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The Jaybird's Epiphany

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Jensen walks into work with a sharp scowl and a punch to his step. He's got a hand gripped tight around his bag, and he wants to snuff and snort like a bull seeing red, wants to charge at something, but he's in public and he doesn't really want to traumatize anyone.

 

"Jensen, c'mon. You haven't used a single vacation day. We haven't seen you in weeks, man. You've gotta come out of this funk," Chris's voice is shrill and tinny through Jensen’s phone speaker, and his hand clenches around the device. He loves Chris, he does, but right now, Chris's persistence is making him feel backed into a corner, pleading guilty to a crime he never committed.

 

"I can't miss work," Jensen bites out. "I have to pay the bills, Chris. And I'm not in a damn funk, I'm fine."

 

"Okay, sure," Chris says, sounding way too perky for eight A.M. "Then come by the bar tonight, watch us play, have a couple of drinks. On me."

 

Jensen misses a step, his brain lurching to a stop as he searches for a decent excuse that he hasn't already used with his last few phone calls with Chris, Mike, and the whole gang.

 

"...Yeah," Chris sighs, and Jensen hears laughter and music in the background. He frowns. Anything sunshiney just adds to his raincloud mood. "Listen, whenever you feel like a human being again, just call me, alright? We want to help, Jensen. It's what friends are for."

 

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Jensen coughs, clearing his throat to disguise the lump there. "Seeya, Chris."

 

He doesn't wait for a response before ending the call, hurrying to work just a little faster. He's gonna be early as shit, but any excuse to be out of the house and moving and distracting himself is a godsend.

 

His physical therapy center is located on the edge of a small mall on the fringes of town. It's got a Chinese food place (decent), a tax attorney place (full of assholes), a gas station (stocked up on slurpees and toblerone, thank god), and some other places that always close up within a few months to be replaced with something equally as ubiquitous. Across from it is an empty field, and the forest slowly envelops the road the further out of town it goes. Sometimes he gets a strange, lingering feeling that he's on the edge of human civilization, an explorer in an unexplored world. Just one step away from leaving it all behind, running and never looking back.

 

He's twenty-five, so to have a stable, well-paying job and free weekends should be enough to keep him happy, but it isn't. Everything has been conspiring against him lately, and his normal routine seems so ugly, so banal that it makes his stomach churn. He's sick of cement and neon signs and adverts for weight loss and old men that wink and flirt when he touches them.

 

He shivers.

 

One moment he was a bright, shining teen, with all A's and lots of extracurriculars and cheerleader girlfriends, and now, he's just... Nobody. Drinks a lot. Doesn’t follow his own advice about physical health. He ends his calls with his mother early, always bails out of a visit with some bullshit excuse. Seems to be the story of his life these days.

 

And he doesn't even really know why.

 

Sure, he'd just been through a bit of an ordeal, but he was over that, okay? He'd eaten tubs of ice cream and had meaningless sex with strangers and gone to bars, the whole nine. He didn't drift away from everything because of some weakass personal sob story or anything.

 

It's way too early to be this depressing. He shakes his head, clearing away all the sticky, murky thoughts. He steps inside, says hi to Alona at reception, and heads down the back hall and into his office. He has two old clients- in both senses of the word- coming back to work on joint pain and arthritis and shit like that. Two other regulars with sports injuries. He also has one new client, here for a recent sprained ankle. He doesn't remember anything beyond the fact that the dude is his last client for the day, a couple hours after lunch. He hasn’t had anyone new in a while. If he could summon up the energy to be curious about anything at all, he knows this person would pique his interest.

 

He takes a final sip of his cold, shitty coffee and tosses the cup into the overflowing trash can. He plops down into his lumpy chair.

 

Today is going to be a long day.

 

 

If one good thing comes out of work, it's that it pushes everything else out of his head. He dives headfirst into his routine, helping his patients in any way he can. He considers himself a pretty selfish, rough person, but when he's helping bones heal and helping joints repair themselves, he feels like he's actually doing an iota of good. He feels like he's helping people. It feels pretty awesome.

 

It's right before his last appointment of the day and he's antsy to get home and drown his sorrows in Netflix and beer, but he's just as antsy to get started on yet another healing process. The durability and complexity of the human body fascinates him. He could spend hours working with muscles and ligaments and sockets, but actually socializing with the human being that comes along with it can be a bit of a chore sometimes. It’s worth it, though, always has been.

 

He finishes a report and sends a couple of emails and realizes he's running fucking late. He swears, grabbing up all his shit and making sure the therapy room is nice and clean. He power walks through the halls, stopping in front of the door to the waiting room to catch his breath and not appear like an out-of-shape asshole. He’s sure he doesn't quite make the best impression. Fuck, he doesn’t even know what he looks like.

 

He runs a hand through his hair and steps through the door, plastering a smile on his face. He can tackle this, easy peasy. He can play social and do his job and go on home. No sweat. He’s fine.

 

He grins at the faces who look up at him when he enters the waiting room. Stacey's there, a younger girl with some pretty severe motor skills issues, and Brian, recently paralyzed, but he's not here to see either of them. He waves at both of them.

 

He looks down at his clipboard. "Uh, Mr..."

 

Shit. The silence stretches on far too long and he knows he's already made a crappy impression. "Pada...Padale-"

 

"That's me!" a tall guy chirps, beaming up at him, pearly whites and giant dimples on display. He stands up, and Jensen swallows, looking up into his face. Tall is an understatement. This guy's gargantuan. His hair feathers out around his face, curling up at the end. It reminds Jensen of puppy tails. "It's pronounced Pad-uh-leck-ee. You can just call me Jared."

 

Jensen blinks. "Oh. Jared Padaleck--Padalecki. Right," he blurts, jamming a hand out. What is wrong with him? Jared laughs and gingerly shakes his hand, barely grasping Jensen's palm with his baby-soft fingers.

 

It's... weird.

 

"I'm going to be your therapist," Jensen says, getting a hold of himself, slipping back into his professional persona. "You can call me Jensen. Please follow me."

 

"Okay," Jared says, still smiling. His face must be hurting at this point. "Hi, Jensen."

 

Jensen just blinks and turns around, moving like a rusted robot. He leads Jared down the cramped halls and into the main room. It's wide and open, with white walls and high ceilings. Yoga mats, rubber balls, bikes, beds, and benches make up the majority of the room.

 

He closes the door behind them and Jared steps forward, craning his neck to look up at the shitty fluorescents. He gazes around the room, staring at each new thing like it's something special, something interesting. His mouth falls open. Yet again, he reminds Jensen of a puppy.

 

It's a little hard to stay a pessimistic dick in the face of someone who has clearly retained some of his childhood wonder. Lucky bastard.

 

"It's, uh, it's just workout equipment, really," Jensen says, scratching the back of his neck, his face heating up. "Nothing special."

 

Jared turns back to him, his eyes widening. "Oh, no, it's just--I thought it would be like a hospital, not like this. It's more like a gym. I was afraid it would be like a hospital room. I really don’t like being all cooped up there."

 

"Nah, not at all," Jensen tells him, walking further into the room. "I'm not gonna lecture you or give you shots or anything. We're just gonna figure out how we can help your ankle in the healing process."

 

Jared perks up. "Yeah, how does all this work?"

 

Did this guy inject caffeine into this veins this morning? He is personified rainbows. Jensen hasn't experienced someone taking genuine interest in his work in what feels like... well, ever.

 

Jensen laughs nervously. "Why don't you take the boot off of your ankle so we can get started," he suggests, leading Jared over to one of the benches.

 

Jared nods and plops down onto the bench. He grabs at the velcro on the immobilizer boot and yanks the whole thing off. Jensen winces in sympathetic pain. That must've been rough on the ankle. Jared peels off a sock and rolls up the hem of his jeans, displaying a swollen, yellow-and-purpled ankle.

 

Jensen worries his tongue between his teeth. "How long ago did this happen?" he asks.

 

Jared frowns, his face screwed up in thought. "Don't really know, honestly," he says. "A week ago, maybe?"

 

Jensen nods. "When did you go to the doctor?"

 

"The day after."

 

They talk boring details, daily routines, pain levels, that sort of thing. Jensen relaxes fractionally with each shy grin and bouncy movement from Jared. He's a pretty easy guy to warm up to, and Jensen does not warm up easily. Sometimes Jared seems a little off, or maybe just a tad too childish, but Jensen attributes it to his boyish personality.

 

"Just one last thing," he says, smiling. Jared smiles back, broad and genuine. The knee on the kid’s good leg is jiggling like crazy. "How did you get this injury, if you don't mind me asking? I might be able to tailor your therapy a little better if I know more about how it happened."

 

Jared's face falters for the briefest of seconds and he lowers his head, hiding behind his hair. He shrugs. "M'just really clumsy," he says, peeking up at Jensen. "Fell down the stairs."

 

Jensen cringes. "Yeah, that'll do it," he says, and claps his hands together. "Why don't we start figuring out how to get you on two good legs again, huh? Can I feel your ankle?"

 

That infectious smile returns, and the last crumb of Jensen's anxiety drops away.

 

He ends up working with Jared far past the scheduled time, and finds he doesn't really mind. Jared really is as clumsy as a newborn baby, and he often has to lean on Jensen when on one leg, his hand warm and solid on Jensen's shoulder.

 

When Jared leaves, he gives Jensen a quick, smothering hug and thanks him profusely before practically skip/hobbling through the waiting room to the reception, and Jensen rolls his eyes, feeling indescribably like he's known Jared for much longer than the handful of hours that were spent doing painful exercises.

 

Jared's ankle is at the very start of its healing process, but it seems to be doing well. What it means is that Jared's going to have to be coming to see Jensen fairly regularly, and Jensen has no problem with that.

 

It's been too long since he's actually felt okay around another human being, and he's gonna soak up the experience for all that it's worth. He might be healing Jared's ankle, but Jared- whether he knows it or not- is helping patch up Jensen's head.

 

Jensen grins at himself. Since when did he become the cheesemaster? He packs up for the day, and finds himself looking forward to weekdays. The weekends of binge drinking and curling up alone on a dirty couch don't seem nearly as appealing anymore.

 

Funny how things change so quickly, and so completely.

 

 

Jensen sees Jared again on Monday, and on Wednesday, and Monday again.

 

Jared's got a bruise under his cheek, just a soft purple, nothing serious, but noticeable all the same. When Jensen asks about it, Jared shrugs, blushing, mumbling something about slipping in the kitchen. Jensen shakes his head and tells Jared to be more careful, surprising himself when he leans over and pats Jared on the back. Jared grins at him, and Jensen can't help but grin back.

 

He thinks he might actually be making... a friend.

 

It's such an alien concept to Jensen now. His social skills are cobwebbed over and arthritic, but Jared doesn't even seem to notice any of Jensen's faux pas, let alone mind them.

 

Maybe it's just that Jared has no expectations for him, no standards set. Chris is always sniffing out his issues and putting them out in the open, a bleeding wound for everyone to jam their fingers into. Jensen hates it. He's a private kinda guy. All the rest of his friends are so open, so gentle, and Jensen hates being the only one who doesn't really have his life together.

 

Ugh, way to turn a bunch of genuinely caring people into a bunch of villains. Jensen rubs at his forehead, squeezing his eyes shut tight. In a way, Jared's open friendship is teaching Jensen a lot about himself, teaching him all of those lessons he so keenly knows that his friends have been trying to drill into his head ever since that night he walked in on Steve and Danneel.

 

And he is so not thinking about that right now.

 

Jared is instantly up in his space, sniffing out the change in atmosphere. "You okay? You have an injury, too? Can I help?"

 

A laugh is startled out of Jensen. "You could say that," he hedges, dropping his hand from his face and smiling tiredly up at Jared. "Why don't you do some more laps, huh? Slowly."

 

Jared pouts. "I can feel my pulse in my ankle, I don't think I should be walking on it, dude. It’s ticking like a bomb about to go off and I don’t want my foot to explode."

 

"Nah," Jensen flicks a strand of Jared's mane away from his neck. "It just means the therapy is working. Up and at it, you strange man, you."

 

Jared throws his head back in an all-out cackle, and rewards Jensen by taking a few tentative, baby steps forward.

 

Jensen has never been more pleased to see someone take a step forward.

 

They work in a silence for a couple minutes more. Jensen listens to Jared's panting breaths, stares at the dark spots of sweat on the the back of Jared's shirt without really seeing them. Jared's wearing a shirt that says "Humane Society Kittenpalooza Event 1999." It has the look of a hand-me-down. His pants are pretty raggedy, too--the holes in the knees aren't designer, and the fraying threads aren't purposeful.

 

He never really gave it a single thought before now, but Jared sort of looks like a disorganized mess. And sometimes he just looks so young. Jensen doesn't actually know how old he is. It’s on his chart somewhere, probably. He feels a brief, incapacitating stab of worry over the kid, wondering if he can afford Jensen's stupid treatments at all, if maybe he goes home to a cold apartment and no electricity.

 

He shakes off the shadowy thoughts. He isn't that close to Jared. They have a casual, patient-doctor relationship. Jared's personal life is none of his business, and he doesn't want to intrude or make Jared clam up. He puts his fears on the back burner, zeroing back into reality the moment Jared utters a soft, surprised "oh" and collapses onto the ground.

 

Jensen's moving forward in an an instant, doesn't even think about it. He ends up with an armful of Jared, who is significantly lighter than he thought he'd be. Ribs press against his fingers, and that stupid worry is back, eating through Jensen like cancer. He gently drags Jared backward until Jared's back rests against the bench.

 

He crouches at Jared's side, leaning in close to peer at Jared's dazed eyes. Both pupils are responding normally. Good. He touches Jared's leg for a brief moment before pulling his hand away, swallowing. "You okay, Jared?" he asks. "What happened?"

 

Jared shrugs, looking down at his leg. His ankle looks angry, and Jared winces. "I guess I pushed it a little too hard, huh?"

 

"Did you slip? Or did it just give out from underneath you? That's not a good thing, Jared."

 

Jared doesn't answer. He wordlessly turns his face up to Jensen, his eyes all shiny and puppydog, his jaw ticking as he bites the insides of his cheeks. "It gave out," he finally admits in a small voice, and Jensen is constantly thrown by this man. He can't put it into words.

 

"We'll start from the beginning," Jensen sighs. "Maybe you should go in for some more x-rays."

 

Jared shakes his head, his hair falling into his face. "We can just keep working here, right? All of our progress isn't gone? I don’t like the hospital."

 

"It's not gone," Jensen says, mostly to watch some of the tension seep out of Jared's shoulders. "We've just got to be more careful from now on, okay?"

 

Jared gives him a shaky smile. "Okay."

 

They don't work any further than that. Jensen helps Jared put the boot back on and they sit on the bench next to each other, thighs grazing. Jensen hates the tiny spark of happiness he feels when he realizes Jared will probably be coming to physical therapy for longer than expected. This can't be easy on Jared. Jared's probably in college, working toward some shiny degree, and Jensen's presence, even if they seem to get along swimmingly, is just a symbol of being held back by injury.

 

"Jensen," Jared blurts, and Jensen turns to him, all previous trains of thought abandoned. "Are we friends?"

 

The question catches him off guard. He opens his mouth to speak, but he doesn't have any words in his mind. Are they friends? He'd like to be. Maybe this is the start of him getting out of the funk Chris accused him of having. Maybe he could go out to a bar with Jared, introduce him to the guys. Find some new kind of normalcy.

 

Jared sighs, the noise tremulous like the last fall leaf. "It's okay," he mutters, misinterpreting Jensen's silence. "I just--I know I'm weird, and awkward, and if you don't shut me up I'm just gonna keep on rambling forever, but I like you. Thank you for helping me, alright? Not many--not many people wanna help me."

 

"We are friends, Jared," Jensen says before Jared can continue, injecting as much confidence into his voice as he can muster. "In fact, I think you’re actually my closest friend right now. You don't have to worry about acting strangely around me. I am the king of strange."

 

Jared's usual boisterous confidence is gone, and he shyly peeks up at Jensen, his face coloring with hope. "You sure?"

 

Jensen scoffs, feeling all warm and gooey inside. "Definitely," he says, and Jared relaxes.

 

The crushing hug Jared gives him at the end of the appointment feels natural, and Jensen actually hugs him back, feeling lighter than he has in months. He pulls a slick move and manages to pass his business card to Jared when their hands brush, and Jared looks down at the card, that thousand-watt, dazzling smile returning in full force when he recognizes what Jensen has given him.

 

That night, Jensen calls his ma and actually tells her about his day, ending with a promise to come see Mac and Josh sometime soon.

 

Jensen is infinitely grateful that Jared is a klutz.

 

Chapter Text

Jared

 

When Jared comes home from his appointment, his dad is waiting for him just inside the door.

 

He doesn't notice him until he feels fingers curling tight around his wrist, yanking hard until he stumbles, putting too much weight on his bum ankle and sending a flash of hot, liquid pain right up his leg.

 

He gasps as he's pushed back into the wall. He can feel his pulse in his wrist. His dad's grip is too tight, and he twists Jared's hand. Jared winces, squeezing his eyes shut tight and holding himself still, waiting for the inevitable. Anything else will just make it worse.

 

He's learned a whole lot of new tricks ever since he moved away from his mom.

 

"You're fifteen minutes late," George huffs, leaning in close and narrowing his eyes at Jared. "Why the hell are you fifteen minutes late?"

 

"I, the--" Jared swallows, blinking rapidly.

 

George slams him back against the wall. The breath is forced out of him in a quiet grunt. "I don't have all damn day, you idiot. Out with it."

 

"There was... there was traffic," Jared says lamely, avoiding his dad's piercing gaze. "I didn't even get to the bus stop 'til four. I ran home."

 

George scoffs. "If you had run home, you would have made it on time. Don't lie to me, boy. I'm not in the mood for any games. I'm already late for my baseball game, you know that? All because of you. Christ."

 

Jared doesn't respond. It would only result in another bruising. George finally lets go, but he doesn't step out of Jared's space, and Jared feels sick all the way down to his stomach. This could go one of two ways, and he swallows, praying that George will get bored and just leave. Just let him leave.

 

His dad takes a single step back and Jared lets out a breath. George waves a finger in front of his face. "Don't think this is over," he growls, "I expect the house to be sparkling by the time I come home, understand?" He slows down and clearly enunciates each word, raising an eyebrow at Jared.

 

Jared hates when his dad treats him like a little kid. He knows he's not like everyone else, but it doesn't make him a baby.

 

George's foot sets to tapping at the lack of response. "Do. You. Understand?" he says, his voice mocking, like he's talking to a dog.

 

"Yeah," Jared whispers, biting his tongue.

 

"'Yeah' what?"

 

Jared looks at his feet, his eyes and cheeks burning. "Yeah, I'll clean the house. Sir."

 

George grabs his jacket from the closet. "Can't believe I'm gonna be fucking late," he mutters, swearing under his breath as he fumbles into his shoes and practically falls out the door.

 

Jared sags against the wall, curling his hands into fists to stop the trembles. At least he wasn't drunk , he reminds himself, going through breathing exercises, at least he wasn't fricking drunk.

 

Jared slowly makes his way up to his room, rubbing at his sore wrist. He drops his pack on his bed and plops down in front of his desk, sighing. He runs a hand through his hair.

 

His heart is all twisted up in knots when he pulls the bent and crumpled business card out of his pocket.

 

He sets it down on the desk like it's made of porcelain. He smooths it out, unbends a dog-eared corner.

 

Jensen Ackles, PT, it says. NewLife Physical Therapy. There's a professional number printed clearly in ink, and below that, a cell phone number messily scrawled in pencil. It's been rubbed at by Jared's messy fingers, and it's hardly legible. Jared holds it close to his face and peers at it. That last number could either be a one or a seven. Crap.

 

 

He cranes his neck to look at his bedroom door, biting his lip. He wishes his dad hadn't taken the lock off. But he won't be back for a couple of hours, right? He takes his minor league thing really seriously. Jared should be okay for now.

 

He grabs a worn toy from his bed. It’s a Clifford the Big Red Dog plush that doubles as a child-sized backpack. It was a gift from his mama and he doesn’t have much else from her. He’s too old for it, he knows, but the smell and feel of it calm him down. He wonders if Jensen would tease him for having it. He hopes not. He squeezes it briefly before setting it on the desk and nodding to himself.

 

He lets out a breath and pulls out his phone. He grabs a sticky note from the desk drawer. He writes a note to himself to remember to erase the history off of the phone. If George finds out he's done anything without his express permission, Jared will get punished. Severely.

 

He types the number into his phone with a one, not a seven. A girl responds and he hangs up right away.

 

Okay, a seven then. He dials slowly, his finger lingering over the final number.

 

Screw it. He types it in and hits "call," his heart climbing up into his throat.

 

"Hello?"

 

Oh, god. Jared knows that voice. He leans forward, his fingers twiddling restlessly. What should he say?

 

He hears Jensen clear his throat. It's somehow adorable. "Is anyone there?"

 

A pause.

 

"Jared?" Jensen's voice is cautiously hopeful.

 

"Yeah," Jared finally says quietly.

 

"Hey, Jared!" Jensen says. Jared can hear the brightness in Jensen's voice, like Jensen's actually really glad to see him. His heart lifts at the thought. "What's up?"

 

"Oh, I just..." Jared bites his lip, fumbling for words. "You gave me this number, I just thought I'd call."

 

He hears rustling through the phone. "It's fine," Jensen says, and Jared listens to what sounds like Jensen taking a sip of a beer or something. "How's it going?"

 

He can picture it so clearly in his head: Jensen, lounging on a big, soft, couch, his feet kicked up on the ottoman in front of him. He's probably watching a football game on the T.V., beer in hand, gorgeous home quiet all around him. Or maybe there's a beautiful girl in the kitchen cooking dinner. Or a kid crawling by Jensen's legs.

 

"Jared?"

 

Oh. Jensen had asked him a question, right. "Oh, um. I'm not doing much," he says distractedly, balancing the phone between his ear and his shoulder as he reaches into his desk and pulls out a weathered, yellowed sketchpad. He flips quickly past the first few pages, ignoring the drawings on them, until he gets to a clean page. He picks up a pencil and begins sketching out Jensen's place in his mind's eye. Would he have a rug on the ground? A bunch of fluffy pillows?

 

"Hmm. Same," Jensen sighs, and the sound translates through the speaker in a way that has Jared's heart fluttering. "I just got home from work, all I'm doing is watching the game."

 

Jared smiles. He'd gotten it right. He takes pride in that. He draws the outline of a giant couch, and pauses, biting on the eraser of his pencil. If he had a computer, maybe he'd be able to look for some images to draw from, but for now, he's just left to use his imagination. It's good enough.

 

Jared is no good at small talk, but he knows long gaps of silence are rude. "Are you a sports fan?" he asks, erasing a few wobbly lines.

 

"Me?" Jensen laughs. "Not exactly. I just grew up in Dallas, you know? If you didn't pay attention to the Cowboys, it was sacrilege."

 

Jared perks up. "Dallas?" he gasps, dropping his pencil. "I'm from San Antonio!"

 

Jensen's laugh through the phone is absolute poetry. "No shit?" he says, sounding amused. "I thought I heard a little bit of that old Texas twang in your voice. Glad to know I was right."

 

"How did you get to L.A.?" Jared asks, continuing with his drawing. The room is starting to take shape on the paper.

 

There's a pause. Jared can picture Jensen shrugging. "Just life, really," he says. "I went to school in Texas. I woulda liked to stay there, but my fi--Steve needed to come out here for work, and I came with him."

 

Jared's mouth goes a little dry. "Steve?" he asks, sitting up.

 

"Yeah..." Jensen takes a moment to respond. "He was an old friend of mine. Hey, listen. It'd be nice to see you where you're not my patient, dude. Do you have any plans for Friday? I know the best place downtown for ribs, dude. S’called Darcy’s."

 

Is Jensen asking him out? Or is it just a friendly request? Friends hang out, right? Jared wouldn't know. Chad is still back in San Antonio, along with Jared's family. His dad doesn’t let him see Sandy anymore. Jared’s stuck out here in a tiny crap hole with his dad, and he never had the chance to meet anyone new. Before Jensen, at least.

 

"I'd have to talk with my dad," Jared says, trying not to sound too uncertain. "He's kinda strict."

 

"Oh." There's a pause. "Man, when I was twenty, my parents were too busy watching my teenage sister like hawks to pay attention to me. I went out with the old truck every weekend. Which, you know, led to me crashing into the mailbox after getting stoned, but still." Jensen laughs. "Can't imagine what that's like, Jay. Sympathies."

 

Jared's face heats up with the nickname. "You're not making the best impression," he says, his voice softer than he intended.

 

"I'm offended!" Jensen gasps, and Jared's face splits into a grin. "I am the image of maturity, I'll have you know."

 

"You'll have to prove it to me, 'cause you're not making a solid case," Jared says, taking a moment to sharpen his pencil before starting on Jensen's lips. Jared hardly has to think before outlining their shape. He's spent enough time staring at them to be able to draw them on instinct alone.

 

He is way too old to have a crush like this. He's way too old for a bunch of things, but still. Jensen is successful and confident and funny. And Jared's just... Jared.

 

There's no chance.

 

"Oh, I'll prove it," Jensen says, jerking Jared out of his thoughts. "I will whoop your ass at bowling."

 

"I love bowling," Jared says, "I used to go with Meggie all the time. We'd stuff our faces with nachos. Extra cheese."

 

"Usually people make fun of me if I bring up bowling. This is refreshing," Jensen teases. "Who's Meggie?"

 

"Oh. Meg," Jared says, squinting at the half-completed sketch before him. "She's my baby sister."

 

“Huh. How much younger?”

 

“Just a couple of years. She’s eighteen.”

 

Jensen makes a little sound that Jared can’t quite discern. “My little sister Mackenzie is the same age. Small world, right?”

 

“Yeah,” Jared agrees. “I really miss her.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Oh, she’s just--she’s still back in Texas, I don’t get to visit often.”

 

Jensen groans in a way that has Jared shivering. He crosses and uncrosses his ankles, mentally cursing himself. Now’s not the time to go into a schoolgirl-with-a-crush frenzy.

 

Does he have a crush on Jensen? Or has Jensen just been the first person to be kind to him in ages, causing Jared to be an annoying puppy tripping at his heels?

 

“It’s the same for me,” Jensen’s saying. “I never have enough time off work to head back home. I’m thinking I should do that soon, get off my ass and stop moping around.”

 

“I wish I could come with you,” Jared sighs, before Jensen’s words catch up with his brain. “Wait, moping? Why are you moping? Is everything okay? Why are you moping?”

 

Jensen laughs. “You’re too good to me,” he says. “Nah, I’ve just been dealing with a difficult breakup lately. You know how it is.”

 

Uh, nope. Jared has no idea what that’s like. He’s so relationship-deprived that he’s dreamed up entire romances, complete with disastrous endings and nasty breakups, but that’s nothing like the real thing. His brain is… unique, to say the least.

 

Yeah. He snorts. That’s one word for it.

 

“I hope you feel better,” Jared says, fumbling for anything to answer to that, shutting his eyes and wincing. He’s such a shut-in loser. He clears his throat. “Friday will be good for getting rid of bad feelings. I could use a day out, too.”

 

“Yeah, you’re right,” Jensen says, his voice quiet and distant. There’s only a brief pause before Jensen is yelling and cheering, shouting something about what’s happening in the game.

 

The topic of conversation switches a billion different times, and Jared forgets to feel nervous or anxious. Talking to Jensen is just so easy, and Jensen encourages Jared to be goofy and happy. It’s a strange feeling. He’s far too used to his dad’s insults, to odd looks and people avoiding him. Jensen is quickly becoming a drug to him. It’s only a matter of time before he ends up looking like an idiot in front of him.

 

He shades a few sections of the sketch. It’s almost complete. All it needs is a little more--

 

Holy crap.

 

Is that really the time?

 

“Oh, crap,” Jared sighs, his heartbeat picking up triple-time.

 

“What is it, Jay?”

 

Jared hears the door slam downstairs and swallows. He didn’t do any cleaning. His dad is gonna be so pissed.

 

His hands clam up like they’re trying to beat a world record for time. “I’ve just…” he swallows. “I’ve gotta go. Bye, Jensen.”

 

“Jared, wait-”

 

He hangs up the phone before Jensen can finish, hearing his dad yelling indiscernible words.

 

Whatever it is, it’s the equivalent of a death sentence, Jared knows.

 

He stands up and prepares to face his fate.



Chapter Text

Jensen

 

Jensen looks down at the phone in his hand and frowns. Jared's voice went all thin near the end there, like he was scared. His thumb hovers over Jared's number. He should call again and make sure Jared's okay.

 

He groans and shuts his phone off, tossing it onto the couch beside him, the game completely forgotten. He's just overreacting. Jared's younger than him, so he's got this weird urge to protect the kid. Jared probably just left the oven on. It's a pretty Jared thing to do. Poor scatterbrained guy.

 

Jensen can't stop himself from grinning. Jared is truly something. It's like he has absolutely no idea how funny he is, or how smart, or how adorable. He's like one of those bumbling kittens that hasn't quite figured out how fine motor skills work yet.

 

Ah, shit. This soon after Steve, and he's already developing a crush, isn't he? He scrubs a hand over his face, turning off the T.V. and sagging back into the couch cushions. He doesn't want Jared just to be some rebound, a hot pair of legs to help him jump back into the real world.

 

The guilt hits him hard and fast. Jared could never be like that to him. That's not what their relationship is like. Not even close.

 

"Jared Padalecki," he says out loud, just because he can, staring at the ceiling. "Fuck."

 

Oscar, perfectly on cue, comes padding around the corner, apparently having sniffed out Jensen's inner turmoil. He lets out a quiet whuff and settles his chin on Jensen's knee, blinking up at him with those god damn puppydog eyes that only serve to remind him of Jared.

 

Just like literally everything else does.

 

He sighs, jerking up out of his pillowy dungeon. He stretches, reaching down to scritch Oscar behind the ears. "You're a kook for sticking with me through all of this crap, but I appreciate it."

 

Oscar barks, his torso trembling as his tail begins to violently wag.

 

Jensen grins and gets up. If Jared can get through life- and a bum ankle- and maintain that unfailingly sunny disposition, then Jensen can get through a few more shitty days until Friday rolls around. He can get better. He can do this. He grabs Oscar’s leash from the hall table and Oscar practically combusts from excitement.

 

He can be happy again.

 

 

Jensen finally accepts one of Chris's requests to go out on Thursday, just so he can blow off all of his nerves before the big day with Jared. He also feels a little shit for letting himself drift from his friends for so long, and well. The fact they're all still willing to hang out with him, to welcome him back after his self-imposed hiatus, it makes his throat feel just a little bit clogged up.

 

They always go to the same bar--Flannigan’s. Chris's band plays there pretty frequently, and they've got some groupies. The place is like a second home to them. Sometimes Jensen sings with them, but ninety-nine percent of the time, he's way too anxious or pissed off at the general public to give it a shot. Even so, Chris is damn good. Mike and Tom are, too.

 

And Steve, you know, Steve used to be.

 

He takes a deep breath and pushes through the front door, the various aromas of the bar all hitting him at once, the low susurrus of happy voices easing his nerves.

 

He scans the room for his friends and finds them all squashed into a booth in the far corner. Chris spots him and waves, the others turning and craning their necks to grin up at Jensen. They all look pretty light and loose.

 

He can't stop the exhale of relief when he sees that neither Steve or Danneel or present. He's not sure how he'd deal with seeing them every fucking week for the rest of his life. Poorly, probably. Manically-depressive, most likely.

 

He strides over to them, confidence boosting with each step. "You fuckers get started without me?" he asks, and is immediately enveloped into a bone-crushing hug by Mike.

 

Mike reaches up and ruffles his hair. "It's been too long, asshat," he barks, but the emotions in his eyes are real.

 

Jensen ducks out of his grasp. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know," he says, flushing red. "But I'm here now, aren't I?"

 

"Damn straight," Mike grins. "Who's ready for some shots?"

 

"Me! Me!" Sandy chirps, waving her hands around and giggling.

 

Jensen sits down in the booth. Mike and Chris scoot over to make room. He quirks an eye at Sandy, who is enthusiastically ass-shimmying to the song playing quietly over the loudspeakers.

 

"She's already had a bunch," Tom says, by way of explanation.

 

Jensen chuckles. "I see," he says.

 

"Alright, alright, alright, playtime's over," Chris says, leaning forward. "Fuckloads of drinks first, then we all probe Jensen with uncomfortably personal questions. Who's ready?"

 

Jensen surprises himself when he chimes in with the rest of his friends, offering to pay for the first round. He was so damn scared of the heart-to-heart and condescension he might receive from his friends, but now, he just feels like an idiot. Anything they've ever done for him is because they care.

 

And shit, man, he cares about them, too. More than he can say. He’s fucking missed this.

 

It's time to apologize, and pay them all back for the last couple of months.

 

 

They're all heated and sweaty and full of burgers, nachos, whisky, and shots by the time the tender subject of Jensen's broken heart is finally broached.

 

He's not surprised when Chris is the one to clear his throat and silence the table, murmurs of conversations and drunken giggles fading away as the group turns toward him.

 

"So, Jensen," Chris starts, and Jensen takes a breath. "What've you been doing these past few weeks?"

 

"Besides eating straight out of the ice cream tub," Chris adds when Jensen opens his mouth.

 

Jensen smiles faintly. He's buzzed enough to tackle this subject, even if it means they all leave here with moist eyes. "Got drunk alone a lot," he admits. "Watched a bunch of buddy cop movies."

 

Mike nudges him in the arm. Jensen watches Mike and Chris trade a look, meant only for the two of them. "And?"

 

"And went to work," Jensen sighs. "Dived in headfirst, really. I didn't want to think about anything at all. Even you guys... even you guys just reminded me of what happened. I didn't want to look at all of you feeling sorry for me."

 

"Aw, Jensen," Sandy frowns.

 

"Yeah, like that," he snarks, and barks a short, self-deprecating laugh. "Uh... anyway, I was planning on just doing that for who knows how long... until I got a new patient at work. His name's Jared."

 

"Jared, huh?" Chris says, dropping his voice down low and waggling his eyebrows. "Do we have him to thank for you coming out of your hole?"

 

Jensen blushes and ducks his head. He looks over at Chris meets Chris’s stare. "Actually, yes."

 

An interested hum goes up around the table. He gets barraged with questions, ranging from the innocent "tell us more!" from Tom to "how big's his dick?" from Sandy.

 

"Alright, alright, alright," he laughs, quieting them down. "Will you quit heckling me if I tell the whole story?"

 

"Can't promise it," Mike says, tapping Jensen's shoulder. Jensen takes the hint and slides out of the booth so Mike can escape. "I'm getting some more beers. Don't get to the juicy shit until I get back."

 

"There is no--!" Jensen starts to call, but Mike's already out of earshot. He turns back to the table, cheeks burning. "There is no juicy shit," he mutters to himself.

 

He struggles with the various demands of his friends, just giving them vague little details to tide them over until Mike gets back.

 

When Mike appears through the throngs of people, cradling beers to his chest like he’s holding his first born child, Jensen is more than happy to slip away from Sandy’s innuendos, no matter how brief the intermission is.

 

Mike hands them each a drink and they send up a chorus of “thank you”s. When everything’s all settled and ready, Jensen sits up straighter, trying to figure out a way to tell the story in a way that will garner the least amount of sexual jokes.

 

“Everything was normal at work, at first,” he begins. “I mean, I was a grumpy asshole, but I had the same clients, the same old hurts to fix, and it calmed me down. Physical therapy was therapeutic for me too, y’know? And then I get this new guy, two weeks ago.”

 

There’s silence after Jensen pauses for breath. All eyes are on him, hooked on his story, glued to his facial expressions. It actually feels kind of thrilling.

 

“The very first thing I do is fuck up his name,” he giggles, shaking his head at himself. “It’s gotta be Swedish or something. Long and complicated.”

 

Sandy leans forward, spreading her hands across the table. “I bet that’s not the only thing that’s long and-”

 

“Sandy. God,” Tom laughs, clapping a hand over Sandy’s mouth. Sandy squeaks. “Try to be more predictable. It’s like you’re twelve.”

 

“It’s fine,” Jensen says, smiling wide. “She’s just trying to make me less nervous.”

 

“Method to my madness,” Sandy slurs, taking a swig.

 

“You’ve had way too much,” Tom frowns. “I don’t think that much alcohol is supposed to fit in your body.”

 

“Alright, alright. Let him finish!” Chris demands, pounding his fist on the table.

 

Jensen tips his head in a silent acknowledgement to Chris. “Anyway, I was in kind of a shit mood because I’d just been talking with my Ma and with Chris and they were being way too nice to me. So I call Jared in and he’s just. A fucking golden retriever puppy or something.”

 

A few laughs go up at that.

 

Jensen takes a quick sip from his drink, licking his lips. “He was so kind and happy, and genuinely interested in the work I was doing, in me. It felt strange to have a stranger be so damn kind to me, after what happened. You guys are all nice, don’t get me wrong, but it just kind of. Well. It felt like pity. And after Steve--”

 

Jensen clears his throat. “So pretty soon after that we were friends. S’like I’d known him my whole life. It’s just so easy to be around him. He made me realize what a dick I’ve been these past few weeks.”

 

Mike reaches over and squeezes his shoulder. “You haven’t been a dick, dude. Takes awhile to get over shit like that. It’s rough as hell, we’ve got your back. You know that.”

 

“Yeah, speaking of…” Jensen looks down at the table. “I noticed Steve and Danneel aren’t here. Are you guys gonna have to make separate plans with them every time I wanna go out for drinks?”

 

“Are you kidding?” Chris laughs. “We kicked Steve out of the band the moment you called me up in tears. He didn’t even try to explain himself, just grabbed his shit and left.”

 

“I see Danneel sometimes at the bookstore where she works, but other than that, she hasn’t even tried to contact us,” Sandy adds, in an impressive feat of coherency.

 

Jensen feels his eyes prickle, his throat stinging along with them. “You guys didn’t have to that,” he rasps, smiling weakly at each of them in turn and receiving smiles of equal wattage in return.

 

“Nonsense,” Chris says quietly. “‘Course we did. What happened to you wasn’t fair.”

 

“Yeah. Yeah,” Jensen coughs. “So, uh, anyone up for a round of pool?”

 

Mike laughs. “Yeah, only if you want to get your ass kicked,” he says. “You and Sandy can be the reigning losers.”

 

“I’ll take that challenge,” Jensen says, and they don’t call alcohol liquid courage for nothing.

 

He stands up and the table moves at one, at his back, never leaving.

 

They never would. He knows that now.

 

Chapter Text

Jared

 

Jared stands in front of the bathroom mirror and drops his boxers to the ground.

 

He swallows. His skin is a mess. There’s no way he can explain this away to Jensen by saying he’d been the usual clumsy klutz and tripped or something. He’ll have to think of a better excuse, maybe bring something with him when they meet up that can act as evidence.

 

He rolls his neck and winces. He doesn’t want to meet his eyes in the mirror.

 

So, he looks down.

 

It’s like abstract art. The mottles of achey greens, yellows, and purples spread across his body, making lines and patterns across his body. His dad wasn’t as careful as usual this time. He’s got a bunch by his hips, and on his ribs, but they climb up his neck, too. There’s one that’ll be visible if he’s just wearing a t-shirt. He’ll have to bundle up. Maybe a scarf will do.

 

He's just fricking lucky it doesn't go below the waist.

 

His ankle's screwed, that's for sure. But he's still got some of his pride.

 

That thought's enough to keep the tears burning behind his eyes from falling. He swallows, letting out a low whine as he bends down to pull his clothes back up. God. It's like being stabbed with a bunch of tiny, tantrum-throwing knives.

 

He closes his eyes and breathes through his nose once he's upright. Okay. He's okay. Just a little banged up. No worse than usual.

 

He slips out of the bathroom and peers right and left down the hall. His dad's nowhere to be seen. He shouldn't be so surprised--it's before noon. His dad's probably still sleeping off last night’s bender.

 

He treads lightly, raising his heels off the ground and avoiding the creaky boards, doing a wavy, trancelike dance all the way back to his room. He opens his door, hissing as the door creaks and groans. He gets inside, leaning against the door and closing his eyes, listening hard. He can hear his heartbeat in his ears, but nothing else.

 

The tensed-up muscles in his stomach are screaming murder at him, and he forces himself to relax, to lower his guard. He creeps further into his room. He loses all of his energy at once and falls face-first onto his bed, burying his nose into the pillow and letting out a tiny, shuddering breath.

 

It really, really hurts.

 

Everything hurts. His body and his stupid, awful heart hurt. He doesn't want to be here anymore. He doesn't want to do everything his dad tells him to. He doesn't want to lie to Chad, Sandy, and his family on the phone and say everything's fine.

 

But he's not strong enough to change things. His dad is stronger than him.

 

Chad was the only reason he wasn't bullied in high school. Chad was so dangerously off-the-wall, provoked without a second thought, that kids always avoided Jared by association. If he didn't have the friends he did, he's sure he would've been teased into oblivion. Beaten by more than just his dad.

 

It's been like some unsolvable riddle for him. Why is he like this? Why is he a target?

 

Well, he knows why.

 

What he really wants to know is why he finds it so hard to stand up for himself. He knows what he wants. He knows he doesn't have it. So why can't he ever change anything for himself?

 

He sniffles wetly, moving in slow, disjointed movements to drag his blankets up over his shoulders. He falls back onto the mattress, a tear slipping down the side of his face. He thinks he might need a hospital, but his dad would never let him go. The doctors might start thinking Jared's in danger, and he wouldn't be able to argue with them. He hates the stupid doctors anyway.

 

If only he knew how to drive.

 

He's struck by an idea out of nowhere, stealing his breath. He heaves himself into an upright position, limping over to his desk to write it on a sticky so he doesn't forget.

 

He can tell Jensen he was mugged. That way, Jensen can look at his injuries and make him feel better, and Jensen won't get suspicious.

 

He rubs at his eyes with the bases of his palms. But how will he go out with Jensen in first place? How will he make his way downtown?

 

It all seems so impossible. He just wants Jensen so fucking badly, like a child craves a familiar teddy bear. He thinks the comparison is way too accurate. Still. He needs to focus.

 

Just think, he growls in his head. It's not that hard.

 

He has to tell his dad, that's for sure. He can't sneak out. But he can't tell him the truth. Honesty is Jared's default policy, but he's not sure that it would work out for him here.

 

Sometimes his dad has better days, though. Maybe his dad would just like an excuse to have Jared out of the house and away from him.

 

He can't hate me that much, Jared thinks miserably, his body throbbing in time with his heartbeat, acting as a reminder he's trying so desperately to ignore. It wasn't always like this.

 

It wasn't like this before his dad and his mom split. He'd actually done a semester at U.T. Austin before everything hit the fan. He had a counselor working with him, and his grades weren't crap. He played catch with his dad on the weekends, and did stupid, teen-boy things.

 

If he breaks away from the reality of the situation, it's easier to deal with. If it's someone else's story, not his, it's not as hard to explain.

 

George always struggled with drinking. Every time something didn't go his way, into the whiskey he went, and he went hard. When his brother died, it was like he could only function in a semi-coherent, brownout state.

 

Jared thinks George probably doesn't even remember the first time he hit Jared's mom.

 

They were a perfect pair. George was stormy and quick on his feet, and Lucy was his impulse control, the calm, still, voice of reason. She was an English teacher and drop-dead gorgeous. Without the alcohol, George was funny, a real likeable guy. He was a guy Jared wanted to be like when he grew up.

 

But the good times never lasted long. His mom was smart to leave. He wishes he had stayed with her. He had the chance. He'd just been stupid, he'd just thought he could've been the one to be there for his dad in the fallout, to fix him.

 

Yeah, and look how fantastic that turned out.

 

Jared sighs. This is getting him nowhere. He'll just have to rest up for a bit, and figure out a way to get George to let him leave to see Jensen without arousing suspicion.

 

As for transportation, Jensen could pick him up, maybe. Or he could walk to the bus station.

 

He hides his sticky full of plans on the underside of his desk and crawls back into bed, shutting his eyes against the bright sunlight coming through the blinds. He grabs his Big Red Dog from the pillow, just for a moment. He thinks of his family back home. He traces Jensen’s name on the one, tiny portion of his belly that has been miraculously left unscathed. His fingers tap out a rhythm.

 

Maybe it'll be better when he wakes up.

Chapter Text

Jensen

 

Jensen groans and rolls over, covering his eyes with his arm to keep out that dastardly sunlight. He has no idea what time it is. It has to be sometime around noon, at least.

 

And he's going to kill whatever woke him up.

 

Even with his blurry vision and half-functioning ears, he manages to locate the nuisance. It's his phone, chirping and vibrating across his nightstand. He grabs it before it has a chance to topple off the edge, holding the phone up close to his face and squinting at the screen.

 

The call ends right as he regains the ability to read. Four missed calls from Sandy. Huh.

 

His phone starts screaming again and he winces, dropping his phone on his face. He huffs and picks it up, fumbling with the screen until the noise stops. He doesn't know whether he ignored the call or answered it until Sandy's voice starts calling his name.

 

He puts his phone on speaker and drops his phone onto the pillow by his ear. "Yeah, Sandy, hello."

 

"Jensen, this is no time to be hungover! We have an emergency."

 

"Jesus." Jensen sits up, grimacing and rubbing at his eyes. "You had like, forty billion more drinks than I did. How do you have so much damn energy?"

 

"Please," Sandy scoffs. "You boys are all so weak. Get your ass in gear! It's code red!"

 

"What exactly is code red?" Jensen asks, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. He's got one sock on. There's a big hole at the end. His big toe peeks out.

 

"I wasn't thinking last night," Sandy sighs, her voice dropping. Jensen listens to her shaky breaths and his concern finally makes itself known above the headache haze. "I said some shitty things about Jared."

 

Jensen almost wants to flop back into the bed. "Sandy, is that all this is about? It's fine, I promise. You were drunk and you made a comment about his dick. No code red. Usual night out, really."

 

"No, that's not the code red. I feel so bad 'cause I know him, Jensen. I think your Jared is my Jared."

 

"Your Jared?" Jensen echoes, his animal brain getting all red-faced at the idea that Jared could be anyone else's. He flushes. Jared isn't his, either. Jared is his own person.

 

He racks his brain for memories of Sandy mentioning a Jared.

 

The lightbulb above his head materializes and explodes within a single second.

 

"Wait." He swallows past the shitty hangover taste in his mouth. "Your Jay is my Jay?"

 

"You said his last name was long and Swedish!" Sandy calls out, sounding close to tears. "My Jay has a long Polish last name. It's Padalecki. Does that sound familiar?"

 

Oh my god. Jensen shuts his eyes. "Yeah, that's him. That's still not a code red, though, San. You can apologize to him if you want to."

 

"No, Jensen..." Sandy sighs. "Look, I've known Jared for a little over two years. We actually went to high school together back in Texas, but we never met each other. My friend Chad actually set us up as pen pals, that's how we met."

 

Jensen grins. "That's so adorable."

 

"God, Jensen, you don't even know. Sit tight, okay? I'm gonna word vomit all over you and you're not allowed to interrupt."

 

"Alright, alright." Jensen chews at the inside of his cheek, his fingers curling in the sheets. "What's the code red?"

 

"Jared stopped answering my emails five months ago. The one time we met in person, he wasn't like our Skype calls at all. He was all skinny and withdrawn and pale, you know? And quiet. I could tell something was off. But he wouldn't say. After that, his emails got more and more vague until he stopped responding. For a minute there, I'd thought he died."

 

Jensen frowns. "So then what?"

 

Sandy makes an impatient noise. "So nothing! I never heard back from him! I've been worried out of my mind about him, thinking he got assaulted or something, and then he shows up at your practice with a sprained ankle!"

 

Jensen feels unease stir around in his already sensitive gut. He’d really like not to have to make a break for the bathroom. He gets up and heads down the hall, bouncing against the walls like he’s trapped in a giant, sadistic pinball machine, phone clutched tight. He tells Sandy to hold on and pours himself a glass of water, drinking it all in one go.

 

He feels a little more human after that.

 

"Okay," Jensen sighs. "So... what? Do you have some theory? Do you think someone's hurting him? He told me it was an accident, Sandy. I've been working with him for weeks. He really is clumsy."

 

"He's clumsy, but he'd never just stop talking to me, Jensen, I know it," Sandy practically begs, desperation making her voice crack. "Something is wrong. Please. You have the ability to find out what. Just... make sure he's okay, okay? You're seeing him today, right? Will you tell me how he is?"

 

Jensen's eyes are watering a little. "Of course I will. God, San... why didn't you tell any of us this?"

 

"I." Sandy makes a little hiccupping noise. She's in a state similar to him. "I thought you'd all make fun of me for having a pen pal. And I thought maybe I was just being paranoid, that Jared got bored with me. But I'm sure, okay? I'm sure something happened to him."

 

"Hey, hey, hey, it's okay." Jensen sits down at the kitchen table, running a hand through his hair. "You don't have to convince me, alright? I believe you. It's not silly. I'll try to ask him if everything's alright at home, I promise."

 

"There's one more thing," Sandy sniffles.

 

Jensen blinks, pressing the pads of his fingers into his temples and closing his eyes. "Out with it."

 

"You really like him, right?" Sandy asks, her voice going soft. "More than friends."

 

"I..." Jensen's a little caught off-guard. He clears his throat. "Yeah, I uh. I think so, I don't know. It's so soon after Steve, and I thought Steve was the only guy I'd ever--I mean. Um. Yeah."

 

Sandy laughs. "You're head over heels," she says, but something's off in her tone, something Jensen can't quite place.

 

"Sandy... what is it?"

 

"Jensen, you have to be careful with him, okay?" Sandy asks hoarsely. "He's way too trusting, and really sensitive, too. It'll be easy to break his heart."

 

Jensen lets out a laugh despite himself. "Why are you telling me this?" he asks, his leg starting to jump up and down.

 

Sandy sighs. "Jensen, he's autistic. He's got Asperger's. I think he still lives with his dad."

 

Jensen mulls over that piece of information. He hears noises on the other end of the line, like Sandy's cooking something. She always has so much nervous energy. "I... what does that mean? Can I not date him?"

 

"Maybe it wasn't my place to tell you," Sandy mutters. "Oh god, did I just fuck this all up? You've got to tell Jay I'm sorry!"

 

"Hey, hey, San, c'mon, breathe," Jensen says, reaching down to idly pet Oscar behind the ears. "I'm gonna talk to him soon, I'll ask about everything."

 

"You can date him," Sandy asks, "but not if you just think he's cute, if you want someone to bang. Jared is a romantic kind of person. He's too special to throw away."

 

Jensen smiles, his eyes welling up. "Fuck, this is so much... I know he's special, Sandy. I'll try not to screw it up. God, I'm just so nervous. How do I…? This is the first time I won't be seeing him as a patient."

 

"I know you won't screw it up," Sandy says. Jensen can hear the smile in her voice. "Because I know you, Jensen. You're also a big ol' softie behind all your layers of Mr. Grump. If Jared had been a part of our group, I'd've tried to set you guys up ages ago."

 

Jensen's laugh surprises him. "Thanks for the vote of confidence," he says. "If you tell anyone else I'm a softie, I'm not letting you touch Oscar for months."

 

Sandy giggles. "I won't tell anyone your big, scary secret," she teases, "if you promise to try your best with Jared."

 

The mood shift is subtle, but Jensen can feel the change back to somberness. "I promise," he tells her softly. "I just wanna get to know him better, San. And if something's wrong, I'm gonna help him."

 

"I hope you can," Sandy says. "I gotta go. Call me after?"

 

"The moment I get home, and I'll tell you all the latest hot gossip," Jensen assures her.

 

"Oh god, don't ever say that again," Sandy laughs. "I'll see you, Jensen."

 

"Bye, Sandy."

 

"Bye."

 

Jensen hangs up and closes his eyes. He gets up and downs a couple of painkillers to help with his headache. He only has a few hours to become a member of the human race again before his date (is it a date?) with Jared.

 

Things are so different than they were just twenty-four hours ago, and Jensen can hardly keep up. He thinks of Jared and his megawatt smiles and excited rambles and mottled bruises and Jensen’s hands curl into tight fists.

 

He hardly knows Jared, really. But he knows Jared is a beautiful person, inside and out. He doesn't give a fuck how cheesy that is. He wants to know that person. He wants Jared to trust him. He doesn't want Jared to be scared.

 

He tries to picture the nervous, skittish Jared from Sandy's story and finds it difficult to reconcile that image with the bubbly Jared of his therapy sessions. He hopes he never has to see that side of Jared, and if he does, maybe his therapy skills won't be enough to heal the hurts inside of Jared.

 

It's a thought that leaves him shaken.

 

From the moment he met Jared, he'd never wanted anything casual or just a hookup or anything like that. With Jared, it was always different, some immediate bond that makes Jensen think of the word soulmate. Maybe in just a friend way, Jensen’s okay with that, maybe more.

 

He thought he'd never get over Steve, never be able to cope with Danneel's betrayal, yet here he is, falling for someone hard and fast like he never has before in his life.

 

He thinks it should bother him more. He thinks he should still be crying into his pillow about his ex-fiance. He thinks he should be terrified.

 

But all he can think of is helping Jared.

 

Chapter Text

Jared

 

Each careful step down the stairs makes Jared ache a little more, makes the throbbing in his body a little less tolerable, but he keeps going, hand gripping the banister in a death grip.

 

When he reaches the bottom, George is in the living room, sprawled across the couch with a beer in his lap. He's talking to someone on the phone, something Jared doesn't bother to keep up with. He slips past his father and starts cleaning up messy plates in the kitchen, rinsing them off and placing them in the dishwasher. He works in silence until he hears his father laugh harshly at something and bark out a goodbye, dropping the phone onto the cushions beside him.

 

George grunts and Jared watches him heave himself upright out of the corner of his eye. George throws his empty beer bottle at Jared and Jared just barely manages to catch it, his heart crawling up his throat.

 

"Get me another, will you?" George says, and Jared nods, reaching into the fridge and handing his father a cool beer.

 

He leans against the counter, hiding his wince by reaching up to push a strand of hair behind his ear, obscuring his face with his forearm. He measures his dad's tone in his head. He didn't seem angry or bitter or particularly drunk. As far as his father's mood goes, George might be in a decidedly good one.

 

Jared opens his mouth, fully aware he's not just taking a risk, he's walking a tightrope between two skyscrapers with fighter planes hailing bullets at him. "Dad," he says, and swallows. "Dad," he says again, louder.

 

George takes a long swig. "Out with it, boy," he says, but hey, Jared notes, it's not a growl.

 

"I was feeling bad about last night," Jared begins carefully, "I should have done my chores, shouldn't have lazed around up in my room. I-I was hoping I could make it up to you and bring the lawnmower to that hardware store in town? It's been broken for awhile, and I know you've been meaning to. If-if you have any other errands, I could do those, too."

 

Jared's confidence progressively spirals further down the drain as he speaks and he is rushing out his words by the end of his speech, twisting and playing with his fingers, holding them close to his chest. It's a tic of his. He twists his middle finger around his first finger and pressed his thumb down on both of them. He hears a few knuckles crack and releases a sigh.

 

His dad sets his bottle down on the kitchen counter and tilts his chin up, appraising Jared with an eyebrow quirked. Jared feels stripped down and raw, put into a spotlight and interrogated. If he cowers even just a little bit, this will end terribly. He has to show his father how genuine he is. Maybe he can tell Jensen he's too weak to bring in the lawnmower himself, and Jensen will help. That way, he'll get his dad's errands done and still get to hang out with Jensen.

 

George seems pleased with what he sees in his son's eyes. He shrugs. "If you're going to be at the hardware store, I'll make you a list of shit to buy, spell it out real simple, got it? All you have to do is follow the list, you can even use my card. Easy. But if I see any other charges or if you miss an item or even think about going anywhere else, you'll lose every privilege I've given you, got it? No more therapy, no more phone, no more girly sketchbook. I don't reward failure."

 

Jared nods quickly, trying not to show his relief or his annoyance at the way his father talks to him. "Thank you, Dad. I promise I'll be good."

 

George laughs. "Promises don't mean shit. Just do it right and don't piss me off."

 

Jared knows better than to answer to that. He turns to leave but freezes at the sound of his father's voice calling him back.

 

"You still have more chores to do," his dad says. "Finish those, and you can head out this afternoon, alright? I don't think I need to say that you have to be back before curfew."

 

Jared nods, stuffing his fingers into his jean pockets after watching his dad curl his lips at Jared's erratic little movements. "I'll get to work," he says.

 

He gets a rare smile, if it can even be called that. "That's what I like to hear," George says, finishing his beer and tossing it to Jared.

 

Jared's heart only skips a couple of beats this time before he catches the glass bottle.

 

George flops back down in front of the television, shaking a fist at whatever sport-related travesty is happening this time. Jared hopes it isn't too bad, like his dad's favorite teams losing, 'cause that always spells out a painful night for Jared.

 

He shivers. Best not to even think about that. He tunes out the buzzy voice of the commentator on the T.V. and the responses of his father, instead focusing on finding the window cleaner from under the kitchen sink.

 

An hour later, he's kneeling on the floor in the main hall, carefully cleaning the woodwork. He feels a bit like Cinderella, only without some fairy godmother or ethereal beauty or dainty little slipper to lose after spending a night with the enthralling Prince Charming.

 

No, if there's a Prince Charming in Jared's life, he certainly isn't interested in Jared. And no one's coming to save him from his messed up father.

 

Ignoring the stabbing pain in his abdomen every time he bends over, he knows one thing for certain: he's pretty much on his own now. If he still had his computer, he might send an email to Sandy. Or maybe Chad. Maybe he'd try reaching out to his sister again.

 

It's all just fantasy, though. But sometimes, fantasy, make-believe, and ideas of Prince Charmings and Fairy Godmothers are the only thing that stave off the loneliness pressing against Jared's chest.

 

His fingers doodle Jensen's eyes into mid-air as he vacuums the house, counting down the hours until his brief burst of freedom.

 

Once he starts working upstairs, he cleans the bathroom as quickly as he can before slipping into his own room and pulling out his phone, heart going hummingbird fast. He dials Jensen's number and slowly sits down on his bed, sticking his injured ankle out in front of him.

 

Jensen answers on the second ring, sounding out of breath. "Jared? Is everything alright?"

 

The sound of Jensen's voice, no matter how worried, has Jared grinning. "Hi, Jensen," he says, blinking as he remembers that Jensen actually asked him a question. "Oh, um, I was actually wondering if you could do me a favor."

 

He listens to Jensen's rushed exhale. "Yeah, sure, anything."

 

"It's nothing big..." Jared trails off. "Our mower is broken, and I don't have a car. There's a hardware store right next to the restaurant you suggested, we'd just have to drop it off and pick it up after eating. I sorta need a ride, too, um. It’s okay if you can’t. Sorry."

 

"Don't apologize," Jensen laughs. "That's easy, sure. When do you want me to pick you up?"

 

Jared would wiggle around excitedly and flail his limbs, but his body's not exactly in top shape for doing that. "Around six? And thank you so much." He tells Jensen his address and they talk mindless chatter for a couple of minutes before Jared cuts off mid-ramble, remembering that he's on a schedule. He tells Jensen he'll see him later, and Jensen sounds like he wants to say more, wants to ask Jared something, but he only tells Jared he's excited for tonight.

 

Jared hangs up and deletes the call history from his phone. He shuts his eyes and holds the tiny flip device to his chest, praying that maybe, just for once, thinks will work out alright for him.

 

Just one time.

 

 

Chapter Text

Jensen

 

Jensen calls Sandy the moment he disconnects the call with Jared. He taps his foot against the floor, waiting as ring after ring passes. Finally, Sandy answers, and Jensen sags against the wall, petting Oscar's scruff in response to his concerned whine.

 

"Jensen, what's up?"

 

"Jared just called me," Jensen says, and Sandy immediately screams and barrages him with question after question. He pulls the phone back from his ear, scrunching up his face. "Alright, alright, alright. I'll talk about it if you let me."

 

"Sorry," Sandy laughs. "I just miss him. Go ahead, tell me."

 

"I'm going to pick him up with his lawnmower," Jensen tells her.

 

There's a pause. "Jensen, I don't understand your sense of humor sometimes," she says.

 

Jensen shakes his head, even if she can't see him. "No, literally. He asked me if I could be his ride and if we could fix his lawnmower during our, uh, thing. I said sure. He can't drive, right?"

 

"I don't think so," Sandy says. "I think he told me once he does have a license, though. It's frustrating that I don't really know, that I don't really have any idea what his life is like."

 

"Believe me, I know how you feel," Jensen says. "But we'll figure it out, okay? Jared has answers to all of our questions. And... if it's bad, we'll do something about it."

 

"Damn straight we will," Sandy growls, and Jensen wishes he could cram his body into the phone speakers and travel through the power lines to Sandy so he could give her a giant, crushing hug. He's grateful Jared had her, even if it wasn't very long. He'll have her again, and Jensen, too.

 

A part of him hopes they're just overreacting, hopes he's just obsessed, craving a distraction and some adventure and juicy drama. He hopes Jared isn't getting his ankle sprained by evil people or being forced to stop talking with friends.

 

Even so, he knows that tiny part of him is most likely wrong.

 

Sandy's saying something, and he forces himself to tune back in and concentrate.

 

"...Sent him another email," she continues, unperturbed by Jensen's prolonged silence. "I thought I could help by reaching out, you know? Maybe he'll respond. Will you--" her breath hitches. "Will you ask him about me?"

 

"Definitely," Jensen says. "Hey, I better start getting ready. I'll catch up with you and the guys, alright? We can go back to Flannigan's and cover all the bases over cheap beer."

 

Sandy chuckles. "We're all glad to have you back, Jensen," she says, and Jensen's throat tightens.

 

"Yeah," he says, voice rough. "Same back to you. See you, San."

 

"Good luck, Jensen. Look out for our boy."

 

Jensen ends the call, letting out a breath and looking down at Oscar, who stares up at him, head resting on his paws. "It's just never simple and easy with us, is it? Life's always throwing curveballs."

 

Oscar barks in agreement.

 

Jensen shakes his head to rid himself of weighted thoughts. He goes up to his room and throws open the closet, staring at piles of clothes on the floor, the racks cluttered with empty hangers. He groans.

 

He can imagine Chris's voice in his head telling him not to overthink it. He gets to his knees and finds a pair of decent jeans, confirming their eligibility as Pants of The Night via the sniff test. They pass. He tosses them over his shoulder and onto the floor of his room. A soft henley joins the pile behind him. That's good, right? Hot, but not overthinking it.

 

He hasn't felt this flustered over a man in almost a year. Maybe longer. And definitely never this... vibrantly. It's the only word Jensen can think of that begins to describe the feeling in his head.

 

And to think he used to believe he was straight.

 

He shakes his head at himself and takes his hoard to the bathroom to prepare.

 

He enters the hallway a handful of minutes later and checks his watch. Jared's not that far away, and it's still pretty early. He has some time to kill.

 

He lets out a breath and wanders down to the front hall. There's a mirror on the wall there, given to him by his mother. It's bulky and ornate and apparently some kind of priceless family heirloom. Doesn't look like it. Jensen stares at his reflection in the mirror and ruffles his hair, unbuttons and re-buttons one of the buttons on the henley.

 

"Jared... are you okay?" Jensen tries, groaning and looking away from himself. Way, way too soap opera.

 

"Jared... is everything alright at home?"

 

Fuck.

 

He rolls his shoulders and grabs his keys from the hall table, checks his watch again. Does a few little hops in place, windmills his arms. Catches himself doing it in the mirror and blushes.

 

He wastes a few more minutes by running upstairs and choosing a different pair of shoes. When he's back downstairs, he ends up at the door to the garage, refusing to let his nervous jitters make him procrastinate any longer.

 

He slips into his car and slides the key into the ignition. He adjusts the mirrors and nods to himself, listening to his phone calmly and kindly tell him which road to take to find his way back to Jared.

 

It ends up only being a twenty-five minute drive, and the navigation voice tells him he's arrived at his destination in a slightly decrepit neighborhood on the edge of the city. He passes two houses with boarded up windows and falling-in roofs. There are a few families out and about, playing in the street, and they always stop and stare at him with wide eyes as he drives by.

 

He looks for Jared's number above garages and on mailboxes, but it turns out that he doesn't have to. A tall, huddled figure is waiting on the front porch of a house at the end of a court, and there's a bright red little lawnmower on the sidewalk in front of him.

 

He parks his car on the curb and gets out, waving to Jared. Jared unfolds himself from his perch and walks slowly over. As Jensen gets closer, he notices a bruise on Jared's collarbone. Jared gives him a small, tired smile, and gestures to the lawnmower between them. "You sure you got room in your car for this? If not, I'm, uh, sorry, I can find a way myself..."

 

"It'll fit in the trunk," Jensen assures him. "Here, I'll stow it away for you," he adds, after Jared bends down and freezes halfway down, his face collapsing in on itself in pain that Jared is trying to hide without success.

 

"You don't have to do that," Jared says, his fingers twining and untwining in record time.

 

Jensen brushes Jared off, his stomach feeling fluttery with all the anxiety that Jared's giving off. It's so... off. It's just like how Sandy described him when she spoke of their last meeting.

 

Jensen tells Jared to get into the car and Jared obliges. Jensen drags the mower over to the back of his car and grunts as he levers it up and into the trunk.

 

He plops down into the driver's seat and claps his hands together. "So, hardware store?" he asks, turning on the radio.

 

Jared smiles and nods. He doesn't launch into some weird tangent about the history of the shop, or about his favorite road in downtown, or regale Jensen with the ridiculous, semi-improbable story about how the mower got broke.

 

Jensen turns up the radio so the silence doesn't end up immediately killing him.

 

He has a lot of time to overthink things on the drive over. Jared could be quiet for a number of reasons. It doesn't have to mean there's a problem at home.

 

But bruises and lethargy never lie, and especially not to a physical therapist.

 

Jensen finds a parking space a few blocks down from the hardware store and the restaurant, and they earn a few odd looks as they wheel the lawnmower down the street. Jared's quiet when they hand the mower off to the nice old man who runs the shop, and he seems to recognize Jared, sending the kid a soft, concerned look. He accepts the mower without question, and Jared pulls a folded-up paper list from his pocket, stuttering over an explanation before rushing down the aisles.

 

Jensen has to jog to keep up as Jared peers down at the list and searches the aisles for each various thingadoo. With each minute that passes, Jared gets more and more wound up, hurrying along faster but wearing himself down more quickly. He's still got the boot on, even though it should be off at this point, and his lopsided gait turns into an all out limp.

 

Jensen grabs Jared by the arm and Jared pulls away. "Jay, slow down," Jensen says. "What's the rush?"

 

"I." Jared's eyes go big and he swallows loudly. His eyes flick down to the list. "I have to be home before nine... my dad..."

 

Jared looks at the floor and reaches up to tug his shirt up over the bruise on his collar bone.

 

Jensen lets out a breath. Fuck. He wants to grab Jared by the shoulders and (very delicately) shake him and demand the truth, but this isn't quite the place to do that. "It's only six-thirty," he says instead. "Why don't you tell me some of the stuff you have to get and we'll split up? We'll cover more ground that way. We have time, Jay, don't worry."

 

Jared's shoulders loosen and he nods stiffly, rattling off a few mundane objects that Jensen rushes off to find. One of the reasons Jared's taking so long at getting everything is the fact he'd been going through the aisles in alphabetical order by the first item listed on the aisle markers, a tidbit Jensen doesn't realize until he's been scurrying up and down aisles and it clicks.

 

He dumps his haul in Jared's little handbasket and sends him a grin. "You almost done?"

 

Jared smiles, and even though it's just a tentative, little thing, it has Jensen's heart beating a little faster. "Yeah, this is the last thing... I'm really sorry, Jensen. I bet you didn't wanna spend the night in a hardware store."

 

Jensen waves him off. "It's okay, dude. I haven't done anything normal in ages. I kinda like it. But you should definitely get off that ankle for awhile, so I think it's about time we dug into a basket of ribs."

 

Jared flushes red, somehow looking incredibly small. "Yeah, okay."

 

Jensen lets his shoulder bump against Jared's as they check out. "So, what's all this stuff for, anyway?" he asks, curiosity piqued.

 

"Oh, it's just stuff for my dad. A little errand," Jared says, pulling a credit card out of his pocket and paying for the small bag of miscellaneous items. It turns out that the lawn mower won't be ready for another couple of days, and Jared's face goes dangerously pale at that.

 

"Hey," Jensen says, grabbing his friend's attention. "That just means we have to hang out again, right?"

 

A little more pink colors Jared's face as he nods, looking a little less like he'd just been sentenced to death over a lawn mower.

 

It's yet another puzzling piece of the mystery of Jared Padalecki.

 

Jensen’s all over the dramatic cliches.

 

It isn't long before they've been seated and had their orders taken at the barbeque place. At Jensen's recommendation, they both order a fuckload of ribs, as Jensen claims they're the best item on the menu by a landslide. He comes here way too often. A couple of the waitresses even know his name.

 

"So, Jared," Jensen starts, watching Jared take a tiny sip of his glass of water. Jared looks absolutely ethereal under the low, warm lighting of the restaurant. It's the perfect light to accent his high cheekbones, and even though Jared looks like a fish out of water, he looks like a gorgeous one. "You live with your dad?"

 

Jared looks up at him and carefully sets down the glass. "Yeah."

 

Jensen crosses and uncrosses his legs. He is probably the person with the least tact on the entire planet. "That's cool. I'd like to meet him someday."

 

Jared's eyes flutter and he almost chokes on his next sip of water. "He's a little antisocial," Jared says. "He might be a little rough around the edges, but um... he's a good dad."

 

Another thing Jensen's noticed about Jared is that he absolutely cannot hide his emotions worth shit. His face is an open book, complete with footnotes.

 

And Jared is afraid of his father.

 

Shit, shit, shit. This is some of the information Jensen asked for, but he has no idea what to do with it or where to go from here. He was hoping that this would be a laid back, fun night out on the town, but Jared's clearly hurting and Jensen's only making it more and more awkward.

 

The waitress arrives with piles of ribs, saving Jensen from further humiliation.

 

After Jared gets his plate, he cocks his head at Jensen, who hasn't touched his food yet, despite all his claims of deliciousness.

 

Jensen gestures vaguely to Jared. "I want you to try them first," he says. "I want to see the look on your face, dude. Best ribs ever."

 

Jared laughs. He carefully sheathes his hands with the little plastic gloves he'd been provided with before picking up a rib like it's a precious artifact. Jensen stares shamelessly at Jared's plush lips as Jared takes a careful bite, the meat practically falling off the bone. Jared licks his lips and his eyebrows go up. Jensen holds back a shiver.

 

He clears his throat, face flushed. "Good, aren't they?"

 

"No kidding," Jared says, staring down at the plate like it holds all his hopes and dreams. "My favorite food is usually sour gummy worms, but this might change my mind. Even though sour gummy worms are the perfect texture and can be organized by color. That always makes eating food better, you know? You have to organize the skittles by color or it just isn't the same."

 

Jared takes another bite and lets out a low moan. "I feel like I'm cheating on candy," he says, mouth full of meat.

 

Oh god. The innuendos are everywhere and they're making Jensen sweat. Focus. Focus focus focus. "Aren't the gummy worms split in half, though? Half pink, half blue? How do you organize them by color?"

 

Jared gives Jensen an evil grin. "I rip them in half with my teeth," he says. "My mom used to eat gummy bears with me, and she'd always tear off the head first. Now it feels wrong when I don't do it."

 

Jensen laughs. "Sounds like an awesome mama," he says, "decapitation is always a fun family past time."

 

"Yeah." Jared chokes a little on the syllable, his face dimming considerably. "She was."

 

Jensen's stomach drops. Jared's face aged ten years and went far too youthful, flickering between struggling emotions. "God, Jared, shit, I'm sorry, I didn't know-"

 

"She's not dead," Jared quickly interrupts. "I just--I don't get to see her anymore."

 

"Jared," Jensen breathes, throwing every ounce of hesitation right out the window, "is everything alright?"

 

Jared's adam's apple bobs up and down. "I'm fine..." he says, trailing off, his forced smile wavering. "The food is really good."

 

"You know I don't mean here," Jensen says softly. "I mean... with your family. At home. You're pretty badly hurt, dude. You can't hide it from me."

 

"I'm not," Jared growls, bristling. "I'm--"

 

Jared takes a breath.

 

"I got mugged," he blurts, and Jensen's heart sinks. "I, um, I was heading home from therapy and this guy asked me for my money and he beat me up. I was going to ask you if you could help me out but I forgot. I'm okay, just a little bruised. Sorry I forgot to tell you."

 

"Hey, hey, c'mon," Jensen sets his drink down. "You don't have to lie to me, Jay, you know that."

 

Jared stands up, towering over Jensen. His face is red and his hands are clenched into shaking fists. "I'm. Not. Lying," he manages, breathing heavily, his chest heaving up and down and up and down, each breath seeming to cripple Jared a little bit more until his eyes go glassy.

 

Jensen's out of his chair in a second. "Woah, hey, Jared, you've gotta breathe," he says, rushing over to Jared's side and catching him just before he topples over, maneuvering him back into his chair and checking his pulse. He hands Jared his glass of water, keeping his fingers over Jared's. "Drink some water, buddy, you're running on fumes. Have you had anything to eat today besides the ribs? Jared."

 

"I have to go," Jared manages, his voice hoarse and scratchy. "I have to get home, I can't stay here, I..."

 

"Jared," Jensen cuts him off, keeping his voice stern and sharp. "Jared, slow down. You have to breathe. Hold it in for five seconds and then let it go out your mouth, okay? Watch me. Do it with me, Jay. Breathe."

 

Jared squeezes his eyes shut tight and lets out a little pant, taking a small drink from his water before following Jensen's instructions. Jensen can feel other patrons murmuring and watching them, but he doesn't give a fuck. He puts a hand on Jared's leg, feather light in case he's injured there, too. "Feel better? Drink a little more water."

 

Jared silently obliges, taking a few more gulps before setting the glass back down and keeping his eyes downcast, avoiding Jensen's gaze. His shoulders are still trembling.

 

"Jared, seriously, it's okay," Jensen says, patting Jared's knee. "I just--you have so much potential, okay? You're an adult, you should be in charge of your own life. But I'm gonna take a guess and say you don't really have that right now, do you?"

 

Jared stays quiet, and he bites his lip when it starts to tremble.

 

"I just want to help you," Jensen sighs, trying to make eye contact with his friend. "You're hurt and I want to help. Sandy's so worried about you."

 

Jared's eyes shoot over to his, wide and stricken.

 

"She misses you, Jared. She thinks something happened to you."

 

"I'm fine," Jared chokes, but he's not selling anyone. "I really have to get home."

 

"It's not even eight-thirty yet. You still have time, Jared. Time to talk to me. Please. Please, just talk to me. Just keep coming to sessions, I'll keep helping your ankle and every other bump and scrape you have. I'm your friend, Jared. You can trust me."

 

"I." Jared looks up at the ceiling, blinking back tears, his face crumpling. The golden light makes each fat tear clear and stark against his cheek. “I do trust you.”

 

“Then let me in, okay? If you don’t tell someone it’s gonna swallow you whole. I’m right here, Jay.”

 

“God, I…” Jared swallows, sniffling loudly and rubbing roughly at his nose with the back of his hand. He takes a deep breath. "He doesn't hate me, I'm sure of it. He's just having a hard time with everything, that’s all."

 

"Is it your dad?" Jensen whispers, just barely audible. "Jared, does your dad hurt you?"

 

"Don't talk to me like I'm a child," Jared spits, glaring down at Jensen with very little heat. "I'm not a baby. I'm not."

 

"Jay, you know I know that," Jensen says. "M'just trying to help."

 

Jared seems to deflate all at once. He wipes at his eyes with big, clumsy hands, sniffling and blinking rapidly. "I'm sorry," he croaks. "I'm sorry, I’m s-so sorry, I ruined your nice dinner-"

 

"Shut up," Jensen says, smiling dimly. "I've been worried about you for awhile. I was always planning to ambush you after stuffing you full of scrumptious, juicy ribs."

 

Jared's blotchy face twitches into a hesitant grin at that. "You jerkface," he says, and picks up another rib.

 

Jensen puts a hand on Jared's shoulder for a couple of beats before heading back to his seat and grabbing another rib himself. They're cold now, but it doesn't make them taste any worse. That's impossible. They’re almost as good as Texan ribs his papa makes. Almost.

 

A weird silence stretches over the table as they finish their meal and deal with the exhausting emotions swirling within themselves. The waitress is back to ask them how their meal is going, and seems to sense the strange atmosphere curling over them like a spring stormcloud. She leaves just as quickly.

 

The only words shared are meaningless and tense. Jensen asks Jared to drink more water. Jared mentions the time every four and a half minutes. Jensen doesn’t comment.

 

It’s eight-thirty by the time they head out of the restaurant and into the cool night air, and Jensen is antsy. It won’t take long to get Jared back to his house, but it means they’ll only have a few precious minutes to actually have any semblance of a meaningful conversation. He was hoping he’d have longer. If he doesn’t get his point across properly tonight, he has a horribly, sticky feeling in his gut that he won’t ever see Jared again, and he’ll lie awake at night wondering the hell happened to him, images of still, battered bodies flitting behind his eyelids.

 

Jensen shivers. He opens the passenger side door for Jared and Jared bats him another tepid smile.

 

Jensen wastes no time in getting straight to the point after they’re parked at Jared’s curb and the engine’s off. He unbuckles himself and turns to face Jared. Jared’s hands are folded neatly in his lap, twitching every so often. Jensen puts a hand on Jared’s wrist and Jared’s eyes flick from the floor to Jensen’s face. The moon is lighting Jared’s face up in dusty blue and his eyes are huge and blown in the low light.

 

He looks so worn out. No twenty-year-old should look so ill and beaten down.

 

“I wish we had more time to talk,” Jensen starts, pausing and licking his lips. Each word feels like it has the weight of entire planets, like he just had to outdo Atlas somehow. “But we still have therapy, okay? Every time you come in, we’ll spend the first half of the session working on your ankle and… your other injuries. After that, though, it’s nothing serious, nothing professional, dude. Just talking. I’ll tell you all about my tragic backstory if you talk to me about what’s going on.”

 

Jensen takes a breath. He doesn’t move his hand. Jared hasn’t moved away, and hey, it’s something. Jensen will take whatever he can get. He’s never felt more like a sieve, and Jared is finer than particles of sand, slipping silently away.

 

“I…” Jared coughs. “I want to say I shouldn’t have said anything, b-but… just don’t tell anyone, okay? If I tell you? I don’t want my dad to get hurt. And can you.” Jared’s breath hitches quietly. “Can you just tell Sandy that I’m okay and that I miss her?”

 

Jensen leans back in his seat, all his energy sapped away. “Of course, Jared,” he says. “Of course.”

 

Jared nods, his hair falling into his face. “Well. I’m sorry. But thank you. I’ll see you on Monday.”

 

Jensen bobs his head in response. “Looking forward to Monday,” he says, smiling at Jared.

 

Jared doesn’t smile back. He twists around to get his plastic bag of items for his dad and freezes halfway there, his face contorting into a barely-restrained wince.

 

“Shit, Jay,” Jensen swears. “Stop. I’ll get it. You just worry about getting inside and getting some rest, okay? Hold on.” Jensen snags the bag with the tips of his fingers and hands it to Jared. Jared takes it gratefully, ducking his head.

 

They exit the car at the same time. Jensen walks around to Jared and opens his arms. Jared leans back on his heels, away from Jensen. Jensen’s cheeks burn up. “Sorry, I just--”

 

“It’s okay,” Jared buts in, all haste and antsy little movements. “I would, I love hugs, it’s just that my dad is right there.”

 

Jensen glances over to the front window and sees the silhouette of a timid little weaselly man staring out at them, surrounded by the flickering light of a TV set. Jensen blinks. He’d been expecting a giant hulk of a guy, just like Jared, but even bigger. He’d envisioned arms bigger than his neck decked out in prison tattoos.

 

Still. That’s the man with Jared’s blood on his knuckles, and just seeing him standing there turns Jensen’s blood to ice. He wants to hurt him. But he won’t. Jared loves his dad, cares about him. It wouldn’t stop anything. It wouldn’t make anything better.

 

Yet Jensen’s heart is fiercely protective of Jared. He feels like a mama bird shielding her chicklets from the outside world with her wings. He chuckles at the metaphor.

 

“See you, Jared,” he calls as Jared heads up the front steps.

 

“See you, Jensen,” Jared replies, almost too quietly to hear, and Jensen watches the shape of Jared’s dad move over to the front door.

 

He gets into his car but lingers, watching the front door open right before Jared reaches it. Jared slips inside and starts talking to his dad. The door shuts, cutting Jensen off from the moment.

 

His fingers flex on the wheel and he frowns, grinding his teeth. He’d kill to know what’s happening behind that door.

 

Even with the anxiety pestering him to stay, he drives away, staring at the unassuming shape of Jared’s house in his rearview mirror.

 

Monday is not going to come soon enough. A hundred different things could happen between now and then, and each possibility puts Jensen further on edge.

 

The feelings at war inside Jensen are new. Sure, he loved Steve, almost fucking had 2.5 kids with him and shit, but it’s only been a couple weeks since they met and he already feels a kindred connection with Jared. He kind of hates how often he puzzles over it, how frequently he tries to find some logical explanation for the hold Jared has on him.

 

Maybe he sees something of himself in Jared. Maybe Jared is that one twist of fate that flips his world from black and white and into color. He just doesn’t know.

 

Oscar greets him like Jensen’s come back from war, and Jensen embraces the slobbery kisses and excited barks.

 

He’s really got to call Sandy.

Chapter Text

Jared

 

When George opens the front door, his face is stormy, conflicted, and Jared flinches backward before realizing the look isn't directed at him. George is physically there, but mentally, he's practically checked out. There’s a vein standing out on his temple right beside his distant eyes.

 

Jared opens his mouth to ask if everything's alright but George clears his throat and shakes his head. Jared shuts his mouth.

 

George steps back, holding the door open wider and Jared steps in. He listens to his dad quietly click the door shut behind him and turns to see his mother sitting on the couch.

 

His breath catches in his throat. He shoots his dad a questioning look but George won't meet his eyes. "Mom?" he asks, and Lucy stands, smoothing down the front of her slacks and sending a careful, quiet smile Jared's way that sends a warm, nervous energy shooting through Jared's body.

 

"Oh, honey," she says, still grinning, and brushes Jared's unruly bangs away from his face. Jared leans into the touch. "You look so tired. Are you okay, dear? I haven't seen my baby's face in so long."

 

Jared can feel his father's eyes like daggers in his back. He shakes away the feeling, refusing to let his eyes stray from his mother's beautiful face. She looks older, but no less held together, no less proud. "What are you doing here?"

 

Lucy's smile wavers. "I never wanted to abandon my child," she says. "Megan and Jeff have been asking to see you. Your father was kind enough to let me come visit you. I've missed you so much."

 

Jared sucks in a breath and rushes at his mother, crushing her into a hug. He bends down to press his face into her neck and closes his eyes, inhaling the scent of her perfume. "S'okay, mama," he croaks. "I don't blame, you know that? I missed you, too. I miss Meggie and Jeff. Are they alright? Is Jeff a doctor yet?"

 

Lucy pulls back and laughs, ruffling his hair. "Always with the questions, my jaybird. Are things good with your father? I would visit more often if you'd stayed down in San Antonio. Los Angeles is quite a ways to go for work."

 

Right, work. Jared might not be going to college anymore, but he's no imbecile. He knows his dad didn't carry him off for some promotion. He did it for leverage. He did it for reasons that Jared's been trying to unearth after every night he has to crawl back to his room and scrub blood out of his favorite shirts.

 

"It certainly is," George pipes up, and there's an edge to his voice. He steps over, standing next to Jared and putting a hand on his shoulder. Jared puts all of his energy into staying perfectly still, into keeping the smile on his mouth and in his eyes.

 

Lucy's eyes move from him to his father and her lips thin. "You should take a vacation back home sometime soon," she says with a mask of politeness. "The whole family asks after Jared so often. They're all dying to know how his studies are going."

 

Fingers twitch on Jared's shoulder. "He's doing just fine."

 

Lucy brushes George off and focuses her attention back on Jared. "That's lovely, Jared! What are you working on right now?"

 

Jared swallows. "Everything's good," he starts slowly. "I want to start a dog walking business to earn some money."

 

Lucy beams. "That's amazing! I'm sure you'll be able to organize it all easily, especially with your father's help. Dogs absolutely love you. You'll be a hit in no time, no one can resist those dimples."

 

The hand leaves Jared's shoulder. "He will," George says, sounding a little less like he's talking with razor blades pressed between his teeth. “Jared, you must be beat. Why don’t you head up to your room?”

 

Jared’s eyes widen. He can’t help but shoot a pleading look to his mother. She shakes her head and laughs. “You need your rest, Jared. We can do more catching up in the morning.”

 

Oh, thank god. She’ll still be here. He nods, his throat too tight for words. He believes her, he really does, but he can’t shake the feeling that the moment he turns away, she’ll disappear, and he’ll be trapped here all alone again.

 

“We have to have a chat too, Jared,” George says as Jared climbs the steps.

 

Jared’s fingers clench around the banister. He nods at his father, smiling. As soon as he disappears from his parents' line of sight, his back sags and he grimaces, limping into his room. He immediately strips out of his clothes and kicks off the boot, slipping into pajamas before crawling into bed. Clifford’s on his desk.

 

He checks his phone before sleeping, and finds he's got a text from Jensen.

 

Had a good time. Never knew there were so many different kinds of socket wrenches. Sandy says hi. She hopes you're doing alright. See you Monday.

 

Jared smiles, committing the text to memory before deleting it. He curls up on his better side and sighs, thinking of his family and home.

 

He allows himself a smidgen of hope.

 

 

Jared spends the weekend bouncing between his parents, acting as a messenger and a mediator. They can never talk for more than a couple of minutes before faces get pinched and words get curt, and Jared does not want things to get past that. He always intervenes, tries to be casual about it. He gives them both sodas and asks his mom about Jeff and how the dogs are doing.

 

His dad corners him after dinner and demands to know who drove him home and what happened that night. Jared haltingly explains that it was Jensen, his physical therapist, and Jensen had promised to help him with his new injuries as well as helping him deliver the lawn mower to the hardware store. He assures his dad that he’ll go back to pick it up when it’s ready, no problem.

 

George grunts, narrowing his eyes at Jared. "Nice of him to lend you a hand," he says.

 

Jared only nods. Any words would only sink him further in trouble. His mother appears right at that moment like a guardian angel, saving him from further interrogation.

 

Besides learning about Megan taking up archery and Jeff's new job and all the goings-on back home, his mama is also amazing for damage control. George doesn't dare touch Jared while she is here, so Jared's injuries get to heal in peace. He spends as much time as he can around her, soaking up her energy and her beauty and just her.

 

They're sitting on the back porch, watching a dog play around through the fence slats separating their yard from another. Lucy takes a sip from her glass of water, smiling and gazing around.

 

Jared is content to linger in the comfortable silence and just exist alongside her. He hasn't really felt safe just to be himself without any pretenses since he got off the plane in LAX all those years ago.

 

"Jared," Lucy says, cutting him out of his thoughts. "Jared, you know you're your own man, right? You can visit us without your father. I can pay for the ticket."

 

Jared's face warms up. "I, uh," he swallows. "I know. I've just been really busy."

 

Lucy sighs. She wraps a hand around his neck and he leans against her shoulder. "I just worry," she murmurs. "I feel like he keeps you all cooped up here. It can't be good for a growing young man like you."

 

"Mama." Jared blushes. I need help. I need to go back. I feel like I'm dying here.

 

He thinks of Jensen.

 

"I'm fine," he tells her, smiling.

 

She smiles back, but it never reaches her eyes. "Your room back home hasn't been touched," she says. "Just keep it in mind, little Jay. If you ever decide to come back down, we'd all love to have you."

 

Jared forces the tears back. "I know."

 

"So!" Lucy says, clapping her hands together and effectively changing the subject. "Your father tells me you've been busy. What are your friends like, Jared? Do you have a boyfriend yet? Do you still have Big Red Dog?"

 

"Mama!" Jared protests, playfully shoving her away. "They're good... I haven't talked to Chad in a while. Sandy's good. Dog’s still here. And I have a new friend named Jensen."

 

"Jensen, hmm?" his mother repeats, all too knowing. "What's he like?"

 

"He's..." Jared trails off, biting his lip. "He's really nice. He likes to think he's a grumpy old man but he's a real kind person. And a Texan, mama! He's from Dallas."

 

Lucy nods, her fingers tapping on her knee. "Does he know about your Aspies, Jared?"

 

Jared blinks, smile wavering. "I haven't told him."

 

"Honey. If you're interested in this boy, I think it has to come up."

 

"I'm not..." the protest dies on Jared's lips. "I know. I just don't want him to look at me differently."

 

Lucy huffs. "If he's half the man you deserve, nothing will change between the two of you. Anyone with eyes can see that you're special."

 

"Stop babying me." Jared blushes. The dog in the yard butting theirs runs back inside.

 

Lucy laughs, birdsong and sunshine in one noise. "Just being honest, Jare-bear."

 

The conversation is cut short by the arrival of George. His parents go inside, and Jared listens to their voices through the glass door, muffled but raised in anger. He guesses that they're arguing about him. He sighs, rubbing at his face. With his mom, things were balmy and breezy, but without her, the heat feels stifling. Jared has the image of George striking her seared into his brain. He hates to leave her alone with his dad.

 

It hasn't been that bad, though. His parents are careful around each other, and he can see the emotions hiding behind his father's stony eyes. He's missed her, too. Things are all wonky, but maybe George will get better with her around. Maybe he'll treat Jared more like a son and less like a burden.

 

Jared never stops thinking about Jensen. He thinks about Jensen's low, rough voice, about Jensen's crinkly eyes and his funny stories. He thinks about Jensen's patience and Jensen's calloused hands on the small of his back during therapy, warm and constant. He thinks about Jensen's deep, bellowy laugh and the way he never looks uncomfortable when Jared acts a little strange.

 

Jared doesn't really like to think of himself as someone autistic even though he knows there's nothing wrong with that. He just wants to be plain Jared. He just wants other people to like plain Jared, like Chad used to. Chad was the only person who respected Jared enough to be a jerk to him.

 

Jared smiles even as it awakes an ache from within him. He's been missing so many people for so long without realizing it. He's been letting it happen.

 

But he has no idea how to get back in contact, how to defy his father and get out alive.

 

He thinks of Jensen some more, of Jensen's sweet promises. He prays they aren't empty. Maybe Jensen's new perspective is enough to help Jared help his dad, to help Jared get back out into the world without repercussions and without freaking out. It's been so long that he feels like an alien around other people. His dad has only made him go from a strange kid to a total outsider.

 

"No one can love you when you do that, Jared," he can hear his dad say in his head, can see his dad's face, rotten with displeasure at Jared's antics. Normal people make eye contact. Normal people don't chirp and squawk like he does. Normal people don't walk and talk like he does, don't laugh like he does. Normal people don’t avoid having their hands touched like he does.

 

Normal people, normal people, normal people. They're all George thinks about.

 

Well, Jensen isn't normal, either. Chad isn't. Sandy definitely isn't. All the best people aren't cardboard cutouts.

 

Still. George's words get to him, cut deep. Even if he did magically get the opportunity to go back to school and see his family again, he's sure his anxiety would keep him from being happy. It's too ingrained to be smoothed away with a few words and a familiar landscape.

 

Thinking about it too long gives him a headache. He heads back inside. His dad's on the couch and his mom is in the kitchen, setting glasses into the sink.

 

He walks over to her but his dad's voice calls him away. He lumbers over to the living room. His dad cranes his neck to look back at him with unreadable eyes.

 

"Your mother's heading back to Texas today," George says shortly, and Jared's heart plummets lower and lower in his body. "Help her pack up, would you?"

 

Jared's bottom lip wobbles. No, no, no. He just got her back. She was making progress with George, wasn't she? Wasn't that the whole reason she had come? It feels like no time had passed at all. "Okay," he says, voice thready and shaken, and he turns to face his mother. She's looking at him with sympathy and worry written all over the lines on her face.

 

For a split second, it's like she knows. It's like she can see the bruises blooming across his body, can see how skinny he's gotten underneath his baggy clothes.

 

Then she smiles. "It's been a fun weekend, Jared, I'll miss you so much, baby," she says. "I'm so proud of you. You're so smart and driven."

 

Jared wishes he could believe her.

 

At the airport, Jared gives her one last hug, finally letting a few stubborn tears roll free. She reaches up and swipes them away, smoothing out the front of his shirt. "Oh, baby," she croons. "Jare, I'll see you again, okay? I promise. You'll see Megan and Jeff. I had a big talk with your dad about how he keeps you away. I think I got through to him, sweetie. He's going to help you with your dog walking business."

 

Jared hiccups past the sob in his throat. "He said that?" he asks, twisting his fingers into a woven shape and rocking back on his heels.

 

"Yes he did," Lucy confirms, beaming at him. "Just because of the distance and the divorce doesn't mean we can't be a family, Jared. Your father's too stubborn for his own good, but I think you helped him smooth out some rough edges. And... and you always know you're welcome. I can't say it enough. We will always have you back."

 

Jared gives her another rough hug, his body shuddering with the force of the words his mind is begging him to say. "I know," he says, voice rough and hoarse. "I'll see you, mama."

 

Jared pulls back and she doesn't have enough time to hide the disappointment written across her features. She checks the time on her watch and makes a tsking sound. The plane must be boarding soon. Lucy puts a hand through his hair and picks up her suitcases. "See you, Jared."

 

Jared waves at her, even after she's turned her back. He waves until she's out of sight, lost behind throngs of people all with somewhere to be.

 

Back in the car, his father waits. It's the first time he's really been alone with him in a while, and Jared's not looking forward to it.

 

The ride back home is tense and full of thick silence. His father's jaw is tight and twitchy, his knee jiggling absently as he drives. Jared fights to keep his hands still and his mouth shut. He wants to wiggle and move around but knows it would only anger George.

 

At home, George takes a dusty laptop out of storage and hands it to Jared. "Only for those spreadsheet programs, alright?" he orders gruffly. "You're gonna need that if you're gonna be making money. I want to know how it goes, alright? You tell me about every expense and penny earned, and you ask permission to spend any of your money. Understood?"

 

Jared nods, a grin blooming across his face despite the flinty look in his father's eyes. "Understood," he repeats, all duty and manners, and bolts upstairs with the laptop.

 

Monday dawns sunny and cheery. Jared gets to therapy a half hour early and goes from one chair to the next in the waiting room. He finds one that's satisfactory and settles in for the wait, thinking about Jensen and his kind text. He can hardly sit still. He doesn't really know what to expect from their talking session, but he trusts Jensen. He doesn't think it will be anything upsetting.

 

After a couple more minutes, he pulls some fliers out of his backpack and goes up to the receptionist, asking if he can pin them to the pinboard. She nods and smiles politely at him. He wanders over to the board and finds a single blue pushpin free to use. Blue is good. He's pinning it up when he hears a person come up behind him, causing him to start.

 

He turns around and looks into Jensen's lawn grass eyes, bright with the oncoming summer. "Jensen!" he says, grinning. "Sorry, I didn't see you there."

 

He tries not to explode into a trillion tiny pieces at the broad, sunny smile Jensen gives him, full of affection and amusement, all of it directed at Jared.

 

 

Chapter Text

Jensen

 

Jensen can't help but smile at Jared. It's an instinctual response to the look of joy splitting Jared's features in two. The bruise on his collarbone is healing, and his eyes look leagues lighter than they did at Darcy's, like several tons of weight have been lifted from his soul since they last saw each other.

 

"Hey, Jared," he greets, peering over Jared’s shoulder to inspect the paper he’d put on the pinboard. "What are you doing?"

 

"Oh," Jared blushes, looking back at the clip art of a smiling dog on the poster behind him. "My dad is helping me start a dog walking business, I thought I could start spreading the word here."

 

"Jay!" Jensen cries out, embracing Jared in a quick hug. Jared gets impossibly redder, but the dimples never leave his face. Jensen loves seeing him look so pleased. "Dude, that's awesome! I actually have a dog in severe need of walking."

 

Jared perks up. Jensen motions for them to start walking and Jared trails him down the hallway and into the workout room. "Really? That's so cool! I absolutely love dogs. We have two back in 'Tonio. One's Harley, he's big but a baby. And Sadie is a real rascal. We've had them ever since they were little puppies."

 

God, if there's one thing Jensen's missed, it how Jared gets so fucking passionate about whatever he's talking about, how he can't seem to shut up when he gets really invested in a topic. It's the most adorable and heartwarming thing Jensen has witnessed in a good long time. His face is beginning to hurt from how persistently he's been beaming at his friend. "I love dogs, too," Jensen agrees, leading them into the center of the room, "I've got just one, his name's Oscar. When I moved to LA, my house felt way too lonely, and I just couldn't say no to his face. Poor dog gets stuck at home a lot. He could really use some walks, especially from you, Jared. Any time you can come over and walk him would be a godsend."

 

"Yes!" Jared bounces back on his heels. "I'm not gonna start it for another week or so, 'cause I still have the boot on so it'd suck to be walking around on it all the time. But after that, yeah! I'd love to hang out with Oscar. I also have a neighbor with this teeny tiny chihuahua, and she wants me to walk him. I feel like he's gonna gnaw my ankles off, though, he's always biting things."

 

Jensen guffaws and shakes his head at Jared. "You can't trust the tiny dogs," he jokes, "they're always overcompensating with everything. And they have really sharp teeth."

 

Jared puts his fingers up to his mouth like faux incisors and wiggles them. "It's always the cutest ones," he warns, and then growls.

 

Jensen dramatically fans a hand against his chest. "Does that mean you have razor sharp teeth, Jared?" he asks, and oh, wait, fuck, does that count as flirting?

 

Just as Jared's face begins to go back to a normal coloring, it heats up again, and he grins shyly over at Jensen.

 

Jensen clears his throat. His face probably matches Jared's on the redness scale now. He quickly changes the subject and leads Jared over to the treadmill, putting the setting on a very relaxed, slow pace. He puts some music on for Jared and lets the kid work on his ankle for several minutes, getting his own thoughts and emotions in check.

 

He's fucking ecstatic to see Jared back to his usual self, absolutely overjoyed that Jared's getting the chance to do something independent and make some money from it, too. But even with all the good feelings floating around, even with all the sudden progress Jared's made, it doesn't sit well with Jensen.

 

Just a few days ago, Jared had been a withdrawn, grey, shaking mess. Sure, he's still moving a little slowly with all the bruising on his abdomen, but other than that, he's back to wild puppy mode. Something huge must've happened over the weekend, some giant step of progress, something. Jensen's dying to know.

 

He's saving all the personal questions for the second half of their meeting, though. Right now, he's focusing on Jared's body. In a completely professional way.

 

After the treadmill, Jensen asks Jared to lift up his shirt and feels his throat fill up when he sees the damage there for the first time. He gingerly feels around Jared's ribs, asking how much it hurts. Nothing's broken, which is good. The bruising is pretty severe, but it's had time to heal up. The only thing Jared can do for it is let it heal, not do anything too strenuous. His ankle is still sensitive, but it won't need the boot soon.

 

It's all good news, fantastic even, but Jensen can't shake the sinking feeling that something is going to come along and bring all of Jared's progress crashing to the ground like a delicate house of cards.

 

After getting Jared sweaty and tired, they sit down on one of the benches, pausing for a moment to get their breath back. Jensen lets Jared have a moment to himself, wracking his brain for ways to bring up the subject of Jared's father and his life at home.

 

He tries not to overthink it. No matter what happens today, Jensen will be there for Jared. Sandy will be there. If Jared falls, literally or metaphorically, they will be there to catch him. They will protect him.

 

They will keep Jared safe.

 

It ends up being Jared who broaches the topic, stirring Jensen from his thoughts.

 

"My mama was there when I got home," Jared says, so soft it's almost a whisper.

 

Jensen sits up straighter. "After we went for ribs?"

 

Jared nods, ducking his head and gazing at Jensen out of the corner of his eyes. "I hadn't seen her since my dad moved us to L.A.," he says, "and she was just sitting there, on the couch, smiling at me."

 

Jared's smile wavers.

 

"Hey," Jensen soothes, putting a hand on Jared's knee. "You're okay, Jared. Just tell me what happened. I want to know everything."

 

Jared nods, cracking all the fingers on his right hand, then his left. Even after he finishes, his hands don't rest, spinning into intricate patterns and dances that Jensen can't keep up with. "She said she misses me," Jared starts, "that she didn't like that the family doesn't see me anymore. I think she really got through to George. That's my dad. My mom's mama, but her real name's Lucy. Before she came, he was angry, you know, grumpy, um, hit me… but after, he gave me my laptop back and let me do this whole dog walking thing. He still drinks a lot, but uh, I dunno. I really feel like he's getting better."

 

Jensen wishes he could feel the same. It's almost too good to be true. He's happy for Jared, but he doesn't share Jared's innocent optimism. "Is Lucy still with you guys?"

 

Jared's smile disappears completely. "No. My parents are divorced. She went back to Texas."

 

Oh, that's just great. George might get angrier than ever, bitter that his ex-wife is gone. He might drink some more. And Jared might be conveniently around to take out all of his frustrations on.

 

It bubbles up a protective fury in Jensen, but he tamps it down. "Well, hopefully you'll get to see her some more after this. Maybe your dad will let you go down to visit. You could go on your own, you know. You could earn enough money for a plane ticket from walking dogs."

 

Jared shoots him a dim grin. "Maybe," he agrees.

 

Jensen slaps a hand on Jared’s shoulder and Jared ducks his head, leaning into Jensen’s touch. Jensen’s heart speeds up. “That’s really great, Jay,” he says, trading the millionth smile of the day with Jared, “keep me updated, alright? I’ll call you later tonight and we’ll set up times and dates for Oscar-walking. We can catch up every time you come over. I make a mean mango smoothie.” Jensen pauses when Jared giggles at him. “But, uh, if it ever gets rough again, you know you can come straight to me, right? My door is always open, I promise.”

 

Jared blinks at him and his eyes go wide and just a little bit damp. Jensen can see something dawning on Jared’s face, like maybe he didn’t quite believe Jensen truly cared and is now seeing the reality of things.

 

“Thank you,” Jared murmurs, all soft and scratchy. “You’re the best friend ever, Jensen.”

 

Jensen leans over and wraps him up in a sideways hug. He squeezes Jared’s body lightly before pulling back. Jared’s talking before they’re even completely disentangled from each other, and Jensen is more than happy to listen.

 

There are only a few more minutes left when Jared clears his throat and narrows his eyes at Jensen. Jensen’s eyebrows go up as Jared pokes a finger into his side, mischief gleaming in his hazel eyes.

 

“You said you’d tell me all about your tragic backstory if I told you stuff,” Jared says, and shit, he’s got Jensen there. “So tell me about it. I’ve been yapping your ear off for ages now, it’s only fair that you give me at least one good ramble.”

 

That surprises a laugh out of Jensen. “Sure, alright,” he agrees, “but I ain’t giving you any tissues if the waterworks start, dude. It really is a long, pathetic story.”

 

Jared frowns at him. “You’re not pathetic,” he pouts, and instead of responding, Jensen launches into his story. He'd started school in San Marcos. He was at the state university studying to become a physical therapist. It was there he met Steve, and his best friend, Chris. Steve was a football player and Chris studying musical theory. They were all wildly different, but fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle with glue on the edges. They lived together in a shitty apartment, and after being stuck in his pocket for long, it just seemed natural to kiss Steve on New Year's Eve.

 

"I didn't even know I was into guys," Jensen muses, keeping his eyes trained on the floor tiles. He's not sure if he wants to see Jared's face right now, if Jared wants to know about Jensen like that. "But he and I were just so close and I--it didn't matter what was between his legs or whatever. I trusted him with my life."

 

Jensen's face curls up into a bitter smile. "We were together for the entire six years I went to school there. It was because of him that I put in so many hours, stayed in town with him in the summer to do extra semesters. It was because of him I got a job just a couple minutes from my family, right outta college, and it was because of him that I left all of that."

 

"A college here in LA offered him a crazy amount of money to play on their team. He couldn't say no. I got that, you know? Good money is good money. And I loved him. So I came along, met Tom, Sandy, Mike, and Danneel, and for years, it was good. Not noteworthy, but I was content, you know? Apparently Steve wasn't, though."

 

He blinks rapidly, trying to think about the last few years of his life. He can only remember a few major events from before Jared came along. Everything else is all blurred together, mundane and repetitive. He'd thought he loved Steve. He'd thought he was happy. He'd been a fool, though, trying so hard to believe that Steve was his soulmate even as evidence pointed to the contrary. Steve had sat down next him in Biology class when they'd met, he remembers, and just started talking. Threw a big fork in all of Jensen's plans. It seems he was quite adept at that.

 

It feels as though his life is divided into two distinct eras: Before Meeting Jared and After Meeting Jared. After Meeting Jared is quickly shaping up to be- despite all the heartache- a thousand times more important to Jensen than his life before.

 

"Jensen?" Jared murmurs, sounding unsure. His elbow brushes against Jensen's arm. "You don't have to keep talking if you don't wanna. I get it, it's okay."

 

"No, sorry, just got lost in my thoughts for a moment," Jensen says, stretching out his legs and clearing his throat. "Anyway, I thought everything was fine, the gang was part of a band, we had beers all the time, I went to work every day, the usual, you know? Steve proposed at a restaurant we like, I said yes. I got a pay raise. I got a dog. I was just kinda floating along, even though I didn't realize it. I woke up when I came home early only to find Steve balls deep in our friend Danneel."

 

Jared's mouth drops open and his eyes are the size of silver dollars.

 

"Um," Jensen's face reddens. "I guess that was a little graphic, sorry. To sum up a sad story, I ended the engagement, moved out of Steve's house with Oscar, and called up Chris bawling my damn eyes out. After that, though, I ignored all the calls, I didn't go out. I just kept my head down and went work, like if I forgot about my problems long enough, they'd just disappear. I was afraid all of my friends had sided with Steve or something, or thought I was pathetic. I didn't talk to anyone until I met you."

 

"Oh." Jared closes his mouth. He's close to tears, Jensen realizes with a start. "Jen, I'm so sorry, that is so awful. No one deserves that. Steve is a pile of garbage and he never deserved you."

 

Jensen barks out a laugh at Jared's frankness. "I'm starting to believe you, now," he says, and stands up, knees cracking. "Things are better now, though, Jay, you don't have to worry about me. Thanks for talking to me. I'm looking forward to seeing you on Wednesday."

 

Jared's face falls and he groans. "Wednesday is so far away!" he complains. "I wish I could see you every day."

 

Jensen's heart takes a skip and his soul does a little dance at that. "You could walk Oscar tomorrow," he offers. "That way there doesn't have to be that dastardly day in between."

 

Jared jumps up and hugs him. "That'd be awesome! You better call me tonight. I'll run to your house and break in and pet your dog if you don't."

 

Jensen chuckles, shaking his head. "Don't do that," he warns Jared. "You shouldn't be running on that ankle."

 

Jared rolls his eyes at him. "Okay, Dr. Ackles," he intones, and Jensen would be lying if he said his downstairs brain didn't take any interest in that.

 

Jensen walks Jared to the door and gets another warm hug before Jared's off and heading to the bus station. Jensen almost offers to drive him a thousand times, but he has work. The thought of Jared's father deciding he didn't like Jared spending so much time with Jensen also plays a role in his decision. He doesn’t want to do anything to upset the careful balance they've struck.

 

Sitting back down in his office chair, Jensen sighs. He doesn't get any more work done. His head is full to bursting with daydreams of Jared, with quick memories full of his friend's little Jaredisms--the way he starts bouncing when he's happy, the way he plays with his hands, the way his smile is so ridiculously lopsided.

 

He doesn't think of Steve even once.

 

 

Chapter Text

Jared

 

Jared ricochets around the house like a kitten on drugs. He does all of his chores, figures out how spreadsheets work, talks with his dad about walking dogs and schedules. It's actually a bit more complicated than he thought it'd be. He had thought people would call him, he'd walk their dogs, make some money, wham bam. His dad's going into full professional mode, though, and Jared's got a calendar full of clients and their cute little doggies.

 

It's weird to be thrown back into the world so abruptly, and by his father of all people, but he doesn't really mind. He likes the work. He likes feeling like he's making a difference.

 

And he fricking loves dogs.

 

He goes on his computer to add Jensen into all of his data tables and things when he decides to check his email for the first time in ages. There's a bunch of spam, seven emails from Chad, and an email from Sandy.

 

His vision goes all blurry and he frowns. He sucks in a breath and reads the email titles from Chad's emails.

 

Hey dude did you hear about that Romo bastard

 

Jay dude don't leave me hanging!! How are you

 

Jared

 

Jared are you okay talk to me

 

I miss you dude

 

I miss you

 

Hope you're okay

 

He spends over an hour reading each and every email and responding to all of them. He calls Chad a lot of names, but mostly he blubbers all over the keys and fills his friend in on his life, asks about Chad's progress in college. He asks about the girl Chad used to talk about, Sophia Somethingrather. He tells Chad he misses him too.

 

He takes a little mental break before clicking on Sandy's email. It was sent only a couple nights ago, while Jared was out eating BBQ with Jensen.

 

Jay Baby!!

 

I was so WORRIED about you. But Jensen told me he had you as a patient and I found out you weren't dead! Small world, huh? Is everything alright at home? Do you still live with your dad? Where are you going to school? Are you hurt? Is Jensen helping?

 

Sorry for all the questions. I've missed you so much. Please email me back if you can. Jensen is gonna call me later tonight and tell me how you're doing, but I want to hear it from you. I want to know that you're happy. I want to know if you aren't, too, 'cause Jensen and I can help you. We both love you so much, Jay. So don't be a stranger, okay?? I expect emails and maybe an emotional phone call.

 

Sandy

 

P.S. Jensen really really really likes you, Jay Baby. I've never EVER seen him talk about someone the way he talks about you. I think he might love you. Just be patient with him, alright?? I might have told him about your Aspie’s. I'm so sorry if that's not okay. I was trying to help. But he's cool with it! He's not a dick. Not like he would be. This is a really long P.S. Take care sweetie.

 

Jared blinks at the email. He rereads it several times. Particularly, he rereads her postscript, and the bit about Jensen loving him. Jensen knows he has Asperger's. Jensen still smiles at him and gets those crinkles around his eyes and touches him like he's someone special, even after everything Sandy’s told him.

 

Jensen might love him.

 

Jared covers his mouth with his hands to muffle the squeal. His legs kick out wildly under his desk. It's so much information at once that it's overwhelming. He has missed Sandy so fucking much, misses her rocket-fire language and her quick wit. She always saw him as smart and tough even if he could never see it himself. And Jensen does, too.

 

Jensen might love him.

 

He responds to her email with trembling fingers and has to retype every other letter. He is out of words. He tells her he loves her and that he's doing okay and that he really likes Jensen.

 

He clicks send and shuts the laptop, letting out a sigh. He's really got to go to bed but his brain is on full power mode, whirling with thoughts and ideas and daydreams about what will happen when he goes to Jensen's house tomorrow.

 

He ends up fantasizing about a future with Jensen: going to school somewhere nice in town, maybe UCLA, working toward becoming an artist, while Jensen becomes super rich and opens up his own physical therapy place. Jensen buys him a billion dogs and they cuddle every single night. Jensen never tires of him, Jensen is always patient with him, and they are both happy.

 

He thinks about the big fluffy bed they'd share. He thinks about how he'd almost convince Jensen to get a cat even though he's allergic. He thinks about buying a home with him, something nice and cozy and surrounded by neighbors.

 

He thinks about being somebody.

 

 

 

Jared gets to Jensen's place forty five minutes early.

 

He checks his watch three separate times and grumbles under his breath. He hadn't wanted to be late, so he gathered up all his doggy stuff and set out with ample time just in case something went wrong or the bus got stuck in traffic.

 

He'd set out way too fricking early, apparently.

 

He loiters on the sidewalk, feeling like a creep. Jensen's lawn is overgrown but the house is nice. It's small and cozy, a typical suburban type for the fringes of Los Angeles. It's fancier than anything Jared's used to. Jensen's living way beyond the means that Jared has experienced, and he doesn't quite know how to feel about that. There's a Lexus parked in the driveway. Jensen has a teeny tiny garden and an entire family of garden gnomes on his porch, staring right at Jared.

 

Jared blinks and straightens his shoulder, glaring right back at them.

 

He sees movement inside of the house and his ears perk up as he focuses in on the blurry outline of Jensen moving through the house. Jensen's got a cup of coffee in his hand and he takes a big long sip of it. Jared thinks he can see Jensen's eyes from here.

 

He keeps moving before Jensen can spot him and get all weirded out and heads up the driveway. He climbs onto the porch, sticking his tongue out at a gnome that brushes against his pant leg. He takes a deep breath, stomps his feet a few times to pump himself up, and rings the doorbell, heart hammering away inside his chest.

 

He hears movement from within the house and the door opens a few seconds later. Jensen's looking a little frazzled--his hair isn't poofy with its usual product and he's still in just boxers and a t-shirt, even though it's near dinner time. Jared blushes and averts his eyes.

 

"Jared!" Jensen coughs. "You're early."

 

Jared peeks back up at him, shifting back and forth on his heels. "Yeah, uh, sorry, I thought it would take longer to get here. I can leave if you-"

 

"Nonsense," Jensen buts in, scoffing. He jerks his head back toward the inside of the house. His voice is slightly throaty and it sends tingles down Jared’s spine. Jared wonders if Jensen spends his time off work spread out and close to naked. "Come on in, make yourself comfortable. Coffee?"

 

Jared steps in and toes out of his shoes, peering around him into each room. There's a dining room to his left and a living room to his right. Directly ahead is a staircase, absolutely decked out in framed family photos.

 

He's immediately at ease. He feels comfortable here, like he's in a safe place, like he's been here a thousand times before.

 

"Coffee, Jared?"

 

"Oh, sorry! I got distracted. Your house is really nice. Where's Oscar? And yes, coffee please, thank you."

 

Jensen laughs and shakes his head, smiling at Jared. "I don't know how you can have that much energy all damn day," he grumbles, slowly ambling back toward the kitchen.

 

Jared follows him. "I've been up since six A.M., couldn't sleep," he says. "I’m gonna guess that you’re not much of a morning person or a night person. I thought you'd be all kale smoothies and morning runs because you're so fit. Because of your job, obviously." He clears his throat and Jensen gives him a look as he hands over a steaming hot mug of coffee. Jared takes it carefully, holding it with both of his hands. "Thank you."

 

"Oscar!" Jensen calls, and then does a funny little whistle with his fingers up to his lips. A giant, white, fluffy dog comes bounding around the corner, going straight to Jared and sniffing him all over, tail wagging as he whuffs across Jared's palm.

 

Jared giggles. He crouches down so Oscar can get his wet nose all over Jared's face. "Hey, boy," he coos, smooshing the dog's face, "you're friendly, aren't cha? Yes, you are."

 

Oscar barks in pleasure and gets his paws all over the seat of Jared's pants, his entire body shuddering with the excitement of meeting a new person. Jared cackles outright, throwing his head back and petting the dog with the rough enthusiasm of someone seasoned with animals.

 

Jared stops after he remembers he's kneeling on Jensen's floor and Jensen hasn't said a thing. He looks up and finds Jensen staring down at them with soft, melted eyes, his lips pulled up into a slight, fond smile.

 

Jared stands up, scratching at the back of his head and continuing to pet Oscar with the other. "So, uh," he says, smiling nervously at Jensen, "when do you want me to get started?"

 

He watches as Jensen shakes himself out of his thoughts, blinking. "Just got a little carried away," he apologizes, "I've never seen Oscar take to someone so quickly before. You're perfect for him."

 

Jared grins, flushing with pleasure. "I'm just real good with dogs," he stammers, shrugging. "Oscar's awesome."

 

Jensen nods. "That he is," he agrees. He sets his mug down on the kitchen counter and claps his hands. "So! Jared, why don't I come with you on your first walk? I don't have anything to be doing right now, I’m off work. I can show you around the neighborhood and Oscar's favorite spots in the park."

 

"That'd be great!" Jared says. He holds up his backpack. "I brought my own leashes and doggie bags and stuff, if that's okay."

 

"It's fine," Jensen says. "Here, let me get my clothes on and I'll lead the way."

 

Jensen's neighborhood is sprawling and gorgeous. The lanes are accompanied by tall palm trees and neatly clipped bushes. There are mountains in the distance, green and clear in the sunny afternoon. The pavement's hardly cracked, the people they pass all greet Jensen by name, and Jensen says there's even an ice cream truck.

 

Jared tries to tamp down his eagerness about that last tidbit, but Jensen sees right through him and chuckles. "We'll get some," Jensen promises. "It's a hot one anyway, we might as well treat ourselves."

 

Jared could totally get used to that.

 

Oscar is one of the best dogs Jared has ever seen, too. He walks patiently by Jared’s side, keeping pace with him. Every once in awhile, he peeks up at Jared and tosses him a grin, complete with floppy tongue and adorable wiggly tail slapping at Jared’s leg.

 

It’s like he’s been deposited into Heaven.

 

The heat doesn’t bother him, Jensen is quiet and smiling at everything, and he gets to constantly pet a dog. Oscar’s pretty tall, so all Jared has to do is lean a little to the side to scritch at his ears.

 

They’ve been walking for around fifteen minutes when they finally hit the park. It’s got green, sprawling hills, a massive playground, and orderly paths disappearing into a copse of trees. Jared thinks he spies a pond off in the distance, too.

 

“Oh, it’s so nice,” he breathes. “I haven’t ever been somewhere like this.”

 

Jensen shoots him an odd look. “You’ve never been to a park?”

 

“No, I-” Jared looks down, his fingers twitching as his face heats up. “In Texas, we had a big backyard and the school was next to a big field, but here in LA I’ve never been to a park. I didn’t know it would be so huge and clean.”

 

Jensen laughs, but he’s still giving Jared that look. Jared decides it’s kind of sad, and his skin itches with the feeling of Jensen’s pity. He doesn’t like it. “Well, it’s all yours,” Jensen says, “you can come here whenever you like. I’ll even drive you.”

 

Jared’s thoughts are cloudy but he tries to keep his grin as sunny as possible for Jensen. “Thank you, Jen,” he says, and Oscar gives a little yip.

 

They spend a couple of minutes letting Oscar run around and fetch sticks. They run into some people Jensen knows and the dog they have greets Oscar like old friends. Jared feels a little awkward, standing quietly to the side. Jensen introduces him but he has no idea what to say and the conversation quickly excludes him.

 

He tunes out their conversation about the weather and rocks on his heels, cracking his knuckles and gazing around the park. He was right, earlier. They’re coming upon a lake. A few people are swimming in it and Jared yearns for a pair of swim trunks. He’s dripping with sweat. Even his hair looks like he just took a shower. A leisurely swim would be absolutely perfect, especially if he got to see Jensen’s beautiful stomach while he was at it.

 

“Jared,” says Jensen, and Jared blinks and turns to his friend. “Want to keep walking?”

 

The couple and their German Shepherd are gone. Jared nods and wraps Oscar’s leash securely around his hand. The path gently curves closer to the lake, and Jared can’t help but eye it every couple of seconds and admire the shimmer of the water.

 

Jensen follows his gaze. "I bet the water's nice and cool," he says, his voice lilting with a dreamy quality to it. "We should go swimming sometime. I hear it's gonna get even hotter later in the week. Seems like a perfect time. Oscar loves to swim, too, don't you, boy?"

 

Oscar's entire body starts wiggling and he barks several times at Jensen. Jared laughs, reaching down to ruffle Oscar's fur. "That sounds really fun," he says. "You don't have to do that. Thank you, Jensen."

 

"But I want to," Jensen tells him. "And stop thanking me for everything, you goof. It's what friends do."

 

Jared dips his head, trying to hide how pleased he is. It's like every time Jensen refers to their friendship he gets a shot of adrenaline or something. He's hooked. He'd walk off a cliff if Jensen asked him nicely enough.

 

Okay, maybe not, but he'd do a lot of things for Jensen. Things he's never done before.

 

He chokes on nothing and Jensen raises an eyebrow at him. A dastardly, perfect eyebrow. Jared struggles to find his voice again without sounding wrecked.

 

"Let's keep walking," he finally suggests, and scratches idly at his belly where his shirt is plastered to his skin. Jensen's eyes skate down to a thin strip of exposed tummy and he licks his lips. His pupils dilate and he quickly agrees, walking ahead of Jared.

 

The rest of their trip is made in silence. Jared wonders about Jensen's sudden agitated behavior, but he feels serene and calm otherwise. He takes the moment of quiet to enjoy the scenery around him, drinking in the golden, inaccessible beauty of everything.

 

They take a circuitous route back to Jensen's place. The ice cream truck doesn’t come around but Jensen promises Jared a raincheck.

Once inside, Jensen goes straight for the kitchen, asking Jared to head back onto the porch. Jared takes the leash off of Oscar and complies, slipping past Jensen and out into his yard.

 

There's a fence all around the place, creating a little bubble of peace. Jensen's got a deck and a small patio. There's a grill and a table and chairs. Jared sits in a chair and folds his hands in his lap. He hopes he hasn't done anything wrong.

 

Jensen comes out a minute later with two lemonades in hand. The glasses are covered in beads of water and filled with ice and Jared's mouth waters at the sight. He takes one and chugs half the thing down in one go, setting it down with the last of his restraint. He wants to savor it. He hopes it's Jensen's special recipe or something.

 

Jensen's sitting close enough that Jared can smell the sweat on him, and he's worse than Jared. His lemonade is completely gone and he lets out a large belch. Jared laughs at him and Jensen makes a silly face at him in response.

 

Nothing really happens after that. Jared can still sense the strain in the atmosphere, and he knows there's something on Jensen's mind. He doesn't know what, though, and it makes his palms even sweatier than they already were. He feels a bit like a man before a judge.

 

He folds, unfolds, and refolds his legs. He doesn't say anything. He waits for Jensen to say the first word, to set the topic of conversation. He has a few ideas about what might be troubling Jensen, but he's too nervous to voice them even to himself.

 

Jensen clears his throat and sits up, rubbing at his mouth. "So, Jared," he starts, and Jared leans closer. "You know I talked to Sandy."

 

Jared recalls Sandy's letter with mixed emotions. "Yeah..." he says.

 

Jensen sighs and looks Jared in the eyes. "I know you have Asperger's," he says, "and I just want you to know it doesn't change anything. I'm sorry I didn't mention it earlier, I didn't know how to bring it up."

 

"It's... it's okay," Jared says, testing how the words taste on his tongue. "I guess you know why I'm all weird now, huh?"

 

"Jared, please. I'm weird as all fucking hell. You haven't even seen the tip of the iceberg, dude. I would be really disappointed if you were some boring Normal McNormalson or something."

 

Jared rolls his eyes. He feels a lot lighter at Jensen's joke, at the promise and sincerity behind it. He's only ever felt this way with three people in his life, and never this strongly. "You're not weird, you're just a loser," he tosses back. "Definitely a nerd."

 

Jensen swats him on the arm. "Smartass," he accuses.

 

Jared feels something crawl up his throat and make the corners of his eyes wet. He lunges forward and buries his face in Jensen's shoulder so Jensen won’t see it. The position is awkward, uncomfortable, even, with the chair arm digging into his stomach, but he persists. He leans over and wraps his arms around Jensen's middle, holding on tight. He never plans on letting go.

 

"Jay..." Jensen murmurs, sounding unsure. "It's okay, buddy." His arms come up around Jared and Jared sighs, wanting to press every inch of his body against Jensen's body. Even more, he wants their bodies to merge together, wants to wear Jensen like a safety blanket for the rest of his life.

 

He doesn't know how long they remain like that, but Jensen mumbles something about having a bad back and Jared pulls away, fiddling with the seam of his jeans. Jensen's looking at him, but it's calm and kind, not judging Jared for a second as he waits for an explanation.

 

"Just... thanks," Jared whispers, shrugging his shoulder. "You're the only person who makes me feel like a real human being."

 

"Anytime," Jensen says, and Jared widens his eyes. Jensen's choked up and red-faced. Jensen reaches forward and brushes Jared's hair out of his face. "Anytime, Jay, you know it."

 

Jared nods, unable to form words. They look at each other for several beats, drinking it up, and for a second Jared is devastatingly sure that Jensen feels the same way he does. He can see it in his eyes.

 

Just like that, the moment’s gone when Jensen stands and rubs his hands on the seat of his pants. “Think you can stay longer?” he asks. “I kind of have a nice dinner prepared.”

 

Probably not, Jared thinks, seeing the image of a vein standing out on his father’s forehead, but his mouth quirks up into a dimpled grin and accepts the offer.

They head back inside and Jensen begins taking packages of things out of the fridge and cupboards. Jared stares at his butt for a second before he realizes what he's doing and a little needle of guilt pokes at him. He stares at the formal dinner table and chooses a spot at random. He knows Jensen won't care, knows Jensen isn't like his father, but he worries that he's sitting at the wrong place anyway.

 

It doesn't take Jensen long to get pots cooking on the stove. Jensen hums as he bustles about. He serves Jared another lemonade to drink during the wait and Jared gratefully accepts it.

 

"Uh, Jensen," he starts, setting his drink down on the table. He swallows, his throat working, but the rest of the words don't come.

 

Jensen turns around and waits for him to keep speaking, maintaining eye contact even though Jared can't look at him for too long and can’t help but flick his eyes down to his hands. It's wildly comforting, actually, just to have Jensen's eyes on him. No one else ever looks at him like that.

 

He doesn't look back up when he finds his voice again. "A...about the Aspie’s thing," he starts, hands and knees getting all jumpy, "Um... most of the time it's not really a problem, but sometimes I just. Can't. Can't do it. I don't like looking at people sometimes or talking to people and I need it to be really quiet or I need to be alone. My hands… sometimes I don’t like people touching them. It doesn't happen often, but, uh, I just didn't want you to get mad. I have stuff to help it, like soft things, like books, but. My mama told me if I was ever gonna be serious about someone I should let them know about my tics. That's the weird stuff, those are tics."

 

He takes a breath. His entire head feels like it's on fire, all the way up to the tips of his ears. He's tried to memorize a speech like that for fricking years, based on the daft hope that some boy would suddenly look at him and fall in love, but Jensen just gets him way too flustered to recite something. He'd winged it, sorta, but he's pretty proud of the fact he didn't start crying or anything like that. Crying leads to sensory overload and he really doesn't want Jensen to see that side of him right now.

 

He focuses his eyes on the mole on his second knuckle on his right hand and ignores the movement in his periphery. He waits for Jensen to speak, thinks of a thousand little things to say to break the horrible silence but says none of them.

 

The hand on his shoulder startles the crap out of him, pushing a gasp out of him. He looks up into Jensen's eyes and tries to calm down, but it feels like there's too much at stake.

 

"Jay, it's okay," Jensen says, his brow all pinched together. "Jesus, take a breath."

 

Jared closes his eyes and tries to slow his breathing down. His fingers curl in his lap and dig into his jeans. Jensen's hand moves from his shoulder to his back, rubbing deep, comforting circles into his skin.

 

"It's okay," Jensen repeats. "I like you for who you are, okay? Quirks and, uh, tics, is that right?"

 

Jared nods.

 

"...And tics and all," Jensen continues. "I'm really fucking sorry if I do something bad, okay? Just tell me what I did or what to do and I'll change it. I've never met someone with Aspie’s before. So I'm new at this. But I'll try, I promise."

 

Jared takes a risk and looks up at him, the smile forming as an instinctual response to Jensen's. Jensen's hand is a warm reminder on his back. "Jensen, I..." he says, but his throat is all backed up and it smells like something's burning. "The stove," he chokes out, and Jensen looks adorably puzzled for a second before his eyes go ginormous.

 

Jensen turns around and almost falls flat on his face when his foot catches on one of the table legs. He swears and hauls himself up, jogging over to the stove. He turns one of the knobs until the blue flames completely disappear. Jared can hear the sizzling of something in the pan and the smell changes from something charred to something delicious.

 

"I hope you like your burgers done medium well," Jensen says, voice sheepish as he fiddles with a rack of spices on the counter. "Normally, I'd do this on the grill, but if I stayed outside for another minute I was gonna melt into a puddle of sweat."

 

"You really like meat, don't you?" Jared says, before his brain has time to warn him about the big, glaring suggestive undertone.

 

Jensen laughs and waggles his eyebrows. "You got me," he says, pulling out a bunch of other materials. Like magic, a couple of minutes later he's got two plates of tall burgers, piled high with every topping Jared can think of.

 

Jensen places the dishes onto the table with flourish, bowing before slipping into his own seat. Like the time at the rib shack, he waits for Jared to take a bite before starting. Jared wonders if Jensen is constantly going to try to put meat on his bones. He's not very subtle about it. He also finds it cute that Jensen is a cook. It's a personality tidbit Jared hadn't really expected. Jared sucks at cooking himself, so it'd be awesome to have a Jensen around all the time.

 

A boy can dream.

 

Jared picks his burger up and takes a bite. It's every bit as good as he thought it would be.

 

The moan he gives makes Jensen a little pink and Jensen nods at him, grinning. "Good, huh?"

 

Jared doesn't even give a response, just keeps on eating.

 

The evening passes by in a companionable silence. After helping Jensen clean up in the kitchen, Jared finds himself back on the front porch, surrounded by a bunch of gnomes and Jensen. His pack of doggy supplies is in his backpack once again.

 

Oscar whines sadly and headbutts Jared's leg.

 

"I know, buddy," Jared says, reaching down to scratch behind Oscar's ear. "I don't wanna leave, either. But I'll be back soon, I promise."

 

Jensen chuckles quietly and clicks his tongue, bringing Oscar back to his side. "He's gonna be a mess without you, you know," he comments, happy glint shining in his eyes. "He's grown attached."

 

"He's not the only one," Jared says, watching Oscar curl around Jensen's legs. Despite all the emotional ups and downs, today has been one of the best days of his life. He would be mad at the sun for setting so quickly, but the sight is too beautiful for hate. Low, orange light and long shadows stretch down Jensen's street. A small breeze rustles the palm fronds over their heads. The street is empty save for the two of them.

 

"Jared, what you said earlier..." Jensen says, and Jared turns back to a sight just as beautiful as the sunset. "You said you wanted to talk about Asperger's to someone you're serious about. Are you serious about me?"

 

Well, crap. Jared really needs a filter. He opens his mouth a couple times and shifts, but he can't think of an excuse that makes enough sense. He ends up shrugging silently, staring at Oscar instead of Jensen. It's not like he can take it back now. It's not like he can lie. Jensen knows now.

 

He thinks of Sandy's email and peers up at Jensen.

 

Jensen's face is twitching, shuffling through expressions until it settles on something soft and watery. Jensen's hand comes up and cups Jared's jaw, applying a gentle amount of pressure until Jared tilts his chin up.

 

Jensen presses a firm kiss to Jared's lips and Jared's heart and brain explode in sync with one another. He's never had a kiss before, doesn't know what to do, so he just freezes up and lets it happen, taking the moment to memorize the soft dryness of Jensen's lips.

 

He doesn't think he did it right but it was good. Jensen pulls back and frowns. His hand is still on Jared's face and Jared doesn't want it to ever leave. "Was that okay?" he asks, wetting his lip. Jared stares.

 

"Jared?"

 

"Hmm?" Jared says, eyes glued to Jensen's face. This can't possibly real. It's too good, straight out of his fairytale daydreams. He's in a summertime daze, half-connected to his body, riding on the emotions Jensen gives him. He's fantasized about the idea of love but nothing comes close to the actual feeling.

 

No use in trying to convince himself otherwise now. He's in love with Jensen, he's head-over-heels, he's every cliche in the book and more. He is phrases of love translated from every language, dead and alive. He is every protagonist in romance novels combined.

 

Jensen's other hand comes up to his face. "You alright?" he murmurs.

 

Jared blinks slowly. It takes awhile for the words to process. He nods, shivering. "Jensen," he breathes, and right now, no other words exist.

 

Jensen seems to understand him. He leans in again and Jared anticipates the kiss this time. Jensen's lips urge his mouth open, and Jared is pliant and allows himself to be moved. He lets Jensen take the reigns. Jensen sucks Jared's bottom lip into his mouth and Jared sighs, trying to kiss Jensen back like a newborn foal tries to stand.

 

It's over far too fast. Jared's face is buzzing and his lips are swollen and covered in spit. Jensen is even worse, pink and ruffled and wide-mouthed.

 

It all hits Jared at once. The indigo quality of the twilight sky, the enormity of the moment.

 

"I'm... I... shit," he gasps. "I'm sorry. It's late and I've gotta get home," he says, shifting his pack on his shoulder.

 

Jensen nods dumbly. "See you," he says, distant and quiet.

 

Jared's mind is racing. He has no idea what to make of any of this. He turns without another word and heads down the street, speeding up his pace as his doubts catch up with him. He goes from a jog to a sprint, running all the way to the bus stop.

 

He's out of breath on the bus and the other passengers give him an odd look. He checks his watch. Good. He'll be able to slip inside before curfew. His dad's probably gonna be mad, but nothing Jared can't handle. It's whatever.

 

His dad is right inside the door, as usual. "Why were you out so late," he says the moment Jared steps over the threshold. "Ten seconds, Jared."

 

"Jensen's neighborhood is huge, and we went on a long walk with his dog so I could get used to the neighborhood," Jared pants, hoping the kiss doesn't show on his lips. "He felt bad that I'd been there so long and made me dinner. I thanked him and left as soon as I could."

 

"Jensen, huh?" his dad huffs. "Jensen the therapist? Don't you think you're spending a little too much time around that man?"

 

Jared doesn't have the mental capacity to have a verbal war with George right now. "Probably," he agrees, sighing. "I probably won't need to go to therapy much longer, right? Can I head upstairs and work on the business?"

 

His dad raises his eyebrows. "Okay, Jared," he says. "Good thinking. And don’t forget your chores tomorrow. We don’t want a repeat incident of before."

 

It's the first compliment in a long time but Jared won't hold it close to his chest like he would have before. He knows how hollow it is now, surrounded by thorns. He's hollow, too.

 

He heads upstairs and shuts his head off. He's too tired to think. He opens his laptop and works away mindlessly, ignoring the emails in his inbox.

 

He checks his ankle. A little red from all the walking but it's definitely healing. So are his ribs. Maybe he'll call his mom and she'll come back and help his dad some more.

 

Soon he won't need Jensen's help at all.

 

He doesn’t know how to feel.

 

 

Chapter Text

Jensen

 

Jensen makes his way to the bar with a churning gut. He can still smell Jared all around him, can still feel Jared against his body. He can still see Jared’s eyes as he stuttered out an apology and turned tail and ran.

 

He keeps it all bottled up, pressure building. He’s close to exploding by the time he slides into the booth and the conversation among his friends immediately stops as they get a good look at his expression.

 

Chris is the first to speak. “Jensen, what-”

 

“I kissed him,” Jensen blurts, burying his face in his hands. “I just went and kissed him.”

 

Sandy squeals. “And why is that a bad thing, Jen? That’s awesome!”

 

“I’m just… I’m still worried about him,” Jensen breathes out. “I mean, his dad’s practically a slave driver and Jared loves him anyway. He hurt Jared, okay? Sprained his ankle, bruised him up, sent him to my physical therapy place. He’s not gonna have a sudden change of heart. If he finds out I’m with Jared, he’s gonna take it out on Jared, I just know it. Jared’s not free yet. I’m not sure I can be with him until I know he’s safe.”

 

“You’re gonna have to tell us the whole story, bud,” Mike says. “Sounds like there’s a lot there. Fill us in.”

 

Jensen gratefully accepts the beer Tom slides him and takes a long swig, closing his eyes and relishing the cool feeling of the glass in his hand. It’s familiar, grounding.

 

He sets the bottle on the table a little too roughly and blinks, trying to find his bearings. He looks at each of them in turn and takes a breath before he starts talking.

 

He doesn’t know how long he goes on for, how many tangential rambles he goes on, how long he spends trying to describe Jared in a way that will make his friends love him as much as Jensen does.

 

He’s finished two beers and is close to the end of the third when he finally stops talking. He’d recounted the last few months of his life to his friends, trying not to miss a single detail. Maybe extra sets of eyes would be able to see it more clearly, wouldn’t be so shrouded in a pink haze of teen boy crush as Jensen’s are.

 

“Jensen,” Sandy starts, folding her hands on the table, and Jensen turns to face her. “I know Jared’s dad is a problem, but Jared’s his own man, too. Don’t end up like those crappy rom-com plotlines and fuck it up without even talking about it, okay? Next time you see him at therapy or with Oscar or whatever, just talk to him. Ask him what he wants and how he feels. I’ll send him another email, too. I’m sure he’s freaking out about all of this.”

 

“I just…” Jensen sighs. “I don’t want it to be some torrid love affair thing where I have to sneak to his house in the middle of the night and throw a rock at his window, you know? I want to meet his family. I want them to like me. I want to take Jared home to Mac and Josh and the folks.”

 

“Jen, dude,” Chris says, and lets out a low whistle. “You really care about this guy.”

 

“Yeah.” Jensen swallows, staring down at the bottom of his bottle of beer. “I know.”

 

“Another thing,” Sandy starts. “I don’t… I mean, I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think he’s ever done anything like that before, Jensen. That might’ve been his first kiss. I’m pretty sure you’re a lot of firsts for him. He isn’t used to having people just genuinely want to be around him. He told me that at prom, a popular girl asked him out and he was so happy. She ditched him after taking a pic with him and it turned out she’d just done it so other people would see her as some hero social worker, you know? Helping out the disabled. She felt bad for him.”

 

Jensen puts his head in his hands. “His dad is another bully like that, San. God, the fucking shit he deals with… I can’t even imagine. How do I help him?”

 

“Maybe help him with his confidence?” Mike suggests. “I don’t know how his dad would react, but he could try setting some boundaries, speaking up for himself, that kind of thing.”

 

“His dad almost broke his ribs,” Jensen reminds. “That’s a good idea, but the chance of something going wrong is too much, you know? Maybe I should talk to his dad.”

 

“What would you say?” Chris asks.

 

Jensen shrugs with one shoulder. “Not sure, really,” he confesses. “Maybe I’d just tell him Jared’s been great, really independent, really smart, just full of potential. Or I could hint that I suspected his injuries were a result of abuse? That might scare him straight.”

 

Sandy tsks at him. “I think it’s up to Jared to sort out,” she says. “We don’t even know if Jared’s come out to his dad. I think we have to trust him, and then help him out if he needs it. But it’s something he needs to do on his own first.”

 

“You’re right,” Jensen says. “So I guess I’ll talk to him at therapy about everything. Tell him how I feel.” Jensen coughs. “Thank you guys, seriously. My thoughts were a mess before I walked in here.”

 

Tom waves him off. “All you needed was a push in the right direction.”

 

“Always happy to help,” Chris adds, nudging him with his elbow.

 

Jensen leans back in his seat and wipes a hand down his face. The music humming in the background is vaguely familiar, probably something he listened to a million times as an angsting teen, and it calms him down.

 

He gives himself a moment to collect his thoughts and to sink further into the pleasant buzz he’s got going. He doesn’t realize he’s drifting off until Sandy kicks him under the table. He blinks and sits up straighter, the vinyl of the booth squeaking under his ass.

 

She kicks him again. “Jensen! I said your name!”

 

“Gah, you’re gonna break my toe!” Jensen whines. “I’m listening, I’m listening, okay?”

 

She makes a face at him. “Anyway, as I was meaning to say, Jared actually responded to my last email. And Chad emailed me. Said Jared emailed him a buncha times.”

 

Jensen nods. “S’a good sign,” he says, “I think he mentioned to me once that his dad gave him his computer back so he could work on the dog walking stuff.”

 

Sandy swears. “His dad took it away? I mean that--that sucks and all but I had been so worried Jared had read the emails but hadn’t responded. Knowing that he was in the dark…” she trails off, biting at her lip.

 

“Yeah.” Jensen croaks. “Yeah, we’re all gonna end up like little babies if we keep going on like this.” Mike and Tom laugh. “Whaddaya say we move on to lighter subjects, hmm? I hear you guys have something big with the band?”

 

Chris slams down his beer and lets out a belch. “Hell yeah we do,” he barks. “Mike’s got a friend named Stephen whose dad works for this record company downtown. His dad put in good word with a dude high up in the company, close to the CEO or some shit. Apparently someone’s coming to check us out.”

 

“No shit,” Jensen laughs. “That’s awesome guys, congrats! Is someone gonna show up to a gig or something?”

 

“No idea, honestly,” Chris says. “But our vocals would be a hell of a lot stronger with a certain someone helping us out.”

 

“No, no, I uh.” Jensen coughs, his face warming up. “Chris, you know I can’t.”

 

“Oh, come on, Jensen!” Mike butts in. “You have the voice of a beautiful gay angel and the world deserves to hear it.”

 

“San, they’re peer pressuring me,” Jensen says.

 

Sandy makes a noise of disbelief. “I’m on their side,” she says, tossing a strand of hair behind her shoulder. “I think it could really help you out if you played with them again. You used to love singing and guitar, Jen. Just give it a shot.”

 

Jensen knows a corner when he’s backed into one. “Maybe,” he allows, trying for begrudging but a silly grin slips through. The whole table cheers and whoops and he feels ten pounds lighter. They order another round and Jensen relaxes into his skin, letting hope surge through him at the encouragement of his friends.

 

 

Jensen only has one other client besides Jared today, and usually, that’d mean sunshine and daisies, but today he spends his down time in his office developing an ulcer.

 

They didn’t really part on the best of terms last time. Jensen has no idea what Jared is thinking. They haven’t exchanged any texts or calls since that night. Jensen just hopes Jared will be happy to see him. He’s got a lot to say, but he’s not sure how he’s gonna be able to say it all. He’s never been the cuddliest and fuzziest type of person. Emotions aren’t really his strong suit.

 

It’s one of those rare days where he has the time to do something for himself, to get a little extra work done in the office, to just kick back and let his thoughts wander for a while, but he can’t enjoy it. His leg is like a piston of energy and won’t keep still and his thoughts keep going into irrational territory, delving into “what if”s and worst-case scenarios. It gets his stomach flip-flopping until his cherished coffee is completely unappealing.

 

The day doesn’t wax on forever, though, and sooner than Jensen expects, it’s almost time to collect Jared from the waiting room.

 

He stands up and starts heading down the hall with a couple minutes to spare. He ambles about at the speed of an elderly tortoise, focusing on his breathing and trying not to sweat through his t-shirt. It’s gonna be okay. No matter what happens today, it’s gonna be okay.

 

He nods to himself and pushes the door open. He leans into the space, opening his mouth to call Jared’s name but the syllables die in his throat and the smile on his lips is gone in a flash.

 

He stumbles forward and hears the door clatter shut behind him. Jared’s huddled over in one of the chairs and Jensen gets on his knees in front of him, trying to see Jared’s face more clearly, trying to look him in the eye, but Jared keeps shying away and won’t look at him.

 

“Jesus fucking christ,” Jensen swears. “Jay, Jay look at me, what the hell happened? How badly are you hurt?”

 

Alona leans over her desk and looks over at Jensen, her hand hovering over her phone. “Is everything alright?” she calls. “Do you need any help, Jensen?”

 

“I’ll take care of him, but thanks, Alona,” Jensen says and smiles at her in thanks. “If I need any help I’ll call you right up.”

 

“Okay,” she says, though she doesn’t sound happy about it. She sits back in her chair. “Jared, you’re in good hands.”

 

“I know,” Jared croaks roughly, so quiet that Jensen thinks he’s hearing things at first.

 

“Jared, c’mon, we’re gonna head back to the therapy room, okay? I’m gonna look you over but I seriously think you should see a doctor.” He continues to murmur at his friend despite Jared’s visible shudder. “I know you don’t like hospitals, but if you’re injured badly, you have to get help, Jared. I’m only a physical therapist. I can only help so much.”

 

Jared starts to stand and Jensen’s by his side fast enough to set his head to spinning. He wraps an arm around Jared’s shoulders and tries not to jostle the kid too much. They do a slow, awkward gait through the door and down the hall.

 

Once they’re in the therapy room, Jared all but collapses on one of the beds and Jensen swears. Under the multitude of bright fluorescent lights, Jared’s hurts look unimaginably worse.

 

His face is more purple than anything else. Jensen suspects he has a broken nose. Two black eyes most definitely. And that’s only the tip of the most awful iceberg ever.

 

"Jared," he forces past a clogged throat, "can you lay down for me?"

 

Jared's breath hitches and he hisses as he leans back. Jensen helps get his legs up onto the shitty foam. Jared's ankles hang off the bed. Jensen runs a hand through his hair and leaves Jared's side just long enough to hunt down a rolling chair so he can bring it to Jared's side and peer down at him.

 

He feels like dirt. Jared should be in a hospital being looked after by a team of medical professionals equipped with all the latest technology. Not to mention the sterility and safety.

 

But Jared hates hospitals and Jensen is afraid to ask Jared why. He bites his tongue and lets Jared stay. Even though it's dirty and awkward and Jensen has only his hands and his watch to use to aid him, he does his best to do a full checkup of him.

 

Jared's pulse is slightly elevated. His pupils are responding just fine. Thank god he doesn't have a concussion. Jensen hates how they're portrayed in movies. In reality, they're pretty much a death sentence, and if Jared's head was that fucked up, he has no idea what he'd do. What he'd do if something happened to Jared.

 

The thought spurs him into action and he pokes and prods at Jared's body with as much care as he can manage. He does have to push sometimes, though, and the little bitten-off whimpers that leak out of Jared's mouth grip at his heart and his tear ducts.

 

Jensen presses at Jared's ribs and thinks there's a possible fracture but no breaks. He moves lower, pressing at Jared's abdomen and pausing to gauge Jared's reactions. So far so good. He continues on his journey, the tips of his fingers slipping across the cut of Jared's hip.

 

Jensen stares at Jared's bulky jeans. He won't be able to able to press through them or just slide them up like he'd done with Jared's shirt. He takes his hands away. "Jared, can you take your pants off?"

 

"What?!" Jared bursts out, sitting up in a flash. His eyes go big and Jensen knows that look, knows that sitting up like that was probably the worst idea ever. He sprints for the trash can and brings it back just in time for Jared to keel over and lower his head into it. Jensen winces in sympathetic pain as he listens to the wet noises and coughing. Jared doesn't have much in him, and doesn't take long before he's dry heaving in shuddering bouts that must be hell on his body.

 

Jensen is surprised to feel his hand rubbing at Jared's back, squeezing at the back of Jared's neck. He doesn't move it. "Shh," he says, "hey, it's okay, you're gonna be okay."

 

Jared lifts his head up and Jensen sets the trash can on the floor. Jared's face is shiny with a thin layer of sweat and he's got the waxy pallor of a mannequin.

 

"Lay back down, okay?" Jensen says. "You're not doing yourself any favors right now."

 

Jared's face is all conflict and tears but he eases himself backward. Jensen slips his jacket off and balls it up, placing it under Jared's head. He brushes Jared's damp hair away from his forehead.

 

"Just don't--don't go down there," Jared begs, his voice cracking.

 

"Jared, you might have injuries that I--" Jared's words catch up with him and Jensen's thoughts grind to a halt. He's thinking he might need that trash can right about now. "Wait... Jared, did he...? Oh god, did he hurt you... down there?" Jensen's a professional but this is fucking Jared and he can't say it. He can't.

 

A tear slips down Jared's face and he lets out a quiet sob, followed by a groan of pain. "No, no he didn't do what y-you're thinking, I swear." Jared's bottom lip wobbles and he squeezes his eyes shut. "I'm not hurt down there, he just... promise you won't make fun of me."

 

"Never," Jensen promises immediately. "Jared, nothing about this is funny."

 

"He..." Jared trails off, his face going from green-white to bright pink. "He spanked me."

 

Jensen blinks. "What?"

 

"I might have bruises there," Jared mumbles, turning his face away. "But nothing more. It's just my face, really. He was really drunk."

 

"Did something happen?" Jensen asks. "I'm not saying you caused it, but was it just random violence or did he feel provoked?"

 

Jared sighs. He rubs at his eyes. "I told him about you."

 

Jensen swallows. "What about me?"

 

"I told him that I really liked you and... that you were my boyfriend."

 

"Your boyfriend?" Jensen echoes dumbly, feeling extremely warm and cold at the same time.

 

"Yeah, I..." Jared frowns. "That's what a kiss means, right? That's why you kissed me? Because if you didn't want to be boyfriends then I'm really sorry. I just thought. Uh. I should've asked you first. Please don't be angry at me, too."

 

"Hey, don't say that," Jensen says, putting a hand on Jared's shoulder. "Of course I want to be your boyfriend. I'm not angry. It's just that you're an adult, Jared. You shouldn't have to live under your dad's shadow. You shouldn't have to be afraid of him. He shouldn't be controlling you like this, it's not okay. It's got to stop."

 

"I don't have anyone else," Jared cries. "My family's in Texas but I would have to leave you. And if my dad heard me talking to my mom or found out I got a plane ticket he'd just lock me up and hurt me some more. I know I should be stronger. Everyone else is. I thought I could help him, Jen. But he hates me. He hates me."

 

Jared dissolves into a teary mess. Every cry and sob hurts him but he can't seem to stop. The floodgates have been opened and every emotion Jared's been covering with goofy smiles and jokes is set free. Watching Jared break down makes Jensen's chest ache something fierce. He scoots his chair closer and takes Jared's hand in his. He lays his head on Jared's hip. He murmurs little nothings that he can't recall a moment later, letting Jared squeeze his hand and cry himself dry.

 

It takes awhile for Jared to calm down. His breaths hitch unnaturally for a while after he's run out of tears, his gasps going rough and sandpapery. It's quiet for several beats before Jensen finds the courage to speak. He keeps his head on Jared's warm body.

 

"Jared, I'm sorry about your dad. I wish I could tell you that George loves you, but even if he did, it's not alright. Not at all. You're being abused. If you stay, it'll just get worse. It'll go further. He might--he might end up doing something doctors can't fix. Either to your body or your mind." His tone is low. He rubs a thumb over Jared's knuckles. "You do have someone else, okay? You have me. Come stay with me. I won't mind at all. I'd like you there. You can walk all the dogs in my neighborhood. You'll get a disgusting amount of cash for the little yorkies."

 

Jensen can't smile at his own lightheartedness. It's plastic-fake.

 

"What do you want to do, Jared? I'll help you do it. I'll help you enroll in college. I'll bring Sandy over so you guys can hang out again. We'll buy another puppy for you and Oscar to cuddle with. I mean it. It's no hassle. You need to get away from him, and I want my boyfriend to move in with me."

 

"He'll come looking," Jared whispers. "He was drunk when he kicked me out but he'll sober up and he'll find me. He needs me to hold something over my mom, I think. He won't just let me go."

 

"Fuck him," Jensen snaps. "I mean it. Fucking fuck him. I don't care. He can come in guns blazing for all I fucking care. He's not getting you back. You're mine and I'm yours and I plan on keeping you safe. You don't deserve the bullshit cards you've been dealt."

 

"Do you mean it?" Jared whispers. His fingers are sweaty in Jensen's hand but he doesn't mind. "Do you really want me?"

 

Jensen lifts his head to peer straight into Jared's red eyes. "Of course I do," he says. "Please. I know it sucks right now but I think we can work something out, alright? Sandy will help. I have other friends that you've never met that would probably beat the crap out of someone for you. I talk about you a lot and they love you. You can't lose hope, Jared. You can't keep letting him step all over you because you love the person he used to be."

 

Jared flinches. "I just want everyone to be happy again," he rasps.

 

Jensen's heart tugs in his chest. "I know, Jay, I know. You're way too good for your own good, you're so sweet. Not everyone can be happy, though, and I think you know that. Your dad threw away his happiness. That's not your mess to clean up. I know it's not easy, but I think you need to let him go."

 

"I don't know if I can do it alone," Jared whispers.

 

"You won't be alone." Jensen stands and presses a barely-there kiss to Jared's lips. "You won't ever be alone again."

 

Jared’s hand never leaves his. Jensen helps Jared stand and together they make it out of the building. Getting into Jensen’s car is a bit of ordeal, and a long stretch of road full of potholes jostles Jared frequently enough to make him look like he’s going to throw up again.

 

Jensen grinds his teeth. He can feel every bump and bruise on Jared’s body as acutely as if he’d been the one who had gotten hurt. He drives as carefully as he can and gets honked at by impatient drivers.

 

They get to Jensen’s house in thick silence. Oscar’s at the front window and Jensen can’t find it in himself to greet the dog with his usual baby talk. Oscar immediately knows something’s up and follows after them, hardly uttering a sound save for a few concerned whines.

 

Jensen can feel Jared losing energy in his arms. He doesn’t bother trying to get him up the steps and settles him on the couch instead. It’s a massive, poofy thing and he’s sure Jared will be comfortable during the night. Jensen will take the armchair. He already knows he won’t be able to leave Jared alone tonight.

 

The sun sets as Jensen helps Jared slip into a pair of sweats and a baggy hoodie. Jared’s trembling and sweating by the time they’ve got him dressed. Jensen makes them both soup and they eat it on the couch. Jensen coaxes Jared into swallowing down several pain pills and some water.

 

Jensen brings a couple blankets down and drapes them over Jared’s bony shoulders. He sits down next to him and Jared’s fingers are curling up against his moments later.

 

Jared sniffles. “I had this dog… a Clifford toy my mama gave me… it always calmed me down. I left it at George’s. I miss it.”

 

Jensen frowns in sympathy. “That’s called a comfort object, right?”

 

Jared nods.

 

“We’ll try to get it back, Jay,” he vows.

 

The clogging silence returns and it’s bearing down on Jensen.

 

“Jared,” Jensen says, squeezing Jared’s hand, “Jared, can I call Sandy? Can she come over?”

 

It’s quiet for the entire commercial break of whatever brainless action flick Jensen had put on the T.V. in a restless moment. The noises of explosions and yelled dialogue become tinny background noise. Jensen doesn’t push. He lets Jared think, only looks away when Oscar jumps up on the couch and curls up across Jensen’s lap. He’s so large that his head rests on Jared’s thigh and he noses at Jared’s arm, whining at him.

 

Jared’s other hand comes to a rest on top of Oscar’s head. His eyes are distant and his adam’s apple is put in stark relief by the flashing light of the television in the dark as he swallows.

 

“Can we just… not do anything tonight?” Jared finally asks. “She can come over tomorrow, I guess we can talk more then… but I can’t do anything right now, I--I don’t wanna think about it.”

 

“Yeah, ‘course,” Jensen accepts immediately, bobbing his head. “Don’t worry about it at all, Jared. Just focus on resting up, okay?”

 

Jensen stands, his knees cracking. Oscar slip-wiggles into Jared’s lap.

 

Jared needs space and time and healing and as much as it hurts Jensen to leave, he’s going to give it to him. Jensen’s only made one step forward when Jared’s fingers link tightly around his wrist and he stops in his tracks.

 

“Please don’t leave,” Jared begs, his voice cracking. “I--I really need you, please. Just be here. I don’t want to be alone.”

 

“Okay.” Jensen can’t speak above a whisper. His throat hurts and he’s about two seconds from losing it, but Jared needs him. Jared really fucking needs him.

 

He drops back down and curls an arm around Jared’s shoulders. Jared snuggles into his touch and sniffs.

 

Jared’s hair brushes against Jensen’s chin as Jared tucks his head into the crook of Jensen’s neck. Jensen tilts his head down ever so slightly and inhales Jared’s smell. His hair is soft. He doesn’t have the energy to describe Jared’s scent, but he smells good. It’s comforting and right and homey and Jensen closes his eyes, body warm but heart still cold with thoughts of what might happen in the coming days.

 

Jensen lets himself drift, lets his thoughts wander. He hears Jared’s breaths deepen and even out, puffing more slowly against his chest. He can’t move now. He’d have to be a demon to wake Jay up anytime soon. And Jared asked him to stay.

 

He’s got a crick in his neck. He shuffles a bit, slipping his feet up onto the coffee table and turning the volume of the television down. Oscar snuffs and curls into a ball in Jared’s lap, his tail tucked in close to his body.

 

Jensen watches the two of them and struggles to hold it together. He can’t possibly fathom a life without Jared anymore, and knows Oscar’s formed a bond with him, too. Jared just fits with them, just clicks. Turns Jensen from a lonely guy to a guy with a little perfect family.

 

In the morning, he’ll call Sandy. He’ll get in touch with his friends and feed Jared soup and pain medicine. He’ll walk Oscar. Those things are things he can tackle. Those things are concrete in his mind, are good steps forward on Jared’s road of progress.

 

In the morning, George could come over. He could call the police. He might not even bother, might just bring a knife. He might not do anything at all. He might do something drastic.

 

Jensen doesn’t know him well enough to know for sure, and he’s sure as hell not going to ask Jared and subject him to imagining the terrible possibilities.

 

In the morning, Jensen’s world will be a different place. That’s for sure. But as long as that world has Jared, well, he thinks he’ll be able to tackle whatever monsters come his way.

 

For now, though, he holds onto his loves and keeps them safe. He falls asleep curled up with the one person that matters the most.

 

For now, he rests.

 

Chapter Text

Jared

 

Jared's drooling all over Jensen's arm.

 

He keeps as still as he's able, watching Jensen for movement out of the corner of his eye. Jensen is leaning toward him, an arm wrapped around him, his mouth hanging open as he dozes, his eyes flickering underneath his eyelids.

 

And his arm's covered in Jared's slobber.

 

As Jared gets further out of his sleep fog, so do his aches and pains. They wake up all over his body, throbbing lightly. He doesn't even try to get up. Too much is holding him here. One of his ribs sets his chest alight if he breathes any deeper than a short pant. He tries not to think of the horror-story complications that could occur if he gets pushed any harder. Jeff used to torment him with medical urban legends, and a few have lodged into Jared's head permanently. His imagination is too technicolor and vivid for his own good.

 

Oscar's off his lap. Jared rests his hands on the seat of his pants and waits for Jensen to wake up. He hopes Jensen won't be too grossed out by the mess on his arm. There's not much Jared can do about it right now.

 

A smile twists up his lips whether he wants it to or not. It's just typical of him to be worrying about spittle when any moment a rib could snap off and pop his lung like a balloon.

 

Damn it. He'd been trying so hard not to think about that.

 

He feels a little lightheaded. He's already imposing on Jensen, and if he blows chunks on Jensen's nice rug he won't ever be able to forgive himself. He swallows down the influx of saliva in his mouth and focuses on his breathing. He can hear his mother's voice in his head, coaching him past an anxiety attack, and he follows her advice.

 

In for five seconds, hold for ten, out for five. But, uh. Slightly adjusted to be easier on his broken-up body.

 

His doglike panting stirs Jensen. Jensen's arm contracts around his shoulders briefly and Jensen makes a little humming noise in his throat as he sits up straighter. He groans as his eyes blink lazily open, only getting to about half-mast. He rubs at the back of his neck and squints at Jared.

 

It takes a couple moments for the adorable, puzzled look on Jensen's face to be replaced with recognition and cognizance. Jensen pulls his arm back and Jared mourns the loss. "Mmm," Jensen sighs, stretching, his legs bumping against the coffee table. "Jay, y'good?"

 

"Sorry about your arm," Jared says. "I don't think I've ever had a sleepover so I don't know what I'm like when I'm asleep but I hope it isn't too bad. You don't have to sleep here if you really don't want to, just, uh, thank you. Oscar helped a lot, too."

 

Jensen grins at Jared like a stoned sloth but he frowns when the words sink in. God, Jensen really isn't a morning person. Jared loves it.

 

"Wait... my arm?" Jensen asks. He looks at the arm that wasn't around Jared and then looks at the other arm and spots the wet spot on his sleeve. Jensen rolls his eyes. "Only you, Jared," he mutters, "don't gotta apologize, you big oaf."

 

Jensen heaves himself off the couch with a grunt. He holds out a hand and Jared carefully takes it, getting off the couch with the speed and grace of an ill octogenarian. He can't straighten out all the way. It hurts his middle too much, sends an iron bar of agony zinging throughout his bones. Jensen notices and his arm is back around Jared. They hobble into the kitchen together and Jensen helps Jared sit before he goes about and prepares all the ingredients for pancakes.

 

Jared watches Jensen move in silence. There's nothing else he'd rather do, even if he actually had the energy to lift a finger. Jensen hums under his breath and flips the flapjacks like a pro.

 

Jensen excuses himself after he serves Jared his breakfast. Jared cuts his pancake into long strips and cuts the strips into precise little cubes. He eats the edge pieces first so he doesn't have to look at the uneven abominations for too long. He listens to Jensen talking in the other room. He must be on the phone with Sandy.

 

Jared's heart trips and misses a few beats. Jared misses Sandy like hell, of course he does, but he's not sure he wants her to see him like this. He's just like he was last time they met up, all small and broken up and meek. He doesn't want her to think of him like that. Maybe she never thought he was strong, but now she'll think he's weaker than ever.

 

He sighs. He can't finish the pancake so he stacks the few remaining pieces. Jensen wanders back in and stuffs down two pancakes in record time. He leans over and obliterates Jared's fluffy tower, grabbing at the squares with his bare hands and shoving them into his mouth.

 

Jared watches with horror.

 

Jensen sticks his tongue out at him. "Man's gotta eat," he grunts, voice muffled by half-chewed confections.

 

Jared smiles and feels Oscar brush against his leg. "Sorry, Oscar," he croaks, "next time I can pet you without having to bend over, I promise I will."

 

Jensen points a fork at Jared. "He'll hold you to that," he warns.

 

Once the dishes are cleared, Jared can feel the mood from last night come back in, curling around them like low-hanging storm clouds. Jensen clears his throat and reaches over to lay his hand over Jared's.

 

"So, Sandy's coming over," he starts. "She's bringing a couple of my friends over. Just Mike, Tom, and Chris. They're good people, Jay, but if it gets to be too much, just tell me, okay? You've got a lot on your plate. S'okay if you don't want to talk to them."

 

"I'll be fine," Jared sighs. "I just... I wish I didn't have to deal with it."

 

Jensen's face crumples ever so slightly. Jared hopes it's not pity that he's watching mar Jensen's features. "I know, baby," he murmurs, the pet name slipping out and warming Jared's cheeks, "I wish you didn't, either. But we've gotta figure out what to do next, and I want to show you that you're not alone in this."

 

Jared swallows past the rapidly growing lump in his throat. "I don't know how I ended up with you," he laughs weakly. "You're like... you're like a fricking angel or something."

 

Jensen chuckles. "Funny," he says, "I was thinking the same thing about you."

 

Jared grins.

 

The conversation rolls on, staying purposefully light. It's a charade, though, and Jared knows it. He knows Jensen knows it. They're both tense and curled in on themselves, breaking into silences that stretch on for too long and forgetting to laugh at jokes.

 

They both jump when the doorbell rings.

 

They trade a look. Jensen raises an eyebrow at Jared. Jared shrugs. Jensen gets up and slips his arm around Jared's waist, helping him up. Jared's vision goes gray and fuzzy, his knees weakening under him, but Jensen never leaves him, waiting patiently for the moment to pass. When Jared feels slightly more human, he nods, smiling gratefully at Jensen. They move in sync, taking careful steps through the house to the front door with Oscar following on their heels.

 

Jensen huffs a breath against Jared's ear. "You good for me to let go?" he asks, and the slight husk to his voice has Jared shivering. He nods, curling his arms around his waist when Jensen unattaches himself from Jared. Jensen moves forward and opens the door.

 

A crowd of people slip inside in a deadly quiet procession. They all shuffle into the living room, standing in a circle. Jared keeps his eyes trained on the ground and only looks up when a small sob catches his attention and a body molds itself against his.

 

He looks down at the familiar mop of brown hair. Sandy's head only goes up to his chest. He hugs her back and closes his eyes. She's treating him like a porcelain doll, but he doesn't really blame her. He appreciates the barely-there touches.

 

The rest of Jensen's friends disappear from Jared's thoughts as Sandy pulls back, just enough to smile up at him. Her hands are still curled up in his shirt. She’s just as beautiful as he remembers.

 

He blinks and wipes the tear off of Sandy's cheek. "Hi, Sandy," he says.

 

Sandy laughs and wipes at her face. "Hey, you big sasquatch," she says, her voice still thick and cracking with tears. "I've missed you."

 

Jared pulls her back into a hug. "I've missed you, too."

 

A moment passes and Jared soaks up Sandy’s warmth. Jensen clears his throat. "I think we should all sit down."

 

Just like that, Jared remembers why they're all here, remembers he's in someone else's house with a group of strangers who all know about what happened to him, about what he let happen.

 

He nods with a jerk of his head and presses himself into the couch. Sandy sits to his left and Jensen to his right and he feels his muscles loosening up. Two of the guys take the cushy armchairs across from the couch and the last one sits on the edge of Jensen's fireplace. Jared's eyes widen as he takes him in. He's almost as big as Jensen, but he's got soft eyes and smiles at Jared when their eyes meet.

 

He takes a breath full of courage and meets the eyes of the other two guys. The blond one is Chris, he thinks, based on what Jensen's told him. He doesn't know who the one with darker hair is. They've dragged Jensen's chairs closer together so their elbows can knock and Jared wonders if they're boyfriends.

 

"So," Jensen says, tapping his heels on the ground, "Jared, the loser on the fireplace is Tom, and there's Chris and Mike. I told them a little about you."

 

"A little," Chris pipes up, scoffing. "If me being able to make an entire documentary about how amazing and wonderful you are is 'a little,' then yes, that's all he's told us. It's good to finally meet you, Jared. Good to finally put a face to the name that Jensen keeps mooning about."

 

Jared grins, ducking his head so they don't see him blushing. Mooning. Jensen's been mooning about him. He's started to understand that Jensen really cares about him, but the verbal confirmation still makes him go all fuzzy inside.

 

"Likewise," Mike breaks in. He's got a bright, toothy smile that seems to stretch across his whole face. "You're pretty much a superstar to us."

 

They all turn to Tom. Tom looks up, his brow raising as he takes in each of them in turn. "What?" he grunts, adjusting his watch. "I'm not asking for photos and autographs until the rest of y'all are gone, thank you very much."

 

Sandy leans forward to kick Tom's shin. Tom kicks her back. Jared recognizes a push and pull to them that he used to share with Sandy before it all got messed up. He's so damn grateful to see the light in her eyes, but wishes he still knew how to cause it. He's glad she has Tom as a friend.

 

Hell, he's grateful for every single one of them and he's only known them for a minute or so. He's never felt so at ease around strangers so swiftly. He's not really surprised that Jensen's friends would be just as kind as Jensen, would feel just as soft and familiar as comfort blanket like Jensen does.

 

Jensen's voice brings him back to the present. "So Jared, if you ever get uncomfortable, we'll stop prodding. Everyone's here to be your friend and support you, so if you ever need to stop, it's fine. We'll all get a bite to eat or watch a movie. No big deal."

 

Jared nods, unsure if he can trust his words. Jensen reads his face easily. "Okay, good. I don't know if we should get right into things, but it's kind of an emergency, so um." Jensen trails off, folding his hands in his lap.

 

"Jared, can you fill me in on what happened since we saw each other?" Sandy pipes up, saving Jensen. "I don't know much about your dad. We could probably figure out a solid game plan if we knew how to deal with him."

 

"He's kinda the big bad wolf, much as it might suck to hear," Mike agrees. "If it's okay..."

 

"Oh. Sure, sure," Jared fiddles with his fingers, cracking each of his knuckles. "He didn't like that I was talking to Sandy. He told me she was trying to get something from me, that I'd be stupid enough to consider her a friend and I'd give her money, I dunno. I kept talking to her but he found out and, uh, well. I think my arm was one more yank from a dislocated shoulder."

 

Jared coughs. “He’d always been pretty controlling, you know, he told me I was too dumb to go to school so I didn’t. He made sure my phone and computer history didn’t have anything he didn’t want to see. The word Asperger’s was pretty much a swear around him. I spent most of my time trying to make him happy, doing what he said, so a lot of housework, basically, a lot of staying indoors. I knew I wasn’t doing the things other guys my age did, but I just thought my dad was pretty messed up and once I fixed him it’d just go back to how it was before.”

 

He feels Sandy’s hand slip into his and he takes it, drawing her hand into his lap. “He kept trying to mold me into someone I wasn’t, yelled and hit if I did something he thought was weird or that he didn’t like. It just got worse after I disobeyed him and kept talking to Chad and Sandy. I almost told her everything when we met in person, but I didn’t. I cleared my computer’s history but he still found out I was talking to them and pushed me around. I fell down the stairs and the sprained ankle sent me to Jensen.”

 

Jared grins and gestures vaguely to the group around him. “And I’m guessing you know what happened after that.”

 

“Yeah,” Sandy sighs, squeezing his hand. “Yeah, ‘cause Jensen told us he met this super cute, super sweet guy, and I didn’t realize until later that it might be you. He called you Jared and said you had a weird last name and it didn’t click until I woke up.”

 

Jensen chuckles. “She was drunk as hell,” he explains, and Jared looks to Sandy. She fires a glare in his direction, raising her hands up.

 

“Alright, alright, so I was drunk! But Jensen was the one who was totally hungover after. It took me yelling about not seeing you in months to sober him up.”

 

“She told me she was worried about you,” Jensen breaks in. “That you suddenly disappeared. Then your injuries started making more sense. And when I went out to eat with you and you looked so scared of staying out past curfew… I just had to ask, Jay. I had to know. If it wasn’t for Sandy, I think it could’ve been a lot worse.”

 

“My whole life woulda been a lot worse without Sandy,” Jared mumbles, knocking shoulders with her.

 

“And something happened again?” Tom asks. “Jensen just said it was an emergency, that you were hurt, Jared.”

 

“Uhhh… yeah.” Jared bobs his head. “I told George that Jensen was my boyfriend and he flipped out, knocked me around. It was worse than usual so I just ran. I walked around town and hid out in shops until it was time to go to my appointment with Jensen.”

 

“Shit, boyfriends?” Chris crows, clapping his hands together like a giddy child. “Jensen, you didn’t tell us that! Congrats!”

 

Jared opens but snaps it shut when Jensen’s hand ruffles his hair. “Uh, yeah,” Jensen says, and there’s a smile in his voice. “It was kind of unofficial, but yes. We’re together now.”

 

Jared closes his eyes and locks the memory up tight. It’s a moment he’s certain he’ll never forget. Together. The word is soft and pleasing in his head, makes him feel all loose-limbed and floaty.

 

“Aww, I’m so happy for you,” Sandy says, leaning in for another bear hug. “God, Jay, look at you! We finally got you a man. I feel like a proud mama.”

 

“Sandy, please,” Jared says, playfully pushing her away.

 

“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” she laughs. “It’s just nice to find a good thing among all the crap.”

 

“Speaking of…” Mike sighs. “We’ve got a runaway son and an angry dad to deal with.”

 

Jensen’s face shutters closed. “Right.”

 

“I dunno, it’s pretty simple to me,” Chris pipes up. “I mean, it sucks, don’t get me wrong, but I think you just have to show him he can’t throw you around anymore. Call up the rest of your family. They’ll believe you. Just tell them you’ve got a boyfriend and you’re doing well and you decided to move out and George didn’t take it so well. They’ll take your side, I fucking know it. With everyone else supporting you, George won’t have any power. He won’t have any power over you.”

 

Jared mulls it over, rubbing his palms over his knees. “I think that’s a good idea,” he says, “I could probably call my mama.”

 

“What if George does something rash?” Sandy says, curling around him, and Jared finds her “mama bear” comparison more apt than ever. “That might make him more pissed, he might hurt Jared.”

 

“We’ll do it all over phone,” Jensen suggests. “Call Lucy and tell her what’s up, call George and tell him Jared’s leaving. If he doesn’t know where Jared is, he has no upper ground.”

 

“He’ll call you over and over,” Jared says. “Once we call him, I mean. He’ll leave angry voicemails and threaten you. I dunno, just… I want to talk to my mom, but after that, maybe I should see my dad one last time. If I’m not alone, he won’t hurt me.”

 

Jensen scrubs a hand down his face. “I don’t like it, but if you want to, Jay, we’ll go. You’ll have all of us backing you up and keeping you safe.”

 

“Definitely,” Mike chimes in. “And dude, you’ve gotta come to the bar and hear us play. It’s basically a rite of passage with our little rag-tag group.”

 

“Now that you’re one of us, Flannigan’s will be like a second home to you,” Sandy tells him. “We’ll have to give you soda, though. On the record, at least.” She shoots him an over-exaggerated wink.

 

"I'll be twenty-one in a week," Jared says. "But I think I'll still have soda."

 

"Probably a solid move," Tom says. "We always need at least one person to discourage the drunken shenanigans."

 

"With Jared around, maybe you guys will quit duct taping me to walls,” Jensen says with a huff.

 

Jared barks out a laugh. "They did that?"

 

Chris reaches into his pocket. "You want pictures?"

 

"Uh, uh, uh," Jensen growls. "I don't think Jared needs any blackmail on me, thanks."

 

Chris's face is the picture of innocence. "Everyone should have blackmail on you, Jensen. You're dangerous."

 

While Jensen sputters and puffs up in indignation, Sandy leans over, pushing on Jared's shoulder so he'll lean down. "Jensen is a psychopath when it comes to pranks," she says in a show whisper. "We had to stop doing them altogether because he was putting our lives in jeopardy."

 

"I was not!" Jensen protests. "You guys were the ones who started it."

 

"Please," Chris scoffs. "All I did was trade your beer out for apple juice. For your own good, by the way. Only serial killers amp shit up to eleven after that."

 

"I'm not a serial killer," Jensen grumps.

 

"That we know of," Mike says.

 

"Yet," Tom adds, and the group dissolves into giggles.

 

Jared leans back into the cushions and clicks his tongue at Oscar while the group keeps talking. Oscar jumps up into his lap and circles around until he finds a comfortable position. His tail flops over onto Sandy's leg and Sandy coos at him, smushing his face and playing with his ears. Jared can tell that he's used to it.

 

He's content to let the group talk without him. He listens to them reminisce. He knows they all care about him, but he's still a bit of an outsider looking into their dynamic. Jared's impressed by it, if he's honest. Their jokes and stories flow with ease like they're all components of a larger friend-organism. If this is what having friends is like, then Jared's totally been missing out.

 

The bouts of laughter and murmurs of old stories flow over Jared like ocean waves. Oscar is warm under his hands and he's bookended by two people that he trusts with his life. He shuts his eyes and listens to Chris and Mike regale the group with stories of groupies, going back and forth like a tennis match or the pendulum of an antique clock.

 

Jared's not very surprised when a hand on his shoulder rocks him awake. He stirs slowly, eyes adjusting to the dimmer lighting. Jensen's closed the curtains and the room is empty. Even Oscar left him while he rested. Jensen's kneeling before him, reaching forward and slipping his fingers into Jared's hair, cradling his head.

 

"We wanted to let you sleep," Jensen explains in a quiet, measured tone that elicits a yawn out of Jared. Jensen smiles at him. "You've been out for about an hour, buddy. It's past lunch. I thought you might want something to eat."

 

"Hmm?" Jared questions, stretching out into a starfish and yawning again. "Where's Sandy and everyone?"

 

"Still here, out back," Jensen says. "Do you need help getting up? Does anything hurt?"

 

Jared holds out a hand and Jensen helps him get back on his feet. "Uhhh, everything, a little," he says. "Hurts, I mean. I think I'm okay,"

 

"If you're sure," Jensen says, and he doesn't sound convinced.

 

They head back through the kitchen and then out into the glaring sun. Jared holds his hand up and squints as his eyes adjust to the change. Jensen sits him down at the table on the patio. Sandy's sitting there, staring at something on her phone, and everyone else is milling about and chatting. Jared watches as Jensen heads over to the grill.

 

Jared doesn't feel that hungry and only gets down half a hot dog before he sets the plate down and wipes at his mouth. The food is delicious, of course- Jensen can't produce anything less- but Jared can tell it's not sitting right in his stomach.

 

It's like he's emitting some signal. Jensen's there a second later, leaning over him and brushing a palm over his forehead. "Looks like you need some more rest," he says. "You okay, Jared?"

 

"Yeah, I--" Jared swallows past a bout of nausea. "I just want to sleep in a bed, if that's okay."

 

"It's completely fine. Think you can handle the stairs?" Jensen asks as he gets his arm around Jared.

 

Inside, Jared stares out at Jensen's lawn. "What about them?" he asks. "Shouldn't we tell them?"

 

"We'll get you settled first," Jensen says. "Then I'll go out and tell them you're getting some more rest."

 

"Sorry," Jared sighs, gripping the banister tightly enough to whiten his knuckles.

 

"Stop saying that," Jensen says, softly enough Jared thinks he might be talking to himself. "Alright, one step at a time."

 

"'Kay," Jared grunts, stepping up and wincing when he feels a little prod of dull pain flare up in his gut.

 

It takes an embarrassingly long time to scale the stairs. He feels like a child learning how to walk, only he's a child who was also routinely beat to crap. At the top, they take a pause while Jared feebly tries to get his breathing under control.

 

He flushes red with exertion and Jensen's silent at his side. His hand on Jared's back rubs little circles into Jared's skin. Once Jared feels a little more human, he gives Jensen a nod and they start forward again.

 

Jensen leads him into a large, sparsely decorated room. There's a giant, fluffy bed in the center, adorned with elegant bed posts and a simple white comforter. There's a bathroom across from the bed and photos on the walls and nightstand. As Jared passes them, he realizes they're all of Jensen--some of him as a young boy with his family, and a few of him with a broad man that Jared guesses is Steve. He sees Sandy in some of the photos.

 

This must be Jensen's bedroom. Jared feels simultaneously honored and like he's imposing on his friend. Boyfriend. Still.

 

He doesn't have the energy to protest. He lets Jensen's hands strip him down to a t-shirt and boxers and doesn't even light up at the touch. Jensen manhandles him under the sheets. Jared shifts slightly, wincing, trying to get comfortable. Jensen disappears from his line of sight for a brief moment and comes back with a glass of water in hand. He places it on the nightstand within Jared's reach.

 

Jensen leans over him and brushes his hair away from his forehead. He kisses him there, he kisses him on the nose, and hovers over him for several seconds before leaning even lower and kissing him lightly on the mouth, his hands coming up to frame Jared's jaw.

 

Jared does his best to kiss back and feels Jensen smile against his lips.

 

"Easy, tiger," Jensen says, pulling back and tracing a thumb over Jared's cheek. "Just rest up, Jay. I'll be up later, I promise. Night."

 

Jared's heart is in his throat and he wants to call Jensen back and curl up into him and never face the outside world ever again. "Night, Jen," he whispers instead, closing his eyes and sinking into the black.

Chapter Text

Jensen

 

Jensen tiptoes up to his room after his friends leave. There's tentative plans for a super-secret birthday celebration for Jared. They're all on board to distract Jared from his father and his injuries. Everyone had different ideas about what to do, but Sandy suggested a relaxed night at Flannigan's and maybe a movie, and Jensen was sold. He can see Jared nestled into their booth, rosy-cheeked and shiny-eyed. He can't imagine anything better.

 

He's not that savvy with technology but he's pretty sure Sandy set up a group chat and they'll be able to work out some more details and planning there. Jensen's more of a phone call guy, but even he can admit that this way, there's no way Jared can find out about his surprise party.

 

Jensen's not sure if Jared's ever had a surprise party, or hell, a party at all in the last few years. He doesn't have to be told to know that Jared fucking loves surprise parties. It's in his disposition, in his sunny personality. No one really hates surprises, but Jensen's certain Jared will shit his pants and possibly shed a tear when he sees what they've all prepared for him.

 

It's going to be awesome.

 

Inside his room, there's a small lump under the sheets where Jared's curled up into a ball and dozing on his side. Jensen's heart melts into a gooey puddle at the sight and he tries to stay quiet as he makes his way to Jared's bedside.

 

God, Jared looks like a fucking kid when he sleeps. All the worry lines have slipped away from his face and left a youthful smoothness in their wake. He's got feminine, angelic qualities about him, almost indescribable in their graceful beauty. It makes every fiber of Jensen's being hurt that Jared doesn't know how beautiful he is. How stunning.

 

He takes Jensen's breath away. His lips are slightly parted in sleep and his hair is spread out on the pillow in an adorable mop. His eyelashes fan out across his delicate cheekbones and the bruises mottling his skin don't detract from his loveliness.

 

Jensen goes back around to the other side of the bed and slips beneath the covers, wincing when the mattress dips heavily under his weight. He shuffles slowly, freezing every time Jared makes a small sleep noise, and finally gets into a comfortable position on his side. Facing Jared, of course.

 

He can only see the curve of Jared's back and Jared's feathery hair but it's enough for him. Jared twitches restlessly and quietly mewls and Jensen just does not have it in himself to resist. He shifts even closer, slipping his leg between Jared's and reveling in the feeling of warm, soft skin hitting his.

 

He only stills after Jared's back is pressed against his chest and their bodies are flush against each other. His heart is thundering in his chest. The proximity alone is intoxicating. He bends forward and presses his nose to the nape of Jared's neck, closing his eyes as he inhales Jared's smell. It's something he will never get tired of.

 

He loops his arm over Jared's waist and sighs. It’s not hard to close his eyes and drift off.

 

He's woken up by his world rustling around him.

 

It takes him an embarrassingly long time to get his bearings, but when he does, he notices two things: first, it's not his world that's moving, it's just Jared, and second, he's got morning wood.

 

He feels his face burning and opens his mouth to speak, but Jared silences him in one smooth roll of his body. Jared's crawled over him, one leg on either side of Jensen's hips, and he's staring down into Jensen's eyes without saying a word. They're close enough that any movement would cause their noses to brush, or even worse, their hips. He's not sure what Jared would do once he felt Jensen's problem going on down south.

 

He doesn't mean to treat Jared like a child, not at all, but Sandy's words ring in his head. Jared is more likely than not a virgin. Completely inexperienced. And, as far as Jensen has been able to tell, he's not that sexual of a person. Maybe he's not interested. Maybe he's repulsed by it.

 

Jensen wishes he could quietly discuss matters with his dick, negotiate it into going soft again, but fucking nope. It's not getting the memo. And, well, with sleep-mussed Jared all up in his space, he can definitely understand.

 

Jared leans back onto his haunches and Jensen bites his lip because oh god. Jared is. Right there. Jared has to be able to feel that.

 

Jared cocks his head and one side of his lips twitches up into something that could either be a smile or a devious smirk. Jensen does not have enough blood circulating his blood to be able to decipher the truth.

 

Jared leans back down and kisses Jensen, teeth bumping against Jensen's. Jensen's arms come up around Jared's back, skating down his ribs and he's like a xylophone. Jensen needs to keep feeding him, needs to remove the dangerous drop where Jared's ribs end and his concave tummy starts. Jared’s lips continue to fumble against his own.

 

"Hey, hey," Jensen murmurs against Jared's mouth, and Jared raises up. "No rush, huh? Lemme take care of you..."

 

He tilts his chin up just so and meets Jared's lips in a chaste little kiss. He increases the urgency ever so slowly, teaching Jared how to kiss without teeth, how to angle his head to make it feel the best.

 

Jared's inexperience is endearing. It shouldn't be so sexy to feel someone's mouth mashing tactlessly against yours, but it's Jared, so it totally is.

 

He's a fast learner though, the little bastard, and the moment after Jensen slips his tongue into Jared's mouth, Jared is following suit, their tongues sweeping and brushing against each other, the heated feeling zinging right down to Jensen's toes.

 

They go on like that for way too long, hardly ever bothering to separate from each other. The only noises in the room are the wet smack of saliva and the heavy nose-breathing they're both doing. Jared has the endurance and patience of a big cat stalking its prey, and he’s definitely gaining the grace of one, too.

 

Jensen's not complaining.

 

Jared's mouth becomes comfortable to him. Jensen’s tongue maps out the various nooks and crannies with professional skill, and Jared is getting bolder with each touch and caress, pressing harder against Jensen and using more tongue.

 

They've been making out long enough for the sun to well and properly rise when Jared moans into Jensen's mouth and his hips twitch forward, his dick knocking against Jensen's, a heated hardness pressing against Jensen’s thigh. Jensen's breath hitches and Jared pulls away from the kiss, a thick line of saliva still connecting their lips.

 

Jared is pinker than a summer strawberry. "Please, I..." he mumbles, ducking his head and peering at Jensen with dark, guileless eyes. "It feels good, I wanna."

 

Jensen can't refuse Jared anything, especially when he's hurting, double-especially when it's almost his goddamn birthday.

 

He groans and moves his hands from Jared's waist to his waistband and then under, palming the soft plushness of Jared's ass. He hikes his hips up against Jared so their cocks brush and Jared frantically mimics the motion, pushing his hips down against Jensen over and over and over, getting faster and more erratic, his heavy breaths turning into outright pants.

 

"Woah, hey, Jared--" Jensen starts, but he's cut off by Jared's tongue swiping up into his mouth and he forgets what he was trying to say. Jared's gone for a moment and when he returns, he paws clumsily for Jensen's hand and shoves it down and--oh.

 

Jared's boxers have been discarded and Jensen's palm meets smooth, hard flesh.

 

He freezes for a moment and Jared whines, taking initiative. Jensen's own boxers are dragged off of him and tossed off the bed. Jared kisses him again, rocking roughly against his body, and Jensen gets with the program and gets a grip around both of their lengths.

 

He's only been stroking them for a minute or so when Jared's whimpers increase in pitch and his hips snap against Jensen's once, twice, three times, and Jensen feels the hot splash of Jared's come hitting his belly and holy motherfucking shit. Jared just came all over Jensen's chest and the thought alone pushes him swiftly over the edge. His toes curl as his orgasm washes over his body and his hearing starts to ring.

 

By the time he comes back up off the high, Jared is curled up on his chest and staring out the window with a lazy, rosy grin on his face. Jensen coughs, acutely feeling the sticky come drying between their bodies.

 

"I've... never done that before," Jared whispers. "It was so fast... you make really nice noises."

 

"Yeah, well," Jensen clears his throat. "We'll work on lasting longer, huh? I mean. Shit. If you wanna do that again sometime. It was... it was really good, Jared, you were so good."

 

Jared's head comes off of his chest and he looks pleased and sated like a fat cat after dinner. "Really?" he asks, and his smile is contagious.

 

"Are you kidding?" Jensen barks. "You're fucking Adonis and Aphrodite all in one."

 

Jared sighs and kisses Jensen's collarbone. "I wanna lay here with you forever and rub off over and over and over."

 

Jensen closes his eyes and bangs his head against the pillow. "If only," he groans. "If only, Jay baby."

 

Jared hums happily. "I can't believe I didn't do that sooner. And the way you kiss... jeez."

 

Jensen laughs and pats Jared on the back, flattening his palm against the spot between Jared's shoulder blades. "You're not so bad yourself, kid."

 

Jared starts to get up and falters, his face going pinker than ever. "We're uh. We're really sticky," he mumbles, peering down between them at their softness.

 

"Washcloth in the bathroom," Jensen yawns. "We can clean up and then have a nice big breakfast, sound good? Does anything hurt right now, Jay? You might’ve strained yourself."

 

Jared flashes him another breathtaking grin. "Perfect," he says, and rolling away from Jensen, leaving Jensen lying in a pile of drying spunk. “And… no more than before, Jen, I’m just achey, promise.”

 

Jensen watches Jared go, eyes zeroing in on Jared's round butt, and shit, his dick is almost interest in a round two. Almost. He's not sixteen anymore.

 

He helps Jared clean up and they change into new clothes in silence. Jensen gives Jared another pair of sweatpants and an old tee. Jared leans in to give him a quick kiss, and Jensen's scent lingers around Jared, claiming him. Anyone looking at him now, seeing him all fluffy and wearing Jensen's clothes would know how well-fucked and owned he is.

 

Jensen shivers. They've got other things to focus on. It’s gonna be hard to get his brain to think about anything else. He wasn’t expecting anything from this morning, and now. Now he’s gone that far with Jared, now he’s seen his boy.

 

Shit, focus. Right. He needs to concentrate on getting some nutrients in Jared so his body can heal up and flesh out. Jared's amazing now and Jensen can only guess at what he'll look like perfectly healthy. He hopes things go their way. He hopes he'll be able to see it with his own eyes one day, be able to touch Jared's body with his own two hands and not worry about Jared breaking under his ministrations.

 

The day passes them by in a hectic blur. Sandy surprises them by bursting through the front door, arms loaded with flowers for Jared, interrupting a lazy makeout session. She cheers and claps her hands together, going on about how cute they are together. Oscar, always wanting to feel included, starts jumping about and barking, and Jared starts laughing. Really going for it, too, as much as he can with a banged-up chest, with his head thrown back.

 

And, well, in sight of that, it's hard to stay in a bad mood.

 

Jensen doesn't mean to. He's worried about Jared's dad and Jared's health and about the sex they had. They didn't really do much talking, and Jensen's beginning to think they really should've. Being half-awake and drunk on pure Jared is not an excuse. Jared's been riding the sex high all day, and Jensen doesn't dare bring him down from it, so he frets alone, keeping his worst-case scenarios to himself.

 

Friends come and go. Jared and Jensen go over plans. They walk Oscar together, lingering in the park until the heat and humidity pushes them home. The burst of air conditioning is welcome, but Jensen can't hold back any longer.

 

"Jay," he starts, turning to hold Jared's hand in his. Jared looks at him and frowns, carefully pulling his hand back. He's still got Oscar on a leash and works on freeing him. When Oscar bounds away, Jared holds his hand back out.

 

"Oh, um," Jensen blinks, taking Jared's hand in his, rubbing the soft skin between his fingers.

 

"You were saying?" Jared prompts. "I do like hand holding, but Oscar was going to flip if he stayed like that any longer, you know? My dog Sadie back home is the same. She hates getting ready for walks but loves walks but hates coming back home. She's a big goofball."

 

"Jared," Jensen laughs.

 

"Oh, uh, yes," Jared blushes. "Go on."

 

"I was just gonna say..." Jensen sighs, rubbing at his jaw. "Do you want to call your mom now? That was step one, after all. It's been long enough that George might have tried to contact her. I really think we shouldn't put it off any longer."

 

Jensen feels like absolute garbage at the way happy, rambly Jared completely disappears in front of him, the light burning out in his eyes and the slump returning to his shoulders. It had to be done. As much as Jensen wishes they could just laze around together, he knows the real world would come knocking sooner or later, most likely in the form of bad news or worse. They might as well get the ball rolling themselves, take control of the wheel.

 

Jared gives a tiny nod. "My phone's still at home but I know her number by heart."

 

"Okay, okay, that's good, Jared," Jensen says absently, digging around in his pockets. He grabs his phone and unlocks it for Jared, handing it over.

 

Jared cradles it in his hands like it's a priceless artifact, staring down at it with obvious confusion. He flips it over in his hand, then flips it back. He taps at the calendar icon and gasps when the app opens. "This whole thing is a touch screen?" he says. "There's only one button!"

 

"You've--" Jensen shakes his head. "You've never seen an iPhone before?"

 

Jared's still bent over the device, but he flicks his eyes up at Jensen. "No," he says. "My phone's all buttons. Don't get to touch my dad's. I guess I knew they were around but I've never touched one. How do I make a call?"

 

"It's pretty easy," Jensen guides him to the right app and Jared takes delight in every button press, rambling about how the screen is so soft and so bright. Jensen's feelings of how adorable it is are dwarfed by his resentment for the way Jared's been living. What his dad has been doing goes beyond sheltering and manipulation. Jared's practically been living in the past. Jensen made a reference to some current T.V. show and Jared had been completely lost. He hasn't interacted with anything from the last five years, maybe the last decade. It's bullshit.

 

Jared connects the call and Jensen backs off, he makes to leave the room and give Jared some privacy but he's met with extra-strength puppy eyes and elects to sit in the furthest chair and page through a magazine instead. His eyes freeze on the page when he hears Jared's voice go all breaky and youthful as he says "mama, is that you?"

 

Jensen still wants to give him a moment to himself, feels like this is a level of intimacy he hasn't really earned yet, but Jared's eyes are on him because he knows. He knows what Jensen's thinking. His eyes form a lifeline Jensen can't sever. He can't look away. The moment feels infinite, feels full of so many things, and Jensen is completely calm when he realizes he would willingly die for this boy.

 

Jared blinks and his eyes crinkle up into a shimmery smile, breaking the moment. "Yeah, mama, I'm--I'm actually not okay, I wanted to call you to tell you things are kind of strange right now."

 

Jensen looks away, stretching out and folding his legs at the ankle. He tosses the magazine onto the table and watches Jared's leg jump up and down, his fingers spider-crawling along the seam of his jeans, up and down, up and down.

 

"I'm at Jensen's," Jared says, wiping at his nose. Jensen can hear the tiniest amount of sound coming from the phone speaker, hears the lilt of a question.

 

"Yeah, I'm-" Jared pauses to sniff and to rub at the corner of his eye. "He's my boyfriend, ma. Da-George didn't like that. He yelled at me and got all red in the face and... And I had to leave. I'm staying with Jensen now."

 

A beat. A short, watery smile. "Thanks, mama. He's real great."

 

Jared’s mom is talking again, and she continues for a long time, leaving the two of them trapped in a quiet, hot summer moment, like flies in amber.

 

Jared meets Jensen's eye and his gaze darts away. Jensen stands and puts a hand on Jared's shoulder while he tries to explain things to his mom. He gives Jared a comforting squeeze before wandering into the kitchen. He's still in earshot, but he watches Jared relax and flop out across the couch, his head lolling off the edge of the arm rest.

 

The offbeat pause-talk-pause of Jared's conversation with his mom becomes background noise as Jensen tries to busy himself with something, anything. His default setting when he feels restless or anxious is to cook something up, but it's not lunchtime yet. Even though Jared could totally use another meal to get some weight back, Jensen settles for rearranging the cans in his cupboard, checking the expiration dates and making sure the labels all face forward, soups organized by type and evenly stacked on top of each other.

 

It's mindless and routine and soon enough he's brought out of his repetitive, robotic job by a light touch to the elbow. He shuts the cupboard and turns to Jared with a smile. Jared grins back but it's lost its sugar and shine. He holds Jensen's phone out and Jensen takes it, pocketing it. "So, how'd it go?" he asks.

 

Jared shrugs, leaning into Jensen's space and resting his forehead on Jensen's shoulder. Jensen's arms come up and run through Jared's hair. "Dunno," Jared sighs, breathing against Jensen's skin, "she believed me, definitely, but she wanted to tell the whole family and have them come up."

 

Jensen frowns. "Why is that a bad thing, Jay?"

 

"I just don't want them to know how bad it's been," Jared says. "I don't want them to see what a baby I was."

 

Jensen closes his eyes. "Jared, you're not-"

 

"A baby, I know, s'what I keep telling everyone," Jared gives a watery laugh. "I do miss them, I do, I just... I'll see them when I'm better, okay? When I'm happy."

 

When I'm happy. Jensen's throat aches at the admission. He thinks back to all the toothy smiles and big laughs and excited rambles and sees them as compensation, as Jared faking it, trying so hard to make it a reality. Jensen's desperate to hear the quality of his laughter when he's truly happy, when he feels safe and loved. Jensen wonders when the last time was that Jared smiled without the cold feeling of fear lingering in the back of his throat.

 

Jensen rubs his hands up and down the expanse of Jared's back. "What about your mom, though? I think you'd feel better if you saw her. It'd be good to have her around if George tried to start anything."

 

Jared nods, his nose brushing against the collar of Jensen's shirt. "She's gonna call around dinner," he says, "I'll ask her then."

 

"Good." Jensen clears his throat. "Good. I'd love to meet her."

 

Jared steps back and Jensen watches some of the age leave his face. "She'd love you. She's awesome. She's super smart, seriously. She's like a teaching wizard. If there's anything you don't get, she can explain it to you in five fricking minutes. I think you two would get along. She's gonna be testing you at first but you'll definitely pass. Just act natural."

 

Jensen chuckles. "That's alright. She's gotta make sure her son has only the best, huh? I can respect that."

 

Jared does a pleased little wiggle. "You're going to love her."

 

Jensen claps Jared on the back. "I know it, Jay. I know it."

 

Jensen doesn't know when the next thing will come along to drag Jared back through the mud. It could be George, a simple memory, a physical ache, or something else. Jared's been on a bit of a rollercoaster today, with fluctuating moods and energy, and Jensen's going to take advantage of the uplift. He'll try his best to make it last as long as possible. He'll try his best to get Jared to a place where he doesn't have to fantasize about being happy--he can live it.

 

"So," Jensen says, taking Jared's hand and whistling for Oscar. "Do you remember that ice cream I promised you?"

 

Jared's eyes widen as Oscar comes bounding over, tail wagging as he weaves between the two of them, head-butting Jared's leg and demanding affection. "Double scoop?" Jared asks, falling to his knees and burying his face in Oscar's coat. Jared squeezes Oscar and Jensen lowers himself to the floor alongside them, smoothing down the wayward fur on Oscar's head.

 

He watches Jared weave himself back together, one thread at a time, watches Oscar happily provide himself as a crutch. "If they have it," he says, "even a triple scoop."

 

He watches Jared's face grow into a portrait of the brightest star.

 

 

Chapter Text

Jared

 

The day is a sweaty blur of delicious food, sunshine, and Jensen’s comforting presence. Jensen’s now a constant in his life, a rock, and Jared’s memorized his jaw, his crinkles, his scruff, his everything. He finds something new every day, physical or not, and he adds it to his mental picture of Jensen, committing it to memory, saving it.

 

He hasn’t had a chance to draw in a while and his hand itches to create, to move, to distract himself. His supplies, save for a couple pens, are still at George’s. Along with everything else he owns. Which isn’t much, but it’s all still his. Some things are from his mom, from his baby sister, from Chad. He only hopes his father hasn’t trashed his sketchbook. He’d love to try to draw Jensen again.

 

Mama calls again as Jared’s helping Jensen load up the dishwasher, and Jared hops away to wash his hands, dancing back to Jensen to slip a hand in his front pocket and slowly, carefully remove his phone, like a spy getting a treasure in those cool action movies. Only, apparently a lot sexier, because Jensen’s face goes almost violently red, and he keeps smoothing down the seat of his pants long after Jared’s ended the call.

 

Mama will come up in a couple days by herself. Jared doesn’t want her to see him hurt, but he knows she’ll need to dig into things herself, investigate, and, well, snoop. She is not a nosey person, and she trusts Jared, but she’s always been one to review the facts for herself, to make a game plan.

 

It makes Jared’s stomach flop, the waves of nausea and excitement clashing and crashing against one another.

 

Jensen’s always there to comfort and touch, sensing the slightest change in Jared’s moods. He’s got to be a magician or a wizard. He’s in tune with Jared, their souls harmonizing in the loveliest of songs. It’s a bit too much for Jared to process without bawling his eyes out, but he is grateful for it. Beyond words.

 

Night is expected. Night doesn’t sneak up on them like it’s done for them in the past. There’s a different kind of strain in the air now, something between him and Jensen, something charged.

 

Jared feels like he’s been sucker punched when he realizes the energy is sexual.

 

Upstairs, he stares at the bed, a big, giant, whopping sexual metaphor just sitting out in the open. He takes a big swallow.

 

Jensen gives him an odd look and Jared forces himself to move, keeping an eye out on the bed in his periphery, like it’ll surge up and curse him or something. To do what, he has no idea.

 

They go about their routine in silence, Jared brushing his teeth for exactly two minutes and cleaning up after Jensen’s clutter. He thought he’d be grumpy at having someone messy for a boyfriend (a real actual boyfriend!) but it’s kind of therapeutic to clean up after someone, to be able to restore order with his own two hands.

 

Jensen’s already down to his boxers and cuddled up under the covers by the time Jared’s finished. He flicks off the light and the room is doused in quiet dark. His eyes quickly adjust and the room is softly aglow with ambient light from the full moon.

 

And Jensen looks so beautiful.

 

Jared’s breath catches in his throat as he creeps over to Jensen. Jensen’s eyes are closed and the shadows turn his cheekbones so sharp, his lips so full. The white sheets make the curves of his body soft and welcoming and Jared wants to be held, wants to feel that body warming up his.

 

He doesn’t want to destroy the perfect picture, though. He wants to save a screenshot to his memory to recall when things get bad.

 

He would give anything for a pencil and paper right now.

 

He takes a few more seconds to himself before crawling into the bedding. Jensen’s eyes blink open, slow and lazy like a cat. His grin is similarly feline. “Hey,” he says, his voice already leaden with sleepiness.

 

“Hey, Jen,” Jared whispers back, curling into Jensen’s space.

 

Jensen’s hand finds his bare hip and Jared takes a risk and pulls Jensen’s wrist further back and lower until Jensen’s palm is right where he wants it.

 

“Jay,” Jensen rasps, and it’s a warning, but it’s strained. Jensen wants, but he won’t take.

 

Jared moves his hips and wiggles deeper into Jensen’s space. “It’s okay, Jensen,” he says, “please.”

 

Jensen gives a pained moan but his fingers squeeze around Jared’s butt.

 

Encouraged, Jared nuzzles against Jensen’s neck, surging forward with affection. He kisses Jensen’s adam’s apple, buries his nose in Jensen’s jaw and takes a huge whiff. That smell right there is Jared’s favorite.

 

He bathes Jensen’s skin in tiny little kitten licks.

 

“Oh, oh fuck,” Jensen murmurs, rolling his shoulders, his hips pushing forward and his hands roaming and squeezing.

 

Jared honestly has no idea what he’s doing, but he’s having a good time enjoying it, so. He wraps his arms around Jensen’s neck and keeps trying to wiggle closer, to get more contact. Jensen uses his nose to urge Jared’s chin up and Jared willingly complies, body heating up with happy, warm fuzziness when Jensen uses the opportunity to give him a firm, sound kiss.

 

Jared melts into the kiss. He leaves his mouth open and pliant, letting Jensen control and guide. Jensen keeps letting out grunts and quiet moans. His fingers grip tightly in Jared’s skin but pull back every couple of seconds. He’s still holding back, even as Jared is fricking rubbing off against him like a teenager.

 

“Jensen,” Jared mumbles against spit-covered lips, “stop it.”

 

Jensen’s body goes stiff against him and Jensen pulls back enough to meet Jared’s eyes, brows pinched. “Stop what?” he asks, his hands slowly drawing away.

 

Jared untangles himself from Jensen’s body to grab Jensen’s wrists, stopping him from pulling back even further. “No, I’m sorry, I meant-” Jared wets his lips. He thinks he can taste Jensen on them. “You keep holding back and stuff. Stop it. I want you, I want this, okay?”

 

Jensen’s face relaxes all at once like wind gone from sails. He bats Jared on the arm. “You had me scared, asshole,” he says. “And Jared, you’re injured. And we haven’t even really talked about this, either. I don’t want to push.”

 

Jared pouts. “But I want you to push.”

 

Jensen chuckles under his breath. “Then I want to talk about it first.”

 

Jared groans and rolls away, flopping onto his back. He closes his eyes. “What do you even want to talk about?”

 

There’s silence from Jensen. After several beats, he clears his throat. “Well, I mean… you’ve never done this, before? I’m your first?”

 

Jared’s heart shifts gears to hummingbird mode. “Well, yes,” he mumbles.

 

Jensen’s sweaty fingers link with his. “Hey, dude, c’mon, that’s fine,” Jensen says. “You think I’m some expert? I went on a couple dates with girls before Steve. I’ve only really been with one person that seriously. And you know what happened there, so obviously I’m not some sex master or something.”

 

Jared giggles. “You seem pretty awesome to me.”

 

“Low standards,” Jensen teases. “Once you get more experience, you’ll realize how boring I am, I promise.”

 

Jared pokes him in the side. “Liar.”

 

“Okay, seriously, though,” Jensen says, but there’s still a smile in his voice. “I want to know what you want. I want to know what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not comfortable with. I don’t ever want to make you feel bad, Jay. So we’ve gotta establish some boundaries.”

 

“Oh, well, I…” Jared fumbles. “You just make me feel good, I don’t know much about this.”

 

“Have you ever touched yourself?”

 

Jared sputters for a moment. “Well, yeah,” he says. “But that’s pretty much it.”

 

Jensen hums like Jared’s giving him important, serious information. “Have you ever watched porn?”

 

“No!” Jared barks. “My dad only let me use the laptop a little bit, and he watched what I did on it. Never.”

 

“Dear lord, that’s awful,” Jensen says. He sounds like Jared’s just told him about dying puppies or something. “Playboy magazines? Anything?”

 

“No,” Jared mutters, and his entire body is getting pretty warm at this point. “Sex ed in Texas isn’t that great, either. I only know, uh, penis goes in vagina, basically. They never covered anything else.”

 

“And I’m guessing it was abstinence only, too.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Jensen gives a low whistle. “Dude, I feel like I should give you a lesson in all of this before we do stuff. Chalkboard diagrams and youtube videos.”

 

“We’ve already done stuff,” Jared protests, still bright pink. “We rubbed our dicks against each other, that counts as stuff.”

 

“You’re so cute,” Jensen laughs. “Saying the word ‘dick’ makes you blush even harder than you already were.”

 

“Shut up,” Jared growls. “Dick, dick, dick, dick, dick. You’re a dick.”

 

“See? Cute.”

 

Jared hears Jensen shifting and finally rolls back onto his side and opens his eyes. Jensen’s giving him a fond look. “Do you know what rubbing dicks is called?”

 

“There really is a name for everything,” Jared says. “I’ll never keep up with it.”

 

“Frottage,” Jensen enunciates. “What we did is frottage, Jared. And there’s a lot of other things we can do.”

 

“I don’t care what they are,” Jared says stubbornly. “I want to do them all.”

 

“Do you want me to list them?” Jensen says with dark eyes, licking his lips, and shit, he’s getting off on this. The realization shoots straight down to Jared’s dick.

 

Jared’s mouth goes dry, and wordlessly, he nods.

 

Jensen’s eyes go sharp and flinty. “Well,” he starts, voice low and gravelly, “we can blow each other. If we put our mouths on each other’s dicks at the same time, that’s called sixty-nining.”

 

Jared heats up even further, but it’s not in embarrassment.

 

“Do you want to do that?” Jensen whispers, reaching over to brush his fingers down the length of Jared’s arm.

 

Jared nods again.

 

“Obviously we can also jack each other off,” Jensen says in a conversational tone, but the bulge and wet spot on his boxers say that he’s anything but casual and relaxed. “But there are some other things I wanna do to you, Jay.”

 

“Tell me,” Jared whisper-begs, pressing his hand down against the growing length of his dick, palming himself through his boxers. Jensen’s eyes track his motions and his pupils are blown huge.

 

“There’s this thing called rimming,” Jensen growls, “it means I put my tongue on your hole and lick you open.”

 

Jared shivers, dick twitching against his hand. “You want to do that?”

 

Jensen gives him a python smile. “Been dreaming about it.”

 

Jared shivers. “I want… I want you to do it, too. And… and something else.”

 

“What is it, Jay, baby?” Jensen purrs. “You can say it, you can tell me anything.”

 

“If you can put your tongue town there…” Jared trails off, biting his lip. “Can you put it in me, too?”

 

Jensen surges forward into Jared’s space, biting at Jared’s ear and pressing rough kisses all along his jaw. “I’ll fuck you, Jay,” he says. “I’ll fuck you good and slow, make you come on my cock.”

 

Jared gasps and his vision goes white. His toes curl up as he creams his boxers, shaking and shuddering.

 

“Dear christ,” Jensen’s voice sounds a little more normal, full of wonder. “You got off just on that?”

 

“Yeah,” Jared squeaks. “Sorry.”

 

“Don’t be sorry,” Jensen says, “shit…”

 

Jensen’s hand slips down into his boxers and Jared watches him.

 

Jensen’s just as wrecked as Jared is, and it only takes him a few quick pumps before he’s moaning and tossing his head back, a stain seeping through the front of his boxers. They’re both panting raggedly and Jensen’s eyes are stronger than a magnet. Jared knows even just a few days ago, he’d be embarrassed and awkward, hiding himself away, but now, he can’t look anywhere but Jensen’s red face.

 

Jensen nudges Jared’s mouth open and kisses him with a hint of tongue. It’s perfect but brief and Jensen leans back, hand resting on Jared’s waist. “We should clean up,” he says, smiling.

 

Jensen gets up without waiting for a response and comes back with washcloths. He hands one to Jared and Jared wipes himself down before tossing it off the side of the bed. He can straighten up the room tomorrow morning.

 

He cuddles back into Jensen’s space and Jensen’s arms curl around him, protecting him. Jared rests his face against the warmth expanse of Jensen’s chest, closing his eyes. His orgasm took a lot out of him.

 

“Hey, Jared?” Jensen murmurs, and Jared’s wading just above the water, barely conscious, but he hums to let Jensen continue speaking.

 

“I do wanna do those things, but I wanna take it slow,” Jensen says. “I want us to take our time and get to know each other.”

 

Jared shows his agreement in the form of a kiss against Jensen’s shirt. Jensen’s arms tighten around him. “Night, baby,” Jensen murmurs, and Jared’s already asleep by the time a kiss is pressed to his forehead.

 

 

Jensen leaves for work early the next day.

 

He'd wanted Jared to come with him, had gotten this pinched look on his face and paced back and forth in the kitchen with Oscar watching, whining in concerned confusion.

 

Jared wouldn't have minded flopping around in Jensen's office while Jensen helped people, he honestly wouldn't, but he didn't want to be a distraction, didn't want Jensen to be constantly fretting over him.

 

A small portion of him also wants to try to be independent for once. To test his luck.

 

He doesn't consider himself a morbid person, but recently, his brain has been very busy convincing him that all of this is far too good to be true. It's all going to fall out from under him sooner or later, so he might as well prepare for being alone sooner rather than later, right?

 

It took a bit of convincing and pestering and puppy eyes, but Jensen finally left alone, the threat of arriving to work late hanging over his head.

 

Jared now perches on the edge of the couch, shoes on, ready to book it. Oscar's next to him, dozing off without a care in the world.

 

Left alone, the hours pass by like cinderblocks. Jared swears he'll check the clock and find it earlier than when he'd checked before.

 

The emptiness does not bode well for Jared's head. His imagination goes wild, spiralling downward into horror stories with an impressive speed, building up into a massive, unstoppable snowball of awfulness.

 

The most likely scenario, he thinks, is just a simple knock. A knock at the door. Jared was raised to always answer the door, and he knows his legs will bring him to the door even if his mind asks him to hide. He'll answer, and that will be that. Forever. Chloroformed or roofied or something. Maybe a jab to the neck of some substance. His mom would know the chemical formula.

 

Worse than that, his dad would have inebriated confidence and would draw it out. A mean right hook to knock Jared onto his butt. A kick to the tummy. Several more. He once saw a really small kid get pretty badly beaten in the hallways before teachers managed to the split the fight apart. The kid had been in the hospital for a couple of days and transferred to another school.

 

Jared is permanently and perpetually that kid.

 

He stands up, the bloodrush making him dizzy. Oscar jumps off the couch and noses at Jared's leg, barking and cocking his head.

 

"I'm okay," Jared says, a bit hoarse, but no worse for wear. Once his head is back on straight, he heads to the kitchen and busies himself with a snack. He doesn't think Jensen will mind.

 

After putting everything away, he heads to the bathroom and raises his shirt up to his armpits, inspecting the damage in the mirror.

 

He looks a lot better, a lot less purple, but very, very yellow. He doesn't look like run-over garbage now--just normal garbage.

 

Still, it's progress.

 

He heads back out and roams through Jensen's rooms with little or no aim, peering at family photos and straightening pillows and trinkets. With a spur of confidence, he gets a leash on Oscar and heads to the door, only to be cowed by the sight of it, by the potential of evil out in Jensen's neighborhood. George could be anywhere.

 

George drives a little compact car from the nineties in a gross green-blue color. It's rusted and squeaky and definitely stands out in Jensen's shiny, elite neighborhood.

 

At least he'd see him coming.

 

Jared sighs and unleashes Oscar, putting all the doggy supplies back in their proper places. Oscar doesn't seem too upset at the canceled walk, so Jared tries not to mope in a giant stormcloud about how easy it is to get him to stand down.

 

No. He won't take it, won’t let himself sink into weakness. He can't hide behind Jensen for the rest of his life, and George isn't just going to laugh and cut his losses at Jared leaving.

 

Jared needs to toughen up.

 

He spends the day on Jensen's computer, emailing with Chad and Sandy and asking them both for advice. He opens up a document and starts typing up drafts of different plans, eliminating them and deciding on a final one. He spends more time than needed perfecting formatting and grammar mistakes, trying to make the minutes to Jensen coming back tick past more quickly.

 

He wonders if Mama has called. Jensen brought his phone to work with him. Jared tries to imagine Jensen answering the call and talking to Mama and giggles at the skit his brain provides. Jensen would probably be sweaty by the end of the call, but Jared knows he'd also make a great impression. Mama would be swooning, just like Jared does all darn day.

 

It's almost dinnertime when Jensen's key finally scratches in the lock and Jared jumps up, finishing up the final touches on his action plan. Oscar runs over to the door and gets up on his hind legs, pressing his paws into Jensen's legs the moment Jensen appears through the doorway.

 

Jensen laughs. "Hey bud, you take care of my Jay today?"

 

Jared steps forward, grinning, body sparkling alight, set into a happy glow by Jensen's words. "He did," he says, and Jensen turns to him. "No walk though, sorry."

 

"Perfectly fine," Jensen says, taking it all in stride. "How was your day, honey?"

 

"Missed you," Jared says. "But, um. I didn't like that I was sitting around all day doing nothing, you know? That my dad could come by and I'd just be scared like usual. That nothing's different. So I made this whole game plan and I want to go back home. Did Mama call you? She said she'd call me again sometime. Did you talk to her?"

 

Jensen's face is a dimmer, watered-down version of the carefree happiness Jared had seen just moments earlier. "What, Jay?" he asks, voice quiet and carefully contained. "What do you mean you want to go back home?"

 

Jared bites his lip. "Did Mama call you?" he repeats, this time in a smaller voice.

 

Jensen's lip twitches and for a second Jared thinks he's going to huff at him. "No," he says. "C'mon, talk to me."

 

Jared lets out a long breath. "I don't want to be scared anymore," he says. "I want to go home and get all my stuff. I want to walk right up to my dad and tell him he can't control me anymore. I want to go tomorrow."

 

"Woah, woah, slow down," Jensen says, heading toward him and placing a big hand on his shoulder. "We don't have to jump right into things. You're still hurt, remember? I want to see your plan, though, maybe I can help."

 

Jared sits on the couch and drags the laptop into his lap, opening it up. He clicks into the document and pushes the laptop onto Jensen's lap, wiggling into Jensen's space so he can read along with Jensen over his shoulder. "This is it," he says. "Had all day to think about it."

 

Jensen reads in silence, his eyes flicking back and forth, his face lit up by the soft blue glow. Jared watches his face for changing in expression, tells, anything. There's not much.

 

Jensen finally places the laptop onto the pillow by his side. "Very meticulous," he says, "definitely well thought out."

 

Jared frowns. "But?" he presses. "But you didn't like it?"

 

"But you're missing something," Jensen explains. "I'm not in there, and you're not going alone, Jay."

 

Jared puffs out his chest. "I can't be scared of him anymore," he says. "I can't always have you protecting me. So I've gotta go alone."

 

Jensen's eyes go wet and the iron rod disappears from his spine. He wraps an arm around Jared's neck and draws him closer. "No, you don't," he says, so softly. "I won't just be protecting you, you'll be protecting me. We'll have each other's backs, alright? I don't think you're weak, Jared. Hell no. But if you're set on going over there so soon, with all your injuries... I think you should have backup. Hell, I think we should have Chris and Mike in the car for backup."

 

"I want to it be over," Jared grumbles. "I want him to see that I'm an adult. What will he think if I bring you?"

 

"How do you see me?" Jensen counters, his jaw ticking. Jared doesn't think he's ever seen Jensen mad before, and definitely not at him. "Do you see me as your caretaker or your bodyguard? It's not like that. I'm your boyfriend. That's what he'll think if you bring me."

 

Jared hides his face in Jensen's shoulder. "You're right, I just..." he trails off, sniffling. "I'm sorry. You can come. I just want him to see me like a real person."

 

"He might never," Jensen says, gentle, rubbing a hand up and down Jared's arm. "That's not your fault, Jay. It's his. All of it."

 

"We can go in two days, with Mama here," Jared says. "Together. Is that okay?"

 

"It's great," Jensen says, kissing the top of Jared's head. "I am so damn proud of you."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Jensen

 

They sit at the front window like little kids watching the first snowfall of the year. The moment the taxi cab wheezes up to the curb, Jared is up and running, throwing the door open and moving out into the sunshine.

 

Jensen gets up, knees protesting, and hurries after Jared. The transition from shadowed home to Los Angeles sunshine is abrupt and he holds his hand above his eyes as a makeshift visor, watching as Lucy drops her bags and Jared leaps into her arms, wrapping himself around her.

 

Jensen's impressed. Lucy is slight and short, but she hardly reacts to Jared's excitement, not doing so much as a half-step backward after the ferocity of his catapult-like actions. She holds her own with a practiced ease. Jensen respected her before he'd even met her, but every moment he sees of the two of them interacting only further solidifies his convictions.

 

He comes closer after a couple of seconds of hovering. Jared pulls back, only to let out a ragged exhale and press his face back into his mom's shoulder. Lucy bends down and presses kiss after kiss to his forehead, her eyes crinkling up and getting watery at the corners, lips pulling down, her smile lines falling with them.

 

"I'm so sorry," she gasps, voice cracking like a man treading on thin ice, "I should've known, Jay baby. I should've seen it. You're hurt, aren't you? He--you're so small, where did all that weight go?"

 

"S'okay, mama," Jared rasps, staying glued to her side. "You were all the way down in Texas, you didn't see it."

 

"I shouldn't have let him take you away," she snaps, turning into a raging-hot fire of energy in a second. "Drunken, angry bastard. Of course he'd do this to my beautiful son."

 

"I'm sorry," Jared says. "I'm sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry."

 

"It wasn't your fault, Jared. Now, you listen to me-"

 

Her eyes flick up to meet Jensen's and he freezes, swallowing reflexively. He knows all the whirling emotions in her eyes aren't aimed at him, but they make his knees weak all the same, set his heart to running.

 

Jared stares up at his mother with big doe eyes after she stops speaking, then looks over at Jensen. Something clicks. "Oh. Mama, this is Jensen. My boyfriend."

 

Jensen steps forward and begs his body not to tremble. "Jensen Ackles," he manages. If only he could erase the pain and suspicion in her eyes. "I have heard so much about you, Miss...?"

 

"Please, just Lucy," she says, reaching out with the hand that isn't protectively splayed across Jared's back. "It's so nice to finally meet the man who makes my Jared so happy."

 

Jensen takes her hand and they share a firm handshake. "I do my best," he says, smiling at her. "I'm the lucky one, really. Jared is... amazing."

 

Jared detaches himself from his mom, hair mussed, cheeks pink. "Shush, both of you," he says, trying and failing to hide a grin. "C'mon, mama. I want you to meet Oscar. He's a mutt and he's super friendly. You're gonna love him. He reminds me so much of Sadie. Here, come inside. Jensen’s house is so nice."

 

Jensen and Lucy trade a knowing smile as they trail after Jared into the house. Jensen feels lightness growing inside him as they return to the cool oasis of home. Being at work alone was one of the most anxiety-inducing events of his life, and coming home to Jared's plan... everything on his mind has had a shadow hanging over it, a dimness, but seeing the way Jared and his mom interact wipes all that away. His mood is just as bright as the sunny weather.

 

Inside, Jensen brews a pot of coffee while Lucy coos at Oscar in the other room, intermittently interrupted by the sound of Jared's pleased giggles.

 

Jensen brings the coffee into the living room and gives Lucy a cup. "Sugar?" he asks, sitting down and taking a sip of his.

 

"No, black is fine," she says, mirroring Jensen. They all move to sit on the couch, Oscar curling up at Jared's feet.

 

Lucy takes several more sips, the room silent save for Oscar's pants. She straightens her back and sets the mug down on the coffee table, reaching over to take Jared's hand in both of hers. "Fill me in," she says. "And even if it's hard, tell me everything that you can, okay? I need to help you, sweetie."

 

Jared shoots Jensen a look and Jensen nods, stretching out to drape an arm across Jared's back. Jared leans into the touch and coughs, fingers absentmindedly moving in his lap as he begins to speak.

 

"Not much to tell... I came with George because I missed who he was before he drank a lot," Jared starts, staring down at the carpeting, eyes going faint. "He didn't... he didn't start hitting me for awhile but once he knew I wouldn't fight back he started doing it a lot more. Every little thing I did was wrong, everything I said was dumb. He stopped me from going to school and I only got to talk to Sandy for a little bit before she was off limits, too."

 

Jared shifts restlessly, leaning down to scratch behind Oscar's ear. "He... he just got worse, really. It was like I made him bitter about everything. He would try to hide it, even though I pretty much never left my room, but the more drunk he got, the less he cared. He sprained my ankle and a friend came over and saw how I looked. He made this big show of being concerned and took me to the hospital. I'd--I'd been once before and they'd asked me if I was being hurt. They did it again and treated me like I was a baby... kept pushing and pushing but George was right there. I couldn't say anything. George did everything the doctors asked, even let me go to physical therapy, but he wasn't happy about it. It just got worse and worse but Jensen made me feel brave. I told him about Jensen and he went nuts. I thought he--I thought he was gonna kill me."

 

"Oh, sweetheart," Lucy sighs, tucking Jared's hair behind his ear and briefly cupping his cheek. "You should have said something, we would have all come running."

 

"I didn't want you to know how stupid I was being," Jared said, dipping his head even further downward, bangs obscuring his eyes. "I didn't want a pity party for baby Jared."

 

Lucy tsks at him. "You know we love you," she says, kind and stern at the same time, "and we would not have judged you, Jared Tristan Padalecki. The only man who needs judgement is your father."

 

Jared gives her a hesitant smile, so full of relief it has Jensen's heart aching acutely in his chest.

 

"Now, Jared, we have to do something," Lucy says, switching tracks. "I want to talk to your father, maybe press charges. This isn't something I can stand for. Jeff and Megan want to see you so badly, sweetie. It will be so good to have you back home."

 

Jensen stills, eyes widening. Back home? Jared hadn't said anything about that. It had been a fear in the back of Jensen's mind, a little tidbit of worry, nothing more, but here it was, being brought out into the open before him. Jared was going to leave him. Just before things were getting better, just before we were starting to touch, his brain adds selfishly.

 

Lucy, ever aware, senses the tension between them and stands, picking up her coffee. "I'll give you two a moment," she says. "I think you have some things to figure out."

 

The silence she leaves behind is stifling and Jensen prides himself on being collected and calm, but he has no words. His brain has turned to mush at the mere thought of losing Jared.

 

Jared sighs. "I promise it never came up before," he says, pressing a quick peck to Jensen's skin. Now it seems that Jensen can only feel comfortable with Jared up in his space. "I think she just assumed I would come down with her. And I do wanna visit, I do, probably a couple times a year from now on... but I want to stay with you, Jensen. I want to live with you and go to school and come home to you."

 

Jensen feels the sharp needles of worry melt away and noses Jared's jaw, closing his eyes and taking a moment to soak in the relief he feels. "It's okay, Jay," he murmurs, "I want to stay with you, too. And I'd love to come with you to San Antonio and meet the family, if that's okay. Sadie and Harley sound like quite the characters."

 

"They are!" Jared blurts, beaming, before toning down his enthusiasm, coughing and scratching behind his ear. "Um, good. Great. I want you to be a part of my family forever."

 

"I'll try my best to be," Jensen vows, throat feeling thicker by the minute. "Let's not keep your mama waiting, huh?"

 

Jared stands and winces. "I don't want to break the news to her," he sighs.

 

Jensen takes Jared's hand. "Don't worry, she'll understand. She loves you, Jared, she'll stand by you, I know it."

 

Jared nods and leads Jensen back through the house. In the kitchen, Lucy is leaning against the island, giving both of them an odd, knowing smile. She tilts her head and appraises them both.

 

"It's alright if you stay, honey," Lucy says, after Jared opens and closes his mouth a couple of times without managing words. "I know how much Jensen means to you. But you have to come down for Christmas, okay? It's not the same without you there."

 

"Thank you mama," Jared says, and gives her a brief hug. "I'll come as often as I can, I promise. Thank you, thank you, thank you."

 

Lucy laughs. "Jensen, you better be careful. It's gonna be very hard to say no to Jared, you'll see."

 

Jensen's chest warms up and he commits the picture before him to memory. "I'll work on it," he promises, slipping his arm around Jared's waist.

 

Lucy, as it turns out, is more of a blurred whirlwind of action than Jared is. She never seems to stop, keeping the mood up with unfailing enthusiasm even as Jensen lags behind physically and emotionally. He's been worried about carrying himself and Jared through all of this, and having another person around to prevent Jared from sinking too far into himself is a godsend. Jensen feels guilty thinking of it like that, but he needs a break. Just a small one. A respite from all of it, that's all he asks for. That's all he needs. After that, he can jump right back in and face George, maybe request a few days off work, anything. Chris and San and the whole gang will back him up without question, too.

 

He leaves mother and son to reconnect some more and heads into the backyard. The grass is looking a bit scraggly. He nails two birds with one stone and lets Oscar and the lawn mower out at the same time, watching as his dog speeds out and flops around, rolling in patches of sunlight.

 

Jensen puts his whole mind into the tedious task, letting the loud roar of the mower drown out any dark thoughts that might stray into his head. It's sweaty and gross and tiresome but soothing all the same.

 

The sun has made quite a path across the sky by the time he kills the engine. When he looks up, Lucy sits alone on the back steps, steaming mug in hand. She's looking out at him, but Jensen's squint gives him no clues about her expression. She's like the brick wall behind her.

 

He gets his breathing under control and whistles to Oscar before walking over to her. She tilts her chin up at him as he approaches and he nods back, opening the sliding door to let Oscar inside before sitting down on the step next to her. He stretches his legs out against the stones of the patio.

 

"Where's Jared?" he asks, unable to sit in silence any longer.

 

"Walking a dog a couple of blocks over," Lucy replies, sounding as if it's the most normal, mild news in the world.

 

Jensen blinks. "What?" he barks. "Where? Did you take him? Is he alone out there right now? Do you know-"

 

"You're not his father, for godsakes," Lucy cuts in, like a steel blade arcing dangerously down, and Jensen shuts right up. "His father is an abusive, manipulative deadbeat, yes, but Jared is not a child. I am his mother. He asked me about it and I drove him. He didn't bring it up to you because he knew you wouldn't let him. And I'd say he was right."

 

Jensen opens his mouth but Lucy plows on, unperturbed.

 

"I know this is a tender situation. I know how sensitive Jared is, believe me. And I am glad he has you. I'm glad you aren't underestimating George. But my god, he is your equal too, Jensen. He may have autism but he is a consenting adult in a relationship with you. You can't coddle him forever."

 

"I'm not!" Jensen hisses, grinding his teeth. "You are a wonderful mother to him, alright, I see that. Thank you. Really. But you haven't been here. I--I know it's not your fault, but you haven't seen him crumble. You haven't seen the damage. So sorry if I'm a little damn protective. He's still learning how to stand up for himself. I don't see him as a little kid. I don't. He's smart as all hell. But for right now, this--I--this is something I'm carrying for him."

 

He lets out a breath. "You haven't seen it."

 

His thoughts go, inevitably, to Jared, to where he is right now, if he's safe. "I'm going to go get him," he says, standing.

 

"Jensen." Lucy follows him up and catches his wrist. She gives him a gentle smile, but there’s teeth. "Thank you for everything you have done, really. You clearly care for him. I know I can come across strongly, but Jared needs to learn to fend for himself. He is still in the neighborhood. He should be coming back any time now. He has my cellphone. He's okay, Jensen. He is. It was his idea to go."

 

Jensen wipes a hand down his face. "I would've liked knowing about this."

 

Her brow goes the slightest bit pinched. "I wanted to talk to you alone. I'm sorry for keeping you out of the loop, but Jared needed to go and you clearly needed a moment to yourself."

 

Jensen feels an icky mixture of selfishness and guilt sloshing in his gut and frowns. "He didn't have to go," he says.

 

Lucy's face softens. "He did," she says. "And I thought it was high time we talked, just the two of us."

 

Jensen shifts his stance, crossing his arms in front of his chest. "Behind his back," he accuses.

 

"In his best interests," Lucy corrects. "I have to get to know you, don't I? You passed my vetting, if that helps. I'm sure Jay wanted us to talk. I read his plan, you know."

 

"And?"

 

"And I like it," she says, "but I'm going to talk to George first. I can't stay too long, but if all goes well, the family will come up for a visit. That's all well and good. What I want to know is what you plan to do after."

 

"After?" Jensen parrots. He feels a bit like he's playing three games of chess at once and never even moved a single piece. Lucy is making moves in circles around him, reaching some kind of conclusion. About him, about Jared, about everything.

 

He likes her, even as he yearns to break away and sprint through the house and find his way straight to his boyfriend. As much as he hates to admit it, she's right. Her methods might be sketchy, but her heart is in the right place. Jensen can appreciate that.

 

"After Jared retrieves his things and moves in with you," Lucy fills in. "He says he wants to go to school. Will you help him? Do you intend to marry Jared? Do you want to have a family with him?"

 

"Woah, woah, woah, I uh," Jensen wets his lips. "That's all--that's all really sudden."

 

Lucy is completely unfazed. "Have you thought about it?" she asks. "Jared is not a casual dating kind of person. You already know that. He doesn't know how to go halfway."

 

Jensen swallows. "Does he... does he want a family?"

 

"That's for you two to talk out. Do you see having a long 'after' with him?"

 

"Yes," Jensen responds immediately, the response feeling familiar and comfortable on his tongue. "Yes, I do. I don't have anything planned, really, but I just--whatever he wants to do, I'll follow. Is that what you want to hear? He's it for me, alright? I swear."

 

Jensen shuts his mouth, body going rigid. He'd never said it before. He'd never thought about it in such concrete terms. He always knew it, somewhere deep down, floating along the waves of his thoughts, but letting it out in the open is another matter altogether. Jared is all Jensen wants. He's not quite sure when he went from falling for Jared to completely fallen, to smitten, to absolutely freakin' lost. But he is. All of that and more. He loves Jared so fucking much. He feels gifted to have gotten to know him, despite all the shit tossed their way.

 

He loves him.

 

When he finds his way back to his body, Lucy is still smiling at him. She looks like a proud mother. Her eyes are glassy and she rubs at them, laughing quietly. "Sorry to push and prod," she says in a croaky voice, "but... thank you. It's never easy for a mother to leave her boy, let alone twice, but I trust him with you. If you decide to marry him, you have my blessing."

 

Jensen coughs past the colossal lump in his throat. "I... thank you," he says, letting out an "oof" as Lucy pulls him into a quick, rough hug.

 

"I'll be happy to have you as my son-in-law," Lucy says, "and I've always wanted a cook, too."

 

Jensen grins and shakes his head at her, turning his head when he hears Oscar start barking at the front door, claws skidding on the hardwood floor as he runs to the front of the house.

 

Jensen pushes the door open and moves through the house, Lucy on his heels, heart crawling up his throat. The front door handle slowly turns and the door pushes open. Jared peeks his head through, eyes wide, face sunburned pink. His hair looks like a bird's nest and he's got a bag of doggy doo in his hand.

 

"Hello," he says, timidly slipping all the way into the house. "Down, Oscar."

 

Jared is avoiding Jensen's gaze. Lucy reaches a hand out and tries to tame Jared's hair. She's only partly successful. "Did you have a good walk, honey?"

 

"Oh, uh, yeah, I--" Jared takes a tiny peek at Jensen and Jensen tries to pour love into his face. Jared looks away. He takes two steps and tosses the bag into the trash can. "Mrs. Shapiro has two big dogs. They're both really nice. But I--I saw George's car when I was walking home."

 

"Jesus fucking christ on a stick," Jensen growls, getting two identical surprised looks. "Are you sure it was him?"

 

Jared nods. "He didn't do anything, though, just drove past."

 

"Shit," Jensen swears, "Ugh, I was hoping... I was hoping we'd have more time before he started interfering."

 

"It's nothing serious, was it Jared?" Lucy says, putting a hand on Jared's shoulder, and, fuck, the poor guy looks stricken. Jensen needs to pull himself together.

 

"Uh... no," Jared says. "And Jensen, I'm really sorry--"

 

"It's alright," Jensen cuts in. "It's fine, Jared. I can't always be watching out for you."

 

That doesn't seem to make Jared feel any better.

 

"Well," Lucy cuts in, saving them from any more painful beats of silence, "the last time I did something George didn't like, I had a black eye. The last time Jared did, even worse. I don't think we should put this off much longer."

 

"You're right," Jensen speaks up. "Maybe you should speak to him tomorrow."

 

"Consider it done," Lucy says, raising her head. Jensen almost expects her to sprout a majestic mane and roar, baring her teeth. "Jared, would you like to go through with your plan?"

 

Jared nods, folding his hands together.

 

Jensen takes Jared's hand and gives him a look, keeps looking until Jared really gets it. When Jared finally smiles, Jensen releases him and pulls back. He smiles back. "I'll call Sandy and the guys," he says, and they're all spurred into action, invisible timer counting down in all of their heads.

 

Tick, tick, tick.

 

Chapter Text

Jared

 

The world is seen through aquamarine lenses.

 

Jensen is next to him, lying on his side, facing away. The lighting is like dust and shadow and storm, and in the murky pre-sun world Jared can only make out the rise of Jensen’s hips, dip of his waist. Jensen breathes loudly in his sleep. It's not quite snoring. Jared likes having the reminder that he's real, that he's alive, that he won't leave Jared.

 

He reaches a hand out to touch the back of Jensen's neck and Jensen doesn't stir. His skin is warm and soft, pulled taut over bones and Jared knows he's freckled like chocolate chips in a cookie even if he can't see it right now. He wants to get to the point where he has Jensen's birth marks, scars, and freckles memorized. He wants to be able to trace paths and patterns with his eyes shut, his fingertip painting a story across Jensen's body.

 

Jared rolls onto his back and stares at the ceiling. There's a clock on the nightstand by his side but he's too lazy to contort his body just so he can see the time. It's probably around five. Jensen won't be up for awhile yet.

 

Jared doesn't think he'll be falling back asleep anytime soon, but he doesn't want to move, either. His body is comfortable. His mind, not so much. It is one track repeating, twisting itself in circles and unsheathing claws, cowering, cornered.

 

He's got a headache.

 

Today is the day. Today is the day. Today he goes back to his father's house and faces him, hopefully for the last time ever. Or, if his mama gets her way, the last time outside of a courthouse or a county prison. Maybe. Hopefully. Jared honestly has no idea. He knows he's lacking knowledge on several things, but legal jargon is pretty high on that list. It's something he defines as "real world," something he was kept separate from, something he is being quite thoroughly thrown into, out of the frying pan and what-have-you.

 

He would be lost and ruined without Jensen. Jensen, his grumpy, quiet, little rock. Jensen's a stone man with all others but practically cotton candy with Jared. Jared feels honored to have the privilege.

 

He’s struck with the sudden desire to give Jensen a gift, to really thank him. He knows Jensen’s well aware of what he’s done for Jared, and Jared’s never been rude, he doesn’t think so, but still. For all he knows, their time is running out. And Jensen gives him a home, a family, new experiences, love, and Jared gives him… something, at least. Something is keeping Jensen around.

 

Jared just doesn’t know where to start. It’s not like he has a bank account and a car and knows exactly which stores carry the prettiest cufflinks or whatever. Even if he did, that sort of thing feels cheap and tacky to him. He wants to give Jensen something thoughtful and personal.

 

He’s too old to be drawing stick figures on hastily-folded poster board, but shit, it’s the best his brain can come up with.

 

If only he had his art supplies. He could draw Jensen something. Maybe Oscar. Maybe Jensen, out cooking in the backyard on a cool day.

 

What else does Jensen like?

 

The question won’t leave him alone. He knows a few facets of Jensen. Knows he’s not a morning person. Knows his hands work literal magic on Jared’s body. Knows Jensen is loyal to a fault, and his loyalty has burned him in the past.

 

But other than that… zilch, or close enough to it.

 

What is Jensen’s favorite color? What is Jensen’s favorite animal? How did he meet Sandy? What embarrassing phase did he go through as a pre-teen? Star Wars or Star Trek?

 

Jared tosses about on the bed. These things shouldn’t matter to him this much, and yet, his brain is hooked on it. He’s lassoed Jensen’s mystery bits up and won’t let go. It’s obvious they still have a lot to know about each other. Jared wants to know more before it’s too late. He wants to thank Jensen before it’s too late. Preferably at the same time.

 

The “how” of it all routinely trips him up, like a highschool bully sticking his foot out in a crowded hallway between classes.

 

“Stop. Thinking. Loudly.” Jensen grumbles, and Jared doesn’t even have to see his boyfriend’s face to know he’s all drooly and gross right now.

 

Jared smiles. Jensen kicks his ankle.

 

“What are you doing up?” Jared whispers.

 

Jensen takes his time in rolling over to face him. Half of his face is deeply riddled with red pillow creases. He’s got a track of spit on the right side of his face. His hair… Jared is beginning to realize Jensen must take a considerable amount of time each morning showering and adding product.

 

“Couldn’t sleep,” Jensen yawns. “S’a big day.”

 

He’s adorable. He’s too cute. Jared thinks he must be designed for cuddling when he’s like this.

 

“Guh,” Jensen puffs, squinting over at Jared. “The hell’re you smilin’ at?”

 

“You,” Jared says, keeping his tone quiet in respect of the early morning. He takes a risk and reaches out to boop Jensen on the nose.

 

Jensen’s eyes go wide and he seems to poof up like an affronted cat. An affronted kitten would be more apt. Jensen, the wily bastard, snakes an arm out and wraps his fingers around Jared’s forearm with the speed of someone who is definitely not mostly still asleep. Before Jared knows it, he’s on his back with a Jensen blanketing his body, Jensen’s eyes boring deep into his.

 

He gets an idea.

 

“Thank you,” he whispers, reaching an arm up to rest it on the small of Jensen’s back.

 

Jensen shifts, getting a knobby knee off of Jared’s calf. “For what?”

 

“All of it,” Jared says, biting his lip. “You’ve done so much for me, Jen. What have I done for you?”

 

Jensen’s face falls. “Jay. Baby. You’ve done everything, got it? You don’t need to be thanking me all the time. No thanks necessary.” Jensen boops his nose.

 

Touche.

 

Jared lets loose a grin he’s been holding in, and Jensen’s face immediately lightens. Jared cannot believe the effect he has on such a beautiful man. It feels impossible, too huge to think about for too long.

 

“Still,” he murmurs, Jensen’s lips brushing against his, “I want to thank you.”

 

Jensen nips at his bottom lip. “Shush,” he says before going right back to making Jared’s lips red and sensitive.

 

“No,” Jared says, bucking his hips very pointedly. “No, I uh… I want to thank you.”

 

“You want to…? Oh.”

 

“Was that smooth?” Jared leans up to press a closed-mouth kiss to Jensen’s lips. He lets his head rest on the pillow once more. “It seemed smooth.”

 

“It was definitely smooth,” Jensen says. “Didn’t know you had it in you, baby.”

 

“I read about it on the internet,” Jared confesses. “Still good, right?”

 

Jensen gets Jared’s mouth open and licks into it. Jared’s body feels all fuzzy, blood thrumming heatedly through his veins. The zing of Jensen’s tongue doing all sorts of tricks in his mouth goes all the way down to his toes.

 

Jensen pulls back only after all the blood has left Jared’s head and left him gasping and aching. “Still good,” he husks, before shuffling downward and licking a stripe from Jared’s clavicle to his jawline.

 

Jared closes his eyes. He can’t manage any coherent sentences.

 

Jensen bites a path from behind Jared’s ear to his adam’s apple to his other ear. Jared’s hips shift and hump of their own volition, and each shift of his body presses the growing stain of precome on his boxers against the head of his cock. It’s dirty and good and better than anything he’s ever felt.

 

Jensen’s hand squeezes him and startles a moan out of low in Jared’s throat. “Mmm, Jay,” Jensen purrs, “you don’t even know what you do to me.”

 

Jared wriggles, both for friction and because his brain has remembered his intentions. “Let me do something,” Jared begs, weaselling out of Jensen’s grasp and pushing Jensen down into the mattress where he’d just been laying himself.

 

Jensen looks really, really good underneath him. And he’d look even better without clothes.

 

Despite the body-shaking, violent beating his heart is doing, he paws at Jensen’s shirt. “Off,” he says, and watches as Jensen complies.

 

Jared pets his hands across Jensen’s chest, laying his palms down on Jensen’s ribs and feeling Jensen’s body move up and down beneath his hands.

 

“If I do something dumb,” Jared says, “don’t tell me. I’m new at this. I’m still learning. I’ve had time to study, but just uh. Don’t tell me.”

 

Jensen laughs. “You studied?” he asks. “Do I even want to know?”

 

Jared knows he is the brightest red he has ever been. “No,” he chirps. “Now shut up and let me do this.”

 

“Do what--ohh, god,” Jensen’s question dissolves into a moan as Jared drags Jensen’s boxers over his hard-on and down his legs. Jensen kicks them off.

 

Jared crouches between Jensen’s spread legs. He feels stupidly nervous. He stares at Jensen’s dick, mouth watering. He never really put a label on his sexuality (didn’t get a chance to, really), but he totally knows he’s gay now. But being gay isn’t enough to give a killer blowjob. The word still seems absurd to him.

 

“Jay.” Jensen’s voice breaks him out of his thoughts. “Dude, c’mon, you know you don’t owe me anything, right? You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to?”

 

Jared can practically see Jensen getting softer by the minute.

 

“No,” he says, and reaches out and forms a fist around Jensen’s shaft, “No, I want to, okay? I want to do all those things you talked about.”

 

“If you’re sure,” Jensen says, and Jared wants to remove all the tension from his body.

 

He starts jerking Jensen slow and rough, like he’s watched Jensen do, like he’s started doing in the shower more and more. He furrows his brow, shifting his palm this way and that until it rubs up against the huge vein on the underside.

 

He takes Jensen’s muddled swears as encouragement and drags his hand up agonizingly slowly, bunching up the skin underneath the crown of Jensen’s dick. He holds it there for a moment, watching a bead of precome appear, then smooths his hand back down, using his fingers to trace and stroke at Jensen’s balls.

 

Not only is it the hottest thing Jared has ever experienced, but it’s a learning experience. He’s seen a few gay porn videos now, and he’s seen Jensen. He knows what feels good and that there’s probably no real way he could do this wrong.

 

He takes the precome leaking from Jensen and rubs it against his hand. Jensen’s hips buck and his toes curl. “Too sensitive, fuck,” Jensen whines, and Jared takes his hand away from the head. He knows too much stimulation is not the best thing.

 

He uses Jensen’s slick to give him a smoother hand job. He moves faster and faster, going from the base to the crown and back again, rubbing at the veins and using his other hand to pet Jensen’s inner thigh.

 

He takes a big breath and swallows. He props Jensen’s dick up with one hand and crouches lower down, getting his mouth right down to where he wants it to be.

 

He takes a testing lick at Jensen’s shaft. He flattens his tongue out and tries again, doing a broad swipe. The head of Jensen’s cock bumps against his lips. It tastes salty. It’s not too strong. He likes the taste, he decides. It’s not some ice cream treat slash liquid ambrosia combo like some guys in videos might make you think, but it definitely isn’t bad.

 

And it’s Jensen.

 

And, honestly, Jared is getting off on just. Just the concept of what he’s about to do. He’s helplessly screwing his hips against the mattress because this whole situation is so far removed from what he imagined he’d be doing with his life a couple of months ago. He didn’t think he had it in him. Well, he doesn’t have it in him yet, per se… but soon.

 

Jared giggles.

 

“Dude,” Jensen grunts, raising his neck to eyeball Jared in the least intimidating way possible, “you’re not making me feel too confident up here.”

 

“I’m just… it’s nice,” Jared says. “We should spend every morning being lazy together.”

 

“I might be willing to tolerate six A.M. if this is what it means,” Jensen grins. “I’m happy too, Jay.”

 

Jared blinks. “Good,” he says, and gets started so he can ignore the strangely weighted feeling pressing down on his shoulders and his heart.

 

He seals his lips around the head of Jensen’s cock. He uses his tongue to swipe around the underside, flooding his mouth with saliva so it’s good and wet for Jensen.

 

Jensen groans like he’s in pain, like he’s got no oxygen, and one of his hands comes down to lightly tangle in Jared’s hair, applying the slightest amount of pressure to the back of his head, a silent encouragement.

 

Jared sinks down a little bit lower. His mouth already feels almost full and there’s so fricking much of Jensen left. Jensen’s cock is huge and burning hot and beautiful. The heft of it against his tongue is staggering. He’ll make it work. He’ll make it good. It’s not like he thought he’d be an A-plus student on the first try.

 

He makes sure to use his tongue and swipe along the big veins on Jensen’s dick while he bobs slowly up and down, testing the waters. Each time he lowers his mouth around Jensen, he tries getting more in his mouth, tries doing fancier tricks with his tongue.

 

He’s only got about half of Jensen in his mouth when the head of Jensen’s cock nudges at the roof of his mouth and he gags a little, coughing and pulling up completely. He wipes at the spit on the corner of his mouth and frowns. His jaw aches.

 

“Jay.”

 

“Shut up.”

 

Jared carefully slips inch after inch into his mouth, sealing his mouth tight and hollowing out his cheeks. He doesn’t go further than he knows he can and uses his other hand to stroke Jensen where his mouth can’t reach.

 

He can hear the sloppy noises he’s making, blushes a little deeper red when beads of drool drip down Jensen’s length. Jensen doesn’t seem to mind, though, not at all.

 

Jared bobs faster and faster, gaining confidence. He uses his tongue like a windshield wiper one moment and like he’s licking a lollipop the next. They may not be the sexiest comparisons, but they get the sexiest noises out of Jensen, so.

 

Jared opens his eyes. He hadn’t even realized he’d shut them in concentration. He watches sweat pool in Jensen’s heaving tummy, watches Jensen toss his head back and forth. They meet eyes and it’s purely electric. Jensen’s fingers tighten in Jared’s hair.

 

Jared doesn’t look away. He keeps licking, keeps changing his speed, letting his lips drag slowly along the heated skin.

 

“Jay, Jay,” Jensen suddenly cries out, strained and desperate. “Too close, c’mon.”

 

Jared persists. He knows what’s coming. He wants it. He wants to try to swallow, wants the taste to explode all over his mouth.

 

He moves his mouth back up to the head of Jensen’s cock and sucks at it hungrily. He swipes around it, dipping his tongue into the slit.

 

Jensen lets out a guttural groan and Jared coughs as come shoots down his throat. He swallows as best as he can, but some of it dribbles out, spilling onto Jensen’s body. Flush with embarrassment, he swallows down all he can and then licks up the rest of the fluid at Jensen’s base.

 

“Jesus, Jared, jesus,” Jensen pants, perching on his elbows. “That was… jesus.”

 

Jared gives him a trace of a smile. “I like making you move like that,” he says, ducking his head.

 

“You kinky bastard,” Jensen chuckles. “Hey, c’mere, your turn.”

 

Jared can’t move fast enough. He crawls up the bed and collapses at Jensen’s side, half sprawled across Jensen’s body. Jensen’s hand runs up and down Jared’s side, warming him up, and his other hand squeezes the base of Jared’s dick in the best possible way.

 

Jensen’s calloused fingers have only been rubbing at him for a couple of strokes before Jared is just gone. He’d almost come when Jensen did, just from the experience of it, but this is overstimulation to the fullest. He lets out a squeaky keen and spills all over Jensen’s fist, the movement of his hips stuttering as his balls draw up and his body floods with liquid warmth. His muscles all relax after flexing and constricting, his toes twitching and curling.

 

He flops back into Jensen’s warm embrace. Jensen curls his arms around Jared and kisses Jared’s cheek. “Whaddaya wanna do now?” he whispers into Jared’s ear.

 

Jared turns his head to meet Jensen’s lips. “I think we might have to get up soon,” he whispers, and Jensen makes a dissatisfied noise but nods.

 

“Give me a moment first,” he says, tightening his grip on Jared, holding him closer, and Jared is more than happy to oblige.

 

 

Jensen’s living room is packed.

 

Jared’s mama came over from her hotel room around the same time Sandy and the gang arrived, and hasty introductions were made. After, they all crowded into the room, with Jensen, Sandy, Jared, and Mama all squeezed onto the couch and Chris, Mike, and Tom lounging in chairs. Mike is perched on the arm of Chris’s chair and Chris’s arm is wrapped around his waist.

 

No one speaks up. Oscar trots in, happy as can be, either blissfully unaware of the mood of the room or outright ignoring it. Jared leans forward and holds his hand out. Oscar trots over and licks at the webbing between his fingers. Jared scritches behind Oscar’s ear. The dog’s tail is wagging like crazy, hitting Sandy on the thigh and making a thwapthwapthwap noise amongst the quiet.

 

Lucy clears her throat. “I know we’d all like to sit around and talk about doing things for a good long while, but I think it’s time we put this plan into action. Jay, honey, I promise to call you after I’m done speaking with your father. Is there anything you want me to say to him?”

 

“Just…” Jared searches for the right words, his knee bouncing up and down. “Just try to get him to understand, okay?”

 

Lucy nods. She stands, smoothing down the front of her slacks. She slips past Jensen and ruffles Jared’s hair. She bends down to meet his eyes and holds his chin up. “Won’t even take long,” she says. “Before you know it, sunshine and roses.”

 

Jared smiles at her, leaning into her hand. “Sunshine and roses,” he repeats, nodding.

 

Lucy stands back and heads out the door. Jared can hear her on the porch calling a cab. Her voice is muffled but loud and confident and it’s really damn hard not to believe in her, to feel the same power running through him.

 

He is her son, after all. He can do this.

 

He doesn’t really keep track of when Lucy is gone. The rest of them head out to the back patio and Jensen cooks them burgers. The conversation is stilted, trying for light and failing. Despite everything, Chris looks tense, and Sandy looks to be on the verge of tears.

 

Jared keeps Jensen’s phone in his pocket, waiting for his mama’s call. He walks over to Sandy and sits down next to her at the table. He pushes a paper plate in front of her, loaded up with a steaming burger.

 

“Thanks, Jay,” Sandy says, but remains expressionless and still, the plate lying untouched before her.

 

Jared sighs and puts a hand on Sandy’s knee. She turns to regard him fully and the smile she gives him is clearly strained.

 

“You wanna talk about it?” Jared tries, tilting his head.

 

Sandy gives a barely-audible laugh. “Just worried about you, the usual,” she says. “Worried about your mom, too.”

 

“George won’t do anything,” Jared says. He sits up straighter. “He won’t,” he tries again, hoping for forceful. He looks out across the yard, meets eyes with Jensen for the barest of moment. He’s talking to Tom and Tom is nodding along at whatever Jensen’s saying.

 

He’s brought out of the moment by Sandy’s arms coming around him. She pulls back, patting him on the shoulder. Her brow furrows. “I really think-”

 

She’s cut off by Jensen’s phone beginning to chirp and vibrate in Jared’s pocket. He jolts. His heart starts to go crazy as he tugs the phone out of his pocket and fumbles to answer the call. “Mama?”

 

“Hey, Jaybird!” she greets, but she’s out of breath. “Honey, I’m so sorry.”

 

“What? Why?”

 

“I tried my best to get him to understand how you feel about Jensen, but he wouldn’t listen. I even tried to get Big Red Dog, but no luck. He’s not drunk, but he’s just… he wants a fight, Jared, and I don’t think you should give it to him.”

 

“I can’t… I’ve gotta be strong,” Jared coughs. “Sorry, mama, we’re still going.”

 

“I knew you would say that,” Lucy says, a ghost of a sigh. “Be careful, sweetie, and remember, I’m not afraid to bring the police into this.”

 

“Don’t,” Jared says, “I can just talk to him. He doesn’t deserve to be in jail.”

 

There’s silence on the other end. Jared hears the sound of a car door opening and slamming.

 

“Be careful,” Lucy says again. “I’ll see you later tonight, Jared.”

 

Jared swallows roughly. “See you,” he manages, and ends the call.

 

Sandy’s looking at him in question, and everyone else has orbited closer, put away their plates.

 

Jared looks Sandy in the eye. “Let’s go,” he says, and stands.

 

 

The front lawn of his house is completely overgrown, and there are several newspapers tossed onto the front walk that haven’t been picked up. The house has always been in disrepair. He can’t remember it any other way. The shutters have always been a rusty color, hanging off of their hinges. The gutter has always leaned away from the roof.

 

He turns his gaze away.

 

He’s alone in the car with Jensen--Sandy, Tom, Mike, and Chris took Chris’s van. They’re parked across the street.

 

Jared sighs and looks over at Jensen. Jensen’s eyes are sympathetic. He peers past Jared, staring up at the front door, eyes narrowed. “You ready?”

 

Jared’s hand twitches and he can’t seem to sit still. “I guess,” he hedges, and reaches for the door handle.

 

Jensen’s out of the car and around to his side in no time. Jensen opens up the trunk and dumps the lawnmower out on the curb. Jared gets out and carefully pushes the door shut. Jensen’s hand is warm on his arm. “Anything hurt right now?” Jensen asks. “If your ribs are still bothering you, just tell me.”

 

Jared smiles and shakes his head. “I’m okay, Jen,” he says. “I wanna do this.”

 

Jensen’s jaw tics but he nods, reluctantly drawing his hand away from Jared. “Lead the way,” he says, gesturing toward the house.

 

Jared nods to himself and draws a deep breath. He steps forward, focusing on putting one foot after the other. At the front door, he wastes no time and knocks, knowing George has been watching them through the window, knowing he’ll answer.

 

The door swings open and George leers at him, dressed in a stained tank top and boxers. He’s got a few days of stubble on his chin. “Listen, I told your mother, got it? You both are so similar, you wanna know how? With you two, it’s like-”

 

“I don’t care,” Jared interjects, but damn it, his voice cracks. He swallows and tries again. “I’m just here for my stuff, then I’ll be out again.”

 

George closes the door fractionally, uses it as a guard. “Why should I even let you in?” he spits, eyes narrowing. “Good for nothing kid asking for my stuff, that’s what I see.”

 

Jensen goes rigid at his side. “Mr.-”

 

Jared shoots him a warning look and Jensen’s eyes widen, but he shuts up, stepping back. Jared rolls his shoulders. He’s okay. He’s good. He’s gotta do this for himself.

 

“Yeah?” George barks. “Say it.”

 

“Dad, look,” Jared says, stepping closer, using his height to his advantage. He pushes on when George shrinks back, looking smaller by the minute. “Would your-” Jared puffs up and takes another step. “I don’t think you want your friends to see a bunch of cop cars pull up. I’m sure Mama said something. If you don’t believe me, believe her.”

 

George squints at him for a long moment, the knuckles gripping the edge of the door turning red, then white. “Fine,” he says, and yanks the door the rest of the way open, stepping back. “You’ve got five minutes.”

 

Jared steps in and George slams the door behind him, quick as a viper striking. Jared stumbles and turns around just as George flips all the locks. Jensen moves to the side window, staring in at Jared and George with burning eyes. He jiggles the door handle but it’s no use. “Let me in!” he calls.

 

“One fag at a time,” George growls, and draws the blinds down over Jensen’s face.

 

Jared takes a few careful steps backward. George’s back is still to him. Jared knows the stairs are directly behind him. If he can just get up and out, he’ll be fine.

 

George turns around. “Go to your room,” he says, and his voice is quiet but simmering. Jared knows the tone well. The bruises on his body pulse and throb, remembering.

 

“No,” he says, and raises his voice, “Jensen! I’ll be okay. I’m getting my things. Just wait outside.” He reaches back and puts his hand on the railing, puts a foot on the first stair.

 

George sneers. “You’re already grounded for a month for what you’ve pulled. No yelling in my house. Do you want it to be worse, boy? Don’t be stupid. If that’s possible, you simpering loser. Up. Stairs.”

 

“You know what, George?” Jared says “I am going upstairs. And I’m grabbing my stuff and going out to Jensen and Mama. I’m an adult. You can’t keep treating me like a child.”

 

“Oh, that’s rich,” George starts, and Jared knows for a fact he’s about to go on an ego-stroking, rambling rant, that will most likely be degrading insults toward Jared and his sexuality and his autism and you know what, Jared has heard it all before.

 

Now he doesn’t care. Now he doesn’t believe it.

 

He turns and walks up the stairs.

 

“Don’t you turn away from me!” George calls, and follows after him. Jared feels a hand on his arm and wants to scream. He doesn’t. He bites down on the urge. He tugs his arm away from George’s grasp.

 

“Don’t touch me,” he says.

 

George pushes him.

 

Jared falls at the top of the stairs. He’s only on his knees for a moment before he’s up and whirling around, startling his father.

 

“What are you gonna do?” George says, holding his arms out. “You won’t hurt your old man.”

 

“I won’t,” Jared agrees. “But I’ll take photos. I’ll have a statement. I’ll have witnesses. What do you have?”

 

Jared’s heart is going a mile a minute but it’s not like a rabbit, not at all. It’s more like a lion or a tiger and he feels empowered, feels confidence shooting through him, and knows he’s called his dad out. Feels the tides shifting, knows he’s got a checkmate, and certainty courses through his bones. This is what it feels like to have the upper hand.

 

It’s kind of addicting.

 

George opens and closes his mouth. “And to think we’re family,” he tries.

 

Jared rolls his eyes and continues down the hall. He steps into his room and grabs his backpack out of the closet. His eyes rove around the room--cataloguing everything. He doesn’t know if his dad will break and hit him or what his next step is. He has to do this as fast as possible or Jensen still might call the cops.

 

He can’t take everything, even though he hardly even has enough things to fill a suitcase.

 

It’s a garbage dump type of feeling, but he starts moving anyway. He takes the soup can full of colored pencils and tilts the contents into the bag. He drags open the bureau drawers and grabs fistfuls of clothing. He grabs a stuffed dog from his desk. The sticky notes. His sketchbook. A hoodie. A single framed photograph of him and Meggie on horseback that he wraps in a t-shirt before depositing it into the bag.

 

He finds his Big Red Dog backpack tucked under his pillow and holds it to his face, inhaling the smell of it. He feels the soft texture of it for a moment before putting it into the bag.

 

He stands in the middle of the room and looks around. What was sparse is now downright Spartan, lacking any human connection. No attachment. No love. He won’t miss this place. He zips up the bag and moves to the doorway, where George leans, giving him a weak, nose-up glare.

 

“You’re making a mistake, you know,” George says, his voice throaty with cigarette ash.

 

“No, I’m not,” Jared says, giving his father a returning glower. He slips past his father, his heart crawling up his throat, but George makes no move to touch him.

 

He’s at the staircase again when a hand touches his arm. Even though it’s not aggressive or dangerous, he shrugs out of the touch, feeling dirtied.

 

“Just listen once, damn it,” George coughs. “I got something to say.”

 

Jared takes a single step, but stops. He tilts his head, giving his father this one last out. One last opportunity.

 

“I can smell it on you,” George wheezes. “The fear and desperation. You think that’s crap? It isn’t. I know you, boy. If you’re not lookin’ for my pats on the back, you’re lookin’ for his. Do you think he honestly wants you for who you are? Do you think he really loves you, Jared? Do you think he’s in love with you?”

 

Jared’s hand clenches on the railing. “I-”

 

“He doesn’t,” George sighs.

 

Jared goes rigid. He wants to move. He can hear Jensen calling, downstairs, outside, where freedom is. But something holds him back.

 

He keeps his eyes glued to the front door, using it like a tether.

 

He takes another step.

 

“He doesn’t want your cheap little quirks or your idiotic comments. He fucking tolerates ‘em, Jared. You know what he wants? Your body.”

 

A hand slaps roughly at his ass and he gasps, heading down three more steps. “Don’t touch me,” he rasps, and his entire body is burning hot and freezing cold at the same time. His mouth goes dry.

 

“It’s the only good thing about you worthless kid,” George says, and the worst part about it is that he sounds sad. Ashamed. No anger left. “You’re a thing to fuck. Everyone eyes you like a hole on legs, chicks and fags alike. That guy out there only wants to fuck you. He doesn’t want to deal with you.”

 

Jared hears George step up behind him, feels hot breath on the back of his neck and closes his eyes, resisting the urge to vomit.

 

“You already gave it up,” George notes, sounding smug. “You did, didn’t you? You wanted him to like you so you fucking put your ass up in the air, you sucked him off, I know it. You’re tellin’ me that right now.”

 

“Shut up,” Jared demands. “You--you fricking pervert--”

 

“I’m right, though, I know I am,” George plows on, unperturbed. “He’ll get bored of you, Jared. He’ll want someone smarter, not a fucked-up baby in a man’s body. And when he does, you’ll come crawling back here. Back to me. And why the hell should I let your sorry ass back in?”

 

“You’re wrong,” Jared growls, seeing red. He stomps down the rest of the stairs. “I came with you in the first place to help you, ‘cause I cared about you, but-but- you’re disgusting. I’m leaving. Don’t ever touch me again.”

 

George laughs. “No one loves you, Jared,” he says. “It’s impossible to love you. Trust me, I know. You’re pathetic. If you come back here, I should leave you on the streets to become a whore. But maybe I won’t. You keep that in mind, kid. When he’s groping you and grunting like a monkey, you think of me.”

 

Jared shivers and runs for the door, swallowing back puke.

 

He goes for the handle and pulls, but the locks, he forgot about the locks. Hot, angry, stupid tears cloud his vision and his hands are shaking like dead leaves on dead trees in the dead of winter but he finally manages to undo all the bolts and swing the door open. Jensen’s there an instant later, crowding close, and Jared. Does. Not. Want. It.

 

He pushes past Jensen and trips down the stairs, goes flying. He runs down the path and collapses against the car, dragging the door open and pitifully trying to hold back sobs. He presses a hand over his mouth to stifle the noises and drops into the passenger seat, the movement jarring the last of the bruising on his ribs.

 

He slams the door and draws his knees up, folds into a tiny box on the seat and buries his face in his knees. It’s hard to breathe and his eyes hurt and his throat hurts and his back hurts and his head hurts and oh god. He really is a baby. He really is stupid, stupid, stupid, to think he could just go in there and walk out.

 

Even now, he should feel lucky, feel grateful he walked out in one piece.

 

But he feels violated.

 

George’s words ring in his ears, persistent, like an alarm. Claxons going off, deafening him. He can’t get them out. He tells himself he doesn’t believe his father, but he can feel the ideas growing tendrils and slipping them into his brain, getting past his defenses.

 

He hates it. He hates himself. If only he were strong like his mama. Like Jensen.

 

But he’s just like his dad, really. Maybe that’s why he ran away with him. Maybe that’s what led him here.

 

He mashes his face into his knees and keeps his eyes closed even when the driver’s side door clicks open and the car dips as Jensen gets in. He doesn’t want to see anything. He doesn’t want to hear anything. He doesn’t think his body or his mind can take that right now.

 

“Jared?” Jensen calls softly, his seatbelt clicking audibly in the near-silence. Jared hears him fumble with the keys, hold in a sigh. “Jared?”

 

A hand reaches out a brushes Jared’s shoulder blade. He twitches away from the intrusion, fails at repressing a shiver that wracks his entire frame. His tongue is huge in his mouth and he doesn’t want to speak, anyway. He wants it all to go away.

 

Jensen’s hand pulls away and a moment later the ignition turns over and the car rumbles to life. Jensen calls Chris but Jared doesn’t pay attention to any of the words exchanged.

 

A moment later, the car is moving, turning, heading back toward Jensen’s house.

 

The last thing Jared hears before he shuts down completely is Jensen’s worried, whispering tone. “I’m still here for you when you want to talk,” he murmurs, “and so is Lucy and everyone else. It’s gonna be alright, Jared, I promise.”

 

Jared goes inside his head and locks the gate.

 

 

Chapter Text

Jensen

 

Jensen feels useless.

 

He’s sitting alone on his couch, Oscar in his lap. Jensen’s staring at the T.V. but not really seeing it. His mind is elsewhere.

 

His mind is upstairs in the guest room where Jared locked himself up hours ago. He hasn’t shown his face since.

 

Jensen’s tried so many times, knocking at the door, pleading and begging in cajoling tones. Slipping notes under the door alongside a pencil. Offering Oscar, promising that he himself won’t go in and bother Jared.

 

Anything.

 

The only thing he receives is silence.

 

He’d been two inches away from breaking down the door when Lucy finally arrived. After filling her in, she led Jensen back downstairs. Told him not to bother Jared. Said he’s probably overstimulated right now, overloaded, and the best thing Jensen can do right now is offer him silence, alone time, and space.

 

She’s gone now. Everyone’s gone back home. The rest of them could sense what Jensen couldn’t, why couldn’t he? He’s Jared’s damned boyfriend, he should be able to know what Jared needs.

 

And yet.

 

And yet he’s got no fucking clue. No clue how to help Jared. He has no experience with this kind of thing. He doesn’t have Asperger’s, he doesn’t have actual vermin for a father.

 

Hell, he doesn’t even know what George did, what he said. Jared seemed okay physically from what little Jensen could assess. He doesn’t think Jared would hide away if he were gravely injured.

 

It’s all emotional. It’s all another mark on Jared’s sweet, lovely mind. One too many.

 

Jensen’s never been the violent kind, never been interested in alpha male, top dog garbage, but shit, right now. Right now he wants to protect Jared, wants to fight for him. Wants to do unspeakable things to George and bury the corpse of his sins somewhere far away where no one will ever find them.

 

Oscar whines and mashes his face into Jensen’s hand. Jensen takes a breath to clear his head and slowly pets his dog, cogs turning fitfully in his mind.

 

All he wants to do is help Jared actively somehow.

 

Lucy said to give him space, he reminds himself. You’re helping right now.

 

Jensen curls over himself and presses his face into his hands. He knows he’s worrying the hell out of Oscar, but he can’t find the strength or the energy to comfort his dog.

 

Jensen stands up and paces. Does a circuit around the house. Refills Oscar’s food bowl, even though it was mostly full already.

 

He ends up outside the guest room door again, ears straining to pick out even a single noise in the silence. Nothing. He rests his forehead against the wood.

 

“Jared, I don’t mean to bother,” he murmurs, just loud enough to be heard, “but I’m worried about you, okay? I want to help. So the moment you feel better, just… come to me. We can, we can, uh, talk about it… I’m no good at this, but… you mean a lot to me, Jay. I’m here, you know that, right? I?”

 

Jensen’s breath hitches. He lays a palm against the door.

 

“I’ll be downstairs if you need me,” he says. “I promise I won’t leave. I’ll make dinner in an hour, okay? All your favorites.”

 

Jensen opens his mouth and the rest of the words don’t come. He closes his mouth. Nothing more needs to be said.

 

He turns and heads back down the stairs.

 

 

He’s been sitting around and moping for a bit when there’s a soft knock at his door.

 

He gets up, pauses for a moment. He’s not expecting anyone just yet. There was a bar hangout arranged for later, but considering Jared’s state, it probably won’t happen. The others will understand.

 

He opens the door and is brought face-to-face with Steve.

 

Jensen’s first instinct is to slam the door shut again, but his hand won’t obey the command. Instead, he takes a moment to just… look.

 

God. Even after all this time, Steve’s worn face is a familiar sight. Dirty blonde hair, man bun… all that’s missing is the guitar around his neck. He hasn’t changed.

 

“You haven’t changed,” Jensen says without thinking. The nostalgia goes down his throat like poison. He’s not thinking of happy memories and sunshine.

 

Steve’s face turns earnest. His hands are clasped in front of him. “Jensen, man… listen. I just want to talk.”

 

Jensen stares down his nose at his ex-fiance. “Why should I even give you the time, Steve? You haven’t spoken to me once.”

 

Steve shrinks back. “Please, I just want to-”

 

“Danneel hasn’t spoken to me once,” Jensen bites out, cutting in. “I think it’s pretty clear how you both feel. Have a good day, Steve.”

 

“Jensen, wait!” Steve rushes, pleads. He seems close to getting down on his knees. “I know I fucked up, I know, I’m not asking you to forgive me… just hear me out, man, please. That’s it. Just one conversation. I promise I’ll be gone again.”

 

Jensen knows he should slam the door in his face. He can’t help think of Jay, though, Jay going home to face his dad, Jay giving him that chance.

 

He doesn’t think Steve deserves it. He doesn’t think anything Steve can say would make him forgive him.

 

Yet he opens the door and lets him in.

 

Steve instantly melts. It’s almost pathetic. Jensen feels a tiny twinge of satisfaction. “Thank you, thank you,” Steve says, nodding vigorously, and moves into Jensen’s living room.

 

Jensen sits on the edge of the couch, moving stiffly, folding his hands in his lap, acutely aware of every piece of him, of everything Steve must be seeing.

 

Steve sits in the chair across from him and leans forward. He ducks his head, hair falling in front of his face. Peeks back up. “How are you, Jensen?”

 

Jensen sits up straighter. He runs over answers in his head, combing through them for the perfect words.

 

“I’m fine,” he starts, keeping his tone carefully controlled, “Jay is upstairs sleeping, so let’s keep it quiet, okay?”

 

There’s the barest of ripples across Steve’s placid face. He tilts his head. “Jay?” he asks, giving a scarecrow smile.

 

Jensen can’t help the petty satisfaction that rushes through him like adrenaline. He gives a slight nod, channeling the royal, the haughty, perfecting his poker face. “My boyfriend,” he says.

 

Steve’s brow scrunches up and he looks genuinely concerned.

 

He probably is. Despite his fuck-ups, he’s not some heartless bastard. Before the big mess, Jensen had seen him as the complete opposite, empathetic and generous.

 

“Is he okay?” Steve asks.

 

Jensen allows himself to sink back into the cushions. He doesn’t think Steve’s faking concern. “He’s sick, but he’s getting better,” he says, “I’ve been helping him with physical therapy.”

 

Steve’s strong smile lines crinkle as he lights up, looking pleased. “Jensen’s magic hands,” he muses, slapping himself on the knee. “He’ll be better in no time.”

 

Jensen takes a moment before responding. “...Yeah,” he says, and gives Steve the polite, patient sort of look that says “get to the point.”

 

Steve sobers. “Jen, I’m glad you’re doing well,” he says. “Really, I didn’t mean to hurt you, man. It was a mistake. A big mistake.”

 

Jensen’s jaw clenches. If Steve thinks he can ask after Jared and segue straight into “let’s get back together,” he’s got something coming. Jensen’s imagination has become surprisingly violent since learning about George, and he has no shortage of images of what he plans to do to Steve. “It was,” he agrees, waiting for Steve to continue.

 

“I know this doesn’t mean anything, I know it’s an excuse, but Danneel, she… she kept coming after me, man. Telling me you’d never know. Even just stripping in front of me. She seduced me.”

 

Jensen can’t help a laugh. “And here I thought you were gay,” he says.

 

Steve winces. “I don’t talk to her anymore. I told her point blank that we fucked up, she didn’t care. I told her to go. Never saw her again. I lost the best person in my life to worst, Jensen, and I’ll never forgive myself for that.”

 

“Listen, Steve, blaming Danneel isn’t gonna-”

 

“Please, Jensen.” Steve’s desperate. He practically reeks of it. “I’m not asking for you back, I’m not asking for us to try again, but I want to try to fix things. I don’t want us to hate each other. Can we try that?”

 

Jensen pauses. He’s carrying so much with him, and so much of it is hate. Truth is, he’d like to be lighter, to be happier for Jared. But he’d been so sold on the idea of never seeing Steve’s face again that the concept of something amicable seems foreign, expired, sticky.

 

He thinks about Danneel, how much of it was her idea and how much of it Steve’s trying to desperately pin on her, to turn her into a villain. Jensen wonders if he’d ever give her a chance, either.

 

“I’m so sorry,” Steve rasps, and shit, his eyes are wet and bright. “I can’t fix it in a day, I can’t fix it in ten. But… maybe one day you can forgive me.”

 

Jensen sighs. He presses a hand to his forehead. Steve couldn’t have had worse timing. “Maybe,” he allows, half sincere, half to get Steve to leave.

 

Steve looks like Jensen has just come down from the heavens and granted him a miracle, complete with fancy harp and toga. “Th-thank you,” he says, bobbing his head, swallowing down his relief. “You’re a better man than me, Jensen. Thank you.”

 

Jensen shifts, feeling slightly restless, thoughts drifting up the stairs and past the guestroom door.

 

Steve’s eager to fill the silence. “I’d love to meet Jay, too,” he adds, grinning earnestly.

 

“He’s Jay to me,” Jensen says. “His name’s Jared.”

 

“Jared,” Steve quickly corrects, smiling. “I’d love to meet Jared.”

 

That’s a whole other can of worms.

 

“Maybe,” Jensen repeats, and Steve knows when to take what he can gets.

 

He stands, dusting off the seat of his pants. He extends a hand to Jensen and waits.

 

Jensen stands, knees cracking, putting hands on the small of his back and stretching. He’s never felt so old in his life.

 

He takes Steve’s hand and shakes it.

 

Steve pulls away. Normally, he’d go in for a hug. He’s almost as tactile as Jared is.

 

Jensen’s glad he doesn’t.

 

He walks Steve to the door. They trade some meaningless goodbyes Jensen can’t recall saying the moment the door is closing. Steve puts a hand on Jensen’s shoulder but pulls away at Jensen’s look. Jensen can still feel his hand even after Steve is long gone. It makes him twitchy. He leans against the door, letting out a long breath and staring up the stairs.

 

The door to the guestroom is cracked open.

 

Jensen’s heart sets off like an engine firing. Shit, shit, shit. There’s the dangerous possibility of a disastrous level of miscommunication, of Jared figuring out it was Steve and that Jensen’s willing to work things out with him.

 

He jogs up the stairs and pauses in front of the door, slightly winded.

 

He knocks on the door and it drifts a little further open under his touch. “Jared?” he calls, keeping his voice soft and gentle. “Jared, you okay?”

 

He hears a sniffle.

 

He pokes his head in the opening and sees Jared under the far window, curled up, arms latched across his knees. His face is splotchy and red.

 

“I didn’t know there were gonna be strangers here,” Jared whisper-sighs. “I--I tried to come down, but I wanted it just to be you.”

 

“It’s okay, dude,” Jensen says. “I don’t think it’s a good time for any introductions, either. He’s gone, though, it’s just us now.”

 

Jensen pauses. He really doesn’t want to deliver this news.

 

He opens his mouth and gets a little closer to Jared, sitting down in front of him. “That was Steve.”

 

Jared’s eyes meet his. Jensen only sees a wary, frightened animal. “Ex-fiance Steve?” Jared asks.

 

Jensen bites his lip and nods.

 

Jared turns his head away. “Oh.”

 

“He wanted to fix things,” Jensen explains. “He came to apologize. He didn’t want to get back together, just wanted to talk things over, asked that some day I could forgive him. I wouldn’t put it past him to ask to get back together once he thinks we’re friends again, though.”

 

Jared’s face seems to tremble.

 

Jensen shuffles closer. “It’ll never happen, Jared,” he says. “I thought I could be more like you, you know? And give him a chance. Even though I thought he didn’t deserve it. I wanted to be as kind as you. So I said maybe. But I made it clear we’d never date ever again. I told him I have a boyfriend who I love very much.”

 

Jared looks back up at him and smiles. Jensen’s entire soul seems to breathe a sigh of relief. He leans forward and ruffles Jared’s hair. Jared leans into the touch. “He said he wanted to meet you,” Jensen continues, “but that’s totally up to you, Jared. If you don’t want to, that’s fine. I don’t think we should do anything for awhile, anyway.”

 

Jared nods in agreement but doesn’t add anything.

 

“Listen, do you…” Jensen searches for ways to get Jared to smile and laugh. “You wanna go on a walk with Oscar? Bet we could hunt down that ice cream truck.”

 

“It’s okay,” Jared murmurs. “I’d like some more time, if that’s okay. I’m sorry.”

 

“Nothing to apologize for,” Jensen nods. “I’ll be downstairs if you need me.”

 

Jensen gets up but makes no move for the door. “You’ve got your art stuff and your computer,” he says, “but if you ever need anything else, just ask. Seriously.”

 

He turns and leaves. He’s not sure what to make of today, if it was a step in the right direction or a step back or a standstill.

 

It’s too soon to tell.

 

He should probably call Chris, or Sandy, or Lucy. He should keep them in the loop, should schedule things, arrange things, call his work. Ask for some more time off. Hell, he could probably fill several pages of a planner with the things he should be doing, the things that need to be done.

 

But Jensen needs a moment, too.

 

 

Chapter Text

Jared

 

Jensen’s guest room is simple and sparse, hardly touched, hardly used. Jared sympathizes. It still smells like Jensen, though, still holds that comfort.

 

It has a view of the backyard. Jared watches Jensen toss a stick for Oscar. Oscar dashes off for it, tail wagging like the dickens. They weave a meandering path through the grass. Even from here, Jared can see the strain on Jensen’s face, can see how Jensen tries to keep it light and silly for Oscar.

 

Jared smiles down at them, but something pulls at him from inside.

 

He hadn’t expected Steve. He hadn’t expected to hear his pleading tone come wafting up the stairs. He’d sounded so genuine. So in love with Jensen.

 

Jared is so screwed.

 

It’s an easy choice in his head. Jared’s young and dopey. He doesn’t have any practical skills, doesn’t have a job, doesn’t even know all the probably hilarious pop culture references Jensen throws out. He’s hurt. Weak. Small. Injured. Frightened. A weirdo. Sensitive.

 

He’s a lot of work with very little reward. A full-time commitment.

 

Like a baby.

 

He can feel his father’s hands come up around his neck.

 

He was right. Jared is unloveable. Not long-term, anyway. Soon, Jensen’s gonna take off the rose-tinted lenses and he’ll see. He’ll see what being with Jared truly means.

 

Against Steve, it’s no question. Steve is beautiful and smart and he doesn’t have Aspie’s. He’s a grown, successful man, and he and Jensen have almost a decade of history together.

 

Jensen should forgive him. Jensen should try again. With Steve, they’d probably pass all the inspections that come with adoption, they’d probably afford a nice house, raise a perfect little nuclear family together.

 

What chance of that does Jared have?

 

What chance does Jared ever have?

 

A small part of his brain warns he’s being over-dramatic, spiralling further down into paranoia and self-loathing, but he’s not. He’s just stating the facts.

 

He is one-hundred percent a burden. He’s never been anything else. He’s the reason for the deepness of the lines on his mother and father’s faces. He doesn’t want to do that to Jensen, too. Jensen has such a beautiful soul.

 

And here Jared is, slowly killing it.

 

God. He blinks past aching, red eyes and pushes his matty hair away from his forehead. He’s greasy and gross and just. Just.

 

He should leave. He knows he should.

 

But the other only option he knows is impossible.

 

If he went back to George, it wouldn’t end at a slap on the ass or a shove to the shoulder. He knows it wouldn’t. And no one would ever know.

 

No. He may be a bit of a loser, but he doesn’t think that lowly of himself.

 

He’d rather die than go back.

 

It’s as if everything goes silent then. He sits up straighter and looks away from the window. Jensen’s gone back inside. The world is slipping into dusk outside, and people everywhere are going back home to spend the evening with their families.

 

He wants Jensen to have that chance.

 

Jared doesn’t think he’s ever had an epiphany before, but now the calm sense of certainty that flows through him is almost addicting. It’s as if the universe has come into order and he knows exactly what to do.

 

He saw it in a movie once.

 

He writes out a plan and tucks it under the pillow for safekeeping. He gets into bed and waits, watching as the sun falls and the moon rises and the world zeroes in on blacks and whites and greys. He hears Jensen’s bedroom door open and shut. Waits a bit longer.

 

He gets out when he’s confident Jensen’s sleeping. He slips the door open, treading into the hallway with light, short breaths. He peers up and down the dark, shadowed hallways, listening.

 

Something hits his leg and he jumps, holding back a scream. He looks down and a puff of fur is doing circles around him. Oscar’s eyes gleam in the low light.

 

Jared kneels down and puts his arms around Oscar’s neck, pressing his face into his warm body. “Bye, Oscar,” he whispers, standing and giving the dog one last pet.

 

He moves past him and starts down the stairs. Oscar silently follows after him as if they’re on some late-night mission, tail straight up in the air, ears forward, tongue lolling about. Jared sighs inwardly but doesn’t fight it.

 

The downstairs bathroom has a medicine cabinet behind the sink. Jared steps in and flips on the light, squinting in the abrupt brightness. He sees his reflection in the mirror and averts his eyes, opening up the cabinet,

 

He grabs a box and peers at the label. Bandages. Nope. Next one--laxatives. Uh, nope. There’s something for joint pain but the bottle’s only got one pill and the prescription is for Jensen. He probably needs it. He picks up a box of sleeping pills and pulls out the plastic sheeting with the pills. Just one.

 

He pries it out and holds it in his sweaty palm. The last bottle is over-the-counter pain relief. He pops the cap and dumps the contents into his hand alongside the sleeping pill.

 

Two.

 

Even if he combined them it wouldn’t be enough. Even the medication wouldn’t do anything to numb the pain. It wouldn’t be enough even just to have a moment with a cloudy head, away from the persistent ferocity of real life.

 

It’s not fricking enough.

 

Jared shoves everything back into the cabinet. He can’t see anything past the blur of tears in his eyes and soon enough, one hot tear drips down his cheek. They don’t stop.

 

Jared presses a hand over his mouth and contains himself. His sobs are silent as he climbs back up the stairs and into his room. His eyes adjust quickly to the darkness and he spots his backpack lying on the ground.

 

He picks it up and packs a change of clothes. He picks up Clifford, but makes a face at himself and sets the dog plush back down. He leaves his sketchbook behind, almost completely full with little doodles of Jensen and Jared and Oscar, a loosely-plotted comic about spending a holiday together.

 

It’s absurd now.

 

He’s a sniffling mess and he can’t breathe properly. His chest feels like it’s got hooks in it, pulling upward, never satisfied, tugging and tugging.

 

Downstairs, he snags a single energy bar and a bottle of water and feels lower than vermin, grosser than the slick mold inside sewers. Stealing. That’s what he’s doing. Stealing from the love of his life.

 

It’s only enough to last him as long as he needs, but it doesn’t take away from the crappy reality of his actions.

 

A loud sob squeezes past his torn throat and he freezes. Oscar makes a small sound of worry from the living room and comes trotting over. Jared stays still, listening with sharp ears.

 

All he can hear is the tinkling noise of Oscar’s collar.

 

He lets down his guard and makes his way to the front door.

 

He pauses, memorizing Jensen’s space. He knows he should leave a note but it would do no good. His mama… he can’t think about it.

 

The outside waits. The real outside. Jared’s been living in a bubble too long. First Mama’s, then George’s, and finally Jensen’s.

 

Jared doesn’t deserve a bubble life anymore. He doesn’t deserve much of anything.

 

He steps outside and quietly closes the door behind him.

 

 

It’s kind of embarrassing how it all goes down.

 

Jared picks a direction and sticks to it. The bleached, unbroken sidewalks of Jensen’s neighborhood grow dull and cracked as he makes his way into the city proper. The streetlights are a dying orange, giving him only brief pockets of light to shield him from the darkness.

 

Jared decides to find a pharmacy and start there. He knows they all kinds of over-the-counter medicines, a lot of them for pain.. He’ll work it out from there, form a plan as he goes on.

 

In retrospect, he should’ve researched more, maybe bought a map. It isn’t really his fault he was basically raised in a tower away from human civilization, but he shakes his head at himself anyway. Jensen’s laptop was at his disposal. Surely google could have helped him develop some street smarts.

 

Whatever. It’s all in the past now.

 

He’s passed the hardware store and is getting closer to the loud-and-proud central downtown districts when he realizes he’s being followed.

 

As in honest-to-god followed.

 

It’s dark, so he can’t get a good read on the make and model of the car that’s been following him about a couple hundred feet back for a couple miles or so. Even if it were broad daylight, he knows very little about cars.

 

Still. The very real feeling of not knowing jars him. He’d like some sort of advantage before he gets murdered or beaten up.

 

There is one comfort. Even at this time of night, Los Angeles is alive. There are tons and tons of witnesses wherever he goes. He sticks to main streets, crowded areas, bumping into to people enjoying the nightlife and the social scene.

 

He knows he sticks out like a sore thumb. Even without the clothing as a tell, he’s uncomfortable to boot, keeping his head down and his lips thinned.

 

This sort of colorful, energetic life has never really appealed to him. He doesn’t want to sink to stereotypes and cliches, but he sees himself as more of a bookworm. Cozy library, endless stories, complete, perfect quiet… yeah.

 

Except he’s lying to himself, just a little bit. He knows if he’d been raised healthy and right, with all the right doses of love and attention and independence, he’d love socializing. He’d be all blinding smiles and touchy, affectionate hugs. Big, booming laughs. He can see an ideal version of himself in his head, all glitz and glamor, American sunshine, tanned and strong.

 

Sure. Like that’ll ever happen.

 

The car never stops. He’d been certain the dude would just give up once Jared reached 6th Street. Or at least lose sight of Jared merely because of the traffic. Or anything, really. Jared doesn’t believe that tailing someone is an easy job.

 

Jared’s been growing tighter and tenser, sweatier and more nervous. He’s been developing one mother of a headache. But all the worry seems to take a backseat when he finally finds the entrance to a local pharmacy. He almost walks right past.

 

It’s all bright lights and comforting auras and crowded as all hell. Part convenience store. They’re open twenty-four hours, and Jared curses himself for not even thinking about that. He could’ve been far less lucky, might not have had serendipity smile on him at all.

 

He wanders through the aisles and spots the medicine aisle near the back. He’s only been browsing there for a couple of minutes when a voice calls his name.

 

He turns and spots his father pushing past people with a look of incredible disgust turning his face into that of a monster.

 

Jared’s honestly gotten used to this. He doesn’t even break a sweat when his father grabs his arm hard enough to get close to pulling it out of socket. His heartbeat hardly raises, and George seems infuriated by the lack of surprise or fear on Jared’s part.

 

“C’mon,” George barks, “I’m taking you home.”

 

“No,” Jared says, “I’m fine here.”

 

George’s eyes bulge and his face goes red. His neck seems to fatten. Jared is starting to find his father ridiculous and silly. It’s not enough to smile, though. Jared thinks he’s forgotten how to do that forever.

 

“Like hell you are,” George finally manages. He gets a few looks from people around and leans in closer, lowering his voice. “Like hell you are,” he repeats. “What’s after this, huh? A dark alley? Begging? I can give you a roof over your head.”

 

Jared opens his mouth to make a toneless comment about it not being worth the broken bones and the blood when a thought strikes him, dangerous and potent, something he knows not to articulate.

 

At least he knows a couple of things.

 

He nods his head and George lets go of him, eyebrows shooting toward his balding head. “Jesus, just like that?” he wonders. “You may have earned yourself a lighter punishment, kid.”

 

Thing is, Jared doesn’t care.

 

None of it is going to matter anytime soon.

 

The lack of anything he feels on the ride back should terrify him, should arouse even the barest semblance of emotion. He’s back in this car where he’s been manipulated, gaslighted, and insulted. He’s been the passenger of a drunk driver, so close to watching the deaths of innocent people.

 

This car holds so much darkness.

 

But Jared simply watches out the window, watches his old neighborhood sag and sigh around him. He thinks about the kids who play outside because the AC’s out, will never not be out.

 

He wonders if anyone here will ever get any help.

 

He’s led inside and promptly placed back into his bedroom. George doesn’t give him a mediocre speech or a single bruise. Instead, he closes the door and Jared can hear him working on something outside the door, the drill rattling the door frame.

 

That stirs something in Jared but it’s closer to indignancy than anything else.

 

Jared gets off the bed and heads toward the door. “What are you doing?” he calls through the wood.

 

“Installing a lock,” George responds dryly, pausing with another whir of the drill. “Lord knows why I didn’t do it before.”

 

Jared bites back an insult. Wouldn’t help things. “What if I have to go to the bathroom?” he asks.

 

“Just yell,” George laughs, sounding so self-satisfied that Jared actually wants to punch him. “I’ll let you out, but only with constant supervision. Got it?”

 

Jared reigns in a sigh. “Got it,” he says, letting one out anyway.

 

He listens to George’s ambling footsteps disappear back down the stairs.

 

He’s left to himself, stuck to deal with his own thoughts.

 

As much as he hates it, the veil of numbness starts to slip away and he puts his head in his hands. He’s back to where he started. Like there’s been no progress made at all. Maybe there never was.

 

What is George getting out of any of this? He remembers how George had reacted to Lucy’s last entreating request. A resounding “no.” Maybe George just likes the power of having Jared as a pawn. Maybe he hates Lucy so much that he gets sick pleasure out of turning Jared into a mere plaything.

 

George used to tolerate him. George would put him to work around the house. Hell, for awhile, he’d gone to school, talked to Sandy. Then George got paranoid, manic. Lucy stirred something in him and Jared had a dog-walking business for an incredible total of two weeks.

 

Then Jared came out to him.

 

Homophobia has to play some part. But why take him back?

 

It bothers Jared more than he can say.

 

He remembers the slap on his butt and shivers. There’s something there, something unspeakable. Surely that isn’t enough for his father to look after him again.

 

Jared settles on the fact that George may be completely broken and unstable, but also that he’s become possessive of Jared. And no one takes what belongs to George.

 

It’s all uncomfortable and half-formed. Jared’s left with simple theories and he knows he’ll never get the full truth out of the man.

 

It scares him. George shouldn’t scare him anymore. Jared should be bigger than that.

 

But Jared can’t help but feel even more helpless than before.

 

George is completely unpredictable. An unknown enemy, really.

 

Jared’s all on an island to himself with no plan, no way to form a plan.

 

No laptop, no phone. No way out of his room unless George is there.

 

He still has his one idea left, one last, desperate ditch. It’s a fucking risk, but he doesn’t have much to lose at this point.

 

He gets into bed and closes his eyes. He’s wide awake and knows it will be a sleepless night. He uses the time to keep thinking, keep planning. If only he had a piece of paper to write it all down on.

 

He wonders if Jensen is okay.

 

 

He’s woken up at some odd hour by scratching, fumbling noises, followed by his door creaking open.

 

He sits up, eyes adjusting poorly to the light bleeding in from the hallway. His dad stands in the doorway, frozen. Jared can’t see the expression on his face. It’s shrouded in darkness.

 

“What is it?” Jared asks, forcing back a yawn. He blinks rapidly. He needs to be more alert, he can tell. His body is warning him.

 

George drags himself closer, moving with such a lack of coordination that it reminds Jared of zombies in cartoons from his childhood. His feet are dragging across the floor and his exhales are heavy.

 

It’s only when he gets to the foot of the bed that he starts to smell the alcohol.

 

Jared throws the covers off. He’s definitely awake now. “You’re drunk,” he says, voice wavering. He reaches for the lamp by his bedside but a sweaty hand curls around his wrist, pulling his arm away.

 

And pinning it against the mattress.

 

Jared feels like a rabbit now more than ever, staring up at a rabid wolf. He remembers learning that bunnies can die from fear, from their hearts working too hard.

 

He thinks his heart shouldn’t be able to go this fast because of George. He should be numb. To him, to everything. He shouldn’t shake like he is.

 

George gets on the bed and his other hand grabs Jared’s pajamas, near his thigh, and drags him back down the bed. He slips and his head hits the pillow. George crawls up and straddles him, panting. He gets his big mitts on Jared’s hips and and Jared cries out, struggling, but he’s outmatched.

 

George flips him onto his stomach.

 

“No,” Jared chokes out. Do rabbits also feel their hearts trying to crawl out of their throats? Do rabbits get all cold, too?

 

“No,” he says again, louder, struggling with renewed force when George makes a grunting noise and fumbles for Jared’s waistband.

 

“Stop… stop moving,” George growls, and dissolves into uncoordinated giggles. “Look what you fuckin’ do to me. Just stop moving, shh. Stop fighting.”

 

George forces a hand down Jared’s boxers.

 

Jared takes in a rushed inhale and throws every limb and muscle in his body into motion. A deep down, animal part of his brain realizes that he might be fighting for his life.

 

The adrenaline gives him a burst of strength. He thinks that without it, his ribs would be killing him right now.

 

He manages to get George unsteady. Doesn’t take much work to get a drunkard to topple over.

 

George swears and falls off the bed. Jared sits up in bed, mouth open as he draws in breaths.

 

“D-don’t try that again,” he barks out, curling his hands into fists and holding them up. “God, I… I never wanted to, but I hate you. I hate you so much.”

 

Jared slams a fist down on the bed. “Get out!” he yells, words coming out like shards of glass. “Get out!”

 

George manages to get upright by miracle alone. His erection presses against the zipper of his pants and Jared looks away. In his periphery, he sees George grip himself there and swear.

 

“Fuck you,” George slurs, and takes a step forward.

 

Jared goes still.

 

George turns and lumbers back out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

 

He doesn’t lock it.

 

 

He gets up in the morning and the very first thing he does is amble to the door, press his ear to it and strain to listen, and slip outside into the hall.

 

There’s not much of a chance he’s waking the monster. George has no real schedule besides the work he does from home and the weird baseball outings that he’s obsessed with, and that’s when he’s sober. If he’s drunk, he wakes up long past the sun. And he is not a friendly person if he gets woken up from a night on the bottle. He’s like an even further twisted up version of his twisted up self.

 

Jared’s doesn’t have much to lose, though, so he keeps moving.

 

Jared reaches the bathroom and feels the determined numbness creep back into his bones. He wants to forget last night. He has a surefire way to do it.

Jared turns the sink on and brushes his teeth. He takes a piss and puts on the bundle of clothes he brought. He bends down to open up the cabinets.

 

He rifles through messy piles of single, orphaned bandages and miscellaneous hair brushes and things. He finally finds the medicine pile near the back and draws everything out, staring down at the various labels in his hands.

 

There’s a noise outside Jared looks over for a moment, considering.

 

He tosses everything back that isn’t pain meds. He finds a bottle that’s half full and dumps eight or nine of the tablets into his open palm. He puts the bottle back and swallows them, one at a time, placing them on the counter and cupping his hands to get some water from the sink to help wash them down.

 

He zeroes in on his task, focuses on it with an eerie calm will. He refuses to think about anything, including boyfriends and mothers and friends. Once he’s got them all down, he turns the sink off and opens the door, feeling oddly light.

 

He carefully creeps back into his room and closes the door, movements mechanical but stiff and awkward.

 

He feels like a defective toy robot.

 

He sits down on the edge of his bed, legs uncrossed, back straight. Neat and orderly. He listens again for any hint of George but there’s nothing.

 

It sort of hits him what he’s done but he knows it’s too late to go back.

 

He wonders if it’ll hurt. He decides to go to sleep so that he doesn’t have to find out.

 

He carefully arranges himself on top of the covers and closes his eyes, tries to even out his breathing. He wants so badly to feel nothing, to be swept over by a grey ocean of numbness, but tears threaten to spill and his throat fills up.

 

He’s made a mistake. Maybe by taking the pills, or maybe by leaving Jensen but he just feels the dissonance deep in his core. He feels like every decision he’s ever made has been the wrong one, that he’s been blindsided by his emotions and his fears and he really needs to be stronger.

 

Every time he tries to be strong he ends up doing the weak thing.

 

Something bad happened to him. A whole lot of bad. Maybe he could’ve gotten help. Maybe they’d tell him he’s not a burden. Maybe he’d finally believe it.

 

If he could learn how to believe that, he could learn other things. He could learn to be okay. He could learn to help Jensen and get a job.

 

Oh, god. He sits back up and his head swims. He’s got that feeling like he took a huge nap when he didn’t need one and his head is weighted and fuzzy, and everything tastes like lightning’s gonna strike.

 

He stumbles to the door and bangs on it with as much energy as he can muster.

No one comes.

 

He tries again, tries harder, yells for his dad.

 

He gets a little dizzy, a little top-heavy, and sinks to his knees, but he doesn’t stop. It’s like all of his problems seemed impossible and unfixable and his fault entirely until he took the fricking pills.

 

Now, he feels like he went too far, that he can always try harder, do better.

 

In his head, Jensen calls him sweetheart and smiles at him.

 

He closes his eyes and leans against the wall. His head is a drying machine, tumbling his brain around and around and around and it would be nice if it stopped.

 

The door opens.

 

George is saying something from underwater. The steep, annoyed pitch of his voice is obvious, even from where Jared’s being dragged further down.

 

Jared struggles to keep his eyes open and George finally gets down to his level.

 

Jared’s head lolls but he keeps eye contact, draws all of his energy together and lets it out.

 

“Pills,” he croaks, wetting his dry lips, and George’s eyes widen.

 

He closes his eyes and feels himself being lifted, moved. There’s swearing.

 

His knees hit cold tile and he’s being held up. His mouth is pried open and a finger shoves down his throat. He instinctively bucks against the intrusion but the hand holding him up stiffens, locks him in place, and his fight is gone. Everything is going away.

 

Until it comes up.

 

It comes up and burning past his throat. He leans forward and a part of him recognizes that he’s propped in front of cold porcelain.

 

Fingers again, and again, until it’s all dry and his gut is heaving and hurting something serious. His mouth feels all gross and he knows he’s probably puked out his entire life force or something but he’s too exhausted to care.

 

He leans back into the arms holding him, the arms that aren’t hurting him. The pain is feeling a bit dull and now Jared wants to sleep. He’s been put through the wringer and shot across space and turned inside out and he needs to sleep. A hand drags hair out of his eyes.

 

He sags more and careful arms come up around him. “Jen…” he manages, slurring past all the saliva in his mouth, and isn’t around to notice when the darkness finally pulls the curtain down over his head.

 

Chapter Text

Jensen

 

Jensen stands in the guest room and his brain has absolutely nothing to offer.

 

Jared is gone. His treasured backpack is gone. His other pack and his sketchbook are still here, carefully organized on the desk. Even his prized, worn-down dog sits on the desk, abandoned. The bed has been made and any little trace of the kid is completely gone from it, like he never even slept there, never even really lived here.

 

Jensen pages through the sketchbook and his entire body gets the kind of chills you get from a really good song, from a particularly grabbing sunset.

 

Jared’s drawn him, over and over, sometimes with Oscar, sometimes with Jay himself. But Jensen’s the focus, the center of all of it, and Jensen doesn’t really like to look at himself but he can see the beauty and the care and the love that Jared put into his features. It’s a crazy kind of natural, latent talent, one someone worse would exploit and manipulate.

 

Jensen feels unworthy to be the subject of his lovely, lively artist. He sees a vulnerable capture of Jared’s soul in the work, feels a kind of intimacy with him even though he could be anywhere. Could be doing anything, with anyone. Including his father.

 

Jensen falls onto the bed, landing heavily. He puts his head in his hands and his fingers clench in his hair.

 

Thing is, he understands. He completely fucking understands why Jared did it and where Jared was coming from.

 

He’s pretty proud of how well he knows his boyfriend by now, thank you very much. They may have been through a lot of shit and not much else in just a couple of months but Jared’s sweetness has been something he noticed from the very beginning.

 

He can see Jared leaving just to find his head. Or a dog or something. Or maybe a job. He can see Jared worrying about him, thinking it’s for the best. Thinking Jensen is getting tired of him.

 

Thing is, though, even his understanding doesn’t make any of this any easier. Jared went out blind. Jared went out while his father is doing god-knows-what.

He could be hurt. He could be trapped. He has no way to get in contact with Jensen.

 

Jensen lays slowly back on the bed, rests his head on the pillow. He breathes in deeply and there’s a scent of Jared, a small whiff of the familiar. Even if the room looks sanitized, abandoned, pieces of Jay remain.

 

Jensen sighs and rolls his neck, curling up on his side and closing his eyes.

 

The pillow crinkles.

 

Jensen rolls the other way, and listens for the tell-tale noise. There. He sits up and moves the pillow, only to find a near-pristine piece of paper.

 

He carefully picks it up and turns it over, immediately spotting Jared’s careful handwriting.

 

Each precise note he reads turns his body further to stone, jars his thoughts right in their tracks.

 

It’s a fucking plan, a god damned day plan for how to die. With A’s and B’s and subclauses and everything.

 

Jensen takes a breath. He has to look away. He puts down the paper and swallows once, twice. Saliva floods his mouth but he forces back the oncoming bile and blinks, tries to center himself.

 

He fights against the urge to lose it.

 

He lets out the breath he was holding. Okay. Okay. So Jared went searching for pills, right? Jensen knows he’s out. So Jared left.

 

Fucking where? He’s a determined kid, he wouldn’t give up there. There are more than enough sleeping pills in the world to put Jay to sleep.

 

Jensen groans and yanks at his hair, getting up and pacing. He finagles his phone out of his pocket and dials Lucy.

 

The phone rings and rings and he mentally begs her to pick up.

 

The call connects and Jensen almost collapses from relief. “Lucy, thank god,” he sighs, going over to the window and looking down at the yard. He wipes a hand over his mouth. “I. How are you?”

 

“Fine,” Lucy says slowly, cautiously. “How are things, Jensen?”

 

Jensen bites at the inside of his cheek. “Lucy, I am so sorry.”

 

“What happened.” It’s not even a question. It’s steely, just as controlled as ever, but she’s not fooling Jensen.

 

“Jared left,” Jensen starts. “I went to his room and his stuff was gone. And I… Under his pillow I found a plan. To-”

 

Jensen chokes on his words, closes his eyes, and continues.

 

“To swallow some sleeping pills and let it end,” Jensen manages, after a few beats of silence. “But there are no pills here, it didn’t happen here. But he left, Lucy, I should’ve stopped him, I’m so sorry.”

 

“Please don’t beat yourself up,” Lucy says, coughing to cover the slight crack in her voice, “Oh, my sweet son… He’s always convincing himself he’s such a burden, so stupid, so infantile. But he could never be more wrong.”

 

“I don’t know where to look,” Jensen says. “Where would he go? I keep trying to think like him but I don’t know where he’d go.”

 

“Jensen. Jensen. Breathe,” Lucy tells him, and he can practically see her shaky smile. “We will find him, alright? We will. It’ll just-”

 

He hears vague noises and a gasp through the phone and stiffens, straightening up and straining his ears to listen. “You okay?” he asks.

 

“Yes,” she says, but she sounds distracted. “I’m getting a call from George.”

 

Jensen grinds his teeth and controls himself, stops himself from seeing red. “He might know something,” he says, “call me back, alright?”

 

“After I’m done kicking his ass,” Lucy spits. “After all this. After all of it. I was so certain the man could have a single ounce of goodness in his heart.”

 

“I know the feeling,” Jensen says, sitting down again. “Just call me back.”

 

“You have my word. Goodbye, Jensen.”

 

Jensen stares at the floor. “Bye.”

 

He disconnects the phone and tosses it onto the bed behind him.

 

He doesn’t know how long he stays there, inert, looking into space but seeing nothing. He’s so fucking tired. So much has happened, so much of it worse than the last and on and on. He doesn’t even want to consider what could come next. What’s in store.

 

He doesn’t want to know.

 

The sound of his phone singing jerks him straight out of morbidity and sets his pulse to racing. He fumbles for the phone and answers it. “Lucy?”

 

“Jensen,” she whispers, and Jensen feels time stand still around him. Her tone is so final, so rasped. He doesn’t want to hear the rest, but he needs to.

 

“Is he okay?” Jensen croaks. “Do you know if he’s okay?”

 

“George got him to throw up the pills,” Lucy says, voice breaking over every single syllable. She’s on the verge of a full breakdown. The breathless quality of her voice has Jensen’s heart pulling in empathetic pain. “He’d taken so many. He’s at the hospital now. They think he’ll be fine. George is with him.”

 

Jensen opens and closes his mouth but there aren’t any good words, any right words to be said. “George is with him?” he echoes dumbly. “Can we see Jay?”

 

“Of course,” Lucy said. “George invited us to. Bring all of Jared’s friends, too, okay? I’m sure they’d love to see him, love to cheer him up.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, sure,” Jensen nods. “I--We’ll all be there. Soon.”

 

Lucy sniffs. “Thank you, Jensen, you kind boy,” she says. “He’s lucky to have you.”

 

Jensen smiles past the beginnings of tears budding at the corners of his eyes. “You’re the best mama he could ask for,” he says. “I’ll see you soon.”

 

“See you, son,” she says, and the phone call clicks to an end.

 

Jensen stands up and moves out of the room, feeling numb but all too full at the same time.

 

He gathers a bag of basic things in complete silence, going over the call to Sandy in his head. He wishes there were an easy way to say it, but the truth fucking sucks. The truth is a depressing reality that Jared never deserved.

 

“He’s gonna be okay.” Jensen says to himself, stepping up to the front door. Oscar runs circles around his feet, wanting to come for the walk.

 

Jensen dials Sandy’s number and tries to stay calm.

 

“Hey, Sandy. It’s about Jared.”

 

 

Jensen hardly remembers picking up Sandy, Mike, Tom, and Chris, but they’re definitely at his back on the way into the hospital, past reception, and up, up, up to the floor Jared’s being cared for on.

 

Not a word is uttered and Jensen finds it tragically appropriate. There’s really nothing much else to say right now, at least not without Jared.

 

Jared’s allowed visitors. He woke up once after they pumped his stomach but he’s out again now, dosed up with the good stuff. Lucy sits to one side of him but the other chair’s empty. George isn’t there. Jensen watches Lucy and she looks just as ill as Jared. She looks right back and Jensen bottles up all the questions. Jensen knows it’s not the right time to ask. He knows he doesn’t know everything.

 

Right now all he cares about is Jared.

 

He slips inside the room and his friends file in behind him, quiet and respectful, all in a row. The room is cramped but they find space at the foot of the bed. Jensen shoots Lucy a questioning look and she nods back at him. Not now. Later.

 

Jensen takes the other chair next to Jared. The room’s still silent for minutes after, adjusting, settling. It’s somber, obviously, but there’s also the feeling that everyone’s dying to ask the same question.

 

So Jensen does. He leans back and looks over at Jared’s face. His eyelashes are long across his cheeks and his hair has been brushed away from his face. He’s like a placid lake, calm and resting, but Jensen knows pounds of baggage lurk below the surface.

 

He hates seeing Jared like this but he supposes it’s better than what he could’ve been seeing if things went differently.

 

“So.” Jensen looks at Lucy and rests his hand over Jared’s. The warmth of his skin is reassuring. “What happened?”

 

Lucy ducks her head. “I’m not sure I believe George,” she starts, opens her mouth, but stops there. “I, Jensen… I’ll just tell you what he told me, okay?”

 

Jensen nods for her to continue. He has a feeling it won’t be a pretty story.

 

“He said Jared ran from your house, found out you didn’t want him anymore. That you were interested in another man. He found Jared walking the streets with nowhere to go and took him in. He said he didn’t know Jared would ever do anything that drastic, didn’t think he had it in him. He said I could take Jared, that he didn’t want him anymore.”

 

Jensen blinks. “After all of that?” he blurts. “After what he put Jared through, he’s just. Giving up? I don’t get it.”

 

“Jensen wouldn’t cheat, either,” Chris pipes up. “Crap story. We don’t know how much of it is made up and how much of it is real. For all we know, he kidnapped Jared and tried to kill him.”

 

“Christ,” Sandy mutters, looking like murder.

 

“I… I think I know where he got that from,” Jensen admits, mouth dry. “I think George might’ve been watching my house. It’s the only way he’d know Steve came over.”

 

“Bastard Steve?” Sandy squawks, raising her voice. Tom places a hand on her shoulder and nods purposefully at Jared. She blushes. “Sorry,” she stage-whispers.

 

“Yeah,” Jensen groans. “He came asking for forgiveness, blamed it all on Danneel. He said he just wanted to be friends, wanted to patch things up.”

 

“And you killed him, right?” Sandy asks. “Tossed his body out back?”

 

“I told him ‘maybe’ just so he’d leave,” Jensen says. “But Jared overheard, Jared saw Steve being all touchy-touchy. I told Jared I’d never take Steve back, that I--that I had a boyfriend I loved very much, but I think Jared was still worried.”

 

“Jared’s a worrier,” Lucy says, casting a shattered smile down at her sleeping boy.

 

“Should someone confront George?” Mike asks. “We need to know the truth. He might need to be arrested.”

 

“I think the person we need to ask is Jared, and I think the rest of you need rest,” Lucy says, loud and clear, meeting all of their eyes, one person at a time. “I’ll stay with Jared, and I promise I’ll call as soon as he wakes up. Please, take care of yourselves. For him.”

 

The resounding silence makes it obvious that her command and her mothering have won them over.

 

Jensen clears his throat. “Can I… can I have a moment with him?”

 

Lucy’s face softens immediately and she stands. “Of course,” she tells him. “Take your time.”

 

Jensen’s friends follow Lucy out the door, and Jensen is plunged into a more certain, more stifling kind of silence. His eyes are drawn to his boyfriend, made so small.

 

He drags the chair closer and links his fingers with Jared’s, resting his chin on the edge of the bed. “It’ll all be okay, Jay,” he murmurs. “I’m still here for you, okay? You’re okay. You’re gonna be alright, just you see.”

 

Jensen feels his resolve breaking apart and he looks away from Jared’s face, eyes burning. He takes a breath, gathers his strength, and stands. He kisses Jared on the forehead and the tip of his nose before extracting his fingers from his boyfriend’s and leaving the room, rubbing at his eyes.

 

Just you see, he says to himself, committing to the promise. Just you see.

 

 

Jensen’s woken by his phone. He’s answered the call before his eyes are even fully open. “S’he ‘wake?” he mumbles groggily, tossing the covers off.

“Yes,” Lucy says, sounding breathless and teary. “He doesn’t like hospitals, so he’s a bit jumpy. He wants to see you.”


“Oh, thank god,” Jensen says, feeling lightheaded. “God. Okay. I’ll be right there, tell him I’ll be right there.”

Lucy laughs. “He knows you will,” she says. “George isn’t here yet. I’d like you to be there before he arrives.”

Jensen pushes back rage bubbling beneath his surface. “I’ll get everyone and haul ass,” he says. “Tell Jay I’m glad he’s okay.”

“Thank you, Jensen. I will.”

 

“See you soon, Lucy.”

 

Jensen ends the call and catapults out of bed, haphazardly untangling himself from the mess of sheets. He makes all the phone calls as fast as he can and rushes out the door.

 

He gets back to the hospital before his friends and rushes up to the room. He slows his sprint to a casual jog as he heads down the hallway, fighting to get his breath back. He stops in front of Jared’s door and nods to himself, gearing himself up. He’s got this.

 

He pushes the door open, and peeks his head in. Lucy’s mid conversation with Jared, speaking in low, unhurried tones, but she stops when Jared’s eyes flick over in Jensen’s direction.

 

She turns to smile at him. “Jensen, morning,” she says. “I’ll go get some coffee.”

 

She excuses herself and pushes past Jensen, putting a hand on his arm as he passes. It helps him center himself.

 

He sits in her place and gives Jared the biggest grin he can muster. He hopes it’s enough. “Hey, Jay, baby,” he greets. “You look better.”

 

“I look like crap,” Jared says. He sounds like he’s talking past a throat full of thorns and he coughs, reaching for a cup of water on the table by his side. Jensen ignores how Jared’s wrist trembles violently through the simple action. He knows Jared wants to be independent. He shuts down the overprotective lizard brain inside of him demanding to curl around Jared and shield him from the outside world.

 

“Well, a work in progress,” Jensen amends, aiming for honesty. Jared seems to appreciate it.

 

Jensen leans forward, adjusting Jared’s nasal cannula so it isn’t lopsided. Jared wrinkles his nose. Jensen sits back.

 

“Now, be honest,” Jensen says, keeping his voice low so his words are just for Jay. He looks him straight in the eyes. “How are you feeling?”

 

Jared shifts, fingers twitching. He scratches at his neck. “My mouth’s super dry,” he begins. “My stomach hurts like I got punched there from the inside out. And I’m really tired. But other than that, I’m okay, Jensen.”

 

Jensen hums, not fully convinced. He leans into Jared’s space and taps him on the temple. “What about here? How you doin’ here?”

 

Jared lowers his eyes and shrugs. “Not much of a headache,” he tries.

 

Jensen clicks his tongue. The look Jared gives him is like a dog who knows he’s done bad, showing the whites of his eyes and keeping his tail low. “Not what I meant, and you know it,” Jensen says. He puts his hand on Jared’s wrist. “Jay, seriously, please.”

 

Jared blinks rapidly, frowning. His hand shifts like he wants to pull away, but he doesn’t. He fiddles with the hospital bracelet, wearing at the plastic edge with his nail. “I’m…” he can’t finish his sentence and coughs.

 

Jensen presses himself along the edge of the bed and squeezes Jared’s hand. Jared looks at him, searching for something. Jensen realizes it’s strength, or something along those lines, and clears his face. He offers a genuine smile and tries to urge his boyfriend on with his eyes.

 

Jared puts his other hand on top of Jensen’s, trapping him there. He plays with Jensen’s fingers, mapping little freckles and bending the joints. He keeps his eyes focused on the mindless task as he draws up the courage to speak.

 

“I don’t know how I am,” Jared whispers, voice like a needle tripping across a scratched record. “I know what I did and I know why, but… I don’t know how to feel about it. I don’t feel much about it.”

 

Jared gives him a brief look before focusing on their joined hands again. “That’s wrong and I know it. I can’t stop screwing up.”

 

“Hey,” Jensen says. “You can’t keep bullying yourself, Jay. It’s what leads you to all the crappy thoughts. I know the feeling. And the nothingness? It’s normal, Jay. It’s part of depression. You’ve just gotta fight, you’ve gotta keep fighting past it.”

 

Jared’s lip curls into a pout. “Not depressed,” he says.

 

“You were in a shit situation. You felt trapped. You… you took pills. And I bet this isn’t the first time you’ve felt like nothing, right? It’s okay, Jay. I was depressed. I’ve had anxiety all my life, and when Steve did that to me, I just… locked myself away from my friends, didn’t let myself feel. And I met you, remember that? With your ankle. And you saved me.”

 

Jared looks up again this time, and Jensen’s heart fills up with hope when he doesn’t look away again. “No I didn’t.”

 

“Yeah, you really did,” Jensen rasps, voice cracking with urgency. He keeps leaning closer, doesn’t want to stop until he’s the same soul as Jared, so Jared can feel how he feels, can truly understand. “I was probably gonna drink myself to death, or, I dunno, apathy myself to death. You showed me there’s still sunshine around.”

 

Jared smiles, but his entire face trembles precariously. “That’s so cheesy,” he accuses, without heat.

 

A lock of hair falls in front of one eye and he looks so damn vulnerable, so beautiful, so in need of patching up. Jared’s asking in a language Jensen didn’t used to know. He gets it now.

 

He tucks the hair behind Jared’s ear and kisses him on the nose. “I mean it, though,” Jensen says. “I ain’t no writer. That’s the only way I know how to say it. You stopped me hurting. I wanna try to do the same for you. Can I help? Do you promise to come home, Jay?”

 

“You don’t want me,” Jared says, almost too soft to hear, and he pulls away, leaning back into the pillows. He wriggles his hands away from Jensen’s and tucks them against his sides. “I know I’m… I might be sweet, or something, and I know my body is okay, but the rest is so bad. I mean it. You like all the good stuff, but you’ll get sick of the bad. There’s more bad than good.”

 

Jensen can’t help a scoff, though it rips him up inside when Jared flinches and looks out the window with blank, glassy eyes. “You’ve gotta know that’s bull,” he murmurs. “Jay, look at me. I’ve already seen the stuff that you don’t like, okay? You’ve gotta stop being ashamed by the Aspie’s, by your mental health. It’s a part of you. And sure, it might not always be fun, but am I fun all the time? Fuck no. Just you see. If I get stubborn, I’m a real bastard. You’re not perfect, Jared. I didn’t just fall in love with the good. I fell in love with the okay and the crappy and the really really crappy. I fell in love with all of you.”

 

Jared sighs and it comes out in weakening gusts, a storm oncoming. He rubs at his eyes. “I’m sorry, Jensen,” he croaks.

 

Jensen smiles at him and rubs at his back, watching Jared allow himself to relax into the touch in miniscule increments. “S’okay, Jay, baby,” he says. “Please come home. Please try again. I know it’s hard. And if you ever feel worthless again, please come to me. If you want to talk to someone about it, you can do that, too.”

 

Jared sits up a little straighter, schooling himself. Jensen thinks he looks like a prince. “I want to try,” he says. “But I’m gonna suck.”

 

Jensen laughs. He pats Jared on the back. “There’s always some shit mixed in. It’s getting through it that means the most. And it might not feel like it, but you got through this.”

 

Jared smiles. “You better let Sandy in,” he sniffs. “I think she’s been waiting for a long time to punch me.”

 

Jensen rolls his eyes. He stands, smoothing out Jared’s blanket. “Everyone else has been dying to see you,” he says. “We’ve all missed you.”

 

“I know,” Jared admits. “I talked to Mama.”

 

“Good,” Jensen nods. “Can I let in the horde?”

 

Jared gives him a tiny, slight bow of a smile and dips his head in assent.

 

Jensen turns and opens the door, peering into the hall. His friends all look up at the noise, meeting his eyes. He gives them a reassuring smile before anyone can speak up. “Come on in,” he says, holding the door open, “he’s doing alright.”

 

“Oh, thank god,” Sandy lets out in a single rush, skittering past Jensen and into the room.

 

Everyone presses in close around Jared. Sandy’s at his head, bent out over the bed at an awkward angle and embracing Jared. She’s crying loud, wet tears, but Jared takes it all in grace, holding her tightly in his bird-bone arms and letting her get it out. When she finally pulls back, there’s a wet spot on Jared’s hospital-issued shirt and something in absolutely everyone’s eyes, but smiles, too. The relief is palpable. It feels like Spring as an emotion, a clarity that has Jensen’s head feeling less cottoned up and closed down.

 

Sandy sniffles and nuzzles Jared. “Chad says hi, Jay, he’s been so worried.”

 

“Nice to see you back, kid,” Chris says from the foot of the bed. “How you holdin’ up?”

 

“I’m good,” Jared says. He’s kept the quiet, brave grin this whole time, and it’s genuine. The look is contagious and every time Jared looks over at him, Jensen smiles back just the same.

 

“You still haven’t been to Flannigan’s,” Chris continues on, ignoring the star-crossed lovers bullshit going on the whole time, “we’ll bring you there to celebrate, huh? You’ll love it. We’ll play a gig for you, get Jensen up on stage.”

 

“Oh, no, I’m, uh,” Jensen coughs into his elbow. “I’m out of practice.”

 

“He’s definitely gonna do it,” Mike says, leaning in to give Jared a conspiratory wink.

 

Jared giggles, cheeks a healthy pink.

 

They talk and talk, mostly about nothing, skirting around the sharper subjects. Sandy stays plastered to Jared’s side and he humors her, whispering inside jokes into her ear and making her cackle and assault him with rowdy, affectionate touches. Jensen would be lying if he said it didn’t worry him, just a little bit. After this ordeal, he’s having trouble seeing Jared as something more than fractured glass.

 

Tom is in the middle of some ridiculous story about his life as a child, on a broad, spanning farm his grandfather owned. He’s going on about a smart pig who got up to all kinds of shenanigans when the door clamors open, smacking against the wall and effectively quieting all of them, all heads craning to see who it could be.

 

Lucy whizzes through the room, face tense, biting her nails. Everyone makes room for her to have a spot next to Jared and she sits there, brow furrowed, quiet and lost in thought.

 

“Lucy?” Jensen finally speaks up. “Lucy, you alright?”

 

She looks up, eyes widening. “Oh, sorry,” she says, still flustered. She pulls her coat closer to her body and pats down her hair. Jensen’s never seen her so out of her element. “I just. I’m trying to make sense of things.”

 

Okay, the suspense is killing Jensen. “What is it?” he urges. “Should we be worried?”

 

“Not sure,” Lucy says, voice drifting as she thinks through things. “George just turned himself in.”

 

“Wait.” Jensen blinks. “What?”

 

Jared’s mouth drops open. He’s lost a shade of color to his skin, his fingers wrapped up tight in the blanket. “What did he,” he swallows, looking queasy. “What did he tell the cops?”

 

“Kidnapping, really, I’m not sure of the full confession,” Lucy tells her son. “I got a call from the station. They want me to come down.”

 

“What about me?” Jared’s voice is tiny. “Did they say anything about me?”

 

“No, but I won’t be surprised if they do. Why? Jared, are you alright?”

 

“I’m fine,” Jared says, but it’s too quickly. Worry spikes inside of Jensen. “It’s just… I’m having trouble believing it, is all.”

 

“Well, don’t worry over it,” Lucy says, loud and decisive. “If they ask for you, they’ll have to wait. You’re hurt, and you’re recovering. You don’t need that kind of nonsense when you haven’t even been discharged.”

 

Jared nods, regaining some of his composure. “Thanks, mama.”

 

She squeezes his shoulder, but she’s still somewhere else. “No problem,” she says. “I’m sorry, I’m--I’m going to deal with this.”

 

“It’s okay,” Jared nods, giving her permission to leave. “I’ll see you later.”

 

“You know it, Jaybird,” she agrees. “You keep these boys in line, okay?”

 

Jared smiles, humoring her. “I will.”

 

Lucy lingers in the doorway, watching over her boy. She nods to herself before leaving, quietly clicking the door shut behind her.

 

Jensen’s not sure how to process all of it.

 

Chapter Text

Jared

 

Jared is allowed to leave later in the evening, and while he’s unspeakably grateful to be away from the doctors and specialists and therapists and nurses and pitying looks, he doesn’t know what to expect from several days alone with Jensen.

 

He can’t stop his thoughts from wandering to his father, too. It makes his skin itch.

 

Jensen’s taken a leave of absence from work, and he assures Jared that he’d racked up a billion vacation days and that he wasn’t going to get any trouble for leaving.

 

Still, Jared can’t help but feeling little bubbles of guilt over it. He knows Jensen likes his work, knows Jensen is leaving it to be with Jared. It makes him feel like he’s stealing Jensen from his own life.

 

Jensen’s like a fricking psychic now, though, and he almost immediately soothed Jared’s fears while they walked Oscar. He said he’d love some time off, love to spend it with Jared. It wasn’t any trouble, not in the slightest.

 

Even with his brain pestering him with bad feelings, Jared believes him, he really does.

 

Jensen has to be an angel. It’s the only thing that makes sense. Jared can never stop just… looking at him. He’s amazed at the boyfriend he has. He knows now that Jensen will stick around, even through the worst of the worst.

 

It makes Jared want to keep going. He feels a little more prepared for when the low moments come, knows he has to fight them in a different way this time. With love. With Jensen.

 

Every time Jensen looks over at him, Jared first feels warmth, glowing under the gentle ministrations Jensen offers so freely. But after that, he finds himself feeling cold guilt. The night with George feels like a secret he shouldn’t be harboring.

 

On the ride home, Jensen had carefully asked if they could talk about what happened sometime. Jared said yes, but he’s beginning to regret that decision. He’s not sure he’ll be able to take the look Jensen in the eyes when he knows everything.

 

Jared’s in their bedroom now, changing into clean clothes. Jensen promised they could go down to the lake together and Jared knows it’s a mixed bag. He’ll get his peace, his beauty, but Jensen will ask for his words.

 

Jared moves quietly, mentally gearing himself up. The hospital prescribed him anti depressants and he takes one with a glass of water, frowning as he takes a large gulp. He sets the pill container back on the dresser. Clifford’s got an honorary spot on the top, smiling out over the room. The rest of Jared’s stuff has been moved into Jensen’s space, and it all looks like it belongs here. It’s one little positive.

 

He’d briefly talked to a counselor after Mama left and before Jensen arrived. He didn’t really like her pinched-up face and her pitying tone of voice. He’s not sure he’d ever want more of that. If Jensen wants him to see a professional, he will, but he won’t be apologetic if he doesn’t click with any of them.

 

He’ll try to talk to Jensen first. It will be okay. Jensen will not be freaked out or disgusted. Jared can’t let his brain get the best of him.

 

He nods and takes a breath. He puts his socks on and heads downstairs. Jensen’s leaning against the railing at the base of the stairs. He’s on his phone but he looks up when Jared shuts the door. Jensen smiles at him.

 

Jared smiles back. He gets downstairs and they put their shoes on in silence. Jensen holds the front door open and Jared murmurs his thanks before stepping outside.

 

It’s a rare kind of day, cool and cloudy. Jared’s favorite. He follows after Jensen and they make their way through the neighborhood in silence. They make good time and get to the park after only a few minutes of walking.

 

Soon enough, they venture off the path and down into the grass beside the lake. There are a few geese but no people. Jensen sits down in the grass and pats the spot beside him. Jared joins him and stares out over the rippling water.

 

Jensen leans back and points up at the dark-bellied clouds. “That’s probably why there’s no one else here,” he says. “Might get caught in a storm.”

 

“I don’t mind,” Jared says. “I like that it’s all ours.”

 

“Me too,” Jensen says.

 

There are a few beats of silence and Jared spends them picking blades of grass and popping the heads off dandelions. The water is beautiful, but it’s getting a bit choppy. They don’t have long before a rain falls. This is his favorite kind of weather. He can almost smell the tension in the air, the front about to come through. A breeze pushes his hair in his face and he brushes it out of the way.

 

“So,” Jensen starts, coughing. “When I first heard you were in the hospital, I came as fast as I could. You were still asleep, but Lucy was there. I asked what happened, and she told me what George told her.”

 

Jared takes a swallow and tries to keep his face neutral, relaxed, but his body has gone freezer-chilly and stiff. He doesn’t look at Jensen, instead gazing at the lake.

 

It’s a moment before he can find his voice. “What did George say?” he asks.

 

Jensen lets out a big huff. “It was weird. Just tell me what’s a lie, okay? ‘Cause we already know he wasn’t telling the truth. But… if anything hurts, Jay, you don’t have to talk about it yet. Just say what you can.”

 

Jared nods. “Just say it, Jensen,” he says, smile-grimacing at his boyfriend.

 

Jensen shakes his head, clearly uncomfortable. “He said you found out I didn’t want you anymore, that I was with another guy. Which makes me think he was around, he saw Steve come here and saw you leave. He said you were on the streets and he saved you, didn’t think you’d hurt yourself. He said… he didn’t want you anymore.”

 

Jared snarls.

 

Jensen leans forward. “Hey, if you-”

 

“I’ll tell you what really happened,” Jared snaps, cutting him off. “After all of this time, you know, I’ve still been forgiving him. I’ve been saying ‘yeah, I’m a handful.’ But. I don’t love him anymore, I know it. I don’t.”

 

His chest feels less constrained after that, and he’s grateful Jensen doesn’t interject, just keeps on listening. “What happened was. I thought I had to go by myself because you deserved better. I--I know it’s dumb, but Steve did get to me, I hate that he knew that. But I know better now. Anyway, he didn’t ‘save’ me from anything. I was out buying pills. I decided to go with him so I could just take them at his house for free.”

 

“Jesus, Jay,” Jensen says with a sigh. “Jay.”

 

“It’s okay,” Jared nods, biting on his wobbling lip. He steels himself. “Jensen, he… he said he doesn’t want me anymore because he’s a coward. He knew he couldn’t face me again after what he did to me so he pretended like it was my fault. That’s why he turned himself in, too. Because the guilt ate through him. He couldn’t take it. Good. I’m glad he did it. But kidnapping isn’t what he did. He did something that would’ve gotten him killed in jail.”

 

He says all of it without a shake. Jensen is looking at him with huge, red-rimmed eyes, something like understanding shining in his gaze. “What happened, Jay?” he whispers, putting a light hand around Jared’s neck.

 

Jared pulls up a clump of grass and fiddles with it, eyes focused on the water. It’s calming. He lets his hands tie grass blades together as he talks. “When I went to get my stuff, he said you would stop loving me, that no one could love me,” Jared tells him. “That all you wanted was my body. That all I was good for was that. He slapped me, too, on the seat of my pants.”

 

He watches Jensen go from worried and slightly green to downright red. He keeps going before Jensen can interject.

 

“It creeped me out, but I just thought… he was trying to get to me, you know? He even said he might take me back after all that. Because he knew if I ever came back, it meant I failed. But… he’s not okay, Jensen. He needs help that I could never give him, I get that now. When he dragged me back, he came into my room, drunk and stinking of it. He forced me onto my stomach and held me down. He pushed his hands into my pants.”

 

Jared looks up at the sky and closes his eyes. His skin’s all heated and buzzing now, acutely remembering even though he wishes he could erase it from his mind. He shivers, taking a moment to recollect himself.

 

“He didn’t do anything,” he says, hoarse with emotion. “I fought and fought and he seemed to realize what he was doing. It was after that that I took the pills but I realized I messed up so I called for him. When he saw what I’d done… I barely remember anything, but I remember he was scared. And he held me. I don’t think he loves me, Jensen. But I think he used to. And I think he regretted it.”

 

Jared sighs. His hands are slick with sweat and twitching just enough that he drops the grass between his legs and slumps back. He looks over at Jensen. Jensen’s looking at the ground.

 

Jensen’s eyes flick back and forth. He’s somewhere else. He wets his lips and looks up at Jared, face set in determination, almost scarily so.

 

“I’m so sorry that happened to you,” Jensen says, squeezing Jared’s shoulder. He looks so earnest. “I wish you never had to go through any of this, Jay. You don’t deserve the hurt. But I promise, I fucking promise it’s all over now, alright? You won’t have to see him again, I’ll make sure of it. And you’ll be okay. We’ll get you back on your feet, and you can go to art school, baby, and do whatever you want. On your own terms. We can even go back to Texas. I miss it there, I’ve got family I’d love you to meet... I’d fucking love to.”

 

“Your job,” Jared protests. “You don’t have to do everything for me. I want to do things for you, too.”

 

“It’d be for both of us,” Jensen presses. “But it’s not urgent. Only if you really wanted to. Anything you want to do is something you’d be doing for me, too. It makes me happy to see you succeed.”

 

Jared blushes, feeling all cozy with pleasure. “I’m okay right now, Jensen, really,” he promises. “I’ll keep talking to you. It’ll get better.”

 

“Hell yeah it will,” Jensen crows, and the clouds let loose.

 

It’s pouring in a moment, the world filled with the rushing white noise of falling rain where there had been silence mere seconds before. Jared laughs, standing up and stretching his arms out. A roll of thunder sounds in the far distance.

 

Jensen tries to protect his head, throwing his arms up over his hair, but it’s no use. They’re soaked in seconds. Jared loves it. He’s a bit contagious, too--it’s not long before Jensen stands, too, tilting his head up and letting the rain hit him in the face.

 

It’s a wondrous sight, Jared thinks. He wishes he had a camera. He stares at the lake just as lightning brightens up the undersides of the clouds. The water’s grey and agitated now, in a constant state of jagged movement. The palm tree fronds are upturned in the winds.

 

Beyond the lake, they have a tiny glimpse of the city in the distance, nestled into the hills. Headlights and taillights light up the roads, highways clogged as people try to get out of the storm.

 

Jared just looks. He’s content to let the rain cool him down and the views comfort him. He points out the tiny buildings off in the distance to Jensen. “This is why I love rainy days,” he says. “They make everything look so much clearer.”

 

“Not an opinion many Texas boys hold,” Jensen teases, grinning. “But I think I’m beginning to see the appeal.”

 

He moves into Jared’s space and splashes him with water. Jared hadn’t even noticed his cupped hands collecting droplets. “You jerk!” he yells, running out of Jensen’s space. Jensen cackles and gives chase, curling his arms around Jared’s waist when he catches up and linking his hands behind Jared’s back.

 

Jared leans his forehead against Jensen’s and gives him a shy, private smile, something just for Jensen. They’re close enough that they’re panting all over each other, but Jared doesn’t mind. It makes him feel like a dog. A puppy.

 

Jensen’s hand clumsily tangles in Jared’s wet mop of hair and he presses his cheek against Jared’s, wrapping them closer together. The rain’s beginning to make Jared a bit cold so he appreciates the warmth of Jensen’s body against his. He appreciates it a lot.

 

Jensen’s fingers come up to his cheek. Jared’s not expecting the cold touch and he startles at first, laughing when he realizes it’s just Jensen. Jensen tilts his chin up and brings their lips together.

 

Jared stays still and Jensen immediately pulls away, withdrawing from Jared’s space. He’s still got his arms around Jared, but more loosely, keeping room between them. His face is just as stormy as the sky, set overcast in worry.

 

“Did I--was that okay?” Jensen rushes out. “After everything that happened, I don’t wanna-”

 

Jared silences him by pressing a light, barely-there kiss to Jensen’s lips. He smiles in that same shy way, shuffling back into Jensen’s orbit. “It’s okay,” he murmurs. “I don’t want George to take that away from us. I never want him to leave a mark on me.”

 

“You sure?” Jensen asks. “I just want to make sure it’s okay with you.” A beat. “I just want to make sure you’re okay.”

 

“It is,” Jared vows. “If it ever isn’t, I’ll tell you.”

 

“Good,” Jensen smiles. “It’s good to talk.”

 

Jared rolls his eyes. “I know, you’ve convinced me,” he says, bopping Jensen’s nose. “Don’t need the constant reminders.”

 

“Sorry, babe,” Jensen says, but he doesn’t sound apologetic. “I’m a positivity salesman now. Gotta keep the numbers up.”

 

Jared chuckles and kisses Jensen again, certainly less chaste than the previous time. He can tell Jensen appreciates it by the catlike rumble that emanates from his chest.

 

Jensen initiates the next kiss, drawing Jared’s bottom lip into his mouth and dancing his tongue along the edge of it. Jared pulls back for a breath and they kiss and kiss and kiss, tilting this way and that, pressing further and further together, tongues brushing.

 

Jensen pulls away after eons like that, curling his hands around both of Jared’s wrists. “Dude, you’re shaking,” he says. “We gotta get inside.”

 

“I like it out here,” Jared protests.

 

“Well, I’m a popsicle,” Jensen says. “My bits are gonna freeze off. I’d love to cuddle up in front of a fireplace, though.”

 

“Hmm, maybe,” Jared says. “Hey! Jensen PopsAckles.”

 

“Zero out of ten,” Jensen says, “even though I walked right into that one.”

 

Jared smiles and Jensen takes his hand, leading them back down the path, which is now spotted with growing puddles. Jared takes a final look back, saying a mental than you to the lake and the city.

 

He lets Jensen bring him home.

 

 

Jensen does light the fire in his living room, procuring every blanket from every room in the house and draping it over them. It only lasts a few minutes before they’re both sweaty and flushed and have to do away with all the fuzziness. They leave the blankets in a pile in the corner, which Oscar promptly claims as his own.

 

They stay curled in front of the fire for awhile and Jensen almost immediately falls asleep upon his head hitting the ground. It keeps a soft grin painted to Jared’s features. All it takes is a single look at Jensen’s adorable sleeping puppy face to have Jared’s heart rising up and feeling goofy and light.

 

He sticks around while Jensen takes a cat nap. The fire burns down to mere embers. They pop and rumble in the most soothing way, and the lowering heat becomes more bearable.

 

Jared draws his arms up around his knees and lets his thoughts drift. Oscar makes a tiny noise in his sleep and rolls over, his legs stretching out and tiny toes separating. Jared looks down at Jensen and can imagine him doing the same thing.

 

Even as the storm clouds pass and the rain gradually lessens, the room stays dark and shadowed as the sun begins to fall. Jared appreciates the dark. He can find just as much beauty in it as in the sunshine.

 

Jensen wakes up not long after that and apologizes profusely for falling asleep. Jared seriously doesn’t mind, though. It’s not like he was expecting anything from the fireplace moment. A simple cuddle is good enough for him.

 

He’s not exactly ready to articulate this to Jensen yet, but he’s a little nervous about being intimate again. He’s worried his body will keep flashing back to George and he won’t be interested, or his mind will suddenly decide he’s permanently scarred and engage a freak out.

 

He’s guilt tripping himself, or something similar. He just doesn’t feel that shaken up by that moment anymore. It was horrible, and if he thinks about it too long it makes his stomach curl, yes, but if he doesn’t let it occupy his mind, it doesn’t bother him.

 

He feels bad about not being messed up by it, which is all sorts of strange brain-thinking, and he knows it. So he thinks himself into useless circles. Like he’s doing now. Fantastic.

 

He bites the inside of his cheek in concentration. Jensen’s in the kitchen making dinner, so Jared’s not needed for anything at the moment.

 

He wants to have sex with Jensen. He wants to go all the way. But he doesn’t want to get nervous, and, more importantly, he doesn’t want Jensen to be worrying about him the whole dang time. He wants them both to have fun and be happy and silly like they were the first time they got close like that. He doesn’t see why what happened has to ruin what will happen in the future.

 

Jensen bops in. “Hey, Lasagna’s ready, if you-”

 

Jared looks up at him when he stops talking and tilts his head.

 

Jensen goes to sit down next to him, putting big red oven mitts on the table in front of them. “What’s up?”

 

Jared tries to put his thoughts in list order. He’s not very successful. He goes for it anyway. “I’m… I’m not okay, I won’t lie, but the thing with George isn’t holding me back. It’s just my own brain that’s doing that. So I don’t want you to hold back with touching me and kissing me ‘cause of what happened. I think I’d like it better if we pretended it didn’t.”

 

Jensen sags a little. “You need to talk about it,” he prods gently. “Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.”

 

“I know,” Jared assures him, “I just. I knew George was sick. And he’s gone now. And he didn’t hurt me. I really still want to have sex with you, Jensen. He hasn’t affected me like that. He won’t. I won’t let him. So I don’t want you to dance around me because you think I’ll suddenly remember something and get overstimulated or overloaded or something. I. I think kissing more would help me out.”

 

Jensen takes a moment to think it over, looking almost constipated with worry, but a wry grin fights for control over his face and he finally breaks into an all-out smile, shaking his head. “You do, do you? You think kisses are the cure, Jay? You want some more of those?”

 

Jensen’s voice gets progressively lower and lower and Jared’s face gets pinker along with it. “I do,” he says, going along with Jensen’s game. “It’s been too long since the last round. I need another dose.”

 

Jensen chuckles, all low in his chest, and leans forward. Jared’s heart leaps up in anticipation and he closes his eyes, pursing his lips. But Jensen just brushes Jared’s nose with his lips before pulling back and patting Jared on the head as he stands.

 

“Can’t let the lasagna get cold,” he says, walking away, “that’s a felony in the Ackles house.”

 

Jared smiles despite his irritation and follows his boyfriend into the kitchen. He gets a light kiss as a reward. Plus, he’s really frickin’ hungry and anything Jensen makes is orgasmic. The night’s not over yet, either, judging by the looks Jensen shoots him from across the table.

 

It’s a win/win/win situation, all around. Jared is content to sit back and eat and watch everything play out.

 

 

Jared lands against the mattress with a muffled grunt. His entire body is alive and tingling, like that feeling that comes from sleeping on an appendage. The T.V. static thing. Except it’s so much more flurried in excitement, like he’s got little bugs running under his skin and they’re just as amped up as he is.

 

His heart is going to break right out of his ribs and go pinball-wobbling around his chest. He’s warm, too, and super duper hard. His dick’s pushing right up against his boxers and the pressure’s getting uncomfortable. He wiggles around, searching for friction of any sort.

 

Jensen crawls over him, peering down at Jared’s face. He likes what he sees and laughs. He puts a hand on Jared’s hip to still his twitching movements but the heated touch just makes Jared’s cock jump in his pants and he whimpers, biting his bottom lip.

 

It’s… overloading. Overwhelming. But not in the bad way like overstimulation. It’s not addling his brain or upsetting him. If anything, he’s thinking more clearly, and with more intent. It’s all sexy intent, of course, but it still counts.

 

Jensen grins down at him, showing teeth, all animal. “You’re getting impatient, Jay,” he chastises, but goes for the hem of Jared’s shirt as he shakes his head.

 

Jared is more than eager to help. He wrangles himself out of his shirt and flings it across the room. It hits the wall with a whump and is promptly forgotten.

 

Jensen is all over him after that, nosing along his jaw, sniffing at his pulse point, and settling his mouth near Jared’s nipples. His breath puffs across Jared’s chest and Jared’s nipples perk and pebble up, waiting. Jared doesn’t consider himself particularly sensitive there (he hadn’t considered his nipples sexual at all, actually) but Jensen really, really likes them so. Jared is on board. Jared is game.

 

Jensen laps lightly at Jared’s nipples, getting them wet with lazy movements. Jared tries to control his breathing. His chest is going up and down, up and down, going from ribs poking out to all puffed up. Jensen starts stroking his sides slowly and carefully, and Jared manages to relax, only to let out a tiny groan when Jensen begins sucking on his nipples.

 

Okay, so that feels really good. It’s just a precursor to the main event but it has Jared arching up into Jensen’s touch, dripping in his boxers, getting himself hopelessly messy.

 

He holds onto Jensen’s back. “I’m all sticky,” he pants, attempting to draw Jensen’s shirt over his shoulder blades.

 

Jensen rises up for a brief moment to help Jared. When they’re both shirtless, Jensen gives him a brief, smolderingly dark look, and continues his path down Jared’s chest.

 

Jensen kisses each and every mole dotted across his sternum. Jared’s a bit ticklish, so it gets his belly twitching under Jensen’s touch, but Jensen likes it.

 

Jensen pets his sides all the while, leaving a slobbery trail down to Jared’s pants, and honestly, Jared is getting a bit impatient.

 

He doesn’t know what it feels like to have someone inside but he knows he wants Jensen to do it. He aches down there, and he wants to trust Jensen like that, to let him in. He wants to be connected to Jensen. He wants Jensen to look at him and hold his body like the boys do in all the romantic movies Jared’s seen lately.

 

He was disappointed a little bit by that. Jensen showed him how to find movies on a website online, and Jared went straight for the sap. But that’s where the issue was, too: most of the highly-rated ones were straight movies. Jared always imagined himself as the girl while he watched them.

 

Jensen showed him the best movies, though. They spent a night watching a movie with two boys in it and Jared was absolutely entranced. Everything they had became somewhat of a priority for Jared. He wants those things for himself and for Jensen.

 

Jensen clears his throat and that draws Jared back into the technicolor reality of what’s happening to him now. “You sure?” Jensen asks. “‘Cause if you’re never not, just tell me, it’s fine, Jay. We’ve got time.”

 

Jared sits up and holds Jensen’s jaw in his hand. They watch each other, speaking volumes with silence. Jared nods, throat full, and lays back. Jensen understands.

 

Jensen pops the button on Jared’s jeans. Jensen starts pulling down the zipper but he’s being too fricking slow at it so Jared swats his hands away and shimmies out of his pants in no time at all. Jensen doesn’t get a chance to say anything before Jared’s boxers have been ripped away, too. Jared’s dick springs free and slaps against his tummy, straining and shiny. It actually hurts with how much it wants to be touched.

 

So Jared does. He curls a loose hand around himself and starts tugging, but Jensen makes a tsking sound with his tongue and pulls Jared’s hands away.

 

Jared looks up at him, trying to entreat and beg as much as possible just with his eyes. He blinks slowly for effect.

 

Jensen knows him too well and doesn’t fall for the trick. He shakes his head, pressing the palm of his hand against the big vein on Jared’s shaft, but he doesn’t move his hand.

 

“Don’t you want to make it last, baby?” Jensen whispers, all raspy-like and perfect.

 

Jared shakes his head emphatically no. No no no. “I want it,” he whines. “Please. I want you… here.”

 

He’s red as heck. He takes a risk and draws his hand down past his balls, past the smooth area and down to his hole. He hasn’t touched himself here yet, reserving it for Jensen. He wonders if he should’ve shaved. If Jensen would want that.

 

Jensen starts swearing up a storm and his sexy bravado facade slips away, like water straight down the drain. That’s when Jared knows he’s got him and he smiles wide, excitement and adrenaline making him wiggle and move, unable to sit still. His toes curl and he spreads his legs wide, trying for sexy. He bats his eyelashes.

 

Jensen’s pants and underwear seem to magically disappear, ‘cause just a moment later Jensen’s plastered himself to Jared’s sweaty skin, chest to chest, face to face, and dick to dick.

 

Jensen kisses him soundly, stealing his breath away while he starts moving his hips, keeping the pace restricted and tame. His cock brushes up against Jared’s and Jared gasps into Jensen’s mouth, chasing that hot feeling and pushing his hips up against Jensen.

 

Jensen laughs into his mouth and wastes no time in lapping up past Jared’s lips, plunging his tongue deep into Jared’s mouth. Jared keens in the back of his throat and stays relaxed and pliant, letting Jensen get his lips all swollen and shiny.

 

Jensen moves his hips a little faster and the slide gets easier from all the precome coming out of their cock heads. Jared’s fingernails are digging into Jensen’s back so he slips his hands to Jensen’s pecs and pushes him away.

 

Jensen goes easy, and Jared takes a moment to be a proper human being again. He’s winded.

 

“I can’t last like that,” he says, biting his lip. “I need you in, Jen, I don’t wanna come before that.”

 

“Oh, god,” Jensen moans, stretching out the vowels and closing his eyes. “Okay, Jay. Okay.”

 

He reaches into the nightstand and pulls out a tiny little bottle of lube and a condom. Jared swallows loudly. He keeps his legs spread and lays still.

 

Jensen meets his eyes as he moves around on the bed to sit between Jared’s legs. He’s still looking at him when he pops the lube bottle open and starts spreading it around on his fingers.

 

“I gotta get you open first,” Jensen rumbles, distracted by his task, “it might take awhile, ‘kay? But it’s just so it doesn’t hurt.”

 

Jared balks a little internally at the thought of it hurting but nods. “Okay,” he agrees. “We’ll go slow.”

 

“We’ll go slow,” Jensen echoes, before liberally spreading the cool liquid against Jared’s hole.

 

Jared jumps at the cold feeling and the fact Jensen is touching him there, but he adjusts quickly enough. Jensen’s got one big hand on the meat of the inside of Jared’s thigh, and it’s a nice feeling. It anchors Jared.

 

A finger pushes at Jared’s entrance, but doesn’t go in, just nudges and rubs around, exploring. It doesn’t feel good, exactly, but it doesn’t feel bad. Just… weird.

 

Jensen reads his thoughts. Jared wonders what kind of face he’s making. “It won’t feel like much right now,” he says, “and it might burn a little at first, but that’s normal. You just have to stay relaxed and let me in.”

 

Jared keeps quiet, counting his breaths. In and out. Long and slow. He feels his heart come down to a reasonable pace.

 

Jensen pushes a finger in to the first knuckle and takes it right out. He repeats the process.

 

It does burn. But it also feels like Jensen’s there, like Jensen wants to get inside him, and Jared likes the feeling of something there. He thinks he’ll probably get addicted to the feeling of all of Jensen there.

 

Speaking of… Jared gets up on his elbows and his gaze strays to Jensen’s hard dick, hanging low and heavy between his legs. Jensen doesn’t touch himself. Instead, he keeps a hand on Jared’s thigh and a finger wriggling in.

 

Jared watches Jensen’s cock bounce and he licks his lips. Jensen must really like what he sees.

 

It’s an addictive feeling. Jared lets out an airy sigh and spreads his legs wider. He lays back down and closes his eyes, zeroing in on the feeling between his legs.

 

Jensen adds more lube to his fingers and to Jared’s hole and pushes in deeper, deeper. They keep working like that and Jared feels more and more at ease as he adjusts to the feeling of intrusion. Soon enough, Jensen’s whole finger slips in and out with ease. It makes a dirty wet sound each time.

 

Jensen’s finger freezes deep inside him, then curls up, rubbing urgently.

 

Jared screams, his back lifting and arching off the bed. He blinks past whiteness and stars. His dick drools onto his belly, and won’t stop jerking and twitching.

 

“That was good, huh?” Jensen asks, and his voice is so soft but stuffed absolutely full of pure lust. Jared meets his eyes and Jensen is another person, made of just sex. He looks like he could eat Jared alive in a single bite.

 

Jared loves it.

 

“Yes,” Jared whimpers. “That was… more, please, Jen, more.”

 

Jensen adds the first knuckle of another finger. He doesn’t rub at the spot again and Jared knows why--he’d lose himself over it. He’s too sensitive.

 

When three fingers fit in Jared’s hole with room to spare, Jensen withdraws his hand. Jared can feel his hole clenching and unclenching around air, trying to pull something in.

 

“God, that’s pretty,” Jensen grunts, eyes glued on Jared’s hole. He gives himself a few quick pumps before he rips open the foil packet and pulls the condom out, spreading it down his long cock.

 

Jared’s breathing goes back to being rushed and irregular. It’s so close and he can’t possibly wait. He puts a hand on his cock but doesn’t move.

 

Jensen gets onto his knees and moves forward, a hand braced on the base of his cock. He lines himself up with Jared’s entrance and waits a few beats before pushing slowly in. His head slips past Jared’s ring of muscle and Jared’s hole flutters around it.

 

It burns a little here, too. Jensen’s a lot bigger than three fingers. But it’s just like Jared thought it would be--it’s a pleasing, full feeling, it’s the feeling of Jensen inside. Of Jensen wanting him just as bad as he wants Jensen.

 

Jensen humps in and out of him, but stays shallow, just to the head. Jared opens up readily, loose and lazy, and he reaches forward and puts his hand on the meat of Jensen’s cheeks, pressing him forward. “More,” he growls.

 

Jensen bottoms out in a single thrust and Jared cries out, voice high and wrecked. He tosses his head back on the pillow, exposing his throat. Jensen leans over him, changing the angle of his thrusts, and bites Jared’s adam’s apple.

 

Jared feels like he’s a newly-made, different person as Jensen makes love to him. Jensen attacks his mouth, wet and messy, and Jared licks and bites and nips at Jensen in response, wanting more, his fingers dragging across Jensen’s back and up to his shoulders.

 

Jensen groans like a tiger growling and pushes deeper and rougher, his balls slapping loudly against Jared’s rim. It’s wet and dirty and a little bit gross and Jared’s never been more aroused in his life.

 

Jensen shifts forward, pushing Jared’s legs higher, and suddenly Jared can feel it again, can feel Jensen’s head rubbing against that insane sweet spot deep inside him. Jared mewls and mewls and mewls, getting louder each time Jensen hits him there.

 

“Keep doing that,” Jared cries, proud of himself for managing a coherent thought.

 

It just feels so good. Unreal. Impossible. Jared couldn’t have ever imagined pleasure like this if he tried. He hurts and he aches but he’s also soaring, moving toward something, building inexorably toward his orgasm.

 

“Jensen,” he moans. “Ah, ah, ah, oh… hm…. Please.”

 

Jensen moves faster and the bed starts to squeak underneath them. Jensen licks and licks at Jared’s tongue, and Jared sucks as best he can, keeping Jensen in his mouth, inside him wherever he can.

 

Jared starts stripping his cock fast and reckless, moving his hand up to the sensitive area underneath the crown and squeezing it tightly as he gets closer and closer.

 

“Jensen, gonna…” he whimpers, before his legs spasm and spread out as he comes, his eyes rolling back in his head.

 

He feels hot come splash against his belly and his chin. Jensen starts hurling out obscenities, his voice getting more and more pained, his thrusts becoming erratic.

 

Jensen manages three more good pumps before he drops his head on Jared’s collarbone and Jared feels his dick pulsing deep inside his hole as Jensen comes.

 

They lie there, struggling to breathe. Jensen stays on top of him and inside him and Jared feels his muscles rippling around Jensen’s length, guiding him through the aftershocks.

 

It’s several minutes later when Jensen finally comes back to himself and pulls out, dropping onto his back beside Jared. He pinches the condom off and ties it up, tossing it toward the general vicinity of the trash can.

 

Jared lets his legs fall down onto the mattress. He’s boneless and stretched out and rubbery. He’s turned into a jello person.

 

“That was so good,” he says, mouth splitting into a yawn. “Jen… loved you inside me.”

 

Jensen mumbles something in response and presses up against Jared’s side but Jared’s fading fast. He spent too much energy. His eyes won’t stay open.

 

He falls asleep, completely and utterly content, just barely registering the feeling of Jensen cleaning him up and setting Clifford on the pillow by his head. The comforting smell pulls Jared all the way under.

Chapter Text

Jensen

 

Jensen could watch Jared’s face, worry lines gone, young and beautiful in his sleep, for hours on end, honestly, but it’s just his luck that he’s got shit to do.

 

It’s good shit, though, really, it’s important stuff. It’s something for Jared.

 

He knows his boyfriend is rubbing off on him in more ways than one when he does a little happy dance after quietly slipping out of bed. He’s just too excited.

 

They both took a nap after crossing that bridge (the best, most amazing, awesome bridge ever), and Jared’s still deep in slumber, zen, not having any nightmares, nothing. Jensen’s not gonna mess with that. But he knows an opportunity when he sees one.

 

He washes his hands in the bathroom, just to give his body something to do, something to channel the energy through. He moves back into the bedroom and adjusts the sheets, pulling them over Jared’s hip bones and up to his chest. He nods at his work, satisfied, and slips out of the room, leaving the door open ‘cause it creaks. No chances taken here.

 

He tiptoes down the stairs and shushes Oscar when his dog goes ballistic at seeing Jensen so obviously up to something. Oscar’s a fantastic co-conspirator, though, and he’s happy as a pea in a pod to go trotting after Jensen as Jensen slips out the back door, parks his ass down in a chair, and dials Sandy’s number.

 

“Jensen!!” Sandy squeals, not even a second or so after the phone started ringing. Jensen pulls the phone away from his ear so he won’t go deaf. He smiles at her antics, waiting for all the questions about Jared and George and himself to die down.

 

“Hi, Sandy,” he says instead of answering anything. Pleased with himself, he stretches out his legs, wiggling his toes. Oscar licks at them and gets them all slobbery.

 

It’s a warm day, but not obnoxiously so. He thinks it’s the perfect day for what they’ve been planning to do.

 

“Jensen, come on,” Sandy barks, “Don’t keep me waiting here. My butt is almost completely out of the seat.”

 

Jensen takes a moment, but he’s not the devil, so he lets up. “Jared is fine,” he starts, looking out over the yard, “it was a bit bumpy at first and I know he’s still got some issues with anxiety and depression, but he promised to work through it. Haven’t heard shit from George. I should probably call Lucy. Jared’s still sleeping, so now’s a good time to plan as any.”

 

“Still sleeping, huh? At noon?” Sandy repeats, sounding smug. “Any reason for that?”

 

Jensen finds himself going a bit pink, just from Sandy’s tone. He’s got nothing to be getting flustered over. “That’s part of the reason why Jay’s good, San. Not giving you any details.”

 

“Oh my god!” Sandy says, crowing loudly. “I’m gonna have to ask him about it later. I bet he’s so excited about it. I’ll ask him what you’re like in bed.”

 

Jensen restrains an eyeroll. “Let’s stay on topic, please.”

 

“Right.” Jensen hears Sandy rustling around through the phone, then nothing. He can imagine her sitting at a desk with a planner out, ready for action. “So, Flannigan’s, right? Big surprise?”

 

“After I lull him into a false sense of security with a cute date,” Jensen confirms. “But I was also thinking…”

 

They talk for around half an hour, going over things with a fine-toothed comb to make sure events go as smoothly as possible for Jared. They don’t want him to end up feeling nervous or overloaded. Sandy promises to call the rest of the guys and Jensen hangs up.

 

He dials Lucy’s number and the phone rings and rings. It goes to voicemail. Jensen sits up straighter. He can see Jared’s silhouette puttering about at the fridge in the kitchen through the glass door. “Hey, Lucy,” Jensen says, standing up, back cracking. “Just wanted to check in. Did anything happen down at the station? Call me back when you can.”

 

Jensen pockets his phone and pushes open the sliding door. Oscar barrels inside ahead of him and Jared’s down to the ground faster than fast. Oscar slobbers over his face and Jared baby-coos at him, the fridge still open behind him.

 

“Hey, you,” Jensen says, and pushes the fridge shut. “No food from there. We’re going out today.”

 

Both Jared and Oscar perk up at the words “going out,” giving Jensen equal looks of curiosity.

 

“Out? Where?” Jared asks, getting up. Oscar does circuits around his calves.

 

“To eat, for a walk, just a day out on the town.” Jensen shrugs. “I thought you deserved it.”

 

Jared treats him with a warm, dimpled smile. “Did you have any places in mind? ‘Cause I’ve been craving meat lately. Not saying your burgers aren’t good, ‘cause they’re awesome, but I want to try some local burger places. Or if you have something planned, it’s fine. But--ooh! A milkshake sounds really good, too. If you like.”

 

Jared places fidgeting, active hands behind Oscar’s ears and gives him the scritch-scratching of a lifetime.

 

God, how Jensen has missed Jared’s voice, Jared’s rambling enthusiasm for the little things in life. He hadn’t notice how quickly that trait was sapped out of Jared until it was gone, deader than dead. It’s the holy mother of all good signs that Jared’s back to talking like he used to. Jensen counts it as a win.

 

Jensen tries to hide a smile, keeping it light and casual, but he breaks out into a giant, toothy one, eyes lighting right up, and Jared zeroes in on it, mirroring Jensen’s expression. He moves closer, herding into Jensen’s space. “You do have something planned, you do! Something exciting.”

 

“I guess you’ll have to see,” Jensen says, shrugging again. He leans forward to peck Jared on the cheek and then slaps his ass as he passes him by.

 

“Ow,” Jared says, “I’m sore there.”

 

Jensen shivers. “Good. Now get your ass in gear! We have places to go, things to see.”

 

Jared nods and runs off, Oscar tripping over himself to catch up. Jensen hears Jared laugh in the front room.

 

Jensen runs a sweaty hand through his hair and nods to himself. He shoots Sandy a stealth text: Plan B-day is a go.

 

The teeny-tiny walk to the car is peppered with buzz after buzz against Jensen’s thigh. All texts from Sandy, with all kinds of emojis bursting across the page like modern art. He doesn’t respond and puts his phone away. He gets into the driver’s seat and Jared hops into the passenger side. They buckle up tight, and Jensen drives them into town.

 

 

The first place they stop at is- because Jensen knows Jared so well, thank you very much- a milkshake shop. It’s a small local place, not in the best neighborhood, but Jared definitely feels at ease here. It’s similar to his neighborhood, and Jensen has to remind himself not to view everything through the lens he’s grown up with. Jared wasn’t as privileged.

 

It’s almost a cooler inside, AC on full blast. The place is eighties-fifties retro, but it works somehow--covered in black-and-white tiles, neon signs, and images of has-been celebrities with big hair plastered to the walls. Jensen guides Jared up to the counter with a hand on the small of his back and lets him deliberate over the menu.

 

Jared reads it slowly and carefully, face bunched up with immense concentration. After a few minutes, he nods to himself and pokes Jensen in the side. “I know what I’m getting, what about you?”

 

“We’ll get yours extra large and share, like Lady and the Tramp,” Jensen says.

 

“That was pasta, loser,” Jared accuses. “I want double chocolate fudge with whipped cream and sprinkles. It’s a classic.”

 

“I’m a vanilla guy,” Jensen admits.

 

Jared snickers and Jensen looks over at him, raising an eyebrow. Jared flicks a look at the staff before leaning in close and whispering “not in bed you aren’t.”

 

Jensen coughs to cover his surprise and nods, smiling at Jared. “Okay, go on and order, you perv,” he says.

 

Jared places his order and Jensen pays. The milkshake is promptly served to them and they hunker down in a squeaky, red vinyl booth in the furthest corner. It has a nice view of the street outside, and they people watch in silence, leaning forward and drinking out of matching straws.

 

They do some walking after that, just window shopping at local little curio places. There’s a rock shop that is just a bathroom stall-sized place with buckets full of different kinds of rocks and gemstones. There’s a stuffed animal store with keychain teddy bears with names on them, and Jensen gets one for Jared and clips it to his belt loop.

 

The heat wears on them, and Jared takes it particularly hard. For some reason, Jared sweats like he’s in a fucking sauna. He’s drenched in minutes, and after a day of walking, his shirt is plastered to his chest and his entire body is shiny. It’d be pretty attractive if he didn’t stink to high heaven. And the taco stand they visited might not have been the best idea. At least Jensen can put the windows down in his car to spare himself from death via flatulence.

 

The drive to Flannigan’s is done in comfortable silence, with the AC on full blast and all the windows all the way down. Jared adjusts the seat until it leans back and he shuts his eyes, a goofy grin plastered to his reddened face.

 

Jensen pulls to the curb just as the neon sign lights up outside the bar. Jared sits up straighter, putting his face right up against the glass and looking at the bar. He whistles appreciatively. “This is the place your band plays at?”

 

“Not really my band,” Jensen says, scratching at his neck, “but yeah. I thought you might like to see it.”

 

“Thank you, Jen, today’s been awesome,” Jared says, and boy, he hasn’t seen nothin’ yet. His lips quirk up. “What’s your band’s name?”

 

“Chris’s band,” Jensen starts, and Jared makes a face at him, “doesn’t really have a name. I think they get announced as ‘Chris and the Guys’.”

 

“That’s not so bad, as far as names go,” Jared says, nodding. “Let’s go.”

 

Jensen gets out of the car and rubs his hands together while Jared’s not looking. He manages to act calm when Jared finally looks back at him and holds his hand out. Jensen takes it and they walk inside together.

 

Jensen ushers Jared back into their signature corner booth and his hand is embarrassingly sweaty by the time they get there.

 

He herds Jared right up to the wide booth, where Sandy, Chris, Mike, and Tom sit, all wearing cardboard birthday hats and smiles. There’s a massive, professionally decorated cake in front of them, with little piles of different colored frosting in the shape of paint blobs on an artist’s canvas. Twenty-one candles circle around the edge of it.

 

“Happy Birthday, Jared!” they all cry out at once, and begin clapping. A waitress arrives, just in time, setting down piles and piles of fries, burgers, and chicken wings.

 

Jared just stands there, watching, his mouth dropped to the floor. His eyes are getting shinier and redder by the minute and he finally makes a short squeal, biting at his knuckles and staring at the table.

 

He gets ahold of himself, piece by piece. He turns to Jensen and kisses him squarely on the mouth, drawing whistles and claps from their friends. He pulls back, and Jensen is enchanted by him. There’s no better way to put it. He’s a messy, winded, flustered god.

 

“Thank you,” Jared breathes, smiling so fucking widely Jensen thinks it must hurt. The dimples on his cheeks are miles long. “Thank you so much, Jensen, really, I--I don’t know what to say, it’s so amazing.”

 

“Those words work,” Jensen teases. He leans in for a second, briefer kiss. “I know your birthday already passed, but uh, we wanted to celebrate. Come sit?”

 

Jared nods, struck wordless, and slips into the booth. Sandy throws her arms around him and they share a squeezy, sideways hug. Jensen is last in the booth, and he’s passed some fries, a burger, and a cold bottle of beer.

 

They all sing ‘happy birthday’ and Jared bobs along quietly the whole time, wiping at his eyes. He closes his eyes and there’s a fleeting, solemn moment while he makes a very long wish before blowing out all the candles in one fell swoop, garnering a cliche, sexual joke from Sandy. Slices of cake get dealt out around the table. Jensen’s given the one with the purple paint blob right in the center.

 

Jensen raises his glass. Glasses go up all around the table, all brown, save for Jared’s glass of water.

 

“To the birthday boy,” Jensen declares, “the bravest and toughest kid I’ve ever met. Happy birthday, Jared.”

 

“To Jared,” his friends echo, and bottlenecks are clanked all around before they all drink.

 

The festivities get underway quite soundly. Sandy begs Jared to drink a beer, and Chris and Mike heckle him to try some shots, instead. Jared declines, getting redder and redder, and instead fills his plate up with more cake. Jensen watches him, feeling a little more relieved every time Jared swallows. Soon, his ribs won’t be quite so stark and his stomach so concave, Jensen’s sure of it.

 

Jared is completely tuckered out by the time the night draws to a close, but he manages to keep his eyes open when the boys slip out of the table and head to the cramped, little stage, setting up their instruments and testing the sound. The bar quiets down as they prepare to play.

 

Jensen gets called up and he doesn’t even hesitate. He hops up on stage and accepts the acoustic guitar that is handed to him. A mic is positioned in front of his face, a stool under his ass, and Chris clears his throat and yells out to the bar.

 

“Hey, assholes, nice to see you again!” Chris shouts. Several whoops go up. “Now, tonight’s special. My buddy Jay’s birthday is today, and he’s recently out of the hospital.” He pauses for the louder round of whoops. “So this entire set is dedicated to him, and his boyfriend Jensen’s up here to play him a special song at the end. Enjoy.”

 

People clap, the lights get dimmed, and Chris begins to sing.

 

They’re not quite country, but not quite anything else, either--the best way Jensen can think of to describe it relaxed, farmboy rock anthems. Something like that. No matter what it is, Chris is kickass. He has the low, twangy voice of a Southern angel, and Mike’s harmonizations make the little hairs stand up all over Jensen’s body, his entire being invested in the music being created.

 

He knows their songs by heart now and strums along, trying not to draw much attention to himself. He’s not in the center spotlight, so it mostly works.

 

Jared, though, Jared doesn’t bother looking at anyone else. Jared’s eyes meet Jensen’s in a tangible way, like their souls have been sewn together with the strongest of threads, something that can’t be unbroken. Jensen tries to keep his eyes scanning the crowd, but he’s always lured back to Jared. He loses himself for awhile and forgets to look anywhere else. His hands move of their own volition and all Jensen can think about is the sprawling boy leaning forward in the booth with eyes only for him.

 

With that link, that connection, things speed by faster than they should, which kind of sucks. Jensen wants to stop the clock and park himself in this moment forever and never leave.

 

The next thing he knows is Chris’s hand around his arm, moving him gently but firmly into the center spot. Jensen sits on the stool, squinting under the heated lights. He’s pretty sure Chris introduced him, but he didn’t catch a single word of it.

 

“Uh, hey,” Jensen grunts, letting his eyes look around but not actually make any eye contact, “I’m Jensen. My boyfriend Jared’s birthday was today, and he’s had a rough go of it, but he hung on, so this song is for him. It’s a ‘thank you’ for him stickin’ around, for him being who he is. Anyway.”

 

Jensen clears his throat. He’s already sweating up a Jared-esque storm and his fingers are quaking just the teensiest bit. He hasn’t been a solo performer or center stage in a long, long time. It was the Steve-era.

 

He gets a grip on his nerves and plays the opening chords to the song. It’s some little ditty his Daddy used to sing to him, a sort of Texan lullaby. Maybe Jared knows it. Maybe Jared should have, but wasn’t given the chance during his childhood, never given that real boyhood moment.

 

Jensen sings softly but clearly. He can’t really explain why he can’t look at Jared, but he doesn’t. He keeps his head hunched over the guitar and tries to get his emotions across through the movements of his fingers and the vibration of his vocal chords.

 

He can feel Jared’s eyes on him. He can still feel them when the song ends and the final note lingers. There’s a beat of silence before the audience erupts into scattered applause and cheers of encouragement.

 

Jensen wastes no time in setting the guitar down and hopping off the stage and over to the booth. He hears Chris grab the mic and thank the audience. The lights return to normal.

 

Jared is up and heading toward him. They meet in the middle, and Jared wraps his arms around Jensen in a body-slamming hug and presses his face against Jensen’s chest, curled up in Jensen’s embrace. Jensen’s throat feels like it’s gonna burst and his eyes aren’t any better off, but he manages to murmur something soft to Jared and hug him back. He presses Jay close to him, hugging him tightly enough to ensure he’ll never let go. He rocks Jared back and forth, slowly, swaying to the murmur of low voices.

 

Jared is the one to withdraw. He ducks his head, his hair hiding his face, but Jensen catches glimpses of tear-sheen and redness. He understands. He’s no better.

 

“I’m still scared,” Jared rasps, “but more than that, I love you. I’m gonna try my best to be someone you can love back.”

 

“I can,” Jensen says, and meets Jared’s eyes. He puts a finger on Jared’s chin and and traces his jawline. “I love you, Jay. Always will.”

 

Jared gives him a wavering smile and Jensen smiles back.

 

The thread is broken by Sandy clapping them both on the back and mashing them into a group hug. They go willingly. Jared laughs.

 

Sandy looks between them and beams. “I took a billion pictures tonight and I’m gonna get every single one of them printed and framed,” she says. “I never want to forget it.”

 

“I don’t think you will,” Jensen says. “I don’t think any of us will.”

 

Once the stage is all packed up of instruments, there’s a bit of chatter between the group, but Jared stays quiet through it all, listing against Jensen’s side every so often before jerking upright again.

 

Jensen decides it’s time to call it a night and bids goodbye to everyone for the both of them before whisking Jared off into the car.

 

The whole ride home is a nice sort of solitude. Jared’s fast asleep in the passenger seat, and Jensen plays a soft rock station on low. He’s always liked night time roads and the strange, otherworldly feeling of peace they bring, so he’s more than happy to sit in traffic and consider the future.

 

He makes a couple of decisions while gliding down the highway. His head is clear, so he hopes they’re the right ones. His only wish is for Jared to get happiness out of anything they decide to do.

 

It can all wait for tomorrow.

 

 

Jensen wakes up to two voicemails from Lucy.

 

It shouldn’t be some dire, life-changing image, a bad omen waiting to be listened to, but it is. Jensen hovers over the “play” button the voicemail but stops himself. He gets out of bed and goes through his morning routine.

 

He finds Jared in the kitchen making pancakes. Jared freezes up in front of the stove, looking exceptionally caught out. “They were supposed to be a surprise,” he says, “hope that’s okay.”

 

“It’s your home, too,” Jensen reminds him. “It’s fine, Jay, thank you.”

 

They sit down and begin eating. Jared tosses pieces of pancake to Oscar when he thinks Jensen’s not looking.

 

Jensen clears his throat and waves his phone at Jared. “Got a voicemail from Lucy,” he says, his voice much thicker than the casual-carefree vibe he was hoping for, “wanna listen to it?”

 

Jared sobers up in no time flat, pulling his chair closer to the table and sitting up. He watches Jensen’s hand move and unlock the phone. He swallows his last piece of food and nods.

 

Jensen presses play. Lucy’s tired voice is made tinny by the phone speakers and they both lean forward to hear her clearly.

 

“Jay, baby, you really need to get a phone again soon, hon,” she starts. There’s a moment of background noises that fill in her silence. “Anyway, I hope you’re okay. We’ve got to talk sometime, huh? And Jensen, you too, darling. Well, I, um. This isn’t something I wanted to do over the phone. George confessed to everything he did, Jay… everything. I am-”

 

She stops, voice hitching. She chokes on her next words a few times before she can get them out. “I am so sorry, Jaybird. I had no idea. If I had known… if I had any idea what your life was like out here, I would’ve stolen you away. I’m so sorry. George is negotiating with a public defender, but he’s definitely getting jail time. Even if he didn’t, I don’t think he’s gonna bother you anymore, Jay. I actually have a note here from him and I’m going to read it to you. You’ll also have to make a statement sometime, but there’s no rush. I’m running out of message time so it’ll be on the next one. Love you, Jare-”

 

The message ends.

 

Jensen shoots a questioning look to Jay, thumb hovering over the next message. Jared nods. Jensen plays it.

 

“Here it is, Jay.” There is the distinct noise of a piece of paper being unfolded. Lucy clears her throat. “Jared, son, I haven’t been right for a long time and I haven’t done right by you or your mother even longer. I know I’ve got a problem and now I’m going to get some help for it. I forgot who you were for a while but I know you’re not a bad son now. Hell, I didn’t deserve you sticking around and you didn’t deserve to have your head messed with like that. So I guess you’re a sweet boy. That man will do right by you. Maybe someday you can stop by and give your old man a visit? Okay. Tell your mother I never meant it. George.”

 

Lucy pauses. When she speaks again, it’s softer. “Don’t feel pressured to do anything, sweetie,” she says. “Anything you do is completely your choice. Call me sometime so we can talk and figure a few things out. Bye, Jared, stay strong.”

 

Jensen swipes away from the messages and pockets his phone. Jared looks down at the table. “You good?” Jensen asks, watching Jared’s fingers twitch and curl around each other.

 

Jared looks up. He looks a little older, looks like he hasn’t gotten any sleep, but he manages a convincing smile. “I’m okay,” he says. “I. I don’t want to see him. Not yet, maybe not ever. But I can talk about it with the police.”

 

“No pressure there, either,” Jensen reminds him. “You’re the victim here. And you’ll have to talk to Lucy about that, alright? We’ll get you a phone.”

 

Jared frowns. “You’d have to pay for it, I don’t want to make you do that,” he says.

 

“I’ll pay for it to start, sure,” Jensen nods. “That’s no skin off my back. But after you get a job, you’ll start pitching in, okay? Do you have any dog-walking money?”

 

Jared nods.

 

“Awesome. We should start a bank account. And you know what? Now that we’re on the conversation, I think we should do a lot of planning. For the future.”

 

Jared nods again, waiting for Jensen to continue.

 

“First off, do you want to go back to school? For art? Applications for next year open up in a few weeks. We could get you in contact with a counselor, help you apply, if that’s what you want. Some scholarships, too.”

 

“I… I like UCLA and CalArts, I’ve researched them,” Jared starts off. He’s quiet at first but gains confidence as he speaks. “I’m not sure I’d get in, though, with this big gap in my schooling, but that’s okay. We can look at community colleges.”

 

“We can,” Jensen agrees. “There are some good ones in LA. But you don’t have a gap, Jared. You’ve been drawing this whole time. I’m sure you have a magnificent portfolio. And you had a job. And… really strange circumstances. You just have to make sure they know that.”

 

Jared looks a little more alive. He bobs his head. “Okay, then yeah. I want to try that. I want to work as a comic book artist if I can, or maybe do children’s books. Maybe I can write a book so kids understand Aspie’s, I don’t know… something like that. I want to help people.”

 

Jensen can’t help a toothy grin of pride. He gets a blush out of Jared in response. “That’s awesome, Jay, that’s shit we can work toward. Are you sure you don’t want to move back to Texas to be closer to your family? I know we talked about that.”

 

“Your job, Jen,” Jared protests. “It’s a good thing. You like your job. We have to think about you, too.”

 

“Okay.” Jensen holds his hands up. “It might not be in the cards right away, but I’d love to meet your sister and your brother. I know they’ve been dying to see you ever since Lucy came up to stay.”

 

“I don’t want her to leave,” Jared sighs. “But, um. Yes. I wanna go back home, just not forever. And I gotta see Jeff and Meggie. And your brother and your sister and your parents, I wanna hear more about ‘em. So we can do that.”

 

Jensen watches Jared’s hands and quirks a smile. “Don’t you want to be writing all of this down?”

 

All the tension slips away from Jared. “Yes,” he says. “Hold on.”

 

He sprints away to grab his journal and pencils. A moment later, he’s back, flipping open to an empty page and neatly titling it with blue ink. He switches to black as they go over the things they’ve agreed on. Jared’s page fills with words, becoming a solid plan outline.

 

They talk about family and school and jobs, about what Jared will do when Jensen goes back to work. They talk about George and Lucy and the police station. They talk about therapy and bonding and friends. They talk about Oscar and art and Steve and everything in between. By the time Jared’s finished writing, he’s got twelve pages covered on both sides with notes and dates, and two hours have ticked past them.

 

Jensen stands and Jared follows after him. Jensen draws Jared into his arms and gives him a quick kiss. He nuzzles his cheek. Jared grins softly and hugs him tightly.

 

“You’ve got a lot ahead of you,” Jensen murmurs into his shoulder. “But you’re not doing it alone, you hear? And a lot of it? Is going to be really awesome. I know you’re gonna make me proud, Jay. You’re gonna do so fucking much.”

 

Jared takes a rattling breath. Jensen feels his ribs expand and contract under the hand he’s got on Jared’s back. “It’s a lot,” he agrees. “It’s so much. But I want all of it.”

 

Jensen pulls back and places his hands on Jared’s collarbones. He meets his eyes. “Good,” he says. “There’s just one other thing we haven’t touched on yet.”

 

Jared cocks his head, the question hanging in the air. Jensen moves through the house, gathering up Oscar’s leash and supplies. He goes up to his room under the pretense of grabbing his wallet and comes back down. Jared’s waiting by the front door with his shoes on and Oscar by his side.

 

They walk down to the park and take a meandering path through the woods. Oscar says hello to every dog they pass, and Jensen introduces Jared to the neighbors as his boyfriend. There’s a bit of idle chatter before they move onward, heading toward the lake.

 

Jensen sits down on the same grassy lawn they ran around on in the rain. Oscar is happy to roll around in the sunshine, tongue lolling about, as they get themselves settled. Jensen pulls out some water bottles and passes one to Jared.

 

They drink in silence and watch ducks swim across the lake, water rippling slowly out around them. There’s a troupe of ducklings diligently following behind their mother in a straight line, and Jared watches them make their circuit around the lake.

 

Jared puts down the water bottle and turns to face Jensen. “So, what’s up?” he asks, eyes lit up like gems in the sunlight.

 

Jensen has rehearsed this speech so many times, but he still needs a moment to find the right words. “We’ve known each other through a lot of bullshit,” he starts, “And I hope you know I don’t expect free dog walks out of this. I’m an honest man.”

 

Jared rolls his eyes at him, grinning.

 

“But, despite all the bad, despite the ankle and the ribs and all the other awful things you had to put up with, we’re both still here. And we’re both safe. And you have a lot of people who care about you. Things are gonna get better.”

 

Jensen shifts. “Your mom and I actually talked about this, you know,” he says. Jared looks more and more puzzled with each word, and Jensen can see he’s starting to grow suspicious. “It was one of the first things she brought up, actually. I think she could tell I was in it to the end. I am. I want to be by your side no matter what happens. So, Jared, on to the question… I want to spend the rest of my life with you. And being your boyfriend just doesn’t cut it. So. Will you marry me, Jay?”

 

Jared’s eyes go wide and he blinks at Jensen, mouth opening and closing. “What?”

 

Jensen gets onto his knees and pulls out the little ring box he’s been hiding for weeks and weeks. He pops it open, displaying a simple silver band that gleams in the sunlight. “Will you marry me?” he asks again.

 

Jared is having trouble breathing. He flattens down his hair, his shirt, straightens out Oscar’s ear. He looks at Jensen like he’s watching a mirage. “Yes,” he finally says. “Jensen--yes.”

 

Jensen doesn’t get a moment to feel relieved. Sandy screams like a banshee behind them, and a camera flashes several times. “That was so cute!” she screams, coming out from behind a bench. She takes another photo with her camera. “I knew he’d say yes, Jensen! Look at him! Oh my gosh! I’m so happy for you guys!”

 

Jared looks between Jensen and Sandy with narrowed eyes, his smile growing larger and larger. “How long have you been planning this?” he asks.

 

Sandy comes down to sit. She tugs Oscar into her lap and pets his flank. “You were in the hospital when I brought it up to Jensen. We officially planned everything out when we were setting up your birthday surprise.”

 

Jared raises his hand to catch the tear budding at the corner of his eye. He kisses Jensen and Jensen grunts in surprise, but is more than happy to go along with it, to press his mouth to Jared’s with all the fervor he can manage. He’s sweating like a dog and he sincerely hopes he isn’t on the verge of a heart attack, but it’s all worth it. It’s all worth it to see Jared struck wordless with happiness, like Jared can’t even process the emotion after spending so long hidden away in his room.

 

Sandy takes a thousand pictures of the kiss. Jensen doesn’t mind. Jensen carefully slips the finger onto Jay's birdlike fingers, his stomach fluttering all the while. Jay beams warmly at him, holding his hand close to his chest.

 

The rest of that day is a blur. Jared becomes a whirlwind of energy and excitement, blabbing about different wedding things like cakes and flowers and asking a million questions. Lucy comes over and celebrates with Jared. They soon banish Jensen from the front room and talk together, Jared animated and rapid-fire and Lucy calm but clearly emotional.

 

Lucy promises to help Jared with his statement. She’d been relaying Jared’s progress to his siblings, too, and Jared draws up the courage to talk to them himself. It makes Jensen’s entire chest swell up when he sees how far Jared’s come, how Jared isn’t ashamed of being himself anymore. He’s coming out of his cage and spreading his wings. He’ll be flying soon, no doubt, and Jensen’s not sure if he’ll be able to catch up with Jared’s soaring progress.

 

It’s perfect, that’s what it is. It’s the life Jensen had been craving, and been lying to himself about having with Steve. All the worry and the heartache made Jared stronger, made Jensen stronger. Made them stronger together.

 

Now anything in their future is a challenge they’ll both savor. Jared will be able to live his life without fear. Jensen will be there to share it with him.

 

And, honestly? That’s more than enough.

 

THE END