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We Used To Be The Loners

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Jared tried to push his hair behind his ears to keep it from snapping his face and neck—he'd have to see if the budget allowed a haircut. It was getting so long even he had to admit he was due a trim. He pulled his coat collar up higher; the thin, cheap, wool blend was piss-poor protection against the biting wind currently whipping his hair around and making the end of his nose sting like hell—was probably Rudolph red, too. Jenz would have mocked the shit out of him for it. Jared followed the thought with a laugh—or tried to. So it came out sounding less like a laugh and more like a punch to the ribs, so what. He just—just—god damn it. It was Mike and Tommy's fault the fucking kid was on his mind, those assholes, not to mention they stiffed him for lunch. Next year, fuckin' Mr. Movie Star better be paying—

Hell, he'd gone years, happy, productive years damn it, without giving Jensen a second thought…Jared snorted softly. Right.

The Lone Gunmen. Fuckin' Loners….

They'd all gone through so much crap together, the shit those guys had had to bear… not him, he'd been okay. So his dad had been—was—distant and his mom was kind of…thin. Sort of. Not all the way there. It wasn't like they'd beaten him or belittled him or acted like he didn't exist. He'd had it pretty good, considering. Yeah, his brother had died too young, and even now whenever he thought of it, it rattled around in that hollow space Jeff's death had carved out in him. A space that was lined with the ridiculous feeling of being abandoned. He snorted. Like Jeff had had a choice. It was just…his mom and dad, they'd had a choice. They hadn't lost him and his sister after all. Jeff had died but Jared hadn't and it'd never seemed to matter….

Jared fumbled with the coat's collar, trying to tuck it higher under his chin and still keep a tight grip on the lovely warm cup of take-out coffee. His fingers curved gratefully around the cup. His hands were cold—always cold, from the start of winter to the end—so the cup's slight burn was welcome.

Somewhere around the time he'd lost himself on memory lane the sun had decided to set and like winter suns do, it'd set suddenly and with a vengeance. Jared huffed, irritated. All those old feelings…well, he'd put them to good use, right? Brought Dean Winchester to life with them in four—and god willing soon to be more—forties-style noir-ish pulps featuring the demon-hunting, bisexual detective who had sharp, spiky edges but a gooey nougat center. The always sarcastic Jensen voice in the back of his head snorted, hey you're about this close to a Nobel, baby, and Jared laughed again. "Next stop, topa the world, ma," he muttered, because talking out loud to yourself wasn't crazy in the least. Nope the little voice agreed, it's all good 'til you start arguing with yourself. "Shut up," Jared said under his breath and the little voice laughed along with him.

He was in a brighter mood when he jogged up the library steps. Took a deep breath before shoving through the door. Tonight was the first of five classes he was going to 'teach'—creative writing for old folks—not its official title but that's what it was. He knew he was about to face a classroom full of little, old, blue-haired ladies, eager to put their love for spring showers and fluffy kitties and their grand-brats into deathless prose. He had no idea how he planned to pull this off, but like Jens used to say, he'd just have to 'fake it until you make it'. Which just coincidently happened to be Dean's tag line. Usually directed at his buddy, Sam. Who looked nothing like Jared the same way that Dean looked nothing like Jensen. (Except for the tiny ways they did....)

He swung into the library's smallest meeting room, dropped his briefcase on the desk facing the room and waved his miraculously still warm coffee. He grinned at the class, who happened to be one and all free of blue hair, and said, "Hey guys, are we ready to kick writing in its a—oh shit."




"Stomp-scrape, Stomp-scrape—Dean hears the heavy footsteps and he's sure the freak is right behind him. Dean's blind in the freezing dark and he's scared shitless but he keeps on going, running through the old mine tunnel and hoping he's going the right way. He's scared but he keeps going because that's what Winchesters do, they never quit. Somewhere in that mine, the wendigo has his buddy Sam and the creep's not getting away with it, hell no! Dean runs faster and after a while he thinks he can see light up ahead in the tunnel. Just then he hears a shout! It's Sammy! He runs like crazy through the tunnel, the mystery weapon under his jacket is bouncing around like crazy. 'I got ya Sam' he yells. 'Hang on!' It's definitely lighter now but suddenly, right in front of him, something rises up out of the ground! Dean slides to a stop. There…It…Is. Slimy and skinny and taller than Sam. It's dragging its long claws over the rocks and making that noise, you know, like chalk on a board and it's gnashing its sharp, pointed, poison drool covered teeth and waving its skinny, slimy, scaly arms and it stinks and slobbers and growls...AND IT'S COMING STRAIGHT AT HIM!"


Tommy screamed and jumped and that made Mike jump too, only he did Tommy one better and tumbled off the folding lawn chair and Jenz just fell out at that, laughed and laughed until he fell off his own chair and his face went a hot red. Jared dropped back down on the egg crate he'd claimed as his seat. He lowered his arms and folded them across his chest, knew he looked smug and yeah, he was a bit. He'd scared the shit out of Tom, who, okay, was a shameless wuss and easy as hell, but it made Jensen laugh so hard even his back teeth showed and that had been pretty much the whole point.

"You're a jerk, Jay," Tommy pouted, and dragged the creaky lawn chair into the half circle facing Jared. He threw himself back on the chair, frowning a little when he noticed his t-shirt was dusted with the powdered corpses of ancient leaves. He fastidiously brushed them off before asking, "What happened next? How does Dean save Sam? Wait—he saves him right?" Tommy's forehead wrinkled in concern, big green eyes going dark with worry and Jared savored the moment—that one where all eyes were on him and he had the power of life and death in hand. Or at least the guys' total attention.

Jensen, on the other hand, was cool as a cucumber and rolled his eyes at Mike and Tommy. He grinned at Jared, tossed sun-bleached, unruly hair back out of his eyes. Jared tracked the way it fell into wings on either side of his face and held back a sigh. Cool, Jared thought. Jensen was cool as hell, like the guy who played Romeo in that movie that he'd eat his own tongue before admitting out loud he liked and had had dreams about that guy for—anyway, Jensen was cool like that. No, he was cooler. Jared rubbed the back of his own short-shorn head, pictured all that silky hair getting caught up in his fingers and shivered just a bit.

Jensen dropped down next to Jared, bumped his shoulder against his and poked a finger into Jared's ribs. "Whadya think, dweeb-boy?" He shook Jared a little. "Think Jay'd do something shitty like kill Sam? He's like…Dean's best friend. Ever. Right?"

"Right," Jared agreed staunchly. "They're more than friends. They're like…brothers."
Jared pulled his gaze away from Jensen's mouth and dropped his eyes to Jenz's chest and the tight, worn t-shirt he wore, instead. Gazed at the pinkish grey blot that once read Harley-Davidson pulled tight over Jensen's nipples. "…more than friends," he mumbled and then flushed bright red, mortified that his brain had stupidly wandered off track and let his mouth run on, unsupervised.

"Uhm. Yeah," Jenz dropped his head back; squinted at the ceiling and seemed to roll the idea around a bit before he nodded, satisfied. "Yeah. Like brothers. Only, better."

The kind of brothers who'd really care about each other and have each other's back no matter what and anything they did, was done with the other in mind—pretty much what the Loners were all about, Jared thought, and that feeling seemed to be reflected in the others' faces.

Summer afternoons should always be like this, Jared decided. Junk food, comics, spinning shit and vegging out in the Lone Gunmen's clubhouse. Which happened to be the back corner of Jared's dad's garage, where he kept grass seed and stuff like that. Dad was willing to let them cut a corner out for themselves, and all they ( mostly Jared) had to do was keep the garage clean, mow the lawn and wash the man's car once a week. So for minimal slave labor, they got the back corner by the door and an ancient dorm fridge that had migrated there, plus a forgotten card table and a few rickety lawn chairs they'd inherited due to them being on their last aluminum legs. All in all, it was pretty sweet.

Jared noticed that it'd gone quiet in the garage and he looked up to find all eyes on him. "What?" he asked.

"What? 'What' he asks—what the hell happened next?" Mike squeaked. "We been asking ya!"

"Oh, that." Jared shrugged. "They all died."


"Motherfucker—you're kidding right?"

Jared burst out laughing. "Yes, kidding, you guys are too friggin' easy—this is what happened next—"

But Jared's dad chose that moment to crack open the back door. "Dinner time, boys," he said. "Jay, tell your friends 'bye and come wash up."

He left the door open when he left and Jared rolled his eyes—Dad was as subtle as a Mack truck.

Deprived of their ending, the guys bitched and groaned—except for Jensen. He grabbed Jared by the arm and pulled him in close, the whole hot length of his body pressed against Jared. "Jay. Don't leave us hanging, dude." his warm mouth a breath away from Jared's ear, soft lips brushed against the shell as he spoke, warm fingertips drifting under the hem of his shirt….

Or at least that's the way it happened in Jared's imagination. In the real world, Jenz grabbed Jared by the arm and then shook him until his head bobbled around on his skinny neck like a dandelion in the breeze.

"Quick, finish!" Jensen yelled and Jared, in a fit of evil and maybe a little pent-up frustration, refused.

"No, no—next time. I'll see you guys tomorrow. Now let's get this shit cleaned up before Gerry flips a bitch."

There was a lot of bitter grumbling as they folded up the chairs and cleaned up junk food wrappers and coke cans. Jared was feeling pretty good, enjoying the rare upper hand. Jensen rolled his eyes, at him, and fished a Marlboro out of his jeans pocket. "Dork," he muttered, but it was laced with so much fondness that Jared didn't mind—all that much.

"Hey jerkface, you know the rules—no smoking inside." Jared snapped, and plucked the cigarette out of his friend's mouth.

Jensen snorted—snatched it back to tuck behind his ear, then reached out and flicked the tip of Jared's ear. "Bitch."

He bent over to grab up their bottles, ready to toss them in the new recycle can and when he did, the back of his too tight shirt rucked up a bit. Jared sucked in a shocked breath. He'd seen the yellowish bruises on Jensen's upper arms but there was a dark purple spread across his back that looked bad. It worried him, and he wished like hell that Jensen had some place to go besides back to that asshole. Jensen should stay here tonight, he thought, and was about to try and convince him to do that when Tommy sidled up, his eyes wide and sad. Before Jared had the chance to, Tommy asked Jensen to dinner.

"My sisters are going to be there and if you don't come, man, they'll pick on me something fierce..." Tommy dropped his head, his long bangs curling over his forehead. "…or do that thing where they act like I'm not even there, you know and I…"

The weird thing was, the unbelievable thing was, that in a family full of drop-dead gorgeous overachievers, beautiful Tommy was the ugly duckling. The kid who had no idea what he wanted to do, in contrast to his siblings, who had come out of the womb knowing just what it was they wanted and how to get it. There was the sister who was model hot and a big deal executive with some soup company just like Tom's dad. There was the other sister, movie star hot and like Tom's mom, a professor—and yeah, a writer too, but the boring kind, Jared thought unkindly, so it didn't really count. Except maybe to Tommy's parents who never let Tom forget that he was the surprise baby, woopsie baby—the unexpected arrival that kept them from doing whatever it was they'd really wanted to because they had to raise him.

Jared thought Tommy's parents were both dicks.

Jared watched Tommy work Jenz until he folded like a cheap suit. Whatever the guy's family thought about him, Tommy had a great shot at being a damn good actor someday. That whole 'oh help me out by coming to dinner' thing was a big fat pack of lies just to get a decent meal into Jenz. Jared kinda loved Tommy for that. And maybe felt sorry for him because there was a bit too much truth in the role he was playing.

Mikey pushed a broom past Jared and tossed him a wink and a grin. Mike knew what Tommy was up to. Jensen was a pretty frequent guest at Mike's mom's table. Probably because she didn't notice he was there—the Rosenbaum pack was as plentiful as old-school Catholics, which was funny considering—at least, that's what Gerry said whenever he talked about them, always with some kind of not very nice vibe under the words that set Jared's teeth on edge. It was true, though—Mike was the youngest of a very outspoken horde. He had to yell louder and act nuttier than any one of them to get noticed. Poor Mike was a labor intensive kid. He needed a lot. Hugs, attention, praise—some kind of, any kind of, notice. He wasn't getting it in that house, or anywhere else for that matter. And sure, Jared felt sorry for Mike but the truth was, Mike could be...exhausting. Jared couldn't say he didn't get why Mike's family kept the kid at arm's length. Still, no matter how crazy, loud, or obnoxious, underneath it all Mike was a good guy at heart. That's why he was a Loner.

Jared turned his attention back to Jenz, caught him promising to show at Tom's for dinner, thank god. Later on, Jared would try and sneak a sandwich out and stick it in the clubhouse fridge, just in case. Jensen wasn't ever going to go without a meal if it could be helped—leastways not on Jared's watch

* * *

Later on that night, when he was supposed to be asleep, Jared stuffed the earbuds of his thrift store Walkman in, loaded a tape he'd gotten…actually maybe sort of stolen…from his dad's collection, and let the music Gerry had grown up with provide the soundtrack to Dean's thoughts. Jared worked feverishly, banging out the latest Dean and Sam adventure in his Winchester note book.

He worked straight through three pages before dropping his pen. The new story was coming pretty good, but honestly, it was barely distracting Jared from the part of his brain that kept banging on a question brought up by the sight of those ugly bruises on Jensen's back—why did Jensen's dad keep him if he didn't take care of him? Jared lay back on his bed, tossed the notebook aside, and thought about his friend. He didn't understand how Jenz's dad could do that to him—or why.

He knew Jenz didn't have an easy time of it. Jenz did the kind of stuff for his dad that a kid's parents should be doing for them. In fact, Jensen had been pretty much cheated out of being a kid at all. It looked like he wasn't about to have much of a future either. Shit, as far as Jared could see, all Jenz got back from his dad was a bunch of empty bottles and a closed fist. No one cared, not at school, not at home, no one did anything about it and trying to ask Jensen about it was like sticking your dick in a shredder so they left that alone. The Loners did what they could to help but….

Jared sighed and shelved his worries for another day. He rolled to his side, shoving his arm under his head. With any luck, he'd fall asleep before morning came. Thinking about that stuff just always…just tied his stomach into achy knots. That, and the other subject that worried him, crept around the edges of his brain just waiting to sucker punch him the minute he let his guard down.

Lately, The Feeling he never wanted to look square in the eye was beginning to dog him constantly. It was this thing, preferring to look at a broad set of shoulders and wondering how it would feel to press his hand against a hard plane of chest instead of soft breasts and imaging the weight of someone else's dick hot against his palm and how more and more, The Feeling centered on Jensen and his wide, green eyes and his freckles and the curve of his shoulders and the smell of his skin…and how much all those things scared him to death.

Sleep took its time before sneaking up on him but finally his tense muscles relaxed, his breath deepened and evened out and he slid gently out of the real world and into dreams. He dreamed that his mom sent him to Jenz's house with five dollars and a suitcase. He gave Jensen's dad the five dollars and then brought Jenz home to live with them forever....

* * *

"So there they are, the wendigo roaring down on Dean like a runaway truck—Dean throws his jacket back and grabs the special, supercharged, double nozzled blowtorch he'd invented the night before and hid under his coat. Swings it up and goes for broke. Flames hit the monster smack in the middle of its chest and the fire practically explodes when it lands on it. The freaky thing goes up like that! Dean can hear Sam cheering for him so he runs toward his voice and cuts Sam out of the pile of ropes the monster had him in. Sam grabs him in a hug—just a real quick one—and slaps his back, but Dean just plays it off. 'Gwan, Sam, it's no big deal,' he says. You know it's always gonna be monsters zero, Winchester and Patterson, one.'

"And that's the end."

They roll along in silence for a minute or two, the only sound the crunch-swish of their bike tires on the shoulder of the road.

"Hunh. Good ending, Jay." Jensen said into the relative silence. He was sat back on the bike's seat, steering with his knees as he fished a pack of Marlboro Reds out of his shirt pocket, lit one while the others murmured their agreement with Jensen's assessment. Jared smiled, his eyes on Jensen. Wondered how was it something as disgusting as smoking looked so…so cool when it was Jenz. Screw cool, the word was hot.

They rode on, heat making everyone kind of spacey and slow. No sound but the occasional grind of a distant lawn mower, a dog's bark, the growl of a passing car.
Jared liked it. He liked the way the summer sounds floated on the air like soap bubbles, how the sounds stretched and rolled and changed and made the space between their words seem deeper. He pushed through the comfortable haze and focused on Jensen. Now he wanted to listen to something more important than the sound of the everyday world—he wanted to hear something that really mattered: Jensen talking, Jensen breathing.

Jared kicked it into gear and caught up with his friend, breathed in his scent not because he was some kind of weirdo, but because Jenz was right there and it couldn't be helped. Drew in the smell of sweat and cheap detergent, warm skin and fried grease. Jensen glanced over and did that thing he did, smiled with his eyes like it was a private thing between the two of them. Jared knew it wasn't—he smiled like that at all of them, but at least it was only the Loners who got to see it.

It was shaping up to be a comfortable day, the kind of day nothing could screw up. Of course, he wasn't factoring in the Rosenbaum Effect….

"Jay…" Mike said in his thoughtful voice, which generally meant that he was about to piss Jared the hell off…"Jay," Mike repeated, squinting up at Jared. "Why couldn't he throw hand grenades at the wendigio? He coulda thrown 'em down the tunnel—"

"Wendi-go," Tommy corrected, and went on with, "Well, I think he should have shot the thing, and then it should have exploded—"

"Yeah, yeah—or no, he coulda thrown a hand grenade in its mouth an' then shot it and then it shoulda exploded—"

"That's not how it works," Jared yelled and yanked his bike across the shoulder, spraying gravel and dust. "They're my stories and there is no exploding, for fuck's sake! Fire kills them!"

Mike leaned over his handlebars, his eyes locked on Jared's face. He asked, in an infuriatingly calm and curious way, "Says who?" like he really wanted to know why and how come it was that way. "Why can't he explode it?"

"Says me and who the hell knows better what it takes to kill them!"

"Yeah but—"

"Well…" everyone's attention snapped toward Jensen, stopped off of the road and propped against his bike. He brought his sneaker down on the butt of his cigarette, twisted the toe until it slowly ground the butt into shreds. "I think…it's not your call to rewrite Jared's story, dude. A hand grenade's cool, but. Fire'll take it right down to the bone. Kill it clean."

The look he cut at Jared made his chest swell painfully, made him want to say something to Jensen but Jenz just shook his head. "It's good, Jay. It's a good story."

Jared grinned and nodded his thanks. Sure, he knew damn well it was goofy, this thing they did. They all knew it. And it wasn't something they'd share with anyone else. What the hell would people say about a bunch of high-school age guys sitting around listening to story time, no matter how much blood and guts were involved? This telling stories thing—Jared justified it as practice for the books he was going to write someday, and he guessed the others just thought of it as a guilty pleasure—after all, who didn't like being told a story? Jared smiled a little, his gaze going from friend to friend. They were a pack of weirdos so fucking what. They were the Lone Gunmen; they were born to be weird.

He made a face at the faithless part of his audience, walked his bike past Mike and Tom to stand near Jensen, and Jensen bumped his fist against Jared's shoulder but kept his eyes trained on the ground between his feet, like there was something there only he could see. Just when Jared was about to ask him if he was okay, Jenz said, "You write them stories the way you see it, Jay, the right way."


Much, much later, Jensen will show his friend a burn scar on the soft inside of his arm, up high. 'Dad did that one night when he was high as hell and swore I was possessed. Burned me pretty good and that's how I know, son, nothing can stand fire—it's. Horrible. It's not even pain, it's—' he'll shake his head and swallow hard before going on. 'It's like when it's happening that's all you know in the world. Anything would want to get away from it, monsters included. You set them ghosts and things on fire man—kill them dead.'

His friend won't speak, he'll just squeeze Jensen's bicep and Jensen will nod and they'll talk about something else. But he will write it down in his notebook even though he thinks there's no way in hell he'll ever forget what Jensen said. He believes he could live to be a hundred and never forget, never ever stop hearing those words, in Jensen's voice, talking about horror worse than anything he'll probably ever be able to write. He's wrong.

But that happens later and right before the thing that changes everything.

* * *

"So…I was wondering if maybe Jensen could stay over tomorrow night. His dad's going out of town and…

"Oh, I don't know, dear," his mom said. "I…" and she just seemed to run down, like a top losing steam and wobbling to its side.

"Your mother has enough to do without worrying about someone else," his dad said, his tone bored, so disinterested that it stung Jared in a way that had nothing to do with Jensen being refused. His dad didn't even spare him a glance, like it wasn't worth his time to look at Jared and what Jared wants is less than nothing.

"But—she—you," Jared stuttered, swallowed hard and tried again. "Mom won't have to do anything, I swear. I'll do it all. He just needs a place—"

His dad cut in. "He's got a place. It's called his house," he said, sharp and final.

"But, Dad—you know! You've seen." Jared felt an intense wave of bitterness, so sharp and heavy, his dinner danced in his stomach. "Dad."

His dad at least had the good grace to look a little ashamed. Of course his dad knew. They all knew. It was just another thing adults did, speak one thing but do another. Jared dropped his eyes to his plate and held on tight, fighting back the sudden sharp jab that warned of tears. No surprise really. No one gave a shit about Jensen, not like he did.

He could feel his dad staring at him but he didn't look up, didn't move until his dad put his fork down and made a noise that was partly sympathy and partly annoyance. "All right. Just don't—get in the way."

Jared started to smile before a little sound like a moth dying made him feel like shit and cringe inside himself. "Oh dear," his mother said in a soft, hopeless voice. "I'm going to lie down."

Jared couldn't keep it in—knew he was about to step in a mine field and go boom but it came out like popping a zit. "He's not coming until tomorrow, Mom."

So. He didn't get in trouble. He didn't get the lecture about respect and 'that's not how you talk to your parents, boy.' No, what he got was a sad, exhausted sigh from Gerry and a questioning look from his sister who'd never had any other mother but this one. "May I be excused?" And he was so he ran away, up to his room and shut the door and cursed Jeff fifty ways from Sunday for dying and taking the family with him.

* * *
"Wa'sup, Squirt."


"Hey, pretty Princess. You writing in your little notebook again? Where's the sparkly Hello Kitty one I got you for your birthday? I know you wanna keep track of every time the quarterback smiled at you this week—"

"Shut UP you are such a jerk!" Jared tried not to laugh and threw the notebook at his older brother's head.

"Oh, it's on, you little sparkly bitch!"

Jeff launched himself from the doorway and threw himself on top of Jared, grabbing a pillow off the bed and whacking Jared with it. They wrestled from one end of the bed to the other before rolling off and hitting the floor with a crash. Dad yelled up the stairs to "knock it off, you clowns, you're shaking the dust off the walls" and Mom yelled after, "I beg your pardon, what is this dust you speak of" and Jared laughed harder.

"Ow, ow stop, I'mma tell Mom you cursed, dick breath!" he yelled, voice muffled in Jeff's definitely unwashed pit. "Your armpit smells like monkey ass."

"You know what monkey ass smells like? Anything we should be worried about, Tarzan?" Jeff crushed Jared under his armpit and ran his knuckles roughly over his scalp, pulling strands of Jared's hair out and twisting what didn't yank out into knots and Jared yelled in pain and laughed until his sides hurt—he hated his brother, only right then, he *loved* his brother, hell, he loved his brother all the time.

Jared blinked the haze out of his eyes, barely noticing that tears rolled down his cheek. The page under his cheek puckered with damp spots—Sam lifting the Colt to aim at a crossroads demon melted into an illegible swirl of blue.

He wasn't supposed to have left him. He wasn't supposed to have hopped in a car full of drunk friends and never come back home. Wasn't supposed to have ended in the suit he hated, stiff and unrecognizable in a satin-lined, wooden box.

"Shit…"Jared scratched his scalp, like scratching would make uncomfortable thoughts fly out of his head. He peeled the notebook off his face, pissed off he'd fallen asleep writing again. The page was a loss, drool and tears making it past saving. He ripped it out and crushed it into a ball and threw it against the wall. "Shit," he said again. Bad dreams and lost stories. His life in a nutshell.

Jared shoved memories and dreams back in the box he'd worked so hard to make. He closed his eyes and counted to ten, did it over and over until he felt less shaky and then his aching legs drove him to get up and stretch. The aching happened less than it used to, thank god. Used to be only Jeff rubbing them made them feel better, or when Jensen rubbed them like Jeff used to. Not that Jensen knew what Jeff did for him, and Jared would never tell him. Jensen had this weird sort of brittleness about him whenever they talked (rarely) about Jeff. He knew Jensen had lost a brother too, in a way. It didn't matter that somewhere Jenz's brother was alive, his mom too. They might as well be lost to Jensen in the same way Jeff was to him.

He turned to the bed, flipped the covers across it and called it made, turned on the radio for background noise and shuffled into his bathroom. Brushed his teeth to the sound of WKAZ, probably the lamest station on the air but it played music he liked so...he gargled "Sympathy for the Devil" around his toothbrush, showered and threw on shorts and dug out a Ren and Stimpy t-shirt that had been Jeff's.

He passed his sister on the way downstairs and she looked at him like he was an unwelcome distant relative. For a second, he felt the warm, heavy weight of Jeff's hand on his shoulder and felt he owed it to his brother to maybe try and be one himself. He worked up what he thought was a friendly smile and aimed it at Megs. "Hey…you know you're a good kid, right?"

She looked at him like he'd suddenly sprouted some extra, unattractive, heads. "Yee-aah, sure, you're okay, too. I guess." she said, eyes never leaving his, taking a step away from him as she spoke.

Frustration that this was so hard pushed his words out, sharp and quick. "I'm…I'm glad you’re my sister. I like you. I don’t say it so I thought. You know. You should know I like you."

"I said okay. Mom's got breakfast ready." Suspicion weighting every word and she kept backing away from him.

Jared sighed inside. "Yeah. Thanks." He made his way down the stairs quietly as he could. Stopped to breathe in and out and on the exhale, stepped into the kitchen. His mother was staring out the French doors into the back yard, his dad was buried in the Times, a cup of coffee steaming at his hand and empty plate set in front of him. Happy family times. He fought an impulse to yell 'good fuckin' morning'—grabbed a plate to fill instead.

No one said good morning.

His sister slipped back into the kitchen, quiet as a mouse. Jared glanced over and she met his eyes. And gave him a sketch of a smile. And just that beginning bit of a smile made him feel a little less like he lived in a house made of ice.


Thomas prefers Thomas. Tolerates Tommy. His dad calls him Tom. His mother only ever calls him Son. Thomas calls them Mother and Father and dreams of being in New York, dreams of being on stage.

Thomas sits at the dinner table with his parents and it's so quiet he can hear the clock in the living room tick, loud, like someone's hitting a pot with a hammer. The tap-click of silverware meeting china is the soundtrack of dinners at the Welling home. His sisters are not in town, hadn't been yesterday when he invited Jensen to dinner and so dinner was marginally less tomb-like than it normally was. His mother lifts her fork to her perfectly drawn-on lips, takes a neat bite and chews carefully. His father takes serious sips from a glass of ice-water and returns it gravely, precisely at a spot near his plate. Quietly.

Thomas swallows a thoroughly chewed bit of roast. Loads his fork with another bite.


Thomas sets his fork down and flinches just a tiny bit when a spot of gravy mars the sea foam colored table cloth. "Father." Thomas knows he'll be a good actor—no, a great one. He's acting like it's not killing him to be here in this house filled with all the warmth of the grave. The clock ticks louder, the silverware twists in his hand. Someday, he won't be. Someday, he'll be some place better.

Someday, his body will catch up with his mind.

* * *
" Dean raises the Colt and slowly takes a bead on the vampire. 'Drop my partner, and I'll let you go. Even-steven.' he says and glares at the stinking blood sucker, his aim staying true. The vampire king throws his head back and laughs like a rabid hyena. 'Winchester,' he says, 'I can tear Patterson's throat out before you can blink an eye.'

Dean says back, 'And I'll still shoot you, you stinkin' blood-sucking mutt, and you'll still be deader than dead.'

The vampire raises his head and lets his teeth slide out, all white and shiny like dozens of little wet knives and Dean knows he's screwed—sure, he'll kill the vamp but what about Sam Patterson, his partner and his best friend?

Suddenly the vamp king lets out a horrible screech and falls right to its knees. Dean doesn't need a second to think, he fires—bang, bang, bang! It staggers upright again, shock all over its white face, its bullet-riddled chest oozing thick black vampire blood. 'How,' it hisses. 'What did you—' and then it crackles all over bright-yellow. It burns from the inside out and breaks into chunks of charcoal briquette bones.

Sam strolls over to Dean. He's covered with bruises and his forehead is smeared with blood. He's got a black eye and he's limping and Dean can see Sam's pretending that it don't hurt. Dean glares at him. 'What the hell Patterson?' he yells.

Sam stops and he holds his hand out towards Dean.

'What is it, Sammy?' Dean asks, catching what Sam tosses to him.

'Never leave home without it, Dean-o,' Sam says.

Dean opens his hand and he's holding the silver knife he'd given Sam for his birthday. 'See, Patterson,' he says, 'I told you it'd come in handy."

Sam flips him off, says, 'I still want a Discman, douche.'

'Jerk,' Dean laughs, and grins at Sam and he says 'Hey, Sam, what's the score?' and Sam says it for him—"

The Loners shouted along with Jared, "Monsters zero—Winchester 'n' Patterson, one!"

"The end," Jared grinned, his cheeks aching with it, but damn, it felt so good to keep the guys spell-bound like that. It made him feel like he could be someone, like he was worth something and it was just his mom and dad and sister
who weren't seeing. Hell, if he could hold hyperactive Mike in one spot for fifteen minutes, bet he could do it to strangers, too....

* * *
They walked downtown to get ice-cream instead of taking their bikes. There was something about walking in the dry heat that was so masochistic, like punishing yourself just because you knew at the end, it'd feel so fucking good to stop. Jared half-dreamed as he walked, imagining a creamy cold Drumstick, the cone going sticky in his hand from heat and melted ice-cream, or an ice-cold orange cream soda, the freezing glass clicking against his teeth, cool, sweet soda pouring in his mouth, filling it up with bubbles and chilling his tongue and that feeling, that amazing feeling like your whole body was opening up to suck in the cold and the wet. Jared let out a little moan that he couldn't hold back and wiped his forehead on the edge of his t-shirt.

A weird feeling slid over his skin and he glanced up to see Jenz's eyes on him. It was an intense jolt of understanding, Jared thought, but no, Jenz just smiled and winked the way he did a dozen times a day to a dozen different people and Jared might have imagined he saw something more in it but that was all it was—imagination. Sometimes, he wished he had less.

Finally after what felt like forever, they staggered into the cool, refrigerated oasis of the Seven-Eleven, wandered around and argued the possibilities until finally pooling their money to buy a box of ice-cream sandwiches. As long as you could stay under the clerk's radar, the Sev was definitely the place to be on a hot Saturday if you couldn't get to the pool. Or weren't allowed into a certain someone's back yard because another certain someone had to go on and on about pussy at the top of their lungs. Jared couldn't help but glare at Jensen—he'd felt betrayed on couple of levels. It hurt what a jerk Jensen could be sometimes. It pissed him off even more when the clerk threw them out into the heat after they paid for the ice-cream sandwiches. Maybe he couldn't blame that on Jensen, but he kind of wanted to.

They passed out the ice cream and settled down on the curb, taking advantage of a little shade cast by the trash trees growing on the property line. After a minute or two, Jensen looked up from the sandwich he was nibbling from rectangular to round. "Jesus, I can feel your eyes on me, Jay. What the fuck—are you still pissed about—"

"You dope—" Tommy cut in before Jared could say what he really wanted to. "We could be at my house right now, chilling in the pool if you weren't such a moron."

"S'my fault I'm a pussy magnet?"

When Jensen was like that Jared wanted to kick him in the nuts. Especially when the smile that stretched his mouth tight missed his eyes by a mile, when he gave Jared a flat, blank look and then—looked past him, around him. Through him. Fuckin' jerk.

"What's good, girls?" A couple of boys sauntered up behind Jensen, one of them wearing a ball cap tilted on the side of his head; the other wore a sweat band half blocking his eyes. Sophomores. Jared shrugged. All assholes.

Mike licked the melting edges of his ice-cream sandwich and nodded. "Hey Carlo, hey Bubby. Was'up?"

"My dick, Rosy. Your sister's a pro."

Everybody knew Bubby Sanger and his big brother, JohnJohn. Bubs had been in every class Jared had ever had since kindergarten. Jared was endlessly fascinated by the brothers. They were like twins despite the age difference,
close as peas. They got along with everyone, but when shit hit the fan, it was always only Bubs and JohnJohn. Even though it hadn't been quite that way with Jeff and him, seeing Bubs made Jared miss Jeff something awful.

"Shut the fuck up, Bubby," Mike said," 'sides, that wasn't my sister you were with, that was my mom's Pekinese. She was complaining about how small your dick was, dude—Princess, not my mom. Or my sister."

Tommy gawped at Mike like he'd lost his fucking mind and Jared bit his lip to keep from laughing, bit down harder when Bubby and Carlo both turned to fix Mike with a look that plainly said, 'what the fuck?'

Mike's look of satisfaction slowly melted, a dawning horror beginning to fill his grey eyes. "Wait a minute…"

"Jared…" Jensen drawled, his arm coming around Jared's shoulder. They both looked at Mike, matching grins, matching poses….

"Yes, Jensen?" he answered.

"Did Mike just compare his sister to a…dog?"

"I believe he did, Jensen. A small, mush-faced, yappy one at that."

Mike's jaw dropped in horror. "My sister is not—you guys—you guys—you suck!"

Bubby waved his hands. "Forget that shit. Jensen, c'mere. I got somethin' from JohnJohn."

"Not here, shit…" Jensen grabbed Bubs and Jared watched the two walk off to the back end of the parking lot. Jared huffed. It didn't take a genius to know what Bubs' business with Jenz was. Bubby slid Jensen something like he was afraid Lennie Briscoe was going to jump out of the bushes and arrest his ass. Bubs better not have pinned his future on anything involving stealth and secrecy because his stealthy moves could be seen from space, Jared thought. The whole fucking scenario made him nervous and kind of pissed him off because…because anything to do with the Sangers was pretty much bad news, especially for Jensen. The cops in town had a hardon for Jensen and having business with JohnJohn was no kind of help in that regard.

Besides, Jared just didn't like the idea of Jensen talking to JohnJohn period, that boy was a fuckload of trouble.

The two strolled back to the parking lot, talking about something that made Bubs animated. "—word to yamotha—Carlo, tell Jenz I ain't shittin' 'im," he said when they got close.

"Hell no, he's not." Carlo didn't even ask what he was supposed to be verifying, just jumped right in. "Dead kid. In that house, the one with the tower. You know." Carlo spit on the concrete and Jensen jumped back, eyeballing Carlo. "Sorry. But Bubs know tha whole story."

"Oh shit, not that haunted house," Mike groaned.

"Oh fer—shut up, Mike. Bubs knows the story about what—and what d'ya mean dead kid?" Jared asked.

Bubby grinned, drinking in the attention. He demanded an ice-cream and waited until the crowd was more than impatient before speaking. Good job hooking the audience, Jared thought, sort of half admiring Bubs' instinctive showmanship ….

"So," Bubs slurped out words between bites of melting sandwich, "there's a kid OD'ed out in the haunted house, behind the pond, right? There was a bunch of kids stayin' out there and they just up and left the dead kid behind."

"Oh my god…maybe they got eaten," Mike moaned, entirely too invested in the idea of monsters and haunted houses.

"Nobody got eaten, assbreath, they got the hell out—on account of a dead kid? How are you so stupid, Rosey?"

"Your mom, Bubs. Asshole."

"Whatever. JohnJohn heard they left him in the basement. He said they're going to go out and see it." Bubby shrugged. "You girls are probably too chicken to go. Me and JohnJohn an' Carlo and Spinks are going up there Friday after JohnJohn gets off work."

Carlo nodded. "We're takin' my dad's car. Telling 'em we're going to the mall."

"Yeah…" Bubs looked them over and aimed a smeary smile at Jared."Say. You seen a dead person before, right, Jay? It ain't so bad, is it? I mean, I know it was your—"

Jared felt a wash of cold run right down his spine, and the earth tilted just a bit. His mouth opened but the words choked to a standstill in his throat.

"Aww, you asshole Bubs, shut the fuck up. Don't ask him stupid ass questions—an' don't fuckin' call 'im Jay. G'wan, take the fuck off, before I break my foot off in your ass, cocksucker."

"Fuck you, Ackles, like I'm afraid of you." He cast a look at Jared, his face twisted into an apologetic grimace. "I wasn't fuckin' with you man, swear, I just wanted to know. Sorry." He shrugged. "C'mon, Carlo. See ya 'round, ya losers."

"Hey," Tommy called out, "aren't the cops looking for that kid?"

"Cops? You kidding? Who you think cares about some dead nobody?" Bubby and Carlo strolled off, done with the conversation.

Jensen stared after them, muttered softly, "Man, that's so fucked up."

"Someone should do something…poor kid."

Tommy shook his head, frowned a little. "Yeah. But not us though. We're just kids."

"Aw, c'mon, Tommy, whatya mean, 'just kids', like we're babies?" Mike said, "We could be heroes! If we found the kid and called the cops, we'd be in the paper and everything. They'd take our picture and stuff."

Jensen smacked Mike in the head. "Doofus. Bubby's an asshole. There's gotta be people all over the woods right now looking for him. We'll just get in the way, get in trouble for being out there—"

"Jenz…" Something about that dead kid, about him dying alone and uncared for in the basement of an abandoned house fucked with Jared. He said, "what if no one really does care? What if we are the only ones who'll look?" At that moment, he thought it was the worst thing he could imagine ever.

"Bubby said JohnJohn and them are going. They don't need us to tag along."

Jared turned a full blast puppy-face on Jensen. He pulled out all the stops—did everything but sigh and let a single precious tear roll down his cheek—ignored Mike and Tommy snickering up their sleeves. Because it worked, it always worked. Jensen smashed his cigarette against the curb with a curse.

"Aw, man, Jared, come on…fuck. Okay, damn it. I guess it's sure his people aren't looking for him."

Mike got right in Jenz's space, tilted his head to look up under his bangs. "It won't be so bad, right? We'll be the people who care about that kid. Bubby and those guys don't care, let's beat them out there, see if it really is like they said."

A small, soft smile lit Jenz's face, a smile directed at Mike and for a sharp, white-hot moment Jared wanted to kick Mike's ass. And then Jenz looked at him and asked, "You sure you wanna do this, Jay?" And looked so fucking concerned for him that Jared found himself rubbing the heel of his hand against his chest—that bright spark died out so quick it kinda hurt.

"Yeah. Sure. We can do it. Let's plan it out."

All of them but Tommy looked excited. Tommy muttered, "My old man is going to kill me…."

Mike threw a scrawny arm around his neck. "Take it from me, parents, they usually don't even notice you're gone—besides, when we're heroes d'you think they're going to be mad at you? No, because we'll be heroes."

Thomas sighed, long, loud, dramatically. "You guys. Nothing ever works out right and we always get in trouble and I always get grounded and then they look at me like—like I stole their kidneys out of them in the middle of the night and sold them on the black organ market for way under what fresh kidneys are valued…what?"

Three sets of eyes were locked on Thomas, three expressions of fascinated semi-horror on their faces. "What exactly do you think about at night, dude?" Jensen asked.

"Oh—frak you all."

They headed off to the Loner's club house to plan; along the way they entertained themselves by imitating Tommy's completely lame attempt to curse without cursing. Jared kind of liked torqueing him up—the tomato red Tommy's face went made his eyes look greener.

Jensen came slowly out of a thick, soft fog…he was warm all over, happy and content in a way he hardly recognized. He blinked slowly, smacked sticky lips together and smiled. It had been good, wherever he'd been in his dream, it'd been good. He shivered under his blanket. Jared, he thought and blinked again, waiting for his brain to come all the way on line. He was a little chubbed, and he reached down to press his hand against himself and hissed, loud and sharp. He woke all the way, all at once; dick forgotten as pain hit him like a brushfire and the good feeling he'd woken with gone like smoke. His middle ached like it was filled with shattered rocks. He crawled over the side of the bed, dragging the old Star Wars sheet off the thin, dingy mattress with him to the ground. Propped against the bedframe, he carefully unwrapped the once navy blue blanket from around his legs. Every movement was like fire under his skin. "Fucking fuck," he groaned. "Good fuckin' morning to me."

Once he'd made it through a shower and managed to get his teeth brushed without passing out, he dragged a comb through his hair…time to cut it again, he thought and pulled it back, stuffed the tail into a rubber band. Before Jensen got to Jared's, he'd pull the rubber band out again. He had a feeling maybe Jared liked seeing his hair out. Not that he was sure but he thought he'd caught the kid looking…fuck, even if he wasn't it made him feel better to pretend Jared was looking at him. He dropped his eyes and felt his cheeks burn. So what? It didn't count if no one knew.

Jensen wandered around his closet-sized bedroom, looking for clean shit to stuff in his duffle. He was staying at Jared's tonight, or maybe Mike's, it depended on what they decided to do. Or hell, they just might all sleep in the woods, that'd be cool. Jensen'd spent a few nights out there—it was quiet, and he liked it, more or less.

House was quiet now, too. Real quiet, he could hear water gurgling in the pipes and the slight breeze outside was making the plastic he'd taped over the broken porch windows rattle. The Bastard wasn't home and that made him smile a little, and he went about his chores slowly but with a much lighter heart than he'd woken up with.

He was singing softly…his cousin Chris had told him that he had a pretty decent voice last time he'd seen him, years ago now, before Dad took up drinking like it was a national sport. Chris had kissed him on the cheek and probably would have done more but another cousin had stumbled between them, ralphed and passed out. His whole family were fuckin' class acts.

He ran a few loads of laundry, stripped Dad's disgusting sheets and did them too. He made a pot of rice and beans, popped them in the fridge and left a pan of box mix corn bread on the counter. He turned off the oven, hung the pot mitts on the hooks screwed into the bottom of the cabinets. Hung his head and closed his eyes and prayed briefly but sincerely that the man would choke on the cornbread and die.

After that, it was time to snag his money out from behind the baseboard in his room. So far, Dad hadn't found that hiding spot. He crossed the little living room, stopped by the short book case that held not much of anything but a picture of his mom and Josh from before Jensen was born. He kissed the tip of his finger and patted his picture mom's cheek and left the house.

He'd heard that his mom had had another kid, a girl. Sometimes in moments of deep stupidity, he imagined that if he'd been born a girl maybe his mom would have stayed, and maybe his dad wouldn't hate him so much. And then of course it came around to how much he'd miss his dick and how stupid a wish that was.

The road gave off heat like a fucking oven, baking the sweat out of his skin. Sweat built up under the strap of his duffle bag and ran down his shoulder, tickling him and pasting his thin t-shirt to his sides. To distract himself, he went over his plans for escaping again. They weren't the big deal plans someone like Jared probably had, no fuckin' college or anything like that in his sights. Nope, all he hoped to do was graduate from high school in three years, keep his grades above failing, don't get anyone pregnant, sign up with the Marines because the other branches were pussies and get the cock-sucking motherfuck out of Dodge and never come back. Except to kill that man. Which he'd do and it would be undetectable, because he'd learn things in the Marines like how to kill a man and make it look like an accident…he was deep into a real satisfying murder-fantasy when he heard sneakers slapping against road top and heading his way.

"Hey, hey, Jenz, hey wait up."

Jensen rolled his eyes, quick and to himself before he pasted on a smile. "Mike, figured you'd be at Jay's already, dude."

"Yeeah…" Mike kicked at a rock along the road side, stumbled and missed it. "Well…I got kinda tied up." Mike ran a hand though his carpet thick hair, making it stand every which way, an unhappy expression on his too thin face.

"Your mom made you do housework, man?

"No. I got tied up. To one of those rolling office chairs? And then my fuckin' brothers rolled me out to the garage and left me in there and it was fuckin' hot dude and I. I think they forgot I was out there..." Mike shrugged, swallowed hard. They walked along in silence for a bit until Mike pulled it together again. He went on. "Whatever. Dude, what'sa difference between my dick and a banana?"

"Your what?" Jensen made a face. "Dude! I don't know—"

"You don't know? Remind me never to send you out for bananas, man."

"Shut the fuck up, asshole."

Mike giggled to himself and kicked rock after rock as his bag flopped up and down on his skinny back. His knobby knees pumped up and down as he kicked, a small smile curved his lips…pretty lips, Jensen thought and then hated himself briefly for noticing. He also noticed that Mike's upset was gone like fog. He got over shit fast as a little kid did. He was kind of sweet under all that irritating yammering, Jensen thought. Too bad. The world was going to eat Mike alive and spit out the husk.

"Hey Jenz…"

"Hmm?" Jensen wasn't really paying attention to Mike. He was thinking about the other night, about how twisted his dad's face had been right before he'd knocked him into the wall. Thinking about how the duffle bag's strap was digging right into the spot his dad had grabbed and twisted and how he'd bore down on the thin skin covering the bones of his shoulder—



"Why do ducks have webbed feet?" Mike asked, his grey eyes practically swimming as he barely suppressed giggles.

"Man, I don't know, to swim better?"

Mike face was full of 'you dork'—he snorted and said, "No, dude—to stamp out fires."

Jensen eyeballed Mike. Sometimes, he didn't get the kid's sense of humor. "To stamp out…fires…"

Of course Mike wasn't done yet; he bit back a snort and asked, "Why do elephants have flat feet?"

"Why, Mike?" Best to roll with it, Mike was bound to wear out soon enough.

"To stamp out burning ducks."

"To stamp out—" Jensen stopped, let it run through his brain again and startled them both by laughing loud and hard. "Ducks! Burning—" He wiped his eyes and he had to admit, the joke was funny and Mike's enjoyment of his enjoyment…well. He reached out, snagged Mike under his arm and noggied him as hard as he could, trying to get through Mike's shock of thick brown hair. "You asshole, stamp out the ducks."

"Ow, get offa me you dick-licker! You're ripping my hair out, ow, ow!" Mike protested loudly but he was grinning and struggling not to laugh. He landed a punch, a soft one, in the general area of Jensen's stomach.

"Shii—it, damn it, mother-fuck—" He dropped Mike and his bag and held his side, eyes screwed shut tight as he could get them—fuck, he was going to cry in front of Mike. And he realized when he grabbed himself that his shirt had ridden up and he opened his eyes, hoped against hope that Mike hadn't seen anything but the kid's horror struck face dashed those hopes.

"Jensen," he hissed in sympathy. "Jensen," and this time it dripped with sadness. "Why'nt you tell my mom? She'd make the cops listen—or Miss Campbell at school, that's her job, dude."

"No," he snapped. "No," he said again, a little softer. "It'll just—it'll just get worse, I've dealt with that kinda shit before. Let's just—" Get to Jared he wanted to say, "Get to Jay's place," he said instead. "I'll lie down, take a few aspirin. I'll be okay—I always am." Mostly.

Mike picked up the pace after wrestling briefly and uselessly for Jensen's bag. Jensen didn't mind the quicker pace. His legs were fine and he suddenly, almost desperately had to see Jared.

Jared was sitting on the porch, his feet kicked up on the pile of his backpack and sleeping bag. He waved at Mike and Jensen trotting up the driveway. They wore pinched-mouthed expressions—probably fighting over something again. Fought worse than a married couple, those guys. Though, come to think of it, his mom and dad never, ever fought, never raised their voices to each other at all….

Jensen smacked the back of his head. "Always thinking so fuckin' loud. Gonna burn your brain out."

"Quit, cocksucker," Jared said reflexively, rubbing his head but not really mad or in any pain. Jenz just grinned like he knew that and of course he did. Bastard. He settled next to Jared, the heat off Jensen's body making him feel safe. Or something…crap, could he be more stupid? He turned to Jenz, careful not to touch him too much. "Dude, we're definitely doing the camping out thing tonight, okay?" Jared whispered. "The Parents think we're staying at Tommy's and Tommy's folks think he's staying here. He's gonna bring his phone just in case."

Jensen nodded, all he said was, "Okay" and Jared was a little disappointed that Jensen didn't look anywhere near as psyched as he was about camping out someplace that wasn't the back yard, or a campground with their parents hanging over them.

Mike pushed between them to climb the stairs and plopped down on the porch swing, taking up all the space, and pointedly pulled a comic out of his bag. Jensen shrugged. "He's okay, the little guy's pissed at me," he said, but brushed off Jared's questions. "Look, I got something for you. If you want it. You don't have to."

"Shut the hell up and gimme. It's not even my birthday or Christmas. Wait—is it the end of the world? Am I dying?"

"Douche." Jensen handed Jared a note book. The half grin he wore made Jared feel a little sick and set him on edge. Jenz had a look like a dog expecting to be whipped. "So, if you're going to write that shit—" he winced slightly when Jared flinched a bit. "God, Jared, you know I don't think your stories are shit. I—I think you should write them all down. They're great. I made this for you. Okay, so maybe it's kind of stupid." He dropped his hand. "s'ugly—"

Jared snatched the book out of Jensen's hand. He turned it over and saw that Jensen had taken a plain notebook and decorated the cover. Under a protective layer of clear packing tape was a color pencil sketch of fierce-looking guy in a dark brown jacket, a gun in his hand and a big black car in the background. Spooky trees were outlined against a huge yellow moon and leaning on the hood of the car was a guy with longish hair and a serious look.

"Holy fuck…Jenz,'s Dean. And Sam—dude, this is awesome, totally fuckin' awesome." He looked Jensen right in the eyes because he wanted him to see the truth of it, just how much it meant to him. "Seriously Jensen. This is the greatest gift I've ever gotten. And…I didn't know you could draw like this?"

"Ah, I screw around with it when I have some time…it's not a big deal." Jensen dipped his head but not before Jared saw the smile that creased the corners of his eyes, the way they narrowed and somehow that made them seem even greener. "Anyway, happy not-birthday, freak boy."

Jared grinned back. "Love you too, man."

Jenz flushed red and flipped Jared off. "Shit. Whatever, bitch."

Tommy strolled up at that point, backpack hanging off his broad shoulder and a goofy grin plastered across his face. Jared blinked.

Every once in a while, Tommy caught him unaware—it was a little like accidently staring into the sun. There was no denying; Tommy really was beautiful, not like Jensen, just…different, still beautiful. Hard to believe the kid was fifteen. Fifteen and six foot tall, the bastard. Tommy sure stood out…and not necessarily in a good way. Being that tall coupled with those wide shoulders, he'd looked like a coach's dream—too bad Tommy couldn't walk through a door without knocking himself unconscious. Like Jenz always said, Tommy had all the grace of a rhino and was about as fierce as a wet poodle. The poor guy was way too fucking sweet to be a menace to anyone but himself….

"Hey everybody. Am I late?"

"Finally." Mike slapped the book down and dropped his legs off the swing. "Okay, losers, who's gonna be the first to end up crying in the woods tonight?" he called out.

"Jesus, Mikey. Shut up, you idiot," Jared hissed. "You want them to find out?" He winced inside when Mike instantly deflated. Sometimes he forgot how easy it was to hurt Mike's feelings, seeing as he was normally a foul mouthed, sarcastic little bastard. Before he could say a word, Jensen swept in with damage-control, pulled a crest-fallen Mike into his side.

"Mike, don't you worry about cryin' in the woods, we'll wake you up so you can go potty, little man. There'll be no wetting of your sleeping bag, dude, not on my watch."

Mike burst into laughter. "Get, off, I hate you, freak-face." Mike shrugged Jenz's arm off like it was a cobra, the force of it sent a snickering Jensen stumbling right into Jared.

"Ooof! You're heavy—" Jared froze when he heard Jenz hiss, and felt hot, raised skin under the tissue thin t-shirt Jensen wore. "Hey, you okay—"

"Man, yes, shut the fuck up." He jerked away, cutting Jared off before he could say anything else. "Okay girls, ready for your big adventure?"

"I was born ready. Wait, I mean. That sounds bad. I don’t mean it like—"

"Tommy, shut the fuck up, seriously man, don't make me choke you out."

Tommy frowned. "I was just trying to explain myself, Jesus, what a crab…"

They headed out after Jared yelled in the kitchen door, "We're heading over to Thomas', be back tomorrow."

He heard his mother call out, "Behave yourself, I don’t want any phone calls about you," and Jared muttered, "I'm sure you don't."

Jensen gave him a strange look before breaking out in a smile and jerking his head in the direction of the road. Jared did not follow the movement of a silky wing of sun streaked light brown hair flowing across Jenz's cheek. He did not watch the sun change his eyes from moss to emerald green because that would be girly and he was a rough, tough…well, a story-telling geek. But not a girly one. He shouldered his bag and smothered a sigh, jumped off the step to follow the others.

This Thing. He swore sometimes, it was going to kill him. It was already fucking him up in ways he could hardly describe—even to himself. Or only to himself. Hell would have to freeze over and the Devil sell Slurpees at the Seve before he'd talk about it to anyone else. Still, a small part inside him wished he could. Like maybe, if Jeff hadn't…he'd always been able to talk to him. There was no doubt in his heart that he could have talked to Jeff about how confused he was. He was as sure of that as he was that if he mentioned one word about it to his dad, it'd be the last thing he ever talked about in that house.

* * *
"My name is—what—my name is—who—my name is, Slim Shady—"

"Mike, you can't sing. Rap. Whatever it is you think you're doing," Tommy moaned.

"Yeah, well, neither can Eminem," Jensen sneered.

They headed out to a dirt access road that bordered the back of the last row of houses and the bean fields there. The access road paralleled the main road they could see across the fields before it veered off and headed towards the woods that marked the town border. From there it was almost a direct path to the abandoned house where the dead kid was. The house sat right on the border of two towns, a few miles away from a pond.

They boys agreed that the pond would make a good stopping point. By the time they reached it, it should be late afternoon, the perfect time to make a fire and cook the dogs they'd brought with them.

Jared hefted the little soft-sided cooler higher. A few cans of soda, a bag of rolls and a couple of packs of dogs and all the candy that Mike could stuff in with the rest, should hold them. Mike had a box of pop-tarts in his bag, and Tommy had water, and some disgusting shit in a jar that looked like somebody swept the floor in a nut factory and dumped the pan in it. He always brought shit food, Jared thought. Must suck to live in a house so relentlessly healthy and not fun at all. At least Mom bought him stuff he liked…when she remembered he was still living in the house.

Mike was jumping on and off the short wall that defined one side of the access road, a stick held to his mouth like a microphone and singing his damn heart out. Badly, but enthusiastically. "I'm the king of pop," he yelled. "I'm a fucking rockstar!"

"Whatever, dude," Tommy sighed.

"Okay, no singing, how about a joke," Mike said, bulldozing right past the chorus of groans. "What woulda happened if the Pilgrims hadda had cats 'stead of turkey the first Thanksgiving?"

"Ew, what—and really fuckin' gross, by the way," Jared yelled.

"Well, obvious," Mike crowed, "We'd be eatin' pussy every Thanksgiving."

"Shut. Up. Moron." Jenz snapped and flicked a lit butt at him, making him fall off the wall and curse Jensen out, seriously. It was clear from his tone that what Jenz had done hurt him more than physically.

Jared jerked Jenz around to face him. "What the fuck—he coulda gotten hurt—you dick!" Jared snagged the sleeve of Jenz's t-shirt and yanked him to a stop when he tried to walk away. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Fuck, get off me, you fuckin' bitch. Mike's an asshole. Always gotta fuck around like he's a tard."

Jared's mouth dropped open and he just stared—that wasn't Jensen, Jensen was never mean to Mike—Jenz was never mean, not like that. The guys glared at Jenz, Tommy especially. Hell, Jared thought, if looks could kill, that poor dead kid wouldn't be the only corpse out in the woods. Tommy didn't take his eyes off Jenz one second, not even as he helped Mike up. "That was crappy what you did, Jensen, and that's not a nice thing to say to someone—that's just mean. Apologize, you—you—cowflop."

"Hunh?" Mike looked up at Tommy and smiled, a little weak, a little shaky but—"Cowflop? Really? That's kinda harsh, man…cowflop…"

"Oh, shut up," Tommy snapped and pulled Mike to his feet. "You shouldn't make fun of the guy who cares," he said and then blushed fire engine red. "I mean. Not like that, care…oh, you know what I mean."


"Oh, yeah, sure. Um…should we kiss now, or wait until the commitment ceremony?"


"I'm about to commit murder, is what," Tommy said and dropped Mike to the ground, took a flying leap and landed on him.

Limbs were flailing, grass was flying—they looked pretty much like a spastic giraffe and a walking stick trying to mate. Jared leaped sideways as they went rolling past. It sent him bumping into Jensen and he jerked away. Jensen at least had the decency to look apologetic. Jared decided that just wasn't enough—he rounded on Jensen. "Man, really, how could you be such a jerk-off? And to Mike, man. How low was that?"

"Just—stuff happened, okay? Shit that I shoulda handled better. Fuck." Jenz yanked his hands roughly through his hair and sighed. "Guess I better apologize to Mike. Hope he don't kick me ina balls," he muttered.

Jared watched the two walk ahead, speaking in low tones that carried slightly but not enough to make out words….

Tommy laid his arm over Jared's shoulders. "Jensen isn't just being a bee aye tee cee aitch—it's all this stuff getting to him. Mike tried to help and it just…set Jensen off, I guess. There's got to be something we can do?"

"Two more years, he graduates. Then he can go where he wants. I don't know, what else can we do but be there for him? He's not going to let us talk about it, much less tell someone. Besides, it'll probably just get worse if he does complain; you know what that old bastard's like…."

Tommy sighed. "I guess." He let go of Jared, but reluctantly, it seemed. When Jared looked to him, Tommy was smiling, a small, weak, nervous kind of smile, looked like he had a bit of sunburn—his cheeks were pink. "Woo, hungry, yeah. Can't wait to eat, dude." He rubbed his stomach like a little kid and Jared laughed at him.

"Yee-ah. Me either, you big weirdo. Come on; let's catch up with the lovebirds."

* * *
They were sitting in the shade of trees, shirts off and wrapped around their heads like nomads. Jared was nursing a soda, his throat gone dry and rough from describing Sam and Dean's latest adventure.

"Dean pulls the cloth off the mirror and Sam stands shoulder to shoulder with him. 'You ready, Sam?' Dean asks and Sam nods. 'Let the bitch do her worst,' he says and grins at Dean and he flips the silver knife in his hand. "That's the spirit,' Dean says to Sam and winks. 'Okay—here I go,' he says, turns to the mirror, and yells out, 'Bloody Mary, bloody Mary, bloody Mary'—''

"Oh my god—You’re not supposed to say it, asshole!" Mike yelped.

"If you're looking in a mirror, dumbass. Jay's forehead is huge and shiny but it ain't that much like a mirror—lemme see, Jay," Jenz grabbed Jared by to neck to pull him closer and brushed Jared's bangs away.

"Stop, dickweed," Jared yelped and swatted at him, fighting the embarrassment and the wild desire to snatch Jenz's hand back and press it to his face again, his neck, his chest—"let me finish!"

They grinned and settled down, and he launched back into the story. After Dean and Sam had put the spirit down and totaled their victories, they rode off into the sunset, Sam riding shotgun in the Impala, Dean at the wheel. Of course.

Tommy sighed in a deeply satisfied way. "Dude…Sam is so cool."

"What?" Mike yelped. "How's he cool? He didn't even do shit—Dean did it all."

"Yes he did too; he backed his—his partner up. He came for Dean. He'll always come for Dean, right Jared?"

"Hell yeah," Jay said, looking at Jensen. "Sam will always come for Dean. That's the way being best friends work."

* * *
After they finished the chips and soda, the next stretch they walked took them through a wooded area; the trees spaced thinly enough that they could see the access road all the way, but thick enough to give them a bit of shade. Jared thought briefly about dropping to his knees and thanking god when Mike stumbled into a stream. The hot, dry weather had shrunk the stream—it was mostly mud, algae slimed rocks and exposed tree roots. The majority of the stream was barely high enough to cover their ankles, but where there was water enough to sink in to their shins, it was a little corner of heaven—it was wet and it was cold and nothing else mattered. They threw their shoes and packs to the ground and splashed in and out of the water.

Jared caught Jensen just standing in the water, looking thoughtful. "What's up dude, what're you thinkin' 'bout?"

Jensen flushed and shrugged like he was embarrassed. "Ah, nothing interesting. Just. The water kinda reminds me of this one time, when I was a little kid," he said. "My mom took me and my brother to this place for lunch. It had a river out back of it. It was real nice, nicer than this. We sat at a table right on the river and watched ducks swimming and diving. I remember I had French fries. My mom had chicken. After, Josh and me shared a piece of cake. Hunh." He said. "I didn't know I remembered that."

Jared eased closer and when Jens didn't shove him out of the way, rubbed a little circle on his back, and felt really good that Jenz didn't try to get away. After a minute or so, Jared moved away, reluctantly. Jensen still looked…sad, so Jared said, "One time, my mom and dad went off to spend the whole day at my Aunt's and I didn't want to go so Jeff was stuck with me." Jared smiled, remembering. "Anyway, he said he wasn't going to do baby things with me 'cause that would be stupid and boring, so we had to go to some secret swimming place which was just some stream out in the woods where him and his friends hung out. We spent most of the day just fuckin' around swimming—dude, when I got out the water, there were leeches stuck all over me—Jeff flipped a motherfuckin' bitch, man."

Jensen stared at him, wide-eyed and horrified and then broke up—he curled over his knees and laughed until he was wheezing. Jared grinned. He didn't mind looking like a tool if it got Jensen to laugh like that.

Mike on the other hand, Mike freaked out. "Fuck!" He jumped out of the water, and Tommy came tumbling after him.

"Whyn't you say there was blood-sucking shit in the water?" Mike was red faced and swiping frantically at his perfectly clear skin, shrieked when his fingers scraped over a piece of algae stuck to his knee. That led to him stripping and by the time he was down to his briefs, the rest of the Loners were on the ground, weak with laughter.

Jared gasped, "Rosey, you're such an ass—it wasn't this river. Besides, it's not like the leeches can hide in—what, a few inches of water? Your knees are barely damp, dude."

Mike pouted. "Oh, great that I'm such a clown to make you laugh —"

"Moron," Tommy said and pulled Mike into a noogie that was more of a hug, and didn't let go until Mike was laughing again.

Jared splashed up onto the bank to put his sneaks back on. He was some disappointed—Jensen wanting to share something about his past, well, that was a damn miracle, so, shame the mood had been shattered. But when he looked at Jensen, Jenz was smiling at Mike and Tommy so hard little lines edged his eyes like starbursts, so Jared figured he couldn't count it as a total loss.

* * *
The sun seemed hotter and brighter than before, now that they had to move out of the woods again. They trudged up the access road and passed around one of the bottles of water Tom had packed.

Eventually, knee high swathes of grass gave way to what looked like a huge over grown yard, a wide gravel drive more grass than gravel led to a burned out husk of a cabin. Behind it a couple of sheds leaned towards the ground. Crows hopped through the sheds, across parts of an old post and rail fence. It was practically a horror movie cliché, Mike pointed out—tumbled down shack, creepy crows, and the silence….

It was quiet. The kind of deep hush that Jared absolutely associated with horror movies and that 'something bad's coming' feeling that belonged in the dead of night, not on a glaringly bright, summer afternoon. Not even the crows made a sound. They just hopped and stared; all of their little black, beady eyes seemed to lock on his. Following him.

The boys walked softer, Jared felt himself trying to tiptoe through the dry grass, some instinct telling him to walk softly as something was lurking in the tall grass, something that thought he might be delicious….

Mike and Tommy and Jensen stepped as one in front of him, tiny soft steps, their breath gone cottony and quiet, the crows bobbed silently as they turned their heads to watch them pass…the hush built and built, the cabin's empty blackened window frames watched them, Jared was sure of it, positive—

An ear-shattering shriek made them all jump a mile, and Tommy dropped to the ground like he'd been shot. "Oh god, oh god, oh god," he was babbling, and from about a mile away Mike shouted, "What was that?" over and over. Jared crowded up on Jensen, and Jensen knelt, picked up the white, rounded thing that Tommy had tripped over.

Tommy was still moaning—his hands clenched over his face, all curled into himself like a pill-bug. "Oh god, I stepped on a skull, a baby's skull, oh my god…"

Jensen tapped Tommy's forehead, waited until his eyes opened and showed him the dirt-streaked, one-eyed, pink-mouthed head sitting in his hand. He shook the thing in Tommy's face. "Tommy…it's a doll's head, you freak."

Jared slapped his hands over his mouth. He tried, he really tried, but a laugh popped out, another escaped, and then it was all over. He laughed until his sides ached, fell hard into Jensen who fell on Tommy and they laughed until they cried. Jared practically popped a vessel when he looked up to see a shamefaced Mike standing over them. "I didn't mean to run, I mean—"

"Run? Fuck, Rosenbaum, you fucking levitatedto the other side of the road—good lookin' out, dude—" Jensen wheezed and set them all off again, not even Tommy's desperate efforts to roll out from under them made the laughter stop.

That is, until the cabin's lone door scraped open with a long, high-pitched shriek, and then Jared amazed himself. His pounding feet on the road underscored the surprise he felt—he had no idea he could get to his feet and take off running that fast, especially dragging Jensen with him—his weight didn't slow Jared down at all. He cast a last glance behind himself before they turned with the road and lost sight of the house….

A fat cat sat in the cabin doorway and watched them run.

* * *

Tommy tossed them a spray bottle of something called Skin-So-Soft and swore it'd keep the bugs from eating them alive and Jenz complained it'd make them all smell like Tommy's mom and that wasn't something he wanted, and Mike wanted everyone to sing, like fucking Boy Scout douches.

"Gotta better idea," Jensen said, "Who wants to hear what Sam and Dean are up to?"

Jared tried to roll his eyes and look put upon, but figured he wasn't much selling it, so he got down to it. "All right, I was thinking about this one the other day…about this bloodthirsty scarecrow, and a whole town that depended on its evil powers…"

The burst of fear-induced adrenaline got them to their halfway point—the pond—a bit sooner than they'd planned. Coming on to the pond was like finding fucking Shangri-La. Fuck leeches, fuck slime, fuck everything, Jared thought, all he wanted was out of his sweat-sticky clothes, and into the goddamn water—he wanted that like he wanted, hell, an ice-cold butterscotch malted, an N64…Jensen.

Jared threw his sneakers at his pack and ripped his t-shirt over his head and the rest of the guys followed right after. Shoes went flying, they threw their packs and bags down, couldn't strip out of their clothes fast enough. They charged the pond as one, all of them taking high-flying leaps and then…Jared screamed.

Hitting the water felt like being punched in the face—it was so cold it shocked his whole body stiff, and judging by the multiple pained shrieks around him, he wasn't alone in the feeling. It took a lot of flailing and splashing before their bodies finally accepted this state of being freezing and wet as a good thing.

Mike and Tommy were busy with something at one end of the pond, and Jared startled when he got bumped from behind. He'd assumed Jensen was somewhere around the others but no, he was right behind Jared, chin a sharp weight on his shoulder and his arms around Jared's waist. They slid up to his shoulders and hung there. His breath washed the side of Jared's cheek, warm and moist, made him shiver so hard he set off little wavelets in the water. Jensen didn't say anything, just hung from Jared and floated in the water and let their skin shift and brush against each other. Smooth and soft as silk. Jared was afraid to move the slightest bit; afraid Jensen would realize what he was doing and move away. Nothing happened except after a bit, Jensen sighed and let Jared go. The force of Jared's disappointment made his gut weak for a moment—he closed his eyes so he couldn't see Jensen swim away from him.

When he opened them again, Mike and Tommy were already on the bank, stretched out on their backs and either watching the sky or sleeping. Jensen swam into Jared's line of sight. He pointed out the setting sun. "We should get ready to make those dogs before it's totally dark; those guys will be getting hungry real soon."

He swam closer towards Jensen, he just couldn't stop himself from drifting closer…like an idiot, he mourned the loss of Jenz's heat and touch. "Right. We should…"

Jensen's knee grazed the inside of Jared's thigh and just like that Jared was hard as steel—he hissed like he'd been burned. Jensen's eyes widened, just a bit, and then, he licked his lip and reached out, slowly, to drape his hand over Jared's shoulder. He spread his fingers wide, covering as much of Jared's shoulder as he could and squeezed. The shock hit Jared hard, like Jensen had shoved his hand down Jared's pants instead. Jensen watched him, his tongue drifted across his lower lip again. His hand skimmed Jared's chest light as a flake of ash, stopped in the center of Jared's chest and then drifted to graze his nipple, just barely. The jolt rocked through Jared's body, his dick jerked in his shorts, for a second, he thought he'd come.

Jensen didn't move, didn't speak, just stared at him with a little lop-sided smile. Jared didn't know what the fuck was going on. He knew if Jensen touched him again, he would come. He knew if Jensen gave him half a chance, he'd give him whatever he wanted…and that was the trouble. What if Jenz wasn't doing anything? Was he giving him a clue? Or…maybe Jensen didn't fucking know what he was doing either. Or maybe he did know and he was fucking with Jared's head… it was that thought that had him throwing Jensen off him.

Jensen gave him a look he couldn't read and floated backwards away from Jared. Jared inhaled deep as he could and let it go. "How about you guys get some wood together and I'll unload the dogs and stuff when I get out…in a minute," Jared said and thought of horrible, horrible things to get his dick down.

"Whatever," Jensen muttered and swam off to collect Tommy and Mike. Jared watched him go and felt like he'd done something really wrong but of all the ways he could have reacted, he didn't know which would have been the right one—fuck. He shook his head and pulled himself out of the water, scrubbed down with one of the ratty towels he'd snuck out of the garage. By the time he'd redressed, the guys had a little fire circle ready. Jared lit the wood, nursed the fire while Jenz and Tommy whittled points onto some long, fairly straight twigs they'd gathered also. Jared handed Jenz the dogs and they speared them on the twigs, settled down to wait. They passed cans of soda around, and gorged themselves on chips and pretzels waiting for the hotdogs to burn just right. Tommy ate handfuls of that shit he called trail mix and Mike assured him it was hamster cage sweepings. All in all, it was a typical summer evening, only not spent hanging over Jared's dad's grill but hunkered down in the woods. Tommy tossed them a spray bottle of something called Skin-So-Soft and swore it'd keep the bugs from eating them alive and Jenz complained it'd make them all smell like Tommy's mom and that wasn't something he wanted, and Mike wanted everyone to sing, like fucking Boy Scout douches.

"Gotta better idea," Jensen said, "Who wants to hear what Sam and Dean are up to?"

Jared tried to roll his eyes and look put upon, but figured he wasn't much selling it, so he got down to it. "All right, I was thinking about this one the other day…about this bloodthirsty scarecrow, and a whole town that depended on its evil powers…"

* * *
The fire was burned down to embers, a dim glow in the dark. Jensen sighed and leaned back against the pile of packs and shut his eyes. It was dark and warm, and no one was looking so Jared took a chance and crept closer to Jensen, a stealthy half inch…quarter of an inch…his heat thumped in his chest so hard he could barely breathe. What if Jensen had been fucking with him, what if Jared had gotten the whole thing flipped?

Jenz cracked an eye open, pinned Jared with a look. "Get over here, you asshole," he muttered and looped an arm corded with thin muscle around Jared's neck—yanked Jared over that last less than an inch. Jared had a second to wonder at how soft Jensen's skin was even out of the water, silky against Jared's ear. Jenz pulled him in to his side and said, "You really think too fuckin' hard, dude."

Jared beamed into the dim night; inside he was kind of hot and shaky right about where he imagined his lungs must be.

Mike shifted under his cocoon of blankets, seemed not to notice at all that Jensen and Jared were practically one person. "Jay. I like the way you tell Dean—that he's so cool. Nothing bothers him ever."

Tommy sniffed, full of disdain. "Dean's okay but Sam is cooler—smarter and nicer. Dean's kind of a dick."

Jared blushed. "He is not a dick. He just doesn’t have time to be all, you know, polite and stuff. That's what he's got Sam for."

Jensen giggled at that. "So, Sam is Dean's jiminy cricket?" He grabbed Jared in a headlock and noogied him, laughing right over Jared's growls of protest. So Jared took advantage of wrestling to put hands where he wished he could let them linger. Jensen's breath hitched, soft and almost silent, a sound only for Jared's ears.

"You guys—keep it down. If anyone else is out here they'll hear us," Mike snapped

Jared rolled his eyes. "Michael, if anyone were out here, they'd have seen our fire a long time ago."

"Oh. Well, anyway, you should keep it down. Because it's irritating."

"You mean like this?" Jenz asks, leaped up and tackled Michael into a bundle of twiggy arms and legs and blanket, grabbed a handful of his thick brown hair and shook him this way and that. He dropped his grip on Michael's hair and tickled him until he cried and after they lay in an exhausted heap. Michael beamed from ear to ear, basking in the attention.

Jared watches his friends, watches them enjoy each other—have fun. They all share a thing in common—they're shadows in their homes. Michael gets shoved into a corner all the time. He's a talker and a toucher and a spinner of ridiculous tales and his family are frankly exhausted by him. Jared's seen it. Michael barely opens his mouth before his parents or his brothers and sisters are telling him to 'shut the hell up, Mike', and 'stop hovering , Mike'…and Mike takes the hit and rolls it off his shoulder, 'you didn't mean that plain in his eyes' but sometimes his earnest, unrelenting belief that his family values him dims and it breaks Jared's heart every time. Here with them, when he reaches out there's someone there to catch him.

Thomas' family ignores him in another way. They refuse to believe that there's anything that Thomas wants that doesn't fall in line with what they want. Thomas is too shy and too soft spoken and they have no idea that Thomas wants to act and not sit in an office all day long slowly dying. Jared wonders if he ever gets a hug or cookies or anything but silent, dusty disappointment. When he's with them his face lights up, when Jared talks about Sam, his eyes dance.

Jared drifts through his house alone, only Dean for company who is sitting across from Jared, lit up by the coals, drawing in a long, hot lungful of smoke and laughing it out again. Dean gets attention—when his dad is drunk, when he's feeling pissy…Jensen probably wants to be ignored like Jared's ignored, benign neglect. It'd probably be a godsend compared to getting your ribs cracked, or your wrist sprained or your ass so covered with welts you have to stand in class and get your friend to concoct a believable excuse as to why. Jensen is tougher, harder, more beat up and way cooler than fake Dean Winchester will ever be. Jared, late at night and all alone and under his covers in the dark, whispers to everything and nothing how much he loves Jensen.

No one will ever hear that but Mr. Goobers. And no one will know a Mr. Goobers exists but himself and the ancient bear in question.

* * *

Jensen smiled and lit it, drew in a deep breath and squeaked, "Just hold it in until you can't."

Jared took it between his fingertips and nodded.
Putting the joint to his lips, he tried to draw in and almost vomited.

After a while, Tommy and Mike drifted off and Jensen jerked his head, pointing a little deeper into the woods. "Come on," he said, and Jared follows him. It was really dark and at the same time lighter than it ever seemed in the back yard at night. There was a weird fairytale kind of feel to the night and he'd eat his own tongue before he said something like that to Jensen.

Jensen made him follow him into a tiny clear space in the bushes and pulled a bag out of his pocket—what he'd taken from Bubs the other day.

He shook a lumpy twist of paper out into his palm. Jared figured it must be a joint—he'd paid attention in DARE. "You ever get high?" he asked Jay and Jay shook his head no. "Good. Don’t get high. Unless it's with me, okay? Can't trust no one else. Don’t ever okay?"

"Yeah, shit, I'm not all that into the idea anyway, I just want to know what the deal is."

Jensen smiled and lit it, drew in a deep breath and squeaked, "Just hold it in until you can't." Jared took it between his fingertips and nodded. Putting the joint to his lips, he tried to draw in and almost vomited.

"Nargh, that's—can't do that."

Jensen gave him a blank stare and said, "Okay, let's try this." He made Jared cup his mouth tight. "Inhale," he said, "just don’t even think, just inhale," took a deep hit and blew the smoke into Jared's cupped hands.

Jared gagged and coughed and smacked the joint out of Jensen's hand. "Shit," Jenz yelled, scrambling for the joint and Jared shushed him.

"Shit. All right, let's do it this way." Jensen relit the joint, inhaled and motioned Jared forward. Jared gasped when Jensen wrapped his hand around the back of his head. "Like this, open your mouth and I'll blow the smoke in."

Jared expected the blowing of the smoke to happen from a distance but no. Jensen pressed his mouth over Jared's and exhaled.

Jared's brain leaped off the tracks, careened like a crazy thing 'round in his skull. Over and over it stuttered what he already knew—that Jensen's mouth was on his—Jensen's warm, wet, cushy mouth. His lips, his…oh fuck, Jenz's tongue was inches away from his, lurking in his mouth, waiting….

Jared fought hard not to moan but lost, it leaked out with the smoke. Jensen froze, smoke forgotten, and Jared almost passed out when Jensen's tongue finally, very tentatively sneaked that inch or two to touch his. And touched again, slid shy and soft across Jared's tongue. Jared couldn't believe he had permission to touch so he did, he sucked that shy tip, swirled his own tongue across it because it felt so god damn good to do so—made another noise and Jensen jerked away. oh fuck Jared knew he'd blown it, Jensen hadn't meant to do that, Jenz was going to beat the shit out of him—but no, Jensen looked frightened, cheese-white and ready to pass out. Fuck, that kid had no idea at all. Shit, there was no way Jensen could ever be half as fucking scared as Jared was at that moment, no fucking way.

Jared did what he thought was right and tried to put some brakes on it, he really did. Sort of. "I don't…what are we doing?" And realized that wasn't what he meant; he meant to say 'how are we doing this?' Screw brakes….

"Nothing! Nothing, it's. Really not. A thing." Jensen gasped out, and Jared made a desperate grab for his wrist.

"But if it was? I mean my—um. Would you be mad at me?"

"No! Is it? I mean, no, if it was a thing, it'd be…" Jensen inhaled so hard Jared almost expected his shirt to flutter in the breeze. "Look," Jensen said. "Okay. It's a thing. Fuck that—I like you, okay?" His eyes went narrow and steely, his lips pressed flat, and he glared at Jared like Jared was supposed to spring up and try and kick the shit out of him. Idiot. Hadn't he felt Jared's tongue, hadn't he felt his heart slamming against his chest?

"Then I'm really fucking lucky that you do because I've had a thing forever. Since the very first moment you were there, Jensen, before I knew about—anything—I knew I liked you."

Jensen's face underwent that huge, lightning fast change the way it did sometimes, the way that made Jared's breath stop in his throat. "Yeah? Good, me too."

"So," Jared said, and coaxed Jensen closer, so close he was almost in Jared's lap. "I know you've been with lots of girls, but me not so much, well, with anyone. Have you ever, with a guy?" Jared hoped not, felt selfish but kind of justified in wanting to be Jensen's only guy. Because that would count as a first time, right—?

"I—um. Might have been exaggerating a bit about my, y'know, experience. Maybe a handy a couple of times. Then just that one time, Ashley. She blew me; I went down on her—that Ashley who's a bagger at Cos-Co, not the one works in the shoe store or the one at McDonalds. Or the library."

"You go to the library?"

Jensen glared. "Dude…seriously? That's what you're takin' from this?"

Jared could feel a burning blush sweep his face, but really, he had a hard time picturing Jensen at the library, maybe he didn't know him as well as he thought—here was Jensen getting high and going to the library and, Jared guessed, nearly fucking this Ashley bitch whoever she was—

"—handjobs with JohnJohn but only once—"

Jared was hit with a freaking wave of red hot anger—it swept over him so fast that his knees went weak and his stomach sucked right up against his spine. Fucking JohnJohn mother fucker—he was going to rip Sanger's fuckin' eyes out and cut his hands off and burn his fuckin' house down—

"Yo! Yo. Jesus, ya possessive freak—" Jensen was snapping his fingers right under Jared's nose. "It wasn't like that, okay, it wasn't anything like this, nothing ever was, okay, Jay? Swear."

Jared nodded. "Oh-okay. I just. I want. Shit, you'll think I'm stupid. I don't know anything and you, you know all these people and do all this stuff—"

"Jay," Jensen said and it almost hurt how kind he sounded, how sweet and—it scared him to say it even in his head—how in love Jensen sounded. Jared let himself be pulled closer, right into Jensen's chest, so he had the weird experience of feeling Jensen talk as well as hearing him. "Jay. There's no one like you. Trust me on this."

Jenz's voice dropped lower as he came closer and then his lips, his lips, so soft, dry…soft and sweet, like…like…something, like marshmallows, whatever…he had to taste them. Jared traced the inside part with the tip of his tongue and Jensen made this hot noise and opened his mouth and Jared stopped worrying about if he was any good at it and just tried to make himself feel good and what made him feel good was to rub his tongue against Jensen's and the roof of Jensen's mouth and Jensen's teeth. Jensen seemed to like it a lot, and Jared thought that was way better than making himself feel good, so he concentrated on getting Jensen to make that noise again and do it lots of times.

In the middle of getting Jensen to whine and moan, he realized the hot, hard pressure against him was Jensen's hard-on. His own dick spit and jumped in his shorts. Jensen grunted and ground down on Jared, Jared ground up against Jensen and it felt—amazing. A lot better than rubbing against his sheets, or rubbing his own hand over his dick. When Jensen reached between the two of them and cupped Jared's dick and squeezed, Jared jumped, gasped. It was crazy how good it felt, like Jensen'd shoved his fingers directly into his nervous system and plucked all the nerves connected to his dick like a fucking genius.

When Jensen slid the zipper of Jared's shorts down and pulled Jared's dick free from his Sponge Bob boxers, when he wrapped his fingers around Jared's too hot, too wet, impossibly hard dick and drank up all the noise he made and stroked, confident, sure—all that good feeling got to be too much and just perfect and also confused Jared so much, he did the only thing he could and clung to Jenz, shook like a leaf in a storm and came, first time ever with someone else. It felt like it lasted a really long time, felt like being skinned, but in a good way, like all those nerves were open and exposed and it was the best feeling imaginable—kind of like being filled with electric champagne. Popping and zinging, frothing over in a million, million bubbles.

It was amazing and Jensen made him feel like that and he loved, loved, loved Jensen for it….

Jared blinked his eyes back open, chest heaving with the effort of breathing—bringing his damn brain back on track; he looked Jensen in the eyes, and saw the mirror of what he was feeling. Jensen was red-faced, sweating, his breath coming short and choppy and there was a wet spot on the front of his jeans. "Fuck Jay…that was amazing. You were beau—you lost it big, dude." He tried to smirk, but Jared stopped him with a kiss.

"Don't make it stupid, Jensen, it meant something to me."

"Well, yeah, yeah, to me too, I mean it, Jay."

"So does this mean we're like—you know," and he made a complicated sign with his fingers.


"Asshole. You know what I mean." He pulled his boxers off, wiped up and slid his shorts back on, aware of Jensen's eyes on him, like a prickly pleasure on his skin…he was torn between being embarrassed and really liking it. A lot.

"I know. Yeah, that's what we are. Not pretzels." Jensen smiled, warm, bright, until it melted away into a frown and Jared's heart dropped—was he changing his mind already?

"Hey, Jay. No one else needs to know, right? Because dude, my dad would kill me and I'm not even joking."

"Yeah…Gerry and Sherri would have twin aneurisms, without a doubt…" Jared tried to make it sound like a joke, but hell, they didn't like him at the best of times. This would be all they needed…another brick in the wall of why he was just a fucked up fun mirror version of their real son, the dead one.

"Hey." Jensen wrapped a hand around Jared's neck and brought him in for a kiss, another, and then another until he pulled back, reluctant as Jared felt to let go of each other. "You go make sure Tommy and Mike haven’t killed each other or set the woods on fire, I'm gonna hop in the lake—" he cast a rueful smile down at his wet crotch. "Bring me some sweats out of my pack?"

"Shit, one orgasm and now I'm your bitch?"

"Please, you’ve been my bitch since day one," Jenz smirked.

* * *

The guys made it through the dense patch of woods before Jared did, not even Jensen waited for him to catch up before they were out, squeezing through a fairy-tale thicket of crazed forsythia and lilac. The clinging branches clutched at his hair and his body and scratched and jabbed him like bony little hands wanting to tear his eyes out. There was something about pushing his way through the shrubs that freaked him out and he just wanted out of them.

"Shit! Shit!" He felt abandoned by his friends—every second they pushed deeper and father ahead through the bushes, he felt unease settle heavier on him, like he was a little kid again crouched in his bed and staring at the cracked open closet door, waiting for it to fly open. Or worse, to slowly creak open….

After a few minutes that felt like an eternity, they staggered out onto what was left of landscaped driveway in front of a grey house. The driveway must have been circular, lined with evergreens at one time, but now only their dry, brown bones were left; the huge house was grey through the efforts of rain, snow, and sun. The windows were gone, save for the very topmost. The gutters and the roof were dotted with stunted growth, trees doomed to die on the shale but in the mean-time, their roots were working to weaken the roof even further. A porch yawned from the front of the house, gutted mattresses and broken bits of furniture tumbled over the boards. Jared stared open mouthed at it, the others mirroring him. "Wow."

"I know, right?" Jensen muttered.

Jared blinked at Jensen and smiled. "Yeah." The whole idea was fucking crazy. Nuts on top of nuts. It was the kind of dangerous, messy deathtrap their parents would be happy to beat the shit out of them for trespassing in, a disaster waiting to happen. Holes in the floor, punky boards waiting to turn to powder under their feet, shale waiting to crash through the rotten attic and brain them where they stood, stairs to drop away and expose nails like two-penny teeth—what kid could ignore the glorious siren call of it?

They shuffled closer through the overgrown yard, stepping over cans and the rusted wire guts of charred chair cushions. They climbed the porch and Jared noticed two things at once, the agonized groan of stressed wood and holy shit the smell….

They stepped through into the dark, dank inside. The floor boards thrummed to their footsteps, and every step sent up clouds of dust and the stink got more oppressive, a combination of dust, dirt, rot and age. "Fuck," Mike snapped, voice muffled by the hand he clapped over his mouth and nose. Tommy went the color of cheese, the few little moles on his face standing out like chocolate drops.

"Oh." Tommy said it like just at that moment, just then, he finally got what they were doing. Why they were there. In that moment, the reality of it hit all of them. They were here to see a dead kid, some kid who had nothing and no one and was probably going to turn into faded bits of cloth and a little brittle hair and chalky bones in the basement of a house no one cared enough to use or tear down. The kid was going to rot down to dust, forgotten by everyone except a handful of kids and maybe whoever had left him there to rot. Jared shook himself and turned to Jensen, his anchor when he needed it.

Jensen shocked the hell out of Jared. He had a look on his face, a look Jared had never seen before. He'd seen pain and anger and fear there but that wide, torn open look on his face was something he'd never, ever seen before, not even when Jensen had to leave his house and wander the streets for a little peace.

Mike tugged on Jensen's wrist, his voice a loud whisper. "What d'we do now? Do we go or…" he gulped; it rang out loud in the thick, dusty gloom. Jenz nodded and dropped his back pack, fished out a couple of flashlights and passed them out. He fished around a little more and pulled out a pack of gum, tossed a piece to all of them. "Saw it on a cop show. S'possed to cut the smell."

Jared tucked his flashlight in a back pocket and folded the minty stick into his mouth with a small grateful sigh. It helped—just a bit. He fought hard to concentrate on the smell and taste of mint, and sighed. This thing, this was like being stuck inside one of his stories. He was pretty sure he didn't like it. He breathed through his mouth and thought about mint and tried to ignore the oppressive feeling of dread crawling through his gut. He was really glad he hadn't eaten much that morning.

"Jensen." Jensen looked up, alerted by Jared's tone that this was important. "Jensen, I. I'm not going to look. I can't, man." He shook his head, disappointed in himself, but Jensen cupped his cheek, ignoring the startled look the others gave him.

"Hey. Look at me."

Jared tilted his head up slightly. The look in Jensen's eyes made the center of Jared's chest crumple and burn and swell again. Jenz smiled. "Stay here. I don't want you to go." Which instantly brought a flare of rebellion and Jared started to say, 'I changed my mind' and Jensen laughed softly. "Don't. You don't want to see and I'd be happier if you didn't, okay?"

Tommy's voice was soft and uncertain when he interrupted. "Jay, I'm not looking either. I'm staying here." He looked around but Mike was already through the front room and into the kitchen.

"The stairs to the basement are through here, Jenz. It's just like my Gramma's house. There's the pantry door and the one next to it is the door to the basement steps," Mike called, the beam of his flashlight bouncing unevenly over the walls and floor of the decrepit kitchen. Scuttling and scraping sounds flooded the air and Mike bit off a squeal when a small dark shadow dashed across the dirt covered tiles. "Shit, mother fuckin' rats," he shuddered and the light swung wildly in his hand. Jared grabbed Jensen's arm.

"Are you sure you want to go down there, I mean, what if the stairs give way?"

"It won't, those kids stayed here for a while. If the stairs were goin' to collapse, they would have."

"How could they just have up and left that poor motherfucker down there?"

"What where they supposed to do? Have a funeral? Invite all their friends? Call the kid's parents?" Jenz snorted—sharp, cold, bitter and Jared shuddered. He slid his hand higher, wrapped his hand around the thin, corded muscle of Jenz's arm. Remembered how it felt going around his waist, his back, how strong it felt, how safe he'd felt.

"Come back, okay?"

Jenz grinned at him. "What? Sure I'll come back; I'm not gonna move in down there in the dark, like some…ghoul or somethin'."

"It's not funny. Be careful, damn it—I mean it."

Jensen darted quick looks around and when it seemed the other boys were occupied, he quickly pressed his lips to Jared's. "Okay. Now shut up, all right?"

Jared laughed. "All right."

Jenz and Mike made their way to the stairs and started down—as soon as they were out of sight, Tommy turned to Jared. "I saw that."

"Saw what, what?" he stuttered, fear like ice around his heart.

"It's okay. I kind of figured." Tommy said. "You guys are like…I don’t know, Sam and Dean. Connected. It’s fine." He smiled at Jared, a small, sweet smile. "You know the only straight guy in the crew is Mike, right?"

Jared dropped back on his heels, "What? I don't. I'm not—"

Tommy sighed. "I told you, it's okay. It will be, anyway. Someday, we'll be out of this crappy town and we can be who we want to be. And you and Jensen can be what you want to each other and Mike will find someone to love him and I'll find a place where I matter for being me—" Tommy's voice broke off in a quiet noise, half sob, half drag of air. "Oh frak, I'm crying. I don't even know why. It's just—that kid is dead and all he is now is someone's freak-show. It's wrong and sad, your life not mattering to anyone." Jared dragged him down to the floor with him, and sat so their shoulders touched.

"Dude, Tommy…right after those guys come back, we're calling the cops. We don't have to tell them how we knew; we'll do that, y'know, anonymous call shit. Just don't worry about it. And you gotta know you matter to me—to all the guys. Okay?"

"Yeah." Tommy inhaled, a shaky gasp of air, scrubbed his face dry. He said, "I know, Jay. God, it's stupid, this whole thing is stupid and horrible, and…and also, I'm in love with somebody who might as well be made-up and that sucks ass."

Jared laughed shakily, glad for Tommy's change of subject. "Sam. I knew it; you always were way focused on him, Shorty."

Tom heaved a huge sigh and pushed away from Jared. "Yeah, Jay, I'm in love with Sam." He shook his head and whispered something like idiot and then there was a stomping and shuffling at the stairs and the boys came out.

Jensen eased down the stairs, Mike's breath a humid breeze on the back of his neck, his body a blanket of warmth against his skin. Jensen had to fight to keep from pushing back into it—it was strangely cold in the basement, a chill that, compared to the thick, stuffy heat of the upper floors, made his skin pebble over in goosebumps.

They stepped slowly, carefully but the stairs still bounced and groaned with their weight. They kept their arms tight into their bodies, because the last thing they wanted to do was brush against the web-festooned walls. Dust hung in grey streamers above their heads, the slight breeze they kicked up as they passed had the streamers trembling—pieces broke off and tried to drape their shoulders. Every step downwards was like, shit, like dropping into a dreamworld. He'd had dreams, plenty of them, just like this. Walking down dark, damp hallways, down endless flights of grey, rotten stairs, down and down and all the time terrified at what was at the bottom of the stairs. Terrified there was no end to them but more terrified that there was…because he knew who was waiting for him at the bottom of those stairs.

Mike knocked into Jensen and knocked him out of his funk. "Ugh, ugh," he kept whispering and Jensen couldn't bring himself to try and stop him doing it. The smell got worse, thick and heavy in their noses, so strong he felt like he could taste it, completely overwhelming the small bit of mint the gum held. He spit it out and heard Mike doing the same.

The flash light's beam punched flickering holes in the dark until suddenly they hit bottom and the space opened wide. A bleary grey light came from a couple of narrow, rectangular windows set high on the wall. The glass was smashed out of some of them and Jensen was blindly grateful for it. He couldn't imagine how viciously bad the smell would have been if the basement had been airtight. He got that his brain was wildly cycling through random thoughts to keep from thinking about that, and he was more than okay with it.

The bundle lolled against a short stack of what looked like empty cardboard boxes in one corner of the room, a lumpy form in a sleeping bag, its worn blue color broken up with wide, darker blotches. The smell was god-awful now, shit and piss as well as the overwhelming animal smell of rotted meat.

"Oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god," Mike moaned—a non-stop, low howl under his breath, like he was afraid to scream in case something heard them. And yeah, Jensen got that, because he was fighting instinct—his body, the way it wanted to lock up, his feet wanted to whip him around and dash back up the stairs but. He was Dean. Well, maybe not, but he wanted to be, and Dean Winchester would never run from the things that scared him or made him want to puke and he'd never, ever cry in front of Jared—Sam, he meant Dean'd never cry in front of Sam, so….

Jensen made his slow, careful way over to the body, Mike practically clinging to his back like a scrawny, panicky monkey and definitely having no qualms about crying like a little bitch.

Two steps further into the greasy, grey light and Mike folded like a napkin, ralphing his dinner between his feet—dinner, lunch, breakfast—every fucking thing he'd ever eaten in his life, it seemed. Jensen held on, barely—helped that he hadn't eaten the poptarts and granola bars and fucking peach cups Tommy what a pussy brought with. Mike on the other hand had eaten like it was his last meal…

"Bet you never thought you'd see those peaches again, hunh?"

"God, shut up, you heartless, brainless, cock-sucker."

"Eat me," Jensen muttered and then had to ride out a truly vicious wave of nausea. "Come on."

"Noo-o," Mike moaned but followed Jensen like a goddamn baby duck.

Jensen hadn't known what to expect. He hadn't expected that he would feel so much like crying, half from horror and half from feeling so bad for a kid who died away from home. Overdose or not, it wasn't fair. No one deserved to die like that, like a rat in a trap.

The kid's skin was slipping off the bone. His face was bloated and split, his tongue pushing through his teeth. He was sloppily rolled in a shower curtain and half stuffed in a sleeping bag. Jensen couldn't stop staring at the kid's feet poking out of the end of the torn-up bag—he had no shoes, just a worn-thin pair of socks. Something about that made his eyes burn and blur.

"Jenz, Jenz…come on, we gotta—I gotta get out of here, come on, let's go—" Mike was tugging and tugging on Jensen's wrist.

"Yeah." This kid was dead. He had nothing to show for a really short, and by the looks of it, fucked-up life. He might was well have not been born. He didn't matter to the people who brought him into the world, didn't matter to the people who took him out of it…Jensen shook his head. So fucked up. Jensen stared at the cloudy, sightless eyes and saw himself there in a few years. Dragged there by his dad, probably, pushed there by the flat downward slide his life had been since…since he could remember. The best he could hope for anymore was not to drag anyone with him.

Mike was still pulling on his wrist until he suddenly stopped. His voice was clear, steady and scarily calm. "Dean—I mean, Jenz. Jenz, we gotta get the fuck out of here—I gotta get out. Right the fuck now, okay? Can't deal anymore, Jenz," he said. "Fuck, Jenz, if that was me in there—if it was, I—my folks, man, they'd cry for about a minute an' then they'd be so relieved, shit, so glad not to deal with the freak kid they got, man, they'd be glad I was dead, Jensen, I shouldn't even go home—"

"Mike, damn it!" Jensen shook him, shook Mike until his teeth rattled. "It's not true, you fucker, it's not true. Your mom an' dad would lose their minds, and your asshole brothers an' sisters would cry their faces off—they love you, idiot. I know, 'cause I know what it feels like to not be loved—" Mike jerked in Jensen's grip, his mouth dropped open, his eyes turned red and filled, a blink sent the water pouring over his cheeks. Jensen let Mike go, hugged him instead, spoke softer. "Dude, trust me, your parents are stressed, they're tired and you guys are like a pack of rabid hyenas—but they love you, man."

That turned the waterworks on fierce, Mike cried every fluid that was possible from a human face and pushed Jensen over the edge into crying with him, but Jensen figured he had a pass. Shit, even a damn serial killer would have cried, Mike looked that pathetic, like an orphaned, half-drowned hamster.

Jensen wiped his face and wrapped his fist in Mike's collar, dragged the still crying kid up the stairs. He didn't think about the webs crawling over his face or the dust clogging his nose, he just wanted up those stairs and away from that kid and out of the fucking house and air—holy fuck, he wanted air so bad….

The first thing he saw when they came up the stairs was Jay's eyes. Jensen stared into the gray-green-amber color, clear as fresh water in the half-night of that crumbling kitchen and thought that, that's what he wanted to remember, how beautiful and full Jared's eyes were and not that poor fucking kid rotting in the basement.

They were home that night, they got in right before it got dark. They'd have made it home earlier, but they got caught up, arguing about how best to tell the cops and could they trace the phone call and Tommy freaked out at that thought, so they finally settled on a public booth in the parking lot at the America Save gas station on the edge of town. They each peeled off to their own houses, but Jenz walked Jared home…in the dark of his back yard, right next the garage's back door, Jared lifted his chin a little and Jenz cupped his cheeks in his warm rough hands. He kissed Jared, and Jared sank into the warm feeling, slick and wet, long, long kisses until he was hard and panting and Jenz had to stop and pull back for air. "Damn, Jay…"

"I know. Hey, come over tomorrow morning, like, early. We can sit out here, alone—have breakfast."

"I know what I wanna eat."

"Yeah, that's not as sexy as you think it is…Mr. Smoov Like Glass. No wonder you get all the fictional girls."

"Is too—and don't forget, I get the make believe guys, too," Jenz winked. He took a breath and the smile melted away. "Hey, we're going to be okay, right. This thing with the kid…it'll sort itself out and we'll be us again. You go inside and…and think up some more stories. I want a new Sam and Dean tomorrow." He leaned over and kissed Jared's cheek and that one little move made Jared feel closer to him than anything they'd done the night before. In his head, he called Jenz his boyfriend and it made his chest swell warm and tight. Kept it to himself—he didn’t want Jenz knocking him down. He snorted and trotted in to face the music.

Their parents watch the news, and when the boy's body is found, it doesn't take all that much for them to put two and two together and all hell breaks loose. Jensen is radio-silence for a few days but Jared was expecting as much. He worries himself sick that maybe Jenz's old man has hurt him, and tries to figure out a way to find out… Jared of course is grounded. Tommy's grounded too; Mike got grounded but sneaks out because Mr. and Mrs. Rosey have a shit load to deal with and keeping Mike locked up is at the bottom of their list. Strangely, Mike seems pretty philosophical about it. Jared wonders what's gone on at the Rosenbaum house in the last couple of days, that Mike seems kind of…okay with things. Until the fourth day after they came back.

Mike launches himself at the Padalecki front door like a dragon's after him. He's so darn insistent that Gerry lets him in—Jared knows because he hears it all, hanging out in the hallway up the stairs.

Mike is standing at the end of the hallway, breathing like he ran all the way from his house to Jared's. He stares at Jared, and guppies for a bit until he finally says, "Went by Jenz's house to check on 'im, an' it's empty. The fucker's gone Jay. He's gone."


"Oh shit—"

The other people in the class snickered, but he just lifted his head and met the inevitable—gazed into shocked hazel eyes.

He looked the same, just like he'd looked in every dream he'd ever had of him, in every fantasy. Jensen blinked—except he wasn't exactly the same, not really.

Jay was a giant. Jay was tall, taller then Jensen, he was just fucking huge. And holy shit, built. And his hair was long and…what was up with the sideburns…no, wait, fuck that. What the hell happened to his scrawny, geeky little Jay? This guy was…a fucking monster.

Jay didn't move, didn't speak—just stared at Jensen, open-mouthed, didn't even blink for what felt like a full minute and the longer it took, the stupider Jensen felt until…yeah. Jensen dropped his eyes. He got it. What the hell had he been thinking? It'd been a dumbass idea anyway. Jared had remembered him at least. But if that horrified look was anything to go by, it wasn't fondly, not by a long shot.

Jensen swept his shit up into his backpack and shouldered it. He scraped the chair back, and headed towards the door and Jay suddenly flailed to life—

It was such a familiar move, Jensen couldn't help snorting. Jay waved his hands at the class. "Whoa, okay guys, bit of a brain fart there. I'm Jared—well, you know that. How about we introduce ourselves, maybe tell each other a bit about ourselves, starting…" Jared pointed at Jensen, frozen in the doorway. Jared fixed him with a look he must have learned from a really pissed off cat. "Going somewhere, Mr. Ackles?"

Jensen rubbed the back of his neck, grimaced at the knowing smirk Jared graced him with. Jensen cursed to himself—he fucking hated how easy it apparently was for Jay to read him, even after all these years. The jerk. "Ah—no, um, no?"

"Damn straight. Sit yourself right down." He turned to the rest of the class. "It's okay, I'm allowed to abuse him, he's an old friend. It's not the only perk there is to being his friend, but it's a pretty good one." Jared winked at him and Jensen felt another stupid wave of heat in his face, a giggle stick in his throat. Fuckin' Jared, making him act like a ten year old girl.

Jensen dropped back into his seat and tried his best to glare at Jay but it fell a little short, judging by the stupid fond look on Jay's face…"Yeah, I thought so," Jared smiled. "Anyway…."

* * *
They left the library after everyone else, Jensen waiting while Jay stuffed papers helter-skelter into the goofy looking briefcase he'd dropped on his desk. "Is this what you do," Jensen asked, "besides write the books?"

Jared glanced at him and his face practically split on a grin. "You know about the books—wait, you've read them?"

"Of course. They're great—I think 'Something in the Water' is my favorite." Jensen strolled along with Jared, sneaking looks at him, wondering if Jared was at all interested in getting to know him again. Hoping that he was. "So. Maybe…maybe you could sign them for me one day."

"Well, yeah. I mean, why one day? Why not tonight?" Jared gave him another one of those toe-curling smiles.

"Really? That's—that's great, Jay. Do you have to call someone—I mean, let someone know you'll be late—"

Jared stopped and grabbed his hand and Jensen's skin warmed all over at the touch. It felt like…finally being able to name the feeling that haunted him his whole life. Knowing now, without a doubt, that yeah, he'd been in love with Jared back when he was just a kid…maybe still was. A little bit.

Jared leaned down to look Jensen in the eye. He said, "I don't have to call. Don't have anyone to call. And gotta say, Jenz, I kind of hope this is your incredibly unsubtle way of asking if I'm with someone because the answer to that would be no. Oh! Um—not that I think you're fishing—or don't care—I mean—I'm not being pushy either, I just—wait." Jared huffed, dragged his hands though his hair, making it stand out so wild that Jensen had to grin. "Okay Jenz. Jensen. I'm sort of unsure about what's going on right now, just—don't get scared and run off, okay? I promise, I'm relatively sane."

"And smoov like glass," Jensen snorted and the snort turned into a genuine laugh. He fought it down and something Jared said suddenly repeated in Jensen's head. "You're not with anyone, Jay? At all?"

"Well, not ever, for shit's sake, I've been around, you know."

Jensen snorted. "Yeah, okay Jay." He was pretty sure how much Jay hadn't been around. He doubted that Jared could have changed that much, not judging by the way he just kind of verbally exploded…Jensen pointed down the street. "I'm a half block that way. It's a shithole, but I call it home." The place really was nothing to brag about, but it was fairly quiet and fairly affordable and he didn't have to share it.

Before long, Jared was following him up a couple of stone steps, to a pair of high narrow doors. A sheet of cardboard had been taped over a missing glass pane, an improvement to the nothing that had been there when he left for class that evening. Jared looked at it with a raised eyebrow and Jensen shrugged. "So it's not exactly the Ritz…"

Jensen told Jared how he came to be in the area as he let them in and lead Jared up a creaky flight of stairs and down a dim hallway. "I bounced around a lot after I aged out of foster care, but when I got a little money together, I decided I wanted to go to school, and I wanted to go here. This town was the closest there ever was to home, you know?" Jared nodded and Jensen figured maybe he did know. "Well, this is me," he said, and unlocked the door to his apartment.

The place was small, basically a couple of rooms joined by a kitchen. The newest thing in the place was a second hand bookshelf, packed with worn books. One shelf held a photo as well, propped against the spines of the books. Jared looked around the room and then back at Jensen, who watched him look. "It's…"

"Not very impressive," Jensen shrugged and laughed over Jared's instant protest. "The important thing is, it's mine. Sit, I'll make us coffee."

Jay sat. After a few silent minutes he said,"…so, I talked to the guys not too long ago. We get together a coupla times a year, when our schedules let us…" he stopped and blushed, like it was a douche move to remind Jensen how not fucked up their lives were compared to his but shit, he'd have been pissed off if they weren't doing good. The whole point was the Loners get out in the world and succeed—it made him feel less a loser, oddly enough, to know that his friends had done just that. "That's great, Jay," Jensen said, keeping his voice low and even, trying to convince Jared that he was more than okay with things as they were now. Things were good now, and Jensen was…not happy, not the way people thought of happy, but he wasn't messed up anymore and he had a road to follow, so…maybe content described what he was now, content with a dash of resigned.

He went through the soothing motion of making coffee but it felt off—it was too quiet. Jared was here, sitting in his living-dining-study-room like all Jensen's fantasies come true but he was just so quiet. When Jay got up and moved around the room his step was quiet and soft. Looking at the few personal things Jensen managed to collect through the years, he was silent, no comment, no question, and that was weird and wrong. Even the way Jay smiled managed to be quiet, his fingers smoothing over the spines of the only new books on the shelf, books he'd written and Jensen had craved—bought when he couldn't even afford to buy food.

Jay picked up the framed photo propped there. Jensen knew what Jared was seeing, a young woman who looked a lot like Jensen, and a little boy who didn't.

The coffee pot stuttered to life, the spell was broken and the world rushed in to fill up the quiet places—thank god. Jensen took in a deep breath, he exhaled slowly. "It's great you keep in touch with the other guys. How are they?"

Jared put the picture back. "Good, they're doing good," he said. "Tommy is Thomas now, you know. In fact, he's Thomas Patrick Welling now. He's on that show, you know, the one with that mother and daughter? I forget what it's called—the critics like it—"

Jensen laughed. "Oh yeah, I knew that. He looks good. What I meant was…is he happy?" Jared shrugged, then nodded. Jensen smiled. "Good, I'm glad to hear that, Tommy deserved to be happy. Is he dating that girl on the show?"

"Um, no," Jared laughed. "Pretty sure he's not." Jensen tilted an eyebrow, not thinking that Jared wouldn't know what it meant, forgetting for a minute all the years gone by. "Tommy and I—Thomas and I, after you left. We kind of. Dated, I guess. Briefly. Kinda fell into it, y'know…."

The sensation was a little like being hit by a two-by-four—stunning. Enough to stop Jensen's brain in its tracks for a second. "You what? You and Tommy? Well…of course. Sure." But he felt unsettled and sad. Like he'd lost something good, or had it taken from him. But, sure, Tommy—Thomas—was a good guy; they deserved to have had whatever it was they'd had—

"It never turned into anything serious, it never went too far. I think Tommy was subbing me for Sam." Jensen thought it was more likely that Tommy had always seen Sam as Jared….

Jay grinned ruefully, and he laughed when Jensen did. Jensen rubbed the back of his neck, simultaneously glad it wasn't much, and feeling silly that he was that glad. He looked up to catch Jared blushing. "What?" Jensen asked and then froze—blushed himself. He remembered that Jay's Dean had a tendency to the same habit…he dropped his hand, shoved both of them in his pockets. "Tommy, hunh? I should have realized back then. He was always way too worried about Sam. How about you, life's pretty good to you, hunh?"

Jensen didn't think the question was that big a deal but Jared reacted like he'd struck a match to gasoline—Jared's eyes went hot and angry and the look on his face—Jensen flinched when Jared took a step closer. "How about me an' my life? How about me, Jensen—let's see, my best friend disappeared without a word after an event that changed my life and y'know, that at a time when my life was just, shit, in fucking free fall already and left me wondering for years if something was wrong with me, that I was so fucking forgettable. You never got in touch, didn't even try—"

"Aw Jay, don't think I didn't want to, I did, but. I couldn't, I couldn't even try." Jensen took a step back, hands up, totally confused and a little nervous—Jared was just so angry. "Dude, how could you think I didn't want to talk to you—you have no idea who how much I wanted to stay. You were…everything to me back then."

Just as quickly as he'd blown up, Jared deflated. He scrubbed his face and sighed, looked a little embarrassed—looked like his Jared again. "I'm sorry. I'm being a selfish asshole. I'm always doing that." He lifted his eyes to Jensen's. "Missed you. After high school, I thought…I don't know what I thought. After Tommy, well. You know, guys that looked like, or acted like you, like I thought you acted like, mostly tend to be flamin' douches. I put out a lot of fires, man, for a lot of years. Too many." Jared shook his head and smiled. It had a bitter, sad edge to it.

Jensen nodded, still feeling a bit like he was running a race through an obstacle course only Jay could see... "I'm sorry. After we left that time, things between my dad and me got worse. Got to the point there was no hiding it and no way to ignore it and eventually the state stepped in. I thought it might get better," Jensen sighed, trying to ignore the sharp stab of bitterness that always came with those memories—"but it didn't. Things really fell apart after that and I didn't have time for anything—not dreams, not wishes, not anything but surviving. When I aged out, I got caught up with stupid people. I did a bit upstate. The old man died while I was in, not that it made a difference to anyone, least of all me." He stopped and took a breath and slid his eyes over towards Jay, hoping not to see disappointment or discomfort. But it was just Jay looking back, forehead all creased up in that look that killed. Sad for Jensen but not disgusted…Jay nodded, said not a word, and Jensen drew in another breath, went on. "When I got out I decided I was done being stupid. So here I am. Finally doing pretty good." He looked up and narrowed his eyes at Jared. "Just me on my own. Never really was interested in anyone, not really. Never had a chance to care about anyone in any significant way."

"That's, that's good, I'm glad—I mean not about the no one or the bad stuff—I mean, about, you know. You doing good and all."

"Yeah. Thanks. It took a long time but I'm okay now." He set the cups on the stamp sized table and Jared came over and sat down. Their knees touched under the tiny table. Adding sugar and milk to his coffee seemed to require enormous amounts of concentration, if the look Jared gave his coffee was anything to go by. After a minute Jared lifted his head and smiled, a small, half-embarrassed smile. He gestured towards the bookcase and Jensen knew what he was going to ask before he actually did. "What about…you ever find your mom? Josh?"

"Dude," Jensen laughed, high and brittle, "I never even looked. I've got my own life and they're…wherever. When I got cut loose from the old man, I let all that old shit go." He smiled at Jared, a slightly more natural smile. "Swear, Jay. I'm good."

"Okay." Jared let it go, let Jensen serve him coffee. There was time for that later. "So, Mike's a DJ."

"Fuckin' serious? A DJ…yeah, I can see it. That's just about perfect for him."

Jared nodded. "He missed you when you left. He hero-worshipped you, dude. He's always giving me shit that Dean is just a thinly disguised you."

"Me?" Jensen shook his head. "I'm sure. Dean." He grinned at Jared, like it was the most ridiculous thing in the world.

Jared rolled his eyes. "Dude—Dean is you. He's always been you. And…I guess I'm. A little bit like…"

"Asshole," Jensen laughed. "You've always been kind of an asshole."

"If by asshole you mean handsome and smart and better than you, than yeah."

"Yeah." They smiled at each other, Jared's smile that wide, toothy thing that had always made Jensen feel happy, safe…he found himself tipping forward in his chair, rising a bit. He reached across the table and hooked a finger in Jared's collar and pulled. Jared went right with it, smooth as silk, planted his elbows on the table and leaned across. Let Jensen press his lips against his. Jared's lips…warm, dry, sweet. As sweet and as nice as Jensen remembered….

This was good. This was right where he was supposed to be.

Jared let the warmth fill him. It felt like finally being home. He'd spent years making himself believe that he'd never see Jenz again but there he was, sitting across from him. There wasn't anything Jared had ever imagined that could top Jenz being there now…except the look Jensen gave him, fingers still curled in his collar and a shy smile curving that mouth, that soft, wonderful mouth.

"Jensen…" Jared said. "I spent my whole teenage years writing this story in my head, the one where we—we were in love. And what we did meant like, a whole lot. And every douche I ever slept with after that was a poor, poor imitation of the time we…um. Got to explore a bit." He laughed, embarrassed.

"Wow...the way you express yourself, that's Nobel Prize caliber stuff right there, dude."

Jared threw his head back, covered his eyes and said, "Oh my god. I'm spilling my guts out to you and you just say that thing you always say, you jerk." He froze. There was a possibility that he was going to crawl right under the table. He peeked between his fingers and Jenz was staring at him, smiling a little in confusion maybe, but at least he wasn't looking at him like he was totally insane. Jared figured that counted in his favor.

"I've never said that to you before, I don't think—"

Jared just laughed. "Man, not that the explanation is gonna make more sense but—you talk to me in my head. I'll explain later. Like way, way later, okay?"

"Oh…kay." Jensen leaned back in his chair, his eyes flicked from one point to the other before settling on Jared's eyes. He smiled, slow and sweet. Jared felt that smile all through him. The look in Jensen's eyes now was the look that Jared used to tell himself was just for him, once upon a time when they were kids. When they were the Lone Gunmen. And like he read his mind, Jenz said, "Hey, remember when we called ourselves the Loners?"

It was so close to what he'd been thinking, it startled a laugh out of Jared. "Hell, yeah, of course."

"We were so dramatic back then—like we were the only people in the world who understood each other."

"Well, yeah, we kinda were," Jared said and Jenz looked relieved.

"Dude, I always thought it was just me."

"Of course it wasn't, it was never just you," Jared said, and waited, nerves tingling, hope making his heart beat a little faster. If there was another step, then Jensen had to take it….

Jensen looked down, away from Jared's eyes. He traced a finger around the damp ring of coffee left by his cup, and stuttered a bit. "And…are we still talking about the Loners?"

"Depends. Do you want us to be?" Jared asked and Jensen laughed.

"No!" he said and his tone said idiot. "No…because the other reason I came back was you. There. Said it."

"And you're still breathing, and I'm still breathing and we're both—breathing."

"Yeah. Can we now, or should we—?"

"I think now would be perfect."

Jensen stood and held out his hand. "Then let's get out of the kitchen. I'll show you the rest of the place. Starting with the bedroom." He reeled Jared in close, "And ending with the bedroom."

"And you call me smoov," Jared grinned and pulled Jensen closer until they were pressed chest to chest and Jared swore he heard the click click click as every bit of them slotted into place, "Like…leggos,' he murmured and Jensen snorted.

"Yeah, Nobel boy, just like that."

Jared leaned into Jensen, who was so warm and fit so good Jared hated to move, because he'd been waiting to feel this for a million years but finally, Jensen nudged him, a knee against Jared's that sent a spark shooting right to his dick. "Fuck—"
Jensen bit his lip, clamped his hand around Jared's wrist and yanked, "C'mon, move, or you'll never want to eat off that table again."

Jared was still snickering as Jensen pulled him into a narrow room that held a dresser, an orphan dining room chair, a nightstand holding an ugly lamp shaped like a flower or possibly C'thulu, and the bed, most importantly a bed wide enough for both of them, if maybe lacking in length.

A lone window let light into the room, highlighting a couple of framed drawings hanging over the bed, one a pencil sketch of Jared. "Oh—wow. You did that. I remember how good you were…you should be taking art classes."

"Yeah, well, if you were teaching an art class I would have."

Jared turned a slow, warm smile on Jenz and ran his finger down the edge of the frame of another drawing. "I like this one," he said. It was his young self, and a young Jensen, sitting together at the edge of a lake. They were facing each other and it was plain to see, nothing else existed for those two boys. Jared looked back at Jensen and he knew everything he wanted was possible. Everything they'd felt then, was still alive. This was their fresh chance, no interruptions, no interference. Just them and their choices. Their decisions.

"It'll work," Jensen whispered hot and damp into his ear and Jared shuddered hard when the tip of Jenz's tongue traced the shell of his ear and dipped briefly inside, just long enough to make Jared go hard as stone.

"Damn…" Jensen popped the button on Jared's jeans and Jared instinctively jerked his hands away.

"Wait, Jenz, wait…"

"What? I'm sorry, I shouldn't have, I just, oh damn." Jensen turned a shade so red Jared worried he was about to pass out.

"Oh, shit no, Jenz, it's all right. I just, feel a little weird—embarrassed, dude," he said with a laugh, his cheeks gone hot.

Jensen smiled and Jared knew he was being ridiculous, but Jenz shook his head and continued with what he was doing, smooth and cool, until Jared's pants hit the floor. " Damn, Jared. No need to be embarrassed, dude…" His eyes were frozen on Jared's dick and Jared was torn between crouching and covering, and preening and…yeah.

He sat on the bed, scooted back against the headboard to watch Jensen take his own clothes off. He did it so efficiently, so neatly, that Jared felt a silly little zing of disappointment that it was over so fast…and then wanted to smack himself. Jensen was right there, naked, golden, and hard for him.

"Are you sure? I'm just…you were so young, it was so long ago. Are you sure…?"

"Jensen—yes, I'm sure—I've never been surer about anything in my life. I haven't changed that much. Just enough to know that what we had was a good thing—would have been, if we'd have had choices to make."

Jensen nodded. Leaned forward and kissed Jared. "I hope. Yeah, I hope it keeps getting better."

"It will." Jared licked tiny kisses around Jensen's neck, his shoulders. "It'll work."

Jensen pushed Jared down onto the bed, slowly steadily, until he was flat on his back, his hips bracketed by Jensen's knees. Uncertainty and heat combined in Jenz's expression. Jared thought it was cute, and hot. Really hot….

He trailed long fingers up Jenz's sides, feeling how smooth his skin was, silk over steel hard muscle and bone. The man had nothing extra on him, as if Jenz's life had burned any softness out of him, had roasted everything down to bone and survival and no room for anything else. It made Jared sad.

"Jay—" Jensen's hand covered Jared's gone still on his ribs. "I'm fine—promise, I'm good. Better now with you."

Jared nodded and raised his head, caught Jensen's mouth up in a kiss and let the years spin away. This was…real. This was home, where they were supposed to be.

The slick heat of Jenz's mouth sent pleasant shock after shock through him, making his blood race, his dick heat up and thicken against Jensen's velvet smooth skin, slick precome mat and wet the silky hair on Jenz's thigh. "Fuck….yes."

"Yes," Jared echoed him. "Hell yes, so much fucking yes, so mu—"

"Shut up," Jensen smirked. Jared moaned like a kid when Jenz's hand wrapped around his dick and squeezed, thumb flicking against the crown and Jared thought it was the best feeling since…yeah.

It was a dream, it was Jensen, green eyes holding his so Jared fought to keep them open. Jenz smiled, and slid downwards. Rubbed Jared's dick across his lip, and suddenly, moaning deep and desperate, he rubbed it across his mouth, his cheek, marking himself with slick trails. "I've thought about you, dreamed about you, god, I chased you through the woods endlessly in my dreams and now, and now," he took Jared in deep and sudden and Jared howled, low in his throat. His dick jumped and pumped precome so sharp and sudden he almost came at that moment. Only knowing that he'd hear about it for the rest of his life kept him in check—even though the thick chuckle he heard let him know Jensen knew how close it was to being over. Jared swore he'd make him pay later.

"Bastard," he groaned, hips moving slow and careful. Wanting to fuck hard but keeping it controlled for Jensen, Jensen who sucked and licked and drank him down moaning and whining and making so much noise and so much wet mess…Jared shuddered, huge waves of warmth flooding him, tingling and shocking him. His balls tightened, every muscle in his body tightened. He forced his eyes open. Dreamed about this half his life and he'd be damned if he missed one fucking minute—

Jensen looked at him, right into his eyes and it was impossible to hold back—he came so hard it hurt, made him yell, and grit his teeth and just fall into it, it felt good and it scared him a little just how fucking good it did feel.

He collapsed, pulling Jenz up to kiss him, sighing. Warm waves of deep, deep satisfaction, contentment, *safety* swept him. He lay under Jenz, grinning like a loon until Jenz tried to push off. Jared felt the hard, stiff length of him slide against his stomach as he drew away, and he flipped Jensen onto his back, and grabbed his dick.

"Payback," he grinned and Jensen rolled his eyes, scoffed right up until the moment Jared sucked him down.

"Holy shit!" Jensen groaned, "Oh Jared, shit, don't…don't…"

Jared let Jenz slide out of his mouth. "Don’t?"

"Don’t stop," he grouched and cuffed Jared. Jared laughed and sunk back down.

"Mmmm…" He slid his tongue out and around the crown, slid the tip of his tongue though the slit, gathering up precome like honey. "Taste good. Feel good…" and then he was too busy to talk and he gathered that Jensen was completely on board with that judging by the way he writhed and moaned and cursed…his legs dropped open, and his hands ended up wrapped in Jared's hair and he tugged and pushed and wriggled…in fact, he was as aggressive as Jared had expected. When Jared slicked up his fingers and slid them inside Jensen he let out a shout and groaned so deep it seemed to come from some untapped place inside of him.

"Dreamed of this Jared, you fucking me, inside me, filling me, coming all over me—"

Jared was so turned on it felt like being drunk, wonderfully, crazily, drunk. Jensen thickened in his mouth, moaned and Jared felt him jerk, and then come slid thick and hot inside his mouth and he swallowed frantically, thinking 'Jensen Jensen' and 'shit' and 'holy fuck' and 'finally, thank god, here, mine….'

* * *
Jared blinked, blinked again. The ceiling above him was totally unfamiliar. He felt a quick stab of confused panic—no idea where he was. It was totally silent, except for a metallic snick and a quiet exhale. The smell of burning tobacco brought it all back. He pushed up on his elbows and saw Jensen, leaning on the half-opened window's sill and smoke curling from his nose, his mouth. He was naked, goose-fleshed from the chill air. The early morning light turned his skin ivory and cream and Jared thought that even with every knob on his spine plain and the line of his ribs plainly etched, Jenz was beautiful. "Hey, Jared rasped.

Jensen turned slow and easy, a smile widening equally slowly across his lips. "Hey yourself. Did I wake you?"

"Naw…what time'sit?" He could barely speak, just watching Jensen breathe and remembering how strong and steady his heartbeat had been under Jared's cheek.

Jensen took one last drag and pinched the end of the cigarette out, tucked it in the pack and left the pack on the sill. "It's early. Can't sleep past this time even when I'm not working." He shrugged, flashed Jared a grin. "So…" the grin faded. "You leaving?"

"Hunh? Do you, do you want me to?"

Jensen rubbed the back of his neck. "No?"

"Well, good, because I wasn't going to." The smile on Jensen's face lit up the room. Jensen was beautiful. Not a little boy anymore but a grown man, and his. "When's breakfast—I'm gonna have to feed you up. Put some meat back on you."

Jensen dropped onto the bed. "What're you, a cannibal? Or you have some kinky ideas in mind for me, Jay? Gonna do something freaky and write it up in a book?"

"Shut up and c'mre. You're all smoky," he complained when Jenz laid out next to him.

"God, bitch, bitch. How did I forget this about you?"

"It's your favorite thing about me."

"Yeah, well...true, that and you can get me free copies of my favorite author's books."

Jared laughed. "Yeah…that's the important thing, all right."

"Did I mention that my favorite author's my boyfriend?" he asked, his tone confidently cocky but wrapped up in it was a sweet kind of uncertainty and hope.

"Wow, your favorite author is a lucky sonofabitch because his boyfriend is amazing." Screw the little voice deep down advising waiting and being cautious—this was right now and he was grabbing it, holding on with both hands and not letting go for anyone. He wrapped his arms around Jensen and sighed happily. "Go back to sleep. We've got nothing to do today and nowhere to go but here."

"That sounds good," Jensen said softly, already mostly asleep.

"Dude, it's perfect," Jared whispered.