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Caught in All Your Strings

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"Now, you're sure about this?"

"Absolutely."

"You don't think it's too soon?"

"Well, we've been going out for four years and engaged for three months, so no...I think the timing is about right."

"And you'll look after him?"

"He's a grown man, y'know, not a hamster - he can look after himself."

"Sooo....?"

"Oh, don't give me that bitch face. Yes! Yes, I promise I'll look after him."

"Okay then. Now, he's allergic to Tide so don't use it, especially not on your bedsheets or he breaks out in a nasty rash."

"Fine!"

"And remember he likes Jif peanut butter and not Skippy, but make sure it's the natural kind, even if he complains. And don't ever ever let him buy pickled eggs or you'll have to fumigate the apartment, and make sure he doesn't OD on gummy-bears or he'll never sleep, and-"

"Oh for god's sake, Jensen." Genevieve's hands fly to her hips, her patience finally wearing thin. "Jared's twenty-four years old; I'm not going to regulate his gummy-bear intake."

Jensen stands his ground, mirroring - without a hint of irony - her hands on the hips gesture.

"Guys, you do know I'm standing right here?" Jared observes from the sidelines, caught somewhere between amusement and mortal embarrassment. "Guys?"

His best friend and his girlfriend ignore him completely, facing off like a pair of snippy Chihuahuas.

"Oh, fine," Gen caves in, with an exasperated sigh of defeat, and a hand flap. "I'll limit his gummy-bears."

Jensen doesn't gloat...much, just moves smoothly on to the next bullet point in his head. "And he needs to call his mother at least once a week otherwise-"

"Okay, buddy, I think we're done," Jared steps in.

"I'm just saying, Jared. Remember that week you didn't call and she-" the last few words are muffled through Jared's palm.

"Yeah, and Gen doesn't need to hear about that, thank you."

"Well don't blame me when the-"

"And we're walking," Jared loops his arm across Jensen's shoulders, firmly steering him towards the door. "Seriously man, I want Gen to marry me, I think we should hold back on the 'Jared's family are insane' anecdotes until it's a done deal."

"Bye bye, Jensen," Genevieve calls from the sitting room, and there isn't even a hint of smugness or animosity in her tone, because she really is the sweetest person in the world. For some reason that knowledge just makes Jensen pout.

"Jensen," Jared says, opening the door. "Are you alright? Because you're acting a little screwy, you know that right?"

Jensen shrugs, not quite meeting Jared's eye. "You are okay with me moving in with Gen?"

Jensen nods, he is - no really he is.

"So what's the problem then? Don't you want to move in with Jeff? Is that what this is all about?"

"Sure, I do." Jensen mumbles at his shoes.

Jared frowns. "Hey, what's wrong? Has something happened? You know if you don't want to move in with him we can arrange something else. You can crash here for a while if you want?"

"Yeah, I'm sure Gen would love me living on the couch." Jensen grumbles, shaking his head. "That wouldn't cramp your style at all."

Jared physically turns Jensen, hands on his shoulders, forcing him to meet his eyes. "Hey, come on man, what's wrong? You're starting to freak me out here? What's going on with you and Jeff? I thought everything was all sunshine and sparkly rainbows?"

"No, it is." Jensen says. Jared stares at him, hazel eyes unusually earnest. Jensen sighs. "It is. It's great. I just...this is a big step....for both of us. I'm gonna miss you."

"I'm gonna miss you too, Jen, but I'm not acting like a rabid southern mama." The unlike you goes unsaid, but it's there, Jensen hears it loud and clear. And it's not as though he can argue. Jared presses a little more "What's really wrong, Jensen?"

"Nothing," Jensen says.

The jut of Jared's jaw suggests he's unconvinced by Jensen's lacklustre denial.

"What if-" Jensen starts to say, only to think better of it. "It's nothing really."

Jared won't let it go though, pushing stubbornly. "What if what?"

"What if," Jensen sighs, wraps his hands around his waist, hugging himself. "What if it doesn't work out? What if he can't live with me? What if he realizes what an irritating mess I am?"

"Jensen," Jared groans, his concern turning to exasperation. Jensen ignores him, finds that now he’s started speaking the words just keep on coming. All the dumb thoughts in his head spilling out.

"I mean you've lived with me, right? You can't say it's always easy. I know how annoying I am. I'm not verbal before I've drunk half a pot of coffee, and then I leave coffee mugs lying everywhere. I'm always losing my eye-glasses. I can't cook worth a damn, not even eggs, not even toast! And when I'm writing I yell if you try and talk to me. And I don't even have a proper job yet. I'm a writer that writes specials on a blackboard. What if one day, Jeff wakes up and realizes he's sleeping with an anti-social, prickly, useless, unemployable lay-about?"

"Jensen, stop! Jesus! You're none of those things. Well, maybe you're a little prickly on occasion, and the coffee things is true, but it's not like Jeff doesn't know that about you already. You've barely finished grad-school, the coffee-shop is just temporary, and you are a writer. A brilliant writer."

Jensen snorts.

"Stop it," Jared snaps. "Stop putting yourself down. Jeff loves you, Jensen. You know he does. He isn't gonna give a crap about any of that stuff. And okay, maybe you'll have to iron out a few wrinkles when you start living together, but so does everyone else. And hell, Jen, you spend most weekends at his place anyway. Half your stuff has taken up residence there already."

"I know; you're right." Jensen smiles, weakly. "I'm panicking about nothing, I know. It's just...I mean....things are so great right now. With Jeff. He's the best thing that ever happened to me. Apart from meeting you obviously," Jensen rolls his eyes, because he knows exactly what Jared had opened his mouth to say. "I guess I just don't want to fuck everything up."

"You aren't going to," Jared hauls Jensen into a full-on Padalecki-style bear hug. "Jeff worships you man. You could be the worst house-mate in the world and Jeff would still think you farted rainbows."

Jensen laughs and claps Jared's shoulders as he extricates himself from his arms. "Seriously, Jen." Jared says. "Everything's going to be fine. More than fine. And if it's not, you know where I am."

Jensen's the one to hug Jared this time. It's a bit less suffocating and bit briefer than Jared's hug, but just as heartfelt.

"Although," Jared adds as an afterthought, just before Jensen leaves. "Maybe avoid cooking for a while. I imagine Jeff likes his kitchen the way it is."

"You're a dick."

"Yes, I am and you love me, and you're going to miss me," Jared grins smugly, dimples and all.

"Yeah, maybe not so much." Jensen lies.

 

Head jumbled full of worries and doubts, Jensen takes his time walking the few blocks back from Jared and Gen's new apartment to his and Jared's old one. He wants to check one final time that they haven't left anything behind. Double-check that the place is clean, and ensure that all evidence of his disastrous attempts at cooking and Jared's clumsiness are gone, or at least camouflaged.

Most of Jensen's things are already at Jeff's. Packed up in cardboard boxes and black garbage sacks. Classy. Jensen's sure Jeff's neighbors were thrilled when they witnessed that. Steve, Jeff's driver and more of a friend than an employee at this point, had moved it all in his truck, one trip and Jensen's belongings, his life, had moved on.

He watches his breath puff in a ghostly cloud and float away as he traipses through the streets, the air growing colder again as the daylight gives way to dusk. Jensen has to admit that moving into Jeff's place just as winter is baring its sharpest teeth isn't bad timing. The heating in their old apartment is temperamental to put it mildly. Waking up in a warm house, and not having to beat seven bells out of the radiator every morning to revive it, is a thrilling prospect. As is waking up in Jeff's bed every day. In Jeff's arms. Of going to sleep in Jeff's arms every night.

By the time he climbs up the steps to the apartment one last time, some of the tension has eased from Jensen's neck, and his lips are starting to curve up in just a hint of a smile. He is looking forward to this move, when he isn't allowing self-doubt to overwhelm him.

Looking around at the home he and Jared made for themselves for the last time is a bittersweet moment. It's so empty. Just a shell really. Sure the furniture is still there; the big sofa and the coffee table, and the beds and wardrobes, but there's no character left. No homeliness. No life.

Usually at this time of year there would be a huge tree in the corner of the room, the biggest one that Jared could drag home. Jensen would have grumbled about the mess, about having to clear up the trail of thick green needles, but then decorated it with so many strings of lights that it would have been visible from space. There would be tinsel draped over all their pictures, and wrapped around the big gaudy lamp that Jared bought in a drunken eBay bidding war. The apartment would have smelled of pine, and popcorn and store bought cookie mix. And not just cleaning fluid and air freshener.

Jensen tugs his jacket snug around himself as he walks through the apartment, the air almost as cold inside as it is out. They've shared some good times here. Movie marathons, parties, hangovers, long nights of last minute study aided by pizza and bags of chips. They've had ups and downs, and even the odd heart to heart. Some volcanic argument too. Jared erupting at Jensen for whatever dick thing he'd done last, and Jensen spitting fire at Jared for something he'd probably done after consuming too much sugar. Or occasionally too much alcohol. Their fights were usually loud and always short-lived; boiling up suddenly and dying out just as quickly. Neither of them ever held a grudge, or sulked. Well, Jensen tried to sulk one or twice early on, but Jared's utter obliviousness rendered the effort a complete waste of time.

Jensen trails his fingers absently across the kitchen worktops, thinking about how different things are going to be from now on. Wonders if he and Jared will grow apart. If the physical distance will equate somehow to an emotional one. If they'll drift apart as Gen and Jeff sweep them away on separate tides. He hopes not. Will try his best not to let that happen. Friends like Jared are rare, precious. Worth holding on to, fighting for.

When Jensen's phone buzzes silently in his pocket, informing him he has a text message he presumes its Steve letting him know that he's waiting downstairs as arranged. Ignoring him for now, Jensen finishes his inspection of the apartment; checks that they cleaned away or painted over all the scorch marks in the kitchen, that the hole in the wall from when Jared got carried away during an epic round of Guitar Hero is all but invisible, and that the burn in the carpet from their one and only fondue night is hidden beneath the sofa. He double checks that all the cupboards are empty and everything is switched off before sliding his cell phone out of his pocket. He's surprised to see several texts waiting from Gen, feels a flutter of panic in his chest, wondering would could have happened in the past hour. "

'He's eaten half a packet of gummy-bears since you left, is that too much?'

Followed by;

'He misses you already. I'll look after him I promise. I love him, and Jeff loves you.'

Jensen almost smiles, a small pleased little tilt of his lips. Gen really is the sweetest girl on the planet. She deserves someone as great as Jared. He does smile when he reads the next text.

'I've hidden the gummy-bears, so he's eating his way through my box of all-bran. I suspect this will not end well.'

Then;

'See you on Saturday!'

And finally;

'And I want all the dirt on Jared's crazy mama!'

Jensen laughs out loud, the sound echoing through the empty apartment.

"Hey, sweetheart, someone else making you laugh, should I be jealous?"

Jensen startles at the question, looks up to see Jeff leaning against the door jam, feet crossed, hands in his pockets and a lop-sided smile showing off his dimples. Even now, almost three years since they met, Jensen's breath still catches in his throat every time he sees Jeff. His beard's a little longer, a little greyer, the lines at the corners of his eyes a tiny bit more pronounced, but Jeff's more gorgeous than ever.

"Sure," Jensen teases, feeling suddenly lighter, his worries fading away to whispers now that Jeff's right there. "Gen's gonna sweep me off my feet, and steal me away from you."

"Oh she is, is she?" Jeff says, straightening up and prowling across the room, crowding Jensen against the kitchen cabinets. "Well, she's going to have a hell of fight on her hands."

Jensen leans in, hands curling around Jeff's hips as Jeff dips his head ever so slightly and presses a soft kiss against his lips, murmuring as he pulls back. "She's pretty fierce you know."

"I think I can take her," Jeff smiles, running his thumb across Jensen's lips, leaving a warm tingle behind. "How you doing, sweetheart?" Jeff swaps his joking tone for something more serious, worry flashing in his eyes.

"I'm good," Jensen brushes away his concern with a shrug. "Just wanted to make sure we hadn't missed anything, you know? I thought you were working late tonight anyway?"

"Yeah, well, my boss sent me home early, said my head wasn't in the game, too busy mooning over my boyfriend."

Jensen shakes his head in amusement. "Jeff, you are the boss."

"Just as well or might I have fired my ass."

"You're an idiot," Jensen says fondly.

"Just when it comes to you, baby. So, you ready to go?"

"Yes," Jensen says, determined. "Yes I am." And he is now, with Jeff's hand sliding into his, cradling their fingers together as he leads him out of the door. Jensen doesn't even look back.


***

 

Not for the first time, Jeff wonders how he ever thought this was a good idea. Right now he and Jensen could be cuddled up together on the sofa watching cheesy Christmas movies, or better yet making out like horny teenagers and not watching cheesy Christmas movies. Jeff huffs a resigned sigh; it’s entirely his own fault. This party was his bright idea. Jensen made it perfectly clear right from off that he would rather not spend their first Saturday night officially living together socializing with eighty other people. Honestly it's not Jeff's idea of a relaxing night-in either, but some things are better dealt with sooner rather than later. And this way they can do a kind of two for one deal. Two birds one stone. Two celebrations, one big bill and one nasty hangover the next day. It's sort of a conjoined Christmas-slash-housewarming party. Housewarming for Jensen, obviously, not Jeff; he's lived in this ridiculously big house for a couple of years now.

If Jeff's very honest with himself, he has an ulterior motive; this party is his way of stating firmly and publicly that he and Jensen are together. Not a passing sugar daddy fling, not a joke, but a very serious, very adult relationship. Considering how long they've been together, that should already be patently obvious, but Jeff suspects that some his friends and associates need the issue clarified once and for all.

Jeff watches Jensen unobtrusively from the doorway of the dining room as he fusses over the buffet the caterers are setting up, then goes on to harangue the bar tender about the types and quantity of beer they have stocked. Its unsettling. Not Jensen-like behavior at all. Jensen doesn't stress about these type of affairs, not so obviously anyway. He may prefer a quiet night in to a wild night on the town, but Jensen's more than capable of holding his own at any kind of formal event. He's perfectly adept at small talk; naturally shy, but charming in a way that makes people either want to mother him or kiss him senseless.

He's accompanied Jeff to countless functions over the years, lots of business dinners and charity galas. It's how they met after all; Jeff looking for a no-strings attached plus-one to accompany him to all the dull events he had to attend. Of course, no strings almost immediately turned into Jeff becoming completely and irreparably caught up in all Jensen's strings. Not that he's complaining. Jensen truly is the love of his life. Even now, every time he looks at him, Jeff still can't believe how lucky he is that Jensen fell in love with him too. And loves him enough to still go to all these boring parties.

This party is different. For one it’s in Jeff's home which as of six days ago is now officially their home. Their home covered in a stunning amount of Christmas decorations, of varying garish and glittery persuasions. Jensen's love of sparkly tinsel and blinking lights had somehow passed Jeff by up until this past week. Still, as long as Jensen's happy Jeff doesn't mind that his house looks more Christmas glam-rock style than understated designer chic. He's mainly just grateful that he caught Jensen in time to stop him from climbing up on to the roof with the herd of inflatable reindeer.

Apart from bedecking anything that stood still long enough with tinsel, and despite his initial reluctance, Jensen has also spent most of the week organizing the last minute details for this party. And arguing with the caterers about suitable canapés. Jeff refused to get involved in the particularly heated smoked salmon puffs versus pigs in blankets battle. Although he did back Jensen in the pulled-pork sliders rather than quails egg tartlet war.

While Jensen obvious does want the party to be perfect, Jeff doesn't think the food is the real issue. No, what Jensen is actually worried about is the coming together of his friends and Jeff's. Something that has never happened before.

Jeff has met Jensen's friends before, obviously, but on Jensen's territory, usually in his and Jared's apartment, occasionally in their favorite bar. Someplace where the atmosphere is laid-back and relaxed. Jeff's party is rather more formal; with caterers, a bar, and even a pianist playing Christmas music in the background. A dozen of Jensen's friends are attending, along with around seventy of Jeff's.

And while those numbers appear to suggest that Jensen doesn't have as many friends as Jeff, that's not necessarily true. Out of Jeff's seventy-odd guests, only around half are personal friends rather than important business associates, and the number of people he trusts out of them all is probably less than a dozen. Jensen's friends are real friends, not people that smile to your face and throw daggers as soon as you turn your back. Jensen loves them all, protects them fiercely. And one of his biggest fears is losing them.

"What are you stressing over now?" Jeff walks across to Jensen, who's now standing scowling at the room in general. He wraps his arms around Jensen's waist, rests his chin on Jensen's shoulder, smiles when he feels a little of the rigid strain seep from his muscles.

"Not stressing," Jensen says. "Just thinking. You don't think the piano player is a bit much?"

"Not compared to the jazz quartet you wouldn't let me book," Jeff nuzzles at Jensen's earlobe.

"Yeah, that was never going to happen." Jensen predictably grumbles, slipping out of Jeff's arms. "Jazz? I'd sooner rip off my ears and eat them than listen to that garbage."

"Philistine," Jeff laughs.

Jensen folds his arms across his chest, but his eyes are warm and fond. "Damn straight."

"I love you anyway." Jeff says, leaning forward and pressing the lightest of kisses against Jensen's lips.

"I love you too," Jensen says on a slow exhale when Jeff pulls away.

Jeff smiles, he'll never not smile when he hears Jensen say those words. He resists the urge to kiss Jensen again by the barest of margins, and takes his hand instead. "Come on, let's get you a drink."

Jensen reluctantly allows Jeff to guide him back across to the temporary bar, where with barely a nod from Jeff, the barman immediately pops open a bottle of champagne, and smoothly pours two glasses without a single golden drop going astray.

"Maybe I shouldn't drink," Jensen says, hesitating to take the offered glass. Champagne is not a drink he handles well. Especially when he's barely eaten and running purely on nervous energy.

"Maybe you should drink lots," Jeff suggests, not seriously. Not entirely seriously anyway.

"Jeff," Jensen starts to argue, Jeff cuts him off with a hasty kiss, then presses the glass into his hand.

"One glass, sweetheart, just one glass to help you relax." It's either that or Jeff might have to blow him until he's boneless, and while that might be more fun, Jeff doesn't think they have the time.

Jensen looks at him doubtfully, but doesn't refuse when Jeff clinks their glasses together. "To us," he toasts. "To our future, here, together."

"To us," Jensen echoes taking his first sip of champagne of the night.


Two hours later, Jensen is giggling, two smudges of red blooming high on his cheeks, while his friend Danneel propels him towards the piano. There's a nearly empty bottle of IPA in his hand, and a hint of panic in his eyes.

"I'd say Jensen's had just about enough to drink," Jared says, appearing suddenly from behind Jeff. "If he's letting Danneel bully him into singing then he's definitely in his happy place."

"I didn't know he could sing," Jeff grudgingly admits.

"Well, he doesn't. Not unless he's drunk, happy drunk, not exhausted falling asleep and drooling drunk, and even then he takes some persuading." Jared takes a sip of his beer, stands side by side, not quite shoulder to shoulder, with Jeff; both watching Danneel nudge Jensen onto the stool beside the pianist who smiles good-naturedly and shuffles along his bench. Even then Jensen is pressed tight against his side.

"He doesn't look very happy," Jeff notes, sipping his brandy, and wondering if maybe he should intervene, his motivation not entirely unselfish.

"Nah, he's alright," Jared says, jut as Jensen breaks into a dazzling smile at something the piano player says in his ear. Jeff frowns a little, then tells himself not to be an idiot. Jensen's allowed to talk to other people. Even handsome, young, talented piano players. The frown persists.

"So," Jared says, possibly sensing the sudden chill in the air. "Christmas sweaters, huh?"

That forces a laugh out of Jeff. The Christmas sweaters had been Jensen's genius idea. They'd had trouble deciding on a dress code for the party. Jeff's friends were used to black tie affairs, and Jensen's most definitely were not. Even stating casual dress on the invites would have meant two very different things to the two very different sets of guests. Christmas sweaters, Jensen had decided were the answer. A Christmas sweater party, that way everyone was at the equal disadvantage of looking like a complete idiot.

Jeff had dealt with some interesting phone calls after the invites went out. But surprisingly all the guests had turned up wearing an array of ridiculous and mainly ugly sweaters. It certainly broken the ice and set an atmosphere of good humour right from the off. Misha looks particularly colourful in his sweater, the purple and green baubles bouncing every time he moves, which is constantly. Misha's current boyfriend's sweater actually has mistletoe sewn into it, so at least they are perfectly matched in their eccentricity.

"Yes, that was Jensen's idea," Jeff snorts. "A brilliant one I think, although don't tell him I said so. And your sweater, by the way, is especially...festive."

Jeff grins as he looks at Jared's bright red, penguin festooned monstrosity.

Jared stares back with his eyebrows raised. "Have you looked in a mirror?"

Jeff glances down at himself with a pained grimace. Jensen had assured him, straight faced, that he looked dashing in his sweater. That the Christmas tree with flashing lights was very sexy. Jensen lied.

"How are you and Genevieve settling in?" Jeff asks, changing the subject swiftly.

A goofy lovesick expression appears on Jared’s face that Jeff can't help but laugh at. "Yeah, great. Really great. Not that I don't miss Jensen, but Gen's face is a lot prettier to look at first thing in the morning."

Jeff hums noncommittally; he doesn't want to get into an argument about whose partner is prettier. Obviously he'd win, but he doesn't want to piss off Jensen's closest - and largest - friend.

"What about you?" Jared asks. "You surviving Jenny's pre-coffee mood swings?"

"I wouldn't let him hear you calling him that," Jeff chides. "And we're good." Better than good. Amazing. Perfect. Having Jensen living here, safe in Jeff's home, is something Jeff has wanted for ever. And now that it's finally happened nothing can spoil it. Nothing. Not even Jensen's allergy to early mornings, or his insistence that Jeff not smoke in the house. At all. Not even cigars.

"There you are Morgan. I was wondering where you were hiding." Jeff suppresses a groan when one of his least favorite people in the room blunders up. He sends an apologetic look towards Jared, who simply shrugs, claps him on the shoulder and wanders off towards his girlfriend who seems to be having an animated discussion with Jeff's lawyer.

"Randall, glad you could make it." Jeff bullshits without blinking. He'd really hoped that wearing a Christmas sweater would be beneath the man's dignity. He's only here at all because his wife is a good friend and the CEO of the publishing company that Jeff has a majority holding in. She's brilliant. He's old money, well connected and a boorish jackass. "Where's Celia?"

"She's talking to one of your boy's young friends; Chad I do believe he called himself."

Jeff has to cover up a snort of laughter with a cough. Chad's certainly more entertaining than Randall, he's sure Celia's having an eye-opening time.

"This is quite a shindig, Jeff. It's certainly a change from the black-tie dinner you usually throw at the Hyatt."

"Thank you," Jeff says, taking the words at face value, and ignoring any sly dig buried underneath. "Jensen and I thought we'd shake things up a bit this year. It's not good to get stuck in a rut is it?"

"Very true," Randall agrees, although his smile turns brittle. "I imagine having someone like Jensen around stops that from happening. I'm sure he keeps you feeling young at heart. How old is he...twenty-one?"

"Twenty-five," Jeff corrects, not hiding the displeasure from his tone this time.

"And he's finished school, graduated?"

"Yes, with a Masters in literary arts," Jeff says proudly.

"Impressive," Randall nods, takes a sip of his drink, and says - far too casually - "And where is he working now?"

"He's writing, mostly," Jeff says, but then decides, screw it, it's nothing to be embarrassed about, Jensen's not the only graduate in the world that hasn't jumped straight into his dream career. At least he's working and not living off an inheritance. "And he's picking up some shifts in the coffee house that he used to work in."

"Oh dear," Randall, the supercilious twit, drones. "All that time and money, such a waste."

"Excuse me?" Jeff says, not sure he heard right.

"Well, I mean higher education is hardly inexpensive. It seems rather ridiculous to drown yourself in debt just to end up working in a coffee shop."

"Temporarily," Jeff snaps, then takes a deep breath and says a little more calmly. "And he doesn't have student loans."

"Ahh, of course," Randall smirks, "I forgot. You have an arrangement, don't you?"

"Jensen won scholarships." It's killing Jeff to keep his temper in check, and his smile more or less in place. "And yes, I helped him out with grad school, but any professional arrangement between Jensen and myself ended when we fell in love, not that it's any of your business."

"Oh, I didn't mean to imply anything untoward," Randall simpers.

Jeff should think not. He's not one to throw his money or power about, but right now he's silently debating the best way to knock the condescending jackass off his perch.

"Anyway," Randall carries on, perhaps sensing that Jeff's tolerance is waning, "Your young man appears to be enjoying himself this evening. It must be nice for him socialize with chaps his own age, instead of our stuffy crowd."

Jeff glances back across the room towards the piano where Jensen is laughing with the piano player, his eyes bright and his body loose and relaxed. The piano player, fingers caressing the keys, is looking at him with stars in his eyes. Jeff's grip on his glass tightens perceptibly. And he is suddenly done with Randall and all his veiled insults.

He tosses back the last mouthful of his brandy, and sets his glass down, looks pointedly over Randall's shoulder to where he can see Chad instigating one of his infamous drinking games, the small crowd gathered around him include a surprising number of Jeff's friends, including Celia who is gazing at Chad as though he's a particularly cute puppy. "It looks as though Celia is enjoying the company of chaps Jensen's age too." Jeff can't resist commenting, before he walks away without an apology.

He heads in the vague direction of Jensen, still riled up by Randall's snide insinuations even though he knows he shouldn't be. He doesn't care what Randall thinks. He doesn't care what anyone thinks, or says, but still-

At the last second, deciding to take a moment to pull himself together, Jeff retreats to the bar rather than joining Jensen and his friendly piano player. It takes less than a minute for him to regret that decision.

The make-shift bar isn't terribly crowded, although there are a few people waiting for the bar tender to serve them. Jeff hangs back a little not wanting to seem rude or pushy despite the fact that this is his house, and his party, and his liquor. The all-seeing Jensen on his shoulder wouldn't approve of him scowling his way to the front of the line. He doesn't mean to eavesdrop, but it's hard not to when he hears Jensen's name mentioned, especially when it's mentioned with such a sneering tone by one of his so-called friends, who unaware of Jeff's presence, is gossiping like a bored and particularly bitchy housewife. "That Jensen kid is quite something, huh? How much do you think Jeff forked out for the surgery?"

"What surgery?"

"The plastic surgery! No way the guy looks like that naturally. He has to have implants in that ass and, Jesus Christ, those lips! Now, you know I'm not into guys, but I wouldn't mind a shot at those cock-suckers. I bet he gives sensational head, after all there has to be some reason Jeff's kept hold of him this long."

The only reason Jeff hesitates is because he can't believe what he just heard. When he does react, it's with a bunched fist, and a furious swing that’s wild enough to either kill or miss completely. Unfortunately he doesn't get the satisfaction of finding out; his arm stopped sharply, a hand gripping his elbow, still thrown back, mid-air, all that potential energy pulsing in his muscles.

"I don't think you want to do that, boss."

"Steve," Jeff hisses.

At that, both men standing in front of Jeff spin around, guilt all over their faces; one turns paler than the white linen tablecloths, and an ugly purple blotch crawls up the neck of the other.

"Jeff-" One says, the one with the big mouth and the dark flush creeping up his face, Craig Lanes, one of Jeff's financial advisers. Ex- financial advisers.

"Get the hell out of my house, you son of a bitch!" Jeff snarls, barely able to get the words out, fury thick in his throat. It's the best he can do with Steve refusing to let go of his arm.

"I'd do what my boss says," Steve adds in his most menacing tone.

With a sense that Jeff wouldn't have credited them with, both men comply, quickly scuttling off. Jeff hopes for their sakes they're running home to update their resumes.

When Steve’s caging grip finally slackens, Jeff shrugs free with a bad tempered grunt. "Why the hell did you stop me? What are you even doing here? Isn't this your night off? Fuck!" Jeff rants, adrenaline still coursing through his blood, violence writhing under the surface of his skin. "Did you hear them? Did you hear what they said? I should have laid him out. You should have let me."

"And what would Jensen have said about that?" Steve stays as calm as ever, unimpressed by Jeff's temper.

"He'd have said thank you very fucking much for not letting assholes speak trash about me behind my back!"

Steve's doesn't say a word. His raised eyebrow says plenty.

"Don't give me that look." Jeff says, before snapping at the bar tender for another brandy. Before the man can pour it, Steve firmly leads Jeff away from the liquor and out into the gardens. The dark path illuminated by cheerful fairy lights that are at odds with Jeff's black mood. "What the hell?" Jeff rants.

Steve lets go of Jeff's shoulder and stands back. "Jeff, with all due respect, you don't need another drink; you need to calm down."

Jeff glares.

Steve shoves his hands in the back pockets of his jeans and stares back.

There's something about the disapproval in his eyes, that makes Jeff feel like a naughty toddler. He kicks a pebble across the ground, listens as it bounces across the path and disappears with a muted thud onto the lawn. "They were talking trash about Jensen," he points out, not unreasonably he thinks.

"Yeah," Steve shrugs. "I heard, and I'm sure you're gonna make their lives hell for that, but punching out an employee at your Christmas party is not a great idea. The press would have a field day if that got out, which it would. And Jensen would be pissed at you defending his honor like he's some kind of delicate princess."

"But they-"

"Do you honestly think they're the only ones spouting that garbage?" Steve doesn't let Jeff defend himself, instead points out exactly what he doesn't want to hear. "You think Jensen hasn't heard worse?"

Jeff scowls and kicks angrily at another pebble, scuffing the toe of his expensive leather shoes.

Steve's tone softens slightly. "Boss, people love to gossip. Just because they don't usually do it within earshot of you doesn't mean it's not happening. Jensen's used to barbed comments, and jealous bitching, he doesn't like it, but he's learned to ignore it."

"He should have told me," Jeff says. "Why wouldn't he tell me?" He knows their relationship, the unconventional way it started, their financial arrangements, had raised eyebrows, but he thought after this length of time the gossip would have stopped. Jensen certainly never indicated any differently. And why wouldn't he tell Jeff if people were treating him with anything less than respect. Surely he knows that Jeff would put a stop to it.

"Jensen wouldn't have bothered you with something like that. He's a big boy Jeff, he can stand up for himself, and honestly, he usually laughs it off. He's a classy kid, and he's sensible. And he loves you. He doesn't give two shits what anyone else says. He wouldn't have survived five minutes being your....your-" Jeff can see the word sugar-baby on Steve's lips, " -at the start of your relationship if he had."

Another pebble feels the wrath of Jeff's shoe. Somewhere in Italy a shoemaker is probably crying in his sleep. Jeff wants to stay mad, wants to march into that room and fire every person that has ever said a nasty or vulgar word about Jensen, about their relationship. But between the cold air threading under his sweater and Steve's irritatingly rational words, his anger slowly drains away. "He doesn't deserve this kind of crap," Jeff protests one last time.

"No, he doesn't," Steve agrees easily.

Jeff huffs, deflated, fingers itching at his sides - although not with the desire to punch anyone this time. "I don't suppose you've got a cigarette on you?"

"Not for you," Steve says, showing absolute no sympathy for Jeff's distress whatsoever. "You've quit."

He's mainly quit. Most of the time. When Jensen's around. "Just one," Jeff says. "Please?" He's not too proud to beg either.

Steve, the asshole, laughs. "No way; Jensen's like a bloodhound when it comes to you smoking. I'm not taking the rap for supplying you."

"Pussy."

"Absolutely. That kid could bring Attila the Hun to his knees with his 'I'm not angry, I'm just very disappointed in you' look."

Unfortunately Jeff has to agree. Jensen rarely shouts, and avoids conflict if at all possible, but somehow he still manages to win every argument. His big green eyes and that damn mouth of his are incredibly expressive. And persuasive.

Jeff sighs. "I don't suppose you'd smoke and just let me stand beside you and inhale?"

"You've got a problem, boss, y'know that right?"

"Is that a no?"

Steve's expression says it all; he may have picked up a few tips from Jensen. Jeff shoves his cold hands in his pockets hard enough to worry the seams. "What are you doing here anyway?" he sulks.

"Jensen invited me to the party."

"Oh," Jeff says, hit by a jab of guilt that he hadn't thought to do that himself. "Sorry, I never thought. Well, I didn't think you'd want to socialise with my friends." The inflection he gives the word friends makes it sound as though he means the exact opposite.

"Yeah," Steve nods. "Not really, not most of them, but Jensen's friends are pretty cool."

"Oh, yeah?" Jeff says, something Jensen mentioned tickling at the back of his mind. Something about Steve taking an unusual interest in his friend Chris's newly single status."Any friend in particular?"

"You okay to head back inside?" Steve asks, changing the subject without any attempt at subtlety. "Its not exactly warm out here."

"Sure," Jeff says, happy to let it go - for now.

"Nice sweater by the way," Steve says, knocking his shoulder against Jeff's as they walk together back indoors.

"Like you can talk," Jeff says, but when he looks at Steve in his understated Christmas sweater, the man actually looks his usual cool self. And how is that fair. "How the hell do you pull that off," he grumbles. "Every one else looks ridiculous."

"Style, boss. All the money in the world won't buy you my natural style."

 


Jensen's having a surprisingly fun time. And he's not even wasted. Admittedly, he's had a few drinks, but only enough to feel pleasantly relaxed, maybe a little buzzed. But it's the fact that his friends seem to be enjoying themselves that's really making the evening a success. The only downside is he hasn't seen much of Jeff. He's no doubt talking shop in a quiet corner somewhere.

"Come on, Jen," Danneel wheedles again, her elbows propped up on top of the beautiful baby grand piano. "Just one song; it is Christmas."

"Yeah, man." Jason, the piano player, joins in. "You can't say no to a pretty lady."

"Oh, you'd be surprised at my willpower when it comes to pretty ladies," Jensen smirks at Danneel who sticks out her tongue, and then shimmies her boobs out a little further, more for Jason's benefit than Jensen's.

Jason nudges him in the side with his elbow, his fingers still flowing flawlessly over the keys. "Do it for me then. Come on, man; once you sit on the piano player's seat, you have to sing. It's a rule. You're gonna get me in trouble here."

Jensen laughs, feels himself caving. What the hell; it is Christmas, and with the party in full swing it's not like anybody'll be paying attention to him anyway. "Well, I wouldn't want to get you in trouble. Just one song and you have to swear you'll play loud enough to disguise my crappy voice."

With Danneel egging them on they plump for something upbeat, and slightly silly. The first few bars are a bit rough, a little croaky and off-key, but once Jensen relaxes he's soon singing Holly Jolly Christmas along with Jason, Danneel giggling along with them. When Jason carries straight on to Little Drummer Boy, one of Jensen's favorite Christmas songs, he can't resist joining in. Before he knows it, they're singing perfectly in harmony to Silent Night, and then Jensen's half way through performing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas before he notices how quiet the room is around them.

He looks up, past the piano, past Danneel, to see everyone watching them, some swaying in time with the music, others singing quietly along, most smiling softly. Jared outright grinning. And Jeff - Jeff's staring at Jensen like he's never seen him before. Like he did that first night they met. With wonder sparkling in his eyes.

Jensen's heart stutters in his chest. His breath catching in his throat. Sometimes when he looks at Jeff it hits him anew just how gone for the man he really is. How insanely, deeply, stupidly in love he is. It would be terrifying if Jeff wasn't such a kind and loving teddy-bear. If he didn't show Jensen every single day how much that love was reciprocated.

Jason gently nudges Jensen in the ribs, bringing him back to himself. And reminding him that he's half way through a song. It takes him a moment to recover. To compose himself. The rest of the song he sings to just one person. Everyone else in the room fading into colorless insignificance.

Afterwards he barely remembers to thank Jason. Thankfully, Danneel slides into his empty seat when he stands - a little shakily on trembling knees - making up for his rudeness. All he can focus on is Jeff.

Jeff must feel the same. He meets Jensen midway across the room, reaches out to trace his fingertips over Jensen's lips. "You can sing."

Jensen shouldn't be shy around Jeff anymore. But suddenly he's tongue-tied, his hands clammy and face flushed.

"That was beautiful. You have a gorgeous voice," Jeff says.

Jensen rubs the back of his neck, feels the tips of his ears burning as his blush spreads. "Thanks, I don't usually do that...sing....in front of people....in front of anyone." He stutters and stumbles over his words, not sure why he feels the need to explain.

"You should," Jeff says. "I think you made everyone in the room fall in love with you."

Jensen squirms uncomfortably, ducks his head. "Then again," Jeff leans in, his hand flat on the small of Jensen's back tugging him in tight against him. "Maybe I should lock you away in a golden cage and have you sing just for me."

"I'm not a songbird," Jensen complains. "And I don't think that would make for a healthy relationship."

"No, I suppose not." Jeff murmurs against Jensen's neck, his teeth grazing the sensitive patch of skin below his ear. "But it would stop me wanting to rip apart every one that wants you for themselves."

"Jeff," Jensen exhales, turned on at the dark possessive tone, but knowing he really shouldn't be.

Jeff slides his hand under the hem of Jensen's sweater, slips it up his back, his palm freezing cold against Jensen's bare skin. "That piano player; he wants you, Jensen, I could tell."

Jensen shivers, from the cold he tells himself. He wants to argue, to explain that it was Danneel who had her eye on Jason, and that if the admiring glances Jason was directing at her sweater were any indication she was very much in luck. The words won't come though, not when all the moisture in his mouth has suddenly evaporated. "The way he sat next to you," Jeff continues, "His body pressed up against yours, the heat in his eyes; shit, Jensen, it nearly drove me mad. I wanted to drag you away. To kiss you, to mark you up. To let him see, to let everyone see that you're mine. Only mine."

"I am," Jensen says, low, intimate and absolute. "Yours, only yours."

And then Jeff's lips are on his. Possessive, and tender and tasting of brandy and cold winter night's air. Jensen winds his arms around Jeff's neck, presses against him, Jeff's thigh slipping between his legs, Jensen's dick half-hard grinding against the solid muscle, heat unfurling in his belly.

The party is going on around them; piano music, glasses clinking, and laughter, and Jeff and Jensen are oblivious to it all. Conscious only of each other. Unfortunately the reverse is not true, quite a lot of the guests are very aware of their hosts wrapped up in each other's arms in the center of the room.

Jared saves them from making too pornographic a spectacle of themselves, slapping Jensen's shoulder, not gently. Jensen almost bites Jeff's tongue in surprise, as it is their teeth crash together and they wobble unsteadily.

"Guys," Jared says, quietly for him which means that only the people standing in the vicinity hear rather than the entire room. "I don't think this is really the time or place. Not unless you're providing X-rated entertainment as well as drinks and food."

Jensen hides his face in Jeff's neck, not daring to look around them, surprised when he feels the rumble of Jeff's laugh resonating through him. "Oops," he says, his voice still a low whisky-rough drawl in Jensen's ear. "Guess we got carried away. You think your piano player friend got the message?"

"You're an ass," Jensen hisses, looking over Jeff's shoulder to where Jason is smirking at him, Danneel whispering in his ear, her ample sweater-clad chest smushed against him.

"I know," Jeff whispers back, unrepentant.

It's an effort not to abandon the party right there and then, and torture to hang around until all the guests finally leave. Jensen should be happy he knows, that everyone is having a great time, that with the drink flowing and spirits high everyone is mingling, chatting and even dancing - Chad whirling one of Jeff's rather reserved and austere managing directors around the floor is a sight worth seeing - but Jensen finds it increasingly hard to act like a pleasant host when all he wants to do is drag Jeff to the bedroom. Their bedroom.

Jared and Genevieve seem intent on staying until morning just to irritate Jensen. And when finally Steve herds them out the door along with Chris, a bottle of champagne and the leftover canapés, Jensen almost kisses him in gratitude.

Instead, he kisses Jeff. Shoves him up against the wall, fingers fisting in his hideous sweater, holding him right where he wants. Jeff lets him. For a minute. Then with a twist of his body and a grunt when the air is knocked from his lungs, their positions are reversed. Jensen's back slamming against the wall. Jeff's hands circling his wrists and pinning them up above his head.

"I wanted to kill that damn piano player." Jeff says, voice a dirty rumble in Jensen's ear, his thigh squeezing back to its favorite spot between Jensen's legs.

"Jason," Jensen says, just to see the flash of jealousy in Jeff's eyes.

Jeff growls, his fingers tightening around Jensen's wrists, hard enough to leave imprints.

"He went home with Danneel," Jensen says, still managing to roll his eyes despite the way his dick is responding to Jeff's jealous display.

"I don't care; he wanted you. And he wasn't the only one," Jeff licks a path up Jensen's throat, sucks a bruise under his jaw. "Almost wanted to fuck you right there in the middle of the floor. Show them exactly who you belonged to. Fuck, Jensen what are you doing to me?"

"Nothing that you aren't doing to me," Jensen says, bucking his hips forward, grinding against Jeff's thigh shamelessly. "And I might belong to you, but you better remember that it works both ways. You belong to me. Not to your employees or your lawyers or accountants. Me."

Jensen pushes forward, catching Jeff's mouth in a kiss, a demanding scrappy clashing of lips, a battle for control that no one wins. A kiss that turns into rough and bruising journey to their bedroom that leaves both of them sweaty, naked and laughing.

Jeff's breathing hard when he finally tackles Jensen on to the bed, his hair disheveled and eyes sparkling. His killer dimples are on display and doing weird thing to Jensen's insides. And suddenly Jensen wants, needs, to give him everything. Everything he has, everything he is. Jensen melts back against the bed, holds his hands above his head, and willingly offers Jeff control.

"Are you sure, sweetheart?" Jeff says, crawling over Jensen, brushing his thick fingers up the insides of Jensen's arms.

"Absolutely," Jensen replies without a flicker of hesitation. And then Jeff's mouth is on him, sucking, biting and kissing with equal fervor. His fingers leaving possessive marks, his beard scratching delicate skin, his teeth scraping across Jensen's sensitive nipples.

Sex with Jeff isn't always like this. More often than not it's slow and gentle; tender touches and sweet worshipful caresses. Sometimes Jeff can spend an hour just sucking Jensen's cock, fondling his balls as he does it until Jensen fears they're going to explode. Or he'll kiss him for so long that Jensen's lips go numb, his face stinging with the rough burn of Jeff's beard. Sometimes he'll see how close he can bring Jensen to coming just by toying with his nipples, teasing them until they ache. Or he'll spread Jensen's legs wide and finger him loose and sloppy until he's a begging puddle sinking into the center of the bed.

Of course sometimes Jensen will turn the tables. More than happy to drive Jeff insane with long sloppy blow-jobs or, occasionally if they're both in the mood, licking him open and fucking him until they both lose their minds.

But nights like this, when Jeff is demanding and domineering, when Jensen takes everything he gives with needy gasps and whimpers, well....Jensen loves nights like this the most. Knows that tomorrow he'll not be able to move without feeling Jeff. Not be able to look in a mirror without seeing him in every ragged scratch and purpling bruise.

Jeff doesn't disappoint. He takes Jensen apart. Turns his jealousy, his possessive streak into sex that's wild and intense and just on the right side of rough. By the time Jeff slams in to him for the last time, grunts out his release, Jensen's flying high, his blood singing in his veins, and his cock spent and softening against his thigh.

 

"Thank you," Jeff says a little while later. Jensen's head is on Jeff's chest, his legs twined between Jeff's and his arms wrapped around him. Jensen is a snuggler. It's adorable.

"For what?" Jensen asks, his words almost eaten by a yawn. It has been a long night.

"For tonight," Jeff says, brushing his fingers through Jensen's hair, still damp with sweat. "For organizing everything, for being so amazing."

"I didn't do that much," Jensen argues, rubbing his face against Jeff's chest, his nose twitching when it's tickled by hair.

"You do more than you realize," Jeff says. "And I know...I know it's not always easy for you. That you have to put up with a lot of bullshit. And I...well, I'm grateful that you do. That you stick by me despite all the crap."

Jensen looks up at him, a line of confusion wrinkling between his eyes. "Jeff, I don't know what you-"

"The bitching, Jensen. The nasty remarks. I had no idea. We've been together for years; I thought that it was all over with, that-"

"Jeff," Jensen presses his finger across Jeff's lips. "Shush. It's nothing. Seriously."

"But-" Jeff tries to argue, feels the need to tell Jensen how sorry he is. How goddamn awful he feels for making Jensen's life even a little uncomfortable.

"I don't care." Jensen says. "I never have and I never will. The people that are important to me know the truth. Know how much we love each other. And the rest, well frankly the number of fucks I give about the rest is zero. They can go screw themselves."

"Did I ever tell you how much I love you? How incredible you are?" Jeff says, brushing his lips against the top of Jensen's head.

"You might have mentioned it once or twice," Jensen sighs, sounding sleepy again. "You're pretty cool yourself."

"Cool," Jeff snorts. "Well, thanks."

"And I love you," Jensen adds. "Now shut up and let me sleep. I've a lot to do tomorrow."

Jeff frowns, puzzled, sure that Jensen's not working and all they have planned is a long lie and a quiet day to recover from any party hangover. "What do you have to do?" He whispers, curious but not wanting to wake Jensen if he actually has fallen asleep.

"I've got to put the inflatable reindeer on the roof."

Jeff cringes.

"And bake Christmas cookies." Jensen mumbles, then takes a breathy sigh, then a snuffle, then falls asleep. Out for the count.

Cookies, Jeff thinks, that doesn't sound so bad. It's just as he's dropping off to sleep, brain pleasantly drifting away, that the memory strikes him. The scorch marks in Jensen's kitchen....from making toast.

The inflatable reindeer suddenly don't seem like the worst of his problems.

 

Finis