Chad loved Jared. He had no trouble admitting this. Not that he was in love with Jared. Nope. No way. Because Chad was into vagina, thank you very much. And Jay didn’t have one. So that was that. But, if the world was ravaged tomorrow and everyone was wiped out except for him and Jay? Hell, Chad could probably live with that.
The first time Chad ever met Jared he was flat on his back. Chad, that is. Two boys had shoved Chad down in the playground and were doing some sort of bizarre rain dance over him. Jared and his cousin had run over and glowered at the other kids. Something along the lines of ‘pick on someone your own size.’ Chad was on the small size when he was five. Luckily, he got past that. Though he never caught up to Jared. Which was okay. Jared’s size had come in handy a few more times growing up.
From that day at the playground they had each other’s backs a lot. Lived through skinned knees and broken arms. Overdosed on Halloween candy and drove their parents insane with secret clubs and handshakes and even their own language at one time.
Not that it was just Chad and Jared. Nope. Their club included Jaime, Jared’s cousin. Jaime wasn’t quite as friendly as Jared, but he, like Chad, pretty much did whatever Jared wanted. Which was fine because Jay made up the best games. Hanging with Jared and Jaime was always fun and as long as the sun was shining they were in one or the other’s back yards until one of their moms would appear and drag them reluctantly apart.
Then puberty hit and Chad and Jaime discovered girls. Jared, not so much it turned out. He’d tried. Dated really pretty girls that Chad would drool thinking about. Jared had a way about him. Not just girls. Everyone liked him. Hell, strangers would smile at him. He worked like a snake charmer on teachers and coaches. Not to mention parents. Parents loved him. Chad stayed close and hoped a little of the Padalecki charm would rub off. Wanted a smile that lit up a room like Jared’s.
Until Jared turned fourteen. That autumn everything changed. Jaime approached Chad one day when Jay wasn’t around. “You know what’s up with my cuz?”
Jaime looked at him, familiar hazel eyes questioning. Then he laughed. “Nothin’, man, never mind.”
Chad didn’t say anything. But inside he shook. Because he did know. About two weeks back he’d caught Jared and Lance Brenner making out in the locker room. They were hidden behind a support beam and it was between periods and nobody else was around. Chad couldn’t even remember what he’d needed when his breath caught. The other boys were too caught up in each other to even notice him.
Chad didn’t say anything. Figured Jared would tell him when he was good and ready. Not like he cared. Jay was his best friend and nothing could ever change that. Admittedly it made him curious about sexuality in general and that night he secretly sought out some gay porn on the computer. He watched trying to get turned on but it felt off. Nothing like the immediate hot rush he got watching naked women. He even went as far as to try jerking off while watching. His hand still felt good but really it only started to work when he closed his eyes and pictured Shelby Wilder’s breasts. Sweet, soft mounds. Oh yeah. Heterosexual all the way, baby.
So ended Chad’s curious phase. Nonetheless, he knew that Jared was struggling with it all. His friend had changed visibly. Barely smiled. Nervous like a freshman at the senior prom. Stuttering and edgy. Temper short. Worst of all he was avoiding Chad and Jaime. And everyone except Lance, it seemed. That’s the first time Chad realized that jealousy and sexuality weren’t mutually exclusive.
Two weeks later Jaime called him after supper, the tremulous sound of tears in his voice. “I fucked up Chad. Oh god. I fucked up.”
Chad’s heart lurched. Jaime and him weren’t as tight as him and Jared. But still. They’d been friends since Kindergarten. “What’s wrong?”
“I can’t … Jared … you gotta go to Jared, dude. He … he needs you.”
Chad had hung up without hearing any more and raced down the block to Jared’s back yard. Where Jared was curled up behind the garage red-eyed and snot-nosed.
Jay came out to him that day. Told him that Jaime had essentially outed him to his parents. Jared’s mom had been cool but his dad was struggling with it. And his Uncle John, Jaime’s father, had wigged out. He’d said that Jaime wasn’t allowed to hang out with Jared any more. It was one of the shittiest moments of Chad’s life, standing there helpless watching his best friend cry his eyes out.
Which is why he swore that no one, fucking no one, ever hurt Jay like that again.
* * *
“Jay, of course you can stay here. Any time, dude.” He forced his voice calm although inside he wanted to punch something. Someone. What the fuck had Ackles done now? Chad knew Jay loved Jensen. Fuck, a blind person could see it. But he didn’t see that love returned in kind. Nothing Jensen did showed that Jared was special to him. Jensen was selfish, unstable, and not good enough for Jared by a million. From the get-go Jensen lied, played games, avoided meeting Jared’s friends, hell, pulled Jared away from them. But the dumb idiot was so in love he didn’t see any of this. So Chad tried to tread carefully.
He poured Jared a shot of whisky and waited quietly for his best friend to calm down. He wondered if he should call Sandy but Jared started talking before Chad could reach for his phone.
Jared looked at him, eyes red and hurting. Chad felt it deep in his gut. “Jensen’s ex. The one he said nearly broke him. The shrink who Chris says can play anyone. David. Is back. Jensen was with him.”
Chad sucked in air and took a sip of his own drink to calm his first reaction. Which was to punch Jensen’s lights out.
Maybe it was for the best. Jensen could go back to his past lover and maybe Jared could finally get over him. The guy was bad news. Frankly, Chad had been surprised Jensen had said yes to Jared’s marriage proposal. The guy wasn’t good with change and marriage was huge. And, they still hadn’t set a date. Given Jay’s enthusiasm, Chad thought the procrastination spoke for itself. Fuck, Jay woulda married Jensen yesterday he was so gone. This news about the ex might turn out beneficial. Still, Chad knew he had to hide his secret glee. “I see,” he said carefully.
“It’s not … I know Jensen wouldn’t cheat on me. I know it. It’s not that. But something is wrong. He’s hurting and I don’t—“
“Jesus, Jay. He’s hurting? What about you? He balks when you see your friends, yet it’s okay for him to hang with his ex?”
“No. It’s not okay. Nothing is okay, alright? That what you want to hear? He’s leaving me, Chad. Bit by bit. I feel it. And I don’t know … I don’t know what to do about it.”
Jared broke down again and Chad felt his own eyes fill in sympathy. Damn Jensen to hell. He put his arm around Jared and pulled his head to his shoulder. “Hey. It’ll be alright. You just need some sleep. Another drink. It’ll be better in the morning.”
Chad held on as Jared melted down. It felt too much like that other time and Chad hated that he couldn’t do a damn thing to help his oldest friend. When Jared finally released his death-grip on Chad’s arm, Chad slowly went to get a box of Kleenex and some bedding for the sofa. Upon Chad’s return Jared was calmer. Though he looked like a used dish rag. Rung out and dirty gray. Chad swallowed and forced his face into a small smile. After Jared had settled in Chad squeezed his shoulder once and told him to sleep well.
Chad turned back with a questioning glance.
“Thanks, dude. I … just. Thanks.”
Chad shrugged. “Been wiping that snot-nosed face o’ yours since I was five. Can’t stop now.”
Jared actually smiled at that and Chad went to bed confident he could help Jay get over his douchebag, hopefully-soon-to-be-ex-fiancé.
* * *
Chad knew he wasn’t smart.
Not that he thought he was dumb. Nosiree. Just not smart like Jared was smart. All honors and scholarships and admittance to one of the premier law schools in the country. Chad had loved school. Well, he loved all the non-scholastic aspects of school. When it came to partying – he was an A plus. Nobody played harder. Work? Not so much. But someone had to balance all the overachievers. Show them life was more than just nose to the grindstone. Remind Jared of the fun stuff.
So Chad had his college degree. Ended up majoring in anthropology. Hey, it was interesting. Shoot him. But not quite marketable. Not unless he went back to school for a post-graduate degree. And he just didn’t want to take another exam. Like ever.
Jared moved to Washington, DC to attend Georgetown Law. He’d literally jumped up and down opening his acceptance letter. He was on his way to following his grandfather’s footsteps. Jared’s grandpappy had been a judge. A big deal to hear Jay tell the story. He’d died before Jared was born but his mother had given Jay the old man’s journals. Chad had peeked in them once or twice. Boring as paint drying. Nothing but endlessly long essays about the law. But Jared drank it in like ambrosia. To each his own.
As Jay was getting ready for the move across the country Chad couldn’t come up with anything that kept him tied to Texas. So he’d asked if he could come along.
“You want to move to Washington, DC with me?”
“Um. Yeah. Could do with a change of scenery.” His last girlfriend had dumped him. Although he’d told everyone that he’d dumped her. Maybe it was mutual. Whatever. She was out of the picture. And Jay was leaving.
“Okay!” Chad had smiled huge. “District won’t know what hit it once the Chadmeister gets there.”
Jared had laughed.
The next morning Chad asked his friend, “You gonna be okay?” before Jared headed off to court for Kripke and Partners’ latest big case. Jared was a paralegal in the firm. Which meant ridiculous hours. But he loved what he did.
Jensen worked there, too. It’s where they’d met. Except for Jensen it was just a job. Had some dreams about music. Song writing. Some useless shit. Except that got Jared all googly-eyed when talking about it.
Chad had heard about Jensen for a week before Jared had even laid eyes on him. Something about his voice. Chad didn’t get it. When he finally met the dude he had this husky voice thing going on but nothing to get your panties all wet. Or other parts hard. Whatever.
“Yeah. I’ll be fine. I’ll call you later … okay?”
Chad pushed just a little. “You gonna go see him?”
Jared looked down. “I don’t know. We should talk.”
No, you should leave his useless ass. But Chad couldn’t say that. He nodded and saw Jared off before heading to his own job.
Working in U Street Video had its advantages. All the free porn he could ever want, for one. And really, he could want an awful lot. Plus the job gave him access to every indie film and straight-to-DVD train wreck he could find. Chad was a bit of a geek that way. Figuring out just what made a flick so awful it was good. Hey, it wasn’t the worst thing to be into.
The store’s owner, Mr. Siegel, was an eccentric older man who was mostly absent. Chad ran the store and made sure they were always featuring the latest, greatest and often most obscure films ever. When he first got the job he’d crowed to Jared that they were set for entertainment for life.
“And … my boss is one of your people.”
Jared had raised an eyebrow. “He’s tall?”
“No, you dork. He’s of the rainbow persuasion.”
Jared leered at him. “So you’ll keep me replenished in gay porn?”
“What?! No, dude, you gotta take care of that yourself. I ain’t getting queer cooties by walking into that section.”
Jay cracked up. Best sound in the world.
It had been quiet all morning. Chad was putting out his ‘Have You Seen This?’ display, which he changed whenever the mood struck. He slotted In a Glass Cage into the Plexiglas holder and started writing why it was a must-see on the whiteboard beside it when his cell phone rang.
He spoke without even checking the ID. “How do you spell harrowing?”
“Two ‘R’s. Chad … I … can you get away?”
“Sal’s coming in at two. Why? What’s up?”
“I’ll be back in court by then.”
“Jay. Talk to me.”
“I … saw Jen. He … he’s so … Fuck, Chad. I don’t know what’s going on with him. He looked at me, but … it’s more like he … stopped. Like he stopped seeing me.”
Chad slumped into his stool behind the tall counter and bit back a sigh. This ‘seeing’ business was important to Jared. His friend claimed that nobody ‘saw’ him like Jensen did. It was ridiculous girly nonsense but Jay was adamant about this. Yeah, Ackles had this intense, almost-creepy stare. Sometimes. Looked like the proverbial absent-minded professor more often if you asked Chad. Like his brain was somewhere in another galaxy. Except when he was staring at Jay. Then his million-miles-away gaze was simultaneously examining Jay with x-ray vision. But fuck if Chad knew what Ackles was really looking at. Maybe he was daydreaming about Orlando Bloom or whomever gay guys wet-dreamed about.
“Did he explain what he was doing with his ex-boyfriend?”
Silence. Score one for Chad. Finally. “No. We didn’t … I didn’t ask about that. I don’t understand, Chad. I just don’t get it. We were doing well. He just … he agreed to marry me. And now … now he’s talking crazy. Asked if he should go to law school. Law school! It’s ludicrous. That’s not him. He needs his music. It’s who he is. It’s not that he couldn’t go to law school. He’s scary smart. But why is he asking about that? Did David bring it up? Does Jensen think he needs to do that for me? Is that it? I know he can get insecure but where would he get that from? I don’t want that. I just want him.”
Chad spoke before he could filter himself. “Jay, whatever’s going on I don’t think it has much to do with you.” He regretted it the minute it was out.
“What do you mean?”
Too late. Chad took a deep breath. Maybe it just needed to be said. “Jensen isn’t you. You’re all about him. Well, at least you got that in common. He’s all about himself, too.”
“Chad … “
“Jay. You love him. I get that. And maybe he loves you, too, in his own way. But he doesn’t act like a man in a committed relationship. Fuck, I’ve never been in one and even I see that. Truth is, I don’t think Ackles knows what he wants.”
And then Jared said the scariest thing he could have. “Chad. I … think you’re right.”
It felt like a lot of responsibility suddenly fell on Chad’s shoulders. He agreed to meet Jared later that evening and told him it would be okay. Fuck if he knew how that could be. As much as he believed deep down that Jared would be better off without Jensen ... He also knew how wrecked his friend would be when the inevitable happened.
* * *
They met at a local bar and Chad said howdy to Jared’s work friends. Jared had been a paralegal for about a year now at Kripke and Partners. It was a great opportunity. He was getting practical experience and the firm was partially subsidizing his education. It would take longer to get through school this way since he could only take classes part-time. But it would all be worth it if he was offered an associate position upon passing the bar. Which Jared would be. Kripke’d be an idiot not to do it.
Jared looked loose and easy but really he was a planner. Knew what he wanted down to the exact date. School was the five-year plan. Work was the ten-year plan. After that Chad knew Jared wanted to pursue his dream of opening his own law practice and working with those in need. The disenfranchised, Jared called them. That was his Jay. It was always about someone else.
Jay’s co-worker Alison, a perky blonde with clever blue eyes, hung on Jared’s arm with a slow grin. Chad figured the drinking had already started. Though Jared looked clear-eyed. Chad slid into the empty seat next to him.
Heads nodded in his direction. The other paralegal, Kristin, was on Alison’s right. Gorgeous didn’t begin to describe her. Almond eyes and delicate features that made her look like some old-fashioned porcelain doll. What? It’s not like he ever played with dolls, just that his grandmother liked to collect them. Hey … there wasn’t much else to do at his grandparents’ home.
Jay nudged him. “Stop ogling Kristin.”
“The drool says otherwise, my friend.” Chad swiped at his mouth before shooting his friend a look. Jared laughed. “Sucker.”
“So, y’all win your big case?”
The last of Jared’s colleagues, Rob, met his gaze. He was a nerdy guy with perpetually tired-looking eyes. “ ’S not over. Not for a while yet.”
Chad motioned for the waitress to bring him a beer and turned his attention to Jay. “You okay?” he asked, voice low.
Jared took a swig from his bottle and turned a cloudy look Chad’s way. “Nope.”
“I’ve been patient with him. I get that he’s not like anyone else. It’s what I—But you’re right. I just gotta know. I have to know if he’s in this with me all the way or not. One way or another, Chad. I just have to know.”
“Then fucking ask for it, man. You’ve worn your heart on your sleeve. It’s time he showed his hand. If he’s not wanting to commit like you are then you need to know that. Some dudes just aren’t good for stuff like that. Marriage. Forever. It’s not for everyone. Shit … I can’t even think about stuff like that. So it’s not like I’m blaming Jensen for that. But he has to come clean with you. He owes you that.”
Jared looked down at the table, working his lower lip with his teeth. “What if … what if he says he doesn’t want me anymore?”
Then I’ll fucking send him a thank you bouquet and get you so good and trashed you’ll forget that bastard’s weird ass name. “Jay. What was the most important thing to your grandpappy – even more than the law?”
“Honesty.” Chad nodded and met Jared’s steady stare. “A liar lives a shadow of a life,” Jared quoted from his grandpappy’s journal.
“Gotta live in the sunshine.”
Jared smiled at him. “That’s fucking poetic, Chad.”
“Shut up. I can do poetic. I run deep.”
Jared laughed and it almost reached his eyes. It was the best Chad could expect given the circumstances. He knew how Jared felt about his boyfriend. Now the best Chad could hope for is that Jensen would do the right thing and set Jared free.
* * *
“Sandy, this is the worst possible thing that bastard could have done!”
“Chad … calm down. I spoke to Jay and he seems okay with—“
“But … “
“He’s lying and you know it! Jay’s not okay with this but that selfish prick is keeping him hanging. Needs to go find himself with his musician friends. Screw that. If he wants to go play hick bars with his redneck band then he should fucking cut Jay loose first.”
Sandy touched his arm but Chad swept it away with a shake. His anger vibrated through his skin. This was just so wrong. Jared was the sweetest guy in the world and he deserved so much better than this. Jared and Jensen finally had a much needed heart-to-heart. And Jay said he asked Jensen point blank to tell him the honest truth. Jensen said he loved Jared but was losing his music. His vision. What the fuck ever.
Bottom line was that Ackles was leaving with his friends Chris and Steve for months to go touring and Jared was being left behind high and dry. On freaking hold.
Sandy caught his attention again. “Chad, I only know what Jay told me. Not that I got to see him. Been impossible lately between my work and classes. And his classes and his job.” And Ackles, Chad added silently. “But we talked on the phone for an hour. Jensen said he’d let himself get too far away from his music. That’s his passion. Jay believes him. Believes in him. Remember how he says that Jensen sees songs. He’s gifted. Or at least Jared believes so. Anyway, Jensen quit Kripke’s and is going on the road with Chris and Steve’s band, the Last Cowboys. Jared says he understands. And besides, it’s just for the summer.”
Chad snorted. “Right. Just for the summer. It’s three fucking months Sandy.” He saw his friend blanche a bit. “Ah … I see Jaybird left out that tidbit. A quarter of the fucking year. And in the meantime, while Jensen’s off having fun and flirting in a different bar each night, Jay is supposed to be waiting at home like a good little celebrity wife. Okay, in what possible world is that a relationship? Would you want that?”
“Well, no. I wouldn’t … but Jay—“
“What? Jay what? I’ll tell you what. Jay deserves better. End of sentence.”
Sandy sighed. “Look … Jared told me you and he … it’s upsetting him, Chad, not to have your support in this.”
“I’m on his side. Always am.”
“But he wants you to support Jensen, too. It’s hard for me as well. I’m also not sure Jensen is what Jay—but we have to be supportive if we’re going to be Jay’s friend. Promise me you’ll try to be nice tonight.”
* * *
It took all of Chad’s self-restraint not to punch Jensen Ackles perfect jaw into the inside of his skull. The guy was slick, Chad gave him that. He had that shy, nervous act down to perfection. All stuttery and quick bursts of senseless words. And, yeah, he’d get lost staring at Jared. The two of them both did that. Fuck knew what they were thinking about. Usually looked like they wanted to go down on each other on the spot. And ugh … that was a mental picture Chad most definitely wanted to scrub out of his head. Although he figured with those girly lips Ackles was probably pretty darn good at it.
Something had to explain his normally smart friend’s blind spot when it came to that jerk.
It was one of those rare gatherings where Ackles deigned to permit his friends to mix with Jared’s. They met up with Chris and Steve and the Cowboys’ new drummer, Tony. Who turned out to be a raging homophobe.
Chad glared at him along with the rest of the table. That shit just wasn’t right. The fucker up and quit on the spot one week before the tour started because he found out Jensen was gay. Chad didn’t think anything could make him sympathize with Jensen that night. But Tony was an asshole of epic proportions. After the jerk had run out, Jensen had looked stricken and dashed out for air. Chad coulda told him it was eighty degrees and humid as a dirty armpit outside but nobody asked him.
Chris, ever Jensen’s babysitter, ran off after him.
Jared stared after Chris’s retreating back. Steve touched Jay’s arm. “Chris’ll take care of him. Don’t worry.”
“Jensen’s blaming himself,” Jared said.
“Why? That guy was a jerk. Wasn’t Jensen’s fault.”
Jay looked at Chad with a surprised look. Figured it was because he was defending Jensen. But this time, it wasn’t the creep’s fault. The other creep was creepier.
Jared’s voice was crystal fragile. “So … maybe … does this mean you guys can’t start your tour next week?”
Steve either didn’t notice or chose to ignore the naked hope in Jared’s tone. “Nah. We had two other guys that were really good and interested. I’m sure one of ‘em will work out. No worries. We’ll be able to keep our first gig date.”
Jared visibly slumped, shoulders dipping and eyes drooping slightly. Chad fought the urge to take his friend in a bear hug. Beside him Sandy and Sophia looked equally pained. They went to school with Jared. It’s how they all met and had since become great friends. Chad knew both Sandy and Sophia shared his concerns about Jensen.
Sandy tried to reach Jared, “Jay, are you sure you--?”
Jared stood quickly as soon as he saw Chris approaching them. Chris spoke to Jared. “He’s okay. Just needed a little space.”
Jared nodded, glanced at his friends for understanding, and sprinted out toward where Jensen had disappeared. Chad sighed out loud. Chris met his eyes.
“Our travelin’ gonna be hard on the kid?”
Chad bit back his anger. “Ya think?”
“If anyone can handle it, those two can.”
“Three months is a long time,” Sophia said. Chad wanted to kiss her. Well, he usually wanted to do that. But this time, more than ever.
“Not in the middle of a lifetime.”
Chad looked toward Steve who’d uttered the softly spoken words. The tall blonde tipped his bottle toward his lips. “They’re long haul, those two.”
“Yeah? Your boy Jensen know that?”
“Do I know what?”
Chad startled at the deep voice suddenly behind him. He spun to see Jared gazing down at him, arm protectively drawn around Jensen’s back. Jay pleaded no to him silently. Chad couldn’t ignore the quiet entreaty. He felt the girls eyes drilling into him from the other side, begging him to be good. “Just what an asshole that guy was and that he’s not worth another moment’s thought.”
“You got that right,” Jensen said sharply, not at all with his usual hesitation. “Because anybody who has a problem with me and Jay isn’t worth thinking about.”
Jared beamed at Jensen on a possessive high and Chad couldn’t help but wonder if that remark wasn’t partially directed toward himself. But Jensen remained upbeat and uncharacteristically friendly for the rest of the evening and seemed to be working extra hard to make Jay laugh. And, well, anybody who made Jay laugh couldn’t be all bad.
* * *
The Last Cowboys set off on tour as scheduled. At first it was kinda good. Jared was around more and he seemed like his normal self. He joked and teased. Called Chad names. Business as usual. Sure there was the sadness. It’s not like Chad didn’t see it. It hovered under the surface, dimming the colors ever so slightly like clothes left hanging on a line too long in the sun.
Between work and school it wasn’t like Jay had a lot of spare time to mope. And during any down time Chad or Sandy or Sophia tried to be available for a quick meal or to grab a few beers. There were games to watch on TV and games to play on the Playstation. Friday night was movie night. Chad brought home something from the video store every week.
They Watched Devour the first Friday Jensen was gone. Ridiculous flick. So bad it was good.
Life went on fairly smoothly until Randy.
The original replacement drummer didn’t last that long either. He up and quit unexpectedly right after a gig. Jared never said why. Chad figured he’d gotten tired of Jensen’s whiny ways. He couldn’t really blame him. Chad knew he wouldn’t last a week on the road with Jensen. It’s a miracle how Jay could actually live with him. Hell, he’d even worked with him for a year.
So New Guy was gone and replaced by Randy the Magnificent. Chad knew something wasn’t right when Jared didn’t answer Jensen’s call while they were getting settled for another movie night. At Chad’s questioning eyebrow Jared awkwardly explained.
“It’s just. Jen talks about the new dude all the time. Like he’s drumming’s second coming or something.”
Chad fought back a million snarks. Sandy walked over with the huge bowl of popcorn. Sophia grabbed some and turned to pout at Chad. “Blood Simple? Again?”
“Classic. Never gets old.”
“Ugh,” Sophia let out. “Next time we’re choosing.”
“Right. No way. I’m not sitting through another half hour fake orgasm.”
Sandy laughed. “It’s classic, Chad.”
Jared’s cell phone rang again, and this time he answered it with an apologetic look and disappeared into Chad’s bedroom. Chad watched his friend close the door and instantly sobered.
Sophia spoke what everyone thought. “There goes the night.”
“Sophie … “
“What, San? You know how it goes. He speaks with Jensen and then he’s miserable. He won’t say a word the rest of the night. Or if he does then he and Chad will get into it again. I just … fuck it. Remember when Jay was fun?”
Sandy stopped Chad before he could reply. “Stop. Don’t bother. Yeah, you told us so.”
Chad didn’t want to be right about this. Their friend was hurting. “Did you get him to eat?” he asked Sandy instead.
“I filled up his fridge with groceries. And left some food in containers so all he has to do is heat it up. God, I hate seeing him hurting like this.”
Chad sat next to her and squeezed her hand. “We all do.”
Jared appeared unexpectedly. Usually their calls went longer. Well, before Randy joined the band. His face was white and his eyes wet.
“What?” Chad immediately asked.
Jared didn’t say anything, just silently walked into the kitchen and pulled down the Jack pouring quietly. By the time Chad caught up with him his friend was swiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Jensen okay?” Chad asked softly.
He got a bitter laugh in reply. “Yeah. He’s fine. He and Randy are playing couple.”
Jay’s lips twisted. “Seems some guy was hitting on Jensen and Randy came to the rescue by pretending to be his better half.”
“He told you that?” Chad thought that Ackles douchery couldn’t get any bigger.
“He was all proud of it! Fucking thought it was like the best joke ever.” Jared poured himself another drink. Chad looked on worriedly.
The girls came in cautiously. “Look. Maybe we’ll skip movie night tonight, okay?”
Jay looked contrite. “I’m sorry. I’m just. Really bad company right now. Maybe next week?”
Sandy took him in a hug and Chad watched how hard Jay held on. He gave Sophie a tight squeeze, too. Chad walked with them to the door.
“What’s going on?” they whispered when Jay was out of earshot.
“Ackles and that new drummer, Randy. Seems like they keep getting closer.”
Sandy’s eyes grew big. “You don’t think--?”
“Not sure what to think. I mean, if he was going to fool around you’d think he’d be smart enough not to fucking announce it on the phone to Jay every time they talk.”
Sophia locked her huge brown eyes on Chad. “I know how you feel about this. And we think you’re probably right. But in case we’re not, remember how Jay feels. Okay?”
Chad nodded quietly returned to the living room.
Jared was splayed on the sofa. He’d foregone the glass altogether and was drinking straight from the bottle.
“C’mon, Jay. You’ve had enough.”
Jared handed over the bottle with no protest. His eyes were red-rimmed. “Imma losing him.”
Chad took a swig before returning the bottle to the kitchen cupboard. “You don’t know that.”
“Yeah, Chad. I do. I don’t think he’s sleeping with the dude. Even though they’re sharing a room every night. I think … I know he’d break up with me before he did that. But he and Randy … they’re sharing things now. He’s the one Jen turns to when things are rough. He’s the one he confides in. He’s the one that’s making Jen smile.”
Chad wanted to pound his head against the wall. Who the fuck was doing those things for Jared? And why didn’t Jared care that the answer was nobody. It was always about Jensen for Jared. How could he make his friend see that he counted just as much?
Almost as if Jared had heard Chad’s thoughts he continued. “I miss him so much. The way he’d look at me. Like I was this … precious gift. Like looking at me was some sort of fucking privilege. And I’d tell him to quit it … that I wasn’t so special.”
“You are special,” Chad blurt out before he could help himself. He blushed instantly at the mush talk.
Jared smiled sadly at him. “That’s what Jen always says.”
Huh? Well, the creep got one thing right. But Jared looked like someone had run over a crate of puppies right in front of him.
Chad planted himself next to his friend. “Where is he?”
Jared looked over at him sideways. “You mean the band? Um … heading south again. Virginia maybe.”
Chad nodded. He couldn’t believe he was saying this. “Go to him.”
“You love him, right?” Jared didn’t answer. Didn’t need to. “Then go. Stake your claim. Drive it right on in.” Chad chuckled darkly. “Well, that came out rather dirty.”
Jared didn’t laugh back. He turned broken eyes upon his friend. “I can’t imagine my life without him.”
Chad fought back his own emotions and held his gaze steady. “It’s not only up to you. Truth, remember? It’s better than shadows.”
The story of Jensen and Jared wasn’t quite like a story book. Although sometimes it played like one. Even groggy with sleep Chad couldn’t help but smile at Jared’s elated voice on the phone.
“Randy’s a girl, dude!”
Chad turned over in bed. It was fuck o’clock in the morning. Chad’s head was spinning slightly. “Jensen’s screwing a girl now?” Then why would Jared be so happy?
“What?! No. No. There’s no. It’s not like – She’s a friend. Like Sandy. She’s just a friend and he … we’re okay, dude. We’re going to be okay.”
“Where are you?”
“Yeah, well they had another gig to get to and I have work and school.”
Chad didn’t say anything and kept his sigh to himself. Ackles couldn’t give Jared one night? But Jay sounded good. He sounded closer to his old self than he had for weeks. Couldn’t look that gift horse in the mouth.
The remaining time of Jensen’s tour passed quickly. Jared turned more upbeat the closer it came to Jensen returning. They spoke every day again. Chad had walked into Jay’s place once to see the phone near Jay’s head on the sofa pillow and his hand on his dick and that’s a sight Chad really didn’t need to ever see again. Although from the quick glimpse, Chad had to say Ackles was a bigger asshole than he even imagined. Because really? Ouch.
* * *
Finally, three-and-half-months after he left, Jensen was due home. Chad knew how excited Jared was by the nearly hourly calls he was getting with Jay just bouncing. Chad couldn’t help but smile. Jared could be such a big kid sometimes.
He didn’t call Jay that day or the next, figuring he’d let his friend have all the wild gay sex he’d missed. The second morning after Jensen’s return Jay called. Chad had just finished writing Eraserhead on the ‘Did You See This?’ board.
“What’s a five-word description for Eraserhead?”
“Uh … ‘Batshit crazy film about nothing’?”
“Works for me.” Chad put his marker down. “So, you come up for air yet?”
Jared laughed. “I’m at work. Well, in court but we haven’t started yet. Judge won’t get here until ten.”
“Sweet. I take it your reunion went well?”
“I’m so glad he’s back. I can’t even … it was a long few months.”
Yeah. Tell him about it. “Jensen glad to be home?”
“Of course. He has the craziest stories. Wasn’t easy. Sounds like he barely slept and hasn’t eaten a good meal in ages.”
And you ate so well when he was gone. “Yeah. I guess. As long as you’re happy.”
“Chad. I know I’ve been … not quite myself these last few months. An’ I just wanna say thanks for being there for me.”
“I always got your back, you know that. So, when we getting together? Maybe hear some road stories?”
“I’m going to arrange all of us going out. Soon. It’s just that I kinda want to keep Jensen to myself just a little bit longer. You get it, right?”
Chad immediately wondered if this was Jared’s idea or Jensen’s. Whatever. He wasn’t going to begrudge Jared his private boyfriend time. Not if it kept his friend’s voice sounding like he’d never stop smiling again. “You bet. Whenever. We’ll be here.” Chad flicked his eyes up as a couple entered the store. Two guys holding hands. “Jay … Jensen’s staying for a while, right?”
The beat too long of silence made it clear the question hadn’t even crossed Jared’s mind. Only … now it clearly had. “Yeah. ‘Course. I … he didn’t say but. He’s home now.”
The couple passed by, the taller one leaning into the shorter one’s shoulder and whispering something that got a low chuckle in reply. They worked their way to the new releases. As hokey as it was, this was what he wanted for his friend. Simple, everyday comforts that let Jay just be the sweet guy he was. Jensen was all about the drama. But not Jay. Looking at the couple’s back as they picked out movies, huddling together as they read the boxes, Chad shuddered at the twinge of fear in Jared’s voice just now.
“Right, Jay. He’s home. And it’ll all be good from here.” Chad forced more certainty in his voice than he felt.
* * *
Ten days later Jared was making good on his promise to get everyone together and have a proper homecoming celebration. Chad had been feeling pretty positive about things. Jared remained over-the-moon-happy. The blissful vibe was infectious and caused Chad to ask out a pretty customer that had been stopping by regularly for some time. The gal had laughed flirtily and then said she didn’t date men she didn’t know.
Unperturbed, Chad had asked what it would take to get to know him.
“Well, first, someone has to introduce us.”
Chad looked around. They were alone. Sal, who worked afternoons, was due in about an hour. The kid went to school and Chad worked around his schedule. Chad was the best boss he’d ever had, Sal told him. Whatever. Like how many bosses could a seventeen-year-old have had?
“I’m Chad—“ Chad started but Pretty Gal interrupted.
“Uh-uh. Someone else.” With that she’d twirled around, swinging her bag and working her oh-so-tight ass out of the store. Damn. Well, there was always next time. ‘Sides … Chad had to admit he liked her style already. Nothing wrong with making him work for it a little. Smiling to himself he picked up his rag to finish wiping down the shelves.
His cell rang. “What’s a formal introduction sound like?”
“Like when meeting royalty or something?”
“No. Just when you introduce two people. Only more than just ‘hey, this is Chad.’”
“Um … I dunno. Maybe just leave out the ‘hey’?”
“Yeah? No. There’s more. I remember your momma used be more—“
“Oh. Like my momma does it? She’d say, ‘so-and-so, this is so-and-so’. An’ then she’d repeat it in reverse. It’s the school teacher in her to do it right.”
“Shit. I might have to hire someone.”
“Who do you need to introduce to each other?”
“I … never mind. So we on for later?”
“Yep. I might be a little late. Work is crazy. But just make sure a beer is waiting for me. Okay?”
“You got it. So what else is going on?”
“Not much besides work. Jen’s been on a domestic streak. Gotta say it’s fantastic coming home to a home-cooked meal. And if the apartment got any cleaner it would be Saran-wrapped.”
Chad chuckled. But really he was pleased. After being miserable for so long, Jared deserved a little extra attention. And Jensen owed it to him. For the first time in what felt like ages Chad felt better about Jensen and thought his friend was getting closer to being treated right.
* * *
The girls met him outside the bar and they all walked in together. Chris and Steve were already waiting. They were performing that evening and Chad was happy to see them again. It wasn’t exactly his taste in music but he had to admit that some of Jensen’s songs were alright. If you drank enough beers. He let himself be dragged into two half hugs and watched with humor as tiny Sandy was practically swept off her feet with Steve’s brawny enthusiasm. Wow. They were in good spirits.
“What’s with the shit-eating grin?” Chad asked Chris as soon as they’d all settled.
“Got some great—“
He was interrupted by the arrival of Jared’s work colleagues. Chad looked around but Jay wasn’t with them. The tall one, Tom, caught his eye. “He’ll be along in a few. We had a last minute brief to prepare and he volunteered.” Tom was a partner and Jared’s boss so Chad wondered just how much volunteering had been involved.
Chad simply nodded because he knew Jared was a workaholic. He’d probably be late for his own wedding, if that ever happened, because someone asked him to do something first. Mike and Erica, the Kripke associates took seats next to Steve and Alison, Kristin and Rob sat on Sophia’s other side. Two seats were left empty for the supposed hosts of this get-together.
Chris cleared his throat loudly.
“I was gonna wait for Jenny but seeing as how his family will probably never let him off the phone I’m gonna tell y’all now.” The table got quiet as all eyes looked up at the standing man. Before he could say another word, Steve stood next to him.
“We heard from Dierks Bentley’s production company. He wants to record at least one – maybe two – of Jensen’s songs.”
The table erupted excitedly. Chad had to admit a moment of being impressed. Even if it wasn’t his chosen musical taste he knew Bentley was a big deal. Jensen’s songs did have something. They rang … true. He knew Jared got absolutely lost in them.
Chris’s smile could not possibly get any bigger. “Tell ‘em the best part, Steve.”
Steve looked down. “But we didn’t—“
Chris disregarded him. “You’re looking at Dierks’s new opening act.”
Ally shrieked, “Oh my god!”
Ally and Kristin bounced up and hugged them. Mike was smiling broadly while Tom seemed vaguely distracted.
Chad turned to Sandy and Sophia and was met with his same dreading stare. Sophia spoke up. “That’s fabulous. Congratulations. When does the tour start?”
“We gotta hustle so we can meet up with them on Sunday in Georgia.”
Sandy’s eyes grew huge. “But … that’s barely four days.”
Steve looked sheepish. “Yeah. It’s a little rushed.”
He looked like he was going to say something further when Chad asked what had to be asked. “How long will you be away?”
Chris answered, clearly oblivious to the souring mood of the trio at the table’s end. “About four months more or less. It’ll be awesome.”
Chad met Chris’s excited blue stare with a decidedly different message. He watched the other man’s eyebrows scrunch in momentary confusion. Except before he could say anything further Jared and Jensen appeared.
Chad went to greet his friend, hugging him longer than necessary because he couldn’t bear to see what was coming.
The table was buzzing and it took only moments for Steve to repeat the news about Bentley wanting to record Jensen’s songs. Jared whooped like a true Texan and practically spun Jensen around in his excitement. Chad bristled looking at Jensen’s beaming, yet somehow still shy expression. Couldn’t stand it. How dare he? This was going to break Jared.
The words burst out of him in a spew of fury. “Hold off. Tell ‘im the best part, Jen. Chris just told us how you’re leaving again to open for Dierks Bentley’s band.”
Chad was sorry even before the last syllable passed his lips because in the sudden silence Jared’s gasped, “What?” cut like a blade.
Jensen sputtered, tried to deflect but it was too late. The truth was out there. And you know what? Jared fucking needed to hear it. Chad held his head high despite the deadly looks Sandy and Sophia were shooting his way.
Within minutes the details were doled out to Jared by Chris and Steve. They were leaving in four days and would be gone for four months.
Chad waited. He watched Ackles to see what he’d say. Maybe he’d tell Chris he wouldn’t go. That Jared was more important. Maybe he wouldn’t rip his best friend’s heart out of his chest right in front of him.
But Jensen only continued to look stunned and his silence flooded Chad’s veins like a fast-acting poison. Tom tried to break the mood by congratulating Jensen again on his songs but Chad couldn’t stand the pain on Jared’s face another minute.
“You know what? Fuck this. Jay … you deserve a life, man. Not … not this.” Sandy and Sophia immediately tried to quell him, whispering ‘not here.’ But where else? When else? This was so wrong and they fucking knew it. Everyone knew it.
“Why not here? Why am I the only one saying anything?! You’re thinking it. Fuck, anyone who is Jared’s friend is thinking it.” Chad looked straight at both the girls. “You saw him. You know how it was with Jensen gone. Barely fucking ate. How many times did you girls go over there just to bring food and make sure he ate it?” He turned back to Jay and raised a hand to rest on his shoulder. “Jay. I know you love him. I get it. But it’s one way. And sapping the life out of you. You need to let him go, dude. Find someone who wants you for real. Cause you deserve so much better than this.”
His breath ran out with the last of his words and the sheer anguish mirroring back at him in his friend’s eyes threatened to bring tears to his own. On the other side of the table he felt Chris bristling, no doubt defending Jensen but Chad ignored him. The world narrowed down to himself and Jared. And the truth.
“Chad. I know you mean well. But not here. I can’t do this …” Jared ran away.
Chad hopped up to run after him but a tiny hand pulled at his sleeve. “Let Jared have some space.”
He glared down at Sandy. “No, that’s the problem. We’ve been giving him space and now he’s fucking drowning.”
He slipped on his jacket and tried once more to follow Jared when a stronger grip held him back. He met Jensen’s dazed stare. The man had the audacity to tell him not to go to his best friend.
“Let go of me, Ackles,” he growled. “I gotta go take care of your mess.”
Outside the sidewalk was cool, dark and empty, but Chad was hot with frustration as he spun in all directions. No Jared. Dammit. Jensen bolted up behind him, also scanning the street for a head towering above the passersby.
“Let him go, man. You aren’t with him. So let him go. He deserves more.” Chad spit the words at the other man. Their eyes caught a minute and for a second Chad’s anger faded. Jensen looked beyond lost.
Fear coursed through Chad then because if Jensen looked like this he couldn’t imagine what Jared was going through. “I gotta find him.”
Jensen shook his head. “I have to.”
“Go back and join your band on stage. He’s my friend.”
That’s when he got the full-on Jensen stare. In the dim light, Jensen’s eyes were nearly black, rimmed with gold. The concentrated force of that gaze drilled through Chad like a laser. Like Jensen could see every thought, every feeling, every molecule of the entity called Chad ... And then those eyes became translucent glass and Chad was given a glimpse inside the other man. The utter desperation in Jensen’s gaze made Chad stagger.
“He’s my life.”
Sandy’d followed Jensen out and touched his arm from behind, but he ignored it and walked swiftly away. Jensen knew, Chad realized that instant. Jensen knew where Jared was. Sandy’s warm arms surrounded him and Chad fell against Sandy with his heart knotted in fear at the outcome. “This is it,” he whispered into the top of her head.
She squeezed him tighter and didn’t say a thing.
* * *
Later that evening, alone in his kitchen, Chad had just finished squirting some whipped cream in his hot chocolate when the doorbell surprised him. After Jared had moved out to move in with Jensen six months ago Chad had thought maybe he’d get a new roommate. But in his heart he knew he didn’t really want one. Instead he approached his boss, the video store’s owner and explained that he’d been serving as general manager for nearly a year and needed a raise.
Mr. Siegel had asked why.
“Wanna fix up the spare bedroom into an office and use it for my writing.”
Chad was working on a screenplay. Yeah, it was a colossal waste of time but it was his. Sue him. Nobody knew about this. Not even Jared. But he’d mentioned it to the old man once before and he hadn’t laughed. Siegel nodded and asked Chad how much more a month he’d need to pay his rent. Chad answered and that was that. Like he said, his boss was an eccentric old coot.
He’d asked the old man once why he’d agreed so readily. He replied it was because it had never occurred to Chad to lie. Chad wasn’t sure if he should feel complimented or insulted.
Approaching the door he wondered if it was Ginnie. Pretty Gal had turned out to be Virginia Taylor Wellington. Right. He’d smiled at that and let Sal say, “And this is Chad Michael Murray.” She’d raised one perfectly groomed brow at Chad’s shrug and had offered up a blinding smile.
Except she was into taking it at micro-pace and he didn’t think late-night booty calls were in the cards for a while yet.
Swinging the door open he stepped back shocked as not just Jared but Jensen as well invaded his apartment.
“Jensen said how worried you were about me. I wanted you to know first. I’m fine.” Jared paused and looked at Jensen with nothing short of adoration. “We. Are fine. Jen … Jensen isn’t going to tour with The Last Cowboys.”
Jensen looked Chad square in the eyes. “Chris spoke out of turn. The tour was only a possibility before I got to the restaurant tonight. All I knew about for sure was about the recordings. The tour wasn’t settled. I called Chris a few minutes ago to tell him my decision.”
Chad let that settle. He could see Jared’s joy but he had to speak truth on his friend’s behalf. “What if you miss it later? Regret what you gave up?”
Jensen’s infamous stare trapped him again. It was beyond disconcerting. Chad didn’t know how Jared could stand to be exposed before those eyes. “I didn’t phrase that right. It was never a decision. Touring was fun. Jared is … “ Jensen turned his head away then, eyes back on Jared, swallowing him up like not looking at him would be fatal. Jared’s words from when he’d first met Jensen played in Chad’s head. He looks at me like I’m the answer to everything.
“Your life,” Chad parroted back Jensen’s words from earlier that evening.
Jensen twisted his head back at that. Didn’t answer verbally. Just looked. The steady gaze now contained nothing but rock hard certainty.
Jay looked between them, brows furrowing. Chad knew his friend was aware he was missing a layer of the conversation. Chad met Jared’s questioning gaze and pushed away any lingering doubt. He had to trust Jensen. He really had no choice. His eyes returned to Jensen’s in one final cold warning. Jensen nodded almost imperceptibly.
Forcing his face into a wide smile, Chad wrapped his arms as far around Jared as he could. “I’m glad, man. Really I am.”
They hugged quick and tight.
“Celebrate with a beer?”
At their simultaneous nod, Chad disappeared into his kitchen, eyeing his forgotten no-longer-hot chocolate with a silent sigh. Still, the relief and happiness pouring off of Jared was a balm over raw emotions. He knew his own heart was calmer having just experienced the wave of it flowing from Jay.
Returning to the living room he stopped cold. Jensen and Jared stood nearly touching chests, an invisible bubble cocooning them. They didn’t see Chad. Didn’t hear him. Jared raised long fingers to gently palm Jensen’s face. Their eyes locked and nothing else existed. Chad wondered what it would be like to be that open, that exposed to someone.
Jared’s lips moved silently. Didn’t take lip-reading to figure out what he’d said. Jensen swept an errant lock of hair off Jay’s forehead and mouthed the words back. Jared pulled Jensen closer in a kiss that wasn’t particularly dirty but made Chad blush to his roots. Intimacy just took on new meaning. He turned his head and coughed.
Jared’s chuckle filled the air. Chad turned to see Jensen’s flustered smile. They toasted Jensen’s songwriting success, clinking their beer bottles, and Jared’s smile grew with every friendly second, his eyes welcoming Chad to share in the emotion between him and Jensen. Tenderness welled in Chad’s heart. He felt like he was part of a very elite group.
He threw them out after the one beer. “Go … procreate like bunnies.”
Jensen blushed and Jared enveloped Chad in another Padalecki hug. “Thanks.”
Chad floated in emotional overload for a moment, then finally muttered, “Didn’t do anything.”
“Yeah. You did,” Jared said before taking his boyfriend’s hand and walking into the night.
* * *
Chad’s cell phone rang on a random Tuesday several weeks later.
“Would you hyphenate spine tingling?”
Jared cleared his throat on the other end of the line. “Nah … not for a sign.”
“Meet me after work? Got something I want to ask you … Can you?”
“Sure. Everything okay?”
“Yeah. Everything’s fantastic.”
They picked a time and place and Chad smiled thinking that maybe he’d take the opportunity to let Jay know about Ginnie.
McFallons’ Pub was midway between the video store and Chad’s apartment. Formerly Chad and Jared’s apartment. But Chad had to admit he rather liked living alone now. Let him walk around naked whenever he felt like it. Which was more often than not.
“I really don’t need to know that,” Jared said putting down his beer and grabbing for a peanut. “Geez, did you do that when we were living together, too? I mean … when I wasn’t there?”
“No! What do you take me for?” Chad paused. “Only when you were staying over Ackles apartment.”
Jay twisted his face in mock disgust. Well, Chad thought it was mock. Jay took another swig and met Chad’s eyes. “So … I have news.”
“We’re getting married in Texas. Next month.”
Chad blinked in surprise. “Wow. That’s … “ Jared’s eyes shone with absolute happiness. “Awesome,” Chad finished.
“Jensen arranged it all. He’s been so into it. He wants this Chad. Really wants it.”
“As he should.”
Jared took the slight rebuke in stride. “I know. You were right back then. He wasn’t ready and I just loved him so much I didn’t want to see that. This. Is the way it should be. Both of us working together for the same goal. And exchanging our vows at home, with our families.”
Chad played with the label on his bottle, eyes down. Chad had been on the other end of a very freaked out phone call when Jared had taken Jensen home to meet his family shortly after they’d gotten engaged. Seems like his Uncle John and Aunt Pamela had decided to also visit then and try to bury the hatchet. Shortly after Jared was outed by Jaime, his father had pulled his family out of San Antonio. Chad knew that Jay had stayed loosely in touch with Jaime and his younger sister Tabitha but it had never been the same. From inseparable to barely speaking twice a year. And Chad had also lost a best friend.
He didn’t want to ask but he did anyway. “You speak with your Uncle John again?”
“I’ve been talking a bunch to Jaime,” Jared replied. “Catching up. He’s got a new girlfriend.”
“There’s a lot of that going around.”
Shrewd hazel eyes focused on his. “What?”
Chad looked sheepish. “I’m sorta dating someone.”
“What’s ‘sort of’ dating? Letting her stay long enough to brush her teeth?”
“Shut up. No. We haven’t … she likes things slow.”
Now he had Jay’s attention. “You haven’t … as in sex?” Jay asked incredulously.
“Yeah. As in anything. Haven’t even kissed her yet.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
Chad bristled. “Nothing. She’s … gorgeous.”
Jared laughed. “Then what’s she want with you?”
“Beats me,” Chad answered honestly. “She’s smart. Works for the State Department for fuck’s sake. Been everywhere. And I really mean everywhere. And she … likes movies.”
“You met her in the shop?”
Chad nodded. “She was a regular. Couldn’t help but notice her. Curvy redhead. With these adorable freckles.”
Jared laughed. “Freckles win every time.”
Chad studied his friend. “Hey. What did you want to ask me?”
“Well, two things actually. Same sex marriage isn’t legal in Texas. So we’re going to have a civil ceremony here first. And Jensen and I wanted to ask you to be a witness.”
Chad grinned. “ ’Course, man. Be glad to.”
“There’s one more thing. We’re going to have the actual wedding back home. I really wanted that and Jensen … well he’s making it happen. Chad, would you be my best man?”
Whoa. Chad hadn’t been expecting that. Had assumed … “Won’t Jeff be your best man?” He couldn’t imagine Jared not asking his older brother.
“Look … Jensen and I talked it over. We both have big brothers. And we both have best friends that have always … Anyway, it’s not like it’ll be the most traditional wedding anyway. And it’s our day. So we’re each going to have two best men. I can’t imagine getting married without you standing up with me, dude. Say you’ll do it?”
Heart pounding Chad stared at his oldest friend. Same determined eyes that helped him up from the playground dirt twenty-something years ago. “Fuck yeah!”
* * *
Sophia whispered in his ear. “You screw this up and I’ll kill you.”
Sandy seconded the sentiment. “She’s amazing.”
“Totally out of your league.” Jared echoed.
Chad looked around frantically to be sure Ginnie wasn’t hearing his so-called friends overwhelming vote of confidence. “Fuck you all very nicely.”
“Language!” Sandy chastised. “She’s a diplomat! Behave yourself.”
Chad sighed. Introducing Virginia to his friends at Jared and Jensen’s wedding wasn’t the brightest idea he ever had. But she’d been out of town and they’d run out time and he still couldn’t believe she agreed to come as his date. Staying in her own room, of fucking course. But still. She was here. With him.
Jaime touched his shoulder. “That gal can’t really be here with you.”
Jared laughed and the cousins eerily similar eyes met over Chad’s head. He felt like a thirteen-year-old again.
He glanced to where Ginnie was chatting with Jared’s mother who seemed enthralled. His girl had that affect on people. He blinked. Since when had he started thinking of her that way? He smiled. “She’s something, eh? But yeah … out of my league. Figure she’ll figure it out soon enough.”
Jared frowned. “No. She’s not. She’s lucky to have met you.”
“Dude,” Jaime jumped in. “Don’t sell yourself short. She likes you. Can tell by how often she’s glanced over here.”
“Yeah?” he asked.
Jared chuckled. “About as often as you’re looking over there.”
Chris had pulled out his guitar and music wafted around them. Jared’s gaze grew soft. Chad recognized the tune. It was the song that Jensen had written for Jared. Stupid love song. Chad positively did not tear up every time he heard it.
Jensen appeared like magic before them, eyes glued to Jared’s, connected with an invisible rope. The newlyweds drifted onto the dance floor. Chad could just make out Jensen’s lips moving with the words of the song. Jared had his eyes closed and Chad startled when a hand suddenly touched his.
“Hey,” he said softly as Ginnie looked up at him. She had blue eyes, too. Not gray-green like Jay’s, but just as solid and bright.
“That’s Jensen’s song?”
“Mmm. Something Blue,” he answered.
She nodded. “It’s very pretty.” Her eyes returned to the wedding couple. That perpetual bubble was back around them. “They always like that?”
“It’s sweet,” she said softly. A smile lifted her lips as the music continued. “Want to dance?” she asked.
He looked at her with a slight smirk. “You do realize that involves touching?”
Her smile widened. “I might be able to live with that.”
Her hand felt warm and soft in his. Jared opened his eyes just as they swayed by him and flashed him a quick thumbs up. For a moment Chad was concerned Ginnie wouldn’t like it but she pulled Chad just a little closer and chuckled lightly.
The evening continued quickly. Cake-cutting and speeches. Chad managed to not embarrass himself for which he was extraordinarily proud of himself. As thing slowly wound down he’d lost track of Sandy and Sophia. He noticed Jaime and his new girlfriend chatting with Jaime’s sister Tabitha. Virginia was captive to some of Jensen’s relatives this time. She was popular sharing her travel stories.
Looking for Jared, Chad was unprepared for Jensen’s hand on his arm and suddenly pale expression. Earlier he’d had a private moment with Jensen and they’d come as close to a mutual understanding as he figured they’d get. Jensen had thanked him for taking care of Jay when he’d been touring. That didn’t need to be said. More importantly, Jensen said he wasn’t going to leave Jared again. Chad felt a lot better hearing that.
“Jensen.” The other man looked seriously spooked. “You okay?” Chad asked when the weird silence lasted too long.
“Jared … “
“What about him?”
“Oh god. He … he wants … “
Jensen was breathing hard. Looked like he was about to have a freaking panic attack. Chad looked around for Jared but couldn’t find him. Where could a Sasquatch hide anyway? He took Jensen’s arm and led him to a quiet table, urging him to sit down.
“What’s Jaybird want?” he coaxed. Maybe his friend had some strange kinky request that Jensen couldn’t handle. Chad wondered if he should offer up some free gay porn.
“A bay—bay … “
Jensen’s stuttering took Chad back to when they’d first met nearly two years ago. Fuck … what the hell?
He watched the other man visibly pull himself together. “Jay asked about having a baby.”
Chad looked at the squirming new groom. Only Jared would bring this up on their wedding day. He bit back a laugh. “Yeah, Jay’s always wanted kids.” Chad sobered up quick. “You wan’ ‘em too, right?”
“I didn’t … I don’t … “
Fuck. Chad’s stare got hard. “Do you want to raise a child with Jared or not?” He really didn’t have patience for Ackles douchery. He wasn’t Jared.
“What?” Jensen asked slightly dazed.
Chad repeated his question slowly. Jensen’s eyes locked with his. They opened up in that way that unnerved. Not so much looking as reflecting. Chad’s heartbeat inexplicably sped up. Jensen’s eyes burned fire green. “Yeah,” he said gently, voice steadier with each ensuing word. “I want to raise a child with Jared.”
Chad released his breath. “I get it, dude. You just got married. You want some time just for the two of you. Jay gets a little … enthusiastic sometimes. No worries. Here’s what you do.” He leaned into the other man to speak a little lower even though nobody was paying any attention to them. “Get him a puppy.”
“A puppy?” Jensen repeated as if tasting the words.
Chad smiled broadly. “Yeah. That’ll deflect him for at least a year. Maybe longer.”
The relief trickled off Jensen in a palpable wave. Jensen put one arm around Chad in a half hug before pulling back sharply as if realizing what he’d just done. “Thanks, man.”
Chad nodded back, face heating slightly at Jensen’s earnest expression. “Yeah.” Jared’s booming laugh distracted them both. He was walking with his cousinTabitha and their mom. Uncle John hadn’t come. But this was still nice to see. Jensen met Chad’s eyes, a shared moment of understanding passing between them.
“Go. Make him happy,” Chad said as Jensen made eye contact with Jared.
“I’ll try. Always,” Jensen answered softly before walking away.
Lifting his eyes Chad saw Ginnie spot him and start to stroll over. Her face lit into the soft smile reserved just for him. Hell, she hadn’t said he couldn’t get them adjoining rooms.