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Painting A Heart Whole

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“We’re really doing this?”

Looking down at the woman in his arms, Jared Padalecki couldn’t help but chuckle nervously.

“Not really much of a chance to back out now,” he answered, placing a large hand over the pronounced swell of Sandra McCoy’s belly.

They’d been friends for years, neither really looking for a relationship.  Yet after awhile, both of them had wanted more, something different.  It wasn’t that Sandy wasn’t pretty, because in Jared’s mind, she was beautiful … it was actually all him and the fact that he was very much gay.

So why would best friends, one straight and the other … not, decide to have a kid together? It was a question they’d both been asking one another every day since conception.

“Okay, Sandy, it’s time to start pushing,” the doctor said.  Nodding, the petite brunette groaned as another contraction rocked her frame, the pain causing her to screech.

“Jare … I can’t, it hurts,” she pleaded, her eyes begging him to make it stop.

“It’s okay, San.  You’re doing great,” he promised, kissing her temple as she began to work through another painful contraction.

“Okay, I can see the head,” the doctor told them.

“You can do it, San,” Jared supported, wincing at the scream that erupted from his friend’s mouth.  As Sandy suddenly sagged in his embrace, a much higher-pitched cry flooded his senses.

“Congratulations, Mom and Dad, you have a healthy little girl,” the doctor announced, holding up the squirming naked bundle for them to see.

Tears welled in his eyes at the sight of his daughter, but his joy was short-lived as machines began to beep rapidly.

“Damn, we’re losing her,” the doctor said, forcing Jared to look at his best friend, who’s eyes were barely open.

“Sandy?” he asked hoarsely.

“Mr. Padalecki, you need to leave,” a nurse demanded, insistent hands pushing him toward the door.

“Take care of her, Jare … promise,” Sandy said, her voice barely registering amidst the noise in the room.

“No, San … you can’t leave me,” he told her, the reality sinking in that his best friend was fading fast as he was forced from the room.  After a few moments, the door opened as his daughter was brought through the door in a clear bassinet.

“Where are you taking her?” Jared asked hoarsely, stepping forward.

“Just down to the nursery to get her cleaned up.  I promise we’ll come get you as soon as she’s ready,” the woman promised.  Nodding, Jared watched them wheel his little girl away before looking back at the closed door.  There was no sound coming from the room, and honestly, he’d never felt so helpless.  It felt like hours, but in fact was mere minutes as the door opened and the doctor made his way out.

“I’m sorry, Jared.  She’s hemorrhaging badly, there’s nothing we can do,” the doctor confessed.   Looking at the man in front of him, Jared took a step back, his head shaking vehemently.

“No, she’s young and she’s healthy.  She can’t die, you have to help her,” he said.  The doctor shook his head, mouth opening to reply, but Jared stepped forward.

“She’s not supposed to die.  Help her, damn it!” he hollered, causing several nurses to stop what they were doing.

“Jared, I’m sorry, but there is nothing we can do to save her,” the doctor admitted, lifting a hand.  Jared followed his gaze, scoffing at the sight of several security officers.

“Please, I won’t cause a scene, but you … you have to help her.  Please?” Jared asked, a sob escaping him.  The doctor looked at him and nodded.

“We’ll do what we can,” he told him, making his way back into the room. 

 “Mr. Padalecki?” came a soft voice.  Looking over, his teary gaze landing on one of the nurses across the hall.  In her arms lay a perfectly wrapped pink bundle.

“Would you like to hold your daughter?” she asked.  Nodding, he crossed over to the woman, who carefully placed the baby in his arms.  The newborn barely reacted to the move, save for a small yawn which passed her perfect pink lips.

Unable to stop the smile from gracing his features, Jared leaned forward, placing a kiss upon his daughter’s forehead.  So lost in her, he never noticed the door to Sandy’s room open quietly.

“Jared,” came a gentle voice.  Looking up, his smile faded at the sight of the doctor, whose somber expression shattered his world in an instant.

“I’m so sorry, son,” the man said.  Tears clouded his vision, as he stumbled back slightly.  A nurse ran forward, her grip and the doctor’s carefully guiding him and his precious bundle to a nearby chair.

“Do you want me to take her?” the nurse asked him softly, her hands reaching for his daughter.  Jared’s arms instinctively protected his little girl.

“No, please don’t take her,” he begged.  The nurse looked at the doctor, who nodded slowly, causing her to back away.

“If you’d like to say goodbye,” the doctor told him, indicating toward the door.  Jared looked over at the closed door before looking down at his daughter.

“Can you, can you hold her for just a minute?” he asked the nurse, his voice timid and scared. 

“Of course,” she replied, taking the little bundle from him carefully.  The doctor helped him stand, leading him over to the room.  Slowly the door opened to reveal Sandy and a broken sob spilled from his lips.  Her beautiful face was pale and still.  The monitors in the room eerily quiet.  Making his way into the room, Jared stopped just short of the bed, turning away from the blood that was visible near the end. 

“Take your time, Jared.”

Wiping the tears from his cheeks, Jared forced himself to turn around, inching closer to his best friend.  Reaching out, he touched her cheek, half expecting her to open her eyes and smile.  Waiting a few moments, he realized that she wasn’t going to open her eyes anymore.  A hiccupping sob forced its way out of him as he dropped to his knees beside her.

“Please, Sandy,” he cried, his fingers grasping onto hers, which were slowly growing cold.  They’d wanted to be parents, to be partners in something beautiful and perfect and now he was … alone.  Letting the tears continue to spill, he never noticed as the doctor stepped back, shutting the door behind him.

“You can’t leave me … you can’t,” he sobbed.  After a few minutes, he pulled back, his limbs heavy and exhausted.  Letting his gaze drift up to Sandy’s face, he couldn’t help but smile at the peaceful look on her features. 

Slowly rising, he leaned in close to her, his lips touching her forehead as he choked back a sob. 

“I love you,” he told her softly.  “I promise you, San.  I will always take care of her.  I promise.”

As if on autopilot, Jared made his way slowly out of the room, barely noticing the nurses and doctors waiting for him to emerge.  His sights fell on the pink bundle and he quickly reached for her.  Safely placing the baby in her father’s arms, the nurse stepped back.  Jared’s sobs began once more, but he sniffed quickly, calming himself after a moment.

“It’s okay, baby.  Daddy’s got you,” he told her.  “Daddy’s got you.”

FIVE YEARS LATER

“Seriously dude, kindergarten?”

Looking up from the planner in his lap, Jensen Ackles couldn’t help but sigh.  It was the third time in the last twenty minutes that his best friend, Chris Kane, had commented on his new job and he was getting tired of it.

“Would you stop? Seriously, you’re giving me a headache,” he replied.  The other man shrugged, taking a long sip of his beer before leaning back in to the cushions of the couch.

Okay, so teaching five and six year olds didn’t seem like the most glamorous job, but for Jensen, it was perfect.  He’d started out five years ago teaching seventh graders and had nearly lost his mind.  It seemed that the lower the age, the less stressed he became.  Which was why as of tomorrow, he’d be one of the new kindergarten teachers at Brighton Elementary. 

It was a great opportunity at a great school that he almost missed.  His grandfather had suffered a mild heart-attack during orientation week, forcing Jensen to return home to Dallas, Texas for a few days.  But luckily his new employers had been understanding about the situation.

“I still think you’re nuts,” Chris murmured, breaking him from his thoughts.

“Yeah well, you wouldn’t be the first,” he replied, closing his assignment planner before removing his wire-rimmed glasses.  “Besides, a part-time musician isn’t exactly glamorous either,” Jensen pointed out in reference to Chris’s current career.

“Don’t knock my music, Jenny,” the other man warned with a finger pointed in his direction.

“Quid pro quo, brother,” Jensen replied before standing up.  Scratching absently at his chest, he headed into the kitchen to scrounge up something to eat.

Looking out the window, he smiled watching the neighborhood kids play along the sidewalks.   He’d spent the last five years in Palo Alto, California and had finally decided to move to just outside Seattle. 

“You’re gonna like it here,” Chris had told him.

“I must be crazy,” Jensen had replied.  “It rains here all the time.”

That had been two months ago and now he was sharing a house with one of his best friends with the hope that one day it would be a place of his own.

“Maybe we’ll finally find you a man,” Chris offered, joining him in the kitchen.

It had taken Jensen all of about three days of gym during his sophomore year in high school to know he was gay.  Luckily, his best friends couldn’t have cared one way or the other.

“Yeah, I’ve been a casualty of your bright ideas before, no thanks,” he replied, taking out leftover Chinese for lunch.

“Mark wasn’t that bad,” his friend defended.

“Says you,” Jensen answered, trying to forget about the disastrous blind date Chris had set him up on last month.  Scooping rice onto a plate, he added a bit of chicken stir fry.

“Fine,” Chris said, moving to grab the leftover pizza.

“Look, I’ve got a gig tomorrow night, if you’re interested.  Steve’s gonna be there too,” the other man added.  Jensen couldn’t help but smile thinking of their friend Steve Carlson.  They’d all been best friends growing up on the same street in Richardson, Texas.  Chris to his left, Steve two houses down on the right and Danneel across the street.  Thankfully being the lone girl in the group hadn’t completely traumatized Dani for life.

“I’ll try.  First day is always the hardest for kindergarteners,” he pointed out, not missing the rolling eyes Chris sent his way.

________________________________________

Taking a sip of coffee, Jared couldn’t stop the fluttering of nerves in his stomach.  Today was a big day … one he’d been dreading for awhile now.  His baby was starting kindergarten.

It seemed like just yesterday, the nurse had placed her in his arms.  Thinking of that day inevitably led his thoughts to Sandy, causing him to frown.

“Daddy?” came a voice, breaking his thoughts.  Looking across the kitchen table, his eyes fell to Bailey Padalecki, holding a piece of toast with an introspective look on her face.

“Yeah baby, what is it?” he asked.

“Are you sad cause I’m going to school today?” she asked.  Jared couldn’t help but smile.

“How’d you guess?” he replied, leaning toward her.  She merely shrugged, taking another bite of her toast before scooping up more eggs from the plate.

Though Sandy had carried her and contributed half to her DNA, there was one thing he and many members of his family were convinced of … that Bailey Grace was a Padalecki through and through.  His parents had agreed the minute they saw her.  From her honey brown hair to the hazel hue of her eyes, right down to the defined cheekbones and the long stature.  His father was convinced that one day; Bailey might even rival her father’s own 6’4 frame. 

But most of all, it was the stuff that couldn’t be seen on the surface.  Her playful nature, sense of humor and her creativity were also traits straight from Jared.  It hadn’t been easy to raise her by himself, but looking at his baby now, he knows for certain that he wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. 

“You done, kiddo?” Jared asked, watching her bob her little head as she wiped her mouth with her napkin.  Nodding, he stood and took her plate, placing a kiss to her head.

“Go wash up and grab your book bag,” he urged, chuckling at the haste she showed at climbing down from the chair.  Bailey had wanted to go to school two years ago and heaven knows she was as bright as any five-year old back then.  They’d been to an introduction at Brighton Elementary last week, but Bailey’s teacher had been called out of town because of a family emergency.

“You ready, Bails?” he called out, grabbing her Dora the Explorer lunch pail from the fridge.

“Comin’ Daddy!” came a yell from upstairs.  Rounding the corner, he watched his daughter make her way down the stairs.  Dressed in a pink sleeveless dress with white Maryjane’s, she looked like a princess.  Grabbing her white sweater, he helped her into it and grinned.

“Ready for school?”

“Yup,” she replied, grabbing her backpack, while taking Jared’s other hand.

Securing her into her seat in his SUV, Jared got behind the wheel and began to head toward the school.  Stealing a glance in the rearview mirror, he couldn’t help but wonder if Bailey was nervous as he was.  Given that the little girl was happily counting her fingers, his guess was she was perfectly fine.

When Sandy had died, Jared had no idea how he could raise Bailey alone.  The first month had been difficult, forcing him to rely on his parents to help him through it.

<i> “Jared?”

Looking up from his spot in the rocking chair, Jared focused his teary eyes on his mother, who stood in the doorway to Bailey’s nursery.  The baby lay snuggled in his arms, fast asleep.

“Hey, Mom,” he said quietly.  Sherri Padalecki made her way into the room toward her son and granddaughter, smiling softly.

“Sweetheart, you need to get some sleep,” she told him.  A breathy sigh came from his arms, causing them both to look down at the baby.

“How am I going to do this, Mom?” he asked softly.  “Sandy and I … we had a plan, but she’s gone and now …” Jared trailed off, not knowing how to truly express the fear he had.  Gently, his mother picked up the baby, laying her back down in her crib before turning back to her son.  Reaching out her hand, she smiled as he took it and followed her out toward his own room.

Urging him to lie down, she sat on the edge of the bed next to him.

“Sometimes things don’t work out the way we always think,” she began.  “But you are so strong, baby, you can do this.”

“What if I mess up?” he asked, causing his mother to chuckle. 

“Sweetheart, you think your father and I were perfect? We messed up with you three all the time, but we learned from our mistakes and did our best.  That’s all that you can ask of yourself, honey.”

“Thanks, Mom,” he murmured, sleep beginning to take hold. </i>

As if in an instant, the turn-off for the elementary school was upon them, forcing Jared to make a quick turn away from his memory and back to the present.   Parking the car, he felt his palms begin to sweat.

“Come on, Daddy,” Bailey said eagerly, little fingers already searching for the buttons to the release her from the car seat.

“Okay baby, be patient,” he told her, unbuckling his own seat belt before getting out to help her.  Getting Bailey down, Jared looked around at all the other parents.  Some were actually close to tears.

“This way, Daddy,” Bailey told him, hoisting her backpack up as she took his hand and led him inside.

There were plenty of teachers around to point them in the right direction and Bailey wasted little time in following their directions toward her class.  As they reached the door, Jared stopped short upon seeing a young man in the doorway.  Standing around 6’1 with short , spiky dirty blond hair, green eyes and full kissable lips, he was perfect.  Suddenly those green eyes were upon him and he couldn’t help but smile.

“Hi,” the man said, making his way over.

“Hi,” Jared replied.

“You must be Bailey,” the man said, surprising Jared as he crouched down to Bailey’s level.

“I’m Bailey,” she confirmed.

“Well Miss Bailey, I’m your teacher, Mr. Ackles,” he introduced, holding out his hand to her.  She smiled, placing her little one in his.

“Why don’t you head into the room, see if there’s a cubby you’d like to put your stuff in and then have a seat on the carpet?” he suggested.  Bailey nodded, but then looked up at her father.

“It’s okay, baby,” Jared urged.  “I won’t leave without saying goodbye,” he promised.  Secure in the knowledge that he wouldn’t be far, Bailey headed into the classroom.

“Jensen Ackles,” the man said, rising to shake Jared’s hand.

“Jared Padalecki, nice to finally meet you, Jensen.”

“She seems a lot less nervous then some of the other kids,” Jensen noted, causing Jared to chuckle.

“That’s because she’s wanted to go to school for practically two years,” Jared answered.

“Wow, well why don’t you come in for a bit,” Jensen suggested.  Jared nodded and made his way in, smiling at the sight of his daughter chatting animatedly with two other little girls.  Other parents milled about in the corner and he headed over to them.

“You look nervous,” he said to one of the couples.  The man rolled his eyes good-naturedly, but the woman looked close to tears.

“It’s just so hard to let them go, you know?” she asked.

“Right,” Jared replied, looking to keep her from shedding tears.  “So, which one is yours?”

“That’s our Sarah,” the wife said, pointing to the little girl currently giggling with Bailey.

“How about you?” the husband asked.

“Um, mine would be the gigglebox with your Sarah,” he told them.  “Her name is Bailey.”

Opening his mouth to speak, Jared was cut short as Jensen suddenly called the kid’s attention to him.

“Okay gang, welcome to your first day of school,” Jensen said, taking a seat on the carpet with the ten kids, who cheered.

“Now, I know that some of you are very excited and that some of you might be a little scared and that’s okay,” he promised.  “What we’re going to do first is say goodbye to your mommies and daddies and then we’ll pick out our desks, okay?” he asked them, watching their little heads bob.

“Okay, everybody up,” he grinned, watching them stand.  Jared smiled as Bailey ran over to him.

“You gotta go now, Daddy,” she told him.  Grinning, he leaned down, scooping her into a bear hug.

“Okay, baby,” he replied, kissing her cheek.  “You have fun and I’ll see you at three o’clock, okay?”

“Okay, Daddy.  Love you!” she said.

“I love you too, kiddo.”  Sharing a smile, he let her go, watching as she went back to the carpet.  His gaze suddenly met Jensen’s and he smiled, standing up.  Giving Bailey a final look, Jared made his way out of the classroom.

Sitting in his home office, Jared drummed his fingers against the desk.  He hadn’t realized just how occupied Bailey kept him, but it was painfully obvious now.  Suddenly the phone rang, jolting him from his thoughts.

“Hello?”

“You know, the clock isn’t gonna move any faster by you drumming your fingers on the desk.”

“How’d you know that?” Jared asked in confusion.

“Jared Padalecki, what don’t I know about you?”  Chad Michael Murray asked, causing Jared to grin.

“Very true.”  The pair had grown up together in San Antonio, having gone through everything as the best of friends.

“So how’d the munchkin do this morning?”

“Better than me.  She’s been waiting for this for two years.”

“How’s the teacher?” Chad asked.

“He seems pretty cool,” Jared replied, his gaze flickering back to the clock once more.

“Wait, he?”

“Yeah, he.  His name is Jensen,” he told his friend.

“Is he hot?”

“Sophia’s gonna smack you for those kind of questions,” Jared pointed out in regards to Chad’s wife.

“Please, I’m talking to my gay best friend, it’s logical.  Besides, she’s at work.”

“So?”

“So, what?”

“Is he hot?”

“Dude, I’m not going to go after my kid’s teacher,” Jared told him.

“So he is hot.”

“He’s incredible,” Jared admitted softly.  “But he’s Bailey’s teacher … I’m sure there’s some kind of rule about that.”

“Dude, if something’s right, it will happen.”

“Thank you, Mr. Philosophy.”

“Listen, I love you man, but you can’t sit there in your gigantic house by yourself waiting each day for Bails to get home,” Chad told him.

“I do stuff,” Jared replied lamely.

“Really? When was the last time you painted on an actual canvas?” his friend asked, causing Jared to roll his eyes.

“Don’t roll your eyes, man!  You’re an artist … a damn sought after one.  Time to start acting like one again,” Chad said.

During his childhood, Jared had always loved to paint.  By high school, he was churning out quality canvases left and right.  His first painting had sold for $2,000 when he was nineteen.  Now at 28, his paintings commissioned at $50,000 minimum.

“You’re not even listening to me right now are you?”

“Shut up, I’m listening,” Jared replied, his gaze once again flickering to the clock.  “Shit, it’s 2:45!”

“Yes it is, glad you can tell time,” Chad replied.

“Dumbass, I gotta pick Bailey up in fifteen minutes.  I’ll call you later,” he said, hanging up quickly before tearing down the stairs to the garage.

Pulling up outside the school, Jared breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of other parents just arriving.  Finding the classroom, he couldn’t stop the smile on his face at the sight of Bailey at her little desk.  Other kids scurried about, collecting their things, but Bailey was determined and focused on the paper in front of her.

“She doesn’t give up easily, does she?” Jensen asked, startling Jared as he came up next to him.

“Bailey? No, she’s pretty strong-willed,” he confirmed.

“We started working on name plates for each desk.  They got to design it any way they wanted and most finished in ten minutes,” Jensen explained.

“How long?” Jared asked, inclining his head toward Bailey, whose little tongue poked out between her lips in concentration.

“About thirty minutes.”

“I’m sorry, I think that’s my fault,” Jared told him.  Jensen opened his mouth to reply, but was pulled away by another parent.  Shaking his head, Jared made his way over to his daughter.

“Hey, Baileygirl,” he said, causing her to look up quickly, a smile lighting her features.

“Hi, Daddy.  Look!” she said, pointing to the name plate, which he had to admit was pretty good.

“It’s beautiful, baby, but it’s time to go home,” he told her gently.

“Do I have to?” she asked.

“Yeah, but guess what?” he replied, crouching down next to her.

“What?”

“You get to come back tomorrow.”

“Okay,” she said.

“Go grab your bag, k?” he asked, watching her nod as she scrambled toward her cubby.  Standing, he looked around the classroom and smiled at the creative decorations Jensen had in place throughout the space.  His eyes flickered to the other man’s desk and he paused.  Mounted on the wall, just behind Jensen’s desk was one of his earliest paintings.  In it was a child rolling in a large pile of leaves, the autumn sun streaming down.  He’d called it ‘Innocence’, the child being his younger sister, Megan, from when they were kids.

“Isn’t it great?” Jared turned to find Jensen next to him, his gaze on the painting.

“It’s great,” he answered.

“I got lucky and was able to buy it before the artist had really struck big,” the other man explained.  It was true; Innocence and just a couple other paintings were the last relatively inexpensive paintings he’d been able to do.

“I hear he grew up in San Antonio, but nobody seems to know where he is now,” Jensen continued.

“It’s a great painting,” Jared once again said, not totally sure how to break the news that it was his own.

“I’m ready, Daddy,” Bailey said, appearing next to him.

“Okay, baby,” he said, reaching down to scoop her up into his arms.  “I guess we’ll see you tomorrow, Jensen,” Jared said, causing the other man to smile and nod.

“Bye, Mr. Jensen,” Bailey said, waving over her father’s shoulder.

“Bye, Miss Bailey.”

CHAPTER TWO

“And then we got to go out to the playground and they got a huge slide that twirls three times, I gots to go on it twice, but then we had to go inside for lunch and then …”

Jared couldn’t help but chuckle as his daughter continued to ramble endlessly about her day.  Granted, he had asked, but he hadn’t expected her to spill it all in one breath.

“Why you laughing at me, Daddy?” Bailey asked suddenly. 

“I’m not laughing at you, baby,” he replied.  Regarding him for a moment, Bailey finally nodded before looking back down at her food.

“And what do you think of your teacher?” Jared asked before taking a bite of his salad.

“I love Mr. Jensen,” his daughter began, nearly knocking over her glass of milk as she raised her hands excitedly.

“We had nap time after lunch, but I wasn’t sleepy, so Mr. Jensen let me stay up and color,” she explained, causing Jared to cringe.  He’d forgotten to warn Jensen that Bailey wasn’t much of a napper.  Sure when she was a baby she’d sleep at any hour of the day, but once she’d hit two, his little girl only slept at night.

“He sat with me and colored too,” Bailey continued.  “An’ den one of the kids had a bad dream and Mr. Jensen sat down with her and sang to her so she would go back to sleep.”  Jared stopped chewing at her statement, surprise etched on his features.

“Mr. Jensen sang to her?” he asked.

“Yup, it was pretty,” she replied, taking a too big bite of mashed potatoes.

“Bailey Grace, don’t be gross,” Jared told her, seeing her cheeks balloon out from the amount of food in her mouth.  The little girl slowly chewed, methodically swallowing little bits till Jared couldn’t help but laugh at her.

“Sawry, Daddy,” she told him, her mouth still full.  Shaking his head, Jared grabbed a bite of his own food, more than necessary as he shoved it in and copied Bailey.  Giggling ensued as the pair filled their mouths over and over.

Later that night, as the sun slipped over the horizon, Jared made his way upstairs to the front corner of the house where Bailey’s room was and stopped in the doorway.

“And then I got to color my own name tag for my desk.”  Looking into the room, Jared smiled upon seeing Bailey curled up in bed, her little body facing a photo of Sandy on her bedside table.

“Mr. Jensen is nice and sings pretty too,” Bailey continued.

“Talking to Mommy?” Jared asked softly, trying not to scare her.  Hazel eyes swiveled toward him, a smile lighting Bailey’s features.

“I had ta tell her about my day,” she explained sleepily.  Making his way to her bed, Jared sat down on the edge, taking one of Bailey’s hands in his own as his gaze flickered to the photo of Sandy.

“I’m sure she’s glad to hear about it, Baileygirl,” he replied.

“Daddy?”

“Yes, baby?”

“You promise I get ta go back to school tomorrow?” Bailey asked, yawning deeply as she snuggled into her blankets.

“I promise,” Jared answered softly, leaning forward to kiss her forehead.

“Sleep well,” he whispered, stroking her cheek with the pad of his thumbs as her eyes drifted shut.

Waiting a few minutes more, Jared felt her breathing even out as Bailey slipped fully into sleep.  Carefully extracting Bailey’s little fingers from his grasp, he tucked her in a little tighter before rising.  Turning off the light, he shut her door halfway before heading back downstairs to his studio.

Stepping inside the room, Jared came up short, his eyes looking over to the blank canvas in the corner.  Chad hadn’t been wrong on the phone earlier.  His last finished painting had been two years ago and even then … it hadn’t exactly been one of his best.

Sandy’s death had taken its toll in more ways than one for Jared, and while he’d tried to get back into the process … his muses weren’t exactly cooperating.  Thinking of Sandy, Jared frowned.  He knew that she would have loved seeing Bailey today on her first day of school.  Even getting ready for the big day would have been an adventure as he knew that she would have taken Bailey shopping for everything from clothes to new pencils.

Lifting his gaze toward the canvas once more, he was surprised as an image began to take shape.  Shuffling over to the easel, he sat down, fingers closing around a fine tip pencil.

Surrounded by silence, with the moonlight filtering in, Jared began to sketch the outline, eyes darting to follow his fingers movements.  Soon the lines began to reveal a smiling face, happy and excited.  Smiling, Jared set the pencil down, reaching absently for his color palette.  Carefully mixing various colors, he moved his brush over the fabric in even strokes.

“You know, sometimes you take my breath away.”

Grinning, Jared turned away from his canvas as Sandy made her way into the room, one hand caressing her pregnant belly.

“Only sometimes?” he asked, ducking away as she playfully swatted his arm.

“Seriously, it’s beautiful, Jared,” Sandy told him, her eyes focused on the painting, which depicted a group of children running in a field of flowers.  They’d been out for a picnic two days earlier and Jared had found the playful children a source of fascination as he sketched their likeness in his drawing pad.

“It’s okay,” he replied, one large hand lifting toward his forehead to push away some errant strands of hair.

“I hate how you always downplay your work around me,” she said, smoothing one hand over her belly as she stepped closer to gaze at the contrast of color.

“That’s just the way I am, you know that,” Jared answered, wrapping an arm around her from behind, pulling her back against his chest.  “You’re my biggest motivator, San,” he whispered. 

“You may bring in thousands of dollars, Jared.  But never forget that your paintings are worth more than money, k?” she asked. 

“I won’t.”

Frowning, Jared’s paint brush halted at the memory.  Sandy had been his biggest supporter right till the end and it still pained him to realize that she was gone … even after five years.  Lowering the brush completely, he set his color palette aside and stood up.  Turning away, Jared headed out of the room, leaving the half-finished painting behind.

 

“So … how was your first day of kindergarten?” Rolling his eyes, Jensen turned from his lesson plan to find Chris standing in the doorway of the kitchen.

“It was great, smartass,” he replied, returning to his book once more.

“Do you have a roomful of terrors?” Chris asked, taking a seat at the table as he took a long drink from his bottle of beer.

“Actually they’re pretty good right now,” Jensen admitted.

“You’ve got a favorite already, don’t you?” his friend prodded, causing Jensen to smile.

“I don’t pick favorites,” he replied, writing down a couple ideas for afternoon lessons.  Feeling eyes upon him, Jensen lifted his head, locking gazes with Chris.

“Alright, her name is Bailey,” he finally relented.

“Smart?”

“As a whip, and very creative,” Jensen added.

“How about the Mom and Dad, total squares?” Chris asked.

“Actually I’ve only met her father,” he replied, a smile flittering across his features as he thought about Jared.  He couldn’t deny that the man was gorgeous.  Tall, nearly 6’5, with broad shoulders and legs that went on for miles.  From his wavy brunette hair to the chiseled features … wow, his mind really needed to get back on track.

“I see,” his friend said knowingly, shaking Jensen from his thoughts.

“See what?” Jensen asked.

“The ‘holy hot sex on legs’ thoughts that are running through your brain right now,” Chris told him with a grin, taking another sip of beer.

“Stop it,” Jensen said.  Before he could add anything further, a whine pierced from behind him, forcing him to turn quickly.

“Hey, why is my dog outside?” he asked Chris pointedly, quickly rising to head to the backdoor.

“She wanted to go outside earlier … I forgot she was out there,” his friend replied with a shrug.  Opening the door, Jensen smiled as his Sadie made her way in.

“Hey, baby,” he murmured, sinking down to scratch behind the dog’s ears.

“You spoil that dog,” Chris said, pushing back his chair as he rose to grab another beer.

“Don’t listen to him, baby, you’re Daddy’s girl,” he said, ignoring his friend in favor of giving Sadie a kiss on her head.

“Whatever, I gotta head to the bar to meet up with Steve, I take it you won’t be joining us?” his friend asked.

“Still need to plan the rest of my lessons, next time,” Jensen assured him.

“I’m gonna hold you to that, son.”

Saying goodnight, Jensen watched as Chris grabbed his guitar case before heading outside to his car.  Scratching Sadie’s head once more, he gathered his planners and made his way to the stairs.

“Come on, girl,” he said, grinning as Sadie dashed up the stairs past him toward his bedroom, ready for bed.   

One thing was certain for Jensen in his first week of teaching.  He was completely smitten with Bailey Padalecki.  The little girl was intuitive, creative and a quick study when it came to any subject.  She befriended everyone, kept the class in giggles when needed and was fiercely dedicated to the art portion of the class.

Jensen was certain her mannerisms were due in large part to her father, whom he also was a tad smitten with.  Every day as he dropped Bailey off, Jared took the time to chat with Jensen, not just about Bailey but with him as well.

He’d found out that Jared was self-employed, but the other man had seemed reluctant to reveal what he did.  Jensen was also surprised to learn that he lived just a couple of streets away from the Padalecki’s, who owned the home that he always drooled over on his morning runs on Queen Anne’s south slope.  The house had the most perfect deck which he was certain had an unobstructed view of the Space Needle and Mt. Rainier.

“When I saw the house, I knew it was perfect for us,” Jared had explained.  “I wanted Bailey to have a fun place to grow up in, and she pretty much loves it.”

So lost in his thoughts, Jensen didn’t even notice as Bailey made her way into the classroom on Friday morning.  The group was at the end of their first week of school and he decided to spoil them by having Sadie in class for the day. 

“Good morning, Mr. Jensen,” the little girl said brightly, forcing him to look up quickly.

“Well, good morning, Miss Bailey,” Jensen said, his gaze lifting as Jared stepped into the room, his arms laden with two good-sized containers.  Rising, he made his way over, helping the other man out by taking one of the boxes.

“Morning,” Jared said, blessing Jensen with one of his blindingly wonderful, dimpled smiles.

“Morning,” he replied.  “What’s all this?”

“Well, Bailey wanted to celebrate her first week of school with the rest of her class, so we made cupcakes last night,” Jared explained.

“That’s really nice of you guys,” Jensen replied, his gaze focused on Jared.  Suddenly the door opened once more to reveal several other students.  Jared grinned before leaning down to pull Bailey into his arms.

“Okay, Baileygirl.  Have a good day, I’ll see you this afternoon,” he told her, giving her a big smooch to her cheek.

“Bye, Daddy.  Love you,” she said as he set her back down.  Giving Jensen a final smile, Jared turned and made his way out of the room.  Jensen couldn’t help but be disappointed, as it was the first morning that the two men hadn’t had a chance to chat.

As the kids began to file in, Jensen focused on getting ready for the day, hoping that later on he’d get the opportunity to talk to Jared. 

Just after lunchtime a light knock sounded on the door.  Checking to make sure that the kids were settled with their assignments during quality time, he made his way over, opening it reveal Chris with Sadie on her leash.

“Hey man,” Jensen said quietly.  “Thanks for bringing her by,” he added, taking the leash from his friend.

“It’s okay she’s here, yeah?” Chris confirmed.

“Yeah, she’s been cleared,” he replied, bending down to pet his girl.

“I’ll catch you tonight then,” Chris said, waving goodbye as he headed back down the hall.  Quietly leading Sadie in, he looked at his class, surprised that none of them had noticed the large German shepherd/dingo mix in their midst.

“How about a different quiet time?” he called out, watching ten little heads spring up, eyes widening with growing excitement.

“Puppy!” came a cry as all the children fled from their seats, making their way over to Jensen and Sadie.  Luckily for him, Sadie was very calm around children.

“What’s the puppy’s name, Mr. Jensen?” Bailey asked.

“This is Sadie, guys.  She’s part German Shepard and part Dingo,” he told them, guiding his dog over to the carpet as the kids followed behind them dutifully.  Taking a seat, he began to talk to them about Sadie and how he rescued her from the pound over a year ago when she was just a puppy.

Before he knew it, the final bell had rung and the classroom door opened to reveal Mrs. James, the mother of Madison, who was never ever late.  Ushering Sadie to a spot behind his desk, he helped the other kids gather up their stuff as parents continued to arrive.

“Thank you for bringin’ Sadie to see us,” Bailey said, surprising him as she came up next to him to help put away the alphabet blocks they had been working with.

“You’re welcome, Miss Bailey,” he replied.  “Do you have a dog?” he asked her, watching a flicker of sadness wash over her features.

“Not yet, but I bet Daddy would let me get one,” she replied.  Jensen smiled as they finished up the cleaning. 

“Hey Baileygirl,” came Jared’s voice, causing the pair to turn.

“Daddy!” the little girl squealed, rising to rush over to Jared, who quickly scooped her up for a big hug.

“How’s my girl? Did you have a good day?”

“Yup, we got to eat the cupcakes and we played with Mr. Jensen’s puppy,” she explained.  Surprised, Jared glanced over at Jensen, noticing a set of paws peeking out from behind the man’s desk.

“Wow, that sounds like a fun day,” he told her, smooching her cheek before setting her down.

“She also led the class in gold stars for the most words spelled with our alphabet blocks today as well,” Jensen mentioned, watching Jared’s smile shine like the sun.

“You did? I’m so proud of you, baby,” he said, crouching down to give her another kiss, which caused the little girl to giggle.

“Come meet Sadie, Daddy,” Bailey said, reaching out to grab her father’s hand.

“Come, Sadie,” she said softly and Jared watched as a large dog with a shading of black on her back over a golden caramel coat made its way out from behind the desk.  The dog headed straight for Bailey, sitting dutifully at her feet as his daughter giggled.

“Daddy, this is Sadie,” Bailey introduced.  Jared leaned forward, reaching out a hand to scratch at Sadie’s head.

“Hi, Sadie,” he replied.  “She’s beautiful, Jensen,” Jared remarked.  Unable to stop his smile, Jensen squatted down to their level too and petted Sadie’s back.

“Yeah, she’s a good girl, a great friend,” he told them.  After a few moments of silence, Jensen lifted his gaze to Jared, who was looking at him intently.

“Daddy, I’m hungry,” came Bailey’s voice, startling them both.  Jared was the first to look away, turning his focus to his daughter as he smiled.

“Okay, baby.  Go grab your stuff and we’ll head home,” he told her.  Nodding, Bailey made her way over to the other side of the room to gather her things, leaving the two men alone for the time being.

“The cupcakes were a huge hit,” Jensen said.

“Great! Bailey was just so intent on having a party,” he explained with a grin.

“Well, she’s pretty good at making sure everyone has fun.  She’s a great kid, Jared,” Jensen replied sincerely.

“Thank you, Jensen.  She’s pretty fond of you too,” the taller man told him.  It was in that moment that Jensen knew he needed to go for it … ‘Ask him out, Moron!’

Opening his mouth to speak, he was cut short as Bailey skipped over.

“Ready, Daddy,” she announced.  Jared’s hazel orbs flickered away to look down at Bailey, missing the look of disappointment on Jensen’s features.

“Okay, baby.  Say goodbye to Mr. Jensen,” he told her.  The little girl surprised them both as she took two steps toward Jensen, wrapping her arms around his legs.

“Thank you for today, Mr. Jensen,” Bailey said softly.  Feeling a little tug at his heart, Jensen simply nodded, one large hand smoothing over the little girl’s brunette hair.

“You’re welcome, Bailey,” he replied, as equally soft.  Letting go, Bailey toddled back over to her father, taking his hand after she’d pet Sadie goodbye.

“Have a good weekend, Jensen,” Jared said, lifting his daughter into his arms. 

“You too, guys,” he replied.  Holding Jared’s gaze a moment longer, he fought to not be disappointed as the other man turned with Bailey and left.  Suddenly a cold wet nose poked his hand and he cast his gaze down to Sadie.

“Ready to head home, girl?” he asked, receiving a lick to the face.  Nodding, he chuckled and scratched her head.

“Alright, let’s go.”

 

“I love my daughter … I love my daughter … I love my daughter.”

It was a never ending mantra that Jared continuously repeated in his head as Bailey continued to talk about Jensen’s dog, Sadie.  They’d gone to the grocery store to pick up dinner and there was a story about how Sadie had played fetch at recess with a tennis ball.  They’d gone home and unpacked the food and it was another tale of how Sadie nearly ate one of the cupcakes during their party.

Now as they sat outside on the front patio eating pasta and salad, Jared felt like his head was about to explode.

“Bailey! Enough!” Jared said, raising his voice.  The dead silence was like a slap in the face to him as Jared realized what he’d done.  Looking over at Bailey, he saw tears begin to well in her eyes, which gazed upon him with a hint of fear and shock.

“Bail … I’m sorry,” he apologized.  His daughter’s gaze flickered to the ground as she began to sob quietly.  Standing, Jared pushed his chair back before dropping to his knees in front of her.

“I’m so sorry, baby,” he murmured, reaching out to gently touch her little arm.  “Daddy scared you, didn’t he?” Jared asked, his heart breaking as Bailey’s little head nodded sadly.

“I’m sorry, honey,” he told her, hearing his own voice quiver slightly.  “Come here, Baileygirl,” he added, holding out his arms to her.  Hesitating for just a moment, Bailey finally slid from her seat, curling up into his arms as she sniffled softly against his t-shirt.

Kissing his daughter’s head, Jared felt like the biggest jerk on the planet.  He had never, ever, raised his voice to Bailey and now the first time he did, it was over something that she was happy about.  Sitting quietly with his little girl, Jared rocked her back and forth in his arms, whispering apologetic words every so often.

It wasn’t till almost a half hour later that he realized the sun had nearly set over the Seattle skyline.  Looking down at the bundle in his arms, Jared noticed that Bailey’s breaths were deep and even, indicating that she’d fallen asleep some time ago.  Carefully rising, he secured her in his arms before bringing her inside and up the winding staircase to her bedroom.

Unbuckling the straps on Bailey’s maryjanes, he went to work in changing her into her pajamas before sliding her under the covers of her bed.  Tucking her in, he placed a soft kiss to her forehead.

“Sleep tight, baby.  I love you,” he whispered, turning off the light as he headed downstairs to take care of the dishes from dinner.  Heading out onto the patio, Jared reached for Bailey’s plate, stopping short of picking it up as the events from earlier hit him again.  Unable to hold back his tears, he quickly sat down in one of the chairs and began to cry.

As the tears streamed down his face, he wiped them away furiously.  This wasn’t the time to lose it, not when he had things to take care of.  Straightening, Jared took a deep breath and stood once again.  Reaching out, he grabbed the dinner plates once more and made his way back into the kitchen.

 

“Daddy?”

Shifting in his sleep, Jared turned his head lazily, eyes blinking open slowly against the brightness of the room.

“Daddy?” The small voice continued to invade his consciousness as he became fully aware that it was morning.  Opening his eyes, he found Bailey next to him; her hands perched cautiously on the edge of the bed.

“Morning, baby,” he croaked.

“Can I sleep with you?” Bailey asked softly.  Jared couldn’t help but smile as he pulled back the covers to his bed, watching her climb up.  It had been months since Bailey had come in for a morning cuddle and he thanked the powers that be that last night’s event hadn’t affected her into this morning.

Pulling her to his side, Jared rearranged the covers up around them as her face rested against his chest.

“Did you have a good sleep?” he asked, kissing against her temple as his fingers ran through her hair.

“Yup, I dreamed about … um, nothin,” she replied, causing Jared to frown.  Now his little girl was afraid to talk to him about Jensen’s dog? That just wouldn’t do.

“Did you dream about Sadie, baby?” he asked, tilting her face up to look into her eyes.  Bailey nodded slowly, hesitantly.

“It’s okay, Baileygirl.  What were you guys doing in your dream?” Jared asked, giving her a smile.  Returning his grin with one of her own, she began to tell him about her dream where she and Sadie played catch in the backyard.  As he listened to her tale, Jared wondered if maybe Bailey was ready for a dog of her own.

It was important to him that he didn’t just give her a dog because she had gotten to meet Jensen’s.  He wanted to make sure that she knew the responsibility, but listening to her shift from her dream to all the things that she would do with her own puppy, he couldn’t help but make the decision.

“How about we get some breakfast and then go for a ride, that sound good?” Jared asked softly, kissing Bailey’s cheek.

“Sounds good, Daddy,” she replied with a smile.  Getting up, he sent her off to her own room before quickly changing into jeans and a t-shirt.  Running a brush through his own hair, he smiled as Bailey appeared in the mirror behind him.

“Did you super speed this morning, munchkin?” he asked, turning around as she ran forward to hug him.

“No, Daddy.  I don’t have super powers, you do!” she replied as he scooped her up.

“I do, huh?” Jared asked.

“Yup,” Bailey replied.  Smooching her cheek, Jared navigated them downstairs, setting her down at one of the island chairs as he went to the fridge to grab ingredients for omelets.

“Can we go to the museum today, Daddy?” Bailey asked once he’d placed her omelet in front of her.  Dishing out his own food, he took the seat next to her at the island and grinned.

“We’ll see, baby,” he answered, taking a bite of his food.  Once they’d finished with breakfast and brushed their teeth, Jared helped Bailey into her car seat before getting in on his own side.

“Old MacDonald had a farm, ei-ei-oh and on this farm he had a cow, ei-ei-oh.” Jared grinned, looking in the rearview mirror at Bailey, who sang happily. “With a moo-moo here and a moo-moo there, here ah moo, der ah moo, everywhere ah moo-moo.”

“Old MacDonald had a farm ei-ei-oh,” Jared chimed in, finishing the nursery rhyme for her.

“Yay, Daddy! You sang too,” she replied excitedly from the back.

“Well, I’m not nearly as good as you,” he answered, chuckling at the ‘duh’ look Bailey was flashing at him from the backseat. 

 “Where we goin, Daddy?”

Looking into the rearview mirror, Jared smiled.  He had a feeling that she’d realize they weren’t going to the city.  That and the fact that the drive to 15th Avenue West took about ten minutes was also an indicator.

“You’ll see, Bails,” he told her.  After a few minutes, Jared pulled into the parking lot, causing his little girl to squeal.

“Puppy! Really, Daddy?”

“You bet, baby,” he replied.  Getting out, Jared helped Bailey get out of the car, taking her hand as they made their way inside.  Barking could be heard from a distance as a number of people milled about.

“Hi, can I help you?” came a voice, causing Jared to turn.  A pretty brunette girl stood behind him, a smile on her face.

“Sorry to startle you, I’m Genevieve,” she told him.

“Hi, and it’s okay,” Jared replied.  “We’re actually here to adopt a dog,” he explained, giving Bailey’s hand a squeeze.  He watched as the woman’s face shifted to Bailey.  Though the smile didn’t fade from her features, it didn’t quite have the same enthusiasm as when she thought he was alone.

“Absolutely, why don’t you guys come back with me and I’ll show you the dogs we have,” Genevieve told Bailey, who nodded eagerly in response.  Clutching his hand tight, the little girl peeked around the corner as they entered, her eyes wide and curious.

“Go ahead and take a look at each cage.  If you see one you like, let me know and I’ll get them out for you, okay?” Genevieve asked, earning a nod from Bailey.

“Go on, Baileygirl, I’ll be right here,” Jared promised.  Letting go of her father’s hand, Bailey stepped forward cautiously, her eyes taking in each cage.

“Is this your first dog?” the woman asked.

“Oh, yeah it is.  I mean, I had a dog growing up, but this is Bailey’s first,” he explained, his gaze never leaving his daughter as she continued to move cage-to-cage slowly.

“Is your wife in favor of a dog?” Genevieve asked, causing Jared to do a double-take.

“My what? Oh, no I’m not married,” he answered.

“Oh,” the woman replied, a small grin on her features.

“Daddy! I found him!” Bailey exclaimed suddenly.  Smiling, Jared made his way over, his eyes widening at the sight of a very cute, but very large dog.

“Wow, um are you sure baby?”

“Yup, watch.  Come, Harley,” she said, giggling as the dog came forward in the cage.

“Sit, Harley,” Bailey said, the pair watching as the dog sat back on his large hind legs.

“Wow, baby, I guess he is the one,” Jared replied.  Looking back to Genevieve, he nodded.

“I believe we’ll be adopting this one today,” he told her.  Stepping forward, the older woman looked at the dog, then Bailey.

“Um, are you sure? This is a pretty big dog,” Genevieve said.

“Can you open the cage?” Jared asked, watching her nod as she moved to spring open the lock.  Bailey giggled happily as Harley came out, practically skipping to him.  There was no denying that Harley was a big dog.  His cage label stated that he was a mastiff mix and two years old, but the fact that Bailey could probably ride him like a horse only served to accentuate his size.

“Hi, Harley,” Jared said, stroking the dog’s large head.

“We can keep him, right Daddy?” Bailey asked, giggling when the caramel colored dog began to lick her face.

“Yeah, baby.  He’s all ours,” Jared answered.

“Well, I’ll get started on the paperwork,” Genevieve said.  Jared looked at the dog once more and smiled.  Harley’s nose was black, but the majority of his large frame was a gorgeous caramel color.

“Alright, let’s go home gang,” he told them, taking Bailey’s hand as she and Harley followed him out.

Once the paperwork had been signed and certified, he thanked Genevieve for her help before leading Bailey and Harley out to their SUV.  Opening the back hatch of the Range Rover, he patted the interior.

“Up, Harley,” he told him, impressed as the dog jumped into the back easily and settled down on the carpet.  Closing the hatch, Jared settled Bailey into her own seat.  As they headed out of the parking lot, he stole a glance at Bailey, whose bright smile was practically blinding.

“What do you say we go get some supplies for Harley and then spend the day in the backyard?” Jared asked.

“Let’s go!” Bailey said happily, clapping her hands as he navigated down 15th Avenue West and out to the PetSmart in Aurora.  They spent over an hour in the store as Bailey carefully chose toys for Harley, while Jared was in charge of getting the dog bed, food and water bowls and leashes.

“Are we ready, gang?” he asked, finally settling the entire crew and their purchases in the car.

“Ready!”

CHAPTER THREE

Hearing a resounding knock on his door, Jensen lifted his head slightly from its spot on his pillow. His bleary gaze caught sight of Sadie sleeping peacefully at the end of the bed, so he knew it couldn’t be a complaint about his dog.

“What?” he asked, pushing his face back into his pillow.  Jensen heard the door click open softly, not making any attempt to open his eyes.

“You gonna waste away your entire day, son?” came Chris’s voice, causing Jensen to groan.

“Yes, go away,” he mumbled in response.

“Come on, Jen.  It’s a beautiful day outside, go out for a run with the mutt or something,” Chris suggested.

“She’s not a mutt and furthermore,” Jensen said, lifting up his head.  “What in the hell are you doing up? You usually out-sleep me on a Saturday by five hours,” he finished.

“Well, I kinda got a date,” his friend murmured.  Sitting straight up in bed, Jensen grinned.

“A date? With who, you stud?” he teased as Chris sat down on the edge of his bed.

“Shut up,” Chris replied quickly.  “Her name is Angie, we met at a show the other night,” he added.

“That’s awesome, man.  Where are you guys going?” Jensen asked.

“No, no … I’m not giving away all my secrets,” the other man answered.  “Now get your ass out of bed,” he finished, patting Sadie’s head before heading out of the room.  Taking a look at the clock, Jensen was surprised to see that it was in fact around 1pm already.

“Wow, guess I did sleep the day away,” he said, swinging his legs out from underneath the covers.  Leaning forward, he kissed Sadie’s head before scratching behind her ears.

“What do you say, girl, wanna go for a run?” he asked her, chuckling as she sprinted off the bed.

“Your dog’s waiting at the door!” came a yell from Chris.

“Alright, I’m out of bed, quit harassing me,” Jensen replied, reaching over to grab a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.  Finding his shoes under the bed, he pulled them on and made his way down the stairs.

“Have fun, I’ll see you later tonight,” Chris said, coming out of the kitchen as Jensen hooked Sadie’s leash on.

“I’ll try, be a good boy on your date,” he said teasingly to his best friend, earning him a glare as he made his way out into the bright and slightly hot sunshine.  Taking a right out of the driveway, Jensen and Sadie made their way down West Prospect Street. 

Blue skies reigned overhead, causing him to smile.  Seattle hadn’t had this many consecutive days of sunshine in months.  So involved in his thoughts, Jensen barely noticed as he hooked a left onto 5th Avenue West.  Before long, the pair made their way up the slight incline of West Kinnear Place. 

“Woah, girl,” Jensen said softly after a few minutes, looking across the street and one house up to where Jared and Bailey lived.  From where he stood, he could see the lush gardens off to one side of the large front porch.  The house was just gorgeous, making him wonder what the inside must look like in comparison.

“Higher, Daddy!” Bailey’s voice in the distance startled Jensen as he took a step forward to see what was going on.  Suddenly over the porch railing, the little girl could be seen, floating high in the air with the help of Jared’s hands at her waist.  Even from this distance he could see the brilliant smiles on each of their faces. 

Watching them for a moment longer, Jensen quickly realized that standing around the affluent neighborhood and staring might not be the best idea. 

“Let’s go, Sadie,” he told his dog, turning back in the direction they’d come from, not seeing the pair of hazel eyes that shifted toward him upon his retreat. 

Making their way back down to 5th Ave West, Jensen stopped to grab a bottle of water and a treat for Sadie at one of his favorite markets before heading home.

The house was empty once they returned home and Jensen went about filling Sadie’s food bowl before hopping in the shower.   He wasn’t sure what to do the rest of the day, but knew he couldn’t get much done smelling the way he did.

Exiting the shower a half hour later, Jensen was surprised as his cell phone rang with his parents’ ringtone.

“Hey, Mama,” he said, answering it quickly.

“Hey, baby,” his mother replied.  “How was your first week of school?” she asked, causing him to smile.

“It was good, real good,” Jensen replied.

“And your kids? Any troublemakers?”

“Actually, they’re all pretty good,” he replied honestly.

“Uh, huh.  And I’ll just bet that you’ve got a favorite already,” Donna Ackles said teasingly.

“Well, you’d bet right,” he told her.

“Don’t keep me in suspense, honey, spill it,” she replied.  Grinning, Jensen made his way out to the living room, taking a seat on the couch as he began to tell his mom all about his class and Bailey Padalecki.

 

“Harley! Zoom-zoom!” Jared couldn’t help but chuckle as Bailey looked away from the tv screen toward their new dog, whose head barely came off the floor pillow it rested on.

“I don’t think Harley is quite as advanced as Bolt, baby,” he told her gently, kissing her temple.  After having a picnic on the living room floor, Bailey had announced that they needed to watch ‘Bolt’, one of her favorites.  Cuddled up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and Harley at their feet, the pair watched the movie, laughing at all the good parts and getting misty-eyed at the sad points.

“We won’t ever lose Harley, will we, Daddy?” Bailey asked, concern evident in her voice.

“No baby, Harley’s here to stay,” he promised.  Content with his answer, Bailey returned her head to her father’s chest as she continued to watch the movie. 

Barely twenty minutes later and his little girl was out like a light, but he didn’t have the heart to move her just yet.  Kissing the top of her head, Jared caught a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye, turning to see Harley make a grab for his own tail with his teeth.  The large dog suddenly jumped up and gave a minor growl as he pitched his head forward in the hopes of actually catching his prize.

A smile graced Jared’s features as the dog spun around in circles carelessly; finally tumbling to the ground once he’d met his objective.  Harley bit down on his tail and promptly yelped.

“It’s kind of attached to you, goofball,” Jared told him softly, grinning as the large dog looked up at him curiously, his head cocking to the side.

“Come here, big guy,” he said, patting the cushion next to him.  Rising, Harley jumped up onto the couch, his head resting against Jared’s thigh.  Letting his free hand drop to the dog’s head, Jared grinned.

“What do you think of your new home so far, Harley?” he asked, watching soulful brown eyes lift to meet his own. Sitting up, Harley quickly began to lick Jared’s face, causing the man to chuckle deeply.

“Okay, okay I get it, you like us,” Jared said, pulling his head back to look at the large dog.  Smiling, he let his hand rest against the dog’s head once more.

“You know it’s been a long time since there was anybody other than Bailey and me around here,” he told the pup softly, scratching behind his floppy ears.  “But you’re home now, big guy, and we’re your family now,” he finished, leaning forward to rest his forehead against the side of Harley’s head.

“What do you say we put this little angel to bed and then I’ll let you out in the yard for a bit, huh?” Jared asked after pulling back.  Earning another lick to his face, he chuckled, turning to scoop Bailey up in his embrace.  She barely woke as he carried her up the winding staircase.

“Sweet dreams, Baileygirl,” Jared whispered, kissing his daughter’s forehead.  Turning out the light, he made his way out, to find Harley waiting at the top of the stairs.

“Okay, let’s head outside,” he told the dog, chuckling as Harley practically sprinted down the stairs.  Opening the patio door, Jared grabbed a tennis ball before flicking on the outside light.

“Go get it!” he said, heaving the ball toward the end of the yard, unable to stop a smile from emerging as Harley sprinted off after it, his tongue flapping out the side of his mouth.  After a few moments, the dog returned, his nose pushing against Jared’s leg.

“Okay, okay … give me the ball,” he said, reaching to tug the ball out of the large dog’s mouth, but it wouldn’t budge.  “You have to let go of it before I can throw it again,” Jared informed him, bending down to look the dog in the eye. 

After an intense stare off, Harley finally relinquished the ball with a sneeze, but his tail quickly began to thump as Jared pulled his arm back once more.  Releasing the ball, he watched as the dog chased it with abandon, practically falling over once he’d grabbed the object.

“Come here, Harley!” Jared called out, kneeling down as the dog perked up at the sound of his voice, barreling over to the tall man quickly.  Harley dropped the ball just before landing on Jared, knocking him onto his backside before licking his face wildly.  Laughing deeply, Jared turned his head away with a grin, only to be attacked once more.

“Alright, stop,” he begged, surprised as the large dog ceased his licking and instead dropped his head onto Jared’s chest with a contented huff.  Lifting his head to look at his dog, Jared grinned.  It hadn’t taken long for him to feel completely at ease with this large animal, who was more like a big teddy bear than a mastiff mix.

Smoothing his fingers over Harley’s head, Jared gazed up at the night sky, his thoughts shifting to Jensen.   He was certain he’d seen the other man just down the street from their house today.

Part of him had wanted to call out to him, yet the other part was wondering why Jensen had left without saying anything in the first place.  Lifting a hand to push some wayward hair off his face, Jared stole a glance at his watch, surprised to see that it was well past midnight.  As much as he wanted to figure out what was going on with Jensen, the fact that Bailey would be awake in around six hours made up his mind for him.

“Ready for bed, big guy?” he asked quietly, earning another huff of breath in response.  Chuckling, Jared sat up, forcing Harley to rise. 

“Yeah, me too.”

Earlier that evening, Jensen found himself facing several challenges … namely figuring out how to carry the six-pack of beer and the extra-large pizza into the house without losing either item.

Shouldering his way in through the front door, he nearly dropped the objects in his grasp at the sound of a woman’s laugh.  Jensen was fairly certain that Chris wouldn’t have brought his date from earlier back to the house.  Struggling to carry everything into the living room, he promptly came to a stop at the sight of not one, but both of his best friends.

“Dani?”

Rising from the couch with a grin, Danneel tossed her auburn hair over one shoulder, reaching out to help him lower the pizza box and beer.

“Well, it’s about time, handsome,” she teased, wrapping her arms around his neck.

“Aren’t you going to say something?” Dani asked, her breath warm against his ear.  Taking a deep breath, Jensen pulled her close.

“It’s good to see you, Dani.”

“Good to see you too, Jen,” she replied, fingers curling into his short hair.

“You two want me to leave you alone?” Chris teased, causing the pair to part and look over at him.

“Shut up, Kane,” they said in unison, dissolving into laughter soon after.  Urging his friend over to the sofa, Jensen grabbed the pizza box, laying it on the coffee table.

“So you never did explain what brought you to Seattle with four suitcases,” Chris said, opening the pizza box. 

“Four suitcases?” Jensen asked, looking at his friend in concern.

“If you must know, I put in for a transfer to the Seattle Aquarium and I also got promoted,” she explained.  Danneel had been a huge lover of aquatic animals in college, eventually getting her degree in marine biology and a full-time job at the Dallas World Aquarium.

“But you loved it in Dallas,” Jensen reminded her, unable to think of Dani begin anywhere else.

“Yeah, but this was a huge promotion,” she told them, “And, it gets me closer to my two favorite guys.”

Jensen looked over at Chris, whose own face wore a genuine smile.

“Well, we can’t argue with that,” he said, grabbing a slice of pizza.  The ringing of a phone shifted the group’s attention as Chris checked the display on his cell.

“That’s Angie,” Chris said with a sheepish grin, excusing himself to answer it.

“So, Chris has a someone … how about you?” she asked, turning her attention to Jensen.

“There isn’t anyone,” he answered quickly, yet his thoughts shifted to Jared in an instant.

“Yeah, I’m gonna call the bull to your shit, who is he?” she asked as her fingers reached out to pluck a piece of pepperoni off his slice.

Shaking his head, Jensen smiled.  Somehow Dani always knew when he was lying and it frustrated him to no end.

“I still don’t know how you do that,” he said.

“It’s a gift,” Dani answered. “Now spill it,” she continued.

“His name is Jared, his daughter is in my class.”

“Single dad?” Dani asked, one manicured brow rising in surprise.

“He’s amazing, funny and … I just really like him,” Jensen admitted softly.

“So why haven’t you asked him out?”

Jensen looked at her in shock, his mouth opening and closing like a fish as he tried to formulate an answer.

“Because, he’s … he’s a parent of a student,” he reasoned, causing Danneel to cuff him upside the head.

“Ow!” Jensen cried, clutching the side of his face.

“That’s a crap answer, Jensen Ross, and you know it.”

Leaning forward, she took ahold of his hands, entwining their fingers together.

“I know you haven’t had the best of luck in dating, but somehow, I can already tell that this one is different,” she said.  “Sometimes you just gotta take a chance, Jen.”

“Speaking of chance,” came a third voice, causing the pair to turn to find Chris in the doorway.  “I don’t suppose there’s any chance you’re staying at a hotel, is there?” he asked, receiving a throw pillow to his head in reply.

“Oh!” Danneel said suddenly, jumping up from the couch.  Jensen looked over at Chris, who merely shrugged.  Suddenly she was back, a large wrapped square frame in her hands.

“This is for you, I nearly forgot,” she said, urging the package into Jensen’s hands.  Looking at her skeptically, he began to unwrap the gift, surprise etched on his features as he got his first look at it.

“Dani, how did you?” Jensen was at a loss for words as his gaze fell on an original JT painting.  The label in the corner said “Mischief” and he smiled.  The painting appeared to be of a kitchen, but in the center of it all were a pair of eyes peeking out from behind an island counter.  A swipe of flour splattered the child’s forehead, but it was the sparkling hazel eyes that gripped him.

“You shouldn’t have done this, Dani,” he began.  “JT’s paintings are … you must have paid a fortune.”

“Consider it your belated birthday gift,” she shrugged.

“It’s almost October, my birthday was in March,” Jensen pointed out, earning a huff from his friend.

“Fine, consider it a ‘Happy Promotion, I’m moving close to you’ gift,” she explained.  Unable to stop a smile from emerging on his face, Jensen pulled his friend in for a big hug.

“Thanks, Dani,” he told her, kissing the side of her head softly.

“You’re welcome, Jen,” she replied.  Gazing at the painting once more, Jensen was in awe.  While it wasn’t a recent painting by the mysterious JT, it was within the last four years and he knew it had to have cost Dani a pretty penny.

“You gonna gawk at that all day, or are we gonna help the lady with her bags?” Chris asked teasingly, breaking him from his thoughts.

“I was gonna gawk, but yeah, let’s get you settled.”

________________________________________

“Fetch, Harley!”

Jared looked up and smiled, watching Bailey and Harley run around an open area of the park with abandon.  Insisting they play outside today, Bailey had carefully overseen the making of their picnic lunch, complete with peanut butter and fluff sandwiches, before they headed out for the day.

“Watch, Daddy!” came Bailey’s voice, pulling Jared from his thoughts as his daughter let go of the Frisbee in her and once more.  Harley wasted little time in chasing it down, causing Bailey to giggle as he traipsed back over to her for more.

“That’s great, baby!” Jared called out in response.  Looking over at his bag, his gaze fell to the sketch pad sticking out.  While he might not be producing much by way of painting, he never forgot to bring the sketch pad, just in case.

Hesitant fingers grasped the pad, pulling it out slowly.  Taking out one of his pencils, Jared began to sketch his daughter as she played.  So wrapped up in what he was doing, he never noticed as another dog joined in their play.

“Sadie!” Bailey cried happily, forcing Jared’s head to look up quickly.  Frantic eyes searched out his daughter, finding her kneeling between Harley and Jensen’s dog, Sadie.  Setting his sketchbook aside, Jared stood, colliding with another person as he took his first step.

“Crap!” Jared exclaimed, falling in a heap of limbs with the other person.  “I’m so sorry,” he began, his eyes finally lifting to the stranger next to him.

“Jensen?” he asked, smiling at the sight of his daughter’s teacher.

“Jared, hey,” the other man replied with a grin.

“So, fancy colliding with you here,” Jared joked, causing both of them to chuckle.  “I guess your dog also has a Bailey tracking device,” he added.  Jensen looked at him in confusion before following Jared’s gaze, landing on Bailey as she played with the two large dogs. 

“I thought you guys didn’t have a dog?” Jensen asked him.

“We didn’t, but … thanks to you we do,” he answered.

“Thanks to me?”

“Bailey fell in love with Sadie,” Jared replied.  “To the point where I felt that if we didn’t get one of our own, she’d come and dognap yours,” he finished, smiling at the bark of laughter Jensen let out.

“Well, considering that I’m pretty attached to her, I thank you for making it so she stays mine,” Jensen said.

“Not a problem.”

“So that’s a big dog you picked up there,” the other man remarked.

“Yeah, he’s a mastiff mix, but a total teddy bear, perfect for both of us,” Jared explained, noticing a look pass over Jensen’s features.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing,” Jensen replied.

“You sure? Kinda seemed like you wanted to ask me something,” Jared prompted.

“I was wondering about your wife,” the other man said suddenly, causing Jared to look at him in confusion.

“My what?” he asked.

“Bailey’s mom? I’m sorry, I assumed you and she were …” Jensen trailed off after a moment and Jared realized it was likely because of him.  It was rare for him to not get sad when thinking of Sandy, especially with Bailey close by.

“Sandy and I weren’t married.  We were best friends,” he explained.  It didn’t take long for Jared to see the implications of his words set in for Jensen.

“I’m sorry, Jared,” the other man said softly.

“Thanks,” Jared replied.  “She, uh, she died having Bailey.  Luckily she got to see Bailey before she … you know.”

“Well, I’m glad that she did,” Jensen agreed.  The mood grew silent after a few moments before the sound of giggles quickly reached them.

“Wanna meet our dog? Maybe get yours back?” Jared teased, watching the other man nod.

“Hey, Baileygirl!”

Hearing her father’s voice, Bailey’s head shot up, a smile further brightening her features upon seeing Jensen.

“Mr. Jensen!” she called out, scurrying to her feet as she raced over, trailed by two excited pups.

“Hi there, Miss Bailey,” Jensen answered, surprised as the five year old practically landed on top of him, hugging him tight. 

“Did you come to the park for a picnic too?” she asked, pulling away from him slightly, her hazel eyes looking at him questioningly.

“Well, actually I came for a run with Sadie, but she decided she wanted to play with you guys,” he explained with a smile.

“Me and Harley!” Bailey said excitedly.  “This is our new puppy, Harley,” she introduced.

“It’s very nice to meet you, Harley,” Jensen said, reaching out to pat the big dog.  Jared watched as Harley practically melted into the other man’s touch, his tongue lazily hanging out of his mouth in contentment.

“Is it time for lunch yet, Daddy?” Bailey asked, wandering from Jensen’s lap over to the picnic basket.

“We can eat if you’re hungry, baby,” he replied.  Nodding, Bailey unlocked the basket, peering inside.  After a moment, her little head turned, a smile gracing her features.

“You’ll have lunch with us too, Mr. Jensen?” she asked, holding out a sandwich to him.  Jared’s gaze moved to look at the man across from him, who seemed to be asking permission with his eyes.

“Bailey’s an expert peanut butter and fluff maker, you’d be crazy to say no,” he told Jensen, smiling brightly.

“Well, then I’d be honored,” Jensen said, taking the pro-offered sandwich.  As Bailey got out more sandwiches and other treats, Jared looked at his daughter’s teacher and smiled once again.  Jensen’s eyes were practically shining as Bailey sat down next to him, his emerald green eyes focused intently on what she was saying.

Jared couldn’t deny that Jensen was gorgeous, but it was moments like these … watching the other man interact with his daughter that really captured his attention.

It took a moment for him to realize that Bailey’s gaze was upon him, a questioning look upon her features.

“Sorry, baby, what did you say?” he asked.

“I asked if you wanted another sandwich,” she said, causing him to frown.  Looking down into his lap, he realized that the sandwich he’d held in his hands was gone.

“But I just had …” he trailed off seeing Jensen struggle not to laugh as he looked to Jared’s left.  Following the other man’s gaze, Jared watched as Harley licked sloppily at his own face, traces of fluff and peanut butter still clinging to his nose.

Bailey was the first to let her giggle erupt, quickly followed by Jensen.  Watching Harley struggle to remove the evidence, Jared finally cracked up in laughter as well.

“Here, Daddy,” his daughter said once her giggles were under control.  Turning to her, Jared took the sandwich she offered and smiled.

“Thanks, baby,” he replied, looking over at both of the dogs.  “This one is mine.”

________________________________________

“Hey Loser, what’s up?”

Rolling his eyes, Jared leaned back in his chair and sighed.

“So nice to hear from you as well, Chad.  To what do I owe the pleasure?” he asked, his gaze trailing up to check the clock.  He had over an hour before Bailey was done school for the day.

“We wanted to know what you guys were doing this weekend,” his friend answered.

“Really?” Jared replied.

“Yeah really, we haven’t seen you or the munchkin in like six months, thought it would be good to come up to Seattle and see y’all,” Chad told him.

“Well, we’d love to have you.  You know that Bailey would love to see her godparents,” he said, his eyes darting over to the painting he’d finally finished depicting his daughter’s first day at school.

“Soph also has a couple of things to talk to you about, but it can wait till we’re there,” Chad added.

“What kind of things?”

“Nothing major, she just sold a couple, including your last one,” Chad answered.

“She sold ‘Mischief’, really?” he asked.  That had been his last painting before the proverbial well had gone dry.  Bailey had just turned two and he couldn’t resist capturing the scene after he’d caught her trying to reach the cookies, but instead, she’d shattered the flour jar.

“I know she’d like a couple more to deal around,” his friend hinted.  Jared rolled his eyes, leaning back in his desk chair with a sigh.

“Yeah, I know, stop fishing for it,” he answered.  “I’ll show her some stuff when you guys get here.”

“Hey, don’t shoot the messenger,” Chad told him.  “Sorry, Jare, gotta jet but we’ll see you Friday.”

Pulling the phone away from his ear, Jared frowned at the dial tone.  Sometimes his best friend really was a douche.  Glancing at the clock, he decided to head out early to get Bailey, navigating his way down the hall into the living room. 

“Wanna stay here or go with me to get Bailey?” he asked Harley, whose long frame was stretched out on the sofa.  The dog’s head shot up at the mention of the little girl.

“Come on then,” Jared added, chuckling as Harley scrambled to the floor.  Securing him in the back of the SUV moments later, he made his way toward Bailey’s school.

The entire class was already outside upon his arrival and he watched from his spot in the driver’s seat as Bailey played on the jungle gym, laughing and smiling as Jensen stood alongside her.  Content to watch them for a moment, Jared reluctantly made his way out of the car, grabbing Harley’s leash as he secured their dog. 

Making his way over to the fence, Jared grinned as Jensen approached him.

“Hey,” he said, earning a smile from his daughter’s teacher.

“Hey, Jared.  You’re early,” the other man replied.

“Figured I could come grab her a bit early,” Jared answered, surprised as Harley suddenly jumped up next to him, his large paws resting on top of the fence.

“Well, she’s ready to go.  I decided to give them a bit of free time to end the day.  Bailey had a great day, did very well on her math work,” Jensen told him.  Smiling with pride, Jared looked over at his daughter, who had finally caught sight of him.

“Daddy!”  Turning as she ran through the gate, Jared braced himself as Bailey practically vaulted into his embrace.

“Did you have a good day, baby?” he asked, smooching her cheek as she giggled and nodded.

“Guess what, Daddy?”

“What, Baileygirl?”

“We’re gonna go see sharks!” she screeched, causing Jared to wince at the volume of her voice before looking over at Jensen.

“Trip to the aquarium on Wednesday,” the other man confirmed.

“Well that sounds like fun,” Jared replied, giving Bailey a squeeze.

“Down, Daddy, gotta hug Harley,” his daughter said, squirming in his arms till he set her down.  Both men laughed as she barreled into the dog, nearly knocking them both over.

“So I was wondering,” Jensen said suddenly, trailing off just as Jared stood to his full height.

“Wondering, what?” he asked.

“Well, I was kind of hoping that you’d consider being a chaperone for the trip,” the other man said.

“Absolutely, I’d be happy to,” Jared agreed.

“Really?”

“Yeah, really,” he reiterated, giving Jensen another grin.

“That’s great,” Jensen replied.  Jared couldn’t help but notice the other man’s continued gaze on him, or the fact that a light blush still clung to his cheeks.

“I’m ready, Daddy,” Bailey said, pulling Jared’s gaze from her teacher.

“Okay, Bails.  Let’s head home,” he told her, taking her hand as she began to walk to the SUV.

“All the papers and info for the trip are in her folder, let me know if you have any questions,” Jensen called out.  Turning his head, Jared nodded and smiled.

“I will, goodnight, Jensen,” he said.

“Goodnight to you guys, too,” the other man replied.

“See you tomorrow, Mr. Jensen!” Chuckling once again, Jared settled his daughter into her car seat and secured Harley in the back.  As he slid into the passenger’s seat, his gaze once again met Jensen’s, who had gone back into the play area.  Giving the other man a dimpled smile, he waved before pulling out and heading toward home.

________________________________________

“He’s coming!”

Both Chris and Danneel looked up at him as Jensen made his way into the living room.  Taking a seat on the sofa, he grinned looking at both of them before leaning back into the cushions.

“Okay, a little elaboration on that statement would be good,” Chris said, chucking the tv remote aside.

“Jared, he’s going to chaperone the field trip,” Jensen explained, unable to stop a big grin from shining through.  His joy was short-lived as Danneel suddenly smacked him upside the head from her spot beside him.

“Ow! What the hell?” he asked, rubbing the spot as he turned toward the redhead.

“Chaperone? That’s not a date, Jen,” she told him.  Glancing over to Chris for help, Jensen scowled seeing the other man holding a magazine up in front of his face.

“Thanks a lot.”

“Listen, you like this guy,” Dani began.  “At some point, you’re gonna need to make a move.  Unless you want someone else to,” she pointed out gently.  Casting his gaze to his lap, Jensen frowned, suddenly feeling a hand on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, babe, I know that this is a big thing for you,” Dani said.  “But I just don’t want you to miss out on something great by sitting back and waiting.”

“She’s right, son.  Sometimes you gotta take a chance,” Chris said, causing Jensen to look over at his other friend.

“You guys are right,” he murmured, surprised at the bark of laughter that erupted from both of them.

“Hang on, let me go get my recorder so we can preserve that for future use,” Chris explained, grinning wildly.

“Asshole,” Jensen snarked, unable to stay mad as a big smile emerged.  Dani leaned over, her fingers ruffling his hair as she rested her head on his shoulder.

“We love you too, Jen.”

________________________________________

 

CHAPTER FOUR

Wednesday morning came faster than Jensen could have thought.  As he gathered the permission slips he’d need, he realized that he was extremely excited.  The fact that Jared would be coming only heightened the moment.

Though he’d seen the man every day since he’d asked, Jensen was looking forward to a day with him.  Stopping for a moment, he realized that Dani was right.  It was time to make a move, before someone else did.  He vowed that by the end of the day, he’d talk to Jared.

So caught up in his thoughts, Jensen didn’t even realize that Jared and Bailey were the first ones to enter the classroom.

“Good morning,” came Jared’s silky voice, startling him enough that he dropped the permission slips.  Looking over, he met the other man’s amused look and smiled sheepishly.

“Oops,” Jensen said.

“I’ll help, Mr. Jensen,” Bailey offered, quickly making her way over to pick up the slips.

“Thank you, Miss Bailey,” he said, his eyes locking on Jared once again.  ‘God he looks good,’ he thought, taking in the snug and soft looking faded denim, which encased his mile long legs.  A grey Henley covered his upper body, while sensible black and white Chuck Taylor’s adorned his feet.

“Jensen?” Realizing he’d been caught staring, Jensen blushed, turning his head away quickly.

“Yeah, sorry, lost in thought,” he apologized.

“No worries,” Jared replied, setting his backpack down on an empty desk.

“Are we gonna see the sharks soon?” Bailey asked, causing her father to chuckle.

“Sorry, it’s shark week on TV, so she’s a bit enthralled,” the tall man explained.

“Hey, it just adds to the excitement, no need to be sorry,” Jensen told him.  “We’re going to leave as soon as all your classmates are here,” he promised the little girl.

Seemingly content with his answer, Bailey made her way over to the play carpet, pulling a book out of her bag.

“So do you need any help getting things together?” Jared asked, suddenly much closer to Jensen than he had been a moment ago.

“Uh, I should be good, but thank you,” he replied softly, earning a smile from the other man.

“You’re welcome.”

Within the next few minutes, the students had all arrived and by 9:45, the group of ten kids, along with Jared and Jensen had boarded the bus to the aquarium.  The two men kept the kids entertained with songs and games until they finally pulled up to their destination, which had many of the youngsters slack-jawed and wide-eyed.

Carefully exiting, Jensen led the way into the main hall, smiling at the sight of Danneel waiting for them.

“Hi guys, welcome to the Seattle Aquarium!” she said brightly.  “My name is Dani and I’m going to be your guide today.”

“Can everyone say hi to Dani?” Jensen asked the group, smiling as a unison chorus of ‘Hi, Dani’ rang out.

“We are going to have a ton of fun today, right?” she asked, earning hearty cheers from the kids.  “Alright! So to get started, what I need for you all to do is join hands and follow me.” 

Once that was complete, the group began to move, heading down a long hallway which opened up to a massive room with wall-to-wall glass.  It was behind the glass which had the group in awe as hundreds of different colored fish, stingrays and sharks swam freely.

“This is our open area where you can see thousands of fish,” Dani told them.  “Feel free to go up to the glass, but stay in front of this wall so nobody gets lost,” she explained, indicating the closest wall.

Jensen watched his kids look around nervously, unsure of whether or not to step forward.  Just when he thought he would have to say something, Bailey stepped forward, her feet taking her right to the edge of the wall as her little hand rested on the glass.  One by one, the other kids made their way over.

“Sharks, Daddy!” Jensen looked over at Jared, who was all smiles as he gazed at his daughter.

“I see them, Baileygirl,” Jared assured her.  Feeling a slight jab in his side, Jensen grimaced and turned toward his best friend with a glare.

“What is it with you and causing me pain?” he asked.

“It’s my entertainment,” she shrugged.  “So that’s him?”

“Yeah,” Jensen answered softly, focusing his gaze on the fish.

“He’s hot, Jense,” Dani remarked.

“Well aware.”

“I’m really going to have to hurt you now if you don’t make a move soon,” she pointed out.  Jensen turned to say something, but his friend had moved away with a smirk.

“Okay, guys, how would you all like to touch star fish?” she asked, causing the group to cheer.  As Dani led the group into the interactive area, Jensen fell into step beside Jared.

“Having fun so far?” he asked the taller man.

“I should have brought Bailey here sooner, she’s in love already,” Jared answered. 

“I’m glad, Dani’s really good with kids,” he told him.

“You know Dani personally?” the other man asked, a hint of curiosity in his voice. 

“Oh not like that, she’s my best friend.  We grew up together in Richardson, Texas,” he told him.

“You’re from Texas?” Jared asked, surprise etched on his features.

“Yeah, why?” he replied worriedly.

“It’s nothing bad, Jensen,” Jared promised.  “I’m from Texas as well, San Antonio.”

“Wow, small world,” Jensen answered.

“Daddy, come quick!” came a screech, forcing their gazes apart.  Jared looked over at his daughter, nervous for a moment until he saw that she was okay.

“Baileygirl, we don’t yell like that inside,” the tall man scolded softly.

“Sorry, Daddy,” she replied, reaching out to grab his hand.

Jensen watched the pair walk ahead, entering the interactive room.  The tenderness in which Jared spoke to Bailey as they moved forward made him smile.  So lost in his thoughts, he didn’t notice as Dani began to show the kids how to pick up the star fish out of the tank.  A squeal of excitement pulled him back to reality as he quickly reached for the digital camera he’d brought.

Capturing picture after picture of his students as they played with the star fish and touched the urchins, Jensen turned his head, his heart practically melting at the sight of Jared kneeling next to Bailey.  Matching dimpled smiles adorned their faces as they looked at the star fish Bailey held in her hand.  Lifting the camera, he quickly snapped a picture before either noticed.

“Stalker,” Dani murmured, appearing next to him.

“Can it,” he replied.

“You should go talk to him, the kids are having fun, they’re all still here … talk to him,” she urged.  Seeing the Bailey had indeed moved on to play with Sarah, one of her mates, Jensen took a deep breath and moved toward Jared.

“Did you get a good photo of us?” the taller man asked, surprising Jensen.

“I … yeah,” he replied, his nerves easing slightly at the sight of the other man’s smile.

“It’s okay, I actually forgot my camera, so thank you,” Jared added.  Lifting the camera, he scrolled through to get the picture he wanted and held it out for the other man.

“Here it is,” Jensen said, surprised as Jared didn’t simply take the camera, but instead slid his hand over Jensen’s as he looked into the view screen.

“That’s a great picture,” the other man murmured, turning his head to smile at Jensen.  It was in that moment that he realized just how close their faces were. 

“Yeah, really great,” Jensen replied softly.

“Mr. Jensen, look!” came a shout from one of the boys.  Cursing his luck, Jensen turned away from the object of his crush and found Matthew James as he held up a star fish for all to see.

“That’s pretty cool, Matty,” he told the boy, who excitedly turned to a classmate to show them.  Looking back to Jared, it took everything he had not to frown as the other man had moved away a few steps.  He barely noticed as Dani made her way over to them, sidling up to Jared with a grin.

“Hi, I’m Danneel,” she introduced, holding out her hand to the taller man.  Jensen looked over at his best friend, his eyes narrowing.

“Jared Padalecki,” the other man replied.  “So Jensen tells me you guys grew up together in Texas,” Jared added.

“We did,” she agreed.

“Jared’s from San Antonio,” he chimed in, watching a smile emerge on his best friend’s features.

“Really? Well how ‘bout that,” Dani said, her gaze shifting toward the kids before looking back at Jared.  Taking the same action, Jensen looked over at his students, making sure they were okay.  It was Dani’s next statement that made him cringe.

“So, Jared, are you single?” she asked.

“Dani!” Jensen hissed, his gaze snapping to Jared, who merely smiled in amusement.

“What!? I can't ask?” she replied.  Jared chuckled after a moment, causing both Jensen and Dani to look at him.

“I’m single,” he told them, his eyes locking on Jensen.

“Are you now?” Dani asked, her amused gaze shifting to him in an instant.  Stopping himself from rolling his eyes, Jensen watched as his friend moved to continue her interaction with the kids, leaving the two of them alone.

“I’m sorry about that … she’s kind of brash sometimes,” he apologized to Jared, who grinned.

“I got that, yeah,” the other man replied.  A moment of silence passed between the two before Jensen realized that Jared had taken a step toward him.  Tipping his head up to look at the taller man, he cursed his luck once again as Bailey’s voice rang out.

“Daddy, come look!”

“Excuse me,” Jared said softly, sliding past him as he headed over to Bailey.

“Idiot,” he murmured. 

They spent the remainder of the day touring the rest of the aquarium and by 2pm, Jensen noticed that his students were completely wiped out.  The bus ride back to school was very subdued, but as they pulled up and the kids saw their parents, the excitement returned in full force.  Stories of sharks and star fish were relayed to the parents as everyone said goodbye for the day. 

“I’ll walk you guys to your car,” Jensen said when just Jared and Bailey remained.  The taller man nodded, taking his daughter’s hand as they all headed toward the parking lot.  Bailey kept herself occupied, singing something quietly as her other hand clutched a large stuffed shark that Jared had bought her from the gift shop.

When they reached the SUV, Jared helped his daughter in and shut the door before turning to Jensen.

“I had a great time today,” Jared said, causing Jensen to smile.

“Thanks for coming with us,” he told the brunet.  Realizing that this was the moment, he took a step closer, his tongue slipping out nervously to wet his dry lips.

“So, I know it’s only Wednesday, but I was wondering what you guys are doing this weekend?”  he asked.  Jared looked behind him, making sure Bailey was occupied before turning back.

“Actually, Bailey’s godparents are coming for the weekend.  She hasn’t seen them in like six months,” Jared told him with a big smile.

“That’s great,” Jensen answered, his gaze shifting to the ground.

“Is there something you want to ask me, Jensen?” the other man asked.  Looking up at Jared, he couldn’t help but nod.

“I um, was wondering if you’d like to have dinner with me,” he replied, surprised that he’d gotten it out.  Jared’s response was a beaming smile that threw Jensen for a loop.

“I’d love to, Jensen,” the taller man replied, easing Jensen’s nerves in an instant.

“Awesome,” he answered.  “Um, when would be good for you?”

“How about Saturday? Chad and Sophia can take care of Bailey.  Say around seven?”

“That sounds great,” Jensen replied.  “I’ll pick you up,” he added.

“Great,” the other man said.  “Well, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

Jensen nodded, “I’ll see you then.”

“Night, Jensen,” Jared told him, a large hand reaching out to caress Jensen’s shoulder, trailing down to his elbow before letting go.  Grinning, the brunet moved away and around the car to the driver’s side.  Jensen smiled as Bailey grinned from inside the car and waved happily.  Waving in return, his gaze locked on Jared, smiling as the other man pulled away and out into traffic.

________________________________________

Staring at the far wall of his bedroom, Jensen cocked his head to the side.  He’d been trying for the last twenty minutes to figure out the best spot for his new JT painting.

“You’ve got seven JT paintings, why don’t you just put it up?” Chris asked from the doorway.  Turning his head, Jensen gave his friend an annoyed look.

“It can’t just be put anywhere,” he replied evenly.

“What’s with you tonight? The field trip with your crush not go well?” the other man asked.

“It went fine,” Jensen replied shortly.  Suddenly Chris was in front of him, a sly grin on his features.

“Damn, son! You asked him out didn’t you?” his friend asked, unwilling to budge as Jensen trying to move around him.

“You did!”

“What the hell is all the yelling about?” Dani asked, making her way into Jensen’s room.

“Our boy has a date,” Chris boasted, one arm draping over Jensen’s shoulders.  Unable to stop a blush from creeping up his cheeks, Jensen smiled.

“You asked him!” Dani shrieked, jumping forward excitedly as she pulled both men into a hug.

“Damn, woman, you didn’t need to include me,” Chris wined, prying himself from the group hug.

“Don’t be such an ass,” she replied.  “Seriously Jen, this is great!”

“Yeah,” he answered sheepishly.

“So? When’s the big date?”

“Saturday night.  We’re going to dinner.”

“Where you takin him?” Chris asked.  Jensen opened his mouth to speak, but came up short.

“I … I don’t know,” he replied, beginning to panic.

“You’ll figure it out Jen, don’t worry,” Dani assured him with a pat to his shoulder.  “And you should put it next to Dreamland,” she added, inclining her head to his new painting.  Casting a glance over to the landscape painting with hues and images that reminded him of Texas, Jensen nodded.

“Sounds good.”

________________________________________

New part

Friday morning found Jared wandering downtown Seattle in search of a new outfit for his date with Jensen.  It wasn’t like he didn’t have plenty of clothes, but it was rare that he’d actually spend his time shopping.

Making his way into the Ralph Lauren store, he didn’t notice as a passerby stopped short outside, his gaze focused solely on Jared.

Perusing the racks of dress pants, Jared found a couple of pairs he liked and grabbed them.  He’d just reached the fitting room when a voice stopped him.

“Jared?”

Turning slowly, Jared’s eyes widened at the sight of a man from his past.

“Mat?” he asked, watching the other man smile.  Standing around 6’2 with short cropped black hair and sky blue eyes, Mat was the same as he’d remembered.  Ten years ago, Jared, Chad and Sandy had officially set foot on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin as freshmen.  Within six months, Jared had met Mat.

They had been each other’s first in more ways than one and had even talked about moving in together after a year and a half of dating until Mat had transferred.  His father had gotten sick and being the oldest, Mat had gone home to help his family.

Despite staying in touch, the distance had finally done them in.  Seeing his first love in front of him after nearly eight years, Jared was floored.

“Mat, wow,” he said, unable to come up with something more eloquent to say.  The other man simply smiled, moving forward to embrace him.  Returning the hug, Jared pulled back after a moment, still a little surprised as he gazed upon his former flame.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“I was walking past and realized it was you,” the other man explained.

“Actually, I mean what are you doing in Seattle?” Jared replied with a grin.

“Oh, well I moved here about a month ago,” Mat admitted.

“Really?”

“Yeah, I’m an orthopedic surgeon over at the UW Medical Center,” Mat told him.

“Wow, you achieved the dream,” he said fondly, causing Mat to smile.  While he’d been all about his art since … well ever, Mat had always wanted to be a surgeon.  Having to move closer to home hadn’t diminished his dream.

“Yeah, I got one part of the dream,” the other man replied softly, his eyes moving over Jared in a way that was all too familiar, even after so many years.

“So what about you? What brings you to the wiles of Seattle?” Mat asked, tucking his hands into the front pockets of his jeans.

“Um, I’ve actually been here for the last five years,” he admitted.

“Wow, small world,” Mat replied.  Smiling, Jared looked down, surprised as he realized the pants were still in his hands.

“Look, I know you’re shopping but, would you want to grab a coffee?” Mat asked.  Flicking his gaze up from the clothing, Jared smiled.

“Yeah, I’d like that,” he replied.  “Let me just, uh, put these back.”

“Are you sure? You looked pretty determined to buy them,” Mat pointed out.

“It’s okay,” Jared assured him, putting them back on the rack.  “I’ve got plenty of clothes at home.”

Mat merely nodded, moving toward the door with Jared close behind.  It took only a few minutes before the pair were seated in a secluded corner of a nearby café.

“You look amazing, Jare,” Mat said as they sipped their coffee.

“Thanks, you look great too,” he replied.

“So tell me, what are you up to these days?”

“Well, I’m still painting,” he answered, causing the other man to grin.

“You were incredible back then, I can only imagine how good you are now,” Mat said.

“Thank you,” Jared replied, a blush creeping up his cheeks.

“What else? How’s Sandy?”

Jared paused mid-sip, his heart clenching at the mention of his best friend.  Setting the cup down, Jared fiddled with the handle before answering.

“Sandy, she uh … she died … five years ago,” he told him.  Meeting Mat’s gaze Jared found shock and sympathy in his eyes.  The other man reached out, his fingers tenderly resting atop one of Jared’s hands.

“Jesus Jared, I’m so sorry.  I know how close you two were,” Mat said.

“Thanks, yeah, she was the best,” he answered.

“What happened?” Mat asked, quickly frowning at his own question, “I’m sorry, that was rude.”

“No it’s okay, you knew her too,” Jared assured him.  “She died in childbirth.”

Telling Mat about Bailey was on the tip of his tongue, but for some reason, Jared held back.

“Wow, I’m really sorry again, Jare,” Mat replied, shaking him from his thoughts.  Suddenly a ringing sounded out, causing both men to check their cell phones.

“It’s me,” Jared said, seeing Chad’s name on the display.  “Excuse me,” he apologized.

“Hey man.”

“Hey loser, we’re here and ready to eat all your food,” Chad teased.

“I’d expect nothing less.  Um, park in the left side of the garage and I’ve got the second floor bedroom in the back ready for you guys,” Jared explained.

“Where are you?”

“Downtown, I’ll be home in a while, just be prepared for Harley, he’s in the living room,” he warned.

“Ah the pony-sized dog, no problem.  We’ll see you in a bit,” his friend replied.

“See you in a bit,” Jared answered, hanging up after a moment.

“You have to go?” Mat asked.

“Yeah, a couple of friends just rolled into town.”

“Could I interest you in dinner tomorrow, catch up on old times?” the other man asked.

“I um, I’d like that,” Jared hesitated, his mind flickering to Jensen in an instant.

“I’m sensing a ‘but’ here … is it the friends from out of town?”

“No, actually I have a date,” he admitted, watching the other man’s eyes widen slightly.

“Really? Boyfriend?”

“First date,” Jared answered, causing Mat to smile.

“Then I still have a shot,” the other man said, surprising Jared.

“Monday then? Say 8pm at Tango on Pike Street?”

Jared knew of Tango Restaurant, high class and elegant.  Not really his style, but it was a decent place.

“Okay,” he agreed after a moment.  Mat smiled, quickly rising as Jared did the same.

“I’ll see you Monday,” the other man said, leaning forward to kiss Jared’s cheek softly.

“Monday,” he answered, watching Mat make his way out of the café.  Looking down at the table, he noticed Mat had left his business card for him.  His thoughts once again shifted to Jensen and he frowned.

“I’m so screwed.”

________________________________________

The ride from downtown was smooth, but Jared’s thoughts had been all over the place.  Seeing Mat again had really thrown him for a loop.  Part of him had always wondered what would have happened had Mat not moved away.  But then he wouldn’t have had Bailey with Sandy and he wouldn’t have met Jensen.

And there was the kicker of it all, just as he had finally gotten something started outside of school, Mat shows up to shake up his world.

Pulling into the drive, Jared smiled upon seeing his best friend’s rental.  Reaching the top of the stairs, his gaze landed on Sophia as she perused the art on his walls.

“See anything you like?” he asked.  Turning to face him, Sophia Bush grinned.

“Well, it’s not quite yours, but it’s not bad,” she told him, coming forward for a hug.  Chuckling, he pulled her close.

“Where’s that loser husband of yours?” Jared asked loudly.

“Screw you, asshat!”  The reply from the living room caused both of them to laugh.  Pulling Sophia with him, Jared followed the sound of his best friend’s voice.  Chad sat near the fireplace, Harley across his lap like a happy and content dead weight.

“I see you’ve got a new best friend,” he said, sitting down on the opposite couch.

“Well, he’s not high maintenance and he doesn’t talk back … not too shabby,” Chad answered with a smile.

“It’s good to see you guys,” Jared told them, draping an arm over Sophia’s shoulders.

“Well, we’ve gone too long not seeing you and the munchkin.  Plus, I think Soph was going to have a heart attack if she didn’t see any recent work,” the other man explained.

“Good thing I locked my studio then,” Jared answered.

“Please honey, you think I don’t know how to pick a lock?” Sophia scoffed.

“My wife, ladies and gentleman, the art agent and petty crime thief,” Chad chimed in.  Grinning, Jared’s gaze caught the clock, causing him to rise.

“Gotta go get Baileygirl,” he told them.

“Can I come?” Chad asked.

“Of course, man.”

“Well could you boys stop and grab fresh garlic bread on your way back? I’m going to make cheese ravioli for dinner tonight,” Sophia explained.

“You spoil my daughter,” Jared pointed out.

“She’s my goddaughter, it’s my right,” she replied, patting his chest.  Smooching her temple, Jared smiled.

“Very true.”

“Alright, let’s go then,” Chad said.  Giving his wife a kiss, the other man followed Jared down to the SUV, jumping in on the passenger’s side.  Pulling out, Jared realized there was no better time to talk about all this recent craziness than right now.

“So I was wondering if you guys wouldn’t mind babysitting tomorrow night?” he asked.

“Of course not, but why do you … Holy shit! You asked him out, didn’t you?”

“Actually, he asked me … but yeah, I’m going out with Jensen,” he answered.

“That’s fantastic man,” Chad replied.  Jared smiled, but couldn’t help but frown.

“What’s the long face for?”

“When you called earlier, I was having coffee with an old friend,” he began.

“Okay … any other details you’d like to share?”

“It was Mat,” Jared replied, casting a glance over to find Chad dumbfounded.

“Are you kidding me? Mat? As in Mat Turner? Your first everything Mat?” Chad asked.

“Yeah, that Mat.”

“Holy shit! How … I mean, is he visiting Seattle?”

“He just moved here,” Jared responded quietly, wincing as Chad thumped his arm.

“Ow, man … what the hell?”

“Mat Turner is living in your city and you’re all calm and shit?”

“That’s just it man, I’m not.  I’m freaking out.  I mean I’m going on a first date with a guy I really like, but then I’m having dinner with my first love on Monday.  I don’t …”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa there big guy.  You’re going on a date with Mat?”

“It’s just dinner,” Jared replied.

“Yeah right.  Ask me how many times I crashed elsewhere in college after one of your ‘dinners’ with Mat,” Chad pointed out.

“It’s not like that, Chad.  I’m not the same person, neither is he.”

“True, but what about Jensen?”

“Chad, I’m going on a date with Jensen.  I’m just having dinner with an old friend with Mat,” he rationalized.

“You gonna tell Jensen that?” 

Jared’s lips pursed at his friend’s question, but before he could answer, Bailey’s school came into view.  Pulling over to the curb, he watched as Chad leaned forward, looking out the window.

“That’s him, isn’t it?” his friend asked, causing Jared to follow his line of sight.  What he saw made him smile as he watched Bailey giggle happily as she was chased around the playground by Jensen, who scooped her up at the last second, a huge smile on his face.

“Yeah, that’s Jensen,” Jared replied.

“Not bad … and he’s damn good with the munchkin,” Chad commented, both of them watching as Bailey and a few other kids began to play hopscotch, encouraging their teacher to join.

“She loves him.  Talks to Sandy about him and school nearly every night,” he replied.

“Think we can steal her away?” his friend asked.  Looking over, Jared realized that Chad was more than anxious to see his goddaughter.

“Yeah, let’s go,” he replied.  Getting out of the vehicle, they approached the school yard fence.  Jared’s gaze caught Jensen’s, both men smiling.

“Hey, Baileygirl!” he called out, watching the little girl’s head turn.  As her eyes widened, he knew that she had seen his companion.

“Uncle Chad!!”  Bailey took off at full speed as she came around the fence and practically vaulted into Chad’s arms.

“Hey there, munchkin,” the other man said happily, kissing across her cheeks before pulling back with a grin.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

“I’m here to see you, Princess.  Are you glad to see me?” he asked, causing Bailey to nod.

“Come see my class,” she said, wiggling to get down.  Taking his hand once she’d hit the ground, Bailey pulled him into the playground.

“Mr. Jensen, can I show my Uncle Chad our classroom?” she asked.  Jensen smiled and nodded.

“Sure you can, Miss Bailey,” he replied.  While Bailey tugged Chad into the building, Jared watched as Jensen made his way over, keeping a watchful eye on the students.

“Hey,” the other man said.

“Hi,” Jared answered.

“So that’s Chad, huh?”

“That’s him.”  After a moment of quiet, Jensen finally broke the tension.

“Listen about tomorrow,” he began, causing Jared to tense, his thoughts instantly fearing that Jensen was going to cancel.

“I just wanted to let you know that we’ll be going somewhere casual, so no suits required,” the other man revealed, causing Jared to breathe a sigh of relief.

“God, I thought you were going to cancel on me.”

“Not a chance,” Jensen replied with a grin.

“Good,” Jared answered.  Suddenly Chad and Bailey were at the fence, looking at the pair expectantly.

“Jensen, this is Chad Michael Murray, my best friend … Chad, this is Jensen Ackles,” he introduced.

“Nice to meet you, Chad,” Jensen replied, holding a hand out.

“You too, man.  I’ve heard a lot about you,” Chad told him.

“Where’s Aunt Soph?” Bailey asked suddenly.

“She’s waiting for us at home, baby,” Jared told her, watching her eyes go wide.  Suddenly she pulled on Chad’s hand.

“Come on, we gotta go,” she told them, moving toward the car.

“So I’ll see you tomorrow?” Jensen asked, forcing Jared’s head to turn.  Smiling, he nodded in response.

“Tomorrow,” he replied.  “Night, Jensen.”

“Good night, Mr. Jensen!” Both men chuckled, seeing Bailey already buckled into her seat, her hand waving frantically out the back window.

“Good night, Miss Bailey,” Jensen responded in kind.  Giving the other man one last smile, Jared made his way over to the SUV.

“Home, Daddy!”

________________________________________

Sunlight had faded fast over the horizon and to Jared’s amazement, so had Bailey.  Once they’d arrived home, the little girl had barreled into her godmother’s arms.  The two worked on dinner together as Bailey regaled Sophia with stories of Harley, school and her teacher, Mr. Jensen.

Yet after stories, dinner and chasing Harley around the yard, his five-year old ball of energy was a burnt out flame against Sophia’s side.  Of course, Chad was nearly in the same state, causing Jared to grin.

“I should get her up to bed,” he said quietly, rising from the loveseat as he crossed over to the sofa.

“Yeah, she doesn’t look very comfortable,” Sophia agreed, looking down at the little brunette head tucked against her.

“Neither does he,” Jared teased, causing Sophia to look over at her husband, whose large frame was folded into the chair across from them.

“Oh god, that’s a pretty picture,” she said.  Smiling, Jared leaned down, his large hands sliding under Bailey’s frame to pull her up into his arms.  Snuggling her head into his chest, the little girl stirred for a moment before dropping back into sleep.

“Get her to bed, I’ll wake up Prince Charming here and grab a couple of beers,” Sophia told him.  Nodding, he made his way up the staircase, shouldering his way into Bailey’s bedroom.  Carefully he laid her down, working to get her into her Tigger pajamas before tucking the blankets up around her.

Making sure the nightlight was on; Jared shut the door softly before heading back down to the living room. 

“Out here, Jare!” Turning toward the French doors, his gaze found Sophia and Chad sitting at the table, beers in hand.  Settling into an empty chair, Jared took a long pull from the bottle in front of him, relaxing back into the cushion.

“So if I’m going to be babysitting tomorrow night, I’d like to know a bit more about this date,” Sophia said suddenly.  Looking over at Chad, Jared found his friend staring intently at his bottle, an innocent look on his face.

“Thanks,” he murmured to him, taking another sip of beer.  “It’s Bailey’s teacher,” Jared told her.

“Mr. Jensen? Seriously?”

“Yeah, he asked me out the other day and I really like him,” he said softly, unsure.  Suddenly a hand reached out under the table and grabbed his.

“Hey, listen to me,” Sophia began.  “I’m happy for you, Jared.  I have wanted you to find someone special for a long time and if Jensen is it … then that’s all that matters,” she said.

“He’s pretty amazing,” Jared told her.

“Bailey thinks so too,” she replied with a grin.  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her take to somebody so quick.  I know he’s her teacher, but still.”

Jared couldn’t help but smile at that.  He knew that his daughter and Jensen had a special connection, but to hear someone else re-affirm the fact was very heartwarming.

“So where are you going on this big date?” Chad piped in, causing Jared to shrug.

“All I know is he’s picking me up at seven and he told me to dress casual,” he replied.

“Well if you don’t wear your good jeans, I’ll have to beat you up,” Sophia told him, causing both men to look at her.

“My good jeans?”

“Yeah, the Armani jeans that frame your ass perfectly.  Sweetheart, I may be married, but even I know that you could bounce a nickel off your ass in those jeans,” she explained.  The table was dead silent for a moment before Chad began to laugh.  Jared soon joined in, followed by Sophia and before long the trio had tears in their eyes from all the laughter.

“I’ve missed you guys,” Jared said once the air had calmed.  Chad leaned over, one hand clapping him on the shoulder.

“We’ve missed you too, Jay, we’ve missed you too.”

________________________________________

CHAPTER FIVE

“Damn it, Chris! Where’s my granite colored Henley?”

“Okay first of all, what the fuck is granite? And secondly, why the hell would I wear a granite colored Henley?” Looking up, Jensen found his best friend in the doorway, a bag of chips in one hand, with the other buried inside.

“Granite is like a bluish-grey and I know you’d wear it cause you had it on three nights ago when you went to meet up with Steve, asshat,” he told him pointedly.

“Oh that Henley,” his friend replied, his mouth full of Doritos.  “Check in the dryer, hotstuff.”

Rolling his eyes, Jensen got up from the floor, brushing past Chris on his way to the laundry room.

“So where are you taking him?” the other man asked as Jensen yanked open the dryer door.

“That’s for me to know and for Jared to find out,” he replied, his gaze searching through the various items in the dryer.  Finally he found the object of his search, holding it up for Chris.

“That’s not the color of granite,” Chris said, causing Jensen to roll his eyes.  Pushing past the other man, he made his way back down the hall to his room, shutting the door behind him.  Sadie sat on the bed, her head cocked to the side as she watched him.

“Next time he takes this shirt … bite him,” he murmured to his dog, showing her the shirt before placing a kiss on her head.  Finding the jeans he’d been looking for, Jensen slid them on along with his shirt and glanced at himself in the mirror.

“Not bad,” he murmured.

“Quit staring at yourself in the mirror, homo!”

“Screw you, Kane,” Jensen replied.  Giving his reflection a final glance, he grabbed his wallet and keys and headed out.

“You’re an ass,” he said to Chris as he pulled on his shoes.

“You love me,” the other man replied from his spot on the couch.  Scoffing, Jensen said goodbye to his friend before heading out to his truck.  He might not have the most amazing salary being a teacher, but he did pride himself on having a quality vehicle and his Toyota Tundra was no exception. 

Turning right out of the driveway, Jensen made his way to the Padalecki house, pulling up just down from the front door.  Taking in the sight of the house that he had only dreamed of setting foot in, he found himself at the entrance in a few steps.  Lifting his hand, Jensen wondered if he should knock or ring the bell, but suddenly the decision was made for him as the ornate oak door opened.

“Mr. Jensen!” came Bailey’s shriek, nearly toppling him as she latched on to his legs.  Looking at the little girl, his gaze lifted in surprise upon hearing a chuckle from the door. 

“I told her that you were here and she insisted upon greeting you,” Jared told him with a smile.  Grinning back, Jensen looked down at Bailey and made a decision.  Lifting her into his arms, he smiled, finally seeing the little girl’s face.

“There you are, I thought you’d gotten stuck to my leg,” he told her, causing her to giggle.

“You’re going out on a date with my Daddy?” she asked.  Jensen nodded.

“I am, we’re going to go have dinner,” he told her honestly.

“Will you bring me back dessert?” Bailey replied, causing both men to chuckle.

“I think you’ll be in bed when I bring Daddy home, sweetheart,” Jensen answered.  Bailey looked at him oddly and for a moment he was scared … had he crossed a line by calling her ‘sweetheart’?

“But I can eat the dessert tomorrow,” she said suddenly.  Jensen merely smiled, pulling her close.

“You’re absolutely right,” he agreed, earning a bright smile from her.

“Do you want to come in for a moment?” Jared asked, causing Jensen to look over in surprise.  “I know Sophia would love to meet you,” he said.  Nodding, Jensen carried Bailey over the threshold into the main foyer.  The house was even more beautiful than he had imagined.

“You must be Jensen,” came a melodic voice, causing him to look to his right as a beautiful brunette made her way toward him.

“I am, you must be Sophia,” he said, holding his free hand out to her with a smile.

“That’s me,” she replied as Chad appeared behind her.

“Daddy, can I show Mr. Jensen our house?” Bailey asked, her hazel gaze shifting toward her father.

“Sure, Baileygirl,” Jared answered, giving Jensen a smile.  “If that works for you,” he said.  Jensen looked at the little girl in his arms and the hopeful look on her face.

“That would be perfect,” he answered, watching a bright smile emerge.  Bailey wiggled slightly in his arms, forcing him to put her down as she grasped his hand instead.  Pulling him forward, Jensen nearly lost his balance as his gaze landed on the view of Mount Rainier out the window.

“This is our fancy living room, I don’t like it as much as the other one though,” Bailey told him.  Jensen took it all in, the little touches of sophistication mixed in with that of the family.  Jared, Chad and Sophia merely stood back and watched as she once again tugged him away and into the kitchen.

Once again, Jensen was floored.  The kitchen was massive and quite possibly a chef’s dream.  An island counter sat in the middle, while a living room area occupied the back half. 

“This is my favorite living room cause I can watch Daddy cook while I read,” she explained to him.

“It’s the perfect place to read a book,” he agreed, smiling as she once again dragged him along, this time into a formal dining room.  The view of Seattle was just as stunning from here and he couldn’t help but notice how every room had access to the large deck outside.

“I bet you play out on the deck a lot, huh?” he asked, watching Bailey smile.

“Yup, it’s Harley’s favorite place too,” she replied.  “Come on, Mr. Jensen,” Bailey said, grabbing for his hand once more.  Stopping her for a moment, Jensen crouched down.

“You know Bailey, it would be okay for you to call me Jensen,” he explained softly.

“Really?” she asked, her little voice unsure.

“Of course,” he answered.

“Okay, come on, Jensen,” Bailey told him, tugging on him to rise.  The pair made their way up the grand staircase to the second floor, curving to the left and down a short hallway.

“This is my room,” she explained, pushing open the door.  It was picturesque, and it screamed Bailey with vibrant colors and pictures upon the walls.  A beautiful mural of animals adorned one wall and he couldn’t help but move closer to look at it.  The work was so familiar, he just couldn’t place it.

“Daddy painted all the animals for me,” she told him.

“They’re beautiful,” he replied.  As they walked back out into the open hallway, Bailey pointed out the guest rooms where Chad and Sophia were staying before they stopped in front of another doorway with its own hallway.

“Daddy’s room is down there, it’s in the turret,” Bailey explained. “He was going to switch with me so I could be a princess in the tower, but I like my room,” she added.   While he was tempted to ask to see Jared’s room, Jensen motioned to the next level of stairs.

“What’s up there?” he asked her.

“Daddy’s office is up there and his workout stuff, come on,” Bailey said, pulling him up the stairs.  Once at the top, Jensen was in awe.  The views of Seattle and Elliot Bay were exquisite out the windows of the turret, which had a small table and four chairs set up in the little alcove.  As his gaze flickered around the room, taking in an office area in one corner and a treadmill and nautilus system in another corner, he stopped short.

On the wall was possibly one of the biggest JT paintings he’d ever seen.  It took up nearly half of the back wall and as he moved closer, Jensen was shocked to find that it wasn’t a framed painting, it was actually a work of art done right on the wall.  The JT signature was present in the lower right hand corner, but for the life of him he couldn’t place it.  Never had he seen a painting like this in any of JT’s work.

“Bailey, who painted this one?” he asked, his voice hitching a little as he waited for her response.

 “I don’t know, it’s always been there,” she shrugged.  Looking at the painting once more, he looked around the room once again.

“So is there anymore?” he said with a grin.

“Only the basement, we’ve got a movie area down there and another kitchen,” she explained, taking his hand once again as she led him back down to the main floor of the house where the other adults waited.

“Okay, Daddy.  You can have Jensen for your date now,” she told Jared, causing the taller man to smile.

“Thank you, baby,” he told her.  Jensen watched as Jared kneeled down, reaching for his daughter to pull her close.

“You be good for Aunt Sophia and Uncle Chad, okay?” he asked.

“I will,” Bailey promised.  Kissing her lips sweetly, Jared pulled her into a hug before letting go.  Jensen watched him stand, but was shocked as Bailey turned around, wrapping her arms around his legs.

“Good night, Jensen,” she told him.  Leaning down, he wrapped his arms around her as best he could.

“Good night, sweetheart,” he replied, getting closer to her ear.  “I’ll make sure you get that dessert,” he whispered, hearing her giggle.  As she pulled back, they smiled at one another before he caught Jared’s gaze.

“Ready?” Jensen asked, earning a nod from the other man.  Saying their goodbyes, the pair headed out to his truck and got in.

“Before I forget to say it, you look great,” Jensen told the man next to him, earning a luminous smile from Jared.

“So do you,” Jared replied as Jensen put the truck in gear and headed out to their destination.

“I have to say, your house was everything I imagined,” he told the other man.

“Yeah? How so?” Jared asked.

“The view of Mount Rainier, I knew it had to be amazing from the third floor,” Jensen grinned.

“It’s pretty nice, huh?” the other man asked.

“And Bailey was a very thorough tour guide,” he told him.

“She didn’t show you the massive walk-in closet in my room, did she?” Jared asked, causing him to look over in surprise.

“You have a massive walk-in closet?” he countered.

“So do I get to know where we’re going?” Jared asked, changing the subject with a grin. From his conversations with Jared since they’d first met, Jensen knew that the other man was a lover of all foods, but he was a passionate fan of burgers.  One of Jensen’s favorite places happened to be the best burger joint in Seattle, so it was only natural that their first date be there.

“Not yet, but I think you’ll like it,” he replied.

“Let’s hope so, I have high standards,” Jared answered, lifting his chin slightly.  Jensen looked over at him in confusion, his gaze catching the smirk threatening to emerge on the other man’s features.  Both men suddenly burst into laughter.

“High standards, my ass,” Jensen replied, getting his breathing back under control. 

“Well, I like to keep people guessing, you know?” Jared told him, the man’s long arm reaching out to lie along the seat back, momentarily startling Jensen as his fingers touched against the skin above his shirt.

“Yeah, I know,” he said quietly.  Suddenly they approached Red Mill Burgers and he turned his head, hoping to catch Jared’s reaction without running into anything as they parked.

“No way,” the other man said, gazing out the window at the iconic sign.

“A person of high burger standards such as yourself should be quite pleased with my selection, yeah?” Jensen asked.  He watched as Jared turned toward him, a bright smile emphasizing his dimples.

“You’re a man after my own heart, Jensen,” Jared replied softly.  The pair looked at one another for a moment, before Jensen cleared his throat.

“Shall we get you the perfect burger then?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Jared replied.

Taking advantage of the nice weather, the pair opted to eat outside, finding a table set back from the others.  As Jensen bit into his burger, he was surprised to hear Jared laugh.

“What?” he asked, quickly swallowing his food.

“Nothing, it was just kinda cute watching that cashier fawn all over you,” Jared said, grabbing a few fries.

“What about the cook in the back eyeing you?” Jensen countered.

“Stop! That guy was like fifty, gross,” the other man answered, taking a bite of his burger.

“How is it? Perfection?” he asked of the burger.  Swallowing, Jared grinned.

“Better than perfection,” Jared answered.

“I’m glad,” he replied.  “So how did that thing go the other day?”

Looking up at him in confusion, Jared opened his mouth to speak, but Jensen quickly answered.

“You were telling me that you had to head to San Francisco for work yesterday while Bailey was with me,” he explained, watching the other man nod.

“It went well, got a couple of things accomplished,” Jared answered, continuing to eat.

“Hey, can I ask you a question?” he finally asked.

“Ask away,” the brunette replied.  Opening his mouth to speak, Jensen hesitated for a moment, surprised to feel one of Jared’s feet nudge into his own under the table.  The other man merely smiled, his hazel gaze locked intently on him.

“The painting on the third floor, is that a JT original?” he asked.  Jared’s eyes went downcast for a moment before lifting back up and nodding.

“Yeah, it’s been there since I moved in,” he confessed, taking another large bite of his burger.

“I only ask because I’ve never even seen that in his catalogue,” Jensen said.

“Are you a JT expert?” Jared asked, flashing him a grin as his foot once again slid along Jensen’s own.

“Dani would say I am, but not really.  I own seven of his paintings, but I’m …” Jensen trailed off quickly as Jared began to choke on his food.  Rising, he was stopped by Jared’s hand, which wrapped around his wrist.

“I’m okay,” the other man assured him, clearing his throat.  “Seven paintings, Jen? Some of his stuff is pretty expensive.”

“Well, I didn’t buy it all myself,” Jensen told him.  “Dani actually bought my newest one, it’s called ‘Mischief’,” he explained.  The first thing Jensen noticed was the fact that Jared had paused mid-chew … the second being that the other man’s eyes were wide with shock.

“Seriously, are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine, sorry,” Jared said hoarsely, continuing to chew. 

Any awkwardness that had fallen between them seemed to vanish in an instant as the pair moved on to stories of Bailey and her adventures in and out of the classroom.

“You know, she talks about you all the time,” Jared said softly.  Their meals had long since finished, but they continued to sit and talk quietly.

“She’s a special little girl, she means a lot to me already,” Jensen replied.

“Her teacher’s pretty awesome too,” Jared said, causing a blush to heat up his cheeks.

“So, uh … are you ready to head out?” he asked.  Nodding, Jared stood, making his way around the table toward him.  Reaching out, the taller man took Jensen’s hand, threading their fingers together.

“You lead, I’ll follow.”

________________________________________

As Jensen navigated them toward downtown Seattle, Jared took a moment to really look at the scenery and more importantly, think about some of the things they’d talked about.  He knew that Jensen was a JT fan, having seen one of the paintings in the man’s classroom on the first day of school, but how did he explain that he was actually JT.  It wasn’t that he thought Jensen couldn’t handle the knowledge, it was more the fact that he wanted to simply be Jared to the other man.  Sure he’d dated a few guys, but more often than not when they found out what he did for a living, dollar signs usually appeared.

Frowning, he shook his head guiltily.  He knew Jensen wasn’t like that, but the chance to just be himself with the other man instead of JT was too appealing.  So lost in his thoughts, he barely noticed as the truck came to a stop.

“Jared?”

Looking over quickly, he was surprised to find that they’d reached their destination.  His gaze swept out the window, mouth dropping open at the sight before him.

“You’re really making this a first date to remember aren’t you?” he asked, gazing upon the sign for the Cupcake Royale bakery.  Jensen grinned and leaned forward, his face inches from Jared.

“Who said we were here for you?” he teased, pulling back as he got out of the truck.  Jared chuckled and got out as well, surprised as the other man made his way over, linking their hands together once more.

Entering the cupcake shop, Jared was in heaven.  It smelled like perfection and the endless rows of beautifully decorated treats caught his eye. 

“I’m thinking Peppermint Party might be right up your alley,” Jensen said.  Making his way up behind the shorter man, Jared leaned into him, one arm crossing around to rest over the other man’s chest.  He looked at the cupcake in question and his mouth watered.

“Can we just order one of each, take them to the beach and pig out?” he asked softly, precariously close to Jensen’s ear.

“We can do that,” the other man answered, slightly breathless, causing Jared to smile.

“Are you ready to order?” the young woman behind the counter asked them sweetly.

“We’ll take one of each,” Jensen said, surprising him and the server.

“Really?” she asked.  Jared pulled back slightly as Jensen turned his head and grinned.

“I’m pretty certain,” he answered, his eyes never leaving Jared’s.

Loaded with three cartons of cupcakes, the pair headed down to Myrtle Edwards Park, grabbing a blanket from the back seat of the Tundra.  Watching Jensen pick a spot on the grass, Jared smiled and set down the cupcakes. 

“Wanna join me?” Jensen asked from the ground, lifting his hand up to Jared.  Smiling, he took the pro-offered limb and lowered himself onto the blanket next to the other man.

“I can’t believe you’ve waited this long to break open the cupcakes,” Jensen teased.

“Well, let me rectify that,” he replied, reaching behind him to grab the first box.  Flipping the cover open, he used the flashlight they’d brought to get a good look at the various cupcakes.  The daylight had faded hours ago and while there were lights in the park, the flashlight at least gave him and idea of which cake was which.

Settling on the peppermint one that Jensen had suggested back at the bakery, he peeled back the wrapper on the bottom and took a solid bite.

“Was I right?” the other man asked following Jared’s moan of contentment.

“It’s so good,” he murmured around the chocolate cake in his mouth.  Jensen grabbed a cupcake of his own and took a chunk out of it.

“Oh yeah, that’s good,” Jensen said.  Jared smiled, watching him close his eyes, savoring the flavor.

“What kind do you have?” he asked.

“It’s the lavender one; I didn’t expect it to be so good.”

Making a split decision, Jared leaned forward, his lips slanting over Jensen’s.  Tentative at first, he quickly moaned as the tip of the other man’s tongue slipped over his bottom lip.  His hand found purchase on Jensen’s thigh as they lazily kissed for a few moments more.  As he pulled back, a grin spread across his features at the blissed out look on Jensen’s face.

“You’re right,” he whispered.  “That is good.”

________________________________________

Making his way up to the front door with the last box of cupcakes in his hands, Jared smiled and turned around to face Jensen, whose own face held a happy grin.

“I had an amazing time tonight,” he told the other man, stepping back toward him unconsciously.

“So did I,” Jensen replied.

“I’m wondering how you’re going to top tonight,” Jared murmured lowly.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got it all planned out,” Jensen said quickly, leaning forward as their lips met once again.  Shifting the box in his hands, Jared moved an arm out, lifting it to wrap around Jensen’s shoulders, pulling him flush against his body as their lips continued to move, tongues occasionally touching within the contours of each other’s mouths.

Pulling away slowly, Jared let his forehead rest against Jensen’s.

“I’ll see you Monday?” he asked quietly.

“Of course,” the other man replied.  “Any chance we can do this again … say on Tuesday?” Jensen continued, his fingers softly stroking over Jared’s cotton covered lower back.

“How can I say no to you?” he teased, delighting in the low chuckle that escaped from Jensen’s lips.

“I guess you can’t,” he answered.  Pulling back slightly, Jared smiled and kissed the other man a final time.

“Thank you for tonight,” he whispered, stepping out of Jensen’s arms.

“Thank you,” the other man replied. 

Saying their goodbyes, Jared watched Jensen head back to his truck before heading inside.  The clock in the entryway showed that it was 12:15am, surprising him slightly.  The time with Jensen had just flown by as they talked about everything and nothing.  Walking past the living room, he stopped short, eyes flickering to the couch where Chad and Sophia lay in one another’s arms watching TV.

“Hey Jayman, how’d the date go?” his best friend asked quietly, rousing Sophia from a light sleep.

“Jare, how’d it go?” she asked as well.

“It was amazing,” he replied honestly, moving into the room to take a seat on the other couch.  Setting the box down, he leaned back into the cushions and grinned lazily.

“What’s in the box?” Sophia asked.

“Cupcakes,” he began.  “We went to Cupcake Royale and Jensen literally bought one of each cupcake in the store.  We had three boxes, but they didn’t all make it out of Myrtle Edwards Park.  A couple in there are just for Bailey,” Jared finished.

“Sounds like you had an amazing time,” Chad remarked.

“I really did,” he answered.  “I should get to bed though, Baileygirl doesn’t always sleep late.”

Saying goodnight to his friends, Jared made his way into the kitchen and dropped off the cupcakes before navigating up the grand staircase to Bailey’s room.  Opening the door softly, he watched as Harley’s head lifted briefly before settling back down on its place at the end of his daughter’s bed. 

Placing a kiss on Bailey’s forehead, he tucked the blankets around her softly and petted the dog’s head before making his way back down to his own room.  Once in bed, Jared couldn’t help it as his thoughts drifted back to Jensen.  Tonight had been amazing, one of the best night’s he’d had … well, ever.

Drifting off to sleep, he knew one thing was certain … he couldn’t wait till Monday.

________________________________________

Come Monday morning, Jensen had to admit, he was excited to see Jared … and Bailey, of course.  As he puttered around the classroom getting things ready, he heard the door click open.  Expecting Jared and his dimpled smile, Jensen was surprised to find Chad accompanying Bailey into the room.

“Good morning, Jensen,” Bailey said, flashing a grin so much like her father’s.

“Good morning, Bailey, Chad,” he replied.

“Jared’s sorry he couldn’t be here,” Chad told him as Bailey made her way over to her cubby.  “He had to fly to San Francisco and fix an issue with work.”

Jensen nodded, “Gotcha, no worries.  Will he be here this afternoon?”

“Depends on whether he can sort out the problem.  I know he has a dinner appointment here in the city tonight with an old friend, so he should be back,” Chad explained.  “Otherwise, you’ll get to see my ugly mug yet again,” he added, causing Jensen to chuckle.

“Alright, munchkin, either Daddy or I will pick you up this afternoon, k?” he asked.

“Okay, Uncle Chad,” she answered, taking a seat on the play carpet.  Jensen watched the other man smile as he headed out, leaving him to get ready for the day.

________________________________________

Rummaging through the fridge, Chad heard his phone ring and quickly turned to grab it.  Sophia’s name flashed on the screen and he grinned.

“Hey baby,” he said.

“Well, hello handsome,” came Jared’s reply.

“Jerk, where’s my wife?” Chad asked his friend, who continued to chuckle.

“She’s checking our departure time, we should be leaving soon, but I was hoping you could pick up Bailey,” the other man said.

“Not a problem, man.  Jensen will be disappointed, but it’s no problem,” he replied.

“Tell him I’ll see him on Tuesday morning and that’s a promise,” Jared responded.

“I’ll do that.  What time is your date with Mat?”

“It’s not a date with Mat, it’s just dinner with an old friend,” the other man insisted.

“Sorry, okay, it’s just dinner.”

“It’s not till 8pm, so I’ll be able to get back to the house and spend time with Bailey before needing to change and get down there,” Jared explained.

“Alright, well Bailey and I will be waiting for you when you get home,” Chad told him.  Saying goodbye, he turned to look at the clock and frowned.  He still had an hour and a half before needing to pick up Bailey and he was hungry.  Looking back at the fridge, he settled on leftover pizza and headed to over to the sitting area.

Taking a seat, Chad wasn’t surprised as Harley was suddenly at his feet.

“What?” he asked the dog, watching the animal’s head cock to the side in question.

“You aren’t getting my pizza,” Chad told Harley.  The dog continued to simply look at him, causing Chad to sigh.

“Alright fine.”

________________________________________

“Hello?”

Making their way into the house, Jared grinned as Bailey came racing around the corner to greet them.

“Daddy!” she screeched, giggling as he swept her up in his embrace.  Placing kisses across her face, Jared finally pulled back and smiled.

“How’s my beautiful girl?” he asked.

“I’m good,” Bailey replied.  Kissing her temple once more, Jared leaned over so Sophia could give the little girl a kiss.

“Daddy, can we have fish sticks for dinner?” Bailey asked as they all headed back into the living room.

“Actually baby, Daddy needs to go meet a friend for dinner tonight, but I’ll bet that Uncle Chad and Aunt Sophia will make you fish sticks,” he explained. 

“Are you going on a date with Jensen again?” she asked.

“No Bails, just dinner with an old friend.”

“Speaking of which, you might want to go get showered and ready,” Chad pointed out.  Looking at the clock, Jared frowned.  He hoped he would have more time with Bailey before he needed to leave.

“Wanna come help Daddy pick out something to wear?” he asked her softly, smiling at her little nod.  Lifting her up once more, Jared carried her up the stairs to his bedroom, depositing her softly on the King size bed. 

“I’m going to take a shower and then you and me will go into the closet and find something, okay?” he asked her. 

“Okay, Daddy,” she replied.  Turning on the television for her, he made his way into the master bath, getting in a quick shower.  Bailey remained where he had left her, turning to look at him as he emerged from the bathroom in his robe.

“Ready?” Jared asked her.  Nodding, Bailey slid off the bed, following him into the massive walk-in closet, which was in fact a large room that could easily be another bedroom.

“Are you goin’ somewhere fancy?” Bailey asked.

“Kind of fancy,” he replied, opening one of the main closet doors to glance at several rows of dress shirts.

“What about these?” his daughter asked, coming around one of the storage columns in the middle of the room with a pair of black slacks.

“Those work, good choice, baby,” he replied as Bailey came closer to gaze at his shirts.

“I like blue,” she said, her little fingers drifting along the arm of a powder blue dress shirt.

“Me too,” he replied, grabbing the shirt.  “Thank you for helping, Baileygirl,” he told her, kissing her sweetly.

“Welcome!” she hollered as she headed out of the closet to find her godparents.  Smiling, Jared shut the closet door, getting ready for his dinner with Mat.

________________________________________

It was just 8pm as Jared made his way into Tango’s, his gaze searching for Mat in the crowd.  Finding him at a corner table, he notified the hostess before making his way over.  Mat had been ready to take a sip of his drink, but stopped as he got closer and smiled.

“Hey,” the other man said.

“Hi,” Jared replied, sitting across from him.

“A drink for you, Sir?” their server asked, instantly next to their table.

“Uh, a glass of the house wine, please,” he answered.  The woman nodded, leaving them alone to grab his drink.

“You look great,” Mat said.

“Thanks, you too,” he replied.  Soon the server returned and took their orders before leaving them alone once more.

“So, we didn’t catch up much the other day; tell me what’s going on in your world?” Mat asked.

“There’s not much to tell really, painting keeps me pretty busy,” he lied.  While he’d been painting consistently lately, it certainly hadn’t been constantly over the last five years.

“Do you have a studio in the city?”

“Actually, it’s in my house.  I’ve got a room on the second floor that is mostly all glass, perfect light,” he explained.

“Sounds great, I’d like to see your work,” the other man told him.

“I’m sure that can be arranged,” Jared replied.  Mat had always been one of his biggest supporters in college as he really honed his skills.  The other man never seemed to complain when Jared spent more mornings in front of an easel than in their bed.

“Did you have a good time with your friends this weekend?” Mat asked.

“My friends?” he questioned, suddenly realizing what the other man was asking.  “Oh, Chad and Sophia, yeah we had a good time.”

“Chad? As in Chad Michael Murray?” Mat asked in surprise.

“Yeah, still alive and kicking,” Jared replied with a grin.

“Wow, that’s great.  I know you, he and Sandy were really close.”

“Still are, yeah.  Sometimes we go awhile, but he’s still my best friend.”

“And who’s Sophia?”

“His wife,” Jared told him, taking a sip of wine.

“Mayhem Murray in a serious committed relationship?  Wow, times have changed,” Mat said.

“They’ve been together a long time actually.  Met our senior year at UT,” he explained.

“And here I thought you’d be the one in a committed relationship,” the other man replied softly.  Jared shrugged, his eyes falling downcast toward his wine glass.  Technically, he was in a committed relationship, if utter devotion to your five-year old counted.  Yet for some reason, he still wasn’t telling Mat about his daughter.

Though he and Mat had been a long time ago, they had still been close.  It should have been natural and easy to tell him about Bailey … but it wasn’t.

“Am I boring you?” Mat asked teasingly, shaking Jared from his thoughts.

“Of course not, sorry,” he apologized.  Soon after, their meals arrived and the pair fell into easy conversation about their jobs and lives in Seattle.

By 11pm, the pair had finished eating and made their way out of the restaurant.  Jared looked at his watch, oblivious to Mat’s close proximity to him.

“I had a great time catching up,” Jared said, stepping back unconsciously.

“Why do I get the feeling that I can’t interest you in hanging around longer?” Mat asked.

“Sorry, I gotta get up early, but we’ll hang out again soon,” he promised, clasping the other man on the shoulder.

“That sounds great,” Mat replied, “Think maybe I could get your number this time?”

“Of course, god I’m sorry,” Jared apologized.  Giving the other man his number, Jared smiled.  It really felt good to reconnect with Mat.  They may have been lovers, but first and foremost, they’d been friends and if felt good to get that back.

Saying goodbye, Jared pulled the other man into a friendly hug before turning toward the parking lot, never noticing the way Mat’s eyes followed him.

Only Sophia was awake upon his return home and he smiled, pulling her into a hug.

“I’ve been patient long enough, don’t you think?” she asked quietly.  Knowing exactly what she was referring to, Jared nodded and guided her to the back room past the dining room.  Sliding his key into the lock, he pushed the door open and flicked on the light, stepping back so she could enter.

Jared watched her move around the room in silence.  There weren’t a ton of canvases, but it was more than she had probably expected.

“This one is fantastic,” she murmured, her fingers hovering over the canvas, which depicted Bailey’s first day of school and Jensen’s introduction into their lives.

“I know that painting hasn’t been easy for you since Sandy died,” Sophia said quietly, turning to face him, “But I can tell that you’ve made great strides in the last couple of months and I’m pretty certain that Jensen is the cause.”

Jared’s gaze shifted downward, a slight flush coloring his cheeks.  She’d hit the nail right on the head, as always.  It had been difficult to start painting again, considering that Sandy had been his rock and inspiration.  Yet as he began to open himself up more, his art had returned.  And he knew, now more than ever, that he was going to need to be honest with Jensen about who he really was.

________________________________________

CHAPTER SIX

               

“Come on, Daddy!”

Bailey tugged on Jared’s hand, doing her best to practically pull him into the school on Tuesday morning.  Reaching Jensen’s classroom, he looked in, watching the other man interact with a several of the kids.  As if sensing he was being watched, Jensen looked up, meeting his gaze.

Smiling, Jared made his way in with Bailey, letting go of her hand as Jensen approached.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” the other man replied.

“Morning, Jensen,” Bailey said before taking off toward the carpet to see her friend, Sarah.

“I hope Chad didn’t cause problems yesterday,” Jared joked, watching Jensen grin.

“He behaved, don’t worry,” the other man said.  “So, about tonight?”

Jared looked at Jensen in confusion, not sure what he was talking about.

“Date number two, you forgot didn’t you?” Jensen asked softly.

“No … I mean, yes, I did forget,” he answered, “But I’m still available tonight, but …”

“You didn’t babble quite this much on our first date,” Jensen teased, his green eyes sparkling.

“Sorry,” Jared apologized.  “It’s just that Chad and Sophia left to head back to LA and I don’t really have a sitter lined up for tonight,” he admitted.

“So we’ll bring her with us; trust me, she’ll love it,” the other man told him.  Jared looked at Jensen in surprise, not quite believing that he was willing to have Bailey come along as well.

“Are you … are you sure?” he asked.

“Never been more certain,” Jensen answered.  “How about I come over around five o’clock? We can take your car that way Bailey’s car seat doesn’t need to be moved,” he offered.  Jared’s heart swelled at the other man’s words. 

“That sounds great,” he replied.

“Good, I’ll see you this afternoon then,” Jensen told him.  Smiling, Jared nodded and made his way over to the carpet, giving Bailey a quick kiss goodbye before heading out.

The pair only had the chance for a brief hello that afternoon as Jensen was pulled into conversation with two other parents, but knowing he’d see him in a couple hours, Jared wasn’t too upset.  Settling Bailey into her car seat, he pulled out into traffic, debating on how to tell her about tonight.

“So Baileygirl, I wanted to let you know that I have another date with Jensen tonight,” he said.

“Really? Are you gonna kiss him, Daddy?” his daughter replied, causing him to chuckle.

“I don’t know, baby,” Jared answered.  “But I wanted to let you know that Jensen wants you to come with us tonight.”

“I get to go on a date with you and Jensen?” she asked hopefully, causing him to smile.

“Would you like that?” he responded.

“Yeah!” she cheered.   

Reaching the house, Jared pulled up near the front door instead of the garage, helping Bailey out.  The little girl practically sprinted to the house, eager to see Harley after her day at school.  The large dog greeted her happily once the door had been opened, nearly knocking her over in a haste to lick her face.

“We have a couple hours till Jensen gets here, baby.  Why don’t you take Harley out for a little bit on the porch and then go pick out something to wear for tonight,” Jared told her.

“Okay, Daddy,” Bailey replied, getting off the floor as she made her way over to the French doors in the living room, Harley trailing close behind.  Settling on the couch, with Bailey in sight, he pulled out his Blackberry and checked his messages.  Jared was surprised to find a text from Mat.

‘Had a gr8 time catching up … hope 2 do it again soon – M’

Hitting the reply, Jared began to type a message back.

‘Me 2, we’ll have to hang out l8tr this week – J’

“Daddy, what should I wear for our date?” Bailey asked, suddenly in front of him.  Setting his phone aside, Jared pulled her onto his lap and grinned.

“Well, it’s not too cold out maybe jeans and a sweater?” he suggested, his large fingers running softly through her brunette locks.

“Can I wear my overalls?” she asked, causing him to smile.

“You can wear whatever you want, baby,” he promised, placing a kiss to her temple.

“I’m gonna go pick something out,” Bailey said after a moment, pulling herself out of Jared’s arms as she made for the stairs.

“No running, Bails!” he called out just as his phone beeped.  Picking it up, he scrolled to his text messages, seeing a reply from Mat.

‘Sounds like a plan – M’

Pocketing his phone, Jared called Harley inside before heading upstairs in search of his daughter.  Reaching the top step, he stopped short as Bailey jumped out of her room.

“Does this look good?” she asked.  Taking in her overalls with a long sleeve purple shirt underneath, Jared smiled.

“My very own fashionista,” he proclaimed, kissing the top of her head on the way to his own bedroom.  Making his way into his closet, Jared looked around, trying to figure out what he would wear.

“Wear the same as me, Daddy!” came a distant yell.

“I don’t think I can pull off the overalls, Baileygirl,” he replied.  “Or the purple,” he murmured to himself.  Settling on a pair of worn jeans, he grabbed a layered t-shirt, grey on top with white on the long sleeves underneath and tugged it on. 

Retrieving his sneakers, Jared headed back into his bedroom, finding Bailey and Harley lounging on his bed.

“Well don’t you two look comfortable,” he said, collapsing onto the bed with them.  Giggling wildly, Bailey squirmed out from underneath him, while Harley stuck his nose into Jared’s hair, licking at the man’s face eagerly.

“Eww, come on Harl, that’s my ear,” Jared scolded, quickly rising into a sitting position.

Before he could say anything further, the doorbell rang, causing Bailey to hop off the bed.

“Don’t you run down those stairs, Bailey Grace!” he warned.

“I won’t!”

Following her out the door, Jared whistled for Harley to come too.  Reaching the bottom stair, he smiled seeing Jensen at the door, looking casual and comfortable in jeans and a long sleeve t-shirt.

“Where are we going on our date?” Bailey asked him anxiously, causing the other man to chuckle.  Leaning down, Jensen scooped her up with a grin.  Jared watched as Jensen whispered something into her ear, causing her eyes to go wide.

“Really?” Bailey asked, earning a nod from Jensen.  Suddenly her gaze was upon Jared and he smiled at the excitement on her face.

“Come on, Daddy!”

“Yeah, come on, Daddy!” Jensen echoed, his tone and alluring smirk sending shivers down Jared’s spine.

“I’m coming,” he answered them, grabbing his and Bailey’s jackets from the hall closet.  Looking at his feet, he saw Harley gazing at him pleadingly.

“We’ll be back later, big guy, I promise,” Jared told him, kissing his head.  Rising to his full height, he made his way over to Jensen and Bailey, flashing them a smile.

“Okay, I guess we’re ready,” he told them.

“So do I get to know where we’re going?” he asked once they’d settled into the SUV.  Navigating down the street, Jared waited for a response.

“Right,” Jensen told him when they’d reached a stop sign.  Looking over at the other man, he grinned.

“I’ll take that as a no,” he responded.

“It’s a surprise, Daddy,” Bailey chimed in from the backseat.

One of the things Jared loved about his car was that as an automatic, he really only needed one hand to drive.  Taking advantage of the moment, he reached out, his fingers softly grasping Jensen’s left hand.  He heard a surprised intake of breath and hoped he hadn’t overstepped, but the feeling of Jensen’s fingers entwining with his alleviated any concerns.  Smiling, he looked over at the other man, finding an equally large smile in response.

“Take a left at the second light,” Jensen murmured.  After a few minutes, he reached the light in question and hooked a left, his gaze falling on a large warehouse type building ahead.

“This is where we’re going?” he asked, slightly confused.  As they neared the building, his question was answered by the sign, proclaiming ‘one of the largest indoor mini-golf areas around’ to be inside.  Feeling Jensen give his hand a squeeze, he grinned.  Jared found a parking space easily as there weren’t many cars in the lot.

The trio headed inside and Jared had to admit, it was pretty damn cool.  A maze of a mini-golf course spanned the entire building, shielded off in some areas with walls and special sets.  Jensen paid for their game and they all got their golf putters.

“What color ball do you want, Bails?” Jared asked, showing her a bucket of colors to choose from.

“Purple, please,” she replied, grinning as he passed her the ball.  Once they’d each gotten their own color, the group headed to the first hole.

It was nearly an hour and a half later when the group finally made their way to the final and 18th hole.  The trick was to wrap it around a pyramid and through some dunes before sinking it in the hole.  Bailey stepped up to the line first, her little tongue peeking out to corner of her mouth as she concentrated on the shot. 

Letting the club swing, the two men watched as her purple ball sailed past the pyramid, banking off a barrier wall and back to the pyramid before sailing down the narrow path and literally sinking into the hole.

“Did that really just happen?” Jared asked.

“I did it, Daddy!” Bailey cheered, jumping up and down so quickly that he was barely able to get out of the way of her golf club, which clipped him in the shoulder.

“Ow, crap,” he moaned.

“Sorry, Daddy,” Bailey said, her lower lip trembling.  Kneeling down, Jared opened his arms to her.

“It’s okay, baby,” he told her, kissing her temple.  “That was a pretty awesome shot,” he added.

“Did you see me, Jensen?” she asked, looking up at him.  Jensen grinned at her, holding out his hand for a high-five, which Bailey eagerly returned.

“I sure did, Bails, that was awesome,” he said.

Sadly, Jared and Jensen weren’t quite able to make their final shots holes-in-one, but they had fun all the same.  Bailey had been so hungry by the time they’d finished, that they settled into the adjacent pizza place for dinner.  Jared watched as Bailey and Jensen worked together to complete the maze on the placemat in front of them.  His daughter had insisted she sit next to Jensen, quickly sucking him into ‘helping’ her.

Watching the two of them together tugged at his heart.  It was no secret that Bailey loved her teacher, but now, after watching the crazy round of golf and seeing them now with their heads close together, it was clear that Jensen adored Bailey.

“What’s it like where you are?” came Jensen’s teasing voice, pulling Jared from his thoughts.  Focusing back, he realized that both Jensen and Bailey were watching him.

“Sorry, just thinking,” he apologized.  Before he could say anything further, their pizza came and the trio dug in heartily.

Taking a big bite of his slice of pepperoni, Jared nearly choked as he felt Jensen’s leg press up against his under the table.  Lifting his gaze, he watched as the other man chatted with Bailey, occasionally sneaking glances at him.

Daring to push it a little further, Jared slid his other leg forward, affectively capturing Jensen’s leg between his own.  The move nearly caused the other man to choke on his soda, but Jensen recovered, looking over to catch Jared’s sly smirk.

“Can we have ice cream for dessert, Daddy?” Bailey asked him, forcing him to look away from the other man.

“A small ice cream,” he told her, not wanting her totally hopped up on sugar so close to bed.

“How about we all share one?” Jensen suggested.  Jared smiled and nodded.  In agreement, the other man signaled the waitress, who made her way over quickly.

“Can we get a small hot fudge sundae to share, but with chocolate ice cream and a bit of caramel sauce?” he asked her, completely flooring Jared.

<i>‘He knows my daughter’s favorite sundae.’</i?

As if reading his mind, Jensen smiled, “She told me during naptime a few weeks ago.”

“So how was your dinner the other night?” Jensen asked, surprising him.

“Oh, it was good.  I happened to run into an old friend from college and we grabbed some dinner,” he explained, watching the other man nod.

“It wasn’t a date,” he assured him, causing Jensen to smile.

“Well, that’s good to hear.”

When the waitress returned with their sundae, Bailey was the first to grab a bit, making both men grin.

“S’good,” the little girl mumbled around a mouthful of ice cream and sauce.

“Bailey Grace, manners,” he chided.  His daughter merely giggled in response, but at least she closed her mouth.

________________________________________

It was nearly 8:30pm when Jared pulled into the garage.  Bailey was already half out of her seat before he could speak.

“Have to go pee!” she yelled, slamming the car door behind her as she raced into the house and up the side stairs.

“Do you want to come in for awhile, maybe? She goes to bed soon,” he added, tilting his head in Jensen’s direction.

“I’d like that,” the other man replied.  They got out of the car, making their way through the basement. 

“Wow, this is nice,” Jensen said, looking around at the lower level, which featured a mini-theatre and a kitchen area.

“Yeah, this is the other major hangout area beyond the kitchen,” Jared answered.

“I can imagine,” the other man replied, turning to follow him up the stairs.  Upon reaching the kitchen, they found Bailey and Harley waiting on the couch.

“I’m tired, Daddy,” she said, causing Jared to chuckle.

“Well, you’ve had a long day, why don’t we get you tucked in to bed?” he asked.  Bailey thought about it for a moment before nodding.

“Okay,” she answered, heading toward the door.

“I’ll be up in a few minutes to tuck you in, baby,” he told her.

“Jensen too,” she demanded, climbing the stairs and leaving no room for argument.  Jensen let out a bark of laughter in response.

“She’s something else,” he murmured. 

Jared grinned, “Oh I know.”

Listening for the water to shut off as Bailey brushed her teeth and got ready; Jared finally deemed it time to head up.  The pair made their way up the stairs, but as he reached her partially opened door, Jared stopped short.

“Give her a sec,” he whispered, confusing Jensen.  Taking him softly by the arm, he pulled the other man over to gaze through the open space.  Bailey laid on her side, curled up to the end table facing Sandy’s photo.

“And I got to go on a date with Daddy and Jensen, Mommy! We played mini-golf and had pizza,” the little girl gushed excitedly, causing Jared to smile.

“I know I’ve told you about Jensen, cause he’s my teacher, but now he’s Daddy’s friend too,” she continued.  “And that makes me happy … cause Daddy’s finally happy,” Bailey added quietly.  Feeling tears prick at his vision, Jared had to turn away, not noticing as Jensen watched his retreat.  He had no idea that he’d been lonely enough that his own child had picked up on it.

Feeling a gentle hand on his arm, Jared straightened and took a shaky breath to calm himself.  Looking back at the other man, he pasted on a small smile, surprised as Jensen suddenly moved toward him.  His lips found purchase on Jared’s cheek as a hand slid softly onto the back of his neck.  Basking in the quiet moment with only Bailey’s murmurs in the background, Jared enjoyed the closeness of the other man.

“Okay, Daddy! I’m ready!” Bailey hollered, unaware that the pair were just outside her room.  Straightening, Jared looked into Jensen’s eyes and smiled.

“Thank you,” he whispered, pressing a soft kiss to the other man’s lips.  Stepping away, he made sure to grab Jensen’s hand, leading him into Bailey’s room.

“All set, baby?” he asked.

“Yup,” she replied, yawning deeply as she turned over onto her back.  “Thank you for tonight, Jensen,” Bailey told the other man softly, holding out her hand.  The other man sat down on the edge of her bed, taking the pro-offered limb.

“You are very welcome, sweetheart,” he told her.  Smiling, Jared leaned forward, giving his daughter a sweet kiss on the lips before adding another on her forehead.

“Goodnight, Daddy, g’nite Jensen,” she told them, her eyes drifting shut.  Jensen leaned forward, kissing the little girl’s forehead as well.

“Goodnight, Bailey,” he replied.  Waiting for the sign that she’d completely drifted off, the two men made their way out of the room, leaving Harley at the foot of the bed to stand guard for the night.

________________________________________

Making their way back down to the kitchen, Jared headed to the refrigerator, and pulled out a couple of beers.  Turning back to Jensen, he offered him one of the bottles, which the other man took with a smile. 

Motioning toward the large couch across the room, the pair made their way over, settling in side-by-side.  A calm silence reigned over them for a few minutes before Jensen finally cleared his throat.

“Hey listen, I just want you to know that … if you ever need to talk, I’m here for you,” the other man said softly.  Lifting his gaze from the bottle in his hand, Jared turned to look at Jensen, seeing only sincerity in the man’s green eyes.

“I appreciate it,” he answered quietly.  “She always told me that I was the emotional one in our relationship,” Jared told him, chuckling after a moment at the thought of Sandy. 

“What was she like?” Jensen asked.  Taking a deep breath, Jared smiled, leaning his head back against the couch.

“Smart, funny, compassionate ... I don’t think there are enough words to describe her,” he said, his thoughts conjuring up image after image of his best friend.  “Honestly, she stood by me through everything.  Hell, she was the one who kept the bullies from picking on me during recess when I was a skinny, whimpy little bean pole.”

 ‘She was the best and I didn’t think twice when she asked me to father her child.  It was hard to lose her,” he finished softly.

“You’ve done an incredible job raising her, you know,” Jensen responded, surprising Jared as he broke through the silence.  “She’s happy, smart as a whip, friendly to a fault,” the other man continued, listing the various attributes he already knew about his little girl, but was happy to hear nonetheless.

“She’s my world,” Jared replied.

“I know,” the other man said, laying his free hand comfortingly against Jared’s thigh.  They sat in companionable silence, finishing their beers before Jensen noticed the time.

“I should get going,” he said.  Nodding, Jared rose and took the other man’s empty bottle.  Hand-in-hand, the pair made their way to the front door.  Jared opened it, turning toward Jensen with a small smile.

“I had an incredible time tonight, Jense,” he told the other man, moving into his personal space unconsciously.  Jensen grinned, reaching out to settle a palm against Jared’s hip.

“I knew it would be fun for all of us,” Jensen replied, the tip of his tongue snaking out to wet his lips.  Groaning, Jared moved forward, his arms wrapping around the shorter man’s shoulders as their mouths fused together.  Feeling Jensen’s own hands curve around his hips, sliding further south, Jared moaned, the force of his embrace pushing them both against the doorframe.

Pulling back for a needed gulp of air, Jared rested his forehead against Jensen’s, tilting his head once more for a sweeter, softer kiss.  Sucking on the other man’s plush lower lip, Jared gently chased away the moisture with his tongue, finally delving into the other man’s mouth.  The evidence of both their arousals was prominent, and Jared didn’t know if he wanted to grind against the other man, unbutton Jensen’s jeans or drag him upstairs.

“I should go,” Jensen murmured between kisses, fingertips slowly tracing a pattern on the skin of Jared’s lower back.

“Just a minute,” Jared replied, his lips once again sealing over the other man’s, causing Jensen to half giggle and moan.

“Okay, I really should go,” Jensen said softly.

“I don’t want you to go,” he countered, his lips nibbling their way down Jensen’s stubble-covered jaw.

Chuckling, Jensen slid his fingers into Jared’s hair, gently pulling him back to look him in the eye.

“I have school tomorrow.”  Gazing into Jensen’s green eyes, Jared couldn’t help but start laughing.

“We sound like a couple of teenagers,” he whispered, fingers stroking mischievously across the other man’s cheek.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Jensen murmured, leaning forward for one last kiss.

“Tomorrow,” he whispered, reluctantly letting Jensen go.  Getting into his truck, Jensen gave him a final wave before pulling away from the curb and into the night.  Letting the moment wash over him, Jared finally felt the chill of the night and stepped back inside, shutting the door behind him.

________________________________________

“No date tonight?”

Looking up from his book, Jensen found Chris in the doorway to his room.  Since their date on Tuesday, he’d been limited to smiles and conversation at school with Jared.  A school-wide staff meeting on Wednesday had kept him in the school’s auditorium till nearly 11pm.  Thursday had been a no-go as Jared’s parents had chosen that afternoon to roll into town to see their son and granddaughter.

So, he found himself alone on a Friday night, reading a book on adolescent development.

“Nope,” he replied, turning a page.  Sadie huffed against his lap, causing him to lower a hand to pet at her head.

“You two doing okay?” his friend asked. 

“So because we’re not going out every night like you and Angie, you assume there’s something wrong?” he replied.  Chris shrugged, making his way into the room as he collapsed on the bed next to him.  Sadie yipped as the other man landed, scrambling to keep from being crushed.

“Hey asshole, don’t sit on my dog,” Jensen scolded.

“Not my fault she drapes all over you,” Chris whined.  Jensen continued to read, his eyes occasionally darting over to his friend, who remained suspiciously quiet.

“What’s wrong with you? Angie not around?” he asked, nudging the other man with his foot.  Chris huffed, his arms crossing over his chest.

“She is, I just thought I’d see how you are.  Cause, you know, we haven’t really hung out in awhile,” the other man said.  Closing his book, Jensen set it on the side table, turning to his friend.

“Is this the part where we hug?” he asked, earning a jab to the shoulder.

“Jackass.  I just wanted to hear how things were going with Mr. Wonderful,” Chris admitted.

“It’s great, I mean, it sucks that he’s been so busy, but …” Jensen trailed off, a smile gracing his features as the memory of his and Jared’s passionate kisses on the doorstep invaded his thoughts.

“Seriously, dude, you’ve got the ‘I totally got laid’ look on your face right now.”

“I do not,” he answered quickly.

“Oh no way, Jenny! You did!”

“Actually, we um … we kissed on his doorstep,” Jensen gushed.

“And?” Turning toward his best friend, Jensen gave him a look of confusion.

“And what?”

“What happened next?” Chris asked.

“I said goodnight and came home,” he answered, watching Chris’s face contort in horror.

“Are you fuckin’ with me? Seriously, Jen,” the other man said, his tone disbelieving.

“What? I wasn’t going to hop into bed with him on the second date, man.  We had a great night, Bailey came with us.  We even tucked her in to bed together,” Jensen explained.  Chris looked at him for a moment, before his face morphed into a dopey grin.

“You are such a girl!” he said, dropping and arm around Jensen’s shoulders as he pulled him close.

“Forget you man, I’m doing this right.  When we’re ready, we’ll be ready, but not until then,” Jensen told him.  He could feel his friend’s gaze on him, forcing him to look over once more.

“I just want you to be happy man, I’m glad Jared’s giving you that,” Chris admitted.  Smiling, Jensen slapped Chris’s thigh with a chuckle.

“Now who’s being the girl?”

________________________________________

“So, who is he?”

Turning from the painting in front of him, Jared peered over his shoulder to find his mother standing in the doorway of his studio.

“Who?” Jared asked, playing dumb as he turned back to his easel.  Hearing the door shut, he knew for a certainty that his mother remained.  Feeling a warm hand slide onto his shoulder, Jared smiled.

“You can fool a lot of people, sweetheart, but not your momma,” she told him.  Chuckling, Jared nodded, setting his color palette down as he faced her.

“Yes, there is someone,” he revealed, watching Sherri smile as she took a seat on the couch across from him.

“Where did you meet him?”  Jared hesitated for a brief moment, wondering how to let her know just who his boyfriend was.

“Actually, he’s Bailey’s teacher,” he told her.  His mother’s face was confused for a moment before realization dawned.

“You’re dating, Mr. Jensen?” she asked, causing him to burst out laughing.

“She doesn’t actually call him that anymore, but yes, I’m dating Jensen,” Jared answered. 

“And you’re happy,” his mom stated matter-of-factly.  Unable to stop his smile, Jared nodded.

“I’m very happy, and so is Bailey,” he replied.

“When do we get to meet him?” his mother pressed on.  Rolling his eyes, Jared turned back to the canvas in front of him and grabbed his palette. 

“Well sadly your flight leaves tomorrow morning, so I guess it will be next time,” he answered with a grin.  As if in an instant, an arm was around his shoulders, Sherri’s lips at his temple.

“We will be back soon, you hear me? I expect to meet Jensen then,” she said softly.

“Yes, Momma,” Jared replied.  She gave him a side hug before making her way toward the door.

“Dinner is in an hour,” she said softly.  Thanking her, Jared let his gaze rest back on the painting, an image of intertwined hands front and center.  He’d started working on it just after his second date with Jensen and now, with a final brush stroke, it was complete.

“Daddy! Gramma says hustle up cause she needs your help!” came Bailey’s voice from down the hall, causing him to chuckle.

“Okay, Bails,” he replied, giving the painting a final look before making his way out of the room.

________________________________________

“So I was thinking that maybe you’d like to come over on Sunday,” Jared murmured, snatching a handful of grapes from the refrigerator before heading over to the couch in the corner.

“And I’m thinking I’d like that,” came Jensen’s reply, causing him to smile.  “You got satellite TV in that big house of yours?”

“Is that your subtle hint of asking me if I can get the Cowboys game? Because you’d be on the money in thinking I can,” Jared answered.

“Need me to bring anything?” the other man asked, causing him to smile.

“Just yourself … and Sadie of course,” he replied.

“That I can do,” Jensen told him.  Suddenly there was a pause, followed by Jensen cursing.

“I gotta head out for this meeting, but I’ll see you tomorrow,” he told Jared.

“No problem, I’ll see you tomorrow,” Jared replied with a smile.  Saying goodbye, Jared set his phone down.  As he reached the door, he paused as his phone began to ring. 

“Hello?”

“Jared, it’s Mat,” came the reply.

“Mat, hey … wow, how are you?” he asked.

“I’m good.  Was thinking about you, so I thought I’d call and see what you’re up to?”

“Not much actually,” he answered.

“So you wouldn’t be upset with me if I was on your front porch?” Mat asked.  Jared’s face showed a look of surprise as he made his way down the hall, opening the front door to reveal Mat.  The other man grinned, hanging up his phone as he slid his hands into his pockets.

“Hey,” the other man said.

“How did you know …?”

“You’re the only Padalecki in the phone book,” Mat responded.  “Seriously, if it’s a bad time, I can go,” he added.

“No, don’t worry about it, come in,” Jared said, opening the door wider.  His thoughts instantly trailed to Bailey and he realized that he couldn’t hide her any longer now.  Mat brushed past him and Jared watched the other man take in his home.

“Wow, this place is beautiful, Jared.” 

“Thanks,” he replied, shutting the door behind him.  Motioning toward the living room, Jared watched as his old friend looked around.

“This is the formal living room, back here is the family room though,” he explained, leading Mat down the hall and into the kitchen.

“Yeah, this is a slice of heaven,” the other man said.  Jared smiled, making his way over to the refrigerator. 

“Can I get you something to drink?” he asked, turning to find Mat’s gaze locked on the TV, which had the Longhorns football game on.  As if realizing that he was being spoken to, Mat tore his gaze away.

“Oh, sorry, um a beer?” he asked.  Nodding, Jared grabbed two and headed back over.

“Still a Longhorns fan?” Jared asked, watching Mat smile.

“I might have moved away, but I always remained a fan.”

So they settled in to watch the game, chatting about old times once again.  Wrapped up in old times and memories, Jared was startled as a wet tongue touched his hand.

“Whoa, that’s a big dog,” Mat said.  Harley sat at the side of Jared’s chair, tongue hanging out happily.

“Hey, buddy,” he told him, reaching out to scratch the dog’s head.  “Yeah, this is Harley,” Jared introduced.  Mat rose, reaching out a hand, but was startled as the dog growled softly.

“Harley!” Jared scolded.  “I’m sorry, he’s never acted like this before,” he apologized to Mat, who sat back down.

“It’s okay,” he promised.

“Come on, big guy … you can hang out on the porch for a bit,” he said, his fingers hooking into Harley’s collar as he guided the dog over to the French doors.  Settling Harley outside, Jared looked up, his gaze landing on Bailey as she made her way into the kitchen.

“Hello,” his daughter said to Mat, causing the other man to nearly jump once again.  As he made his way to the door, Jared watched as Mat looked over at Bailey curiously.

“Hi,” he replied.

“I’m Bailey,” she greeted, making no move toward the other man, her hazel eyes simply watching their guest.

“I’m Mat,” the other man answered.  Jared opened his mouth to speak, but Bailey beat him to it.

“Why are you in my house?”

Suddenly Mat’s gaze flickered over to him in surprise.  Making his way back inside, Jared couldn’t help but grin as Bailey came over to him, her arms wrapping around his leg in a bout of sudden shyness.

“Bailey, this is my old friend, Mat.  Mat, this is my daughter, Bailey,” he introduced.  Picking Bailey up, he moved over to the chair and sat back down with her in his arms.

“Nice to meet you,” Bailey said softly, her fingers curling around Jared’s own.

“It’s nice to meet you too, Bailey,” Mat replied.  Soon, Bailey began to squirm, forcing Jared to let her go.

“What’s the matter, baby?” he asked.  Bailey turned to look at him, her gaze flickering from Mat and back to him.

“Nothin, need to talk to mommy,” she replied, saying nothing further as she made her way out of the room and up the stairs.  Jared turned his head to watch her go, a frown on his features.  His mind began to catalogue the day, wondering what would make Bailey need to talk to Sandy in the middle of the day … something she only did when she was sad or angry. 

It couldn’t have been his parents leaving, she had been okay with it … especially the promise that they’d be back in a couple weeks.  She’d spent the rest of the time playing in her room with Harley and on her computer.

“Jared?”  Turning toward the voice, Jared’s gaze landed on Mat and it was as if a light bulb went off.  It was about Mat, he realized.

“She’s beautiful, looks just like you,” Mat said softly.  Jared nodded, not totally certain how to handle the situation.  “Was she a surrogate or …?” the other man trailed off and he knew that Mat had put the pieces together.

“She’s Sandy’s,” Mat said.

“And mine,” Jared defended quickly.  “We made the decision together to have Bailey and raise her,” he explained.  Mat looked at him for a moment before nodding.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to insinuate,” the other man apologized.

“It’s okay,” Jared assured him, running a hand through his hair.  “Listen, I should go check on her.  Maybe we can get together another time?” he asked.  Standing, Mat nodded.

“Sure,” he answered.  Leaning forward, Mat clasped Jared’s shoulder before making his way down the hall and out the front door.  Watching the other man go, he quickly headed up the stairs, stopping just outside Bailey’s closed door.

Knocking softly, Jared listened for her response, frowning when one didn’t come.  Suddenly the door opened, revealing his little girl.

“Hey,” he said softly.

“Hi, Daddy,” she replied, opening the door wider for him to enter.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yup, I’m good,” Bailey answered.  “Are we going to see Jensen again soon?” she asked him, catching him off-guard with her soft question.

“Yeah, baby, tomorrow in fact,” he replied.  Bailey looked at him for a moment before nodding.

“Good.”  Jared watched as Bailey headed back into her room without another word.  She’d never reacted to anyone the way she had with Mat and he didn’t know whether to be worried or leave it alone.

“Read me a story, Daddy?”  Hearing his daughter’s question, Jared shook his head slightly, clearing his thoughts.

“Sure, Bails, anything for you.”

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

Jensen had obviously chosen a Cowboys shirt, pairing it with worn jeans, in preparation for his afternoon at the Padalecki's.

Clutching a bag of snacks, he rang the doorbell, surprised as it swung open before the bell had stopped ringing.

 "Jensen!"

Jensen barely had time to prepare himself as Bailey lurched forward, wrapping her arms around his legs.

"Bailey, let him breathe," came Jared's voice.  Looking up, he met the taller man's gaze and smiled.

"It's game day!" the little girl cheered, stepping back so Jensen could finally see her.  Dressed in a way too big Cowboys jersey, Bailey had silver and blue ribbons in her hair, which was pulled up into two high pigtails.

"It is and you're certainly ready, aren't you?" he asked, watching her nod.

"She stole my jersey," Jared admitted, causing him to chuckle.

"Yeah I figured that ... otherwise you suck horribly at reading size tags."

“Very funny,” Jared replied, unable to stop a grin from coming forth as he took the bag from the other man.  Returning the smile, Jensen squatted down to Bailey’s level.

“I brought someone for you,” he told her, inclining his head back toward his truck.  Jensen watched as Bailey’s eyes went wide.

“Sadie!” she cheered, hiking up the jersey in order to run to Jensen’s truck, where Sadie barked happily.  Sending a wink in Jared’s direction, Jensen trailed after the little girl.  It hadn’t taken long for him to get his dog out and for both her and Bailey to disappear into the house in search of Harley.

“Guess it’s just us,” Jared said.  Making his way over, Jensen smiled.

“I can deal with that,” he replied, leaning up to slant his lips over the taller man’s.  Despite the bag between them, Jared still managed to slide one long arm up and over his shoulders, pulling him close as he deepened the kiss with a flick of his tongue.

Pulling away reluctantly, Jensen smiled.

“Come on in,” Jared murmured.  Sliding past him, Jensen let his hand caress the other man’s hip before heading down the hallway toward the sounds of Bailey and the dogs.  He found them in the kitchen, all three in a pile on the floor.

“Help!” Bailey pleaded, reaching a hand out to him past the dogs licking her face.

“Didn’t think about that very well did you, Sprite?” he asked her, leaning down to scoop her out.  Bailey grinned.

“They ambushed me,” she explained as Jared made his way into the room.

“Who ambushed you? And where did you learn a word like ‘ambushed’?” Jared asked.

“Yeah, that’s probably my fault.  I told her a story during naptime the other day about how a couple friends and I in college were playing paintball and were ambushed by the local fraternity,” Jensen explained.  “They didn’t like us very much,” he added.

“I find that hard to believe,” Jared said, flashing him a grin as he set the bag of snacks down.

“What did you bring me for game day?” Bailey asked, taking Jensen’s hands in her own.

“Snacks?” he asked.  “For you?  I only brought enough for your Dad and me,” he teased, earning a scowl out of the little girl.

“Come on, Sprite, you know I wouldn’t forget you,” Jensen said, lifting her into his arms. 

“So what did you get me?”

“How about you eat a sandwich first and then we’ll make the foray into snacks?” Jared asked.

Ten minutes later, Jensen and Jared sat on the couch of the basement’s home theatre as Bailey played with Harley and Sadie behind them.

“Oh come on,” Jensen groaned as the Cowboys failed to convert on third and goal.

“A field goal, seriously?” Jared added.

“I swear sometimes I wonder about this team,” Jensen told him, leaning forward to snatch a handful of Cheetos out of the bowl.

“Three points is better than none!” a little voice said from behind them, causing both men to turn and look behind the couch.  Bailey sat on the floor, rolling a ball to the dogs a few feet away.  She suddenly looked up at them, flashing a sweet smile.

“You’re right, Bails,” Jared told her. 

By the fourth quarter of the game, both dogs were at their feet with Bailey tucked in between them on the couch.

“I’m not sure what’s more scary … the score of the game or the fact that she seems to be able to sleep through all of our complaining,” Jared said quietly.  Surprised, Jensen looked over at the other man, his gaze falling to the middle where Bailey slept soundly.

“Wow, I didn’t even realize she was out … especially with all the smack-talking she was doing in the third quarter,” he said, causing the other man to chuckle.  Jensen turned his head and grinned, watching Jared smile as he focused on the game once more.  As if he’d sensed he was being watched, Jared looked back over at him.

“What?” Shaking his head, Jensen let a hand run along Jared’s shoulder toward his neck, his fingers sliding into the other man’s silky locks.

“Are you making a move on me, Mr. Ackles?” Jared asked softly.  Letting his gaze flicker down to Bailey, Jensen smiled.

“Maybe we should get her to bed?” he replied.  Nodding, the other man stood to his full height, stretching out the kinks to reveal a perfect expanse of golden skin along his belly.

“Tease,” Jensen murmured, earning a chuckle from Jared, who leaned down and lifted Bailey into his arms.  The little girl barely stirred, simply nuzzling into her father’s chest.

“Wanna help?” Jared asked.

“Really?” he replied.

“Really,” the other man confirmed.  Smiling, Jensen rose from the couch, following the pair up the winding stairs to Bailey’s room.

________________________________________

 

“So should I be worried that you’re calling my daughter a soft drink?”

Jensen turned his head sharply at Jared’s soft question.  The taller man leaned against the kitchen island, a curious grin on his features.

“A soft drink?” Jensen wondered, thinking about his interaction with Bailey over the night.  Suddenly it dawned on him, “You mean, Sprite?” he asked, watching Jared nod.

Grinning, Jensen took several steps toward the other man, sliding his hands onto Jared’s hips.

“It’s not just a soft drink,” he began. “It’s also a fairy.”

Jensen watched as Jared took in the information, trying to piece it all together.  Snagging his finger through one of the other man’s belt loops, Jensen tugged him over to the couch.

“A couple of days ago during naptime, which your daughter seems to hate,” he explained, earning a chuckle from Jared.  “We were talking about how she loves fairies.”  Jensen watched as the other man’s face contorted in confusion.

“She does?” Jared asked. 

It didn’t take much to see the look of disappointment cross Jared’s features.  There was something he didn’t know about his own child and it seemed to sting him deeply.

“Hey,” Jensen said softly, reaching out a hand to cup Jared’s cheek.

“Why the long face?” he asked, even though he already knew the answer.  Bailey had even admitted to him during their conversation at nap time that Jared had no idea how much she loved fairies. 

“I just, she never told me that she loves fairies,” the other man replied.

“I know,” he answered, getting a surprised look from Jared.  “It’s not something she was keeping from you, she just hadn’t mentioned it.  I guess she saw the Spiderwick Chronicles at Sarah’s and fell in love with fairies … but they were called sprites.  So she asked me about sprites and … I don’t know I just decided it would be a good nickname,” he admitted. 

Jensen watched as Jared nodded, shifting closer. 

“It’s cute,” the other man answered.  As if on autopilot, their lips met softly, deepening quickly as Jared’s tongue swept into his mouth hotly.  Sliding one hand around the taller man’s hip, Jensen groaned.

“I need to get going,” he said reluctantly, resting his forehead against Jared’s chest as the other man ran his fingers through Jensen’s short hair.

“I wish you could stay,” Jared murmured.  Lifting his head, Jensen gazed at him for a long moment.

“Maybe I could some night,” he answered. 

“I’d like that you know,” the other man told him, ghosting a kiss against his lips.  “Let me talk to Bailey, make sure it’s okay,” he added.  Smiling, Jensen nodded, leaning up to steal a real kiss.

“Now I really should go, but I’ll see you in the morning,” he said.  Arm in arm, the pair made their way over to the front door, surprised to find Harley and Sadie waiting for them.

“Ready to head out, girl?” he asked his dog, reaching out to pet her head.  With a final kiss for Jared and a scratch to Harley’s head, Jensen and Sadie headed home.

________________________________________

 

“Can I come too?”

Looking up from the newspaper, Jared frowned.  Nearly a week after their Sunday game date, he and Jensen were finally getting to go out to dinner that evening.  He’d even spoken to Bailey about having the other man stay the night, a concept she’d agreed to wholeheartedly.

<i>“So he’d be here for breakfast?” Bailey had asked. 

“Yeah, but are you okay with him staying the night … with me … in my bed?” he’d replied.

“Sure, he’s too big for my bed,” his daughter answered, causing him to erupt in laughter.

“That’s very true.”</i>

Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, his gaze landed on his daughter, who looked at him expectantly.

 “Sorry, baby, we’re going to be out past your bedtime,” he replied.  Bailey frowned, looking down at her dinner of beef ravioli absently.

“But Jensen will be here in the morning, how about that?” Jared asked, smiling as his daughter’s head shot up quickly.

“Really?” she asked, causing him to nod.

“Really,” he promised.  Suddenly the doorbell rang and he stood.

“Finish your dinner,” Jared said, pointing at the bowl.  Making his way to the front door, he opened it to reveal Molly, who had been Bailey’s babysitter for the last two years.

“Hey, Molly,” Jared greeted, letting the teenager in.  “She’s in the kitchen finishing up dinner.  You have my number and the number at the restaurant.”

“Everything’s all set, Mr. P, no worries,” Molly replied.  “Hey munchkin,” the young woman said as they entered the kitchen.

“Hi,” the little girl replied.

“Okay, Baileygirl, I’m leaving, but I’ll see you in the morning, k?” Jared asked, squatting down next to her at the table.

“Bye Daddy,” she replied quietly.  Jared looked at her in concern for a moment before realizing that she was likely bummed that she couldn’t go.  Rising, he placed a kiss on her head and made his way out.  Grabbing his keys, Jared headed downstairs to the SUV and on to Jensen’s.

 

“You seem distracted.”

Lifting his hazel gaze from his plate, Jared found Jensen watching him intently.  They’d headed to a cozy little Italian place near the water and while the corner table was romantic, he kept thinking about Bailey’s sullen mood earlier.

“What?” he asked, not having really heard his boyfriend’s question.

“I knew you were distracted, what’s wrong?” the other man asked.

“Nothing,” he began, but stopped.  “It’s just … Bailey seemed off tonight.”

“Was she … did she seem mad about me staying over tonight” Jensen asked.

“No, are you kidding, she was happy about that when we talked about it … I don’t know,” Jared said.

“I’m sure it’s nothing, Jare,” the other man replied.  They finished their dinner in comfortable discussion, finding themselves in the back row of the drive-in not too long after. 

“You know, I didn’t figure that we’d come here and not watch the movie,” Jared admitted, groaning as Jensen’s lips caressed down the column of his neck.  Lifting his head, Jensen gazed down at him, a slight smirk on his features.

“We can watch if you’d like,” he offered.

“Nah, this is better,” Jared replied, pulling the other man back on top of him as their lips crashed together.  Slow kisses turned deeper, tongues tangling as their hands wandered, searching for bare skin.  Just as Jensen’s hand had found its way under Jared’s shirt, a ringing sounded out.  Both men parted, looking around in confusion.

“That’s you,” Jensen murmured.  Fumbling his hand toward the front seat, his long fingers closed over his Blackberry.  Lifting the object to his ear, he grinned as Jensen nipped at his neck once more.

“Hello?” he asked.

“Mr. P? It’s Molly,” came his babysitter’s voice.  Jared sat up sharply, nearly knocking Jensen on his ass.

“Molly, what’s wrong?” he asked.

“Bailey’s sick,” the young woman began.  “I’m not sure if it was dinner or if she’s coming down with something, but she’s been throwing up for awhile now.  I called her doctor,” she explained.

“I’m on my way,” he said, clicking off the phone as he slid back into the driver’s seat.

“Jare? What’s wrong?” Jensen asked.

“Bailey’s sick,” he said shortly.  “I’ll drop you off at home.”

“No you won’t,” the other man replied, causing Jared to look over at him in surprise.

“What?”

“I’m going with you,” Jensen answered.  Jared looked at him for a moment before nodding.

It took him less than fifteen minutes to make it back to the house, having barely parked the car before dashing out of it and up the stairs to the second floor.  Heading into Bailey’s room, he found the bed empty and began to panic, until the sound of crying stopped him in his tracks.  Seeing the bathroom door shut slightly, Jared made his way over, pushing the door open.

Sitting on the floor, her little arms hugging the white porcelain of the toilet was Bailey.  Molly stood just behind her, wetting her neck with a cold damp cloth.

“Baby,” he breathed, watching as his daughter’s head lifted weakly toward the sound of his voice.  Tears streamed down her red-rimmed eyes as she looked upon him.

“Daddy,” she mumbled softly, her voice hiccupping terribly, causing her to cry out more.

“I called her pediatrician and he told me that if she didn’t stop vomiting up in ten minutes that she’d need to go the emergency room,” Molly explained.  Jared kneeled down on the floor, moving next to his little girl, one large hand reaching out to touch her hair.

“How long has she gone?” came a voice from behind him, surprising Jared as he’d forgotten that Jensen was there.

“Ten minutes and no throwing up, her tummy still isn’t feeling well and her throat hurts from all the vomiting, but other than that … she’s been okay,” the babysitter explained.  There were a number of things that it could have been, but one thing stood out in his mind as the cause of his daughter’s distress.

“Food poisoning?” Jared asked, feeling his heart sink as Molly nodded.

“That’s what Dr. Meyer thinks,” she confirmed.  Jared frowned, looking away for a moment to keep himself from crying.  He’d fed Bailey dinner tonight and she hadn’t wanted to eat it … maybe.

“Don’t even think that,” Jensen whispered into his ear, stopping his negative train of thought.

“Daddy,” Bailey murmured once more, reaching her arms out to him.  Not hesitating for a moment, Jared pulled her close, placing tender kisses to her head.

“It’s okay, Baileygirl … Daddy’s got you.”

“Sleepy,” the little girl told him.

“I know, baby, we’re gonna clean you up and then tuck you in okay?” he asked, feeling her head nod against his chest.

“Thank you, Molly for calling,” he told the teenager.

“If you need me to stay, I can,” she offered. 

“We’ll be okay, thank you,” Jared replied.  Nodding, Molly stood, caressing Bailey’s hair.

“Feel better, munchkin,” she told the little girl.

“Bye, Molly.”

Jensen saw Molly to the door, while Jared began to run a warm bath for his daughter.  He added a capful of Johnson’s Bedtime Bath before slowly helping her out of her clothes.

“Lift your arms, baby,” he said softly, frowning as he watched his little girl struggle with the simplest tasks.  Testing the water, he rose to his knees, getting the leverage to help her into the tub.  Carefully washing her skin with the soothing bath wash, he kissed her temple and sighed.

“M’okay, Daddy,” she said softly.  Feeling tears begin to well up once more, Jared quickly rinsed her off and urged her to stand, wrapping her in a fluffy towel. 

“I got you, Bails,” he told her.  Drying her off, he carried her back into her bedroom where Jensen waited, a glass of ginger ale in his hand with a glass of water in the other.

“I figured this might help her tummy,” the other man said softly.  Flashing Jensen a grateful smile, Jared carefully set Bailey down on the bed, slipping her underwear and pajamas on quickly.  The little girl was half asleep through it all, murmuring to Jared softly throughout.

As he tucked her in, Jared leaned in close, kissing her temple and then her cheek.

“Have a drink, baby,” he urged, bringing the glass of water to her lips.  She drank slowly, tentatively, before practically collapsing onto her pillow.

“Sleepy, Daddy,” she said.

“Okay, Bails, you sleep now,” Jared answered.  Sighing softly, the two men watched as the little girl’s breathing evened out after a few minutes, her little hand going lax within Jared’s grasp.  Setting the glass of ginger ale down on the bedside table, Jensen took a step back.

“I’ll just wait downstairs,” the other man whispered.  Jared looked up at him, his eyes glassy.

“Stay,” he replied hoarsely, trying to keep his tears at bay.  Jensen simply nodded; slipping into a kneeling position on the other side of the bed, reaching out to take Bailey’s other hand.

Jared finally relinquished his hold on Bailey’s hand a half hour later, tucking her in with a final kiss before rising.  Jensen followed him closely, taking his hand once the little girl’s door had been shut.  The pair headed downstairs, cleaning up the main floor before locking up.

“You look drained,” Jensen told him.  Jared simply nodded, his head feeling heavy.  Seeing his baby so sick, it had nearly killed him.  Bailey had never been that sick before and he’d never felt so scared or helpless in his life.  Letting go of Jensen’s hand, he grabbed the house phone and dialed the doctor’s number.

After a few rings, the doctor picked up, his voice was thankfully wide awake.

“Dr. Meyer, it’s Jared Padalecki,” he said.

“Ah, Jared, how is young Bailey?” the other man asked.

“She’s sleeping now, but ... are you sure I shouldn’t bring her in to the emergency room?” Jared asked.

“If she had continued to vomit, I would say yes, but from what Molly explained, I believe she had a small bout of food poisoning,” Dr. Meyer explained.

“Was it … was it something I did?” he asked softly, suddenly feeling Jensen’s hand on the small of his back.

“No, Jared,” the doctor quickly said.  “Anything could have caused her to be sick, most likely something you never even realized.  She’ll be fine,” the man assured him.  Jared nodded, despite the fact that Dr. Meyer couldn’t see it.

“A good night’s sleep, keep her hydrated and she should be back to herself tomorrow,” the doctor told him.  Thanking the other man, Jared said goodbye and placed the phone back on the holder.

“Why don’t we check on Bailey and then head to bed?” Jensen suggested softly.  Turning his head, Jared’s gaze met the other man’s green eyes.

“Okay, yeah,” he replied.  Together they put out the rest of the lights before heading up the stairs.  Bailey had shifted onto her side during the time that they were gone, but was still out like a light.  Guiding Jensen down the hall, they entered his suite.

“Wow,” the other man said, causing Jared to turn around.

“What?” he asked.

“Nothing, it’s just … really beautiful,” Jensen replied.

“Bailey didn’t show you this on the tour?” Jared answered with a small smile.

“No, she told me that you wanted to give it to her so she could be a princess, but other than that … this is a big room,” Jensen stated.  Jared watched as his boyfriend’s eyes took in the California King size sleigh bed, the dark mahogany furniture set against the sage green walls.

“Wait till you see my closet,” he joked, pointing Jensen toward the extra area opposite the master bathroom. 

“Holy shit!” he heard the other man exclaim upon entering the room.  Chuckling, Jared headed into the master bath, staring at his reflection in the mirror.  His eyes were tired, causing him to sigh.  Casting his gaze toward the counter, he was startled as a pair of hands settled onto his hips.

“Hey,” Jensen said softly against his shoulder.  Looking up, Jared’s eyes met the other man’s in the mirror.

“Hi,” he replied in a whisper.

“You can’t blame yourself for this,” the other man told him quietly.  Internally, he knew Jensen was right, but it didn’t make it hurt any less.

“Come on, Jare, you need sleep too,” Jensen said, urging him back into the bedroom.  Silently, the pair changed into pajama bottoms before settling into bed.  As they both shifted into the middle and into each other’s arms, Jared sighed.

“This wasn’t how I was expecting your first night in my bed to be,” he admitted quietly.

“I think it’s perfect,” Jensen answered against the spot where Jared’s neck and shoulder met.  Running his fingers through the other man’s short hair, Jared shifted back, his gaze settling on Jensen’s face.

He was content to watch his boyfriend for a moment, feel the rise and fall of Jensen’s chest against his own.  Propping himself up on one arm, Jared let his free hand rise to trail along the skin of Jensen’s left bicep, loving how the muscles beneath twitched eagerly at each pass.

The soft light from the bedside table bathed Jensen in a warm light, allowing Jared to see every inch of the other man’s torso.

Sure he’d had sex before, but this … with Jensen. The moment was different, more significant.  Lost so deep in his thoughts, Jared was startled as the other man’s hand cupped the side of his face.

“You okay?” he asked quietly, causing Jared to nod.

“M’okay,” he responded gently, unable to resist the urge within to kiss his boyfriend.  Lowering his head, Jared let his lips rest against Jensen’s.  After several still seconds, Jensen’s lips began to move, his tongue slipping out to tease along Jared’s lower lip.

“God, what you do to me,” Jared breathed, shifting his lower body slightly as his legs straddled open over the other man’s left thigh.

Jared’s senses were on overload as his boyfriend’s fingers languidly mapped out the muscular planes of his back.

“Beautiful,” Jensen murmured between kisses.  His thigh slowly rose up, adding a delicious pressure to Jared’s cock and earning him a guttural moan.  Jared couldn’t have stopped himself if he tried and at this point … all he wanted was more.

Nibbling down the curve of Jensen’s strong jaw, Jared laid kisses across his collarbone, expanding his target as he moved lower and into the crook of the other man’s elbow, an amused smile forming at the noticeable jump from Jensen.

Casting his gaze back up, Jared grinned, “Duly noted.”

Jensen responded with a grin of his own and a playful swat to Jared’s shoulder as they continued to stare at one another.  Feeling the heat of Jensen’s skin, seeing the flush of arousal in his cheeks and his wide, passion blown eyes, Jared sobered, instantly knowing what he wanted.

“Can I touch you?” he asked.

“You have been,” Jensen murmured in response.  Shaking his head slightly, Jared rested one large hand against his boyfriend’s sternum, slowly bringing it down.  Their eyes never left one another’s as his long fingers teased Jensen’s navel, finally finding purchase atop the prominent bulge in Jensen’s sleep pants.

“Can I touch you, Jense?” he asked again softly.  Watching Jensen nod slowly, Jared lowered his head once again, lips placing gentle kisses against the other man’s bare chest.  For his part, Jensen slid a hand into Jared’s hair, fingers softly caressing the scalp.

“God, Jay,” he murmured, as Jared let his fingers slide under the waist band of Jensen’s pants. 

“I got you,” Jared promised, letting his fingers slide around Jensen’s cock.

“Yeah, you do,” the other man responded. 

Beginning to pump along his boyfriend’s hard length, Jared delighted in the keening moans that continued to escape Jensen’s mouth.  Swiping his thumb over the slit he gathered a drop of pre-cum, using it for additional lube as he continued to pump.

“Jesus,” Jensen breathed, head dropping back into the pillows as Jared placed open-mouthed kisses upon him.  Nuzzling against Jensen’s chest, he let his tongue slip forward, sliding down his chest as it dipped into his navel.

“Jay, god that feels so good.”

Smiling, Jared let his hands slide the other man’s pants down, exposing his perfect cock.  One hand re-settled around Jensen’s length as he bent down to capture the tip in his mouth.  Sliding his tongue into the slit, Jared tasted the unique flavor of his lover’s pre-cum.

“Damn,” Jared murmured, lifting his head up slightly as he continued to caress the other man’s shaft, “You’re incredible.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, Jay,” Jensen replied breathlessly, sliding his fingers into Jared’s tousled hair.  Returning to the task at hand, Jared opened his mouth, taking Jensen’s cock fully within the hot cavern of his mouth.

“Holy …,” Jensen couldn’t even finish as he felt himself bottom out against the back of the taller man’s throat.  Humming contentedly, Jared moved his mouth up and down the other man’s length.

“Don’t stop,” Jensen pleaded, his fingers tightening their grasp in Jared’s hair.  Lifting off Jensen’s cock with a pop, Jared took a deep breath, his hand continuing to pump.  His own shaft was straining against the confines of his pants and Jared had a feeling it wouldn’t take much for his release to come. 

Focusing his attention back on Jensen, Jared returned his mouth to its former task, taking his lover’s cock deep as he continued to build a solid rhythm.

________________________________________

 

Arching his back, Jensen let his eyes slide shut at the exquisite feeling of Jared’s mouth.  The pressure continued to build until the fire in his belly blazed white hot.

“Jare … I’m gonna …,” he tried to warn his lover, but suddenly his orgasm shot forth, stars dancing behind his eyes as Jared’s mouth continued to draw out his release. 

“Oh god,” he moaned breathlessly, hearing Jared’s own obscene moan as the taller man grinded against his leg.  After a few moments, Jared finally pulled off his length with a wet pop, his breathing ragged.

“Good?” Jared asked, inching his way up Jensen’s body with gentle kisses to his heated skin.

“Are you kidding? That was perfect,” he murmured.  Pulling Jared closer, Jensen’s eyes popped open in realization … his boyfriend hadn’t gotten off.  Sliding a hand down Jared’s chest, he was surprised as the other man stopped his hand.

“Let me return the favor,” he insisted, startled when Jared started to chuckle.

“Believe me, you did,” the other man answered, shifting his hips to allow Jensen’s wayward hand feel the wet spot on the front of his pajama pants.

“It’s been awhile,” Jared confessed softly.  Surging forward, Jensen captured the other man’s lips, tasting himself on Jared’s tongue.

“Nothing wrong with that,” he said, caressing Jared’s face with his lips.  They stayed like that for a few long minutes, trading gentle kisses and soft caresses before Jared began to pull back. 

“I should check on Bailey … change clothes,” Jared whispered.  The other man moved to get out of bed, but Jensen stopped him with a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, you okay?” he asked.  Jared’s face suddenly lit up with a smile and he nodded.

“I’m okay, just wet,” he answered.  “Believe me, I’m more than okay.”

Nodding, Jensen watched as his boyfriend made his way into the closet, emerging seconds later in new pants.

“Get comfortable, I’ll be right back,” Jared told him with a small grin.  Settling against the luxurious pillows, Jensen pulled up his own pants and waited for Jared’s return.  Within seconds, the door opened once more and Jared re-joined him in bed.

“How is she?” he asked, pulling Jared closer as their legs intertwined beneath the blankets.

“Still out like a light,” Jared answered, trailing a hand around his waist.  Leaning forward, Jensen placed a soft kiss upon his lover’s lips, smiling at the contented sigh that escaped.

“Sleep,” he murmured.

“You too,” Jared replied.

“I will if you will,” Jensen teased, earning a playful slap on his backside.

“Ow, how am I supposed to relax with you smackin’ my ass?” he countered.  Suddenly, Jared’s large hand caressed the spot that had been previously stung.

“Better?”

“Much,” Jensen answered softly.  Holding onto his lover, he let his hands slide through Jared’s hair as they both drifted off to sleep.

________________________________________

 

Several hours later, the bedroom door clicked open, neither man stirring from the noise as Bailey shuffled in.  Her favorite teddy bear was tucked securely under her arm as she approached Jared’s side of the bed.

“Daddy?” she called out softly.  Jensen’s eyes blinked open slowly, registering the soft voice nearby.  His mind cleared upon realizing the voice belonged to Bailey.  Lifting his head from the pillow slowly, his gaze fell on the little girl in the darkness.

“Hey, Sprite,” he murmured, his voice rough from sleep.

“Hi,” she replied.  Their gazes remained locked for a moment before she suddenly moved, coming around the bed to stand by his side.

“How you feelin’, kiddo?” Jensen asked, turning toward her.

“M’okay, just … had a bad dream,” she responded, biting her lower lip.  Jensen was torn, unsure whether he should wake Jared or go with his gut.  In the end, the latter won out.

“You wanna sleep with us?” he asked, watching her little head bob.  Smiling, Jensen pulled back the blankets, patting the mattress.

“Come on up, Sprite,” he told her, smiling as she eagerly began to climb onto the bed.  Gently and mindful of her tummy, Jensen lifted Bailey to lie between them.  Jared faced away from them, his breathing even and deep, but there was enough room that if he rolled over; it wouldn’t crush Bailey.

Looking down at the little girl, Jensen realized that Bailey was practically wide awake.

“You need to sleep, sweetie,” he murmured.

“Can you sing to me, Jen?” Bailey replied quietly.  Smiling, Jensen nodded, letting her snuggle into him as her head rested in the crook of his arm.  Making sure the blankets were tucked tight around them, Jensen wracked his brain for a song that would work, smiling slightly as he thought of the perfect one.

“Now it’s time to say good night … good night, sleep tight … Now the sun turns out his light … good night, sleep tight … Dream sweet dreams for me … Dream sweet dreams for you …,”

Running his fingers through Bailey’s hair, Jensen continued to sing the song that his momma used to sing for him when he was little.

“Close your eyes and I’ll close mine … good night, sleep tight … Now the moon begins to shine … good night, sleep tight … Dream sweet dreams for me … Dream sweet dreams for you …,” Jensen nearly paused at the end of the second verse as Jared shifted, but continued along seeing Bailey on the verge of sleep in his arms.

“Close your eyes and I’ll close mine … good night, sleep tight … Now the moon begins to shine … good night, sleep tight … Dream sweet dreams for me … Dream sweet dreams for you.”

The last line was sung quietly as Bailey finally slipped into a contented sleep.  Smiling, Jensen placed a kiss upon the top of her head, watching for a moment longer before resting back on his pillow.

________________________________________

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

Feeling the sun shine upon his closed eyes, Jared frowned, moving to roll over closer to his bedmate.  It took a moment for his sleep-addled brain to process the fact that it wasn’t just Jensen in bed with him.  Blinking slowly, his heart clenched at the sight before him.  Jensen lay half on his side, Bailey snuggled in his grasp.  He didn’t even hear her come in during the night.

Reaching out, Jared swept back a lock of his daughter’s hair, momentarily surprised as Jensen’s eyes blinked open.

“Hey,” he whispered.  Jensen smiled, his gaze dropping to Bailey after a moment.

“Morning,” he told Jared, his voice rough with sleep.  Jared felt his stomach flip-flop at the tone of the other man’s voice, which was nearly as sexy as the passion-laced voice his boyfriend had used the night before.

“What time did she come in?” he asked, scooting closer to the pair.

“About two or so, you were sleeping pretty heavy and she had a bad dream,” Jensen explained, causing him to frown.  <i>‘How had he not heard her come in?’ he thought.</i>

“Stop that,” Jensen scolded suddenly, “You’ll get wrinkles.”

Unable to stop the bubble of laughter from escaping, Jared let his eyes drift over the pair, finally meeting Jensen’s gaze.  Bailey sighed softly, causing both men to look down.  Looking back up, Jared’s breath hitched in his throat.

“You okay?” Jensen asked softly, his emerald eyes watching him curiously.  Jared nodded slowly, one hand rising toward the other man’s face.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been this close before,” he admitted.

“To what?”

“Perfection,” Jared answered in a near whisper.  Not a sound could be heard in the room beyond Bailey’s even breathing as the pair stared at one another.  Finally Jared sat up, carefully leaning over his daughter as his lips inched toward Jensen’s.

“Good morning,” he whispered, lips curving into a grin as he captured the other man’s mouth in a gentle but searing kiss.

“Indeed,” Jensen replied, opening his eyes after a moment to look up at Jared.  Before either man could speak, a mumble came from between them.  Pulling back, Jared watched as Bailey’s eyes flickered open, taking in her surroundings through sleep-clouded eyes.

“Hey baby,” he said softly, watching his daughter’s eyes continue to shift around.  Bailey yawned tiredly looking up at Jensen before turning her head back toward him.

“Good morning, Baileygirl,” he said, leaning forward to smooch her cheek.  Pulling back, his gaze landed on her bright smile.

“Morning, Daddy,” she said.  “Morning, Jen,” Bailey added, grinning up at the man who still held her close.

“Good morning, sweetie,” he replied with a smile.

“How are you feelin’ kiddo?” Jared asked, one large hand rubbing softly over the blankets covering her belly.

“Hungry, can we have pancakes, Daddy?” she replied quickly.  Jared hesitated for a moment; unsure of how to approach breakfast after he’d nearly put his daughter in the hospital the night before.

“Hey Sprite, why don’t you run into your room and put your slippers on and we’ll meet you in the kitchen, k?” Jensen asked her softly.  Nodding eagerly, Bailey slithered out from under the covers, climbing over her father as she hopped down onto the floor. 

The pair watched her make her way out of the room before Jared suddenly felt a hand settle on his chest.  Turning his head, he was surprised to find Jensen so close, his lips a mere inch from his own.

“You can’t beat yourself up over this, Jay,” he said softly.  “People get sick all the time, it wasn’t your fault.”

Unable to focus with the other man so close, Jared nodded.  His nose nudging against Jensen’s as he tilted his head slightly, lips meeting slowly.  Moaning softly, Jared let his hand rise to cover the other man’s, which still rested against his chest.

“Still hungry, Daddy,” came a soft yet teasing voice from down the hall.  Pulling apart slowly, Jensen chuckled ducking his head to rest against their joined hands.

“Okay, Bails, we’re on our way,” Jared called out.  Looking back at Jensen, Jared’s eyes went wide at the sound of the other man’s stomach growling.

“Seems like she’s not the only hungry one,” he pointed out, poking playfully at Jensen’s stomach, only to have it batted away.  Grinning, Jared slid the covers off, rising out of bed to grab a clean t-shirt from the dresser drawer.  Feeling a hand caress along his cotton covered shoulders, he turned his head, catching Jensen’s bright smile as he slipped out of the room.

Heading down to the kitchen after a quick trip to the bathroom, Jared found his boyfriend and daughter seated eagerly at the island counter.

“Wow, I better get started before the hunger consumes you both,” he joked, opening the refrigerator door to grab the container of orange juice.  Pouring a glass for Bailey, Jared set it in front of her before grabbing the ingredients for pancakes.

“Can I help?” Jensen murmured, suddenly beside him.

“Start the coffee?” he replied, leaning forward to steal a kiss.  A blush crept up Jensen’s cheeks before dissipating as he moved to get the coffee brewing.

 “Bails, you want a banana first?” Jared asked, turning back around toward the little girl.

“Yes, please,” she replied, picking up her juice glass to take a hearty gulp.

“Easy, baby,” he told her softly, pressing a kiss to her temple as he placed an opened banana in front of her.  Making his way back to the stove, he heated the griddle, watching Jensen out of the corner of his eye as the other man watched the coffee brew.

“Want some, Jensen?” Bailey asked suddenly, causing the other man to turn.  He assumed that his daughter held out a piece of banana for his boyfriend, making him smile.  Jensen navigated away from the coffee and toward Bailey.

“Thank you, Sprite,” he heard Jensen say.  Mixing the ingredients, Jared cast his glance back toward the pair and smiled. 

“Maybe we could carve pumpkins for Halloween in class?” Bailey offered.

“I don’t know if we could carve them, but maybe we can paint them,” Jensen responded.  Jared’s gaze flickered over to the fridge, unable to believe that they were so close to Halloween.  Had it really only been two months since Jensen had entered their lives? 

Jared watched them, saw how their bright smiles continued to flash as Bailey’s little hands flailed dramatically.  He wasn’t sure what the story was about, but one thing was certain … she had Jensen’s full attention.

Smiling, Jared watched his boyfriend chuckle at another part to the story.  The other man’s emerald gaze shown with amusement and something else … love?

It was only natural, he reasoned.  All the days spent together at school, the time spent at the house … the two were incredibly close.  His heart suddenly hammered in his chest … if Jensen loved Bailey could it mean that he …

Jared looked down at the mixing bowl in his hands.  He’d didn’t have a lot of experience with love.  Granted his only real relationship had been with Mat, but what they had in a year’s time seemed to pale in comparison to the way Jensen fit in with his family now. 

“And then he ran up the stairs and fell down, right Daddy?” Bailey asked, shaking Jared so fast from his thoughts that he’d nearly dropped the mixing bowl.  Two sets of eyes gaze upon him now, seemingly waiting for an answer, but for the life of him … Jared had no idea what Bailey was talking about.

“What, baby?” he asked, hoping she’d at least tell part of it over again and give himself a chance to be redeemed.  To his surprise, Bailey merely shrugged with a grin and launched into a whole new story, hands once again ready to flail.

Chuckling, Jared moved to turn back to the stove, stopping short as his gaze met Jensen’s.  The other man looked upon him, eyes ablaze with the same amusement he’d shown Bailey, but the heat within his depths said something much more.

Smiling, Jared’s gaze reluctantly shifted back to the task at hand, setting full plates of chocolate chip pancakes in front of the pair minutes later.  He’d purposely made Bailey’s small, but it seemed the Padalecki appetite was in full force this morning.  Jared tried not to be concerned, his gaze occasionally meeting Jensen’s for reassurance.

Finally, after a rather loud belch and subsequent apology, Bailey asked to be excused. 

“No running,” Jared chimed out upon hearing his daughter’s eager footsteps.  Confident that she’d gotten the message, he looked over a Jensen, who sat back in the island chair watching him intently.  Slowly, Jared approached him, a lazy grin spreading across his face as the other man spread his legs, bringing him into the circle of his arms with a gentle pull.  Jensen’s hands rested against his hips, fingers slowly finding purchase underneath the cotton of his shirt as their gazes stayed locked on one another.

“Were you thinking about me?” Jensen murmured, a small grin tugging at his lips.  Jared’s brows furrowed, unsure of what the other man meant.  Suddenly it dawned on him … the story incident during pancake making.  Running one large hand up Jensen’s bicep, Jared chuckled. 

“I might have been, yes,” he answered, leaning in closer.

“Thought so,” his boyfriend replied seconds before their lips met.  Just a brush at first before Jared slid both arms around Jensen’s neck, deepening the kiss.

A loud thump from upstairs caused the pair to pull apart slightly, gazes lifting toward the ceiling.

“Sorry! Nothin’s broken!” came Bailey’s voice from the hallway, echoing down the corridor.

Chuckling, Jared leaned forward, his head ducking slightly to nuzzle at Jensen’s temple.  He closed his eyes feeling Jensen’s warm hand softly caress the skin of his low back, fingers dipping occasionally below the waistband of his sweats.

“What are your plans for the day?” Jared asked quietly, his fingers gliding gently through the other man’s short hair.

“I don’t have any,” Jensen answered.  “I’m all yours, if you want me,” he added.  Shifting back to meet Jensen’s eyes, Jared smiled.

“I want you,” he replied, delighting in the grin Jensen flashed him.

“Can we go to the zoo?”

Both men looked over quickly at the sound of Bailey’s voice.  Standing in the doorway, the little girl was all dressed and ready for the day with Harley sitting dutifully by her side.  Looking back at Jensen, Jared shrugged.

“Wanna go to the zoo?”

________________________________________

The trio had in fact gone to the zoo that day, and Jensen couldn’t remember ever having a day quite as fun.  They’d gone from animal to animal, each one bigger than the next.  Yet seeing the wonder in Bailey’s eyes had truly been his favorite part.  The little girl marveled at the various exhibits, lingering a bit longer at the snow leopard habitat.

<i>“Did you know the snow leopard can’t roar?” she’d asked them, causing the pair to look at her in confusion.

“I think they’re probably pretty good at roaring, Bails, considering how big they are,” Jared had replied.

“They can’t roar without a larynx, Daddy,” the little girl countered.  Jared had turned to him dumbfounded.

“Where’d you find that out?” Jensen had asked her, watching the classic ‘duh’ look appear on the little girl’s face as her finger pointed at the information tablet on the front of the habitat.</i>

Suffice to say, Bailey had come away from the zoo gift shop with a very decent sized snow leopard stuffed animal.

Jensen had headed home later that evening, reluctantly so.  Despite wanting to stay and the pleading of two pairs of devastating hazel eyes, he’d gone home to Sadie and worked on grading homework and planning lessons.

But the ensuing week had turned into one battle after another for time to spend with one another.  Jared had needed to go out of town for a few days for work, with Chad returning to watch Bailey.  Then the day he’d gotten back, Jensen had already been roped into a teacher’s conference that evening.

It seemed as though all the strikes were against them, so when Friday morning rolled around and Jared and Bailey made their way into the classroom, Jensen tried to remain upbeat for a possible date this weekend.

Bailey had given him a boisterous ‘good morning!’ before moving to sit at her desk alongside her best friend, Sarah.

“Hey,” Jensen said, smiling as Jared approached, flashing him that dimpled smile.

“Hey,” he replied.  “Feels like forever since I’ve really seen you,” Jared added.

“It does feel like that,” Jensen agreed, moving closer unconsciously.  He watched as Jared’s hands slipped into the front pockets of his jeans, head ducking shyly.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, I um … I was thinking, see Bailey’s having a sleepover at Sarah’s tonight,” Jared explained, closing the gap between them.

“I was thinking that maybe we could have a sleepover of our own tonight?” he asked softly, one large hand reaching out to rest on Jensen’s hip.  Smiling, Jensen reached down to take Jared’s hand, fingers lacing together.

“I think that’s an awesome idea,” he replied.

“Yeah?”

“Most definitely,” Jensen answered, grinning madly.  He hadn’t been this elated since, well … ever.

“Great, well I’m bringing her over to Sarah’s at six, should be home by seven.  How about you come over then?” Jared asked.

“That works,” he agreed.  Jared turned to walk away, but stopped abruptly, making his way back over.

“By the way, pajamas are not allowed at this sleepover,” he told Jensen, his voice low and full of promise.

“Gotcha,” Jensen replied dumbly, his brain on overdrive at the images Jared’s words evoked.

“Later,” his boyfriend said.  Jensen watched him walk over to kiss Bailey goodbye before making his way out, giving a final glance in his direction.

“Damn,” he cursed softly, turning his back on the children as he willed his sudden erection away with the thoughts of old ladies and dead kittens.

“Are you okay, Jensen?” came a voice, startling him.  Turning, Jensen looked down at Bailey, who stared at him curiously.

“Yeah, I’m okay, Bailey,” he answered, all traces of his arousal gone in an instant.

“Alrighty, let’s start our day!”

________________________________________

 

It was just past dark as Jensen pulled up outside of Jared’s house.  Despite it only being just past seven o’clock, he could see lights on in the house and was confident that his boyfriend was home.

Sadie scratched at the door, anxious to get out and he smiled.

“Okay, okay, we’re going,” he promised as he climbed down, keeping it open for the dog as she instantly darted around the truck toward the house.

Grabbing his bag, Jensen quickly followed, knocking on the door with two strong wraps.  After a minute it swung open to reveal a smiling Jared, looking oh-so-perfect in faded jeans, a soft t-shirt and bare feet.

“Hi,” he greeted, stepping aside to let them in.  Sadie took that as her cue, darting in to find Harley.  Making his way in, Jensen paused next to his boyfriend, arching up to kiss his lips quickly.

“Hi, yourself,” he answered.  Setting his bag down, Jensen moved to take his jacket off, nearly jumping a mile as large hands trapped his arms within their grasp.  Suddenly, delicious heat mouthed along the exposed portion of his neck, tongue dipping out occasionally to add to the overload.

“Jesus,” Jensen breathed, head falling back on Jared’s shoulder.

Without warning, he was spun around, lips crashing onto his, masterfully seeking entrance to his mouth.  Finding his arms free, Jensen whipped his jacket off, arms rising to wind around Jared’s neck.  Hands suddenly settled on his ass, sealing their hips together.

All too soon, Jared pulled back with a grin, deep gasps hurdling through both of them.

“Now that was a welcome,” Jensen teased, both of the chuckling as they stood inch to inch, foreheads resting softly against one another.

“I’ve got dinner ready,” Jared whispered, disrupting the silence.

“Lead the way,” he replied, smiling as the taller man laced their fingers together, pulling him toward the deck entrance with a gentle tug.

________________________________________

To say he was nervous was an understatement.  They’d enjoyed a fantastic steak dinner by candlelight out on the deck, followed by dessert in the kitchen sitting area.  Yet now, as they made a silent climb up the stairs toward Jared’s bedroom, Jensen could feel his stomach flip-flop.

It wasn’t as if he’d never had sex before, hell it wasn’t the first time he’d been physical with Jared either, but now, as the taller man flicked on the bedside lamp, Jensen realized it really was different.

“Jen? You okay?” Jared asked, shaking him from his thoughts.  Looking over at his boyfriend, Jensen nodded.

“Yeah, I’m okay,” he confirmed quietly.  Suddenly Jared was there, pulling him into the circle of his arms.

“You’re nervous,” the other man stated, causing Jensen to nod.

“I am too, Jen,” Jared answered.

“Really?”

“Yeah, really,” he replied with a smile.  “It’s been a long time for me too,” Jared continued.  His admission made Jensen melt, unable to stop a small smile from emerging.

“Me too,” Jensen confirmed.  Running his hands up Jensen’s arms, Jared paused to give his biceps a reassuring squeeze.

“I think you have an obsession with my biceps,” Jensen joked, causing Jared to grin.  His hands suddenly tugged Jensen’s shirt up and off, while his head dipped down and began peppering open-mouth kisses along Jensen’s right bicep.

“You say obsession like it’s a bad thing,” Jared murmured quietly, his eyes dancing with mirth.

“Christ …,” Jensen groaned, looking down at the other man.  “Not a bad thing … obsess away,” he added, his free arm moving to wrap around Jared’s shoulders.

He wasn’t sure how it happened, but it had.  The mood in the room had gone from playful to serious as Jared’s kisses along Jensen’s arms had become deliberate and focused nips along the flesh of his stomach.

Large hands framed his waist, causing Jensen to look down through hooded eyes as Jared kneeled before him.

“Jay,” he whispered, his hands finding purchase in the other man’s long hair.

“I got you, Jense,” Jared replied.

Feeling another kiss upon his belly, Jensen drew in a sharp breath as nimble fingers worked at the buttons of his jeans.

“I got you,” Jared whispered once again, his hands sliding back to Jensen’s hips as he coaxed the denim off, leaving him in black boxer briefs.

“Perfect,” he murmured suddenly, rising up to claim Jensen’s lips once again.  Winding his arms around the taller man’s neck, Jensen groaned as Jared’s large hands roamed the planes of his naked back before settling on his ass.

“You know, you’re a tad over-dressed,” he pointed out, causing Jared to grin.

“Looks that way, don’t it?”

Reaching out, Jensen’s fingers curled along the end seam of the taller man’s grey shirt, giving the garment a soft tug upwards.  Letting his eyes follow the movement of his hands, Jensen couldn’t help but bite down softly on his lower lip as inches of golden skin became exposed.

It wasn’t until he’d tugged off the shirt that he realized Jared’s face held an amused grin.

“What?” he asked him softly, hands falling to the taller man’s hips.

“Nothin … was just cute to see you biting your lip,” Jared confessed, one hand ghosting over Jensen’s bare shoulder.

“Cute, huh?” he asked, watching Jared nod.  Their gazes continued to hold as Jensen’s fingers undid his boyfriend’s pants, slowly pushing them off his lean hips.

“Come here,” Jared murmured after a moment, one hand reaching out to take Jensen’s own.  Pushing back the plush bedding, Jared settled onto the mattress, a gentle yet forceful tug bringing Jensen down with him.

Both men chuckled despite themselves as they untangled their limbs for a brief moment.  It wasn’t long before their legs had once again intertwined, bodies facing one another on their sides.

“Hi,” Jared said, reaching out to caress Jensen’s face.

“Hey,” he replied in a whisper, his head inching forward in an attempt to get closer to the other man’s lips.  Jensen released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding as their mouths met, tongues tangling languorously. 

A soft moan escaped Jared as their bodies inched even closer.  Lifting a hand, Jensen let it drop into his boyfriend’s hair, tugging gently at the strands as he urged Jared onto his back.

Rising up slightly, Jensen couldn’t stop the groan that spilled from his lips as his cock rubbed against Jared’s.

“Fuck,” his boyfriend swore beneath him, his large hands gripping Jensen’s hips to keep them locked together.

“Off,” he murmured after a moment, his fingers slipping beneath the elastic of Jensen’s briefs.  Looking down, Jensen was floored by the heat in Jared’s eyes.

“Jen,” he whispered, fingers touching Jensen’s cheek.  As if being released from the trance of Jared’s eyes, Jensen nodded and quickly sat up.  Resting back on his heels, he began to peel his underwear off, a very un-manly squeak coming forth as he was ceremoniously pushed backwards with over 200 pounds of Jared quickly covering his body.

Their eyes met as Jared’s fingers inched lower, quickly completing the task he’d kept Jensen from.  An amused smirk tugged at the corners of his mouth as Jensen’s briefs were thrown off the bed.

“Sorry, you were taking too long,” Jared answered.  Suddenly he dipped his head, lips grazing Jensen’s belly before moving lower.

“Jay,” Jensen moaned as the other man’s tongue flicked across the slit of his cock teasingly, gathering up the bead of pre-come at the tip.  He couldn’t help it as his hands slid into Jared’s hair, the feeling of the man’s lips moving along his length nearly too much to bare. 

“Wait, Jare,” he pleaded, feeling Jared stiffen over him.  His boyfriend’s head lifted, eyes full of concern.  Palming Jared’s cheek, Jensen urged him closer, lips meeting slowly.  It wasn’t long before their kisses had become deliberate and intense.

“You okay?” Jared asked, their mouths barely parting for the question.  Jensen nodded, nuzzling against the other man’s cheek until his lips were against the shell of Jared’s ear.

“Don’t need more foreplay,” he murmured.  “Just you, Jay.”

 

Pulling back, Jared looked down at his boyfriend, his lover … his Jensen.  Hands coaxed over skin and heavy sighs filled the room as Jared dropped a hand between them, his slick fingers resting against Jensen’s puckered hole.  Hesitating for a brief moment, he finally slid one finger in to the first knuckle, his eyes watching his lover for any sign of discomfort.

“M’okay,” Jensen murmured, hips shifting to drive Jared’s finger in to the hilt.  The moan that escaped the other man’s lips this time was that of pure ecstasy and Jared couldn’t help but smile.  Adding a second finger seconds later, he began a gentle yet determined rhythm, scissoring his fingers to open his lover up.

“So tight,” Jared said, kissing the inside of Jensen’s knee.

“Feels … so good,” the other man answered, writhing beneath him as his hips moved in perfect harmony with his fingers.  By the time Jared had gotten three fingers within him, Jensen was a babbling mess.

“Please,” he moaned, his hand reaching out to grasp Jared’s thigh. 

“I got you,” Jared promised, reaching blindly for the condom he’d discarded next to them.  Fingers finally closing around the foil package, he brought it up to his lips to tear it open, pausing at the sight below him.  Head thrown back in passion, Jensen continued to ride his fingers, his back arched high off the bed as his body moved with abandon.

Finally sliding the condom on, Jared slicked up his length once more before settling between his lover’s thighs.  Jensen moaned at the loss of his lover’s fingers, but his breath suddenly hitched at the feeling of Jared’s cock breaching him slowly.

“Jesus,” Jensen said, his passion blown eyes looking up to meet Jared’s as the other man slid in to the hilt.  It took all of Jared’s self-control to not lose it completely, the feeling of Jensen’s body taking him in … overwhelming him. 

“Fuck, you’re tight, so tight,” Jared moaned, head dropping down against Jensen’s chest as he slowly began to thrust.  Lifting up, he leveraged his knees against the mattress, using the solid surface to build an easy rhythm.  One hand trailed down the length of his lover’s body, fingers curling at Jensen’s knee as he hooked the man’s leg around his hips.

“Much better,” he murmured as his cock sank in even further, drawing a long moan from Jensen.

“Harder,” Jensen pleaded, his hands reaching above him to grip the end board of the bed.  Taking that as a sign, Jared dug deep and in an instant Jensen began to unravel beneath him.  He watched as his lover’s mouth opened in a silent cry, eyes screwed shut as his fingers clenched the sheets around them.

“Open your eyes,” Jared gasped, leaning in close as his belly trapped Jensen’s cock between them, the friction pushing him closer to the edge.  Their lips mashed together once more as Jared thrusted into Jensen with firm strokes.

“Close,” Jensen rasped, barely able to get the words out around Jared’s tongue.  Pulling back enough to see his lover’s face, Jared cupped Jensen’s face with one hand.

“Let me see your eyes, Jen … let me in,” he whispered, smiling as his lover’s eyes fluttered open, locking on him in an instant.

“Wanna see you come apart for me,” Jared told him, his own breaths coming in ragged gasps.

“Only for you,” Jensen moaned, one hand splaying against Jared’s face as they moved together in abandon.  Jared groaned, the tightening in his belly became almost too much to bare. 

“Jared … gonna,” the words never fully made it past Jensen’s lips as his release hit him like a freight train.  Jared could feel the sticky hot mess build between them as he picked up the pace of his thrusts, wanting to join his lover.

“Fuck,” Jared swore, stars dancing behind his eyes as he pushed a final time into Jensen, his orgasm surging forward.  It was too much, the feeling of his lover’s body contracting still around him, the heat of their release.  Jared continued to move, his body thrusting shallowly as he worked his way through it.  Dropping his head onto Jensen’s chest, he felt warm fingers thread into his sweaty hair, stroking his scalp contentedly until he’d finally collapsed, his weight completely resting on his lover.

“I got you now,” Jensen whispered.  Lifting his head, Jared smiled slowly.

“Yeah, you certainly do.”

 

Eyes opening with a flutter, Jared felt warmth beneath his cheek and smiled.  Jensen lay flat on his belly under him, with Jared’s head pillowed near the small of his back.  One large hand was extended down Jensen’s leg, holding the man’s sheet-covered thigh in a loose grasp.

A small yawn escaped him as he lifted his head just slightly, placing a kiss against Jensen’s skin.  Trailing his hand back up, Jared curled it around his lover’s hip, his mouth beginning to trail kisses along the other man’s spine as he shifted closer.

“Again?” Jensen asked sleepily, causing Jared to grin.  Their first time had turned into a second, then a third nearly an hour after that, and he was more than certain that Jensen was sore.

“Shush,” Jared said, his hand settling on Jensen’s ass as he rested against his lover’s back once more.  They laid there in silence till Jensen’s voice broke through the quiet.

“Why are you awake?”

“Just woke up,” he admitted quietly, breathing deeply as he wrapped his arms around Jensen’s middle, snuggling close.

“Want me to tell you a story?” Jared chuckled at the sleepy, yet teasing question.

“No, but you can sing to me,” he answered, remembering Bailey’s words about Jensen’s singing ability.  Suddenly Jensen shifted in an attempt to roll over, which Jared allowed with a grin, his legs straddling his lover’s thigh.

They gazed at one another in the semi-darkness, the morning light just beginning to inch toward the horizon.

“Any requests?” Jensen asked, his fingers reaching out to touch Jared’s hair.

“Your choice,” he murmured in response, pressing an open mouthed kiss just below Jensen’s right nipple.  His lover groaned, body arching upward for more contact.

“Song first,” Jared scolded, earning a chuckled from Jensen.

“Okay, okay,” he answered.  Smiling, Jared rested his chin against his lover’s chest, unwilling to take his eyes off the other man.  Jensen’s hand slid into his hair as he began.

“Twilight fades … Through blistered Avalon … The sky's cruel torch … On aching autobahn … Into the uncertain divine … We scream into the last divide.” 

 Jensen’s voice was throaty, laden with sleep, but still so achingly beautiful.  As he reached the first chorus, Jared felt his heart clench.

“You make me real … You make me real … Strong as i feel … You make me real.”

The motion of Jensen’s fingers upon his scalp, combined with the passionate softness in his voice was very quickly lulling Jared back to sleep, but he forced his eyes open and found his lover watching him as he sang.

 “Sheila rides on crashing nightingale … Intake eyes leave passing vapor trails … With blushing brilliance alive … Because it's time to arrive.”

Each word was like a gentle caress and Jared finally couldn’t help but rest his head fully on Jensen’s chest, his eyes growing heavy.  Breathing deeply, he felt his conscious begin to swim, the words of the chorus being that last thing Jared heard as sleep took hold once more.

“You make me real … You make me real … Strong as i feel … You make me real.”

________________________________________

 

CHAPTER NINE

It was about four hours later when the pair had finally rolled out of bed, sauntering down to the kitchen hand in hand as they decided on what to do about a late breakfast.  Opening the refrigerator door, Jared peered in, searching for food.  Suddenly a warm chest pressed against his back, hands sliding onto his hips.  Moist lips began to plant kisses across his shoulder, causing Jared to chuckle.

“I’m never going to figure out what we’re having for breakfast if you keep trying to sex me up,” he told him, eliciting a laugh out of Jensen.

“Did you really just say ‘sex me up’ in the kitchen?” the other man asked, reaching under Jared’s arm to grab the orange juice from the shelf.  Jensen backed away, going to the cupboard to grab a glass.  Snagging the eggs, some bacon and various veggies, Jared turned toward his boyfriend and grinned.

“Just stating the facts,” he told him, setting the objects down before reaching out to snare Jensen around the waist.

“Hey!” the other man squawked, nearly dropping the glass in his hand as he crashed into Jared’s chest.

Lowering his head, Jared began to nibble at the skin along his lover’s shoulder, smoothing it after a moment with his tongue before starting all over again.  Suddenly a rumbling could be heard and Jared couldn’t help but laugh.

“I believe your stomach just spurned my advances,” he whispered, smacking Jensen on the ass playfully.

“Ow, still a tad sore from all the sexing last night,” his boyfriend pointed out.  Leaning in close, Jared nipped at Jensen’s shoulder.

“Don’t forget about this morning,” he told him, causing Jensen to grin.

“Believe me, I won’t.”

Chuckling, Jared moved to pull out a frying pan, but was suddenly blocked by his boyfriend’s body.

“We’re never going to have breakfast if you don’t let me get my tools,” he pointed out.  Jensen’s hand reached out, encircling the back of Jared’s neck as he brought their lips together.  Moaning deeply, Jared abandoned the pan in his hand, letting it clatter to the floor noisily as he pulled his lover closer.  Tongues tangled quickly, deepening with a turn of their heads.

“God, what you do to me …” he murmured, as Jensen’s lips began to map out a path down his neck.  The other man gripped Jared’s hips as he continued lower, his tongue flicking at both nipples as he traced across washboard abs.

“You do the same to me, Jare,” Jensen whispered, his eyes lifting.  Jared cupped his boyfriend’s face, surprised as Jensen suddenly moved forward once more, biting softly into the flesh of his abs.

“Ow, what the hell was that for?” he asked with a chuckle, feeling Jensen laugh against his skin.  As Jensen continued his exploration, Jared cringed knowing that the other man was just inches away from a very ticklish patch of skin.  The moment Jensen’s tongue found the spot, he roared with laughter.

“Stop, oh god,” he laughed, strong hands moving to push Jensen away.  But the other man was quick to realize what was going on and merely intensified his assault.

“You suck,” Jared giggled, nearly falling on the floor as the tickling made him squirm.

Jensen’s hands had just slid under Jared’s sweats when the doorbell rang, startling them both.  Jared looked down at his boyfriend and shrugged.

“Bailey?” Jensen asked.

“Sarah’s mom was going to bring her home around three,” he said, helping the other man up as they made their way down to the front door.  Unable to stop himself, Jared pulled his boyfriend into a kiss, grinning at the dopey look on Jensen’s face as he pulled open the door.  His giddy mood was gone in an instant at the sight of Mat on his front porch.

“Mat … hi,” he greeted dumbly, still too stunned by his ex’s appearance.  He watched Mat’s gaze flicker to Jensen and then back to him, no doubt seeing their swollen lips and passion-marked upper bodies.

“Hi, wow, I really didn’t mean to interrupt,” Mat began. “I tried calling your cell, but got no answer,” he added.

“Yeah, I was a bit busy,” Jared answered, his eyes shifting to Jensen, who looked at him in confusion.

“Sorry, um Mat this is my boyfriend, Jensen.  Jensen this is my old friend, Mat,” he introduced.  Jensen nodded toward the other man.

If there was one thing that was certain for Jensen in that moment, it was that Mat was more than just an old friend.  He watched the other man glance at Jared, his gaze taking in his boyfriend’s naked chest.

“Um, we were just making breakfast, maybe you’d like to join us for coffee?” Jensen asked, surprising even himself.

“Oh no, I don’t want to impose,” Mat replied, taking an unconscious step backwards.  Jensen caught his boyfriend’s gaze, giving him an agreeing nod.

“It’s no bother, join us,” Jared said.  Mat seemed to look at both of them with nervousness before finally nodding.

“Okay, sure,” he answered.  Turning toward Jared, Jensen leaned in, kissing him lips softly.

“I’ll go get us a couple shirts,” he said, giving Mat a nod before making his way down the hall and up the stairs.  Jensen forced himself not to turn around as he heard Jared welcome Mat in. 

“Old friend my ass,” he murmured, heading into Jared’s bedroom to retrieve their shirts off the floor.  Sliding his on, Jensen made his way back downstairs, following the voices into the kitchen.  Stepping into the doorway, he came to a stop, his gaze locking on the pair.

Mat sat at the island counter, his eyes watching Jared slice up some vegetables.  His boyfriend’s face held a soft smile as he chatted about something.  There was a heart-breaking familiarity between the pair and Jensen almost felt out of place.  He’d nearly taken a step back out the door when Jared’s eyes locked on him, his smile growing impossibly wide.

“Hey,” Jared said.  Returning the smile, Jensen made his way in, offering Jared the shirt in his hand.  The taller man set down the knife, wiping his hands on a towel before stepping toward him.

“Thanks,” he murmured, stealing a kiss before taking hold of the t-shirt.  As Jared pulled the garment over his head, Jensen glanced over at Mat, surprised to find the other man looking right at him.

Mat’s gaze seemed to glide over him from top to bottom … and not in a good way.  Jensen couldn’t help in that moment but feel as though he were being sized up for a potential fight.  Opening his mouth to say something, he was cut short as the other man’s eyes shifted away, focusing once again on Jared.

“So how’s Bailey?” he asked.  Jensen watched as Jared smiled, a trait that always occurred when anyone spoke of the man’s daughter.

“She’s good.  Went to her first sleepover last night,” Jared told him.  Mat smiled and nodded, his gaze never wavering from Jared, which bothered Jensen more than it should.  Shrugging it off, he made his way over to the coffee pot; one hand caressing his boyfriend’s hip as he passed. 

Filling a cup, Jensen turned around to ask if Jared wanted any, but was surprised as Mat appeared next to him.  He held out the mug in his hand toward him with a smile that made Jensen a little uneasy.

“Can I get a refill?” Mat asked. 

“Sure,” Jensen answered, filling up the cup.  Mat nodded his thanks before moving away, venturing over toward Jared with a smile.

“You always were a genius in the kitchen,” the other man said, his voice a teasing murmur.  Jared chuckled in response.

“Yeah cause eggs and toast was so complicated in college,” he responded.  “Trust me, I got better after Bailey arrived,” Jared added, mixing the veggies and ham into the scrambled eggs.  Jensen watched the two of them and their easy banter, his eyes meeting Mat’s as he stood on Jared’s other side.

So lost in his conflicting thoughts, Jensen didn’t even hear Jared’s question.  Looking up, he met his boyfriend’s gaze, seeing concern on Jared’s features.  The other man stepped forward, encroaching on his personal space as his hands came to rest on Jensen’s hips.

“You okay?” he murmured softly, his eyes full of concern.

“Yeah, sorry … just lost in my thoughts I guess,” Jensen answered.  Jared smiled in response, leaning forward to kiss his lips.  Their kiss lingered just a little longer this time as the taller man held strong to him.  Suddenly a throat cleared from behind them, springing the pair apart as their eyes fell on Mat, who looked down at the floor uncomfortably.

“I should go, but thank you both for letting me stay for coffee,” Mat told them.  Jared pulled away, making his way over to the other man with a nod.

“You’re welcome, Mat.  I’ll talk to you later, yeah?” he asked, earning a nod in response.

“It was nice to meet you, Jensen,” Mat said in his direction.

“You too,” Jensen replied, though he wasn’t sure if he really meant it.  The other man nodded and turned, Jared following him to show him out.  Jensen made his way over to the doorway, head peeking down the hall as his boyfriend opened the door.  He watched as Mat’s hand lingered just a little too long on Jared’s shoulder before making his way out. 

Feeling like a heel for spying, Jensen turned away, heading back over to the pan which still simmered with their breakfast.  Stirring it gently, he hissed as cool hands settled on his waist.

“Your hands are freezing,” he told him.  Jared chuckled close to his ear, lips nipping at his neck.

“Guess you better warm me up then,” the other man responded.  Suddenly Jensen’s stomach growled, a blush creeping up his cheeks.

“Maybe I better feed you first, then you can warm me up,” Jared offered.  Grinning, Jensen turned in his boyfriend’s grasp and nodded.

“That sounds like a good plan.”

________________________________________

By the time three o’clock rolled around, the pair had finally taken a mutually beneficial shower and put on clean clothes.  Jensen had wanted to say something about Mat, but had refrained, unwilling to let this perfect mood get spoiled by his jealousy.  Now, he and Jared sat on one of the couches in the kitchen, watching the Longhorns on the flat screen.

“You wanna talk?” Jared asked suddenly, startling Jensen as he scooped salsa onto a chip.  Turning his head, he found the other man watching him curiously.

“Talk about what?” Jensen replied.  Jared opened his mouth to speak, but was cut short as a knock sounded on the front door.

“Daddy!” came a distant yell, causing both men to chuckle.  Rising, Jared bent and placed a kiss near Jensen’s temple before heading to the front door.  Both dogs had risen from their nap and quickly scrambled toward the door. 

Jensen smiled as he heard Bailey holler a goodbye to Sarah before the front door shut softly.

“Did you have fun?” Jared asked, helping her take off her jacket.  Bailey giggled as the dogs effectively welcomed her with licks to her face.

“It was so much fun, we watched movies and Sarah’s mom let us pop our own popcorn and put butter on it.  We even had chocolate!” she told him excitedly.  Jared couldn’t help but chuckle at her explanation.

“I’ll bet you did,” he said.  Suddenly she looked around curiously.

“Daddy, where’s Jensen?” she asked. 

“In the kitchen,” Jared replied, grinning as she took off like a shot, the dogs hot on her heels.  Making his way after them, he watched as Bailey flung herself at the other man with a bright smile.

“You sound like you had a fun sleepover,” Jensen pointed out.

“It was so much fun, we even got to make smores,” she told them.

“Just how much sugar did you have last night?” Jared asked, leaning down to smooch her cheek.  He grinned before kissing Jensen as well, surprising his boyfriend. 

“Not a lot,” Bailey assured him, not bothered in the least by their close proximity or shared kisses.

“Well I’m glad you had fun, Baileygirl,” Jared told her.  The little girl grinned at them both.

“Did you spend the night?” she suddenly asked Jensen, catching him completely off-guard.

“Yeah, um, yes I did,” he answered.  Jared grinned, reaching forward to take one of his boyfriend’s hands.

“Daddy’s bed is wicked comfy, huh? It’s very nice for morning cuddles,” she explained, missing the blush that crept up Jensen’s cheek.

“Yeah it’s pretty comfy,” he agreed.  Jared gave the other man’s hand a squeeze before focusing on his daughter.

“Are you hungry?” he asked.

“Nope, can I go play with the puppies though?” Bailey responded. 

“Of course, baby,” Jared answered.  Smiling, Bailey shimmied out of Jensen’s arms, calling the dogs to follow as she headed into the hallway.

“Now I understand why Sarah’s always a little hopped up,” Jensen joked, causing Jared to laugh. 

Leaning forward, Jared cupped his boyfriend’s cheek with the palm of his hand, forcing him to meet his gaze.

“You know you can talk to me, right? About anything,” he assured him.  Jensen nodded, a small smile tugging at his lips.

“I know,” the other man replied.  Nodding, Jared leaned forward, lips pecking softly at Jensen’s.  After a moment, their kiss deepened, hands gently caressing as they simply enjoyed one another. 

Pulling away after a moment, Jared gazed into the other man’s jade eyes.  There was something there, something that was bothering Jensen and he wished the other man would just talk to him. 

“How long can you stay?” he finally asked softly.

“How long do you want me?” Jensen replied, causing Jared to smile.

“That’s a loaded question you know, I might never let you leave,” he answered.  Jensen chuckled, leaning in to capture his lips once more.

________________________________________

The rest of the weekend had been incredible; the three of them – along with Harley and Sadie – enjoyed just hanging out at the house.   The atmosphere had been practically blissful; all of Jensen’s insecurities about Mat had vanished in the perfect little world they’d created within the house.

Yet as Sunday evening came upon them, Jensen had needed to leave, having too much to prepare for school the next day.

What he hadn’t expected after such an amazing weekend was to hit so many road blocks in trying to see one another in the week that followed.  Whether it was work for Jared, a conference for him or something in between, the pair had found little time to see one another – save for dropping off and picking up Bailey at school.

To say that Jensen was frustrated – both emotionally and sexually – was an understatement.

Running a hand through his short hair, Jensen turned, his gaze falling on the clock on his bedside table.  It was only 8pm, still early enough to give his boyfriend a call without the worry of waking Bailey up.  His fingers deftly punched in the familiar digits, waiting for the other man to pick up.

“Hey there,” came Jared’s voice, causing a smile to emerge.  There was something about the smooth, velvety tone of his boyfriend’s voice that always made his stomach flutter.

“Hey yourself, stranger,” he murmured, hearing Jared chuckle softly.

“I know.  I’ve been a horrible boyfriend haven’t I?” the other man asked.

“You’ve been busy, it’s okay,” Jensen answered.

“No, it’s not.  I miss you,” his boyfriend told him quietly.

“I miss you too,” he replied.  After a moment, the pair began to talk about their week, letting the disappointment of not being able to see one another fade away.

________________________________________

Jared leaned back in his chair, letting his boyfriend’s voice wash over him.  He’d missed the other man like crazy over the last week.  They’d both been so busy, but to him that was no excuse.  He should have made time.

“So I was wondering if you and the munchkin want to have dinner, tomorrow maybe?” Jensen asked, forcing him front his thoughts.  Frowning, Jared turned in his chair, his gaze falling on the calendar pinned to the wall.  He knew there was something he had to do, and the big red letters in Sophia’s handwriting quickly reminded him.

‘PAINTING #5!!’

“Jen, god I’d love to, but there’s something I need to do tomorrow.  Can I get a rain check?” he asked softly.

“Of course,” his boyfriend replied.  They talked for a few minutes longer before a yell came from upstairs.

“Daddy! I’m dirty and need a bath!” Bailey hollered, causing Jensen to chuckle in his ear.

“Sorry, I let her paint tonight, I should probably go see how bad the damage is,” Jared explained.

“I’ll see you tomorrow then,” Jensen answered.

Saying goodbye, Jared stole another glance at his calendar.  Sitting upon the easel was a medium sized canvas, the picture upon it nearly finished, save for a few extra touches.

“Daddy!”

“Coming, sweetie!” he hollered back, standing as he headed toward the door.  Looking back on the painting a final time, he flicked off the light, he made his way up the stairs toward what was likely a very paint-splattered child.

________________________________________

Making his way into school the next morning with Bailey skipping happily in front of him, Jared allowed himself a moment to just watch Jensen as they entered the classroom.  The way he interacted with his students and their parents always brought a smile to Jared’s face.  As if he sensed he was being watched, Jensen looked up, a bright smile lighting his features.

Bailey gave her teacher a wave before heading to her cubby to drop off her jacket and bag, leaving Jared to wait as Jensen came over.

“Hey,” the other man said.

“Hi,” Jared replied, moving closer to his boyfriend as if on instinct.

“Guess what, Jensen?” Bailey asked, suddenly appearing next to them.

“What, Bailey?” the other man replied, kneeling down to look her in the eyes.

“I painted this for you,” the little girl said, pulling out a piece of paper from behind her back.  Jared watched Jensen look at the painting his daughter had done last night.

“Wow, you painted Harley and Sadie,” Jensen said, never hesitating in his assumption despite the fact that the depictions on the paper didn’t exactly look like dogs.

“You like it?” she asked.

“I love it, Bailey, I’m going to put it up right behind my desk,” he promised.  Bailey grinned, shifting her gaze toward Jared.

“Alright, kiddo, I’ll see you this afternoon,” he said, leaning down to press a kiss to the top of his daughter’s head.

“Okay, daddy,” she replied, heading off to find her friend, Sarah.

“I guess I’ll see you this afternoon,” Jared said, watching Jensen nod.

“I’ll be here,” he replied, causing them both to chuckle.

Yet as it had been nearly every day that week, Jared and Jensen hadn’t been able to even have a conversation that afternoon as one of the parents was having a near meltdown about something that Jared didn’t even want to think about.  He’d given Jensen a reassuring wave, before taking Bailey home.

“Daddy, when’s Jensen coming over again?” Bailey asked him later on as they sat in the kitchen.  Jared worked to prepare dinner as Bailey played her LeapFrog games on the couch across from him.

“I don’t know, baby.  Jensen’s been very busy, so have I,” he began.  Suddenly the doorbell rang, surprising both of them.  Bailey scrambled to get up, but Jared pointed at her and her LeapFrog.

“Finish your homework,” he told her, watching that famous lip slide out in a trademark Padalecki pout.

Chuckling, Jared made his way to the door, shocked to find Mat standing on the other side.

“Mat, hi,” he said.

“Hey, I’m sorry for just dropping by unannounced, I was on my way home from the hospital and thought I’d stop by,” the other man apologized.

“It’s no problem,” Jared assured him.  He knew he had to work on that painting tonight and get it finished, but it wouldn’t hurt to invite Mat in for a bit.

“Come in, are you hungry?” he asked, opening the door wide.  Mat smiled and nodded, making his way in.

“I could eat,” Mat answered.  Taking the other man’s coat, Jared led him down the hall to the kitchen, watching Bailey’s eyes go wide at the sight of the other man behind him.

“Bailey, you remember my friend, Mat?” he asked her.

“It’s nice to see you again, Bailey,” Mat said, looking down at her as she sat on the couch.  The little girl remained quiet, surprising Jared.

“Bailey, say hello,” he urged.

“Hi,” she said quietly, her gaze looking back at her homework.  Mat stepped away, making his way over to the seats at the counter to watch Jared cook.

“So what’s for dinner?” the other man asked with a grin.

“Spaghetti and meatballs, Bailey’s favorite,” Jared replied.  Mat merely nodded, continuing to watch him.

“Dinner’s almost ready, Baileygirl, why don’t you go wash up,” he told her, watching her eyes flicker to Mat’s back before heading toward the bathroom in the hallway.

“So I wanted to apologize again for last weekend, I didn’t mean to intrude on you and your friend,” Mat said.

“No need to apologize, we invited you in, remember?” Jared pointed out as he began to dish out large bowls of spaghetti and meatballs.  Mat helped grab a plate as they headed into the formal dining room.

“We’re in the dining room, Bails!” Jared called out as they passed the closed bathroom.

Settling into their seats, Jared looked back out toward the hallway.  He couldn’t figure out why his daughter was taking so long.  Before he had the chance to wonder, Bailey appeared, silently climbing into her chair. 

Jared watched her dig in to her food, mildly concerned by the quietness she was exhibiting.  Opening his mouth to speak, he stopped short as Mat’s voice filled the silent space.

“So, how have you been?” the other man asked.

“Not too bad, it’s been a busy week, a couple of deadlines, but overall I’m doing good,” Jared replied.

“Good, yeah I had a slew of surgeries this week, otherwise I would have touched base sooner,” Mat answered.  The pair continued to talk about mundane things, Jared sneaking glances at Bailey every once in awhile.  His daughter had remained very quiet, her gaze flickering to Mat every now and then, but for the most part, she never spoke.

“How is it, Bails?” he asked.

“S’good,” she murmured, reaching out for her glass of milk.  Frowning, Jared opened his mouth to speak to her, but Mat engaged him once more.

“May I be excused?” Bailey asked a few minutes later.  He looked over at her in surprise, but the sight of an empty bowl convinced him.

“Sure, baby,” he said, watching her walk away with her bowl cradled in her hand.

“I feel like I shouldn’t have intruded again,” Mat admitted suddenly, causing Jared to look over.

“No, really, she’s fine … just doesn’t know you very well that’s all,” he insisted.  The pair continued to talk, discussing everything from Jared’s paintings to their favorite books.  Finishing up dinner, they retreated back into the kitchen, Bailey nowhere in sight.

“I should bring that book over sometime, I think you’d really like it,” Mat told him as Jared washed the dishes.

“That would be great,” he answered.  Turning around, Jared was surprised to find Mat so close.

“Sorry,” the other man said, backing up slightly. 

“Well, I guess I should be going,” Mat said after a moment.  Jared nodded, stepping aside to make his way down the hall.  Opening the front door, he turned to watch Mat gather his jacket.  It had been nice to catch up with Mat once again, but Bailey’s behavior was his biggest concern.  Something was wrong with his little girl.

“So I’ll see you soon? Maybe bring that book by?” Mat asked.  Jared nodded.

“Sounds good, I’ll talk to you soon,” he told his friend.  Mat squeezed his shoulder with a grin before heading out the door.  Shutting it softly behind him, Jared turned the lock and headed upstairs. 

Bailey’s door was slightly ajar as he knocked softly.

“Come in,” came her reply.  Bailey sat on the floor, Harley at her side, as she colored a picture.

“Hey, Bails,” he said, moving to sit across from her on the floor.

“Hi, Daddy,” she replied, continuing to move her crayons across the picture.

“You okay?” Jared asked.

“Mhmm,” came a murmur, causing him to frown.

“Bailey, look at me,” he said softly, but firmly, watching her little head lift.

“Are you upset about something? You were awfully quiet during dinner.”

“I’m okay,” she answered, her tone not giving anything away.

“Well, you can talk to me, okay? If you’re upset or mad, you can talk to me about anything,” he assured her.

“Okay, Daddy,” she answered, her focus returning to her picture.

Running a hand through his hair, Jared sighed.  He didn’t know what to do.  It was beyond obvious that something was wrong with his daughter, but if she wouldn’t talk … he didn’t know how to fix this.

“Alrighty, well I’m going to be downstairs, okay? I’ll come up in an hour and tuck you in to bed,” he said, slowly rising.  He hesitated hoping that she would stop him to talk, but as he rose to his full height, Jared was met with silence.

Navigating his way back downstairs, Jared headed into his studio, gaze falling to the painting upon the easel.  Picking up his color palette, he began to work, trying to let the unsettling feeling in his stomach go.

________________________________________

 

“Jensen?”

Looking up from his book, Jensen was shocked to find Bailey at the edge of his desk.  The rest of the class was still out on the playground for recess, which was why he was surprised to see the little girl there.

“Hey, how did you get back in here, Bailey?” he asked, looking over to the window where he could see the rest of the class playing, another teacher watching over them.

“I asked Ms. Turner if I could come talk to you,” she answered, sliding into the seat next to his desk.

“Okay, what’s bothering you, sweetheart?”

“Are you and Daddy breaking up?”

The question had Jensen floored.  Where on earth had she gotten the idea that he and Jared were breaking up?

“No, kiddo, what would make you think that?” he asked, sliding his chair closer to her.  Bailey shrugged, her little fingers twining together.

“I dunno, it just seems like you never come over anymore,” she replied.  Jensen opened him mouth to respond, but stopped short.  It was true that both he and Jared had been busy lately, but he didn’t think it had been that long since he’d been over. 

“I come over, Bails, it’s just daddy and I have been busy,” Jensen explained.

“But I like it better when you come over, I miss you at our house.  I don’t like it when Mat’s around, he’s mean,” she answered, the last part of her statement stopping him cold.

“When Mat’s around? Is he around a lot?” Jensen couldn’t help but ask.

“He shows up at our house to see Daddy, but he never seems to want to talk to me.  Like last night at dinner, he would only talk to Daddy,” she explained.

Jensen tried to not let the anger that was slowly coursing through him show.  He’d talked to Jared the day before, asked him and Bailey out to dinner for last night, but his boyfriend had told him he was busy.  Taking a calming breath, Jensen leaned forward, doing his best to smile reassuringly.

“Daddy and I are not breaking up,” he told her, his voice a little unsteady.  Bailey looked at him for a moment before nodding, sliding out of her seat to give him a hug.

“Everything will be okay,” he promised, it was the only thing that he was remotely sure of in that moment.

________________________________________

CHAPTER TEN

As the clock ticked closer toward the end of the day, Jensen felt as if he was going to be sick.  What could he even say to Jared that would express the hurt he was feeling in that moment?  So conflicted in his thoughts, he was barely aware that the final bell had rung to signal the end of the day.  As if on cue, the first parent arrived, forcing him to focus back on the job at hand.

He spent a few moments conversing with each of the parents that had entered, but his breath hitched as Jared entered the room, the taller man’s hazel eyes searching for his daughter.  Jensen watched as Jared’s smile brightened even further as Bailey ran over to him.

“Hey, Baileygirl,” Jared said, placing a big kiss on his daughter’s cheek.  Suddenly those beautiful eyes were upon him and Jensen felt his nerves spark dangerously.  One look from that man could force him to his knees on a normal day, but today was different … today they needed to talk.

“Hey there,” the tall man said, making his way over after letting Bailey down to get her stuff.

“Hi,” Jensen responded, his voice not as cheerful as it normally was.  He watched as Jared frowned, obviously sensing his discomfort.

“What’s wrong?” Jared asked.

“Nothing,” he replied, not wanting to have this conversation here.

“Why don’t I believe you?” his boyfriend asked.  Looking down at the floor, Jensen sighed.  After a moment he lifted his head to look Jared in the eyes.

“We need to talk,” Jensen said softly.  Jared’s face slowly grew concerned, his gaze showing confusion.

“Ready, Daddy,” came Bailey’s voice, interrupting the moment.  Both men forced smiles on their features.

“Okay, Bails,” Jared told her then turned his gaze back to Jensen.

“When you’re done here, maybe you can swing by?” he asked.  Jensen nodded, feeling as though he was going to be sick.  There had never been this kind of awkwardness or uncertainty between them before and now … well now it felt like there was a gap a mile wide.

“I’ll see you guys in a bit,” he added, smiling down at Bailey, who grinned back up at him brightly.

Jensen watched the pair leave hand-in-hand, the feeling of dread only growing at the sight of their retreating forms.

________________________________________

“Come on down for dinner, Bails!” Jared hollered out, dishing out macaroni and cheese onto his daughter’s plate.  Adding some apple slices on a separate plate, he filled her cup with milk just as the doorbell rang.

“I’ll get it!” Bailey yelled from the hallway, racing toward the door.  He heard her pull it open, but frowned when there was no response.

“Bails?” he asked, nearly colliding with his daughter as she stomped past him.  “Hey, where’s the fire, kiddo?”

“It’s for you,” she told him, sitting down as she grabbed her fork.  Looking at her in confusion, he turned, once again nearly colliding with a figure.

“Mat,” Jared said, surprised to see his friend, especially since he’d been there last night.

“Hey, sorry for just dropping by, but I wanted to give you that book we talked about,” the other man said, holding out a thick book to him.  Jared looked down, realizing that he had indeed asked to borrow the novel, which focused on some art history mystery from the 1800’s.

“No problem, this is great,” Jared said, smiling as he took the book, setting it down on the side table.  Opening his mouth to speak, he stopped short as the front door opened softly, Jensen’s form coming to a stop in the doorway.

His boyfriend’s gaze narrowed, a frown appearing on his features at the sight of Mat.  Jared smiled, stepping around his friend to move toward Jensen, not catching the look that Mat flashed at his boyfriend.

“Hey,” Jared said. 

“Hey to you, what’s up?” Jensen asked softly.

“Mat just dropped by to give me this book he told me about last night,” he explained, watching Jensen’s eyes widen slightly.  Not sure why, Jared opened his mouth to speak, but stopped short as Bailey’s voice rang out.

“Jensen!” she hollered, running down the hall to wrap her arms around his legs.

“Hey Bails,” his boyfriend said, leaning down to pick her up into his arms.

“Come see the picture I drew,” Bailey insisted, tugging on his jacket.

“Okay,” Jensen answered, setting her down.  The little girl grabbed his hand, beginning to pull him along.  Leaning out, Jared stole a quick kiss from the other man, watching the pair make their way upstairs. 

“They seem incredibly close,” came Mat’s voice, quickly reminding him of the fact that he was not alone.  Turning to the other man, Jared smiled. 

“They really are,” he replied, motioning to the formal living room.  He knew he needed to talk to Jensen, but supposed it could wait till the other man was done visiting with Bailey.

-----------------------------------------------------------

“You seem sad, Baileygirl,” Jensen said, noticing the somewhat dismal mood the child was in.  He could tell that she was trying to shrug it off, but that concerned him more.

“I’m okay,” she replied, digging through her pictures once more to pull another one out for him.

“Bailey, look at me,” he said softly, watching her little head rise, hazel eyes meeting his gaze.

“You can tell me anything,” Jensen promised.

“I’m sad cause Daddy doesn’t want to talk to me,” she told him, causing him to frown.  He didn’t completely know what was going on with Jared and Mat, but he had a hard time believing that his boyfriend would ignore the one person in the world he adored more than anything.

“You know, Daddy is getting to know an old friend, sometimes it can make you feel left out, but I’m sure they aren’t …”

“Yes they are.  Mat just wants to talk to Daddy, it’s just like I told you today at school,” she replied, arms crossing over her chest.  The little girl looked close to tears.

“Have you told your dad about this, Bailey? About how sad you are?” Jensen asked, surprised as her little head shook no.

“I didn’t want to make him sad too, just cause I’m sad,” she explained.  “I just want it to be the three of us again,” Bailey added in a near whisper.  Frowning, Jensen leaned forward, pulling her close into a hug.

“Listen, I’m going to go downstairs and talk to Daddy and then we’re going to all talk, okay?” he asked, feeling her head nod against his shoulder.  Smiling reassuringly, Jensen left her room, heading back down the stairs.  He wondered what was taking Jared so long to come find them, but hearing his boyfriend’s voice, along with Mat’s coming from the formal living room made him stop short.

Jared was practically the most observant person he’d ever met, how could he not notice what was going on with his daughter?

Taking a few steps toward the entryway, Jensen frowned as his gaze fell upon the two men sitting close on the sofa, eyes examining something about the book Jared had shown him earlier.  Clearing his throat, he watched as two pairs of eyes lifted toward him.  To say he was annoyed was an understatement.

“Think maybe you could cut the reunion short and talk to your daughter?” Jensen asked, watching his boyfriend’s face morph into one of confusion and shock.

“Excuse me?” Jared asked, setting the book down as he rose from his spot on the couch.  Running a frustrated hand through his hair, Jensen sighed.

“You seriously don’t see what’s happening here? What’s happening with Bailey?” he asked the other man.

“Jensen, what are you talking about?”

Opening his mouth to speak, Jensen shook his head. ‘Maybe if you weren’t so damn gaga over your ex, you’d see it,’ he thought.  His gaze flickered to Mat.

“Bailey is miserable.  Maybe you’d see that if you weren’t so busy catching up,” he replied.  Seeing the confusion on Jared’s face, Jensen sighed once more.  Apparently there was no good way to spell it out.

“You know what, I’ll see you later.  It’s a little crowded in here.”

Turning, he headed toward the hall, yanking the door open.  Making his way outside, Jensen ignored Jared’s voice, ignored the confusion and the questions.  He just couldn’t take it anymore, couldn’t handle the ex that seemed to obviously think he wasn’t quite an ex.

--------------------------------------------------

 “Jensen?” Jared called out, hurrying to the door to catch the other man.  The sound of an engine pulling away told him he was too late as Jared watched Jensen’s taillights disappear down the street.

“I’m sorry,” came Mat’s voice behind him, causing Jared to frown.  Looking back, he shook his head.

“It’s not your fault,” he answered.  “Listen I’ll talk to you later, yeah? I need to go to Bailey,” he told Mat.

“Sure, I’ll talk to you soon,” the other man agreed, patting him on the shoulder as he moved past him and off the porch toward his car.

Sighing, Jared ran a hand over his face, a large sigh escaping his lips.  He had no idea what in the hell had just happened, but the one thing Jared did know was that he needed to figure it out quickly.  Making his way back inside, he entered the kitchen, concern growing at the sight of Bailey, who was now back in her chair at the table.  The little girl’s head was lowered, soft sobs escaping her lips.

“Bails?” he asked, rushing over to her.  “Are you okay?”

His little girl looked up at him, tears streaking down her cheeks.

“You and Jensen are breaking up,” she sobbed.

“No, baby, no,” Jared assured her.  Hiccupping, Bailey slid out of her chair, running past him toward the stairs.

“Yes you are,” she cried.  Hearing Bailey’s door slam, Jared sighed, his head banging softly against the edge of the table.  Suddenly a wet tongue, flicked at his hand, causing him to turn to find Harley watching him closely.

“What the hell happened tonight, Harley?” he asked. “Any ideas?”

Slowly rising, he made his way upstairs, coming to a stop at Bailey’s door.

“Bailey, can I come in?” Jared asked, his heart breaking listening to the light sobbing on the other side of the door.  Taking a chance, he tried the handle, turning the door open.  Bailey lay on her bed, curled up on her side away from him.

“Hey, baby,” he said, sitting down softly at the edge of his daughter’s bed.

“Why are you so upset, Bails?” Jared asked. 

“Cause Jensen left and Mat was here, I don’t like him,” she told him quickly, so fast he barely understood it all.

“You don’t like Mat?” he replied in confusion, watching her little head shake.

“Oh honey, it’s okay, he’s a good friend,” Jared explained.

“I don’t like him,” she replied.  “He doesn’t talk to me; all he wants is to talk to you.  Jensen talks to me, I like Jensen.” 

“I know, baby, I like Jensen too, but Mat is still my friend,” he began.  Suddenly Bailey rolled away further, burying her head in her pillow.  Sighing, Jared reached out, removing the pillow from her head as he pulled her up completely into his embrace.

“You and me, we need to talk about this, Baileygirl,” he told her softly. 

“I want you ta be happy, Daddy. Jensen makes you happy,” she answered.  Jared looked into her eyes and nodded.

“He does make me very happy,” he confirmed, tears threatening in his eyes.  Bailey lifted a little hand up to touch his cheek.

“Then fix it, Daddy.”

________________________________________

“Hell, what happened to you?” Jensen looked up as he entered the front door of his house, his red-rimmed, tear-stained face falling on Chris and Danneel as they sat in the living room watching TV.

“Jen? What happened?”  Danni asked, quickly rising from her spot.  Jensen held her back with a hand.

“Jared and I had a fight,” he said with a frown.  “Sort of,” he added, since he was really the one who had the fight while Jared had stood there in confusion.

“Oh god, what happened?” she asked, laying a hand on his arm.  Jensen shook his head, stepping back toward the hallway.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he murmured, turning to head down to his room, Sadie hot on his heels.

Leaving his friends’ behind, Jensen shut his bedroom door, practically falling onto the bed.  After he’d left Jared’s, Jensen had just driven with no real destination in mind.  When he’d pulled up to Myrtle Edwards Park, the sight of his and Jared’s first date, he’d lost it … tears had come like a waterfall.

Kicking off his shoes, Jensen crawled into bed, Sadie quickly following as she draped herself over his lap.  Sighing, he absently stroked her fur, a frown marring his features as his phone began to ring.  Looking over at it, he read Jared’s name on the display and hit ignore.

In all honesty, he just couldn’t handle dealing with Jared at the moment.  Placing the phone back down, Jensen suddenly thought better of it and picked it back up, dialing a familiar number.

“Hello?” came the voice of Charlotte Meyers, his supervisor and the school’s principal.

“Charlotte, it’s Jensen,” he told her, dropping his voice and adding a bit more grit to his tone.

“Jensen, you sound awful,” she said, her voice full of concern.

“Yeah, I think I caught that flu bug that’s going around,” he lied.

“Oh dear, well I think it would be best if you took tomorrow off, which works out well since it’s Friday.  Just rest up this weekend and I’ll make sure your class is covered tomorrow,” Charlotte told him.

“Thanks so much, Char … I appreciate it,” Jensen replied.

“No problem, just feel better, okay?” she asked.

“Okay, night,” he answered.  Saying goodbye, he put his phone back down and turned, his gaze meeting Sadie’s questioning glare.

“Don’t look at me like that,” he told her.  The dog gave a little huff before resting her head once more against his belly.  Resuming the petting of her head, Jensen sighed.  He knew it was a chicken shit way of getting out of dealing with Jared, but at least he’d have the weekend to figure things out.

------------------------------------------------------

Bailey seemed to be a bit more chipper in the morning, looking forward to seeing Jensen and more importantly seeing the two of them together.

“You have to fix it, Daddy, don’t forget,” she told him as they drove toward school.

“I won’t forget,” he promised.

“Cause you have to make Jensen happy again,” Bailey added.  Jared smiled, looking into the rearview mirror.  He knew that what he had with Jensen was the best thing that had ever happened to him, next to his daughter of course.  True, he’d apparently screwed things up for the moment, but he was determined to fix things … starting this morning. 

Pulling up to the school, Jared helped Bailey out, the two of them heading in toward the class.  As they entered, both stopped short at the sight of a young blonde woman seated at Jensen’s desk.

“Miss Katie?” Bailey asked, causing the woman’s head to look up.

“Well hi there, Bailey,” the woman said, rising from her chair to come over to them.

“Where’s Jensen?” Jared asked, watching the woman frown.  He was aware that he’d just been a little rude, but honestly, he needed to know where his boyfriend was.

“Mr. Ackles is out sick today.  I’m subbing today, Katie Cassidy,” she replied, holding out her hand.  Jared took it, shaking it warmly.

“Will Jensen be back on Monday?” Bailey asked.

“Oh I’m sure he will, sweetie.  I’m just here for the day,” Katie explained as other kids began to file in.  Kissing his daughter goodbye, Jared headed back to his car, navigating out into traffic toward Jensen’s house.

Pulling up slowly, his gaze landed on Jensen’s truck, parked in the driveway.  While he knew there was a chance that his boyfriend could really be sick, he didn’t quite believe it.  Slowly heading up to the front door, Jared knocked softly and waited. 

“Jensen?” he called out, not too loud, but hopefully enough for the other man to hear.

Receiving no reply, he knocked once more, surprised to not even hear Sadie bark.  Frowning, he pulled out his phone and looked at the time.  If Jensen really was sick, he didn’t want to call and wake him up at such an early hour, but he really needed to see his boyfriend.

Knocking once again, Jared waited, finally sighing in defeat.  Casting a final look at the door, he turned, heading back to his car.  Seated in the driver’s seat, he continued to watch the house, finally realizing that he looked ridiculous.  Typing in a text message to Jensen, he hit send and started the car to head home.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

‘Hey, I just stopped by to see how you’re doing.  We need to talk, Jen.  Please call me – J’

Jensen looked at the text and frowned.  He’d heard the knocks on the front door and gotten up, but when he’d heard Jared call his name, Jensen had stopped instantly.  He hadn’t expected the other man to show up at his house. 

Listening to his boyfriend pace on the front porch, Jensen had moved closer to the door.  There was no doubt that he was being childish about all this, but he just couldn’t deal with it.  Finally, Jared’s footsteps had carried off the porch, the text following minutes later.

Turning around, he stopped short upon seeing Sadie sitting a few feet away, her gaze bringing out massive amounts of guilt within him.

“I know, I’m a chicken, stop looking at me like that,” he told her, walking past her as he headed into his bedroom once more to bury beneath the covers.

Five more calls from Jared and Jensen was ready to turn off his phone, the guilt eating away at him.  He was being ridiculous.  His boyfriend was reaching out to him and he was just pulling away … making the situation worse.

“Please tell me you haven’t laid here all day,” came a voice, causing him to curse softly.  Turning his head, Jensen found Chris standing in his doorway, a beer in each hand.

“I haven’t laid here all day,” he dead-panned, causing his best friend to roll his eyes with a huff. 

“Alright, move your ass over,” Chris said, making his way over.  He handed Jensen one of his beers before settling in beside him.

“Start talking, brother, cause I’m not going anywhere till you do,” the other man said.

“Honestly, I don’t know.  I guess … I guess I’m just jealous,” Jensen admitted with a frown.

“Jealous of what?”

“There’s this guy that Jared reconnected with.  He says he’s an old friend, but I can see it when this guy looks at Jared.  There’s more to it than that,” he began.

“Okay, so have you talked to Jared about it?” Chris asked.

“Well, no, but that’s not the point,” Jensen said.

“What is the point?”

“The point is that he’s lied to me about seeing him,” he replied.  Chris looked at him in confusion.

“Say what?”

“The other night, I asked Jared if he and Bailey wanted to go out to dinner.  He said he had something to do and then Bailey tells me that Mat came over.  I go over there last night to talk to Jared and not only was the guy there, he basically confirmed to me that Mat was there with them the night before,” Jensen explained.

“Jesus, son, you’ve got me confused.  Okay so this Mat guy just seems to be showing up all the time and it’s bothering the crap out of you, but it doesn’t seem to register to Jared,” Chris countered.

“Right,” he agreed.

“So why haven’t you talked to him again?”

“Because it’s not just me that is bothered by all of this.  Bailey is miserable,” Jensen said.

“Jen, no offense but she’s what, five?” 

“That doesn’t matter, Chris.  She’s sad because she feels like Jared’s ignoring her.”

“But that’s for Jared to work out, my friend.”

“Bullshit, we’re in a relationship,” Jensen said.

“And yet you can’t seem to talk to him about the issues of your relationship,” Chris countered, causing Jensen to fall silent.  Clinking his bottle to Jensen’s, the other man smiled sadly.

“Just some food for thought, brother.”

CHAPTER ELEVEN

“Chris! I decided you’re right, I need to talk to him!”

Waiting for a response, Jensen frowned when he was met with silence.  He could have sworn he’d just heard his best friend a moment ago.  Making his way downstairs, Jensen came to a stop near the door and looked toward the dining room.

“What were you going to say to him?”

The voice, which was most definitely not Chris’, caused him to stiffen in surprise and shock.  Turning to his right, Jensen’s gaze landed on Jared, who sat on the ottoman in his living room.  His normally sparkling hazel eyes seemed dull and the usual dimpled smile he was greeted with didn’t come.

“Hi,” Jensen said, his voice sounding lame and dumb to his own ears.

“Chris let me in,” his boyfriend replied, as if answering an unspoken question.

“Right,” he said, moving a bit closer into the room.  Jared’s frown remained as he gazed toward him.

“Am I going to get anything more than one word answers?” he asked. 

“Yes,” Jensen said, then realized he'd done exactly the opposite, "Yes, you are."

Moving toward the couch across from the other man, Jensen sighed, one hand lifting to swipe across his face.

“I was jealous,” he revealed.

“That’s what you’re going with?” Jared asked softly. 

“What do you mean?”

“Jensen, you called me out in front of a friend, accused me of ignoring my daughter … and the best you got is you were jealous?” the other man asked.  “I know you, Jen.  You wouldn’t say shit like that to me without reason.  Talk to me,” Jared urged.

“I’m sorry, I just … Bailey’s been sad because of all the time we’ve spent apart.  I know it’s lame, but she means so much to me and it was hard to see her so upset.  And I was … I guess I was really just jealous.  Mat seemed to be around all the time and with the time we’ve had to spend apart.  I’m sorry,” Jensen apologized. 

Waiting a moment in the silence, Jensen finally lifted his gaze up to look at Jared, who continued to regard him carefully.

“Why didn’t you just say this? Tell me what’s going on instead of blowing up at me?” the other man finally asked.  Looking down at his clasped hands, Jensen could only shrug.  Suddenly a pair of strong hands settled on his shoulders.

“Look at me, Jen,” Jared murmured, the sight of his cotton covered chest the only thing Jensen could see at that moment. “Look at me,” he whispered.  Lifting his head, Jensen met his boyfriend’s gaze, relief in his heart at the sight of the dimples, back in full force on the other man’s face.

“Promise me we’ll talk to each other instead of this, cause it really sucked,” Jared told him, causing Jensen to laugh softly.

“It really did suck,” he answered.  “And I promise to talk to you,” he added.  Nodding slightly, Jared leaned toward him, arms closing around him as he pulled him into his embrace.  Jensen reveled in the comfort of his boyfriend’s touch, sighing as Jared pulled away.

"I would have hated if we broke up. Haven't even had the chance to tell you I love you yet."

The statement hit Jensen like a ton of bricks.  Had Jared just said what he thought he said?

Suddenly Jared chuckled, one large hand rising to cup the side of Jensen’s face as he smiled.

“Guess the cat’s out of the bag now, huh?” the other man said gently. 

“You love me?” he asked.

“Was there ever a doubt?” Jared responded, fingers threading into the hair at the nape of Jensen’s neck.

Dumbfounded, Jensen simply stared before smiling as well. 

“I love you too,” he replied softly, causing Jared’s smile to grow brighter … if that was even possible.  Not wanting to waste a moment in their reunion, Jensen leaned toward his boyfriend.  Their lips met softly, almost tentatively; a kiss that seemed to say <b>‘I’m sorry’</b> … <b>‘Forgive me’</b>.

Jared’s large hands slid their way upward, framing Jensen’s face as his tongue softly swept over his lower lip.

Feeling the heat of his boyfriend’s mouth, Jensen groaned, mouth opening to accept the other man’s seeking tongue.  Hands that had been gentle moments earlier had quickly hastened, fingers itching at the hem of shirts and the buttons of jeans.

“Jesus,” Jensen panted as Jared’s mouth tore away from his own, marking a new path along his jaw down to the column of his neck.

“Missed you,” Jared said suddenly, his voice muffled against Jensen’s skin.  Opening his mouth to speak, Jensen nearly bit his tongue as one of Jared’s hands snaked its way into his jeans, fingers wrapping around his cock.

“Bedroom,” Jared rasped, guiding him backwards without relinquishing his hold on Jensen’s dick.

“Careful with that,” he murmured in reference to his manhood, causing his boyfriend to grin ferally.

“I’ll take good care of it,” Jared promised as they crossed the threshold of his bedroom.  Kicking the door closed, Jared finally let go long enough to deftly remove Jensen’s clothes.

“You’re overdressed,” Jensen murmured, falling back onto the bed after Jared’s gentle push.

“Not for long,” the other man promised, quickly discarding his shirt.  His jeans were off next, quickly followed by his boxer briefs, finally leaving Jensen a view of endless tanned and muscled skin.

Wordlessly, Jared moved onto the bed, his large frame blanketing Jensen’s body as their lips met once more.  Tongues tangled, leaving them breathless as their bodies shamelessly rutted against one another’s.

“Fuck, Jared … need you inside me,” Jensen pleaded, fingers digging into the other man’s biceps as their bodies created a near unbearable friction.

“God yes,” Jared moaned, reaching out toward the bedside drawer as he blindly grasped for the items he had been searching for.  After a few moments and a few choice curses as Jensen added in a few nips to the other man’s skin, Jared finally pulled back with a condom and lube.

“Please,” Jensen moaned, his own voice sounding wanton and needy as Jared ripped open the foil package.

“Gotta prep you,” the other man murmured as he rolled the condom onto his length.

“No, need you,” Jensen moaned as Jared began to trail his fingers lower.

“Now,” he pleaded again, his eyes afire as he looked at the man above him.  Finally Jared nodded, his body once again blanketing Jensen’s.  Seconds later, he winced as the delicious burn of Jared’s entry flooded his senses.

“Christ,” he groaned, fingers flexing into the skin of his lover’s shoulders.

“So good,” Jared moaned, nipping at Jensen’s lips as he began to rock inside his boyfriend, creating a slow and languorous tempo.

Lifting his legs to wrap around Jared’s waist, Jensen groaned as the move caused his boyfriend to sink in even deeper.

“Fuck me,” he moaned, causing Jared to groan above him.

Soon, the slow rock turned into a hard and calculated thrust, each push of Jared’s cock stroking his prostate deliciously. 

“More,” Jensen pleaded, pulling his lover closer as he found Jared’s mouth, tongue sweeping into the moist heat.

The intensity of Jared’s thrusts, the feel of his hands all over him … Jensen’s senses were on overload.  I was no surprise that his cock was hard as steel, but the quick build-up of his orgasm thanks to Jared’s demanding thrusts was mindblowing.

“Jare, I’m gonna … oh fuck,” Jensen moaned, stars dancing behind his eyes as his release surged forward, milky white strands coating his belly.

For his part, Jared hadn’t slowed his pace, continuing to push Jensen through each spurt with the power of his thrusts.

“Jared … oh!” Jensen moaned, his body continuing to spasm.

“That’s it,” Jared told him, a small grin on his features as he dipped his head for a kiss.  Looking up at his boyfriend, Jensen realized that the other man was close, but something was missing.  As if reading the heat in Jared’s gaze, Jensen gave the other man’s flank a gentle pat, causing his lover to slow before pulling out altogether.

Rolling over, Jensen moved up onto his knees, hands reaching forward to grasp the headboard.

“Jesus, Jen,” Jared moaned, causing him to look back.

Idly, he wondered what kind of picture he made.  His sweaty, come covered body on display, ass in the air waiting to be filled once more.

The feeling of strong fingers gripping his hips quickly brought Jensen back to reality as Jared’s mouth nibbled along his shoulder.

“Jare,” he murmured as suddenly his lover’s cock slid in balls deep.

“Oh fuck,” Jared breathed, nose skimming next to Jensen’s ear as he began to thrust.  His rhythm with the new angle proved to be more demanding as the other man’s fingers continuously sank into the flesh of Jensen’s hips.

“Oh god, fuck me harder,” Jensen begged. 

Quickly complying, he felt Jared’s head drop onto his shoulder as he focused all his energy on his movements.  Jensen’s cock twitched to life once more as his prostate was raked over and over.

“Come with me, Jen,” Jared purred, “I know you can,” he added hotly.  Jensen practically jumped feeling wet heat against his ear as his boyfriend’s tongue traced the shell before biting at his earlobe.

“God, Jared,” he moaned.

“Let go for me, baby,” the other man urged, one hand sliding from his hip to wrap around his dick.

“Fuck!” Jensen shouted with the extra stimulation.  The build-up was no less intense than the first as Jared moaned into his ear.

“Come on, come with me,” he whispered, triggering Jensen’s orgasm with his words.

“Jen, oh Jensen,” Jared groaned, hips moving sloppily as his release tore through him.

Moans and breathy sighs quickly followed as the pair slowly came down from the intensity of the moment.  Hips finally coming to a stop, Jensen felt his boyfriend moan.  The feeling of lips against his back caused him to smile.

“Damn,” Jared moaned from behind him, slowly pulling out to discard the condom.  Jensen quickly felt strong arms wrap around him as he was eased down onto his bed.  His boyfriend’s large hands quickly roamed over heated flesh, causing Jensen to sigh contentedly.

“That was …” he trailed off at his own words as Jared’s lips peppered kisses into the crook of his neck.

“Mindblowing … amazing … hotter than hell?” Jared offered, causing them both to chuckle.  Turning his head, Jensen met his lover’s haze gaze, which was sleepy yet still full of passion.

“I love you,” he whispered, lifting his head enough to capture Jared’s lips softly.  The other man pulled back after a moment, laying his head against Jensen’s.  Strong arms squeezed him gently, fingers continuing to caress his skin.

“I love you too,” Jared said, nuzzling into his neck.  As sleep began to claim him, Jensen couldn’t help but smile.

------------------------------------------------------

Feeling a wet lick to his foot, Jared opened his eyes blearily against the afternoon sunlight.  Lifting up slightly from his spot against Jensen, he looked down to find Sadie gazing at him curiously from the foot of the bed.

He couldn’t keep the smile off his face feeling his lover’s warm flesh next to him.  Dipping down to kiss Jensen’s shoulder, Jared stopped short, his hazel gaze flickering to the wall across from the bed.

There in vivid colors and sizes was his artwork, each piece precisely hung with careful consideration.  It was in that moment that Jared realized he needed to tell his boyfriend the truth.

“I can hear your brain churning,” came a sleepy comment, causing Jared to look down.

“Thinking about how hot you are,” he whispered hotly into Jensen’s ear, grinning as the other man chuckled.  Easing back, he let Jensen shift in his arms to face him, a sleepy grin on his features.

“You gotta go,” Jensen said softly, evoking a frown from Jared.

“Kicking me out so soon?” he teased.

“No, but I’m sure Bailey’s gonna wonder where you are when school’s over in twenty minutes,” Jensen explained. 

Swearing softly, Jared forced himself out of bed, scrambling to find his clothes within the mess on the floor.

“I was … damn it,” Jared said, banging his knee on the bed frame as he tried to get his jeans on.

“Slow down there, Cowboy,” Jensen said, sitting up in bed.

“Sorry, I just … I wanted to know if you’ll come over tonight?” Jared asked, struggling with his shirt.  Finally getting it over his head, his eyes fell to Jensen, who gazed at him with a smile.

Suddenly his boyfriend stood unabashedly nude, causing Jared to groan.  Reaching out, he pulled the other man into his arms, lips claiming Jensen’s own passionately.

“You’re going to be late,” Jensen murmured.

“Answer my question,” he breathed, forehead touching the other man’s.

“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be,” his boyfriend answered.  Grinning, Jared kissed the other man once again, the embrace quickly growing amorous.  Hearing a chuckle, Jared felt Jensen push him away playfully.

“Go pick up Bailey,” he insisted.  “I’ll see you soon,” Jensen promised.  Nodding, Jared made his way to the door, sparing his boyfriend a final glance before taking off out the door.

-----------------------------

“Class wasn’t fun today,” Bailey said, trudging into the house sadly.  Jared smiled, watching her pout.

“It was just one day, munchkin,” he promised.  His daughter continued to grumble as she greeted Harley in the kitchen.

“Bailey, stop,” Jared warned softly, watching as she kicked at her bag before sitting on the couch.

“Why don’t you and Harley go play in your room?” he suggested, relieved as her mood seemed to lighten a little with the nod of her head.

Jared set to work on dinner, wanting to have the lasagna ready by the time Jensen arrived.  So engrossed in the preparation, he didn’t even notice as Bailey climbed up onto a counter seat awhile later to look at him.

“What’s for dinner, Daddy?” she asked, startling him.

“Lasagna, Baileygirl,” Jared replied.

“Yum,” his daughter answered, causing him to smile as he checked the oven.  Suddenly the doorbell rang, causing his heart to speed up at the sound.

“Why don’t you go get the door, Bails,” he suggested, following her to the doorway before simply stopping to watch her.

His daughter pulled open the door, practically freezing at the sight of Jensen and Sadie on the front porch.

“Jensen!” she shrieked, vaulting at him with a force Jared had never seen.  His boyfriend quickly caught her, holding her close before looking up, their eyes meeting.

“Are you feeling better now?” Bailey asked, drawing his gaze back to her.

“I’m much better, sweetheart,” he confirmed, setting her down.  Bailey quickly greeted Sadie, giggling as Harley joined in with licking the little girl’s face.

Making his way forward, Jared ushered them all in, lips finding Jensen’s with a small groan.  Pulling away, he smiled.

“Hi.”

“Hi yourself,” Jensen replied.     

“We’re having lasagna for dinner, Jensen!” Bailey exclaimed, skipping down the hall with the dogs on her heels.

“I can smell it,” the other man answered, grinning at Jared.

“Come on, it’s about ready,” Jared said, reaching out to take his boyfriend’s hand.  The three of them, plus the dogs, headed into the kitchen to settle in for dinner.  Bailey sat next to Jensen, practically beaming with each bite over the fact that he was really there. 

“Are you and Daddy all fixed?” she asked suddenly, causing both men to quickly pause mid-bite.  Jensen’s gaze shifted to him before flickering back to Bailey.  Jared watched as the other man set his fork down, turning his full attention to his daughter.

“I’m sorry that you had to see us fight, sweetie,” Jensen apologized.

“But you’re not fighting anymore, right?” she asked contemplatively, twirling a stray noodle on her fork as she stared at him.

“No, baby, we’re not fighting anymore,” Jared promised his daughter, who nodded at his response.

Glancing over at Jensen, he couldn’t help but smile at the encouraging grin on the other man’s features.  The possibility of not having this man in his life scared the crap out of him and now with all the drama that had happened over the last few days, Jared was more than certain that he needed to tell Jensen the truth about himself.

Following dinner, the pair took it upon themselves to play with Bailey … reassuring not only her, but themselves that things were indeed okay.  Several hours later and the little girl’s eyes were beginning to droop.

“Okay, Baileygirl.  Why don’t we get you up to bed?” Jared asked, scooping his daughter up in his arms.

“But I’m not tired, Daddy,” she replied, causing both men to chuckle.

“Sure you’re not,” Jensen answered as she yawned deeply.  Carefully bringing her up the stairs, Jared settled her onto the bed, working to get her into her pajamas.

“You want us to leave you for a minute so you can talk to mommy?” Jared asked, tucking the blankets in around her.

“Nope, she knows I’m happy tonight,” Bailey replied.  At her words, Jared felt tears prick his eyes.

“It’s okay, Daddy,” she said, one little hand rising to touch his cheek.  “You don’t have to be sad, Jensen’s here,” Bailey assured him.

“You’re right, baby,” Jared said looking over at the other man.  Reaching out a hand, he smiled as his boyfriend took it.

“Love you, Daddy, love you, Jensen,” Bailey said softly as her eyes grew heavier.

“Love you too, Sprite,” Jensen answered, kneeling down next to the bed. 

“Love you, Baileygirl,” Jared added, giving Jensen’s hand a squeeze as the little girl’s eyes finally closed for the night.  The pair waited a moment before slowly rising, making their way out of the room.  Heading into the hallway, Jared closed the door before turning toward his boyfriend.

“Fancy a drink?” he asked.

“Sounds good,” the other man replied and together they made their way downstairs.  Hand-in-hand they headed into the kitchen, Jared pulling away only to grab a couple of beers out of the fridge.  Motioning toward the couch, they settled down into the cushions, bodies pressed close together.

“Thank you,” Jared said, feeling Jensen turn toward him.

“For what?”

“For giving me a chance, for talking to me … I can’t imagine not having you in my life.  Not with how far we’ve come,” he explained.

“You don’t have to thank me, hell I should probably be thanking you for not giving up on me when I was being so stubborn,” Jensen replied.  Lifting a hand, Jared stroked the other man’s cheek, gazing intently into Jensen’s emerald eyes.

“There’s something I need to tell you,” he said softly. 

“Okay,” Jensen answered, his voice a bit unsure.  Nodding, Jared stood, holding his hand out to the other man.  Taking it, the pair made their way out into the hall, heading down to an end that Jensen had never been.

“Where are we going?” the other man asked.  Fiddling in his pockets for his keys, Jared remained silent, sliding the proper key into the deadbolt lock.

“I’ve kept something from you; I’m not certain why, but you need to know now,” he said.  Opening the door, he kept the lights off on purpose, pulling Jensen into the darkness.  Shutting the door, he gave the other man’s hand a light squeeze before flicking on the studio’s soft lighting.  Gaze locked on Jensen, he watched as the other man’s eyes went wide.

 

 

When Jared said he’d been keeping something from him, Jensen felt like his stomach had bottomed out.  Though the other man’s tone had not seemed ominous, he couldn’t help but be completely nervous. 

As his boyfriend dragged him into a darkened room, Jensen wondered what was going on.  Suddenly there was light, causing his vision to adjust.  When it finally did, the sight before him made his jaw practically drop.  The work on the canvases in front of him was nothing he’d ever seen, but he’d recognize the artist in a heartbeat.

“These are … this is JT’s work,” Jensen said, edging closer to the first painting, which depicted a pair of hands intertwined.  The detail of the hands was gorgeous and even though it was just hands, he could practically feel the comfort and the love of the owners of the hands. 

As he moved toward the next painting he stopped in his tracks.  There in vivid color was himself, crouched low as he spoke to his students.  Jensen recognized the moment; it was his first day of teaching.

“Jared, why do you …” Jensen trailed off as the realization hit.  Slowly turning, his gaze fell on Jared, whose own features showed unease and nervousness.

“Holy shit, you’re JT,” he said softly.  Jensen watched as Jared nodded in confirmation.  Turning back to the painting, he took in all the detail of that moment.  Every last color was perfect, the children’s faces, the look of the classroom … it was incredible.

“Are you … okay?” Jared asked from behind him, his voice hesitant and unsure.  Glancing at the canvas once more, Jensen turned around in disbelief.

“This is incredible,” he said, suddenly stopping short as he ventured toward the other man.  “Why didn’t you tell me about this sooner?”

“Honestly? When I found out about your love of my paintings … I guess I just thought if I told you then it would be all you thought of when it came to me.  I wanted it to be you and me … not you, me and JT,” the other man explained.

“Did you really think I’d be that way?” Jensen asked in confusion, arms crossing over his chest. 

“No, I mean … I don’t know,” his boyfriend told him honestly.  Crossing the distance between them, Jensen took Jared’s hand, pulling him close.  He gazed into the other man’s hazel depth and realized why Jared was so nervous.

“I imagine all the paintings on my walls were a little intimidating,” he said, watching Jared nod slightly.  “You know that knowing this … this part of you … it makes those paintings even more incredible.  To know that it was you who painted them, well, believe it or not that makes them all the more special.”

“You’re not mad?” Jared asked.

“I’m kind of disappointed that you didn’t tell me sooner, but mad … no Jay, I’m not mad,” he answered.  Giving Jared’s hand a squeeze, he turned back toward the paintings, his gaze flicking over each one.

“These are beautiful,” Jensen said, stopping in front of the only unfinished piece.  Jared had obviously finished the overall outline of the painting, but the color remained absent.  Even with the lack of color, Jensen felt his breath catch, knowing exactly what this piece was going to depict.

“One of the best nights of my life,” Jared whispered in his ear, suddenly beside him.  Jensen felt one of his boyfriend’s large hands slide down his back, starting at the nape before drifting lower.

“Mine too,” he answered softly, his gaze flickering over the etched figures on the canvas, heads close together as if sharing a secret.

“You know, after Sandy died …” Jensen heard a sharp cut to his boyfriend’s voice, wanting to turn and comfort him, but not daring to possibly break this moment.

“After she died, I um, well I pretty much stopped painting,” the other man confessed softly.  “I was able to get one done, but then it was as if the well dried up.  I pretty much devoted everything to raising Bailey,” Jared continued, sighing softly.

“You seem to have found your muse again,” Jensen told him.

“I have,” his boyfriend breathed, his lips caressing Jensen’s temple.  “I almost lost him too.”

As Jared’s words sunk in, Jensen turned his head, eyes blown wide in shock.

“You seem so surprised,” the other man murmured. 

“Honored, actually,” he answered, closing the short distance between them to capture Jared’s lips.  Feeling the other man’s hands grip his hips, Jensen couldn’t help but groan.

“You’ve given me reason to paint again, Jen,” Jared confessed keeping him tight against his strong body. 

“You’ve given us hope, me and Bailey,” he continued.  “You’ve given us new life.”

Jensen stared at the man in front of him, unable to come up with the words that would do this moment justice.  How could he express what Jared’s words meant to him?

“I love you,” he said softly, reaching up to pull his boyfriend into a gentle kiss. 

“I love you,” Jared responded between kisses.  Hands suddenly began to pull at one another’s clothing, the moment heating up quickly.

“As much as I’d love to just drop to the ground right here,” Jensen said, moaning as his boyfriend’s lips attacked the column of his throat.  “We should really take this behind closed doors, yeah?”

“Good point,” Jared said.  “Plus, Sophia would kill me if anything happened to the collection,” he added with a laugh, causing Jensen to chuckle as well.  Righting their clothes, the pair made their way over to the door, coming to a halt as Jensen looked back.

“Come on,” Jared murmured behind him.  Nodding, Jensen followed the other man out, the lights dimming on their own as they headed upstairs, hand-in-hand.

------------------------------------------------

CHAPTER TWELVE

Time seemed to pass quickly following Jared’s confession.  And while the pair had steadily grown closer, the time did give Jensen the chance to really think about what had gone down.  The fact that Jared was really JT was exciting, but left a pit in his stomach at the reality of the situation.  His boyfriend had in fact, lied to him for months.

More than that, it struck a space deep within him that Jared hadn’t just told him from the get-go. 

“Honestly? When I found out about your love of my paintings … I guess I just thought if I told you then it would be all you thought of when it came to me.  I wanted it to be you and me … not you, me and JT,” Jared had said on that revealing night nearly three weeks earlier.

From down the hall, Jensen could hear Chris chuckle, accompanied by Angie’s soft giggle as they watched a movie in the living room.  He smiled distantly before looking up, his gaze landing on the painting that Dani had bought him before he’d really gotten to know Jared and Bailey.  It astounded him that he hadn’t recognized the mischievous eyes brought to life on the canvas.

So lost in his thoughts, Jensen didn’t even hear the knock on his door, which opened slowly to reveal his best friend on the other side.

“Hey,” Chris said, startling him.  Looking up, Jensen forced a smile onto his lips, making himself look busy with his lesson planner.

“What’s up?” he asked casually.  When no response came, he lifted his head, his gaze finding Chris’s doubtful expression.

“Friday night and you aren’t with your favorite twosome, what gives?” the other man asked.  Jensen shrugged, his gaze flickering to the paintings quickly before looking down.

“Had some things I needed to do,” he lied.  Truthfully, he’d been hoping that he and Jared could get together, especially having seen each other only at school over the past week, but the other man had been working hard to finish his final painting before Sophia ripped him a new one.

“You suck at lying,” Chris responded, shaking Jensen from his thoughts.

“I’m not lying,” Jensen answered, his voice sounding doubtful to his own ears.

“Is this about Jared?” his friend asked.  Jensen had been slightly shell-shocked when he’d returned home after finding about Jared’s secret.  It had felt natural to confide in his best friend, but it hadn’t helped ease the discomfort in the pit of his stomach over a number of things.

“We’re fine,” Jensen insisted.

“Feed me another line, maybe I’ll bite this time,” Chris quipped, arms crossing over his chest as he took a seat next to Jensen on the bed.

“Seriously, nothing’s wrong.  We’ve just been busy this week, but honestly, we’re getting stronger,” he explained, his gaze lifting slightly to meet his friend’s own.  The one tough part about trying to lie to someone is when the person you’re trying to fool is an expert at detecting your own bullshit … which fully explained the look Chris was giving him at the moment.

“You’re full of crap,” the other man said quickly, proving Jensen’s point.

“Why are you even in here? You left Angie out there alone?”

“She’s a big girl, Jensen … just like you.  Except I can’t seem to leave you to fend for yourself,” Chris remarked, earning a scowl from his friend.

“Fuck off, I’m fine.”

“Do you remember how I told you that you really needed to talk to Jared, tell him exactly what you were feeling?” the other man asked.

“Yeah, and I did,” Jensen told him.

“Right.”

“What, I did,” he said, his voice becoming more frustrated by the second.

“If you’d really talked to him, Jensen, you wouldn’t be like this.  You think you can just skate through it all and pretend that his big secret and the whole issue with the other dude don’t bother you? Cause if that’s the plan you’re going with, you’re in for a world of hurt, son,” Chris explained.

“Things are good right now, I can’t risk messing up again,” Jensen replied sadly.  Feeling his friend’s hand on the back of his neck, Jensen sighed, leaning into the touch.

“But can you live with yourself knowing that you’re lying to him too, about how you really feel?” Chris asked. 

The pair sat in silence for a moment before Chris eventually rose.  Jensen watched, head bowed slightly as his friend headed to the door before making his way out.  Sighing, he lifted a hand to run through his hair.

There was no other way around it … he needed to talk to Jared.

 

Hearing the phone ring behind him, Jared scrambled to put his palette down.  Furiously he wiped his hands before reaching out to grab his cell before it stopped ringing.

“Hello?”

“Hey,” came the response, causing him to smile.  Hearing Jensen’s voice made his grin deepen further as his boyfriend asked him how his night had been.  Looking up at the clock, Jared was startled to see that it was nearly midnight.

“It was okay,” he responded to the question.  “How did you know I’d be awake?” he asked.

“Took a chance,” came the other man’s response, both of them chuckling.  Jared sobered after a moment, realizing that something sounded off in Jensen’s voice.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m good.  Bit tired from planning lessons is all,” Jensen answered.  Deep down, Jared knew that wasn’t what his boyfriend really wanted to say, but if one thing was certain about Jensen … it was that he was the hardest person to get to admit the truth.

“I missed you tonight,” he murmured, gaze lifting to look at the last painting of his collection across from him.  It had taken him hours tonight to get the colors just right, but he was certain he’d nailed it perfectly.  Just a few more touches and it would be complete.

“I miss you too,” Jensen answered.

“So Bailey is staying over at Sarah’s tomorrow, I was wondering if maybe you’d like to come over for dinner, stay the night?” he asked, a small smile upon his lips at the thought of spending quality grown-up time with his boyfriend.  It was the silence which followed his question that pulled him from his thoughts.

“Jensen? You still with me?” he asked, pulling the phone away briefly to check that they hadn’t been disconnected.

“Yeah, sorry I spaced out there,” the other man apologized.  “That sounds perfect,” Jensen added, putting the smile right back on.

“Awesome,” he replied.  “I’m dropping the munchkin off around 3pm, maybe you can come over near five and we’ll start with dinner,” Jared explained.

“Sounds good,” Jensen said.  “I should probably get to bed before my brain completely shuts down,” he added, causing Jared to frown.  He couldn’t put his finger on it, but the red warning flag was waving furiously in his brain.

“Okay, well sweet dreams, and I’ll see you tomorrow,” he told him.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Jensen answered.

“Hey Jen?” Jared asked quickly.

“Yeah?”

“I love you,” he said.  After a moment, Jensen’s voice filled his ear, finally sounding warm and meaningful.

“I love you too.”

------------------------------------------------------

There was a slight chill in the air as Jensen made his way up the walk to the Padalecki’s front door.  The afternoon sun was just creeping below the Seattle skyline, leaving cooler temperatures in its wake, which was a given being the middle of November.

Knocking softly, he waited, gradually hearing Jared’s footsteps as the other man neared the front door.  Upon opening, Jensen couldn’t help it as his heart raced.  Seeing Jared anytime pretty much did that to him, but now his boyfriend wore white button-down shirt and faded yet comfy jeans and Jensen just wanted to swallow him whole.

“Hey you,” Jared responded first, closing the distance between them to capture his lips in a kiss.  After nearly a week of just glances and looks of longing at school, Jensen gave in to the pleasure of being in the other man’s embrace.  Jared’s strong arms wrapped him up tight, tongue lightly sweeping into his mouth.

After a few moments, the taller man pulled away with a grin, one so bright that Jensen couldn’t help but return.

“Hey to you,” he answered, allowing himself to be pulled into the house by Jared.  As he slid his shoes off, Jensen frowned.  The quietness of the house without Bailey seemed to hit him like a punch to the stomach.  It had always felt a little like coming home when she was there.

“You okay?” Jared asked, pulling him from his thoughts.

“Yeah, just surprised how quiet it is,” he told the other man truthfully.  Jared laughed softly and nodded.

“She does make this place come to life, that’s for sure,” his boyfriend told him, moving back toward the kitchen with Jensen’s hand still grasped within his own.

“Something smells good,” he said, causing Jared to grin.

“I hope you’re hungry,” Jared replied, his free hand gesturing toward the island counter where two plates and a massive amount of food lay waiting.

“I am now,” he answered, allowing himself to be pulled toward the food.

 

An hour later found the pair lounging on the couch, bellies pleasantly full as they lay within one another’s arms.  Running his fingers through Jared’s hair, Jensen breathed deep, allowing his eyes to shut as silence reigned around them.

“What’s bothering you?” Jared asked softly, startling him.  Pulling back slightly, he looked up at his boyfriend, concern radiating in his gaze.

“Nothing,” Jensen lied.  He watched as his boyfriend frowned, pulling further out of his embrace.  “What?” he asked.

“You sure you’re okay?” the other man asked, one hand rising to smooth over the apple of Jensen’s cheek.

“I’m fine,” he answered, unable to resist pushing into the other man’s hand.

“Really?”

“Really, I swear.  I’m fine,” Jensen said, turning away from Jared’s touch with a shrug.  He knew he was being an ass about it, but seriously, how was he supposed to start this conversation?

“Could you stop lying to me?” Jared asked.  “I know that something is wrong, I just wish you’d talk to me.”

Looking down at his hands, Jensen realized that this was it; he needed to talk to his boyfriend … no matter what the consequences.

“Mat’s not just an old friend, is he?” he asked softly, watching Jared’s features shift to confusion.

“Mat? Why do you ask?”

“Because I need to know,” he answered, his voice a bit more insistent.

“Okay, well we went to college together,” his boyfriend began.

“And you dated,” Jensen interrupted, not needing to ask it as a question when he knew what he was going to hear.  Meeting the other man’s gaze, he could easily see the truth.

“Yeah, we started dating about six months into our first year,” the other man explained.

“How long were you together?” Jensen asked.

“Over a year and a half,” Jared replied, a small smile drifting onto his features, making Jensen’s heart clench painfully.

“His father got sick during the school year and Mat was the oldest, so he transferred closer to home.  After awhile the distance got too much and we just lost touch,” his boyfriend admitted. 

In that moment, Jensen felt like he was going to throw up.  Sure he’d already admitted to himself that there was something more between his boyfriend and Mat, but to hear it confirmed was like a sucker punch.

“You okay?” Jared asked suddenly, pulling him back to the moment. 

“Yeah, I uh … that must have been hard to lose him like that,” Jensen offered, turning the focus back onto the conversation at hand.

“It was,” the other man admitted softly.  “Everything we had, built up so naturally, we started as friends and were practically living together near the end, it was tough to lose that.”

Jensen looked away; his eyes darting around to find focus on something less the tears begin.  He knew he had asked Jared to tell him about his relationship with Mat, but even after eight years, he wasn’t stupid enough to believe that there wasn’t some emotion still there between the two men.

Feeling a tell-tale lump in his throat, Jensen stood, crossing to the counter island.  Bracing his hands upon the marble, he willed away the tears threatening to fall.

“Hey,” came a soft voice at his side, large hands gently turning him.  Jared manages to turn him completely before he’s able to get loose, not before the reality sinks in that his boyfriend had to have seen the wetness at his eyes.

“I’m fine, just swallowed wrong,” Jensen lied again, the ease of not telling the truth flowing at a quicker pace for him.

“You’re not fine,” Jared replied.  “I don’t understand, you wanted to know about Mat, I told you,” the other man said.  In that moment, a bit of clarity came, causing Jensen to whip around to face the other man.

“Jesus Jared, you should have told me way before this,” he bit out, eyes narrowing on the taller man.

“What do you mean?” Jared replied.

“The man shows up on your doorstep after we’ve spent the night together and you tell me he’s an old friend, Jared.  I could tell by the way he was looking at you that there was more than friendship in your past.  What I don’t understand is why you didn’t just tell me he was an old boyfriend,” he said.

 

“Jensen, whoa wait a minute,” Jared said, not quite understanding what was going on in that moment.  He’d told Jensen the truth and now, well he wasn’t sure what the hell was wrong.  Looking over at the other man, Jared saw raw emotion in the glistening green eyes and he finally got it.

“Are you … are you jealous of Mat?” he asked.  The man in front of him scoffed, shaking his head in a quick denial.

“Of course not,” Jensen told him, the words sliding a little too quick off his tongue.  Moving forward, Jared’s eyes widened as Jensen took a step back in response. 

Holding his hands out to the side in surrender, Jared took a couple cautious steps forward. 

“You have no reason to be jealous of Mat, Jen.  We’re just friends, I promise you,” he told him.  Jensen shook his head vehemently, surprising him.

“I don’t understand why you don’t see it?” the other man said.  “The looks he gives you, the way he focuses his attention on you and nobody else.”

“Mat doesn’t do that,” Jared said, his voice laced with confusion.  Since when had that been happening with Mat? he wondered.

“Like hell he doesn’t,” Jensen answered sharply.

“Now wait a minute,” Jared said, recognizing the bitterness in his boyfriend’s tone.  “Why is this even an issue? I’m with you, I love you,” he told him.

“Then stop being friends with him,” Jensen said, his voice level and calm.  He knew his expression must have been one of disbelief, but for the life of him, Jared couldn’t help it.  What the hell had this night turned into?

“I’m not going to stop being friends with him just because you don’t like him, Jensen.  He’s done nothing wrong.”

“So I’m wrong then?” the other man asked tightly.

“I didn’t say that,” he replied, his patience wearing pretty thin.

“Sure as hell sounded like it, Jared,” Jensen told him. 

“Listen, you can’t just tell me who I can and can’t be friends with, Jen.  It doesn’t work that way.  Mat is just a friend, nothing more, and you need to realize that,” Jared explained, watching his boyfriend turn away as if someone had just struck him.

Jared watched Jensen’s back, took in the heaving sighs that accompanied each breath as one hand gripped the back of a chair.  All he wanted in that moment was to hold his lover close and show him that he was Jensen’s … and only his.

“Why can’t you see it?”came Jensen’s voice a second later, so quiet he barely heard him.

“See what? I don’t understand why this is a problem, Jen,” he admitted, unable to figure out what was going on.  Suddenly Jensen turned, the light in his eyes seemingly gone as he stood up straight to face him.

“Bailey sees it too,” the other man said, catching Jared’s attention in an instant.

“Excuse me?”

“Your own five-year old doesn’t like the guy,” Jensen began.

“No!” Jared yelled suddenly, startling them both.  Taking a calming breath, he held out a hand toward his boyfriend, his voice coming out like stone.

“You can say what you want, but you will not drag my daughter into this,” he told him.

“Have you even listened to what she has to say?”

“I said stop, Jensen.  You got a problem with me and my friendships fine, but she stays out of it,” Jared interrupted.

“So you’re willing to let your daughter continue to feel hurt and ignored to maintain a relationship with him, that’s just great,” Jensen said.

“Get out.”

The words surprised even him as he looked over at Jensen’s bewildered gaze.

“What?”

“You heard me,” he answered. The pair stared at one another, neither moving an inch.

“I’m not leaving,” Jensen finally said, causing Jared to scoff.

“Really? Cause it seemed like you were halfway out the door before you even stepped foot in the house tonight,” he told the other man. 

“Screw you, Jared.  You’ve lied to me for months, months!” Jensen growled, the last word practically dripping with anger. 

“Can you blame me with the way you’re acting now?” he hollered in reply.

“The way I’m acting?” his boyfriend yelled back, moving steadily closer to him. 

“Yeah, like a real ass,” Jared answered.  “I don’t even know who you are right now!” he said, feeling the raw anger just bubbling under his skin.

“Me? I’m not the one who’s so damn blind that he can’t see what’s going on!” Jensen retaliated.  Turning, Jared stepped away from the other man, his hand grabbing the nearest object in sight as it smashed into the far wall.

“Yeah cause that glass was the one being the asshole,” the other man bit out sarcastically, causing Jared to spin around, their eyes meeting heatedly.

“Just shut up! God, I don’t get you, where is the man I fell in love with?” Jared asked, running a shaking hand through his hair.

“I’m right here, Jared! Standing here telling you the truth that you can’t seem to bare hearing,” Jensen replied.

“Get out!”

“That’s what you want? Cause that’s it, I’m tired of trying to make you see what’s going on.  I walk out that door, I’m gone,” the other man told him.  Silence reigned over the pair, their harsh breathing the only sounds between them.

“Fine, I’m gone.”

Jared watched as Jensen moved down the hall, the door slamming shut behind him with enough force to knock a picture frame to the floor.  Teeth biting down on his lower lip, Jared quickly followed, hand poised over the door knob.  In an instant, he pulled back, the meaty flesh of his palm connecting on the back of the door.

“Damn it!”

 

-----------------------------

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

The journey from point A to point B was, on any other day, a relatively easy one.  But the tears threatening in Jensen’s eyes at each turn and juncture had him barely surviving the short trip home.

Blindly, he pulled into the driveway, his front bumper a mere inches from the car already there.  As he exited his truck, Jensen stopped, one hand bracing against the hood as his breath hiccupped. 

Finally after a few tense moments, Jensen pushed himself forward, knowing that despite the desire to ‘curl up into a ball and die’ feeling that lingered in his chest … it probably wasn’t the wisest idea.  As his hand reached for the knob on the front door, Jensen’s mind came to a startling and harsh realization. 

‘He’d broken up with Jared’. Not just a quick argument, give it a few days, but a ‘this is it … it’s over.’

It was in that moment that Jensen was certain of one thing … he was going to throw up.  Racing into the house, he ran into his room, barely making it to the en-suite bathroom before losing his entire dinner.  Pushing his way through the violent contractions of his stomach, Jensen heaved a sob.

‘What have I done?’

“Jensen? Christ son, what happened?” came Chris’s voice behind him, dragging him back to the present.  Straightening, he grabbed the nearest towel and cleaned his face.  Flushing the toilet, he turned, finding Chris and Dani in the doorway.

“Jen? Honey, are you okay?” she asked.

“Jared and I broke up … we’re through,” he told them, the last of his words coming out as a whisper.  Both of his friends looked shell-shocked … not that he’d blame them.

“What?” Chris asked.  Jensen shook his head, not wanting to elaborate further lest the remainder of his stomach decided to make a re-appearance.

Suddenly, Jensen found himself enveloped in Dani’s arms.

“It’s okay, Jen,” she whispered, holding him close.  He couldn’t help but sniffle against her shoulder, smelling her lavender perfume with each breath.  Jensen found himself being led out of the bathroom, suddenly collapsing on the bed with Dani.

“Damn it, Jensen.  Quit being a man and fucking cry,” his friend whispered, her hand caressing his cheek.

Looking into her eyes, seeing the confusion and sadness within their depths, Jensen finally lost the battle.  Slow tears began to fall as Dani held him tight.

“What did I do?” he murmured, his voice muffled by the pillow.  For her part – and Chris’s – the two friends stayed quiet, only Jensen’s low yet heart-wrenching sobs filling the silence of the room.

 

-------------------------------------

Stumbling into the kitchen, Jared frowned as he gazed at the mess that remained on the island counter from last night’s dinner.  After Jensen had left, he hadn’t really known what to do.  He’d started toward his studio, but had stopped; knowing that going in there and seeing all the paintings of Jensen wouldn’t be a good idea.  Instead, Jared had made his way upstairs, flopping down on a lounge chair on his balcony with Harley at his side.

It had been the deepening chill in the air that had finally forced him to trudge inside, merely collapsing on his bed – clothes and all – before drifting off to a restless sleep.

Now as he surveyed the remainder of last night’s meal, Jared couldn’t help but feel his heart clench.  He wasn’t certain how last night just all blew to hell, but one thing that was clear … was that Jensen was gone.  Frowning, he lifted several dishes, bringing them over to the sink.

Mindlessly, he pushed through the task of getting things clean, trying to keep his mind from wandering too far back into the previous night’s mess.  Jared knew that he needed to figure things out, but honestly … he didn’t know where to start.

Suddenly the doorbell chimed, causing him to startle.  Rinsing off his hands, Jared picked up a towel, making his way toward the front door.

“Daddy, I’m home!” came a holler from behind the door, causing him to stop in his tracks.  In all the drama, he’d forgotten about Bailey.  More importantly the fact that she knew Jensen was supposed to have stayed last night.

“Daddy?” came his daughter’s questioning voice once more.  Stepping forward, Jared quickly opened the door, forcing a smile on his face at the sight of his little girl.

“Hey Baileygirl,” he said, quickly pulling her into a hug.  Thanking Sarah’s mother, he made his way back inside with Bailey in his arms. 

“Did you have a good time?” Jared asked her.

“Yup, we watched ‘Up’ and had popcorn,” she told him cheerfully.

“That’s great,” he replied, helping her out of her jacket.  Bailey giggled as Harley came over to lick her face in greeting.  Giving her a half-smile, Jared headed back into the kitchen to finish up.

“Daddy, where’s Jensen?” Bailey suddenly asked from behind him, causing him to still.  How could he tell her? How could he make her understand what had happened?

“I’m sorry, baby.  Jensen had to go home early, but you’ll see him in school tomorrow, k?” he asked, hoping that his lie would suffice.  His daughter looked dejected but seemed to accept his answer.

 

“Jensen?”

Sighing, Jensen turned the water off in the shower and grabbed a towel.

“I’m fine, Dani.  I’ll be out in a minute,” he said softly through the closed bathroom door.  Hearing his friend shuffle off reluctantly, Jensen dried himself off, pulling on a pair of sweatpants before looking into the fogged mirror.  The reflection staring back at him didn’t surprise him.  His friends had forced him to shower after lying in bed for the majority of the morning and while it had made him feel marginally less haggard … it had really helped.

“Don’t forget to shave!” came Chris’s voice from behind the door.  Frowning, Jensen’s eyes flickered over to the door, a biting reply forgotten on his tongue.  Looking back up in the mirror, it was easy to see the dark circles under his green eyes.  Truthfully, he’d gotten sleep the night before, but the fight with Jared had haunted his dreams.

Grabbing a t-shirt, Jensen slid the garment on before heading back out into his bedroom.  ‘Screw shaving’, he thought as he dropped back down onto the bed.  Sadie suddenly appeared at the doorway to his room, not wasting anytime as she climbed up onto the bed toward her saddened owner.

As Sadie settled in his lap, Jensen began to stroke her head, his gaze hollowly looking straight ahead.  Sunlight filtered into the room, lighting up the opposite side of his room.  Following the light, Jensen’s eyes landed on the wall of Jared’s paintings.  As if in an instant, tears began to threaten.

“Damn it,” he murmured, unable to tear his gaze away.

“Want me to take them down?”

Tearing his gaze away in surprise, Jensen found Chris in his open doorway.  His friend looked at him sadly, slowly making his way into the room.

“No,” he answered hoarsely.  “Don’t take them away,” he added.

“Listen, I know this sucks, but you have to …”

“What? Move on, get over it?” Jensen interrupted harshly.

“That’s not what I was going to say,” Chris defended.  “You need to take care of yourself,” he explained.

“I’m okay, I got out of bed and showered,” he told his friend.

“And yet you’re right back in bed,” Chris pointed out.  “Just come out and have some dinner with us, please?” he asked.  Jensen shook his head, eyes once again falling on the far wall.

“Please, Jen.”

“Alright, I’ll be out in a minute,” he conceded.  Seemingly satisfied with the response, Chris stood and made his way out of the room.  Watching the other man leave, Jensen looked back down at Sadie and sighed.

“What am I supposed to do, Sadie?”  The dog simply pushed her head into his hand, giving it a comforting lick.

“Jen, dinner’s ready!” came a far-away shout from Danneel.

“Okay, I’m coming,” he replied, glancing a final time at the paintings on the wall. 

“I’m coming.”

------------------------------------------------------

“Jay-red, what’s happening?”

Unable to stop a chuckle from slipping past his lips, Jared smiled hearing Chad’s voice.

“I’m doing okay,” he answered, not believing his own words for a moment.

“Mmhmm, okay well I’m going to call the bull to your shit,” his friend said suddenly.

“What do you mean?” Jared asked dumbly, his gaze falling on Bailey as she played out in the hall with Harley, rolling a ball to him as he chased it back.

“What do I mean? You sound like someone just ran over your dog,” Chad replied.  “Oh shit! Nobody ran over your dog, did they?” the other man quickly asked.

“Harley’s fine,” Jared assured him.

“Is it Bailey?” his friend continued to press.

“No she’s fine too, trust me.  They’re playing out in the hallway,” he answered.  There was silence over the phone for a moment before Chad came back at him, hitting the nail right on the head.

“It’s Jensen then?”

Jared turned in his chair, gaze falling to the window to look out upon the night sky.  He could see the Space Needle in the distance, lit up against the Seattle skyline.

“Shit, Jare.  What happened?”

“Honestly, I don’t know.  We had a fight last night, words were exchanged, he left,” Jared explained, knowing full well that he wasn’t giving much of an accurate description of the events.

“Right,” Chad replied, seemingly unconvinced.  “Hey listen, can I call you back in a bit?” his friend suddenly asked.

“Sure, I need to get Bailey to bed anyways,” Jared answered.

“Okay, give the munchkin a kiss for me and I’ll call you back in a bit,” the other man said.

“Sounds good,” he replied, hanging up after a few moments.  Looking over at his daughter, he breathed a sigh of relief that she was still engrossed in playing with Harley.  He just wasn’t ready to explain that going to school was likely the only way she was going to be seeing Jensen again.

Setting the phone down, Jared stood, making his way over to his daughter.

“Time for bed, sweetheart,” he said gently, crouching down to her level.  Bailey frowned, looking up at him with those perfect hazel eyes.

“Why are you sad, Daddy?” she asked suddenly, surprising him.

“Sad? I’m not sad, honey,” he lied, slipping a smile onto his features.  Bailey watched him, her eyes searching his for a moment before standing.

“Okay, Daddy,” Bailey told him softly, moving into his arms.  Placing a kiss against her temple, Jared scooped his daughter up and made his way toward the stairs.

------------------------------------------

After putting Bailey to bed, Jared had returned to the kitchen.  His gaze looked around solemnly.  Grabbing a beer out of the fridge, he headed over to the couch and sat down.  Harley quickly joined him, the big dog’s head falling into his lap.

Jared simply let the silence settle over him.  He couldn’t believe that his life had been so upturned so quickly.  What had Jensen meant? Jared couldn’t understand what the other man had been trying to tell him.  What was it that he wasn’t seeing?

So lost in his thoughts, he barely noticed that a ringing was chiming throughout the house.  Harley softly barked, causing him to sit up straight.  Glancing at the clock, he frowned at the 11:15pm glare of blue lights shining back at him.  ‘Jensen’, he thought, quickly moving to the door.  Opening it, Jared’s jaw dropped at the sight of Chad and Sophia on his doorstep.

“What … what are you doing here?” he asked.

“I’m here for moral support,” Chad said, casting a glance toward his wife.  “She’s here to make sure you don’t fuck up your paintings in your time of grief,” he added.  Jared watched as Sophia rolled her eyes, smacking her husband in the stomach.

“Asshole,” she muttered, moving forward to pull Jared into a hug.  Wrapping his arms around the woman, Jared sighed feeling tears begin to prick his vision.  Sophia pulled back slightly, giving him a soft smile.

“How are you doing?” she asked.  Jared gave her a half-smile, one hand rising to push back the moisture from his eyes.

“I’ve been better,” he finally admitted.  Sophia took his hand, leading him down to the kitchen as Chad carried their bags in.

Minutes later, the trio was seated in the kitchen with beers in hand.  Jared smiled as Harley once again settled back onto his lap.

“Talk to us, Jared,” Chad said softly, causing him to look up at his two best friends.

“Jensen came over last night, he seemed … distracted, when he got here,” Jared began.  “We ate dinner and then settled onto the couch.  He started asking me about Mat and our relationship back in college.  Then … things got weird,” he said.

“Weird, how?” Sophia asked.

“He said that Mat looks at me differently, that I’m not seeing it and then he forbids me to see Mat anymore,” Jared explained, looking up at his friends, who each wore matching confused expressions.

“Okay, what?” Chad asked.

“I know!” he replied, nearly as confused as his friends.

“Is he right?” Sophia asked.  Both men looked at her in surprise.

“What? No, he couldn’t be right.  Mat and I are just friends,” Jared told her adamantly.  His friends regarded him for a moment before looking at one another.

“So that’s it … you’re just going to let Jensen go?” Chad asked softly.

“What am I supposed to do, Chad? He gave the ultimatum, he left,” Jared responded.

“So?” the other man asked.

“So, what?” he replied, unsure of what Chad was asking.

“You’re going to let that stop you from going after him? I thought you loved him, man?”

“I do,” Jared said softly.

“Then prove it, Jared,” Sophia told him.  Sighing, Jared looked away, his gaze drifting back toward the Seattle skyline.  He couldn’t help but think of Jensen and wonder how in the world he was going to fix things between them.

“Hey, nothing needs to be solved tonight,” Chad said, drawing him back to the conversation.

“Chad’s right, besides, you look wrecked,” Sophia told him.

“Is that your subtle hint that I look like shit?” Jared asked.

“I wasn’t going for subtle,” she replied with a grin.  Laughing genuinely for the first time in days, Jared nodded.

“Alright, I’m going to bed.  I’ll see you guys in the morning,” he told them.

“Sleep well, Jay,” Sophia said, kissing his cheek.  Jared nodded, giving Chad a half-hug before heading up the stairs.  Going through his normal nighttime routine, Jared found himself lying in the darkness minutes later. 

Though his body was exhausted, his mind was still going a mile a minute, Jensen at the forefront of his thoughts.  After nearly a half hour of watching the ceiling, Jared finally began to fall under the pull of sleep, the sound of Jensen’s last words echoing in his head.

-------------------------------

The sound of the alarm blaring in his ear caused Jared to groan.  He felt like crap despite the seven hours of sleep he managed to get.  Slapping at the alarm, he rolled out of bed and toward the bathroom.  Quickly showering, Jared dressed and headed down toward Bailey’s room, not surprised to see his daughter’s room empty.

Making his way down the stairs, his child’s unmistakable laughter rang out, followed by Sophia’s airy laugh.  Turning into the room, Jared couldn’t help but smile seeing Bailey and Chad balancing spoons on their noses as Sophia and Harley looked on.

“Looks like some serious fun in here,” he said, causing Chad to lose the spoon off his nose.  Bailey cheered.

“I win!” she said.  Chad turned to him with a mock glare.

“Thanks a lot,” he said.  Suddenly Bailey got out of her chair, running over to him.  Her little arms reached up to him and he smiled, lifting her up.

“Thank you for my surprise,” she said, looking back at her aunt and uncle.

“You’re welcome, baby,” he answered, kissing her cheek, before pulling her close.  Jared simply held her, relishing in the comforting feel of her little hand patting his back.

“Love you, Daddy,” she told him after a moment, pulling back to give him a sweet smile.

“I love you too, Baileygirl,” he answered.

“You two should probably get headed to get to school in time,” Sophia chimed in, causing him to still instantly.  He had to take Bailey to school … to Jensen.  His gaze met Chad’s and he saw the challenge in his best friend’s eyes.

“Seriously, dude, you don’t want to be late, right?” the other man asked.

“Come on, Daddy,” Bailey said, wiggling to get down.  “I want to see Jensen,” she added, running out of the room to grab her bookbag.

“God, how do I do this?” Jared asked to nobody in particular.

“Well, you bring Bailey to school and see where it goes from there,” Sophia explained.

“Would you go with me? You don’t have to go in, maybe just wait in the car?” he asked Chad.

“What are you, five? Jay, you don’t need me to go with you.  Just go and we’ll be here waiting when you get back, I promise.”

Considering his friend for a moment, Jared finally nodded.

“Okay, I’ll … I’ll be back soon,” he said, turning toward the hall.

“I’m ready, Daddy,” Bailey said, appearing before him.

“Let’s go then,” Jared told her softly, guiding her down to the garage.

------------------------------------

Nearing the school, Jared’s stomach was flipping around a mile a minute.  Even Bailey’s boisterous rendition of ‘Wheels on the Bus’ couldn’t seem to settle him.  As he pulled up to the curb outside, Jared genuinely felt like he was going to be sick, but managed to stave off the impulse as he helped his daughter out of the car.

Bailey practically tugged his hand the entire way, Jared’s own feet feeling lead-lined with each step toward Jensen’s classroom.  Finally the moment had arrived as his little girl barreled into the room.  Jared stepped in cautiously, his gaze searching out for Jensen.

“Morning, Jensen!” Bailey chirped happily and Jared watched as Jensen’s head lifted in surprise from the workbook in front of him on his desk.  A smile emerged on the other man’s features at the sight of the little girl, but Jared knew it was forced. 

Their eyes suddenly met and Jared felt his heart break in an instant.  Dark shadows marred the beautiful skin around the other man’s eyes.  The light and happiness normally in Jensen’s eyes that seemed to always meet him each morning was gone, replaced by a dull and seemingly defeated luster.

“Morning,” Jared said softly, his words sounding dumb even to him.

“Hey, morning,” Jensen answered, his tone cautious and awkward.

“Jensen, are you okay?” Bailey asked, causing the other man to look away from Jared.

“I’m fine, sweetheart,” he insisted.  Jared watched his daughter inspect Jensen much like she had with him.  Only this time, Bailey quickly moved forward, wrapping her arms around him.

“I’m sorry you’re sad,” she told him quietly.  Looking away, Jared fought back tears.  He’d done this; he’d caused Jensen to become this … shell.

“Thanks, Bails,” Jensen replied, giving the little girl as genuine of a smile as Jared imagined he could muster.

“Alright, kiddo, I’m going to head out, but I’ll see you this afternoon, okay?” Jared asked, his eyes meeting Jensen’s.  The pain and despair in the other man’s normally vibrant green eyes was almost too much for him to bear.

“Okay, Daddy.  Love you.”

Jared looked over at her and smiled, his gaze locking on Jensen, who looked at him intently.

“I love you too.”

Looking at the pair for a moment longer, Jared turned, making his way out of the school. 

Safely behind the wheel of his car, he pulled out his phone and looked at the time.  Chad was right, he couldn’t let Jensen go … he had to fight.  But one thing was certain … he needed answers.  Putting the car in gear, Jared made his way out onto the street and toward the one place he might be able to find them.

 

----------------

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Ten minutes later and Jared found himself walking through the lobby doors of the UW Medical Center.  His eyes darted around, not sure where to go first.

“Can I help you, Sir?” Turning, Jared found an older woman next to him, a smile on her features.

“Oh yes, I was wondering if you could tell me where to find Dr. Mat Turner; he’s an orthopedic surgeon here,” he explained.

“Dr. Turner, of course,” the woman said.  “Take the elevator to the fifth floor and the nurses at the station on the left will be able to help you.”

Thanking her, Jared headed to the elevator, patiently waiting as the bell sounded with each passing floor.  Suddenly he found himself on the fifth floor and shuffled over to the nurse’s station with uncertainty.  The woman at the desk looked up at him, her eyes gazing over him.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’m looking for Dr. Mat Turner,” he said.

“Sure, I think he’s still here,” the woman responded, picking up the phone.

“Paging Dr. Turner to the nurse’s station … Dr. Turner to the nurse’s station,” she said over the speaker system.  Hanging up, her gaze shifted to him with a smile.

“If you’d like to take a seat,” she told him, motioning to the chairs in the corner.  Nodding, Jared made his way over to the small chairs, practically folding his long frame into one.  After a few minutes he looked up, his gaze falling on Mat as the other man approached the nurse’s station.  Jared watched as Mat conversed with the nurse before looking in his direction, his features brightening.

“Hey, what a surprise,” Mat said, making his way over as Jared stood.

“Hi,” Jared replied.

“What brings you by? You’re okay, yeah?” the other man asked.

“Yeah, I’m okay,” he assured him.  “I was hoping we could talk,” Jared said.  Mat nodded quickly.

“Of course, I was actually just getting done my shift.  How about some breakfast?” he asked.  Nodding in reply, Jared followed Mat to his office before the pair headed out of the hospital.  Following Mat in his own car, he was surprised to find himself at a condo complex rather than a restaurant.

“I hope you don’t mind,” Mat said as he got out of his car.  “I didn’t really want to eat out in scrubs and I make a mean omelet,” he finished.

“No problem,” Jared said, following the other man inside.  Mat’s condo was nice, designer furniture at every turn, but a feeling of disuse seemed to be all over the place.  Maybe it was the fact that Mat was a doctor and likely away from home a lot, but the place just seemed cold.  It was nothing like Jensen’s place with his haphazard laundry scattered in crazy places or his guitar in random spots, depending on the other man’s mood.

“Make yourself comfortable, I’m just going to go change,” the other man told him.  Jared nodded, watching Mat make his way up the stairs.  Looking around, he frowned at the sparsely decorated interior.  There was barely anything in the place that made it look like a home beyond the furniture.  In college, Mat had had tons of photos of his family all over, but now, well Jared was hard pressed to find anything.

“Not very decorated, is it?” came Mat’s voice, causing Jared to turn and nearly collide at the close proximity of his friend.

“It’s nice,” Jared lied, following the other man into the kitchen.

“It’s not bad, I don’t get to see much of it obviously,” Mat said, beginning to pull ingredients from the fridge. 

“That’s understandable, you must be pretty busy at the hospital,” he replied.

“I am, but honestly, I love it.  The people there are fantastic and some of my patients are real fighters.  It really makes it all worth it,” Mat explained.  Jared nodded politely, but inside his heart was screaming at him.  If he really wanted answers, really wanted to get Jensen back … well, listening to Mat ramble about his job wasn’t going to help.

“Like last night, I had a firefighter brought in who had blown out his knee after pulling a child out of a burning building and it was …”

“Jensen and I broke up,” he interrupted, his gaze flicking to Mat as the other man paused mid-chop. 

“God, Jared.  I’m so sorry,” he said, giving him a sympathetic look before returning to the vegetables.  Jared watched his former boyfriend, noting how he continued to cut up the food for omelets.  Maybe Jensen had been wrong, he thought.  If it had been Jensen in this situation, Jared was certain the other man would have abandoned any task to comfort him or talk it out.

“So what happened?” Mat asked suddenly, jarring him from his thoughts.

“We uh … well we had a disagreement,” he said, trying to figure out the best way to tell the other man that he was actually the cause.

“And you broke up, over a disagreement? Must have been a pretty big issue,” Mat said.

“It was about you,” Jared blurted out.  This time, Mat turned and abandoned the knife in his hand to move closer to him as he leaned against the opposite counter.

“Me? What … what about me?” Mat asked.

“Jensen, he um … he said you look at me differently,” Jared began, surprised as Mat laughed.

“How exactly do I look at you?” he asked, causing Jared to shrug.

“I … I don’t know,” he answered truthfully.

“Okay, so that’s the reason you broke up?” Jared looked at the other man, noted his close proximity to him.

“Mat, are you still in love with me?” he asked softly. 

“Would it be horrible if I was?” the other man replied.  Jared couldn’t help but take a step back, his heart clenching in anguish.  Jensen was right, he thought.

“So you are?” Jared asked.  Suddenly, Mat motioned to the kitchen table with his hand, urging him over gently.

“Truthfully, I never stopped loving you,” Mat told him softly.  “When I had to go home to help my family, I couldn’t stop thinking about you.  I wondered how or if I’d ever get to see you again.  When I ran into you that day, I knew it was fate.”

“Fate?”

“Like the universe was finally giving me a chance to be with you again,” the other man explained.  “I know that everything with Jensen is still fresh, but honestly, I’d really like to get to know you again, Jare.”

“Mat, I …” Suddenly the other man stood up, making his way over to grab a couple of cups from the cabinet.  Pouring some fresh coffee into one, Mat returned, handing the mug to him.  Smiling gratefully, Jared took a tentative sip, lowering it after a moment. 

Staring into the brown liquid, Jared couldn’t help but reflect on the man across from him.  All the firsts in his dating life had come with Mat.  How their first date had been at the A&W and he’d been so nervous to be on a date with one of his closest friends … that he’d spilled his root beer float down the front of his shirt on the first sip.

“Hey, you okay?” Mat asked, pulling Jared from his thoughts.  Looking up at him, he gave him a small smile.

“Yeah, I’m okay,” he assured him.

“You’re pretty quiet over there,” the other man said.

“Was thinking about you, us actually,” Jared admitted.  “Remembering our first date,” he continued, smiling at the bark of laughter that escaped from Mat’s lips.

“Ah, the root beer float shirt,” Mat said, smiling brightly.  Jared nodded, thinking back on that first date and how awkward it had been.  Hell, it had taken them till about the fourth date to be comfortable with one another.  Not like with Jensen, he thought.  The shared burgers and fries, the cupcake kissing down by the shore … everything with Jensen had been perfection.  Smiling, Jared looked up; his gaze meeting Mat’s concerned one.

“Seriously, Jare … you sure you’re okay?”

“You and I, we shared some amazing times,” he began, a small smile on his lips. 

“We did,” Mat answered, a matching smile gracing his features.

“I’ve always treasured the time we had together, but I … Mat, I love Jensen,” Jared said, an invisible weight falling off his shoulders.  For his part, Mat looked resigned.  Reaching out, Jared took the other man’s hand, giving it a soft squeeze.

“You’re gonna make someone incredibly happy one day, Dr. Turner,” he told him.  “Just like you did for me back in college.”

“There’s nothing I can say or do, is there?” Mat asked.  Chuckling softly, Jared set his cup down and stood up.  Smiling, he reached out, pulling the other man up and into a hug.  After a moment, he pulled back, giving Mat’s cheek a soft kiss.

Looking down at the other man, he watched his former flame smile softly.  Their eyes continued to hold one another’s gaze until finally Mat nodded, stepping back out of Jared’s embrace.

“Goodbye, Mat,” he said softly.  Jared gave the other man’s shoulder a squeeze before turning and making his way out of the house. 

-------------------------------------------

Pulling into the garage, Jared sat for a moment and thought about everything that had transpired.  Jensen had been right and he’d … well, he been so blind he couldn’t even see it.  It was in that moment of clarity that Jared felt like an idiot.  So lost in his thoughts, he was startled as the passenger door opened and Chad climbed in.

“You realize you’ve been sitting out here for over ten minutes,” the other man stated, leveling his curious gaze on Jared with an eyebrow raised.

“I went and saw Mat,” he admitted softly, one hand rising to rub at the back of his neck.  Looking over at Chad, Jared was surprised to see that his friend’s face didn’t have one iota of shock on it.

“So what happened?” the other man asked.

“He basically admitted he was still in love with me,” Jared replied. 

“Is this the part where I’m supposed to be shocked?” Chad asked, earning a glare from his friend.

“Um, kind of,” he answered, causing Chad to chuckle.

“Jare, he was your first everything.  The two of you were inseparable during your time together.  I would imagine it would take a lot for him to get over you,” he explained.

“But I don’t feel that way about him,” Jared replied.

“Of course not, that’s the way you feel about Jensen,” Chad stated making Jared’s head turn sharply.  Blowing out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding, Jared shook his head slightly.

“What do I do, Chad?” he asked.  “Jensen saw it all; he knew what was going on, even when I was too oblivious.  And the things I said, what we both said … how do I fix it?”

“Do you love him?” his friend asked.

“Of course,” Jared answered without hesitation.

“Then it will work out, Jay.”

Nodding, Jared smiled, reaching out to ruffle his best friend’s hair.

“Hey, asshole, don’t mess with my awesomeness,” Chad teased, swatting Jared’s hand away lightly.

“Thanks, Chad,” he said sincerely.

“You’re welcome,” the other man replied.  Leaning back in his seat, Jared’s eyes stared at the roof, relishing in the silence.

“So, not for nothing, but you think we could move this silent bonding inside? I mean, I love your car, but your living room is pretty awesome too,” Chad interrupted.  Chuckling, Jared nodded.

“Yeah, let’s go.”

 ---------------------------------------

Eyes flickering nervously toward the clock on the wall, Jensen watched as the big hand slid forward and the school bell rang noisily to signal the end of the school day.  The sound of his students beginning to shuffle snapped him back to the present and he stood up.

“Okay gang, let’s make sure we get the supplies back where they belong,” he reminded them.  Within minutes the door opened and Jensen held his breath, releasing it after a moment as Matty’s mother came in. 

One by one, his student’s mother or father made their way into classroom until the only one left was Bailey.  Making his way over to the little girl, he smiled down at her as she read a book softly to herself on the carpet.

“Hey Bails,” he said, lowering himself to the ground next to her.

“Hi Jensen,” she replied, giving him a dimpled grin so much like her father’s that it made his heart ache.

“Did you have fun today with the alphabet game?” Jensen asked.

“Yup and my team won!” Bailey replied cheerfully, causing him to chuckle.

“They certainly did,” he answered.

“Hey munchkin,” came a voice from behind them.  Turning, Jensen was shocked to find Chad in the doorway.  Bailey rose quickly, running over to the other man as he scooped her up with a grin.

“Chad, good to see you,” Jensen said, rising up from the floor as the other man came over.  Chad held out his free hand, which Jensen shook warmly.

“How are you?” Chad asked, his question and ensuing look seemingly asking more than the obvious.

“I’ve been better,” he admitted softly, looking away as thoughts of Jared forced tears to prick his eyes once again.

“Understandable,” the other man answered.

“Hey munchkin, why don’t you go and get your backpack so we can get going,” Chad said, putting the little girl down.  Nodding, Bailey moved off to the other side of the room, leaving the two men alone.

“So I think you two need to talk,” the other man said, surprising Jensen.

“He told me to get out,” he told him.

“And you left, way I see it, you both need to sit down and figure this out,” Chad answered.  Jensen merely looked at the other man in shock, noticing how sincere Chad seemed.

“What should I do?”

“I can’t answer that for you, my friend.  All I can tell you is that nothing’s gonna get fixed by you two blaming yourselves.  Think about it,” Chad said softly. 

“I’m ready,” Bailey said, suddenly next to them.

“Alright, kiddo, let’s head home to Daddy,” the other man replied. 

“Will I see you at our house tonight, Jensen?” she asked, looking up at him intently with her big hazel eyes.  Jensen was so torn.  How was he to explain that he and Jared weren’t together anymore?

“I um, I don’t know, Bails,” he replied, feeling like a chicken.

“Okay,” she answered, her voice seemingly sad.  Jensen watched her turn, taking Chad’s hand as they left the room.

“God, this sucks,” he muttered, turning away sadly.  Cleaning up the room, he packed up his things and headed toward home.

-----------------------------------------------------

“Daddy?”

Looking up from his book, Jared found Bailey next to his chair.  Dressed in her pajamas, she had her teddy bear tucked under one arm, while the other rested atop Harley’s head.

“Hey, baby … you okay?” he asked.

“What happened to you and Jensen?” she asked him, surprising him in an instant.  He couldn’t help but look over at Chad and Sophia, whose gazes seemed to look anywhere but at them.

“What do you mean, Bails?” Jared questioned, sitting forward to pull her close.

“You’re sad and Jensen’s sad … you wouldn’t be sad if you were together,” Bailey explained, causing Jared’s heart to break a little.

“Well, Baileygirl … you see, Jensen and I we had a fight and …”

“You aren’t with Jensen anymore?” his daughter asked, her lower lip beginning to tremble.

“No, but you’ll still see him all the time at school,” he told her.

“But I want to see him here,” she replied.

“I know you do, baby, but that’s … that’s not going to happen,” Jared answered gently.

“But he loves us!” Bailey said, her voice beginning to rise as her eyes started to dampen.

“Yes, he loves you very much,” he told her.

It was like watching a damn break as the tears began to fall freely from his daughter’s eyes.

“No!” she screeched through her tears, stepping out of his grasp and tearing toward the stairs.

Bailey’s wails surrounded him as he quickly rose, running up the stairs after her.  Arriving at her door, his hand went to the knob, shocked to find it locked.

“Bailey, open the door,” he called out gently. 

“No! I hate you! I want Jensen!” Bailey screamed, the pain in her voice stabbing him in the gut.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he apologized, fighting back his own tears as Bailey continued to sob, her voice hiccupping after a few heart-breaking wails.

“Jensen!” she screamed, scaring Jared further as he pushed against the door.

“Bailey, come on baby, please open the door,” he pleaded, knocking on the door in a panic.

“Jared, what’s going on?” Turning, Jared found his friends behind him and he sobbed, running a hand through his hair in frustration.

“I don’t know what to do, I can’t open her door and she’s screaming,” he explained, motioning to the door.  All three turned, hearing Bailey’s continued cries.  Sophia moved quickly, knocking softly on the door as Chad went over to Jared, holding his distraught friend by the arm.

“Bailey, sweetie, open the door, honey,” she urged, frowning as the sobs didn’t even stop for a second.

“Come on, sweetie,” she pleaded.

“Jensen!” came another wail, the intensity slightly less, but no less heart-wrenching.

“What do I do? My daughter hates me, she’s locked herself in her room,” Jared said, his words jumbling together in a panic.

“Whoa big man, you need to calm down,” Chad said, steadying his friend.  Jared pushed his friend away, beginning to pace like a caged tiger, the lines of tension visible throughout his frame.

“I’m going to go out and check that the window is closed,” Sophia told her husband softly.  Chad nodded, watching her slip into Jared’s bedroom.  He knew his friend’s balcony got somewhat close to Bailey’s room, at least enough to make sure that the little girl’s window was closed.

Suddenly, Jared moved back to Bailey’s door, his fist rapping against the frame.

“Please Bails, please open the door,” he pleaded, his hand moving to wipe away the steady flow of tears clouding his vision.  While the screaming had seemingly stopped, the occasional wail and sob continued from behind the closed door and his heart continued to break.

“What do I do?” he asked, feeling more lost than he’d ever been before.  Turning from the door, Jared hiccupped a sob, reaching into his pocket for his phone.

“Hello?”

“Jen, please,” he asked, his voice sounding distant to his own ears.

“Jared?”

“It’s Bailey,” Jared sobbed.

“Bailey? What’s happened? Where are you?” the other man asked.

“I’m … I’m at home.”

“I’m on my way.”

  --------------------------------------------

A million scenarios raced through Jensen’s head as he practically sped over to the Padalecki house … none of them were offering him a good outcome.  Parking his truck at the curb, he raced to the front door, surprised to find Sophia waiting for him.

“What’s going on?” he asked her, his voice growing panicked.  Hearing a wail from upstairs, Jensen wasted little time in running up the staircase.  Reaching the top, he was forced to brace himself quickly as he ran into a solid wall of muscle. 

Looking up, Jensen watched as Jared looked at him, a mixture of surprise and anguish on his features.  The other man had tears streaking down his cheeks; his normally bright hazel eyes were unmistakably red.

“You came,” the taller man whispered, his voice practically disbelieving.

“Of course I came,” Jensen told him.  “Jared, where’s Bailey?” he asked, watching as Jared’s lower lip began to quiver.

“I told her and she got so angry,” the other man began.  Jensen looked at him in confusion, not understanding what Jared was saying.

“Hey,” Jensen said, reaching up to cup the other man’s face with his hands, forcing Jared to look at him.

“Jared, listen to me,” he began softly.  “Where is Bailey? Breathe …” he continued, urging Jared to calm his breathing down.  If the other man continued at this rate, Jensen was certain he was going to pass out.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Jared told him.  “She ran up the stairs and locked herself in.  She hates me,” he added, a look of pain flickering across his features.  Steadying the other man’s head, Jensen looked him straight in the eye.

“Listen to me, she doesn’t hate you,” he said.

“She does,” the other man sobbed, trying to turn his head away in shame.  Keeping his hold, Jensen looked into Jared’s eyes once more.

“Stop it, you need to be stronger than this,” he told him.  “You are stronger than this,” he whispered, squeezing the other man’s shoulders.

“I can’t get her to come out,” Jared replied softly.  “She alone in there,” he added.  Watching the other man, Jensen breathed evenly, his mind racing.  The unmistakable sounds of Bailey’s sobs could easily be heard, causing his heart to break with each one.

They needed to get into that room.

 ---------------------------------------------

“Bailey?” Jared asked softly, one hand resting against the door as he leaned against it.  “Please open the door, baby,” he pleaded gently.  Though the gut-wrenching wails had ceased, little sniffles could still be heard, giving him at least the knowledge that she was still awake.

“Hey Sprite,” came Jensen’s voice beside him.  Jared cast a glance at the other man, noting how Jensen’s body language was still rather closed off toward him as he leaned against the opposite side of the frame.

“Why don’t you open the door, Bails, we can sit down and talk about this,” Jensen continued.  Eyes meeting, the two men waited, listening for any movement from inside.

“Please, Baileygirl,” Jared said softly.  Turning away from the door, he couldn’t help but slide down the casing in frustration, landing on the carpet with a soft thud.  Never in his life had he been or felt so helpless.

“Jared, maybe you should go downstairs,” Jensen said suddenly, causing him to look up sharply.

“What? No,” he answered quickly.

“Jay-man, let Jensen talk to her,” Chad said softly.  Jared looked over at his friends, completely torn.

“Just for a few minutes,” Sophia reassured him.  Reluctantly, Jared rose, casting a glance at Jensen once more before allowing her to lead him down.  He noticed Chad give Jensen’s shoulder a supportive squeeze before he too came down the stairs.

---------------------------------------

“Hey Bails, it’s just me now,” Jensen said softly, confident that Jared was out of earshot.  Suddenly, he could hear shuffling behind the door, his breath quickly catching. 

“Jensen?” came a soft yet trembling voice.

“Yeah, Sprite, it’s me,” he promised.

“Daddy said I could only see you at school now,” she sobbed, still muffled from behind the closed door.

“Why don’t you open the door, sweetheart, okay? We can talk about it face-to-face,” Jensen urged.

“Was he tellin the truth?” Bailey asked.  Sighing, Jensen ran a hand through his hair. 

“Bailey, please open the door,” he pleaded.  Minutes felt like hours as he waited for the little girl’s response.  Then suddenly, clicks could be heard and the door opened very slowly.  Jensen watched as Bailey slowly revealed herself and he felt his heart clench at the sight of her tear-stained and reddened cheeks.

The little girl didn’t waste time, launching herself at his legs.

“Please don’t stay away, I’ll be good,” she began, fresh tears beginning to fall against his denim clad legs.  Carefully he reached down, picking her up in his arms.  Slowly he maneuvered them into her room, gently lowering them to the bed.

“You didn’t do anything wrong, sweet girl,” he promised softly.  Gently pulling her back, he looked at her face, seeing her lip continue to tremble.

“But why are you and Daddy fighting? You promised me you wouldn’t fight anymore,” she said.

“I know I did, honey, I know,” he said.

“Do you not love us anymore?” Bailey asked.  Touching the little girl’s cheek, Jensen carefully wiped away a few stray tears.

“I love you both very much,” he replied hoarsely.

“I don’t understand,” she answered softly.

“Sometimes, Bails, things just don’t work out the way you want them to,” Jensen reasoned, the explanation sounding dumb to his own ears.  How do you explain to a five year old that her father didn’t trust him enough to believe his suspicions and that’s why everything’s gone to hell?

“You love me?” she asked once again, causing him to nod.  “And you love Daddy?”

Again, Jensen nodded slowly, knowing that he couldn’t lie to her about that.  Suddenly Bailey touched his face with her little hand, bleary hazel eyes pleading to him silently.

“Can you fix it?” Bailey asked.  Jensen held her gaze, his heart feeling less trampled at her innocent words.

“I can try.”

----------------------------------------------

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Jared continued to tap his fingers against his leg, his entire being itching to go up the stairs and find out what was going on.  He knew he would have bolted up there twenty minutes ago had Sophia not kept her hand firmly wrapped around his arm.

“How long has it been?” he asked to nobody in particular, earning a frustrated sigh from Chad.

“About twenty-five minutes and around two since you last asked … just in case you were keeping track,” the other man responded.

“Chad,” Sophia said in a warning tone.

“I just … I need to know that she’s okay, that she’s …” Jared trailed off in an instant, his body going into full alert at the sight of Jensen in the doorway with Bailey fast asleep against his shoulder.

“Bailey,” he whispered, moving forward toward the pair.  Jared looked her over, internally assuring himself that she wasn’t hurt in any way.

“She’s okay,” Jensen told him.  Nodding in acceptance, Jared smoothed back the little girl’s hair, his heart breaking at the dried tears lining her face.

“I think we need to talk,” the other man said, snapping his gaze away from Bailey.

“Y … yeah, we should,” Jared agreed.  Nodding, Jensen turned back toward the stairs, motioning up with his free hand.  Looking back at his friends, Jared followed, both men eventually venturing into his daughter’s room.  He watched as Jensen settled his daughter in her bed, tucking the covers up around her carefully. 

Making his way over, Jared dropped to the side of the bed slowly, moving forward to kiss his daughter’s forehead.

“I’m sorry, baby,” he murmured, placing another kiss against her temple before standing back up.  Jared watched as Jensen kissed Bailey’s forehead as well before rising.  Finally, they each made their way out of the room and Jared slowly closed his daughter’s door, leaving it open a crack.  The pair simply stood in the darkened hallway for a few moments before Jared moved down the corridor toward his room.

“Come in,” he said softly, urging the other man toward the small sitting area on the far side.  Jensen nodded, moving around him before heading to the sofa. Taking a seat in the opposite chair, Jared stole a glance at the man next to him, noting the lines of tension in Jensen’s frame.

“So,” he began, frowning at his lame start to the conversation.  Their eyes met and Jared sighed.

“Uh, how are you doing?” he asked, confused as Jensen scoffed slightly, amusement visible on his features.

“Really? After everything that’s happened, that’s your opening line?” the other man asked.

“I guess I don’t really know how to begin, to be honest,” Jared admitted.  He watched as Jensen ran a hand over his face, pinching the bridge of his nose as if a headache was approaching. 

“I’m sorry,” he said quickly, his gaze widening as Jensen’s head lifted, green eyes locked on him in confusion.

“Come again?” the other man asked.

“I said, I’m sorry,” Jared repeated.

“For what?” Jensen asked slowly.

“At this point I think you could take your pick,” Jared murmured, looking down at his hands.  Silence reigned between them for minutes before Jensen finally broke it.

“Jared, what are you sorry for?” he asked softly.  Lifting his head, Jared sighed.

“For not believing you,” he whispered, watching Jensen’s eyes widen in surprise.

“What?”

“You were trying to make me see that Mat’s intentions were more than platonic and I was … I was too blinded by having a friend back in my life that I didn’t realize,” he explained.

“I talked to Mat,” Jared began.  “After I dropped Bailey off at school this morning, I went to the hospital to look for him and we ended up going back to his place,” he continued, watching Jensen’s face fall in disappointment.

“No, just to talk, Jensen … I swear,” he assured him with a touch to his forearm.  The other man nodded, lifting his gaze toward him once more.

“He admitted that he was still in love with me and had hoped that running into each other was a sign,” Jared continued.  “So I was sitting there drinking coffee in his kitchen, remembering all the times that we shared all those years ago, and then it hit me.”

“What?” Jensen asked, his voice so soft that Jared barely realized he spoke.  Looking over at the other man, he smiled.

“That all the times that Mat and I had, couldn’t hold a candle to what I shared with you,” he admitted, his fingers reaching out toward the other man.  A quiet shock ran through him as Jensen’s fingers tentatively entwined with his own.  “And then I wished him well and said goodbye,” Jared added, giving Jensen’s hand a light squeeze. 

The pair sat quietly for a few minutes until Jared spoke once again.

“So I’m sorry for not letting myself see what you were trying to tell me and for saying some pretty awful things to you,” he apologized.  Honestly, Jared wished he could apologize the way he wanted, by taking Jensen in his arms once again, but having their hands still locked together … well, he’d take that over not getting to touch the other man at all.

“Yeah well, you’re not the only one at fault,” Jensen murmured, surprising Jared completely. 

“I should have talked to you,” he continued softly.  “More importantly, I should have had faith in you … in us,” the other man finished.  To Jared, it felt as if the dark cloud in the room had suddenly been lifted.

“Do you think that we can … could we … god I’m not really spitting this out well, am I?” Jared asked with a nervous chuckle.  Suddenly, Jensen stood, urging him to stand as well.  Looking down at the other man, he couldn’t help but smile.  The light was back in Jensen’s eyes and that right there … well that was cause enough for celebration.

“I really missed you,” the other man said softly.

“I missed you too,” he answered.  As if on cue, Jensen’s arms wrapped around him, pulling him into a tight hug.  Jared relished the contact, his eyes closing as he absorbed Jensen’s warmth and closeness.  Slowly, the other man pulled away, his face looking slightly nervous.

“I know we’re not fixed and there are things we need to work on, but are you … would you be willing to take me back?”

“Only if you’ll take me back,” Jared replied, a small grin quickly turning into a full-blown dimpled smile.

“It’s going to be a hardship,” Jensen teased, a chuckle escaping as Jared pinched his side with a mock glare.  “But I think I can do that.”

---------------------------------------------

“Can I go feed the ducks?”

Lifting his head, Jared searched the area before nodding.

“Okay, but stay where I can see you,” he told her.  That was all it took as Bailey picked up a slice of bread, skipping over to the pond in the distance.  Jared watched his daughter as she and Harley fed the birds.  The last week had been tough on her as he and Jensen had worked to repair and mend their relationship.

Jared had been worried the morning after her breakdown.  Would she hate him? Would she even speak to him?  In the end, his little girl had woken him up at 6am, climbing into bed with him before promptly falling back to sleep in his arms.

As for he and Jensen … Well, that had fallen back into place easier than either had expected.  Granted it wasn’t a piece of cake.  There had been many night’s when talking was all they’d do beyond spending time with Bailey.

Even after a week, there had been nothing more than a chaste kiss to one another’s cheek.  But despite the near constant state of arousal that Jared found himself in, he wouldn’t trade any of it for the chance to take things slow and rebuild what was so precious to him.

So lost in his thoughts, Jared didn’t even notice as a figure approached to his left.

“Hey,” came a familiar voice, startling him from his thoughts.  Looking up, Jared smiled upon seeing Jensen and Sadie.

“Hey,” he answered, leaning over to kiss Jensen’s cheek once the other man had sat down.

“Where’s Bails?” Jensen asked.

“Ducks,” Jared murmured, turning his head toward the pond.

“Go get ‘em, girl,” his boyfriend told his dog, both men smiling as she took off toward Bailey and Harley.

“How was your morning?” Jared asked.  The other man had been stuck in some seminar for the majority of the day and he could tell by Jensen’s ensuing groan, that it hadn’t been a wonderful time.

“I would have much rather been here with you,” he answered, causing Jared to smile as Jensen linked their fingers together.  Lost in the feeling of their joined hands, he almost forgot about part of the reason why he had asked Jensen to come today.

“So I wanted to ask you something,” Jared said, not sure how the other man would respond.

“Sounds ominous,” Jensen teased.

“No, not ominous … it’s just, I wanted to let you know that my show is coming up,” he said, watching the other man’s jade eyes widen in surprise.

“Jare, that’s fantastic!” Jensen responded with a genuine smile.

“Well, it will be … if you’re there,” he told him.  Jared watched as the other man’s smile tensed.

“Really? You want me there?” Jensen asked.

“Of course I do, you’re the reason why I have a show at all,” he answered, his thumb caressing over the top of Jensen’s hand.

“There’s nowhere I’d rather be,” his boyfriend answered.  “When is it?”

“That’s the tricky part,” Jared responded.  “It’s on Thursday, in San Francisco,” he added.  For his part, Jensen looked a bit stunned.

“Wow, San Francisco?” he asked.

“I didn’t want to sound presumptuous, but I got you a flight.  The show starts at 7pm,” Jared explained.

“That’s … wow,” Jensen replied, seemingly unable to come up with the words.

“Are you mad?” he asked, noticing how Jensen’s head snapped up.

“No, Jared,” the other man answered.  “Just trying to figure out how to get Friday off,” he added with a grin.

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In the end, Jensen had been able to take half a day off and all of Friday, thanks to Katie Cassidy, giving him and Jared a long weekend in the city with Bailey.   For his part, Jared had been needed in the city that morning, leaving Bailey and himself to get down there together. 

“Are we going to get to go to the bridge?” Bailey asked him as their plane touched down at San Francisco International.

“I would imagine so, we’ve got the whole weekend to explore,” Jensen replied with a smile as passengers began to rise to exit the plane.

“Harley and Sadie won’t be lonely will they?” Bailey asked, taking her little bag from Jensen as he hoisted her up into his arms.

“Don’t worry, sweetie, they’ll be fine,” he assured her as they made their way off and into the terminal.  The little girl held tight to Jensen’s hand as they navigated through all the people.  Making their way into the main section, he searched the crowd for Jared, who had promised to be here to get them.  Picking Bailey up once more, Jensen didn’t even notice as his boyfriend was suddenly next to him.

“Hey,” Jared said, startling him.

“Daddy!” Bailey squealed, reaching out for the taller man, who wore a mega-watt smile.

“Hey, Baileygirl,” he responded, squeezing her tight.  Jensen watched as the other man pulled back for a quick kiss.  Suddenly, those hazel eyes were on him and he couldn’t help but smile.

“Hi,” Jared said, leaning forward to pull him into the hug as well.  Jensen felt Bailey’s little arm wrap around him too in a group hug.

“Can we see the bridge now?” the little girl suddenly asked, causing both men to chuckle as they pulled away.

“We’ll see it soon, baby,” Jared assured her.  “But first, we have to go see my exhibition and you have to get even cuter than you are now,” he added.

“Did Aunt Sophia get me a new dress?” Bailey asked, an eager smile appearing on her face.  Jensen watched as Jared threw his head back, chuckling deeply.  The other man leaned forward, kissing his daughter’s cheek.

“You bet she did,” he answered.  “Come on, let’s go see it,” Jared said, guiding them out of the airport to a waiting car.

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Exiting the elevator on the top floor of the Intercontinental Hotel, Jensen wasn’t certain what to expect.  As he gazed around at a suite that was practically the size of his house, he realized this wasn’t it.

“Wow, Daddy, it’s huge!” Bailey voiced for him, running across the room to look out the massive windows that showed the entire city.

“Jare, this is too much,” Jensen said, his eyes darting from the spacious living room and massive fireplace, to the full kitchen and winding staircase to the upper level.  His boyfriend merely grinned, shaking his head.

“Not me, thank the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” the other man explained.  “According to Sophia, it’s nothing but the best for their featured exhibition artist.”

“Daddy, can I jump on my bed to make sure it’s a good one?” his daughter suddenly asked, causing both men to laugh.  Jensen watched as Jared reached out his hand to her, guiding her up the stairs once she’d taken it.  He followed them up and into a room just to the right, surprised at the silence that greeted him.

“Look Jensen!”

Casting his gaze in her pointed direction, Jensen was stunned to see two black tuxes hanging against the wall, a white gown with jade trim on the bodice and skirt edge nestled between them.

“Wow, Bails, I think that one’s for you,” he told her, smiling as she made her way over, the little girl’s fingers reaching out toward the dress.

“So Aunt Sophia is going to pick you up and take you to the spa,” Jared said, stepping toward her.  His daughter turned around quickly vaulting into his arms.

“Please don’t tell me I get to go to a spa with Chad,” Jensen asked, eliciting a grin from his boyfriend.

“No, you get to go with me,” the other man murmured.

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Trailing his fingertips against the glass window, Jensen took in the sights of the city in front of him.  Sure Seattle was impressive, but this was San Francisco and just by the view before him … he was already in awe.

Glancing to his right he took in the sight of the Golden Gate Bridge just barely visible in the distance before startling as hands settled upon his waist.

“Jesus,” he said, feeling the heat of Jared’s body settle behind him.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you,” the other man murmured, lips so very close to his ear.

“It’s okay,” Jensen replied, frowning at his lame reply.

“So the munchkin is off to the spa,” Jared said.  Suddenly Jensen was all too aware of Jared’s right hand steadily creeping its way up his spine, curving onto his shoulder with a gentle squeeze.

“I’m sure that will be a fun time,” he answered, eyes slipping closed at the feel of Jared’s lips settling against the back of his neck.

“I’ve missed you,” his boyfriend said, his words sounding very loud in the quiet of the room.  Slowly, Jensen turned to face the other man, a frown on his features.

“You’ve seen me every day,” he pointed out.

“That’s not what I mean, Jen,” Jared replied.  “We’ve been practically walking on eggshells around one another for the last week.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m so grateful that we’ve had the chance to re-build things and find our way back to each other, but …”

Reaching up, Jensen cut off his boyfriend’s words, pulling the other man down into a searing kiss.  Jared’s arms instinctively wound around him drawing Jensen in as close as possible.  He felt relief flood through him at the feel of the other man’s mouth upon his.  It was like coming home after being away for so long.

Jared was right, they had been walking around each other so carefully and so conscious of Bailey that they’d forgotten to take time for themselves and reconnect in one of the most important ways.

 “I’ve missed you too,” Jensen whispered, foreheads resting against one another’s.  The other man practically breathed a sigh of relief, pulling him close once again.  Fingers twining together, Jared pulled apart only enough for them to walk on their own, carefully guiding them up the staircase toward the master bedroom.  Suddenly Jensen found himself pressed against the door frame, the other man looming large against him with a pleading look in his eyes.

“No more eggshells, k?” Jared asked him.  Reaching up, Jensen cupped the other man’s face with his hands, nodding softly.

“No more,” he answered, smiling as they made their way in, the door clicking softly behind them.

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“If you smooth your hands down the side of your damn jacket one more time, I’m going to smack you.”

Jared turned, eyes meeting Sophia’s as she smiled cordially at a passerby before taking a sip of her champagne.

“How can you say stuff like that to me with a straight face?” he asked curiously. 

“It’s a gift, now would you stop worrying? They’re on their way,” she promised.  Jared nodded, his eyes still straying toward the gallery entrance.  Sophia had needed him down at the gallery early, leaving Jensen and Bailey on their own.  He had wanted to be there, wanted to watch as Bailey rushed in after putting on her dress, wanted to waste countless minutes helping Jensen into his tux.

So lost in his musings, Jared almost missed the moment that Bailey and Jensen appeared.  His daughter looked incredible; her brown hair was swept up into a plethora of curls piled on top of her head.  The dress was perfect and he wished in that moment that he had his paints with him.

The smile on her face was so bright as Bailey gazed around the gallery, pointing out various things to Jensen, who quite honestly took Jared’s breath away.  The black tux fit his boyfriend’s frame like a second skin, tapering over broad shoulders and accentuating the slight bow of his legs.

But it wasn’t the tux that made Jared practically melt.  No, it was the smile on his boyfriend’s face as Jensen watched Bailey.  The pure love in his jade eyes was clear as day to anyone in the room as the pair stopped to look at a statue of a tiger.  Their heads were close, sharing a giggle as Bailey reached out her fingers, stopping short of actually touching the life-size piece.

Suddenly those eyes shifted in Jared’s direction and he watched as Jensen smiled.  The pair shared a moment from across the room before Bailey finally noticed him, happily tearing toward him with Jensen following behind.

“Look at my dress, Daddy!” his daughter said excitedly, causing him to chuckle.  Scooping her up, Jared kissed her cheek.

“You look like a princess, baby,” he told her.

“Wow, look at this well-dressed trio,” came a voice, causing the group to turn as Chad and Sophia made their way over.

“Uncle Chad!” Bailey said, squirming to get down.  Jared held strong, kissing his daughter’s cheek a final time before passing her over to Chad, who smiled brightly.

“Hey munchkin, you look very pretty,” he told her.

“Why don’t we take Bailey on a tour and you two can look around,” Sophia offered, pointedly looking at him.  Jared knew what she was getting at and nodded. 

“Sounds good, we’ll see you in a bit,” he answered.  Watching the others walk away, Jared turned to Jensen, surprised to find him watching him with a curious look.

“Was that a silent code?” the other man asked.

“In a nonchalant way, I suppose it was,” Jared said, reaching out to take Jensen’s hand.  Silently, he began to guide his boyfriend down a corridor that opened up into his showing space.  While Jensen had seen the beginnings of the final painting to his show, he hadn’t seen the completed version.  Now, being back together in every way possible, Jared knew there wouldn’t be a more perfect time for its reveal.

Moving around behind his boyfriend, Jared slid a hand up to cover Jensen’s eyes.

“You know, this has ‘gonna break our necks’ all over it,” the other man said, causing Jared to chuckle.

“I’ve got you,” he promised softly, guiding them both forward toward his final painting.  He could feel Jensen tremble slightly as they came to as stop.

“Is this it?” Jensen asked quietly.  Jared grinned slightly as he shifted to the other man’s side.  He needed to be able to see the reaction, needed to know by the look in Jensen’s eyes.

“Yeah, this is it,” he murmured, pulling his hand away.  The other man lifted a hand for a moment to shield from the light, but paused mid-way, his green eyes landing on the painting.

“Jay,” Jensen whispered, his eyes shifting as they took in every aspect.  Smiling, Jared took a quick look at the painting before looking back at his boyfriend.  If he were being completely honest, it was probably the best painting he’d ever done.  The colors were near perfection, capturing every detail of their first date with complete precision.

“I don’t know what to say,” the other man said.

“You don’t have to say anything,” Jared admitted, fingers linking with Jensen’s as they stood side-by-side, gazing at the painting.

“Yeah, I think I do,” Jensen replied.  Turning, Jared watched as his boyfriend lifted his other hand, wiping away at a stray tear.

“Hey, are you okay?” he asked in concern, causing Jensen to chuckle softly.

“You know I’ve always been blown away by your paintings, that’s no secret,” his boyfriend began.  “Do you know why?”

Jared shook his head, not really knowing what the answer was.

“Because the emotion you put into each one is there for all to see and to experience.  But this one, Jared … I look at it and I feel like I’m falling in love with you all over again,” Jensen explained softly.  “It’s like you took every ounce of emotion from that first moment and preserved it forever.”

“It wouldn’t have happened without you,” Jared told him, his voice suddenly hoarse with emotion.  Jensen turned to him, one hand sliding to his waist while the other remained joined with his own.

“I’ve had lots of reasons to put my emotions into my paintings, but never a reason to put my heart in there.  You did that, Jen.”

Leaning forward, Jared captured his boyfriend’s lips, not a care in the world of the other patrons who were beginning to make their way into the area.  The pair clung to one another for a few more moments before parting slightly.

“I love you,” Jensen murmured.  Jared kissed the other man’s temple as his eyes drifted back to the painting.  It was perfect, there was no denying that.  Looking at it, he realized that this was it.  For years after Sandy’s death, he thought that nothing could truly make him and Bailey complete.

“Hey,” came a gentle voice, a tug to his hand pulling Jared back into the moment.  Following the source, he noted the slightly concerned look on his boyfriend’s face.

“You okay?” Jensen asked.  Smiling, Jared nodded.

“Yeah, I’m okay,” he assured him.  Suddenly his gaze was drawn to the door as Bailey bounded into the room.  As their eyes met, he grinned wider, leaning down to open his arms.  It took his daughter less than a minute to launch herself into his embrace.

“So what do you think, Baileygirl?” Jared asked her, watching as her gaze fell to the painting.

“It’s pretty, Daddy,” she said, causing both men to chuckle.

“Thank you, baby,” he answered, kissing her cheek.

“Do you think it’s pretty, Jensen?” his daughter asked.

Turning to the other man, Jared waited for Jensen’s answer.  Though he’d already gotten one before, he couldn’t help but wonder what he was going to say to Bailey.

“Actually Bails … I think it’s perfect.”

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The entire experience of the show was one that Jensen wouldn’t soon forget.  Watching Jared interact with patrons and fans, seeing the reaction that people had to his paintings, it was definitely a unique experience.  And he couldn’t help but occasionally blush as some people recognized him from the painting that depicted Bailey’s first day of school.

But the length of the night had eventually taken its toll on one fan … namely Bailey, whose head lolled on Jensen’s shoulder as she slept in his arms.  Chad had offered to take her, as had Sophia, but in truth, he was content to keep her right where she was.

Carefully navigating his way back into the main hall, Jensen came to a stop in front of their first date painting.  His mouth quickly dropped open in disbelief at the sight of a tiny orange sold sticker in the lower right hand corner of the frame.

Granted he knew on some level that Jared’s paintings would be sold, but to see this one … well it kind of hurt to think of a random stranger hanging it on their wall.

“Hey,” came a voice to his right.  Turning, Jensen smiled as Jared made his way over.

“God, your arms must be exhausted,” his boyfriend said, brushing back an errant lock of Bailey’s hair.

“It’s worth it,” he replied, smiling as Jared leaned forward to capture his lips in a soft kiss.

“Ready to get out of here?” his boyfriend asked.

“Is it over?” Jensen asked.

“For me it is, let’s head out,” Jared said softly.  Feeling the taller man’s hand at his back, Jensen let himself be guided away.  He couldn’t help but cast a final glance back to the one JT painting he truly wanted to own.

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“Well, look what the cat dragged in!”

Jensen fought the urge to roll his eyes as he set his bag down before moving into the living room.  Chris sat on the couch with Angie curled against his side, a smile on both their faces.  Danneel occupied the nearby oversized chair, nibbling on popcorn.

“Looks like someone got lucky a lot,” Chris said, earning a smack on the chest from his girlfriend.

“God, Chris,” Dani said.  “Seriously though, Jen, how was it?” she asked.  Unable to stop a smile from emerging on his face, Jensen chuckled.

“It was awesome,” he said, sitting down next to her in the chair as he began to recount the weekend.

It had been a fantastic time all around as he, Jared and Bailey had wandered and explored San Francisco thoroughly.

From walking onto the Golden Gate Bridge, much to Bailey’s delight, to taking a boat ride out to Alcatraz, every moment had been better than the next.  Yet it was the nights in the hotel suite that Jensen knew he’d never forget.  They’d made dinner as a family each night in the kitchen and when Bailey had been tucked into bed, the pair had savored each moment along to reconnect with one another.

“Whoa there big guy, TMI,” Chris interrupted, pulling him back to the present.  Jensen blushed slightly, not realizing he’d gotten so carried away with the accounts of the weekend.

“Let’s keep this PG,” his friend told him, earning yet another smack and a handful of popcorn in his face.

“Well I think it’s perfect and romantic,” Dani told him, patting his thigh.

“Thank you,” he said, rising after a moment. “I’m gonna go unpack,” Jensen told them.

“Sounds good,” Chris said.  Grabbing his bag, Jensen headed down the hall, but stopped as Chris called out.

“Hey, we put that package for you in your room,” his friend said.  Jensen opened his mouth to question, but came up short.

‘What package?’ he thought.

“Um, thanks,” he answered.  Making his way into the room, Jensen smiled as Sadie hopped off the bed, beyond excited to see him.

Leaning down, Jensen buried his fingers in her fur, allowing her to lick his face for a long moment.  As he dodged a lick to his eye, Jensen’s gaze landed on a large crate a few feet away.  Giving Sadie’s head a final scratch, he stood and made his way over.  Carefully unhooking the top, Jensen pulled it off, his mouth opening in shock.

So surprised at the contents of the box, he barely heard his cell phone ring.  Fumbling it out of his pocket, Jensen lifted it to his ear.

“You didn’t really think I’d sell it, did you?” Jared’s voice asked before he could utter a word.  Jensen’s gaze remained locked on the painting of their first date nestled in a protective casing.

“Jare, this is …”

“Don’t say it’s too much, Jen,” the other man begged softly.

“I don’t know what to say,” Jensen murmured, his finger softly tracing over the title plate in front which read, ‘Love Springs at Twilight’

“You don’t have to say anything,” his boyfriend replied.  “That night belongs to us, not some random art collector.”

“I love you,” Jensen said softly, fighting back the growing tears in his eyes.

“I love you too, Jen,” Jared answered. 

Quiet reigned over the line for a moment before Jared’s voice cut through once again.

“So I was thinking maybe you could come over for dinner tomorrow night.  I mean I know we’ve just spent the last three days together, but I just …”

“I know, Jare,” Jensen interrupted, relieved to know that it wasn’t just him feeling the sense of loss at being apart after all the time they’d been together.  “And I’d love to,” he added.

As their conversation continued, recalling events and details from their trip, Jensen couldn’t help but let his gaze wander back over to the painting.  It hadn’t been an easy road for them since that first meeting, but they’d made it. 

Between new beginnings, jealous exes, painful separations and tender reconciliations, he and Jared had battled through it and that in itself was all that mattered.

“Jen, you with me?” Jared asked, pulling him from his thoughts.  Smiling, Jensen gave the painting one last glance before sitting down on his bed, Sadie quickly curling up at his side.

“Yeah, Jare.  I’m with you.”