh.” Jensen takes a long sip of coffee. “Jeff – my dad, Jeff. He likes it out here. He says that I’m safe out here.” Jared gives him a long, critical look and Jensen bites his lip. “So uh, have you had many jobs?”

It takes a moment for Jared to answer, but he finally stops looking at Jensen like he’s some sort of pinned insect and runs his fingers through his hair.

“I’ve had a lot of jobs, but there was one pretty cool one,” Jared says almost wistfully. “One summer I lucked into this job at Sea World assisting the dolphin trainers.”

Jensen drops his fork and looks over at Jared like he’s seeing him through a brand new set of eyes. “Sea World?”

“Yeah, the amusement park in San Diego,” Jared tells him. “That was a great summer. I got to hang out with dolphins and ride rollercoasters until I hurled. I even learned how to surf.”

“You’ve been to the ocean?” Jensen does nothing to hide the awe from his voice. His biggest dream, and Jared’s lived it. He’s touched the waves and sunk his toes into the sand. He’s been kissed by the sun.

Jensen isn’t jealous. He just wants, fiercely, to experience it all with him as well, maybe even with Jared at his side, and isn’t that strange?

“Of course I’ve been to the ocean,” Jared replies. “You haven’t?”

Jensen nearly laughs at the question. Of course he hasn’t. “No, I’ve uh – I’ve never left here.”

“Yeesh, an eternity in rural Kansas?” Jared chuckles and rolls a grape across the table to Rigby. “I don’t envy you, man.”

“I envy you,” Jensen tells him honestly. Jared’s expression goes shuttered and dark, shocking Jensen with its coldness.

“Yeah well, I could tell you some stories.” There’s bitterness in his voice, barely masked pain, and it makes Jensen ache. He reaches out to put his hand over Jared’s, smiling softly at him.

“I’d listen,” Jensen says. “Tell me your stories.” Jared looks down at Jensen’s hand as if he’s surprised by the touch, but he doesn’t move to pull away.

“No Jensen, that’s just an expression.” Jared chuckles and takes a fortifying breath. He looks carefree when he meets Jensen’s eyes again, but he can tell it’s a mask. Jared is in pain. “But you’ve given me an idea. I’ve worn out my welcome here in the ol’ Midwest, and I’ve got friends kicking around California, so maybe I’ll head out that way. Been a long time since I’ve seen the ocean.”

Jensen’s heart starts beating triple-time and he almost breaks down and begs Jared to take him with him, to get him out of this musty old cabin and help him live his dream.

But he doesn’t, because he isn’t allowed to leave. He’s stuck here forever, cursed to never have any adventures just because he was born with magic that people would kill to have.

He doesn’t often like to think of himself as a prisoner but there are moments that he can’t help it, that the dark thought creeps into his mind, and it’s never been stronger than in this moment.

His eyes burn and his throat is tight, body thrumming with the desire to escape, but he doesn’t.

He sits, and he stays.

Jared watches as Jensen’s bright green eyes go dark with so much pain that Jared feels it like a punch to the gut. He pulls his hand away from Jared’s and he nearly snatches it back, but manages to curl his fingers into a fist on the table instead.

“Jensen, are you okay?”

“Hm?” Jensen blinks a few times and then refocuses on Jared’s face. His smile is back, albeit very dimmed. “Sorry, yes, I’m fine. I was just daydreaming. I’ve always dreamt of going to the ocean.”

That seems like an odd dream, Jared thinks. It’s something so simple, so easily accomplished, but Jensen is sitting there like he just said his biggest dream was going back in time to walk with the dinosaurs.

The feeling that there’s something strange going on comes back to Jared, but he stamps it down. It’s not his place. Jensen doesn’t seem abused and he isn’t asking Jared to save him, so he just clears his throat and offers Jensen a grin.

“I’m sure you’ll make it someday,” he offers, and Jensen gives him a tight smile. They finish the rest of their breakfast in silence, but it isn’t uncomfortable. It’s peaceful even, and Jared smiles as he watches Rigby nibble on a piece of egg held in Jensen’s fingers.

“Hey, do you have a computer I could use?” Jared asks once he’s helped clean the dishes. “ My phone’s dead I need to email my friend Misha and see where he’s at.”

Misha would be Jared’s best friend, if he were the type of person to label people like that. After his job at Sea World ended, he wandered up to Los Angeles for the winter. It was there he met Misha, part-time hacker and full-time weird asshole, and the two fell into a comfortable camaraderie.

Jared probably wouldn’t even be alive today if it weren’t for Misha, but the guy would clock Jared upside the head if he ever heard him say that.

“I have a computer,” Jensen says slowly. He bites his bottom lip and wrings his hands as he looks up at Jared’s face. “But, uh, email. You need internet for that, right?”

“Right.”

“No internet here,” Jensen says regretfully. “Dad says we’re out of range or something. I’m sorry.”

“Oh.” Jared furrows his brow. “That’s okay. I can just use your landline, if that’s alright.” At Jensen’s bashful, slightly guilty look, Jared boggles incredulously. “No phone, either?”

“No,” Jensen replies. “I’m guessing that isn’t normal?”

“Not in this day and age,” Jared mumbles, trying valiantly to ignore the uneasy feeling deep in his gut that’s only growing bigger by the minute. “Okay, well. I know you have electricity. So I can charge up my phone before I go. Maybe I’ll get reception.”

“Of course.” Jensen points to a lamp next to the sofa, and Jared nods before grabbing his bag from where he dropped it near the door. He rifles through it until he finds his iPhone and charger. It’s the fancy new model, or so Jared was told. Misha badgered him into taking it, citing that he was sick of waiting for Jared’s occasional email to confirm he’s still alive, or for Jared to call him collect from a payphone.

I swear to god, Jared, I didn’t even think payphones existed anymore. Take the fuckin’ gift before I bash your abnormally large head in, asshole.

Jared smiles fondly as he hears Misha’s brash voice in his head and busies himself with plugging in the phone. He sets it on the small table and Jensen eyes it curiously, eyebrow sweeping up into an elegant arch when the screen comes to life.

Jared looks around to take in the small television in the corner and the ancient looking computer under the window. Apparently he’s not really up to speed on the latest technology.

The phone chirps with voicemail and text notifications, all from Katie telling him that he’s fired and not to bring his scrawny ass back around if he wants to live. No problem there.

“That’s a phone?” Jensen asks cautiously. “It’s so small. And shiny.”

“Yep,” Jared replies absently. He’s too busy staring at the three bars up in the corner of his phone. Surely if he can get decent reception out here on his cell, they should be able to get a land line and internet set up.

The pit in his stomach gets even bigger and starts clawing at him, unable to be ignored. It no longer matters that Jensen hasn’t asked Jared to save him.

He’s about to get rescued anyway.

There’s no way that’s a phone.

Jensen sort of really wants to grab the shiny little box from Jared’s hand and look at it more closely. Jared seems to notice him staring and hands the phone over with a shrug. Jensen’s eyes widen and he takes it carefully.

The tiny screen is crisp and clear, cheerily telling him to ‘slide to unlock’. Jensen pokes at the screen and moves the bar over to the side, laughing amazedly when a whole new screen pops up.

“This is incredible!” Jared chuckles from somewhere near his shoulder, suddenly reaching around Jensen to poke at a little orange box at the screen. Music starts coming from the phone. Music! Right from the palm of Jensen’s hand! It’s something soft and almost sad, a boy and a guitar, and Jensen wants to listen to it forever. He closes his eyes and leans back against Jared’s broad chest, trusting him to hold him up.

Jared sucks in a breath and puts his hand on Jensen’s hip. It’s big and warm and Jensen had no idea how much he craved physical contact until he suddenly has it at his disposal.

“Hey Jensen?” It takes a moment for him to open his eyes, popping his little content bubble of soft music and Jared’s warmth. “Where is your dad?”

Jensen sobers a little at the mention of Jeff. He would absolutely flip if he came home to find Jared here. He’d be furious at Jensen for breaking his rules, and Jensen shudders a little at the thought. Jeff can be scary when he’s angry.

“Gone,” Jensen replies, biting on his bottom lip. “For a week or so. I don’t know where he is. Just not here.”

“He just left you out here with no way to contact anyone?” Jared asks incredulously, and Jensen knits his brow at the thinly concealed anger in his voice. He doesn’t want Jared to be angry. “What if something happens to you?”

“Nothing ever happens to me,” Jensen says truthfully, smirking softly at the loaded statement. “I don’t get hurt.”

That’s true, at least. Once he sliced his hand open while cutting up a pepper. There was blood everywhere, thick and bright red, and Jensen just breathed through the pain as his skin glowed a soft blue and the wound closed up. He’s broken bones falling out of trees, cut his feet running through the woods, and they all just heal up within seconds. Jensen’s magic protects him.

“But what if you did get hurt?” Jared’s grip tightens on Jensen’s hip and soon he nearly has an arm around Jensen’s stomach. It’s nice.

“I don’t, Jared.” Jensen pats his wrist reassuringly as he traces a prominent vein in his forearm with his thumb. “I’m here by myself all the time. It’s fine. Don’t worry.”

Jared lets out a noise that sounds suspiciously like a growl and Jensen feels a quick puff of hot air against the back of his ear. After a moment Jared brings his other arm around and takes the phone from Jensen’s hand. The music stops and Jensen watches the screen delightedly as Jared brings up photos. Pictures right there in his hand! Jensen may be magic, but this little box is giving him a run for his money.

“This is my friend Misha.” Jared pauses on a photo and Jensen focuses on the man with the bright blue eyes smiling back at him. His jaw is covered with stubble and Jensen cocks his head a bit. “And this,” Jared says as he flicks through a few more pictures, “is us in Santa Monica.”

Jensen sucks in a breath at the image. Jared has his arms thrown around Misha and it looks like both of them were in the middle of laughing, but an even more appealing sight is the ocean behind them. It’s endless and blue and Jensen clutches Jared’s hands around the phone. He’s shaking with want and it’s like he’s there.

In the photo, Jared’s feet are bare and Jensen imagines what it would feel like to have sand between his toes. He can almost feel it, almost smell the salt spray and feel the wind in his hair.

“This is beautiful,” Jensen says, voice raw with emotion. He swallows hard and reaches out to cautiously touch the picture with his fingertip. Another one slides into view and it nearly makes Jensen sob with how stunning it is.

It’s the sunset. The sky is streaked with pink and gold, purple as it stretches towards the top of the photo, orange where it touches the sea. He’s breathing hard, surprised to find that his hands are shaking.

“I could take you there,” Jared says suddenly, softly. “I could show you the ocean.”

Yes.”

Jensen realizes what he’s said and jumps out of Jared’s grasp as if he’s been shocked. Jared fumbles with the phone, managing to get a grip on it before it crashes to the floor. “No, Jared,” Jensen says, and there are tears in his eyes. “I can’t leave. My dad –“

“Isn’t here,” Jared cuts in. “C’mon, Jensen. I know he says that he makes you stay here to keep you safe, but that’s not a life. You have to live, at least once.”

“Jared, I can’t.”

“Your dad’s not here, and I am.” Jensen looks up into Jared’s hazel eyes and is momentarily shocked by their intensity. “Come with me, Jensen. See the ocean.” He pauses and meets Jensen’s gaze helplessly. “And I’ll have you back here by the end of the week.”

Jensen can hardly breathe, he’s feeling so much. He can’t leave this cabin. He’s never left. He isn’t allowed to leave. It’s too dangerous, going out into the world. That’s what his father always told him. People would kill for Jensen’s magic.

“It’s your dream, Jensen.” He looks up and Jared shrugs one shoulder, smile small but hopeful. “Let me give it to you.”

“Yes,” Jensen replies, and this time he means it. It doesn’t matter what rules have been placed on Jensen. He’ll break them all if it means that he gets go to the ocean with this marvelous boy. It’s almost as if he can taste the salt on his tongue, feel the sand between his toes, and he laughs breathlessly. “I’ll go with you.”

Jared’s answering grin is almost as thrilling as the thought of stepping into the sea.

Chapter Text

Jared paces the small, tidy living room because what the fuck is he even doing?

Jensen is up in his little loft bedroom packing his shit into Jared’s duffel bag because Jensen doesn’t even own any sort of bag. Their underwear and toothbrushes are going to be cohabitating and Jared is going to have to carry everything because he’s taking some weird, incredibly sheltered, gorgeous dude all the way out to California because he cried when he saw a crappy cell phone picture of the ocean and it broke Jared’s heart.

It’s pretty safe to say that Jared is in way over his head.

“I’ll be on the porch!” Jared calls out, because he’s freaking out but he doesn’t want Jensen to think that he took off or something, which freaks him out even more. Jesus.

He springs through the door and out into the grass, fumbling his phone out of his pocket. He can call Misha and that will calm him down, because Misha as a person is crazier than this entire situation ever could be.

The phone rings three times before Misha picks up and Jared winces at all the noise that bursts through the speaker.

Misha’s phone, Chris Evans speaking!”

“Uh…”

Chris, goddamnit, give me that!” Misha’s voice is muffled and agitated and Jared smirks at the sound of a slight scuffle. “I knew that if I let you in here you’d never fucking leave, jesus, what?” It takes a moment for Jared to realize that Misha is speaking to him now, and he can’t even open his mouth before Misha steamrolls right over him. “If I wanted to listen to someone fuckin’ mouth breathe in my ear I’d answer my mother’s calls.”

“There’s my favorite ray of sunshine,” Jared says fondly, and Misha makes shushing noises at this Chris person, Jared presumes.

He lives! I was starting to worry about your wandering ass. How’s the circus treating ya?”

“Uh, it’s not. I’ve decided life as a carnie is not for me,” Jared replies, and Misha scoffs.

Who’d you fuck?”

“Nobody!” There’s a beat of silence and Jared sighs. “The ringmaster’s daughter.”

Misha laughs long and hard and Jared spends the time holding the phone away from his ear and wondering why he’s even friends with such an asshole.

God kid, how do you not have your own reality show? I’d watch the shit out it and never ever delete it off my TiVo. I’d buy the box set on blu-ray, man.”

“Yeah, yeah. Love you too.” Jared smirks and feels calmer already. If he can put up with Misha, he can definitely handle this little adventure. “So listen, is that card you gave me still active? I’m thinking about traveling in style for awhile.”

Should be. Hold on.” Jared hears the clicking of Misha’s ubiquitous laptop and looks down at his raggedy fingernails. “You’re good to go, Mr. Sam Winchester.”

Jared’s mouth twists at the alias. When Jared refused to settle down with Misha and declared that he was going back out into the big bad world, Misha insisted on setting him up with a fake credit card in case of emergencies. Misha may be the Robin Hood of the hacking world, but he still uses less than legal means to get by. Jared doesn’t judge him for it, but he doesn’t like taking things that he doesn’t earn.

Most of the time. Usually.

So the fraudulent card mostly stays tucked away in his wallet while he works odd jobs that provide room and board, if he can find them. He isn’t really ready to tell Jensen the whole poor, homeless little runaway story just quite yet. It’s a story that even Misha doesn’t really know all of, a story that Jared desperately hates to think about, let alone tell.

But he doesn’t want to spook Jensen. It’s important that he be safe and happy on this odd little journey and if Jared has to use less than legal means to accomplish that, so be it.

“Thanks,” Jared says, suddenly remembering that he’s on the phone. “So hey, are you still holed up in Santa Barbara?”

Nope. Things got a little sticky. I’m set up in Las Vegas right now.” There’s a whoop in the background loud and obnoxious enough that Jared can almost pin down the blood alcohol content behind it. “Made some friends, but none quite as pretty as you, man.”

“Well, send me the details,” Jared tells him after a moment’s consideration. Jared sort of wants to see what Jensen’s face looks like when he sees all those lights. “I’m headed your way.”

Awesome! Why don’t you just let me hook you up with a train ticket or something?”

“No can do,” Jared replies. He rubs the back of his neck and chuckles self-consciously. “I’m traveling with a guest and we’re planning on taking the scenic route.”

Ooh, who is this mystery guest?” Misha sounds absolutely gleeful and Jared rolls his eyes. “Did you tempt the fair ringmaster’s daughter away from a life in the circus with promises of adventure and your giant dick?”

“No, it’s kinda complicated and – “ There’s a noise on the porch and Jared looks up to see Jensen standing in the open doorway. Jared’s bag (their bag, Jared’s brain helpfully reminds him) is at his feet and Rigby is sitting in his cupped hands. He looks incredibly nervous but Jared can see the excitement in his eyes. Jensen wants this more than words can say, and Jared feels confident in his plan.

He isn’t exactly sure what’s going on, why Jensen is cooped up like this or his father’s reasoning behind it, but it’s no way to live. Jared will remain true to his word to bring Jensen back in one week if that’s what he wants, but Jared’s hoping that he makes the decision to strike out on his own.

Dude, where’d you go?”

“Just send me the address, man. I’ll see you in a few days.” Jared ends the call and slips the phone back in his pocket as he jogs over to the porch. “That was Misha,” Jared offers even though Jensen didn’t ask. “He’s in Vegas, so I was thinking we’d swing by and see him. It’s on the way.”

“Las Vegas?” Jensen asks, slightly dazed. He looks over his shoulder into the cabin and then back at Jared. “The place with all the gambling and lights?”

“Yeah, it’ll be fun. Are you ready to go?”

Jensen makes a soft, pained noise and looks back into the house again. Rigby squeaks and Jensen whips his head back around. His eyes are wide and so very green. “Are you sure that you can have me back in a week?”

“Jensen.” Jared reaches forward to give Jensen’s shoulder a comforting squeeze. “We can come back whenever you want. You’re safe with me, I promise.”

“Okay.” Jensen nods and lifts the hedgehog up to his shoulder before turning to close the door decisively. He takes a deep breath and meets Jared’s eyes. “I’m ready.”

“Good.” Jared eyes the hedgehog warily. “Rigby’s coming with us?”

“Of course Rigby’s coming with us,” Jensen replies emphatically, like the mere idea of Jared thinking otherwise is completely ridiculous. “I’m not going anywhere without him.”

“Nah, that’s cool.” Jared reaches out to gently scratch Rigby’s head with his fingertip, mindful of his quills. “I like the little guy.”

Rigby squeaks excitedly and noses at the soft-looking spot behind Jensen’s ear. Jared spends a baffling moment being vaguely jealous of a hedgehog, and then shakes it off. Jared wasn’t lying; Rigby is pretty cool. Jared’s always wanted a pet, but his life was never suited for one. He was thinking a dog, but maybe Jensen has the right idea with something small and easily concealed.

“Let’s go,” Jared says excitedly, swinging the bag over his shoulder. Jensen shuffles his feet a bit, looking over his shoulder again before finally following Jared off of the porch. They walk side by side slowly and quietly, and Jared’s a few steps into the heavily wooded area just past the clearing before he realizes that Jensen is no longer next to him. He turns to see Jensen biting at his lip and toeing at the ground with sneakers that look brand new, like they’ve barely ever been worn. “You okay, Jen?”

“I’m brave,” Jensen says suddenly. He looks back at his house and then back at Jared, looking torn. “I don’t want you to think that I’m not.”

Jared sighs, heart breaking just that little bit more as he closes the distance between them with two long strides. “Jensen,” he says softly, closing his hands around Jensen’s shoulders. “I knew you were brave the moment you threw that mean right hook.” He smiles to let Jensen know that he’s playing with him. “I’ve never thought otherwise.”

“It’s just – it’s hard.” Jensen swallows and Rigby whines a little. “I know this.” He gestures towards the woods and then looks back up at Jared. “But everything else; it’s all new. I don’t know it at all.”

“The whole point of an adventure is seeing new things,” Jared tells him and Jensen looks up at him like his every word is gospel. No one has ever looked at Jared like that and it makes his throat go a little dry. He touches Jensen’s jaw, thumbing at the sharp line of it before dropping his hand. “You deciding to come with me officially made you the bravest person I’ve ever met, Jen.”

“Really?” Jensen’s clouded expression clears a bit at that, and his smile is like a small ray of sunshine.

“Really.” Jared holds his hand out in offering, smiling timidly. “You ready?”

Jensen’s only response is grinning brightly and grabbing Jared’s hand, threading their fingers together as he leads them deeper into the woods. Jared squeezes Jensen’s hand in his own and can’t help the warm feeling that blossoms in his chest.

This is shaping up to be his most interesting adventure yet, and it’s only just begun.

Jensen follows along behind Jared, watching the shift of his shoulders under his thin shirt for all of five minutes before he feels guilty and has to confess.

“I don’t actually know how to get out of the woods,” he blurts, and Jared comes to a stop in front of him. Jensen stumbles into him and Rigby gets sent flying into Jared’s back. He hisses at the sudden stab of quills and Rigby climbs up onto Jared’s shoulder.

He’ll probably like it up there, Jensen thinks. Jared’s so tall. He’ll have a better view.

“I should have told you before.” Jensen bites his bottom lip, a little surprised but very pleased when Jared twists back to wrap an arm around Jensen’s shoulders. He pulls them close together, hip against hip, and Jensen instinctually tangles his fingers in the back of Jared’s shirt.

“Jen, you’re real pretty and all,” Jared says and Jensen’s stomach flutters happily, “but I know I can’t exactly count on you for directions.” He points to the ground and Jensen flicks his gaze downward. “There’s a footpath here, probably made by your dad.”

“Oh.” Jensen smiles sheepishly and Jared knocks their shoulders together before continuing on. Jensen grabs Jared’s hand again because he doesn’t seem to mind and it feels nice, and they make their way down the barely visible trail. Rigby chirps happily and tries valiantly to climb Jared’s head. “How’s the view from up there, Rigby?”

Jensen chuckles and Jared just smirks at him. He seems perfectly happy to let Jensen’s spiky, sharp-clawed pet crawl all over him, and that makes Jensen go all warm and gooey.

They spend another fifteen minutes or so walking hand in hand before Jared stumbles to a stop. There’s a small building just ahead, red paint peeling off of the old wood. Jensen cocks his head and Jared purses his lips.

“Looks like a garage,” Jared tells him, tugging on his hand as they approach. “Your dad has a car, I assume.”

“I guess.” Jensen shrugs awkwardly. “He’s never said. But he must, right?”

Jared lets go of his hand and walks up to the door on the side. He tries the knob but it’s locked. He pulls something from his pocket and squats down. “Come hold this light,” Jared says, pulling out his phone. A few quick touches and a bright light shines out of the back. Once again, Jensen is impressed.

“What are you doing?” Jensen asks as he holds the phone up where Jared indicated. Rigby has his claws dug into Jared’s shirt so he doesn’t get bucked off with all the twisting and fidgeting Jared’s doing.

“Just – come on, you bitch – picking the lock.” Jared twists his wrist and then sets his shoulder into the door, crowing happily when it pops open. “Ha!”

They enter the garage and Jared takes his phone back, holding it up high to illuminate the small, enclosed space. “Ah, yep. There’s usually a car in here.” Jared points to a small black streak on the concrete floor and Jensen just decides to take his word for it.

“Oh.” There’s a gnawing feeling in the pit of Jensen’s stomach and his eyes feel a little itchy as he looks around. There’s a desk in the corner with a safe on the floor next to it, and on top of that is some sort of plastic box with blinking lights. Jensen stares at it all despondently.

“Uh, hm.” Jared doesn’t elaborate and Jensen just lets out a questioning hum, eyes trained on what appears to be a phone hanging on the wall. “My phone is saying that there’s wi-fi in here, but I can’t connect because it’s locked.”

“I have no idea what any of that means,” Jensen mumbles. He feels childish and stupid, chest tight and eyes stinging.

“Well, um.” Jared pauses and Jensen knows that he’s going to hate whatever comes out of his mouth. “It means that there’s a wireless internet connection in here. Like, it can be accessed by a laptop, but I don’t see one. But this garage has internet and phone, so – well.”

He trails off uncomfortably and Jensen’s hands curl into fists at his sides.

“He lied to me.” Jensen rolls his lips into his mouth and laughs bitterly. “I mean, I’m not an idiot. I knew he lied to me about some things, but this – this is…”

It’s a big fat giant symbol of how much Jeff doesn’t trust Jensen to keep himself safe. He’d rather him be locked up like some pet than out there actually living. He doesn’t even want him knowing anything about the outside world. He’s sheltered and clueless with no idea how to live outside of a tiny hunting cabin in the forest. There’s a weight on Jensen’s shoulders, a crushing realization that there’s been an entire chunk of his life that’s been wasted.

“Jen, are you okay?” Jared slides his hand tentatively across Jensen’s back and he relaxes his muscles a little. He gets close enough that Rigby jumps onto his shoulder, claws digging in briefly before he’s nosing at Jensen’s ear. Jensen sniffs once and rolls his shoulders before turning to face Jared.

“I’m fine,” Jensen tells him, but they both know it’s a lie. “Well, I will be. This is good news, Jared. I don’t feel bad about leaving anymore. I just – now I really want to leave, more than ever.”

“Well, what are we waiting for?” Jared smiles reassuringly and grabs his hand, leading him out of the garage. They leave it how they found it, a locked little secret in the middle of the woods, and start to follow the tire tracks leading away from it.

“Jared, we have no way of knowing how far away from anything we are.” The sun is still high in the sky but it won’t stay that way, and Jensen really doesn’t want to spend his first night ever out of the house stumbling around in the woods.

“Sure we do!” Jared digs the hand not holding onto Jensen’s into his pocket and pulls out his omnipresent phone. He holds down a button until there’s a beep and then brings the phone up to his mouth. “Hey Siri?”

Yes Jared?”

Jensen gapes.

“Where are we?” Jared asks, and Jensen stares at the phone with wide eyes.

Here’s your current location.

Jared squints at the phone and Jensen watches as what appears to be a map pops up. He seems completely at ease with the stilted robot voice.

“What the hell is that?” Jensen asks, and Jared breaks his concentration to look over at him.

“What is – wait, Jensen. Did you just curse?” He looks absolutely gleeful. “I mean, hell is barely a curse but it’s a start! I’m a positive influence already!”

“Answer the question!” Jensen shouts. “Who’s that on your phone?”

“Oh! That’s Siri,” Jared informs him. “She’s not a person. She’s the little robot personal assistant that lives in my phone. Pretty cool, huh? Watch.” Jared holds the button down again. “Where’s the nearest bus station?”

This bus line looks fairly close to you.

“We’re only like two miles out of town,” Jared says excitedly. “We can get some lunch and hop on the bus, easy peasy. Thanks, Siri.”

I aim to please, Jared.

“Holy shit,” Jensen breathes, borrowing one of Jared’s preferred phrases. Jared squeezes his hand and jerks him around a little.

“There it is!”

Watching Jensen walk into a town for the first time, even a tiny little one-stoplight town in the middle of Kansas, is something Jared really wishes he could capture on video.

Well, technically he could, but he doesn’t want to ruin the moment by telling Jensen that the magic brick that he carries around in his pocket also serves as a video camera. He already has to break it to him that Rigby needs to go into hiding when they enter buildings, not to mention the little tidbit about how guys shouldn’t walk around holding hands in rural Kansas.

Jared casually lets go of Jensen’s hand and turns around to watch him. He’s looking around at the quaint little town square like he’s so impressed he could just die right there, and when he turns his gaze on Jared it’s fond enough to make him start squirming in his ratty old sneakers.

“Come on.” Jared spins around before Jensen can see the blush on his cheeks and sneaks a peek at the map on his phone telling him how to get to the bus station. Jensen just follows along blindly, looking around at everyone and everything. Jared keeps a casual hold on his forearm and briefly considers getting him one of those monkey leash backpacks before they get to Vegas.

Jensen’s eyes light up at the sight of the fountain in the town square, well within eyesight of the bus station, so Jared leaves him there while he jogs over to get the tickets. The closest Amtrak station is in Garden City, so he decides that’ll be their first stop and they can take the train from there.

He holds his breath as the cashier swipes his fake credit card, but she just hands it back to him and tiredly tells him to have a nice day. He nods and ducks into the gift shop, where he finds a sturdy black tote bag with a hard bottom. He buys that along with a hand towel, a few bottles of water and some snacks, and heads back to the fountain.

What he finds has him stumbling to a halt and laughing fondly. Jensen’s shoes are in an abandoned pile on the edge of the fountain and he’s standing in it with his jeans rolled up to his knees. One of the jets pop up and Rigby rides it up, squealing happily as he shoots into the air. The water falls away and Jensen catches the hedgehog in his hands, which has to hurt, but Jensen doesn’t seem to mind.

Jared approaches as Jensen bends over to place Rigby back into the water and he’s greeted with the spectacular view of Jensen’s ass in the fitted, well-worn denim. Jared is trying not to have dirty thoughts about Jensen, really he is, but he’s never seen a hotter guy in his entire life. It doesn’t help that Jensen reacts to every touch like a neglected housecat, arching up into it and shivering, practically purring under Jared’s hand.

So yeah, Jared’s trying to be good, but Jensen’s making it really hard. Pun only slightly intended.

“Having fun?” Jared spots Rigby floating on his back and Jensen spins around, flicking drops of water at him in the process. The grin on his face is one for the record books. It makes Jared’s breath catch, his heart speed up, every romantic comedy cliché there is, but damn, Jensen’s awesome.

“This is the best day ever!” Jensen splashes his way out of the fountain and throws his arms around Jared’s neck. The sudden full-body contact startles Jared for a moment – he isn’t used to people touching him casually – and then wraps his arms around Jensen’s waist. People are watching them curiously, probably wondering who the hell the beautiful weirdo in the fountain is, but Jared couldn’t care less. He pulls Jensen in tight and noses at the soft skin behind his ear. Jensen isn’t the only one starved for physical affection, not that Jared would ever admit that out loud.

“Our bus leaves in an hour,” Jared says as he pulls away. “There’s a diner over there. How’s about we get a cheeseburger?”

“I’ve never had a cheeseburger,” Jensen replies as he picks up his shoes, seemingly content to walk around barefoot. “Are they good?”

“Are they – “ Jared gapes. “Jesus, come on. Burger time.” Jensen grabs Rigby from the fountain, holding him in his cupped hand as Jared drags him along. “Lots of cheese, with bacon and mustard. And mushrooms!”

Rigby doesn’t seem entirely thrilled with having to hide in the tote bag Jared bought, but he tried to make it as homey as he could. There’s a soft towel folded at the bottom and an open bag of trail mix for him to nibble on. Jared’s stayed in motels less accommodating.

“C’mon, Rigby,” Jensen says, and after a few more put upon squeaks, the hedgehog snags a peanut and settles down. Jensen holds the bag carefully and walks into the diner behind Jared.

It’s loud and garish, all decked out with a 50’s theme, and the jukebox is playing The Temptations louder than necessary. Their waitress is a girl about high school age, eyeing them like she’s won the lottery before she even gets them to their table.

“Two cheeseburgers!” Jared shouts before she can even get a word out. “With everything, including lots of bacon. Two sides of fries, two cokes, and a chocolate shake to share.”

“Uh, yeah – sure.” She walks away mumbling to herself and scribbling on a pad, and Jared turns his attention back to Jensen. He’s bouncing a little on the red vinyl seat and taking everything in with wide eyes, Rigby’s makeshift carrier perched carefully in his lap.

“I normally wouldn’t be as presumptuous as to order for you before you even had a chance to look at the menu,” Jared tells him, and Jensen looks down at the laminated menu like he’s never seen one before. Which, right. He hasn’t. “But you need a cheeseburger and some damn french fries.”

“Oh, no. That’s okay.” Jensen leans forward to peer at the menu before looking up Jared with a happy smile. “I trust you.”

Jared blushes – and seriously, what the hell, he does not blush - and just sort of watches Jensen fondly as he takes in his surroundings. The food comes out surprisingly quick, and Jensen’s eyes widen as he looks down at his plate.

“Okay, Jensen, are you ready to have your mind blown?” Jared asks seriously, and Jensen’s eyes get even bigger. “Seriously, your taste buds are about to explode with delicious flavor. Come on, pick it up. Take a bite.”

Jared grabs his burger with both hands. It’s a nice size, good and hefty, and he shoves it into his face like he’s forgotten all his manners, which he probably has at this point. He moans at the taste and Jensen quirks up a brow before carefully picking up his own burger.

He sniffs it a bit before taking a dainty bite. His eyes go a little glassy and he lets out a whimper.

“Jared,” he says, practically moaning. He takes another bite, huge and proper like a growing boy should, and looks up at Jared while he chews. “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever tasted.”

“Told you!” Jared laughs as Jensen licks the mustard and grease from his thumb before taking another bite. He closes his eyes and tips his head back as he chews, completely missing when Rigby pops his head up out of the bag and snags Jensen’s lettuce between his tiny teeth. Jared laughs so hard he nearly chokes, fumbling for his soda as Rigby disappears back into the bag with his pilfered vegetable.

“Jensen, Jensen,” he gets out around fits of laughter. “Try the fries, man. The fries!”

Jensen tries to shove five of them in his mouth all at once and Rigby squeaks happily as one falls into his bag. Jared doesn’t think he’s ever had a better meal in his entire life.

After lunch they return to the fountain outside of the bus station to wait for their departure. Rigby seems just as full as Jensen, and he puts the hedgehog on his back in the still water before laying on the edge of the fountain. He signs happily as the warm concrete bleeds through his thin tee shirt, face tipped up into the midday sun.

Jared is sitting on the ground, endless legs crossed in front of him as he rests back against the fountain, head pillowed on Jensen’s thigh.

It’s a peaceful moment.

“So, the plan.” Jensen doesn’t even open his eyes at the sound of Jared’s voice, he’s so relaxed, though he does reach out to curl his hand around Jared’s bicep. The muscle bunches and flexes under Jensen’s fingers and he slips his thumb under the edge of Jared’s sleeve. “The bus is almost here, and it’s about an hour and a half ride to Garden City, where we’ll have to wait about an hour to catch the train out west.”

“Sounds good,” Jensen replies amiably, and Jared’s voice is a bit hesitant when he continues.

“I know the ocean is our destination, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the journey, right?” Jensen opens his eyes and looks down to see Jared’s face turned towards him, chin tucked into his shoulder and eyes hopeful. “I have some stops in mind, other things you should see. It’ll take a little longer to get to California, but it’ll be fun. Is that okay?”

Jensen smiles lazily and reaches out to touch Jared’s cheek with his fingertips. He’s got a bit of stubble and it rasps pleasantly against the pads of his fingers. He’s so full and it’s making him sleepy. He can feel his eyes drooping as he watches Jared.

“Jared, you haven’t steered me wrong yet,” Jensen tells him, giving into curiosity and sliding a strand of Jared’s hair between his fingers. It’s soft as silk and Jensen sort of wants to bury his nose in it to see if it still smells like his own shampoo. “At this point, I don’t think there’s anything you could suggest that I’d say no to.”

Jared’s expression goes unreadable at that, eyes dark and cheeks tinged pink. He must be spending too much time in the sun. Jared’s lips part and he looks like he’s about to say something and Jensen gently pinches his earlobe between his thumb and forefinger. There’s a small, dark hole in the center of it, like he once had his ear pierced. There’s so much about Jared that he doesn’t know.

There’s so much that he wants to learn.

Jared sways forward slightly, eyes bright, but whatever he was about to say is forgotten as a large bus pulls up. A blaring horn heralds its arrival and Jensen sits up excitedly.

“Back in the bag, Rigs.” He leans over the edge of the fountain to scoop his pet up. Rigby had been dead asleep and he gives an irritated squeak at the rude awakening. He turns his back on Jared and uses a quick burst of magic to pull the water from Rigby’s quills and flick it back into the fountain before placing him back in his bag. When he turns around Jared is standing, toeing at the brick with a scuffed sneaker.

“Here’s your ticket.” Jared pulls a slip of paper out of his back pocket and hangs it over. It reads Jensen Morgan, Destination: Garden City, KS and he sort of wants to frame it. “Your ticket is important. Do not lose your ticket.”

“How’d you know my last name?” Jensen clutches the ticket to his chest as if it’s made of gold, which it may as well be.

“It was written in the cover of your books,” Jared tells him. “I didn’t mean to snoop, but you had Good Omens. It’s one of my favorites.”

“Mine too!” They just kind of grin stupidly at each other until a sharp whistle makes Jensen jump. They look over to see a hefty man hanging out of the door to the bus, crooking his fingers at them impatiently.

“Boys, you gettin’ on this bus or what?” The man calls, and Jared gathers up the duffle bag while Jensen remains in charge of Rigby and their bag of snacks. “Time’s a-wastin’!”

Jared heads over and Jensen follows, looking up at the giant vehicle with slight trepidation. The driver rips the ends off of their tickets and ushers them onto the bus. Jared leads them to seats near the back and reaches up to stuff their bag in the overhead storage area. His shirt rides up to reveal the sharp lines of his hipbones. They’re very pretty, but he’s too skinny. He definitely needs more cheeseburgers.

“Window seat’s all yours, man,” Jared tells him, bowing graciously when Jensen bounces excitedly into the seat. Jared sits down next to him and Jensen carefully sets Rigby’s bag between them before pressing his face against the glass.

The bus pulls away from the station and Jensen can’t help the quiet, eager chuckle that spills out of him. He’s doing it. He’s really doing it! He’s leaving and he’s going to see America and the ocean and it’s all because of Jared.

Jensen turns in his seat and leans over to lay a quick, smacking kiss on Jared’s cheek. It lands on his sharp cheekbone, lips scratching against his sideburn, and then he turns back to the window to focus on everything rushing past the window.

He misses Jared turn beet red and smile dazedly before slumping down in his seat, but Jensen’s grin grows even wider when he feels Jared take his hand and thread their fingers together.

The ride flies by. Jensen gawks at all the cars on the freeway and asks Jared questions non-stop. He’d be worried about annoying Jared, but he answers every question in an amused tone and never lets go of his hand, so he must not be too much of a nuisance.

“There’s so many people,” Jensen says as they enter the train station. Jared gives him a funny look and chuckles, pulling Jensen in with an arm around his shoulders.

“I can’t wait to see your face when we get to Vegas if that’s what you say at an Amtrak station in nowhere, Kansas,” Jared replies, and Jensen just grins at him.

“I like people,” Jensen says happily, leaning against Jared as they walk. “But I like you best.”

“Ain’t you a sweetheart,” Jared replies. He gives Jensen a little squeeze before letting him go and stepping up to the counter. Jensen steps right up next to him, ever curious.

“Can we get two – “

“Hi!” Jensen interrupts, smiling cheerfully at the lady manning the ticket counter. She has bright red hair and even brighter lipstick. Her nametag says Deborah.

“Hello,” Deborah says warmly, giving Jensen a bright smile in return. “My, my. Aren’t you two handsome? What can I do for ya today, darlins?”

“Can we get two tickets to Williams Junction?” Jensen elbows him gently in the ribs. “Uh, please?” She nods and starts clacking on her keyboard. “Uh, do you have any sleeper cars left open? I’d like to get one of the little rooms with just the two beds, if you have any.”

“Sure thing. We’ve got a few left open.” She looks at them and smiles coyly. “I hope the two of y’all can survive the night in separate beds.” Jensen looks down to where he has his arm looped through Jared’s and brushes crimson. “Oh, hush now. The pair of ya are cute as anything. Don’t let anyone ever tell ya different.”

“Uh, thanks Debbie.” Jared slides a credit card across the counter at her, and Jensen stares at the side of Jared’s face. If Jensen understood correctly, Deborah mistook them for a couple. He’s not entirely put off by her assumption. Far from it, actually. The tips of his ears burn when Jared shakes his arm free of Jensen’s grasp and loops it around his back instead, rubbing absently between his shoulder blades.

“Here you are, Mr. Winchester,” she says, and Jared nods at her as he takes the receipt. Jared Winchester. That’s a nice name. “That’ll be four hundred sixty-eight on your card.”

Jared’s eyes widen a little at the total, but he signs the slip anyway and pushes it back to her before taking the tickets. She tells them to have a nice journey and Jensen barely hears her over his sudden despair. Jared leads them away from the ticket counter and Jensen stumbles along blindly.

“Jared, that was expensive,” Jensen says miserably, pulling them to a halt in the middle of the station. He may not have much experience with money, but he still knows that nearly five hundred dollars is a lot of it. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Jared tilts his head in a way that reminds Jensen of puppies he’s seen in movies, eyes big and soft. Jensen bites his lip guiltily.

“I don’t have any money,” Jensen says, feeling horrible about it. “You’ll have to pay for everything and I can’t help at all. You shouldn’t have to do that.”

To his surprise, Jared throws an arm around Jensen’s shoulders and laughs against his head. Jensen feels hot puffs of air against his scalp and Jared’s shoulders are shaking. Jensen isn’t sure what’s so funny.

“Jen, that’s the very last thing you need to worry about,” Jared tells him, pulling back so he can look him in the eye. “Seriously, look at me. I don’t want you worrying about the cost of anything. I’m not, so you shouldn’t either, okay?”

“But Jared – “

“No, Jensen. I’m serious. It’s no big deal.” Jared drops down onto a nearby bench and Jensen sits next to him, holding Rigby’s bag on his lap. The hedgehog seems to have lapsed into a trail mix coma, snoozing away completely dead to the world. “I’m just happy to show you around, Jen. Things can get kinda boring when you’re always by yourself, you know?”

“Did you forget who you’re talking to?” Jensen’s lips quirk up at Jared’s expression, and they both end up laughing. Jensen still feels bad that he can’t help pay for the cost of anything, but there’s not really anything that he can do about that. He’ll just have to make sure Jared knows how grateful he is for everything.

“So, you got your first bus ride out of the way,” Jared says, and Jensen looks up from where he’d been peering into Rigby’s bag. He’s never heard him snore before, but he’s clutching a dried cranberry in his paws and looks positively delighted, even in sleep. “Are you ready to spend the next,” he pauses to look at their tickets, “eighteen hours on a train?”

Jensen boggles. “Eighteen hours?”

“Country’s real big, Jen,” Jared says with a grin. “But it’ll be fun. We can play cards and raid the snack car. I have some movies on my phone that we can watch.”

“You have movies on that thing, too?” At Jared’s smug nod, Jensen just shakes his head. “You shouldn’t be messing around with dark magic, man.”

“You’re just jealous of my miracle brick.” They share a smile and soon there’s an announcement for their train coming in over the tinny loudspeaker. Jared gets up and grabs their bag, hooking it over his shoulder as he motions for Jensen to follow with a jerk of his chin. “You comin’?”

Jensen snorts delicately and gets up to follow.

He’d follow Jared anywhere.

Jared likes the train. It’s his primary form of long-distance travel. He’s not interested in flying, and especially not interested in trying to get through security with a fake ID. Besides, the train is relaxing and the view is usually awesome.

The conductor leads them to their sleeper car, a tiny little box of a room that’s barely as wide as Jared is tall. He rides Amtrak all the time but he’s only had the luxury of a sleeper car once, when he and Misha rode the rails from LA to Seattle and back just for the hell of it.

“This is where we’re sleeping?” Jensen asks as Jared tries valiantly to stuff their bag sideways into the laughably tiny closet.

“Yep. I call top bunk.” Jared hates the top bed. He always cracks his head on the ceiling, but he wants Jensen to have the window, so he’s willing to take the ache. Jensen looks at him skeptically. “The beds fold out.”

“More magic!” Jensen wiggles his fingers in Jared’s face. He’s laughing, and Jared’s happy to see that Jensen has decided to have a sense of humor about his former situation when he has every right to wallow. “Show me your ways, mysterious giant.”

Jared shows him how the seats fold down into a bed, and how another bed comes down from the wall above it. “This is me,” he says, waving at the top bunk with a flourish.

“Are you sure that’s going to hold you?” Jensen pats the thin bed skeptically. “You’re kind of enormous.”

“Nah, it’ll be fine. Besides, if it does collapse, I’ll have you to break my fall,” Jared says with mock sincerity. “So either way, I’ll be okay.”

“I know you’re joking,” Jensen replies, “but I’m still not entirely positive that I’m not going to be crushed to death in my sleep.”

The train chooses that moment to lurch into motion. Jared’s had his feet planted into the floor since they stepped into the car but Jensen, inexperienced with train travel, has not. He goes stumbling forward and Jared loops an arm around his waist to steady him. This is probably the worst thing Jared could have done because now their bodies are flush together and Jensen’s looking up at him with those wide green eyes.

Jared should have just let him fall on his stupidly attractive face, because now they’re having a moment, just like back at the bus station. Jensen’s clutching at his shirt and pouting those stupid pink lips of his up at Jared and he wants to kiss him, he really does. He almost leans it for it before the part of his brain still capable of rational thought kicks in.

Jared might want to kiss Jensen (he might want to do a lot of things to Jensen that he cannot mention in polite company), but he knows that it’s a bad idea. They’re trapped in a room roughly the size of a shoebox for the next eighteen hours, for one. And Jared might be many things, but he’s not the kind of guy that’s going to take advantage of someone that’s basically the walking textbook definition of ‘naïve’.

If Jensen wants to kiss him, well, that’s a whole other story. Jared is but a teenage man, after all. But until that time comes and god, he hopes it does, he’s perfectly happy to keep it all PG rated. Jared’s never just held hands with anyone before. He’s had sex, tons of it even, but he’s never done the whole hand-holding, cuddling, slow-burn courtship thing with anyone before.

It’s really nice. Not that he’d ever admit to anyone, especially Misha, because he’d either laugh at him or worse, look at him with those soft, sad eyes that he uses on Jared when he’s drunk and weirdly sage and wise.

“Nah, I’d never crush you,” Jared finally says, struggling to remember what it was they were talking about before he found himself with an armful of Jensen. “You’re way too cute.” He settles with giving him a peck on the forehead before pulling away. That’s safe, and totally worth it when Jensen’s cheeks go pink.

Jared pulls some brochures out of his back pocket and hands them over to Jensen while he puts the beds away. They’re pretty standard stuff, general train information and what they’ll see along their route, but Jensen throws himself into the nearest seat and starts reading them like he’ll be quizzed later.

Time moves smoothly, comfortably even. Jared pulls a ratty old deck of cards out of his bag and teaches Jensen all the card games that he doesn’t know which, unsurprisingly, is everything but solitaire. They play poker with gummy bears instead of chips, Rigby resting on the table between them, and Jared becomes very apt at pushing the hedgehog back with the side of his hand when he gets close and tries to steal their candy.

Jensen is awful at the game, thanks in no small part to his completely non-existent poker face. Jared can practically see the cards reflected in his wide, glassy eyes. No, Jensen’s game is Egyptian War. His reflexes are quicker than a fucking alley cat’s and Jared’s fingers are stinging by the end of the game.

They leave Rigby curled up in one of Jared’s sweatshirts when they head to the dining car for dinner. The meal that comes with their ticket is made up of overdone pot roast, freeze-dried mashed potatoes, and rubbery vegetables. Jared drags him to the snack counter and buys nearly one of everything they carry that qualifies as unhealthy. They return to their car with their arms laden with Doritos, sodas, and nearly every single type of candy that the snack car had.

They pull out Jensen’s bed and curl up together on it, Jared’s arm around Jensen’s shoulders and their backs pressed against the window, to watch Tron: Legacy on Jared’s phone. It’s one of his favorite movies. He and Misha got super baked and went to see it in the theater, but this is better. Even without all the high definition and the 3D, crammed onto Jared’s tiny screen with the epic soundtrack pumping out of weak, tinny speakers, it’s amazing just because of how much Jensen enjoys it.

Judging by the small collection of DVD’s back at Jensen’s cabin and the complete lack of both cable and internet, Jared assumed that Jensen hadn’t really seen anything made after 1987. Turns out that he was right, because Jensen watches Sam Flynn run around the Grid like it’s the coolest thing he’s ever seen, and Jared spends more time watching him than he does the movie.

When the credits roll, Jensen turns his head and yawns into Jared’s shoulder. It’s barely past nine, but it’s been a long day Jensen’s probably had a lot less experience running on no sleep than Jared has.

”C’mon,” Jared says quietly, carefully jostling Jensen until he sits up and blinks owlishly. Rigby runs up Jensen’s arm from his lap to his shoulder and Jared stretches. “Time for bed.”

Jensen nods sleepily and disentangles himself from Jared, who gets up and pulls down his own bed. They leave Rigby on Jensen’s pillow and gather what they need from Jared’s bag. Jared’s planning on brushing his teeth and just taking off his pants, but Jensen’s pulling out honest to god black and blue checkered pajamas. Jared stifles a laugh and leads them to the tiny bathrooms down the hall. They meet back in the room and Jared locks the door as Jensen climbs into bed with Rigby. Jared has no idea how he’s planning on spending a night in a glorified cot with a spiky hedgehog, but that’s his cross to bear. Jared scratches the top of Rigby’s head and ruffles Jensen’s hair before pulling himself up into his own bunk.

There’s nothing but the sounds of their sheets rustling for a few moments and Jared’s wrist twinges with pain when he shoves his hand under his flat pillow. It’s hard to believe that it was barely thirteen hours ago that he woke up tied to a chair in a stranger’s house. Jared snorts softly and pushes his hair away from his face. What a day.

Jared’s eyes are closed and he’s on the precipice of sleep when Jensen’s soft, hesitant voice saying his name brings him back to awareness.

“Yeah?”

“I just wanted to say thanks,” Jensen tells him, voice barely audible but full of honestly all the same. “This was the greatest day of my life.”

“It was definitely one for the record books,” Jared gets out. His heart’s up in his throat and he wants so badly to crawl into bed with Jensen, Rigby’s quills be damned. “Get some rest, man. Tomorrow will be even better.”

“I’m counting on it,” Jensen mumbles. Jared stares at the ceiling until he can hear Jensen’s soft, rhythmic breathing and then he lets the soft rocking of the train lull him to sleep.

He dreams of the ocean.

Chapter Text

“Jensen! Jen!”

Jensen burrows his face into the pillow and pulls the covers up to his chin. Rigby is squeaking in his ear and he groans. He was having such a good dream.

“Jensen! Get your pretty ass out of bed!” Someone pinches his nose and he scrunches his face up before slowly blinking his eyes open. A face comes into view, silky brown hair and a sharp nose. “Jared hungry. Jared want food.”

“Jared?” Jensen sits up and looks around the tiny train car. He’s never woken up in anywhere other than his own bed, and it’s a bit disconcerting. Everything that happened yesterday comes rushing back and Jensen reaches out to press his palm to Jared’s firm chest. He closes his eyes and smiles softly when Jared’s hand covers his own. “Jared.”

“Yep, that’s me.” Jared chuckles and Jensen opens his eyes. “You’re not exactly a morning person, are you?” Jensen shakes his head and that’s when he notices that Jared’s already fully dressed. There’s a familiar scent in the air and Jared holds out a cup of coffee. Jensen pulls himself into a sitting position and takes the cup gratefully. “Hey, you wanna see something cool?”

Jensen nods and takes a sip of his coffee. Jared kneels on the bed and reaches across Jensen to take hold of the bottom of the window shade. He tosses Jensen a dazzling grin and then draws the curtain up. Sunlight fills the tiny room and Jensen raises a hand to shade his eyes against the onslaught. It takes a moment but his eyes adjust and he peers out the window. What he sees makes him gasp and nearly drop his coffee.

“Where are we?” Jensen asks, not even trying to disguise the awe in his voice. The landscape rushing by the window is like nothing Jensen has ever seen. The ground is red, stretching out into tall, jagged peaks. Jensen takes in all the scrubby bushes, the cactuses, and the mountains stretching high into the sky. They rise straight up out of the ground and flatten off into a plateau, unlike any other mountain Jensen has ever seen.

“Arizona!” Jared exclaims happily. “It’s gonna be hot as balls and bright as hell outside, so smother yourself in this.” He holds out a small orange tube and Jensen has to tear himself away from the breathtaking view to take it.

“What is it?”

“Sunscreen, my fair-skinned beauty.” Jared pinches Jensen’s cheek and takes another long sip from his cup. “Can’t have you burning up in the big, bad desert.”

“How much coffee have you had?”

“Approximately all of it!” Jared tosses Jensen’s jeans at his face. “We have thirty minutes until our stop. Wash up and get changed and I’ll grab us some bagels.”

Jared doesn’t give him time to answer before he’s sashaying out of the room and sliding the door shut behind him. Jensen snorts and looks out the window for another long moment before rolling out of bed. Rigby huffs tiredly and curls up in the folds of Jensen’s blankets.

He takes a shower in the cramped, tiny stall and pulls on the jeans he wore the day before and a fresh tee-shirt before heading back to their room with his pajamas tucked under his arm. Jared’s already back and sitting cross-legged on Jensen’s bed with Rigby in his lap, tearing off tiny bits of his bagel and feeding them to the hedgehog. Jensen leans against the doorjamb and watches fondly, waiting for Jared to notice him

“Hey,” Jared says around a mouthful of bagel. He swallows and flashes Jensen a grin. “You ready to get off this damn train?”

“Sure.” Jensen comes into the tiny room and stuffs his folded up pajamas back into Jared’s bag. “What’s next on the agenda?”

“We get on a bus!”

“To where?”

“Another train!” Jensen just chuckles and shakes his head a bit.

“This journey is going to be a never ending showcase of public transportation, isn’t it?” Jared laughs and coaxes Rigby into his tote bag with his last piece of bagel. He scoops up the bag carefully and hands it to Jensen before grabbing the duffel from the floor.

“Oh, ye of little faith.” Jared heads out of the room and Jensen follows. “At the end of our second brief train ride waits one of the world’s greatest wonders. Can’t let you venture across the country without seeing the Grand Canyon.”

“We’re going to the Grand Canyon?” Jensen knows what the Grand Canyon is, of course. He’s read about it and seen a few pictures, but it’s not a place Jensen has ever really pictured himself going. Though to be fair, he’s never really pictured himself going anywhere other than the ocean.

Jared just nods excitedly and comes to a stop near the door. The train is still moving and Jensen chuckles at Jared’s enthusiasm. He’s very obviously looking forward to this, and Jensen wants to see whatever Jared is willing to show him, so he can feel his own anticipation ramping up as well.

The train grinds to a halt and Jensen steadies himself with a hand on Jared’s back. The doors are barely open before Jared is tearing out of them. Jensen steps off of the train and wow, Jared wasn’t lying. While it’s not sweltering, the air is dry and warm and Jensen feels sweat prickle at his hairline.

Jared is making his way across the parking lot on his endless legs and Jensen struggles to catch up. He finally gets close enough to grab him by the shirt as he comes up to a large van. “Warm enough for ya?” Jared asks with a grin. He tips his face up towards the sun and his tan skin practically glows with it. He was made for the heat. He thrives on it, that much is clear.

The jury is still out on how Jensen feels about it. He peers across the parking lot and the air seems to shimmer above the black asphalt like it can’t seem to sit still. It’s too bright for his eyes and he lifts a hand to shade them. Jared drops the duffle and unzips it, rifling around for a bit before he stands and slips a pair of sunglasses over Jensen’s eyes. It’s instantly better, the air even feels cooler somehow, and Jensen presses his forehead to Jared’s shoulder in gratitude. If he happens to wipe some of the sweat from his brow on said shoulder, that’s just a happy coincidence.

They’re let into the van and it’s much cooler inside. Jensen drops into a window seat like a stone and Jared wedges in next to him.

“You get used to it,” he says, and Jensen looks over at him through his tinted glasses. “The heat.”

“It’s different from what I’m used to,” Jensen tells him. “Different is good.”’

“Hey.” Jared leans in presses his nose to Jensen’s neck and inhales deeply. Jensen instinctively tilts his chin up to give him better access, shivering a bit despite the heat when Jared’s lips brush his skin. “You don’t smell like coconuts.”

“Uh, what?” Jensen asks dazedly. Jared rolls his eyes and pulls the tube of sunscreen from the pocket of his jeans. Oh right.

“Seriously,” Jared says as he presses the tube into Jensen’s hand. “Face, ears, neck, arms. Everything not covered. We have a lot to do and there’s no room to fit you being burned to a crisp into the schedule.”

Jensen is pretty sure he can’t get sunburned, but he takes the sunscreen and starts to apply it anyway. “You’re not wearing any,” he grumbles, wrinkling his nose as he rubs the greasy stuff into his skin.

“Am too,” Jared insists, lifting his arm and shoving it up under Jensen’s nose. It smells like coconuts and chemicals and Jensen chuckles as he pushes it out of the way.

The ride is short and uneventful, and soon they’re tumbling out of the van and Jensen follows Jared to what appears to be another train station. He buys them tickets and ice-cold sodas, and Jensen slips a few ice cubes into Rigby’s bag. He squeaks and licks at them happily, but doesn’t seem to be having an adverse reaction to the heat.

The train that pulls up to the station looks almost completely different from the Amtrak they rode previously. Jared excitedly explains that this is a steam-powered locomotive from the early 1900’s and Jensen looks at it with renewed interest.

The ride itself takes a little over two hours and neither of them talk much, too busy pressing their noses against the glass and watching the scenery change. A live band comes through their car and Jared claps along to the music while Jensen laughs at him. Jared gets more and more excited the closer they get to their destination and Jensen’s own enthusiasm amps up to meet it.

“We’ll stay here tonight, and then Vegas tomorrow with Misha, and that will put us in California on Saturday,” Jared tells him after they get off of the train and enter the office of a small, quaint motel. “Is that okay?”

“That’s fine,” Jensen tells him. It’s odd that now that he’s finally on his way to the place that he’s always dreamed of going, he’s not in such a hurry to get there. He’s having so much fun with Jared that it’s enough to know that he’ll be there soon. “It’s my birthday on Sunday.”

“Wait, what?” Jared stumbles to a halt at the back of the line at the front desk, turning to Jensen with wide eyes. “It’s almost your birthday?”

Jensen nods. He’s not quite sure what the big deal is. His birthdays usually pass without incident. Sometimes Jeff will bring him a piece of cake or pie from in town, but not always. It’s just another day to him. “I’ll be eighteen.”

“Jensen, that’s awesome! Jared knocks their shoulders together. “Eighteen’s a big deal, or so they say. I won’t hit that milestone until July.”

He steps up to the front desk to book them a room for the night and Jensen stares at the back of his head, surprised by the revelation that Jared is actually younger than him. He’s seen so much and has more knowledge about the world than Jensen could ever hope to learn. Not to mention his dark past. He hasn’t mentioned it, but Jensen knows it’s there. He can almost see the long-buried hurt trying to escape sometimes, a dark flash of his eyes or a sharp twist of his smile.

Jared leads him to a small room with two beds and drops their bag between them. “I think we should leave Rigby in here. He’ll be safe,” he says, holding up a key card for emphasis, “and comfortable. We’re going to be out hiking all day.”

“Okay,” Jensen replies hesitantly. Rigby has overturned his bag and is curiously sniffing the duvet on Jensen’s bed. He’s never been apart from Rigby, not since the day Jeff brought him home. That had been quite the surprise. Jensen had been on Jeff for months about wanting a pet, but he’d never thought he’d actually get one. “If you’re sure he’ll be alright.”

“Totally! Look, we’ll hook it up.” Jared scoops Rigby up and pulls the duvet back and fluffs up the sheets a little bit before setting Rigby down on top of them. He tears the bottom off of his soda cup and fills it with water before doing the same for Jensen’s and filling it with more trail mix. He even lays a towel down on the corner and tears up their complimentary newspaper just in case he has to go to the bathroom. Finally, he turns on the television and gestures around with a flourish. “There! Food, water, potty facilities, and entertainment. What more could a hedgehog ask for? You’re gonna be fine, Rigs, right?”

Rigby doesn’t answer, too busy nosing around in his trail mix until he emerges with a dried cranberry held triumphantly between his teeth. Jensen has to admit that it’s not a bad set up.

“Okay, let’s go,” Jensen agrees, and Jared grins before pulling a few bottles of water from the tiny refrigerator in the corner. “I’ll be back later, Rigby.”

The hedgehog squeaks and shoves his face back into the trail mix. Jared hangs a Do Not Disturb sign on the doorknob and heads down the hallway, leaving Jensen to follow. After a quick stop in the motel’s restaurant to get some packed lunches, they leave the motel and follow a small road while Jared stuffs the food and water into a small backpack he pulled out of his seemingly bottomless duffle bag. It’s not long before Jared is nudging Jensen’s shoulders and pointing. He looks up to see the Grand Canyon looming ahead of them and is stunned into shocked silence until they reach the rim.

“I know it’s not the ocean,” Jared says softly, wrapping an arm around Jensen’s waist, “and we’ll get there, but this is pretty cool.”

The canyon is seemingly endless, stretching far past where Jensen can see, narrowing down to a tiny blue line at the bottom that Jensen knows to be the Colorado River. He read about it in the pamphlet on the train.

“A river made all this?” There’s awe in Jensen’s voice, he knows, but he can’t help it. Water carved this canyon into the earth. Jensen’s fingers itch as his power builds up in them. It’s been nearly two days since he touched the small creek behind his house and the glimpse of the gigantic river, so close but so far, is like a tease. He wants to plunge his hands into the current and feel it.

“Yep. Pretty amazing, huh?”

“Are we going to go down there?” Jensen asks, motioning towards the river. Jared shakes his and Jensen’s lips curl down in disappointment.

“It’d take too long,” Jared tells him. “We’d have to camp down there and hike back up in the morning, but there’re tributaries and big streams and stuff.”

Jensen nods. If there’s water around, he’ll find it.

“Oh, oh! Hold on.” Jared pulls away from his side and Jensen takes his eyes off of the gorgeous landscape to turn around. Jared is talking to an elderly couple, waving his arms animatedly, and then he pulls his phone out of his pocket. He hands it over to older woman and walks back over to Jensen. He’s just about to ask Jared what he’s doing giving away such a wonderful little device when he throws an arm over Jensen’s shoulder and pulls him close. “Smile, Jen.”

Jensen furrows his brow quizzically but does what Jared tells him, looking forward and grinning widely. It’s not hard to conjure up the smile and keep it as the woman holds up the phone for a moment. She pulls it away and gives a thumbs up as Jared walks back over towards her. She pats his arm and waves at Jensen before turning back to her husband.

“We should have been taking pictures this whole time,” Jared exclaims. He holds the phone out for Jensen to see. It’s a photo of them with their arms around each other, smiling wide with the canyon sprawling endlessly behind them. Jared looks tall and beautiful and Jensen has never seen himself smile so wide. He’s never seen a picture of himself before, but that’s beside the point.

“We look good together,” Jensen says, and Jared pulls him in to give him a quick kiss on the temple that makes him flush to his toes.

“That we do, beautiful.” He takes the phone and shoves it into a pocket on his backpack. “Now, I know you’ve never been hiking before, and it can be kinda daunting, but it’s good for you! Just follow me, stay on the trails, and drink lots and lots of water. You ready?”

Jensen nods and Jared grins at him before heading for the trails. They hike for hours and Jared was right, it is hard, but Jensen enjoys himself. Jared collects bugs for Rigby’s dinner and they talk about their favorite books. Jared tells him about all the movies that he needs to see and promises to take him to a movie theater because apparently Jensen needs to try popcorn. Jensen tries to tell him that he has, but Jared insists microwavable popcorn doesn’t count.

Jensen tells him about the spring that he spent trying to befriend a deer that kept wandering into his clearing, and how by summer both the doe and her fawn were eating out of his hand. It turns out that Jensen doesn’t have that many stories to tell, but Jared assures him that he’s making up for it now.

Jared tells him all about Misha, how they met and all the hijinks they’ve gotten up to. They talk and talk, but Jared never mentions his family or his childhood, and Jensen never mentions Jeff or his magic.

Jensen wants to tell Jared about what he can do. He’s rolling his water bottle back and forth in his hands and making drops dance inside the plastic as he tries to imagine how Jared would react. Jeff has always told Jensen that he was special and there’s no one else like him in the entire world. Jeff has lied about a lot of things, but Jensen has no reason to believe that particular bit of information isn’t true.

He gets a break from the debate inside his own head when they round a corner and come across a large stream. It’s wide and deep and the current is strong. Jensen itches to get closer.

“Time for lunch!” Jared exclaims, and Jensen gratefully follows him down closer to the water. They sit on rocks and eat quietly, staring out at their surroundings. The stream is angry, that much Jensen can tell. He isn’t sure why, and the stream doesn’t seem to want to tell him. It’s so much easier to read the peaceful creek behind his home. Jensen decides not to get close enough to touch, not when it’s in such a bad mood.

“That water looks freezing, huh?” Jared crumples up his lunch bag and wipes his hands on his thighs. “I just want to dunk myself in it. Jeans were a bad choice.”

“I wouldn’t,” Jensen says seriously. He watches the water crash against the rocks, hard and forceful, white caps peaking up angrily as it rushes by. “It’s not in a very good mood.”

“Are you the water’s therapist?” Jared asks with a laugh, but he doesn’t wait for an answer. He walks up to the edge of the water, toeing the edge of the rocky bank. The water has cut into it, making it about a one foot drop down into the water itself. “But you’re right; it does look a bit pissed off.”

The sound of the rushing water gets louder and angrier in Jensen’s ears and his stomach turns with worry. Jared is so close that the toes of his sneakers are hanging over the edge and Jensen starts to panic. He doesn’t like it at all.

“Jared, get back here, okay?” Jensen stands up and swallows hard. “Just – can you get away from the edge, please?”

“What’s wrong?” Jared turns around furrows his brow as he looks at Jensen, but he still doesn’t get away from the damn edge. “Are you okay?”

And that’s when it happens. The water jumps up and laps at the edge of the bank right where Jared is standing. The dirt crumbles, pebbles slipping under Jared’s heels. Jensen can see the way Jared’s eyes widen as he tries to scramble forward, but it’s too late. Jared’s arm hits the jagged edge of the bank as he goes down and he lets out a sharp cry before the water swallows him up.

“Jared!” Jensen rushes towards the edge and scrambles along the bank as the current carries Jared along, trying his best to keep up with him. He’s splashing along the surface, struggling to keep his head above water. Jensen can see the panic in his eyes and Jensen can’t help it; he has no other choice.

He throws his hands out in front of him, heart in his throat as his fingertips start to glow.

Jared is fairly certain that he isn’t going to die. He’s really pretty sure.

The water isn’t even that deep. Jared’s feet are banging against the rocks along the bottom but his shoes are too slippery and the current is moving too fast for him to get a good foothold.

He’ll be able to stand up eventually, or find a rock to grab onto or something, but he keeps swallowing water and his eyes burn. Man, if he dies and leaves Jensen stranded at the bottom of the Grand Canyon he’s going to be so pissed at himself.

The water gets deep enough that he can’t quite touch the bottom anymore and that’s when he really starts to worry. He’s trying to get his head above water to catch a breath when all of a sudden everything stills and he drops like a stone, landing hard on the earth below.

He struggles into a sitting position and coughs up a bunch of nasty river water while reaching up to touch the bump on his forehead. His arm is bleeding profusely and when he looks up he’s pretty sure that he did die, or at least go completely insane.

He’s still in the stream but the water is rushing around him while he sits on the ground. There’s a perfect circle around him that the water won’t touch; it just parts behind him and joins back in front of him like he’s standing in a glass tube.

“What the fuck?”

Jared?!” He stands up and his eyes are just above water level. Jensen is on the bank a few feet downstream from him and Jared rubs his eyes because Jensen appears to be glowing and that just isn’t possible. His hands are blue and the color runs up to his elbows before fading in streaks under the sleeve of his tee shirt.

“Are you fucking glowing?” This is the weirdest moment of Jared’s entire weird life.

“Can you just – “ Jensen grunts and grits his teeth, lips curled back in a grimace. “Get out of the damn water!”

Jensen curls his fingers forward and the circle starts to move towards him. Jared’s back hits the wall of water and it nudges him forward. He follows along obediently, stepping into every new space revealed by the hole steadily moving closer to the bank because he’s too confused to question it. Soon the whole side of the bank is bared to him and Jared climbs up, not stopping until he’s on his knees and a few feet away from the water. Jensen drops his hands and lets out a deep breath, and Jared looks back to see the hole close up to let the water rush along uninterrupted.

Jared is soaking wet and his lungs burn, every muscle aching like he just went three rounds in a boxing ring. Jensen runs up to him and drops to his knees right in front of Jared and all he can focus on is how Jensen’s hands are glowing blue, the color fading until it reaches the end of his fingertips and disappears.

“Oh my god, Jared.” Jensen grabs his shoulders and Jared stares at him for a long moment. “Are you okay?”

“Did you – how did – “ There’s water running into his eyes and he coughs again.

“Oh, Jared.” Jensen touches his face and suddenly all the water is sucked from Jared’s body. His clothes and hair are dry and he looks up warily to see the water floating in the air before Jensen flicks his fingers forward and it falls back into the stream like a tiny burst of rain. Jensen’s hands are on Jared’s face, thumbs sweeping under his eyes before he pulls Jared into a tight hug that he doesn’t return because he’s too busy dealing with his broken brain.

He vaguely wonders if this is what being catatonic feels like.

“Talk to me,” Jensen pleads, pushing him back by the shoulders and peering into his eyes. “Are you okay?”

“Are you magic?” Jared finally asks, and Jensen blinks at him. “Did you do that, with the water?

“Yes,” Jensen finally says. He cups Jared’s cheek again and then pulls away, rocking back onto his haunches. The front of his shirt is covered in blood and Jared remembers that he cut his arm when he fell. His fingertips are wet and sticky with it. He looks back up into Jensen’s bright, honest eyes. “I’m magic.”

“Huh,” Jared says, and then he falls over.

When he comes to, which hopefully is only a few seconds later because he really doesn’t want to be the type of guy who faints, the first thing he sees is a nipple. It’s a very nice nipple, tight and pink, positioned perfectly on a well-defined pectoral dusted with freckles.

Jared focuses on the nipple and resolutely ignores everything that came before it.

Unfortunately, this plan only works until Jensen sits up and takes his nipple with him. The sun stings Jared’s eyes and he squints up at Jensen’s worried face.

“Why are you shirtless?” Jared asks, because that’s obviously the most pressing question on his mind at the moment. Jensen is pale and lean with broad shoulders and a flat belly. His bicep twitches as he raises his arm and Jared follows the long line of it down to where he’s pointing at Jared’s own arm. It’s wrapped in strips of green cotton from shoulder to bicep, and blood is already starting to stain the fabric. “You sacrificed your shirt to bandage me up?”

“Well, I didn’t want to – “ Jensen cuts himself off and flexes his fingers in the general direction of Jared’s battered arm. Jared has no idea what that particular gesture is supposed to mean. “You were already so freaked out.”

“I fainted like the damsel in distress in a movie from the 1930’s,” Jared pushes up into a sitting position and the pressure on his injured arm makes him wince. Jensen gives him a crooked smile.

“If you want to say it was from the blood loss and adrenaline, I’ll let you have it,” Jensen tells him as he stands up. Jared takes his proffered hand and stands up as well, swaying just a bit. Jensen eyes his arm and then looks up at his face, bottom lip pulled between his teeth.

“You should put sunscreen on,” Jared says absently. He goes to pick up his backpack but Jensen grabs it first and slips it over his bare shoulders. Jared doesn’t have the energy to argue. “We should probably talk about this.”

“Yeah,” Jensen says, and it comes out sounding vaguely terrified. “But let’s get back to the motel first.”

“Okay. I don’t suppose you could like, wish us out of here.” Jensen gives him a wounded look. “Okay, jeez. We’ll hike out.”

Jared takes a deep breath and tucks his injured arm in against his side as they start the long, awkward hike out of the canyon.

They don’t talk much and it’s dark by the time they make it out of the canyon. Jared is pale and shaking when they trudge into the motel room. Jensen takes off the backpack and looks down at the raw, red marks cut into his bare shoulder, frowning a bit when they instantly fade back to pale, unmarred skin. He wanted so badly to heal Jared’s arm, but he was already so tense and quiet and Jensen didn’t want to spook him even more.

Jensen fidgets in the center of the room as Jared flops down on the bed not occupied by Rigby, who squeaks excitedly at their return. Jensen’s mind won’t stop racing. What if Jared doesn’t want to take him to the ocean anymore? What if he doesn’t want to be his friend or hold his hand or show him all his favorite places?

Jensen works himself into a decent panic without even moving a muscle. Jared sighs and struggles to sit up on the edge of the bed. The makeshift bandages on his arm are stained with blood and there are lines of pain around his eyes and mouth and Jensen wants so badly to make it all better.

“Sit down, Jensen, damn.” Jared scrubs his good hand over his face and pushes his hair back as Jensen perches on the edge of the bed. Rigby nudges against Jensen’s fist and he runs his fingers carefully over his quills before looking up cautiously at Jared.

“So magic, huh?” At first glance Jared looks calm, even aloof, but Jensen can see the strain in his eyes and how tightly he’s gripping his own knee. He just nods, throat working. Jared nods and sucks on his bottom lip for a moment. “You can control water?”

“Yeah.” Jared nods and then winces, reaching out to gently clutch his injured arm. “That’s not all I can do.”

“Oh yeah?” Jared looks wary but immensely curious and Jensen moves to sit next to him. “Are you gonna show me?”

“Yeah, just – “ Jensen takes a deep breath and starts picking the knots out of the fabric around Jared’s arm. “Just don’t freak out, okay?”

Jared looks down at the gash being uncovered and his eyes widen. Jensen doesn’t blame him. It’s deep and ugly, blood still leaking sluggishly from the wound. If Jensen weren’t around he would definitely need stitches. He looks back up at Jensen’s face with wide eyes and nods. He’s scared, but Jensen can see the trust there and it spurs him on.

Jensen places one hand at the top of Jared’s arm just below his shoulder and the other just above his elbow, framing the deep cut with his fingers. He narrows his eyes in concentration and pushes his power outward. His fingertips start to glow and Jared lets out a gasp as his own skin starts to shine a soft blue as well. Light travels up the wound and shimmers a bit as the skin knits itself back together, healing right before their eyes.

Jared feels the same as he did before, bubbly and fizzy like a can of soda but warm like the sun. Jensen is almost disappointed when he has to pull his hands away. The blue light pales until it’s gone entirely and Jared’s tan, uninjured skin is all that remains. Jensen looks up and is happy to see that the color has returned to Jared’s face and the dark smudges under his eyes are gone.

Jared looks up from his arm with bright, wide eyes. His mouth opens and then closes, and then he’s grabbing Jensen by the cheeks and pulling him in. Jensen only has a split second to panic before Jared’s lips are pressing against his. They’re soft and dry and Jensen lets out a little whimper as he melts into the kiss.

Jared keeps one hand on Jensen’s jaw as the other slides around to the back of his head, pulling away only to lick his lips before he’s dipping in for more. It’s a soft, clinging kiss and Jensen’s bottom lip catches on the damp inside of Jared’s upper lip. Jensen fists a hand in Jared’s soft hair and pulls away only to lean in at a different angle.

He loses track of how many lingering, pleasant kisses they share. Jensen doesn’t part his lips until Jared does, letting him kiss the lush swell of Jensen’s bottom lip and then the dip underneath. One more tender kiss is placed on Jensen’s tingling mouth before Jared pulls away entirely. Jensen lets out a broken sound and sways forward a bit before his eyes flutter open. Jared’s still right there, looking at him like he’s something precious.

“You’re fucking amazing,” Jared says, and when Jensen lets out a soft exhale drops of water splash down on them like rain. Jensen blinks up and Jared laughs. Rigby’s makeshift water bowl is empty. Jensen wasn’t even aware that he was making the water dance. “Jesus, you’re incredible.”

“You’re not so bad yourself, Jared Winchester,” Jensen says happily, and the smile slips from Jared’s face almost instantly. He takes his hands away from Jensen’s face and it’s the worst thing ever, like snow on his skin when all he wants is sunshine. “What’s wrong?”

“You trusted me with this huge secret,” Jared tells him, “and you don’t even know who I am.”

Jensen has no idea what to say to that, so he just cocks his head and feels bereft as Jared pulls further away from him. He sits back against the headboard and pulls his long legs up to his chest, wrapping his arms around them. He looks down at his newly-healed bicep for a moment and then turns his eyes back on Jensen. They look sad.

“Padalecki,” he says softly, and Jensen is no less confused. “My name is Jared Padalecki.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Jared Padalecki.” Jensen smiles reassuringly and pulls himself completely up onto the bed, crossing his legs and sitting opposite from Jared. He pulls a few drops of water from the bedspread and flicks them playfully at Jared’s face. It makes him smile, miniscule but real. “What’s your story?”

“It’s kind of long and sort of sad,” Jared tells him, and Jensen just scoots closer. Jared snorts and rests his chin on his knee, looking at Jensen for a long moment before he starts to speak. “Do you know why I wanted to come here so badly?”

“It’s beautiful?” Jensen ventures, even though he knows that isn’t the answer. Jared swallows hard and clears his throat.

“When I was eleven years old, I came here with my mom and dad.” He pauses and Jensen doesn’t dare to so much as breathe. This is the first time that Jared has ever mentioned his family and Jensen doesn’t want to ruin it. “It was my mom’s idea. We rode the mules down to the bottom and camped overnight, the whole shebang. My mom took me hiking to see a waterfall and my dad took me fishing. I’d never had so much fun in my entire life.

But when we got home, my mom sat us down and told us that she was sick. Really sick.” Jared’s breath hitches and Jensen aches for him. This is one wound that he can’t heal. “She took us to the Grand Canyon because she wanted us to have one last happy memory as a family before she – shit. She knew that whole time and never said anything.“ Jared’s eyes are shining with tears and he sniffs and meets Jensen’s eyes for just a moment before turning his head down and resting his chin on his knee. “I spent my twelfth birthday in her hospital bed. I was all short and kinda chubby and I could still fit. My dad brought a cake and she sang to me. I wished for her to get better, you know? But uh, it didn’t work. She died a few days later.”

“I’m so sorry, Jared.” Jensen inches closer and curls his hand around Jared’s ankle. His pain is visceral and real, settling over Jensen’s shoulders like a heavy blanket. There are tears in his own eyes and his heart breaks a little at the hitch in Jared’s voice, like he’s trying his best not to cry.

Jared puts his hand over Jensen’s on his ankle and tangles their fingers together, focusing on their joined hands when he starts to speak again.

“My dad became this whole different person after my mom died. He was a good guy before. A good dad, you know?” Jared wipes his eyes on the scuffed denim of his jeans, forehead pressed against his knee for a long moment before turns his head to the side and continues. He’s still not looking at Jensen, but at their entwined fingers. “But it was like she took that part of him with her when she died.”

“What do you mean?” Jensen asks softly. Jared shrugs his shoulders and plays with Jensen’s fingers for a bit before continuing.

“He couldn’t handle it,” Jared says softly. “He started to drink a lot and lost his job because he just stopped going. He got – I don’t know. Mean? He would yell at me just for looking like my mom. He didn’t want me around him. The more I grew, the more I looked like her and the more he hated me.”

“How could he blame you for something like that?” Jensen doesn’t understand and he cries for that Jared, for the child so scared and alone. Tears stream down his cheeks and he doesn’t bother wiping them away. “He should have cherished you not just because of who are, but because you’re a part of her. She never really left because she’ll live forever inside of you, Jared.” Jensen reaches forward and puts his hand over Jared’s heart. “She’ll never really be gone.”

Jared lets out a soft sob and Jensen leans in closer to press a kiss to Jared’s forehead, pulling him in for a hug as he steadies himself with deep breaths. It’s not very long before Jared is pulling back and giving Jensen a watery smile. He sits back on his haunches and takes Jared’s hand again, waiting patiently for him to continue.

“I left when I was fourteen,” Jared finally says. “I packed a bag and walked right past him and out of the house. He didn’t try to stop me. I’ve been on my own ever since. A year after I left, I met Misha. He was twenty-two at the time but he didn’t overlook me like I was some stupid kid. He gave me a place to stay and helped me get my GED. I probably owe that crazy asshole my life.” Jared looks up and his hazel eyes look almost blue as he smiles softly at Jensen. “Then two years after that I got lost in the woods and broke into a cabin.”

“And the rest is history.” Jensen chuckles softly and finally wipes the tears from his cheeks. Jared does the same, swiping his knuckles under his eyes quickly.

“Look, Jen. I’ve done a lot of things that I’m not proud of.” Jared looks him dead in the eye and Jensen just tilts his head. He knows how good Jared is, so whatever he’s done in the past isn’t anything that can’t be forgiven. “The card I’ve been using to pay for all this stuff is a fake that Misha set me up with. I work when I can and don’t usually like to take things I haven’t earned, but sometimes I have to. I’m sorry that I lied to you, but I didn’t know what else to do.”

“It’s okay, Jared.” Jensen smiles softly at him. “You went through hell and came out of it as this strong, amazing person. I know how good you are. I can feel it.”

“Sometimes I don’t feel like a very good person.”

“Well, you are,” Jensen insists. “I’m magic, so I can tell. No arguing.” That gets a chuckle out of Jared and he feels immensely proud of himself.

“Well, there you have it.” Jared lets out a deep, shaky breath and rolls his shoulders before shrugging. “Jared Padalecki’s life story. I’ve never really laid it all out for anyone like that before.”

“Thank you for sharing it with me.” Jensen gives him a big smile. “It was very brave of you.” Jared gets this sort of a gleam in his eye that worries Jensen a bit, so he stretches his arms above his head and lets out an exaggerated yawn. “Well, it’s been a long day, so – “

“Not so fast, gorgeous.” Jared reaches out to grab Jensen’s ankle. “I laid my soul bare, man. It’s your turn.”

“Well, there isn’t that much to tell.” Jensen settles back on the bed and gives Jared a shrug. “It’s pretty boring. You knew most of it already and with what you learned today, you pretty much know the rest.”

“I just don’t understand,” Jared tells him, and Jensen frowns at him. “It’s not like anyone would know that you had magic unless you used it in front of them. Why hide you away?”

“I asked him the same thing.” Jensen sighs and flops down onto the bed to stare at the ceiling. A few moments later Jared stretches out next to him and grabs his hand. “I don’t remember it, but he said that when I was a baby someone tried to take me so they could use my power. He stopped them and moved us to the cabin so nothing like that could happen again.”

“Where’s your mom?” Jensen shrugs awkwardly and stares at a water spot on the ceiling. He doesn’t really like to think about his own sad little life so much.

“My dad says she left when I was born. He never talks about her and if she’s out there, I wouldn’t know it if I passed her on the street. I don’t even know her name.”

“I’m sorry,” Jared says, and he sounds so sincere. It makes Jensen knit his brow and wonder if he should feel more for the mother he never knew. He doesn’t ever think about her. He doesn’t even really miss Jeff when he isn’t around.

“It’s okay,” Jensen tells him honestly. “You can’t miss something you never had. Not like – well, you know.”

“Yeah.” Jared clears his throat. “What about school?”

“No school, obviously.” Jensen’s palm is kind of sweaty in Jared’s hand but he doesn’t seem to be bothered by it, so Jensen doesn’t let go. “Jeff taught me when I was little and the older I got, the more he was gone, but he was always good about bringing me things to keep me occupied. I have lots of textbooks and workbooks and computer programs. He brought me a book on astrophysics a couple weeks ago that I found really fascinating.”

“Well, I couldn’t even tell you the definition of astrophysics, so you’re doing better than me.” Jensen chuckles but Jared stays silent. He squeezes Jensen’s hand until it’s almost painful and then relaxes his grip. Jensen looks over at him, but Jared stares resolutely at the ceiling. “It sounds lonely, Jen. You wouldn’t want to stay with – you’d really go back to that life?”

“I have to,” Jensen tells him. “Jeff needs me.”

“But you just said that he’s never even there,” Jared replies. “What does he need you for?”

“Jeff – my dad – he’s sick. He’d die without me there to heal him.” There’s a long, drawn out silence in which Jensen just knows what Jared is thinking. Why should Jensen’s father get to live when Jared’s mother had to die? Jensen closes his eyes and wishes that his powers included time travel so he could go back and fix Jared’s mom. “It’s something with his heart. I fix it but it always ends up coming back.”

Jensen doesn’t tell Jared that in his darkest moments that he feels like that means that Jeff is meant to die. It makes him feel like a horrible person, but there’s not really any other explanation as to why Jensen’s magic doesn’t stick.

“How –“ Jared’s voice is rough and he clears his throat. “How often do you have to do that?”

“Every few months,” Jensen replies. Jared still isn’t looking at him so Jensen turns his head to look at Rigby’s sleeping form on the other bed. His back is to them and his quills glint in the dim light from the lamp. “Whenever he needs it.”

Jared is quiet for a long time and when Jensen finally turns his head, it’s to meet Jared’s eyes. He’s watching him intently, eyes flicking to Jensen’s mouth and back up just once before he clears his throat.

“That doesn’t have to be your life, Jensen.” Jared swallows hard and turns on his side, reaching over to put his warm palm on Jensen’s cheek. “There’s nothing wrong with you, no reason for you to be hidden away. You’re going to be eighteen soon, and no one will have any hold over you. You could be your own person and go back when he needs. I’m not going to tell you what to do, or how you should feel. I’m just telling you that you can have whatever life that want to, and you should think about it. Now, I’m going to take a shower.”

Jensen blinks at the rapid change of subject and before he can even process all that Jared’s said, he’s off the bed and shutting the bathroom door behind him.

“Yeah, because that’s not a lot to think about.” Jensen breathes deep and scrubs his hands over his face, sliding them up into his hair as he stares at the ceiling. The shower clicks on and Jensen rolls off of the bed. The sink and mirror are outside of the bathroom and Jensen uses the hotel soap to wash his face because he just doesn’t really have the energy to do much else.

He’s never controlled that much water all at once before, and he’s never been through so much emotional turmoil. And that was just hearing about it. He can’t imagine all of the horrible things that Jared’s gone through out there on the streets all alone. Jared deserves so much more than that. He deserves to always have someone around to show him how wonderful he is.

He doesn’t notice the sound of the shower shutting off and he’s still standing at the sink when the bathroom door swings open. The knob connects with his hip and he hisses. If he were anyone else, he’d probably have a bruise in the morning.

“You did break my nose!”

“What?” Jensen turns to see Jared wearing nothing but a pair of sleep pants that hang loosely on his hips. Water drips from his hair and Jensen follows the paths of the small beads of moisture as they race happily down Jared’s body.

“When you knocked me out,” Jared clarifies. Jensen is too distracted by the water on Jared’s bare chest. Of course it’s happy. Look at it. Jensen flicks his fingers irritably and all the water rains down onto the tile floor below. Jared pulls the towel away from his now dry hair and shrugs before tossing it onto the water. “I thought my nose was broken but when I woke up it was fine.” Jensen blushes. “Why’d you heal me before you knew who I was?”

“I could tell that you were a good person. You felt bubbly.” Jensen shuts his eyes and rolls his lips into his mouth. He hadn’t meant to let that slip out, but he really is tired.

“I felt bubbly?”

“Your face was too handsome to be messed up like that,” Jensen says, and that shuts Jared up. He grins at Jensen with the tip of his tongue between his teeth. “So I fixed it.”

Jensen grabs his pajamas and ducks into the bathroom before Jared can respond. It’s a warm night so he follows Jared’s lead and just puts the pants on before going back out into the main room. Jared is sitting on the edge of his bed and the lamp is off, leaving the room lit only by the moonbeam tumbling in through the window. Jensen walks between the beds and turns towards his own, but Jared reaches out to grab his wrist.

“Rigby looks mighty comfortable,” Jared says, and Jensen turns to see the hedgehog curled up into a spiky little ball in the center of the bed. There’s trail mix all over the sheets. “It’d be a shame to disturb him.”

That’s all the warning Jensen gets before he’s being pulled onto Jared’s bed. He tumbles down and lands on top of Jared, bracing himself with his palms on Jared’s firm chest. They roll to the side and Jared wraps an arm around Jensen’s waist, fingertips skimming the dip of his spine.

“Is this okay?” Jared asks, and he looks so beautiful in the moonlight. Jensen nods and slips his knee between Jared’s thighs. It’s nice, lying together like this, even if it is a bit too warm and Jared radiates heat like a furnace. Jensen gasps when their skin touches, soft and bare from shoulders to hips.

“You feel fizzy.” Jensen wraps his arm around Jared’s torso and pulls him as close as he can. Every bit of skin that touches Jared’s tingles and Jensen just can’t get enough. “I like it.”

“Goodnight, weirdo.” Jared’s head hits the pillow with a soft thump and Jensen lifts his head, touching Jared’s chin and leaning in. This kiss is longer and wetter, and Jared makes a soft noise as he cups Jensen’s cheek. His thumb pulls Jensen’s chin down, forcing his mouth open so Jared can lick his way inside. It feels so nice and Jared is pulling away before Jensen can even really participate. He settles for licking Jared’s bottom lip, pressing a kiss to it and sucking the soft flesh between his own lips for a moment before releasing it.

Jensen tucks his head under Jared’s chin and he’s surprised to find that he’s breathing heavily, chest heaving as he spreads his fingers along the side of Jensen’s neck.

“Wow.” Jared sounds a bit dazed and Jensen grins smugly, proud that he could do that to him.

“Goodnight, Jared.” Jensen presses his lips to Jared’s collarbone and closes his eyes, hand pressed into the elegant arch of Jared’s spine. Jared chuckles and pulls Jensen so close that there isn’t even room for air between them.

Jensen has never been held before. He quickly finds that he absolutely does not mind. In fact, it’s the best night of sleep that he’s ever had.

Chapter Text

Jared’s in a pretty good mood when he wakes up.

Sunlight is streaming into the room and he’s got the hottest guy alive in his arms. Not to mention that said hot guy possesses magical powers and probably saved his life. And god, Jared can’t believe that he kissed him.

He told himself that he wouldn’t do that to Jensen, wouldn’t put that sort of pressure on him, but he didn’t mean to. Jensen had just healed the gaping wound in his arm and Jared was so amazed and felt so invigorated and wonderful that he just couldn’t help it. He was glowing for fuck’s sake.

So yeah, he kissed him, but Jensen really hadn’t seemed to mind.

Thinking about their kisses, which were more timid and still somehow hotter than he’s ever experienced, isn’t helping his morning wood situation. Jensen is passed out on his side and Jared’s hardening cock is snug against his ass. He might have broken his no kissing rule but he’ll be damned if he’s going to grind up against Jensen’s sleeping body. That’s a whole new level of wrong. Jensen will definitely have to initiate any grinding.

So Jared pulls back like a true gentleman, angling his hips away from the tempting swell of Jensen’s ass. Jensen huffs in his sleep and rolls onto his belly, making this tiny whimpering noise as he shoves his face back into his pillow. Jensen is really, really not a morning person.

But Jared is, and fortunately for him, Jensen’s new position provides Jared with an unobstructed view of his back. The bare skin is slightly darker than it was yesterday, but really it just brings the dusting of freckles into greater focus. There isn’t a single scar or blemish, not even a damn blackhead, on the entire span of Jensen’s back. He isn’t sunburned from all his time spent shirtless in the canyon yesterday, and Jared now understands when Jensen told him that he never gets hurt, that it’s because he can’t.

Jared’s eyes roam across the slopes of Jensen’s lean muscles and land on the slight dimples just above the swell of his ass. He imagines pressing his tongue into them, sucking until he leaves a mark and watching as it fades away. Jensen has a perfect ass, all pert and round, and Jared really wants to see what it looks like under the pants.

He bets it’s wonderful, supple and firm at the same time and if he pulled Jensen open, his hole with be dusky pink and perfect, just begging to be licked –

A squeak rips Jared from his admittedly gratuitous daydream and he looks up to see Rigby on the other bed, staring at him. Oh hell no. He is not about to be judged by a damned spiky rat.

“There’s no law against looking,” Jared whispers. Rigby twitches his nose skeptically. “You’re weirdly sentient.” Rigby just squeaks again and Jared rolls out of bed with a sigh. He scoops Rigby up in his hand and heads towards his backpack on the small table in the corner. “C’mon, you little thoughtblocker.”

Jared sets Rigby on the table and opens one of the side pockets of his bag and shakes all the (now deceased) insects he collected the day before out onto the table. Jared wrinkles his nose but Rigby chirps delightedly.

“A peace offering,” Jared says. “Dead bugs. We cool?”

Rigby looks up at him and Jared holds out his fingertip. There’s a brief pause before Rigby bumps the tip of his nose against the pad of his finger. Jared chuckles and leaves him to his little feast as he pulls on some clothes and fiddles with the crappy coffeemaker next to the sink. When it’s finished he pours the dark brew into the complimentary paper cups and goes to squat down in front of Jensen.

He looks so innocent in sleep. Well, even more innocent than usual. Honey-colored eyelashes fan out against his cheek and his lips are lax and pink. Jared smiles and leans in to brush his lips against Jensen’s forehead.

“Up and at ‘em, gorgeous.” Jensen groans and then opens his eyes. They’re so green and Jared stares into them for a second before setting Jensen’s coffee on the nightstand. “Time to get going. Big day today. Vegas!”

Jensen downs half the steaming cup in one go, wincing a bit and then clearing his throat. He’s really got it made with the whole no injuries thing. Jensen takes a quick shower while Jared packs the duffle and soon they’re ushering a sleepily full Rigby into his bag and leaving the room. They head into the lobby to snag something from the continental breakfast, and Jared tells Jensen to go grab them a seat while he gets the food.

He loads two plates up with as much food as he can carry; bagels, toast, hardboiled eggs, and danishes to start. The cartons of milk get shoved into the pockets of his jeans and he carefully heads back to Jensen.

There’s a girl at their table. She’s a very pretty girl about their age with long, wavy auburn hair and a killer smile. She’s telling Jensen a story and he looks enthralled, propping his chin on his hand and nodding along. He laughs at something she said, loud and bright, and something ugly curls in Jared’s stomach.

His self-esteem really isn’t all that great at the best of times, and now whatever was left of it is skittering across the floor and trying to escape. What if Jensen is only with him because Jared is the only other person that he’s ever met? What if Jensen meets someone more interesting or not as fucked up, like the pretty girl that’s touching his arm right now, and decides that he’s done with Jared? He doesn’t think that he could take it.

He doesn’t want to think that Jensen’s that type of person, but in Jared’s experience everyone always stops caring or they leave. Except for Misha, but Jared’s not even entirely sure that Misha is actually human so he doesn’t really count.

The point is, Jared really likes Jensen, could maybe even love him, and that right there is breaking Jared’s biggest rule of all.

“Jared, are you okay?” He doesn’t even realize that Jensen is right in front of him until he’s taking a plate from his hand. “Here, let me help you. Come on.”

Jared follows obediently and sits down next to Jensen, diagonally across from the girl suddenly in their space. She looks at him speculatively and Jared manages his usual charming grin.

“Jared, this is Danneel,” Jensen tells him as he starts to butter his toast. “She’s here with her family to go camping. And Danneel, this is Jared. He’s taking me to see the ocean.”

Jensen shoots Jared such a fond, warm look that he instantly feels kind of stupid for his earlier thoughts.

“Nice to meet you, Jared.” She’s perfectly polite but her eyes have dimmed slightly in disappointment. Jared understands; if he lost out on a chance with Jensen he’d be upset too.

They exchange polite conversation until Danneel’s family calls her away. She slips a piece of paper across the table and waves at them before darting across the lobby. Jensen takes a curious look at it.

“What’s a facebook?” He asks, and Jared just laughs. They dump their trash and walk the short distance to the bus that will take them to Flagstaff. Once they get in line, Jared decides to pick at the wound.

“So, Danneel was cute,” he says casually, bracing himself for Jensen’s response.

“She was very stunning,” Jensen replies, and Jared’s mouth twists into a grimace. “She felt like a waterfall. Beautiful and relentless. She’d crush you if you weren’t careful.”

“Oh.”

“Not like you,” Jensen says, slipping his arm around Jared’s waist as they wait. It’s such a casual move and Jared feels sort of bad, because Jensen has no idea how important this conversation is. “You’re like the spring behind my house.”

“I’m a spring?” Jared’s confused and sort of sad because there’s no comparing a waterfall to a tiny pool of water.

“The spring is bubbly and peaceful,” Jensen gets out around a yawn. “But it came a long way to be where it is. It went through a lot and came out better for it. Just like you.”

Jared is saved from trying to formulate a response by the bus pulling up. Jared fumbles for their tickets and Jensen looks at him curiously. “I’ll always like the spring better than any old waterfall.”

Jared blushes, caught red-handed, and Jensen just smirks as he takes his ticket and climbs onto the bus. Jensen falls asleep almost instantly, burrowed under Jared’s arm and breathing hotly against his neck. Jared just presses his cheek against the top of Jensen’s head and smiles, content to sit just like that until his phone buzzes in his pocket. He extracts it carefully, doing his best not to jostle Jensen or the hedgehog sleeping off a beetle coma on his lap.

It’s a text from Misha and Jared purses his lips at the screen, settling in as he replies one-handed.

what time are you and your fuckbuddy getting here?

Jensen’s not like that. And we’re catching a bus from Flagstaff so we’re a few hours out.

ooh it has a name. it must be serious if you’re already bringing him home to meet the parents.

Fuck you. You’re not my real dad.

i adopted you. faked the paperwork 6mo ago. so what’s his story.

It’s complicated.

girl. do you like him?

Yes.

does he like you?

Jared pauses at that. Letting himself believe that Jensen shares his feelings is dangerous because what if he’s wrong? Sure, Jensen likes him now, but what after he meets other people? Jared’s met plenty and Jensen’s it for him, he’s pretty sure. He’d be devastated if it didn’t go both ways.

I think so. I’m not sure if it’s me or the idea of me.

OH MY GOD that is the lamest fucking thing you’ve ever said. we’ll find out if he likes you. just leave it to daddy.

Meaning what? Misha, don’t be weird. Don’t be YOU. Jensen’s important, okay? Promise me that you’ll be relatively sane.

see you soon kiddo. papa loves you.

Fuck. Wait, is there really fake paperwork floating around out there saying you adopted me?

Misha doesn’t reply after that, and soon they’re pulling into Flagstaff and Jared has to hustle his sleepy charges and their luggage onto another bus. Jensen decides to go back to sleep when the scenery doesn’t excite him and Jared doesn’t wake him until they’re approaching Las Vegas. He’s sort of glad that they’re hitting it when it’s still daylight, because Jensen needs a little time to acclimate before Jared tosses him straight into the Vegas nightlife.

“Jensen.” Jared shakes him gently, smiling against his temple. “Wake up, Jen. Look.”

Jensen opens his eyes and smiles sleepily up at Jared before turning to the window. He freezes and sits up ramrod straight, and Jared watches his eyes widen in the reflection of the glass. Jensen’s jaw drops and he looks disbelievingly at Jared over his shoulder before turning his gaze back at the window.

“Holy shit!” Jensen squeaks. A purple-haired old lady in the seat in front of them turns to glare but Jared is too busy laughing while Jensen bounces up and down.

They hop in a cab at the bus station and Jared rattles off the address Misha texted him as he rolls down the windows. Jensen sticks his head out like a dog, eyes wide as he takes in all the sights.

Jared is a little surprised when Misha’s address turns out to be the Palms hotel, and he’s a lot more surprised when what he thought was an apartment number turns out to be a penthouse suite. Jared just chuckles as he ushers Jensen through the lush lobby and into an elevator. The only thing you can ever really expect from Misha is the unexpected. Once Jared learned that, his life got a whole lot easier.

Jensen takes his hand on the elevator and darts off of it as soon as the doors open, giving it a suspicious glance over his shoulder. Their surroundings are plush and opulent and Jensen just follows along as Jared drags him down the hall.

“Misha lives here?” Jensen asks, eyes trained on the chandelier light fixture above their heads.

“Misha doesn’t really live anywhere,” Jared replies as he keeps an eye on the room numbers. “But this is where he’s staying.” Jared comes to a stop in front of Misha’s suite and takes a deep, fortifying breath. He’s excited to see his best friend, but he’s a little worried about how Jensen will react to him. “Misha’s crazy,” he blurts, and Jensen raises an eyebrow. “Not like, loony bin crazy. Maybe crazy isn’t the right word. He’s very – he’s enthusiastic. He can be a lot – “

“Jared, just knock on the door,” Jensen says with a laugh. “I’m excited to meet him.”

“I’ll remind you that you said that in about five minutes.” Jared winks at him and then raps his knuckles against the door. A few seconds pass before it swings open and there’s Misha, eyes blue and smile manic as ever.

“My baby boy!” Misha gets up on his toes to throw his arms around Jared’s neck, choking him a little while dragging him inside. “Look how much you’ve grown!”

“Hey Mish – mmf!” Misha grabs him by the cheeks and kisses him right on the mouth, lips lingering tenderly on Jared’s as he flails his arms spastically. It’s not out of the question for Misha to kiss Jared, or a drag queen in a bar, or a matronly woman on the street, but it’s still sort of out of the blue. Misha pulls back and looks at a point over Jared’s shoulder and – oh shit, Jensen.

“My god, he’s gorgeous,” Misha whispers against Jared’s mouth. “He looks like he’s about to pop a blood vessel. You’re so in!”

Misha lets go of Jared and they both turn to face Jensen. He looks confused and a little heartbroken, and Jared stomps on Misha’s foot as hard as he possibly can without it being too obvious. Misha hisses and then steps toward Jensen with his arms open wide. Jared tries to grab him by the back of his shirt but it’s too late.

“Sorry, sweetheart. Didn’t mean to step on anyone’s toes. That’s just how I say hello, see?” Misha takes Jensen’s face in his hands and it’s the trainwreck that Jared can’t look away from. Misha kisses Jensen on the mouth and he’s too stunned to react. He still looks a bit dumbfounded, but less sad when Misha pulls away. “See? Now, Jared’s all yours to kiss. Won’t happen again, babe. You have my word.”

“Um. Okay?” Jensen clears his throat and tosses Jared an undecipherable look, but he’s smiling when he turns back to Misha. “It’s nice to meet you, Misha. I’m Jensen. Jared has uh, told me so much about you.”

“If it was complimentary then it most likely wasn’t true.” Misha leans in close to Jensen’s face and stares at him for a long moment before turning back to Jared. “He’s stunning, Jared. You didn’t prepare me for how ridiculously good-looking he is.”

Jensen blushes and Jared chuckles a little.

“Well anyway. Welcome to my humble abode.” Misha throws his arms out and giving a little spin, nearly slipping on the marble floor in his socked feet. “You boys will be sharing a bed, but there will be no hanky panky under my roof.” Misha looks at them solemnly for a moment and then winks. “Just kidding. Can you imagine? Hanky all the panky you want, it’s all the same to me.”

Misha bounces off towards one of the bedrooms and Jared sidles up next to Jensen, who just stares at the space Misha just vacated like he just has no idea how to process him.

“Another waterfall?” Jared asks. Jensen snorts at him.

“That dude is a fucking tsunami.”

Jensen doesn’t know what to think of Misha.

He can’t help but to like the guy and maybe his initial comparison of him to a tsunami may have been slightly off base. He’s more like a big wave, like the ones people surf on. He’s tons of fun but there’s also an edge of danger there.

What really threw Jensen was the sudden emotion that slammed through him when he saw Misha kiss Jared. Jealousy isn’t something that he has much experience with, but there’s no denying that that’s what it was. He was jealous and hurt, hands shaking slightly until Misha kissed him too. It was entirely different than when he kisses Jared; uncomfortable but not entirely unpleasant.

But still, it wouldn’t do to let Jared go around thinking Jensen is fine with him kissing other people. He feels like he has to stake some sort of claim on Jared and that’s ridiculous. Jared is his own person and he’s free to kiss whoever he wants.

Jensen just wants it to be him.

They’re in their bedroom for the night and Jared is busy stealing all the toiletries in the bathroom while Jensen lets Rigby out onto the bed. He stares down at the hedgehog as he noses into soft-looking sheets and bites his lip. Jared comes up behind him and Jensen lets out a breath.

“Hey Jensen, look at this shit. This shampoo probably costs more than – hmf!”

Jensen whirls around and presses his lips to Jared’s soft mouth, but unlike when Misha did it, Jared puts his hands on Jensen’s hips and dips him back a little. They share a few soft, clinging kisses until Jared pulls back with a smile.

“What was that for?” Jared asks, sounding a bit dazed. Jensen shrugs and looks up into Jared’s eyes. He gives Jensen a knowing look and they’re still embracing when Misha’s voice startles them both.

“Aww, aren’t you two – holy shit, what the fucking hell is that!” They turn to see Misha pointing at Rigby, who pops up from under a fold in the sheet and looks around wildly. Jensen opens his mouth but Jared cuts him off.

“That is Rigby, Jensen’s beloved pet hedgehog,” Jared tells him, “and I wouldn’t be surprised if the damn thing ended up taking over the world someday.”

Rigby squeaks in what sounds suspiciously like agreement.

“That. Is awesome.” Misha throws himself down onto the bed and kicks his feet up in the air as he holds out his finger for Rigby to sniff. “Hey there, buddy. Do you like pizza? Because I just ordered a shitload of pizza.”

Jensen stares dopily up at Jared until he feels Misha swat him on the ass.

“Hey doe-eyes, I’m talking to you.” Jensen turns around in Jared’s arms to see Misha smirking at him. “Do you like pizza?”

“I’ve never had it,” Jensen replies. Jared’s fingers tighten on his hips as Misha’s eyes widen until they remind Jensen of fine china, all glassy and blue. “What?”

“What the hell do you mean you’ve never had pizza?” He sits up and gapes at Jensen like he’s an alien creature. “Where’d you find this kid, Jay?”

“I’m from Kansas,” Jensen replies and Jared’s laughing silently, shoulders quaking against Jensen’s back. “What?”

“Kid, I am going to stuff you so full.” Misha looks over Jensen’s shoulder and rolls his eyes. “Of pizza, Jared. Jesus. Get your mind out of the gutter.” Misha carefully scoops Rigby up and holds him up to his face. “And what does this little guy eat? I’ve got some fruit.”

“That’ll work,” Jensen tells him, and Rigby squeaks happily as Misha carries him out of the bedroom. Jensen follows and sits at the bar near Misha’s kitchenette while he slices fruit and feeds it to Rigby. Jared raids the tiny refrigerator and sets a can of soda in front of Jensen before cracking open his own.

“So Kansas, you say?” Misha finally looks up from Rigby and steals a drink from Jared’s Dr. Pepper. “How’d you two crazy kids meet?”

“It’s a good story,” Jared replies, snatching the can out of Misha’s hand. “Remind me to tell it to you sometime.”

Misha cocks his head, obviously confused, and Jensen gives him a long, speculative look. Jared is biting his lip and it’s clear that he isn’t used to keeping things from Misha. Jensen can tell that Misha is trustworthy, if not a little insane, and he cares for Jared very much.

“You can tell him, if you want.” Jared looks up at Jensen with wide, questioning eyes and Jensen just shrugs. “It’s okay.”

“Well, now you have me intrigued,” Misha tells him. “I love a good mystery, and this one comes with the handsomest boy I ever did see and a freaking hedgehog. Fill in the blanks!”

Jared fidgets a bit and he’s just opening his mouth when the phone on the other end of the bar starts to ring. Jensen jumps at the piercing noise and watches as Misha reaches over to grab it.

“Talk to me.” There’s a pause in which Misha steals Jared’s soda again and Jared growls at him. “Sure thing, be right down. Go ahead and steal a slice if you want. Yeah, you too. Thanks man.” Misha puts the phone down, pulls a key card out of his pocket, and holds it out to Jared. “Go down to the lobby and get the pizza.”

“How about you go fuck yourself,” Jared replies. Jensen raises an eyebrow.

“Such language! Go get the pizza or you can’t have any, and I know your giant ass is hungry.”

“Ugh, fine.” Jared pushes off of the counter and snatches the key on his way to the door. “C’mon, Jen.”

“Oh no.” Misha slings an arm around Jensen’s shoulders and pulls him in close before he can even take a step forward. “Jensen’s staying up here with dear old Misha.”

“Yeah, that’s not gonna happen. I’ll get back up here and he’ll have pink hair and want to run away to Nepal.”

“Nepal is fucking spectacular, ass!” Misha keeps his tight grip on Jensen and he just quirks a brow, smirking at Jared. “Leave us to bond! Plus I need to set him up with the proper credentials so that he can partake in all that this lovely, wholesome city has to offer.”

“I’ve known you for twenty minutes and I’m pretty sure wholesome isn’t the adjective I would use to describe you,” Jensen tells him. Misha gasps and lays his free hand across his chest.

“You wound me, Jensen. I love it.” He waves his hand at Jared, who’s still hovering by the door. “Pizza’s all paid for. Go, before it gets cold or Fat Lou eats it all.”

Jared gives Jensen one last lingering look and he just nods. As soon as Jared’s out the door, Misha is steering him towards a bedroom on the other side of the suite.

“C’mon, beautiful. It’s time for your close-up.”

Misha pulls down what looks like a light blue window shade on a stand and positions Jensen in front of it. Jensen stays still, staring out of the giant picture windows across from him while Misha rifles through a desk drawer. After a few muffled curses he holds up a camera triumphantly.

“Okay, I’ve gotta take your picture,” Misha says, and Jensen takes his eyes away from the darkening skyline to look at him.

“Why?”

“So I can make you one of my world famous fake ID’s,” Misha tells him. “Because I know your twink ass ain’t twenty-one and you need to be to have any fun in this town.” Misha raises the camera and Jensen gives him his brightest grin. “Oh, jesus. Put that thing away before you blind someone. You’re supposed to be at the DVM. Be grumpy.”

“Why?”

“Because the DMV is the ninth circle of Hell and no one wants to be there.”

“Why?” Jensen’s grinning, tongue peeking between his teeth while Misha fiddles with the settings on his camera.

“Because it’s a – “ Misha looks up at sees his teasing expression. “Oh, you are a devious little shit. I thought I was going to be dealing with the world’s hottest and most overgrown two-year-old all night. I’ve got nieces and nephews, man. I don’t need anymore of that shit. Now smile.”

“You told me not to!” Jensen looks confused and maybe a bit constipated when the flash goes off. He blinks the spots out of his eyes in time to see Misha nodding down at the display.

“Now that’s a DMV photo.” He drops down at a desk facing the window and kicks the chair next to him out a bit, gesturing at it with his chin. “Sit.”

Jensen drops obediently into the chair and looks down curiously at Misha’s desk. It’s covered with all sorts of gadgetry, most of which Jensen couldn’t even name. Misha boots up a laptop and reaches over to snag a bottle of clear liquid from the corner of the table. He slams it down in front of Jensen and he watches it slosh around while Misha retrieves two tiny glasses from somewhere.

“This, my dear boy, is tequila.” Misha sets the glasses down and pulls the cork out of the bottle. “Really fucking good tequila. I’m going to go ahead and start being a horrible influence now before Jared is here to stop me, because he is a gentleman and I am not.” He fills the two tiny glasses and pushes one towards Jensen. “Drink.”

Jensen picks up the glass with his thumb and forefinger and eyes Misha speculatively. Misha just clinks their glasses together and winks at him. He tosses his own back in one gulp so Jensen does the same, immediately dropping the glass and grabbing at his throat. It burns going down and it lands hot in his belly. He even gets out a few good coughs.

“What the fuck was that?”

“Happy juice! You’re not leaving this hotel room sober, man.” Misha exclaims with a cackle. He leans over to wipe a drop of liquid from Jensen’s chin with his thumb and then turns his focus on his laptop, face more serious than Jensen’s seen so far. “Okay, so. You need a name.”

“I have a name,” Jensen supplies. The tequila is making him feel pleasant. “It’s Jensen Morgan.”

“A fake name.” Misha taps his chin and then sets his fingers to the keyboard. “Alec Teague, age 22, hailing from southern California. I know you said you’re from Kansas but you look like a Cali boy, through and through.” This makes Jensen smile serenely. “Okay so you’re like, what, six feet? 160 pounds? Brown hair, fucking vivid green eyes.” There’s silence for a few moments while Misha types away and he’s still staring at the screen when he speaks next. “Jared really likes you.”

Jensen snaps to attention at that.

“I mean, I know Jared. He really likes you,” Misha says again, shooting Jensen a sidelong glance. “And Jared doesn’t like anyone. That’s why I kissed him earlier, you know. If you got jealous, I’d know that you like him too. And you were real jealous.”

“Of course I like him,” Jensen replies easily. “You could have just asked me, you know.”

“I could have, but most people don’t work like that,” Misha says. Jensen just shrugs and picks at a fraying hole in the knee of his jeans.

“I’m not most people.” Misha looks at him at that, eyes narrowed and appraising. “I do like him. More than I know how to say.”

“No, you’re not most people. And neither is he. You’ll be good for each other.” Misha claps his hands together and retrieves Jensen’s tequila glass from the floor. He fills both glasses up again and Jensen mentally prepares himself. “Okay, we need another shot before shit gets too real. Cheers.”

Jensen knocks back the shot and he’s prepared for it this time, wincing only slightly at the burn. They hear Jared stomp into the suite and call out their names.

“In here!” Misha shouts, not even taking his eyes off of the screen. “Bring beer! Heh, that rhymed.” Jared wanders into the room with a few pizza boxes balanced precariously in one hand a six-pack of beer under the opposite arm. Jeff keeps beer in their fridge at home usually, but Jensen has never been allowed to touch it. “It took me all of thirty seconds after you left to lure Jensen into my bedroom,” Misha says casually, and then he turns around to look up at Jared. “What the fuck took you so long, anyway? Did you get lost?”

“Yes, actually. I did get lost, fuck you very much. Stupid giant hotel.” Jared sits on the floor, resting his back against the bed as he pulls a pizza box down onto his lap. Jensen grins at Jared, feeling warm and sappy. “Why’s he smiling at me like that?”

“I gave him tequila,” Misha says, and then turns to Jensen. “I’ve decided that Alec is an organ donor.”

“You what?”

“Organ donation saves thousands of lives a year probably!”

“You gave him tequila?”

“I did, and I dare you to say something about it.” He clicks something on the screen and the printer next to Jensen’s’ elbow whirs to life, making him jump a little. Misha spins around and grabs a beer, cracking it open with his ring and pointing it menacingly at Jared. “Now granted, I don’t know the whole story, but I get that this kid is sheltered as all hell. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s a grown ass man and instead of hiding the world from him, you should be showing him how it works so he knows what the hell to expect.”

Jared glares at Misha and then his expression softens as he shoulders droop. Jensen agrees with Misha, but that doesn’t mean that he wants Jared looking so defeated. He slips out of his chair and down onto the floor, sitting next to Jared and touching his arm.

“You’re right,” Jared says. He takes the beer from Misha’s hand and takes a swig of it before handing it over to Jensen. He peers down into the dark brown bottle before taking a sip. It doesn’t taste very good but it’s cold and bubbly. He likes it better than the tequila.

“Holy shit, man. I didn’t think you’d fold so easily,” Misha tells him as he snatches Jensen’s new ID from the printer. “I just wanted to get him drunk.”

Jared rolls his eyes and Jensen hides his laugh in the curve of Jared’s neck.

Misha putters around the room, stuffing pizza into his face and telling them to stop fucking bothering him until he’s done with the ID. Jensen eats pizza, which is absolutely amazing by the way, and washes it down with beer. The more he drinks, the better it tastes, so he just keeps going. He feels awesome, all happy and light, like he’d float away if Jared didn’t have an arm around his shoulders.

“Misha told me that he kissed you to see if it’d make me jealous because you like me,” Jensen blurts, and Jared pauses before swallowing the giant bite of pizza.

“What the hell, Jensen?” Misha looks over his shoulder to give him a baffled look. “Remind me to never trust your ass with a secret.”

“I do,” Jensen says, ignoring Misha as he turns back around with a huff. “Like you.”

“I like you, too.” Jared presses a kiss to his forehead and Jensen smiles up at him.

“Siri, play Endless Love.” A sappy ballad of a song starts pouring from the speakers of Misha’s phone and Jared wrinkles his nose.

“I know you’re trying to be funny,” Jared shouts, “but you just outed yourself as someone who likes this song so much that they want to carry it around with them wherever they go.”

Misha just tosses his middle finger into the air before leaning back over his work bench. Jensen laughs and steals another piece of pizza because seriously, so good.

It’s one in the morning, they’re all shitfaced drunk, and Jared has had to forcibly stop Jensen from climbing into the Bellagio fountains four separate times. Jensen is a funny, happy, loveable drunk, so the fountain climbing is really the worst thing Jared’s had to deal with all night.

Misha lent Jensen some clothes since they’re relatively the same size, and Jared didn’t know whether to hug his best friend or punch him. The black button down shirt hugs Jensen’s lean muscles and the designer jeans sit just right on his ass. It’s safe to say that Jared spent most of the night staring.

They just followed Misha’s lead, letting him navigate them through the busy streets while Jared held onto Jensen’s hand to keep him from wandering into the street as he took everything in with wide eyes. First there was the bar, and then another bar, a dance club, a casino where they lost a fair amount of Misha’s ill-gotten gains, a seafood buffet, another bar, and then a club on the roof of some hotel. Now they’re here, watching Jensen watch the fountains like it’s the greatest thing he’s ever seen.

Misha’s sipping something electric blue in color from one of those ridiculous yard-long cups and Jared leans back against a cement wall, crossing his arms as he watches Jensen fondly. They’re too far back to hear him, but he can see Jensen’s arms flying wildly as he talks with other partygoers stopped to watch the water show.

“So, Jensen has magical powers.” Jared had wanted to tell Misha all night, but there was never the right time. Now he’s too drunk to give a shit.

“I thought you guys hadn’t fucked yet,” Misha mumbles around the crazy straw in his mouth. He sucks through it and it makes an irritating slurping sound.

“We haven’t,” Jared replies, but he looks at Jensen’s broad back and thinks about how much he’d like to. “That’s not what I mean. He’s magic.”

“Mhmm.” Misha stumbles a bit and then rights himself, peering down into his now empty cup. “Did he attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?”

“Dude, I’m sitting here trying to tell you that my – my traveling companion has – “

“Your traveling companion? Jesus Christ, you are seriously fucked in the head.”

“ – magical powers, that he used to save my life, by the way, and you’re just gonna stand there and be a dick about it.”

“Okay, wait. You’re serious?” Misha finally turns to look at him and Jared rolls his eyes exasperatedly. “Yeah, I’m gonna need you to go ahead and start from the beginning.”

So, Jared does. He’s always been a good storyteller, and he rarely passes up an opportunity. This one’s even better because it’s his and it’s true. He tells Misha about being caught in flagrante at his circus job and running off into the woods only to get himself lost, then about finding Jensen’s cabin and their disastrous first meeting. Misha barely blinks, listening raptly as Jared describes feeling how he just needed to get Jensen out of there, about the train ride and Jensen saving his life in the canyon. Misha’s eyes are wide as saucers when Jared tells him how he healed his arm, how they kissed.

“Then we ended up on your doorstep, and here we are.”

“Holy shit.”

“Yup.”

“No, Jared. Holy shit.” Misha grabs him by the shoulders, dropping his plastic yard glass onto the ground in the process. “Your boyfriend – “

“He’s not my boyfriend.”

“Sorry, your life partner is a fucking magical being that can heal people with his mind.”

“He also glows,” Jared supplies helpfully. “It’s a very nice blue color. Kinda like your eyes but sparklier.”

“Good goddamn.” Misha blinks and looks over at Jared again. “Also, that might have been the gayest thing you’ve ever said.”

“I think he’s gonna go back,” Jared says quietly. Misha turns towards him fully at that, head cocked questioningly. Jared gives him a tight, sad smile and stares down into his beer. “When we left he said that he had to be back in a week, and he hasn’t said anything to the contrary since. That gives me four days with him, Misha. Four days, and that’s it.”

“Jared.” He sighs mournfully into his beer and looks over at his friend. “He said that back when you were just the weird guy that broke into his cabin. Look at all you’ve been through, man. I wouldn’t worry about it yet.”

“But –“

“Trust your elders.”

“You’re twenty-four.”

“Besides,” Misha says, continuing on like Jared had never spoken. “I don’t know if you’ve ever like, glanced at his face while he’s looking at you, but that shit’s intense. You know, kind of like right now.”

Misha gestures towards the fountain with his chin and Jared turns around. He hadn’t noticed that the water show had ended and the crowd is starting to disperse. What he does notice, however, is Jensen running directly towards him.

“That was amazing!” He shouts, and then launches himself unswervingly into Jared’s arms. The kiss is unexpected in not only that it comes at all, but in how intense it is. Jensen’s feet are barely on the ground and he buries his hand in Jared’s hair, licking his way into Jared’s mouth and sucking on his tongue. It’s sort of a filthy kiss and Jared pulls Jensen in close, giving just as hard as he gets. Jensen’s making these noises into his mouth, tiny grunts and whimpers as he opens his jaw wider.

Misha wolf-whistles and Jared grabs Jensen’s ass, too drunk to think about anything but how hard his dick is getting. He grinds into Jensen’s hip, pressing against Jensen’s own obvious arousal, and that’s when the fountain explodes.

A huge rush of water shoots directly up into the air, making them pull apart as people around them gasp and shriek. Jensen and Jared look up as the drops start to fall like rain and Jensen laughs so happily. They press their foreheads together as the water showers down on them, soaking them to the bone.

Kissing in the rain is one of the biggest clichés there is, but how many people can say they’ve kissed the person that made the rain?

Jared just grins, pushing Jensen’s wet hair back with his fingers before kissing him again, soft and gentle.

The next morning, Jensen sits at the table in their bedroom and shares a bag of peanuts that he found in the mini-bar with Rigby. He’s waiting, very patiently in his opinion, for Jared to wake up. He’s passed out in the bed they shared, shirtless with his mouth hanging open.

When they’d gotten back in the room the night before, they all continued to drink while Jensen made water dance across the room, flinging blobs of it at Jared and Misha so they could try to catch them in their mouths. When Misha had finally fallen asleep on the couch, Jared led Jensen into their room where they proceeded to kiss until their jaws ached and they too finally had to succumb to sleep.

It had been an amazing night, but today’s the day. It’s today that he gets to go to the ocean and his dream finally comes true.

Jared lets out a long, drawn-out groan from the bed and Jensen spins his chair around to face him. He’d opened the curtains when he woke up to let light in, and when Jared’s eyes open he immediately shrieks and pulls a pillow over his face.

“Oh my god.”

“What is it?” Jensen gets up and crawls onto the bed, sitting back on his haunches as he stares down at the Jared-shaped lump in the sheets with mild concern.

“I’m dying,” he says, and Jensen’s eyes widen. Jared’s voice is rough and scratchy and his skin is ashen. “This is it. This is the end for me.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Jensen pulls the pillow away from Jared’s face and he whimpers, rolling onto his side to curl into the fetal position. He cracks open one eye to peer blearily at Jensen, brow furrowing he sees that he’s freshly showered, shaved, and dressed.

“We drank a whole goddamn liquor store last night and here you sit, perky as ever.” Jared burps and it turns into a gag. Jensen wrinkles his nose as Jared slaps a hand over his mouth and shuts his eyes until he’s no longer vaguely green. “How do you not have a hangover?” Jared pauses and then rolls his eyes. “Right, magic.”

“I’m not entirely sure what that is,” Jensen says, biting his lip guiltily. Jared looks up at him with baleful, red eyes. “It happens when you drink?”

“It’s punishment handed down from above,” Jared whines. “My head hurts and I wanna puke and I’m dying, Jensen.”

“Oh, you’re sick,” Jensen says brightly. Jared glares at him.

“You don’t have to sound so happy about it,” Jared mumbles. “I’m gonna vomit all over your face.”

“No, you won’t.” Jensen reaches out to cup Jared’s cheek, thumb rasping over the stubble coating his jaw as his fingertips start to glow. The lines on Jared’s forehead smooth out and his skin regains its color, eyes getting brighter as he stares up at Jensen reverently. Once Jared looks normal again, Jensen pulls his hand away and grins cockily down at him. “Better?”

“It didn’t even occur to me that you could do that,” Jared says. He’s up in a flash, pouncing on Jensen and pinning him to the bed. “I am literally the luckiest man alive.”

“You’re welcome.” Jensen grins up at him, lifting his head and biting Jared’s chin playfully. Jared’s just about to kiss him when they’re interrupted by their door crashing open. They look over to see Misha in nothing but a pair of sunglasses and his underwear, clutching the doorframe and groaning.

“So long, farewell,” he moans, sliding down the wall. “Au revoir, auf wiedersehen.” His ass hits the floor and he moans again, slumping over until he’s laid out on the floor with his cheek pressed against the cool tile. He reaches one arm out towards the bed and whimpers. “Goodbye.”

“I wasn’t aware that you even still possessed the ability to be hungover,” Jared says, and Jensen chuckles as Misha whines into the floor. He tries to give Jared the finger but it’s like he doesn’t even have the energy to do that. His hand just sort of wobbles in the air

“I spent all morning puking up blue. What the hell did I drink that was blue?”

“I don’t know what it was, but you downed like a gallon of it,” Jared tells him. Jensen nudges Jared off of him and smiles fondly as he gets off the bed to sit cross-legged on the floor next to Misha. He really likes the crazy bastard.

“Here, this’ll help.” Jensen presses his hand to Misha’s forehead and cures his hangover, fingers tingling as he does so. Misha feels like whitewater rapids and it rushes all the way to Jensen’s arm. As soon as he’s done, Misha crawls up onto his hands and knees and looks up at him.

“Did you just magic away my hangover?” Misha asks, so much awe in his voice that Jensen just chuckles and nods. “Okay, that’s it.”

“Mmf.” Jensen grunts and then laughs as Misha tackles him to the floor and wraps his arms and legs around him.

“Hey!” Jared’s head pops over the edge of the bed and Jensen just laughs harder as he grabs Misha’s hips.

“No, fuck off, Jared. He’s mine now. I love him.” Misha takes Jensen’s cheeks in his hands and starts peppering little kisses all over his face while Jensen laughs and Jared just makes indignant, outraged noises. “Stay with me always.”

“I’m flattered, Misha, but – “

“No, I’ll be so good to you, baby.” Misha gives him big, pleading eyes and Jensen laughs again. There’s a loud yelp as Jared yanks Misha up by the arm and Jensen pulls himself up onto his elbows to look up at his friends. “Ow.” Misha pulls his arm from Jared’s grasp and glares at him. “Fine! Keep him! I was willing to put polygamy on the table but no, someone had to be selfish.”

“I’m okay with that,” Jared says. He holds out a hand and Jensen takes it, pulling himself up and wiping his hands on the seat of his pants.”

“Fine, whatever. I’m ordering room service for breakfast,” Misha says on his way out of the room. “Jared gets nothing.”

“I’m gonna miss him,” Jensen says, and Jared slings an arm over his shoulders.

“Yeah, he’s kinda hard to walk away from,” Jared tells him. “But while you think that pain is you missing him, it’s really just harsh reality slapping you in the face as you step back into the real world.”

Jensen chuckles and Jared leans in to kiss his temple. “I’m gonna hop in the shower, and then we’ll grab something to eat and head out, okay?”

“Okay.” Jensen grins, excitement coursing through him. Jared heads into the bathroom and Jensen scoops Rigby up from the table. He wanders out into the living room to find Misha lounging on the couch. “Hey.”

“Hola. I ordered like, the entire breakfast menu. Should be here soon.” Jensen nods and sits down next to him on the sofa. Misha looks over at him and smiles lazily. “Your little stunt with the fountain made the news.”

“What?” Jensen sputters.

“They’re blaming it on malfunctioning equipment, so you’re good.” Misha replies. Jensen lets out a breath and nods. “So today’s the day, huh? You’re finally going to the ocean.”

Jensen looks over at him and blushes as he suddenly recalls telling Jared and Misha excitedly all about his dream the night before. He’d been making water drops bounce in time with the music and if he remembers correctly, he couldn’t shut up about it. Jensen just grins at him, unable to find the words to express how eager he is. “Gonna be hard to walk away from all that once you have it.”

Misha is looking at the television but Jensen can sense the seriousness in his tone, and he knows that he isn’t just talking about the ocean. Jensen’s been trying very hard not to think about what’s going to happen in four days, how agonizing it’ll be to let go of everything he’s waited for his entire life. And Jared – he can’t even think about not being around him every second or his chest gets tight.

“You’re a smart guy,” Misha says suddenly, shocking Jensen out of his panic. “You’ll make the right choice.”

Jensen opens his mouth to tell him that he doesn’t really have one, but the doorbell rings before he can get the words out. But that’s okay. They weren’t really all that true anyway.

Jared comes out of the bedroom with their packed duffle and Rigby’s bag, staring down at his phone intently. He flops down on the floor in front of the coffee table and practically salivates at all the food.

“Thanks, man.” Jared grabs a plate with an omelet on it and frowns at his phone. “Trying to find a bus from here to Los Angeles shouldn’t be so goddamn difficult.”

“Oh, man. Don’t worry about it.” Misha leans over to grab something from the table next to the sofa and tosses a set of keys at Jared. He barely catches them without dropping his plate. “Just take my car.”

“Misha, we can’t – “ Jared starts, but Misha cuts him off with a wave of his hand.

“Seriously, it just sits in the parking garage all the time. I hardly ever need to use it out here.” Misha settles back into the sofa and stabs his pancakes. “Just do your thing and bring it back when you’re done.”

“Thank you, Misha,” Jensen tells him sincerely. “That’s awesome of you.”

“Yeah well.” Misha grins at him and there’s syrup shining on his teeth. “I’m awesome.”

“You ready to go, birthday boy?” Jared asks. Jensen nods and Rigby drags a whole orange wedge into his bag when he holds it open.

“It’s your birthday?” Misha asks.

“Tomorrow.” Jensen tells him. “I’ll be eighteen.”

“Oh. That’s March first, right?” Misha furrows his brow, lips pursed for a moment before he shakes it off and tosses him a grin. “Happy birthday.”

They all head for the front door and Jared pulls Misha into a hug that shows just how much they care about each other.

“Be safe, kid.” Misha pats Jared on the shoulder and then steps up to Jensen. “It was seriously, seriously good to meet you, Jensen.” He pulls Jensen into a hug and he returns it, eyes stinging a bit at the thought of never seeing Misha again. He pulls back and Misha quirks an eyebrow like he can read his mind. “Come back and visit me again soon, okay?”

The tone of voice is casual but the tone holds so much meaning that Jensen can hardly breathe. Jared sniffs and looks away, expression pinched. Misha’s eyes are sad and Jensen can practically hear him for how loud he’s thinking. Please don’t hurt him.

Jensen does his best to smile reassuringly and pulls him in for another quick hug just to give him time to get his emotions in check before he faces Jared. They leave the suite and Jensen can feel Misha’s eyes on him all the way down the hall.

He’s glad when Jared tells him how long the drive will be. It’ll give him lots of time to think.

They make it to Barstow before Jared can’t take the quiet anymore.

“Hey.” He reaches over to flick Jensen’s knee. He looks over at Jared with a sleepy smile. “What’s up? I thought you’d be so excited that I’d have to strap you down into the seat. We’re three hours away. Aren’t you happy?”

“Of course I am, Jared.” Jensen sighs and turns in his seat, pressing his back against the window so that he’s facing Jared. “It’s just that – well.”

“It’s just that what?” Jared looks over at him as much as he can while still keeping his eyes on the road. Jensen picks at his fingernails and shrugs his shoulders. “Jensen, come on. After all we’ve been through? I’m pretty sure that you can talk to me about anything.”

“I just – what happens after?” Jensen asks, and Jared tenses because that’s exactly what he’s been worried about as well. He takes a deep breath and hopes Jensen doesn’t notice his white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel. “I’ve been wanting this for my entire life. It’s all I’ve ever looked forward to. What happens after? What do I do then?”

“Whatever you want,” Jared says carefully and hopes that his voice doesn’t sound as strained as he feels. “Plan something else to look forward to. You – you don’t have to go back, you know. You’ll be eighteen tomorrow, and out here in the real world that means that you make your own decisions. No one can tell you what to do anymore.”

“You’ve been making your own decisions for years,” Jensen points out. “And you aren’t eighteen yet.”

“Yeah well, I’m the exception to the rule,” Jared replies. “I’m the exception to most rules.”

“I’m starting to realize that,” Jensen says quietly, giving Jared a look that he doesn’t dare decipher while he’s driving. There’s a long moment of silence that Jared just has to break.

“You can do anything,” he reiterates.”You could go to school, or move to Hawaii and learn to surf. You could go to Hollywood and model, because lord knows you’re gorgeous enough.” Jared winks at him and Jensen blushes softly. “You could run away and join the circus, though from personal experience I wouldn’t recommend it.” Jensen laughs and the sound makes Jared ache. “Or you could stay with me, and we could do all those things together.”

“Jared,” he starts, and Jared just can’t bring himself to hear what comes after. Not yet.

“But hey,” he cuts in. “There’s no reason to think about any of that now. In two and a half short hours, you’ll be frolicking on the beach.” Jensen’s eyes light up and it’s so much better than the sad introspection of before. “You’ll literally be living your dream. And then tomorrow we’ll be celebrating your birthday.”

“You’re right,” Jensen says.

“Damn right, I’m right!” Jared crows, slapping the steering wheel and tossing Jensen a grin. “So that gives us two days, alright? Two days where we do nothing but live in the moment. We’ll think about what happens after when it’s all over, but for now, right here? There’s nothing except for how your dream is about to come true, okay?”

“Sounds like a plan,” Jensen says, and his eyes are bright again.

“No plans!” Jared laughs and makes sure they’re on a nice, straight stretch of road before pulling Jensen in to kiss his cheek. “Now, let me ask you again. Are you excited?”

“Yes,” Jensen replies, smiling widely as he twists to sit properly in his seat.

“I can’t hear you! I said, are you excited?”

“Yes! I’m excited!” Jensen laughs and Jared looks over in time to see Jensen smiling at him. The sun is filtering in through the window just right and it’s like he’s glowing, so beautiful that Jared can hardly breathe.

The ride gets better after that. Jensen is obviously thrilled, yapping Jared’s head off and sampling all of the radio stations. He tunes to each one and listens closely before wrinkling his nose and moving onto the next. He finally settles on classic rock, and Jared gives him a thumbs up as Led Zeppelin blasts through Misha’s kick-ass sound system.

An hour or so later, Jared spots a sign for a Target right off the freeway. He’s sick of sitting still, he’s hungry, and he sort of has to pee, so he gets off on the exit. Jensen looks at him questioningly and Jared smiles as he navigates the vehicle into a parking space.

“We need supplies!” Jared tells him as he cuts the engine. Rigby is snoozing in the backseat and Jared reaches back to carefully scoop him into his tote bag. “Every adventure needs a shopping montage. Consider this ours.”

Once they’re inside the store, Jared grabs a cart and sets Rigby’s bag in the front of it. They race through the store and get everything they could ever need for a day at the beach – swim trunks, more sunscreen, flip-flops, a blanket, beach towels, a picnic basket, and plenty of food to fill it with, all compliments of Sam Winchester.

They change into their swim trunks and sandals in the restroom once they’ve checked out and Jared buys them each a personal pizza and soda from the snack bar before they’re tearing back out to the car.

“How much further?” Jensen asks around a mouthful of pizza.

“Two hours or less,” Jared says, “and then you’ll have your dream.”

And this time, Jensen does start bouncing in his seat.

It’s not long before the desert gives way to mountains, which turns into valleys. Jared has always loved the ever-changing California landscape. If they keep driving west on the 10, they’ll eventually hit Santa Monica. But Jared doesn’t want Jensen’s first time seeing the ocean to be crowded with gawking tourists. He wants it to be just them and the ocean, so Jared angles north and drives them through Pasadena and Glendale. There’s a spot north of Malibu that he and Misha discovered awhile back; a secluded stretch of beach that they normally found themselves alone on. Of course, their reasoning was so that they could get high and look up at the sky in peace, but it’ll get the job done.

Jared doesn’t want Jensen to even catch a glimpse of the ocean until they’re as close as possible to their destination. It’s only because he doesn’t want to tease Jensen with it by letting the ocean rush by the window while he’s stuck in the car. So he stays on the 101 until they reach Thousand Oaks and turns onto a small, winding highway. The drive is a bit treacherous and requires Jared’s full attention. He navigates narrow lanes that hug the sides of mountains and hairpin turns. Jensen is fascinated with the scenery and leans forward in his seat to take it all in.

“We’re close,” Jensen whispers. “I can tell.”

“Very close,” Jared confirms. It’s not very long at all before they’re driving through the opulent neighborhoods of Malibu. There’s a sign ahead for the Pacific Coast Highway and Jared reaches out to take Jensen’s hand when he sucks in a breath.

Jared takes the turn, navigating them onto the seaside road, and then the entire ocean is laid out before them. Jensen covers his mouth with his free hand and stares out the windshield, only squeezing Jared’s hand as he drives them north and away from all the houses. Jared finds the spot he was looking for, a small stretch of beach tucked between two seaside towns that have beaches that are more accessible and have better waves.

Jared’s not interested in that. He just wants Jensen to have the ocean all to himself, and he’s relieved when he turns down a small road and finds the tiny parking lot empty. It’s just a small square of cracked, sun-bleached asphalt that holds no more than eight cars and is hidden from the highway above. Jared pulls into a space near the opening of the splintered wooden rail so that when Jensen opens his door, he’ll be right next to the four wooden steps that will lead him down into the sand.

“Here we are,” Jared says quietly as he cuts the engine. Jensen is staring out of the windshield with wide, wet eyes and Jared brings their joined hands up to his face to press a kiss to Jensen’s knuckles. “Go on.”

Jensen looks over at him, a bit dazed, before nodding and unbuckling his seatbelt. He gets out of the car and pulls his shirt off, leaving him barefoot and pale in his emerald green shorts. Jared tosses a look into the backseat to check on Rigby, but he seems to sense the importance of the moment and just gives a small squeak before curling up on the towel they stole from Misha’s suite. Jared rolls down the windows to keep it cool inside the car and climbs out.

Jensen shoots Jared one last look as he comes around to the front of the car and leans against the hood. He nods encouragingly and Jensen swallows hard before walking down the steps. He lingers on the last one, foot hovering over the sand before he finally steps down onto it. He closes his eyes and looks so peaceful, so much like he belongs, that Jared’s throat constricts.

He pushes his sunglasses up onto his head, keeping the wind from whipping his hair into his face and providing him with a better view of Jensen. Soon he kicks off his own sandals and treads slowly down the steps. The sand is warm and dry and he sinks into it instantly, reveling in the feeling of it between his toes.

Jensen has left a trail of footprints behind him and Jared takes his phone out of his pocket. He’s sure that neither of them will ever forget this moment, but he wants it immortalized forever anyway. He snaps a few pictures before pulling his shirt off and leaving it on top of his shoes, phone tucked safely in the folds of fabric. He walks alongside Jensen’s footprints, careful not to disturb them, especially when the dry sand gives away to the wet, hard-packed beach that preserves them almost perfectly.

Jensen is standing just shy of where the tide reaches, watching as the gentle waves roll in and out. Jared steps up next to him, quiet and calm, and looks over at his face. There are tears rolling down his cheeks and Jared pulls his lips into his mouth as his eyes start to sting as well.

Jensen looks over at him, unashamed of the naked emotion on his face, and holds out his hand. Jared takes it and Jensen smiles as they step into the water together. The waves rush over their feet, wetting their ankles and that strange feeling of rolling backwards rushes over Jared as the water slips back down the beach.

Jensen takes another step, and then another, until they’re waist deep. Jensen starts laughing through his tears and Jared has never seen anything more beautiful.

“Jared,” he says softly, not letting go of his hand as he reaches into the sea with the other. Jared looks over and Jensen smiles up at him, green eyes the exact color of seaweed in the sunlight. “I’m home.”

Chapter Text

Jensen doesn’t think he’s ever smiled so much in his life.

After the shock and awe of actually being in the ocean wore off, Jensen is just happy. It takes him all of five minutes to figure out swimming and soon he and Jared are splashing around and dunking each other in the salty water. They stay in until their fingers and toes are wrinkly and then venture out onto the beach to explore. They climb up on the rocks overlooking the water and Jared discovers a tide pool. Jensen lies on his belly on the rocks and peers down into it, amazed by all the different types of life inhabiting it.

Jared presses his hand into the center of Jensen’s back and his palm burns like it’s made of fire. Jensen hisses and looks over his shoulder, surprised to find that his skin is glowing red.

“I knew we forgot something,” Jared says, examining his own pink skin. He isn’t burned as bad as Jensen, mainly just reddish brown instead of just plain golden, but it still looks like it stings. “Time to get out of the sun for a bit. We should eat something anyway.”

Jensen nods and looks down into the tide pool for another long moment before pulling himself up and following Jared back down onto the sand. Jensen stays down on the beach while Jared goes up to the car and comes back down a few minutes later with their overstuffed picnic basket in one hand and Rigby in the other. Jensen claps his hands together and runs over to scoop up the hedgehog.

“Look, Rigby!” Jensen laughs, whirling around to face the water. “Isn’t it amazing?”

Rigby squeaks excitedly and Jensen just stares out at the water until Jared calls his name. He’s found a small shady spot of sand, hidden and cool thanks to the rocks above. Jensen meets him there as Jared’s laying out the blanket. Jensen sets Rigby down onto it and sighs in relief as his skin fades from bright red to a soft tan, and then he sets his hands on Jared’s shoulders and heals his burn as well.

“Handy trick,” Jared says. He digs through the basket until he comes up with sunscreen. “But let’s make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Jensen slathers himself in the cream while Jared sets up their lunch. Jared holds his hand out for the tube when he’s done, but Jensen doesn’t give it to him. Instead he squirts a decent-sized glob of the stuff into his hands and rubs them together before stepping up and pressing them to Jared’s chest. He can feel the heat rise in his cheeks at Jared’s sharp intake of breath, but Jensen just keeps going. He rubs the sunscreen into Jared’s shoulders and chest, circling a nipple curiously with his fingertip and then doing it again when Jared gasps. He spins Jared around and then does his back, wondering over the lean muscle that tapers down to a tiny waist.

By the time Jensen is done with his very thorough application, Jared’s breathing has quickened and Jensen’s warm all over. They collapse onto the blanket and Jared shoots Jensen a sultry look as he wipes his hands on his thighs, but he doesn’t say anything about it.

They eat pre-made sandwiches and potato chips and wash them down with bottles of water while Rigby munches on fruit and his own bag of chips. Jared’s wiping mustard from the corner of his mouth when Jensen leans over to give him a soft kiss. Jared makes a happy sound and kisses Jensen back, reaching up to grip the back of his neck.

Jensen sucks on his bottom lip briefly before pulling away and reaching up above Jared and tipping his bottle over, sending cold water raining down onto his head. Jared gasps and Jensen cackles, getting up and tearing across the beach. Jared sprints after him and catches up easily, scooping Jensen right up off his feet before tackling him down into the sand.

Jensen reaches up and pushes Jared’s wet, sandy hair out of his face and smiles up at him. They share a few more lazy kisses that taste like mustard before lying on their backs in the sand, hand in hand as they close their eyes and listen to the water crashing gently onto the shore.

When the sun begins to set, Jared drags Jensen back over to their picnic set up to grab a bottle of champagne, two glasses, and a box of cookies from the basket. Jensen raises an eyebrow and Jared smiles sheepishly.

“I wanted to do something fancy, but I’m not a very fancy guy.” Jared shrugs and Jensen smiles warmly. “But look, we’re kinda sorta fancy and also we won’t starve! Come on!”

Jensen grabs their towels and follows Jared up onto a sand dune. They settle in and Jared holds the champagne bottle between his legs as he pops the cork. Jensen jumps at the sound and then laughs at himself while holding out the two flutes for Jared to fill with the bubbly liquid.

“To the ocean!” Jared says, holding up a glass. “To dreams coming true.”

“To us,” Jensen counters, and Jared blushes as they clink their glasses together and take a sip. They curl up together and watch the sun sink down below the horizon, sipping champagne while Jensen awes over the splendor. It’s more color than he’s ever seen – oranges, pinks, golds, and purples all mingling together in the sky, painting the ocean with it.

The stars begin to twinkle high in the sky and a chill starts to set in. Jensen wants to take one last dip in the ocean before it’s too cold and Jared tells him to go ahead and meet him back by the car when he’s done.

The water is crisp and refreshing and it makes Jensen’s senses sing. He loves everything about being here – the smell, sound, and feel of it all. He only gets out when his teeth start to chatter and rushes along the beach with his arms wrapped around himself. He assumes that they’ll find another hotel, and that Jared’s been packing up the car this whole time. What he finds instead makes his heart race.

“Misha keeps all this camping stuff in the trunk,” Jared explains sheepishly. There’s a long orange cord trailing from the car and hanging over the edge of the parking deck, running down the rocks to the small piece of flat sand below. Jared has a blue tarp spread out and a large grey blanket on top of that. Two pillows and a soft looking blanket make up what looks like a bed, right there in the sand. An electric lantern lights everything with a soft glow and Rigby squeaks from his deluxe housing inside their nearly empty picnic basket.

“Welcome to Chez Padalecki,” Jared says in a ridiculous French accent. “The finest luxury accommodations in all of Malibu.” He gestures to the blanket and then scratches the back of his neck self-consciously before continuing on in his normal voice. “I just figured you wouldn’t be ready to leave yet. It’s nice and private here and we have enough to keep us warm.”

“I love it,” Jensen breathes. He takes a step towards the blanket and Jared stops him.

“Nu-uh, dry first.” Jensen smirks and shakes himself like a dog, working up a bit of magic to rid all traces of seawater from his body. Jared grins and Jensen pounces, tackling him down onto the blanket which Jensen is surprised to find radiating heat.

“It’s so warm.”

“It’s electric,” Jared tells him, and then pulls him fully down onto it. Jensen curls up with him, head pillowed on his bare chest as Jared covers them with another blanket. The chilly night air can’t touch them here, not in this warm little oasis Jared has created on the beach. But that’s just what Jared does. He makes him happy and keeps him safe.

“I love you.” The words tumble out of Jensen’s mouth before the thought is even fully formed in his head, but they ring truer than anything he’s ever said. Jared tenses, hand stilling on Jensen’s back, but he just presses a kiss to Jared’s chest and says it again, louder this time. “I love you, Jared.”

Jared kisses the top of his head but doesn’t say anything. That’s okay. Jensen doesn’t need him to. It’s obvious how he feels.

They stay like that for a long time, curled up together on their bed in the sand. Jared sucks in a breath and then lets it out, fingers gripping Jensen’s arm for a moment. He turns his head and rests his chin on Jared’s chest, looking up at him.

“Don’t go back.” Jared says it like he can hardly get the words out and his eyes are shining in the dim light. Jensen’s chest tightens and he reaches up to touch Jared’s cheek. He pulls away and grabs Jensen’s wrist, rolling them until Jensen is tucked underneath Jared’s body. It feels warm and safe, and Jensen never wants to leave.

“Jared –“

“Don’t – don’t leave me.” Jared presses his lips to Jensen’s almost desperately before pulling back to look into his eyes. “There’s still so much that I want to show you. San Francisco, New York. I’ll take you to fuckin’ Disneyworld, Jen.” Jared’s eyes are wet with tears and he touches Jensen’s cheek like he’s precious, like he’ll slip through Jared’s fingers like smoke if he isn’t careful. “We can go wherever you want to go. Just don’t leave me, okay? Don’t make me take you back there.”

Jensen laughs and it’s thick with tears. When actually faced with it, it’s the easiest decision that he’s ever had to make. He reaches up to take Jared’s face in his hands, wiping away a tear from his cheek with the pad of his thumb.

“I go where you go, Jared,” he says confidently. Jared sucks in a breath and looks like he doesn’t dare believe the words. Jensen surges up to kiss him softly, neck straining. Jared kisses him back and Jensen drops his head back to the pillow. “I’m not going back.”

“You aren’t?”

“No.” Jensen laughs at how light he feels now that he’s made a decision. “He still needs me, and I’ll have to go back every once in awhile, but you were right. He doesn’t need me every day.”

“I do,” Jared says softly. He chuckles quietly, obviously embarrassed at his sudden display of emotions, but Jensen thinks it’s beautiful.

“That isn’t my home, not anymore.” Jensen tells him, looking into his eyes to make sure he understands. “My home is wherever you are.”

“God, Jensen.” Jared presses a kiss to his mouth, his cheek, the bridge of his nose. “I do too, you know. Love you. I’ve – I’ve never said that to anyone before.” He kisses Jensen’s jaw, wet and open-mouthed, and suddenly they aren’t close enough. “There are so many things I want to show you.”

“Show me,” Jensen says, surprised at the roughness of his tone. He wraps a leg around Jared’s hips and arches up, hoping that his meaning is clear. “Show me everything.”

He sees the moment that Jared gets it, eyes widening in understanding.

Jensen..”

“Please, Jared.” Jensen slides his hands down Jared’s sides. He still smells like the sea, salty and powerful. Jensen presses his nose to Jared’s throat and inhales before opening his mouth to taste. Jared shudders when Jensen’s tongue touches his skin, and he whispers against the wet flesh. “Please show me.”

Jared moans and kisses Jensen, using his fingers to coax Jensen’s jaw open wider so he can lick into his mouth. Jensen groans, rocking his hips up to rub his arousal against Jared’s thigh. He pushes his hands into Jared’s shorts to grab the swell of his ass, squeezing the flesh as he rocks up against him again. It feels better than saltwater on his skin and he groans, hooking his thumbs in the fabric to pull them down further.

Jared kicks them off and unties the knot in Jensen’s shorts before shoving those down as well. It gets too hot under the blanket and Jensen pulls it off of their naked bodies just as Jared fits their hips together. Jensen gasps as their cocks bump together, letting out a little whimper and jerking his hips.

“Shh, I got you.” Jared cards his fingers into Jensen’s hair and pulls his head back, exposing his neck. Jared sets his teeth to the hollow of Jensen’s throat and then licks away the sting, kissing his jaw as he rocks down and grinds into the cradle of Jensen’s hip. It feels so good that he can’t help but to cry out and wrap his arms around Jared’s neck. He’s harder than he’s ever been and they’re both so wet, making a sticky mess between their hips.

“Jared – Jared, please.” Jensen grips him by the hair and meets Jared’s every slow, grinding roll of his hips but it isn’t enough, not nearly enough. “I need more.”

“Jensen, I – “ He sounds hesitant but so turned on, and Jensen looks into his eyes. They’re dark, pupils blown wide, and Jensen is sure that he isn’t faring much better.

“I want it,” he says softly, lifting his head to kiss Jared’s wet, open mouth. “Whatever you’re willing to give me, I can take. And I want it all.”

“Jesus.” Jared kisses him again, a bit hard and desperate, and then nods. “Okay, I – yeah, I’ll give it to you.” Jared surges up on his knees and leans over Jensen, who busies himself with tonguing at Jared’s peaked nipple while he rifles through the picnic basket. “Sorry, Rigby. Don’t look.”

He flips the lid to the basket shut and Jensen chuckles, pulling Jared in for another long, drawn out kiss. He’s got the suntan lotion in his hand and Jensen’s legs widen instinctively. He knows the very bare minimum of what’s going to happen here, but he trusts Jared. He wants it all.

Jared takes Jensen’s hand and threads their fingers together, dropping the lotion on the blanket as he explores Jensen’s body with his mouth. His tongue tickles Jensen’s collarbone, but Jensen lets out a low whine as that same tongue circles his nipple. Jared sucks on it, sets his teeth to it, until Jensen is a quivering mess. His mouth travels down Jensen’s belly, tracing his bottom rib with his tongue as he suddenly takes Jensen’s dick into his large, warm hand.

Jensen cries out and bucks up wildly, pushing up into that tight grip. Jared’s tongue dips into his navel and he grabs the lotion, pulling his hand away from Jensen’s dick after a few blissful strokes only to replace it with the hot, wet suction of his mouth. Jensen presses his palms to his eyes as he lets out deep, gasping moans. Jared hums around his cock, tonguing underneath the head and Jensen jerks at the first touch of slick fingers against his hole.

“Do it,” he breathes, and Jared’s finger starts to circle the tightly furled muscle. Jensen takes a deep breath and looks down his body, gasping at the sight of Jared between his legs, pink lips stretched tight around Jensen’s girth. He reaches down to push Jared’s hair away from his face, pushing his thumb into the hollow of Jared’s cheek to feel himself there. “Jared, you’re so – fuck – you’re so beautiful.”

Jared just moans and takes Jensen’s cock so deep into his throat that he has no idea how it doesn’t make him choke. And then Jared is pushing his finger inside, the slight burn of it barely noticeable past all the pleasure. Jensen moans his approval, belly clenching as he spreads his legs even wider. Jared’s finger pushes into him as he pulls up with his mouth, pulls out as he pushes down, over and over in a perfect rhythm. Jensen’s trembling all over, so close to release, and he tugs hard on Jared’s hair.

Jared pulls off and looks up at him, letting Jensen’s cock leave slick trails on his cheek and chin as Jensen keeps thrusting up, unable to stop. The sensitive head of his cock rasps against Jared’s stubble and it’s so good, he just can’t take it anymore.

“It’s okay, Jensen.” Jared rubs his free hand soothingly up Jensen’s inner thigh. “You can let go. I want to taste you.”

Jensen whimpers and curls his toes as Jared presses a second finger inside of him. He thrashes his hips and shakes his head back and forth.

“Not like this,” he manages. Jared wraps his hand around the base of Jensen’s dick and presses a wet, suckling kiss to the head. “I want you in me when – when I – fuck.”

“You’ll have it,” Jared promises, twisting his fingers inside of Jensen’s hole as he laps at the head of his dick. “But I want you to come for me first. I need you to calm down because when I get inside you, Jen, I’m not gonna be in any hurry to leave and I want you right there with me, okay?”

Jensen nods and Jared smiles at him before letting Jensen’s dick sink back into his mouth. Jared’s fingers move a little quicker now, crooking up to press up against a spot inside of Jensen that makes his entire body jerk. He does it again, swallowing around Jensen’s dick, and that’s it. He jerks up so hard at his orgasm that he’s surprised that his spine doesn’t crack with the force of it. Jared moans, swallowing Jensen’s release and suckling like he’s trying to coax more out. Jensen whimpers, still half-hard and sensitive, until Jared releases him.

“Isn’t that better?” Jared asks as he slides up Jensen’s body, fingers still buried deep inside him. Jensen wipes the sweat from his brow and nods, laying a trembling hand on Jared’s cheek.

“Still want you inside me,” Jensen whispers, leaning up for a kiss. He can taste himself on Jared’s tongue and it’s so intimate, so private, that Jensen can barely stop kissing him. Jared’s still fingering him open, thumb rubbing at the spot behind his balls, and Jensen bats his eyelashes up at him. “Now, Jared.”

“Not yet,” Jared replies, and Jensen grits his teeth as a third finger breaches him. He rolls his hips back into Jared’s hand and hooks his arms around Jared’s shoulders.

“I can take it,” Jensen pleads, whimpering when Jared spreads his fingers. He wants Jared’s cock, wants it to spear him open. “You can’t hurt me.”

“Yes, I can.” Jared nips at his jaw hard enough to make him gasp, as if to prove his point. “Just because it doesn’t last doesn’t mean you can’t get hurt, and I refuse to cause you a second’s pain. So just be quiet for a second, you bossy bottom.”

Jensen musters up a glare at Jared’s cheeky grin, but it doesn’t last. Jared’s rubbing at that spot inside him and Jensen’s dick perks back up. Jensen just closes his eyes and concentrates on Jared’s fingers inside him, feeling cold and bereft when they’re gone. He feels so empty.

He looks up to see Jared up on his knees, cock big and thick from where it juts out from his hips. He’s smearing lotion on himself and circling Jensen’s stretched hole with his thumb.

“It’d be easier on your hands and knees,” Jared says, and Jensen’s just about to protest when Jared leans over him and props himself up on one arm. “But I just – I have to do it like this. I have to see you.”

Jensen just nods, incapable of speech now that he has Jared’s naked, sweaty body on top of him. The slick head of Jared’s bare cock is at his hole, nudging in gently as Jared dips down for a kiss. Jared takes his dick in his hand, thumb of the opposite hand pulling Jensen’s slick hole open as he positions himself. Jensen wraps his legs around Jared’s thighs and tangles his fingers in Jared’s hair, nodding eagerly and tilting his hips up invitingly.

Jared’s hips rock forward, gently working his cock into Jensen. The flared head of it pops past the first ring of muscle and Jensen barely has time to moan before Jared’s pulling out. He growls in protest and opens his eyes to look up at Jared.

“How’d I know you’d tease me?” Jensen breathes, and Jared’s eyes are wide when they meet his.

“Sorry, sorry.” He nudges at Jensen’s hole again and takes a deep breath. “You’re just so goddamn tight.”

“And you’re so big,” Jensen breathes. Jared pushes back in and Jensen locks his knees around Jared’s hips to keep him from pulling out again, but he doesn’t need to. Jared plants his hands on either side of Jensen’s shoulders, staring down at him in awe as each small, rocking thrust of his hips pushes him in deeper. It hurts and Jensen breathes through the pain.

“You gotta let me in, Jen.” Jared places his hand on Jensen’s cheek and thumbs under his eye. He leans down for a soft, brief kiss and whispers against his lips. “Push back.”

Jensen does, bearing down around Jared’s cock and crying out when he slides in deep. They moan into each other’s mouths and Jensen nearly weeps at how good Jared feels buried inside of him. Jared is shaking as he slips one arm under Jensen’s shoulders and hugs him to his chest.

“God, Jared,” Jensen digs his fingertips into the thick muscle of Jared’s shoulders. “This is perfect. I love you, okay?” He takes Jared’s face in his hands and looks up at his wet eyes. “We belong here, just like this.”

Jared nods and kisses Jensen again, grinding his hips forward before pulling back to start moving. They set up a rhythm, Jensen rocking up to meet Jared’s slow, powerful thrusts. Jensen gasps every time Jared buries himself deep, in awe over how good it feels, each push better than the one before.

Jensen has no idea how long it lasts. They cling to each other, stealing kisses and gasping into each other’s mouths. Jared speeds up his thrusts until the sound of their bodies meeting is ringing in Jensen’s ears and he’s breathless at how amazing it is, and then he slows down, pulling out until just the flared head of his cock tugs at Jensen’s hole before sliding back in unhurried.

He’s hitting that perfect spot inside Jensen each and every time and he can’t believe that he’s lasted this long. When Jared reaches between their bodies to take Jensen’s cock in his hand, thumbing at the wet slit before starting to stroke, he knows that it’s almost over.

He starts chanting Jared’s name over and over, choking it out on breathless gasps, and Jared leans down to kiss Jensen’s forehead, then his sweaty temple and cheek before finally reaching his mouth. He pulls away to look into Jensen’s eyes and nods encouragingly, flicking his damp hair out of his face as he presses their foreheads together.

“Come on, Jen,” he says, sounding strained. The edge of Jared’s thumbnail catches on his slit just as he pushes in as deep as he can possibly go, and that’s it. Jensen grabs the back of Jared’s neck and holds him close, crying out into his open mouth as he comes again, emptying all over his belly and the delicate bend of Jared’s wrist.

“God, so fucking beautiful.” Jared grinds in deep and thumbs at the corner of Jensen’s wet, swollen mouth. Jensen’s tongue snakes out to taste himself on Jared’s wrist and he lets out a choked gasp as his whole body tenses. Jensen can feel Jared’s release inside of him, slick and wet, and it’s so intimate that Jensen gasps.

They collapse back onto the blanket together, Jared’s face buried in the sweaty curve of Jensen’s neck. They’re both panting and Jensen slides his fingers into Jared’s damp hair as he looks up at the sky. He can barely hear the sound of the ocean over the pulsing in his ears and he hisses when Jared pulls out. Slickness leaks out of him, running hot and filthy down the crack of his ass, and it makes Jensen smile.

Jared’s fingers are there, gently tracing the puffy rim of Jensen’s hole. Jensen sighs happily and lets his legs splay open, content to let Jared do whatever he pleases. There’s a flutter of cotton above his head and Jensen looks up to see Jared sliding down his body, kissing his tense belly before wiping the come up with his discarded shirt. He kisses Jensen’s hip and bites at the groove of his thigh. Then he blows gently on Jensen’s hole and he shudders at the cool, soothing feel of it.

Jared cleans him up with gentle swipes of the shirt and kisses the inside of his knee before tossing the shirt aside and crawling back up Jensen’s body. After a short, soft kiss on the mouth Jared flops onto his back next to Jensen, tangling their fingers together and staring up at the sky.

It’s not long before the ache in Jensen’s ass goes away, muscle tightening back up until there’s nothing left but the vague itch of drying come. Jensen’s lips twitch, disappointed. He sort of wanted the ache to stay. But that’s okay. It just means that every time will feel like the very first, and Jensen wants there to be lots of times.

“Can we do that every day?” Jensen asks, surprised at how rough his voice is. Jared chuckles and reaches up to rest his head on his bent arm while his other hand stays firmly grasped in Jensen’s.

“Hell yeah,” Jared replies. “Multiple times, even.”

Jensen laughs and it sounds tired even to his own ears. He rolls over and rests his head on Jared’s shoulder, mouth brushing softly against the underside of his jaw. The cool ocean breeze dries their tacky sweat almost instantly and Jared kicks their discarded blanket up with his feet so that he can cover them up. Jensen closes his eyes and burrows in deeper, slinging one leg over Jared’s thigh and wrapping an arm around his waist.

“Every single day with you is better than the last,” Jensen mumbles. He yawns and presses a sleepy kiss under Jared’s ear. “Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.”

“And every day after that,” Jared replies. He turns his head to kiss Jensen’s forehead and settles in for sleep, cradling Jensen close.

The rest of Jensen’s life began tonight; right here on a deserted beach in the arms of the person he loves. He can’t think of a more perfect start.

The next day dawns bright and warm, and Jared’s first move is dislodging Jensen to turn off the electric blanket. He rolls back and comes face to face with Rigby, who has crawled out of the picnic basket to give Jared a baleful look.

“Hey man, wasn’t my idea,” Jared says, and Rigby squeals admonishingly. “Maybe some tiny hedgehog earplugs next time?”

Rigby narrows his beady little eyes and then scampers off of the blanket to go take care of business and search for bugs in the sand. Jared snorts and then rolls over to prop himself up and look at Jensen. He’s smiling, even in sleep, and Jared reaches out to trace his bottom lip with the tip of his finger.

Jensen hums as Jared slides his hand down his chest, circling his flat stomach before curling around a hip. He noses at the soft spot under Jensen’s ear and sucks a kiss into the bolt of his jaw.

“Wake up, birthday boy.” Jared palms the soft bulge of Jensen’s cock and he finally opens his eyes, blinking sleepily up at him. “Hey.”

“Good morning,” Jensen says, letting his legs splay open to make room for Jared’s hand. He gets a good grip and is just about to start stroking when all of sudden he gets stabbed in the back with dozens of tiny knives. “Rigby!”

Jared rolls over to look at Rigby, who is squealing his head off and glaring at them. Jensen laughs and covers his face with his hands while Jared holds both of his own hands up in surrender. “Alright, alright,” he chuckles. “Not in front of the kid.”

Jensen rolls them over and straddles Jared’s hips, bracing himself with his hands on Jared’s chest and bouncing eagerly in a way that does nothing to quell Jared’s libido. He leans down to capture Jared’s lips in a long, leisurely kiss before he’s up and scrambling off Jared’s lap.

“I’m going to go swimming,” he declares, pulling his shorts on before tearing across the sand. “Are you coming?”

“Yeah! Just let me clean up a bit!” Jensen nods and then splashes right into the water despite its temperature. Jared pulls himself into a sitting position and glares down at Rigby. “Why do you gotta do me like that, Rigs? I thought we were bros.”

Rigby chirps and sniffs at Jared’s fingers until he sighs and rubs the hedgehog’s forehead with the tip of his index finger. He shoos Rigby off the blankets so he can fold them up. He’s stuffing them into the basket when his phone buzzes from where it’s resting in his shoe. He hadn’t even thought the thing had any battery left. When he goes to pick it up, he sees a text from Misha.

are you right near my car?

Yeah. I’m keeping it safe and sound. Why?

ten minutes.

Jared has no idea what that means but he’s grown accustomed to not really understanding the shit Misha does half the time. He drops the phone back into his shoe and lugs all the camping equipment back up the stairs with Rigby perched on his shoulder. He’s just slamming the lid to the trunk when he hears another car coming down the gravel drive to the beach. He does his best to stamp down his disappointment because this is a public beach, after all. They were lucky to have been left alone for as long as they were.

What does shock him, however, is the car pulling up next to him to reveal Misha behind the wheel. The passenger side window rolls down and Jared sticks his head in to boggle at him.

“What the hell?” Rigby digs his claws in to keep from slipping at the angle, but Jared hardly notices. “What are you doing here, man? How’d you know where we were?”

“You really think that I don’t have my car lo-jacked?” Misha yawns and fumbles for the coffee cup in his center console. “Where’s Jensen?”

Jared stands up and peers out at the water. Jensen seems fully enthralled in swimming, and Jared ducks back down. “In the water. Seriously, Misha. What are you doing here?”

“Get in.” Jared slips into the passenger seat and puts Rigby in his lap, looking over at Misha curiously. His friend is staring at him, eyes going soft. “You slept with him.” He sounds resigned when he says it, when Jared had been expecting a crow of victory. “Didn’t you?”

“Last night,” Jared replies absently. “Seriously, Misha. What’s going on?”

“I have to tell you something,” Misha says, and that’s when Jared notices the folder clutched in his hands. Jared eyes it warily before looking back up into Misha’s tired, blue eyes. “It’s important.”

“You couldn’t have called me?”

“Not for this, no.” Misha takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, eyes closed like he’s psyching himself up. Jared swallows nervously. “Okay, well. Here goes. After you guys left yesterday I realized that all that I learned about Jensen didn’t really sit right with me, you know? It raised some red flags. So I looked into it.”

“Misha, if you’re about to tell me that you dug up dirt on Jensen I am going to have a very hard time believing you,” Jared tells him, but there’s a pit in his stomach. He’s always had the feeling that there was more going on with Jensen, but he never let himself think about it too much.

“No, it’s not like that.” Misha lets a frustrated breath out through his nose and turns in his seat to look at Jared. “Do you know who Alan Ackles is?”

“Uh.” Jared blinks at the rapid change of subject and thinks for a second. “California senator, right? Super rich. Does a lot of charity work and he’s like, an activist or something. He’s behind all those initiatives to clean up the oceans, right?”

“Yeah, kinda like Al Gore but way less annoying,” Misha tells him. “His wife, Donna, is a marine biologist at the university. They’re both like, way into the ocean.”

Misha gives him a meaningful look at that, but Jared just furrows his brow.

“What does this have to do with Jensen?” He asks, and Misha clears his throat. Jared doesn’t think he’s ever seen his friend look so uncomfortable.

“You wouldn’t remember but, uh – “ Misha shifts in his seat and stares down at the folder in his hands. “The Ackles had this kid that went missing when he was just a baby, right after he turned one. There was this huge nationwide search and they never stopped looking, but the kid never turned up, dead or alive.”

“Misha – “ Jared squeezes his eyes shut as an ice cold pit forms in his stomach. “You can’t – Misha no.”

“The Ackles live in this huge estate on the beach in Malibu, where the kid was born.” Misha’s voice is thick with emotion and Jared wants to scream, wants to duck out of the car and run down the beach so he doesn’t have to hear what Misha’s about to say. “And every year on the kid’s birthday they have a big picnic in his honor, where everyone comes to show their support and donate money to charity to help find missing kids, even though they never got theirs back. They’ve done this every year for the past seventeen years, always on the kid’s birthday, the first of March.”

“Holy shit, Misha.”

“The kid’s name was Jensen Ackles.”

Misha sets the folder on Jared’s lap and he opens it, squinting through the tears to see what’s inside. It’s all news articles and Jared flips through them until he finds a picture of a gorgeous couple holding a baby with bright green eyes.

“That’s not all.” Misha puts his hand on Jared’s shoulder and he can’t help the sob that escapes as he looks over at him.

“How could there be more?” He asks brokenly, and Misha sighs.

“The Ackles’ head of security at the time of Jensen’s disappearance was a man named Jeff Morgan,” he says, and Jared sucks in a breath. “Shortly after, he stepped down from the position to become a private consultant for the family. His job was to never stop looking for Jensen, and the fucker had him all along.”

“So you’re telling me that this – this monster took Jensen when he was a baby and – and hid him away and collected money from his distraught family the whole time?” Jared’s furious, shaking with it, and a tear rolls down his cheek to land on the picture of a smiling baby Jensen below.

“It looks that way,” Misha says sadly. “Jared, I – that must be why Jensen wanted to come to the ocean so badly. He was born here, and deep down he never really forgot where he came from.

“He’s not Jensen Morgan,” Misha continues, and Jared looks over at him with tears still in his eyes. “He’s Jensen Ackles, son of a senator and heir to a multi-billion dollar fortune, and less than ten miles away from here his parents are celebrating his eighteenth birthday because they never gave up hope that he was still out there somewhere.”

“I have to take him home,” Jared whispers, running his fingertips over the photo before looking over at Misha. “To his real home.”

“He needs to know the truth,” he replies, and Jared sniffs and nods. “And you should be the one to tell him.”

“He was going to stay with me, you know?” Jared gives Misha a small smile and then looks out to where Jensen is climbing out of the water, so beautiful that it makes Jared’s heart ache. “Last night, just before we – well. He told me that his home is wherever I am. Can you believe that?”

“Yeah, Jared,” Misha replies softly. “I can. And what’s with the past tense? That doesn’t have to change.”

“I won’t belong in his new life. It was okay when he was just running away from home with the weird orphan, but this.” Jared waves his hand at the photo like that encompasses everything he’s talking about. “There’ll be no place for me there.”

Jared’s staring out at Jensen, who’s peering around the beach obviously trying to see where Jared wandered off to. He spots the two cars and starts heading for them. A sudden sharp pain cracks through his temple and he hisses, looking over to see Misha shaking out his hand.

“God, you’re an idiot.”

“Um, ow?”

“Listen to me, you little shit.” Jared holds the side of his face and stares at Misha with wide eyes. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe you don’t belong in a giant mansion trying to figure out which fork to use while dining with a senator, but you do belong with Jensen. He said so himself, and if you really think he’s the type of person to just forget that when the situation changes then you are the biggest asshole on the planet.”

“Okay, okay.” Jared says shakily. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“I know you have more self-worth issues than a flaming bag of dog shit but the boy loves you,” Misha says, and Jared swallows hard. “I’ve seen the stars in his eyes since the first moment I met him and you need to get your shit together and start seeing them for yourself. Now look alive, because here he is.”

Jared closes the folder and whips his head around just in time to see Jensen leaning down to stick his head in the window with a happy, albeit confused expression. Seawater drips from Jensen’s hair and onto Jared’s shorts as he turns his head to give Jared a kiss. Misha punches him in the thigh so hard that his leg seizes up and he groans into Jensen’s mouth, but he manages to kiss him back.

“Misha!” Jensen says when he pulls away, breathless and happy. “What are you doing here?”

“I decided that I just couldn’t let you celebrate your birthday without me,” Misha replies. There’s a lazy grin on his face and you’d never believe that he had just swooped in with life-altering information.

“Okay, great,” Jensen replies as he scratches Rigby’s head. “Where are we going?”

“A picnic,” Jared says, hoping that he doesn’t sound as nervous as he feels. “We’re going to a picnic.”

Jensen is sort of surprised to see Misha again so soon, but Jared had told him to always expect the unexpected when it came to his best friend so he doesn’t question it. It’s nice to have Misha there to celebrate with him.

They pack everything up into Misha’s car and leave the car Misha came in, which apparently belongs to someone named Evans, locked up at the beach. Misha drives and Jared rides shotgun, leaving Jensen to stretch out along the backseat with Rigby resting on his stomach while he enjoys the view.

Jensen loves everything that he’s seen of California so far. He loves feeling salt drying on his skin and the smell in the air, the way the wind whips through his hair when he rolls the window down. He loves how bright the sun is, throwing everything into sharp clarity.

The drive is a lot shorter than Jensen expected, and he’s a bit confused when he scoops Rigby into his tote back and climbs out of the car to see Misha handing his keys over to a guy in a red jacket.

“Valet,” Jared explains, and there’s something odd about his expression. “They park your car.”

Jensen shrugs and spins around, instantly stumbling to a stop and looking up at the grand estate with wide eyes. It’s a gorgeous house, sprawling along the beach like it’s the only structure that deserves to be there. There are tables and tents set up in the grass out front and Jensen is in awe of the way that grass gives way to sand, water lapping up onto the shore as people, mostly children, run through it and shriek.

“Wow, can you imagine living here?” Jensen asks, and Jared lets out a strained chuckle that makes Misha pat his back. “To have the ocean right there whenever you want it? That’d be wonderful.”

“You’d fit right in,” Jared says softly. Jensen leans in to give him a kiss on the cheek as Misha purchases their tickets. A friendly woman puts a bright green paper band around each of their wrists and when she asks if they’ll be drinking, Misha and Jared both immediately whip out their fake ID’s. Jensen leaves his in his pocket, not in the mood to drink. They both get a second red wristband and Jensen smiles brightly at the woman as Jared ushers him inside.

There are all sorts of carnival rides and games set up, the likes of which Jensen has only seen in movies. The smell of fried food hovers in the air and he realizes just how hungry he is. Jared is squeezing his hand almost hard enough for it to hurt, but Jensen doesn’t really mind.

“What is this place?” He asks, and Misha steps alongside him while they walk.

“It’s a charity picnic,” Misha supplies. “The people that live here have it every year to raise money for a really awesome cause.”

“What’s the cause?”

“Finding missing children,” Misha replies. He gives Jensen a sad smile and pats his shoulder before looking up at Jared with a look that Jensen has no hope of deciphering. “I’ll catch up with you guys later.”

Misha wanders off and Jensen gives his back a perplexed look before turning to face Jared. He’s looking in the direction of an elevated stage, eyes narrowed at a couple surrounded by men in black suits. Jensen gets a weird feeling when he sees them, but he shrugs it off and pulls Jared deeper into the crowd.

“What should we do first?” Jensen asks, ducking between two tents and coming up on the other side of the stage. “I’m starving so maybe – “

Jensen trails off as they approach a giant banner hanging from a tent next to the stage. It’s a family photo and Jensen can’t look away. It’s the same couple he spotted earlier looking younger and happier with a baby held in their arms. Jensen narrows his eyes at the baby and he gets this weird sense of déjà vu, like having an answer on the tip of your tongue or a memory just out of reach.

He stares at the child’s bright green eyes and blond hair and notices the light freckles smattered across its nose. Jensen furrows his brow and steps up closer, swaying back into Jared’s heat when he steps up behind him.

“Jared,” he says, and there’s an urgent niggling at the back of his mind; a weird pit in his stomach. “Do you know who these people are? I feel like – Jared. Who are they?”

“Jensen.” Jared voice is rough and his hands are heavy when he lays them on Jensen’s shoulders. “There’s something I have to tell you. It’s – Jen, it’s about who you really are.”

“Jared, I don’t – what are you talking about?” Jensen asks, turning around to look at him. Jared bites his lip and takes Jensen’s hand, leading him over to an empty table set back away from the rest of the crowd. It’s about as quiet and private as they can get given their current location, and Jared is still chewing on his lip as they sit down. Jensen reaches over to cup Jared’s chin, dragging his thumb over Jared’s lip to set it free before dropping his hand to the table.

“Did you ever feel like you were living the wrong life?” Jared blurts. He buries his fingers in his hair and looks over at Jensen desperately. Jensen’s mouth opens and closes, brow furrowing. He isn’t sure why Jared is acting so weird.

“Not since I met you,” he says, and Jared’s face crumples. “Okay, look. You’re freaking me out.”

“I don’t know how to tell you this,” Jared starts. “It’s all so – it’s insane, Jensen. But you have to know, and it’s going to change everything.”

Jensen just stares at him, waiting for him to continue.

“That’s you.” Jared gestures to the family photo Jensen had just been so enthralled in, waving his hand spastically at it before reaching in to touch Jensen’s shoulder. He blinks and looks over at the photo again, into bright eyes on a small face that feels so familiar. “You were born here, in this house. Your name is Jensen Ackles.”

“I don’t – I don’t understand, Jared.” Jensen blinks the sudden moisture out of his eyes and tears his gaze away from the painting to look at Jared. “What are you telling me?”

“Alan and Donna Ackles had a son,” Jared begins shakily. “And seventeen years ago, that son was taken from them. They searched and searched, but never found him. Every year on his birthday, today, they have a picnic for him. Their son’s name is Jensen, and that’s you, Jen.”

“But Jeff…”

“He’s the one that took you,” Jared tells him, and Jensen furrows his brow, thinking back on all the times he felt that he and Jeff were nothing alike. “He worked for your parents. He was supposed to protect your family, and instead he tore it apart.”

“Why?” Jensen is eerily calm. It’s not hard to believe Jared’s story. It all adds up, makes perfect sense for as crazy as it all is. He never felt like Jeff’s son, and now he knows why. There’s just one thing he needs to know now.

“I have no idea, Jensen.”

“How long have you known?” Jensen asks. That’s what hurts most of all, thinking Jared has been keeping this information from him the entire time they’ve known each other. “Did you know all along? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Jensen, no.” Jared grabs his hands and looks at him with wide, glassy eyes. “I didn’t know until this morning, I swear. Something you said tipped Misha off and he discovered it all. That’s why he came here this morning, to give me the information so I could tell you. I would have never kept that from you.”

“I know, I know.” Jensen reaches out to cup Jared’s cheek with a shaky hand. Jared circles his wrist with long fingers and Jensen curls his fingers in Jared’s messy hair. His heart is pounding and it’s just all so much to take in. “What about my magic?”

“I have no idea.” Jared turns his head to kiss the palm of his hand and gives him a watery smile. “But maybe that’s something your parents could answer.”

“My parents,” Jensen breathes, and Jared nods.

“They’re right over there.” Jared gestures towards the stage and Jensen whips his head to find the couple he spotted earlier, the one that made his heart jump. Now he knows why. They’re smiling, but it’s dimmed. His mother – god, his mother, keeps dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief while his father rubs her back. “You should go to them, Jen. They’ve been waiting for you for a very long time.”

“Yeah, I should – yeah.” Jensen gets up and takes a few steps away from the table, looking up at his parents in awe. His mother is so beautiful. She has long, golden hair tumbling down her back and his father has green eyes just like him. When he looks back at the table, Jared is still sitting there. His head is bowed and he startles when Jensen says his name. He looks at Jensen’s outstretched hand like he’s surprised by it. “Jared, you’re coming with me, right?”

Jared grins and it’s like the sun has just risen. No matter what else happens, Jensen needs that smile. He needs Jared in his life, whatever life that may be. Jared steps towards him and his grin falters, eyes widening as he reaches out for him.

“Jensen, watch out!”

But it’s too late. Someone grabs him by the arm and Jensen would know that feeling anywhere, icy cold and sharp, like falling through a frozen lake. He’s wrenched around by his elbow and he hisses, looking up helplessly into furious brown eyes.

“Jeff,” he says brokenly, and Jared gasps. “Let me go.”

Jared surges forward and tries to push Jeff away, but the older man takes a swing and Jensen whimpers when his fist connects when Jared’s jaw. He sprawls backwards onto the grass, lolling his head a bit before shaking it and looking up at him.

“I don’t know what the fuck you’re doing here,” Jeff growls into his ear. Jensen swallows hard because he’s always hated when Jeff got angry, but this is so much worse. “But you’re coming with me. If you so much as struggle I swear I will come right back here and put a bullet in him.” He points at Jared, still sprawled in the grass, and opens his coat to reveal a gun tucked into a holster on his belt. “Don’t think I won’t, Jensen.”

“Jeff, don’t do this,” Jensen pleads, but it’s no use. Jeff grips his arm tight enough to bruise and drags him through the crowd. People shoot curious glances their way, but no one stops them.

“Kid got a bit rowdy,” Jeff says to a security guard that starts to approach, waving him off with the hand not grinding Jensen’s bones to dust. “I’m escorting him out.”

The guy nods and walks off, leaving Jensen to stumble along beside Jeff. He looks over his shoulder and his heart breaks when he sees Jared standing there, staring hopelessly after him.

“I love you!” He shouts, because he can’t think of anything else to say. He doesn’t know what else to do. Jeff shakes him so hard his teeth rattle and he can’t stand the broken look on Jared’s face, so Jensen turns forward and bows his head.

Jeff takes his sudden cooperation for acquiescence, but Jensen is just biding his time. Because if there’s one thing he’ll never do, it’s walk away from Jared.

Jared stands there with his mouth agape. There’s a sharp ache in his jaw and Rigby is squealing and clawing at the inside of his bag. Jared stares at the back of Jensen’s head and it’s like his world is crumbling to dust.

“Jared!” Misha comes up to him and cups his cheek, wiping the blood from the corner of his mouth with his thumb. “What the hell?”

“That’s Jeff Morgan,” Jared says tonelessly, and Misha swears under his breath. Rigby’s bag is slipped from his shoulder and the hedgehog is practically screaming inside of it. People are looking at them funny and Misha pats Jared’s cheek hard enough to sting, but it isn’t quite a slap. It still snaps him out of his shock and he looks over at his friend. “Fuck.”

“Do something!” Jared tears his gaze away from Jensen’s back to nod at Misha, stumbling a little as he pulls himself together. Misha has Rigby out of his bag, stroking over his quills absently, and Jared suddenly tears off toward the stage.

He jumps up onto it and is immediately flanked by security guards grabbing him by the shoulders and pushing him back. He struggles, looking desperately at Donna and Alan. They seem more confused than alarmed and Jared shrugs off the grip of a burly security guard only to be grabbed by another.

“I need to talk to them!” Jared shouts, but a guard pushes him back so hard that he nearly tumbles backwards off of the stage. Donna and Alan are staring at him with wide eyes and Jared doesn’t know what else to do but shout at them with all the desperation he feels. “It’s about your son! He needs your help!”

It’s like everything freezes. The guards tense up before taking a step back, still holding Jared loosely by the arms. Donna gasps and Alan immediately beckons him forward. The guards release him and Jared moves so fast that he nearly falls to his knees.

“There’s no time to explain,” Jared says once he’s close enough to touch Alan’s arm. “Jensen’s here. Jeff Morgan took him seventeen years ago and he’s trying to take him away now.”

“What are you talking – “

Look!” Jared cuts Alan off to point out at the crowd. Jensen and Jeff are barely visible but Jensen turns his head just in time and his eyes glint green in the sunlight. “Stop them!”

“Oh my god,” Donna gasps, covering her mouth as her eyes fill with tears. Alan lets out a sharp whistle that makes Jared wince and all the guards snap to attention.

“Everyone stop Morgan and that boy,” Alan commands, the rough timbre of his voice at odds with his kind face. “Use whatever force necessary on Morgan, but stop him now.”

The guards surge forward like a wave, many of them barraging straight through the crowd while radioing to the others. From his vantage point on the stage, Jared can see a group of guards moving around the festivities to cut them off at the pass. Alan and Donna jump off of the stage and Jared follows, running behind them through the parted crowd.

Jared hears voices, loud shouts of stop and don’t move, and then someone screams. Jensen’s parents push through the sea of black and Jared grabs Alan’s arm, unwilling to hang back. Donna lets out a gasp when they make it to the front and Jared catches up just in time to see Jeff pulling a gun from his belt. He can only see the back of Jensen’s head, the tense set of his shoulders, before suddenly he’s moving.

He jabs Jeff once in the stomach and twists the gun out of his hand before flipping him onto the ground. Jeff pants up at him as Jensen takes the clip out of the gun and lets it fall to the ground, taking the last bullet out of the chamber and holding it in one hand.

“Thanks for all the self-defense training, Jeff.” A guard comes up slowly behind Jensen and takes the gun and bullet away from him before scooping up the clip and moving away. Another two men haul Jeff up from the ground and pin his hands behind his back.

Jensen turns around and his eyes immediately find Jared even as his parents both gasp. His gaze slides away from Jared to look at Alan and Donna, taking a shaky step towards them. Donna steps right up to him and cups his face in her small, soft-looking hands.

Event staff is doing an amazing job of evacuating all the guests, and Jared is grateful to feel Misha’s hand between his shoulder blades. Donna is crying and Jensen just looks like he’s in shock, doing nothing to deter the woman from cradling his face and staring at him.

“Jensen?” She finally asks, sweeping his hair back from his face and putting her thumb under his chin. “Is it really you, baby?”

There are tears in Jensen’s eyes at that and one of them slips down his cheek as he nods. He laughs nervously and smiles at her. “Mom.”

She lets out a sob and pulls him into a crushing hug. Jensen collapses into it, clutching at her back and burying his face in her neck. Tears are streaming from Jared’s eyes and he even hears a sniffle from Misha. Alan coughs and clears his throat, stepping up behind his wife to put his hand on Jensen’s shoulder.

“Why?” He asks, but the question is directed at Jeff. The older man glares angrily and says nothing, not even struggling against the hold of the guards.

“He was sick,” Jensen says, looking up at his father and speaking in a voice so low that Jared can barely hear. “He needed me to make it better.”

Alan gives him a look that leaves no doubt in Jared’s mind that he knows exactly what his son is capable of. Alan steps right up to Jeff and to his credit, the man barely cowers.

“If you had just come to us,” Alan starts, voice raw with emotion, “if you had just talked to us, we would have done everything we could to help you. We considered you family and you’ve had the gall to lie to our faces for seventeen years. “What kind of monster are you?” Jeff flinches at that like he’s been slapped, and Alan just shakes his head. “Take him away. Get everyone out of here.”

The guards haul Jeff off and when Alan turns, Jared can see the tears in his eyes as he sets his eyes upon Donna and Jensen. They’re still embracing and Jensen’s shoulders are shaking, face still buried in her neck. Donna opens her arm and Alan practically staggers into their embrace, wrapping strong arms around his family and pressing a kiss to Jensen’s head.

Jared watches, cheeks soaked with tears, and barely notices Misha setting Rigby on his shoulder. Soon someone’s hand curls around his bicep and tugs him gently backwards. He looks over to see a security guard giving him a sympathetic look.

“No, please,” Jared whispers, but the man shakes his head. He looks back to see Misha almost already off the grounds, being led away by an escort of his own. “Please.”

“Sorry, kid.” The guy starts pulling him away and Jared stumbles backwards, trying to decide how hard to fight. Jensen has a family now, one that loves him and can give him everything he ever needs. It’s more than Jared could ever offer, which is nothing more than himself. “You gotta go.”

Jared steps back a few more feet and suddenly Jensen’s head pops up, eyes darting around until they land on Jared.

“No!” He shouts, and Alan and Donna step away from him to turn and follow his gaze. “Let him go.”

Jensen pulls away from his parents to tear across the lawn and launch himself into Jared’s arms. He catches him and stumbles backwards, chuckling softly as Jensen locks his knees around Jared’s hips and wipes away his tears. Rigby scurries between their bodies and Jared doesn’t even mind the quills in his chest.

“Don’t leave, okay?” Jensen pleads, and his voice sounds like broken glass. “Don’t leave me. I want to be here and I want to get to know them, but I can’t be without you, Jared.”

“Duh.” It’s the only thing Jared can manage without completely breaking down and dropping Jensen, and he doesn’t think it’d be a good idea to break him just after giving him back to his parents. Jensen grins and slinks down Jared’s body, setting his feet in the grass and taking his hand, giving him a soft smile as he leads him back over to his waiting parents. Jensen sets Rigby on a nearby table and scratches his head before turning to face the couple.

“Mom, Dad,” he says, and Donna puts her hand over her mouth to cover a happy sob. He drags Jared forward by the hand until he’s standing right alongside him, and he can’t really look anywhere other than at his own dirty toes. “This is Jared Padalecki. He’s the one that found me and brought my here. He saved my life and he – I love him. He’s my entire world and I can’t be where he’s not. I just can’t. I wouldn’t be here at all if it weren’t for him and – “

Jensen’s cut off by his mother rushing forward to pull Jared into a hug. He tenses and then blinks owlishly as he wraps his arms around the petite woman. She’s clutching at his back and pushes up onto her toes to kiss his cheek.

“Thank you, Jared.” Her lip gloss is warm and sticky on his cheek and her sundress flutters in the breeze. “Thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome.” Jared isn’t sure how he feels, but he likes it. He feels cared for in Donna’s motherly embrace, and that’s something he had no idea he missed so much.

“You’re both just such wonderful boys!” Donna chuckles through her tears and pulls Jensen into their hug. Jared closes his eyes and presses his forehead to Jensen’s temple, so overcome with emotion that he doesn’t trust himself to speak.

“Oh, what the hell.” Alan laughs joyously and swoops the three of them up in his arms. They all chuckle and Alan claps Jared on the shoulder. He turns to meet Alan’s kind green eyes and smiles. “Welcome to the family, son.”

Jared sucks in a breath as a fresh set of tears work their way down his cheeks. He nods gratefully at Alan and turns his head to see Jensen grinning at him, chin resting on top of his mother’s head. God, he gets to stay with Jensen, in this house with his adoring family. He never has to let him go.

Jared has no idea how long they stand there embracing, but the sun dips below the sea and the sprinklers click on. They all shriek and jump apart, but Jensen just flicks his glowing fingers and cuts a clear path in the water that leads them to the house. Donna and Alan laugh and walk between the walls of water, reaching out to trail their fingers along the spray. They’re obviously enchanted, and Jensen grins proudly.

He takes Jared’s hand and leads him forward, away from the beach and through the water, towards their new home.

What a day.

Jensen is curled up in a very tame embrace with Jared on the loveseat out on his parents’ patio. Tiki torches provide light and warmth, and Jensen rests his head on Jared’s shoulder while he listens to his father talk and watches the waves crash up onto the shore. The ocean is literally in his backyard now. He’ll never have to go a day without the sea, or Jared, or his family.

Basically, he’s the luckiest guy in the world.

His parents had taken to Jared instantly, setting him up with a bedroom down the hall from Jensen’s. He’d been surprised that they couldn’t share, but Jared wasn’t. Of course Jared tried to decline, claiming it was too much and unnecessary, but Jensen and Donna just kept shushing him until Alan piped up and informed him that he best just give in.

Donna fell for Rigby instantly, carrying him around in the crook of her arm and cooing at him as she gave Jared and Jensen a tour of the estate. They stumbled along and boggled until she took pity on them and said she would save the rest for tomorrow. Jensen couldn’t believe that there was more to see.

They called Misha and he stopped by to drop off their things and let Jensen introduce him to his parents. He explained Misha’s role in getting him home and they fawned over him, telling him that he was welcome in their home whenever he was in town.

Misha was very gracious but didn’t linger, giving Jared and Jensen each a quick hug and a wink before excusing himself to give them privacy. Soon after, Jensen’s stomach rumbled loud enough for everyone to hear, and that’s how they ended up on the patio with enough pizza to feed an army.

His father tells him that he’s in for a hell of a ride, that starting tomorrow he will have to deal with the police and a full-blown media circus, but tonight is theirs. Jensen can take it. He can handle anything as long as the people that love him are by his side.

“Tell me about my magic, Dad.” Jensen says, twining his fingers with Jared’s while he uses his other hand to stuff his face with pizza. He turns his head at that, swallowing hard and settling in to hear whatever Alan has to say. Donna smiles serenely and sinks back into her deck chair. “Where’d it come from?”

“Strap in, kid,” Alan says, rubbing his hands together gleefully. “This is a good one.”

Jensen shifts under Jared’s arm, curling his fingers around his wrist as he watches his father speak. He’s so lively, gesturing widely with his hands as he tells the story of their ancestors. Even Jared is enthralled, fingers tangled with Jensen’s as he watches Alan with rapt fascination. His mother takes in the scene with unabashed fondness in her eyes, nodding happily at Jensen when she looks over to see him watching her.

Jensen has no idea how much of his father’s fantastical tale is to be believed, but one thing is certain. That happily ever after is definitely well within his reach.

Chapter Text

Jared wakes up on his eighteenth birthday swaddled in 800 thread count sheets with a hedgehog on his face, and Jensen jumping up and down on his cozy mattress. He opens his eyes just in time for Rigby to nearly take one out with his quills. He blearily yet carefully pushes Rigby off of his face and onto the pillow, and then looks up at Jensen.

“Happy birthday!” He’s got one foot on either side of Jared’s hips and he drops like his strings have been cut, landing on Jared’s lap in some magical way that doesn’t cause any pain. But then he slaps his hands down onto Jared’s bare belly, and that smarts a little.

“Let me guess,” Jared mumbles tiredly. “You had your coffee.”

“Two and a half cups of it!” Jensen says excitedly, pointing at Jared’s nightstand. “I brought you half a cup.”

Jared chuckles and sits up, reaching up to grab Jensen’s face in both hands and give him a kiss. He reaches over for the cup and brings it to his mouth for a sip while he watches Jensen over the rim of it. He looks so happy, tanned and well-rested. He smells vaguely of salt and sunshine, a sweet tang that Jared can never get enough of.

“Happy birthday,” Jensen says again, softer this time. He gives Jared another kiss and this one lingers, clinging and soft before pulling back with a smile. “Mom said I should let you sleep, but I didn’t want to.”

Jared doesn’t think he knows it, but Jensen always looks slightly awed whenever he says the words ‘mom’ or ‘dad’, like he can’t quite believe it. They roll off his tongue easier now, but his eyes still light up whenever he uses them.

Jared looks around his room and then out at the sea through his filmy curtains. It looks like a nice day, maybe even a bit breezy. Jared’s bedroom, on the same floor but opposite sides of the house from Jensen’s, is sparsely decorated. He hasn’t done much with it since he moved into it, because it never felt quite real. He resisted taking the room at all but Jensen and his parents heard none of it. So he lives here now, an as-for-now permanent fixture in the Ackles estate.

He agreed that he would move in on the condition that he would be given work to do, and mostly he works outside on the grounds. He loves helping to take care of this beautiful house, of Jensen’s home on the shore. Jensen likes to help, but he ends up wandering off to sink into the ocean more often than not.

Jensen’s room, on the other hand, is well lived in. He loves the street artists on the pier, and he’ll sit and watch them create works for hours. He buys the ones that catch his eye (of which there are many) and puts as many on his walls as he can fit at one time, constantly rotating them out. Jared once made a joke that he should start an art gallery, and both Jensen and his mother got sort of a weird gleam in their eye. So, who knows what will happen with that.

It’s been four long, whirlwind months since everything happened, and Jensen is still adjusting. They both are. Alan wasn’t kidding about that media circus. America was taken by Jensen’s disappearance and was just as enthralled with his return. He’s been in the spotlight and Jared has been right there with him, suddenly so exposed after years of staying hidden, but he makes due.

Jeff’s trial is still pending and Jensen doesn’t really like to talk about it. He sees a therapist once a week and he seems to like her, so that makes them all feel better. Jared had spent weeks tiptoeing around the estate until Donna had cuffed him upside the head and told him to knock it off, that he was family and that it was his house too.

Jared may have cried a little later, so touched by it all, but that can’t be proven.

Two days later, they broke a very expensive looking crystal vase while having a footrace through the halls, and Jared sprained his wrist when he tried to slide down the ornate railing of the main stairs and ended up falling off of it. Jensen could heal his wrist, but not the vase. Donna didn’t seem to mind.

Jensen’s magic is a secret between himself, Jared, his parents, and a few trusted members of the live-in staff, but his parents encourage him to explore it. He uses it freely when they’re at home or on the beach, exploring all he can do, and Jared never tires of watching him.

It’s a good life, if a bit crazy. They see Misha all the time. Jensen’s parents are amused by him and there’s a guest room down the hall from Jared’s room that’s practically his now, for all that he’s in it. Rigby’s living the high life, even though it’s technically illegal for them to have him in this state. But they haven’t come across anyone man enough (or stupid enough) to try to take away Jensen’s beloved pet, even though Rigby goes everywhere with them.

It’s a good life, if not vastly different than the one he expected and kind of mind-blowing and overwhelming at times, but he wouldn’t trade it for the world.

“Get out of bed!” Jensen says, startling Jared from his thoughts. He chuckles and finishes the last dregs of his coffee before setting the cup on his nightstand. “I want to show you your present.”

“I told you not to get me anything,” Jared says immediately, and Jensen just presses a finger to Jared’s lip and rolls his eyes.

“Shush.” Jensen taps Jared’s mouth and then scoops Rigby up as he rolls out of Jared’s bed. Jensen’s always so perky in the mornings but there’s a moment or two, right after he wakes up, that he spends scowling at the world. Jared’s only been able to see it a few times. Donna and Alan insisted on separate bedrooms when Jared moved in, and he was in no place to argue.

He rolls out of bed and pulls on a black v-neck tee shirt over his flannel sleep pants, barely getting out a yawn before Jensen is grabbing his hand. Jared stumbles along and fixes his gaze on Rigby, who is riding on Jensen’s shoulder as per usual. The hedgehog is staring at Jared with his beady little eyes and if he didn’t know any better, he’d swear Rigs was smirking at him.

Hell, Jared doesn’t know any better.

“Your pet is smirking at me,” Jared accuses as he’s dragged down the stairs. Jensen lets out a huff and jumps down two steps to the floor, jostling the hedgehog.

“Stop it, Rigby! You’ll give away the surprise,” Jensen scolds, and Rigby lets out a soft chuffing sound that sounds a whole hell of a lot like laughter.

Jared just rolls his eyes and smiles. This is his life now.

~~~~~~~~~~
Jensen drags Jared excitedly through the kitchen and out the back door, not bothering to stop and put on shoes. Jared becomes immovable for the seven seconds it takes him to slip into his flip-flops, and Jensen spends the entire time tugging on his arm.

“My present is outside?” Jared asks, following dutifully behind Jensen as he heads across the grass. “Boy, I hope it’s an alpaca.”

Jensen chuckles and leads Jared down the sloping yard towards the beach, and Jared furrows his brow as they approach the second guesthouse. (Yes, there’s two.) This smaller guesthouse is Jensen’s favorite place on the estate because it’s the closest structure to the ocean and while it’s been rebuilt dozens of times by now, it’s the same place where Jensen’s ancestors built their first home all those generations ago. It’s a place blessed by the magic of the sea.

Jensen had confessed to Jared that sometimes the sprawling mansion felt too damn big sometimes, and that he was scared he would get lost and never find his way out. He likes the smaller guesthouse because it’s cozy and comfortable and it lets him be even closer to the waves. Jared loves it because Jensen likes it, and also because it’s usually where they sneak off to fool around, which is why Jared blushes a bit when they approach the small house to find Jensen’s parents waiting by the front door.

Jensen finally lets go of his wrist once they’re in front of Donna and Alan, and Jensen bounces around beaming while Donna pulls Jared into a hug.

“Good morning, sleepyhead,” she says fondly. “Happy birthday.”

“Happy birthday, kid.” Alan grips his shoulder firmly and jostles him a bit.

“Thank you.” Jared scrunches his nose when Donna kisses his cheek and wipes the lip gloss she left behind with the pad of her thumb. She’s so gorgeous, so warm and kind. She doesn’t fill the deep, gaping hole that’s been there since Jared’s own mother passed, but she certainly lessens the blow. Jared clears his throat and looks around before turning his gaze back to an exuberant looking Jensen.

“You said there was a present out here.” Jensen jumps up and down and then spreads his arms, dipping to a lunge as he gestures at the house.

“Happy birthday!” He shouts, and Jared is officially confused. He looks from Jensen, who is still doing jazz hands at the front door, to Donna. She’s holding a small brass key out to him and Jared blinks.

“You want me to move into the guesthouse?” He’s standing there, more confused than he’d care to admit, when Jensen snatches the key from his mother and jumps into Jared’s arms.

“Yes,” he says, and Jared turns to look at him as he clutches the back of his shirt. “With me. We’re moving into the guest house. Together, idiot.”

“Wait, what?” He swallows hard and looks over at Donna and Alan even while pulling Jensen closer. “Really?”

“Yes, Jared,” Alan says with a chuckle. Donna smiles warmly at him. “We know Jensen likes it out here, and now that you’re eighteen we don’t see any reason why the two of you couldn’t move in together.”

“You’ll still have your rooms in the house and you can come and go as you please,” Donna adds, and her eyes are a bit wet. “And you’ll both be expected to join us every night for dinner. But we wanted you to have a place that was yours.”

Jared doesn’t cry, but his eyes aren’t exactly dry either. He rushes forward and envelops Donna in a long, tight hug before giving Alan one as well. Jensen kisses Donna’s cheek and then goes about unlocking the door. Rigby squeaks excitedly from Jensen’s shoulder as the door opens and he disappears inside.

“We’re going to dinner tonight at six, boys,” Donna reminds them. “Be sure you’re ready to go. But until then, enjoy your new home.”

Jensen takes Jared’s hand and grins happily at his parents. Donna has tears in her eyes but she looks happy, and Alan nods at them as he shuts the door. Jensen turns to Jared expectantly and a full minute goes by before Jared stops being too shocked to speak.

Oh my god!” He shouts, and Jensen laughs delightedly. He sets Rigby down into a corner of the living room that seems to be custom made for him, filled with lots of tubes to play in and trail mix and water dispensers fixed low to the ground. The walls are, predictably, covered in the art Jensen has collected, but every single piece is one Jared recognizes as being one he took a particular interest in. “This is ours?”

“All of it,” Jensen says, leaning in to press a soft kiss to Jared’s slack mouth. “You and me.”

He takes Jared’s hand and leads him through to the bedroom. It’s decorated in soft tans and ocean blues with a queen sized bed perched in the middle. The most prominent feature is the French doors that take up most of one wall. Jensen pushes aside the gauzy curtains and flings them open, taking a deep breath of sea air. They’re yards from the ocean and the waves roar, slapping the shore right in Jared’s backyard.

Jared looks around the room and can feel the history here, even though the place has been restored and rebuilt so many times over the years. This is where the magic started, right here in this room, and now Jared is tangled up in it. Enchanted.

Jensen is standing at the back door, fingertips glowing blue as he flicks his hands forward. Grains of sand roll hurriedly across the hardwood floor and fling themselves outside. Jared steps up to him and wraps an arm around his waist, practically lifting him up off of the floor.

“I love you,” Jared says, because the words come easy now. They’re true like nothing in his life has even been before. Jensen smiles and puts his hands on Jared’s cheeks, still blue and shimmery. Jared feels invigorated, wild and powerful like he’s part of the sea itself.

“I love you too,” Jensen says, leaning in to give him a kiss. Grains of sand dance around them and they can hear Rigby chirping in the other room.

This is Jared’s life now. Their life.

It’s a pretty good one.