Jensen Ackles was an empath.
It should have been the first thing Jared noticed about him; the arc of black stars curling under Jensen's left ear was anything but subtle and Jared had met more than enough stellae in his life to be able to make the connection. Sure, he'd never actually met an empath before - they weren't as common as telekinetics or gliders and they tended to prefer to go unnoticed - but a star-shaped birthmark on the side of the neck was pretty unmistakable.
So yeah, Jared really should have been quicker on the uptake.
Unfortunately, the first thing Jared actually noticed about Jensen Ackles was that he was really fucking pretty. This might not have been such a big deal if he’d been dealing with a Normal, but it meant that he was too distracted by Jensen’s very pretty face to realize that sticking out his hand with a big smile and a 'very nice to meet you,' was one of the worst possible things he could have done.
Tom, who'd volunteered to show Jared around the office, winced.
Jensen looked at his hand like it was diseased and then, very deliberately, tilted his head. Jensen's stars stood out in stark contrast to his pale skin and Jared's stomach dropped.
"Oh, sh... sorry, I didn't mean to-"
"I don't touch people," Jensen cut in coolly, and turned his attention back to his work.
Summarily dismissed, Jared couldn't help but stare at Jensen’s very pretty profile and think that his first day on the job wasn't really starting off that well.
Tom coughed unsubtly. "Right. We'll, uh, let you get back to work, Jensen."
Jensen gave absolutely no indication that he'd even heard him and Tom nodded like he’d been expected that. He grabbed Jared’s arm and herded him out of the room before Jared could pull together enough of his mental faculties to make a better apology.
"Well that was certainly a stunning first impression," Tom said, once he and Jared were in the hall with Jensen’s office door safely closed behind them. "Let’s hope the rest of the staff likes you better."
"I didn't do it on purpose," Jared protested. He went to run a hand through his hair before remembering just how long he’d spent trying to make it look halfway decent and settled for rubbing against the back of his neck. "Should I go back and apologize? I don’t want him to think I’m a stellaphobe."
Tom waved a careless hand. "Don't worry about it. He's always like that."
"Really?" Jared frowned. "But shouldn't he be more, you know, empathetic? In tune with everybody else’s emotions and all that."
Tom looked surprised. "Did you sleep through all your Stella Ed classes at school, or something?"
"I'm from Texas," Jared said, shrugging. "I'm lucky I got Sex Ed. They're not too big on making sure folks are well-informed about 'deviations'. And I've never met an empath before, so."
"Unbelievable," Tom said, with a shake of his head. "Right then," he said, in an 'I'm not explaining this again' sort of voice. "Empaths do pick up on other people's emotions, but I guess the human brain hasn't quite caught up to that much external input. So they need to put up mental blocks to keep everyone else's feelings from overloading their systems."
"So are they all so..."
"Cold?" Tom finished. "Not really. Empaths can come across a little off sometimes, especially in places where there are a lot of very excitable people, but usually it's pretty easy to ignore. A lot of them can wear their hair long and pass for Normals as long they're careful about skin contact."
"Okay," Jared said slowly. "But what's up with Jensen then? Is he just a jerk or something?"
Tom shook his head. "It's because he's such a high level stella," he explained. "He picks up so much residual emotion that he needs to cut himself off from everything to keep from ending up in a coma or something."
"Huh." Jared cast his mind back to the marks on Jensen's neck, mentally counting the stars. "He’s a level… four?"
"Five," Tom corrected and Jared whistled.
"Really? Wow, I didn’t know there were any level five stellae who weren’t working for the government."
"Yeah, well, apparently Jensen really wanted to be an architect. And it's not like he's much of a threat to national security, not when he doesn't care enough about anything to cause trouble."
"Hang on," Jared said, frowning. "Are you saying he hasn't got any emotions? At all?"
Tom shrugged. "That, I don't know. Katie thinks so, but Gabe's brother is a level three empath and he says that mental walls work both ways: they keep things in and out. And Jensen's walls are like frigging Fort Knox so, even if he's got feelings, they're locked down so tight that we're never going to see them."
"Wow," Jared said again, though it wasn't a good kind of wow. "That sounds so... lonely."
"Maybe to you, but that's just the way things are for him. So just let him do his own thing and it'll all work out. Now." Tom clapped him companionably on the shoulder and steered him back towards the main bullpen. "Let's introduce you to the rest of the team. And try not to offend any of them in the first ten seconds, okay?"
Jared hit up Wikipedia as soon as he got home that night and found that Tom had been pretty much bang on with his explanation of how empathy worked. It wasn't easy to find information about five-star empaths, but Jared wasn't particularly surprised. It was incredibly rare, to begin with, and most governments weren't too keen about putting out information about high level stellae in the first place.
He did manage to find a link to an article about the adverse effect of extrasensory input on the human brain, but it could have been written in Korean for all the sense it made to him. Pretty much all he got out of it was that, yes, Jensen did have feelings and there were apparently instances of high level empaths being able to express them without their brains exploding, but Jared was damned if he could figure out how that worked.
The whole thing was terribly depressing, and Jared couldn't help but feel badly for Jensen, unable to care about anybody for fear of frying his brain. And maybe Jensen didn't know what he was missing but Jared did, and it made his heart ache.
If he'd had any sense whatsoever, he'd have left Jensen in peace and be done with it.
Of course, common sense had never been one of Jared's strong suits.
"I'm heading out to grab a coffee," he said, leaning into Jensen's office without bothering to knock. "You want something?"
"No," Jensen said, not looking up. "Go away."
"Can't do that, sorry." Jared grinned at him. "I consider it my civic duty to make sure my coworkers are well-caffeinated. And turning down a free cup of coffee is just silly."
Jensen's eyes flicked towards him, flat and disinterested. "If you're trying to be polite, you needn't bother. I don't care."
"And if I'm trying to be friendly?"
"Then you're wasting your time." Jensen returned his attention to his computer without another word.
So Jared shrugged, went off to the coffee shop and bought Jensen a ridiculously large coffee. He stole a small mountain of creamers and sugar packets on his way out and stuffed them in the tray.
He knocked on Jensen’s door this time and waited for Jensen's brusque ‘Come in,’ before walking in with an easy grin.
"Me again. It's Jared, by the way," he added, depositing the coffee tray on Jensen's desk. "In case you forgot. I hope you like Americano."
"I don't want it."
Jared shrugged. "Well it's yours now, so you can do what you want with it. It’d be kind of a waste to throw it out, though." He glanced at the clock. "Whoops, time to get back to work. Wouldn't want to get fired in the first week. Enjoy your coffee! Or not, I guess."
"You're still wasting your time," Jensen called after him, and Jared glanced back to find Jensen watching him with an expression that was empty enough to make him want to shiver.
So Jared smiled warmly at him. "That's okay. Have a good day, Jensen," he said and quietly let himself out.
He stayed away from Jensen's office for the rest of the day, though he couldn't resist the impulse to peek through the window after Jensen had packed up and gone home, just to see. The edge of an empty coffee cup peeked out over the rim of Jensen's trash can and Jared had to grin. Operation 'Treat Jensen Like a Human Being' was a go.
"Leave me alone."
"And deprive you of a much-needed coffee fix? I'd never be so cruel." Jared leaned one shoulder against the door jamb and raised an eyebrow at Jensen. "You feel like telling me what you want this time?"
Jensen ignored him, clicking away with his mouse like he was trying to do it a damage.
Jared brought him a frothy, chocolate covered and wonderfully unhealthy frappucino this time. Jensen appeared unimpressed.
"What. Is that."
"Hey," Jared said, setting it down and then retreating to a respectable distance. "You're the one who wouldn't tell me what you wanted. This is your fault."
"Go away." Jensen waved his hand at the frappucino. "Take that with you."
"Sorry, I've got to get back to work," Jared answered sunnily. "Enjoy!"
"Whatever you want from me," Jensen said, not looking up from the large sheet of draft paper he was sketching on. It was the first time Jared had seen him actually drawing up plans and he took a moment to enjoy the precise, graceful economy of Jensen's hands as they marked and measured and built things out of nothing. "You're not going to get it."
"Not everything is about you," Jared said, setting a caramel macchiato on Jensen's desk. He'd been planning to bring back a double shot of espresso, but it hadn't seemed like a good idea when Jensen was trying to draw straight lines. Maybe tomorrow. "I have an addiction for buying people coffee. Ask my therapist."
Jensen ignored him.
Jared waited a beat, then headed out, throwing a cheery, "I'll see you tomorrow!" over his shoulder as he went.
"Do you do any work around here?"
Jared grinned. "Sometimes. I hope you like pumpkin; they had a new seasonal latte on the menu and I liked it so much I got you one too."
If Jensen had been anyone else, Jared just knew he'd be banging his head on the desk right about now.
"What, and leave this wonderful spiced hot chocolate in the hallway for just anybody to have? Bite your tongue."
Jensen paused long enough to glance up at Jared. "I don’t like hot chocolate."
Jared waved off the complaint and walked in anyway. "Should have thought of that earlier. Here you go."
Jensen huffed out a breath that almost sounded frustrated. "You're a nuisance."
"So I've been told." He flashed Jensen a cheeky grin. "Personally I prefer persistent. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Howdy, Jensen. How're things?"
Jensen didn't bother looking up from the reams of files scattered all over his desk. Nothing new there.
"Requests?" Jared asked and listened to the scratch of Jensen's pen for a few moments before levering himself away from the doorframe and turning to go. "One surprise, coming right up."
Jared put the brakes on so fast he nearly ended up face-first on the carpet. Jensen kept plugging away at his work, giving no indication that he'd spoken, but Jared had been waiting for long enough to know that it hadn't just been wishful thinking on his part.
He fought back the urge to do a fist pump. "Any particular kind?" he asked instead.
Jensen was silent for a long moment and then, "I prefer Chai."
"Well," Jared said, toning his grin down to something a little less maniacal. "Why didn't you say so?"
"Honestly, Jared," Genevieve said one morning after Jared got back to his desk after his mid-morning coffee shop run. "I don't know why you bother. He's never going to act any different. He can't."
Jared shrugged. "I know," he said and it was true. Even though Jensen had relaxed enough to tell Jared his caffeine preferences, it wasn't as though he'd magically started talking to Jared when he wandered into his office, or even gracing him with a smile once in a while. Jared did occasionally get a 'thank you', which made him kind of pathetically happy every time it happened, but that wasn't a triumph by any stretch of the imagination. "It's not a big deal, really."
Genevieve stared at him like he was a particularly slow puppy. "You've been bending over backwards to bring the man coffee every day for the last three months. You can't tell me that's not a big deal."
Jared shrugged again, more awkwardly this time. "I don't mind," he said, struggling to find the words to explain. "I just don't think that the fact that he can't show whether or not he cares should mean we do the same thing to him. If a daily caffeine run is what it takes to show that he's still appreciated, well."
Genevieve snorted. "Whatever. You just don't want to admit that you're crushing hard on Mr. Tall, Hot and Asocial."
Jared spluttered and, embarrassingly, blushed. "What?! Why, would- that's... I don't-"
"Please, Jared," Genevieve said, rolling her eyes. "You practically bounce back to your desk after dropping off his coffee everyday. It's not subtle."
"Ok," Jared surrendered. "So maybe I think he's hot. That doesn't mean I'm-"
The sudden squeal of brakes and tearing metal shattered through the air and Jared staggered heavily when a thunderous crash shook the building hard enough to make his teeth rattle. Genevieve stumbled into him and Jared wrapped an automatic arm around her, fighting to keep them both upright.
The shaking ended as quickly as it began and Jared could hear the startled buzz of voices rise up in its wake.
"The fuck was that?!"
"Oh god, look out the window!"
"Our Father, who art in He-"
"Someone call 911!"
"Wha-" Genevieve managed, looking shaken.
You okay, Jared wanted to ask her, but just then a harsh, anguished scream rang through the office and he was running before Genevieve had even finished gaining her feet.
Because he knew that voice, even if he'd never heard it sound like that. Something was very wrong.
"Jensen!" Jared shouted, shoving his way through the crush of people streaming towards the window.
He shouldered open the door to find Jensen convulsing on the floor, hands covering his ears and eyes rolled right back in his head.
"Jensen!" Jared skidded down to his knees and grabbed Jensen's shoulders, trying to pin him down before he hurt himself. "Come on, Jensen, talk to me!"
Jensen gave absolutely no sign that he'd even heard him, his whole body arching like he was being electrocuted. His breath was snapping out in shallow pants and his face was so twisted with pain that Jared could scarcely recognize him.
"There's an ambulance on the way!" someone in the hall shouted and Jared realized abruptly what was going on: the emotions of the people in the car crash must have been strong enough to punch straight through Jensen's walls and drag him out. He was caught up in all the pain, fear and shock they were feeling. And it was killing him.
The hallway was still full of people rushing back and forth, there was no telling when the paramedics would arrive and Jared didn't have the faintest idea what to do. But he couldn't leave Jensen like this.
Jensen whimpered like a hurt animal when Jared dragged him into a mostly-upright position but Jared gritted his teeth against the surge of guilt that rose up inside him at the sound.
"It's okay, Jensen," he said, trying his damnedest not to let Jensen hurt either of them with his flailing. "I've got you. You've got to calm down now, okay?"
A hoarse groan fell from Jensen's lips and Jared wrapped a hand around the back of Jensen's neck pulled him close, being very careful not to touch Jensen's skin above the collar of his shirt. The last thing Jensen needed was Jared's emotions pumping into him on top of everything else.
Jensen shuddered violently, struggling against Jared's hold. Jared held on grimly, voice low and gentle as he murmured, "Shh, easy Jensen, it's okay. That's not your pain you're feeling; you can get past it. Come on."
"Jared?" a voice in the doorway asked and Jared cursed inwardly when his instinctive jolt made Jensen whimper again. "What's wrong with him?"
"Shh," Jared soothed Jensen, and then, to whoever the hell was standing in the doorway, "The accident's knocked out all his mental walls. Find his doctor's number and get him here."
"Now, dammit!" Jared hissed and was relieved when the guy came in and started rummaging through Jensen's desk.
Jensen keened mindlessly, hands leaving his ears to scrabble at Jared's arms, and Jared dragged Jensen down until he had one ear pressed over Jared's heart. "Hear that, Jensen? Nice and calm. Breathe with me, come on."
Jensen started to tremble, breath easing just slightly as his fingers clamped down panic-tight around Jared's forearms.
"That's it," Jared praised, absently rocking Jensen back and forth. "That's it."
The guy resurfaced with Jensen's cell phone. "Got it," he said and Jared was paying just enough attention to realize that it was Tom.
Jared nodded a thanks. "I'll stay here, try to calm him down," he said. "You get his doctor here as fast as humanly possible."
Tom nodded back. "Right." He eased past the splay of Jared's legs across the carpet and hurried out of the room, pulling the door shut behind him. A modicum of silence fell, leaving nothing to muffle the heartrending sound of Jensen's choked whimpers.
"Shh, shh, shh," Jared said to him, refusing to wince at the bruising squeeze of Jensen's fingers. "Breathe, come on. In, out, in, out..."
They sat like that for god only knew how long, Jared murmuring quiet encouragement in Jensen's ear while Jensen shook and shuddered. The time dragged on and Jensen might not have been getting worse but he sure as hell wasn't getting better either. Jared tried not to wonder how much longer Jensen could possibly survive this.
"Come on, Jensen," Jared whispered, worry sliding thickly down the back of his throat and making the words want to stick. "I know you don't really get why I care, but I'm trying to help. You've gotta start working with me. You can do this, please."
Jensen just kept shaking, eyes clenched tight and mouth hanging slack, and Jared fought the very real urge to start panicking. Where was that damn doctor?
Suddenly, one of Jensen's hands pried away from where it had all but embedded itself in Jared's arm and lifted, quivering, towards Jared's face. Jared sucked in a startled breath when cool fingers brushed his cheek.
"Jensen?" he asked.
Jensen's palm slid up until it was cupping the side of Jared's face, his thumb just brushing the corner of Jared's mouth and his fingers pressing lightly against Jared's temple. Jared twitched when Jensen's other hand followed the same path, gripping the other side of Jared's head and keeping him immobile.
Jared held very still. "You'd better not be giving up on me now, Jensen," he warned. "Just stick with me, okay?"
In answer, Jensen let out a low, steadying breath and Jared could have wept for joy when his tremors started to ease at last.
"Knew you could do it, you stubborn bastard," he said, as his whole body sagged in relief.
Jensen stayed like that for a long moment, his palms warm and rough against Jared's cheeks and his head a heavy weight on Jared's chest. Even when his body was finally still and relaxed in Jared's arms, Jensen stayed right where he was, breathing deeply and pressing close against Jared like he wanted to climb right into him. His fingers tightened warningly when Jared shifted to ease the pressure on his legs and Jared stayed obediently in place, determined not to freak out now that the danger was past.
When Jensen finally moved it was with a sharp, precise jerk that left Jared sitting by himself on the floor before he'd even realized what was going on.
"Are you just going to stay down there?" Jensen asked, his voice thrashed raw like he'd been screaming for hours. He tugged his shirt back into place and smoothed a hand through his disheveled hair, his face perfectly calm and unconcerned.
Jared stared at him. "Are you-"
"I'm fine," Jensen interrupted, which Jared thought was a patently ridiculous thing to say considering what had just happened.
"That's about as convincing as 'I don't like hot chocolate'," Jared told him, getting up off the floor with as much dignity he could manage. He looked searchingly into Jensen's gaunt face. "Are you going to be okay?"
"I assume you had someone contact my physician?" Jensen asked, ignoring the question entirely. Jared took a moment to remind himself that this was just how Jensen was.
"Yeah. Can't imagine what's taking so long." Jared glanced at the clock and was surprised to find that it hadn't even been half an hour since he'd burst into Jensen's office. "Oh, well, maybe I can. Hopefully they'll be here soon." He hesitated. "Do you... want me to wait with you?"
"No," Jensen said, which Jared had expected.
He wasn't going to make himself that easy to get rid of, though. "Fair enough," he said agreeably. "But I'll only leave if you promise to take the rest of the day off and go home."
Jensen arched an eyebrow at him. It was the most obvious display of expression Jared had ever seen from him. "Are you serious?"
"Not if I can help it," Jared said, with a reasonable facsimile of his usual smile. Now if only his heart would stop racing, he'd be good to go. "But I'm not going to let that stop me in this instance." His voice roughened without his permission and it came out far too honest when he added, "You really scared me, Jensen."
Jensen's face went absolutely blank.
Jared took that as his cue to leave. "Right then," he said, and offered Jensen a sheepish grin over one shoulder as he turned to go.
"I'm sorry," he heard Jensen say just as he reached the door. He glanced back to find that Jensen's expression hadn't changed, but there was no mistaking what he'd just said. "Thank you," Jensen added, almost as an afterthought, and Jared was so surprised that someone could have knocked him over with a feather.
"You're welcome," he managed after a moment. He lifted his hand in a wave, like he always did when he left Jensen's office. "I'm glad you're feeling better, anyhow. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yeah," Jensen said, in a voice that Jared couldn't read at all. "I guess you will."
The next day, Jared only hesitated a little before heading down to Jensen's office. Jensen was chugging away at his desk like it was any normal day and only the extreme pallor of his skin betrayed the fact that he might very well have died the day before. Jared lingered in the doorway for a moment, memories of the day before riding high and sharp in his mind.
"Stop worrying about me," Jensen said, not looking up from his work. "I'm fine."
"Liar," Jared said, with a lightness that was mostly genuine. "I feel like I should be feeding you something with lots of sugar in it, help you look less like you're about to keel over at any second."
"Always so negative." Jared bit his lip, debating for a moment before forging ahead anyway. "Maybe you should come with me. To the coffee shop."
Jensen looked up at that. "Why?"
"Because otherwise you're going to get something covered in caramel and whipped cream?" Jared tried, playing dumb.
Jensen made an impatient sound. "Why are you asking?" he clarified.
Jared shrugged. "Because I want to." Jensen looked unconvinced so Jared threw a hopeful grin his way. "Come on, it's not like it's the most life-threatening experience you'll have this week."
Jensen stared at him for a long moment. "Fine," he said suddenly, and stood.
"Really?" Jared asked before he could catch himself. "I mean, awesome."
"No need to be so excited, Jared," Jensen said, leading the way out of his office. "It's just coffee."
Jared followed after him and then spent an enjoyable twenty minutes talking at a completely unresponsive Jensen as they walked around the corner to the coffee shop. Jared summarily refused to let Jensen buy his own tea, and even managed to badger him into putting a couple packets of sugar into it. They walked back, Jared still talking away and Jensen calmly sipping his tea.
When they got back to the office, Jensen shut his door in Jared's face without so much as a goodbye and Jared went back to his desk with a grin bright enough to power a city block. Everyone looked at him like he was a lunatic and Jared couldn't bring himself to object.
It wasn't until later, safely ensconced on his couch playing Halo with Chad, that he realized that Jensen had called him by name.
After that, things stayed the same nearly as much as they changed.
Jared continued to accost Jensen about his daily caffeine intake and Jensen ignored him more often than not. He did start going to the coffee shop every once in a while, though, and Jared noticed that these trips started to happen with increasing frequency as the months wore on.
His coworkers seemed to find that a minor miracle in and of itself and they kept throwing Jared sidelong glances as though they weren't quite sure whether he was a magician or a crazy person. For his part, Jared wasn't entirely sure some days either.
The day that Jared managed to convince Jensen to come over after work and watch the game with him was quite possibly the most triumphant day of his entire life. Chad called him a pathetic, ball-less cockmonger for it, but that was pretty much par for the course with Chad so Jared didn't bother taking exception. Jensen spent most of the evening sitting ramrod straight on Jared's couch and not caring two cents about the game, though he didn't object when Jared stole his phone and programmed his own number into it. Which, as far as Jared was concerned, meant that all bets were off.
He started sending Jensen silly little texts whenever he felt like it, sometimes even when Jensen was with him. Jensen always either ignored them completely or else responded with bland, one-line responses that made Jared grin harder than was really logical. He invited Jensen to hang out after work as often as he could reasonably get away with, though he was careful never to suggest anything that meant that Jensen would have to go out in public and deal with too many people's emotions.
Jensen rejected most of his invites, but Jared never let that deter him. Jensen coming over to his house for the game did become a generally regular occurrence, which was awesome. Jared hoped he'd be able to convince Jensen to keep coming over once the football season ended.
Jared found himself enjoying Jensen's company more than he'd thought he could, considering that Jensen didn't really give any indication that he cared whether Jared existed or not. He kept coming over though, and Jared considered that fair grounds for believing that maybe Jensen liked him, just a little bit. And if Jared was maybe falling a little bit in love with Jensen, well, at least Jensen was probably the last person on Earth who'd even notice.
"Yello," Jared said absently, juggling the phone, a spatula and the sausages he was putting in the frying pan.
"Jared," Jensen's voice said and Jared cursed when he jolted and a hot splatter of oil hit his arm.
"Shit, sorry," he said hurriedly, not wanting Jensen to hang up. "Minor kitchen mishap. It's all good. Um, how are you?"
"You busy tonight?"
"Just me and my couch," Jared said, though he would have said the same even if the President was coming over for dinner. Really, Jared was kind of pathetic. "What’s up?"
"My friend Chris," Jensen started, and Jared bravely resisted commenting on the fact that Jensen actually had a friend. "He's in a band. They've got a show tonight. Do you want to go?"
"Sure," Jared said immediately. "Sounds like fun."
"They're country," Jensen warned and Jared laughed.
"Aw, don' worry yer head none 'bout tha," he said, letting his down-home drawl creep out. "Country music suits me jes' fine."
"Fine," Jensen said after a moment. "They're on at nine. I'll pick you up."
"When should I-" Jared started, but Jensen had already hung up. He stared at the phone for a moment, then at the charred remains of his lunch. "Well, shit."
Jared spent the rest of the day jittering around nervously, angsting over his clothes and compulsively checking the clock. He'd been ready and waiting for about half an hour when Jensen showed up at his door at quarter to eight, dressed in a worn pair of jeans and a flannel shirt that Jared wanted to run his hands over. With Jensen still in it.
Jared coughed and tamped down hard on that urge. "Hi."
"You're sure you want to go," Jensen said.
"Absolutely," Jared said. "I'm kind of surprised you do, though. Seems like it might get a bit... loud for you."
"Chris has been harassing me," Jensen said, which wasn't an answer. He gestured towards his car with a jerk of his head and Jared noticed that his shirt was buttoned right up to the top, covering as much skin as possible. The collar wasn't quite high enough to hide all his stars, though it did at least cover enough of them to make him look like a level two. Jared figured that the rest wouldn't be that easy to spot in a crowded room, anyway.
"So Chris likes bugging you too, huh?" he asked as he locked the front door and followed Jensen to the curb. "You think him and me should start the 'harass Jensen to do fun stuff' club?"
"Get in the car, Jared," Jensen said, which only made Jared grin wider.
Jensen's friends were playing at a bar with the decidedly uninspiring name 'the House' and Jensen seemed to have timed it so that there was barely time for a quick round of 'hi, I'm Jared, nice to meet you' before they had to take the stage. Jared wound up sitting with Jensen in a booth near the back of the bar, a beer in his hand and a basket of chili fries on the table between them as they listened to the band play.
The music wasn't bad at all, though Jared found that more of his attention was fixed on Jensen. They were about as far away from the bar as they could get without sitting in the parking lot and the only game on the TV was darts so the crowd wasn't too rowdy, but Jared couldn't help looking for some sign that the mild chaos was getting to be too much for Jensen.
"Stop it," Jensen said without turning and Jared couldn't help a rueful smile.
"You're surprisingly good at that, you know," he said, twisting to look at Jensen head on since he'd already been called out. The slope of Jensen's shoulders was surprisingly relaxed, though Jared could tell from the way Jensen's fingers were clenching and unclenching in the fabric of his jeans that he wasn't quite as calm as all that.
"You're not subtle," Jensen answered, attention fixed on the stage. "I'm fine."
And, for once, Jared actually believed him so he obligingly settled back in his chair and listened to the singer belt out verses about what it felt like to be so in love that it felt like you were crazy. Jared had to agree.
The band took a break about half an hour later and Jared took the opportunity to lean in close to Jensen's ear, shouting a little to be heard over the crowd. Even without the band, the place was impressively loud.
"You doing okay?" he asked. "It’s getting a bit busy in here."
"Still fine." Jensen shifted away and stood, shoving his hands deep into his pockets as he turned. "I gotta take a leak. You behave."
"You never let me have any fun!" Jared called after him as went, then took a guilty moment to admire Jensen’s ass in those jeans. Jensen wove through the crowd with the grace of a dancer, avoiding as much physical contact as possible and completely ignoring any and every attempt to catch his attention. Jared had to smile. Nothing new there.
"So," a voice said from his left and Jared turned around to find himself being glared down by the singer from the band. "You’re Jared."
"Yes, I am," Jared agreed, and stuck out a hand. "Chris, right?"
"Yeah," Chris replied, accepting the handshake. "Been wondering when Jensen was gonna let us meet you."
"Whatever he said about me is all lies," Jared said immediately. He paused, considering. "Unless it was good. That stuff’s true."
Chris arched an eyebrow. "He said you're a Normal and you're absolutely insane."
Jared grinned. "Okay, that sounds about right."
"I'm getting that sense, yeah."
"You guys were really good," Jared offered, when Chris seemed content to look at him instead of talking. "I'm glad Jensen invited me."
"He doesn't do this, you know," Chris told him, gaze sharpening. His eyes were almost colourless under the yellow lights.
Jared shrugged, awkward under that assessing stare. "I think we both know he's not exactly the making friends type."
Chris shook his head, sweat-damp hair sticking to the side of his face. "No, I mean he doesn't do any of this. I've been trying to convince him to come to a Kane gig for years but he won't even set foot in a bar, let alone on a show night. He can't. And I'm not fooling myself into thinking that he would have tonight either if it wasn't for you."
"Me?" Jared asked, surprised. "What did I do?"
"That's what I want to know," Chris said. "Cause Jensen don't make friends easily and he sure as hell don't do it with Normals."
"Then, you'r-" Jared started, and Chris held up one hand to reveal three stars arching across his palm. "Ah," Jared said, and wasn't even half-joking when he added, "So what you're saying is that you're going to drop a bus on me if I hurt him?"
Chris didn't bother answering that. They both knew it was true. "What I'm saying is that Jensen's been acting different since you showed up on the radar. And maybe it's not a bad kind of different but Jensen's not the kind of guy who changes. So what I want to know is, what's so damn special about you?"
"I've got no fucking idea," Jared answered honestly and Chris looked like he was going to argue but Jensen chose that moment to return and Jared was let off the hook.
Afterwards, Jared thought about what Chris had said, but failed to come up with any even remotely plausible explanation for what any of this could have to do with him. He supposed that saving Jensen's life might have been enough to convince Jensen to let Jared be his friend if he really wanted to, but Jared didn't really think he'd done all that much. And it wasn't like Jensen had ever said anything to suggest that Jared's presence in his life was anything profoundly earth-shattering. Hell, there were still plenty of days in the week when Jared wasn't entirely sure that Jensen remembered that he existed.
Thinking on the whole situation never managed to do anything more productive than give himself a headache, so Jared put it out of his mind. He was happy with things as they were, even if he was kind of painfully in love with Jensen Ackles, and it wasn't like Jensen needed Jared harassing him any more than he already did.
And they might have gone on like that indefinitely, Jared taking whatever Jensen could give him and Jensen suffering Jared's unending enthusiasm with quiet calm, if it hadn't been for the fact that Chad was a fucking moron.
The sound of his ringtone was shrill and unwelcome in the dark of his bedroom and Jared flailed his way out of sleep, looking for the source of all that god-awful noise. The clock on his side table unkindly informed him that it was just past two and Jared groaned, wanting nothing more than to go back to sleep.
His cell phone stopped ringing for a blessed minute as the call went to voicemail, then, because God clearly hated Jared, started up again.
Bleary and more asleep than awake, Jared stared at his cell phone for a long minute before he roused up the herculean effort necessary to reach for it. The call display flashed a number he didn't recognize and that woke him up enough to sound mostly like a human being when he thumbed over the accept button.
"Jay-rooooooood," Chad slurred at him and Jared nearly threw his phone across the room.
"Chad," he said wearily. "It is two o'clock in the goddamn morning. What the hell do you want?"
"Neeeed, you t'pick me up," Chad said, sounding so drunk that Jared was impressed he'd put all the syllables in the right places.
Jared yawned. "Get a cab. I'm going back to bed."
"Seriously, Chad. I've got to work in the morning. Where the hell are you, anyway?"
"P'lice station," Chad mumbled and suddenly Jared was wide awake.
"You got arrested?" he demanded incredulously. "What the fuck did you do?"
"Jay, Jay," Chad slurred. "It wasn't, Jay, it wasn't bad or nothin'. Jus' got a little, in a little trouble fucking... driving ho-"
"Drunk driving?!" Jared could hear his voice rising but couldn't get far enough past the sudden rage pounding in his head to tone it down. "Are you insane? You could have killed yourself, you moron!"
"Yeah," Chad agreed ponderously. There was a pause, then Chad added, "So, r'you gonna come fik- puk- pick me up or what? Cuz you need t'bring m-m-money."
Jared couldn't believe this was happening. "I'm your one phone call. Christ, Chad, you're such a douchebag. I'm coming," he added, biting out the words as he hauled himself out of bed. "Though God knows I should just leave your drunken ass there."
"Don't 'Jay' me right now, Chad," Jared warned. "Because I am so not in the..." He huffed in disbelief. "Drunk driving? Seriously? I can't believe you're that fucking stupid. I'll be there in twenty and when I get there I'm going to kick your ass."
Jared cut the call off before he could waste any more time swearing at Chad, then grabbed his wallet off the dresser and headed down the stairs.
His phone rang again while he was struggling into his coat and Jared didn't even bother trying to rein in the fury in his voice when he answered it. "I swear to God, Chad," he growled. "I'm going to leave your ass in that damn cell, you see if I-"
"Jensen?" Jared froze in his tracks, arrested by the pain riding high in Jensen's voice. The last time he'd heard Jensen sound like that, he'd been fighting for his life. "What's wrong?"
"Jared," Jensen said again, his breath coming in short, hitching gasps. "Y-you need to calm down."
"What? Jensen, what's going on?" Jared gripped the phone, feeling panic surge up over the thick anger still swirling inside him. "Are you okay?"
Jensen made a sharp, hurt sound and Jared's pulse just about jumped out of his throat when the sound of something solid hitting the floor rattled through the phone.
"Shit," Jensen said faintly. "Gotta, ngh, d-doctor. Don'... don' panic, kay?"
The line went dead in Jared's ear and Jared couldn't think of a more appropriate time to panic.
It took Jared an unforgivably long time to get Chad bailed out and shove him in a cab then tear across town to Jensen's house. Jensen's truck was in the driveway but the house was locked up tight and no one answered when Jared banged on the door. Jensen wasn't answering his phone.
Jared tried Chris next and got chewed out twice: once for waking Chris up at ass o'clock in the morning and then again when he explained what had happened.
"I'm calling his doctor," Chris said, once he'd finished calling Jared every unkind name he'd had ever heard and a good few he hadn't. "You stay right the fuck where you are and hope to hell I don't find out I've got to kill you for hurting my boy."
"But-" Jared started, then got cut off by the dial tone. He kind of hated his cell phone right now.
He paced up and down Jensen's driveway for a small eternity, mind running through one frightening scenario after another. When his phone finally rang, Jared snatched it up hurriedly, urgent and fearful. "Wha-"
"He's at St. Brigid's," Chris said, cutting right over Jared's attempt to speak. "You go over there and fucking fix whatever you've done or you're going to damn well wish all I'd done was drop a fucking bus on your head."
"Right," Jared said and snapped his phone shut as he threw himself into his car and peeled out.
The sky was turning pick on the horizon by the time Jared finally stalked into the Stella Wing at St. Brigid's, worry crawling through his veins instead of blood.
"I'm looking for Jensen Ackles," he told the man at the front desk, belatedly aware of the fact that he was still wearing his pajamas and probably looked like a madman. "He's a fifth level empath and he was brought in last night."
"And your relation with Mr. Ackles?"
"I'm his friend," Jared said immediately, not caring one lick whether Jensen would have agreed with him.
The receptionist gave him a look. "I'm sorry, sir, but only family is allowed to-"
Jared huffed in helpless frustration. "Look, I know you can't let me in, but can you at least let me know if he's okay? His family doesn't live round here," he tried, when the receptionist didn't look convinced. "So they can't come and he called me last night before he... before whatever happened, but I can't calm down, not until I know he's not hurt or..."
"I'll check with his doctor," the receptionist interrupted in a tone of voice that Jared couldn't read at all. He picked up a pen. "Your name?"
Jared told him and the receptionist pushed back his chair with a calm 'please, wait a moment' and disappeared through the ward doors. Too keyed-up to sit, Jared settled for shifting back and forth on the balls of his feet and ignoring the curious looks of the people in the waiting room, hands clenched into white-knuckled fists at his sides.
Amazingly, it was only a handful of minutes before a white-coated doctor pushed open the doors and headed straight for him.
"Mr. Padalecki?" she asked and offered him a hand. "I'm Dr. Marina Aziz. Please come with me."
Jared wasn't about to argue in this sudden unexpected breach of protocol so he hurried after Dr. Aziz as she led the way into the ward.
"Mr. Ackles is under sedation right now," she said as she walked. "It's standard procedure for empaths suffering from extreme synaptic inundation. He doesn't appear to have suffered any long-term brain damage, but we'll send him for some neuroimaging tests once he wakes up."
"So Jensen's going to be okay?" Jared asked. He could hear the worry in his own voice but couldn't seem to do anything to stop it.
Dr. Aziz stopped and gave him a serious look. "Well, Mr. Padalecki, that rather depends on you."
"Me?" Jared blinked at her, thoroughly nonplussed. "Why?"
Her expression was grave. "Because you're the reason he's here in the first place."
"What?" Jared's chest felt tight and he pressed a hand over his heart in a futile effort to make it stop pounding. "How, what did I... I don't-"
"Mr. Padalecki!" Dr. Aziz said sternly. "I know you're worried, but you need to calm down before you do any further damage. I'm aware that the bond is fairly new, but at Mr. Ackles' level he's very susceptible to-"
"What the hell are you talking about?" Jared demanded, voice rising without his permission. "I didn't do anything to Jensen! I was halfway across town!"
Dr. Aziz nodded. "As I said, that's not unusual at Mr. Ackles' level. Your behaviour could probably have gone unremarked on if he was less powerful, but he isn't so you and Mr. Ackles need to be more careful."
Jared was tired, worried and fucking confused. "Okay," he said, with a decent attempt at calm. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
Dr. Aziz raised an eyebrow at him. "Your empathic link with Mr. Ackles," she said, as though Jared was being deliberately obtuse. "You're no doubt well aware of the positives but you have to realize that Mr. Ackles also shares your negative emotions. All you're doing right now is exacerbating the situation. Now," she said, while Jared gaped at her. "It's imperative that we get Mr. Ackles stabilized as soon as possible. I'm prepared to provide you with a sedative if you don't think you're going to be able to calm down, but -"
"No," Jared said faintly. He took a deep, shuddering breath and pushed all his questions firmly into the back of his mind. "It's... I'll be fine. Just, uh, give me a couple of minutes?"
That earned him the flicker of an approving smile. "I can do that. We'll need you here for the next hour or so while we make sure that everything's in order," she said, and started walking again. Jared followed weakly after her. "We have a holding room where you can wait and I'll have one of our nurses come by so you can get a start on the paperwork."
"Paperwork?" Jared parroted, lengthening his stride to keep up. For such a short woman, Dr. Aziz could certainly move.
She shrugged. "Mr. Ackles wasn't in a fit state to check himself in using the proper procedures. As his partner, you're able to sign for him."
"But-" Jared tried, then gave it up. It wasn't worth arguing about right now.
Dr. Aziz showed him to a room that looked like it doubled as a Yoga studio; Jared really couldn't complain about the plush chairs, but it seemed like the throw pillows, incense and quiet music were taking it a little far. He knew he was supposed to be staying calm, but Jesus.
A guy in green scrubs came by after Dr. Aziz left and had Jared fill out approximately four million forms, several of which asked for information that Jared was completely unable to provide (shouldn't the hospital already know Jensen's blood type?). He muddled through it as best he could, then sat in one of the fantastically overlarge chairs and skimmed absently through a healthy living magazine while trying not to stare at the clock.
The clock read 7:27am when the door open and Dr. Aziz walked in. Jared stood immediately, keeping a tight rein on the worry that wanted to rise up in his throat.
"Is Jensen okay?" he asked, and sagged in relief when Dr. Aziz nodded.
"He seems to be recovering nicely. As I said before, we need to run some further tests once he comes out of sedation, and he'll have to stay in the hospital for the next few days while his mental barriers repair themselves, but he appears to be through the worst of it. You've both had a very lucky escape."
Jared nodded. "Is... when is Jensen going to wake up?"
"We've taken him off the anesthetic, but it will likely be a few hours before he wakes up," Dr. Aziz told him. "Sleep is a very powerful healing agent, especially for empaths."
"Okay, that's. Good. Can... can I stay with him?" Jared asked, sounding far more plaintive than he'd intended to. He couldn't bring himself to care. "Until he wakes up?"
Dr. Aziz gave him an assessing look. "Are you sure you can keep yourself under control? The last thing Mr. Ackles needs is for you to be overemotional in such close proximity."
Jared nodded again, more firmly. "I'll manage. And you've got full permission to throw me out if I start causing trouble for him."
"Very well. Follow me."
Dr. Aziz led the way. Jared hardly noticed the route they took; the few portions of his brain that weren't busy chanting JensenJensenJensen were preoccupied with keeping his blood pressure down.
Jensen looked unnaturally small and frail lying in the middle of the hospital bed, surrounded by a bevy of beeping machines. Jared dug his fingers into his thigh, focusing on that short flash of pain to keep his emotions from getting the better of him.
"You're welcome to stay for the rest of the day," Dr. Aziz said. "Though he should wake up well before that. Don't touch his skin directly. And try not to wear yourself out too much, okay? He's counting on you to be the strong one right now."
"Right," Jared said absently, already drifting towards Jensen's bed. The door clicked shut behind him but Jared didn't pay it much attention. He snagged a chair from against the wall and dragged it over so he could park himself as close as possible to the bed. Jensen's face looked gray and drawn, though Jared was heartened by the steady rise and fall of his chest.
Jared sat at Jensen's side for an endless stretch of eternity, trying not to think about anything at all. His mind wanted to run through the 'whats', 'whys' and 'the fucks' on repeat until Jared ran headfirst into a wall to make it stop, but that wasn't something Jensen could afford right now. Maybe not ever, if Jared had understood what Dr. Aziz had been talking about. Not that he was thinking about that.
Someone came by with a coffee for him somewhere around ten and Jared accepted it with a grateful smile. It was probably the worst kind of bad idea on an empty stomach and no sleep, but Jared wasn't leaving Jensen's side so it would have to do. The added jolt from the caffeine was certainly a bonus, anyway.
Jared had long since given up watching the clock when Jensen finally stirred. His skin had been flushing pinker for a while beforehand and Jared had noticed Jensen's eyes shifting back and forth under his eyelids. Knowing that Jensen was close to waking up in no way prepared Jared for the immense wave of relief and fondness that crashed into him when Jensen's eyes fluttered open and fixed muzzily on Jared.
Jared did his best to tone his smile down to something a little less than love struck when he answered, "Yeah, Jensen, it's me. How are you feeling?"
Jensen mumbled something that sounded suspiciously similar to 'like shit' and his eyes made a valiant attempt to open wider. "Wh-'re you doin' here?"
"You're at the hospital," Jared told him gently. "I came looking for you after you hung up on me last night."
That seemed to bring Jensen back to himself and Jared watched, amazed, as a cagey mix of shock, relief and fear flashed across Jensen's face. "Oh."
"Yeah," Jared agreed, and said nothing more.
The silence sat between them for a long moment.
Jensen shifted uncomfortably. "You're not going to ask?"
Jared shrugged. "You know me. We can talk when you're ready. Or not."
"Dammit, Jared!" Jensen said, sounding as close to anguished as Jared had ever heard him. He jabbed a finger at Jared, clear tubing following the motion of his arm. "Why couldn't you have been the same as everybody else? None of this would have happened if you hadn't come in with your damned coffee all the time and tried to care about me!"
"I'm sorry I've hurt you," Jared said, careful and honest. "But you can't ask me to apologize for caring. I can't not care about you, Jensen."
"Ask me," Jensen said, in a voice so thin that Jared could barely hear him. "Please."
And Jared knew Jensen - better than Jensen realized, probably - so he didn't bother asking Jensen if he was sure. He just took a deep breath and said, "So your doctor says we're bonded?"
Jensen nodded. "I created an empathic link between us."
"It helps... ground me," Jensen said, obviously choosing his words carefully. "Your emotions act like kind of a filter between me and the world, so other people's feelings don't hit me as hard. It's why that car crash didn't kill me."
Jared's mind flashed back to the both of them in Jensen's office, Jensen's fingers pressing lightly to the sides of Jared's face as his breathing slowly eased.
"That's when you made it," he said, which wasn't really a question, but Jensen nodded again anyway.
"By focusing on you, I could block out the rest of the world long enough to get somewhere less... volatile. It was a risk," he admitted. "But there wasn't a whole lot of time for me to decide. And you seem to be eternally stuck on 'disgustingly cheerful' which made it safer for me to create a link with you: not as much chance of you getting pissed off about bad traffic and sending me into a coma."
"So you just needed somebody to get you through it?" Jared asked, fighting hard not to sound hurt. Though, if Jensen really was tapped into his emotions, it was kind of a wasted effort. "And I was a good choice because I'm an upbeat kind of guy and I happened to be on the floor in your office?"
Jensen hesitated. "Not exactly."
Jared's pulse jumped. "Care to be more specific?"
Jensen didn't answer right away and Jared became belatedly aware of a trickle of fear running down his spine. He was pretty sure it didn't belong to him.
"Jensen," he said. He leaned in closer, fighting the urge to reach out and touch. "If you don't want to tell me, you don't have to. But whatever you say, it's not going to change the way I feel about you." Jared let his voice drop, and his expression was as serious as he knew how to make it when he added, "And I think we both know that I care about you very much."
In answer, Jensen lifted his hand and placed it deliberately on top of Jared's hand lying on the bedspread. A jolt of fire and passion slammed into Jared and he sucked in a breath as he realized what, no, who he was feeling.
"Christ, Jensen," he gasped, fighting the urge to drown happily in the chaotic mix of trust, frustration and uncomplicated happiness that Jensen was sharing with him. It made his heart ache to know that Jensen had always needed to keep this bottled up inside to save his own sanity.
Jensen met his eyes steadily, his expression giving away no hint of the intimate swirl of his emotions inside both of their heads. "This is what it takes to make an empathic link," he said. "It could only have been you, Jared."
"This link," Jared said, drawing himself reluctantly back to the present. "It's permanent?"
"And what do you need me to do? Aside from not going off the deep end the next time Chad gets arrested."
"You don't need to do anything," Jensen said, in the flat tone of voice Jared recognized from those first few months at Kripke and Gamble Architecture. He started drawing himself out of Jared's head and Jared could feel the emptiness left behind in his wake. "I can handle the link on my own."
"But it would be better if the link went both ways?"
"Yes," Jensen said. "But it's not important."
Jared nodded. "Okay," he decided. "In that case, I've got one more question."
Even with the undeniable proof that had just been handed to him, it took all the courage Jared had to meet Jensen's eyes. "I'm all kinds of in love with you, Jensen," he admitted. "Can I kiss you?"
Jensen sucked in a sharp breath and leaned forward, his hand leaving Jared's to wrap around the back of Jared's neck and draw him into a kiss that was needy and soft and all around perfect. Jared kissed back with equal enthusiasm, feeling like he could joyfully trade slow kisses with Jensen for the rest of his life.
"You're a terrible sap," Jensen informed him when they finally drew back for air. His hand had slipped down to rest on Jared's shoulder while they'd been kissing and Jared couldn't help thrilling at the absent brush of Jensen's thumb against the skin not covered by the collar of Jared's thin t-shirt.
"You already knew that," Jared answered confidently. Contentment was a comfortable pool in the pit of his stomach and Jared couldn't have cared less about whom it belonged to. "I've got another question."
Jensen tilted his head. "Do you now?" he said, so perfectly deadpan despite the way he looked so mussed and adorable that Jared just had to kiss him again.
"Mm," Jared hummed as he drew back. Jensen looked at him expectantly and Jared summoned up his brightest, most innocent grin when he said, "Next time we go get coffee, you think we can go ahead and call it a date?"
Jensen blinked at him, then honest to god laughed, which was quite possibly the most beautiful sound Jared had ever heard.
"Yeah," Jensen said, his other hand coming up to cup the side of Jared's face like he had the first time they'd ever touched. Jared's skin tingled at the contact and he felt an answering little pulse of happiness from Jensen that felt like sunshine being poured through his veins. "I think we can do that."