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Watching Him Fall

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Danneel had been doing lunch with Krista every Thursday they were both were free since they'd been so low down in the pecking order at work that they'd spent most of their lunches bitching about being expected to do some guy's typing. Now, a few years and promotions on, they spent an alarming amount of time bitching about their assistants' shortcomings. Jensen thought it was funny to call her his establishment woman in a sexy power suit just so she could taunt him back that he was her kept boy who wore shorts to work whenever he wanted to. Truth was, shorts or no shorts, he was his own boss and she was just a cog in a wheel.

"Kev wants to go see a movie tonight, go out afterwards, you know, maybe stay up past 10 o'clock or something edgy like that," Krista said.

Danneel was paying Krista only half her attention. She was watching the people thronging the sidewalk across the street, couples strolling, men and women pushing through the crowd, suit jackets flapping in the wind of their own stride. She followed the progress of a woman striding out, heels be damned, and the man struggling to keep up with her. You go girl, she thought and smiled in appreciation. The woman passed out of view, and Danneel focused on two men, walking close, arms brushing, shoulders knocking. It made her think of billiard balls, clacking together, changing each other's directions, but never stopping.

"Danneel, honey, are you listening?"

"Sure, Krista. Movie, up past your bedtime…"

"Do you and Jensen want to come with?"

"Jensen?" Danneel watched the two men split apart to go around a man studying something, maybe a map. "Not Thursday night, Krista. He plays basketball with his new gym buddy every Thursday."

"He could cancel for a night out with you," Krista said with evident disapproval.

This was not new; Danneel knew Krista thought she was too soft. Kevin lived on a short leash, at least when Krista was around to watch him, and Krista believed that was the way it should be.

"You wouldn't want to get between those two and their basketball date," she said, and the two men across the road came back together, closer now. "It's sacred," she said, and the men paused in the middle of the sidewalk and kissed twice, two light meetings of mouths, and she felt a sick wave of certainty flow through her. She knew, and how had she not before now? Her stomach was churning, her heart pounding, and she bet she looked like her lunch was threatening to come back up. She thought about just bolting to the ladies' room, but Krista would follow. "I think I need to get back, Krista," she said, pleased to not hear much of a tremble in her voice. "Can you get the cheque, and I'll make it up to you next time?"

She didn't even wait for an answer, just stepped straight out into the flow of people, and hustled back to the office where she could close the door and concentrate on not screaming, or crying. Crying would be worse.

It had started, Danneel supposed, the minute Jensen had laid eyes on the man. Hindsight wasn't just 20/20, it was a great big magnifying glass that let you see your own stupidity nice and big. She shook her head, she knew better, calling herself stupid was against the rules. She'd made them after all, she should remember. She'd been oblivious, not seeing something that she'd never thought to look for, which wasn't quite the same thing as stupid. So oblivious, yes, but realization had come eventually, and now that it was here, it really was all clear in hindsight.

The day they had met, Jensen had come home, a little later than usual, which wasn't all that unusual, and they'd had to hustle to get dinner made before they were past hungry and just exhausted. He'd been giddy, nearly, eyes sparkling, and he'd laughed, sloshing wine into their glasses, grass green and almost too sweet. "It's crazy," he'd said, "the guy makes me feel small."

"So how enormous is he," she'd asked, and he'd swatted her with the towel.

"He's not deformed, just tall. I can't even imagine how much he lifts."

"Mmm, sounds nice," she'd said and squeezed Jensen's arms.

"Huh, I've got nothing on him, damn college boy—all the time in the world to work out."

That night, even though they'd both been tired and they'd had too much wine, Jensen had slid over to her side of the bed, hands sliding along her skin, and his voice tickling her ear, whispering all the things he wanted to do to her. She'd been sore in a few places the next day, had a circle of bruises around one thigh, the dull ache putting a grin on her face. It had been the next week that the Thursday basketball had started. It had been a month before she'd noticed that basketball apparently got Jensen's blood up. She even cracked some joke about it the night they'd fucked on the kitchen table, and Jensen had blushed as he'd laughed before he'd picked up the pace, and she hadn't had breath for words.

She felt like she knew him, was the weird thing, felt like he was part of her life too, even though she'd never even met the man. Jared Padalecki, masters student, committed gym rat, another damn Texan, dog lover, big smile, big laugh, big everything, really bad basketball player. Jared Padalecki, the man that made Jensen light up like he was on fire, the man Jensen couldn't talk about without a grin on his face, an expression as free and happy as he'd worn when they first started dating.

By the time she was driving home, she had a new list—all the things she didn't know. Was he single, gay, straight, somewhere in the middle, and did he light up from the inside out whenever he laid eyes on Jensen? Did Jensen even know he was falling, had fallen, she corrected. She could at least be honest and admit that it was a done deal.

She clicked the speed dial at the next red light and flipped the phone over to hands free. "Hey, baby." Jensen's voice came through the speaker sounding tinny and distant.

"Back atcha," she said, and if she focused on the traffic she could keep her voice sounding normal.

"You done for the day?"

"Just heading home, and I had an idea," she swung the car onto their street and slowed down. "I think it's about time I got to meet the famous Jared."

"Yeah, babe, I keep telling him I want to invite him over, but he always says he has to go home to the dogs."

"How about tonight, but not at home—what's that bar down the street from your building?"

"Jimmy Lee's, or Bobby Jim's or something," he said, "yeah good idea. He can't say no to a quick beer. We're usually out of here by seven or so, before it gets too busy."

She calculated the drive home in the evening and came to the conclusion that a quick beer had been part of Thursday night basketball for quite a while. "I'll meet you there," she said.

She resisted the impulse to go all stilettos and underwires. She could hear Krista's voice in her head—she'd be telling her to put it out there where he could see what he wouldn't be getting if he didn't smarten up. Jeans and a nice silk shirt seemed a little more reasonable, and if the jeans made her ass look fabulous, and the shirt had a few buttons undone, well, she wasn't a martyr.

Jimmy Ray's was the kind of place that had pool tables and a scarred-up wooden bar, but the bartender wouldn't bat an eye if you ordered a cosmo, and the wine selection was a little above average. She ordered a bourbon neat and picked a spot at a tall table in sight of the door. She sipped her drink and watched the people come and go.

Her drink was half gone, and she'd waved off a couple of offers of menus from the waitress, when the door swung open and Jensen walked in, head turned back to speak to the man behind him. She'd had some idea that Jared would look young, he was only 25, but he was no kid. She had been unprepared for the sheer size of him, the sheer masculine effect of six and half feet of very built man. He was ducking down, hair in his face, saying something to Jensen that had brought out the smile that crinkled up his eyes and made him look so very, very beautiful. It had always been such a rush to put that smile on his face, to have that sparkling happiness appear out of the almost dour face he usually favoured the world with. He was flashing all that sparkle back over his shoulder before he scanned the bar. When his eyes lit on her, his expression didn't change.

She felt the usual flush of warmth that he always inspired in her, but there was something more too, something like fear. She watched as he knocked his shoulder back against Jared. They headed her way, and Jensen looked at her with the easy fondness spiced with a little extra heat that he always had shown. Exactly the same way he looked at Jared. She took a sip of her drink and watched them close the distance.

Jensen made introductions, and Jared shook her hand, smiling wryly when his hand completely engulfed hers. His long hair was still damp from the shower, and it curled where it willed. He did have a big smile and a big laugh as advertised, and Jensen let them chat, smiling at each of them in turn and looking almost proud when Jared said something absurd, and she laughed along with them.

Jared looked totally at ease, except for how he couldn't stop fiddling with the collection of bracelets on his left wrist or the label on his beer bottle. He told her the story of how he and Jensen had met, a story she'd heard for the first time the day it had happened, over grass-green wine and a bowl of pasta. It was even funnier the way Jared told it, how he had hobbled up to Jensen's physio and massage business, one floor up from the gym, looking for a knee brace, only to walk in on Jensen trying to extricate himself from the determined flirting of a female customer. "I was awesome, I mean, I could have been an actor you know. You would have thought I was dying, to hear me."

"Whimpered like a little girl, you mean," Jensen said, and Jared shushed him.

"So after I go to all the trouble to save him from a woman who thinks animal prints are a good idea, he has the nerve to take me to task for overdoing the running."

"You do, you have not clue about limits, man."

"Commitment and dedication, Jensen. A man your age should think about it."

"Cheeky pup," Jensen said and turned to smile at Danneel. He wanted her to like Jared, obviously, and the hell of it was, she did. She was pretty sure most people fell under his spell without noticing the drop.

She let the two of them go off on some ramble about football, and she watched Jared. He didn't read as gay to her, immediately, and he certainly presented himself as a very masculine guy, beyond just the muscles and the big personality, but he didn't look at her the way a straight man did. He hardly looked at her at all, but whatever his orientation, he certainly seemed happy pointed toward Jensen, looking at Jensen, laughing and smiling with Jensen. Her only question left was, was he aware of it? Well, two questions if you counted the big one—what the hell was she going to do about it all?

Jensen excused himself eventually, and she was alone with Jared. He looked at her frankly, and he smiled a little sadly. "I should go," he said.

She could just agree with him, this was her opportunity to solve the problem without ever actually confronting it. But this wasn't an office rivalry, some bit of backroom jockeying for the boss's favour, this was about Jensen. She could tell Jared straight out, get your eyes off my man. She could watch Jared pull away; she could watch Jensen lose him. She was utterly convinced that Jared would disappear right out of his life for good if she insisted.

"Is that what you want to do?" she said, and his eyebrows shot up. He had been ready for her dismissal, maybe even wanting it. It would, she realized, make his life simpler too.

"I'm not sure I can get what I want here," he said.

She had lived in that land herself, where what you wanted was never in reach. She didn't know what to say to the man, but Jensen's return saved her from having to respond. He plunked back in his chair, throwing his grin around indiscriminately. She watched Jared warm up again, open up and smile back, crack a few jokes, but she had the trick now of seeing where he held himself back, the hint of sadness around his eyes even when he laughed.

Jared picked a lull in the conversation and said, "I really do need to get home to the dogs, guys."

"I thought I was the old man here," Jensen said, and Danneel laughed right along with them. It was their joke, that their jobs were making them old before their time, that bed by ten was becoming alarmingly common.

"Oh, you are. You could always add a Botox clinic to your place, avoid having to pay retail when the inevitable happens."

"Jerk," Jensen said, and damn, but could the man not hear the level of affection in his own voice?

Jared looked almost shaken, but he rallied and said, "This was fun, um, Danneel," he took her hand again, gently, understanding and regret in his eyes. He left without saying anything about how they should do it again, a lack of sentiment that she could relate to.

She followed Jensen's car home, and he was waiting in the driveway when she pulled in behind him. He opened her door for her, and she stood up into his embrace. He kissed her hard, demanding, passionately, and she damn near pushed him away. She didn't want this, if it wasn't for her; she didn't want what Jared inspired in him.

"You know how much I want you, don't you?" Jensen said into her ear. He always did the right thing in the heat of passion, knew how to make her feel wanted and desired. He even occasionally said the right thing. He was really bad with words the rest of the time; she could count on one hand the number of times he'd managed to tell her that he loved her, and she'd always told herself to look at what he did and ignore what he didn't say. It had always been enough for her before.

She let him lead her in the house and straight to the bedroom. She let him pour out all his feeling into her, let herself enjoy the heat and the intensity, let herself take what he always gave so freely.

The glow of the lights on the kitchen appliances, three sets of green lights telling her it was 2:36, kept her company while she picked at a ham sandwich and considered the state of things. She shied away from the question of how she would feel if Jared had been another woman, a younger woman. The answer to that question wasn't going to get her anywhere. She considered Jensen instead. They'd met at some party, dated for a year, and she hadn't hesitated to tell him she wanted to move in together. They'd had one conversation where they both expressed no real interest in marriage, and now, thinking back, she realized they'd never asked each other why.

They hadn't talked about a lot of things; she had past adventures and misadventures she'd never mentioned, and she assumed he did too. She had seen a man hit on him once; he'd been waiting for her at a bar, and she'd watched in amusement and no little pride as he'd politely declined. They hadn't talked about it afterward, but she knew he'd seen her watching.

She didn't want to think that Jensen realized the direction of Jared's feelings and just didn't care. She didn't want to think that he was in any way lying—to either of them. She also didn't want to be the one to tell him, but could she just go on as she was, the silent observer? The mustard bottle had no answers.

***

Danneel came back from lunch with Krista to find an email from Jensen: "Jared cancelled basketball, you want to grab dinner somewhere?"

She had avoided talking about Jared, less successfully avoided thinking about him, over the intervening days, and she wasn't too surprised by this turn of events. She hadn't asked him to back off, but it looked like he was choosing to of his own volition.

"Did he say why?" she sent back.

"No. He sounded weird."

She frowned at the email. She knew Jensen; she knew this was his way of saying he didn't understand, people sometimes baffled him, and he wanted her to explain it to him. She typed a reply, rewrote it. Looked at it. "Fuck it," she said and picked up the phone.

"Do you know where he lives?" she said when Jensen answered.

"Yeah…"

"Go talk to him." Jesus, what the fuck was she doing?

"I—I want to, thought of that, but isn't that a bit—"

"No, it's not. Just, Jensen, talk to him and then come home. I'll be there."

"Danneel? What—you're not making sense, what—"

"Yes, I am, Jensen, and dammit all, I think you know it somewhere inside your thick damn skull. Go see him. Come home." She snapped the phone closed, flicked it off and tossed it in her purse.

She needed something to do; she couldn't sit in her silent office for the afternoon. One of the flashy new fellows in marketing was trying to poach on her territory with their biggest client, and she was in just the mood to deal with the little bastard. Her assistant actually flinched when she strode past her desk on the way to beard the jackal in his den. Good, a little fear was good.

***

Danneel was sitting at the kitchen table drinking bourbon straight up when Jensen came home. He stood in the doorway, not quite meeting her eyes, and she studied him for signs of what he'd been doing. She shook her head, disgusted with herself. If he'd been doing anything, he wasn't going to let her see it. "I warn you, darlin', I'm most of the way to drunk," she said.

He smiled, a little twitch of his lips, and he raked his eyes over her, the bottle, the glass. He pushed himself off the doorway and fetched a glass from the cupboard, poured himself a couple of fingers. "I love your sexy drunk voice," he said.

"You making fun of my accent, Texas boy?"

"No." He sipped at his drink, fiddled with the cork from the bottle.

"You not in the mood for talking, Jensen?"

He grimaced, looked up quickly and then away. "I'm talked out."

"Yeah, probably best, not much in the mood myself. I don't—no point in fighting."

"Haven't got the energy," he said. "You know, right? You know that—that I—" he waved his hand between them, gave her a speaking look.

She laughed, maybe even a little unkindly, "Yeah, baby. I know. I," she mocked his waving hand, "too, right?"

He seemed relieved, as if the damn fool had cause for any doubts. "Idiot," she said quietly.

"Yeah, I'm getting that." He shifted uncomfortably on his chair. "We should maybe just go to bed?"

"Sure thing, honey," she said, and she stood, wobbling enough to set her laughing at herself.

They climbed into bed, back to back, but touching as much as possible and the drink was dragging her under fast—not the usual way they'd spent their Thursday nights lately.

***

Work was busy enough, and annoying enough on Friday, that she didn't have much time to think about all the things she'd gotten drunk to avoid talking about the night before. She had a rule, you drink to hide from life, you damn well admit it to yourself. She had no compunction about taking her hangover out on her most annoying coworkers, though.

Jensen was late home, he often was on Friday, when every office bound soul in the city realized they needed to do something about their aches and pains before the weekend. He frequently had to pick up the slack for the massage therapists, something she knew he resented a little. She was in the middle of chopping some lettuce with a knife a little overbuilt for the job when he walked into the kitchen and launched into a tirade about the client that had kept him late.

"Entitled, fucking asshole," he said.

"Name's not Rick is it?"

"No, why?"

"I was kind of hopping there weren't two of them in the world. Sounds like the new asshole in marketing."

"Yeah, well, at least mine has to pay me," Jensen said and took over the salad. Her knife use always made him nervous.

"You pad his bill?"

"Damn straight."

"That's my man."

Jensen was shredding a piece of lettuce onto the remains of his dinner while she sipped at her second, very large glass of water. "I really didn't know. You know that, right?" he said.

"Yeah, baby, I know," she said with a sigh.

"I feel like such a fool."

"I ain't gonna argue that one."

Jensen fixed his attention on his pile of shredded lettuce. She was regretting the previous night's indulgence for the first time and wanting a drink.

"I don't know what to say—that doesn't sound like pop song lyrics, anyway," he said ruefully.

"Country-pop or top 40?"

He smiled, which she'd been wanting to see since he'd fallen silent halfway through dinner. "Don't think it's bad enough to be a country song."

"You can't help the way you feel," she said, the words she had been telling herself for years, since long before Jensen.

"That's one, yup. I just don't know what to do about it."

"We," she said, the one thing she'd become certain of before the bourbon took over the night before, "we decide."

Jensen nodded. "He, um—Jared said that he offered to just walk away, that night at the bar."

"Sounded that way to me," Danneel said.

"Why didn't you go for it?"

"Good question." She tried to remember exactly what she'd been thinking at that moment. "I guess I didn't like the idea of where that would have left us. I never had any desire to be another Krista."

"Or your mother," Jensen said, and Danneel twisted her lips into a bitter smile.

On the surface her mother didn't seem much like Krista at all. She was a traditional wife and mother, full of stories about cousins and babies and promotions. She also hadn't had a conversation with anyone, in as long as Danneel could remember, that wasn't some kind of manipulation. It appeared Jensen had been listening to her when she ranted about her family, usually right after they'd had to spend time with them.

"Did you decide anything last night?" she said.

"Not really. It was, fuck, I needed some convincing." He looked up, and she saw chagrin and some hint of wonder under it all. "I am just that big a moron."

"I think I need to hear you say it out loud."

Jensen paled and looked away. "God, why?"

"Because, I think I'm going to need to get used to it," she said firmly.

He kept looking away for a long time. She knew he was really bad at this, but they needed some place to start.

"I'm in love with Jared," he said, finally. He looked at her, studying her. "I love him," he said again, the wonder taking over from the shame.

"So?"

"So, I don't know … how can I, I mean," his face went white again, he looked like he might need to run for it. "I don't want to leave you," he said. "Not for one second, did I ever—you have to believe me, I never thought that. Jesus."

He sounded so horrified by the idea, she was seized with the urge to laugh. "It's nice to hear, honey. I never doubted it, not really."

"Don't, don't ever, okay?"

"Okay, baby." She pushed away from the table, gathered up their plates and busied herself with tidying up. "I'm going to take a long bath and try to pretend that Monday morning isn't a lot closer than I want it to be," she said, and she stepped close, laid her hand on his shoulder, squeezed gently, "if you want to make a phone call."

She watched the oil scented with something rich and spicy pour into the bathwater and saw her hands shaking. She stayed in the bathroom for a long time.

***

Jensen said he wanted to take her out on Saturday, so they drove out into the country, wound down roads they'd been on a dozen times before, laughed at the same obnoxious mansions and slowed down to look longingly at quaint old wood-frame cottages surrounded by fields and streams and quiet. They stopped for lunch in a small town, a place they'd been before, and they fell quiet over their coffee, easy in their silence.

"A good day," Jensen said when they had sunk into the sofa at home.

"It was," she agreed.

He was lost in his own thoughts, so she took advantage and watched him. He wouldn't get embarrassed and duck away when he was like this, all unaware of her regard. He looked relaxed, happy. She let herself wonder if he was thinking about Jared, imagining having a good day with him, and she was feeling mostly okay with that. There were a lot of days to be had, good and bad.

She twisted her lips in an evil smile. The next time he came home all cranky and bitchy after a too-long and too-frustrating day at work, she knew just where to send him. She laughed out loud at the thought, realizing it was completely and utterly likely to happen, and he looked at her, glared, when she only laughed harder.

"What? Do I have something on my face? What?"

"Not a damn thing wrong with your face, honey. Let's go to bed early," she stood and headed for the bedroom. "Bring the bourbon, I think I'm going to need a nightcap later."

"Yes ma'am," he said smartly, just the right amount of mocking in the obedience to get her to laugh and just enough reality in it to get her hot.

***

She had to stagger out of bed at a truly alarming hour to waylay Jensen on Thursday morning; office hours were damn cushy compared to running your own business. She captured his coffee and held it captive so he had to pay attention to her.

"Babe, come on," he said, trying to look pathetic and mostly managing pissy.

"You get this back when you answer one question."

"Fine." He looked a little worried, which only proved he could read a calendar too.

"You planning on coming home tonight?" She said it straight out, no waver, no hesitation. She was proud of that.

Jensen flushed hot pink and then blanched white. "I, um—ah, shit. Danneel, Christ, I don't know."

She shook her head. She had been the one to ask him out the first time, after all. "Do you think you should think about it?"

"Likely, fuck I don't… You know I—shit." He stared at the floor, and then suddenly looked back up at with a cheeky grin. "Hi, I'm Jensen Ackles and I'm a babbling moron." He stuck his hand out like he was going to shake hers, and when she was busy laughing at him, he stole his coffee back. "Are you okay with that? I mean, I don't know that I'm okay with that."

"Okay, honey, here's my rules. One, safe sex, and that's non-negotiable. Two, you tell me where you are going to be, and you always have your phone with you. Three, well, hell, I'll get back to you on three, but I'm thinking there's going to be one."

"Deal, deal, and deal in advance on three. Ah, I have one."

"Yeah?"

"You tell me if it's too much, if you can't handle it. You tell me."

"Deal, now get the hell out of here, so I can go back to bed for an hour."

"Yes ma'am."

He tasted like coffee when he kissed her, so she had to have a cup and never did get that extra hour of sleep.

***

The first time she spent a Thursday night alone, it was weird. She was tense and irritable, and she didn't know what to do with herself. She'd be damned if she was going to do the laundry while Jensen was out being—out—even if it was what she'd taken to doing on Thursdays during the months of the basketball dates. She half thought she should just go to bed early, get the day in the done column that much sooner, but she thought sleeping alone would be even weirder. They rarely did sleep apart. She didn't have to travel for work, Jensen was tied to his business, and she liked it like that, liked his warmth and his wandering hands and his presence, the sense of him there, even in sleep.

She put the television to its intended use and found a tolerable enough movie to watch to pass the time. The hero was following a herring so red it was scarlet when Jensen called her.

"Hey, Danneel, just needed to hear your voice," he said, and she muted the television and relaxed for the first time since breakfast.

"Yeah, baby." She wanted to say she missed him, but she didn't want to start that, start some call and response of complaint and guilt that would never end.

"He's, Jared's not here right now, I mean, not overhearing range, and—"

"Jensen, I know that. You're oblivious sometimes, you're not an asshole."

"You say the sweetest things to me," he said.

She could hear the smile colouring his voice, and it made her feel like it always had, proud to be the cause of his pleasure, warm from its heat. "You know, Jensen, I think I'm still infatuated with you, even after all this time. How the hell is that possible?"

"Questionable taste on your part?"

"Maybe."

"Me too, you know, still," he said.

"It's your way with words, has to be."

He laughed, as he'd been meant to. "Can I call you in the morning?" he said.

"Sure thing, not too early though."

"Promise. Night, Danneel."

"G'night, Jensen."

~*~*~*~

Jared lined up the shot, let the ball go, fingers dragging, making the ball spin, and it hit at an angle against the hoop and bounced wildly astray.

"Nice," Jensen said, from the doorway, and Jared tried to glare at him, but he couldn't keep the smile off his face.

Jensen, casual in shorts and a tee shirt, leaning against the door and trying to disguise his nervousness in excessive stillness—the sight eased something in Jared that had been eating away at him for the past week. He'd kissed Jensen the week before, touched him, told him things he'd believed he'd never say, and he had been strung tight ever since, waiting to see if it was all going to be for nothing, a dream of something he couldn't ever have that would disappear as soon as he reached for it.

"You want to play?" Jared asked.

Jensen still had his street shoes on, his work clothes. He looked away, found some fascinating bit of the floor to examine, and said, "You think you're ever going to get any better?"

Jared laughed and said, "I'm not that delusional, man."

"Then I think we should get out of here," Jensen said, and he finally looked up again.

Jared collected the ball, tossed it into the bin at court-side, and he seriously considered saying no. He had considered doing just that all the way over to the gym, right through an hour with the weights that had failed to clear his head, and he'd kept on considering it until seeing Jensen again had chased his higher brain functions too deep to be heard.

"Danneel knows where I'll be," Jensen said.

Jared wanted to cross the room, just go for it. It was his usual MO—live big, go for what you wanted., and he'd paid dearly in the past when it all went wrong, but he'd reaped some big rewards too. He wanted Jensen, and it had been tolerable week after week of basketball and bonhomie , to push that feeling aside, but he'd had the slightest taste, and he wanted more now. He was so very tempted to just give in a take whatever Jensen was offering, except he didn't know what a bigger taste would do to him when it was taken away. There was a world of difference between Danneel knowing where he was, and her giving him away for Jared to keep.

"I can't talk you into it," Jensen said, and when Jared just quirked an eyebrow at him, he said, "I mean, I really can't. I suck at that sort of thing."

"I managed to figure that out last week," Jared said and grinned when Jensen ducked his head, embarrassed at how painful that first real conversation between them had been.

"I can show you," Jensen said, and his voice sounded like sex and all kinds of sin, and Jared was walking toward him before he'd had time to think twice.

He'd promised himself, solemnly, seriously, that he would never do this again, never fall too far for a man who couldn't give anything back. "Show me," Jared said, when he was standing close enough to breathe the same air as Jensen.

Jensen had him up against the door frame, his strong fingers digging into his shoulders, and the pain was exquisite, grounding. "Get down here," Jensen said, and pulled his head down. He pushed into Jared's mouth, and Jared had to clutch at him, hold on for the ride. Jensen worked him over, his lips, his mouth, and then he started exploring, jaw and neck, and he had one hand in the neck of Jared's tee-shirt, stretching it wide to expose more skin for his teeth to work on, and his lips and tongue to taste.

"Okay," Jared said, having to resort to something close to his real strength to get Jensen off of him. "I'm not the hungry man special, dude."

Jensen looked up at him, still close enough that he had to tilt his head back to meet Jared's eyes. He licked his lips and smiled, slow and dirty, an expression Jared had never seen on his face before, an expression that made him wish for a door that locked and a whole lot of lube. "I am, though," Jensen said softly, "hungry. Very hungry."

"Yeah, well," Jared said. He'd been the one who'd been damn near pining. Jensen had no right to lay claim to any suffering here. He had promised himself, dammit, and he'd fucking meant it.

"It's good, Jared, I swear. It's going to be okay," Jensen said, and then he just sort of fell into Jared with his whole body.

They fit, was the hell of it, they fit in body and temperament and, it seemed, base desire. Jared wrapped his arms around Jensen, pressed them together tightly. "I'm holding you to that, Jen," he said, for all the good it would do.

They took Jared's car. He didn't like the thought that he was trying to trap Jensen, keep him from being able to easily walk away, but he was afraid he was doing just that. Jared detoured through a drive through and they demolished some greasy burgers on the way to his place, but they barely spoke. They had always had lots to say, none of it very important, but they'd never had silences before, and Jared started to fear for the loss of his friend as well as the lover he didn't have yet.

Jensen followed him up the two flights of stairs to his apartment and then happily sat on the floor to partake in the enthusiastic dog greetings. Jared felt like kicking him, or shoving him over and fucking him in the foyer, because he had promised himself, but he could feel himself falling deeper every second. If he'd been a cat person, Jared could hate him a little.

Jared escaped to the park across the street with the dogs, and he let their leashes run out full length while they checked their messages and composed some replies. Jared prided himself on the discipline he'd developed in school. He'd worked at reining in his impulses, focusing his attention, ruling his emotions with his mind. He could do that here, now, because Jensen was yards away, not right in front of him, distracting him simply by glancing his way.

He imagined Jensen upstairs in his apartment—the man who could make his knees a little weak with just a smile, the man who against the odds seemed to feel something similar—sitting on his sofa, maybe having a bit of a snoop. Jared could not imagine walking back in there and saying anything but yes, no matter the question. "Sorry, self," he said into the cool evening air, "I think I'm breaking my promise."

The dogs did an excited circle of Jensen, sofa and all, and then tore off to dig into their food. Jared tried to play it cool. He might want to run over and hurl himself at Jensen, too, but he put on a casual saunter instead.

"I'm sold," Jensen said, and smirked at him. "If you were any cooler, I'd need a sweater."

"Fuck, you're such a jerk sometimes." Jared plunked down on the sofa, sprawled into all the available space, and pouted theatrically.

It turned out to be really hard to maintain a pout with teeth clamped onto your lower lip and two big hands in your hair. Jensen had Jared's head bent back so he could dive into his mouth at will, and his solid weight was settled on Jared's lap. Jared had lots of skin to explore up under Jensen's tee-shirt, and a little time to resent how pushy Jensen was, now that he'd been brained over the head with his obvious feelings.

"I like the height advantage this way," Jensen said, and he started exploring all the available skin on Jared's body.

"Horizontal works too," Jared said, expecting ripping sounds at any second.

Jensen sat back and made an effort to put Jared's hair back in order. The feel of Jensen's fingers running along his scalp was doing very interesting things to his body. He was finding all kinds of new kinks tonight. He'd never liked being gnawed on before Jensen, never liked having his hair messed with, wasn't particularly passive, generally. So, okay, maybe he just had a Jensen kink.

"Naked," Jensen said. "Naked and horizontal are my two favourite things."

"You have to let me up first."

"Yeah," Jensen said and frowned. He hadn't stopped working his fingers through Jared's hair, but now he dropped his hands to Jared's shoulders and squeezed. "I need to make a phone call."

Jared stilled. Jensen was seriously going to call his, not wife, Danneel then, it's not like he didn't know her name. He knew all sorts of things about her, liked her before he'd met her, liked her even more after, despite his best efforts not to. Jensen talked about her all the time, and now Jensen wanted to call her, from Jared's own damn house.

Jensen stood up and backed off. He looked pensive, and mildly ridiculous with his cock clearly outlined by his shorts and his lips puffy and pink. "I, Jared, I—fuck." Jensen dropped to his knees in front of Jared, gripped Jared's thighs tight. "It's okay, I promise," he said.

Jared knew about promises, but Jensen on his knees in front of him, looking up at him with such conviction, was not something he had any resistance to. He got up and headed for the bedroom. "Whenever you're ready," he said and closed the door behind him.

He stripped and tossed his clothes aside. He yanked the covers off the bed, letting them pool on the floor, and he stretched out, arm over his eyes and willed his ears to not hear. His apartment was cheap and kind of crappy and not soundproof. He heard Jensen's voice, soft, indistinct; he heard him laugh once, a familiar sound.

The bedroom door opened, and he heard Jensen laughing again and telling the dogs he was not performing for an audience. The door snicked shut and Jensen said, "Jesus, you're fucking gorgeous."

Jared lifted his arm, smiling despite himself, and he saw Jensen standing at the foot of the bed, eyes dark with lust. That's all it is, Jared told himself, lust and nothing more. We'll have fun, but that's all it will be, and if Jared had never been the fuck for fun type, well, he could do it this once.

Jensen stripped fast, folded his clothes and set them on the dresser, and Jared had one second to look before Jensen was on him. Jensen crawled up his body, settled down, all his weight pressing Jared into the bed, his tongue pressing into Jared's mouth, his hands were everywhere, and Jared was struggling just to keep up. His whole body was sparking with sensation; he was going to come from just this amount of contact if Jensen didn't let him breathe for a second. Talking to Danneel had not cooled Jensen down any.

Jensen pulled off his mouth, rose up, leaving Jared cold, and Jared bucked up towards the retreating heat. "I want to suck you," Jensen said, voice a deep growl. "Lower your expectations, though, I haven't done this in a very long time."

Jared made some noise, some garbled sound, and Jensen laughed at him, another dark, smokey sound, and then he attacked him with his mouth, licking and sucking at his shaft, his balls, his inner thighs. Jared was trying not to writhe around too much, trying not to demand Jensen's mouth where he wanted it.

Jensen shifted around, getting comfortable, and pinned Jared to the bed with both hands curled tight around Jared's hips. "Give me your hand, Jay," he said, ordered really. "Hold this monster for me."

Jared laughed, because he wasn't huge, but he obeyed, held his own dick in a firm hand, and Jensen wrapped his mouth around the head and sucked hard enough to make him see white. "Fuck, Jen," he said.

Jensen took him deeper and hummed, a smug little self-satisfied sound that would have had Jared bucking up into his mouth if he could only move. Jensen bore down on him with hands and his mouth and worked Jared deeper inside with each bob of his head, and Jared was making sounds and trying for the occasional word or plea for mercy until Jensen let his teeth scrape, just the slightest touch, along the underside of Jared's cock. Jared's back arched, and he shouted some sort of warning, because he was coming hard, and Jensen stroked him through it, stroked him until he'd come down and melted completely into the mattress.

Jared had not fallen asleep, he had merely drifted away a little, so there was no call for Jensen to slap a cold wet cloth on his belly. "Ah, what?" Jared said and lifted his head enough to watch Jensen roughly clean him off.

"Thought I broke you," Jensen said.

"Smug is not a good look for you," Jared said peevishly, and he rolled Jensen onto his back and pinned his arms above his head, he felt the twinges that would be bruises on his hips and he pressed down a little harder on Jensen's wrists.

Jensen squirmed under him, rubbing his cock against the pressure of Jared's thigh. The pressure that was not going to be enough, because Jared had plans that didn't involve Jensen getting off quite so soon. "You got any lines I can't cross, Jensen?" Jared said.

Jensen's eyes widened a bit, but he smirked again too. "Likely," he said, "but right now, I can't think of one."

"Roll over," Jared said, as much to see if he'd do it, as for any other reason.

Jensen kissed him hard on the mouth first, and then he carefully lowered himself face down. Jared set his palm over the curve of his ass, just wanting to admire for a moment, but Jensen spread his legs without being asked. Jared trailed his fingers down the cleft and Jensen lifted his hips to the touch. Jared kept going, teasing, tickling, and Jensen started humping the bed with not an ounce of shame on display. Jared held him down with a firm hand on his ass and grabbed the lube off the nightstand. Jensen closed his eyes and his breathing got ragged, but he opened his legs wider. Jared slicked one finger and toyed with Jensen's opening, and Jensen twitched and moaned, which got Jared thinking thoughts about things that were not going to happen that night.

He ruthlessly suppressed the thought that this would be their only night and slid one finger slowly inside Jensen. He paused, barely inside and soothed the tension back out of Jensen's body with his free hand. Jensen was nearly silent so Jared had to take his cues from Jensen's body—the line of his spine that slowly sank into a liquid curve as Jared worked inside him, his fists, which had been clenched tight, but opened slowly until his fingers were working against the sheets, flexing and twitching as Jared thrust into him deeper and deeper. He was tight and slow to relax, but when Jared aimed for his prostate, Jensen opened his mouth on a low moan and tried to push back. Jared pressed him flat again and got more lube in the game.

He was slowly fucking Jensen with two fingers, entranced by the flush on his skin, the tremors that rippled through his muscles. He was getting the occasional sound out of Jensen, low, quiet moans and whispered words. "Want to," Jensen said, voice rough and quiet. "Want to see you."

Jared let him up, let him roll over, and Jensen looked drunk, body liquid and slack, his eyes barely tracking. The only hard thing about him was his cock, curved up against his belly, vibrantly red, and Jared wanted a taste. He sucked Jensen down, slow, easy. He matched the pace of his thrusting fingers with the slow slide of his mouth, gentle almost, guaranteed to push Jensen over the edge, eventually.

Jensen made an urgent quiet sound, and Jared pulled up, sucking a little harder on the head of his cock. Jensen started to come slowly, with a barely perceptible thrust of his hips, but Jared kept working him deep, hitting his prostate over and over until Jensen was panting and moaning, coming in long pulses that Jared sucked out of him, his ass clenching so tight around Jared's fingers, it was impossible not to imagine what it would feel like to fuck him. Jared pulled off, licking lightly against the head of Jensen's cock and working his fingers deeply in and then back in a few slow thrusts before he disengaged, sat back, and watched the heaving of Jensen's chest gradually slow.

He found the cloth, cleaned himself up and sat and watched Jensen come back down to earth. He didn't want this to be their only night. He wanted to spend weeks deliciously tormenting Jensen, and himself, slowly opening him up until they both needed to fuck so bad they couldn't wait a moment longer. He wanted to feel Jensen slide inside him and fuck him mercilessly hard, because he could see how Jensen would be inclined that way. He wanted to sleep beside Jensen, put him to sleep with his mouth and then wake him up the same way the next morning, feel his heat for all the hours in between.

Jensen finally opened his eyes and smiled, a sated, happy expression with a spice of heat that promised all the things Jared wanted. Jared tried to believe, but he knew about promises and the futility of wanting things he couldn't have.


~*~*~*~

The next time Danneel saw Jensen was Friday night. He'd been held up at work again, and he walked in on a fait accompli dinner keeping warm in the oven. He wrapped her up in a hug and held on like he was drowning. "I seriously don't deserve you," he said, and she figured he wasn't just talking about the food.

"I think that about you sometimes," she said in an arch tone, and it was a measure of his fatigue that he took so long to catch on.

"Hey," he said pulling away and almost pouting at her.

"I'm teasing, you big goof. Now open a bottle of wine. Pick something hideously expensive to go with the casserole we're having."

They had a habit of trying to not talk shop on Fridays, which left them at a bit of an impasse. What did you say to someone when the answer to what have you been doing since I saw you last was fucking my boyfriend? She was afraid, in her deepest corners, that the days of the Thursday night romps were gone forever. Or rather, had been moved to a new venue. She was also, against her desire to be a little less soft-hearted, worried about him. "You're good, right? It was—I don't know how to ask this question," she said and sighed, wondering why the hell she always had to be the one to start every conversation. She could try to change Jensen on that score, or she could try to fill the Grand Canyon with sand. She was leaning towards the Grand Canyon plan as the less futile option.

He kept his eyes down, his plate endlessly fascinating again. "Yeah," he said, quietly, "I'm good."

She realized that he wasn't trying to avoid her so much as not blast her with the big dumb grin that was threatening to burst out. So, maybe he was more than merely good.

"I," he said, and he did flash a slightly dimmed version of his the world is my oyster smile, and she could never not return it. In their first epic argument, back when they'd just started dating, she'd found herself smiling at the damn man while she was still yelling. "I just," he started up again, "this is weird. If something, ah, makes me happy, the first thing I want to do is tell you, you know?"

"If I didn't want you to be happy, Jensen, we wouldn't be sitting here right now."

"Yeah," he said and the grin came out full blast, "I'm glad we're sitting here right now."

"Sap," she said, and laughed at his mock glare.

"Oh really," he said and did something silly with his eyebrows. "What's in it for me if I don't make the really bad woody joke I've got cued up?"

"Baby," she said, making her voice husky and sexy and failing utterly to keep the laughter out, "what's in it for me?"

It turned out that Friday night romps were pretty fine too.

***

Saturday morning found Jensen sleeping through the first pot of coffee, a rare occurrence, and Danneel even managed to bring her second cup back to bed without waking him. He'd kicked the covers off, and he was bare to his ankles, snoring quietly. She appreciated that in a man.

She gave in to the impulse to look him over; she'd successfully curbed the desire the night before, easy to do in the low light. She'd never been one for leaving her brand behind on a man, experience had taught her some things about the futility of possessiveness, which was one reason she'd never pined for a ring on her finger. She couldn't see any sign of his night away on his skin, and she wondered how she'd feel if she did. It seemed unimportant; Jared left his mark in less tangible ways, had been doing it for months. She didn't suppose there was a way to untangle who had made Jensen smile, or laugh, or just be happy at any given time.

His eyes were open when she chanced to look his way again. He was staring with an impressive amount of focus for a man who'd been emulating a coma patient moments before. She knew it was the coffee he was after. "You kicked off the sheets, or I'd be making tent jokes about now," she said, in an effort to distract him.

He widened his eyes but didn't waver in his attention. "You bring coffee into the bed, woman, you've got to expect to fight for it."

"I fight dirty, Jensen," she said, and proved it by grabbing his dick in her free hand.

He groaned and bucked up into her hand. "You'll get me all confused—I'll start getting a hard-on every time I smell coffee."

"Start?"

He made a face at her that was belied by his low moans of pleasure.

"Why don't we share it," she said. "Sit up."

Jensen squirmed around until he was leaning up against the headboard, and he made gimme motions at the cup. She handed it over with a sweet smile, which should have tipped him off, but he was not all that awake yet. He did have several reasons to be tired, she supposed. She palmed the condom packet she'd tucked into the pocket of her robe before she shrugged the garment off onto the bed. She got the condom open and half unfurled down his cock before he had stopped emoting over his first sip of coffee.

"Hey, what?" he said.

She climbed on top of him lowered herself onto him as slowly as she could and said, "Thought we should sit a little closer, if we're going to share."

He managed to keep a death grip on the coffee no matter how much she was moving. "Danneel, honey, you're overdressed," he said, and she squeezed him tight and pulled her nightgown off and tossed it aside.

"Jesus," he said, long and low, as she kept up the pressure as she rose slowly.

She released her tight grip, sinking just as slowly, only to repeat the process. "You need both hands on that cup?" she said.

"No, no—no, ma'am," he said, and he put his fingers unerringly on her clit and started working her expertly. He'd proved more than able at finding his way directly to the right spot—in the dark, through innumerable layers of clothing and, on one memorable occasion, while driving. He knew just what to do to get her off hard and fast, or slow and easy or to torment her mercilessly if he was in the mood.

He was opting for the hard and fast this morning, so she decided to play along and pick up the pace. She snatched the cup out of his hand, drained it dry and got it safely off the field of play. He wrapped his free hand around her hip and kept her steady while she rode him hard. They raced to the finish line, spurred on by their own cries of pleasure and the pounding of their hearts.

She decided that slumped against Jensen's chest, head on his shoulder, was a perfectly good place to have a short nap.

"You asleep?" he asked. He'd roused enough to run his hands up her back, stopping to squeeze her ass once in a while. His hands were warm and soft against her cooling skin, and she could happily stay there forever.

"Somewhat," she said.

"You want first shower?"

"Sure, and then I'll start breakfast. I can't wait to see what you'll do for half my toast."

"Hey, you started this, not me," he said, and she kissed him silent, rather than argue.

Jensen was doing his thing where he stared at the dinnerware again, seemingly fascinated by the remains of breakfast, and she was going to start calling the pattern Face of Jared. She was under no illusions as to why Jensen's shower had taken him almost an hour, and she assumed all was not sunshine and roses.

"Danneel," he said, his voice almost formal, "Jared wants to talk to you, well us."

"And?"

He looked up finally. "He's worried, well, concerned maybe." Jensen made a face. "The words too good to be true were spoken."

"Well I can't say I'm surprised," she said, and Jensen nodded glumly.

"So what do you think?" he said.

"I think a lot of things. Call him back, tell him yes. Neutral territory would be lovely and is totally impractical. Tell him we're going to do this in our living room, and ask him what he likes to drink, oh, and to eat too, I suppose."

"Lots," Jensen said, and when she gave him a look, "to eat. That's about his only rule. Beer, on the drink."

"You know, I like a man who's not afraid to have simple tastes."

Jensen nodded and headed back upstairs. He sounded like he was about halfway up the stairs when he hollered an outraged, "Hey!" She laughed loud enough to carry, and he pounded up the stairs with something closer to his usual energy level.

***

Jensen buzzed around the house like a nervous little bee on Sunday morning. She resolutely ignored him and tried not to think of analogies that involved the words prom date and parents. It was hard not to feel it though, when Jensen led Jared into the living room and he was worrying the hem of his sweatshirt and looking up out of hooded eyes. His jeans looked like he'd ironed them, even if they were ragged around the hems.

They suffered through a stilted reintroduction, and she got him sitting on the sofa across from her chair. He was tense, and it showed in the absence of his usual big gestures and bigger smile.

"Jensen, why don't you get Jared a beer, and pour me a glass of that white we didn't kill last night." She turned to Jared and said, "I thought we'd just order in if we're hungry later."

"Sure, that, yeah," he said and then subsided with a frown.

Jensen handed around her wine and Jared's beer and settled on the other end of the sofa, looking as tense as Jared.

She sipped her wine and thought about making them stew a little. She was getting tired of doing all the heavy lifting, but she saw no point to pettiness, and she was about to open her mouth to get things started when Jared piped up.

"I'm not seeing anyone else," he said abruptly, "and I'm completely gay. I thought you should know that."

"Okay," she said, aiming for a neutral tone. "Anything you want to ask me?"

"Why?" he said, and leaned forward, hands dangling between his spread knees, meeting her serious expression head on.

"Why am I okay with this?"

"Are you?" he said first, but then waved that off. "You haven't done anything to make me think you're not, but … honestly, I don't get it."

She frowned, and thought about it. "I'm not sure I can put it into words. I've never wanted to own him, control him. If you knew my mother, it might make sense." Jared wasn't a stranger; in fact, he was the only person who might ever truly understand how she felt about all this. "If he's smiling, who put the smile there?" she said.

"If he's happy, who claims credit?" Jared said, nodding in understanding, and she felt relief and a little wry amusement that he so readily understood. It seemed Jensen had a type after all.

Jensen was almost squirming in discomfort. He hated this kind of conversation, and Jared turned to watch him, a fond smile playing around his lips. He glanced back at her, and his face lit up in response to whatever he saw in her expression. His dimples flashed, and she realized she'd been wanting to make him smile like that ever since he'd come into her house.

"I dated a guy for most of undergrad," Jared said, tone serious again. "He had a girlfriend, and I knew it, and I didn't care, because, well, you can imagine, I guess. Mostly because I was eighteen when we met. It blew up in a horrible mess, and I even left school for a while."

"She didn't know, the girlfriend?" Danneel asked.

"No," Jared said, and he dropped his gaze to the floor.

She was gripping her wine glass tightly, too tightly, she realized, and she set it carefully on the coffee table. She could feel a tension headache rising from her clenched jaw and her stiff neck. She shook out her shoulders a little and turned to look at Jensen. He was watching her with a frown of worry, his own discomfort forgotten. He knew her all right, knew when she was uncomfortable.

"Why the hell not," she said, voicing the thought as it came to her mind. "Jared, I'm going to tell you something that I've never told anybody." She nodded at Jensen.

"If you want to," Jared said in a cautious tone.

"I think I need to." She leaned forward toward Jared, focusing on him, and he met her gaze calmly. If she told him, if she pretended Jensen wasn't even there—"I had a relationship with a professor when I was in college. Three years. He was married of course." Jared looked sympathetic, and she appreciated it, few people had been at the time. "It didn't so much end in a horrible mess, as horribly slowly. I realized, and I'm ashamed to say how slowly, but I got there—I realized he was never going to leave her, that I was fooling myself, likely because I wanted to fool myself."

"Is that what you think I'm doing," Jared said, and he sat up a little straighter, ready to defend himself, it seemed.

"Oh, honey, not even in my worst moment," she said, and he looked relieved, as if he'd been a little unsure himself.

She felt stretched too thin, tired of all the tension. "That's really enough of that," she said as she stood. "I'm going to go on upstairs and freshen up, and you two can order up some food. I'll even happily listen to you talk about football, if only so the pair of you will stop looking at me like I'm your high school principal, or worse, your mother."

She gave Jensen's arm a squeeze on her way upstairs, and he caught her hand. "You good, babe?" he said, warm concern and nothing of censure in his tone.

"You know, I think I am," she said.

She wasted some time in the bathroom, slowly getting her equilibrium back. Eventually, she went back downstairs and found she couldn't grumble that they'd decided to watch football rather than merely talk about it, because they were both laughing and looking happy and relaxed and comfortable together.

"Please tell me you ordered something sinful and fast," she said.

"Ribs, lots of sides, should be here in half an hour," Jensen said.

"Beef, right?" Jensen nodded, and she shook her head sadly. "Texans."

She caught Jared watching them, his eyes taking in every move. She sat in the chair again, and tucked her legs up. "I'll just while away the time deciding which one of these lovely football players has the best ass."

"Sounds like fun," Jared said and flashed his devastating grin her way. It wouldn't do to get hooked on it, she reminded herself.

"What about me, am I allowed in on this?" Jensen said.

"Honey, Jared and I live in a happy world where you have only ever noticed one man's ass, don't ruin it for us."

"Yeah, Jen, what she said." Jared was smiling in a completely sappy way at Jensen, and she let them have their long lingering look. Hell, it's not like Jared was hard on the eyes, so she wasn't going to get bored while they were occupied with each other.

She knew she was irredeemably doomed when she caught herself thinking Jared was adorable with barbecue sauce in his hair. Jensen obviously thought so too, the way he was looking at him with a familiar sappy fondness.

They were interesting to watch together. Jensen got louder, his gestures got bigger and his language got damn near as filthy as hers, as they lost their inhibitions around her. They didn't so much compliment each other, as amplify each other, mostly in a good way, but she was completely unwilling to be in the same room with the two of them and a tequila bottle.

"See, Jen, she's got the look," Jared said, leaning confidentially in toward Jensen, but speaking loudly enough to be heard in the next room.

Jensen turned an assessing gaze on her and then nodded. "You're right, she does."

"Y'all want to fill me in," she said, glaring in what was meant to be a threatening manner.

"Jared claims," Jensen said, "and I'm starting to believe him, that everybody he meets eventually gets the look."

"Starting to. Man, I'm telling you—everybody—it's just a matter of time. Danneel's taken almost as long as elderly ladies and blood relatives though, so she's special."

She started to get a clue and willed her blush away. Damn her fair skin, anyway. Jensen, the traitorous bastard, was laughing again, and Jared was about a second away from letting loose one of his big, full-body laughs that threatened the glassware, if she was getting to be any judge.

"It's true, honey," Jensen said, eyes full of evil glee. "He is fully proportional."

"Jensen Ackles," she said, clutching her hand to her chest, "you watch yourself—you know I'm not above a bowlegged joke at an opportune moment."

Jared collapsed against the sofa and just let it out. His laugh was vulgar and too loud, and it made the room a little brighter, her heart a little lighter.

When Jared left, reluctantly it seemed, to go take care of his dogs, she stretched up and kissed him on the cheek. He surprised her a little by folding around her in a hug and then a lot, by whispering in her ear, "I think I like you a lot, Danneel."

She felt colder when he was gone.

***

Jensen and Jared kept to their Thursday night ritual, and Jensen always called her at night and again in the morning. One night, he'd been spectacularly drunk, and Jared had taken the phone away from him after only a few words. She'd had her day-ending conversation with him instead. She didn't begrudge Jared the joy of dealing with a hungover Jensen in the morning.

They added a few days and nights to the Thursday schedule, Sunday afternoons and occasional evenings. Danneel wasn't surprised; she would never settle for one night a week , but she didn't like being alone. She found herself wandering the house on those occasions, unfocused, no motivation to do anything, bored and antsy both.

She tried going out with Krista once, only once. She had been uncomfortable, full of things she had to edit out of her conversation. She hadn't ever been able to relate to Krista's complaints about Kevin, but now, it was impossible. It was only in that moment that she had put it together and realized—it wasn't just Jensen who was more content than he ever had been.

Jensen stopped hiding in the bathroom every time he talked to Jared on the phone, and she took to calling out a greeting if she walked through the room while they were talking. They started watching the important football games at the house, rather than Jared's apartment, mostly because of the monster television that graced their living room. She would sit in her chair while they sprawled all over the sofa, shouting at the game and demolishing anything edible put in front of them.

One night when Jensen had been drinking a little more than usual, their trash talk developed an edge.

"Fuck, you always gotta get the last word, don't you Jared," Jensen said, with no mockery leavening the irritation.

"I do not, jerk." Jared said, still smiling slightly.

"You do, you do that fuckin' know it all shit, and I'm just supposed to go along with the college boy and his big brain." Jensen was looking sullen and stubborn, and Danneel was wondering if she could just creep out of the room without anyone noticing.

"Well I'm so sorry, asshole. I'll try and get dumber okay?"

"Yeah, do that."

"Pissy-faced bitch," Jared said without much heat. "It's not like I think you printed your degree off at Kinko's or something."

"Jackass," Jensen said sourly.

Jared flashed his best cajoling smile, the one that had likely been getting him whatever he wanted most of his life. "Aw, you know you love me," he said, and Jensen froze, his deer in the headlights pose.

Jared turned to look at her, the first time either one of them had glanced her way since they'd started bickering. His eyes were dancing, and Jensen was staring at the television trying to will them all to forget what Jared had just said, and she couldn't help it, she gave into temptation, and Jared fell right after her. They were both laughing so hard, she thought they were never going to be able to stop.

Jensen was glaring at the Dallas Cowboys, who were not improving his mood with their lackluster play, arms crossed over his chest, chin tucked down, and now she knew just what he'd looked like as a stubborn five-year-old. "I'm sitting right here," he said, and that just made them both laugh harder.

"Yeah, honey, we know," Danneel said, and Jared smiled fondly at Jensen and said, "We do."

Once she and Jared had stopped laughing, Jensen immediately simmered back down and started watching the game again, all insults and discomfort forgotten, their bickering turned friendly again. She wished she could catch that trick, she'd been brought up to bear a grudge like it was the only thing that would keep her warm on a cold night.

***

Danneel hated meetings first thing in the morning. She hated feeling rushed and ill prepared, and she especially hated having to listen to the wonder boys from Marketing take over the discussion with their in-jokes and their jargon. She watched them keep control of the discussion, ceding the floor only to each other, and using terms that sounded vaguely familiar but certainly weren't anything she'd ever read in a marketing textbook. One of them said the word bootleg, and she damn near cursed him out loud; she'd heard that term before, in her own damn living room, and now a few other phrases made more sense. She faked an incoming phone call and all but ran to the ladies' room.

She hit the speed dial for Jensen's office out of habit, but she hit cancel before the call could go through. She paged through her contacts until she found Jared's number; he was the man she needed, him and his college-boy brain. When he answered, he sounded like maybe she'd woken him up, and she promised herself she'd apologize later. "Don't ask any questions," she said, trying to keep her voice low. "Just tell me everything you know about something called the West Coast Offense as fast as you can."

It was like he'd flipped a switch, and the man she knew was suddenly replaced by a serious scholar. She got a neat, concise explanation, stripped of jargon, in a firm and certain voice. When he was done, he said, "Promise me you'll tell me later what this surreal conversation was about?"

"I promise," she said, and she strode back into that boardroom, prepared to kick some football-loving ass.

As soon as she was back in her office, full of triumph at her success, she called Jensen and told him to collect up some stupidly expensive steaks, and that super-smart boyfriend of yours, on his way home. They were celebrating.

The table was littered with the remains of their dinner, and Jared smiled at her, well-fed and almost sleepy on the wine she'd fed him. He said, "I should get you to help me practice for my thesis defense. You're scary when you bark out orders like you did on the phone."

"Yeah," Jensen said, "but in a totally hot way."

"Well, yeah," Jared agreed, as if that were obvious.

Jensen proposed a toast to her success, and she drained her wine glass. It had been a good night, the perfect celebration. She got up to pour a brandy and stood in the kitchen doorway, watching Jensen and Jared laughing over something, and she decided she could finish the brandy upstairs as easily as down.

She kissed Jensen on the cheek, turned and did the same thing to Jared, laughing over his look of surprise. "I'm turning in," she said. "Y'all enjoy yourselves, but remember, the dishes are your problem. Oh, and you might want to do something about the lipstick."

She was floating in a haze of too much wine and coming down off the euphoria of her successful day, not quite asleep, but nearly. She didn't know how long it had been since she'd come upstairs, but the room was dark. It was movement that had roused her to full wakefulness, she realized, just as the bed dipped and Jensen loomed over her.

"Please tell me you're not asleep," he said, and she reached for him, found him fully, gloriously erect.

"I'm awake now," she said as she gave his dick a hard stroke. "You tell Jared he gives the nicest presents."

"Don't worry, he got his," he said, putting his hands on her, not hindered in the slightest by the darkness.

"Never doubted it for a second, baby."

***

Danneel had always thought Jensen looked good in a suit; he had the shoulders for it—and the legs and ass. She suspected he kept notes to remember which one he'd worn most recently, to the bank or to see her parents, so he didn't repeat. She tried to smile while she helped him with his tie, and fervently wished they were going to the bank this time.

"It won't be that bad," he said.

"Easy for you to say," she said. "I swear to god, Jensen, you've got some sort of self hypnosis going on. You always forget how bad it is the second your damn tie comes off." She stalked to the mirror to make sure she looked presentable enough.

"Just try to smile and not let it get to you," he said.

"Fuck, I know how to damn well smile a big ole plastic smile, Jensen. I paid for half my second year of college by being Miss Baton Rouge, in case it's slipped your mind. There ain't nothing I don't know about faking it." She cursed a blue streak, and heard her accent coming out in every word. "If you tell me I sound sexy, I will kill you," she said, and when she turned, he was doing his best to look innocent. She knew better. "Let's go then," she said. "Late is one of the mortal sins in my mother's book."

She was clearly out of practice at being tense and uncomfortable. Damn, she was getting soft, spending all her time with Jensen and Jared. She was getting a pounding headache, and she'd damn near got up and left when her father managed to put away three doubles before the food arrived.

Her sister was currently being gently questioned about her failure to produce a child fast enough to suit their mother. Danneel left her to the wolves, sister or not; she'd already had her naked ring finger clucked over, loud enough for people two tables over to notice. She'd felt like offering another finger for examination, but she didn't, she never did. If she were genuinely brave, she'd explain some of her new reasons why that finger was going to stay naked.

The only saving grace with her family was that they always had their little reunions in public, so nothing could get too out of hand. The only other bright spot was the waiter that was nice and prompt with the wine bottle, as long as she let him look down her blouse once in a while.

Jensen gave her the eye when she drained her glass again. She kicked him in the shin, hard, which made him smile at her and shake his head in resignation. She kicked him again. He stood up and excused himself, and she saw him pat the pocket he kept his phone in, even if no one else noticed.

She tugged on his arm, drawing him down close so she could set her mouth to his ear. "Jensen, honey," she said, "tell that man of yours that I wish he was here tonight, too. I could use his big ole smile right about now."

Jensen blinked at her, mumbled at her not to get too drunk and fled toward the men's room. Her mother took advantage of his absence to make analogies about cows and milk that there wasn't enough wine in the world to block out of her mind.

She spotted Jensen returning to the table, head down. He looked stiff and uncomfortable, and she entertained the idea that someone had walked in on him sweet talking Jared on the phone. She was having a hard time not giggling at the image, and she would tease him mercilessly if it proved to be true. He looked up at her finally, and she thought he looked more grimly determined than embarrassed.

He stopped behind his chair, hands gripping the back, and he cleared his throat. She looked up at him, amusement warring with worry. "Danneel," he said formally, "I want to say something while your family is all here."

There was a rustle of movement from everyone as they turned to listen, but for once they kept out of it. Danneel reached out and laid her hand over Jensen's nearest one.

"I—I just want to say," he said, and his face was red, his ears hot pink, "that I love you so much, that I love you now more than ever, and that you are the most wonderful woman in the world, and that I want everyone to know that." He sat down, damn near fell into his chair, and she took a quick gulp of water and deliberately, ruthlessly, ignored her mother's loud whispered remarks about diamonds.

"If you make me cry in front of my family," she hissed at Jensen, "I will kick your ass."

He nodded solemnly, stole her wine and downed it in one go.

When they stepped outside, finally, she took a deep breath. The air smelled of stale food and car exhaust, and she loved it. She felt like she'd been breathing nothing but the exhalations of her family for the last hour and a half, and she was starved for oxygen. "Christ, let's get the hell out of here," she said, and made for the car.

Jensen already had his tie off when he slid behind the wheel. He caught her looking and said, "I don't think I'm going to forget that one."

She patted him down, taking advantage to get in a grope or two, but she abandoned him when she found his phone.

"What are you doing, Danneel?" he said

"You just worry about making a clean getaway, and let me handle the phone calling." She didn't bother searching for a number, she just hit redial.

Jensen pulled out, working in a glance at her for every shoulder check and flick of his gaze to the side mirror. She ignored him, serene, buzzed and high on life, now that she was out of that restaurant.

"Hey, jerk, you hiding in the men's room again?" Jared said when he answered the phone.

"Honey, you really need to work on your sexy voice and your sweet talk," she said. She switched the phone to her right ear so Jensen couldn't make a grab for it.

"Danneel," Jared said, "is something wrong?"

"Not a thing, not one single thing," she said, and it was true so she laughed, and she stuck our her tongue at Jensen when he muttered the word drunk at her.

"That's good," Jared said. "So you escaped then?"

"Got in in one, honey. We did, we made a clean getaway, and now there's only one thing that could make this evening better."

"What's that?"

"I want to see that smile of yours, Jared," she said, and she dropped her voice nice and low, "I want to see you tonight. Get in your car and get yourself over to our house."

"Danneel," Jensen said, but she wasn't talking to him, so she ignored him and his little worried frown.

"That's what you want?" Jared said, low and quiet and a little bit worried, if she was any judge.

"It is. It's your decision, but that's what I want."

"You, um, you know that I—you know, never mind, I'll tell you later. Tell Jensen not to drive like an old man, I don't want to get arrested for being parked in your driveway all night."

"Danneel," Jensen said carefully, when she'd clicked the phone closed and stuffed it back in his suit pocket.

"I am not that drunk, Jensen."

"Yeah, but—"

"Yeah, but nothing, dammit, this night sucked right up until it didn't, and I'd like to continue with the didn't. I want to have some fun, Jensen, with the people I love. Now shut up and drive."

"Yes ma'am," he said, and she snickered when she saw the blush rising on his face again.

Jared was waiting for them in the driveway, leaning against his old heap of a car and looking up at the stars. She felt a flutter of anticipation in her stomach, some dread, a lot more desire and a few second thoughts all clamoring for attention. Jared stood up straight and watched Jensen park the car. She got out, and Jared came to meet her, taking her hand and pulling her close. The air smelled clean, a little cold, and his hand was warm against hers, so she held on tight.

"I've never," he said, pitching his voice so Jensen couldn't hear, "been with a woman. I used to say that with pride, you know?"

"And now?" she said, stepping away, missing his warmth immediately.

"I'm not sure."

"There's one rule," she said, looking over at Jensen where he was busy frowning at her and fidgeting. "You don't do anything you don't want to. You don't owe anybody anything, you hear?"

"Yes ma'am," he said, and cracked an impish grin.

"So, do you want to come inside?" she said.

"Yeah," he said, firmly, "I do."

Jensen had the door open, and she went in, dropped her purse, and bent to pry her shoes off. She heard Jensen behind her, pushing the door closed, and then he said to Jared, "I am getting back at you somehow, someday, for making me do that. I thought I was going to pass out in the middle of that damn restaurant, Jesus."

Oh, she had so called that one. She turned to tell Jensen how cute he'd looked with his hot-pink ears, and the words changed to a breathy, "Oh, my."

Jensen had Jared up against the door, and he looked like he was trying to climb inside his mouth. One of Jared's hands was splayed against Jensen's back, holding him close, the other was wandering around under the tail of his suit jacket. Second thoughts, third thoughts, all of it was washed away in a flood of desire. She wanted in, all the way in.

Jensen moved down to work on Jared's neck, and Jared caught her watching and met her stare for stare.

"So?" she said, and he lifted his chin and pushed Jensen away.

"Jensen, you lead the way," he said, and Jensen asked, "Are you sure?"

"I'm very sure, but I'm going to have my hands full," Jared answered, and he moved in fast and swept her up like she weighed nothing. She let out a whoop and then another when she saw Jensen grinning at them.

Jensen galloped up the stairs with Jared nipping at his heels. Jensen flung open the door to their bedroom, and Jared set her carefully on the bed, sinking down to his knees in front of her. Jensen pulled off his suit jacket and hung it over a chair. He walked right up to them, showing no hesitation, and he bent and kissed his way into her mouth. She had time to see his hand burrowing in Jared's hair before she had to give his thrusting tongue her full attention.

He kept kissing her, hard and fast and then slowing it down, letting her give a little back, and she was being maneuvered, lowered to the bed, and he was pulling back, as though reluctant, returning to press light kisses to her lips before he would retreat and then return, and he let her catch his bottom lip in her teeth before he slowly pulled away. She watched him stand and brush his hand over Jared's shoulder. Jared stood and they fit themselves to each other, Jared bending to meet Jensen's lips, and damn, but she was turning into a voyeur. She could get off just watching this.

She took advantage of their distraction to shimmy out of her skirt and blouse. She rose up onto her knees, and Jensen must have heard her, even over the sounds he was pulling out of Jared, because he pulled away, stepped back and let Jared look.

"Wow," Jared said, and she gave a skeptical lift of her brows. He still didn't look at her like a man who had lust in his heart. "I do know a beautiful woman when I see one," he said. "I just don't really know what to do with one."

She laughed, because he sounded so genuinely flummoxed, and god help her, adorable, and she said again, "Only what you want to do."

Jensen had stolen her trick and had shed a few layers while she'd been occupying Jared's gaze. "You're lagging behind, Jay," he said.

Jared turned and flushed, his hand reaching out, automatically it seemed, to touch Jensen's skin.

"I've got it covered, Jay. It'll be good," Jensen said, and Jared nodded immediately and pulled his shirt off over his head.

She got a good look at the broad expanse of his back, and hell, yeah, he was built. His skin was almost golden in the lamplight and his muscles flexed, casual strength, negligently displayed. Who could resist? He dropped his jeans with one practiced shift of his hips, and then he kicked them away. His legs, his narrow hips, his ass that almost looked too small for that powerful set of shoulders—Jesus, he was something. "Well now, ain't that a sight," she said, and Jared looked over his shoulder at her and grinned. She made a little twirly motion with her hand, and he laughed and obeyed, and she just looked.

Jensen was cheating again, stepping out of his underwear behind Jared, and he sidled up close and ran his hands from Jared's shoulders, down his arms, to rest on his hips. Jared closed his eyes and leaned back, trusting to be held.

Jensen got Jared walking, led him around to the far side of the bed. He got Jared positioned where he wanted him, mostly by manhandling him into place, but every touch was also a caress, every firm grip followed by a brush of finger tips. She followed their progress, turning to face them. Jared was flushed and erect and getting a bit glazed looking by the time Jensen had him kneeling on the bed in front of her.

"You just watch for a bit," Jensen said, voice a low growl, and Jared shuddered, but didn't move.

Jensen crawled over the bed to her, and he set about laying her out and peeling her out of her lingerie and pantyhose, each touch a slow drag of fingers on her skin. He kissed each new bit of her body as it was revealed, working her nipples with special concentration. She saw Jared reach out and run his hand along Jensen's back, leaving shivers in the wake of his touch. She approved of Jared's casual disobedience; it never did to let Jensen think he could call all the shots in bed.

She made a sound of startlement when Jared's other hand traced a tentative line across her cheek and softly, so softly, through her hair. She looked up, and he was watching his hand against her skin, her hair, his face full of concentration.

Jensen rolled off of her and settled onto his side, tight against her. She wrapped her arm around his back, and he stroked his hand down her body, and it was her turn to shudder and vibrate at the too-light touch, tease and promise and match to flame all in one. He gestured to Jared, and he came closer, close enough that she could run her other hand up his back, stroking gently, slowly.

"Give me your hand," Jensen said, and Jared offered his left hand without question. His hands were beautiful, like the rest of him, big, long fingers, and Jensen wrapped his hand around Jared's and lowered it to her belly. He kept his eyes on Jared; he was sure of her here, she supposed, and she willingly opened her legs. Jensen pressed Jared's hand flat against her belly and slowly started to move it lower. Jared watched their combined hands move along her body, and she caught up his other hand in hers and squeezed. He flicked a glance to her face and then focused all his attention on Jensen's guiding hand.

Jensen brought Jared's fingers down until he was pressing his whole hand against her, cupping her mound in his hand. Jensen held him there, lightly pressing down, and she had to struggle not to buck up, not to open her legs wider, not to demand. Jensen changed his grip so that he was only holding Jared's first two fingers, and he guided Jared's fingers against her. She moaned at the barest touch to her clit. Jensen moved his hand, showing Jared how to touch her, how much pressure and where, and she was losing, had lost, all control, and she spread her legs wide, moaning and twisting under the expert touch of their joined hands.

Jared was grinning, entranced by her response, and they brought her so close, but not too close, before Jensen backed them off and let her cool down. She let go of Jared's hand and ran her palm up his arm. He twisted around and reciprocated until his hand covered her shoulder and began to move in slow circles against her skin, matching the circular motion Jensen was using, to draw his fingers around her clit, circling but not touching.

Jensen made some sign, a nod or a look, and Jared pressed close against her clit, almost too hard, but it was wonderful, and he worked her hard and fast, and she loved that almost as much as the tease. She felt the orgasm building, her muscles clenching, and she let it take her, crying out, almost embarrassed at the high whine of her voice. Powerful waves of pleasure chased through her body, and Jared kept working her through it, and she let him. She let him until she couldn't take it anymore, and she shoved at his wrist; it was like pushing against a mountain, but he subsided with a smile and soothed her trembling with the soft touch of his palm against her hair.

She cried out, sobbed nearly, when Jensen took up Jared's hand and sucked his fingers clean. Her body was still out of her control, her vagina flexing with aftershocks, and the sight damn near put her over again. Jared was in a similar state, it seemed, and he had to tug his hand away with a stern look.

He bent his head down and kissed her on the forehead, a soft brush of lips, and then he settled close to her other side and she was bracketed tight by the two of them, her thighs playing host to two very needy looking erections. She resolved not to look, to compare, but she could easily imagine them doing it, laughing and cracking crude jokes.

She kept up a steady stroke against the smooth skin of Jensen's back, and she wanted to free her other arm from where it was pressed tight between her body and Jared's. She wanted to touch Jared's skin, feel the texture and the heat of him, make him shiver and tremble. She didn't want to push, though; she didn't know where his lines were, and she suspected he didn't either.

Their hands knew each other, didn't need any guidance, and they touched each other, each wrapping the other's cock in a firm grip. She was entranced, enthralled at how it was the same, hands and cocks, touch and pleasure, and how it was different in the size of the hands and the strength and the certainty of the touch. Jensen was mouthing against her neck and collarbone, scraping with his teeth and not making a sound. Jared had his face pressed into the hair at her temple, and he was all sound and desperate jerking motion, hot gusts of breath tickling her ear. They came over her skin, streaking her each in their turn. The sensations, feeling their bodies moving against her, seeing their come on her skin, it all sent a wave of hot, intense emotion through her, leaving her light headed.

Jensen slowly pulled himself away from her and disappeared toward the bathroom, and Jared, still panting against her, cried out when she grabbed his hand and repeated Jensen's move of sucking his fingers clean, his eyes dark and hooded while he watched her.

Jensen came back and began to clean her skin with careful, gentle strokes. Jared set his hand on top of Jensen's, and they ran the damp cloth over her body together. She fell into the sensation, willingly, letting her eyes drift shut while they continued their gentle touch. Jensen got her settled under the covers, and she was so spent, so drained of anything except a languid thrum of pleasure, that she let him move her about like a rag doll.

"I, um," Jared said, cutting into the wordless silence they'd been keeping as if by some unspoken agreement, "I asked my neighbour to take the dogs out, ah, just in case."

"You can stay?" Jensen said, surprise and pleasure colouring his quiet tones.

"Mmmm," she said, by way of agreement with this plan; it was all she had the energy for.

She was drifting again, had lost track of who was where as they'd moved around, and she opened her eyes a sliver and saw Jensen in the middle of the bed, facing her, Jared wrapped around him, big hand splayed over Jensen's heart. She rolled over and set her hand to his, but he eluded her, twisting and catching hers to hold it tight between his hand and Jensen's body.

She wondered about those dogs of Jared's. Their house had a decent-sized yard, and she'd wanted a dog when she was a child, but her mother had disapproved of the idea. She smiled at the sight of their hands resting against Jensen's body and at the idea, the certain knowledge, that she made her own rules now.