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Marriage and Other Modern Conveniences

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It was 10:38 am when Jared's phone rang, startling him awake. He groaned and groped for it on top of his dresser, knocking his wallet onto the floor. The dresser was pushed up to the edge of his bed to serve double duty as a bedside table. This was as much for reasons of space (there wasn't much) as it was for reasons of money (even less).

Jared peered blearily at the call display and then blinked at it for another moment before he sat up and answered. "Jensen? Hey!"

"Hi," Jensen said, and then added, "Hey, I didn't wake you up, did I?"

"Before noon during summer vacation?" Jared said and yawned in exaggeration. "Why would you think that?"

Jensen laughed. "Sorry," he said. "In my defense, it's Wednesday."

"In my defense, I work the late shift," Jared said pointedly. The coffee shop where he worked was open until midnight, and Jared had been closing for the last week.

"Well, sorry again. How hungover are you, on a scale of one to ten?"

"Just two and a half," Jared said, grinning. "About usual for a Wednesday, y'know."

"Wednesdays can be deadly," Jensen said solemnly. He paused. "So you're probably wondering why I'm calling."

Jared had been wondering. Not that it was unwelcome, just -- unexpected. He'd known Jensen for years, ever since his brother Jeff had brought Jensen home when the two of them were juniors in high school. During the time Jared was in high school, he tended to see Jensen once or twice at the holidays, when he and Jeff were both back in town visiting their families for Christmas. So it wasn't completely out of the blue for Jensen to contact him. They texted occasionally (usually during Cowboys games) and were friends on Facebook. Jared knew, for instance, that Jensen was spending the summer at some kind of dig in South Africa, and that he was going to grad school in the fall. But they'd never been close friends themselves. Jensen lived in California and Jared lived in Pennsylvania, and anyway, when it came down to it, Jared was Jeff's little brother.

"Yeah, I was," he said. "Not that it's not cool to hear from you. What's up?"

"So, I think you might already know I'm going to grad school," Jensen said. "But what you probably don't know is that I'm going to your school."

"What?" Jared said. "Seriously?"

"Yeah," Jensen said, and Jared didn't have to be in the same room as Jensen to be able to picture the way he was ducking his head and scratching his neck self-consciously. "It's got a great physical anthropology program."

"So wait, you're moving here? For September?"

"Yeah," Jensen said again. "It'll be awesome to be in the same city as you, and I was hoping we could go for lunch or something and catch up before school starts." He paused again. "How's next Thursday?"

"Wow," Jared said. "Yeah! I mean, definitely."

"Great!" Jensen said, sounding relieved. "Thanks, man. I don't really know anyone else in town, so I'd love to pick your brains about good places to eat and stuff."

The idea of being the only person Jensen knew in town made Jared glow a little.

Jensen was flying in on Thursday and said he'd text when he knew what time he'd be done with his appointments that morning, and Jared suggested meeting at a retro diner just off-campus that had decent burgers and off-the-charts onion rings.

He hung up the phone and stumbled into the bathroom and splashed water on his face. That it was empty was a miracle seeing as six other people lived in the house and almost all of them considered eleven in the morning a reasonable time to get up.

Jared wasn't fifteen and gangly anymore, looking up to his big brother's best friend who used to smile lopsidedly at him, and let him take a turn at Mario Kart, and punch him on the arm like they were friends. He hadn't been carrying a torch for Jensen for years or anything. He was twenty now, going into his third year of university, and he absolutely did not still have a crush on Jensen Ackles.

He looked at himself in the mirror. The obnoxiously huge grin on his face seemed to suggest otherwise.

~~~

On Thursday, Jensen was half an hour late, and Jared spent the time industriously playing Words with Friends on his phone and drawing patterns in the condensation on his water glass. Then he spent several minutes trying to compose a suitably casual Why did you stand me up? text, which he thankfully didn't actually send before he saw Jensen pushing through the door.

Jensen's smile was genuine, if a little strained, when he caught sight of Jared, and Jared banged his knee on the table standing up too fast. He was fairly sure his face was about to burst from the size of his grin. He reached out and wrapped his arms around Jensen in a hug, before Jensen pulled back, still smiling, and sat down in the booth across from Jared.

"Hi," he said, his voice low and rough. He looked pale and exhausted, lines of frustration creasing his forehead, and Jared said, "Jesus, what happened?" before Jensen could say another word.

Jensen groaned. "Oh God, I don't even know. I didn't get any sleep on the plane, so I'm kind of running on fumes here." He rubbed a hand over his face. "I, um, may have done something stupid."

The waiter showed up at that moment, and Jensen ordered a beer without a second's thought. It was before noon, but Jared ordered one, too. It seemed like it was that kind of day.

"So, let me guess. Did you tell your advisor you wanted to write your thesis disproving all their work?" Jared said when they were alone again.

Jensen laughed a little, short and sharp, but it made his face lighten for a moment. "No, I think I survived the meeting with Professor Devine. At least she still seemed to like me by the end of it."

"Hey, that's great," Jared said encouragingly.

"But first of all, my bags got rerouted to Florida for some reason, and they won't be here 'till tomorrow." Jared made a face. "And after that I went to housing registration and the said they -- I don't know, they must've lost my application or something, because they don't have a room booked for me in grad housing."

Jared stared at Jensen. "Shit, really?" he said.

"And now grad student housing is full," Jensen continued. "And they can't get me a spot in the undergrad dorms, even if I wanted to live with first years. Which I really don't." Jensen blew out his breath loudly. "She said the only available places at the moment were in married student's housing."

"This is stupid," Jared said flatly. "Are they going to do anything for you? They have to do something for you. I mean, it's their fault."

Jensen shook his head. "I don't know," he said helplessly, and Jared wanted to reach across the table and hug him again. "They say they never got my form, so."

"That's not right!" Jared protested. "It sounds like a crock of shit." He frowned. "Well, they said there was room in married student's housing, right? Did they offer you a place there?"

Jensen shook his head.

"Well, they damn well should!" Jared said, outraged. The server came by with their beers, and Jared took an angry gulp. He'd had his own battles with university administration, but at least they hadn't screwed up his living arrangements. He was surprised Jensen was as calm as he seemed.

"The woman said it was only for students who were married -- " Jensen began.

"Well, it's nice of her to spell it out for you," Jared interrupted in exasperation. "As though you might be an imbecile and not a very smart person entering a graduate program. Did you tell her you're a quiet, respectful, upstanding student and that you should be allowed a place in the dorms anyway?"

"Sort of," Jensen said, his lips quirking up a little.

"And then what?"

"She said it really was for married students only, and then she asked if I was married." Jensen paused and took a swallow of his beer. "And I said yes."

Jared gaped at him, outrage at the housing office dying a little in his chest. "What? I mean, you are?"

"No!" Jensen said. "Of course not. I just -- wasn't thinking. I haven't slept in thirty-six hours and I don't even have my toothbrush!" He looked down at the table miserably. "All I wanted was to show up here, meet my supervisor, see you, find my assigned room and sleep for two solid days. I was desperate."

"Well, what did she say?" Jared said, dumbfounded.

Jensen laughed abruptly. "She looked skeptical, of course, and then gave me some forms to fill out." He dropped his head to the table, perilously close to a puddle of beer. "And then I couldn't remember which hand the wedding ring is supposed to go on, so I was trying not to show her either of my hands in case she saw my bare fingers. So then I had to tell her that I was sorry, but I'd lied, and actually I was engaged and that we were going to be married soon and did that count. She said it was a possibility, but it didn't sound convinced." He groaned. "And then I got out of there. Shit. I probably looked like a total psycho."

"Wow," Jared said. "Well, maybe not a total psycho. But at least sixty percent." He smiled, but Jensen just groaned again. "Um. So now -- what?"

"I don't know!" Jensen said, looking up. His expression was equal parts embarrassment, desperation, and exhaustion. "Like I said, it wasn't a plan or anything! It just came out. I'd probably be better off sleeping on the street, anyway," he added mournfully. "It isn't cold at night yet, is it?"

Jared looked at him silently for a moment, wanting so much to reach out and make everything better. Jensen was a good person, one of the best, his brother's oldest friend, and the look on his face was tearing at Jared's heart.

Then, abruptly, something clicked. Of course there was a way to help Jensen out of this. It was stupendously, breath-takingly simple.

"You could get married," Jared said.

"Yeah, right," Jensen replied. "The lady at the office was very strict about the paperwork, including a marriage certificate, 'cause I'm pretty sure she was on to me. So I can't just show up with some random girl and fool everyone into thinking we're married." He paused. "Also, I'm gay."

"No," Jared agreed. "You couldn't just show up with some girl." The next words were pulled from him slowly, like molasses, as though they weren't his words at all. Except for how they were; they were the best words he could think of. "But you could get married. Like -- to me."

There was a long, heavy silence that Jared felt down to his toes. "What?" Jensen said finally.

The idea had been sudden, but it was settling into Jared's mind with a kind of rightness. It would be simple and it would be the right thing to do. Jensen would have a place to live, and Jared would, too. He loved his roommates, but there were a lot of them and they liked to party -- which was fine in the summer, but might not be so fine when school started up again.

"We could drive up to New York State this afternoon," Jared said, doing the calculations in his head. "Buffalo, maybe. It would be totally legal and aboveboard."

"This is the least romantic proposal I've ever received," Jensen said.

"Shut up. I'm being serious," Jared said and then stopped. "Wait. Someone else already proposed to you?"

"Jessica Winters," Jensen said promptly. "In third grade. I said yes, but then broke it all off the next day when she beat me at tetherball."

"Losing at tetherball is a serious blow to a man's pride," Jared said.

"It is," Jensen said agreeably. He looked at Jared for a long moment, his expression grave. "I appreciate the thought, man, but you can't actually be serious about this."

"Serious as anything," Jared said promptly. "I'm not in a relationship right now. You aren't in a relationship -- right?" he added. Jensen shook his head mutely. "So it's just the two of us. Making an informed, sober, adult decision."

"Jared," Jensen said firmly. "Come on. We can't get married on a -- on a whim. Just to give me a place to live."

"Get us both a place to live," Jared pointed out. "Don't think you're cutting me out of that. Those married student dorms have bathtubs."

Jensen shook his head. "Don't get me wrong, being roommates with you would be awesome. But we don't have to get married to do that. We could look for an apartment together."

"Not if we want to get this figured out before school starts," Jared said ruthlessly. "It took my friend Sandy almost two months to find her place, and it's a basement and her rent is highway robbery. Also she lives forty minutes away from campus. By transit."

Jensen didn't say anything for a moment. Jared watched him, the creases in his forehead, the purple smudges under his eyes, the stubble along his jaw. The way his hands kept moving restlessly over his beer bottle. Jared ached to be able to reach out and curl himself around Jensen until he was laughing again, eyes bright and body relaxed.

"Jared," Jensen said at last. "It's not that I don't appreciate this. But I want -- I want to take marriage seriously. It means something to me."

"I know," Jared said. He put down his beer. "I'm not suggesting this cause I think it'll be a hilarious joke or anything. And I know it won't be based on love, but I don't think that means it's not real or not serious. It's important to you, and it's important to me. That is taking it seriously, right?"

Jensen nodded slowly. "So we're talking -- uh," he said, and his face went red. "Like, a -- platonic marriage, right?"

Jared choked. "Right," he said finally. "Right. It's a business arrangement." Just because he might have had inappropriate sexual fantasies about Jensen when he was fifteen, that didn't mean they were mutual. And Jared did not want Jensen to sleep with him out of obligation or something. That was -- Well, that would be worse than nothing at all.

"A business arrangement," Jensen repeated. "And you'd get a place to live and --"

"And health care," Jared said. That hadn't been one of the first things he'd thought of, but he was pretty sure Jensen's family wouldn't let him go off to South Africa without health care. "I didn't play intramural sports last year cause I'm not covered and I was worried about my knee giving out on me again."

"I do have health care," Jensen allowed. He looked at Jared for a long moment. "I like you," he said finally. "You're my friend. I don't want us to be, you know, weird if we have to be married -- or pretend to be married or whatever."

"We won't be weird," Jared said promptly.

"We might be weird," Jensen protested. "We've never been married before."

"Okay," Jared said. "But we won't be any weirder than other roommates who've never lived with each other before."

Jensen was silent for a moment. "Yeah, I guess," he said finally. Then: "What would you tell your friends? And your -- oh god -- Jeff and the rest of your family?" Jensen looked a little strained. "I think Jeff will kill me if he finds out I seduced his little brother into eloping." He flushed. "Or, y'know. If he thought that's what happened."

"I'll tell them the truth," Jared said, even though his stomach tumbled over in anxiety. His parents would be shocked and concerned, of course, and Jeff would probably fall over in shock. He thought briefly about not telling them anything, but then he wouldn't be able to explain his new address.

Anyway, it was Jensen. They knew Jensen. They liked and trusted Jensen. And moreover, they trusted Jared. They'd understand.

He said, "I'll tell them that we met up again and decided we'd like to live together, and then decided we'd like to spend our lives together."

"Wow," Jensen said, and swallowed.

"It might be crazy," Jared said softly. "I don't know if it is. But this is a shitty situation for you, and I can help. I want to help."

"Okay," Jensen said, and he was a little pale, but his expression was made up. "Oh my God. Okay. Thank you. Yes, I'll marry you."

~~~

Jared called his roommate Zach, and borrowed his car with the promise of bringing it back with the tank full and a case of beer in the trunk. Then he called work and got two of his coworkers to cover his shifts for the next three days by promising to take any shifts they wanted to palm off on him, which probably meant he was going to be working opening weekend shifts for the next month. He told his roommates he was going out of town, and went to pick up Jensen on campus.

They were on the road before noon. It was only about a three and a half hour drive to Buffalo, and Jensen promptly fell asleep in the passenger seat, dead to the world.

Jared turned the radio on low, and let himself freak out a little bit. He'd only ever been in one serious relationship before, with a guy who'd broken his heart at the time. And Jared hadn't even lived with him; he'd moved from his parents' house, to rooming with Chad in the dorms first year, to living with his current housemates. It was a big step from there to marriage and all that came with it. Responsibility. Cohabitation. Wedding ceremony. A husband. Forever.

Of course, he and Jensen weren't forever. They'd figured a year or so would be enough. In that time, Jensen would have time to apply to any residence or apartment he wanted, and Jared would be graduating soon after that, anyway. But even if they weren't forever, the idea of marriage and commitment was still terrifyingly serious and long-term. Jared stared out at the highway stretching in front of him and thought about the way his life was currently mapped out. How all of sudden transposing the map of someone else's life over his, their two paths melting together to create another landscape, something completely new, completely unfamiliar. Uncharted territory.

Jared glanced over at Jensen. He was slumped sideways in the seat, his head leaning against the window, pillowed on one of Jared's sweatshirts, his mouth hanging open a little. Zach's car didn't have a working air conditioner, so it was hot in the car and there was a light sheen of sweat along Jensen's hairline.

Here was the reason, Jared thought. He was the reason that even though Jared was freaking out a little bit inside his own head, he knew he wasn't going to change his mind. He'd known Jensen since he was a teenager, and Jensen had been around for most of his life. Even in Jared's other friendships and relationships, he'd never had the same kind of relationship as the one he had with Jensen. So maybe he'd never kissed Jensen. So maybe they hadn't lived in the same state since Jared was fifteen. That was just details.

He woke Jensen up once they got into the city to help him navigate. Jensen turned on the GPS in his phone and directed him straight to the city clerk's office. There, it was only a matter of filling out the application and signing their names before they had a marriage license with both their names on it. There was a waiting period of twenty-four hours, and Jared said, hesitantly, "We could drive back up here next weekend --"

"No," Jensen said abruptly, and flushed a little. "I mean -- we're already here. Can we do it tomorrow? We can crash in a hotel, and get m-- have the ceremony tomorrow afternoon."

Jared had the day booked off, so that was okay. And if they drove back right after, he'd be in time to get a good night's sleep before his shift on Saturday. "Yeah," he said. "Let's do it."

They booked an appointment for the following afternoon, went out for ribs, and found a room in a cheap hotel. Jensen passed out almost immediately, sprawling on his stomach across the bed, most of his face hidden by the pillow. Jared lay on the other bed and kept the TV on quietly for a while, not really thinking about anything.

They both slept in, Jensen later than Jared, and after Jensen finally rolled out of bed, yawning and popping his joints, he looked at Jared and said, "You still want to do this?"

"Yes," Jared said immediately, the answer quick and true on his tongue. "Do you?"

Jensen looked at him for a minute before he said softly, "Yeah, I do."

Jared couldn't help smiling at him, and Jensen smiled back. "Have you ever been to the zoo?" Jared said, and Jensen laughed and shook his head, so they went for breakfast and then spent the rest of the day at the Buffalo Zoo. On their way to the city clerk's office, Jensen made Jared stop at a small jewelry store and he tugged Jared inside and bought them matching silver rings. They were cheap and simple, slim bands that they didn't have time to have properly fitted.

The ceremony was simple and quick, and at the end of it, Jensen took Jared's hand and leaned in to brush their lips together. Jensen was warm, and he smelled good, and Jared was almost dizzy with everything he felt.

The drive back was quiet, even though Jensen stayed awake this time. They left the radio on, and Jensen tapped his fingers casually on his thigh along with the beat.

Jared hadn't really imagined how he might feel after he got married. He hadn't always expected to get married, to tell the truth; growing up gay gave you certain expectations about that. But the feeling he had, sitting in the car with Jensen, matching silver rings on their fingers, driving home together in the coolness of the late summer evening, their life stretching in front of them with the highway -- well, it was something. More than just something.

He felt himself smile, and he kept driving.

~~~

Jensen had to pick up his suitcases at the airport on Friday, and he moved in that afternoon. Jared moved in on Sunday morning after working a double shift on Saturday. Zach knew a guy willing to take over Jared's bedroom in the house, so they let him get away with giving only two weeks' notice. Technically that meant he had the room until September 9, but he figured he'd rather move before school started.

Jensen was in the master bedroom and Jared was on a mattress in the living room, on the floor between the couch and the windows, so Jensen covered more of the rent. They made tentative plans to get a pull out couch, but Jared found sleeping on the mattress on the floor was actually okay. They could lean it up against the wall if they wanted to during the day, and in the meantime, they could still use the TV and the PS3.

For the first few days, Jensen was so painfully polite that Jared felt like he had moved in with a robot who only looked like Jensen. It forced Jared to put a lot of effort into being polite, too. After all, he'd been the one to suggest marriage in the first place; Jensen was the one who'd ended up with an awkward fake husband who slept in the living room and had a tendency to leave all of his dirty dishes piled in the sink.

So while Jensen kept his bedroom door closed so Jared could have some time to himself in the apartment, Jared kept the living room as free of his stuff as possible so that the shared living space was tidy. When they watched TV together, Jensen was careful to be in bed before 11pm, and Jared turned the volume way down so he didn't disturb Jensen. They both meticulously cleaned the kitchen every time they used it, and put away their extra shoes in the closet by the door instead of trailing them across the front hall, and kept their bathroom stuff carefully on their own sides of the sink. It had only been three days but Jared thought he might die of extreme polite cleanliness.

He couldn't figure out how a stupid piece of paper seemed to have made them incapable of acting like they didn't know each other at all.

~~~

When he finally told Sandy, she stared at Jared like he'd sprouted a second head. "You what?" she said incredulously, and Jared had to tell her again, in more detail, how he'd ended up married -- though he left out the part about why they decided to get married in the first place. He and Jensen had decided that they shouldn't tell anyone about that.

At the end of it, Sandy said, quietly, "I can't believe you didn't tell me about this." She looked hurt, a little sad, and Jared reached out to hug her.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I wish I did, too. But it all happened so fast, and we didn't tell anybody." He smoothed a hand over her hair. "It was just something the two of us wanted to do. By ourselves. For us."

Sandy pulled away and looked at him steadily for a long moment. Jared held her gaze. Finally, she nodded and said, "Fine. But I'm still annoyed with you." She reached out and flicked him in the forehead. "You got married in Buffalo? And you didn't even go to Niagara Falls for a honeymoon? You are lucky that boy married you, because let me tell you, you suck at romance."

Jared nodded and tried to smile. "Yeah," he said. "I am lucky."

~~~

The married student housing wasn't at all like living in the dorm Jared had shared in first year. No one seemed to get drunk and puke in the hallways, for one thing (Jared was relieved about that one). There were kids around so there were often strollers by the elevators. There was a communal rec room in the basement near the laundry room, but there were rarely people in it. If things had been less awkward with Jensen, Jared would have dragged him down to play foosball, but as it was, he avoided the place. Other residents waved at Jared sometimes when they saw him, but there were no hall meetings with embarrassing icebreaker games or RAs wandering around with baskets of condoms and pamphlets on drugs.

It was like they were in the dorm where they were all expected to be adults.

Jared did run into the couple who lived across the hall from them, Danneel and Aldis, on his way to class on Wednesday morning. They introduced themselves, smiled at him, and didn't seemed in the least fazed when Jared stumbled over the word "husband."

It turned out Aldis was thinking about joining the intramural basketball team and Danneel had taken a class with Jared's current psych professor the year before and they were both wickedly funny. The time walking with them to the Student Union building passed in no time.

"It was awesome to meet you," Danneel said.

"You, too," Jared said, grinning.

"Hey, you should come over and have dinner sometime," Aldis said. "We cook some mean pasta."

"I love pasta," Jared said, grinning. "That would be awesome."

"With your husband, of course," Danneel added.

Jared felt himself freeze. "Oh yeah, he loves pasta, too," he managed.

They smiled at him and headed off in the opposite direction, and Jared felt his gut twist up in knots. He and Jensen were a couple now. An adult couple. People expected them to do couple things, like dinner parties and -- and cocktail parties, probably. What else did couples do with other couples?

He didn't know how he was going to be able to keep up the pretense when he and Jensen were barely even speaking.

~~~

When Jared got home on Friday afternoon, Jensen was sitting at the kitchen table highlighting something in a book, the fingers of his left hand wrapped around a mug of coffee and a pile of other library books stacked next to him. They hadn't even finished the first week of classes, and Jensen had been to the library at least twice that Jared knew of. He looked up and smiled when he saw Jared. He was wearing glasses and had the lid of a pen in his mouth. Jared struggled to decide whether that combination was more sexy or more adorable and finally settled on it being completely unfair.

"Hi," he said.

"Hey," Jensen said, and took the pen lid out of his mouth. "I'm glad you're home. I wanted to talk to you."

Well, that was never a good thing. Something squeezed around Jared's heart, and he sat.

Jensen made a face and scratched the back of his neck self-consciously. "I just -- my mom keeps calling. And I don't know what to tell her about, um, us."

"Oh," Jared said, and guilt flooded through him. "Yeah. I haven't told my parents either."

"I don't like lying to them," Jensen said. "And another part of me doesn't want to tell them about you -- us -- when we're just going to break up at the end of the year, anyway."

Break up. For some reason, hearing Jensen say that, even when they'd decided together that it made the most sense, made Jared feel a chill. You're being irrational, he thought to himself sternly.

"I was just going to tell them we were roommates," Jensen went on. "But, I mean, I can't have a bunch of different lies for different people. I'll go crazy." He stopped. "You're telling your friends and stuff, right?"

So far, Jared had been doing an excellent job of keeping himself very busy and, apart from Sandy, not telling his friends. Which was cruel, he realized, looking at Jensen's concerned face. He didn't want Jensen to think Jared was ashamed of him or something. Because he wasn't. If Jensen were really his boyfriend, he'd be singing it from the astronomy tower, and Jensen wouldn't be able to get rid of him.

As it was, it was hard to tell his friends the fact that he was married when he was barely even speaking to his husband.

But they were living in the married student dorms, so it was obviously going to come out sooner or later. It was probably best if Jared told them himself.

As for his parents, well.

"You know what? We both need to talk to our parents," he said. "So we'll do it tonight. Both of us." He paused and added, "And then get really drunk."

Jensen smiled at him, a little lopsidedly, and for a moment he looked so open and familiar that Jared just wanted to hug him. "Yeah, okay," Jensen said, taking a deep breath. "But if Jeff tries to kill me, I'm using you as a human shield."

Jared's parents were shocked into silence before they began babbling about how soon Jared and Jensen were coming to visit until Jensen got on the phone to promise they'd both be there for Christmas. Jensen's mother screamed so loudly that Jared could hear her from across the room, and when she started crying, she kept saying they were "Happy tears, Jensen, happy tears!"

Afterwards, they both had a shot of whiskey. Then they immediately had a second one.

"Christmas is going to be torture," Jensen said. "I think our mothers are going to fight over us."

Jared nodded glumly. "I bet we're going to have to pose for belated wedding pictures."

"Well, don't worry, I bet you'd look good in a tux," Jensen said grinning, and Jared felt himself flush.

"Anything's better than the T-shirt with the hole near the neck that you wore to our actual wedding," Jared shot back. "Yeah, don't think I didn't notice that, you slob."

"Hey, I was living out of a carry-on, remember?" Jensen said, and he punched Jared lightly in the shoulder. "Jerk." Then the smile dimmed from his face. "Why are we -- why haven't things been like this?"

The look on his face was almost wistful, and Jared's breath caught in his throat. "I don't know," he said, and grimaced. "We suck at being married, obviously."

"God," Jensen said, and let his breath out in a whoosh. "Well, can we stop being sucky? We used to be pretty good at getting along."

"Yes," Jared said. "We were. We are." He laughed and then held up his hand solemnly. "I hereby promise to henceforth not be such a terrible husband."

Jensen laughed and held his hand up, too. "I also hereby promise to henceforth not be such a terrible husband." Then he added, "I can't believe you just made me take a vow with a split infinitive."

"Hey, that right there is terrible supportive husband behavior," Jared pronounced, pointing his finger sternly. "See if I vow anything over you again."

They both took another shot, and Jared said abruptly, "We should have a party," and Jensen looked startled. "I mean, we should have a party so I can tell people about you properly. So they can meet you. So you can meet them."

"Okay," Jensen said, nodding slowly. "But can it be next weekend? I still feel like I could sleep for a week."

"Next Saturday?"

"But it can't be too crazy," Jensen added. "I want our new neighbors to like us."

"Hey, I forgot to tell you. I met our neighbors!" Jared said, and proceeded to tell Jensen about Danneel and Aldis.

That night, Jensen didn't disappear into his room at precisely 11pm and both of them left dishes in the sink, and Jared thought just before he fell asleep that the apartment felt, for the first time, like it might be a home.

~~~

Things were much better between the two of them after that. They didn't bother tiptoeing around each other, and the place started to look more lived in. Jensen left his piles of library books on the floor in the hallway, and Jared put some of his posters up in the living room, even though Jensen made fun of him for having a Transformers poster, even though it was of the original Transformers and not the Michael Bay piece of crap so Jensen really didn't have a leg to stand on. Jared left dirty pots on the stove, and Jensen drank the last of the milk and forgot to buy more, and neither of them cleaned the bathroom that weekend, and it was all okay.

They fooled around on the Playstation some evenings, and sometimes the watched a football game or a movie. Jared made them overcooked pasta two evenings in a row, until Jensen declared him unfit for kitchen duty and made him wash dishes instead. Jensen laughed at Jared's jokes, even the bad ones, and mocked Jared when he forgot to take out the garbage.

On Friday, Jared woke up early to heavy rain coming down outside and he had to get up to close the window. When he got back under the blankets, he felt warm and he didn't remember what he'd been dreaming about but he was half-hard in that sleepy comforting kind of way. He slipped his hand under the waist of his pajama pants, no urgency, just good, and he was just starting to feel his whole body getting into the spirit of it when he heard a noise and then the sound of Jensen's door opening.

Jared froze. Jensen always got up earlier than him -- he had some kind of horrible 8:30am tutorial session for the first year class he was TA-ing. Jared was a sound sleeper and Jensen was very quiet, so there hadn't been many times when they'd bumped into one another in the mornings.

Jared turned his head and kept his eyes slitted as he watched Jensen yawn his way past the living room to the kitchen. Jared heard the familiar sound of the coffee maker burbling to life. Jensen had been wearing only his boxers, and Jared's dick was taking full interest in the glimpse of Jensen's bare chest and muscled arms.

Jensen went past Jared again, and this time he saw the way Jensen's bare lower back dimpled and then curved into the swell of his ass and the way his legs bowed outwards. There was the sound of the bathroom door closing and the shower turning on. Jared let his breath out quickly, and then closed his eyes and curled his fingers around his dick and thrust his hips up into his fist, fast and furious, breath shaking and body trembling with the sudden fierce urgency of his orgasm.

He lay there afterwards, still and quiet, his face flushed and hot, his boxers sticky, while Jensen finished his shower, put his lunch together, poured a travel mug of coffee (milk, no sugar), and left for class. Only after he was gone did Jared get up and take a long, guilty shower.

~~~

Jared and Aldis ended up on the same basketball team, so Jared saw him every Tuesday and Thursday. The second week, Aldis said, casually, "It doesn't have to be a formal thing, y'know."

"What?" Jared said.

"Dinner," Aldis said. "We're not, like, inviting you for a couples dinner party with fancy wine and candles on the table and Scrabble after dinner. We eat on TV trays half the time, both of us drink beer except for when we drink rum, and we don't own any board games."

"Hey," Jared said. "I like Scrabble."

Aldis rolled his eyes. "You would. Well, you can bring your own board if you want, but the only way I've ever seen Danny convinced to play Scrabble was when it was dirty word Scrabble. And believe me when I say she can kick your ass to hell and back."

Jared laughed. "I'll keep that in mind."

"I'm just saying, it's not a big thing," Aldis said. "Come over for dinner."

"Okay," Jared said. "Okay."

So the next evening, he and Jensen knocked on Aldis and Danneel's door. Jensen was wearing a clean button-down, even though Jared had told him what Aldis'd said, and Jared was holding a case of beer. Danneel gave Jared a kiss on the cheek when she opened the door, and then said, "Jared, you didn't tell me what a hottie your husband is!" Jensen turned pink and Jared flushed, and Danneel added, "Oh man, you guys are adorable."

After that, it wasn't bad at all. They sat in a living room that was the mirror opposite of their own and drank beer and ate nachos, and then ordered pizza and watched an entire disc of The Big Bang Theory episodes. Jensen sat next to Jared on the couch and kept knocking their knees together, casually, as if they touched like that all the time, and once he got Jared a fresh beer even before Jared had taken the last gulp out of his current one. He was probably being a bad boyfriend -- husband, Jared realized, so he said, "Thanks, baby," before he lost his nerve, and coughed to cover up his smile at the expression of shock on Jensen's face.

Later, he let his hand come up to awkwardly settle on the back of Jensen's neck, the soft short hair on the back of his head tickling Jared's fingers. Jensen tensed in surprise, and Jared smiled hesitantly at him until he relaxed under Jared's touch. But when Jared glanced at Aldis and Danneel to see how well his deception had played, they were busy bickering good-naturedly over which of them had last bought batteries for the remote and were ignoring them completely.

Jared let his hand fall away from Jensen's neck, and instead watched Aldis and Danneel together. They looked easy in one another's company, warm and open and teasing, and Jared glanced at Jensen to find he was looking at them, too. When Danneel kissed Aldis' nose, sweet and quick, they both looked away.

"Thanks for dinner," Jensen said, sometime later.

"Well, have us over to your place sometime," Aldis said, grinning.

Jared thought about all his clothes in the hall closet and his mattress on the floor of the living room. "Yeah, totally," he said.

When they were back in their own apartment, Jensen said firmly, "Okay, we have to talk about pet names."

"How about sweetiepie?" Jared said innocently. "Sugarbuns? Pumpkincakes?"

"Oh my God, it's like you live in an obscene bakery," Jensen said.

Finally they settled on babe (not baby) as a general term of endearment they could both live with. Jensen still said, "Night, pookiebear," with a glint of a smile before he shut his door, and Jared ignored the way warmth bloomed in his chest and called, "Sleep well, snugglekitten!" loudly through the door.

~~~

They didn't end up having a party until October. One weekend, Jensen's department had some kind of grad student bonding thing, so Jared hung out at the old house on Friday night and spent a lot of time distracting people with alcohol so he didn't have to answer too many questions. Half of the people at the party kept looking at him and his ring finger in total disbelief, and when they took a break from that, started pestering him to find out how he'd met Jensen, when they got married, how they'd kept it a secret, ad nauseam. Jared kept the answers simple, sticking to the things he and Jensen had agreed on, but he felt cold and anxious about the way he was at the very least avoiding the truth with so many of his friends. It was exhausting living a life of deception, and Jared was really starting to hate it.

So the following weekend, they had people over on Saturday, and even though Jensen had met Sandy and Zach by now, he was meeting most of the rest of Jared's friends in one loud, crowded bunch. It must be a little overwhelming, Jared thought, as he looked across the apartment, but Jensen looked just fine, laughing and joking with Jared's old roommate Adrianne and two of his coworkers. A few people from their building, including Danneel and Aldis, were there, and only two people from Jensen's grad program (apparently the bonding from the weekend before hadn't gone so well), but most of the crowd was made up of Jared's friends.

When Chad showed up, he said, "Jared, you sly dog!" and declared the following weekend a belated bachelor party.

"Oh man, you don't have to do that," Jared protested.

Zach leaned over and said, "We're going to show you the time of your life! Hubby over there is gonna lose his mind."

Jared laughed and cuffed him gently on the head. When he glanced across the room at Jensen, grinning, Jensen was looking at him with a peculiar expression on his face. When he caught Jared's gaze, his face shifted and he smiled. It was the kind of private smile a person would give his husband across a crowded noisy room, Jared thought, and he felt his heart speed up in his chest. Settle down, he told himself. Jensen must have been taking cues from Danneel and Aldis, too.

When Jensen reached his side later that night, Jared gave him a happy smile. "Enjoying yourself?" he said.

"People are telling me all kinds of embarrassing stories about you," Jensen said gleefully. "It's been most enlightening."

Jared groaned. "Unfair! You have to introduce me to all your friends now or you have a totally unsportsmanlike advantage."

Jensen had just opened his mouth to respond when someone started clinking a spoon against a beer bottle (Jared suspected Sandy started it), like people did at wedding receptions, and then more people joined in until Jared started getting worried about noise complaints, so he said, "Okay, okay!" Then he cupped Jensen's warm cheek in one hand, muttered, "Go with it, okay?" against his lips, and kissed him.

It was different than their perfunctory first kiss at the civil clerk's office. For one thing, Jensen immediately opened his mouth, as if on instinct, and then seemed to melt into Jared's body. Maybe it was the few beers Jensen had drunk, or maybe it was his high school drama background, but he was good, Jared thought numbly. Very -- persuasive. He was even persuading Jared with the way he swiped his tongue across Jared's bottom lip and hummed into Jared's mouth and rubbed his thumb softly over the length of Jared's throat. When Jensen broke away, his breath uneven, to the cheers and laughter of the crowd watching them, Jared couldn't stop staring at his wide brilliant eyes, flushed pink cheeks, and slicked-wet lips.

"Sorry," Jensen whispered under his breath, just for Jared to hear.

"Uh," Jared said intelligently.

"The party's going great," Jensen added, and then he slipped away.

A crowd of people left the party to head to the bar, and the remaining guests turned the music down and sprawled comfortably in the living room, and started a game of coming up with increasingly terrible fake band names. Jared's favorite was Mucus and the Phlegm.

It was almost two in the morning when Sandy, their last remaining hold-out, yawned and said, "Oh my God, I'm volunteering tomorrow morning."

"We can call you a cab," Jensen said.

Sandy nodded and then said, "Well, unless -- do you guys mind if I crash on your couch? I have to be on campus at nine tomorrow, anyway."

Jared couldn't think of a single reason why not, except for the fact that he wasn't sure where he was going to sleep in that case. But Jensen said, "Of course you can. C'mon, Padalecki, give me a hand with the extra blankets."

Jared followed Jensen into his room. Jensen was digging under the bed for a sleeping bag. "Okay, but where am I going to sleep?" Jared said, his voice low, and Jensen shot him a look.

"On the bed, of course, dumbass."

Jared had nursed his way through two beers the whole night, feeling too anxious and wired to actually get drunk. Also, he'd thought he'd needed to keep his wits about him. At this precise moment, his wits appeared to have deserted him, though. He felt slow and sluggish all of a sudden, and wasn't sure he'd properly understood what Jensen was saying.

He followed Jensen into the living room and helped Sandy make up the couch. When he got back, Jensen had inexplicably not pulled out the mattress they'd stashed under the bed while their guests were over.

"Um," Jared said.

Jensen turned his back to strip down, so Jared did, too, thinking guiltily about the eyeful of Jensen's body he'd got that one rainy morning. He shucked his own shirt off and his jeans, and pulled on the T-shirt Jensen had tossed at him. It was tight across the chest, a bit too small, but the fabric was soft and comfortably worn-in. Jared looked down; it had the Cowboys logo on it.

When he turned around, Jensen was already on the far side of the bed, curled on his side against the wall, eyes closed. Jared had a flash of Jensen sprawling openly across the bed in the hotel in Buffalo, and said, "Don't you want --" before he stopped, not sure what he was trying to say.

Jensen blinked up at him. "C'mon then," he said, his voice rough. "Bed's big enough, even for you."

So Jared climbed in and switched off the light, and lay in the dark next to his husband, trying not to breathe too loudly and trying not to think too much about the way Jensen had kissed him. They were platonically married, that was the deal. Platonic. Jensen had just been acting, that was all; outside of that kiss he'd never shown any sign that he thought about Jared that way. Just because Jared was having a hard time keeping his feelings compartmentalized, that didn't mean Jensen was, too.

It took him a long time to get to sleep.

~~~

When Jared woke up, there was an arm curled around his torso and a leg tangled with his and a warm body pressed against his side. Jared blinked his eyes open and then froze. In the middle of the night, Jensen must have reverted to his preferred sleeping arrangement of flinging his limbs halfway across the bed. Sleep-Jared appeared to have been happy to agree with this plan long enough to tug Jensen close to his side and nuzzle his face into Jensen's hair. One of Jensen's hands was curled in the fabric of the T-shirt he'd lent Jared, and Jensen's body was hot against his, his skin still tanned from his summer in South Africa, bleeding heat into Jared's very bones. He murmured gently in his sleep, and oh God, Jared was hard.

He needed to move, but he really, really didn't want to.

It was maybe only ten minutes that passed, though it felt like several agonizingly long hours. Jensen made a soft sighing noise, and Jared's whole body stiffened. Then Jensen shifted a little, and Jared rocked backwards and slid out from under the covers. He stood for a moment as the pale morning sun came in through the blinds of the darkened bedroom, and looked down at Jensen. He seemed somehow soft and vulnerable in this light, and Jared's heart turned over.

He'd been wrong, way back at the beginning when he'd assured Jensen that neither of them would get hurt. He was pretty sure now that he was the one who was going to have his heart broken, and it was all his own damn fault.

~~~

"So, hey," Jensen said, later that afternoon, when the two of them were sprawled in the living room watching football, still having not managed to clean up the wreckage of the party from the night before. "We never talked about, uh, this. Before."

"About what?" Jared said absently.

Jensen was quiet for long enough that Jared glanced up and flicked a stale potato chip at him. Jensen tossed it back at Jared's head. "I mean," he said, his voice serious. "If either of us -- likes someone."

Jared could feel the grin on his face slip. "What?" he said. "Do you --"

He stopped. Jensen was shaking his head. "No!" he said. "Only, y'know. A year is a long time to be, uh. Celibate." He didn't meet Jared's eyes.

Jared wondered abruptly if Jensen hadn't been as asleep as he'd seemed that morning in bed. If he'd been awake, then of course he would have noticed Jared's hard-to-miss boner. He was probably trying to let Jared off the hook for his inappropriate crush.

Or else -- and this thought was even worse -- Jensen had met somebody that he liked. Jared tried to run through the people he'd met last night that Jensen had invited to the party. Then he ran through all his friends who'd been at the party, wondering who it was that Jensen might have connected with.

"It's," Jared said finally, his heart in his throat. "I thought we agreed we'd be faithful."

"Yeah, no, we did," Jensen said quickly. "We did. I was just. That was about sex, not -- I mean, I'd want you to tell me, okay? If there was someone else you, you know."

"Fell in love with?" Jared said.

There was a pause. "Right," Jensen said. He kept his eyes glued to the TV, even though it was one of those stupid Old Navy commercial they both hated. "Or someone else you -- that you could fall in love with. I just don't want you to have to put your whole life on hold for me."

Jared felt suddenly hollow. "Well, ditto," he said.

"Okay, then," Jensen said, still not meeting his gaze.

"Okay, then."

And they sat in silence for the rest of the game.

~~~

Mid-term season was upon them, then, and Jared had three exams in two days, so he spread his stuff out on the coffee table and worked. He was glad he wasn't still living in his old house, where mid-terms were an excuse for everyone to drink a lot and studying meant locking yourself in your room with a case of Red Bull to cram for your exam the night before. At least here he had Jensen, who had piles of first year essays on the kitchen table, and who still made time to make the most amazing chili Jared had ever eaten outside of his mama's house.

Things had been a little strained between them since the party, but they seemed to have moved past it. At least, Jensen hadn't said another word about it, which led Jared to hope that maybe he'd been wrong about Jensen liking someone else. Of course that meant he'd probably worked out that Jared was in love with him and seeing as he hadn't said anything about that, there didn't seem to be much left to say.

So he just smiled his thanks when Jensen came in with a bowl of chili and they ate in companionable silence on the couch. Jensen read the funniest lines in his students' essays out loud, and then they both stayed up to work late into the night.

When Jared got up the next morning,he noticed the chili Jensen had packed for his lunch was still in the fridge. He still had two hours before his exam, so without another thought, Jared stuffed the tupperware into his bag, and went to find Jensen's office. He'd never been in the Anthropology department before, so in the elevator, he texted Jensen to find out his office number. Jensen didn't text him back. Maybe he was in class, Jared thought.

He found the main office, and the woman behind the desk looked up at him. "Can you tell me where to find Jensen Ackles' office?" Jared said. "I'm his, um --"

There was an awkward pause while Jared wished he'd just kept his mouth shut after his first question, and then the woman smiled and said, "Oh! You must be Jared!"

Jared was pretty sure his mouth had fallen open unattractively wide. "Uh, yeah," he said, trying to smile politely. "That's me."

She smiled at him and directed him down the hall to a closed office door. It had a piece of paper taped to it with the names of three TAs written on it. Jared knocked, and a female voice said "Come in." When he opened the door he found two desks pushed together in a cramped room. Jensen was sitting at one desk and a blonde-haired girl was at the other.

"Hey," Jensen said, looking surprised. He smiled, though, his eyes brightening. "Come on in."

"Hi," Jared said. "Sorry to interrupt, but you forgot your lunch."

He held up the chili, and Jensen grinned. "Thanks. I didn't even realize I left it behind."

The blonde at the other desk said, "Oh wait, you're Jared?" and grinned and stuck out her hand for Jared to shake. "I'm Kristen."

Jensen looked a little embarrassed and ducked his head. Jared shook Kristen's hand and tried to process the fact that two of the people who worked with Jensen knew Jared's name. Neither Kristen nor the woman in the office had been one of the two people who had shown up to their party. Which had to mean that Jensen talked about him at work.

The thought made Jared's stomach flip over, and he smiled at Kristen. But he was going to be late for his mid-term, so all he said, "Sorry I've gotta run, but I've got an exam." Impulsively, he dropped a quick kiss on the top of Jensen's head, winked at Kristen, and added, "See you at home, babe."

He left the office grinning.

~~~

Jared had almost forgotten about Chad's threat of throwing him a bachelor party. So it took him completely by surprise when the weekend after Halloween Chad showed up at their apartment and announced, "This is a kidnapping!"

Zach and several more of their friends were ranged behind him in the hall. Jared looked at them in amusement. "I don't think it works if you tell the victim about it beforehand," he said.

Chad was busy taping a note to the door. It read:

DO NOT WORRY.

WE HAVE TAKEN JARED AWAY FOR
A NIGHT OF DRUNKENNESS AND DEBAUCHERY
FROM WHICH HE MAY NEVER RECOVER.

HAVE A GOOD NIGHT.

"It's nice of you to leave a note, but it's kind of self-contradictory," Jared pointed out, and that was the point when Zach confiscated his phone.

The rest of the night was something of a haze of laughter and alcohol and embarrassing hats. Jared had just been informed by their very buff, very hot server that it was last call when Chad groaned, "Aw shit, who invited the ball and chain?"

Jared had had one too many shots to be able to figure out what that meant, but the person standing in front of him looked a lot like Jensen.

"Zach called me," the guy said, and he unzipped his winter coat. Sexily.

"This stripper looks just like my husband!" Jared exclaimed.

The stripper even raised his eyebrow just like Jensen. Jared stared at the eyebrow in fascination.

"Sorry, babe, I'm definitely not a stripper," the guy said, and oh. It really was Jensen standing there. Jared blinked at him and then grinned. "I think maybe it's time we get you home," Jensen added.

Then Zach was there, helping Jared stand up and saying, "C'mon, time to go home, Padalecki."

"How does Zach have your number?" Jared muttered into Jensen's neck, pushing his nose into the warm skin under the collar of Jensen's coat. Jensen was really warm.

"We played racquetball a few times," Jensen replied, his voice a little strangled. That didn't even make sense, though, so Jared decided to forget it.

In the back of the cab, he leaned into not-a-stripper-Jensen, putting his head on his warm, warm shoulder and breathing him in. He might have imagined it, but he was pretty sure that was Jensen's hand carding softly through Jared's hair, nails scritching gently over his scalp. Jared sighed into sleep.

~~~

In the morning, when Jared blearily stumbled into the kitchen, Jensen looked up and winked at him. "Morning."

Jared blinked back at him. "Um. Did I call you a stripper last night?" he said.

Jensen laughed. "Unfortunately for you, yes."

"Fuck. Sorry."

Jensen said, "I'll think of some way for you to pay me back, don't worry. Coffee?"

Jared accepted it gratefully. "I'm never drinking again," he said.

Jensen just smiled. "Sure, babe," he said.

~~~

When Jared got home from basketball later that week, he heard voices in the kitchen. "Honey, I'm home!" he called out, grinning at the face he imagined Jensen would make at that.

He dropped his gym bag in the hall, toed off his shoes, and wandered into the kitchen, where he stopped short.

His brother Jeff was sitting at the table.

"Jeff," he said stupidly.

Jensen's face looked a little purposefully blank, like maybe Jeff had been reaming him out, and Jared clenched his hands into fists.

"Hey, kid," Jeff said, and got up to pull him into a hug.

Jared's arms went around him before he could think properly. It was surprisingly good to have his big brother's arms around him.

"Sorry I didn't call ahead," Jeff said, though he didn't look sorry at all. "I had a conference in Pittsburgh, so I thought I'd drive out and see you two with my own eyes."

Jared glanced at Jensen. Jensen's expression was inscrutable.

"Well, I've gotta say, I'm starving," Jared announced. "And I think the conversation that's about to happen could use some alcohol. Have you eaten? Let's go get a pizza or something. You're buying," he added to Jeff.

Jeff had a rental car, so they drove to Sam's Steakhouse. Jensen sat quietly in the back of the car, and when they got to the restaurant Jeff asked Jared about school and work and friends, and they all avoided the subject that was clearly in the front of all of their minds.

"Are you gonna stay the night?" Jared said when their food showed up.

"The couch is more comfortable than it looks," Jensen added, his lips twitching into a smile.

"No, I'll drive back tonight. I've got a hotel in the city."

Jared nodded. "Well, it's awesome of you to come see us. And buy us dinner."

He saw the expression on Jeff's face and realized abruptly how that us sounded, dropping casually out of his mouth. He was also surprised to realize how natural it felt to him.

When they'd finished eating, and Jensen excused himself to head to the bathroom, Jeff said, without preamble, "Mama's worried sick about you."

"What?" Jared said.

"You wouldn't come home to visit this summer --"

"I was working all summer!"

"-- and then you get married over one fucking weekend and don't even tell anybody!"

"She keeps saying she's happy for us," Jared said mutinously.

"Of course that's what she's saying to you, you asshole."

Jared felt a little sick to his stomach. "It was my decision. Mine and Jensen's. I'm sorry if it felt like we were excluding everyone, but we didn't mean it that way, and we didn't think --"

"Yeah, it's pretty clear you didn't think," Jeff said.

Jared glared at his brother. "Are you mad because it's Jensen?" Jeff huffed angrily, and drew his fingers into a fist on the white tablecloth. "I know he was your best friend in high school and you have some kind of protective thing going on right now --"

"This isn't about that."

"-- and you can say all you like about how we rushed into this, but this is Jensen and I've been in love with him since I was fifteen."

Jared heard a sharp intake of breath behind him, and felt his heart drop in his chest even before he turned in his chair to see Jensen standing there, shock written all over his face. Jared was pretty sure the truth of what he'd just said was written across his own features.

Well, that's it, he thought. Nowhere else to hide.

Jared stood up, ignoring the noises his brother was making. "Yes, I was in love with you when I was fifteen. I fell in love with you all over again in these past few months. Sorry about that -- I realize it's awkward for you." Jensen stared at him, open-mouthed. Jared turned to Jeff. "Thanks for dropping by unannounced, bro. It's been swell."

He was pulling on his coat and was almost out the door of the restaurant when Jensen caught up with him. He snagged Jared's hand and urged him around. "Sorry," he said breathlessly. "I'm so sorry, it took me a minute to put my head on straight, but I --" and he leaned up and kissed Jared, all too briefly, warm and tentative.

"You --" Jared said, his head spinning. Jensen didn't move away, and Jared's fingers caught and then held onto Jensen's hips, as if he could anchor Jensen to him in this moment, physically restrain him him from being a dream or hallucination or fantasy.

Jensen reached out to stroke his hand along Jared's jawline. "Yeah," he said softly. "I do."

Jared felt floored, so he did the only thing he could think of doing and kissed Jensen again.

Finally, Jensen pulled back, smiling, his eyes crinkling in the corners, and he said, "Let's go home."

It took them longer than seemed humanly possible to find a taxi and get back to the apartment. They held hands in the cab, but didn't touch each other any further, and Jared could feel anticipation building and buzzing under his skin. He couldn't stop looking over at Jensen, and Jensen kept returning his glances, their eyes catching and pulling away again, almost like they were shy after all this time. Jared squeezed their hands together, letting his thumb run over the bones of Jensen's fingers.

His heart was pounding by the time the cab pulled up to the door of their building. They both pushed money at the driver -- it was probably too much, but Jared didn't care. Inside, Jensen pulled out his key first, and Jared crowded up close behind him, letting his breath out gently on Jensen's neck, curling his fingers into the fabric of Jensen's jacket.

"Oh god," Jensen muttered, his fingers fumbling with the keys.

He got the lock open and the two of them fell through the doorway together, twisting around to find each other's lips, limbs trying to wrap around one another. Jensen's mouth was hot and wet and open, and he made a noise that sounded like a moan around Jared's tongue that Jared really wanted to hear again. He pushed Jensen up against the wall in the hallway, and Jensen went willingly, breath pushed out of his lungs by the impact. He wrapped one arm around Jared's neck and splayed the other possessively across the small of Jared's back, under his coat, fingers brushing the waist of his jeans.

It wasn't like anything else in the world, touching Jensen like this and having him touch back. Sparks of sensation were flooding through Jared, over and over, fluttering in his chest, shivering across his skin, tightening in his gut.

He pulled back to lick lightly at the corner of Jensen's mouth. Jensen rubbed his hand through Jared's hair, fingers in Jared's scalp. Then he hoisted his left leg around Jared's waist, pushing their hips even closer together, and Jared gasped when he felt the thick line of Jensen's dick pressing against his hip bone.

He wanted this right now and he wanted it to last and he wanted it forever.

"I -- uh -- " Jensen started. Jared could feel the muscles of Jensen's thigh flex around him, and he dropped his hand to cup Jensen's ass and upper thigh, spreading his fingers wide. "I have a bed," Jensen managed, voice rough.

Jared growled and leaned down to bite gently on the lobe of Jensen's ear. He inhaled the warmth of Jensen's neck. A bed was really tempting. The images in his head at the idea of bed and Jensen at the same time were obscene. But a bed was far away, and he had Jensen warm and open and pressed up against him, and he really didn't want to move.

He pushed forward with his hips, and used his right hand to press Jensen's hand to the wall, his fingers searching out and stroking the silver band on Jensen's ring finger. "I'm currently a fan of this wall," he muttered against Jensen's ear.

Jensen made a sound in the back of his throat, and then said, "I meant we have a bed."

Jared didn't know what kind of noise he let out at that, though it probably would have been considered a whine. The next thing he knew Jensen was pulling him down the hallway, and they were both shedding clothes as they went -- coats, shoes, shirts. In the bedroom, Jared fell sideways on the bed, trying to take off his pants and keep kissing Jensen at the same time. Jensen laughed at him and said, "Need a hand with that, cuddlemuffin?" and then pushed him onto his back and climbed on top of him.

Having a practically naked Jensen on top of him was the fulfillment of so many of Jared's fantasies -- both those of his fifteen year old self and the more recent ones -- that Jared might have let out another whine. He certainly forgot about the comeback he had prepared for that "cuddlemuffin" crack. Jensen ground down into him and leaned down to lick Jared's throat, his tongue sweeping into the dip of Jared's collarbone and following the line of his throat. Shivers swept across Jared, and he moaned at the feel of Jensen's tongue and lips on his sensitized skin. His hands curled around Jensen's hips, fingertips just under the waistband of the boxers Jensen was still wearing.

"Your fucking arms, Jesus," Jensen muttered against his shoulder, and Jared wondered if Jensen had been having fantasies about him, too.

"Do you realize," he said suddenly, "that we're about to have first time married sex?"

Jensen looked up, his fingers still stroking over Jared's chest and ribs, setting all of Jared's nerves on fire. "Oh God," Jensen said, a smile curving at the corner of his mouth. "Then this is like our wedding night, isn't it?"

"Well, you're going to have to imagine the champagne and roses," Jared said.

"Cheapskate," Jensen said, chuckling. Then he said, voice low, "The condoms and lube aren't imaginary though," and rolled off Jared to yank open a drawer next to the bed.

"Oh fuck," Jared said, as Jensen pushed down his boxers and climbed back onto the bed. Jensen's cock was thick and hard, curving slightly to the right, and Jared wanted more than he ever had in his life.

Then, before Jared's brain managed to come back online, Jensen was coating his fingers in lube and reaching behind himself, saying, "C'mon, get naked, what are you waiting for?"

Jared had no idea what he was waiting for. He stripped his boxers off, keeping his eyes on Jensen. Jensen grinned at him, a little shakily, and said, "Next time, I want my cock in you, okay?"

Jared's cock jerked at that, and he said, "Jesus Christ, yes." Then he added, "Can I --"

"Yes," Jensen said, even though Jared wasn't sure what he was asking. Jensen rolled onto his stomach, the curve of his ass tilted up like an offering, his thighs spread enough for Jared to see the glistening of lube on his ass cheeks. Jared knelt between Jensen's legs and drizzled lube on his own fingers, pressing two of them to Jensen's hole. Jensen shivered and pushed back against the pressure of Jared's fingers, so hot and sweet, so Jared let them sink into the tight heat of Jensen's body, fucking them gently in and out.

"Jared," Jensen said, and his voice sounded wrecked. Jared looked up the length of Jensen's broad back, his muscles flexing under his skin, how he was raised slightly on his elbows, his head bowed. "Jared," he said again.

"Yeah," Jared said, and he reached blindly for a condom. His dick was achingly hard, and he was embarrassingly sure that this was not going to last long.

The first push inside almost made Jared pass out in a wave of hot, tight, slick. Jensen moaned underneath him, arching his back, and Jared pushed in again, helpless and desperate. They started moving together then, and Jared stretched down across Jensen's back, sweat-slicked skin against skin, and buried his face in Jensen's neck. His right hand curled underneath Jensen to grasp his dick, throbbing hot and hard and wet with precome on Jared's palm, and he stretched out his other hand to grasp hold of Jensen's left hand, which was twisted into the sheets. Jared intertwined their fingers, felt the satisfying tiny clink of their wedding rings knocking against one another, and started moving faster and harder, stroking Jensen's dick with the same motion. Jensen was making unintelligible sounds under him, and Jared pressed his nose into the warm skin of Jensen's neck and let himself moan into Jensen's throat.

Jensen came quickly after that, muscles clenching and body shaking. His left hand tightened around Jared's and his neck arched up, and Jared couldn't resist sinking his teeth lightly into the skin there, like he needed to remind Jensen that he was there.

When Jensen went limp and loose under him, pushing Jared's hand off his still-twitching cock, Jared kissed the bite apologetically.

"You're really hot," he murmured into Jensen's ear.

"Fuck," Jensen said.

Jared pushed forward experimentally. "Oh god, yeah," Jensen moaned, pressing back into it, so Jared fucked in again. His own orgasm was building low in his balls, trembling out across his thighs and belly, and so he fucked forward into Jensen, and again, and again, his whole body alight, and came, sprawling down across Jensen's back.

"Fuck," Jensen said again, after a minute. "Fuck, you're heavy."

Jared laughed, and rolled reluctantly off of him. "You love it," he said.

Jensen laughed a little, too, and turned his head to look Jared in the eye. He was still sprawled on his belly, his limbs flung outward, his hair bunched weirdly just over his one ear. He looked happy and mussed and fucked-out, and Jared thought that was a good look on him. He wanted to see that look on Jensen a lot.

"Are you gonna make me sleep on my mattress in the living room?" Jared said, putting on his best pleading puppy dog expression.

Jensen rolled his eyes. "Well, I dunno. I seem to remember you like to snuggle."

"Me?" Jared said, outraged. "You were the one with all the -- all the octopus arms everywhere!"

"You love it," Jensen said, eyes crinkling, and Jared laughed because, yeah, that was true.

~~~

They were invited to no less than three Thanksgiving dinners, not including both of their mothers' dinners, and although Danneel and Aldis' beer can turkey experiment was tempting, they turned them all down. They spent the day just the two of them, watching football and eating spaghetti with ground turkey and then having really athletic sex on the couch. Sprawled next to Jared afterwards, Jensen said, "I'm glad we stayed here."

Although since Jeff's visit, they'd both spent a lot of time talking on the phone to their families, they still hadn't gone down to Texas to see them. Jared thought that it was okay to postpone that particular visit until Christmas. He kind of liked the novelty of being home with Jensen, really home, just the two of them. There would be time for families and photos and teasing and hugs and explanations later.

"Me, too," he said and kissed Jensen's ear.