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Show me Heaven

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Prologue

Eons ago when the Great Father created the universe with a laugh as loud as a bang, he looked at his creation in wonder, viewing it from all angles. Every sun, moon and planet he fixed with his eyes; seeing the lives and deaths, the destinies and challenges of his children’s children. It was a masterpiece of light and darkness, of possibilities, of history and future, but the longer the Great Father studied the universe, the more he realized his failure. It was beautiful, splendid even, but it wasn’t perfect. Something was missing. Something more beautiful than everything he had ever created.

An emotion he had never felt before took hold of him and instead of a laugh, a sob escaped his throat and a single tear dropped onto his palm. The Great Father looked at the transparent blotch in wonder, seeing his own reflection in there, and the wisdom, knowledge, benevolence and love in his eyes. It was a beautiful sight; a view that had him captured and that finally put the smile back on his face. Wanting to preserve this beauty, the Great Father eventually took the tear, placing it in the middle of the universe, thus perfecting his masterpiece.

He created the most beautiful planet of all, the worthiest place to live and he called it Heaven.

***

Millenniums later, the world of Heaven had prospered into the place the Great Father had seen when he had formed his tear into his new world. Ruled by a just President, Heaven was a peaceful planet. Woods, fields, rivers and lakes dominated the two main continents, with mountains sheltering the lands from the cold in the north and the heat in the south.

Towns and villages were sprinkled in between, connected by safe roads and railways. There were places of knowledge, with schools and universities, with huge libraries and research facilities, but also places of entertainment and culture, with taverns, theaters, concert halls and sports stadiums. The ports in the harbor towns were busy places, sending ships over the ocean on a daily basis, connecting West and East continent with each other and the islands in between. The countryside was dominated by agriculture, with ranches and farms surrounding the small villages, providing the towns with fruit and grain, fish and meat. There was mining and forestry and lonely factories in the more remote parts of the land, producing the newest inventions or things that were too complicated to build by the many craftsmen you could find in the towns or villages.

The people of Heaven were pious; worshiping the Great Father and his daughter Aranna, the Mother of Heaven, in the monasteries or temples that were scattered over the land. They lived after The Rules, guidelines, legend said, that had been written by no other than Aranna herself. There were more than 100 rules and every child knew them by heart, heeding not to break them because if they did, it was said they would face severe punishment by Aranna herself.

Since most people feared to incur Aranna’s wrath, there were barely any crimes and the only thing the sheriffs had to do was watch over their towns and show a presence that normally wasn’t needed. There were no wars, no plagues, no natural disasters, not even hunger or poverty. It was a steady give and take and money, while it existed, only played a subordinate role since people cared for each other and helped those in need.

**

Into this perfect world, a boy called Janus was born on a rainy, cold winter day. His parents, Joseph and Marian Padalecki, raised him well, teaching him The Rules, what was right and what was wrong. He was a bright kid, getting nothing but top grades at school and even before he went to college, Janus discovered a great interest in politics. He watched the President’s and the opposition’s speeches, read all the books he could get his hands on and scrutinized the way his world was ruled, dreaming about the things he would change and do if he were President.

At the same age, Janus also discovered something else. He discovered that he was different. Not only because he was exceptionally smart, but also because he wasn’t attracted to girls like his classmates were. Sure, he liked girls, they were nice and fun to hang out with, but unlike his best friends, Janus didn’t want to court them, didn’t want to kiss them or do all the other things he knew men and women did with each other. He knew it was wrong, knew it was against The Rules to love someone of the same sex, but he couldn’t help that his pulse quickened and his loins stirred when he looked at a particularly handsome man.

When nothing happened having these thoughts, when the world didn’t swallow him and Aranna’s wrath failed to appear, Janus started to question The Rules. Not all of them; many were just and made sense, but some, in his opinion, were not. Why should those who worked day in and day out, share with those who were too lazy to contribute their brains or hands to society? What was wrong with being attracted to someone of the same sex? Why was it such a taboo to hoard treasures?

The dream to rule the world soon developed into a goal and when Janus finally left the little village he had grown up in and went to college, he was determined to reach just this. He looked for people like him, for people who were different and opposed, who had other things in mind than The Rules, who believed in other rights and wrongs, in strength and power and dominion.

At first, Janus struggled. Most people he met prayed to The Rules like a mantra and those who didn’t at least didn’t question them. Then, by chance, he spotted something on Market Day. Hidden behind two market stalls two young women were touching each other inappropriately, turning their heads once in a while, as if they wanted to make sure that no one was watching them, before sneaking away and plunging into the crowd. Inconspicuously, Janus followed them through the narrow alleys of Port Hector, up and down the hills, until the girls vanished behind a wooden door of an ancient looking building.

Hiding behind an old, rotten horse cart, Janus watched the entrance until eventually a group of young men walked down the alley, two of them holding hands. The other guys didn’t seem to notice and if they did, they didn’t seem to mind and Janus outright goggled, wishing he was part of them and could have the same. A friend, a boyfriend, whose hand he could hold, whom he could kiss, with whom he could do all the things lovers did without it being a sin and forbidden.

Janus watched the guys entering the ancient building, too, and without really thinking about it, he followed them. More than three dozen pairs of eyes stabbed him when he entered the big, sun-flooded hall which once used to be a library, a variety of expressions on their faces: from shocked to scared and curious. Quickly, Janus explained that he was one of them; different, looking for a place where what he was was not abnormal and where there was no sin, and they welcomed him as their brother.

Soon, Janus realized that with joining this group, he had entered a whole new world of possibilities. He shared his ideas and visions with his new friends, and they fell on fertile ground, growing with every new member they found, with every man or woman who was different or discontent with how things were done on Heaven. Under Janus’ leadership, they founded a party, calling it "Freedom for Heaven" and the stronger they grew, the more public they went, showing that they were there, that they had a place in life like everyone else, and that in the end, they weren’t so different. They gained more and more members, not only fags, like the President called homosexuals disparagingly, but people who believed that things should be run differently, people who were fed up with giving what was rightfully theirs or who didn’t want to live according to Aranna’s Rules any longer.

Their ideas and visions spread, from Port Hector to every other town on the East Continent and over the ocean to the West Continent and after a few years, no matter how much the leading party railed against Freedom, there was no place left where Janus didn’t have followers.

His goal was within his grasp, but Janus had to pay a high price for it. Deeply religious, his family and old friends had deserted him and sometimes, when he went out with his boyfriend, Darren, they would be insulted, pelted with rotten tomatoes or foul eggs. Twice, the two men were beaten up, once so bad that Darren lost a leg when an ax shattered his calf. For days, the man Janus loved hovered between life and death and Janus swore vengeance to everybody who hated them just because they didn’t fit into the norm, no matter whether they once used to be family or friend. Later, whenever Janus looked at the wreck Darren had become, in pain and addicted to meds, he remembered his vow, and a cruel plan grew in his mind. A plan to punish them all; to show each and everyone who laughed at them now and called them fags, that their way of life wasn’t wrong or repulsive, but right and beautiful.

Another goal in mind, it being stronger than anything before, Janus fought, gaining money and power and getting his way, sometimes rather ruthlessly, having stopped to care the day Darren had lost his leg and almost his life. But he was clever, using Darren and every other hate victim in his party to show what happened and how wrong this hate was, and playing off poor against rich and the other way around. Not even less than a decade after Janus had stepped into the building in Port Hector, he was ready to run against the old President who had ruled Heaven for over twenty years.

Promising justice and impartiality and a better Heaven than it had ever been before, Janus won the election fairly, smiling into the camera with Darren by his side, while thousands of supporters were cheering him. Yet, what Heaven had really gained that fateful day was the beginning of centuries of darkness; a dictatorship of a power-hungry man and his descendants who not only led the planet into a golden age of technology but also into a millennium of cruelties and oppression.

Janus turned Heaven into hell, forcing his own lifestyle onto everyone with the cruelest methods imaginable. Families were ripped apart, people were forced to mate with strangers of the same sex and whoever dared to disagree was publically lashed or executed. Thousands died horrible deaths in prison camps on islands with no food and shelter and no place to hide. Only Janus’ followers and young children were really safe because they were amenable to influence; were made to believe that the homosexual way of life was the only one, the right one.

A decade after Janus had seized power, he had achieved what he had been longing for: homosexuality was the norm and no one dared to question it, simply because there was no one left to question it, with everyone having been killed who had dared to oppose him.

Then, on a hot summer’s day, almost a thousand years later, President Jerald Padalecki’s second son was born in the big palace of Janusburgh. He called him Jared as he took the screaming bundle from his mother, unable to foresee that two decades later, Jared would be the one who would guide Heaven back into the light.

 

Part I

1

On tiptoes, Jared sneaked down the dimly lit marble hallway in his father’s palace, listening attentively to any sound, but hearing nothing other than his own quiet breathing. He let his eyes glide up and down the corridor until they got lost in the darkness before raising the ancient tapestry, carefully opening the narrow, wooden door that was completely hidden beneath it and slipping through the gap as soon as it was wide enough for his lean body.

The passageway was dark as a grave, and smelled like one; of years of old dust and dirt, of dead mice and other vermin that not even Hilda, the main housekeeper, could get under control. And how could she in a building that was over 900 years old, that had grown under every new Padalecki President, that was honeycombed with long forgotten hallways or hidden passageways? Jared had spent his whole life at Janusburgh Palace, and had dedicated a good deal of it to discover its secrets, but even Jared doubted that he had been in every room and had found every secret corridor.

Right now though, Jared didn’t care one bit about what he had not found yet because at least he had found the corridor he was using now, one of his most treasured secrets. For what Jared was sure were miles, it looped through the palace, connecting almost all wings with narrow branches leading into other passageways. One would lead him to his goal: the women’s quarters in the north wing, or more specifically, the women’s guest quarters.

He knew it was forbidden, more than that; a crime, a sin, a taboo and a huge scandal if people were to find out, but ever since Jared had set eyes on Sandy, the Vice President’s daughter, he was addicted to her. To her petite, delicate figure; to her breasts, which seemed bigger than his opened hands; to her long, black, curly hair; to her tanned, bronze skin, but most of all, to her eyes and her smile, warm and sweet and simply gorgeous. It was wrong to be attracted to her because men weren’t allowed to desire women - or vice versa - but Jared couldn’t help that his cock moved in interest when he just thought of that first encounter two years ago.

Then, on the day of his 21st birthday, Jared had finally come of age and had been allowed to meet women for the first time. Actually meet them, not only seen them from the distance, like on the television, like when Jared had secretly watched his father and his ministers conferring or when he had paraded the streets on Janus Day, celebrating their great ancestor’s birthday. On his 21st birthday, Jared had finally been reunited with his mother, receiving a hug from a woman who was a stranger to him, and had shaken the female minister’s hands. Behind Minister McCoy, a girl had been standing, still and straight as a stone statue and as beautiful as one, barely older than him. Both had quickly lowered their eyes, knowing the etiquette and the rules, but for a second, their glances had met, and it had been enough to strike Jared, leaving behind a burning need to see the girl again.

He couldn’t even tell why. Sure, Jared was curious, sometimes rebellious, but he knew his place. Like his brother, like every child on Heaven, Jared knew what was right and what was wrong; knew and understood how their society worked and how the peace was kept. Being the President’s son, living in immeasurable riches and being privileged, he probably knew it better than anybody else. It was his duty to find a boyfriend, to marry him, donating his semen to a nameless woman and father a child when the time was right, raising the kid in case it was a boy.

For centuries, it had worked this way, and it worked well. There was nothing wrong with it, living and loving a man, making love to him and raising kids with him. Yet, sometimes Jared wondered why heterosexuality was forbidden. It didn’t seem wrong to him, not wrong like killing, stealing or defrauding. Not that he knew much about the other gender, but girls didn’t seem to be that different. But those thoughts were venom. Better than most people, Jared knew what happened to those who opposed. They were sent to horrible prison camps, and their abnormal sexual preferences were beaten out of them in the most cruel ways imaginable, until they were healed or dead. In extreme cases, people with heterosexual tendencies were even sentenced to death, being executed in public to make an example. Like every teenager, Jared had witnessed several of those executions, seeing the consequences for those who broke the law with his own eyes as a deterrent.

Besides, Jared had long lost his virginity. His first time, shortly after his 15th birthday, had been with a professional hooker who had taught him the ways of love in many sessions, just like the man had taught his brother the ways of love a few years earlier. Then, when Jared had started college, he had met Peter, and they had dated for several years, the media already speculating if Peter might become a member of the royal family. Then though, Peter’s cousin had created a scandal, being caught with a woman, and President Padalecki had executed them both, demanding from Jared to split up with Peter, since his family wasn’t regarded good enough company for the President’s son any longer.

That day, for the first time in his life, Jared was tempted to contradict his father, but he hadn’t. Knowing what was expected of him, the young man had respectfully lowered his head, and, with dry but ice-cold eyes, had promised his father to ditch Peter. Jared had never hated himself as much before and a part of him still regretted that he had not shown more morale, fighting for his friend and partner. Then, he had still been too young to know if it had been love, but Jared had genuinely liked Peter and even now, almost three years later, he missed the fun they had had and the daily, very creative sessions of making out and having sex.

Ever since, Jared had not dated anyone. Once in a while, he would hook up with a very discreet friend from college, but it was nothing serious and the way it had ended with Peter wasn’t the only reason why Jared was hesitant to bind himself again. The bosomy minister’s daughter had much to do with it, too. The girl had bewitched Jared. Not only on that first encounter, but on every other rare occasion they had met in the past two years, with the horseback ride under the watchful eyes of Heaven’s government this morning being on the top of the short list.

Sandy and him had shared shy smiles and inconspicuous glances, had even exchanged a few harmless pleasantries, with both their voices pregnant with expectation and the chemistry between them sparkling. More than once, Jared had felt her dark eyes on him when he had not been looking and when they had courteously said goodbye in front of the stables, Jared had received a little wave, as if Sandy was as sad to say goodbye as he was himself. He interpreted all this as signs that the girl was equally curious to taste the forbidden fruit of being with someone of the other sex and tonight, Jared was ready to find out if he was right.

He knew it was risky, literally perilous. If people would find out, both their lives were probably forfeit, for not even his father could and would protect him then. But Jared didn’t care, just had to know. Had to know if there was any difference in holding a delicate woman’s body instead of a muscled man’s; if her lips tasted sweeter or her whimpers sounded higher when he ripped her apart with that huge cock of his. It was forbidden knowledge how to please a girl, but finding an ancient book with drawings in the forbidden section of the palaces library, had been enough to stimulate Jared’s imagination.

Just thinking about what he was about to do caused Jared’s heart to thrum heavily against his chest as he hurried down the narrow passageway. His face was hot and his cock rubbed painfully against the soft but now too tight cloth of his pants; yet he didn’t stop to get himself off. Jared only quickened his pace, and finally reached his goal; an old ventilation shaft, mostly hidden by an ancient wooden chest, leading right into Sandy’s bedroom.

It was almost midnight and like Jared had expected, the girl was alone. She might be promised, with her wedding being scheduled in a few months’ time, but her fiancée was miles and miles away in Sandy’s hometown on the West Continent. It seemed easy, almost too easy; Sandy lying in bed in her almost transparent night robe, reading a book; her long dark hair framing her beautiful face.

Quickly, Jared undressed himself, throwing his clothes into the dirt. He looked down at himself, at his muscled, hairless chest and the proud member that was aching so hard, just from looking at the girl. He was so eager to ram forward, again and again, to touch, lick and taste and without thinking about it any longer, the view of the girl enough for him to lose his mind, Jared opened the iron cladding, pushing the chest away from the wall.

He heard Sandy take in a sharp breath, saw her looking around in confusion, but when she finally spotted his face, her expression quickly changed from shocked to curious and blissful when Jared finally stood in front of her in all his naked beauty.

Jared hadn’t read those looks and smiles wrong. Sandy welcomed him with open arms, and Jared really was in Heaven.

 

2

The grand piano dominated the hall, its dark polished surface so shiny that the young man could see his own reflection in it. Hesitantly, Jensen stepped forward; close enough that he could touch the valuable instrument, though for a while, he didn’t.

Instead, he let his glance glide over the room; over the four dozen chairs, elegantly covered with white cloth and adorned with deep red ribbons, over the impressive flower bouquets with countless red and white roses that exuded a light flowery fragrance and over the sumptuous wooden wall paneling, its gilded carvings and valuable paintings. Only once Jensen had taken it all in did he reach out to touch the grand piano. Soft like a feather and careful, as if the instrument was fragile, Jensen moved his index finger over the curved contours, caressing it as if the grand piano was his best friend.

In a way it was, for Jensen Ackles was different and only the piano seemed to fully understand him. The young man was a genius when it came to virtuously moving his hands over the ivory piano keys and composing the most beautiful pieces of music, but when it came to profane matters, Jensen was awkward. Barely talking and hardly showing emotions, he poured all his soul into his music, speaking through notes and the melodies he created.

Playing the piano instead of playing with boys of his own age, Jensen had grown up without friends and only his father as a companion. And while Alan had been good to him, he had also been very demanding, getting greedier with his son’s rising success and pushing Jensen further and further. Thanks to Alan and to Jensen’s immeasurable talent, the young man was nowadays regarded the most magnificent pianist on Heaven, and thanks to his outstanding reputation, Jensen had earned the privilege of playing in front of the President, his cabinet and their families tonight. But thanks to Alan, Jensen had also not had a real childhood; had not gone to school, had never learned simple things, like playing football or swimming, or important things about friendship or love.

Despite his countless performances, with the stage being his second home since the young age of six, Jensen still was scared of people and crowds in particular. He knew it was a part of the job description, knew his sold-out performances enabled him and his dad to have a very comfortable life, but Jensen could have very well done without any of it. He didn’t care about success, fame or money, only cared about caressing the piano keys and conjuring up the most beautiful melodies.

Today’s performance scared Jensen more than any other before. He didn’t care about politics, but even Jensen knew that the President was the most powerful man in the world and that you didn’t want to incur his displeasure. Not that Jensen really doubted his skill, but the thought of playing for such important men and women and their families made him feel incredibly uncomfortable and while Jensen knew he was safe, with the grand piano being his ally, he nevertheless felt anxious.

To calm down this anxiousness, Jensen had dared to enter the concert hall while his father was talking with one of the President’s secretaries. It was simply easier when he knew his surroundings and most of all, his ally. Chancing a quick look at the several doors that led to the hall, Jensen sat down on the piano stool, adjusting it to his height and gently moving his fingers over the ivory keys. He caressed them, the white and the black ones equally, as if they were his lover’s body. Only once Jensen had touched them all did he press a random key, the tone sounding magnificently through the hall, sending a shiver through his body. This grand piano was definitely one of the best he had ever used.

Jensen waited until the tone faded away before closing his eyes and playing one of his favorite compositions. Lost in his music, Jensen didn’t hear anything else until one of the big wooden doors slammed shut. He stopped abruptly, squeaking unmanly in surprise and jumping up from the stool, as if stung by a bee and caught in the act.

Quickly looking around, Jensen saw the intruders. Their faces red and their hair a mess, a tall young man and a young, petite woman were standing in the hall, looking at Jensen probably as flabbergasted as Jensen was looking at them. Then though, the facial expression of the other man changed; from shocked, almost insecure, to confident, with eyes piercing Jensen coldly. If looks could kill, Jensen would have dropped dead that second and the tension between them was palpable, even though Jensen couldn’t even tell why the atmosphere was that uncomfortable. He hadn’t done anything wrong, not really; the secretary had even allowed him to enter the hall prior to the concert. Yet suddenly Jensen felt as if he was somewhere forbidden and under the ice-cold, ruthless glance the other man pierced him with, a shiver ran down Jensen’s spine.

With his head held high, the tall man then crossed the room, his hand on the woman’s back and his eyes steadily connected with Jensen, telling him without words that this encounter had never happened. Not even realizing why this seemed to be so important to him, Jensen nodded once before turning away and fixing his eyes at the beloved piano keys.

Only when they had long vanished behind one of the many doors and Jensen had fled into his makeshift dressing room, did he realize what had been so odd. It had not been Jensen who had done something wrong, but the young man and woman, simply because they had been together on their own.

***

An hour later, Jensen had long forgotten the encounter. He knew the law and the general ways of how things were done on Heaven, having grown up with his father and his father’s husband until Mark had died over a decade ago, but unlike most people, Jensen didn’t really care about sexuality or proprieties. Besides, since he was only interested in his music, Jensen had never really wasted much thought about such mundane things as intimacy and had never presumed to judge other people. It simply wasn’t his place.

Now, as Jensen was changing into his black tux, all he was focused on was his performance, with the playlist running through his mind and the melodies of the chosen musical pieces echoing through his head. Lost in his thoughts, like it happened so often, Jensen at first didn’t even notice his dad watching him, until the older man coughed while stepping behind his son and putting his hand on Jensen’s shoulder, unusually gentle. "This is a big night for you, Son," Alan noted, with a smile ghosting over his lips. "Make me proud.”

Jensen nodded. He would give his best, like he always did. Not just to make his dad proud - that was secondary for him - but because he loved his music and always had the ambition to perform as good as possible.

"Come on. The President is waiting for you."

As Jensen followed his dad out of the room and down the corridor, he felt the well-known anxiety embracing him and Jensen welcomed it like an old friend. He both loved and hated this feeling; the queasiness in his belly and the sensation of giddiness in his head, as if he had drunk too much, with adrenaline rushing through his veins. It only would be gone after he had struck the first few measures. Then Jensen would suddenly calm and it would be only him and the piano in the world; no dad and no audience, just him and his friend and the music they created together.

It was a short walk and very soon Jensen found himself stepping through the big wooden side door again. Countless candles bathed the room into a soft light now, with the only artificial light focused on the piano, spotlighting the musician. The air in the room was heavy, the sweet beeswax of the candles and the ladies’ perfumes almost overwhelming Jensen.

Bowing respectfully, Jensen listened to the secretary’s short introduction and when he looked up again, he let his glance glide over the audience quickly. In the first row he spotted the President, his husband, and, Jensen paused and blinked for a moment, the young, tall man he had seen earlier. He was sitting next to the President’s partner and therefore must be a close member of the President’s family - quite probably his son. Like earlier, the man pierced him coldly and his face was a mask of boredom and couldn’t-care-less attitude. It was clear that the young man wanted to be anywhere but here, where he was forced to listen to a stupid classical piano concert, a sort of music he obviously wasn’t interested in one bit.

Jensen quickly looked away, not wanting to stare. It wasn’t polite and besides, while Jensen didn’t care one bit whether the man was interested in his work or not, the ice-cold, almost hateful stare gave him the creeps. Putting a little fake smile on his lips, Jensen instead turned towards the grand piano and seeing the instrument, calm chased the anxiety away. Nothing would happen; he was in safe hands.

Concentrating on nothing but his music, Jensen put his fingers onto the shiny piano keys, and, as soon as he had struck the first few notes, everything else was forgotten.

*

Jensen only woke up from his musical trance when the last tone ebbed away and was replaced by thunderous applause. Smiling fondly, he got up, bowing deeply and letting the praise wash over him before he dared a look at his audience. Everyone Jensen spotted in the dim hall looked pleased, with the emotion his music has elicited visible on their faces. Everyone but the President’s son. Wearing a face of indifference, he didn’t applause but yawned exaggeratedly, glancing at his watch. Then he looked up, stabbing Jensen with that venomous glare of his again.

Like earlier, Jensen blanked it out. The guy might be the President’s son, but apart from that, he was nothing to Jensen. His odd behavior wasn’t worth worrying about. There were more important things, like the countless new melodies that were bustling around Jensen’s head or surviving the next few minutes, with the President and his minsters approaching Jensen, shaking his hand and making polite conversation. Concentrating on what was expected of him, Jensen watched the young man leave with equal indifference, sure that their paths would never cross again.

 

3

The twittering birds woke Jared up at the break of dawn, even before his alarm clock could do its job. It was a nice waking, with the cushions at his back fluffy, the cover over his naked body soft and Sandy a warm presence pressed snug against him.

Yawning, Jared stretched himself, feeling the muscles in his belly and thighs ache and a slight soreness in his ass. A very satisfied smile parted Jared’s lips when he remembered the cause for this comfortable pain; small fingers gliding in and out of his entrance, or thighs wrapped around Sandy’s petite but still so strong feminine body. Who would have believed that sweet, well-raised Sandy McCoy was such a tigress in bed, breaking the laws her mom issued with such rapture, scratching and pleading, screaming and whimpering?

After that first night half a year ago, both had behaved as if it nothing had happened between them and while they had not talked about it, Jared had sworn to himself that it was a one-time slip and would never happen again. And for a while, he had kept his oath, simply because Sandy had left Janusburgh to get married and continue her studies. But when she and her mother had come back to celebrate the President’s birthday, one look at the girl had been enough to stir Jared and when he had sneaked through the secret tunnels in the middle of the night, Sandy had awaited him in her room, wearing nothing but her birthday suit. Ever since, Jared had gone back into her arms whenever Sandy would visit Janusburgh, which only happened once in a blue moon, much to Jared’s regret. Yet, their relationship had developed despite the scarce hours of togetherness, from mere fuck buddies to something deeper.

They were in love. Jared knew, it would be both their doom. Sooner or later, someone was bound to find out and they should end it now before it was too late, before they had fallen too deep and would ruin their lives in all possible ways. They could never have a future, anyways. But whenever Jared wanted to say something, those big brown eyes and that lovely smile danced in front of his vision, reminding him of only a few of the reasons why he had fallen for the girl, and he just couldn’t let go. Sandy was like a drug, and like the junkies that were addicted to their dope, Jared was addicted to Sandy and had been since that first time.

Sighing, in both regret and well-being, Jared snuggled a little closer, kissing Sandy’s forehead and looking into sleepy eyes. "Need to go, baby," Jared announced with his face a mask of pity, curling his fingers around a strand of her thick hair.

Sandy groaned, pressing Jared closer. "Don’t want you to," she murmured, burying her head in his strong chest and nibbling at his skin.

"I know. Don’t want to go either." He caressed her back and skinny waist before cupping one of her buttocks. "But I have to. You know we mustn’t be found," Jared said pressingly. He hated that they had to hide their love, but there was no alternative; no place to run and hide from the laws and customs of their world.

The girl nodded. She knew as well as Jared what was at stake here. "Then go. But come back tonight."

Jared’s promise was kissed away from his lips, and only when Sandy seemed satisfied did she let him go. Quietly, Jared donned his clothes and, with a last look at the naked woman and a fond smile on his lips, he disappeared through the narrow ventilation shaft back into the darkness of the secret passageway.

***

While Jared was walking down the narrow, dusty hallways, the palace woke up. There was the sound of water rushing through pipes and the quick steps of maids hurrying down the narrow servants’ corridors. Jared had to be extra careful on the last stage of the walk back to his rooms. Sure, he was the President’s son and was accountable to no one other than his father for wandering through the corridors this early in the morning, but Jared wanted to avoid that if possible. With him being anything but an early riser, it might lead to very awkward questions, and while Jared had worked out a few very convincing white lies, he wasn’t too keen on actually telling them.

Holding his breath and being perfectly still, Jared listened attentively before he carefully opened the secret door behind the tapestry and stepped into the big hallway that led to the President’s and his family’s suites. There was nothing to be seen or heard, and the closer Jared got to his quarters, the more relaxed he became. Once again, his nightly adventure had come to a happy end; once again he had been lucky.

Finally, Jared stood in front of the big door leading to his rooms, but as he went to punch in his security code number, the device told him that the room was unlocked. The young man furrowed his brow. This couldn’t be, could it? Jared was sure, he had locked his room, like he always did when he left for the night, especially when he left for a night with Sandy.

Yet, he shrugged it away. Eager for their reunion, Jared had been in a hurry earlier and he might have simply forgotten it, with his mind playing tricks on him now. No one but the maids or the security guards could enter his room. Quietly, Jared opened the door and slipped through the gap, stepping into his big living area and halting, the shock of what he saw freezing him for a moment.

There, on Jared’s modern leather sofa, sat his father, looking more stern and serious than Jared had ever seen him before. Jared’s heart skipped a beat before it resumed knocking against his chest, louder and faster than ever. He knows, Jared thought, and suddenly, he wasn’t frozen any longer, but his knees were weak and shaky and he felt hot and cold at the same time.

"Dad," Jared stammered. "What a nice sur-"

His father cut him off with a simple gesture, looking at him coldly. "Spare me your pleasantries, Jared," he growled, though his voice was steady. "Where have you been?" he demanded and his stern voice didn’t allow any backtalk.

"Out," Jared pressed out quickly. "With Jordan and -"

"Bullshit," his father ranted and if Jared had not been so scared, he would have been impressed with his father using such a word. "Don’t you dare lie to me, boy," he said threateningly. "Where have you been?"

Moistening his lips, Jared stepped a little closer. Jordan was his best friend, he would vouch for him if his dad asked, unless he’d send his hoodlums and forced the truth out of Jordan with violence. "I told you, I was with Jor-"

A fist banged against the wooden coffee table and even though it must have hurt, his father didn’t flinch one bit, other than Jared, who jumped and took one step back. "Let me jog your memory, Son," the President offered venomously while pulling out a thin pile of big, glossy photographs from behind his back, displaying each on the table in front of him.

Dizziness seemed to overpower Jared when he noticed what these photos showed and for a few moments, there was nothing but darkness in front of his eyes while the panic inside him rose and rose. A dozen photos of him and Sandy, taken sometime during the previous night, in an intimate embrace, kissing or caressing each other or making love. The proof of their sin lay in front of him on glossy paper, and Jared could almost hear their moans and screams and pleas again while his eyes flew over the photographs, saw the perspiration on their young, naked, glowing bodies and the ecstasy on their faces.

Jared’s heart was beating heavily, and there was nothing he could say or do, with no excuse or explanation good enough. "Dad," Jared stammered, and he was shocked how weak his usually so confident voice sounded. "I... How..."

His father was still looking at him sternly, his eyes stabbing Jared like a thousand daggers, turning his insides out. For a while, Jared put up some resistance against this piercing look, fighting for a composure he had long lost as fear was washing over him in strong waves, and keeping eye contact. Eventually though, Jared lowered his eyes. His father was just too strong; his fight lost even before he had entered his quarters.

"Sit down, Jared," his father said, releasing Jared from the need to explain himself for the time being. Surprisingly, his voice now sounded different, almost soft and caring. "Sit down, look at the photos and tell me why you did it."

Tentatively, Jared stepped forward, his legs still wobbly and his body tense like a bow. Once he had sat down across from his father, he felt a little better, and under the stern look of the older man, Jared reached out and took the photos one by one. First, Jared didn’t dare to look at them, feeling watched and naked under his father’s scrutinizing gaze. Then though, Jerald got up, walking over to the barely used kitchenette and busying himself with the coffee machine. Under other circumstances, Jared would have outright goggled, never having seen his father do something as mundane as making coffee, but the way things were, Jared barely noticed. The gurgling of the coffee machine was a hardly perceptible sound in the background and finally, Jared took his eyes away from his lap and fixed them on the first photograph in his slightly trembling hands.

He took his time, looking at every photograph intensely, at the play of light and shadow on naked skin, at his strongly defined muscled torso and Sandy’s perfect figure, at the way they touched and looked at each other. The photos were beautiful and salacious at the same time and just looking at them caused a weird feeling in Jared’s belly and a longing in his loins. It might be a sin and a crime, yet it had been wonderful and special and no matter what happened now, even if Jared had to die as a punishment, he would never regret it.

Jared only looked up from the last photo when he felt his father’s hand on his shoulder. The soft gesture surprised him and Jared even managed a wry smile when the other man handed him a mug of steaming and deliciously smelling coffee, prepared just the way Jared enjoyed it best, with lots of milk and sugar. "I don’t know what to say, Dad," Jared declared after having taken a small sip of the too hot liquid. "It simply happened. I didn’t plan on it. The first time I saw her, it struck me and the more often I saw her, the more curious I got." Jared took another mouthful of coffee, licking the remains of the liquid from his lips. "Eventually, I just had to know what it was like, and once I tasted, I couldn’t stop," Jared confessed truthfully with his face glowing. "We met whenever Sandy was in town."

"Despite the laws," his father said matter-of-factly. "You knew it was wrong, a sin, the biggest crime in our world next to murder. Yet you broke it, again and again, risking your and Sandy’s life, your and our reputation. You’re not stupid, Son, but do you actually understand what you did?" His father’s voice was still calm, yet it was dripping with disbelief and disappointment, causing a very uncomfortable feeling inside the young man.

The lump in Jared’s throat grew with every heartbeat and he opened his mouth, only to close it again, with nothing but a gurgling sound escaping it as he realized what he had done. He had not only risked his and Sandy’s lives, or the reputation of the Padalecki family. He had laughed their society in the face and had dragged their rules, their laws, everything a whole world believed in, into the dirt. If what he did became public, it could cause so much more than a scandal; it could shake the foundation of their society, cause uproars, in worst case even wars. Yet, Jared had not cared and the young man turned pale when he realized that a part of him still didn’t care. It had been worth it and while he was sorry that he had disappointed his father, he wasn’t sorry that it had happened.

"I see," Jerald commented thoughtfully, even before Jared could have said something himself. Maybe, his expression said more than a thousand words could. "Up to a certain degree, Jared, I can even understand. The girl is undeniably pretty and you’re still young, curious and have been alone for far too long. You’re not the first, nor will you be the last, who is bewitched by a charming woman. But I can’t allow it, Jared. Too much is at stake here. It’s wrong, it’s disgusting and contradicts everything our world believes in and what our family stands for. You mustn’t see Mrs. McCoy again," his father said determinedly.

Even before Jared had opened his mouth to object, his father shook his head. "Don’t you dare try and object, young man. This is not up for discussion," his father added forcefully. "If I ever find out that you act against my wishes and meet her again, I promise, you will regret it, Jared," Jerald threatened in deadly earnest with his eyes almost as cold as they had been in the beginning. "You are my son, and I love you, Jared, but I can only protect you up to a certain degree. Not when it comes to something as massive as our first rule."

Jared nodded. He understood. His father was the President and the welfare of Heaven would always be his top priority, no matter how much he loved his family. "Okay," Jared promised, though deep down he knew he would not be able to keep it. He would always be drawn towards Sandy and he would try everything to see her again, no matter at what cost.

"There is something else, Jared," Jerald added before pausing a moment, the air between father and son pregnant with expectation. "You have been on your own for far too long. It’s time for you to start dating again." It didn’t really sound like a suggestion, more like a demand.

"But, there is no one," Jared pressed out between thin lips without thinking about it. "After Sandy, I doubt -"

"Silence," his father cut him off. "I don’t want you to speak her name ever again. And don’t you dare to speak about love," Jerald spat out the word, as if it was something disgusting, "when you talk about a woman. We are not made to love or mate with women, Jared. We are not animals. We left this sin behind a thousand years ago, and it was your ancestor who saw the light," the older man preached. "Besides, this is not about you being in love." He laughed humorlessly, as if it was the stupidest idea ever that he would care about his son being in a happy relationship. "This is about you being the President’s son and having an acceptable partner for public appearances. Nothing else. If you fall in love with him, fine with me, but to be honest, Son, that’s not my paramount concern. What I care about is our reputation in the public and I have to take measures in case something about this disaster," he pointed at the photographs Jared had put back on the table, "leaks through."

Jared furrowed his brow. He didn’t really like the sound of this, though he was not sure where this might lead to. Was his father suggesting that he started dating one of his buddies? This would be awkward as hell, especially since most of them were in solid relationships. "Dad, all my friends -"

An impatient gesture cut Jared off. "Don’t worry, Jared. I’ve arranged everything for you. You’ll date Jensen Ackles."

The unusual name sounded slightly familiar to him, but Jared couldn’t put a face to the name and in effort he narrowed his eyes, scouring his brain for the information, but giving up in the end. "Who?"

"Jensen Ackles," Jerald repeated, looking as smug as he sounded. "The famous pianist. He is the perfect match, Jared."

Suddenly, the memory came back and a groan escaped Jared’s throat. He remembered the night of the stupid, boring concert, Sandy and him running through the palace, stumbling into the concert hall and this Ackles guy disturbing them, being where no one should have been, and staring at them like an oaf. His emotionless face. His music, probably played virtuously, but still so boring to Jared’s ears. "I can’t date him, Dad!" Jared objected loudly. "He’s not my type."

"I couldn’t care less, Jared," his father shot back at once. "He is a well raised, good-looking man, standing in the spotlight, and has an immaculate reputation. He is perfect," Jerald argued, once more using a voice that tolerated no backtalk.

Yet, Jared tried. He would rather be sent to prison camp than date this boring pianist. "Dad," Jared began to argue, "I don’t know him. I don’t even like him. How could I ever convince the public?"

"You will simply give your best, Son. And that’s it. End of discussion. You will meet Jensen in a few days and he will be your escort for the film awards. You will smile and touch and pretend to have fallen for this guy." His father stood up, took the photos and slowly walked over to the huge fireplace where only a few remaining embers were glowing between the charred logs. "You will fulfill your duty, Jared. In return," Jerald ripped each photograph in half, "we will never talk about this again." He threw the pieces onto the red blaze and with fascination Jared watched how the smallest of flames licked at the paper hungrily, slowly devouring it while growing with every bite until all that was left of the sinful photos was ash. "Agreed?"

Once more, his father’s eyes pierced him while Jared struggled with himself. There were two alternatives; the hard way, denying his father’s wish, losing the last bit of his love and support and maybe really being sent to one of the horrible prison camps and never seeing Sandy again; or the easy way. Fulfilling his father’s wish, pretending to be head over heels in love with a man he didn’t know and didn’t really want to know because he was boring and not one bit desirable in Jared’s eyes, while keep meeting Sandy in secret. Both possibilities sucked, but in the end there only was one way. It was not really worth fighting for and losing his family and besides, Jared loved the luxury he was living in and all his privileges far too much. "Agreed," Jared spat out, hating himself just a little bit. "But don’t expect me to love this guy."

"I only expect you to fulfill your duty, Son," Jerald said strictly. "Then I will fulfill mine." With one last, stern look at Jared he turned around and left, leaving Jared in an emotional uproar.

Pacing the room like a caged tiger, Jared searched for a way out, but he couldn’t find one. His head was empty, but still felt as if it would burst and in the end, Jared drowned his misery with booze until he only knew that he would hate this stupid Jensen Ackles with all his might, simply to rebel against his father and his stupid plan.

 

4

His father’s words were still ringing in Jensen’s head. Something about duty and honor; something about his reputation and the public that took a great interest in him. Alan had made a long speech to add zest to the deal he had made with the President, but it had not helped one bit to persuade Jensen that dating Jared Padalecki, the President’s son, was a good idea.

Quite the contrary; Jensen was outright scared. Not only because he was an inexperienced man when it came to everything other than playing the piano, but also because, when his father had shown Jensen a photo of his soon-to-be-boyfriend, Jensen had recognized him as the tall man with the cold stare whose look had given him the creeps and whose boredom at his concert had almost been an affront.

A shiver ran through his body when Jensen remembered that look and he couldn’t help but wonder why this was happening. Up to a certain degree, Jensen understood the need of having a companion for public appearances other than his father, but why did it have to be Jared Padalecki? Why would the guy date a man like Jensen, a man he didn’t know and didn’t seem to care about? What did Jared and the President gain from it?

Other than those questions, the simple thought of being with Jared knotted Jensen’s guts and caused sickness. He didn’t have any experience with socializing with people of his own age, always having felt awkward and like the fifth wheel on the rare occasion he had gotten together with other young men. Even worse, Jensen didn’t have any experience when it came to the art of love. He was a virgin, had never kissed, never blown a man, had never actually touched another man’s privates. So far, Jensen had not even cared about something as mundane as intimacy. Why should he? He didn’t need sex, didn’t need love, didn’t need friends. All he needed was his piano and his music; as long as he had both, Jensen was happy.

Now though, his father pushed Jensen into a role he had never wanted. It reminded Jensen of a time long ago, when he had been a little kid and his father had arranged the first concerts for him because Alan had seen his talent and their big chance for success, fame and money. Like then, Jensen didn’t really know what was happening to him and like then, he didn’t have the strength to object. He knew he was a weakling, but while a big part of him was scared and confused, a little part of Jensen didn’t even care about the deal as long as he could still play the piano day in and day out. And maybe, it would not be that bad? Perhaps, Jared Padalecki and he could get friendly and make the best of it? Maybe, Jensen could eventually even break away from his demanding father and get a new family and a place where he belonged to?

The thought calmed Jensen down a little and he went over to the piano, losing his remaining fear the moment he touched the familiar ivory keys.

***

Jensen’s hands were sweaty and his heart was beating heavily as he was sitting on a very comfortable chair in a richly decorated room at Janusburgh Palace, waiting to meet President Padalecki and his son. Not even his father’s calming presence next to him prevented Jensen from tapping his feet and scratching his neck in this nervous habit of his. He felt hot and cold at the same time and just damn uncomfortable, sweaty, even a little disheveled after hours in a crowded and noisy plane. Taking deep breaths, Jensen forced himself to calm down, but it didn’t work, with the situation being too unfamiliar to him. What was he supposed to say or do? What was actually expected of him?

"Calm down, Jensen," his father said uncommonly soft, distracting Jensen from his thoughts. "There’s nothing to worry about. No one means you ill here, boy, quite the contrary. It’s the best for you."

The young man could do nothing other than nod, too busy with keeping the disgusting plane food where it belonged as his stomach grumbled angrily and Jensen’s nausea grew to new dimensions. His father’s words had not exactly helped, but before Jensen could freak out even more, the waiting came to an end with the door being opened and President Padalecki stepping into the room, followed by his son.

Eagerly, his father jumped up and Jensen followed him, though not quite as quickly, fearing that any rushed movement would make him puke.

"Mr. President," Alan said devotedly, bowing his head. "It’s such an honor."

With a fake smile on his lips, Jerald Padalecki brushed the comment away and offered his hand which Jensen’s father shook zealously. "Welcome to Janusburgh Palace," the President said, looking at Jensen instead of his father. "It’s really nice to meet you again, Jensen."

"You too, Sir," Jensen pressed out between his slightly trembling lips, forcing a smile on them while chancing a quick look at the President’s son.

"Meet my son Jared," the President then introduced. "Your future boyfriend. You will make a handsome couple."

Blushing deeply, Jensen lowered his eyes, but he had been too slow to miss Jared flinching in disgust and his neutral, indifferent face turning into a hostile grimace. It didn’t actually surprise Jensen, having feared that Jared would reject him and the whole idea of this stupid deal, but it still felt like a punch in his gut.

There was an awkward silence when no one made the first step, with Jensen biting his lip nervously and Jared doing nothing other than stabbing him with his eyes, but eventually, Jensen mustered all his courage and reached out his hand. "It’s nice to meet you, Jared."

The tall man stared at the hand as if it was a three-headed snake and for a while, he didn’t do or say anything. Only when the President pierced him with a stern look, did Jared take the hand, shaking it slackly, letting go after only a moment, as if the touch was unwelcome. Jensen felt even sicker, never having felt such dislike towards him before. "You too, Jensen," Jared spat out, not even trying to sound convincing.

"Now that’s done, how about you two get to know each other while Alan and I have a brandy in the library?" the President suggested, ignoring the obvious tension between the two men who should become lovers but looked at each other as if they were foes.

"That’s a very good idea, Mr. President," Jensen’s father concurred, looking at Jensen encouragingly. "I’m sure the boys will feel much better if we don’t watch them. After all, getting intimate is nothing you really do want to share with your fathers."

Jensen couldn’t help but flinch. Could it get any more embarrassing and awkward? Jared’s thoughts seemed to lead in the same direction because a dry snort escaped his nose and he looked appalled, as if the thought of getting intimate with Jensen was not only far-fetched but also sickening.

Both fathers seemed to ignore it and, with a last nod, Jerald left with Alan in tow.

The young men were alone, watching each other, like animals would do before they strike, the tension between them palpable. Jensen felt really uncomfortable in his skin, and he wanted to do or say something to make it better, but the situation swamped him. "So Jared," Jensen started and the look he received in return was one of pure repulsion, making him even more nervous.

"Shut it," Jared snarled. "Don’t bother to get friendly, it’s in vain." It felt like a slap in the face, and Jensen must have looked like it because the other man smirked evilly. "I’m only going to say it once and I hope you understand, Jensen." Jared spat out his name as if it was an insult. "I’m not one bit interested in getting to know you and I’d rather kiss my horse’s ass before getting intimate with you. You’re nothing to me," Jared snarled venomously, "and I don’t plan on changing this. So do me the favor and shut the fuck up. I don’t know what you expect to happen, but I’m not here to become your friend or lover."

Never before in his life had Jensen felt such hostility towards him and for the first time since forever, he felt his eyes getting teary. He tried to swallow the traitorous liquid down, not wanting to give Jared the satisfaction of having made him cry, but he didn’t succeed, with a single tear escaping one of his eyes.

"You stupid baby." Jared laughed evilly. "You’re such a loser, Ackles! Now, get out of my sight and only come back when we leave for the awards."

Jensen tumbled, feeling humiliated and any reply he could think of got stuck in his throat. He didn’t even manage to hold his head high as he walked to the door. The moment he turned the doorknob, he heard Jared’s venomous voice again. "And have a shower. Or better two. You stink, you filthy little maggot."

Jared’s malicious laugh followed Jensen out of the room and down a corridor and he quickened his pace, until he was outright running, through dimly lit marble corridors, and up and down stairs. Eventually, Jensen couldn’t catch his breath anymore and he stopped, panting heavily. When he rubbed his hands over his face, Jensen felt tears moistening puffy skin and he hid his face in his hands and pressed his back against the cool stony wall, fighting for a composure he had long lost.

Only once Jensen felt a little better, did he peep out behind his hands, noticing that he had completely lost his way. Janusburgh Palace was huge, bigger than the little town he had grown up in, and the corridor he had fled to looked like an older, barely used one. His heart was in his mouth and he felt panic rising but this time Jensen forced it down. Maybe he was a loser, like Jared had dissed him, but he wouldn’t cry anymore, not because he had lost his way.

Looking around, Jensen spotted a window a few yards ahead and he went over to it, hoping that the view might give him an indication of where he was. But all Jensen could see were more gray walls in all directions and a well-kept courtyard huddled between them. A man was tending to flowers in tidy beds with dark soil and Jensen felt some hope return. If he could find a way down, the man could maybe help him to find his way to the guest quarters.

Jensen walked down the corridor, until he spotted a narrow spiral staircase. Hoping that it might lead to the courtyard, Jensen climbed down. It was steep and he had to watch every step if he didn’t want to fall and break his neck. When Jensen finally reached the ground level he was rewarded with an open, wooden door leading outside.

Mild, fresh air, smelling of spring flowers and moist earth, enveloped Jensen the moment he stepped into the courtyard and he took a deep breath, almost feeling the strain melting away. It was quiet and peaceful, with the soft wind caressing his burning cheeks and some birds twittering in the blooming apple tree. Gravel crunched beneath Jensen’s shoes as he walked towards the gardener who was planting violas into a flower bed.

"Hello," the man said, turning around, even before Jensen could open his mouth. He looked a little familiar to him. "You’re Jensen Ackles, aren’t you?" He asked much to Jensen’s surprise while getting up before wiping his dirty hands on his pants and holding one out to welcome Jensen. "I’m Jeffrey Padalecki."

Jensen took the hand, staring at the man who was Jared’s brother. He was so different. His handshake was strong, his smile genuine and his whole attitude was the complete opposite of how Jared had treated him. "Jensen Ackles," Jensen introduced himself. "It’s nice to meet you, Sir," he added politely. After all, the man was the President’s oldest son and therefore his successor.

"No need to be that formal, Jensen. Call me Jeffrey. You’re family now."

Jensen couldn’t help the snort that escaped his dry lips even though the other man’s words touched him. If Jared treated his family like he had treated him he -

"Let me guess," Jeffrey said, interrupting Jensen’s train of thought. "The first meeting with my brother didn’t go too well."

Jensen shrugged. Jeffrey seemed to be a nice guy, but he didn’t want to tell him what happened, still feeling too humiliated about it. Besides, the traces of tears on his face probably told a story of their own.

"Sit down," Jeffrey prompted, pointing towards an old wooden bench that was standing under the apple tree. "Don’t be shy. No need to be worried, buddy."

Hesitantly, Jensen walked over the bench, with Jeffrey following him. It was nice beneath the roof of blossoms, the wooden bench warm against his thighs and the sun tickling his face and head. Jeffrey sat down next to Jensen, luckily not crowding him. Jensen remembered Jared’s mocking words about him stinking and he felt really uncomfortable, wondering if he really smelled.

"What happened?" Jeffrey asked softly.

Jensen chanced a quick look at the older Padalecki; at his suntanned face, at his smutched clothes and the shiny golden wedding band on his left hand. He seemed nice, friendly, interested, but could Jensen trust him? Maybe it was all a trick? Maybe, Jeffrey just wanted to find out if Jensen was discreet or if he would talk badly about his brother.

"You really are shy, huh?" Jeffrey noted, but he still sounded friendly. "How old are you? 22?"

Surprised at the change of the subject, Jensen furrowed his brow, but he could answer this question, couldn’t he? "25."

"You look younger, kid," Jeffery said, smiling. "And you’re a pianist?"

Now it was Jensen’s turn to smile. "I am."

"Quite a good one from what I’ve heard."

Jensen blushed. "I hope so," he whispered. He knew he was good, yet compliments like this made him feel rather uncomfortable.

"A shy and modest, 25 year old pianist," Jeffrey summarized. "Why would you want to date my brother, Jensen?" He sounded curious, as curious as Jensen was about why Jared would date someone like him.

"My dad wants me to," Jensen admitted quietly, seeing no need in lying to the older man.

Jeffrey looked as if the news didn’t really surprise him. "How do you feel about it, Jensen?"

Jensen shrugged. He knew how he felt; scared and used, as if he was bartered away for fame, money and success his dad wanted for him, even though Jensen had never really cared. But he couldn’t tell this the future President of Heaven, could he?

"I understand if you don’t want to tell me, Jensen. But let me tell you something. We might live in a very modern age, yet in our class it’s not unheard of parents making matches for their kids. That’s how I met my husband Robert and that counts for my brother and you, too. Our father made Jared date you, just like he made me date Robert, but other than I, my brother is very reluctant. I can’t tell you why," Jeffery added, even before Jensen could ask. "But please, don’t judge him, Jensen. Jared is a good guy."

"He hates me," Jensen pressed out between thin lips, suddenly being overwhelmed by this saddening feeling of being rejected. "He doesn’t even want to get to know me."

The older man nodded. "If you knew the circumstances, you probably would understand why my brother is against this match," Jeffery sighed, rubbing his hands over his mouth thoughtfully. "I know it’s hard, but please Jensen, try not to blame him. I’m sure, whatever my brother said to you was harsh and probably inexcusable, but you and him, you aren’t so different," the older man pointed out. "You’ve both been forced into something you don’t want to do, for different reasons probably, but in the end you both have to try and make the best of it. Better realize it now and try to approach my brother, despite him being rebellious. There’s no way out, Jensen. There’s a deal, and my father will make sure that it will be fulfilled."

"What can I do?" Jensen asked, hoping that Jared’s brother might have some advice and that it would help to diminish his helplessness a little.

"Give him a chance, stick to him and don’t give up that easily, Jensen. Eventually, Jared will see that you are a good guy." He paused, smiling at Jensen encouragingly. "Now, let me show you the way to your room because I’m sure you lost your way."

Jensen nodded, murmuring a quiet but genuine "thanks".

"You’re welcome, Jensen. Like I said, you’re family now."

For the first time since his father had made him date Jared Padalecki, Jensen felt a little hope. Maybe in the end, things would be alright.

 

5

Jared had his eyes fixed on the huge TV screen but he didn’t really take in the pictures he saw or the dialogue he heard. What he saw instead was Jensen Ackles’ hurt face and what he heard were his own, cruel words. Even though Jared had been so proud after Jensen had left with tears in his eyes, Jared now felt his bad conscience gnawing at him. He really had behaved like the biggest asshole ever and now, two hours later, Jared didn’t exactly feel proud anymore.

Yet it had been necessary to thwart his father’s plans. Jared couldn’t allow himself to like Jensen Ackles. He had to hate him, and therefore, he had treated him like scum and the other man had been such a fine victim, an insecure and nervous weakling, reeking of sweat and plane. Simply pathetic.

With his obnoxious behavior, Jared had certainly gained what he had planned on. Jensen wouldn’t bother to play nice any longer and sooner rather than later, both their fathers would see that there was no way for them ever becoming friendly and would scrap their silly plan. Hopefully, the stupid film awards tonight would be their first and last appearance. Jared could live with that. He would just give Ackles a cold shoulder and hope to never see him again; if the wuss actually dared to appear at all.

Jared smiled smugly. The guilt was gone and he only felt very satisfied with himself.

***

Unfortunately, Jensen didn’t do Jared the favor of standing him up, waiting in the palace’s big entrance hall and talking to Jeffrey and Robert. Jared even had to acknowledge that Jensen was looking much neater than earlier. Having taken a shower, the pianist now smelled nicely of shower gel and aftershave and his hair was styled. Even Jensen’s nerdy glasses were gone and expressive, green eyes looked at Jared for a moment while a little, shy smile flitted over the man’s lips. He wore a tailored, dark suit that fitted and suited him exceptionally well. Jared didn’t want to, but he couldn’t help but agree with his father; Jensen Ackles was indeed a good-looking, attractive guy, a little like the Ugly Duckling who had now turned into a beautiful swan.

But Jared wouldn’t be fooled by the appearance. It didn’t change much, aside from the guy not being such an insult to his eyes and nose any longer. Jensen was still his enemy and an acceptable appearance or a little, friendly smile didn’t change that.

"Let’s go," Jeffrey prompted, before the silence could turn too awkward. "We can’t be late."

Jared nodded, following his brother outside, with Jensen trotting behind him. He had a weird gait, with his bowed legs and slightly hunched posture. Maybe it came from sitting on a piano stool day in, day out? Freak.

"When did you start playing the piano?" Robert asked after they had all gotten into the huge limousine. Jared couldn’t refrain from rolling his eyes. He so was not into stupid small talk, the less so because it was about Jensen Ackles.

"Three and a bit," Jensen said quietly, biting his lips. He didn’t seem to feel comfortable being in the spotlight and anything but communicative.

"And your first concert?"

"I was six, in our city hall. They didn’t want to have kids performing, but Dad was very persuasive. At least, he keeps telling me. I owe him everything," Jensen said loyally and Jared furrowed his brow. Did the guy really believe the bullshit he was saying? Sure, it sounded like Ackles senior had supported his boy, but the talent itself and all the practice had come from no one else but Jensen. Did he really see himself like this?

"What about school, Jensen?" Jeffrey asked, interrupting Jared’s train of thought. "It must have been difficult, going to school and playing the piano and to reconcile both things."

"I um, never went to school," Jensen stammered. "Dad taught me himself and piano lessons always had priority."

Jared huffed, shaking his head in disbelief. The man his father had chosen for him was not only a nerd, he was an uneducated nerd.

"Didn’t you miss school?" Robert wanted to know.

The pianist shrugged. "How can you miss something you don’t know?" Jensen wondered, but Jared didn’t miss the hint of longing in the man’s tone. "I grew up different than most boys, but it wasn’t bad."

"What about your family, Jensen?" Jeffrey kept interrogating him. "Any siblings?"

"My father’s husband fathered a girl a few months before he died. Her name is Mackenzie, but I’ve never seen her. My mother also gave birth to another boy, but his father moved to the West Continent when I was very little. I barely remember him."

"Sounds lonely," Jeffrey commented and if Jared wasn’t mistaken, there was a hint of pity in his voice Jared couldn’t share. A lot of kids on Heaven grew up like this; losing touch with their half-brothers, not meeting their sisters before both had reached the age of 21. It was part of the rule. They themselves had only seen their sister Megan from afar and it had never really bothered Jared.

"No, not really. I had the piano," Jensen replied, sounding deadly serious. Jared didn’t believe his ears. What a freak! It almost sounded as if the stupid instrument was his friend much more than real kids his age had been. Even Robert and Jeffrey were staring at Jensen now as if he was an alien. Maybe he was? Such a freak couldn’t be of their kind, could he?

Jeffrey smiled wryly. "You’re an unusual man, Jensen Ackles," he said.

"Unusually ignorant," Jared snapped back to no one in particular, the contempt Jared felt for Jensen oozing from his tongue.

His brother threw a punishing look at Jared and Jensen flinched at the comment, but didn’t say anything to defend himself. Not that Jared expected him to. A wuss stayed a wuss.

Uncomfortable silence stretched between the four men and not even Jeffrey, who was so empathic and well trained when it came to talking to people of all classes, said a thing. They spent the remaining ride in silence, with Robert and Jeffrey whispering to each other once in a while, but it was about random things, and they didn’t include Jared or his date.

Once in a while, Jared would throw a quick, inconspicuous look at Jensen. His head lowered and his fingers interlaced with each other, the older man looked at his feet, wearing a sad expression. Again, Jared’s words had struck just right and he slapped himself on the back. If he kept on bitching like this, Ackles would be gone in the morning.

***

It was Jensen who took his hand the moment they had gotten out of the limo and what felt like a hundred of flashes blinded them. His hand was ice-cold and Jared was so shocked about both the gesture and the coldness that he wanted to draw back at once. But the long fingers that moved so skillfully over the piano held on tight and when Jared looked over to his date for the night, he saw that Jensen had put on a broad smile, waving and just playing his role very convincingly. Once in a while, he would even look adoringly at Jared and the look on Jensen’s face caused a weird feeling inside Jared he couldn’t name.

Jared had to admit that he was surprised. He had not expected this, after everything that had happened today. It had been obvious that he had hurt Jensen, nevertheless the man did what was expected of him. And if Jensen could do this, Jared could do it as well. Dimples deep, Jared flashed smiles in all directions, strolling over the red carpet, waving and answering a couple of questions, proudly introducing Jensen as his new boyfriend. The lie dropped easily from his tongue. He was the President’s son - the gift of lying and faking something was in his blood.

Finally, they stepped into the big movie theater, but even with the cameras gone, Jensen didn’t let go of Jared’s hand. Instead, he moved up a gear, leaning over once in a while and pretending to whisper sweet nothings into Jared’s ear while not a sound escaped his moving lips. From the corner of his eyes, Jared noticed that several members of the press watched them and in spite of feeling damn uncomfortable with having the other man that close, Jared couldn’t help but feel a grain of gratitude towards Jensen.

Only once the men had moved towards the next room, where champagne and hors d’oeuvres were served, did Jensen finally let go. Jared repressed the urge to wipe his hands on his pants, but he was glad that it was finally gone. In general, he didn’t mind to touch and to be touched, but with Jensen, it was something different. He simply didn’t want to let the freak too close if he could avoid it.

Time passed and the men moved through the room. People approached Jared, eying his date with interest and talking to him. Shy Jensen didn’t talk much, but he smiled or laughed, behaving exactly like the likeable boyfriend his father had wanted for Jared.

At long last, it was time to take their seats in the President’s box and Jared had never been happier. Once in a while, a camera would point at them, but in general, they were unobserved and finally, even Jensen’s facade crumbled. Sitting on the chair next to Jared’s, he’d sometimes rub his eyes and massage his temples, as if he was suffering from a headache. Not that Jared gave a damn; he simply ignored the man, talking to his brother in law instead and only looking over to his date when he felt a spotlight grazing him. Then, Jared would smile broadly at his fake boyfriend, and Jensen would smile back, but his eyes seemed to look through him, tired and red.

The award ceremony itself was boring as hell. Far too long, if you asked Jared; with countless silly acceptance speeches and half a dozen boring performances in between. He couldn’t refrain from yawning once in a while, but whenever he’d chance a quick look at Jensen, he noticed that the man sat in his chair still as a stone statue, with his eyes fixed on the stage. There was not one bit of emotion and reaction in the man’s face; he didn’t blink, flinch, smile, nor laugh at the stupid jokes. It seemed as if his body was present, but his mind was far away. Creepy guy.

Jensen only stirred when the ceremony was finally over and Jared got up, stretching his aching legs. Ignoring the other man, Jared left the box. He so didn’t care if Jensen followed him or even knew where to go.

He headed towards the backstage entrance and climbed into the car that was waiting for them, hoping against hope that Jensen had lost his way. But of course, the freak didn’t do him the favor, simply because Jeffrey had taken Jensen under his wing, getting into the limo with him in tow.

The ride home was silent and awkward, and when the car finally drove past the huge iron gates of Janusburgh Palace and parked in front of the main entrance, Jared couldn’t get out of the limo fast enough. Without so much as glancing at his date or bidding anyone goodnight, he hurried up the stairs, almost running into his rooms and locking the door behind him.

Panting heavily, Jared suddenly felt sick. Maybe it were the hors d’oeuvres or maybe it was the fact that he had to whore himself out at his father’s wish and didn’t have the guts to object, but waves of queasiness washed over Jared and he barely made it to the toilet. He puked and spat until his stomach was empty and his face was wet with countless tears Jared couldn’t even remember having cried. Feeling beaten, Jared picked himself up, refreshing his tear-stained face with ice-cold water and brushing his teeth longer than ever before.

Only once Jared felt a little more human again, did he drag himself into the bedroom, his mind running riot about what had just happened. Yet the possibility that his nausea had to do something with his outrageous behavior towards Jensen was unwelcome and when the thought sneaked into Jared’s mind, he quickly pushed it away.

 

6

It had been four weeks since Jensen had arrived at Janusburgh Palace and sometimes, he was wondering why he was still there and enduring the daily torture of being Jared Padalecki’s fake boyfriend. Did Jensen think so low of himself to expose himself to such hatred? Or was it the opposite; a so far unknown stamina and pride to suffer this dislike, just to prove to Jared and himself that he wasn’t the wuss Jared believed him to be?

So far Jensen had not found out and right now, as he was swallowing down the tears that threatened to overwhelm him, he didn’t really care. Today, Jared’s hate had grown to new dimensions. He had forced Jensen to go horseback riding with him and when Jensen had been hesitant to climb the horse, a huge, black stallion called Brutus, Jared had insulted him with a new variety of cusses. He had laughed away Jensen’s explanations that he avoided all kind of activities to protect his hands, calling him a baby and a coward.

Against his better judgment, Jensen had finally agreed, but the moment he had been sitting in the saddle, Jared had given Brutus a hard smack on his flank. He had dashed forward, and no matter how hard Jensen had tried to hold onto the horse’s neck, the ride had been just too wild and in the end, he had fallen off, face forward into a puddle of mud.

The impact had taken his breath away and thankfully, Jensen had not heard how the bones in his wrist had snapped, had only felt the breathtaking pain, his moans and whimpers being drowned out by Jared’s loud laugh. The younger man had not given a damn about the injured man on the ground, had turned around and had abandoned Jensen to his fate.

It had been Jeffrey who had found him, who had helped Jensen up and brought him to their private physician who had x-rayed the wrist and confirmed Jensen’s worst fear. It was broken and the news that it was a clean fracture that didn’t need any surgery was only a small comfort. It had been Jeffrey who had put a hand on his shoulder while Jensen had been treated and it had been him who had brought Jensen back to his room and now was bearing him silent company. Jeffrey was his lifebelt here and if it had not been for him, Jensen would have been lost.

"It’s okay to cry, you know?" Jeffrey said softly as his hands rubbed up and down Jensen’s back. "I don’t agree with Jared here. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s okay when bad things are happening or when you’re hurting. So just let it out, okay?"

Jensen sniffed. Before he had met Jared, he had never cried. He had always been indifferent, almost torpid about the things that happened to him or in the world; had not cared about much but his music, had actually not even known about things like crimes or poverty. Now though, as he was at Jared’s mercy, as he felt hate directed at him for the first time, Jensen felt emotions stronger than before and he showed them. "Why does he hate me so much, Jeff?" Jensen breathed out, confused and desperate. "What did I do to him?"

"You didn’t do anything wrong, Jensen," Jeffrey assured him. "You’re a victim, just like my brother, who didn’t ask for this either. But unlike you, Jared doesn’t handle it well, and because he can’t take it out on our father, who is responsible for this masquerade, he takes it out on you, Jensen. He doesn’t try to make the best out of it, like you do, but fights hard to get rid of you, because he wants to rebel."

"Maybe I should do him the favor and leave. There’s no place for me in Jared’s life."

The older man sighed. "A month ago I would have said that there is room for everyone in Jared’s life, but after what’s happened over the last few weeks -." Jeffrey shrugged helplessly. "I know it’s no comfort, but the way Jared treats you, it’s not really him. He’s bitter, Jensen and it’s not your fault. But because of the way you were raised, you’re a fine victim. You’re so different and my brother just wants to see the nerd he has to date for public appearance, not the nice guy you are and Jared could have such a great time with."

"But he could try, like I do, couldn’t he? Instead, he uses me for good publicity but treats me like vermin behind the walls of the palace," Jensen said bitterly. Since their first public appearance, Jared and he had gone out a few times, alone or with Jared’s friends. Jared had always played his part, pretending to be head over heels in love, just like Jensen had himself, with the big difference that Jensen had to pay with abuse for every faked kindness behind closed doors.

"I doubt he can, Jensen," Jeffrey said sadly, looking at his watch and scrunching his face. "I hate to leave you but I have to go. You know how the President is when it comes to family dinner time."

Jensen nodded. Dinner was the time of the day the family came together, talking politics and random things.

"I will excuse you, though. And I will talk to Jared -"

"No," Jensen exclaimed, looking at Jeffrey pleadingly. "Please, don’t. I know you mean well, Jeff, and you’re great, but if you talk to Jared, it’ll look as if I sent you and he will despise me even more."

"Okay," Jeffrey sighed without backtalk, yet not sounding convinced. "Is there anything else I can do? Send you food or some movies to watch?"

Jensen shook his head. "No, I’m okay. Not hungry." Jensen had only eaten like a bird in the past weeks, having lost several pounds, his slender body now being on the verge of skinny. But the bullying he had had to endure had taken all his appetite away. Besides, all he wanted to do was sleep, forget the horrible day and the pain in his left wrist.

A frown appeared on Jeffrey’s face, but once more he didn’t try to persuade Jensen. "Okay,” he said a little regretfully. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Jensen. Good Night."

***

Jensen did have anything but a good night. He was haunted by dark, evil dreams filled with cruel laughter and the whinny of a horse and he woke up several times, his forehead moistened with a sheen of sweat and his broken wrist throbbing painfully. The pain pill Jensen took lessened the ache but made him feel dizzy and nauseous until eventually, Jensen retched, barely making it to the bathroom, where he vomited nothing but bile and water.

With his whole body aching and his heart bleeding, he felt more miserable than ever before as he sat on the ice-cold bathroom tiles, but he had also made a decision. He wouldn’t leave. No matter what other evils Jared planned, Jensen wouldn’t fold. He would fight and strike back; not with fists, but with wit, defying the younger man and earning his respect.

He couldn’t tell why he was so adamant and why it seemed so important to him. He had every reason to hate Jared for what he had done to him, not only today but in the past few weeks, but maybe it had to do with Jeffrey. More than once, he had told Jensen that his brother wasn’t a bad guy and Jensen had to know; had to find out what had changed Jared and what had turned him into the monster he was, though only with him. He simply had to know why Jared Padalecki hated him so much.

Already feeling a little better now his stomach had calmed down, Jensen went to bed again. The pain kept him awake, but he didn’t mind. He was too occupied with forging out his plan.

***

Jensen must have eventually fallen asleep again because a knock on his door woke him up. Rubbing his eyes with his good hand, Jensen finally came back to full consciousness; where pain dominated his body; where the man who was supposed to love him hated him and where the last of Jensen’s joy had been taken away from him when his wrist had broken.

Jensen moaned, and his stinking breath was a violation to his nose. Whoever was waiting outside, he couldn’t face him like this. "One moment, please," Jensen said politely before disappearing into the bathroom and scrubbing the filth away from his teeth, washing his mouth with minty mouthwash until the last remains of the disgusting taste was gone. Only after Jensen had slipped into his bathrobe did he hurry to the door, stopping right in the middle of his movement and staring at his visitor.

"Mr. President," Jensen stammered, really taken aback by this visit.

"Hello Jensen. Can I come in?"

"Of course, Sir," Jensen said, stepping away from the door and pointing towards the sitting area. "Can I offer you something, Sir?"

"No, thank you, I’m fine. Sit down with me, Jensen," the President prompted and Jensen sat down in an armchair, facing the head of the world and wondering what had brought him here. "I’ve heard about the accident yesterday and I’m sorry it happened, Jensen. I hope you’re okay."

"I’m fine, Sir. Thank you," Jensen lied, putting on a brave face.

"I assume Jared spent the night with you, since he wasn’t at dinner or breakfast this morning."

It might be a trap, to see where Jensen’s true loyalty lied, yet the lie rolled easily from his lips. "He was great, Sir. Very concerned and caring. Bared me company until a few hours ago." Jensen put on a grateful smile, hoping it was enough to convince the President. He couldn’t even tell why he lied for Jared, but he was sure Jared had his reasons for staying away and holing up somewhere else.

"So, you don’t happen to know where he went to?" the President asked curiously.

"No, Sir." Jensen shook his head, hoping that he didn’t talk himself into trouble. "I’m sorry. He didn’t tell me and I didn’t ask. He isn’t in trouble, is he?" Jensen was surprised how worried he sounded, as if he really cared about the younger man’s well-being.

"Don’t worry, Jensen. I’m sure, your boyfriend is alright." With this, the President got up. "That’s all I needed to know, Jensen. I won’t steal any more of your time, especially since you seem tired and upset. Get well soon."

Jared’s father had left the room, even before the stammered "Thank you, Sir," had completely left Jensen’s lips. What had that been about?

***

For a while, Jensen kept on sitting on the armchair, thinking about this weird encounter and Jerald Padalecki’s unusual questions. What was happening here? Had something maybe happened to Jared? And why did Jensen care so much? He should be grateful for every hour Jared wasn’t around to bully him, yet he couldn’t stop wondering what was going on and this confused Jensen.

Only when someone knocked on his door did Jensen stir again. Maybe it was the President again, confronting Jensen after he had found out that Jensen had lied to him about Jared’s whereabouts? But when Jensen opened the door, it was no one other than the physician, who wanted to check his general condition and brought a new dose of pain meds.

Wordlessly, Jensen endured the examination, but he felt the piercing, almost knowing look on him and he felt exposed, as if the old medic could see right through his facade. "You should rest, young man," the doctor advised once he had put his instruments away. "Eat properly and catch the sun. The park of Janusburgh Palace is particularly beautiful in spring. Believe me, it will help."

***

Jensen doubted that sun and fresh air would take away the pain in his body and alter the situation he was in, but eventually, he got up, had a shower, donned fresh clothes and went outside. It couldn’t hurt to heed the doctor’s counsel.

The park of Janusburgh Palace was gigantic, even bigger than the palace itself; with dozens of flower beds and greenhouses, a big lake, little ponds and streams, a maze, woodland and countless meadows. The sun blinded Jensen the moment he stepped out of one of the many side doors, but it also warmed his skin, sending a bit of the chill away that had settled in his heart. For a while, Jensen wandered around aimlessly, only avoiding the stables, not wanting to be reminded of what had happened there the day before. Eventually, he followed a little stream, its happy gurgling a steady companion, a music that warmed his soul like the sun did.

The small path led Jensen through a wood and eventually he left the shady canopy of the trees, looking at a meadow. The sun was shining on the high grass and the first wildflowers were in bloom, attracting bees and butterflies. The air was full with their buzzing and the song of birds and in the distance, fringed by willows and birches, Jensen saw a little derelict temple. It was beautiful and peaceful and like balm on Jensen’s hurting soul, almost like his own music.

He took deep breaths of the fresh air, took in the warmth and the silence, standing there and listening to his heartbeat. It was perfect. Then though, something disturbed the quietness; a high laugh, definitively feminine, followed by a deep guffaw.

Latter sounded familiar to him, though Jensen had so far only heard it with an evil undertone. He knew he should go, knew it was impolite to eavesdrop, but his curiosity was awoken. As quietly as possible, Jensen retreated into the safety of the shady forest, listening carefully and following the laughter and soft murmur until Jensen was in line with the temple where the sounds came from. Under the cover of the high grass, sure that he could not be seen from the ruin, Jensen tiptoed closer, hiding behind one of the willows and peeping through one of the narrow windows in the little temple.

His heart skipped a beat at the sight, the most sinful but also most beautiful he had ever seen. Jared in all his glory, naked with his member proudly erect lying with a beautiful girl with dark, curly hair. The way he looked at her spoke of pure love and it pierced Jensen’s heart. He wished that someone would just once look at him like this, that Jared would love him like this; not hate him so much, though now, Jensen understood.

It all made sense. Jared hated him because he loved that girl and there probably really was no room left for someone else. He hated him because he was a very bad replacement for this beauty and he hated him because Jared’s father had made Jensen maintain the image and protect his boy. If people found out about Jared being abnormal, it would be an earth-shattering scandal.

With his heart beating heavily, Jensen quietly retreated. The outing in the park had really helped; Jensen saw much clearer now.

 

7

"Where have you been?" Jerald Padalecki asked the moment Jared stepped into the dining room. The rest of the family was already assembled; his father’s second husband Brian, a man Jared barely knew because they only married a year ago; Jeffrey and Robert; even his good-for-nothing fake boyfriend Jensen was there, looking pale and skinny, with a white cast adorning his left wrist.

"He was with me, Sir," Jensen blurted out, even before Jared could tell his well thought out story. "Jared came back after Professor Walker checked on me and spent the whole afternoon with me."

Jared hid his surprise. Why was Ackles lying for him? Not that he minded because his father would surely believe the boy, but it was still unexpected. "It’s true, Dad. I had to run some errands in town and met up with Jordan, but the remaining day, I spent with my boyfriend." He put his hand on Jensen’s bicep, smiling at him as lovingly as he could manage.

His father’s eyes pierced him and Jared wondered if he knew. Knew, that Sandy was back in town, that he had managed to contact her days ago, that he had found a secret tunnel leading through the grounds and into town and that he had spent the whole night and most of the day with her in the little temple in the meadow, making love and kissing, napping away only to wake up and to make love again. Jared didn’t avoid his father’s piercing look, putting on his most innocent face and hoping that the man didn’t see the lie in his features. For a while, it really seemed as if Jerald searched his face, but in the end, he nodded, telling them about his day, like he usually did while the maids brought the appetizers.

Jared looked over to Jensen, who had his eyes fixed at his plate helplessly, as if willpower alone might cut the thin slices of beef. Suddenly, Jared felt sorry for him. Sorry for what he had done to him yesterday, and how he had treated him, something Jensen had repaid with patience and fairness. "Let me help you with this," Jared offered and before the other man could protest, Jared had taken his plate, cutting the beef and vegetables into bite-sized pieces. "I’m really sorry this happened to you," Jared whispered, leaning really close to make sure that no one could overhear him. "I didn’t mean to hurt you."

Jensen nodded, flashing a wry smile at him. Jared wasn’t sure if Jensen believed him, but it made him feel a little better.

They spent the remaining meal in silence, but with every course that was served, Jared took Jensen’s plate, cutting his food for him.

***

For the first time since Jensen had come to live with them, Jared left the dining room with his fake boyfriend. Heavy silence between them, they walked down the marble hallways, their echoing steps the only sound far and wide. Jensen only looked up when they had to go their separate ways; Jensen right, over to the guest quarters, and Jared left, into the wing where the President and his family resided.

"Good Night, Jared," Jensen said quietly, smiling at him sadly.

Jared didn’t say one thing, just looked at the man’s back and his lowered head, saw the broken arm in its cast, the prominent bow legs, the skinny body in its white shirt. He was responsible for the state Jensen was in; for the weight loss, the broken arm, the sad look on his face. And even worse, he had been gleeful about it. He was the monster, the freak; not Jensen.

"Wait!" Jared called, even before he could think it through, running after Jensen.

The other man stopped, looking at him curiously with his big eyes hidden behind the glasses he so often wore. "Jared?"

"I um -" What could he say? That he was sorry? That he wanted to explain? Yet he couldn’t explain. How could he trust this man? "Do you want to talk?" Jared asked, looking at Jensen almost pleadingly, hoping that he understood that Jared was the one who needed to talk but was too chickenhearted to admit it.

Jensen shrugged. "Okay."

An idea came to Jared’s mind then about something he was sure Jensen would appreciate; something that maybe would be some kind of peace offer. "Let me show you something."

"Okay." There was a hint of hesitation in Jensen’s voice and Jared felt rather guilty when he realized that the other man was probably scared of him.

Jared led the way, through barely lit corridors, up and down steps, once even through one of his secret passageways, until he finally stood in front of an ancient wooden door.

"What is this place, Jared?" Jensen asked with a faint voice.

"I thought you might like it, Jensen," Jared said as he opened the door and switched on the dim light.

The older man took in a surprised breath, letting his glance glide over the ancient books and over the many writing desks, until it came to rest on the ancient piano. "Wow," Jensen exhaled in awe, "this must be hundreds of years old, Jared." He stepped closer, almost reverently reaching out his good hand.

"I bet it’s horribly untuned, no one’s used it for years, but it still works."

"It’s beautiful, Jared," Jensen said with a wavering voice. "Thanks for showing me."

"Jensen?" Jared said, doing something he had never thought he would do voluntarily and reaching out his hand, putting it lightly on Jensen’s broken wrist. "I’m really sorry for what happened yesterday. I hope it doesn’t hurt too badly. I hope you can use it again and play the piano."

Jensen swallowed heavily. "Professor Walker brought me good pain meds and promised me the bones will heal nicely."

"Good," Jared said, feeling a bit of his guilt melting away. "There is something else. Thank you, for giving me that alibi. You really saved my ass back there."

"I know I did, Jared," Jensen whispered. "I know your secret. I saw you with that girl."

Jared’s heart stopped, missing a beat and he stared at the other man in shock as panic seemed to overwhelm him and his legs got all wobbly.

"Don’t worry, Jared. It’s safe. I won’t turn you in," Jensen said genuinely.

"How can I trust you?" Jared growled, having trouble believing that Jensen wouldn’t use this dangerous knowledge to harm him and pay him back for what Jared had done to him. "How did you find out?"

"Today," Jensen answered without hesitation. "Professor Walker sent me outside and I strolled through the park. I found the meadow, heard your laughter, walked closer."

"You spied on me?" Jared asked in disbelief. He hadn’t expected shy Jensen Ackles to do something like this.

Jensen shrugged. "I knew you had a secret, knew there was a reason you hated me so much. I had to find out."

"So you can blackmail me?" The thought hit Jared at once. It was what most people would do if they were in Jensen’s shoes, it probably was what Jared himself would do. Find a way out of a troubling situation, no matter at what cost. "That’s what you want to do? Press for money?"

Jensen looked as if Jared had slapped him in the face. "No Jared," Jensen said with settled conviction. "If you knew me, you’d know that I don’t care. Neither for your little affair nor for money. All I really care about is playing the piano. That’s what’s important to me in this world." He paused for a moment, piercing Jared with those stunning green eyes. "I did it because I wanted to understand."

Shame painted Jared’s face red and he hid it in his hands, shaking his head, as if he wanted to shake the guilt and shame away, though a part of Jared realized that he’d have to shake himself for a very long time if he could ever make up to Jensen for what he had done. Long fingers reached out hesitantly, gently ghosting over his hand. The touch caused a weird feeling in Jared’s belly, one he had never thought he could feel related to Jensen. "Jensen," Jared breathed out, finally taking his hands off his eyes.

Those green eyes were very close, looking right at him, almost as if Jensen could look deep into his soul. A shudder ran through Jared’s body, and he took one step back because he couldn’t bear that stare any longer, and the closeness, that was both welcome and unwelcome. Something between them had shifted, changed. He couldn’t hate the man any longer. Not after what he had done for him today; protecting him willingly and lying to his father instead of revealing his secret and gaining an edge over him.

"You can trust me, Jared," Jensen said quietly. He sat down on one of the old chairs, the wood creaking even though Jensen barely weighed anything. "I know you call me a freak and a nerd, but we aren’t so different. We are both here because our dads wanted us to be. And both of us didn’t want to in the first place. You only care about your girl, and I only care about my music. That’s the love of our respective lives. But I’m here now and maybe we can make the most of it. Maybe we can at least be friends."

Jared had never heard Jensen talk so much in one go and he looked at the man, at those green eyes now looking at him with so much hope, and he felt worse than ever before. So dirty for all the horrible things he had said about Jensen, for laughing at him and mocking him, for bullying him, for forcing him onto the horse, for causing Brutus to bolt. It had been unreasonable and inexcusable. Despite all that, Jensen had offered him forgiveness and a second chance, even wanted to be his friend. Jared was stunned until eventually, he reached out his hand. "I’m Jared Padalecki," he said and his voice was uncommonly weak and emotional. "It’s nice to meet you."

Smiling, Jensen took the offered hand, shaking it strongly. "Jensen. Pianist. Nerd. Your fake boyfriend. Your friend, if you want me to be," Jensen said with a hint of hope in his warm voice. "It’s nice to meet the real you, Jared."

Warmth spread through Jared at this offer of peace and future. He squeezed Jensen’s hand, and without really thinking about it, he guided it to his lips, like it was expected of a man of his class when he started to court. He could never love Jensen as much as he loved Sandy, but maybe, he should take the chance.

Jensen smiled and it struck Jared how beautiful that smile was, how beautiful Jensen was, despite his clothes hanging loosely down his skinny body and the dark shadows beneath his eyes.

"Let’s go back. Let’s get to know each other."

***

"Who is she?" Jensen asked quietly. They were sitting in Jared’s living room and Jared saw how tired Jensen looked. Yet, he had not complained, had listened to Jared’s ramblings, revealing some of his own thoughts with more than the usual monosyllabic answers. Now, Jensen was looking at Jared openly but there was not one bit of curiosity in the green eyes, only interest.

"Her name is Sandy McCoy. She’s the Vice President’s daughter."

"She’s very pretty," Jensen acknowledged.

"She is. She’s simply great."

"I’m sorry that you have to hide," Jensen whispered. "It’s not right."

Jared furrowed his brow, looking at Jensen as if he saw him for the first time. He hadn’t expected Jensen to be a rebel. "It’s our world’s first rule. The foundation of our society."

"I know, Jared. I might be an uneducated nerd, but I know the basics. Our history. What people believe in. What is right and wrong. Yet I have issues in believing that what I saw today was wrong. It was beautiful."

Jared blushed. The knowledge that Jensen had seen him with Sandy made him damn uncomfortable. "Still, law is law. I broke it, more than once. I could die for it, Jensen. We both could. Even you could, for protecting us."

"We could die every day, Jared," Jensen said thoughtfully. "And most deaths are senseless. This might be worth dying for."

"Do you want me to rebel, Jensen?" Jared was really taken aback by Jensen’s thoughts and honesty. There really was more to him than met the eye. "Against my father? My world?"

"No. I want you to be happy."

The comment took Jared’s breath away, causing very confusing emotions. After making his life miserable for weeks, Jensen still wanted him to be happy? He really was much more than the freak Jared only had wanted to see, and like so often, his brother had known it from the beginning. "You really are an unusual man, Jensen Ackles."

"I should go now," Jensen said, ignoring the compliment and shifting a little uncomfortably. "I’m tired and still hurting."

"Can I escort you back?" Jared blurted out without really thinking about it. "I don’t want you to lose your way around."

A smile flit over Jensen’s lips. "Okay."

Jared got up, offering Jensen his hand to help him up, since his body still seemed to be a little stiff from the fall. He didn’t let go of Jensen’s hand and the other man didn’t seem to mind, twining his fingers with Jared’s. It felt good, much better than before. Today, Jensen’s fingers were warm and his thumb was rubbing over Jared’s hand, sending pleasant waves of shivers through his body.

They didn’t talk while they were walking through the dark palace, but now, it was a comfortable silence. It was astounding how fast their relationship had changed, how they had become friendly in such a short time. Finally and far too soon, they reached Jensen’s room and Jared let go of Jensen’s hand with regret. "Good night, Jensen." He brushed his lips over his cheek, feeling a weird lump in his throat.

"Good night, Jared."

He only turned around once Jensen had disappeared behind his door, wishing that Jensen really would have a good night.

 

8

The pain in Jensen’s wrist had been a pesky companion over the last few days; not breathtaking, yet always there, a steady, very uncomfortable throb, only disappearing when Jensen took one of the pain pills Professor Walker had given to him. Even then, Jensen was constantly reminded of what had happened; not only thanks to the shiny white cast that was wrapped around his wrist, but also because he didn’t know what to do with himself. Back to his earliest childhood memory, Jensen’s life had revolved around the piano. Day in, day out, he had been around the instrument; practicing complicated musical pieces until he could play them blindly or pouring a part of himself into it when composing a tune.

Now, the silly accident had taken away Jensen’s main purpose in life, and he felt empty and lost; a moody and grumpy version of his old self that went from one day to the next bored and aimless. Sometimes, Jensen would stroll through the palace for hours, looking listlessly at the many paintings or tapestries that covered the long walls, barely finding back to his quarters in the end. Sometimes, he would go to one of the many libraries, taking books from the wooden shelves, only to thumb through them indifferently before putting them back. Most of all though, Jensen wasted the day away in his rich room, staring at the canopy bed’s velvety ceiling, listening to one of his many recordings and absently stroking his plastered arm, as if he was hoping that the gentle touch might heal it miraculously.

Once in a while, Jared would come looking for him. He had striven to help Jensen and cheer him up, something Jensen had to give the younger man credit for, but as the President’s son, he had some responsibilities and besides, a life of his own. Jensen couldn’t and didn’t expect Jared to give this up, just because he had broken his wrist and was feeling miserable. Besides, he mostly was bad company; not only because he was a nerd, but also because the pain meds made Jensen tired and grumpy and caused him to behave weirdly. Jensen didn’t want to tear that new, rather brittle bond Jared and he had weaved between them since that memorable night by behaving obnoxiously.

Jensen was just snuggling deeper into his pillows, not minding one bit that it was afternoon and the sun was shining brightly behind the almost completely closed curtains, when someone was knocking on his door. "Mmm," he growled rather uninvitingly as he was sitting up.

It was Jared who entered, wearing casual clothes, and huge dark shades sticking in his hair that looked sort of unruly today. "Hey man." The smile that had brightened Jared’s face died on his lips as he looked around the dark room. "You sick?" Was there a hint of worry in Jared’s voice?

"Not really. Just a little tired."

Jared blew out an audible breath of relief. "I was wondering if you want to go outdoors with me." It sounded like both a question and a plea, and it tugged weirdly at Jensen’s heartstrings, yet he was hesitant to agree. Despite sleeping so much and moping, he felt worn out and he wondered if he had the energy to go outside.

"I’m not sure, Jared," Jensen said defensively. "I’m not good company. The pain meds make me grumpy."

Jared brushed the argument away. "I don’t care, Jensen. You shouldn’t be on your own all the time."

Jensen shrugged. "I don’t mind."

"Maybe not," Jared countered, "but I do. I don’t want you to be alone." Jared really sounded as if he meant it. "You need a little company, a good laugh, sun on your pale face and a little fat on your skinny hips," Jared said warmly, stepping closer and offering his hand, as if he wanted to pull Jensen out of his bed.

The tug at Jensen’s heartstrings grew stronger and he felt his eyes tearing up, wiping them quickly before Jared noticed. It was the stupid pills turning Jensen sentimental, almost crying at a little kindness from a man who had hated him until only a few days ago. Yet, it was the warmth in Jared’s voice and the prospect of his company that made Jensen take the younger man’s hand, the long fingers curling around his strongly and tugging him out of bed, almost into Jared’s arms.

"Let me help you get a little better, Jen," Jared said gently, and the way he shortened his name sent warmth through Jensen’s veins that settled in his belly and made him strangely happy.

***

"Where are we going?" Jensen asked as they strolled over one of the many graveled paths in the ginormous park, the sun warm on their faces and the wind a gentle breeze caressing their cheeks.

Jared flashed him a broad smile. "Down to the sea. There’s a cove that belongs to the palace grounds. Thought we might have a picnic on the beach." He pointed towards the bag he was carrying and that Jensen had already eyed curiously. "It’s quite a long walk. I hope you’re up for it."

Jensen didn’t mind. Now he was outdoors, he was thankful for the change of scenery; for the warmth, brightness and fresh air, most of all, though, for Jared’s company. Besides, he hadn’t been to the beach for months; had not even known that a path led down the green hills for a mile or two until it ended at a secret cove. "Not one bit. Remember, I broke my wrist, not my ankle."

Jared snorted, but it sounded forced, and Jensen was sure the younger man still felt guilty for what had happened the other day. Jensen wanted to lessen that guilt a little, but he was not good with these things. "Thanks for taking me out, Jared," Jensen said after moistening his lips, hoping it would help. "For distracting me."

"You’re welcome," Jared murmured, scratching his neck in a gesture of abashment. "You must be bored," Jared added quietly. "Miss playing the piano."

"I do," Jensen answered after a few moments of hesitation. "It’s the center of my being, Jared," Jensen admitted, feeling how heat crept into his cheeks. That really sounded like the nerd Jared thought he was.

Yet what Jensen got in return was not a mocking laugh but a little, sad smile twitching over Jared’s lips. "I’m sorry I took it away from you." He gently touched the fingertips Jensen could barely move in his tight cast. "That I caused you pain. That I treated you like this."

The words and gesture touched Jensen, causing a so far barely known warmth in his gut. "Look at me, Jared," Jensen prompted, surprised by his own words and the tenderness in his voice.

Sometimes, Jensen wondered if he should demand an explanation, other than the one Jeffrey had given him and the one he had found himself. Now would be a good time, with them both being a little emotional and Jared once more making apologies for his obnoxious behavior. But Jensen didn’t need it. Not really. Maybe he was too forgiving, naive and stupid even, but he didn’t want to stare back; it was the future Jensen wanted to look to. Besides, he wanted to believe that Jeffrey, who he thought a great deal of, had been right about his brother; that Jared had this big heart and a place for everyone in his life, even for an unworldly piano player, and that they eventually could have a good, honest friendship.

Jared stopped in his movements, looking at Jensen with big, unusually glassy eyes.

Hesitantly, Jensen reached out, cupping Jared’s cheek with his good hand, just for a moment. "If that’s what we needed to become friends, I gladly take the pain and the boredom."

For a moment, Jensen was scared that he had gone too far, the emotions in Jared’s face unreadable but then, his lips parted into another one of Jared’s bright smiles and Jensen saw that it really came from his heart. "I can’t help you much with the pain," Jared said with a shaking voice, "but with the boredom I can. Let me show you that life holds many surprises and that there are so many wonderful things to do and see, other than playing the piano."

"You’d do that?" Jensen asked, his heart flipping weirdly. Yet, he was a little torn; between the old Jensen who had never known fun and had never cared about such things and the new version that was slowly developing and flourishing because Jensen wanted to fit into this world his father had pushed him into. Eventually, the new Jensen gained the upper hand, pushing his concerns away. It was the chance he had been hoping for; to spend time with Jared and to show that he could be someone other than the boring pianist. A broad smile chased the insecurity in Jensen’s features away and he nodded enthusiastically, showing Jared that he really wanted it.

"I’d love to. So come on, Jen," Jared said, curling his hand around Jensen’s good one and tugging him down the hill. "Let me show you life."

*

Lying on the big blanket Jared had spread over the warm sand, Jensen had closed his eyes, listening to the steady rush of the ocean and the cry of the gulls. It was beautiful here at the beach; quiet and peaceful, just him and Jared and a bit of chatter between them once in a while. They had had bread with cheese and grapes and a delicious white wine that had gone to Jensen’s head after only a few small sips, it not agreeing with his pain meds. Jensen didn’t mind though; he felt weirdly content and knew that he was in safe hands here with Jared, that other than a few days ago, he would take good care of him.

Something came to Jensen’s mind, something he wanted to know. In normal circumstances, he would have never dared to ask, but the wine had taken his natural caution away. "Jared, can I ask you something?

"Fire away," Jared said, without hesitation.

"It’s … em … personal," Jensen added, giving Jared at least the chance to back out.

"Spit it out," Jared encouraged and if Jensen wasn’t mistaken, there was a hint of amusement in the younger man’s voice.

"You and Sandy." Jared took in a surprised breath but Jensen ignored it; he wouldn’t chicken out now. "What are your plans for your future?"

For a long time, Jared didn’t answer, didn’t even move, and Jensen almost feared he had gone too far and had made Jared leave. When he finally opened his eyes to check, he saw Jared looking at him thoroughly, his eyes big and sad. "There is no future," Jared admitted with a quavering voice. "The world as it is will never change and even if Sandy and I ran, eventually they’d find us."

"Yet you want to be with her," Jensen stated, with only a hint of question in it, feeling weirdly sad saying these words; for both of them.

"As long as I can, yes," Jared said. "I love her, Jensen. Even my father’s laws can’t change it."

Even though Jensen had not expected anything else, it hurt to know that he’d probably never be anything else for Jared other than his beard and friend. It was weird that he even wanted this; to be with a man who had treated him like shit, but there was something in Jared that appealed to him. And it was not his wealth or status or his obvious attractiveness. It was the way Jared treated Jeffrey or Robert or his friends, the way he had looked at Sandy, the way he’d recently sometimes even look at him; all warmly and fondly. And it was the wish to belong somewhere; to have a family other than his demanding father, and a home other than hotel rooms, concert halls or recording studios. To have a friend, a boyfriend, who would show him Heaven like he had never seen it before.

His disappointment must have been written over Jensen’s face because Jared placed his hand on his bicep comfortingly, rubbing the skin a little. "I’m sorry, Jensen," Jared apologized warmly. "At the moment I can’t be anything other than your friend."

Jensen blushed deeply about being so obvious, but it was better than crying. "That’s okay, Jared. I didn’t expect anything else."

For a while, Jared didn’t answer, only slid impossibly closer before lying down next to Jensen and taking his hand. The gesture caused a clutch of somersaults in Jensen’s belly, although he knew it didn’t mean much for his friend. "You’re a good guy, Jen. There’s so much more inside you than the nerd I saw at first," Jared admitted quietly. "If things were different -" He didn’t finish his thoughts, shyly biting his lips and Jensen felt the tension between them, as if sparks were crackling in the air.

In spite of his words and thoughts just moments ago, a weak flame of hope flickered in Jensen’s heart. Maybe in the course of time Jared would see that he could be more than a good friend? It made Jensen smile and he locked the feeling into his heart to live off it in times of need. "I’ll gladly be your friend, Jared," Jensen promised solemnly. "And your beard. Cover for you. Protect you."

The hold around his hand tightened. "Thank you, Jen." It were only three little words, but Jensen felt they came from the bottom of Jared’s heart and they warmed him, just like his hope and the sun that was shining down on them.

 

9

Jared had his eyes fixed on the countless shirts in the open closet, wondering what he should wear for his date with Sandy. Not that it really mattered; sooner than later her greedy hands would peel the shirt off hungrily, her being much more interested in what lay beneath the clothes. Nevertheless, Jared wanted to look his best, wanted to impress his girl anew, especially today when the gift of seeing Sandy came so unexpectedly.

Only an hour ago, his friend and conspirator Jason had come to the palace under the pretext of shooting hoops with him and Jared’s brother, only to slip him a tiny note when no one was looking. Much to Jared’s surprise and joy, it said that Sandy had surprisingly come to Janusburgh, escorting her wife to an important business meeting. At sunset, she would be waiting for him at a tiny, remote house at the outskirts of town Jason had provided for the lovers. Even though that was still a couple of hours away, Jared was all jittery at the thought of seeing and being with her again.

He was just taking out the crimson silk shirt he had gotten the other day when someone knocked at his door, opening it even before Jared had acknowledged it. Without looking over his shoulder, he knew it was Jeffrey; no one but his brother would dare to enter his quarters like that.

"What do you think you’re doing, Jay?" Jeffrey said without any preamble as he stepped into his bedroom, his voice intense and his face grave.

Jared furrowed his brow. "What -"

His brother cut him off with a scolding shake of his head. "Don’t take me for a fool, man," Jeffrey said, sitting down on the armchair in the corner after wiping away all the unwashed clothes Jared had thrown there. "Some bird twittered that Sandy’s in town."

Jared found himself dumbstruck, which didn’t happen too often. How had his brother found out?

"I have my sources." Jeffrey winked. "Besides, it’s no big deal. She’s Minister McCoy’s daughter; sure people talk when she and her fancy wife are in town."

"So what?" Jared forced himself to look indifferent. "I’m not going to see her," Jared lied, knowing that for once he didn’t sound too convincing with his voice shaking a little. "You know, I promised Dad."

Jeffrey snorted dryly. "And we both know how serious you take that particular promise, Jay."

Heat crept into Jared’s cheek. How the hell had Jeffrey found out? Had he been so indiscreet?

Even before Jared could blurt out that question, Jeffrey answered it, grinning broadly. "I have ears and I have eyes and you were grinning far too broadly when you left the sports area earlier, despite losing. Besides, you’re my baby brother, man. I keep an eye on you, especially if you’re doing something as stupid as breaking the first law again and again and worst of all, betraying Dad."

Suddenly, the good mood Jared had been in since Jason had brought him the news was gone and he felt dirty; for hiding, for lying to his family, for using Jensen, who had been amazingly nice and forthcoming since the accident, sweet and kind and not one bit resentful, despite what Jared had done to him. "Jeff," Jared bleated, hating the sound in his own ears, "I love her. I can’t change that."

The older man looked at him sadly and silence stretched between them, not uncomfortable, but pregnant with meaning. "You know I love you, man. You’re a great brother and a good man. And I don’t want to belittle the feelings you have for Sandy. But please, take off your rose-colored glasses just for a moment and be realistic, Jay. You can’t have a future with Sandy and with what you do every few weeks you put yourself and her in harm’s way. Actually, all of us," he added after a short pause, "Jason, who helps, and Dad and me, for covering up for you."

"I know all that, but -," Jared objected, but his brother silenced him with a simple look.

"I know it wasn’t fair of Dad to make you date Jensen and force this upon you," Jeffrey continued, looking at Jared sympathetically. "But you know how it is in our class and eventually it probably would have happened anyways. Jensen is here now and he is such a great guy. Extraordinary. And I’m not talking about how he plays the piano, but how he is with you, despite everything you have done to him, Jay."

Jared swallowed hard, feeling his brother’s disappointment and incomprehension at his horrible behavior, even though he had never reprimanded him for it. He couldn’t really blame Jeffrey. In general, he wasn’t a bad guy, but what had happened had turned Jared into a monster and it must have shocked his brother; seeing a dark, cruel side of his little brother he had never known.

"Maybe, you should take who is right in front of your eyes, little brother," Jeffrey advised gently, "instead of holding onto something you can never have. Take Jensen. Someone real. Someone who sees the good in you despite what you have done to him. Someone kind and funny. Someone with a big heart. Someone who needs a friend and companion and will be a great friend and boyfriend in return"

Once more, the guilt gnawed at Jared and it felt as if there was a hole in his belly where his insides used to be. In the past two weeks he had realized that Jensen was a great guy; someone to have fun with, someone kind and gentle. Someone extraordinary. Yet, he couldn’t forget Sandy. Not yet. Maybe one day, but right now, the thought of never seeing her again choked Jared. But how could he explain that to his brother?

There was no need to, because eventually, Jeffrey continued. "Jensen is sad and lonely without his piano," Jeffrey noted. Not that Jared needed him to. He knew that Jensen was still miserable; secretly crying once in a while and losing even more weight, no matter how often Jared brought chocolates or ice-cream to cheer him up. "For him, it feels as if someone had ripped out a part of his soul. That someone was you, Jay." There was a hint of reproach in Jeffrey’s tone and the knowledge that it was true cut like a knife. "Make it up to him. Not because I tell you to or your bad conscience tells you to, but because you want it. Want to be with him and see the great guy Jensen is and build your future." He smiled, getting up from the armchair and stepping over to Jared, hugging him tightly. "Enjoy your night with Sandy, little brother."

For a while, Jared stared motionless at the crimson shirt in his hand, confusing emotions washing over him as his mind processed what his brother had said. Only slowly, he woke up from this trance-like state, moving into the bathroom and getting ready for his night with Sandy.

Soon though, Jared realized that his heart wasn’t in it. He tried to relax under the shower, getting himself of, but not even the thought of Sandy caressing him made his blood rush south and no matter how hard and long he stroked, his member stayed limp in his palm and he felt hot liquid running down his cheeks that he knew wasn’t water because they left a hint of salt on his lips.

"Shit," he murmured, punching his fist into the tiles, the pain driving more tears into his eyes. Why did it have to be so complicated? Why was he feeling like this towards Sandy but also developing feelings towards Jensen?

When he finally stepped into his bedroom, wearing nothing but fresh shorts, Jared donned a simple black shirt and faded jeans before calling Jason to cancel on Sandy. He’d spend the evening with Jensen; not because his brother had asked him to or because remorse drove him to but because Jared really wanted to.

***

It took Jared a while to find his new friend and when he finally did, it caught him by surprise; he had not really expected Jensen to spend time in the stables. But there he was, standing in front of Mystique’s box, his good hand running up and down her long neck, a soft expression on his handsome face and his lips moving almost imperceptibly.

Jared didn’t want to eavesdrop on what he was sure was not meant for his ears and harrumphed, only stepping closer after Jensen had turned around to acknowledge the intruder. A smile lighted up his face when he recognized Jared, and it caused a weird, though not unwelcome, feeling in Jared’s gut.

"Hello Jared," Jensen said shyly and only when Jared stepped closer did he notice that his eyes were wet and his cheeks were reddened and puffy. "I thought I was alone."

"You were," Jared answered, feeling like an intruder but also hoping that he could help Jensen out of his low. "I’ve only just arrived. Was looking for you."

Jensen’s eyes widened a little and he rubbed his eyes and over his cheeks, as if he could miraculously charm the tear stains away. "You found me."

"I did," Jared said, stepping even closer and curling his arm around Jensen. "Just at the right time, it seems. You look as if you need a big hug."

Jensen snorted, but when Jared tugged him against his chest and enfolded him in his arms, he melted into the touch, gladly taking the comfort Jared was offering. "Only a month, Jen," he whispered, not even noticing that his lips brushed over Jensen’s ear. "Then the cast will be gone and you can be with your piano again."

"I know," Jensen sniffed. "Sorry for being on a downer. Sometimes it comes over me and then I just can’t help it, although I try really hard."

"That’s okay. Happens to the best of us." Jared flashed Jensen a wry smile, thinking about his own tears only an hour ago. "How about I cheer you up?"

"Sounds good." Jensen smiled beneath the tears, tightening his hold for a moment before letting go and looking at Jared expectantly.

"You like her, don’t you?" Jared asked, letting his hand run over Mystique’s velvety nostrils. She was his favorite horse, almost his baby. He had watched the vet help deliver her, had chosen her name, had watched her grow up into this gentle, smart animal, had broken her in and had ridden her almost daily since. He had told her about Sandy, even before he had told Jeffrey, and when things had gotten rough, Jared had fled to see her and talk to her, just like Jensen had done today.

"She’s a good listener, Jared," Jensen said. "Warm and soft. Gentle and attentive. I’m not scared of her, like I was of Brutus."

"I shouldn’t have -"

"Shut up, Jared," Jensen demanded, but his voice was gentle. "It’s okay. It was an accident."

For Jared, it wasn’t okay, but he saw the stern glance Jensen pierced him with and instead he once more curled his hand around Jensen, placing it on his skinny waist, the hipbone digging into his palm almost painfully. "She’s yours, Jen," Jared blurted out spontaneously, not even thinking about it. "And once the cast is gone, I’ll teach you how to ride."

Jensen looked at him with big, shocked and disbelieving eyes. "I can’t accept her," he stammered, looking from Jared to the beautiful horse and back again and giving Jared the chance to change his mind and take his words back. "She means so much to you, Jared. You can’t give her to me."

"Sure I can," Jared said with a voice that didn’t allow any backtalk. He really wanted to do this. He loved Mystique, but she was in good hands with Jensen and besides, the man needed friends other than his piano, other than him or his brother, and Mystique was a good, trustworthy companion who would always be there; other than Jared, who eventually would go back to Sandy, in spite of it being stupid and wrong. "Just promise me something."

Jensen still seemed unsure, but his hand had moved to where Jared’s was rubbing over his side, cupping it lightly. "Anything."

"Take good care of her."

"Only if you take good care of me, Jared," Jensen said softly, twining his hands with Jared’s. "Teach me how to ride properly. I don’t want to break my other wrist."

Although it wasn’t really funny, Jared burst into laughter and the confusion in Jensen’s face only boosted it until tears ran down his face and he held his belly. Then, Jensen joined in, almost drowning out the hysterical sounds that escaped Jared’s throat, with a deep, joyful and heartwarming laugh Jared had never heard before.

"Promise," Jared pressed out between roars of laughter, sounding much less serious than he had wanted to.

"Thank you, Jared," Jensen said, before stepping real close and pecking his cheek softly. "I will cherish her." The joy and appreciation in Jensen’s face, as well as the tingle in his skin, made Jared strangely giddy and he really hoped he would see more of it in the future.

When, hours later, Jensen hugged him goodnight after an evening filled with ice-cream, red wine, even more laughter and tentative endearments, Jared admitted to himself that standing Sandy up and being with Jensen had been a good choice. The realization caused the already familiar confusion, but most of all, it caused happiness.

 

10

The past three weeks had been a steady rollercoaster ride. An up and down of emotions, of challenges, of successes and small setbacks. Slowly, Jared and Jensen had converged, sometimes moving two steps forward - like on the day at the beach or at the stable, sometimes one step back. Jensen had gotten to know Jared in a new, different and much more likeable way; understanding that Jared really had many good sides. Beneath all the bitterness he carried around because his father had pushed him into this fake relationship with Jensen, Jared was a generous, funny man who had lots of joy and love to give.

They had both fought their inner demons. Jared had tried to hold himself back; to diss less and respect all the peculiarities that made Jensen the man he was. Only on rare occasions, a snarky comment would escape Jared’s lips, but unlike earlier, there was a teasing undertone in Jared’s voice and not the cutting cruelty used to insult. Moreover, Jared had also stopped blaming Jensen for the role he had played in their fathers’ game, realizing that Jensen also hadn’t had a choice and gladly accepting Jensen’s offer to be his beard.

Jensen, on the other side, had tried to live. The broken wrist had almost come as a blessing, not only because it was what had brought Jared and him a little closer. Being robbed of his purpose in life, Jared had encouraged Jensen to develop new interests or just do things guys his age enjoyed to do. Long gone were the days when Jensen would aimlessly waste his time away or mope around. Now, he would watch a movie or a football game; would go to a rock concert or out clubbing the whole night. Jared had been with him at all these events, his best friends Jordan and Jason, Jeffrey or Robert in tow, and they had painted the town red. Jensen had coughed his heart out after dragging at his first cigarette, had worshiped the porcelain god after his first drunkenness or had danced the night away in a club to sounds he didn’t dare call music. Never before had Jensen laughed so much or had felt so happy and free than in these past few weeks.

Sharing this with Jared and Jeffrey had also made Jensen feel part of the family, although Jensen knew that it was not real. At least, not completely. In spite of what had changed between the two men and the hope that was burning inside him, Jensen wasn’t kidding himself. Despite Jared’s good will and his attentions, in the end, Jensen was nothing but a poor replacement for Sandy. It was Sandy who Jared was dreaming of. Jared had been clear about that, and nothing Jensen could ever do or say would change this.

Yet, Jensen wanted to try to become at least something more than Jared’s beard, maybe something in between a friend and a boyfriend and tonight, he wanted to take the first step. Jared had seemed a little distracted in the past few days, even more fidgety than he normally was, and Jensen had decided to take his mind off things. He had booked a table at a cozy restaurant and a hotel suite for the night. It wasn’t about sex, not at all. Jensen wasn’t ready for it yet, if it ever came to it at all, but it was about being together in another atmosphere than the palace, where they always seemed to be around people who watched them; be it Jeffrey, the President or their husbands.

Now though, the only problem was asking Jared out. It was such a little thing; just a few words, just one question, but Jensen was close to vomiting, just thinking about it. The fear of making a fool of himself or, even worse, to suffer a rebuff, was making Jensen’s hands sweaty and his belly sick. What if he ruined everything they had built up with this silly suggestion? Sure, Jared and him had gone on dates before, but they had been few and far between and it had always been Jared who had asked him out, never the other way around.

Yet, Jensen knew that he would only gain something if he chanced it and that he needed to do this. To prove to himself that he really was more than the weakling Jared had once thought he was; that he had grown in the past few weeks; that he was more than a nerdy, unworldly pianist. It was time to man up. With these thoughts in mind, Jensen finally went out looking for Jared, eventually finding him in the kennel with his beloved dogs.

Jared was ruffling a puppy’s fur, talking to the little bundle, not even noticing that Jensen had stepped into the building, the straw on the floor muffling his steps. For a while, Jensen watched the younger man; how he caressed the little dog, his long fingers gliding up and down the tiny body, and tickling it, how Jared’s hair fell into his forehead, how he smiled gently.

He felt something weird in his belly, something confusing he couldn’t really name and eventually Jensen coughed, saying "hi" the moment Jared looked up.

"Hey Jensen," Jared said, sounding surprised. "What brings you here? Thought you didn’t like dogs?"

Jensen blushed. "I’m quite sure, this little buddy doesn’t have it in his mind to eat me alive," he deadpanned, stepping a little closer until he was hovering over Jared. He squatted down next to him, carefully reaching out and touching the warm, soft fur, receiving a happy little woof in return. "And em, I was looking for you, Jared."

The younger man looked at him openly, the question what was going on painted on his face.

Jensen’s heart was beating heavily and his hands were sweaty. It was now or never. "Wanttogooutwithmetonight?" Jensen pressed out and he hated when he felt his face turn hot and scarlet, hated that Jared’s look didn’t show him anything other than incomprehension.

"Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that, man," Jared said, smiling a little. "Take a deep breath and say it again, in more than one word, okay?"

Jensen took a deep breath. "I was wondering if you want to go out with me tonight," Jensen said quietly, not daring to look at Jared any longer. "I booked us a table at a restaurant and a big suite for the night. I’ll understand if you don’t want to go but I noticed you’ve been a little nervous recently and I wanted to take your mind off things," Jensen babbled, now telling Jared more than he had ever wanted to.

Big eyes stared back at Jensen, but he couldn’t really read the other man’s expression, just didn’t like the silence that stretched between them, with the happily panting dog the only sound. "Oh Jensen," Jared said eventually, but Jensen didn’t really like the sound of Jared’s voice. "I’d love to go." Jensen’s heart sank. He knew what was to come now. Some well-chosen, very polite words that wouldn’t make the rebuff any easier. "But," Jared looked around quickly, making sure that the keeper wasn’t anywhere nearby and shifted his voice into a barely there whisper, "Sandy is in town."

It shouldn’t feel like this. Sandy was the one person in Jared’s life he loved the most. A girl, not even a boy, therefore not even a rival. Jared ditching him for her was still better than Jared refusing to date him at all. Yet, it really hurt and no matter how hard Jensen tried for a neutral face, it must have shown because Jared reached out, gently touching his hand for a moment. "I’m really sorry, Jensen."

Jensen nodded. It didn’t help, but he actually believed Jared. "It’s okay. It was stupid..." Self-pity threatened to overwhelm Jensen, but he shrugged it away when an idea sneaked into his mind. "Hey, how about we leave the palace together tonight?" Jensen whispered quietly, leaning a little closer. "Pretend to have this night out. People won’t question you not being at home."

Looking at Jensen as if he had just given him the best present ever, Jared asked, "Why would you do something like this, Jensen? Risk your reputation? If people found out you could be in real trouble for it."

There were many reasons; from not wanting to waste the money he had already paid for the expensive hotel room, for feeling a little rebellious in general to wanting to impress Jared. Yet, the main reason was that he wanted to help because he had grown to genuinely like Jared and no matter how much Jensen wished that he would be in Sandy’s stead tonight, he wanted that something good grew from his idea. "That’s what friends do for each other, don’t they?" he said modestly.

The smile on Jared’s face was broad and happy, chasing a bit of the sadness away, simply because it had been him who had charmed it on Jared’s lips.

***

Staring out of the window, Jensen saw nothing else but the countless lights of Janusburgh beneath him and the deep black of a starless night. It was way past midnight, be he couldn’t find any sleep. Whenever he had snuggled into that comfortable hotel room mattress and had closed his eyes, he had seen Jared in his mind; Jared as he kissed or fucked Sandy and no matter how hard Jensen tried, the picture just didn’t go away. He knew he was being unreasonable; he didn’t have any claim on Jared, was nothing other than his beard and a friend. Yet, the thought of Jared and Sandy being together, always being exposed to the risk of being discovered, no matter how secret their meeting place was, haunted Jensen. He wouldn’t find any sleep tonight; at least, not until Jared was back in those safe four walls. But this would not happen before the break of dawn, and no matter how hard Jensen tried, staring out of the window and down at the ground many yards beneath him, it wouldn’t make Jared pop up miraculously.

Jensen yawned. Maybe he should at least lie down and try to rest? Or read a book? Or try to write a song? But he was too restless for any of that and sat down on the couch and switched on the TV instead.

What he saw instead of some action movie he expected at that time of night was news that petrified his heart; a live broadcast from a freeway just around the corner, filming a heap of steel and metal that once used to be a car and showing a photo of Jeffrey and his husband, saying that they had both died in that car less than an hour ago.

Time stood still as Jensen stared at the pictures and listened to the news, without really taking them in. The reporter had tears in his eyes, being visibly shocked about the death of the President’s son and successor, and only after a while, Jensen noticed that his own cheeks were wet with tears, too. Jeffrey. Kind, friendly, likeable Jeffrey. Dead. Such a great life, wiped out in the blink of an eye. Then something else hit him. Jared. He didn’t know yet and it would break him the moment he found out. The brothers were so close. Friends. Allies.

A loud sob escaped Jensen’s throat, and he cried for the loss of a great man and friend, for the President, but most of all, for Jared, who had lost one of the most important people in his life today.

With the TV running in the background, time passed by, but eventually, Jensen switched it off, too depressed by the sad news that came on all channels. Instead, he paced the room and suddenly, even the suite with its two bedrooms and living area seemed too small. Cold night air met Jensen when he stepped onto the roof garden, but it only brought relief for a little while. Too soon, the horrible pictures of the car wreck and his sadness and shock were back. And still, no sign of Jared. Maybe he had heard the horrible news while snuggling with Sandy, leaving her to go straight to the palace? Jensen couldn’t even find out; they had both left their cell phones at home, claiming that they wanted to be on their own. If they did not have TV or radio in that love nest of theirs, there was no way that Jared knew. Which meant... oh gosh, it meant that Jensen had to be the one to tell Jared.

Luckily, there was not much time to freak out over this because only a few minutes later, Jensen heard the door being unlocked, and when he returned to the warm living-room, Jared was standing there with his face flushed, yet not with tears, but with happiness. He didn’t know. He was still innocent, believing that everything was alright, not knowing that his whole life had changed in the blink of an eye.

"Jensen?" he asked, even sounding a little tipsy. "Why are you -" He furrowed his brow, only now noticing that something was wrong, that Jensen looked at him gravely, that his eyes were puffy and his face red and tear-stained. "What’s wrong?"

Fresh tears sneaked back into Jensen’s eyes. "Sit down, Jared," he said gently, following his own words and sitting down on the couch, waiting until Jared had joined him and taking his hand in his own shaking ones. Suddenly, Jensen saw it in Jared’s expression; the fear and the knowledge that something was wrong, that something terrible had happened.

"What’s going on, Jensen?" Jared croaked and even before Jensen could tell him, the first tear escaped as if he knew that his brother was gone. And maybe he did; they had been so close.

"There’s been an accident, Jared,” Jensen said with his voice shaking. “Jeffrey and Robert, they’re both gone." A tear ran down Jensen’s cheek. "I’m so sorry, Jared."

Jared didn’t say anything; didn’t call him a liar, didn’t scream at him for bearing the bad news, didn’t plead for it to be a bad joke. The shock took his speech away and caused Jared to shake heavily until the first few teardrops were followed by a torrent of tears, cried in almost complete silence.

Feeling helpless and even a little awkward, unsure of what he could do or should do, Jensen slid a little closer, offering his shoulder to cry on. Jared didn’t really notice, until Jensen tugged him against his chest and enfolded him in his arms. Then though, the levee broke and Jared clung onto Jensen as if he was his life-belt, crying for the loss of his brother. Jensen just held on tight, being there for Jared, knowing that nothing he said would make it any easier, soothing with nothing other than his warm, slow touches.

Eventually, Jared looked up again, his face gray beneath the traces the tears had left. "I’m gonna be sick," he murmured before stumbling over to the bathroom, where he barely made it to the toilet. The smell was disgusting and made Jensen’s own, already weak stomach churn as well, but he didn’t leave. He bore Jared silent company, rubbing his hand up and down Jared’s back, until Jared’s stomach was empty and he was heavily gasping for air.

Jared looked horrible. As if he had aged a decade in less than an hour and all the happiness Jared had ever felt had been taken away from him. "Jensen, I -" he stammered, but he wasn’t able to put his confusing thoughts into words.

"Just breathe," Jensen said gently. "And let me take care of everything." Jensen fetched a blanket to warm Jared since he was still shaking with shock, moistened a towel to wipe his face and after he had led him back to the couch, he finally called their driver. "Clifton will be here soon, Jared. Take you home."

"Don’t leave me," Jared breathed out. "Please."

"I won’t. Never," Jensen promised genuinely, feeling weirdly touched. "Only if you want me to."

 

11

Jensen was still with him and he had been the whole horrible time. From the moment his driver had fetched him, with his face saddened and his voice shaking, to when Jared had rushed into his father’s office, where he had found the whole family - even his mom had been there - mourning for the loss of their son. Jensen also had not left his side when Jared had demanded to see his brother one last time. He had held his hand and had stomached to look at the squeezed and bloody mess Jeffrey had become; lifeless and barely recognizable. Yet, Jensen had stayed with him for long minutes, wordlessly saying goodbye to Jeffrey, too. Now, Jensen was still there, handing Jared a glass of water and the sleeping pill Professor Walker had brought over. He even tucked him in after he had lain down, squeezing his shoulder lightly.

"Sleep tight, Jared," Jensen said and despite the earth-shattering news of the day, Jared knew he was in safe hands.

***

For the first glorious moments of waking, Jared felt light and free and happy, but then he remembered and the world came crashing down again. His brother was dead. Robert, too. Sadness overwhelmed him and despite living in a palace that housed over one hundred souls, Jared suddenly felt lonely.

Then though, he noticed that he wasn’t alone, not even lonely because Jensen was there. Again. He had changed his suit for comfortable dark clothes, had showered and probably caught some sleep, too, but he was back; sitting on the lonely armchair in Jared’s bedroom, his plastered arm resting in his lap, his eyes fixed at some random point of Jared’s wall.

"Hey," Jensen said once Jared caught the older man’s attention. "How are you feeling, Jared?"

It was probably the most stupid question ever, but the affection and concern oozed from Jensen’s tongue and he appreciated both. Yet, Jared shrugged. There were no words to describe his feelings; a word like sadness didn’t do his loss justice.

"I’m not good with these things, Jared," Jensen said quietly. "I never learned it. But I’m here. If you want to talk about it, or if you want to remember Jeffrey, the good and happy times, then you know where to find me."

The words hit Jared and for a moment, his grief was overpowered with warmth flooding his body. Jensen was there, was supporting him now; was his friend and his tower of strength. He really was one lucky guy and Jared hoped that one day, he could do something for Jensen, too, something other than taking him out, giving him a hug or his favorite horse. "Thank you, Jen," Jared said warmly, even though he knew the simple words didn’t do it justice.

"Don’t mention it. I wish I could do more."

"You do a lot."

***

"Jared?" He felt Jensen’s fingers on his wrist. "Are you alright?"

Jared shrugged. He had been wondering if today the nightmare would finally come to its peak and end soon, or if from now on, every day would be like the past week. A time for tears and mourning, for questions, for accepting condolences and stupid platitudes and for cursing whoever was responsible for taking his brother away from him. "Will it ever end?" Jared eventually formed his thoughts into words.

"I don’t know," Jensen sighed, looking a little helpless. "But I hope it will get a little easier, Jared. I’m not sure if it’s my place to say," Jensen bit his lip and Jared narrowed his eyes, looking at him piercingly, wondering what was to come now, "since I didn’t know Jeffrey for very long or too well, but he wanted you to be happy. He wouldn’t want to see his baby brother mourning for too long. Bury him today, Jared, say your goodbyes and just don’t forget him."

Tears stung in his eyes and Jared quickly looked at his shiny black shoes and squeezed his lids shut. The hand was back, now rubbing up and down his arm, sending a little warmth in the too cold limb and into Jared’s heart. "Never," he said, finally looking at Jensen. A tear hung on one eye-lash and Jensen handed him the box of tissues. "Would you mind going down with me into his garden?" It had been Jeffrey’s favorite place in the palace, just like Jared’s was the meadow and its little temple.

"Sure," Jensen said, offering his hand and Jared gladly took it. They still weren’t real boyfriends, like their fathers probably wanted them to be, but they were more than buddies now. Jensen was Jared’s tower of strength and his anchor, making sure that he didn’t float away in his sorrow, and Jared accepted his comfort and love gladly. Jared knew, without Jensen, he would have been lost over the past few days. Furthermore, Jared had realized something else; every day they shared their lives bound them together, stronger and more intensive than Jared had ever experienced before. It was as if Jensen and he had forged an unshakable connection to each other, running so much deeper than anything that Jared and Sandy had been able to build in the short and rare nights they had shared their bed. This realization confused Jared just as much as the emotions that bubbled in his belly whenever he was with Jensen nowadays; emotions that were so much more than simple gratitude for the other man’s support, but faith and warmth and something he could only call love.

Wordlessly, they walked through the palace. It was busy, with the funeral happening in just a few hours and the guest quarters full with family friends, ministers and their families. Once in a while, they would see someone who nodded at them but thankfully not approached them. Even Sandy was around somewhere, but Jared had not dared to visit her, with his heart being too occupied with his dead brother. Besides, something had changed, even before the accident. Something that was right in front of him, with beautiful green eyes and a gentle hand, with a heart as big as the East Continent. It was Jensen as much as his dead brother who held Jared back from sneaking through the dark palace and avoiding Sandy’s eyes whenever their paths would cross by chance.

Finally, they reached the beautiful courtyard. The air was full with scents and sounds of nature and the peacefulness was like balm on Jared’s soul. "This place was a mess when we were kids. Unkempt; full of weeds. Jeffrey and I used to come here sometimes, hiding from our teachers in a shack that is now long gone." Jared remembered how they had run away from the professor and it even put a little smile on his lips. "Jeffrey was 15 when he had the idea to cultivate it. Such a nerd." Jared laughed but unlike when he had called Jensen nerd, it was full of affection. "Just like you, Jen." He smiled a little broader, looking at the man who was sitting next to him, with his thigh pressed against his own and his hand still twined with Jared’s. "I’m sure that’s why he liked you from the beginning. You and Jeff, you weren’t as different than you and I."

"I think, when it comes to important things, you and I aren’t so different, Jared," Jensen said with his voice scarcely more than a whisper.

Right now, Jared didn’t have the muse to think about it, so he ignored Jensen’s comment; he could wonder about it later, when his head wasn’t full with memories of his brother and the fact that he was gone. "Nerd," he said instead, not even sure if he was talking about Jensen or his brother. "All I was thinking about at that age were boys, dogs and horses, learning how to fight, how to drive a car, stuff like that, but Jeff, he cleared this courtyard of weeds, laid out new flower beds, demolished the old shack, building a new and bigger one. One of the gardeners helped him, but he did it mostly on his own, and he was so proud when it was done. He proposed to Robert here." Jared sniffed. "And now they’re both gone."

"Tell me more about them," Jensen prompted softly.

Jared took the opportunity gladly, telling Jensen whatever came to his mind. It were mostly little, unimportant things, but it were these things that had made Jeffrey the great man he used to be. When it was time to leave for the funeral, Jared felt a little lighter in his heart, with even a little smile ghosting over his lips and he knew, with Jensen by his side, he would survive the funeral and the coming days until eventually, things were better again.

 

12

"Here we go," Professor Walker announced with satisfaction, carefully removing the cast from Jensen’s skinny wrist. "As good as new."

"Really?" Skeptically, Jensen looked at the pale skin that stretched over the freshly mended bones, moving his fingers carefully.

"Really. A physical therapist will come over for exercises tomorrow; will help you strengthen your hand, but it’s healed nicely. No permanent damage, young man." Jensen felt like a weight was being lifted off his shoulders, only now believing that things were good as the cast was gone and he could move his fingers properly again.

"I’m happy for you, Jen," Jared said softly, beaming at Jensen while squeezing his arm. Jared had come with Jensen and Jensen was glad for the company, having been really worried about the result. "This calls for a celebration."

Jensen’s heart somersaulted. In the past few weeks, Jared hadn’t had much to celebrate, with the aftermath of his brother’s death. The period of mourning, Jared’s new duties and the realization that he had suddenly become his dad’s successor had cost him his smile. Particularly latter was something that - Jensen was sure of it, Jared had not yet realized completely because, whenever Jensen mentioned that he would be the future President of Heaven, Jared looked scared, as if it was a burden too heavy to carry and something he was not ready for. That Jared wanted to celebrate something as mundane as his recovery made Jensen really happy. "What are you thinking about, Jared?"

The younger man smiled a secret smile. "Let me surprise you."

The weeks since the accident had been a real challenge, but it had bound them together. Friendliness had turned into friendship, and later into closeness and real adoration. With seeing the human side of Jared - the kid who had taken care of him and had given him his beloved horse, who was mourning for his brother and who was scared because of the responsibility he suddenly had - Jensen’s feelings for Jared had developed steadily; he had fallen for him. Jensen knew it was unreasonable, with Sandy being Jared’s real love, but he had found himself daydreaming about having something more with Jared; something real. Jared’s suggestion now made Jensen hope that maybe Jared saw it like this, too. "Can’t wait," Jensen said, smiling back, the happiness shining from his eyes

They both said goodbye to the medic, slowly walking through the palace. "Do you want to be on your own, Jen? Playing the piano?"

Weirdly, Jensen had not even thought about playing the piano, only about the surprise Jared was thinking about and what it might mean. Though now, as his friend mentioned it, he was itching to feel the keys beneath his fingers again. "I would love to play, Jared. But you’re welcome to stay."

"Sure?" Jared sounded surprised. "You wouldn’t mind?"

"Not one bit. It would be nice to have you around. Though I don’t want you to feel obliged to stay."

"I don’t. I want to stay. I want my boyfriend to share this with me."

The words stabbed Jensen right into the heart, causing a very good pain that was only slowly chased away with the butterflies in his belly fluttering excitedly. Jared had just called him boyfriend. Not with a wink or a hint of humor in his voice, but sincerely, as if Jared really saw him that way; because he wanted to be his boyfriend, not because it was their fathers’ wish. Could his dream come true? A lump was growing in Jensen’s throat and suddenly his hands were sweaty. Yet, he twined his fingers with the younger man’s. "It would be great to have my boyfriend around. Show him that nerdy part of me."

***

"That was really beautiful, Jen," Jared said, stepping closer and putting both his hands on his shoulders. Jensen had completely forgotten that Jared had been with him, so lost had he been in his music. "You and the piano, you really understand each other."

"I know it sounds nerdy, but the piano, it always was my friend. My ally. My way to talk about feelings, Jared."

Gently, Jared’s hands moved over his shoulders and down Jensen’s chest, the left one coming to rest over his heart. "It sounds nerdy. And beautiful. But also very sad. I’m sorry your dad took your childhood away from you. That you never had friends. Or a boyfriend."

Jensen put his hands over Jared’s, petting his fingers over the smooth skin. "He meant well, Jared. And I have you now. You’ve really become family."

Leaning even closer, Jared pressed his head against Jensen’s before kissing his temple. "I’m really sorry how I treated you." Jared sniffed and a tear dropped onto Jensen’s shirt.

It wasn’t the first time Jared had said sorry, but the it was the most emotional. Never before had Jared cried because of it. Jensen turned around, gently putting his arms around Jared. He wasn’t good when it came to things like this, still too inexperienced and shy, but Jared accepted the gesture gladly, wrapping his own arms around Jensen and holding him tight. "Don’t worry about this, Jared. It’s long forgotten."

"No," Jared denied. "It will always stand between us."

"Only if you let it, Jared. I forgave you. Forgive yourself as well." Jensen combed his fingers through Jared’s hair, something he had never dared to do before; the gesture seeming just too intimate for friends. It was thick and soft.

Suddenly, Jared’s face was very close to his own, his minty breath grazing Jensen’s cheek, his nose gently touching his. His heart was beating rapidly and there was no time to freak out, no need actually, because it was Jared and he held him tight, caressed his neck with his fingers and finally caught Jensen’s lips with his own.

The kiss started chastely, with nothing but the soft cushion of Jared’s lips pressed against his. Then though, Jared moved his tongue over Jensen’s lips and he let it in gladly, welcomed it in his mouth, greeted it with his own tongue and drank thirstily from the other man’s breath. His heart was beating harder than ever before, and his blood was rushing south, into his loins, waking up his dick, faster than Jensen’s right hand had ever managed in the few attempts of getting himself off. Sounds he had never heard before escaped his throat, mingling with Jared’s own moans and whimpers, and they were as beautiful as his piano pieces, making him happier than his music or the applause he received. His skin was tingling and Jared’s hands seemed to be everywhere as they gently moved up and down Jensen’s back, brushing through hair, over his neck and shoulders.

They kissed and kissed, and Jensen only stopped when he felt tears moistening his cheeks. First, he thought that he had cried them himself, with the emotions overflowing him, but once he opened his eyes Jensen noticed that it was Jared who was crying.

Jensen understood. He might be a nerd, but in the past six weeks, he had learned a lot about Jared and this must be confusing him greatly; being in love with a girl, but kissing the boy his father had chosen for him. A boy he had genuinely grown to like after he had hated him; a boy who was standing beside him day in, day out, who had probably helped him through the roughest time of his life so far. "It’s okay," Jensen whispered, pressing Jared’s head against his chest and allowing him to cry. "You have a big heart, Jay," he said gently, calling him by the name his brother had used sometimes. "There is room enough for the both of us."

With a sob escaping Jared’s lips, the man cried even harder. "You deserve better, Jen. The whole of me. But I …. I can’t let her go. I’ve wanted to, the day of the accident, that’s why I was so jittery, but the moment I saw her, I was lost, Jen. And thinking about her like that feels like I’m betraying you."

"Shh," Jensen soothed, ignoring that the flame of hope inside him grew as he heard how close his friend had been to breaking up with Sandy. "It’s okay. I don’t mind sharing, Jay. I’m the luckiest, happiest man on Heaven for having half of you."

Jensen managed to lure out a snort that sounded like a laugh from the depth of his boyfriend’s body and he kept on caressing Jared until the younger man had finally calmed down. Puffy red eyes looked at him, but they were full of love and the look warmed Jensen’s heart. "Come on, Casanova, let’s go back. Show me that surprise of yours."

***

"Close your eyes," Jared prompted the moment they had sat down on the comfortable sofa in Jared’s room.

"Am I getting my surprise now?" Jensen asked impatiently, his voice spiced with a teasing undertone.

"You won’t find out if you don’t close your eyes," Jared replied matter-of-factly, winking at Jensen.

It made Jensen smile and without any further discussion, simply because he was too curious about what Jared had come up with, he closed his eyes. He felt Jared get up; heard him walking over the hardwood floor and opening a drawer before he came back, stopping right behind Jensen and putting a hand on his left shoulder.

"Keep your eyes closed," Jared demanded gently, moving a finger over his cheek, replacing his finger with something else, something Jensen thought felt like paper or cardboard. "You have to redeem your surprise, Jensen. What are you willing to give me for it?" Jared exhaled and the way his breath ghosted over Jensen’s cheek and how Jared’s voice sounded caused a pleasant shiver of anticipation to run through his body.

"How about a kiss?" Jensen suggested.

"Mmm," Jared returned thoughtfully. "Sounds good, for starters."

Jensen kept his eyes closed and the fingers were back, dancing over cheek and neck and collarbone, before they were joined by warm lips, moving up and down, kissing his temples, his forehead, his eyelids and the tip of his nose. It was gentle and blissful and Jensen’s heart was beating hard, having never felt so loved and cherished before. He moved his face in the direction he believed Jared’s lips to be and was rewarded when he finally caught those deft lips with his own, nibbling at them with his teeth and sucking them in.

Jared moaned, returning the kiss and smiling against his face in the end. "Keep your eyes closed, Jen," Jared whispered and Jensen felt when Jared moved away a little, the heat from Jared’s face not grazing his own any longer. "And now, open your eyes."

Jensen did, blinking a few times to adjust his eyes to the light after minutes of darkness. He knew what he saw and read, but he stared at the tickets, blinking again, just to make sure that his mind wasn’t playing tricks on him. When he opened his eyes again, they were still there, with the name of the classical concert in big letters, and Jared’s face now hovering behind them real close.

"Wow," Jensen exhaled. "You bought me a ticket for the concert tonight?" Jensen’s voice quivered, overwhelmed with the emotions he felt. It was so much more than a gift, but a sign that Jared accepted that nerdy side of him, even though it wasn’t his own thing.

"I bought us tickets," Jared corrected him, sounding very pleased with himself. "You don’t think I would let you go on your own, do you?"

Now Jensen was really speechless. "I ... You...Wow."

"I know how sad you are that you can’t perform yourself," Jared said as he sat down next to Jensen again, so close that their thighs and shoulders touched, "so, I think the least I can do is get you the best seats for tonight and be your date, Jen. If you want me to."

"Very much," Jensen whispered, smiling broadly and leaning over to Jared to hug him, thanking him with a gesture that came from the heart and said more than any words ever could.

***

So far, it had been a perfect night. First, Jared had taken Jensen out for dinner to a very exquisite, very romantic little restaurant. There had been soft music and candlelight, quiet talk and laughter and once in a while Jared had reached out to touch his hand or leaned over to kiss him. Jared really adored him and in moments like this, when he so willingly showed his love, Jensen was in awe about the change Jared had gone through. Sure, sometimes Jared would still mock him about his ignorance, yet it wasn’t cruel anymore but a gentle tease. On top of it, Jared would also explain things or would bring Jensen a book to read. In the past six weeks, Jensen had learned more than in the 25 years before. He had developed a great deal.

After dinner, they had strolled to the grand concert hall of Janusburgh and the concert had simply been breathtaking. Talented classical musicians, many of them Jensen’s idols, had made the most beautiful music and more than once, Jensen had found himself wiping his eyes because the arrangements had touched him deep within. Jared had put up a good fight to hold on, not yawning once and even admitting that it had not been too bad, simply because it had put a smile on Jensen’s face and happiness in his heart. Jensen really had never loved a man more than Jared in this moment as he gave him the feeling of being accepted in all his facets.

Now, as they were on their way back home, the car coursing along the winding streets of Janusburgh, up to the palace that throned over the city, Jensen wondered what else the night might bring. Would Jared simply escort him back to his room and kiss him goodnight? Or would he ask Jensen to stay with him? And if Jared did, would Jensen be ready, to actually spend the night with Jared? To lie with him, to feel his naked skin against his own, to hold Jared’s dick in his hand and touch it like his own? The thought of being intimate with Jared, of having that wonderful sculpted body for his own, sent waves of heat through Jensen. Yet he had to admit that he was scared about making that last step. Scared that he might not be able to fulfill Jared’s expectations and disappoint him.

"Jen? Are you alright? You’re very quiet."

The gentle tone and Jared’s concern made Jensen smile. "I’m good." He took Jared’s hand and squeezed it. "Happy but a little overwhelmed. It’s been an eventful day, Jay."

"But a good day."

"The best," Jensen admitted. Their first kiss would always be burned into his mind.

Instead of saying something, Jared slid closer, putting his arm around Jensen and pressing him against his side. They stayed in this half-embrace, sharing comfortable silence and the knowledge that today they had made a very big step towards each other, until the car parked in front of the palace.

"Jen?" Jared asked while they were climbing the many steps towards the main entrance, "I know we’re still at the beginning, but do you want to stay with me tonight?"

Jensen’s heart skipped a beat. Jared had actually asked him and in spite of the panic he felt bubbling in his belly, there was only one answer he could give. "Sure," he said, though not feeling too confident about it. What if Jared didn’t like what he saw?

Jared beamed and suddenly it was as if all the grief had fallen off him. He looked thrilled and full of life, even excited and it made Jensen happy to know that it was him that caused those feelings and that they were on the right track.

 

13

The air between them crackled with expectation and excitement as Jensen and Jared slowly walked through the deserted palace. Jensen’s hand was a warm but sweaty weight in his own and whenever Jared chanced a quick look at his boyfriend, he saw his lips pressed together into a thin line. It was obvious that the older man was nervous, maybe even scared about what was happening between them and with Jensen being a virgin, Jared couldn’t really blame him.

Up to a certain degree, even Jared was nervous. It had been a while since he had last lain with a man and even longer since he had felt something more for that man than simple desire. It confused him; his feelings for Sandy but his steadily growing feelings for Jensen, the longing he felt for the girl but also for the shy man who was quietly walking next to him. Jensen had given him so much in the past few weeks and with every day Jared had loved him more for his strength and support. Bit by bit, he had realized that maybe Jensen, not Sandy, was the one. He was attractive, handsome, desirable. Sweet, caring and loving. He was all the things Sandy was with one big difference; unlike Sandy, Jensen was something real. Something he could have, without breaking the law and his father’s already cracked heart.

Yet, Jared couldn’t forget Sandy. Despite his resolution to split up with her, he had not done it that last time they had been together, and whenever Jared had sat down to write her a letter and explain, his hand had been shaking and he had not been able to put a single word to paper. He was so confused; so torn between Sandy and Jensen that he had not found any other way than crying to express his feelings when Jensen and he had finally kissed. And the way Jensen had handled it, all sympathetic, with that big heart he had and the love he showed him, had thrown his feelings off track even more.

Finally, they arrived in front of Jared’s quarters and he quietly unlocked the door, tugging Jensen in with him once he noticed a little reluctance in the older man’s movements. He watched how Jensen slowly stripped off his shoes and jacket, lingering in front of the clothes rack, as if he was scared to move further in.

"Jen. Come in. You know I don’t bite. Not anymore."

Jensen blushed. "I’m just em, nervous, Jay," he admitted, scratching his neck. He looked really young and insecure.

"I know, Jen and you’re not the only one," Jared confessed. "It’s a big step for us. But we’ll be good. Just trust me."

"Are you sure you want this?" Jensen asked, stepping a little closer. "I don’t want you to hate me. I don’t want to drive a stake between you and Sandy, Jay."

Jared did Jensen the favor to think about his words before answering softly. "It’s already happened, Jen. I hated you because I thought you wanted to come between me and Sandy. I rebelled against my dad’s wishes and against you and I hurt you in all possible ways." He looked at his friend, could almost feel how uncomfortable Jensen was for mentioning their bad start again. "But ever since the incident with Brutus, I’ve been seeing things much clearer again, Jen, and I’ve learned a good deal about friendship and about love. It was a troubled time, with Jeff dying, but I know a few things for sure, Jen." He reached out his hand, and Jensen took it and at once Jared curled his fingers around Jensen’s. "I’ll never, ever hate you again and I’m sure I want this. I’m not lying to you, Jen. It’d be an insult to you. I still love Sandy, and there might be times when I want to see and be with her again, but I really want to have this with you."

Nodding, Jensen stepped closer, until he was close enough for Jared to wrap his arms around him and pull him against his chest. "Don’t be scared, Jen. You can’t disappoint me," he whispered into his ear.

With Jensen in his arms, Jared slowly walked over to his bedroom, brushing his lips over Jensen’s face once in a while and just holding him tight. Eventually, they were standing next to Jared’s huge bed and Jared deftly started to loosen Jensen’s tie. "No need to worry, Jen," Jared promised with a deep, warm voice. "We’ll only go as far as you want to go. No need to rush things."

Jensen swallowed as Jared pulled the tie over his head and started to unbutton Jensen’s shirt with deft hands, his fingers moving over warm, naked skin, his eyes already spotting the first freckles normally hidden by clothes. "So many freckles," Jared said in awe when the shirt was open completely and he pulled it away from Jensen’s chest. "So gorgeous." They really were; countless little dots painted over the fair skin, shaping a hundred different patterns. Touching the skin with his right index finger, Jared took the time to gently pet over the skin, to greet some of the many freckles and to paint his own shapes. He felt Jensen’s bones under his fingers, the warmth of his skin and the almost imperceptible beat of his heart. Wanting to feel more of that, he covered the spot where Jensen’s heart beat with his whole hand, locking his eyes with Jensen’s.

They were wide and very green and a smile ghosted over Jensen’s lips and parted them slightly. Suddenly, Jensen’s hand was on his waist, his thumb gently running around and around Jared’s shirt, with the heat from the touch seeping through the thin material. It sent a very pleasant shiver through Jared’s body, a shiver that shot right to his dick and made it twitch in interest. Hopefully soon, Jensen would hold it in his hand, would handle it deftly with those long, beautiful fingers. First though, Jared took this intimate moment in; the way they looked at each other, the beat of Jensen’s heart against his hand and the feelings this intimacy caused. Smiling softly, he leaned down and kissed his boyfriend, and a thousand fireworks exploded in his belly as their lips and tongues danced with each other. Jensen lacked a little experience, but he kissed like he played the piano; with all his being.

Eventually, Jared released Jensen’s mouth, moving his lips over his slightly scratchy cheek, down his neck and over his collarbone, sucking, nibbling and licking at the skin. He stripped off Jensen’s shirt completely, caressing his naked arms and chest while stroking his fingers over the older man’s back. Sensual whimpers and moans escaped Jensen’s lips and they quickened when Jared moved his mouth over Jensen’s belly, poking his belly-button with the tip of his tongue.

Jensen was as aroused as him, with his dick bulging in his dress pants, and quickly, Jared unzipped the pants and tugged them down so that Jensen could step out. There were more freckles for Jared to admire, hidden by the soft, light hair on Jensen’s bowed legs, with the luscious bulge of Jensen’s cock the highlight.

For a moment, Jared’s hand hovered over it, unsure if Jensen was okay with it, but it was his boyfriend who took his hand, pressing it against the material of his dark shorts.

"Touch me," Jensen breathed out, and Jared didn’t need to be told twice. Rubbing up and down the beautiful outline of Jensen’s cock, Jared felt it grow even more with Jensen’s moans quickening, too. "Touch me," Jensen pleaded again and in record breaking time, the shorts were gone and Jared found himself on his knees, catching Jensen’s proudly erect member in his hands. It was impressive; almost as large as his own, much larger than Peter’s, leaking pre-come that looked tastier than his favorite flavored ice-cream.

He doubted that Jensen would last long and he acted quickly, massaging Jensen’s balls with his fingers and stimulating his cock with his lips. He felt Jensen tremble beneath his hands and the other man’s hands roaming uncoordinated through his hair and over his neck, sending tremors through Jared’s body. Jensen’s hips were jerking and he was close and Jared let him come, right into his mouth that was wrapped around Jensen’s cock. He swallowed the whole load, tasting and enjoying it, with his fingers clawed into Jensen’s buttocks.

Only once Jensen was limp in his mouth did he let go, kissing the tip of his cock gently and looking up to his boyfriend. Sweat glistened on his slender chest and he looked weirdly enchanted, with this look of pure bliss on his face and his wide blown eyes.

Jared got up and quietly led Jensen to his bed where he pushed his boyfriend into the mattress. Finally, he stripped off his own clothes, Jensen’s eyes following him with every movement, the tip of Jensen’s tongue licking over his lips once in a while. He looked hungry for something other than food, and once Jared was naked he crawled into the bed with Jensen, leaning really close.

"Taste yourself," he prompted and Jensen took the invitation gladly. Licking Jared’s gums, tasting the last remains of himself, moaning and whimpering into Jared’s mouth and stealing his breath.

For long moments they kissed, but then, Jared wanted more. "Touch me, Jen," he begged. "Taste me." Jared wasn’t sure if the other man was ready for this step, but it looked as if Jared’s blow job had taken most of Jensen’s insecurities away because he reached out eagerly.

Jensen took him in with all his senses, licking Jared’s skin and kissing his moles, listening to his heartbeat and breathing in his scent. It was arousing and intimate and sweet how much devotion Jensen put into getting to know him, murmuring sweet compliments once in a while. He paid special attention to his privates, combing his fingers through the raw pubic hair and ghosting them over the sensitive skin of his balls and dick, tracing the prominent line of the vein. A look of fascination and surprise was painted on his face, as if Jensen couldn’t believe that it was him causing this to Jared and not the pretty girl he loved.

Finally, Jensen brought his face closer, with his breath now ghosting over Jared’s cock, sending shiver after shiver through his body. It got even better when breath became lips and tongue and Jensen’s gentle fingers helped, making Jared harder with every heartbeat.

"I’m gonna come soon," Jared sighed mere moments later; his blood rushing south faster and faster and his head getting lighter, sending him out of space.

"Good," Jensen moaned, not drawing back but holding his cock in his hand, letting the cum splash against his face. Salaciously, he wiped it off his cheeks and licked it from his lips. The sight alone caused waves of pleasure to run through Jared and he wondered what else Jensen could do to him.

Wrapping his arms around Jensen’s waist, he tugged him closer, covering them both with the blanket once the older man was snuggled against his chest. He really looked beautiful, with his blushed face and swollen lips, the last remains of Jared’s cum adorning his face. Gently, Jared wiped it away, licking his fingers dry of the salty substance, Jensen’s eyes following his every movement.

Jared sighed contently. He had not been this happy and relaxed since before his brother’s death. Not even with Sandy. Maybe because, in the back of his mind, Jared had always known that it was a sin and that he was committing a crime, and a small part of him had always been alert, always scared of being discovered.

He didn’t need to be scared with Jensen. What they had was pure and beautiful. Jensen loved him; not because their dads wanted it, not because he needed someone for publicity, not because Jared was unbelievably wealthy and the future occupant of the President’s chair. He loved Jared because of him. Despite having seen the worst of Jared - the cruel bastard and the grieving kid, Jensen had fallen in love and he had showed his feelings in the most intimate way.

Now, Jensen was slowly drifting away to sleep in his arms, his soft caresses becoming less frequent and his body growing limp in his arms. "Are you happy, Jen?" Jared asked quietly.

"Very," Jensen murmured, kissing a random spot on his chest.

"Me too, Jen. Thanks for loving me so much. For not giving up. For accepting me the way I am." It was the moment Jared realized how happy, how lucky and blessed he was with having this man by his side. Jensen could have dropped a dime on him; instead, he had protected him and loved him, even though Jared had not deserved it, and he hadn’t bore any grudges. "When we met, Jen, I never thought I’d say it one day but," he kissed his forehead, "I love you. I really do."

He felt Jensen smiling against his chest and his lips brushing over his skin again.

And Jared made his decision; he would always love Sandy and never forget her, but his future was the bow-legged, freckled, handsome green-eyed pianist in his arms. Something real.

 

Part II

14

Five months. Five months since his brother had died, since he had last seen Sandy and since his friendship with Jensen had turned into love. Five months of new responsibilities: of learning how to rule a world, of more public appearances than ever before, standing next to his father, smiling and waving, with Jensen the calm anchor in all this fuss. Five months of grief, of missing his brother every day and of thinking of Sandy once in a while. With tears in his eyes, Jared had written a long farewell letter, and after he had given it to Jason to deliver it, he had fled into Jensen’s arms. Once more, he had showered Jared with love and understanding, not minding that a part of Jared’s heart still belonged to the petite woman and probably always would.

In spite of all these trials, heartbreaks and stress, those five months had mostly been one thing: a time of love and happiness. Joyful days with Jensen by his side, making Jared the happiest he had ever been. They had both learned from each other, had both prospered and Jared had definitely become a better man thanks to his handsome, green-eyed boyfriend.

One day, not so long ago, Jared had woken up early in the morning, Jensen snuggled against him. As he had watched his boyfriend sleep, the slight rise and fall of his chest, the flutter of his eyelids and how the long lashes touched his fair skin, Jared knew that he wanted this forever. He wanted vows and golden bands on Jensen’s and his fingers, the one kiss to seal it, and the most meaningful night of all. And Jared wanted it now; not only in a few years, when he was a little older and when people wouldn’t shake their head about the President’s son getting engaged and married far too quickly.

Jeffery’s unexpected death had shown Jared that life was too short. From one moment to the next, you could be wiped out and if that were to happen to Jared, he didn’t want to regret it. He wanted to seize the day and take the gifts life had given to him.

A few days ago, Jared had talked to his father in confidence and while Jerald had been surprised, he had been thoroughly delighted, too, giving Jared and his soon-to-be-son-in-law his blessings. Then Jared had asked Alan for Jensen’s hand. It was a little frumpy and not exactly necessary, since Jared had known the answer before he talked to Alan anyways, but he wanted to honor the old traditions and wanted to do it right.

Now though, with having both their dad’s blessings, Jared was facing the biggest, most important step; he had to propose to his boyfriend. He had bought a shiny ring for Jensen and had come up with some romantic ideas; he would finally take Jensen to the little temple in the meadow; they would have a picnic with delicious food and wine, would kiss, make out and make love, and in the end, Jared would propose. Jensen only had to say yes.

***

"Where are we going?" Jensen demanded as he was walking beside Jared, his eyes blindfolded, only guided by the arm Jared had strongly wrapped around his waist.

"Wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you," Jared replied while leading his boyfriend off the main graveled track onto a much smaller, earthy path that led through the forest to the temple and not along the little stream. "Just relax. I’ll take good care of you."

A smile lighted up Jensen’s concentrated face. "I know you will. I trust you. Just don’t forget to warn me of roots. I don’t want to fall and break my wrist again."

Like always when Jared was reminded of Jensen’s accident, Jared was overwhelmed with guilt and shame. He probably would never get over what he had done to Jensen and nothing he could say or do could ever make it right, at least not for himself. He tightened his grip around Jensen’s waist, squeezing him once. "I’ll be your eyes," Jared promised.

Warning his boyfriend of every potential danger, of every root, stone and broken branch that was lying in their way and every twig that could scratch his face, Jared carefully guided Jensen out of the forest. Lifting his head towards the autumn sun, Jensen took in the flowery scent of the last field flowers and reached out his hand until the blossoms stroked his palms. It charmed another smile on Jensen’s face, as if he knew where Jared had brought him and realized the significance of this date.

Finally, they had reached the little temple where Jared had prepared everything earlier. There were pillows and blankets to protect them from the cold stone, a picnic blanket already laid with porcelain and cutlery, decorated with flowers and the little chocolate hearts Jensen loved so much and two baskets filled with the most delicious food and beverages Jared knew the chefs in the kitchen had spent hours to prepare.

"Here we go," Jared announced before carefully unraveling the blindfold’s knot and tugging it away from Jensen’s eyes.

His boyfriend stared. At the picnic blanket and the little love nest Jared had built, but also at his surroundings, the ancient temple with its broken stained glass windows and the trees that bordered it on both sides. Then, he fixed his eyes at the sea of field flowers, their blossoms swaying softly in the light breeze, before Jensen looked intensely at Jared, swallowing hard. He knew what this place meant for Jared. "Jay," he stammered. "Wow."

Jared’s heart somersaulted with happiness. "I thought it was time to bring you here, Jen," Jared whispered. "Just the two of us, without any responsibilities for a while. Just Jared and Jensen, not the President’s successor or the world-famous pianist."

"It’s breathtaking," Jensen said. "I really don’t know what else I can say."

"Mmm, how about a kiss then?" Jared suggested, putting his hands on Jensen’s waist and leaning down to caress Jensen’s face with soft puffs and blows.

"Sounds," their lips touched gently, "very," the touch intensified, "good." The touch had grown into a full on, soft and gentle kiss with their tongues dancing just like their fingers danced over their bodies. Both men moaned in pleasure and Jared’s heart rate quickened. Jensen had turned into such a skilled kisser, completely focused on Jared, doing all the things he liked the most.

Slowly, Jared stepped closer towards the nest of blankets and pillows, pushing Jensen onto his knees and pulling him into his arms once he felt the blankets beneath his feet. Jensen was now almost blanketing him, his body a warm and very welcome weight that slowly melted into Jared as they kissed and kissed while their fingers discovered spots on their skin anew.

Only when they were both breathing hard, did Jared let go. "How about something to eat?"

Jensen pouted, looking simply gorgeous. "I bet you’re far tastier than anything in this basket." As if he wanted to prove it, Jensen moved the tip of his tongue over Jared’s earlobe, sending a lightning bolt of pleasure straight into Jared’s already very interested dick.

A mixture of laugh and moan escaped Jared’s throat. "Maybe," he breathed out, "but you know me, baby. I’m always hungry, for you and food."

"As long as you’re always hungry for me," Jensen whispered, now nibbling on Jared’s earlobe, "I think I can live with sharing you with food."

"That’s nice of you, sweetie," Jared said, kissing his neck. "And Mauricio will be happy, too. You know how he is if some of his delicious creations go back to the kitchen." Jensen laughed, knowing as well as Jared that the chef took it as a personal affront. "And he prepared all your favorite food," Jared announced. "Lots of stuff from the West Continent."

With regret, Jared let go of his boyfriend and crawled over to the baskets, putting bowls and plates onto the blanket. Unlike on the East Continent, where people used lots of meat and herbs for cooking, the West Continent was famous for their variety of fish dishes and exotic spices. He knew Jensen had missed some of the dishes he had grown up with since coming to live with him and this day was all for him, so Jared had wanted to do him the favor.

"Oh Jay," Jensen exclaimed as he saw the variety of food Jared had laid out. "You’re the best! It’s been so long since I’ve had this stuff. You just made this the best day ever."

Jared beamed broadly. "Just wait and see. It’s going to get even better."

***

Very full and a little tipsy, the men had curled around each other, talking and kissing, laughing and moaning. The evening sun sent golden rays of light through the windows, painting colors, light and shadows over their faces and the floor. Birds were twittering in the trees and Jared could hear the wind whispering through the leaves and the rustle in the meadow which was full of small animals. It was peaceful and just perfect, and there was no reason to wait any longer.

Jensen had his eyes closed, yet Jared felt for the ring in his pocket as inconspicuously as possible, hiding it in his fist once he had pulled it out. He had planned to fall on his knees but they were both so comfortable in each other’s arms and it probably didn’t matter, as long as it came from his heart.

"Jen?" His voice was a little shaky and suddenly, his hands were sweaty and his heart was thrumming excitedly against his chest. What if Jensen didn’t say yes?

"Mmm, baby?" Jensen asked sleepily, opening those stunning green eyes and smiling softly.

He petted his hand over Jensen’s side, up and down and up again, a mesmerizing touch that calmed Jared down a little. "This place is my favorite on Heaven," Jared started, "many happy memories are linked with it."

Suddenly wide awake, Jensen looked at him curiously, as if he understood that this was a very important moment for both of them.

"I want to add the happiest of all moments today, just like my brother did in his garden, Jen."

Understanding dawned on Jensen’s face and his eyes grew in surprise and a little panic, but his smile was all love and happiness. "Jay -"

"Shh, Jen. Let me say this. Do it properly. I know, we had a horrible start and I was a monster. It happened because I wanted to rebel and the idea of loving someone other than Sandy seemed impossible. Then, though, I got to know you and your big heart and I stood no chance, Jensen. I just had to love you; how could I not, sweetie? We were both thrown into this and suddenly, we both tumbled into this big bright hole called love and fell faster and faster. I don’t want this fall to ever end, Jen. I want to fall with you, forever. Deeper and deeper, with no way out of our love." Jared paused, pregnant with expectation, looking at the man he wanted to marry and feeling the pleasant anticipation sparkling between them. "Jensen Ross Ackles. Pianist. Nerd. Best boyfriend ever," Jared smiled, opening his sweaty hand and presenting the golden ring, "want to fall with me, too? Stick by my side in good times and bad times, sickness and health? Be my husband, no matter what?"

A tear fell onto his fingertip. It was Jensen’s. He looked at the transparent blotch in wonder, seeing the proof of their love in a single tear cried in happiness. Smiling, Jared guided it to his lips, catching the teardrop, tasting the salt and the love, like he tasted it in Jensen’s cum whenever they literally made love.

"Forever," Jensen breathed out with a shaky voice. "Sounds just long enough to fall with you, Jay."

Something exploded inside Jared; happiness stronger than he had ever known before. With a heavily trembling hand, Jared took Jensen’s hand, kissing the long, talented fingers, before he finally slipped the engagement ring over Jensen’s heart finger. He kissed Jensen’s hand, like on the day he had started to appreciate Jensen for the man he was, before sealing their promise of forever with a kiss.

"We’re going to get married, Jen," Jared whispered in wonder, as if he couldn’t really believe it yet, his voice dampened by his own tears of happiness.

"We are, baby," Jensen said, snuggling close, becoming the better part of Jared with giving him everything.

 

15

Kissing and caressing each other, Jared had eventually dozed off, soft puffs of his breath tickling Jensen’s cheek and the occasional snore disturbing the nightly silence of the temple. Slowly, the cold and clamminess of autumn crept over the stone tiles and into their love nest and no matter how warm they would keep each other, no matter how romantic this place was, with the sounds of nocturnal animals their love song, they could not stay forever.

Gently, Jensen let his hands glide over Jared’s side, slowly whispering his name until finally, those hazel eyes, still mostly hidden by their lids, were looking at him questioningly. "We need to go, Jay," Jensen explained. "Too cold to stay. Don’t want us to get sick, huh?"

Now, as Jensen had mentioned it, he felt a shiver running through the younger man’s body. "You’re right," Jared sighed. "Sorry for falling asleep. I wanted -"

Jensen silenced his fiancé with his lips. "I know what you wanted, Jay. The perfect night. Engagement sex at the end. Right here, in your special place."

Jared hummed in acknowledgment.

"The way it was, Jay, it was perfect. I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. You can’t plan such things. We can still have sex later, when we’re back in our bed, and here, once summer is back."

His fiancé smiled. "That’s why I love you so much, Jensen Ross Ackles. Always reasonable." Jared kissed him gently. "Let’s go back."

Twining their fingers together, they both got up, stepping into the cold night. The orb of the full moon bathed the meadow and its surrounding wood into an ethereal light, the silvery shimmer just enough to guide them home. The moisture hanging in the thin, long blades of grass dampened their pants while they were quietly walking through the meadow, the little animals scurrying away when their big feet came too close. Jared’s hand was holding his tightly and once in a while, he smiled proudly over at Jensen and the golden ring that now adorned his finger.

They were engaged now. Jensen was still overwhelmed thinking about it. He hadn’t believed that Jared would be ready for this step yet. Sure, Jensen had known that Jared loved him, Jared had shown him every day, but this was such a huge step. When Jared had proposed, Jensen had been both surprised and shocked. For a few heartbeats, panic had even washed over him, but then he had fought and overcome it. Jared and him, they were two parts fitting together perfectly, different in many things but alike in others, complementing each other. No one knew him like Jared did and most of all no one loved him like Jared did. Sure, Jensen never had loved anyone else before, but Jensen didn’t need to. All he needed was Jared and when Jared’s sweetly spoken words of proposal had sunk in, Jensen had understood that waiting, no matter how long, wouldn’t change a thing.

"Today, you made me the happiest man alive, Jay."

Jared didn’t comment on it but he pulled Jensen to his chest and held him tight. "I’m very happy that you’re happy and that it’s me who makes you happy, sweetheart," Jared whispered. "I love you."

"I love you, too, Jay. I really, really do." Sometimes, Jensen was still surprised by his strong feelings for Jared. Not even a year ago, he had only loved his piano. In the past months he had realized that it had only been a bad replacement for real love and friendship. Jared gave him so much more, things an instrument just couldn’t; it wasn’t breathing, alive, couldn’t love and touch back. Jared though did all those things and so much more. Playing the piano would always be a very important part of his life, but being with Jared had shown Jensen that some things in life were just more real and better than music. And Jared was on top of that list.

***

The moment Jared and he stepped into the landscaped park of the palace grounds, Jensen noticed that something was odd. It was past midnight, yet countless lights shone from the palace’s windows, especially in the part Jensen knew were Jerald’s offices.

Jared noticed it too. He paused, not moving one bit as if rooted to the spot, staring at the many lights. "What’s going on there, Jen?" Anxiety dripped from his voice.

"I don’t know, Jay, but we won’t find out by staying here. Let’s go."

"What if someone occupies the palace?" Jared wondered with deathly earnest and a trembling voice. "Overthrowing my dad?"

"Jared?" Jensen looked at his boyfriend thoroughly, furrowing his brow. "What are you talking about? There’s no one to overthrow the President. We’re not living a thousand years ago. There is no one, no opponents, no -"

Jared shook his head, his face a stern mask. "That’s not true," he said matter-of-factly.

"What?" Jensen exclaimed in surprise, his voice echoing through the silent night.

Looking around, as if Jared wanted to make sure that they really were alone out there, he grabbed Jensen’s arm and tugged him over to one of the many marble benches that adorned this part of the park. The cold of the stone seeped through Jensen’s pants at once but he ignored it, the worry in his fiancé’s eyes more urgent. "Since Jeffrey’s gone, my dad lets me into most of the confidential stuff," Jared whispered. "I’m probably not supposed to tell you this, but on the other hand, I know my dad talks to Brian about things, so why shouldn’t I talk about it with my future husband?" Jensen didn’t feel comfortable with this. He loved Jared and he wanted to help carry his burden, but what if Jared put himself in danger by telling him such confidential government information? Even before he could object though, Jared continued. "There’s a lot of things happening on Heaven our people don’t have a clue about. The secret service has its spies everywhere and especially since Jeffrey’s death, they’ve brought unsettling news."

Jensen still didn’t really want to know, but on the other hand, he had to know if he wanted to protect Jared as best as he could. "What news?"

"My dad is not very popular. A lot of people think that the laws for crimes are too strict. Poverty rises and most people in the slums blame the laws and rules for it. And there is more and more people who," his voice shifted into nothing more than a breeze, "have tasted the forbidden fruit, if you know what I mean. Who’re like I used to be, Jen. There’s been a riot in one of the horrible prison camps. It didn’t hit the news, the secret service made sure of that, but," Jared shuddered, "they were all killed. Everyone. Some of the women had given birth to unregistered kids, and they even killed the children."

Jensen stared at Jared in shock. A year ago, he had not known about any of this and he had not really cared either, but since living with Jared, he had a much better insight. It was bad enough that unregistered kids had no rights at all; no name, no social status and mostly grew up with their sinful mothers in prisons camps where they normally died far too young after a miserable life, but killing kids was simply disgusting.

"There’s a group forming, Jay. They call themselves "Freedom for Heaven". Jared laughed dryly and Jensen understood. Definitely not a coincidence that they had chosen the same name as Great Janus had chosen for his group a millennium ago. "They gather more followers. They might attack eventually."

Jensen’s heart skipped a beat and suddenly he was scared. Not for himself, but for Jared. "You’re in danger, aren’t you?"

"I’m the President’s son, sweetie. I’m always exposed to risks. But with Jeff gone, it’s worse than ever. He was very popular. People had high hopes for him, that he would relax the laws and maybe improve the situation in the slums and the prison camps. But now I’m his successor, Jen, and people don’t know me. Or well, they only know what they’ve seen so far. A young man, spoiled, who likes to go partying or horseback riding."

Jensen swallowed, but he would not allow his fear to grow. "You have to show them that you’re on their side, Jay," Jensen demanded dedicatedly. "Talk to your father, and try to change things. Start with something little, with helping the poor for example. I could give a charity concert," Jensen offered, already liking the idea, "or we could visit one of the camps."

"You think I could do this?" Jared asked, sounding surprised.

"Sure. Your dad isn’t the youngest anymore. He will resign eventually. You have to show him that you can take responsibility and just, you know, be reasonable in your suggestions and demands," Jensen stated and he was surprised how confident he sounded, although he knew he needed this confidence if he wanted to help Jared. There was no time to linger. "Because I’m sure your dad doesn’t want the legacy of the Great Janus to be destroyed."

"No, he wouldn’t," Jared agreed at once. "He’d probably rather give in a little for the sake of the family name, than stubbornly hold onto his personal beliefs. He knows he’s the boss, but he also knows that he’s not infallible." Jared relaxed a little. "And I really like your ideas, Jen. They’re reasonable. So um, you think it’s safe to go in?"

Jensen listened, placing his hand against Jared’s chest, as if he wanted his boyfriend to keep from getting up and heading towards the palace before he was sure it was safe. It was quiet, peaceful. If someone occupied the place, there certainly would be gunshots or screams echoing over to them. But there was nothing. "Pretty sure, Jay. It’s as quiet as always. I think tonight we will be safe."

***

Jensen had been right. The palace was safe, but still, something was different. While they were walking through the hallways, they spotted more people than usual; not only servants, but also some of the President’s secretaries and ministers, huddled together and talking in hushed voices. Something had definitely happened.

When they finally turned into the hallway leading to Jared’s quarters, they were met by an unusual sight. One of the secretaries was sitting on a stool in front of Jared’s door and reading some documents. Once he noticed them he looked up, a relieved expression on his face. "Mr. Padalecki, I’m sorry to disturb you like this, but the President needs to see you at once. It admits no delay, Sir," he said urgently.

Big eyes in an anxious face looked at Jensen. "Can you come?"

"I’m sorry," the secretary vetoed, even before Jensen could agree, "but Mr. Ackles has to stay here. It’s strictly confidential."

Jensen’s heart sank and a bad feeling gnawed at his insides. That really didn’t sound good, especially after what he had just learned. Maybe there had been another riot, a much bigger one than the one in the prison camp? Jared looked insecure, his eyes moving from the secretary to Jensen and back again. "It’s okay, Jay," Jensen leaned closer. "I’ll wait for you and you’ll be fine, okay? Things will be fine," he promised, not even sure if he believed it himself. But Jared seemed to find strength in it, flashing him a halfhearted smile and leaving with the secretary.

For a while, Jensen kept his eyes fixed at the spot where Jared had vanished around the corner, but then he pulled himself out of this weird trance, punching in the security code and stepping into Jared’s or more accurately, their place. While Jensen still had some of his things stored in the guest room that had been appointed to him, it had been weeks since he had slept there and now as they were engaged, he would probably move in officially.

Jensen walked over to the TV, turning it on. If something earth-shattering had happened, it might already have hit the news. A movie was running on the channel Jared and he normally watched, but when Jensen changed it to the local news station, he looked at the photo of a beautiful, petite, brown haired woman who seemed familiar to him. He had missed a bit of the news, but what Jensen heard made him nauseous for many reasons.

His legs suddenly feeling all wobbly, he sat down on the fluffy carpet, absently petting over the shiny golden band Jared had given him and trying to comprehend what he had just heard: Sandy McCoy, the Vice President’s daughter, was five months into an unregistered pregnancy. Her wife had turned her in, after finally finding out the reason for her weight gain. Police had found her, heavily wounded, and had immediately taken her to the closest prison camp.

His whole body was shaking. Jensen wasn’t stupid. He knew what this meant, knew who had fathered that unborn child. And while he was sorry for Sandy, his main concern was for Jared. Not only for how he might be feeling now, but also for what might happen to him. What if Sandy had betrayed Jared? Jensen had heard that they had the most cruel methods of torture to reveal the truth. Eventually, Sandy would cave in. Then, he would lose Jared.

That mustn’t happen. He just couldn’t lose him, not now, not after he had found Jared, after Jared was his and he was Jared’s. He just couldn’t.

For a few minutes, Jensen allowed himself to let his misery take the upper hand, but then he pulled himself together. Jensen needed to be strong for Jared. And he needed to find a way to protect his boyfriend. He would do everything for Jared, even if it cost him his own life.

 

16

"Is it yours?" Jerald’s voice was sharp like the blade of a knife, cutting as deeply and painfully.

Jared was shaking; with shock, with fear, with anger, and he still struggled to wrap his head around the news. Sandy was pregnant. Carrying his child. And her wife, that bitch, had dropped a dime on her. She had betrayed Sandy instead of protecting her, covering up for her, maybe helping her to get rid of the kid or, even better, delivering it in secret. Worst of all, though, was the guilt gnawing at Jared. He had dumped her with a stupid letter instead of waiting for the next chance to see her and it had been enough for Sandy to keep quiet about it and not contact him. Jared was sure he could have helped her, hid her somewhere until the baby was born.

"I’m not going to ask again, Jared," his father warned him sternly. "Is this child yours? Did you break your promise?"

He felt the slap in his face even before he had breathed out the sad "yes" completely. Never before in his life had his father slapped him. It burned, but the shame and humiliation was even worse. Jared hoped the earth would swallow him, but of course, whoever was responsible for life and death in this world let nothing happen.

"I can’t put my disappointment into words, Jared. I thought we had an agreement." His father didn’t even look at him, but at the framed photo of Jeffrey on the wall. Perfect Jeffrey, who had never disappointed his father. "How often did you betray my trust after I made Jensen your beard?"

"Jensen is no beard," Jared said stubbornly. "I proposed to him tonight, I -"

"Answer me!" Jerald yelled and Jared jumped a little. Never before had he seen his father this furious. Not even when he had found out about Sandy the first time. "We had an agreement, Jared! And you lied and laughed at me! Jensen, too!"

Jared shook his head. "Jensen doesn’t have anything to do with it. I haven’t -"

Another slap silenced him. "Don’t you dare tell me you love Jensen when you fuck around," he spat out the words, "with that whore!"

Anger boiled in Jared’s veins and he wanted nothing more than to slap his father back. For talking about Sandy like this and for doubting the feelings he had for Jensen. "You forced me into a relationship with a complete stranger!" Jared barked instead. "And at first, all I felt for Jensen was contempt, while I loved Sandy. I loved her, Father," Jared said with devotion. "I met her three or four times until Jeffrey died. I haven’t seen her since. I swear."

"But the child is yours?"

"I can’t be sure, but it’s very likely. Dad, I’m sor -"

"Spare me your worthless apologies, Jared. They are meaningless and they don’t change a thing. You betrayed my trust. Broke your word. Put us all in danger! Me, you, your Jensen! The whole world! Especially now with the difficult political situation. If you weren’t my son, Jared, I would have you killed for this treason."

A cold shiver ran down his spine and Jared was suddenly scared. Not for his own life, but for Jensen’s. What if his father let Jensen pay for his faults and took his anger out on him? Would kill him or send him to a prison camp, just to punish Jared. "Do what you like with me, Dad, but please, don’t hurt Jensen." Had he really said that?

He must have, because his father looked at him in shock. "Jared, do you really think I’m so cruel?"

Jared didn’t know much, just that his father’s anger scared him. It had turned him into a ruthless and unpredictable animal. "At the moment, I don’t know much, Father," Jared said, burying his face in his hands. He didn’t cry, his sadness and fear was way beyond tears, but it gave him a moment of privacy and comfort.

"Jensen is safe, Jared. And in case you’re wondering, you are, too."

Jared appeared from behind the shelter of his hands, looking at his father in surprise. "Dad? How can you - ?"

"I ensured that no one can find out. Mrs. McCoy won’t say a thing," Jerald said, sounding very sure of his words.

Jared furrowed his brow. How could his father know? "Dad, how -"

"Don’t ask," his father cut Jared off. "Go to bed now. The next few days and weeks will be busy. Regarding the situation, there is a lot of damage control to be done, and you need to play your part. We have to prevent a riot with all our might, Son. You will start with visiting Peklo Prison Camp. You should see what happens to people like you," the President said snidely.

"Father? What happens to Sandy?" Jared dared to ask. "Can you -?"

An impatient gesture of his hand cut Jared off. "Minister McCoy and I talked about it. She will resign tomorrow and we’ve both decided that there is nothing we can or should do. She’s lost, Jared."

Tears tickling in his eyes, Jared nodded. He knew he couldn’t do a thing. No matter how much he would beg, no matter what he would promise, there was no way he could save the girl. "I understand," Jared said tiredly. "Good night."

While he was slowly walking back to his quarters, where his new fiancé waited for him, Jared realized that he actually didn’t understand one thing. Especially not why people who were different had to suffer so much.

***

Wearing a grave expression on his face, Jensen was expecting him, pacing anxiously through the room and looking up the moment Jared quietly closed the door behind him. "You’re back," Jensen exclaimed, rushing to him and enfolding him in his arms. "I was so worried, Jay. I thought -"

"You thought my dad would turn me in," Jared noted, feeling Jensen’s nod against his shoulder. "Yeah, me too. I was also worried for you, baby. For a while, I was worried for both of us. But we’re both safe. My father promised it."

"How can he promise something like this? I’m sure they will do everything -"

"Please, Jen. Let’s not talk about this," Jared cut off his boyfriend tiredly, feeling nauseous just thinking about the investigator’s cruel methods of getting the truth out of people. "He didn’t want to tell me. Just said that he can’t and won’t do anything for Sandy. She’s lost," Jared sniffed, burying his forehead into Jensen’s shoulder, glad for his warmth and soothing touches.

"I’m so sorry this happened, Jay. All of this. Although I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you and Sandy."

"It’s my fault as much as it’s hers," Jared sighed. "No, it’s more mine than Sandy’s. I was the one who came to see her that first night. It was me who seduced her." A shiver ran down his spine. Sandy would die because of him. They had both known that it could happen and both had taken the risk willingly, but now, as it happened, Jared hated the thought that she had to pay for their sin while Jared could live his happily ever after with the man he loved. "I never thought I would get her pregnant. I don’t know how it happened, Jensen." Realizing how ignorant and stupid he had been, Jared blushed deeply.

Jensen loosened his grip around him, guiding Jared over to his sofa where he had already poured him a double shot of liquor. Jared emptied it gladly, feeling the alcohol tickle inside his belly, spreading warmth through his body and chasing the nausea away a little.

"I know how it happened, Jay," Jensen said. "It happened, because we all forgot how babies are truly made. It happened, because you and Sandy had to lie and hide. It happened because of our laws and the society we live in."

Vehemently, Jared shook his head. It was his fault. "I -," he tried to object, but Jensen silenced him gently.

"No, please listen to me, Jay, because this is very important." Jensen put his hand on his heart. "I’m not saying you and Sandy are innocent. But the main problem for you - and for everyone else who is like you - is our society. Nothing else. Only if we can change it, can we prevent such things from happening again. Don’t let Sandy die in vain, Jay. And please, don’t blame yourself. Don’t do this to yourself. Rather keep your strength and fight."

"Do you... I can’t.... My dad... That’s treason." Panic seemed to overwhelm him. Did Jensen really expect that of him? Of betraying his father, like Sandy’s wife had betrayed her? He couldn’t do that. He couldn’t fight against his dad.

"Shhh. I’m not saying you should rebel, Jay, and become a member of 'Freedom for Heaven'," he said quietly. "Not at all. Just keep your eyes open. Try to get to the bottom of things. Watch and learn, so you can make it better once you’re President. Support minorities. There doesn’t have to be fights and dead or blood. It can be a peaceful change."

The way Jensen said it, it sounded all so very easy and Jared was already dreaming of that new Heaven. Deep down though, he knew that it wouldn’t be so easy. That it would be hard and painful and that blood would be spilled, maybe even his own, or worse, Jensen’s.

"Promise me you’ll try, Jared. I will help you. Together, we can change Heaven."

***

Next to him, with his fingers grazing his own, Jensen was sleeping peacefully. Jared envied Jensen for it. Not only for the few hours of fleeing into the world of dreams, but also for his optimism and his belief in him. Jared wished he had the same belief in himself and his abilities.

Yet, this was not the reason why Jared couldn’t find any sleep. His mind was just too occupied with Sandy’s fate. Poor, sweet, caring Sandy. Jared knew what Jensen had said, and up to a certain degree, it was reasonable, probably even true. But how could he blame their laws and their society for his own stupidity? For his failure to protect Sandy? For sending that stupid letter when she was with his child. It weighed heavily on his mind, robbing him of all the joy Jared had felt earlier and bringing tears to his eyes.

He sobbed and sniffed and pressed his face into the pillows, but the stream of tears just didn’t run dry. Jared cried and cried, eventually waking his boyfriend, who rubbed his hand up and down Jared’s back. "Let it out, Jay," Jensen whispered quietly, "just cry. It will help."

And Jared cried and wailed, for the loss of his mistress and his unborn child and the cruelty of the world, turning Heaven into hell and into a place where the punishment for something so beautiful like love and sex was death.

Only after long, long minutes, did his tears run dry. A gentle hand was now combing through his hair and eventually, Jared shifted a little, his swollen eyes looking at his fiancé. He smiled sadly, his own eyes glistening with wetness, too. "Never hide your feelings," Jensen appealed urgently. "Don’t lock me out, Jay. Don’t do it because of a false sense of pride or because you want to be strong. I know you are, but sometimes we have to share, okay? That’s what lovers and husbands do, Jay. The real ones. The good ones." Jensen looked at him intensely. "Promise me, Jay."

Jared sighed. Jensen’s short-sighted eyes pierced him, looking right into his soul, probably knowing exactly how he was feeling anyways. But Jensen wanted him to share; he had always wanted this, since his brother had died. It had always helped to not carry his burden alone. The things Jared had not been able to tell Jensen, the confidential government stuff, had weighed so much heavier on his mind, simply because he had to handle it alone. "I promise, Jen."

"Thank you," Jensen breathed out, kissing his cheek. "I’m here. You know I am."

"I know."

He let Jensen curl around him, buried his head in Jensen’s chest, breathed in the scent of his skin and absorbed his warmth until eventually, Jared fell asleep.

 

17

Peklo Prison Camp was one of half a dozen prison camps situated on small islands, scattered over the Great Ocean that divided East and West Continent. They were all in different climate zones, exposing the inmates to a variety of extreme weather conditions. Peklo was said to be the most horrible of all. On first glance, the tropical island looked like a holiday resort, but the extreme humidity and rapid weather changes, the poisonous animals that hid everywhere and the lack of bathrooms facilities or properly built houses caused the inmates to die like flies.

Only five minutes after Jensen and Jared had stepped out of the small plane that had brought them to the camp - a well chosen team of loyal reporters in their tow - Jensen’s white button down was soaked with perspiration and he gladly accepted the glass of water the camp’s director offered him the moment they stepped into the air conditioned office building, cool air enveloping him at once. The knowledge that just a few yards away humans were living under these conditions day in, day out, with barely any fresh water and no place to hide other than decayed barracks or the shelter of trees, made Jensen shiver.

He chanced a look at Jared. The past weeks had left their mark on the once so happy man. Like Jared had grieved for his brother, he was grieving for his ex-mistress, but unlike when Jeffrey had died, Jared blamed himself now. Despite all attempts, Jensen had not yet managed to lighten the burden. Something had died the night Sandy had been captured and no matter how hard Jensen tried and how much they talked, Jared was still broken and Jensen wondered if he could ever fix it.

The director was talking, giving excessive explanations about how the camp was run; about security, their death toll, the lack of health care and that the inmates had no rights, not even names in there and were treated worse than animals, simply because they were left to take care of themselves. Jensen was horrified, but for the moment, there was nothing he could do, and like on autopilot, he followed the staff into an observation deck. A long tunnel led into a globe made of nothing but glass and steel, enabling the visitor an almost 360° view over the camp, the inmates beneath them, boney faces looking up with big, hungry eyes.

Jensen shuddered, despite the warmth in the globe, fixing his eyes on a colorful parrot that was sitting in one of the trees, the only beauty he had seen in this hellish place so far. He couldn’t look at those poor people. It just seemed so wrong, to stare at them as if they were animals in a zoo and to delight in their misery, like the director obviously did.

"Oh my gosh," Jared exclaimed eventually and Jensen looked at his fiancé at once. His face was a mixture of pale and green and in horror, he stared at one of the inmates on the ground. Shaking heavily, Jared struggled for composure, barely managing to hold the mask of indifference that had helped him through this cruel tour so far.

"Yes, Mr. Padalecki," the director said almost snidely, "you happen to know that one, do you? Meet W-236 as we call her or, like I think you know her, Mrs. Sandy McCoy, the old Vice President’s daughter. That’s what happens to whores like her."

His heart skipped a beat and Jensen looked from Jared, who seemed close to fainting, to the inmate on the muddy ground. She was not recognizable as a young girl any longer. She was only flesh and bone, with her pregnant belly standing out grotesquely. Her hair was greasy and her body, only clad by torn, stained clothes, was unbelievable dirty. Nauseating though was the sight of her limbs. They were gone. There was nothing other than badly amputated stumps in the remains of bloody, dirty bandages where her hands and feet had been. At a snail’s pace, she was crawling through the mud, with no one around to help her; to offer her a little food or water or to clean her up. "What happened to her?" Jensen asked with a shaking voice, stepping a little closer to Jared who couldn’t take his eyes away from the girl he used to love, staring at her without blinking, silenced by the shock. "Did that happen during interrogation?"

"She came to us like this." The director sounded almost sad that it hadn’t been him who had caused those mutilations. "Not that I care, but for all I know, she was found like this in front of the police station. Someone silenced her."

Jensen threw a questioning look at the director, even though he wasn’t sure if he really wanted to know.

"They cut out her tongue, too." The director smiled broadly.

A wave of sickness washed over Jensen and he wondered how Jared must be feeling as he realized what his father had done to protect them. "Why -"

"If you ask me," the director interrupted him, "someone is covering something up," he whispered secretively. "We’ve got strict orders to leave her alone. No interrogation." Disappointment dripped from his cold voice. "Not that we could squeeze anything out of her." The man sniggered cruelly. "We just threw her in and left her and the unborn bastard to die. We have bets running when she will finally croak."

This was sickening. Jensen wanted to punch the man in the face for talking like this about a human being, but he was far too shocked to do anything other but stare and try to control his anger.

"Of course, we don’t know anything," the director continued, his voice now scarcely a whisper, "but there are rumors that she whored around with one of the male ministers. Some believe that’s why she was silenced. To protect him. I don’t think so," he added a little louder. "I’m quite sure, the President would not allow a whore in his close circle."

"No, the President wouldn’t," Jared said with an ice-cold voice, finally lifting his head and staring at the director with a stern face. "My father is very strict when it comes to the rules and laws. He doesn’t tolerate any sort of betrayal, least of all this," he spat out. Jensen was very impressed with the way Jared played his role of loyal son, keeping his countenance while inside he was probably screaming and raging. "You should definitely forget these rumors, Director."

The man bowed a little "Of course, Sir. You’re right. Is there anything else you would like to see? The torture chamber, maybe?" His mouse-like face lit up with joy. "Maybe we could even arrange for you to watch an interrogation."

"No, thank you," Jared said firmly. "I’m here on the President’s behalf to get an insight of how things are run. He wants to know what might be improved or if there is any equipment you or the inmates might need. I have gained all the knowledge I need; I’m not here to watch you playing with your victims. Mr. Ackles and I will be leaving now."

"But," the director stuttered, "there’s a dinner planned." His face changed into a mask of tragedy.

"I’m very sorry, Director. I received an urgent call shortly before we landed," Jared lied confidently. "I’m expected at Janusburgh as soon as possible. My fiancé and I will just stay for the photos."

Jensen nodded, his smile as fake as Jared’s and thanking him silently for finding a way out of this hell. He understood that Jared had to leave, that by no means could he stay overnight like it had been planned. Jensen was actually pretty impressed how well Jared was hiding his shock now, acting all confident like it was expected of the future President.

"As you wish, Mr. Padalecki." The sleazy director bowed again. "I hope you enjoyed your stay, Sir."

"It was eye opening," Jared said. "A lot of things are going to change."

The director smiled broadly. "I hope that scum gets what it deserves."

"Be sure of it, Director. You’ll all get what you deserve."

***

Jared had not spoken a word since they had stepped into their small jet and for once, Jensen had let him be. Wordlessly, he had sat down next to Jared, putting his right hand close to Jared’s thigh and offering it in case Jared wanted or needed the touch. For half an hour, nothing happened, then though, Jared twined his fingers with Jensen’s, looking at him with an expression that was beyond sadness and shock.

Less than three hours after boarding, they arrived at their stopover. The island of Raj had belonged to the Padalecki Family for centuries and all Jensen knew was that it was one of their many summer residences. There was nothing but a tiny village inhabited by servants, the white marble mansion with a guest house almost as big and a few small plantations that provided the island with fruit, crop and meat.

The mansion was empty, with the rooms dusty and stuffy, and the beds unmade because there had not been enough time for the maids to prepare for their arrival after Jared had spontaneously planned the stopover.

"Don’t worry about it," Jared said in reply to the housekeeper’s apologies. It was his first words since they had left Peklo Island and Jared sounded like he looked; shattered. "We’re only going to stay for one night. There’s not much we need. Maybe some fruit and water, the old room I stayed as a kid for me and my fiancé and some rooms in the guest house for the crew. Nothing else. Thank you, Judy." A little smile flitted over his lips but it didn’t quite reach his eyes.

Still as a stone, Jared stood in front of the mansion, staring into nowhere until eventually, he started to shake violently, sinking to his knees onto the soft, green grass. "He chopped of her hands and feet, Jen," Jared choked out. "Cut out her tongue. How could he do that? How could he do that?" he sobbed.

Jensen didn’t know the answer, or at least, not the answer Jared needed to hear right now. He knew why Jerald had done it; for a greater good, to protect his son, their world and their laws, because, in the President’s eyes, it had been reasonable and all the other shit he believed in. "Jay, I -"

"She was lying in the mud like garbage, Jen. In her own mess. Starving. Bleeding. With my own flesh and blood in her belly that is doomed to die already. And the director was smiling. As if it was the best thing ever. How can they do something like this, Jensen? How can my father allow it?"

"Jay, -"

"And it’s all because of me! My bloody fault. She suffers and has to die because of me, Jensen! If I hadn’t dumped her with that stupid letter, she maybe would have confided in me but I walked out on her," Jared wailed.

"Jay, -" Jensen said again, his voice now more urgent as Jared’s last comment had sunk in. Didn’t he know? "Jay, the letter -"

"Don’t Jay me!" Jared yelled, ignoring Jensen’s comment. "Don’t tell me it’s not my fault. How can it not be my fault?"

It felt like a slap to his face and a part of Jensen wanted to do exactly that; punch his boyfriend, whipping sanity back into Jared’s mind. Yet, he didn’t. All he did was grab the younger man’s shoulders, shaking him gently. "Listen to me, Jared."

Jared tried to push him away, tried to hit him, but there was no strength in the action. Finally, he gave up, breaking down, wailing and sobbing as if nothing else could give Jared peace again. He was a wreck. Babbling, snotty and sniffing, he clung to Jensen; cursing himself and his life, the rules and his father, simply everything. Nothing Jensen did helped; no soothing touches, no hugs, no calming words. Jared simply didn’t react, just cried on Jensen’s chest, sometimes pushing him away, sometimes holding Jensen so close that he thought he might suffocate.

Only after a long time did Jared calm down; sobs turning into sniffs and sniffs into little whimpers and sighs, until eventually, he was quiet, with his breathing scarcely audible any longer. Heavy and immobile like a sack of potatoes, Jared was leaning against Jensen, his arms wrapped around his waist, his head buried into a clammy shirt that was sticking to Jensen’s skin.

"Jay?" Jensen’s voice was shaking. He felt helpless. He wanted to see Jared through this, but for the time being, he was at wit’s end. What could he do to take such desperation away?

A red, swollen face looked up to him, a lost and tired expression written on it. Jared seemed helpless; the anger and despair of earlier had fumed away, leaving an empty shell. "What can we do against such hate, Jen? About people like the director, who enjoy torturing other humans? About people like my dad, who are so blind? Or like Sandy’s wife, who turned her in?"

Jensen wished he knew. But he didn’t know much, just that it wouldn’t be easy. Other than Jared though, he still had hope for a better Heaven. "Start with your dad, Jared. Make him see. But," he moistened his dry lips, "don’t expect too much too soon. Give him time. And um," he swallowed, for once not sure if it was his place to mention it, "try not to hate him for what he did to Sandy."

Jared shuddered. "I do. I know he wanted to protect me. I just wish he’d protected her, too. You know. Hidden her."

"You know your dad, Jay," Jensen said softly. He didn’t really want to speak for the President after what he had done to Sandy, but a part of him understood that Jerald didn’t have any choice, simply because he couldn’t jump over his own shadow. "He couldn’t do that. He did a lot with protecting you. It was against his conviction, Jay, but he still did it, because he loves you."

His fiancé sniffed. "I know he did and I know he does. Yet it doesn’t make it easier. Not really." Jared paused, moistening his lips before he amended, "Do you think he wanted me to see her?"

Jensen shrugged. "We’ll never know, but rather not think about it, Jay. We should go to bed, baby.
You’re tired and broken. And Heaven needs you strong."

"Sometimes I doubt I am," Jared sighed out hopelessly.

"You are. It’s right in there." Jensen put his hand against Jared’s chest. "You just need to find it again."

***

Only when they had slipped into bed, their bodies one big mass beneath the covers and Jared safely wrapped in his arms, did Jensen remember what Jared had accused himself of earlier; of dumping Sandy and losing her faith because of it. Jensen doubted it would change much, but he didn’t want Jared to be fooled into believing that Sandy hadn’t confided in him because he had parted with her.

"Jay?"

"Mmm?" Jared hummed tiredly.

"Sandy never got your farewell letter, honey," Jensen said without any preamble. There was no use in beating around the bush. Jared stiffened in his hold, taking in a surprised gasp. "Whatever the reason why she didn’t take you into her confidence, Jay, it wasn’t because you dumped her. She didn’t know."

"What?!" Jared pressed out with disbelief.

"I thought you knew, Jay," Jensen said quietly, "and you just didn’t want to talk about it. That’s why I never mentioned it." He moistened his lips, hoping that he wouldn’t destroy the friendship between Jason and Jared with the news. "I thought Jason informed you."

Jared sniffed dryly. "He didn’t."

"He told me a few days before they caught her, Jay," Jensen explained. "She hasn’t been to Janusburgh since Jeff’s funeral and he didn’t want anyone other than himself or his sister to deliver the letter. He was even thinking about flying over to Janusville to finally get it over and done with, but then, her wife turned Sandy in. Jason wanted to protect you, Jay. I’m sorry, hon." Now he had told Jared, Jensen wondered what was worse for his boyfriend; to know that Sandy didn’t know that he had dumped her or to know that she had never gotten his gentle words of farewell.

He felt the shake of Jared’s head against his chest. "Don’t be. Maybe it’s better that way," Jared breathed out sadly. "I didn’t break her heart and maybe she knew that it was over anyways. It was a secret long distance relationship and we only saw each other once in a while, Jen. Besides, she knew something had changed between you and me. I told her that I had grown to really like you. And seeing us at the funeral," Jared paused, looking at Jensen intensely, "maybe she knew sooner than I did that I was falling for you and that we really didn’t have a future."

Jensen held Jared even tighter, feeling so lucky for winning Jared’s heart, but also so sorry for his boyfriend for what he had gone through, for being so torn and losing Sandy like that. "Sandy was a smart girl, Jay. She knew you loved her, but she also knew that you’d never have a future together. When she found out about the baby, she probably only wanted to protect you, Jay. That’s what you do for the people you love."

"It should have been me who protected her, not the other way around," Jared sobbed.

"It was her choice, Jay," Jensen said emphatically. "A very brave one. Try to remember her like that and be as brave as she was. Fight for a better, brighter Heaven."

"You think I can do that?" Jared asked, sounding both hopeful and skeptical.

"I believe in you, Jay," Jensen stated solemnly. "I think it’s time you believe in yourself."

 

18

Sandy died giving birth to a stillborn baby weeks ahead of time, her body just too weakened to survive the ordeal of labor. It was Jensen who broke the news, his voice soft, his hand wrapped around Jared’s. Jared didn’t cry. There weren’t any tears left and he had said goodbye to Sandy the day he had left Peklo Island. Then, Jared had realized that she was beyond reach and that no matter what he did, the help would come too late for her.

Jared didn’t confront his dad about Sandy. He wrote a long report about the visit and his impressions, added his suggestion for improvements and handed it in. For two weeks, nothing happened, until finally, his father called him. They discussed his paper, civilized and calm, despite Jared boiling inside. In the end, he won. His father saw the necessity for improving things in the prison camps in order to keep the peace on Heaven. He agreed to an official investigation into how things were run in the camps; on building residences for the inmates with government expenses and on strengthening their rights, which basically meant health care and a regular supply of materials.

It was just one tiny victory, but it was a start and it helped to chase a little of the darkness away that had encased Jared in the past weeks, with the guilt about what had happened to Sandy sitting deep. Jared doubted he would ever get over it completely. Not a day passed when he didn’t see her mutilated and starved body in front of his inner eye, remembered that blank expression on her face or wondered if he maybe could have prevented it from happening.

Yet, something hindered Jared from falling deeper and deeper into that dark hole. Green eyes. Warm hands. A mouth to kiss and a body to become one with. Jensen was his anchor, making sure that Jared didn’t drift away, reminding him that he was loved, and that there was a task to be done, a world to change and that he didn’t have the time to wallow in self-pity.

Jared was wrapped up in the idea of changing the world. The little success with the prison camps gave him a boost and with Jensen’s help, he achieved helping the socially deprived step by step. With the money Jeffrey had left him - which was a fortune - he founded a charity foundation, and Jensen and he made it their business to collect more funds and deploy the money where it was most needed. The gratitude Jared got in return lightened up his heart and made the past a little easier to bear. Besides, Jared and his boyfriend received surprisingly well feedback from the media for their social involvement and Jared’s popularity soon rose to so far unknown dimensions. It was the least reason why Jared did it, but even he had to admit that it couldn’t hurt and that it settled his worries about riots and revolutions a little.

Besides Jared’s new task, there was something other to look forward to; Jensen’s and his wedding. It was scheduled for the first summer full moon and the closer the day came, the more excited Jared got. Like it was expected of the President’s son, it would be a big event, with the ceremony being broadcast on TV and a reception with hundreds of guests - not exactly familiar and cozy, like Jared and Jensen would have wanted it to be. But Jared knew his duty and why it was important to give their world this dream wedding. It was a petty evil Jared tried to ignore. It came with his status and place in this world and in the end, it only mattered that he and Jensen got their happy ending. Besides, he had planned something special for their wedding night, something behind closed doors, something that was only for the both of them and he had a suspicion that Jensen was up to something, too.

***

The day of the wedding dawned bright and warm. Jared opened his eyes, snuggling into the pillow and slowly waking up, the twittering birds his morning song. Had it not been for the empty space beside him, it would have been perfect. But their fathers had insisted on honoring the customs - and on them spending their last night as bachelors alone. It had been months since Jared had fallen asleep without Jensen and only when his boyfriend was gone had Jared noticed how much calm he actually received from Jensen’s presence alone. From this night on though, Jared vowed, he would never spend a night without Jensen. His Jensen.

Sometimes, Jared had still problems wrapping his mind around the fact that soon - very soon now - he would be a married man. To Jensen. A man he had hated at the beginning and who had turned into the love of his life. He smiled as gratitude for this gift overwhelmed him. The past 14 months had been full of trials, yet they had been the best ever because Jensen had come into his life. And today, he would let the world know.

***

With satisfaction, Jared looked at his wedding present for Jensen, decorated with countless field flowers he had cut from the meadow the night before. It gave the gift a personal touch and Jared just hoped Jensen liked it.

Then he turned around, looking at his own reflection in the mirror, hoping that Jensen would like what he saw, too. The past months had taken their toll, Jared noticed. He had aged; with the first thin lines of worry now carved into his skin, a few pounds weight loss and a complexion that had paled because he spent most of his days in his office or on planes. Yet, some things had not changed; the warmth in his eyes, the gentleness of his hands or the brightness of his smile. Furthermore, some things had improved; never before had Jared loved so much, had learned so much and had grown so much. He had developed a stronger sense for justice and most of all, the need to help those who hadn’t been so lucky in their lives. All in all, he probably really was a good guy and Jensen had seen it from the beginning.

He smiled, walking out of his apartment, knowing that he would be a married man when he came back with Jensen in the night.

***

Nervously, Jared stepped from one foot to the other and back again while peeping through the door and looking at the countless seats that were arranged over the well kept lawn in dozens of tidy rows. Slowly, they filled up, with family and friends, politicians and celebrities, men right and women left. It looked splendid, the chairs decorated with bows and roses, the ladies and gentlemen wearing gowns and tuxes, the sun - warm and bright - shining down on them. He saw Jordan, his oldest friend, who would be his best men and Jason, another good friend, who would stand as best man for Jensen, taking their places, with the registrar following them. The speaker’s desk where he would declare Jensen and him partners for life was decorated with roses, too, and only now, as Jared looked closer, did he notice that countless rose petals were scattered over the carpet where they’d take their vows. The air was abuzz with hundreds of voices, whispers and laughter and wherever Jared looked, he spotted the press.

It made Jared even more nervous. What if he stumbled while walking down the aisle with Jensen? Or floundered while saying his vows? Or not being able to say the most important "I do" in his life because he was so nervous?

A gentle hand touched his shoulder and even before Jared turned around he knew it belonged to the man he was here for today. Wearing a sweet, little smile on his face, Jensen looked simply breathtaking in his perfectly fitting suit, the tie matching the color of his eyes that for once weren’t hidden behind glasses.

"Hey gorgeous," Jensen said quietly, "let’s do this, huh?"

Later, Jared couldn’t really recall much of the wedding ceremony; it all melting into one big blur and happening as if it was a dream. Walking down the aisle, their fingers twined, their eyes fixed at each other, some beautiful violin music in the background. Listening to the registrar’s words, about the duties and joy of matrimony. More music, this time with a choir singing. Finally, the vows. His voice shaking, his hand wrapped around Jensen’s, his eyes only fixed on Jensen’s face, as if it was only them, Jared and Jensen, in this world, not millions of witnesses in front of the TVs all across the planet. A tear running down his cheek. Jensen’s vows in return, words of love, only spoken to him and for him, and more wetness, in both their eyes. Exchanging rings with shaking hands while the registrar spoke his blessings and sealing their promise with a kiss. Full of devotion, gentle and soft, with their arms holding the other, their lips and tongues dancing, once more done as if it was only them. Only when some more music sounded to his ears, did Jared wake up, the realization hitting him. He was married now, married to Jensen, the best man on Heaven.

He smiled, leaning close to his husband. "I love you, Jen."

The sweetest smile ever lighted up Jensen’s face. "Love you too, Jay. Forever."

Jared’s heart swelled with love as he realized that, no matter what happened in the world, this would never change.

***

The wedding reception went on and on. Shaking hundreds of hands, receiving hundreds of presents in the form of checks for their foundation. It had been Jensen’s idea to ask for money for their charity projects instead of presents for themselves, and the feedback they had gotten prior to the wedding was unexpectedly good. It was so unusual that someone as wealthy as a Padalecki wanted to share their money and people donated gladly, especially because they knew that Jared and Jensen would match the donations.

Finally, it was time for dinner and speeches. First it was his father, saying exceptionally nice words regarding the fact that only a few months back, Jared had disappointed him so badly, and then it was Jensen’s father, who only spoke a few lines. Then it was Jared’s turn. He had worked on his speech for hours, never being completely satisfied with the result, until in the end, he had decided to not bring his notes and just say what came to his mind.

"I still remember my brother Jeffrey’s wedding day." Jared swallowed once, his throat suddenly feeling tight, before he continued. "Robert and he were so happy and I couldn’t stop wondering how this could be, with their liaison being arranged. When they came back from their honeymoon, I talked to Jeffrey about it and he said 'Little brother, the best things in life happen unexpectedly. Believe me, when you fall head over heels for your future husband, you won’t expect it at all. It will just happen and it will be the greatest adventure ever'". Sadness overpowered Jared as he remembered Jeffrey. He looked at Jensen for a moment and the love in his eyes chased his sadness away. "For many reasons I wish that my brother could be here today, but most of all to see that he was right. Jensen and I met under adverse conditions and neither of us expected to be here one day, married and the happiest men alive." He smiled brighter, looking at the hundreds of guests before looking at his husband again, not taking his eyes away from Jensen’s flushed face as he continued. "Yet, love found us or maybe we found love and we tumbled and fell, fast and deep, and are still falling and hopefully will be falling forever." His eyes moistened and he had to clear his throat if he didn’t want to start full on crying now. "Jeffrey, I hope you can see Heaven from where you are, and watch your little brother and his husband falling deeper and deeper. Jensen," he added after a little pause, holding out his hand for Jensen to take and those long fingers tangled with his in an instant, "thank you, for being this unexpected gift in my life. For being my better half, my conscience and reason, my laughter and my tears. Today is the beginning of our forever. Thank you, for daring this adventure."

"You’re welcome," Jensen whispered as he pulled him down for a gentle kiss. "It will be the greatest ever."

***

Finally, the reception was at its end, and, under the applause and laughter of the remaining guests - mainly close family and friends - Jared and Jensen were escorted back to their quarters. There were jokes about the wedding night and whistles when Jared swept Jensen into his arms to carry him over the threshold, but the moment Jared closed the door and locked it - just to be sure they were completely undisturbed that night - the noise was gone. It was only them; newlywed and glowing with love and happiness.

"Hello gorgeous," Jared breathed out, putting Jensen back onto his own two feet and leaning close. His heart still somersaulted in joy while processing this. Jensen was his husband now and he was a married man. Just wow.

"Hello yourself." Jensen’s smile was very close before his lips finally grazed over Jared’s skin. "My beautiful," a little kiss, "wonderful", another kiss, "husband."

"Mmm," Jared hummed, "that sounds so good. And," he caught Jensen’s lips in a much hungrier kiss, "these taste so good." He moved the tip of his tongue over his husband’s lips, licking salt and herb and exotic spices away, before sucking them in and kissing Jensen hard and demanding.

"Like that," Jensen moaned, groaning even deeper when Jared cupped his buttocks and massaged them tightly.

"Know you do. And you have the whole night to prove it, baby." Jared laughed lewdly.

"About that. I’ve got a surprise for you," Jensen announced.

Jared moistened his lips, the excitement pulsing through his veins. "Yeah? Does it involve lovemaking and kissing, fucking and making out?"

"All of that," Jensen promised. "But you have to come with me."

"With you?" Jared furrowed his brow in question. "Does that mean we’re not staying here?"

"Yeah. The best things in life happen unexpectedly, you know?"

Jared smiled. "Okay. But um, can I give you your present first, Jen?" he pressed out the question rather fast, as if he was suddenly scared that Jensen might not like it.

His husband’s face lit up. "Sure you can, baby."

Jensen’s happiness and excitement made Jared all dizzy. "So, close your eyes and come with me."

He didn’t have to check, knew that Jensen had closed his eyes and let himself be guided through the apartment and to where his gift waited for him. "Okay," Jared announced with a pounding heart, "here we are. I hope you like it, Jen."

Jared had his eyes fixed on his husband’s face and he watched Jensen open his eyes and blink a couple of times. His features, interested and excited earlier, changed into pure surprise and joy as the pictures of what he saw slowly sank it. "Jay," Jensen breathed out weakly. He moved a little, letting his glance wander over a room that had not been there before. Decorated with some well-chosen, beautiful black-and white photos of them, with field flowers scattered across the floor and with the old piano from the library - all shiny and restored - covered with even more flowers. "Oh Jay!"

For a moment, Jensen seemed to hesitate what to touch first, with his eyes moving from gift to giver and back again, but then he leaned over to Jared to wrap him in his arms. "It’s so beautiful, Jay," he whispered, his breath ghosting over Jared’s skin, sending a tingle of pleasure through his body. "The whole room. The photos. Most of all, the piano. But it’s too much. It’s valuable beyond measures."

"Like you are to me." Jared felt himself flush. He had turned into such a sap since he had started to date Jensen, but it was the simple truth, so why not say it? Especially on their wedding night?

The look in Jensen’s eyes was soft and sweet and he kissed Jared very gently now, with all his soul, the perfect thank you, his fingers playing with Jared’s hair or petting his neck softly. Only after long minutes of caresses did Jensen let go, turning his attention towards the piano with a last very happy smile in Jared’s direction.

He looked at it closely, let his fingers run over the beautiful carved patterns before carefully, almost reverently, opening the lid and touching the ivory keys gently. Months ago, Jared had laughed about the way Jensen treated his instrument. Now, as he knew and loved him, Jared appreciated the way Jensen handled the piano, the way pianist and instrument became one the moment Jensen touched it. "Would you mind?" Jensen asked, yet if he asked the piano or Jared, Jared wasn’t sure.

Jensen sat down on the stool, striking a random key and listening to the piano’s splendid sound, an almost entranced look on his face. His fingers then glided over the keys, notes melting into a beautiful composition and eventually, Jensen began to sing. His voice was deep, full and warm, and the song was about them, their love and their dreams. Goosebumps covered Jared’s skin and wooziness spread through his gut as Jensen’s music touched every inch of his soul. He took it all in; how Jensen put their feelings into music, how he poured all of himself into this song. It was breathtaking. The music encased Jared like it had never done before; it touched him deep within, gave him a peace he hadn’t felt for a long time and real hope for the future.

Only after the last tone had long faded away did Jensen’s green eyes and a gentle touch slowly pull Jared out of his trance. "Jay? You okay? You look odd."

"I’ve never felt better," Jared said truthfully. "This was more beautiful than I can ever tell you, Jen. You really are the most gifted pianist of our age." His voice was oozing with the pride he felt for his talented husband.

A light shade of pink crept over Jensen’s cheeks. "Thank you, honey. So, um, are you ready for my other surprise?"

Jared nodded. He was more than ready.

Jensen’s hand wrapped around his. "Then let me guide you there."

 

19

Mild night air, heavy with the scent of flowers and earth, and filled with the soft sounds of a sleeping park, encased them the moment they stepped outside. The gravel crunched beneath their shoes and the silver of the full moon bathed the park in a mystical light, throwing eerie shadows over the ground; the shapes of hedges, bushes and statues suddenly looking like gnomes or monsters.

Both lost in their own thoughts, the newlyweds walked quietly side by side. Jensen let the day replay in front of his eyes; the vows, the rings, the kisses and Jared’s speech, still somewhat in awe that he was a married man now. Married to a man who had despised him a year ago. It was like in one of the fairy tales his father had told him when he was little and sometimes Jensen wondered when he’d finally wake up and realize that it was just a dream.

It was much darker in the wood, with the moonlight seeping only faintly through the canopy of the trees, but the gurgling stream helped Jensen to find his way, its song always to his left, guiding him to his destination. Once in a while, Jensen would take a sideways look at his husband, who smiled softly, knowingly.

Finally, they stepped onto the clearing and Jensen’s heart jumped happily. It looked beautiful, the meadow in the soft moonlight, the blossoms and blades of grass looking as if coated with a silver sheen. Torches, twice as high as the tallest blade, guided their way to the temple where Jensen had prepared a cozy bed for them. Jordan and Jason had seen to everything else; lightening the torches and candles, providing them with beverages and food.

"We’re here, hon." Jensen squeezed his hand. "You can open your eyes now."

"Mmm," Jared hummed contentedly, keeping his eyes closed. "I know where we are. I can feel and hear and smell it. Close your eyes, too, baby. Share it with me."

Jensen closed his eyes. He felt Jared’s warmth next to him, his fingers playing with his own, and so much more. The mild breeze rustling through the trees and kissing their faces, an owl hooting, another answering, the stream’s merry tune and the resiny fragrance of wood mixing with the sweet scent of flowers.

"Thanks for bringing me here, Jen," Jared said eventually. Jensen opened his eyes, looking into Jared’s. "It’s beautiful. Almost enchanted. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else tonight."

***

They were kneeling on the soft mattress Jensen had brought to the temple, the dancing flames of the torches casting their surroundings in a golden glow, throwing odd shapes across the ancient stones and drawing moths that excitedly fluttered around the light. Jensen though only had eyes for his husband; for those fingers that loosened his tie and for those lips that came to steal a kiss once in a while. His own fingers were playing with Jared’s belt and zipper, cupping Jared’s already half-hard member once he had pushed down his pants. He loved to touch Jared, to feel the heat of his cock and the heaviness of his balls, to see and hear what a simple movement or a little squeeze could do to him.

A moan filled his ear, followed by a plea and he dived down, nuzzling his face in Jared’s privates while catching his cock with his lips and his balls with his fingers.

Jared’s fingers glided over his body, from the buttons of Jensen’s shirt he had reverently started to open up to his shoulders, grabbing the jacket as Jensen started to work Jared through and awkwardly peeling it off before roaming his fingers over Jensen’s neck and back. The heat of Jared’s hands seeped right through the thin material, additionally stimulating Jensen, though it was only a good feeling in the background, with his main focus being on getting his husband off.

Tongue and lips danced over Jared’s cock, fingers rubbed over pubic hair and balls and finally over Jared’s entrance, gently dipping inside the tight ring of muscles. Guttural sounds escaped Jared and when Jensen moved his index finger in a little further, very carefully because it wasn’t lubed, Jared came, his body jerking and his fingers digging into Jensen’s back.

As if he was drinking from the sweetest well, Jensen took every precious drop in, his heart beating heavily and sounds of pleasure escaping his throat. Only once Jared was limp in his mouth did Jensen let go with a last kiss, shuddering and moaning deeply as he finally came, too.

With love in his eyes, Jared looked down at him, waiting to pay for his bliss with a kiss. It was hard and greedy, with Jared hungrily licking the remains of his own cum away from Jensen’s gums. His hands were now roaming over Jensen’s back and sides again, creeping beneath the waistband of his pants and gently running down his happy trail, promising of what Jensen would get if they just hurried up to get rid of the damn clothes.

Their mouths moved away from the other’s, over jaw, cheek and neck and finally, Jared started to free Jensen, fiddling at his belt and zipper. Pushing his pants and boxers down, Jared released a cock that was smeared with tasty looking cum, limp but already eager for more, reacting with interest when Jared ghosted the tip of his tongue over it.

Unfortunately or luckily - Jensen wasn’t quite sure of it - Jared had other, bigger things in mind. He pushed him into the mattress, opened his shoelaces with deft fingers and finally tugged the dress pants off completely, while Jensen deftly unbuttoned Jared’s shirt. From time to time, he would reward himself, pulling Jared closer and moving his lips over a slightly scratchy jaw only to catch his mouth in the end, sucking it in for a hungry kiss.

Finally, the shirt was open, revealing Jared’s beautifully sculptured torso. Getting rid of Jared’s shirt and jacket couldn’t happen fast enough now, and feverishly, Jensen tugged at the clothes until they were finally gone, landing in a dusty corner. Appreciatively, Jensen looked at his husband, trailing his fingers over the defined shapes of his chest and tweaking his nipples gently. Lips and tongue followed the fingers, tasting, nibbling and sucking, eliciting a variety of sounds from Jared, a mixture of laughs, sighs and moans.

Only when Jensen came further south did he notice that Jared’s pants were still awkwardly hanging around his ankles and he deftly helped him out of his shoes and pants, finally having Jared in all his beauty, smiling happily at the sight. "Beautiful," Jensen murmured, touching random spots of skin; a knee, a thigh, his hip, before cupping Jared’s cock, caressing it just a little.

The rhythm of Jared’s breathing quickened. "Shit," he sighed, his fingers moving impatiently over Jensen’s shirt, ripping greedily at the buttons until at long last Jared had full access to Jensen’s torso. In an instant the shirt was gone, joining the untidy heap of clothes. Jared grinned with satisfaction, his look appreciative and fond, causing Jensen’s heart to pound faster and those never quiet butterflies in his belly to quicken their flap.

Jared was hovering above him now. They kissed again and blindly, Jensen felt for the lube he had placed somewhere close to the mattress, grunting happily once his fingers curled around it. He pushed it into Jared’s palm, receiving a broad, dimpled smirk in return as Jared regretfully released Jensen’s lips and shifted just a little for Jensen to prepare him.

Quickly, the little jar was open and Jensen’s finger was covered with the slimy substance. Jensen then paid attention to his special someone’s hard cock, coating it with the lube carefully, Jared’s eyes closed in bliss while Jensen was caressing his member. Only when Jensen was satisfied did he let go, leaning back into the pillows and letting Jared take the upper hand.

Hungry for what was to come now, Jensen watched how Jared dipped his index and middle finger into the lube before sliding them from cock to hole, caressing the area around it gently before penetrating with his shorter index finger. Jensen took in a sharp breath, like always blown away by the sensation of feeling Jared’s finger inside him, of how his muscles encased him and his husband moved back and forth, pressing exactly the right spots to send him to space. "Jay," Jensen whimpered, getting a salacious laugh and a second finger in return which just strengthened Jensen’s need.

"I know you like this, baby," Jared puffed out, kissing a random spot on his belly, his free hand stroking the inside of Jensen’s thighs. "And I know you want more, huh?"

Jensen not only wanted more, he needed more. More from his better half than just two fingers, a stroke of his hand or a little peck on his tummy. "Everything," Jensen groaned as Jared stimulated the bundle of nerves inside him. "Now."

"Bossy." He licked the inside of Jensen’s thighs. "That’s hot, baby." Jared’s tongue wrapped around his cock, sending a wave of heat through Jensen’s body. "But I like when you’re hot, Jen."

Then, Jared brought them into the right position to fuck Jensen with more than his fingers and finally the tip of Jared’s rock-hard cock was sliding over his hole teasingly before Jared pressed himself in. A hiss, a mixture of pain and pure pleasure, escaped Jensen’s throat and like always, Jensen was totally overwhelmed with the emotions that came with this act and with the sensation of having Jared inside him. He filled him up completely; was so big and hard as he buried himself deeper and deeper, with Jared’s fingers clawing into Jensen’s waist and Jensen’s own hands an uncoordinated mess roaming over Jared’s back and hips.

His breathing quickened with the pace of Jared’s movement, just like his husband’s own panting, sounding very loud in Jensen’s ear. Heat collected in his loins and Jared pushed himself deeper and deeper until Jensen had forgotten almost everything but his need, lust and love for the man who was doing this to him. His body jerked and Jensen came even before Jared lost his own load inside Jensen, releasing a long, shaky cry.

Their eyes met and for a while, they looked at each other, their fingers now moving in gentle patterns over the other man’s body. Only after a while did Jared pull out his now limp member, leaving a feeling of loss inside Jensen he could only compensate by curling his hand around Jared’s and pulling him closer. "Breathtaking," Jensen whispered before kissing Jared soft and gentle. "Simply breathtaking."

Suddenly, Jensen felt the fatigue in his bones and the excitement of the day slowly melting away, leaving him the happiest he had ever been but very tired. He already felt his eyes shutting closed but forced himself to open them again, just to see Jared a little longer. Admire the smile on his lips and the dimples on his cheeks, the rise and fall of his godly chest, the sheen of sweat that covered it now, gluing the fine hair against Jared’s skin. The limp cock, fringed by dark, curly hair and those heavy balls. So much beauty in 6.4" of flesh and bones. So much love.

Blindly, Jensen felt for the blanket that was somewhere, pulling it over them once he had finally found it. Jared took the invitation, snuggling even closer, holding Jensen snug against him and they fit so perfectly, with zero space between them. Warmth encased Jensen and it pulled him over the threshold of sleep real fast, but he couldn’t let go, not before he had told Jared one last time today. "Love you, Jay," he murmured, nuzzling his head against Jared’s chest and kissing the place over his heart.

"Love you, too, Jen." A hand combed through his hair gently and lips touched his forehead. "Forever."

 

20

Soft piano music sounded through their apartment as Jared entered it and it worked like balm on his soul after the long day and the unpleasant argument with his stubborn father. Jared couldn’t understand why Jerald was like this; clinging onto hundreds of years old rules and habits instead of guiding their world and government into a new, more modern age. For the time being though, it was all forgotten and Jared was drawn to his husband in the music room where he sat down on the soft sofa and watched Jensen fondly.

A while ago, Jared had learned to appreciate Jensen’s music and he liked to watch him play; liked how those long, deft, gentle fingers moved over the ivory keys, sometimes slow, sometimes swift, creating pure emotions; happiness, sadness, excitement or danger. It was amazing to listen to Jensen’s piano pieces, not only simple music, but also tales about love and adventures.

Jensen was lost in his music, sitting on the stool with half-closed eyes, maybe even unaware of Jared and after a while, Jared leaned back on the sofa and closed his eyes, letting the tunes wash over him. He must have fallen asleep or at least into a sort of daze because only when Jensen kissed him gently did Jared slowly come back to reality where his father’s behavior even overshadowed the love and kindness in his better half’s green eyes.

"Hey baby," Jensen said, rubbing his arm up and down Jared’s arm. "You look sad. It didn’t go too well, huh?"

"Understatement," Jared noted, wrapping his arms around Jensen and pulling him onto the couch. He needed this now, Jensen in his arms and a warm body to lean on. "Didn’t want to listen. 'Janusday has been celebrated like this for hundreds of years, Son'", Jared mocked his father’s voice. "'You can’t just change it. It’s about the pride of our family and our world, not the circus you suggest.'" Jared sighed in frustration.

"So, he’s not going to think about any of our suggestions? No feeding of the poor? No big open air concert for free and something fun for the kids?"

"Nope. Parade and speech, like always. He babbled about all that 'we need to show how strong we are' shit, not seeing that this is exactly the wrong signal to give. He really underestimates "Freedom for Heaven", Jen. Underestimates that they’re gathering more and more followers and that sooner or later, they will be a real threat. He doesn’t see that converging to their ideas very slowly is what we need for a peaceful Heaven. All he’s fixated on is power for the Padaleckis and the stupid rules dear old Janus wrote down." In moments like this, when Jared was taken away by his new values, talking with abandon about what was happening in their world, he was surprised how much his view had changed. He had been raised in the belief that Janus’ ideals and the laws based on them were just and right, but a couple of years of blows of fate and ordeals had been enough for Jared to see differently. His once shy and worldly innocent husband had done a great deal, too, with giving him a nudge in the right direction and seeing to Jared becoming independent-minded.

Looking at the man who had changed Jared so much and made him a better man, Jared noticed that Jensen was biting on his lips nervously, avoiding eye-contact.

"Jen? Something wrong?" Jared touched his better half’s face gently.

"Some high up member from "Freedom for Heaven" got in touch with me." Jensen’s voice had shifted into a mere whisper.

Jared took in a sharp breath. If someone found out, Jensen would probably be sentenced to a life-long sentence on Peklo. "They want to talk. About democracy. Elections. The same rights for everyone. How it used to be before Janus."

Jared furrowed his brow. How did they know? "How.."

"They have old records. Don’t ask me how they found them, but it’s all written down there, about the beauty of Heaven. How the world prospered and how no one died of hunger. How peaceful it was. It sounds like paradise."

Jared snorted. He thoroughly doubted that it had been perfect, otherwise his ancestor wouldn’t have had the need to change things, would he?

"Yeah, I know," Jensen continued. "Sounds too good to be true and I actually think they’re exaggerating a little, but fact is, a lot of people want co-determination. They want to have a say about who rules the world or, most of all, how it is ruled, Jared. That’s why Freedom is gaining so many followers."

An uneasy feeling knotted Jared’s gut. All that talk worried him deeply and he knew he and most of all Jensen were walking on a thin line here. It stank of treason and conspiracy just too much for Jared to feel comfortable with, although he wasn’t even adverse to Freedom’s ideas. "How do you know all this stuff, Jensen? You’re not -"

"I’m not betraying you, Jay," Jensen said gently, his green eyes meeting Jared’s. "I’m not a member of their group. I’m on your side and I have these contacts because I honestly believe a sort of cooperation would be good for Heaven. I know you don’t see it yet because it should have been Jeffrey and you weren’t trained, but you’re a good leader, Jared. You could lead Heaven to a bright future, a fair future, and a lot of people high up in Freedom see it, too. That’s why they want to talk."

It was quiet between them for a while, with Jared trying hard to collect his thoughts and somehow process what he had just heard and Jensen just looking at him fondly. "Who’s your source, Jen?" Jared whispered.

His husband hesitated for a moment, as if he wasn’t sure if he should trust Jared with this knowledge. "It’s Jordan and Jason, sweetie," he then said softly.

Jared’s heart skipped a beat. Two of his best friends... But when he thought about it, it made sense. That was why Jason had helped him with Sandy. "Why?" He felt betrayed and disappointed and he couldn’t even say why. Maybe because his dad had always been good to his friends, maybe because of all the nights they had spent here when they were kids and because he had trusted them unconditionally.

"Because they love you, honey," Jensen said empathically. "They think a great deal about you and they want to support you. In a way, they’re not so different from us." Jensen moistened his lips. "They see the need for changes and reform, like we do, too. They just took another road. Most members of Freedom are not prepared to use violence, Jay. They want peace, not war. That’s why Jordan and Jason joined them."

Jared was dumbstruck. What was he supposed to do now?

"They don’t expect an answer straight away, Jay," Jensen answered his question without even hearing it. "They know it’s a big step. And they want nothing but to talk. You and me, Jason, Jordan and a woman called Carole for Freedom. No one else. They guarantee our safety, Jay."

He had always trusted Jordan. Shit, he had known him since pre-school and he had never really disappointed him. Even now, his frustration slowly melted away. "I want to think about it and sleep on it, but I think I’m going to do it, Jen. For all our futures."

***

Again and again, Jared looked over his shoulder, making sure that they weren’t followed as he and Jensen were riding through Janusburgh Forest on what seemed to be nothing other than a joyful horseback ride on a sunny but cold winter afternoon. The appearance wasn’t what it seemed, though; they had just left the little cabin that belonged to Jordan’s family where they had talked for over two hours with Freedom’s delegates.

It had been a good talk, Jared had to admit. Positive, almost friendly. Mostly, Carole, a woman in her thirties, had talked, with Jared and Jensen listening carefully, once in a while throwing in their opinions or questions. Jared had soon understood that Freedom really didn’t want world domination or to overthrow everything most of Heaven’s society believed in from one day to the next. They just wanted more justice - especially for those who were different. Jared’s past with Sandy helped him to understand, to actually support that wish. They all had agreed it was a delicate matter, something they had to handle with instinct, something which mustn’t be rushed. It couldn’t be done from one day to the next; it would mean chaos. But something had to be done soon and fast to keep the peace, so in the end Carole had suggested to file an official request for an audience with the President, and Jared had promised her to help convince his father to listen.

"Relax," Jensen said gently, controlling Mystique, "It’s all good. Just listen." He stopped the mare and after a moment of hesitation, Jared followed suit, listening carefully. There really was nothing but the silence of a forest in winter, their horses’ snorts, and a bird hopping from fir branch to fir branch, causing the snow to fall like powder.

"I understand you’re torn, Jay. That this is very difficult for you, sort of making a pact with them, but it’s the right to do, for all of us."

Jared knew this. Still, it felt like betraying his father and the ways he was raised in, the rules he had learned as a kid. "It’s just hard, you know," Jared said, clicking his tongue to make Brutus walk again. "I grew up with the legacy of Janus hovering above everything. No one ever questioned it. It was just our world. And now I’ve been listening to ideas like joint schools for boys and girls and kids growing up with both their parents and giving our people the freedom to choose if they want to be with men or women. That’s a big thing."

"It will be for all of us," Jensen noted. "But we won’t force anyone. If a couple doesn’t want to send their boy to a school with girls, fine. If a mother doesn’t want her girl to see his dad before the age of 21, it’s her decision. But we give them the choice, Jared, and that what it’s all about."

Jared nodded thoughtfully before smiling at Jensen, feeling a weird sensation wash over him. It was pride. Pride for his husband. Of how Jensen had developed from the shy, nerdy guy who had not known or given a damn about anything in the world other than his piano music, into that supportive, almost wise man, who cared so much. Not only for Heaven, but most of all, for Jared himself. Who enriched his life with laughter and music; who had learned to ride and swim. "You’re really an extraordinary man, Jensen," Jared said fondly, feeling warmth in every inch of his body, caused by his love for his husband. "The best man I know. I really don’t know where I would be without you."

A flush crept into Jensen’s cheeks and he swallowed hard. He reached out his hand and Jared took it, squeezing the fingers protected by warm gloves. "You made me the way I am today, Jared. Everything I am, I am because of you."

***

His father was fuming. The letter Carole had written to ask for an audience was nothing but a crumpled-up ball of paper in the President’s fist and his eyes were sharp and cold like a blade. "How dare they!" he growled, banging his fist against the big oak desk that dominated his generous office. "How dare these criminals," he spat out the word, "ask for a meeting to discuss the future of Heaven." Another bang followed Jerald’s words. "I decide the future of Heaven. I and no one else!"

For the moment, Jared didn’t say anything. He let his father rave, poured a shot of exquisite liquor for both of them and handed one to the older man. "Can I read this?" he pointed at the paper that was still tightly clenched in his father’s grasp.

"It’s neither worth the paper it’s been written on," Jerald barked, "nor our precious time." Despite his words, his father then pushed it into Jared’s open hand.

Jared sat down on the leather sofa, smoothing the paper and taking a sip of the whiskey before reading Carole’s letter with what he hoped was a look of indifference. It was short, not even a page, and Jared read it a second time before putting it into his lap. As he looked up to his father, Jared saw that he was watching him with curiosity, his face now a little calmer, the alcohol having done its job.

He moistened his lips. How to best start this conversation? How could he make his father see that meeting Carole would not do him any harm?

"Spit it out, boy," Jerald prompted his son. "Just say what’s running through that revolutionary mind of yours."

"I’m no revolutionary," Jared said calmly. "I only want the best for our world and our people, Dad, just like you do." Jerald snorted, but he didn’t interrupt Jared. "Just like those people from Freedom for Heaven do," Jared added emphatically. "If you ask me, you should invite this," he had a look at the letter, pretending not to remember Carole’s name, "Carole over. On your conditions. Listen to her. It can’t hurt." Jared paused for a moment. "To be honest, we can’t afford not to listen to her. If the latest reports from your spies are correct, Freedom for Heaven is stronger than ever before. I’d rather change things as long as matters are still in our hands, Father, before losing power or being forced to act on their conditions."

"You really think that, Son? After everything we Padalecki’s created in almost a millennium. You think we should sit down and talk to a bunch of crazy guys who want to change the world?"

Jared didn’t answer the question, but returned it with one of his own. "What do you want, Father? Power for our family? Or peace on Heaven and our people content?" Jerald stared at him. "Because, let’s be honest here, Dad. Right now, our power is crumbling, peace is in danger and, since Freedom gathers new followers every day, it seems that a lot of people on Heaven are far from content. If you want to stay President, Father, if you want me to follow in your footsteps and not some woman named Carole Something, you really should talk to them." Jared emptied the remaining drink in one gulp. "Please Dad, just think about it."

***

Jerald Padalecki thought about it long and hard and after countless debates with his advisers, his ministers and with Jared, he jumped over his own shadow and agreed to see Carole. Jared knew, it had cost his father a great deal of pride to give in, yet he actually had never been prouder of him. In spite of some resistance from his ministers, Jerald had made his decision and Jared was sure it was the right one.

The meeting was scheduled for the day after Janusday and after some more heated debates, Jerald had actually agreed on the feeding of the poor during the festivities. Furthermore, Jared had also convinced his father of mentioning their plans for some reforms in his Janusday speech. Not much, just a little hint that they were thinking about changes.

Jordan had also told him that most people in the Freedom leadership seemed satisfied with the positive vibes they had gotten from the President and most of all, from Jared himself, and Jared was hopeful that together they could find a way leading to a new, better Heaven.

 

21

"Try to look as if you enjoy it," Jensen whispered as he looked into the facade of displeasure that was his husband’s face. "Even though you hate it, baby. People expect you to look happy, or at least not as miserable as sin."

Jared harrumphed, putting a fake smile on his face. "Better?" he grit out between thin lips.

Jensen laughed. "Not really sweetheart, but we’ll get to it," Jensen promised, sneaking his arm around his better half’s waist and squeezing gently. It put a real smile on Jared’s lips. "Aww, there we are," Jensen exclaimed. "That’s how I and the whole of Heaven wants to see you."

They were standing in front of Janusburgh Palace, a cold wind biting their cheeks, waiting to climb into their horse drawn carriages for the Janusday parade. Jensen didn’t really blame his husband for his grumpy expression. He wasn’t too happy about the whole fuss, either. Not only was it freezing cold, with not even their warm clothes enough to keep the frost from seeping into their skin, but it was the whole stupid parade itself that bothered Jensen. Celebrating the birthday of a man who had brought such questionable laws to Heaven seemed just wrong. Yet, it was expected of him and Jared and like then, when they had bearded, they would pretend.

Finally, the four-in-hand carriage was pulled in and they climbed in, sitting as close together as possible and wrapping their legs into the black blankets a servant handed them. "I hope my balls don’t freeze off," Jared shuddered, blowing warm air into his cold hands. Jensen took them in his own, rubbing the fingers gently. "I hope so, too, honey. Would miss your balls like hell."

"I’d thought so." Jared smirked broadly, leaning in for a kiss that Jensen took gladly. Jared’s cheeks were ice-cold, but his breath was warm on Jensen’s own skin, chasing a bit of the cold away, and drinking from it felt like drinking the hottest beverage ever.

"Mmm," Jensen sighed. "Nice." He couldn’t get enough of kissing Jared. It always was a new experience, causing such good feelings and so much warmth inside.

They only stopped kissing when the carriage began to move. "You know," Jared said quietly, just to make sure that the coachman didn’t catch a word, "when I was a kid, I loved Janusday. My brother and I would sit in this carriage and wave and from afar, I caught a glimpse of my mom and sister, even though I didn’t know them. It made me so proud to be a Padalecki, the son of the President, offspring of the most important house on Heaven. Now though," Jared sighed, pursing his lips.

"You can still be proud of who you are, Jay," Jensen said gently, feeling sorry for the burden Jared had to carry. "You’re a good man. Not one bit like Janus or some of your more cruel ancestors. You know the difference between right or wrong and I’m sure you will be the best Padalecki President the world has ever seen."

Jared smiled gratefully. It was real, not fake, and it stayed on his lips as the carriage was driven down the hill and through the roads of Janusburgh, lined with crowds of people on both sides, in spite of the cold. They cheered when Jared and Jensen drove by, much louder and genuine than for Jared’s father, and it made Jensen happy. They believed in them. "Hear? They’re cheering for you, Jay." Jensen leaned close to whisper into his husband’s ear. "They trust you. They know you’ll lead them into a better future. So," Jensen turned away from Jared, waving a little, receiving even louder cheers, "give them some love back, honey. Smile and wave."

And Jared did smile until the carriages stopped at the Place of Freedom. It was dominated by a huge ugly stone statue of Janus, built by himself, decorated with flowers from all over the world. There was a podium with a speaker’s desk and the ministers had already assembled there, waiting stiff and still for the President and his family to join them. On the left side, Jensen spotted Jared’s mother and a young woman who must be Jared’s sister Megan. She wasn’t of age yet and therefore, they had never talked to her.

Jensen wondered how that must be. His own sister was not his father’s, but his father’s late husband’s daughter and it was different with no blood connection at all, but Jared and Megan shared both parents - something that was unusual enough on Heaven. Still, they had never spoken a word. This was what Janus had done to their world. This and Sandy and countless other crazy things.

A gentle touch ripped Jensen out of his thoughts. "Time to move, Jen," Jared pressed out between almost closed lips. They weren’t expected to talk. Jensen nodded, taking his husband’s hand and, head held high and eyes straight ahead, walked stiffly towards the platform.

Jerald had already taken his place behind the speaker’s desk, his husband a step behind him, Jared and Jensen on the same level, like Jared’s mom and his sister, but a step away. The crowd in front of them was huge, one big sea of people, pressed closely together, men right and women left, separated by iron security bars.

Jensen let his eyes glide over the first few rows, watching the people during the President’s speech, seeing their reaction as Jerald spoke about the Great Janus and his legacy, about being proud of who they were, but also about progress and that maybe the time was right for some changes. This statement caused excitement and whispers that soon rose to a considerable noise level, with people talking with each other, probably wondering what that meant.

The President had paused his speech, waiting until the attention was back to him, and that was when Jensen spotted him. A guy, wearing black from head to toe, with even his eyes hidden behind shades, despite the cold and the clouds that hid the sun. Somehow, Jensen didn’t like that. At all. He was standing in the first row, pretty much at the same height as Jared’s mom, one hand in his pocket, the other tightly pressed into a fist. Jensen could not see much of his face, but his lips were pressed into a thin line and his whole posture was that of pure concentration.

It happened in the glimpse of an eye. One moment, the man was standing in the row like the others, in the next he had somehow managed to jump over the security barrier, throwing something towards the podium. Jensen reacted instantly, knocking Jared onto the floor and shielding him with his body the moment the bomb detonated. There was an earth-shattering explosion, unbelievable heat that penetrated his winter clothes, a blast that pushed him into the shaking platform and the most anguished pain Jensen had ever felt in his life, making the pain from his broken wrist feel like a pony ride. Then, everything went black.

***

Jensen was dying. He was sure of it. There was so much pain, all-consuming, as if someone had ripped his heart out, a white light, leading to Paradise, and bells ringing. He was sure there were touches, too, hands that caressed his burning skin, but the soft touch couldn’t chase the pain away and eventually, both faded into nothingness. A weird state of quietness and peace, where Jensen felt nothing. No pain, no joy, not even love for Jared, though he loved no one as much as him. That was why he had died protecting him. But now, that was gone too. Everything was gone. It was as if he was back in his mother’s womb where it was neither warm nor cold and where he had nothing to worry about because he was absolutely safe.

***

Slowly, Jensen came back. There still was darkness, but there were other sensations. Pain throbbing through his body; a weird sound in his ears; a bad taste in his mouth. There were voices, too, and something soft wrapped around his fingers. That was good, Jensen thought. It meant they were still there, his fingers. He needed them to play the piano, to caress Jared and to hold him tight.

Jared. He hoped he was fine. "Jared." Was that caw really his voice?

"I’m here, baby." A sniff. If Jared was crying, it must be bad. Jared only cried when really bad things happened. Weirdly, Jensen didn’t really remember what had happened. Car accident? House fire? He remembered heat where none should have been because it had been so cold. There had been so many people, cheering at them. Why had they been cheering?

"What happened?" Jensen pressed out, carefully opening his eyes. Darkness became grayness and then turned into brightness which caused Jensen to shut his eyes again, it being just too painful for his hurting body.

"Assassination."

He felt Jared’s hand shaking in his. It must have been bad, but Jensen’s only concern in his dazed mind was for his better half. "You okay?"

A sob. "Not a scratch, baby. You saved me."

Relief washed through Jensen. Jared was good. That was the most important thing in the world. Now he knew this, he could sleep again. He was tired. So tired. "Sleep," Jensen murmured and it dragged him in, even before Jared’s answer reached his ears.

***

Waking the second time was much better. A warm body was pressed against his and after squinting his eyes for a while, the brightness of the room didn’t hurt too much. Without his contacts or glasses, Jensen’s sight was blurred, but it was enough to see the most important thing. Jared was there, having squeezed himself between Jensen and the rails of the hospital bed, sleeping peacefully, the deep lines of worry on his face a little smoother.

The pain though was still there, thrumming through Jensen’s body, strengthening with every breath he took until he couldn’t hold back a groan.

It woke his better half in an instant. "Jen?"

"Hurts," Jensen breathed out, even though he still didn’t know what hurt. What had happened to him? The memories slowly came back then, blurred but there; of the parade and Jerald’s speech and that suspicious-looking, black clad guy who had thrown something at them, something that had exploded with a breathtaking blast.

"Let me call the nurse." To Jensen’s regret, Jared got up, pressed a button on what looked like a remote control and sat down on the chair beside Jensen’s bed.

"Anything else you need? Water maybe?"

Jensen nodded. His throat was still so dry and scratchy. "Drink, but take your time," Jared advised as he gently pushed a straw between Jensen’s lips. It was cool and wonderful, easing at least the uncomfortable feeling in Jensen’s throat a little and after he had finished half the glass, the nurse came.

"Hello Mr. Ackles, it’s good to have you back. I’m Desmond, your night nurse. I’ll inject you with some morphine. Works quick, but it will make you sleepy again. But that’s what you need, Sir. Lots of sleep to recuperate."

Desmond was gone as fast as he had arrived, leaving the lovers alone again, Jensen still a little dazed but feeling better as the medicine kicked in quickly. "What happened to me, Jay?”

"Jen - "

"Please, Jay. I need to know." Lying completely flat on his back, Jensen didn’t see much of his own body, not even his hands. "Are my hands," Jensen moistened his chapped lips, "are they still there?"

Jared sniffed. "They are, sweetie. No harm done to your fingers." As if to prove Jensen, Jared touched each gently, counting them, from one to five, first on his right, than on his left hand.

"That’s good. I need my fingers, Jay," Jensen noted tiredly. "Need them." He listened to his body but the pain seemed to be everywhere and there was no way to locate it. "Where am I hurt, Jay?"

"It was a bomb, Jen. There were shards everywhere, of the bomb itself and the podium. You got a good deal of them, baby. Mainly smaller ones, but two -" Jared was shaking. "A real big one hit your left leg, Jen. It’s -" He sniffed. "They could save it, Jen, but it was a close call."

"As long as I can use it to dance with you once in a while, Jay, I’ll be fine," Jensen said tiredly. "The other shard?"

"Hit your kidney. They had to remove it." A tear ran down Jared’s cheek. Jensen reached out a weak hand to brush it away.

"Have another one," Jensen played it down, simply because he didn’t want to think about his injuries, about months of recuperation ahead of him, pain and therapy and the prospect of keeping a limp, no matter how hard he tried. He just hoped Jared would still love him then. "What happened to your dad, Jay? To Brian? Your mom and sister?"

Jared was shaking heavily and Jensen knew it was bad news. "My mom and sister are okay. Minor injuries. Brian is dead. The explosion ripped him apart. Dad," Jared swallowed heavily, "lost both his legs, lots of internal bleeding, severe head trauma. They can’t tell if he’ll survive, but if he does, he will never be the same again."

"I’m sorry, Jay, I really am." Despite Jerald Padalecki’s faults, Jensen had liked the guy. He didn’t deserve it. No one actually did. "Come back into my arms?"

Smiling sadly, Jared climbed back into the hospital bed, wrapping Jensen into his arms, giving solace and receiving just the same. "I’m so sorry this happened, baby. So very sorry."

"Me too. So many fatalities. Brian, four security guards, Minister Bradford and Cohen. And," a shiver ran through Jared’s body, "more than fifty people. The explosion caused a panic. People tried to flee and were trampled to death. So many injured. Such a tragedy." Another tear ran down Jared’s face.

Jensen was speechless. So much grief and pain for Heaven. So many dead. "Who’s behind it?"
He dreaded the information, dreaded it because he feared it was Carole and her group, but he had to know.

"Yeah, that’s ironic. We always thought that if something like this happens, Freedom would be behind it. But they aren’t. Carole had an open letter printed in every newspaper after the assassination, condemning it in strong terms. It was Minister Bradford. Police caught the assassin and eventually he talked. Seems like Bradford didn’t want Dad to talk to Freedom."

"Oh shit," Jensen breathed out. "I’m sorry, I -"

"Hey, not your fault, baby. Not mine, either. Not even Dad’s or Freedom’s. It’s the world as it is," Jared said sadly. "Sleep now, Jensen. We’ll talk tomorrow. And every other day we still have."

 

22

Jerald Padalecki didn’t die, but he didn’t wake up from the coma either, and when days turned into a month, the doctors didn’t give Jared hope any longer. Even if his father did wake up, which was unlikely, he would be a nursing case for the rest of his life, unable to rule Heaven. One month after the assassination, a committee of half a dozen doctors declared Jared’s father unfit to fulfill his duties and after a period of mourning of 40 days, Jared would become President. The thought scared him. He was not even 25 years old and despite Jensen’s words, he sometimes wondered if he would be the just President Heaven so desperately needed.

Jensen, on the other hand, bounced back surprisingly fast. Sometimes, Jared suspected his better half downplayed his pain just to prevent Jared from worrying too much, but even the doctors were surprised at how well Jensen was healing. Three weeks after the incident, Jared could finally take Jensen home. He was still weak, tiring fast, and on strong pain meds for the mending bones, muscles and sinews in his leg, but Jensen was strong, too; not complaining once, gritting his teeth, actually more concerned about Jared than about himself.

As a matter of fact, they were both down and out. Sometimes, Jared was shocked when he looked into the mirror after a night of scarcely any sleep, with government affairs keeping him awake until late after midnight and dark nightmares about the explosion doing the rest. Dark shadows loomed under Jared’s eyes, fresh lines of worry joined the old ones and it had been a while since Jared’s laugh had boomed through the castle. He hadn’t eaten properly in days, sometimes nothing more than a milkshake and a chocolate bar or a sandwich one of his father’s secretaries brought him. If he had not been so busy, Jared would have been worried about it, but there simply was no time.

He heard Jensen before he saw him, the prominent squeal of the wheelchair he had to use for the time being heralding his appearance. Jensen was alone. Jared had assigned one of the staff to stay around Jensen in case he needed any help, especially if he needed to move around the palace, the miles of hallways just too exhausting for Jensen to cross in the wheelchair, but it looked as if his better half had gotten rid of his assistant. "Jen, what -" The look in his husband’s face silenced him.

"Please come to bed, Jay," Jensen said quietly, almost sadly. Drops of perspiration were glistening on his forehead and he was breathing harder than usual, the ride in the wheelchair having robbed him of most his strength. "It’s almost midnight, baby."

Jared took in a surprised breath. It had not even been 9 pm when he had sent Secretary Lewis home; it couldn’t be almost midnight yet. But when Jared threw a glance at his watch he noticed that Jensen was right. It was 11.51. "I can’t, Jensen," Jared said, repressing a yawn because he was so tired. "There’s still so much to do. There is a report to read about the inspection of Vete Prison Camp, a letter from Carole to answer and this speech to prepare. I need -"

"You need to sleep, Jared," Jensen said softly. "Heaven needs a healthy President when you’re appointed in a couple of weeks. Not someone who worked himself to death even before that happens."

Jared sighed. He knew Jensen was right. He knew he needed sleep and something in his belly, maybe a hot bath and a massage, a kiss, eventually a blow job or a good fuck, but there was so much to do. There was no time to sleep. "I -"

"Don’t you dare object, Jared Padalecki," Jensen told Jared off. "Don’t you dare tell me that you don’t have time to sleep. There should always be time for sleep and for a bit of cuddling with your husband. I miss you, sweetie." Jensen sounded unusually accusing. "Most of all, I’m worried about you."

"But work," Jared tried to object halfheartedly, but already feeling his resistance melting away.

"You need to delegate. Distribute duties. I can read the report tomorrow, Jared. I might be restricted to this thing right now for most of the time, but I’m not stupid." Frustration was vibrating in Jensen’s voice. "Please let me help to carry your burden and not be your burden, Jay."

His husband’s words burned like a deep cut. "You’re no burden, Jen." Jared finally got up, switching off his desk lamp. "You’ll never be a burden to me." He moved over to Jensen, leaning down to kiss his forehead.

"So you’ll come home with me now?"

Jared nodded. "Let’s go home."

***

As if Jensen had known what Jared needed the most, Mikael the masseur was waiting for Jared. With deft fingers, he kneaded his stone hard muscles, slowly loosening the worst of the tension while Jensen prepared him a bath.

When Mikael was done after twenty minutes, Jared gladly climbed into the tub. Warmth encased him at once, chasing more of the strain away. Jared closed his eyes, leaning back and feeling Jensen’s hand on his head after a while. He was sitting on the rim of the tub, quietly caressing Jared. Only now, as Jared had this closeness again, did he notice how much he had missed it since his husband had been released from hospital and Jared had buried himself in work. He couldn’t remember the last time they had actually held each other properly or had shared more than a quick peck on the mouth or cheek. Or the last time Jared had asked Jensen about his leg and the huge scar where they had removed his injured kidney.

Shame washed over Jared. He should be caring for Jensen, but he also had to care for his world. "How’s your leg, honey?" Jared asked, feeling for the hand that was stroking over his shoulder and squeezing it.

"Hurting but healing," Jensen said quietly. "I manage, Jay. I’m more worried about you." Gently, Jensen started to rub a soft washcloth over Jared’s back. "You work too much and you don’t eat and drink enough. I know you barely sleep. You risk your health, Jay. Please treat yourself to a break once in a while and let me help with your duties. I’m your husband. And I want to be a very good First Husband, once you’re appointed, Jay."

"You’re a very good husband, Jen," Jared said, finally opening his eyes and looking into Jensen’s worried features. "The best I could have wished for."

A smile lit Jensen’s face up a little. He didn’t say anything, just took the bottle of shampoo, squeezing a bit into his palm and massaging Jared’s scalp. It was heavenly, the way Jensen’s fingers danced over his head, stroking and pressing, scratching and rubbing, and soft moans escaped Jared’s throat. A part of Jared wanted it to never end, even though he knew that Jensen could do so much more and better things than washing his hair, but of course, it ended too soon, with Jensen rinsing out his hair deliberately.

"Thank you, baby," Jared whispered, feeling relaxed and clean again. "How about you warm the bed? I’ll be with you in five."

"Sure."

Jared watched his special someone sliding back into the wheelchair, carefully moving out of the door and over to their bed. It hurt seeing Jensen like this, but Jared knew his husband had been lucky. Jensen could have died. Actually, he sort of had, with his heart stopping once during surgery. He could have lost his leg, but he had kept it and eventually, he would walk again. Maybe not hours and hours of uphill climbs, but the doctor had said the leg should be fit for normal use. And all this had happened for Jared. If it had not been for Jensen’s fast reaction and protection, Jared would have been dead - he was quite sure of it.

He climbed out of the tub, toweled himself off thoroughly, brushed his teeth for long minutes and finally left the bathroom. The lights in their bedroom were dimmed. There was only the fire dancing in the fireplace, emitting enough warmth in the cold winter night, and a single lamp lit on the side of Jared’s nightstand. Jensen had already snuggled into the cushions, the wheelchair standing beside his side of the bed. His eyes were half-closed, as if he was already dozing, but when Jared climbed onto the mattress and slid close, he opened them a little more.

"I set the alarm clock for 8, Jay. No back talk," Jensen demanded gently. "We both need the sleep. The only thing you’re allowed to do till tomorrow morning is to sleep and to hold me."

"Sounds good," Jared murmured, already feeling the tiredness claiming his consciousness. He switched off the light, sliding as close to Jensen as possible without hurting his sore torso and bad leg, and wrapping his arm around his husband’s waist. Warm lips ghosted over his, slowly lulling him in.

"Good night, baby," Jensen said. "Sleep tight."

And Jared did.

***

It was a good speech, Jared thought as he read it once again. An inaugural that would probably go down in history. It told of changes and reforms, most of all though, it told of letting the nation decide. It was groundbreaking, allowing the people of Heaven to affect their and their children’s future.

It had been Jensen’s idea. Not because Jared was indecisive, quite the contrary, but because they had both understood that they couldn’t make such earth-shattering decisions over millions of people’s head. They would include them in the decision-making procedure, starting with more general things, like the implementation of social welfare and the relaxation of their criminal laws concerning heterosexual people. It would give them the signal they needed for further reforms; if people didn’t want heterosexuals to be punished that severely - or for that matter, punished at all,
they were ready for a change.

For hundreds of years, the inauguration ceremony had been a big thing, bound to a strict protocol, but Jared had decided to show that he was for change and reform and differ from it. There would be no parade - especially since the last one ended in such a disaster - to display their strength. It would be simple, not ostentatious. He would take the vow on the main balcony of Janusburgh Palace and would then deliver his speech in the park in front of two hundred invited guests - a hundred from each continent - chosen randomly; they were of all ages and social class, with different jobs, and for the first time since the dark days of Janus, he wouldn’t separate men and women. Then there would be a ball with said guests, family and friends. Jordan and Jensen would be there, Carole, too.

"Let me do that, Jared," Jensen said as he wheeled over to where Jared was standing, struggling to tie his tie. His hands were shaking slightly and Jensen caught them, holding them in his own. He looked up to him with his beautiful green eyes, already wearing a brand new suit, fitted to hide the bandage that still protected his injured calf. "Sit down on the bed, sweetie."

Jared obeyed gladly, letting his husband tie the tie, and letting Jensen’s fingers gently glide over his chest and trace the shapes of his neck and face. "I know you’re nervous, baby," Jensen remarked softly. "It’s a big day for you. But you’ll be fine." Jensen got up and sat down on the bed, too. "A kind, just President." His arm sneaked around Jared’s shoulder and pulled him closer. "Just like you are as my husband." Jensen’s other arm wrapped around Jared, too.

It was good to lean onto Jensen, to feel his warm breath tickling his skin, to feel his safety and his cast-iron faith in him. It calmed down the nausea in Jared’s belly like medicine, just enough that Jared’s hands stopped shaking and he wouldn’t embarrass himself by puking while taking the vow. "I’ll be fine," Jared persuaded himself. "I’ll be fine."

"That’s my baby." Jensen kissed him softly. "So, let’s go, Jared. Give Heaven the President it needs."

***

"Wish I could dance with you tonight," Jensen sighed sadly as he watched the guests floating around the floor.

Jared looked at his husband, who was sitting next to him in his wheelchair, looking at the leg that prevented him from doing such things. "I wish that too, baby. But it’s just a dance. Not as important as the fact that you’re here with me. Something I’m immensely grateful for every day." They kissed, not caring one bit that there were hundreds of guests and the media. "But I hope you don’t mind if I go and dance with someone else."

Jensen furrowed his brow. It was not decent for a married man to dance with another man. "Who?"

"I’m going to ask my mother for a dance, baby. No need to be jealous." Jared winked. He knew it was a big thing, bigger even than the non-separated seats for his speech earlier. Both had caused excitement and questions, but luckily no riots or trouble. From what Jordan, who had watched every news channel in the last two hours he could find, had told him, the reactions were mainly positive. Only a few reports from smaller communities sounded more skeptical, but Jared had expected this. People in the rural areas were often bound to be more traditional.

"Wow," Jensen said. "Big thing."

"Today, maybe," Jared admitted, "but hopefully soon, not anymore."

He got up, kissing Jensen’s cheek before walking over to his mother. Megan was sitting next to her. "Hello Megan," Jared said, the young woman staring at him in disbelief. She was 19, two years away from their official introduction. "I’m Jared. It’s really good to finally meet you." He reached out his hand and heard some woman gasp in the background, but he ignored it. "Come on," Jared whispered, almost secretively, "take it. It doesn’t bite. I don’t either." Probably hoping for some guidance, Megan looked over to their mother, but she didn’t say a word, only looked at her kids, the son she barely knew and the girl she raised, with a curious look. Eventually, Megan took the offered hand. Her fingers were so small compared to Jensen’s and they disappeared completely in Jared’s palm. "I really hope we can be friends, little sister. How about you go over to Jensen? He is a little sad because he can’t dance with me and would love some company. He doesn’t bite, either."

If possible, Megan’s eyes grew even bigger and she looked over to their mother again who nodded almost imperceptibly. Slowly, the girl got up, walking over the dance floor where most people had stopped dancing and were watching this historic event. "Mother," Jared then prompted, "can I ask for this dance?" Excited whispers and surprised gasps followed Jared’s request, but he ignored it, just holding out his hand until, after a moment of hesitation, she took it.

As he guided his mother to the dance floor, he looked over to Jensen for a moment. Like everyone else, he watched them, with a sweet smile on his face, before he gave his attention back to Megan. They both were in good hands with each other, Jared was sure of it. "Jared," his mother breathed out when Jared put his hand on her waist, "what is this all about. Your father -"

"My father was a good man," Jared said as he started to dance with her, "but a little old-fashioned. Things need to change on Heaven, Sherri, if we want to survive. And that’s just the beginning. So please, Mom, dance with me. Show the world that there is no harm in dancing with your son, like Megan has shown there’s no harm in talking with her brother; that families belong together."

A smile flit over her lips. "I can do that," she said as she waltzed around the dance floor with Jared. "And I will help you, Jared. In spite of knowing the rules, in spite of growing up the traditional way, there was nothing harder than giving you and Jeffrey to your father the day after you were born."

The confession stabbed Jared like a knife. It must have been like this for every young woman who had to give their boy away. "From now on," Jared promised, "I want people to have a choice. From now on, I hope that no woman is forced to give her child away."

Sherri smiled and Jared knew he had a new ally.

 

Epilogue

"3 pm, baby," Jensen said, leaning on his cane and watching his husband sign some documents. "Time to start the weekend, man."

Jared sighed. "There’s still -"

Jensen didn’t want to hear any of it. "Whatever there is to do, I’m sure it can wait until Monday morning. Remember our deal." The night of the inauguration, when they had finally gone to bed together and Jared had tiredly curled around him, Jensen had made him promise to keep the Saturday afternoons and Sundays for themselves as long as they weren’t traveling the world or had official duties. Not quite to his senses, Jared had agreed. Now, Jared would sometimes still curse Jensen for tricking him into this, but so far he had always kept his promise. His husband was a workaholic but not unreasonable; Jared knew that he needed not only regular breaks but most of all, his private time with Jensen, and in the past few months, the weekends had seen to that.

"Every Saturday and Sunday," Jared returned boldly, though putting the document and his pen away. "You have something special in mind, baby?" Jared asked as he got up and slipped his arm around Jensen’s waist.

"Sure I have. How about a walk through the park? You could do with a bit of sun, Jay. Been sitting in this office far too often for far too long." Jensen wasn’t exactly lazy himself, dividing his time between his music and his duties; mainly managing their charity foundation, sometimes helping his husband, but unlike Jared, Jensen knew when enough was enough.

"You up for it?" Jared asked, glancing at Jensen’s leg and the cane. The question caused a weird mixture between annoyance and affection.

"It’s been six months, sweetie," Jensen said. "I’m having therapy every day. I can manage a walk. In fact, Professor Walker actually advised it. The more light exercise I do, the better for the muscles in the leg. They can’t heal if they become stunted, Jay. And I’m sure I can lean on you if things go bad."

A smile lit up Jared’s tense face. "You can always lean on me."

Jensen knew he could.

***

They strolled through the park, talking quietly and letting the sun melt a little of the tension in their bodies away. From afar, they spotted Megan who was busy cutting flowers and putting them in a basket. They paused, called and waved and she waved back, a broad smile on her lips that reminded Jensen of his husband.

He liked his sister-in-law. They had spent some time together since Jared had become President and she was a funny, clever girl who had adjusted quickly to the changes in her life. Almost daily, she and her mom would come over for family dinner, and she showed a great interest in helping with their foundation and in the reforms Jared aspired to.

The reform itself had progressed already. Just a tiny step, but an important one. The first referendum on social welfare and criminal laws had been a big success, with a heavy voter turnout and a very clear result pro reforms. At the moment, they were working on the new laws and in a few weeks, another referendum was due; the nation would decide if, from now on, they wanted to elect their President and government. Sometimes, Jensen wondered if Jared was worried about that; worried that he’d lose his appointment and the vision for a better Heaven he had in mind.

"Jay?" Jensen asked as they walked on, their hands intertwined, the gravel crunching and Jensen’s cane clicking with every step they took. "Are you worried about the referendum? The election?"

Jared looked at him thoughtfully but didn’t answer for a while, and Jensen didn’t push him. Wordlessly, they took the path that would lead them through the wood and to the meadow, a place that was so full of memories and their love, a place they’d always return to.

"I hope our people decide pro elections, Jen. And when they vote in their new government, I hope they want to keep me as their President. If they don’t, I’d feel as if I’d failed." Jared sighed. "And I’d hate to leave all this. Not because of the luxury, but because it’s the place I grew up in, Jen. The place I met you, the place I kissed you and made love to you the first time, the place we married. It’s a place full of memories and wonder, Jen, and I want to add more. I want our kids to be born here."

Something knotted in Jensen’s belly. Never before had they talked about kids. Never before had Jensen actually really thought about kids. Before he had been with Jared, he had not cared one bit and now, as he was with Jared, he had simply been too focused on his husband and the things that had happened around them. Having kids with Jared had never been his priority. But now as he mentioned it, it was an idea he liked, something that would complete them even more, would bind them together even stronger. "I want our kids to be born here, too, baby. But I also think we should wait a bit. Just long enough to see how the world is changing. I don’t want to bring a child into a world like Heaven used to be."

"You won’t," Jared promised, looking at him happily. "The world is changing already. You see and feel it everywhere. There is something in the air that hasn’t been there before. You feel it, too, don’t you?"

Jensen nodded. It was true. The people on Heaven seemed more content, eager for a future that looked more promising now than under any other Padalecki President. There were more and more reports about heterosexual couples not hiding any longer and barely anyone seemed to care. Even the poor seemed more hopeful, with the prospect of help, education for the kids and jobs for the adults.

The flowery scent of the meadow whiffed into Jensen’s nose even before he spotted the first blades of grass and blossoms and when it finally came in sight, the sea of blossoms made him smile. It was a beautiful sight; peaceful, enchanted, full of their memories and other people’s memories before them, but also full of hope for their future.

Suddenly, Jensen remembered something he had wanted to tell his husband for a while. "What do you know about this place, Jay?" Jensen asked as he carefully walked through the meadow. It was harder on the uneven ground than on the graveled paths, but Jared’s hand was there, cupping his waist and holding him, just in case.

His husband looked at him questioningly. "It’s a part of Janusburgh Palace."

"No, I was actually talking about a time prior to Janus the Great." Jensen couldn’t hide the mocking undertone when he mentioned Jared’s ancestor and it made the younger man smile.

"Nothing, Jen. I’m a Padalecki. There was no time prior to Janus in my family’s eyes and actually, in no one’s eyes. Stuff like this wasn’t taught anywhere. It was considered treason."

"You never wondered about this meadow? Where the temple came from?"

Jared shook his head, looking a little abashed. "Do you know something about it, Jen?"

A triumphant smile grew on Jensen’s lips. "I went to the restricted section of the library while I was still bound to that stupid wheelchair, Jay. There are a lot of interesting books in there about Heaven’s history before Janus. Do you know anything about this, baby?" They had finally arrived at the temple. There was a wooden bench Jared had brought for Jensen the last time they had been there, when he still needed the wheelchair, and the remains of a fire.

"No," Jared admitted quietly. "I should know, huh?"

"Wouldn’t hurt," Jensen said teasingly as he sat down on the warm bench, massaging his hurting leg. Jared knelt down in front of him, rolling up his pants’ leg and wrapping his hand around the scarred flesh. The warmth felt good. Then he slowly started to massage the hurting bones and muscles, looking up to Jensen expectantly. Jensen took it as the offer to tell the tale.

"There was a legend on how Heaven came into being," Jensen started softly. "The Great Father created the universe and when he was done, he studied it from all angles. But no matter how long he looked at it, he wasn’t completely satisfied. Something was missing. It made him so sad that he cried a single tear that fell into his palm. He had never seen one before and it was beautiful, so he took it, placed it in the middle of the universe and created a planet. It was the most perfect world he had ever created, and he called it Heaven, giving it to his most beloved child, Aranna." Jensen smiled as he saw how Jared was hanging onto his every word. "Legend says he took his daughter and placed her in the middle of a meadow, surrounded by woods and hills, close by the sea. Aranna walked until she had reached the ocean, where she founded the first dwelling on Heaven, giving it her name and writing down The Rules, a guideline of how she wanted her people to live. She lived a long, happy mortal life, being a good and just leader and when she was gone, people started to worship her. They were very pious and the first temple they built for Aranna was on the meadow she supposedly arrived at on Heaven. For thousands of years, people would pilgrim to that place, praying to Aranna and thanking her for their homes. Back in the old days, Heaven was said to be a beautiful, peaceful place, paradisiacal. The town Aranna founded became Janusburgh and the temple they built -"

"It’s here, isn’t it?" Jared wondered aloud. There was no need to confirm it; Jared knew. "Yeah," he added thoughtfully, "I’ve always felt it. It was always a special place. Sort of otherworldly, you know?"

Jensen nodded, knowing exactly what Jared was saying. He had felt it too, always felt it when he came back there; felt it right now, in the soft breeze that ruffled his hair and the shiver that was running down his spine. It was as if she was there, watching them, maybe protecting them.

"Tell me about those rules, Jensen," Jared prompted, his fingers still moving up and down Jensen’s bad leg.

"They were their laws, Jay. They didn’t need anything else; everyone lived by The Rules, respected them, everyone but Janus and his followers."

"Huh?" Jared furrowed his brow. He hadn’t expected this.

"Yeah. There was one rule that particularly bothered him. It was the reason for all of this." Jensen saw the confusion in his husband’s face and he couldn’t blame him. They had all learned how the Great Janus had changed the world, but never why.

"Your ancestor was homosexual, Jared. Homosexuality, though, was forbidden on old Heaven. There was a rule that stated it as "unclean" and a "sin". People abused Janus for his sexual preference and hurt his boyfriend so badly that he lost a leg." He looked down at his own injured leg, a leg he luckily had kept but would have gladly given to save Jared’s life. "His new world, his rules, it was nothing but revenge, Jay. He forced his own sexuality onto everyone."

A palpable shudder ran down Jared’s spine. "He was no better than them," Jared breathed out. "They always made us believe that people before Janus were like animals, and maybe they were, in a way, for abusing homosexuals, but he was no better than them, even worse. Much, much worse. For almost a thousand years -," Jared began but then stopped abruptly, looking up to Jensen, his eyes blown wide. "What if I’m like him, Jensen? With all my reforms and changes? That’s what Janus did, too, didn’t he?"

Jensen took his husband’s hands. "You’re not one bit like him, Jared. You’re reversing what Janus took from Heaven, with one tiny but very significant difference, Jay. You’re letting your people decide and won’t enforce it with violence," Jensen said empathically. "This reform will only go as far as the nation wants it to. And it will hopefully be a more tolerant place in the end. There should never be people like Janus, who are mistreated for their sexuality, or like you and Sandy, who have to lie and hide. Hopefully soon, homosexuals and heterosexuals will be living happily side by side."

"So, you think the Great Father and Aranna won’t mind? What we did for almost thousand years was a sin in their eyes."

"How can love ever be a sin, Jay?" Jensen said, tugging Jared against him. "Besides, she gave us that temple. She watched over you when you were here with Sandy, something our people thought was sin, and she watched over us being together, something she thought was sin, and she always held her hand above us protectively. I think she’s very fine with the way it is."

They kissed gently, their hands roaming over their skin, with moans and whispers, whimpers and sighs echoing through the ruins. Heatedly, their fingers flew over buttons and zippers, tugged at pants and shirts until they were finally lying naked on the ground, the stones heated by the sun and the wind their blanket.

Jared was beneath Jensen, looking at him with so much love and joy, trusting Jensen as he waited for them to become one. There was lube, hidden in a chest with pillows and blankets, and Jensen reached over to get it. Swift and deft, he worked it onto his dick, before carefully parting Jared’s anus with his finger, widening the tight hole and eliciting the sweetest sounds from his better half in doing so.

Then Jensen finally glided in, his cock widening Jared. Yet Jared’s body was still so tight and warm around him, causing Jensen to shiver and moan, just like he lured the same noises from his husband. Slowly, gently, Jensen began to move, his one hand on Jared’s waist, his other twined with Jared’s hand.

There were their moans, their whimpered promises of love, the warmth in their eyes and the sun and wind kissing their skin. Nothing else. No earthquake, thunderstorm or bolt of lightning. Just peace and quiet, and the sun shining through the broken glass windows of Aranna’s temple onto the two lovers who had changed her world.

The End