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White Knight, Talking Backwards

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It happened the way such things usually happen: a stuntman forgot he was dealing with an actor and not another stuntman, threw said actor a little too hard, and suddenly Jensen was flying through the air in the wrong direction. Of course there was a table in his way. Jensen hit and rolled off, landing twisted and wrong, and lay there gasping for a moment.

"Jensen!" They all shouted at once, swarmed him, hovered and lifted and prodded him. The director, some new guy named Parker, crouched and peered into Jensen's face. Actually, Jensen was pretty sure his face was the one thing that wasn't damaged, since it was the only place he didn't hurt at that exact moment.

"Just sit still," Parker ordered, in a tone that was 90% ohshitmyjob and 10% actual concern.

Jensen looked up, half-expecting to see Jared shoving everyone aside to get there, just like the dozen other times this had happened to him, or vice versa. But of course, Jared wasn't there; he had the week off to visit some old friends. Probably he was gallivanting around Seattle drinking beer and having a blast, enjoying himself unbruised.

It was the thought of Jared having to cut short his break that got Jensen off his ass and moving. It also helped him find the power of persuasion to convince the set medical people to buy the whole bruised rib routine, even though they thought cracked ribs were more likely. They might as well have gone down a list: sprained shoulder, banged-up ribs, various contusions...whatever, it wasn't anything some sleep and drugs couldn't cure. He'd had worse, and Jared had been so damned tired when he left for the airport, so homesick and missing his buddies. No amount of routine bruising could cause Jensen to interrupt that precious time off.

"I'm good," Jensen said, smiling brightly at the PA, who was basically lifting him to his feet.

Two hours later, he was home with orders to rest up so he could be back on set bright and early in the morning. Home, in a cold house with the warm shower and soft bed really, really far away from the front door. Also, an added complication: Harley and Sadie were running around him in circles, barking and yapping anxiously. Human arrival signaled dinnertime, even at one in the afternoon. Next they would begin eating his shoes. Or all Jared's living room furniture with a side of carpet. Whichever occurred to them first.

Jensen shuffled into the kitchen. He looked at the dogs, and then at the ten-pound bag of dog food he could not possibly lift at that moment, and sighed. Cutting the top off and scooping seemed like too much effort. He fished a knife out of the drawer and poked a nice hole in the bag, then tipped it over. Dog food showered down onto the floor. "Enjoy," he said, trying to ignore the pang of guilt stabbing at him. Or maybe it was his ribs, carving into a lung.

Just then, Jensen's phone rang - Jared's ring tone, because Jared was obviously receiving telepathic doggy bliss vibes from Harley, who was scarfing up giant jawfuls of kibble. Jensen lifted his arm to fish the phone out and winced. Every movement brought a new and interesting pain into his life. He eased the gym bag off his shoulder, shrugged off his jacket, and pulled out the phone.

"This sucks," he told Harley and Sadie, who barked their disagreement while his phone beeped at him. Great. Now Jared had gone straight to voicemail. He flipped it open and texted some of us r working, bitch. He might go to hell for lying, but there were other sins ahead of it in the queue, so whatever.

A moment later, his answer came: drinkin one 4 u now!

"Better make it more than one," Jensen muttered, flipping the phone closed. He set it on the counter and contemplated his next move. Shower, maybe. Or some food. If Jared was there, he'd make a big show of making lunch and they'd end up eating frozen pizza with salad from a bag. That would be awesome.

After a moment's consideration, he grabbed the phone and hit Jared's number. Jared picked up on the second ring and shouted, "Thought you were working!" There was laughter and crowd noise behind him, and Jensen wasn't envious at all. Nope. At least hearing Jared's voice was cheering him up. Things with them were funny that way.

"On break," he answered. He opened the freezer, stared at the five gallons of assorted ice cream, two pizzas, and the lone burrito, and shut it again. The breadbox held some ancient cupcakes and one moldy slice of bread, none of it edible. The fridge yielded a nearly-empty carton of OJ, but there was enough to take his pills with. It would have to do.

"How's it going with that director?" Jared asked.

"What? Oh. He's an asshole. He likes to do multiple takes for the hell of it. Thinks he gets the best out of an actor in the editing room."

"Christ. You should tell Kripke, wastin' everybody's time that way." There was some static, jostling maybe, like Jared was juggling his phone. "My babies doin' all right?" He drew the last two words out into a deep drawl, and it sounded like home to Jensen.

"Sure." It occurred to Jensen, too late, that it was a damn good thing the dogs were too busy eating to bark; Jared knew they weren't on set with Jensen, and the barking would be a dead giveaway.

"Jensen?" The crowd noise in Jensen's ear diminished. Jared must be moving. "Everything okay?"

"Sure," Jensen said again. He took a deep breath and regretted it, tried to keep the hitch out of his inhale. "Just tryin' to live vicariously through you, since some of us are earning our paycheck."

"Low blow, man. I earned mine at that last convention. Hey, we're gettin' ready to roll. How bout I call you back later?"

"Gonna be on set 'til late," Jensen said. "I'll pick up if I can."

"You do that. Later!"

Jensen threw his phone into his gym bag and took out the meds the doctor had given him. Each of the little yellow envelopes pressed into his hand by the set medic yielded their hoarded gold: muscle relaxant, pain pill, and sleeping pill. He tossed them all back with the dregs of the orange juice, then wobbled to his feet. Sadie flopped over on her side and stared at him, satiated, but Harley hopped around the kitchen like a cat, barking at a stray piece of kibble.

"Harley, I would really hate to have to kill you." Harley tilted his head, then came closer, panting. He nudged Jensen's knee, maybe an apology, and sat down by his chair. Jensen scratched him behind the collar. "You suppose you could give me a ride upstairs?"

From her place on the floor, Sadie made a noise much like doggie laughter, mocking his pathetic, aging body.

It took him five minutes to get upstairs - he stopped to rest twice - and another five to get undressed. After that, the shower seemed pretty pointless. Slowly, so very slowly, he eased into bed and set the alarm clock on the other pillow. 5AM was going to come really fucking early.

 

**

The sound of a voice at the end of his bed roused Jensen from sleep sometime after dark. He rolled over in the pitch black room and looked around, but no one was there. "Okay," he said, gingerly shifting under the sheets, "that's not creepy."

"I beg your pardon," the voice said. "Could you stop kicking me?"

Jensen jerked his legs up and regretted it instantly, since every muscle screamed at him to stay still. He reached for the lamp and turned it on, which only made him sorry he hadn't put a pillow over his face.

A mouse was sitting on his left foot. Even worse, it was...well, it was staring at him with irritation, no doubt about it. There was no mistaking that expression.

"I hit my head," Jensen said, blinking rapidly. "My brain is probably bleeding."

"Ridiculous," scoffed the mouse. Its tiny nose twitched. "You were muttering in your sleep, you know."

"I was?" Jensen said. "Uh."

It occurred to him that since mice don't talk, he definitely wasn't having an actual conversation with one, but just then the mouse sat up, rubbed its nose with a paw and said, "I'm very good at stories. Perhaps you need a story to put you to sleep."

"I don't need a story!"

"Well, then why did you wake me?"

"I did?" Jensen blinked some more, then frowned. "I didn't!"

"Do try to make up your mind." The mouse twitched its whiskers impatiently. "A story, then."

Jensen pinched his arm. He poked himself in the ribs for good measure; sharp jabs of pain rewarded him. Then it dawned on him. "Hallucinating," he said. "I'm hallucinating a mouse."

"Um, technically? I'm a dormouse." The creature sat back on its hind legs. "Now may I continue, or are you going to keep interrupting?"

"I knew I shouldn't have taken that muscle relaxant," Jensen muttered.

"Once upon a time, there were two boys, and their names were Jared and Jensen, and they lived in a house on a hill--"

"This house is not on a hill. Also, seriously, you couldn't come up with something more original?"

"So rude," the dormouse huffed. "To continue! - they lived in a house on a hill, and many of their friends remarked upon the arrangement with great curiosity and speculation."

Jensen closed his eyes and pulled the sheet over his face. Not this again. First Jared's family sending them a new set of dishes, and then Chad dropping off a box of nighties and condoms 'for the wedding night', and then the fans accosting them about their 'feelings'. So what if they had feelings? And even if they did, who said they had to confess them to each other like a couple of big girls with goo-goo eyes? Some things were better left unsaid. Some friends were better left untouched. Or something like that.

"They liked to make music, and they sang many songs--"

"Aren't you gone yet?" Jensen said from beneath the sheet. Something nipped his toe; he definitely did not yelp, but instead quickly tucked his foot underneath his calf in a dignified way.

"If you can't be polite, I won't finish the story."

"Good," Jensen said fervently.

"Humans," the dormouse said with disgust. "As I was saying, they sang many songs beginning with the letter A, such as All Out Of Love, Against All Odds, and Alone --"

"I swear to god, no song by Air Supply has ever profaned my guitar," Jensen said. But then he remembered: Jared had been strumming that song...or maybe he was singing Mandy...the other night, with Jensen's feet tucked under his thigh and Jensen half-drunk and all warm and comfy, and maybe Jared had been looking at him shyly and smiling...

"Ugh," Jensen said, desperately trying to trigger his brain back into a state of perfectly happy denial. "It's not like that."

There was no reply from the dormouse. Jensen peeked out from under the sheet; the thing appeared to be asleep. That was a step in the right direction, but even better, why couldn't it just..fade? And then he could go back to sleep before he hallucinated anything else. Blissful, dream-free sleep. Where there were no ambiguously gay moments with Jared popping into his head.

The mouse slept on, apparently oblivious to Jensen's inability to be comfortable while it was on the bed.

With a sigh, Jensen sat up, wincing at the way his body shrieked in protest, and swung his legs out of bed.

Fortunately, the dormouse stayed put.

Jensen crept out of the bedroom, closed the door, and leaned against it, twitching a little. Maybe he could just borrow Jared's bed. But that was creepy and weird.

"And a talking dormouse isn't?"

Jensen jumped away from the wall, on which the Texas flag was hanging. The star was pointing one of its arms at him accusingly. "Listen up, son. Y'all better grow a pair and admit you're no good at this shacking up thing. A man needs stability. A home that's really home. Commitment! That's the key!"

Jensen got a firm grip on the banister and backed slowly down the stairs while watching the flag with a kind of resigned terror. It figured somehow that the thing that represented home to him would be lecturing him about commitment and shacking up.

But it wasn't like that with--

"Y'all get on that phone and call Jared now, you hear?" the star hollered at him.

Jensen stumbled down the last few steps, never mind how he twisted his ankle in his haste to get away, then limped toward the kitchen as fast as he could go. His cell phone was still on the table, in the gym bag. Salvation! He flipped on the light and stopped dead in his tracks.

Two cupcakes were climbing out of the breadbox. Slowly, they tottered across the counter on tiny stick legs, swaying from side to side. Jensen's face crinkled in horror as they plopped down beside the coffeemaker and began licking frosting off each other.

Also, they were singing. Tiny lalalas wafted up from the pastry as they cannibalized each other, red-hot mouths smeared with pink frosting.

"That is not right," Jensen said, loudly enough that they stopped and pivoted his direction. One of them whistled appreciatively; Jensen realized he was standing there in his boxers, basically hanging in the wind. He blushed. The second cupcake kicked the whistler; it squeaked in surprise.

"You're just jealous," the first cupcake said, in a wee piping voice. "Jared looooves to lick us."

"If you were covered in pink frosting, maybe he would lick you," the second cupcake said.

Jensen looked over at the kitchen table, then back at the cupcakes. To get his phone, he'd have to pass them. He was pretty sure he could take them, but he wasn't at his best. In fact, he was really, really tired, and the room was spinning.

"Oh my, you don't look well," said a voice from near the floor. He swayed forward, and Sadie bumped up against his legs. Then she added, "You really should sit down."

"True," Jensen said. He stared at her; she stared back. Then Jensen turned and made his way shakily into the living room. The beautiful, soft couch stretched out in front of him, but it was too far away. He sat down on the floor next to the coffee table, then curled up. The floor was peachy. He could hear the alarm from there.

He fell asleep listening to the low concerned murmuring of the dogs, and the distant giggling of the cupcakes.

**

Next time he opened his eyes, he was covered by something soft. He yawned and looked up to see Jared sitting there on the floor beside him. Of course. After cupcakes and talking mice manifesting with advice for a relationship he definitely wasn't having, he should have known Jared would materialize sooner or later to torture him too.

Jared smiled down at him. "About time you woke up." He ran his fingers through Jensen's hair, soothing strokes that took all the tension out of Jensen's body. So what if Jared was a big fat hallucination; he had great hands. Jared adjusted the afghan over Jensen so it covered his bare shoulders; until that moment, Jensen hadn't realized he was shivering.

"Bed was too far away," Jensen explained.

"Right."

"And the cupcakes were mocking me." Jensen closed his eyes and butted Jared's thigh with the top of his head. "Do you really have a thing for pink frosting?"

Jared laughed, but he didn't stop stroking Jensen's hair. "There some reason you didn't tell me what was up?"

"I didn't want to ruin your stupid trip with your stupid friends," Jensen said, muffled. He liked this Jared. This Jared was quieter. Also, Jensen would never let the real Jared pet him this way.

"You are so stoned," Jared said, in a tone of vast amusement, but also some concern. "What'd you take?"

"Just what the doctor gave me."

"Hm." Jared shifted so that he was stretched out on the floor, too, his face only inches away from Jensen's. "I guess it didn't occur to you that just about everybody on set was going to call me, right?"

"Traitors. Anyway, why are we talking about this?"

"Sorry. What are we supposed to be talking about?" Jared was breathing on him, now, pepperminty breath. Jensen looked at his face a while, the swoop of Jared's unruly hair where it fell across his eyes, the curve of his lips where he was smiling at Jensen, and Jensen's heart gave an uncomfortable lurch. Or maybe it was just that he'd been laying on his bruised ribs for a couple hours.

He tilted his head and pressed his lips to Jared's, gently, not a real kiss. Just an experiment. Real Jared would never have to know. His hallucination cupped the back of his head with one hand and held him still, and then went in for the kill, and yeah, peppermints, and cinnamon. He licked at Jared's lips, and Jared's hand slid down his back, huge and warm and wonderful, and Jensen let himself be kissed, soft and deep and pretty much perfect.

"Don't tell Jared," Jensen whispered, while his hallucination was nosing at his ear. "It'll fuck everything up."

"Don't worry," Jared said. He was breathing hard, which was kind of weird, but whatever. Jensen wasn't completely sure he hadn't just been licking a cinnamon cupcake. It was that kind of night.

Jared's hand skimmed over his side, and Jensen made a noise that was much more of a manly grunt than a pathetic whimper. Jared snatched his hand away and kissed Jensen on the nose. "Sorry," he said. "We need to get you back to bed."

"There's a dormouse on the bed," Jensen said.

After a pause, Jared said, "Well, I'll get rid of him. We hallucinations have a way of communicating."

"Good." Jensen nodded. At least this latest hallucination was good for something. More than one thing, but he hurt too much for that other thing. "I have to be on set soon."

Jared disappeared for a moment, and when he sat back down, he had a glass of water and some pills in his hand. "Oh, no," Jensen said, scooting away, but Jared caught the corner of his afghan and tugged him back.

"It's just ibuprofen."

"Oh. Okay." Jensen levered himself into a sitting position, took the glass, and swallowed the pills. It was all in his head anyway, so what difference did it make? Then he let imaginary Jared help him up.

"I could carry you," Jared suggested, looking big and strong and helpful.

"Don't insult my manly dignity."

"What there is left of it."

"Hey," Jensen said mildly. There was no further retort because it was wasted on his imaginary friend anyway, and he had to put all his energy into moving down the hallway without crashing into the walls. Jared got an arm around him and Jensen stumbled into him, and they moved slowly toward the stairs.

Then something funny happened, and things went sideways, and for a couple seconds, Jensen wasn't quite sure where up was. He was floating, maybe, or the ceiling was stretching. It went on a while, and then he turned his head and it was on a fluffy pillow.

He groped for the alarm clock, but Jared was already picking it up, making a show of setting it.

"Fuck it," Jensen said. Nice bed, still dark: time for sleep. As a bonus, there was no dormouse in sight. Two seconds later, Jensen was out cold.

**

Jensen woke with a start, wincing because of the sudden motion. The entirety of the previous night and day crashed back in on him, and he looked around wildly. Definitely he was in Jared's room. The clock on the bedside table said 7AM. He was going to be late to set, and Clif hadn't called to let him know he was downstairs, and that new director was kind of an asshole and he was going to bitch and cry about shooting being held up, and Jensen hated to be unprofessional.

"Shit, shit, shit," he said, and flailed a little to get up.

Just then, a long arm reached over his hips, locking him down.

Jensen froze in place. Six feet plus of warm human stretched out behind him on the bed, and there was only one explanation. He cleared his throat and said, "For a hallucination, you're pretty damn strong."

"Uh-huh." Jared snuggled closer to him, which had the unfortunate effect of making Jensen's heart start pounding in his chest. Jared's nose bumped up against the nape of Jensen's neck, and then his lips brushed Jensen's skin. His hand rose to rest against Jensen's bare chest. "Chill, dude. We have half day off while they write me back in."

A half-hysterical thought went through Jensen's head: he's cuddling me. And then, write him back in? "I told them not to call you," he said quietly. "I can't believe you came back."

"I can't believe you didn't call me yourself, you giant asshole." Now Jared was...oh. Soft kisses across Jensen's bruised shoulder, followed by his fingertips, quick and assessing. "That is one hellacious bruise you've got there."

"Uh, Jared?" It wasn't a squeak, but close. Jared, however, didn't seem to notice; he was moving closer, and now his chest was pressed to Jensen's back.

"Can we skip the panic?" Jared said, voice rumbling in Jensen's ear. "I kind of figured it all out last night."

Jensen sighed. "Apparently mixing meds doesn't agree with me."

"That's a matter of opinion." Jensen could feel Jared's smile, not just hear it in his voice; he shivered, and Jared shifted even closer. "Relax, Jen. We've got time to sort it all out. I'm not going anywhere."

Jensen settled down, let himself relax. Those were important words. Everything was going to be okay, if they were true words, and Jared had never lied to him before.

He was drifting off again when a truly horrible thought occurred to him. He turned onto his back to look at Jared; Jared gave him some room, watching him intently. "How did I get to bed? Did you carry me in here?"

"Maybe." Jared smirked. Jensen pictured Jared scooping all six foot one of him up without effort, and bit his lip. "The whole time, you were talking about this frosting fetish of yours." Jared leaned closer, lips against Jensen's ear, and said, "You called me darlin'."

"Oh, hell no I did not," Jensen said vehemently.

"Did too."

"That was the drugs talking!"

Jared tilted his head. "So, all of it was the drugs? That the story you're sticking to?"

Jensen's resolve crumbled in the face of Jared's knowing grin. Damn him. "Um, the kissing was me. The frosting thing, though -- that was totally the cupcakes."

Jared laughed and kissed him until his smile matched Jared's, kisses smiling into each other. Jensen looped an arm around Jared's neck and pulled him closer, never mind the bruises; he could take a little pain.

Besides, if the dormouse was singing Air Supply classics under the bed, with the cupcakes humming backup -- that was no one's business but Jensen's, anyway.