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The Things That We Could Be

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Jensen doesn’t have many regrets in life. Not really. To put it bluntly, he’s successful, has a job that he actually loves and life in general is pretty damn good. It seems stupid to regret the events that happened in the past. That’s the mantra that he lives by. No regrets. And it works.

Until this particular day.

He’s at the tail end of a long shift in the busy ER department at Mountview Hospital, where he works. Treating patients can be rewarding a lot of the time, but he doesn’t think he will ever get used to some of the messed up shit he sees down here. It’s always a little easier to stomach at the start of a shift, when there's adrenaline churning away inside him as he wonders what the day will bring; but by the end of his shift, he’s snappy and desperate to get away. In the past that feeling would take him into some seedy bar, or the bed of some stranger, but he doesn’t do that anymore. Not since he’s started thinking about how nice it would be to have someone to go home to.

Someone to love.

“Dr. Ackles, you forgot to sign off this prescription chart.”

The voice that cuts into his thought is familiar, honey-smooth and rich, and unsurprisingly blank. This voice was home for several years until Jensen fucked up and it left him standing at a bus stop in his freaking boxers, laughing at the absurdity of the situation.

He’s not laughing now though, as he steps back and drinks in the sight of his ex-boyfriend, Jared. Who’s a nurse! It shouldn’t be so shocking but it is. Jared. A nurse. Just. Wow. Jensen’s just come back from some leave but he’s heard all about the amazing emergency nurse that has just transferred in from one of the bigger hospitals in the district. He definitely was not expecting it to be his ex-boyfriend.

Back when Jensen was doing his residency (and admittedly making an absolute mess of their relationship), Jared was always threatening to do it, not that anyone believed him. He was much too messy, too scatty to even handle a needle let alone push it into a vein. Regrettably, Jensen was always one of Jared’s biggest naysayers, and that is something that he always wishes he could take back.

“I see you’re a nurse then,” he says stupidly. The look he receives in response could cut through glass. Jared’s mouth presses into a thin line and he gestures for Jensen to take the chart, his face practically screaming sign the damn thing already. Jensen takes it from him quickly, biting down whatever inane comment is sure to fall from his mouth next. It’s quite obvious that Jared is still extremely angry with him. In his mind, and whenever he tells the story, he and Jared parted amicably. There was no argument, no angry yelling through bus window as he stood at the bus stop in his underwear, yelling something about how he thought they were broken up.

One day Jared was in his life and one day he wasn’t. Simple as that.

Of course, that's not how it happened.

Jensen may or may not have been caught in a compromising position. It’s not like he was going to do anything, it was just a slightly skewed message to Jared, who had a habit of breaking up with him one day and miraculously acting like they were fine the next. Jensen might have been in love but hell, even he had his pride. Jared came in, saw the briefest of kisses and suddenly Jensen was stuck chasing him three blocks down, barefoot, mostly naked, with said pride well and truly dented.

“Your hand-writing still sucks,” Jared remarks when Jensen hands him back the clipboard. “I wonder what else sucks.” It’s supposed to be a catty comment but Jensen can’t help the way he snorts. Jared seems to frown before he realises what he has said – and then frowns again, leaving Jensen to clear his throat uncomfortably. Luckily, his pager chooses that moment to go off. He groans inwardly when he glances down at it. It looks like he'll be leaving late again.

“Uh, it was nice seeing you,” he says, stammering slightly. “I’m really glad that you finally made it through school and yeah...”

“Wish I could say the same about you,” Jared says airily before he saunters past, without bothering to spare Jensen another glance. Jensen shakes his head despondently as he moves to respond to the page. It hurts that Jared’s apparently still in an unforgiving mood. Not that Jensen blames him. They did have a very…tumultuous relationship. Partly because Jared was an impulsive, loud, brash, bubbly person and partly because Jensen was calm, cool, collected and what he liked to call ‘refreshingly honest’. That last attribute is what sealed the last nail in the coffin that contains their messy relationship.

Jared was always a big dreamer. He had dreams and he was so sure that he’d achieve all of them. Jensen, back then, was always determined to keep Jared’s head firmly rooted in reality. So he’d end up nit-picking until Jared saw sense. Bizarrely enough the one argument that spiralled on forever was Jared wanting to become a nurse. At that point Jensen was finishing up his residency and exhausted from the long nights and early mornings, and he was sure that a life in the medical realm was not for his sweet, impatient boyfriend. Jared was the kind of guy that was on someone’s ass if they were a minute late for something, and also the kind of guy that’d go out to buy toilet paper and come back with a stuffed crocodile. Patience and order weren’t really two qualities Jensen would assign to Jared, so he set up about unravelling the nurse thing and ended up unravelling their relationship in the process.

In the time that’s passed, Jensen’s always felt bad about it. Always wondered what would have happened if he was supportive; if he hadn’t let Jared go without trying as hard as possible to keep him. He’s often thought about why he didn’t do his best to get Jared back. Mostly, the answer is that Jared always came back whenever they went through their silly spats and petty squabbles.

He always came back until the one time he didn’t.

~

The trouble with seeing Jared after so long is that Jensen finds that he can’t stop replaying everything in his mind. He’s dated a few people since their untimely split but there’s no denying that it isn’t the same. It’s never the same. And maybe that’s on him. He does tend to compare his potential boyfriends to Jared, simply because he never thought they would just break up and not find a way back. Their relationship was always up and down but, Jensen always thought that once they figured their shit out, things would have been amazing.

Relationship or not, they definitely need to have a conversation because working in the ER is always going to be stressful and, after a week of dancing around, the professional part of him can see that others are noticing the coldness and distance. So, they need to talk for wholly professional reasons.

He requests that Jared meet him in his office. It feels very formal when Jared steps into his office and takes a seat across from him. All he has to do is keep things brief and to the point.

Unfortunately, the first thing out of his mouth is, “I’ve missed you.” His face flushes when Jared cocks an eyebrow and stares at him blankly. It puts Jensen on edge and he snaps.

“So, we can’t even be civil right now? You might like being petty but I’ve been working at this hospital for years. I don’t appreciate it when people ask me what I’ve done to piss off the amazing new ER nurse that everybody loves. So all I’m asking is for you to leave the crappy attitude at home. If you have anything to say to me that doesn’t regard work, you know where to find me.” Jared raises his eyebrow again but he doesn’t argue.

“I hear you loud and clear, Jensen, just like I did back then,” Jared retorts after a brief moment, slight smirk on his face indicating that he knows that he’s just made it personal once again. “Can I go now?” Jensen nods, not wanting to get into now because he’s on call tonight and that’s going to be stressful enough.

~

The next time they end up working together, Jensen’s just approaching the end of a forty-eight hour shift when they get wind of a major road incident with multiple casualties. The ER goes from its usual hustle and bustle to flat out chaos. Doctors and nurses are rushing around, and patients are being wheeled in haphazardly. Jensen’s soon busy working on a teenage girl who was crushed by a caved in car door. She’s lost a lot of blood, hasn’t regained consciousness and has been in ventricular fibrillation for ten minutes. Jensen’s just about given up on the defibrillators and has moved onto CPR. Jared’s right there with him, all concerned eyes and furrowed brow when Jensen glances up at him. The girl’s skin is pale, a deep contrast to the red-stained clothes they had to cut off her body. He focuses on each compression, on timing correctly, getting the pressure just right. He pushes back the memories behind his own eyes. Memories of blood, crushed metal and piercing cries of anguish. He puts everything into saving this girl.

He doesn’t realise anyone has been trying to get his attention until he feels a familiar touch on his arm and hears Jared calling his name. He looks down at the girl and his hands still. Her name is - was - Stacey, and she’s gone.

After he calls it, he meets Jared’s eyes, sees pity and understanding there instead of the usual bitterness and he can’t stand it. He has to get the hell out of there, give himself five minutes to regroup before going back out there.

As much as he loves this job, it never gets easier.

~

Once his shift is finally over and they have enough cover in the ER, he heads into the changing room and replaces his scrubs for his usual clothes. He heads back to his office after to grab his bag and is startled to see Jared waiting there. He’s crouched down, back pressed against the wall while his head lays in his hands.

“Hey.” Jensen calls out to get his attention. He hopes to hell that Jared isn’t here for a fight because with the mood Jensen’s in, he might just get one. Jared looks up slowly and unfolds his legs and stands. He towers over Jensen slightly. It reminds Jensen of a time when he would dart forward and lean up to kiss Jared. A time when they were happy. For a moment he contemplates doing it. Kissing Jared.

It surprises him just how much he wants to.

Jared looks uncomfortable as he scratches the back of his neck. “I just wanted to see that you were okay. I mean, I know we didn’t lose anyone else but...I know how you feel about car accidents.”

It happened the first year they met, six months after they started dating. Jensen was in his last year of pre-med, and it was summer. He was on his way home from a baseball game when some drunken asshole T-boned his car, trapping him and his stepbrother for two hours while the firefighters battled to cut them out. Jensen got lucky. He made it out with a sprained ankle and few bruises.

His brother died the next day.

He’s not surprised that Jared remembers. He ended up spending the rest of that summer convincing Jensen not to give up on his medical aspirations. And in return, Jensen hadn’t done the same for him regarding his nursing career. Jensen will always maintain that was trying to protect Jared from the pain and loss that came with working as a medical professional, but apparently, Jared didn’t need that kind of protection. Doesn’t need it.

Deep down inside, Jensen thinks that he’s always known that.

“I’m good,” Jensen answers after a pause. “I just need to get some rest. It’s been a long day. How about you? You good?” Jared nods, moving to the left as Jensen punches the key code in. The door clicks open and Jared clears his throat awkwardly. Jensen glances up at him expectantly.

“Good...I’m glad that you’re okay, and yeah, I’m fine, I think?” Jared sounds really unsure and Jensen wonders if he’s actually been that close to a patient death before. Sure, ER has its fair share of tragedies but this is only Jared’s second week here. It has to be hard for him too. Plus Jensen has no idea what kind of job Jared did at his previous hospital.

“You were amazing today,” he tells Jared. He means it, he was impressed with him. Gone was his messy, impulsive Jared and in his place was a neat, efficient and hardworking man. Even though they’re not together anymore, he can’t help but feel proud. “I should never have doubted you.”

Jared smiles awkwardly and shrugs. “I gave you plenty of reasons to act the way you did. I was a mess the entire time we were dating and you do need a clear head for this stuff.” Jensen nods in agreement. It’s funny that it took Jared leaving for him to get what Jensen was saying all those years ago but given the nature of their relationship, Jensen’s long conceded that it was probably for the best. Still, there’s always been that niggling feeling poking away at him, the one that desperately wants to explain.

“Do you maybe want to talk about this later?” He asks. “Over dinner, maybe? I finally learned how to cook.” He grins as he speaks, hoping that he can lighten the mood. Jared’s cheeks bloom into a rosy, pink colour and something clicks into place. There are still some feelings on his end. Jensen feels hope rise in his chest, like a phoenix rising from the ashes --and cheesy simile aside, the notion of getting Jared back is suddenly all he cares about. “I’d love to catch up with you.” He keeps his tone neutral and tries not to make it sound like anything other than two old friends catching up.

Jared smiles at him, though it’s tinted with uncertainty. “Sure, that sounds great.”

Jensen smiles back and does his best not to let it falter until Jared is out of sight because crap dammit, he never did learn how to do anything other than boil pasta.

~

Danneel is an oncologist at the hospital and fortunately one of the doctors who can actually cook. Jensen bribes her with several cases of beer to make something for him over the weekend when he finally has a few days off.

“So, I’m thinking fried chicken, potatoes, green beans...and some chili sauce,” she says when she bustles into Jensen’s apartment at ten in the morning. Ten. In. The. Morning.

“It’s too early for this,” he tells her sleepily. She dismisses his complaint with a smile and bats him away. Naturally, an hour later he’s showered, caffeinated and wearing a stupid ‘King of the Gorilla’ apron that Jared bought him a long time ago. He glares at Danneel. Apparently she’s merely here to teach him how to cook and not doing everything for him while he catches up on his beauty sleep. Typical.

“I want my beer back," he grumbles. She rolls her eyes and grins at him. He sighs and starts laying out all the ingredients. It hits him then that he could have just ordered a takeout and heated it up. But...it’s Jared, and for once, he wants to make an effort.

“Look, this way you can honestly say you made him a great meal,” Danneel says. She looks at him knowingly, “You’ve had zero boyfriends since you’ve started working at the hospital and suddenly, out of nowhere, the ex that you’re still hung up on falls right back into your life? You can’t afford to take any chances, honey.”

The thing is that he’s not exactly sure that there’s a chance to take. Jared’s always been the one that got away but in truth, there was no sugar coating all of the issues they had. Whether or not they’ve both matured enough to work things out is up in the air as well, because sometimes he still feels like the young, dumb asshole he was back then. He works enough hours that he’s not even sure if he has the time to try and build a relationship with Jared. There are so many different reasons why starting something would be a bad idea.

The trouble is that they all sound like excuses.

Jared seems to be in good spirits when he arrives. Jensen’s a little tired from Danneel’s attempts at teaching him how to cook. He’s certain that she now sees that he wasn’t joking when he told her he was a disaster in the kitchen. Jared seems to have his number too, because the first thing he says when he sees everything is, “You had help, right?”

Jensen considers lying for a brief second before deciding that it’s a stupid idea. He laughs gently and shrugs. “My friend Danneel kind of yelled at me and then took over the second time I made a mess of everything. My cooking skills are still a work in progress.” Jared laughs with him for a brief moment before it peters out into an awkward silence. Jensen lets the quiet marinate for a second before making some excuse about grabbing the wine.

Clearly this night is one that will require a lot of alcohol.

When he gets back, Jared is standing by the table awkwardly, looking as if Jensen’s apartment is the last place he wants to be. Perhaps cooking dinner was a little too personal, Jensen thinks. He probably should have stuck to his guns and bought take-out.

“You can sit down, you know?” he says jokingly, startling Jared in the process. “Unless you want to eat while standing up. You do kind of become an expert at that once you get into the medical profession.”

“Early mornings, late nights,” Jared says with a small smile. “I do the same thing. Guess we all do. But no, I think I’ll sit.” Jensen nods and returns the smile.

“You do that and I’ll be back in a second.” He escapes to the kitchen and exhales deeply. His heart is pounding and his hands are clammy so it’s not a surprise when the bottle of wine he’s still holding slips out of his grasp and…into Jared’s outstretched hand. Jensen practically jumps three feet away, panic racing through him when he sees that Jared’s there. Not because he’s scared but Jared literally just appeared without him hearing a damn thing.

Jared frowns as he straightens himself. “Are you feeling alright? You don’t look so hot?” There’s concern in his eyes and Jensen is hit by a sudden yearn for how things used to be – how they used to be. He wants to come home to Jared and have someone to talk to, someone to vent to, to be with. Jared’s still watching him expectantly so he decides to answer honestly.

“I’m fine,” he says. “I guess I’m just nervous? I don’t want to do or say anything that’ll make you run out of the door.” It’s a sore point, always has been. During their relationship, Jared was always the one running while Jensen gave him space and waited. While at the time he thought he didn’t mind, the last time hurt enough for him to realize that it did take its toll on him. Each time chipped another layer from his heart and the penultimate time Jared walked out, he just snapped and made a mistake.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Jared says softly. If it’s meant to reassure Jensen, it doesn’t because all he can think is where was that four years ago?

~

By some miracle dinner goes well enough that Jared actually asks him to lunch. They didn’t really delve into their history much and talked about safe topics, mostly centering on work but awkwardness aside, Jensen had a good time.

Lunch, however, takes a different tone roughly ten seconds after he takes a bite into his ham and cheese sub.

“I thought you’d come after me,” Jared says out of the blue. His salad remains untouched and Jensen sets his sandwich down. He's suddenly not hungry anymore. “I was at Chad’s place for a month before I realised that you weren’t coming, and I…I knew that you didn’t do anything with that guy. I knew that things were my fault as well but…I wasn’t happy anymore, you know? All we did was fight and I just decided to move on.”

Jensen feels oddly cold at Jared’s words. He lost count of how many times he went running and got a door slammed in his face. How many times he tried to make Jared see reason. He lets Jared’s words hang in the air for a moment while he tries to gather his bearings.

“I’m glad that you did,” he answers eventually. “I’d hate for us to have let things get any worse.” He means what he’s saying. Part of the reason why Jared was so impulsive back then was because he was insecure and while Jensen did the best he could, he knows that he wasn’t always the right person for Jared to be around. He might not be the right person now and that’s what frightens him. Is any of this worth it, just to go through the same pain all over again?

“I feel like you’re just saying that,” Jared informs him. “I mean, how did you feel?” There’s a small part of him that wants to just leave. Forget this whole thing and just go back to working in some kind of harmony at the hospital. The rest of him is a little stunned that that Jared’s asking him how he feels for once.

He shrugs. “It doesn’t really matter, does it? At least it never did before.” It’s petty of him but Jensen doesn’t want to dance around their issues.

“I know that I was self-absorbed, impulsive, whatever you want to call it,” Jared says. “But I always cared about how you felt. I still do.” He seems so sincere that Jensen instantly regrets making the comment.

“I…I know you do,” he replies. “I…I got tired. I wasn’t unhappy but…I think I could sense that you were and maybe I just decided not to cling on to you anymore. I let you walk over me every time and I guess that, combined with you leaving me there at that bus stop, just made me not want to rehash everything. I was just tired and I left it up to you to come back. You didn’t and that was that. Chad told me that you were fine and I tried to move on.”

Jared looks surprised. “Wait, you called Chad?” Jensen nods, damn right he called that little toe rag, Chad. He shakes his head at the mere memory.

“Yeah, and after several unhelpful comments he told me that you were fine and that I shouldn’t call again, so…I didn’t.” Jensen supposes that he could have called again but he’s always been a dogmatic person. He calls once and that’s that.

“He didn’t tell me,” Jared tells him. “But if he had…I don’t know that things would have been any different. I needed to leave and I think you need me to leave too?” It sounds like Jared’s asking him a question that he already knows that answer to, which is no surprise. Jensen sighs deeply. Slowly all of the exhaustion that tainted their last few months is creeping up on him and he doesn't want to relive all of this anymore.

“I needed you to stay for once, Jared,” he replies. “I can’t – couldn’t – keep chasing after you. Not when you didn’t want to be found. Now can we drop this? Please?”

Jared looks surprised but he nods. “Fine. I guess we’ll talk about this later.”

Jensen shudders involuntarily at the mere thought.

~

After their lunch, Jensen’s literally slammed by work. Jared calls him a couple of times but he doesn’t answer and they go back to dancing around each other at work. Things between them don’t really progress further until a couple of weeks later when Jensen stops by at one of his favorite Italian restaurants. It’s been a long week and he’s exhausted. Right now he just wants to grab some take-out and get home as quickly as possible. He pays for his usual order and waits. His fingers tap an unsteady rhythm on the counter and he turns to glance around briefly, only pausing when he spots a familiar shaggy mass of hair.

It’s Jared.

He’s laughing along with the man across from him, looking happy enough that Jensen deduces that it’s some kind of date. He ignores the growing pit in his stomach and turns back. It’s not like he has some tie to Jared or vice versa but it still kind of hurts to see it. They might not ever get back together but Jared was the one who dredged up the past the other week. What good was that when they were apparently just going to go their merry way?

After he grabs his food, he does his best to slip out of the restaurant unnoticed but he’s obviously not as subtle as he thinks because a minute later, he hears a voice calling his name. The irony of Jared running (well it’s more of a jog, but still) towards him isn’t lost on Jensen but he stills feels that coldness inside. He still feels angry that Jared reappearing in his life is making him question everything. Ever since their conversation, he’s been going around everything that happened in his mind. Replaying arguments; replaying good times. All the things he’s wanted to take back since he realised he was well and truly alone. He’s been doing that while Jared’s been lining up dates.

“I’m not doing this now,” he spits out when Jared catches up with him. “Tell your date I say hi.” Guilt flashes across Jared’s face, closely followed by pity and then annoyance. Ah, there it is, Jensen thinks. There’s the hostility that Jared clearly has towards him. He thinks about all of the times he saw that expression and conceded the fight, let Jared have his way, just because he loved him.

“I didn’t think we—” Jared cuts himself off. He shrugs. “Yeah, fine. That guy is my date. And I was dating him before we had dinner. It's nothing serious but he likes me. I like him. He’s not some guy I’m using to make you jealous. We have a good time together.”

Jensen gets the reference loud and clear. He almost pinches himself because even now, that stunt with the kiss is one of his dumbest moves. However, Jared has some nerve bringing it up.

He snorts. “I’m glad. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a dinner for one to eat.” He moves to continue his journey but Jared darts around quickly and blocks his path. He doesn’t bother to push past, not wanting to make a spectacle in the street.

“Look, I know that I’ve been a complete asshole to you since I started working at the hospital,” Jared tells him. “And when we sat down for lunch, I basically put the blame on you. I keep saying the wrong things and I don’t know why. I wanted to talk about it more but when you didn’t call back, I thought maybe that was it, because I certainly don’t want to waste your time. But…I don’t want to be alone either.”

Jensen shakes his head. There’s always some excuse. Some way to put the blame on him, as Jared put it. “If you didn’t want to be alone, you shouldn’t have left me.”

This time Jared lets him go.

~

Hours later Jensen finds himself knee-deep in pictures and items he should have thrown away a long time ago. Pictures, keepsakes, and clothes that are too big to be his. Stupid little notes and ticket stubs, books with writing that isn’t his scrawled inside the cover. His food lies somewhere in the kitchen, slowly getting colder – a bit like he is. Quite why he kept this stuff is beyond him, but it’s like Danneel said. The ex that he’s been hung up on for the last four years is here; he’s bound to be a little out of sorts. That and it’s always easy to remember the good times. The times when they smiled and laughed together, times when Jared was actually there for him and not fighting him over everything.

All this time, he always thought that it was the argument about Jared’s career that tipped them past the point of no return, but Jared saying he was unhappy has stuck with him since that lunch. Before dinner, Jensen was consumed with thoughts of them rekindling their great love affair and somehow he forgot that Jared can be the most frustrating person ever. He makes Jensen want to scream and cry but at the same time, he’s all Jensen wants. To say that he’s confused is an understatement. He keeps coming back to what Jared said at his apartment a few weeks earlier. ‘I’m not going anywhere’.

He finds that he can’t believe it.

~

Jensen’s not really sure what possesses him to do it but, he packs all of Jared’s things into a box, tapes it shut and dumps it in his trunk. Jared texted him his address after dinner when they half-heartedly made plans to do it again sometime. It’s early, just past ten and the only reason why he’s up at all is because it’s a Saturday, otherwise known as his Getting Shit Done Day. And the first thing on the list is putting the past behind him once and for all.

By the time he gets to Jared’s door, nerves are kicking in and he’s seriously considering turning back and driving back home. In a way, Jared makes the choice for him when he opens the door before Jensen can knock. He’s dressed in loose sweatpants and a threadbare t-shirt that Jensen swears he recognizes. He pulls his gaze upwards and meets Jared’s eyes head on.

“I heard you pull up,” Jared says by way of explanation. His face remains indifferent. “What’s in the box?”

“It’s all of your stuff that I’ve kept over the years,” Jensen says. “All of the other stuff you left at the apartment is in storage. I’ll email you the details.” He thrusts the box into Jared’s hands. Jared almost falls backwards but he manages to right himself and hold onto the box. Jensen turns to leave, desperate to get back into his car, but Jared has other ideas.

“Wait!” he calls out. “Just, come inside for a second, okay? Let’s behave like rational adults for once.”

For some reason, Jensen doesn’t keep going. He follows Jared into his house and tells himself that he’s not making a mistake.

~

“So, what’s happened after he told you to come in?” Danneel asks eagerly in between sips of coffee. Jensen rolls his eyes even though he was the one who brought it up.

“Well, we talked,” he says. “And then we argued. We argued some more and then we came up with a more creative way to shut each other up.”

Danneel practically bounces with glee, even though there’s nothing gleeful about the way Jensen feels right now. Sex was the last thing Jared and he needed to have, especially in the midst of yet another heated argument.

“It’s like we both harbor all of these negative feelings toward each other but we can’t seem to stay away,” he tells her. “I guess I can’t get past him saying he was unhappy even though, I guess it was obvious. He did leave a handful of times after all.”

“So that’s what you’re afraid of?” Danneel asks. “You’re scared that if you hear him out and let him back in, he might just run again?”

Jensen shrugs helplessly. “Yes? Maybe. I do know that he’s changed. The old Jared wouldn’t call first, wouldn’t even admit any wrongdoing but he does. He says all of these things that make me think he’s better. That we might actually work if we just try and then he does things like date other people or takes jibes at me. I don’t really get it.”

Back on Saturday after Jared invited him in, they’d actually gone over the contents of the box and had a decent enough conversation. Jensen waited for Jared to blow up but there’d been nothing and that angered him and suddenly they were arguing about Jared dating. In hindsight, Jensen knows that he has no claim on Jared. It has been four years after all, time can’t just stand still while they both get their shit together. But Jensen can’t help it, the thought of Jared being with anyone else physically hurts because at the end of the day, he’s the person who’s always had his heart.

“Did you tell him this?” Danneel asks when he puts it to her.

“Like, I’m going to embarrass myself any more than I have already?” Jensen scoffs. “It’s too messy. Too complicated. I’m just tired.”

“You’ve always told me that your biggest regret is letting him walk away from you,” Danneel replies. “And even right now, it’s obvious that you love him and that everything in the past isn’t what bothers you. That’s not what you’re angry about. You’re not even angry with Jared, not really.”

“Who am I angry with?” Jensen retorts. “Please enlighten me.”

Danneel smiles at him sadly. “Yourself. From what you’ve told me, you were just as insecure as Jared was. You tried to make him jealous by kissing that guy. You ignored his calls and got upset at the thought of him moving on after you chose not to deal with the situation like you did all of those years ago and deep down, I think you resent yourself for telling Jared not to go for his nursing degree because you’ve seen for how good he is at it with your own eyes.”

By some act of God, Jensen’s pager goes off before he can even think about answering and he scurries away.

~

With Danneel's words in mind, he arranges to meet with Jared once again. Jared is insistent on them meeting at his place, seemingly not giving a damn about what happened last time Jensen turned up. Jensen doesn't have a grand plan, or a long speech prepared. He intends on laying out the facts on the table. They were both at fault for the break up. They clearly still like each other, and he's willing to give things another shot. Simple as that.

It turns out that Jared has other ideas.

There's a noticeable pause when he rings the doorbell, but this time the sick, nauseating sensation in his stomach isn't there.

By the time Jared actually opens the door, he’s not as calm but he is not freaking out either.

“Sorry, I was just in……” Jensen cuts him off when he spots the red-purple bruise around Jared's eye. It looks painful.

“What happened to your face?” he asks.

Jared grimaces. “I got punched by an irate patient. It was an accident.”

"Did you get it checked out?” he presses along the bruise gently, while Jared lets him patiently. He hums softly. “It doesn't look too bad. Should fade soon.”

Jared smiles at him but doesn’t reply. Instead he says, “So I wanted you to see this….” He follows Jared in and finds himself looking into the very same room he saw the last time he was here. This time, the furniture has been pushed back and two of the walls are now covered in pictures, post it notes, random scraps of papers. One wall is decidedly more cluttered that the other.

“What’s this supposed to be?” he asks with a furrowed brow. He can’t help wondering if he and Jared have ever been on the same page because sometimes their situation just confuses him. One minute they’re avoiding each other and the next, Jared’s documenting their relationship on his walls.

Jared is slightly flushed as he gestures to the right and says, “This is all I could find of our good times. Every picture, or every moment I could think of is on there. I might have gone a little overboard.” Jensen steps closer and notices that the Post-Its are covered in Jared’s scrawl, which is still familiar to him after all of these years. He reads the one closest to him and quite helping snorting.

“So this is like a happy memory wall,” Jensen states. “And your car breaking down is a good memory for you?”

Jared’s grimaces. “I probably shouldn’t have put that on that there what with….uh, but it’s how we met, technically? So yeah. I put it on there.”

“And the other side is all of the bad stuff?” Jensen asks while looking at the wall with less things affixed to it. He moves towards it and is surprised to see that Jared’s gone as far to include a print out some of the particularly harsh emails they’d exchanged during one of their first break-ups back when Jensen was still out of sorts from his accident, which is also documented.

Jensen yanks the picture off the wall, suddenly feeling exposed even though this is Jared. The same person there during all of that time. “Where did you get this?” It’s a picture of him, looking miserable in hospital with his sprained ankle bandaged and propped up in front of him.

“I took the photo,” Jared tells him. “You were so upset that I guess you didn’t notice. And…a lot changed for us after the accident. You were so down and miserable and I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to be able to help but I couldn’t and I guess, that’s when I started thinking about nursing. I just wanted to help you…I should have told you.”

Jensen is surprised to say the least. He doesn’t remember much of the immediate aftermath of the crash, just the pain and the guilt. He remembers Jared being his rock, but not the actual physical things that happened around him. He doesn't remember ever noticing Jared feeling helpless.

“I wish you had told me,” he says softly. “And I wish you’d kicked my ass when I said all of that crap about nursing being too much for you. I just worried about you back then, especially after all of the drama you went through with your parents. But like I’ve told you, I think you’re an amazing nurse. And I think you did the right thing in leaving – that’s actually what wanted to say but…I don’t think it needs to be said.”

They've said enough at this point.

“I don’t know, I kind of wish I’d stayed because when I was doing this,” Jared gestures at both walls, “I realised that the good always outweighed the bad. We always found a way back to each other, no matter how hard we fought, because at the end of the day we were a team. Nothing’s perfect and a lot of these moments on the happy memory wall were a direct result of the ones on the other wall.”

Jensen gets what Jared is trying to say. Life is all about the good and the bad. To truly appreciate the good, one has to experience the bad.

“We tried too hard to make things perfect,” he remarks. “And ultimately we just ended up hitting the self-destruct button. I get that. I know that you do, but now that the past is laid out in front of us, there’s only one thing we need to figure out. Where do we stand now?” As helpful as it’s been to hear all of the missing insight and reasons behind Jared’s departure, Jensen’s always believed that the past belongs in the past.

Who they were then, isn’t who they are now.

“I was so angry with you when I started working at the hospital and I hated that,” Jared confesses slowly. “I hated that it took three seconds of being in your presence for me to see that I still cared about you, that I still…had feelings. And then I went on that date and it just solidified things but I screwed up again and--”

“I want to be with you,” Jensen interjects, fearing that they’ll lose sight of the question. “It’s all that’s been on my mind since you handed me that clipboard, and hell, maybe for the last couple of years. That’s my stance. What’s yours?” He can see the answer in Jared's eyes, can almost feel it on his tongue but he needs to hear it.

Jared takes a step forward and looks into his eyes.

"I want to be with you too. I want to stay."

Maybe it really is as simple as that.

~

Three Months Later

It's been a long, eventful day and Jensen is extremely glad that it's over. The loss of two patients’ stings deep and he wonders if it's going to be another sleepless night, wracked with guilt and endless questions about what he could have done that he didn't do. If the short walk from the hospital is this harrowing, he's certain that he really won't get any rest tonight. He briefly considers calling Jared but decides against it. They're taking things slow and he's not sure that he wants anyone to see him like this. Especially not Jared who he still worries about sometimes.

It turns out that he doesn't need to call him anyway because Jared's already there. He's sitting on Jensen's couch, watching something on television. He turns to look up at Jensen when he hears him and his smile fades instantly. He doesn't ask what's wrong, he just opens his arms and Jensen can't resist the pull; he falls right into them. Tears prick at the corner his eyes and he tries to say something, tries to say how stupid this is because this is his job. It's what he's signed up to do. Jared merely shushes him and holds him close. Jensen leans into the warmth and breathes in gently. This is it, he thinks. This is what he's been craving so desperately for the past year. Someone to lean on. Someone to come home to.

Someone who understands.

The fact that it's Jared makes it that much better. It shows Jensen that he's known his missing piece all along; he just had to wait for it to come back to him.

Fin.