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When he was five, Jared watched Doctor Dolittle. He liked it so much he watched it three times more. His mom caught him trying to watch for the fourth time and sent him off to bed with an affectionate scolding.
In his room he had lain on his back looking at his jungle print wallpaper; staring longingly at the yellow and black tigers, gazing hopefully at the large eared elephants. He wanted to be Doctor Dolittle, he wanted to talk to chimps and lions, and he wanted to help llamas and to aid kittens in distress. It had been a simple childhood wish, eyes squeezed closed as he willed it to happen.

The next day he had walked downstairs to see the family cat standing tense on the Welcome mat. The cat had looked at him with accusing eyes. It opened its mouth and instead of a meow, a gruff angry voice had come out instead.

“For God’s sake open the door – I need to pee.”

Jared’s life would never be the same again.
****
While talking to animals made Doctor Dolittle funny, witty and much loved, it didn’t do as much for Jared. He was pretty much a loner. He was too tall, much too skinny and his bones seemed too big for his skin. Kids called him the cat man and he wasn’t exactly welcome anywhere. No one ever came to his birthday parties and he was always the last one picked for baseball.

His only friends were the animals.
****
His momma had been patient with him. Granted he never actually told her what his particular talent was but, all the same, she didn’t seem to mind him bringing home an endless parade of stray dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters and even a pig. The list was endless and, in the end, his momma put a ban on him even entering an animal shelter.

He couldn’t resist them; their soft pleading eyes and sad voices. Some of them had terrible stories to tell, stories of neglect and cruelty, stories of being bought at Christmas and abandoned before Easter. Jared ended up promising to take them home and, soon, his house was more like a pet shop than an actual home.

It wasn’t just that he could understand them; he could actually feel their emotions and, more often than not, it was awful, painful and very, very sad.

He had hoped that his life would be all singing, all dancing like a Broadway musical. As it turned out, it was mostly misery and more like a British Soap.
****
Fortunately for Jared, as he entered his late teens, he began to actually grow into his skin. He stopped shooting upwards and filled out instead. His spots cleared up and his hair grew longer. He got quite proficient at sports and, for the first time that he could remember, he was beginning to attract attention from the opposite sex.

There was still the animal thing of course; there would always be the animal thing. A trip to the zoo with a potential long term girlfriend was a total disaster. The elephant insisted on telling him that he didn’t like the food he was forced to eat, a small nondescript mammal cried and told him how much it missed its home, and the giant panda regaled him with tales of his bamboo shoot induced constipation.

There wasn’t another date – there was never another date and Jared wondered if there was any way of retracting a childhood wish.

Turned out that there wasn’t.
****
So here he was thirty years old and living alone in a shambling run-down old house that was full of domestic animals and needed so much work doing to it that Jared had, virtually, given up.

He had avoided getting a job that involved any sort of animal contact; it would have made sense but he spent most of his spare time with the critters so, at least at work, he got a modicum of peace. He worked as a lecturer in zoology (and wasn’t that just fucking ironic) and his intrinsic knowledge of animals made him very much in demand. He had sailed through college, graduated with a first and could earn big money on the university circuit. He chose, however, to teach at a college that was close to home and he earned just enough to keep him (and his menagerie of housemates) in food, straw and anything else that they might need.

His mom worried that he was lonely but he had enough company to keep him amused for a lifetime. Granted dogs and cats didn’t talk about much other than food, comfort and how they liked their bellies scratched but he was never without conversation, however banal.

Unfortunately the one thing he didn’t have in his life was romance.

After a series of aborted dates he had realized that, actually, he wasn’t really into women and he was actually very attracted to men. Not that it mattered. No one, of either sex, stayed interested in him beyond a date or two as he was always constantly distracted by any animal life that might be nearby. It was amazing how many exclusive restaurants had rats or mice, astonishing how many movie theatres were home to small, furry mammals. Zoos, wildlife parks and nature walks were out of the question and he wouldn’t, indeed he couldn’t, invite anyone home.

So, here he was, a grown man but still a virgin living like some sort of mad old cat lady in a beaten down old house with more animals than the local shelter.

He was certainly no Doctor Dolittle.
****
Jensen likes being a vet.

He actually wanted to be a doctor but he is one of those clichés - a failed doctor who becomes either a dentist or a vet and as he didn’t like the thought of staring daily into someone’s mouth, he decided to work with animals instead.

He isn’t much of an animal lover; his house was pristine, everything in its place and nothing out of sync. With its white walls and thick grey carpets, smart blinds and a huge TV and sound system. He usually ate out and his garden was mowed within an inch of its life. His momma worried he has OCD, but he reassures her he is just orderly.

He has a black book full of numbers and a large amount of failed relationships behind him. No one, so far, has been able to match up to his exacting standards and he knows that, to meet your handsome prince, you have to kiss a hell of a lot of frogs (metaphorically of course – he would never put his mouth on a frog).

Jensen keeps himself fit and well-groomed at all times; he visits the barber once a month, has skin care sessions and visits the gym. He can swim up to thirty lengths at any session and he knows, yeah he knows, that he is in his prime. One day the right man will come along and treat Jensen in the manner he deserves but until then he will continue to live his orderly, clean and organized life. He has it all figured out and he is fairly sure he is happy.

It’s a normal Monday. His receptionist is typing out a pile of invoices on her state of the art computer, his nurse is cleaning away the remnants of his last patient and it is nearly time for lunch. He washes his hands and looks out of the window. It is a beautiful day and he figures he might go for a healthy walk in the local park, take in the air.

Chaos hits at about 12noon.

Jensen hears the man before he sees him; a large booming voice, slurred Texan vowels and obvious panic. He can hear his receptionist trying to calm him but the man isn’t co-operating. In the end Jensen makes an executive decision and strides out into the reception area.

The man is huge; well over six foot and built. His long hair is messy around his face and there is blood all over his hands and smears on his face and on the scruff of beard that covers his cheeks and chin.
In his arms there is a small dog who is panting and whimpering. The man holds the dog closer and Jensen sees real sympathy in his eyes.

“Are you the vet?” The man whirls around instantly, takes in Jensen’s white coat and concerned expression. Jensen gives the man a curt nod in return.

“Yes,” he says and takes in the situation. “Can you bring the dog through?”

The man’s expression is taut with relief and he pushes aside the stunned receptionist and follows Jensen into his surgery. Jensen can hear him talking to the little dog, soft murmurs of reassurance.

“My nurse is at lunch.” Jensen is slipping on his protective gloves even as the man lays the dog on the table. “What happened?”

The man wrinkles his nose and shifts a little on his feet. He bends at the waist looking uncomfortable as he puts his hand on the dog’s shaggy head and says something inaudible in the dog’s ear. There is a moment’s silence and Jensen hears the dog whimper, sees the man bend closer. It is weird, beyond weird, but it looks as if they are having some sort of conversation.

“He was run over by a car,” the man says. “I think his leg might be broken.”

Jensen nods; he prepares the syringe, planning on asking the man to leave. The little dog looks as if it has lost a lot of blood and Jensen isn’t hopeful.

“He doesn’t like needles,” the man sounds upset. “Can you give him a sedative first?”

“What?” Jensen isn’t used to feeling flustered. He stares at the man again, puzzled beyond reason.

“He doesn’t like needles,” the man repeats and he strokes the dog’s head, his eyes soft, reassuring.

“Okay.” Jensen puts the syringe to one side. He will have to use it eventually but he does have other methods. “Have you had the dog long?” he asks.

“He’s not mine.” The man’s cheekbones are high beneath his slightly slanting eyes. “I found him on the side of the road.”

“Then how do you know he doesn’t like needles?” Jensen was already smoothing the dog’s fur down with his hands, gently holding the mask over its panting mouth, giving it a quick blast of gas, enough to relax it until he could use the syringe.

“Because he . . . ,” the man replies and seems about to say something else but then shakes his head and rubs his eyes. “He just seemed to react badly to the sight of it,” he adds lamely and Jensen just isn’t buying it but now isn’t the time or the place.

“Can you wait in the reception?” He asks finally. “Or do you have somewhere to be?”

“No.” There is a lingering sadness in those oddly exotic eyes. “Nowhere to be. I’ll wait.”

And then, just like that, the man and the chaos are gone.
****
The man is still in reception when Jensen finishes. The little dog is going to be all right and Jensen can’t help but smile when he sees the man get to his feet, concern clear in his eyes.

“He’s going to be fine,” Jensen says and the man’s smile is a work of art, deep dimples and flashing white teeth. “He’ll need to be here for a while but as soon as he is up and about I’ll see if I can get him a place at the local shelter.”

The man nods but it is unconvincing. He lifts his broad shoulders and lets them fall again, mouth set.

“I might take him,” he says. “I can afford to pay you for his treatment.”

“That’s not important now.” Jensen wonders just who this man is. “All that is important is that we get this dog better.”

“Yeah,” the man says and nods again before holding out his hand. “Jared,” he says out of nowhere. “Jared Padalecki.”

“Jensen – Jensen Ackles.” Jensen held the man’s hand for a moment longer and then let it go, an odd sense of loss pervading his body. “There’s not much more to be done here now, maybe you’d like to come back tomorrow, see him when he’s more with it.” He smiled. “You look all in.”

“Yeah.” Jared’s shoulders slump and he sighs. “Yeah, okay. I’ve work tomorrow, but I can come after.” He cocked his head to one side as if he was considering something and Jensen couldn’t help but notice how long his neck was, the deep dip between his collar bones, and the way his hair flicked over his collar. “His name is Mylo,” he says, suddenly. “The dog – his name is Mylo.”

“How do you know? You said he wasn’t yours.”

Jared shrugs and opens his mouth as if he is about to add to his sudden statement but instead he just huffs a breath. “It suits him,” he adds, lamely. “Don’t you think?”

“I guess.” Jensen wonders why this man is such an enigma and why he is suddenly so interested in him. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Jared,” he says and he prays that didn’t come across as too hopeful.

“Yeah.” Jared smiles again then, dimples and everything. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
****
Jensen’s nurse cleans up the little dog (Mylo?). She washes and grooms his matted fur, feeds him something nice and sits with him as he eats it. Jensen shakes his head and gets on with his morning clients. He finishes castrating a pissed off looking cat (and why do animals suddenly have expressions) and then washes up for lunch.

“There’s someone to see you.” The receptionist looks flushed, her blue eyes dazed. “About the dog that was brought in yesterday.”

Jensen wonders if the real owner of the dog has managed to track him down, and he is concerned that the mysterious Jared might be disappointed. He brushes a hand through his hair quickly and makes sure he looks smart enough then he goes into reception.

He barely recognizes the man who is standing there; Jared has shaved, his fine-boned face tanned and healthy looking. His hair is clean and shiny, flicking around his collar. Speckled hazel eyes gaze out at him from above high cheekbones and he can’t actually form words. Jared is wearing a crisp white cotton shirt and smart dress pants; his shoes are clean and shiny and he looks like he is ready to lead a business meeting.

“My receptionist didn’t recognize you.” Jensen finds himself swallowing, cheeks a little flushed. Jared is hot. Jared is more than hot, and he can’t actually stop himself from staring.

“I had work.” Jared quirks his eyebrow and it is too cute. Jensen scolds himself internally, this is not appropriate, not right now. “Lecturing to a hundred academics.” He shrugged. “They expect someone smart.”

“Oh,” Jensen says and is stuck for words again as he looks down at his pristine nails and tries to think of anything relevant to say. “Um – Mylo, is a lot better.”

“Good. I’ve been thinking, if he isn’t claimed then I’d like to take him home with me,” Jared spoke faster now. “I’ve a . . . a . . . um . . . a few animals already. So he’ll fit in nicely.”

“We checked him for a microchip but there’s nothing.” Jensen suddenly wanted to keep this man here for longer. “Do you want to come and see him?”

“That’d be nice.” Jared smiled again, dimples and bright eyes. “Sure.”

Jared got down on his knees and petted Mylo through the cage; he leaned close and Jensen saw his lips move, saw him cock his head to one side as if he were listening. Again, Jensen thought how bizarre Jared’s behavior was but this time it was tempered by the fact that Jared looked fantastic and Jensen wanted to ask him out for a coffee, something not too intimate, to find out if there might be something in this sudden but strong attraction.

“His leg doesn’t hurt too much now,” Jared said as he rose to his feet. “And he isn’t as scared as he was.”

Jensen pursed his lips and wondered if Jared was really all there; Okay, he was hot but did Jensen really want to tie himself to someone who was – to be frank – two sandwiches short of a picnic.

“I’m pleased.” Apparently he did want to tie himself to Jared. “Jared, it’s my lunch hour now, I don’t suppose you would want to go out for a coffee?”

Jared stared at him for a long, long time and then his face lit up like a Christmas tree, teeth so wide and bright in his tanned skin that Jensen was almost blinded by his beauty.

“Yeah,” he breathed out excitement in his tone. “Yeah, I’d love to.”

And that, it seemed was that.
****
The last thing he really should do is to find himself attracted to someone who worked with animals, but Jensen was gorgeous, all green eyes and plush lips and Jared hadn’t been able to refuse.

He’d almost given himself away; the dog he’d found on the side of the road had been whimpering with pain and Jared had actually felt his fear. He’d been weak too but still able to inform Jared that he hated needles and that he was scared. When Jared had stayed with him for a while, he’d told him his name was Mylo and he was a stray. No one wanted him and, as usual, Jared was going to end up taking him home.

He walked with Jensen to the coffee house watching him surreptitiously. Jensen was so neat and so fucking clean, even his fingernails were pink and scrupulously scrubbed. Jared tried to imagine what Jensen’s house might look like, but whatever, he was certain it didn’t contain cats, dogs or pets of any sort. Mylo had mentioned that Jensen didn’t look the type and Jared had to agree. Despite this he REALLY wanted to have a coffee with the handsome vet and he felt sure he could surmount any obstacles later.

As they strolled to the coffee shop he could hear the usual cacophony of animal noise. Over the years he had sort of gotten used to it, used to the moans and groans. All of them seemed to have some issues, pampered pets who weren’t fed the right food, birds who were hungry and unable to find sustenance, farm animals who feared the chopping block and waifs and strays who literally begged him to take them home. Jared wasn’t a hard man nor was he a cruel one but he had to ignore them, had to let their complaints go in one ear and out the other. He still remembered his lonely childhood and he didn’t really want to be shunned anymore particularly by someone as handsome and as smart as Jensen.

“You okay?” Jensen tapped his arm and he turned, mouth dry as he took in the man’s fantastic looks. “You seem distracted.”

“I’m fine,” Jared swallowed mouth suddenly dry. “Don’t much like crowds, you know.”

“Are you one of those hermit type academics?” Jensen laughed to take the sting out of his words but Jared felt himself flush hotly, Jensen’s words closer to the truth than he knew.

“Maybe,” he laughed himself, but it was pretty weak and Jensen must have known it.

“What’s your story?” He asked as they entered the coffee shop, the scents and smells making Jared seem a little more human.

“I’ve not got got one really,” he lied as they found a booth and settled in. “I’m fairly normal. An ordinary guy.”

Jensen nodded, studying the menu and Jared bit his lip; he was as far from normal as one person could get, but he didn’t want Jensen to even suspect. It had been months, years probably, since he had had a proper relationship and he was ready for one right now. Jensen was probably the most unsuitable person for Jared but that didn’t stop the strong attraction that surged through him whenever Jensen looked at him with those bright green eyes.

They ordered coffee and cookies; it was quiet in the shop and, for once, there appeared to be no stray animals or rodents hanging around until Jared stared out of the window for a moment watching the world go by and he saw a mangy cat scraping long claws along the sidewalk. He could almost feel its pain. He knew it was homeless and hungry but he just couldn’t afford to take another animal in. He needed to retain some of his fragile sanity.

They actually talked a lot through lunch; well Jensen talked and Jared listened. Jensen told him all about being a frustrated vet, about his smart home in the suburbs and about his ambition to own more than one practice. Jensen was smart and funny and despite the fact he’d talked about himself a lot he was also quite self-depreciating and had a wicked sense of humor. Jared listened, happy to hear a person talk for a change, suddenly realizing how starved he was of actual human company.

“Do you want to – um – go to the movies at the weekend?” Jensen asked him finally. “My treat.”

“Yeah,” Jared answered without hesitation, he knew it was probably a bad idea but he wanted this desperately. He wanted to see Jensen again and he wasn’t going to let his little gift get in the way. “That’d be cool.”

They arranged to meet at the theatre (there was no way Jared was having Jensen pick him up at his house) and Jared waved Jensen off happily, already excited. As he watched the other man leave he couldn’t help but wish he could be more honest, he didn’t want to complicate what might turn out to be a relationship (he could dream, couldn’t he?) by building it’s foundations on a lie.

He couldn’t let Jensen know his secret though, and as he entered into his house, he once again wished he could retract his wish and just be normal for once.
****
He opened the door to a cacophony of noise and leaned against the wall for a moment breathing deeply. He really, really shouldn’t get involved but how could he not.

He heard the clicking of claws on his floor and he looked down to see Sadie sitting there looking up at him with soft brown eyes. Sadie was a German Shepherd mix and one of his first dogs. She appeared to be, for want of a better word the animal’s spokes-person, although the term didn’t seem right, she was certainly the one that often communicated for the rest of them.

“You’re late,” she told Jared as she continued to stare at him. “We were worried.”

It was nothing like a Disney film. Her mouth didn’t move like the pigs in Babe, she didn’t bark and let Jared translate what she might be saying, instead he just knew. It was like reading minds. He spoke to her, and she answered, as simple as that.

“I went for coffee.” He rubbed his hands through his hair in frustration.

“A date?” She cocked her head to one side, eyes bright.

“Potentially.” He bent down and ran his hands through her fur, scratching at her ear. She shuddered and gave a little whimper of pleasure, her head resting against his thigh.

“We like that you have friends.” She moved closer. “We don’t like that you’re lonely.”

 

“I’ve got you,” he tried to keep his voice even. He could understand them, they could understand him and he certainly didn’t want to hurt them, after all it wasn’t their fault that this – whatever this was – had happened.

“We love you, Jared.” Sadie’s tail thumped on the floor and, as he petted her, the others began to emerge from their various hiding places, a steady flow of dogs, cats and the occasional bird. “But we know how sad you’ve been.”

 

He choked back the lump in his throat then; opening his arms and hugging as many of them as he could fit into them. Despite everything he did love them and only he knew how much they needed a home, and how much they had suffered.

“I had to go see the sick dog I took to the vet,” he explained. “He’s okay though, and I’m gonna be bringing him home.”

Sadie’s tail thumped harder and she licked across his face. “Another mouth to feed!” Her tongue lolled.

“Yeah, but when I took him to the vet I met Jensen and he made the dog feel better,” Jared swallowed again. “He’s really nice, Sadie. He’s really hot, but he’s so particular, and so clean,” he shrugged. “I-I really would like this to be more than a one date thing.”

“We’ll stay out of your fur.” Sadie stepped back and the other animals followed her. “But for now – we are really, really hungry and I’m certain that Harley is bursting to go out and pee.”

Jared laughed then, rising up so that he could fight his way to the back door and let them all out.

Perhaps, he thought, as he watched them gamble in his overgrown garden, perhaps this might work out after all.
****
The movie theatre was in a smart area of town and was definitely a step above where Jared had been taken before. He was relieved to find out that it was almost scrupulously clean and that he couldn’t hear any distant animal voices or feel anything bad there. Jensen met him outside as promised dressed in a pressed white shirt and light denim pants. Jared felt a little shabby in his ripped jeans and black shirt but Jensen was smiling as he crossed the sidewalk to meet him and Jared hoped that he might have a successful date at last.

The movie was awesome, a blockbuster that had had critical acclaim and it held his attention from start to finish. He felt incredibly relaxed, Jensen a big, warm presence at his side, the older man occasionally leaning over and whispering about the plot in his ear. The very feel of Jensen’s warm breath against his neck made him shudder and he was aware of how awesome Jensen smelt, how soft his skin was, and how low and sexy his voice was. He was everything Jared had ever dreamed of and, when the movie came to an end, Jared was hoping and praying that Jensen might ask him out again.

“Do you want to come back to mine for coffee?” Jensen leaned against the side of the theatre smiling. “It’s Saturday and I don’t have work in the morning.”

“I’d love to,” Jared replied and hoped he didn’t sound over eager. “I mean – yeah, that’d be cool.” A sudden thought struck him and he licked dry lips. “Um – do you have any pets?”

“Pets?” Jensen sounded surprised at the sudden question. “No, none. I see enough animals at work to be honest, and it wouldn’t be fair anyway as I’m out most of the time.” He frowned. “Does that bother you? I know you like animals.”

“No,” Jared couldn’t keep the relief out of his voice; the thought of Jensen having an animal that would try to communicate with him had worried him from the outset but now he could really relax. “No, not at all.”

“You have pets though.” It was a statement not a question and he nodded, eyes downcast.

“A few,” he hoped his little lie didn’t sound too unconvincing. “I tend to pick up waifs and strays, like Mylo.”

Jensen grinned then and held out his hand.

“Enough about the animals then,” he said, clasping Jared’s fingers in his. “Let’s go, the evening is young and I’d like to find out a bit more about you.”
****
Jensen switched on the coffee machine and laid out the mugs. It was rare he invited anyone back to his place so quickly, but he hadn’t been able to stop himself and here he was with Jared sitting tensely in his best armchair looking decidedly worried as if he might dirty the place just by sitting down.

He was beginning to question the wisdom of asking Jared back here; he still wasn’t sure of the guy and yet he just couldn’t stop thinking about him, and couldn’t stop staring at him even now. Jared might have a few screws loose but he was still the most beautiful man Jensen had ever seen and there was just something about him, something oddly fragile and vulnerable that had moved something inside of Jensen and Jensen had been unable to resist.

Jared looked startled as Jensen placed the mug down on the coaster in front of him. He smiled briefly, dimples deepening in his tanned cheeks, a flush sweeping across the bridge of his nose up to his hairline.

“You have a lovely place here,” he said, finally, looking around him as if he couldn’t quite believe his eyes. “It’s so clean.”

“I do my best,” Jensen laughed then trying to get Jared to relax. “I’m not here a great deal, I work odd hours.”

“Yeah,” Jared breathed in and looked out of the huge window across the park. “I guess.”

“Tell me something about yourself,” Jensen asked. “I know you lecture, but what else do you do?”

The flush on Jared’s skin deepened and he bit his lip, his eyes downcast.

“Not much to tell,” the words seem to be dragged out of him. “I don’t do much else but work and look after the animals. I . . . it’s complicated,” he finished and he looked embarrassed, almost reluctant. “I guess I must seem pretty boring to you.”

“No, not at all.” Jensen felt the sudden urge to reassure and wondered, yet again, just what it was about Jared that made him feel this way. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from those slanting eyes, watching them shift from blue to green to brown. He reached out before he could stop himself, his fingers stroking down Jared’s high boned cheek and resting, briefly, against his mouth before moving off again. “You aren’t in the least bit boring.”

And then they were kissing; just like that hard and passionate. Jared was clutching at Jensen’s back, his mouth opening easily accepting Jensen’s questing tongue. The armchair wasn’t really big enough for the two of them, Jensen bending over uncomfortably as he kissed and kissed. Finally, he broke away and smiled as he saw Jared’s flushed cheeks, his bright eyes.

“I don’t want you to think things are moving too fast,” he panted. “But I really like you Jared, and I want to see you again.”

Jared nodded, eagerly.

“Yeah,” he said. “I’d love to see you again and . . . .” The blush on his cheeks deepened. “ . . . .And we’re not moving too fast,” he added, his voice hoarse, words tumbling out. “I want this.” He grinned. “I really, really want this, Jensen.”
****
Over the next few weeks Jared saw Jensen nearly every weekend and some week nights too. Despite what Jared had said, he realized that Jensen was still trying to take things slowly. They barely knew each other after all, and Jared was aware he was hiding quite a lot of things from his new boyfriend, not least his ability to hear and empathize with animals.

He never invited Jensen back to his home; despite various hints from the older man that he would really like to visit. Jensen even offered to bring Mylo to him, when the little dog had recovered from his operation, but Jared insisted on collecting him. Even after spending hours trying to clean the place his house was still a shambling wreck and such an awful contrast to Jensen’s pristine and proper apartment.

Yet, every time he saw Jensen, Jared was falling more and more in love with him; granted they didn’t have a lot in common but there was definitely something between them, and Jared was happier than he had been in a very long time.

He tried to steer their dates away from anywhere that there might be animals. Even a stroll around the local park was an accident waiting to happen. The ducks on the lake moaned constantly about the lack of fresh bread and he was followed by a particularly annoying squirrel who was begging for protection from a pack of dogs who insisted on chasing him. Jared hated ignoring them but even more than that, he hated pretending that everything was okay, and most of all he hated lying to Jensen. For the first time since he made that stupid wish Jared felt he had a chance of normal. Jensen was everything he had been searching for in a partner, and more, so the lying continued and Jared felt evermore conflicted.

At home the animals noticed something was wrong; he could hear them grumbling, and moaning about the sudden lack of attention. They disliked the fact they hadn’t been formally introduced to Jensen, and the sudden realization that Jared might be ashamed of them. Jared couldn’t explain, not really, because most of what they said was true. He had asked for this but he hadn’t ever really wanted it. He was in his thirties and it was time for him to have a life of his own.

So he continued to lecture, continued to look after his shambling house, and he continued to see Jensen. He pretended he was happy with it all, but deep down, in his heart of hearts, he knew he couldn’t hide his gift forever.

****

“Happy birthday.” Jensen slipped the envelope over to Jared with a wide grin on his face. “I thought we might do something a bit different.”

They were in their favorite Chinese restaurant. Jensen thought Jared loved it because of the food but, in reality, Jared loved the fact that it was clean and hygienic and didn’t have any rodent or roach problems.

Jensen couldn’t take his eyes off Jared; hell, the man looked hot in his tight black shirt and faded blue jeans, his hair soft, waving around his broad shoulders, his high-boned cheeks already pink with wine. They had been taking it slowly at Jensen’s request, but he was more than ready to go further. He thought he might be falling in love with Jared and that should make him happy but he was concerned that Jared was still holding something back from him and he couldn’t help but wonder what it was. He still hadn’t been back to Jared’s house nor had he met any of Jared’s family. He wondered if Jared had done something to upset them or if he was hiding the fact he was gay but Jared was pretty tight lipped on the subject and Jensen didn’t want to ruin what they had by pushing too hard.

So instead he had arranged something for the both of them, something that would be intimate and private, something that would lead to everything Jensen kept wanting and maybe, maybe more.

He watched as Jared ripped open the envelope and unfolded the piece of paper Jensen had slotted between the flaps of the birthday card. Jared held it, gingerly, between shaking fingers and stared at it, his expression unreadable.

“A cabin,” he breathed out finally. “In the woods?”

“When you say it like that, it just sounds like some bad horror film,” Jensen forced the joke, his heart sinking at Jared’s reaction or rather non-reaction. “I thought it might be fun,” he laughed, hoping it didn’t sound forced. “I thought we might spend some time together, and get to know each other even better.” He reached over and put his hand over Jared’s. “. . . Intimately,” he whispered and Jared’s face went delightfully pink. “It’s a real nice place. One of those luxury ones. I think there might be a hot tub.”

Jared was silent for so long that Jensen’s stomach started to churn and he pushed away the chow mien that was cooling on his plate.

“That’s wonderful,” Jared spoke so suddenly that Jensen almost fell off his chair. “I mean, thanks Jensen. It’s a great gift,” he sounded almost over enthusiastic. “Wow, and it’s for next weekend – guess I better get my outdoors gear sorted.”

“I wasn’t planning on going far.” Jensen squeezed Jared’s hand. “Actually I was planning to be naked for most of the weekend.”

Jared swallowed visibly; he looked an odd mixture between aroused and petrified.

“Sounds awesome,” he breathed. “Thank you again, Jensen.” He leaned over and dropped a swift kiss on Jensen’s lips and Jensen gave a sigh of utter relief, pleased that his gesture had been appreciated. In his mind he was already in the hot tub with Jared, already doing all the things that he had wanted to do to Jared since the moment they met.
****
Of all the places Jensen could have taken him for his birthday, it had to be a fucking cabin in the woods. Oh yeah – a luxury cabin – but in the woods nonetheless. Jared buried his head in his hands and bit his lip hard to stop from crying like a baby.

He’d been on a field trip once in High School; they had gone to catalogue trees or something equally as lame. He’d only been there a few minutes when he found himself followed through the undergrowth by a fox. His classmates seemed to think it was highly amusing, banged on about how he smelled furry. The poor creature had just wanted to tell him it was lost and needed to find its family before winter set in but he could hardly tell his classmates that given his reputation. There were also a load of wild geese on the pond begging for bread as the water was frozen over. They skidded towards him cackling loudly and his classmates watched in amusement as they pecked at his jeans and pulled at his socks. Of course he heard their complaints as just that, while the others just heard cackling. By the time he got back on the bus he had a headache, a badly pecked ankle and the chants of animal-boy, animal-boy were making his ears ring.

That night he’d buried himself under his coverlet and wept; wishing for someone, anyone to take this stupid gift away from him. He still loved animals but he was human and he wanted human company.

It never worked of course, but he hadn’t ever forgotten it and now, now Jensen was taking him to the woods for a weekend. A whole weekend, and he didn’t know what to do.

****

“You should go, Jared.” Sadie had her head resting on his thigh. Mylo, the rescue dog, was lying against his left hip and he snuffled an agreement.

“Sadie . . . ,” he began and she licked his hand, comforting and warm, her tongue rough against his skin.

“Mom will look after us,” Sadie panted. “Mom always looks after us.”

Jared nodded. “I’m not worried about that,” he said, finally. “I’m worried about the fact that the woods are full of animals and they’re going to want to talk to me.” He rubbed his face. “As soon as they sense what I can do they start talking to me, and . . . I’m a freak, Sadie!” He wanted to cry. “I’m just a freak.”

“You should tell your Jensen about it.” Sadie’s brown eyes were old and wise. “Tell him about us. If he loves you, it shouldn’t matter.”

“He’ll have me committed!” Jared sniffed. “No one knows, Sadie. Not mom, not dad. No one.” He swallowed hard. “People only talk to animals in picture books or Disney films.”

“Without you we would have stayed in abusive homes, or on the streets.” She nudged him with her snout. “And Mylo here, would be dead on the side of the road instead of getting fat and being flatulent on your couch.”

“I am not flatulent!”

“You are so!”

“Enough!” Jared managed a laugh through his tears. “I know you’re right, but I really like Jensen. In fact, I think I love Jensen and this is my chance to be really happy, Sadie.”

The dog looked up at him then, brown eyes deep and sad.

“I’m sorry we don’t make you happy Jared,” she said.

****

Jensen pulled up outside Jared’s house and honked his horn.

He really wanted to go up to the door and be invited in but Jared had insisted that he wait outside in the car. He wondered why Jared appeared to be so ashamed of his house. It was old sure and a little run down but it had quite a lot of charm and a huge garden that would be nice to grow plants in.

Since meeting and getting to know Jared he’d found himself chilling quite a bit. He no longer spent his leisure hours cleaning the house, preferring to spend them with the younger man instead. He found himself petting dogs in the street and even giving a stray cat he had seen a bowl of milk. Jared’s caring attitude towards animals was rubbing off on him, and he wished that Jared could chill out a little more.

He could hear barking and he smiled to himself as he watched Jared struggle to get out of the door. Jared was carrying a backpack and a pair of walking boots and he was attempting to slam the door shut with his ass. He smiled when he saw Jensen and Jensen’s insides went gooey at the sight of him, wondering how he had gone from practical and sensible to totally loved-up.

The drive to the cabin was nice; relaxed. Jared seemed to appreciate his love of old country and bubble-gum pop music, tapping along with the beat, long fingers beating a staccato on his thigh. By the time they reached the cabin they were both singing along at the tops of their voices, and Jensen was convinced that the weekend was going to be the success he had hoped for.

Jared sat down on the comfortable leather sofa and stared out into forest depths. He had to admit it was beautiful out here and also surprisingly quiet. Whoever had built the luxury cabin had made it soundproof and, more importantly, creature proof and Jared breathed a sigh of relief realizing that when he was inside he was safe.

There was decking outside and a small hot tub that was bubbling away invitingly. Jared opened the patio doors and breathed in the fresh evening air. He could hear the distant sounds of birds and the odd rustle of some critter in the undergrowth but, as of yet, he couldn’t hear any moans or complaints and he considered himself lucky, finally ready to relax.

It was a warm evening and after a delicious home cooked (by Jensen) meal, they retired to the hot tub. Jensen playfully suggested they get naked but both of them kept their trunks on, swigging beer and lying back in the soft, warm bubbles. Jared couldn’t help but close his eyes and snuggle into Jensen.

“This is the best birthday present ever,” he whispered. “I never really thanked you properly.”

“You know . . . .” Jensen licked at his ear and Jared shuddered, a sudden wanting making him feel almost weak. “We could retire to the king-sized bed and do something about that.”

Jared’s mouth was dry and his heart was thundering; he hadn’t exactly told Jensen he was a virgin. Partially because it would mean confessing about the animals and partially because he felt stupidly embarrassed about being virtually untouched at the age of thirty. Jensen bit at his ear lobe then and he almost forgot his own name. He groaned and nodded, deciding that now was the time.

“Let’s go,” he breathed. “I just can’t wait to thank you properly.”

****

The sheets were Egyptian cotton and they were crisp and soft against his back. His eyes fluttered closed as Jensen made short work of his trunks pulling them off and leaving him naked and exposed. He could hear his own heart thundering and feel his blood rushing south, pooling in his cock which was now pointing towards the ceiling. Jensen bit on his nipple and he gasped, cock beginning to leak steadily, the sensations that flooded him almost overwhelming him.

“God, you are so beautiful,” Jensen hissed and Jared moaned, tugging at Jensen so that he could kiss him again, lick into his mouth, and buck needy against the hardness of his stomach. “I want to. . . .” He wrapped his fingers around Jared’s erection. “I want to fuck you.”

“Yeah.” Jared flushed all over; there was a light sheen of sweat on his body and he was shaking. “B-but . . . please, I’ve never . . . .”

“You’re a virgin?” Jensen sounded awed and Jared didn’t know what to say. He opened his eyes to see wide green eyes staring down at him, pupils black with desire. “God, Jared, this is . . . .”

“I want you though.” Jared tugged at Jensen. “Please Jensen, I want you.”

Jensen prepared him tenderly, took his time using fingers and tongue. Jared was almost insensate with lust and desire and he hardly felt anything when Jensen pushed inside him, just a feeling of fullness, hot and hard. Jensen over him, in him, and around him. It hurt a little at first, Jensen’s movements slow and steady but soon the pain was replaced with pleasure and Jensen moved his hand again, gripping Jared’s cock and jacking it in time to his own movements. Jared soared on a tide of ecstasy and he felt his orgasm explode on him before he was even ready. He came endlessly and above him Jensen groaned as he too reached his completion. After they lay sweaty and sated, Jensen stroking his arms, his chest, and his thighs.

“Was that okay?” Jensen asked finally.

“It was fantastic!” Jared let his fingers trail down over Jensen’s cock which twitched hopefully in his grip. “Can we do it again?”

“Oh yeah,” Jensen laughed then and they tumbled over, skin on skin. “We can do it as many times as you like.”
****
“Jared.”

He awoke slowly to the sound of his name being called. He rolled over and realized the space next to him was cooling and that he was alone in the bed.

“Jared!”

Jensen sounded a bit panicked so he got up as quick as he could, wrapping a sheet around his nakedness, as he rushed into the lounge.

Jensen was standing at the picture window staring out at something. Jared approached him and his heart sank as he saw just what Jensen was looking at.

Squirrels, six of them and something bigger that looked like a raccoon. They were staring hopefully in, and Jared pulled up short as Jensen shook his head.

“Have you been feeding them?” His voice shook a little and he looked mildly freaked out. “Encouraging them?” He smiled wanly to take the sting out of his words. “I know you like animals.”

“No.” Jared shook his head; he knew the animals were talking to him, he could sense it but, thanks to the glass, he couldn’t actually hear it. “Let me shoo them away,” he offered. “Perhaps the previous tenants left food for them,” he added, lamely.

“Okay,” Jensen looked relieved. “It’s not like I’m scared of animals,” he laughed weakly. “I’m a vet for fuck’s sake, but I just prefer them on leads or unconscious rather than staring in through my windows.”

“S’okay.” Jared patted Jensen’s shoulder. “I’ll sort it.”

He opened the window and shut it behind him; he was aware of Jensen watching him as he lifted his arms and waved them at the animals.

“Shoo,” he mumbled. “Get away.”

“We heard you were here.” The raccoon looked at him with ancient eyes. “We thought you might be able to help us with a few problems.” He licked his lips. “And some of your garbage wouldn’t come amiss either.”

“And nuts,” the squirrel’s added as one. “We definitely like nuts.”

“Just go.” Jared turned to give Jensen an encouraging smile. “Please, just go.”

“We heard you were pretty friendly to our kind,” the raccoon sounded pissed. “Not some ass hat.”

Jared could feel tension creep up his neck and into his shoulders; he was aware of Jensen watching and he just wanted this to fucking end. Last night had been wonderful and he felt sure that he might have a future with Jensen, but not if this sort of thing didn’t stop.

“I’m not an ass hat,” he hissed, turning his back so that Jensen couldn’t see him, blocking off the animals from his sight. “I’m just pissed off with all of this, I’m just one human and I can’t solve all of your problems so you need to go.” He waved his arms wildly. “Yeah go! Fuck off, and leave me be. And tell all your little friends to leave me be too. I’m not doing this anymore, do you hear? No garbage, no nuts, nothing. Just LEAVE ME ALONE!”

There was a stunned silence and then Jared breathed out a sigh of relief as the animals scattered, the squirrels to the trees, the raccoon turning tail and sloping off but not before he’d shown Jared his teeth in a display of odd animal defiance.

After that the rest of the day was quiet and peaceful; they actually went for a stroll in the woods and there was nothing but silence, wonderful, all-encompassing silence. They necked against an old tree and there was no tell-tale rustling, no squeaking, and no moaning about nuts and old bread. It was strange but Jared embraced it, walking back to the cabin with Jensen’s arms wrapped around him, finally normal.

****

“It’s a great day,” Jensen threw open the door and breathed in. “We have to go back to the big city tomorrow, so I thought I might go for a long, long walk, get some appetite up for the lunch that you are gonna cook me.”

Jared laughed; he was still in his boxers and felt so relaxed that he could have happily gone back to bed but he nodded his agreement and gestured to the door.

“Go ahead.” He looked at his watch. “But be back by noon, or else your lunch will end up in the garbage.”

Jensen beamed; Jared really had relaxed since they got here. He seemed so different from the man Jensen had met in his surgery all those months ago, and Jensen couldn’t help but be thankful for it. The bearded grubby man had turned into one hot stud, but it wasn’t just the sex or even the banter, it was something better. It was something stronger. The initial attraction, and the thing that had built between them had grown into affection and, ultimately, into love.

If only Jensen didn’t feel as if Jared was still hiding something from him things would be perfect but he didn’t want to start questioning the young man and ruining what they already had. Hell, Jared had already given him his most precious gift, so how could Jensen ask for more? He bit his lip as he strolled out onto the tree-lined path. In many ways they had nothing in common. Jared loved animals, he was gentle and kind to them, he had lots of his own (not that Jensen had seen them) and he never seemed to say no to more. Jensen was a cleanliness junkie, he kept his apartment pristine and he was very particular. He tried to imagine what it would be like to live with Jared on a full time basis, if they would argue, if their differences would come between them. After this week he just didn’t care, not really. He loved Jared, loved every part of him and he wanted more, needed more.

He was so busy with his internal monologue that he didn’t see the massive dip in the path until his foot caught in it and he plunged headlong into the undergrowth. He fell, over and over, banging his head, cracking his ankle, smashing his hip painfully on jagged rocks. He tumbled down and down, pain thrumming through him as he cried out once, twice and then he hit his head one last time and there was nothing but welcome, pain free darkness.

****

It was 1.30pm and Jared was beginning to worry; Jensen had promised he’d be back for noon and, although Jared hadn’t expected him on the dot, he was getting late. In addition to this, Jared couldn’t get through to Jensen on his cell, it had rung and rung and then gone onto voice mail and Jared was at a loss at what to do.

After another hour Jared was on the verge of calling the police; it was beginning to cloud over and when he opened the cabin door to look, once again, for Jensen he could smell the approaching rain. He bit his lip not quite knowing what to do. He could take Jensen’s car but he had no idea which direction to drive. He could go on foot but there were several paths leading from the cabin and he didn’t have a clue as to which way Jensen went. What if he’d had an accident? Gotten lost somewhere and couldn’t find his way home. Jared’s fingers played over the buttons on his cell. They were miles away from anywhere and the cops might not even consider this an emergency. He would have to try and find Jensen himself but maybe, just maybe, there was someone or rather something out there that could help him.

****

The raccoon was leaning over the garbage can; Jared felt a stab of guilt as he approached, remembering how he had yelled at the poor creature.

“Hey,” he started to say and the animal nearly fell into the garbage as it whirled around, eyes narrowing as it stared at Jared.

“I didn’t think you were doing the talking thing,” the raccoon sounded resigned and Jared rubbed his face, regret making him feel almost dizzy.

“I need your help,” he began, voice low. “My friend hasn’t returned from his walk and I-I think he might have had an accident.”

“The pretty guy?” The raccoon ambled over to Jared and looked up at him with those sad wise eyes. “The one who so obviously doesn’t like animals? He doesn’t know about your talents, does he?”

“No.” Jared shook his head. “No one knows. Not him, not my family, no one,” he swallowed down a sudden lump in his throat. “I-I didn’t think of it as a talent or even a gift, it’s been like a curse, and I just wanted to be normal.”

“Yeah.” The raccoon stared him out. “But you’re not, and you aren’t ever gonna be.”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry I shouted at you. Please, please I don’t deserve it, but could you please find it in you to forgive me and help me find my friend?”

“What’s in it for me?”

“As much food as you can eat and not from the garbage either. I’ll buy the squirrels the best nuts around and I’ll feed the birds the most expensive seed I can find.”

“Alright,” the raccoon sounded resigned and more than a little angry. “I’ll make sure all of my friends know who to look for.”

“Thank you.” Jared wanted to hug the furry creature but he was already leaving and Jared realized that, in this, he had been a fool.

****

Jensen opened his eyes and moaned; pain was radiating along his thigh and into his calf and he knew that it wasn’t good. His head hurt and he could taste blood on his tongue. He could see his cell phone lying in the grass mere inches away but he hadn’t the strength to actually reach for it. He moaned again unable to move or to even think straight, nausea an unwelcome addition to the pain.

He tried to lift his head when he heard a fluttering sound and then he almost passed out again when he saw a large owl sitting on his stomach staring at him. For a moment he lay stunned, and then he tried, weakly, to shoo it off. The owl cocked its large head to one side again and then lifted up and into the air. Jensen wondered if he was dying and if the owl was some sort of angel but his leg hurt too much for him to even care and, at that moment in time, he would almost welcome death as a solution to the pain.

He realized it might take hours for anyone to find him; no doubt Jared would report him missing but perhaps not. They were miles away from anywhere and Jared might just think he was lost or that he was taking a longer walk. Jensen stared up into the thickness of the trees. Even when Jared did decide to report him gone it might take a while. He didn’t know where he was, all he knew is that he must be miles from the cabin and that he appeared to have fallen into a ravine of some kind. He suspected his leg may be broken and there was a throbbing in his head that might mean concussion. His right hand hurt like a bitch too and he felt salt tears sting his lashes as he lay there, powerless.

A squeaking to his right made him tense and he realized that there were several squirrels in the lower branches of the trees. He swallowed; he was certain that squirrels didn’t eat human beings, but he felt so vulnerable lying there that he was actually scared of them. He frowned, his head thundering more painfully. There seemed to be more birds than usual circling overhead and there was undoubtedly something in the undergrowth. He thought back to all the horror films he had watched as a kid and he licked his dry lips. Maybe he was going to die here, eaten by wild critters, only his bones left by the time help came. He closed his eyes and felt the tears dry cold on his cheeks; he didn’t want to die, not now, not now he’d finally found someone to love, someone who loved him.

All he could hope and pray for was that Jared would come; that Jared would find him and as he slipped once again into blackness he hoped it might be before something ate him.

****

“They’ve found him,” the raccoon relayed the message to Jared as he thrust on his boots and shouldered into his overcoat. It was getting late and, despite the fact it was late summer, it was also getting colder. “He’s three miles away from here, but he’s fallen. There is a ravine and it’s quite deep. You’ll need to call help.”

“I’ll ring the ambulance.” Jared was already out of the cabin moving as fast as his legs could carry him. “Can you take me to him?”

“If you follow the owl.” The raccoon gestured to the sky. “He’ll lead you there.”

“How can I ever thank you?” Jared wanted to hug the scraggy creature. “Without you it would have . . . it could have taken days.”

The raccoon looked at him, sooty black eyes with years of wisdom behind them.

“You could embrace your gift as just that, rather than seeing it as a curse. You could turn it into something wonderful.”

Jared swallowed; he looked up to where the owl was circling leading him to Jensen and he couldn’t speak for a moment, the lump in his throat tight and constricting.

The animal was right; it was a gift and, although he thought he had been doing well by adopting strays, keeping them safe, he had failed to utilize his gift. There was so much more he could be doing, maybe he could study and become an animal psychologist or maybe he could open some sort of animal sanctuary, and devote his time to that.

Finally, he reached the edge of the ravine almost at the same time as the rescue helicopter drawn there by his directions. He knelt down and peered over to see Jensen lying still and pale at the bottom, his chest rising and falling, kept warm and alive by the tiny furry bodies of almost twenty squirrels. Jared felt an overwhelming and fierce love for both man and beasts and he thanked God for his gift, and thanked God for Jensen.

After this he had hell of a lot of explaining to do.

****

“How did you find me so quickly?” Jensen was propped up in the hospital bed, his leg in traction, his right arm strapped to his chest and a huge lump on his forehead. Despite this he still looked gorgeous, and Jared’s mouth went dry at the very thought of what he was about to say.

“The animals told me,” he licked his lips, voice so low he was sure Jensen wouldn’t hear him. “They kept you warm too, stopped you from getting hypothermia.”

“The animals told you?” Jensen’s eyebrows almost hit his hairline and he stared at Jared with wild green eyes.

“I . . . do you remember when we first met? When I brought Mylo into your surgery?”

“Yeah.” Jensen leaned forward a little and Jared put his hand over Jensen’s good one, tangling their fingers together.

“Remember I knew where he was hurt and that he didn’t like needles?”

“Yeah.” Jensen’s eyes narrowed but he was listening as his fingers tightened around Jared’s.

“He told me where it hurt; he told me he didn’t like needles.” Jared bit his lip. “He even told me what his name was.”

“You’re joking right?” Jensen looked perplexed, confused but he wasn’t pulling away.

“No.” Jared’s chest hurt but he carried on regardless. “I’m completely serious.”

“That’s. . . . You do realize that . . . this makes you sound kind of . . . .”

“Insane? Yeah, I know.” Jared knew his smile was shaky to say the least. “But it’s true, all of it. I-I can hear what they say. I can feel what they feel. They found you in the ravine, do you remember the owl? He came to look for you and he told me where you were.”

“The squirrels.” Jensen was looking at Jared but his eyes were soft and there was the beginnings of a smile on his face, “I thought they were gonna eat me.”

“And I sound insane!” The laugh burst out of Jared but he knew it wasn’t over yet. “I know this is a lot to take in, and I know you might not believe me. Hell, you might just want to forget this ever happened, find a boyfriend who is sane, who doesn’t believe he can talk to the animals.”

“This is a lot to take in sure.” Jensen’s hand was still in his and Jensen leaned forward on a groan, his lips brushing Jared’s cheek. “But I’m kind of in too deep to leave you now.”

“That’s good.” Jared’s heart was beating double time and he thought he might cry right there and then. “That’s really good.”

“So tell me.” Jensen leaned closer and his green eyes glinted mischievous. “How did this all start?”

Jared took a breath and, for the first time in his life, began to tell the honest truth.

“It started with a wish . . . .”

****

Jared examined the table for, what seemed like, the fiftieth time. The cloth was clean and the plates were pristine white porcelain, silver knives and forks laid next to them in utmost precision. He fiddled with the napkins and made sure the wine glasses were shining and clear. Then he moved into the lounge obsessively checking for dust.

Sadie lay beside the blazing fire and her tail wagged lazily; the other animals crowded behind her fighting for a place in the warmth and Jared stared fondly at them. He’d washed each one, dried and groomed them; made sure each of them had a collar on. The birds all had new cages and he had actually built a small outhouse for the pigs. All the rooms in the house were immaculate and Jared breathed a sigh of relief. He wanted it to be perfect, perfect for Jensen.

****

Jensen stood awkwardly at Jared’s door. He could hear dogs barking and he smiled determined to like all of Jared’s pets as much as he liked Jared. He still found it hard to believe everything the younger man had told him but he knew Jared had no reason to lie. He tried to imagine what it must be like, what it would be like for him as a vet to hear the animals in pain. He realized now why Jared had seemed odd, and secretive when they first met and he could see how it had been easy for Jared to just hide himself away.

“Hey.” The door opened and Jared was standing there in a smart shirt and pressed denim, the delicious scent of cooking wafting around him. Looking down Jensen saw a smallish German Shepherd mix sitting obediently at Jared’s feet. The dog panted up at him, tongue lolling and Jared patted the dog’s head gently.

“This is Sadie,” he said as Jensen stepped over the threshold. “Sadie this is Jensen, and I want you to be nice to him. Okay?”

The dog gave a yip and Jensen realized that it was actually talking to Jared. It should freak him out but it didn’t and he grinned down at the dog.

“Um, nice to meet you Sadie,” he said and he watched, amused, as Jared repeated what he had said translating. The dog’s tail wagged forcefully and a rough tongue came sweeping, gently, across the back of his hand. Jared was beaming at him and he couldn’t help but beam back.

He was certain now that everything was going to be alright.

****

Jared served up a wonderfully lush steak dinner and poured out the wine; Jensen sat at the table and looked around. Jared had a huge house but it appeared the younger man had cleaned every last inch of it, and he knew that Jared had done it for him.

Jared had looked after him and nursed him through his injuries; it had been nearly three months and he still wasn’t back at work. His hand was out of traction and the plaster cast had been removed from his leg but he still needed crutches and it would be a few more months before he would be back to normal.

Jared had insisted on going back to the cabin to thank the animals for their help and he had added in his own thanks. It was weird at the time to watch Jared talking to a small raccoon, waving his big hands about, and placing in front of the creature a massive box of garbage. Jensen had asked Jared what the animals sounded like and Jared had laughed then, shaking his head.

“Like you and me,” he’d said, eventually. “They just sound like you and me.”

Jared explained he didn’t actually speak animal, that he just knew what they were saying and, in turn, they knew what he was saying to them. Jared seemed so much more content now his secret was out and it made Jensen happy to see Jared happy, so it was a win/win situation.

“I’ve never told anyone.” Jared leaned back in his chair and fiddled with the stem of his wine glass. “I didn’t even tell my parents. I sort of figured that they’d think I was mad and want to have me committed.” He shrugged. “It sounds pretty out there when you actually put it into words.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Jensen fed Sadie some steak under the table and he heard her tail thump on the floor. “You never figured out why?”

“Just lucky I guess.” Jared’s laugh was wry. “When I was a kid, I thought I’d maybe go to Africa and walk with lions or something.” He swallowed. “All that happened is that I became a freak.”

“You’re not a freak, Jared.” Jensen touched his arm. “You’re – you’re just you.”

“You’re taking this very well.” Jared leaned forward and kissed Jensen hard on the lips.

“Squirrels saved my life,” Jensen laughed. “And if I tell anyone that I’ll be the one who ends up committed.”

“I’m gonna embrace my gift now. I’ve enrolled at the local college to study animal psychology and the local zoo have offered me a placement.” He grinned. “So I am gonna’ finally get my childhood wish and commune with lions.”

“Cool.” Jensen licked his lips. “And what about us?”

“Do you really want to date me?” Jared sounded hopeful and scared all at once. “I mean get serious, given . . . ,” he trailed off and waved his arm weakly. “Well you know.”

“Yeah, Jared, I want to get serious. I want us to get to know each other better and maybe, one day, you’ll let me share this big house with you.” He smiled again, wide and inviting. “And let’s face it, your gift will be a real asset at my practice.”

Jared stopped him from saying anything further then with a kiss that was big and warm, and life affirming. Jensen leaned into it and his whole body flared hot, the need to be naked suddenly the first thing on his mind.

“Do you know that I love you,” he gasped as Jared did something particularly nice with his tongue. “I love everything about you.”

“You don’t mind dating Doctor Doolittle, then?” Jared was smiling so wide and it made Jensen warmer, more content than he had ever been. “Or living here with all of these animals? Or maybe sometimes bringing your work home.”

“I don’t mind.” Jensen was already stripping Jared out of his shirt. “And you can do one thing for me right now.”

“What’s that?”

“Tell Sadie to cover her eyes,” Jensen laughed and they both tumbled to the floor in a heap, laughter and kisses covering the sound of the German Shepherds joyful yip.

The End