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What If We Just Stay Here Forever

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“What if we just say here forever?” Danneel sighed, stretching in the sun. The three of them lay on the chaise lounges by the ocean in the Caribbean. It had been Danneel’s present before Jensen went off to college.

“It’s okay--I’m never moving,” Jared sighed. It had been a week of beautiful days and wild nights, just the three of them. It had been a calm moment in the turmoil of their lives

Jensen was quiet. He felt like they were clawing to hold onto something they didn’t realize was fading away.

***

Once upon a time they had just been kids.

Jensen had never really been sure what his father did, and his mother never seemed to do anything. Jared’s father owned quite a few things and was always trying to manage them, his mother long gone. Danneel’s parents did a lot of things, all of which made money. None of them really paid much attention to their parents, which was fair because their parents didn’t pay much attention to them.

The three of them had grown up wanting nothing.

They gravitated towards each other because they could understand each other. They weaved in and out of closeness, but the three of them were called the Dynamic Threesome by the time they hit their posh little private high school. Which was funny because the only ones they didn’t even think of sleeping with were each other.

They would fuck around with anyone. Strangers, their parents, their peers, but by unspoken rule they would never fuck with each other. What existed between the three of them was real instead of the meaninglessness that they threw at other people, both physically and verbally. The only thing that they trusted was each other.

Jensen was the golden boy, grades and popularity. He was smarter than about ninety-five percent of everybody; he was a hell of a lot prettier than anyone who had ever existed and he had no qualms using these things to his advantage. The only ones who knew that his smile never lit his eyes were Jared and Danneel. He was bored by the easy grades, the easy lays, the easy life, but that never stopped him from doing it.

Danneel was the princess. She smiled loud enough that nobody ever asked her opinion. She laughed loud enough that nobody asked how she was feeling. She could lie so sweetly that you would always believe her. She knew when everyone around her was lying, but she never called anyone on it; she was too bored with them to care.

Jared was the wild child. He was the one who could always score. Jared was always high or stoned, and he would laugh his way through life. He was a charmer and the life of any party. When it was just the three of them he was the one who offered a little bit of hope in their empty lives that they knew they shouldn’t complain about. He added dimension. He just had no idea what he actually was.

They never dated; they just fucked people on the sly that they would never deem worthy to bring to parties with their friends. Danneel loved hopeless musicians that nobody would ever hear about because they were never sober or ambitious enough. Jensen loved the help--waitresses, pool boys, and house staff--they were the only way he ever saw a world outside of his own. Jared just loved people; he would take whatever was given.

But in public, in the day, it was just the three of them.

With one little exception.

It wasn’t rare, under the influence that Jensen and Jared would end up sandwiching some faceless girl. That was complicated, but it was okay.

Jared and Jensen were indefinable; the electricity they produced between them was enough to light Vegas. When they had their heads together, just talking, it was as if another world had been created and nobody could cross into it. When they had a girl between them she felt as if she were going to die from the connection, but what a way to go. They never touched except when they had a body between them, stolen caresses, accidental kisses, and eyefuls of open expression--it only happened with a buffer.

They were in each other’s presence constantly; they knew what the other was thinking most of the time. Part of the reason for that was that they kept a shared journal. They would write in it, commentary on classes, commentary on parties, thought about random facts. Between classes they would pass the notebooks, one of them typically had the current journal in their back pocket at any given time. Some days they would take turns writing down a back and forth thought, sitting inches from each other.

What they didn’t understand, and only Danneel could conceive, was why: why they just didn’t cave to what was between them.

She knew that Jensen thought that recognizing anything good or anything happy would lead to its immediate demise. Jared, as always, could read the thought and trusted Jensen to lead. They just believed that if they said it or acted on it, it would no longer exist.

It was okay; they still had each other, but Jensen was looking to get out. He went to his Ivy League in the East. The balance disappeared. Jared took it the hardest, to him it felt like being abandoned.

But everything was always okay.

What wasn’t okay was when Jensen came home from the East Coast on his first winter break and Danneel was fucking Jared.

Naked, writhing, and active.

This was something they didn’t do, they did not fuck each other, but it seemed that the leaving broke the coveted bond between them.

He watched them for a little while before they registered him. They both looked up, glassy eyed.

He looked at them.

For the first time in their friendship his head was clear. He was not mired in their life, the parties, the drugs, the vapidness. He had gone to school to get out, he had stopped thinking inside the bubble

The first thing that he felt was hurt and left out because they were together without him, but that quickly faded and his world was thrumming with jealousy, because those long limbs moving, the stretch of back, the hair wet from sweat hadn’t been for him. He had wanted to touch for so long, he had never touched and now it wasn’t some random stranger that Jared was fucking. For a moment he hated Danneel more than anything else, he had let her in and she was there, wrapped around Jared. She had taken the one thing that he didn’t even know he wanted more than anything in the world.

So he stuffed down everything, he just stuffed it away, and walked out.

He left and never went back to his childhood home.

He was done.

He refused calls, except for from his mother.

And Chad. Chad who had been on the periphery of his life, a loose acquaintance, but one who Jared always kept around. Taking these calls were what he considered a chink in his otherwise perfect armor.

But he did it anyway.

He knew his mother would talk about Danneel. He hoped that Chad would talk about Jared. The first was wildly successful; the second never seemed to happen.

His mother would tell him how Danneel had taken up acting and modeling and was traveling the world, a well-known face. Jensen saw her picture in many places. He would catch images of her and there was something so dead about her eyes. Jensen wondered if she was like that when he knew her.

Chad spoke of everything but Jared. Jensen listened to the endless chatter for one word. This was his hell, to listen to Chad for the one thing Chad would never speak of.

But part of Jensen couldn’t leave the hearing of Jared.

And he went on the hallowed halls of his education, once again he was smarter and prettier than most. He created a whole new bubble a million times hollower than ever before.

He could never be bothered anymore to try to find someone to let in. He was known as elusive and kind of slutty on campus. It was a reputation that he reveled in with as much amusement as he ever showed. Some liked him and some thought he was an asshole. Very few actually knew him and Jensen didn’t care.

Nobody really had ever knew him.

He had never let Danneel in, not all the way. Save one, he had never let anyone in.

There was one part of him…

He didn’t think about that part.

He liked the mystique of his persona. He liked thinking that he was just that cynical guy, dryly cracking his way through life.

Once in the years since he left, Danneel had tried to call just once. He didn’t remember when exactly, in the timeline of his life, but it was after he had walked out on her and Jared and before he graduated. He remembered that it happened some night at three in the morning and he was in Boston in the middle of a minor orgy, covered in glitter. He got the message on his phone the next morning.

He had never erased it.

You left us, you know. Her voice was unemotional, empty, and slightly slurred. We were fucked up, but when we were there together we were stable. It was okay. But you left and there was nothing else. Fucking him was just because I was afraid when you left that everything was going to fall apart, but for him it was different, for him he stopped caring it mean absolutely nothing to him, he was already gone when we fucked, it was because you left him. I’m just a face you know. That is all anyone sees. You asked me things like my favorite color. Jared always asked me how I felt and made sure I told him the real answer, he stopped when you left. I was special when I was part of the three. When you left, that was the last time that anyone ever saw me as anything but a face.

That was the end of the first message.

She had called back.

He erased the second message, the one where her voice was breaking with an honesty that he didn’t think that their friendship warranted, not after all this time.

He’s fucked up, really fucked up. He’s doing all these things. He has borrowed so much money from people he shouldn’t, thinking the next club or label is going to be his ticket, but you know Jared, well maybe you don’t any more. He’s using. He’s gone. So gone. The only thing that he has left is…fucking being polite anymore. His father doesn’t want anything to with him. He has nothing, he just…he’s a boy toy to these old guys, they give him clothes and money and so many drugs. You left, I’m a face, and he’s nothing better than a whore.

Jensen erased that message and hung up the phone and aced his economics exam, then fucked his way through the next week.

Yet, it remained etched in the part of his brain that he stored things he tried not to remember.

He graduated in four and a half years. He had a job that began in June; it was early December when he temporarily moved to the mountains of Vermont. He rented a condo on the slopes and snowboarded. He decided that he was gong to do nothing for seven months.

He brought with him his journals, where he scribbled down life and put down the things he barely liked to be thinking.

He wrote and snowboarded and was as content as he could be with his life.

It barely a week when he got the call. He had been out on the slopes at the time, he got back and it had been Chad. Chad didn’t leave messages.

He contemplated erasing the message without listening to it. He wanted this call and at the same time he wanted to stay in his own little bubble.

Instead he drank half a bottle of whiskey and put the phone to his ear.

You were his best friend once so do me a fucking favor. He’s in Vermont, right next door. Pick him up from rehab. It’s bad, real bad. He has been, well I’ve never said, I didn’t know, I didn’t want to know, but then I knew, just - well fuck man, just pick him up, and don’t let him come back here. He won’t make it.

Jensen was pretty quick to grab his coat and go out, he found a willing body that he barely remembered in the morning, but he had to, he had to because feelings were getting far too close to something he couldn’t bear to have someone touch.

The last thing that he wanted was to want anything.

The next day he had it under control, but Jared was still in his backyard and he couldn’t say no. He could never find enough to want to say no.

On the day that Jared was getting out he looked at his temporary condo, called a cleaning service, took a shower, called a grocery service, and opened one of the boxes of journals.

We’re not going to remember everything, Jared’s scrawl said. So we’re going to write down our lives so that the world will know we lived.

Jensen closed his eyes and the book. There were eleven more books that. Eleven books of their combined scrawling. Jensen wondered if Jared could remember anything anymore without writing it down.

Jensen tried very had to remember the feeling of being apart of something. He couldn’t, but he willed himself not to feel hollow and lonely.

He remembered Jared’s smile--god, Jared’s smile--bright and open, dimples. Full of life.

Jensen looked at the other books, the volumes that held only his own handwriting. He had never read them, putting them away as soon as they were filled.

In those boxes was his life.

He put them away.

**

Rehab release seemed to be very much not like prison. Jensen waited in what looked like an office reception room. He sat hunched over, elbows on his knees, one hand in a fist, the other covering it, just staring down at the plain beige carpet.

He found it ridiculous that he knew exactly when Jared entered the room, as if footsteps were as unique as fingerprints.

He looked up and Jared stood there, eyes wide. His eyes were dead, though, dead as Danneel’s. His face wore lines that it shouldn’t.

And Jensen realized that it was Jared.

Really here.

And he didn’t have a clue what to do with that fact.

**

The drive home was twenty minutes. Jared leaned against the doorframe, barely acknowledging that Jensen was there, through half lidded eyes Jared watched the mountains go by.

They pulled out and got out of the SUV. Jensen opened the door and walked into the house. Jensen waved towards the kitchen and living room. Jared barely registered it.

They walked to the second floor, a landing with a room on either side and a bathroom in the middle, there was a staircase leading up to the room that Jensen’s stuff was in. Jensen pointed towards one of the bedrooms, the one with sunlight. Jared hefted his small bag and walked towards it.

“There is the bathroom, your room doesn’t have a bathroom in your room. Sorry,” Jensen said. It was the first thing said between them.

He thought that Jared heard him.

Jared went into his room. Jensen had no idea what to do with him.

Jensen went down to the kitchen where he had food. Jensen was lacking of what to do with food, but he supposed he could make a sandwich, any fool could do that.

Jensen slowly made a sandwich, hearing quiet footsteps and the shower turn on.

It was weird suddenly to have someone in the same house as him, it hadn’t happened in four years.

He snuck up and left books outside of the door, Vonnegut and Hemmingway. Later, he put food outside of the door. They both went in the room. When Jensen woke up the tray was outside of the door.

**

Jared didn’t leave his room, as far as Jensen knew, unless it was to go to the bathroom.

On day four Jensen picked up the phone. She wouldn’t change her number.

“I don’t know what to do,” he said after the call was connected.

“You’re the brain,” she said, in that even tone, feeling him out.

“Please come,” Jensen asked, the closest that he had come to begging in his life.

“Its cold and winter,” she said, slightly complaining.

She hung up. Jensen knew that she would be here by morning, because that was the kind of girl she was.

**

The doorbell rang at ten am.

He opened it to her and her mass amounts of luggage.

“Staying long, sweetheart?” he asked casually, leaning on the doorframe.

“Fuck you,” she replied.

“Not likely,” Jensen retorted. “And if you fuck him I’ll kill you.”

She smiled, a little, something secretive, as if she understood something he didn’t .

“I took a red eye, you bastard,” she told him, lifting her sunglasses. “I’m in the fucking cold. Be a doll and grab my luggage.”

“Your words charm me,” Jensen said dully.

She walked in the house without a look back. “Where is your coffee? I’m sure there is a huge pot brewing unless you somehow found a way to shoot it up.”

Despite himself Jensen shuddered.

She looked back at him, and her bored eyes showed some worry. If they were normal they would have discussed it, she would have apologized for the words that were too soon; she knew Jensen had seen the remainder of Jared’s track marks.

Instead she blinked back some tears and walked out the door and picked up her own luggage and brought it in the house.

When it all was inside and the door shut she shrugged. “Coffee?”

He got her a cup and took one of her bags. “You’re in the master bedroom.”

She followed him up the stairs to the third floor. She didn’t comment that the bedroom on the second floor with the open door held his hastily thrown together things, the one right across from Jared’s. She knew why she was upstairs in the suite and not in this room.

She didn’t say anything; she wasn’t really up for that after not speaking to him for years.

They got her things settled and walked back down to Jared’s door.

“Is it locked?” she asked, eyeing it.

“No,” Jensen answered.

“Well you didn’t have to call me,” she snorted, moving to the door. “You could have just opened it.”

She moved forward because they both knew that Jensen couldn’t.

She opened the door. Jared was on the floor, staring at the ceiling.

“Hi, pookie,” she said, with obvious fake charm.

His eyes slid to her, empty.

“Take a shower,” she told him. “I’m starving and none of us can cook. There is no way that I’m taking your stinky body out in public like that.”

**

“Ready?” Danneel asked.

Jared stood with his hair wet, wearing a t-shirt. Jensen and Danneel were bundled in their winter coats. He didn’t say anything, just put his hands in his pockets and looked at his socked feet. The socks had a hole in the toe.

“You hate winter. Why did you go to rehab in Vermont?” Jensen muttered as he went to the closet. He had a jacket and he was pretty sure would do some kind of coverage to Jared’s frame.

Jensen was buried in the hall closet; he didn’t notice the look Jared gave his back. Danneel did.

**

They were sitting in the diner. Jared was staring off into space.

“We can buy you a coat and stuff later,” she offered.

Jared’s face took on a stormy look, one so vehement that she nearly jumped back. She had never seen him look like that.

“Okay,” she said slowly. “No buying you stuff.”

The waitress came up and his expression changed. I It was that old Jared look, charming and carefree.

“Hey, Melinda,” he said, leaning forward a bit. “I’m new here and I’m looking for work, you know of anything?”

Melinda was twenty something and even with Jared looking thin and a little bedraggled, he had a smile that could and had charmed the pants off many a people.

She grinned back, a little dazed. “Um, well the morning dishwasher didn’t show up for the second time. Harry wants to fire him, but can’t really if we don’t have another one. It’s early, six am, and dirty, but I’m sure…”

“I’ll take it,” Jared said leaning back and throwing her a flirty smile.

“Do you have references or anything?” Melinda asked. “I’ll totally send Harry over.”

Jared shrugged carelessly.

“I’ll vouch for him,” Jensen said from his corner of the table. He bit his lip a little and smiled. “You know me, Harry and I know each other.”

Danneel watched the two men and the blushing waitress.

“Okay,” Melinda said. “I’ll talk to Harry. Do you know what you want to order?”

They gave their orders. Jensen looked down at the Formica, but smiled a little as Jared ordered more food than Jensen and Danneel combined.

When Melinda left Danneel watched Jared’s face go blank again.

“You are ridiculous,” she tried to keep it light. “You still have it. Jensen, we don’t even what to know HOW you know this Harry dude. And Jared Padalecki--have you ever washed a dish in your life?”

At the mention of his own name Jared turned towards Danneel.

“It will probably be a little more demanding than my last ‘job’,” Jared said quietly, but clearly. “I think that washing dishes is a step up, in that whole moral sense. But if you are more worried about the technicalities than the depths to which I have fallen, I think I can figure out how to clean a few dishes.”

Danneel leaned forward and touched his face. “Hi, Jared.”

He blinked.

“That is the first thing you’ve said to me in over four years,” she said quietly. “You haven’t spoken to me since that day in the loft when Jensen caught us. Great way to break the silence.”

Jared looked startled, and then he slipped behind the blank mask and stared off into space.

“Stay with us,” Danneel said.

Jared closed his eyes for a minute and then looked at them. “What do you want, Danni? What do you want me to say? I’m not trying to be rude or anything here, but I am not talking about the past and I’m definitely not seeing a future right now. I’ve got nothing. I’ve got two pairs of jeans and three shirts and a pair of shoes and a job as a dishwasher and I’ll probably get a hairnet. That is the extent to what I have going for me right now.”

“You could use a haircut,” Jensen said as he ripped up his napkin.

Danneel shot him a look.

“What?” Jensen said. “I think that I have a razor, we could buzz it real short.”

Jared shot him a glare. “No way, man.”

The corner of Jensen’s mouth lifted. “So are you are saying that I should get out the scrunchies and barrettes, ‘cause you are getting out of control.”

Jared looked panicked, like he didn’t know how to react to this kind of ribbing.

“I could cut it,” Jensen said, he was well in control of what he was doing. “I did it that time when we were skiing in Aspen.”

Jared glared at him and it was the old Jared, petulant and not so jaded.

“We were six,” Jared pointed out. “And you took the dull kitchen scissors to cut out gum.”

“And you looked excellent,” Jensen teased.

“After my mother took me to see Cherie, her stylist extraordinaire,” Jared said. “I swear what that woman could do with hair…”

Melinda came back with the food and a job for Jared. Jared looked at the food.

He picked up his fork and looked straight at Jensen. “I’m considering this meal repayment for the horrible job that you did on my hair.”

Jensen smiled, teeth showing white. “Brat.”

Jared took a huge bite of pancake and did something that was almost a smile.

Danneel’s face eased, as if their acting like they usually did made the things okay. As if trying a little bit was enough. They ate in silence for a little while.

“I will pay you a thousand dollars to write my Christmas cards for me,” Jensen said off handedly.

Jared raised his eyebrows.

Jensen shrugged. “My grandmother likes you, write her some of that shit you are always bending her ear about. Do that magic so those people who kind of like me like me enough.”

Jared looked up, as Melinda waved him over.

“Okay,” Jared said distracted, as he got up.

Danneel looked over at Jensen. “If you have a Christmas card list I will join a convent.”

Jensen shrugged, his face alarmingly neutral. “It’s ok. Your lack of virtue is safe. How hard can it be to come up with a couple hundred names? He needs money and he isn’t going to take it from me for nothing.”

Danneel raised an eyebrow. “Be careful Jensen, that is getting very close to being something like nice.”

Jensen’s eyes tracked Jared, who was smiling and being charming.

“We wouldn’t want that now,” Jensen said absentmindedly.

**

After breakfast Jensen gave Jared money to go buy five hundred Christmas cards at the boutique down the street.

“Keep the change,” Jensen said as if was no big deal. “It doesn’t count towards your grand.”

He walked with Danneel back to the apartment.

“Do you worry that he’s going to…” she waved her hand around the town.

“Get blitzed?” Jensen asked. “Find someone who has some kind of stash and go on a bender with the money I gave him and then start sucking cock for his next fix? Find a whole new level of debauchery?”

“Jesus, Jensen,” Danneel chastised.

Jensen pulled out a cigarette and shrugged. “If he wants to do it then he is going to do it. We can’t stop him.”

Despite his words he looked to where Jared had walked to the boutique.

She stood with him for a moment and then sighed and walked to Jensen’s condo.

Jensen stood and watched until he saw Jared’s tall figure coming up the street.

He slipped inside.

**

Jared set cross-legged on the bed, composing a card to Jensen’s mother.

Danneel came and lay on the sofa.

“Jensen went out,” Danneel sighed. “Amuse me.”

Jared looked up and then picked up a book and threw it at her.

“Amuse yourself,” he told her.

Danneel picked up the book and looked at it skeptically. “Didn’t you get the memo? I’m just the face.”

“Bullshit,” Jared told her.

“I miss nice Jared,” she pouted. “Where is the boy who would make marshmallow puppets to make me laugh when I failed a history quiz? Bring him back please.”

Jared looked up at her, his eyes still dull. “Wish I could.”

Danneel looked at him and her eyes began to tear up.

“What happened, baby?’ Danneel said. “I know that we were fucked up, I know what it is like to start down the rabbit hole and the next thing doesn’t look so bad, but Jared when did you stop caring? The two of us, we would have--all you had to do was call.”

Jared put a note in the envelope. “He had school, you had contracts.”

Danneel cross the room and crashed on the bed. “Fuck that. All you had to do was call.”

“You would have come,” Jared acknowledged.

“But you were afraid that he wouldn’t,” Danneel said.

He gave her a look.

Danneel sniffled. “I really want to give you a hug, because you’re an idiot, but if Jensen comes home to find me hugging you I’m dead.”

They exchanged a look. She expected Jared to deny it, but it didn’t look like Jared was into any kind of lie, especially the one that he wanted so badly to be true.

“He’s out,” Jared said putting down the pen and putting his arms around her.

She knew what that meant. They both knew what that meant, Jensen would go out--that was how he dealt with things, especially things that involved feelings.

Danneel pulled away, she was not in the mood to start crying.

“Some days I think that you two are the only two people who ever cared about me,” Danneel said stretching and reaching for a book, her voice flippant and light, the admission more honest than anything she had said in years.

Jared didn’t look up, “Someday that is the only truth I know.”

**

“Hi, honey, I’m home!” Danneel said somewhat muffled.

Jensen came out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on a paper towel. “It’s about time, where have you been?”

He stopped short when he saw Danneel lugging in quite a few bags, followed by Jared, who was carrying a tree.

Danneel looked at the clock where it was blinking ‘5:06.’

“Oh, I see it is past curfew,” she noted blandly.

“Some of us are carrying trees,” Jared said, pushing the tree into the house and into Danneel’s back.

Danneel pushed back and then walked into the house laughing, she looked back at Jensen. “Did you cook for us, honey? Slave away in a kitchen for us all day.”

Jensen lifted his eyes skyward.

Danneel popped in the kitchen. “Jared--come see! Jensen got us take out!”

Jared, who presumably had put the tree somewhere in the living room, walked into the kitchen and came out munching on an egg roll.

He gave Jensen a half grin. “Thanks for slaving away all day over take out menus.”

Danneel swatted him away. “No food, none at all, until the tree is standing in the living room.”

Jensen stood there laughing.

“Oh, big guy, what do you have to laugh about,” Danneel said hands on her hips. “You are going to help him or no food.”

Jensen looked at her incredulously. “I got the food.”

“You picked up a phone,” Danneel said. “You are going to set up the tree.”

Jensen looked at a loss. Danneel raised an eyebrow.

“You have forgotten you have no defense against me?” She said tapping her fingers against her hip.

Jensen just stood there and crossed his arms.

Danneel smiled pretty and charming. “Jared will have to do it alone, if you don’t help.”

With that Jensen faltered a little bit.

She watched him change and her face got a little sad as she listened to Jensen and Jared put up the tree. Danneel closed her eyes, listening to their loud silence from the other room, only little scraping noises.

**

They sat in the living room, surrounded by cellophane wrappers and empty boxes. The tree was lit with white lights and red and silver balls. There were pieces of broken bulbs around the room, and interspersed with some of the fallen parts of Christmas were cartons of Chinese food and a very tired Jared and Jensen.

Danneel was glowing looking at the tree and other assorted decorations around the living room.

“Jeeze, Danni,” Jensen muttered. “When did you get taken over by the Christmas spirit?”

She threw a handful of wrapping at him.

“I’ve never done Christmas,” Danneel said. “I’ve had it done for me a million times, I just wanted to see what it was like.”

Jensen made a face.

“Jared likes it,” Danneel said.

“And you’re speaking for me now,” Jared said.

“He speaks!” Danneel squealed. “It’s a Christmas miracle.”

Jensen and Jared looked at each other.

“She sounds like your mom on Christmas after eggnog,” Jared said in a monotone.

Jensen grinned and turned to Danneel.

“Dan-nneeee,” Jensen said in a singsong voice. “Are you wasted?”

“I am drunk on Christmas spirit,” Danneel informed them studiously.

Jared was the one who cracked up first.

**

“What am I going to do when I lose you two?” Danneel was in her room at the mirror.

Jared was at work and Jensen had padded upstairs in his pajamas to lay on her bed and stare at the ceiling while Danneel went through the considerable amount of clothes that she had managed to bring.

Jensen lolled his head towards her.

“What does that mean?” Jensen asked.

Danneel sighed. “About a million things that I’m sure that you’re not ready to confront at this moment. But one day you’re going to grow a heart and he’s going to grow a brain, and I’m going to be back on magazine covers.”

“Maybe you’ll get a personality,” Jensen said poking a little bit at her.

Danneel bit her lip. “Way low, Jensen.”

“I know you have one, Killer,” Jensen said, trying to ease back into it. “Maybe you’d just decide to show that instead of your face.”

“You are an asshole,” Danneel sighed and posed again in the mirror. “A gigantic asshole. You are just mad that I know that you aren’t an asshole. I know that you are confused and scared and you like to make everyone believe other wise, but you never go after anything you know you can’t do better than anyone else. You are a fucking chicken.”

Jensen looked up at the ceiling again, he was too smart not to know what she was thinking.

“Dance around it, Jensen,” Danneel said. “You’re so much like your father.”

“Fuck you, Danni,” Jensen muttered.

Danneel took that moment to dance around the room, doing a very good rendition of a waltz with one of her dresses.

“How long have you known?’ Jensen asked, trying not to be obvious.

Danneel came and fell on the bed. “Jensen, I know you. I watched the two of you always, it has been there for so long I don’t know how you two denied it, but if you’re asking when I was sure; it was when you walked in on us. We were blitzed out of our minds, but I remember your face. You were looking at him, destroyed. That is all I ever needed. If Jared would have talked to me afterward I would have told him, but you two are the most stubborn brats ever.”

She got up again, knowing Jensen well enough to know that this conversation was at an end. It was way to close to feelings.

He surprised her.

“He’s somebody else right now,” Jensen said quietly, the voice almost not him anymore. “I’d kill just to catch him in a moment where I could reach him.”

Danneel turned to look at him.

“What am I going to be when you two don’t need a girl between you?” she asked and walked out of the room.

**

Christmas came on the twenty-fifth, as was its custom. Danneel came and knocked on their doors ridiculously early, especially for Jensen who had gotten to bed at two, as he had been doing the last couple of days.

“Get up, Sleepyhead,” she said. “It’s Christmas.”

A very heavy thud landed on the other side of the bed. Jensen cracked an eye. Sitting there smiling was Jared Padalecki, wearing that smile, dimples creasing his face and a shine in his eyes that Jensen hadn’t even realized that he missed, wasn’t even aware that he could be missing.

“Hi,” he said, and blamed sleepiness for the tone instead of anything else. It was a little breathless.

“Jenny,” Jared said, pushing him. “C’mon. Danni got presents.”

“Jay,” Jensen said, trying to burrow into the pillow. “I’m seriously going to kill you. Is it light yet?”

“Jen-nen-sen,” Jared whined. “Presents.”

Jensen stayed buried in the pillow and bit back the prickle behind his eyes. Jared just sounded, like Jared. He had no defense in the early hour.

So he went with a glare. “She got to you too?”

Jared pouted.

Jensen hadn’t seen anything more beautiful than that in years.

Danneel put one of her tiny feet into Jensen’s ribs.

“Get up,” she said in a harshly shrill voice.

Jensen dove under the covers, but Jared just calmly patted her on the head. “With a voice like that you should have gone into drill sargentry.”

“Help me?” Danneel asked, calmly again.

Before Jensen could emerge from the blankets to see what she was talking about, he found himself being harshly yanked by both feel off the end of his king-sized bed.

**

Jared sat surrounded by wrapping paper with a bow on his head. He squinted at three badly wrapped packages.

“Chad sent us presents?” Jared asked.

“Looks like he wrapped them, too,” Jensen commented and held his hand out warily for the gift.

Danneel sneered a bit, but took hers too. Jared dove in and pulled out a shirt that said ‘if I only had a brain’. He looked confused. Jensen opened his: ‘if I only had a heart’. Danneel rolled her eyes and opened hers. It said ‘if I only had a personality’.

She threw it across the room. “Chad is a douche.”

Jared also threw his shirt away and opened a present from Jensen and looked up with a scornful look.

“A Flobee?” he stated.

Jensen started snickering.

And he couldn’t stop.

Danneel and Jared looked at him.

Jared just got up with bows in either hand. “Looks like someone needs to get the Christmas spirit.”

“Stay away from me, Gigantor,” Jensen said, backing over a couch.

“Jenny,” Jared sang out. “You need to get all pretty.”

“I’m already pretty,” Jensen said hiding behind the couch. “You’re the one who needs a haircut.”

Jared narrowed his eyes. “You are so going to pay for that!”

What ensued was a battle of bows and paper in more than appropriate places and hands all over bodies and a lot of laughter.

Jensen closed his eyes. He couldn’t ever remember feeling this alive.

**

Jensen was scribbling in his notebook when Jared popped his head in the door.

“Wanna go out?” he said with a grin.

Jensen thought of a great many reasons why the answer to that was a ‘no.’

“I promise not to drink,” Jared defended. “Let’s just go out tonight. You always go out. It will be like old times.”

Jensen wanted to say no, but then Jared let loose that megawatt smile and Jensen was a goner.

“Yeah,” Jensen said, feeling like he could actually reach out for the first time in his life. “Yeah.”

**

They were in the bar and Jensen was nursing a beer, listening to Jared tell a story about his mornings washing dishes. There was something so awesome about this Jared. This Jared touched him, like the old rules didn’t apply.

Jensen was being warmed between touches; he was feeling downright molten, just little teases. Jensen usually didn’t need to read into things because he didn’t need to-the people around him were overtly obvious about what they wanted from him. Jensen knew how to read people.

But he didn’t know with Jared.

Then Jared leaned in and started speaking, hot and warm against Jensen’s ear, sending shivers down his spine.

“Wanna find one to take home?” Jared said.

Jensen was prepared for a great many things, but not for that. Suddenly he went ice cold.

“What?” he asked.

Jared still had that smile, but it didn’t pierce him any more.

“Like old days,” Jared asked.

Suddenly Jensen got it, because he knew Jared. The realization washed over him with a wave a nausea.

“You did this for my Christmas present,” Jensen said slowly as he figured out the game of this new Jared. “You were giving me old you.”

Jared shrugged a little. “That is what you want, right? Old simple me?”

Jared’s look faltered. Old Jared never faltered.

Jensen sucked in a breath through his mouth.

“Fuck you,” Jensen said, anger replacing everything. “You really think what I want is a fucking game, a woman sandwiched between us?”

Jared’s brow creased. “Do you want just me?”

Jensen’s first answer was along the lines of ‘dear lord, yes’ until he realized that Jared was offering his body in payment.

And at that second Jensen was so angry he could barely see straight.

Jensen just looked at him. Jared sat there; there was a glimmer of that very young innocent Jared, buried under mistrust and resignation.

Jensen cursed everyone who had ever put that wariness in Jared’s eye and at the same time hated himself for feeling like he wanted to say yes, and fuck everything else.

With a morality that he didn’t know he possessed, Jensen stood up.

“Fuck you, Jared,” Jensen said and walked out blindly, without a coat, into the cold winter night.

He stormed into the house and ran into Danneel’s bed. She shuddered at his cold frame and shrunk away from his ice-cold fingers.

“What are you doing?” she asked incredulously.

“I want you,” Jensen said, and even to his own ears it sounded desperate and needy, two things that he wasn’t.

“Jen,” she said softly.

“Please,” he begged, hiccupping and phlegm bubbles obscuring the words in his throat.

Danneel looked at him, her green eyes luminous, tears following. “Baby, what happened?”

Jensen started sobbing.

She put her arms around him and let him cry himself to sleep.

 

**

Jared felt like shit, which wasn’t new, but the look in Jensen’s eyes was so horrible, he felt like he was the social pariah that he knew that he should feel. He had never felt it before, until that look on Jensen’s face.

This was only compounded by the fact that Jensen didn’t want him, he was tarnished. All he could feel was the fact that he was never enough, never going to be enough.

There was a knock on the door that he didn’t answer.

Then Jensen threw open the door, carrying a box. One by one he brought in more and more boxes.

He took the final one and dropped it on the bed, by Jared’s head.

“This is my life,” Jensen said. “Every journal I’ve ever kept. The box by your fucking head is the ones that we wrote together, passing notebooks between classes, throwing them around, you carrying one around in your back pocket as we used those awful fake ID’s. Every incomprehensible word that we wrote is there.”

Jared looked at the box and swallowed before speaking. “You kept those?”

“Fucking hell I did,” Jensen informed him. “That boy, that is the one I want, not some made up memory, not some warm body to fuck. I can find that absolutely anywhere. The person I thought I had last night, is what I wanted. Not somebody who wanted to play out games about sex, not somebody to party with. I liked the guy in the journals, funny, quick on his feet.”

Jared could barely look up. “What if I’m not that guy. That was before.”

With effort Jared looked up, he knew that he had to look Jensen in the eyes. He was surprised to find that Jensen was nervous too.

“Well read the other journals,” Jensen said softly. “I’ve done a few things that I’m not so proud of.”

Jared swallowed and didn’t look away.

When Jensen spoke it was so soft. “I’ve pretended it doesn’t exist but I like you, Jared. So if we’re going to crash and burn lets do it, lets just do it for real.”

Jared just looked up at him incredulously.

“Do you mean…” Jared asked. “’Cause I’m…I’ve done…”

Jensen looked at him solidly. “You’re Jared.”

With that he walked out of the room.

**

“Thank you for not fucking me,” Jensen said plopping on Danneel’s bed.

Danneel paused in her packing. “Is he reading?”

Jensen nodded.

“Do you look slightly terrified?” Danneel asked, trying to tease, but sounding more incredulous.

Jensen didn’t look at her, didn’t dignify that with a response.

“I’ll be back after New Year’s,” she said. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go. Are you going to be okay?”

Jensen nodded distractedly.

She stopped and sat down next to him, “Does your heart hurt?”

Jensen looked down and played with the bedspread. “I hear it is common after years of unuse.”

“Why’d you do it, Jensen?” she asked, not looking at him, a little thing which was part of why he loved her. “You didn’t have to. You just gave him your soul on paper.”

Jensen tried to decide if he wanted to rescind the love, she was creepy in how much she could read him, but he didn’t really have ample people that he would consider caring about so he let it go.

“When Chad called he said Jared wouldn’t make it if he went back,” Jensen said and it felt like he was speaking for the first time in his life. “I just want him to be okay.”

Danneel looked at him. “I know that was hard for you Jensen. But you know that really isn’t an answer.”

**

Danneel bounded into Jared’s room.

“How unbelievably boring,” She sighed looking down at him and tapping a hand on her hip. “I was hoping that you would be naked and masturbating or hunched in a corner all tortured.”

Jared lay on his bed surrounded by composition books, some open, and yellow legal pads and an uncapped pen.

He was freshly showered and wearing clean pajamas.

She cleaned up a space on the bed and plopped down.

That is when she got a look at his red-rimmed eyes.

“Oh, honey,” she said.

“I don’t understand him,” Jared said. “You’re perfect. Why didn’t he just pick you?”

Danneel smiled. “Baby, that isn’t how it works.”

“But he loves you and he shows it,” Jared said with a hiccup.

“He shows it because he doesn’t want more,” Danneel countered.

She picked up one of the closed books.

“The only time he isn’t surface Jensen is between those pages. He’s never invited me in, I’m pretty sure that he’s never even invited himself in,” Danneel said looking at the book. “He shows me little pieces when he can’t figure out how to hide everything. I’m a safe place for him to fall apart until he can figure out how to put the façade back up. That is what I am to him.”

Jared looked at her and then he reached over the edge of the bed.

“I fixed our shirts from Chad,” Jared said throwing hers at her. She picked up the shirt and the letters had been cut out and replaced with Jensen’s. It was badly safety pinned in, gaping and holey in places, but it proudly proclaimed ‘Heart.’

She smiled a little.

“What does Jensen give you, Danni?” Jared asked. “What do you get out of your friendship?”

Danneel looked at him curiously. “He has never told me that I’m stupid or dumb or just a face. In fact, he encourages me to be more. When I was thirteen I told him that I wanted to be a princess. He didn’t laugh or think I was silly. He bought me books all about being a real princess, and after reading those there was no way I wanted to be one. To those he loves he’s still a dick, but he isn’t mean and if he cares about you he can’t figure out a way to sever that feeling. He doesn’t give up.”

Jared looked at her. “You are really not subtle.”

Danneel attempted innocence. “I was talking about me.”

“You just told me that Jensen would be fine if I told him all about the last three years, his feelings wouldn’t be change,” Jared sighed. “You are not subtle.”

Danneel smiled sweetly, “I have no idea what you are talking about. I’m just the face.”

“What proof do you have that he cared about anyone?” Jared demanded.

“Besides me? His mother is an awful drunk and he still calls home every week. His little sister came to him twice before she was eighteen for an abortion and he never put her down for it,” Danneel told him. “I know it isn’t much, but it’s enough.”

Jared thought about that.

Danneel got up. “I’m going to New York for New Year’s--you two be okay. Maybe you should show him who you are, let him decide. You’ve read his journals--do you really think that he’s going to judge?”

Jared looked down and grabbed for one of the journals and began to read. “I turned down Missy and her incredible rumpus room tonight. It’s his birthday and I am doing what I always do, I’m sitting here alone, in the dark. I have no idea what he is doing. I’m spending most of the night trying not to call him, trying not to get on a plane and fly off, trying to stay here. He’s out there, he’s out there and I just want to show up, to pull him out of whatever mess he’s in. If I had a heart, if I had feelings…but that is the thing. I just want…a smile. Right now in the dark I just want a smile. As I drink more, I just want to know that he’s somewhere that he’d smile.”

Danneel’s throat was closing up, because this is what she thought to be true.

Jared looked up. “I’m not really worried that he likes me. I’m really more worried about what I should do with that information. I’m so messed up, I wouldn’t know what a relationship looks like if it slapped me in the face. It’s been a long three years.”

“You two say a lot of like,” Danneel observed. “Its as if you’re in junior high and you just can’t say the word.”

“Well that word, its kind of big,” Jared replied. “When or if I say it for the first time I really want it to be to him, to his face.”

Danneel grinned.

Jared stopped, his lips slightly parted, and his eyes becoming watery. “That is what we’re talking about right? Him and me? I’m not missing something?”

Danneel wrapped him in a hug. “You’re missing a lot of things, but it looks like you have this one buttoned up.”

**

Jensen woke up around ten, as usual, and headed for the kitchen and the coffeemaker, but ended up face down on his plush bedroom carpet before he made it to the door. He lay there for a minute trying to figure out what was going on.

Then he looked towards his feet. Three yellow legal pads sat there, slightly falling off each other and topped with a white sheet of paper.

Jensen pulled himself to a seat and looked at the pile curiously.

Not much really surprised him, so he just smiled and let himself be surprised. Then he picked up the top sheet and red it, and that was when he realized that he wasn’t going to be smiling for a while.

Apparently Jared had been writing down his memories as he was reading. Jared was giving him a glimpse into himself. It was just as much a test as Jensen had put forth to him.

Jensen looked at the first page, in Jared’s script. Jared wrote as he thought and talked, long, wordy, and with charm and honesty.

I lost the line, where good and bad is, where right and wrong is. I always see these things and want more and more. Well, that turned out well. That turned out to be the folly of my life. I always think I can do it. I really should have learned better by now. So here it is, in no discernable order, simply how I remember it. Whatever pops into my head gets put on paper until I don’t know what to write any more.

Jensen blinked. He knew he was going to need coffee for this one.

**

A day later he lay back in bed, put his glasses down and massaged his temple.

He picked up the phone because it was easier than getting up and crossing the hallway. Jared’s door weighed more than anything.

Danneel picked up. “This better be important, I’m doing fabulous things.”

Jensen cocked his head. “You sound bored.”

“Out of my fucking mind,” she sighed. “I don’t remember this world being this bad. It’s your fault, so you are now going to distract me. What is going on? You don’t sound distraught enough to have done something horrible like sleep with him, so please tell me.”

Jensen paused, then finally spoke, it was quiet and raw.

“He wrote for me.”

There was silence between them, and then she let out little noise.

“Is it as bad?” she whispered. “I mean I have ideas…”

“It’s…” Jensen didn’t know how to finish that sentence. “It’s what you think. Some were okay. Some were horribly ugly. Some had atrocious body odor or something physically repulsive, but he did it with a smile, to get things from them. He was hit, he was beaten. Some of it sounds boring and some of it…yeah Danni, it is bad.”

She did say anything.

“The worst part,” Jensen said. “Isn’t just how fucking degrading it is. He was used. He was a thing. The details, well, they could have been worse, but, Danni they used him, and he didn’t care.”

Danneel didn’t make any noises, then it was muffled, like she was trying not to let him know that she as sobbing.

“Why didn’t I go?” she said in a wavery voice. “Why did I let that happen?”

“Jared says he had sucked enough from everybody,” Jensen said, staring again at his ceiling. “He thought he deserved it and nothing would have changed his mind until he was ready. He came to a point when he really couldn’t do it any more, and he kept doing it because he didn’t know what . That was when Chad hog tied him and forced him to go to rehab”

Danneel was quiet. “I feel like a shitty friend. Chad was the one who…”

“He’s the only one with enough stupidity to go through it. I am sure that it wasn’t easy,” Jensen said tiredly. “Jared was defiant and ridiculously independent.”

“Now,” Danneel asked. “What happens now?”

“I’m going to keep reading--he’s giving me more every morning,” Jensen said tiredly. “I don’t think he’s sleeping.”

“It’s okay for a little bit,” Danneel told him. “I think that it is time that both of you to wake up for a little while.”

**

It was New Year’s Eve and Jensen had finished reading Jared’s stuff and then, not knowing what to do and needing to do something, he went snowboarding. He got back and Jared’s door was still closed. At ten he didn’t know what do, he was more intimate with Jared than he had been with anyone, but he didn’t know how to speak to him.

Invading Jared’s space was just too much after he had just read Jared’s tale about the time two-business men who had brought him to Malibu for a week. They had used him, roughed him up, and taken little care about Jared. He had been starving, on too many different kinds of drugs, bruised, and fucked over.

So after reading about Jared being willingly violated for a week, he wasn’t really willing to even walk near Jared’s door in the fear of interrupting him.

Jensen twirled his pen above the page, trying to think of something to write. His mind was blank. He wanted Jared to say something, wanted him to ask Jensen to hang out on New Year’s.

Finally at ten-thirty, Jensen gave up and made some pretense of getting himself together and put on some clothes. He hadn’t gone out since Christmas, and tonight he just didn’t feel like it. He was doing it more out of boredom than anything else.

Before putting on his coat he heated up dinner for Jared, and put a piece of the tiramisu that Danneel had gotten before she left on a tray and put it outside of Jared’s room.

He stared at the door for a bit, longer than he would ever admit to, before turning to go down the stairs.

When the door opened it wasn’t subtle or hesitant. It was thrown open, it was just like the old Jared, careless, determined and bigger of life. He stood there, backlit by the lights in his room, and he looked clean and comfortable, feet bare.

Jensen could barely make out the expression on his face.

“Don’t go out,” Jared said taking a step to the top of the stairs.

Jensen cocked his head from the middle of the stairs.

“Stay in tonight,” Jared stated.

Which was something that nobody had ever asked of him. Nobody had just asked him to stay, nobody had ever dared. Jensen didn’t know what he was supposed to say to that.

Jared stepped forward and down a few of the stairs.

“See,” Jared began with a glimmer of that old smile, but this time it seemed real. “You’re always kissing skanks and people that you don’t care about on New Year’s Eve. It hasn’t done you well, so maybe this time you shouldn’t.”

Jensen was surprised to find that he was couldn’t feel anything, he was too shocked. Jared came down further until they stood on the same step. Jensen suddenly found himself where he was supposed to be, he was supposed to be on this step with Jared.

“So who am I supposed to be kissing on New Year’s Eve?’ Jensen asked, feeling like this was scripted, it was just so easy.

Jared’s eyes went a little panicked.

“No,” Jensen said, hand coming to tug on the hem of Jared’s t-shirt. “You brought it there. I would have stayed to play Madden if you asked, but you brought it there. Who am I supposed to be kissing on New Year’s Eve?”

Jared looked at him. Slowly he raised a hand to run a finger over Jensen’s shoulder, his eyes followed his finger. Then he looked up slowly.

Their eyes met, calm. They knew each other and as much as this moment was something new and innocent in a way that they couldn’t remember, they knew each other. It wasn’t complicated. The answer, in fact, was remarkably easy.

“Me,” Jared said, swallowing down any other remarks.

They both knew that was the answer from the time they were kids.

Jensen smiled and leaned in, his hand going to Jared’s neck.

“You?” he teased, leaning in.

Jared tried to pull away, with little effort. “Shouldn’t you wait to kiss me until midnight?”

Jensen leaned in and spoke into Jared’s lips. “I’m sure I’ll still be kissing you at midnight.”

**

Jensen opened his eyes and moved back a little bit. The world was first Jared’s hazel eyes, hazy and unfocused. Then the rest of his face came into view, and Jensen’s eyes tracked down to Jared’s kiss-swollen lips.

Jared lazily reached out a hand and rand the pad of his thumb over Jensen’s bottom lip.

“It’s been a real long while since I was mentally present for this kind of thing,” Jared said quietly.

Jensen just looked at the color of Jared’s hair, the texture of his skin, the slick look of his lips.

“I don’t know if I ever was here for this kind of thing,” Jensen said nudging his lips into another kiss, and Jared responded languidly. They were curled up on a couch, shirts off, pants on, just fooling around, ignoring the television playing the New Year’s Eve show.

Jensen pulled away again.

“I don’t like people,” Jared sighed. “I know that it seemed that way, but I didn’t. I just didn’t want to have to deal with people, it was easier that way, to just be what they wanted me to be. I didn’t have to worry about what I wasn’t supposed to be. Being a boy toy was almost a relief. I mean it wasn’t that great, but it wasn’t that bad.”

Jensen swallowed and looked at him. “I think that you really have no idea what bad is.”

Jared was lost in thought. “You always tell me it’s not so bad.”

“I’ve read your journals, Jared,” Jensen said slowly. “It was bad.”

Jared nodded. “I’ve read yours, Jen--you’re not alright either.”

“Let’s not pretend then,” Jensen told him. “Let’s not pretend that we know what we’re doing. That we’re not fucked up.”

“Okay,” Jared said slowly. “But let’s not pretend that we don’t know each other, that some part of us really wants to know what it’s like not to be so fucked up. We’re never going to have any kind of normal relationship, but these last few weeks have been kind of more normal that I’ve ever had.”

Jensen smiled. “We have everything in the world. When my dad died last year the inheritance was enough to make me never need to work again if I not dumb. But I don’t know if any of it has ever been important.”

“I know,” Jared sighed. “The thing is just that I had forgotten how good writing things down is. It’s like that is where I am honest, where I figure things out. It makes me feel alive again.”

Jensen reached up and trailed a finger along Jared’s neck to his collarbone. He watched as goosebumps rose up on Jared’s naked arms. He just watched Jared’s arms, then he looked lower to the crook of his elbow, to the small scars still there.

Jensen just looked at them.

“I am not going back,” Jared said resolutely. “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m not going back there. I think that something is going to happen here with us, for however long that I’m here for. I’m game. I just want to say when you have to go back to the real world I would really like to keep in touch with you. I don’t want to get lost again.”

Jensen couldn’t look up; nothing in his life had equipped him for this.

The phone rang and he jumped to pick it before snuggling back into Jared.

“Happy New Year,” Danneel said happily.

“Hi, sweetie,” Jensen said.

She paused for a moment. “You’re not out? Why aren’t you out?”

Jensen looked at Jared.

“Something better at home?” she teased.

“Yep,” Jensen said and changed the phone to speakerphone. “Say hi to Jared, Danni.”

“Oh, honey” Danneel laughed. “Is he being mean to you?”

“He took my shirt but won’t give it back,” Jared said sadly.

“Brat,” Danneel laughed. “Did he let you keep your pants?”

“For now,” Jensen said dryly.

“Sounds like you are having a much better New Year’s than I am,” Danneel sighed. “I’m wearing a dress and shoes and it is so boring.”

“When are you coming home?” Jensen asked.

Danneel paused and her voice was a little strained. “Tomorrow.”

Jared looked at Jensen confused.

“Come home soon,” he said.

Jensen hung up and looked at Jared. “We aren’t the only one who is finding things that have meaning.”

Jared smiled. “I’ve missed us, all of us.”

Jensen was still and quiet for a moment.

“What?” Jared said.

“I can’t pretend I don’t want you,” Jensen said, shifting. “I mean, I know you went through shit, I’m not going to pressure anything, but…”

“Are you going to diatribe or are you going to fuck me?” Jared said evenly. “Because honestly man I’ve been waiting for this for a very long time. God I just want to touch you, to be allowed to touch you in everyway I want to.”

Jensen Ackles, who had heard it all, who didn’t feel, was overwhelmed by it all.

“Jeeze Jensen,” Jared said, at the sensitive skin at the hollow of his ear. “You think that you’ve never been this gobsmacked before.”

“Never,” Jensen whispered.

“I kind of have,” Jared whispered. “I have been in love forever.”

Jensen covered Jared’s mouth with his.

**

"I moved in with Chad’s uncle," Jared said out of nowhere. The early morning light was coming up on a new year and they were under comforters, naked and spent.

Jensen thought for a moment, Jared's pillow talk left something to be desired.

"Which one? Jeff or Paul?" Jensen asked. Chad's father was a first class fuck up, and he raised his three boys to be just like him. Intervention from his two uncles probably kept Chad from jail, like his two older brothers. His uncles owned some of the greatest clubs in LA, which is how they had known Chad; it was an odd friendship, but it went back to when they would sneak into clubs when they were sixteen and Chad would help. Jeff was solid, Paul was a bastard. Jensen knew which one of them it was.

"Paul," Jared said. "He's a kinky fuck. Controlling as hell. Chad saw me there. He knew what kind of things Paul did. When he found me there he flipped out. I was already a mess and after Paul I was more of a mess. Chad and Jeff staged an intervention that was more like a kidnapping. I was in Vermont before I actually registered anything.”

Jensen wasn't one for snuggling, but at this moment he was. He pulled himself to Jared's side and curled into it, anything to make Jared stop.

"But it wasn't that bad," Jensen muttered into Jared's skin, echoing Jared’s words from earlier.

"I don't have perspective," Jared said.

"I get it," Jensen said, pulling closer, bare skin against bare skin.

"I know because you don't either," Jared whispered. "What you've done...it’s so cold, you were just so cold in the journals."

Jensen didn't know what to do but shrug. He didn't let go an inch. Jared's hand moved up and down his back.

"I'm not the kind of guy who says 'I love you'," Jensen said after the silence.

Jared pulled back in shock, his eyes searching Jensen's face.

Jensen swallowed every defense mechanism and hesitation. "But you make me wish I were."

Jared looked wide-eyed at him. Shocked that Jensen was going to say anything.

Jensen smiled, something rare and private. He leaned down and nibbled on Jared's ear. Jared turned his head and caught Jensen's lips, hand coming to cup his face.

"Love you, Jensen," Jared said into Jensen's lips before Jensen pulled him down into the downy softness of his bed.

**

Jensen opened the front door, tired from a day of snowboarding. No one was home. He didn't think that they would be just sitting around waiting for him, but after almost a month of co-habitation this was the first time that nobody was home.

He turned on the lights and wandered around the house. Two months ago that was what made him comfortable. Now it was depressing.

He heard the door opening and ran down the stairs, pretending not to run down the stairs.

There stood Danneel, looking like she won the lottery, covered in thick mud.

"Mud wrestling?" Jensen asked.

Danneel beamed. "I'm throwing pots."

Jensen raised an eyebrow.

"For you unenlightened sort," she said loftily. "That means that I am doing pottery and while my vases are lopsided, I'm getting better, and my teacher says that my glazing techniques are top notch."

"Congratulations," Jensen guessed. "When did you start doing this?"

"When Jared started pulling doubles," Danneel said. "Washing dishes in the morning and line cooking in the afternoon."

Jensen made a mild sad face. "Well, my work here is done; you two definitely don't need me anymore."

Danneel smiled. “That is the thing--we’re all getting better. We all need each other.”

Jensen looked at the mud on her forearm. “I kind of sort of maybe told Jared that I …”

She looked at him her eyes shining with joy. “You love him? Do you really now?”

Jensen looked at the floor. “Yes.”

“Oh, baby,” Danneel said laughing. “My work here is done. Maybe you don’t need me anymore.”

Jensen took her in a hug. “We are always going to need you. It’s the three of us.”

“What is going on here?” Jared said booming as he came in the room.

Jensen and Danneel jumped away and turned to plead their innocence to Jared that they were just hugging.

Jared doubled over laughing. “The looks on your faces!”

“Screw you,” Jensen pouted. “You’re calling for dinner tonight.”

**

When the snow began to melt, Jensen opened the door to the smell of cookies.

“Jensen!” Danneel squealed. “Where the fuck have you been? Jared decided since he was now a line cook at the restaurant he could bake. Come in here and eat cookies before I finish them and get fat.”

She pulled Jensen into the kitchen. Jared stood there, wearing quite a bit of food. Jensen raised an eyebrow and then walked up to him and licked a stretch of chocolate on Jared’s neck.

Jared shuddered and then grinned goofily at Jensen. “That tickles.”

“What me to stop?” Jensen asked, a little bit of husky creeping into his voice.

Jared just grinned and shook his head.

Danneel watched them his hands on her hips. “This is some fucked up fairy tale.”

Jensen was a little unable to look away from Jared.

“So Mr. Absent this morning,” Danneel faux huffed. “Jared cooks and makes us fat, I make us holidays and parties, what do you bring to our dysfunctional utopia?”

Jensen shrugged. “Road trip?”

Danneel and Jared looked at each other and shrugged. “Nothing better to do.”

“Where we going?” Jared asked.

“Please say Montreal strip clubs,” Danneel said clapping her hands.

**

An hour later Jensen drove his silver SUV into the middle of nowhere.

“Are you going to kill us and hide the bodies?” Jared asked looking at the trees and lack of civilization.

“Yes,” Jensen said absentmindedly, patting Jared’s leg.

“Stop with the screwed up happily ever after,” Danneel shrieked, lunging through the seat divide to put Jensen’s hand on his own side of the car.

Jared laughed.

“Oh, dear god,” Danneel groaned sinking back into the seat. “You do know every time you smile Jensen gets a goofy smile on his face.”

Jared’s dimples increased in strength.

The car pulled on to a dirt road, and after half a mile a house came into view, as did the lake behind it.

Jensen pulled up in front of the house and stopped. He got out of the car and looked at the other two.

“Wanna come see my house,” Jensen asked off-handedly.

“You bought a house!” Danneel said bounding out. “It’s so cute, so cute. It’s like a little farmhouse. You so need to get chickens. You could put them over here in the side yard--that little house is so a chicken coop.”

Danneel was off and running.

Jared came around the car to stand next to Jensen.

“You bought a house?” he asked.

“You know how we are always talking about how much we just don’t want to go back,” Jensen said. “I thought, what if I don’t have to leave? There is nothing out there for me; I’m older than I should be at twenty-three. So I quit my job, that I haven’t even started yet and decided that I’m just going to stay.”

Jared gave a tight smile and looked at the house. “It’s beautiful.”

“Come inside,” Jensen said, pulling him in. Before yelling to where Danneel had disappeared. “Danni, come see inside! You’re going to find a million more things to decorate.”

She appeared very quickly.

“Show me what you need done with that unlimited bank account of yours,” Danneel said, eyes shining.

Jensen took Danneel’s hand and put it on his arm and motioned for Jared to follow.

Jensen squinted. “This is the living room of sorts. I’m thinking that I’m going to put some comfortable, no matter what they look like, couches, I’m going to put a ginormous TV in there.” He pointed to the room under the stairs. “That is the weird room under the stairs, the light in it sucks and it smells. I think I’m going to make it a library.” He walked them to the huge kitchen. “This is the kitchen, very modern, I have no idea what to do with it, and it just came to the house. There is a wood-floored part over there--I think I’m supposed to put some kind of table there for dinner parties. I really don’t want dinner parties.” Then he took them to the back of the house, where someone had added on a section.

He turned to Danneel and grinned. “This is a gorgeous room, full of light, with a bathroom. The upstairs is a master bedroom penthouse or I would have taken this room. This is your room, Danni. I don’t care if you decide to do blood sacrifices, paint it with weird symbols, or leave bodies in here before you bury them. This is your room, you do whatever you want with it and when you come around, this will be your room. When you are gone, this is your room.”

Danneel looked at the spacious room, with plenty of windows and a slider that lead to the backyard where flowers were already starting to bud. She swallowed.

“Mine?” she said in a small voice.

“Just yours,” Jensen acknowledged.

Danneel’s eyes started watering. Tears fell down her cheeks and she looked up at Jensen.

“I think that deep deep down you aren’t an asshole,” Danneel said, muffled in his shirt.

“That is the sweetest thing that you’ve ever said,” Jensen said distractedly.

Danneel looked up to where Jensen was looking. He was looking at Jared who looked very uncomfortable.

Danneel looked up at Jensen. Jensen let her go.

“Come see the rest of the house,” Jensen said, reaching out for Jared this time, nodding for Danneel to stay in her new room.

Jared followed hesitantly. Jensen climbed the stairs and they walked into the upper floor. Besides one corner of the room that looked as if it housed a luxury bathroom and another corner that held a walk in closet, the rest of the floor was open; one side of the room had a large bay window over looking the trees and the lake.

The only thing in the room was a California king.

Jensen took a deep breath and then looked up at Jared.

“I put things in this house that you like,” Jensen said with more hesitancy than either of them had heard in their lives. “The huge TV will come with all the movies that you want. The house has a king sized bed and Danni is in this house.”

Jensen tugged Jared to the window that over looked the back yard. “There is a yard out there with a fence and I’d be okay with a dog, one of those big kinds that your mom would never let you have.”

Jared stared outside.

“You don’t have to,” Jensen continued. “I mean, I can fix up the creepy room under the stairs or you could stay at the condo.”

Jared turned around. He wasn’t smiling, he just looked at Jensen.

Jensen stood there, waiting. He had been in some sketchy situations, once even had a gun held on him, but nothing made him more terrified than this moment. Somewhere he heard Danneel going down the stairs.

He just saw Jared and the bottom of his world fell out. He was absolutely sure that Jared was going to leave.

"I'm sorry," he rushed to say, rooted where he was. "I should have talked to you before I bought a house. I just, I just wanted to stay here, I wanted to build a life here and you said that you wanted to stay in contact, I thought maybe you wanted us to be together. Whatever you want, I'll build another room down stairs and that will be yours and you can visit whenever you want, and..."

Jensen trailed off, feeling gross and vulnerable, Jared just staring blankly.

When he spoke it was the most difficult thing he had ever said, like he had never quite put together an arrangement of words.

"I love you, however you want to be, I can do," Jensen said, small and almost timid.

Jared looked at him and shook his head, as if he were trying to clear it.

Finally he spoke. “Harley.”

The noise was strangled and Jensen’s brow creased, trying to figure out what Jensen meant.

“You want a motorcycle?” Jensen said, a glazed look came over his face, because he didn’t want to keep Jared by buying him things. That was someone he thought Jared wasn’t. “You want a motorcycle to stay?”

Jared shook his head and took a step forward. “Can I name him Harley, my dog?”

Jensen almost went into shock, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was the moment he was getting everything that he wanted. Suddenly Jared’s hands came around him and sat him down on the gigantic bed that he had ordered in the hope of Jared saying yes.

Jensen looked up.

“Hi,” Jared said, his dimples appearing.

Jensen leaned in and kissed him, pulling him in. Jared grabbed him back.

Finally Jared started twitching. Jensen pulled back looking confused.

Jared was grinning. “You love me. You don’t get that back.”

“Don’t want it.” Jensen said. “It’s all yours.”

Jared started getting all-antsy.

“What is it?” Jensen asked.

“That is the most awesome thing that I have ever heard and this is the best idea in the entire world,” Jared sang, his smile electric. Then he stood up and did a dance that was a little embarrassing for both of them and they didn’t care.

“Danni,” Jared yelled down the stairs. “Come quick--I think that the world is ending. Jensen told me he loved me.”

Then Jared jumped on the bed and tackled Jensen, Danneel came up the stairs. Jared put his long octopus arms around Jensen and then put a leg around him, by the time Danneel came up the stairs Jensen was immobile.

“You’re just going to strangle him into submission?” Danneel said dryly.

“If I have to,” Jared said trying to keep Jensen in place as he wriggled about.

“What more do you want?’ Jensen bemoaned. “A house, a dog, a big TV, the world’s biggest bedroom and the most ginormous bed I could find without special ordering it.”

“Did you hear,” Jared said still wrestling in Jensen. “I’m moving in.”

Danneel came and jumped on the bed, and there was plenty of room. “Me too! Are you moving into Jensen’s room?”

“I’m right here,” Jensen said, his stomach uncurling a little bit. Jared didn’t let him go an inch.

“Do you think Jensen will let me build a studio out back, next to my chickens?” Danneel squealed.

“Still here,” Jensen said. “Actually, I own the house you are making plans for.”

“You can have the weird room,” Jared offered.

Jensen rolled his eyes, laid back, and just let them talk about the details of their lives.

**

Danneel lay sleeping in the backseat. They had spent the day making plans in the house. They had finished up by going to a restaurant in the town. A gourmet chef had moved to Vermont to retire, and ended opening up a comfort-food restaurant. Jensen had apparently visited and was welcomed. After whispering that he hadn’t slept with this manager, Jared got a job. In fact, the chief and his wife were completely charmed by Jared and Danneel.

They were fed and Danneel was exhausted.

“I’m not going to embarrass you by making it a big deal,” Jared said after the road stretched out in front of them. “But today, that was a big deal. That was the biggest deal of my life. Today you just gave me everything. Really, Jensen, you have given me everything. I don’t really get why.”

Jensen smiled. “You wonder what I get out of it.”

“Maybe,” Jared admitted.

“Would you believe me if I told you that maybe I’m not doing this for anything I can get out of it?” Jensen suggested. “Its like Danni and Christmas, I guess--I’m doing it because it makes me happy. I’ve never had a home and I have never had any one I wanted or trusted enough to have one with. I don’t want to take care of you, I just want to be with you.”

“Dear sweet fucking…” Jared trailed off. “I know you’re intense, but this is something else--you liking me, way more than I ever thought possible in any situation, and I know you. You’ve got me; you’re ridiculous.”

“I know,” Jensen said. “But time away has made me think that maybe I don’t want to be.”

“Whatever made you make this okay I am so glad it came,” Jared said happily.

"Yeah, Jared," Jensen said, staring straight ahead, "It was big for me too. This whole thing is pretty big for me too."

**

Jensen owned a house, but no furniture. Danneel was alive with redecorating ideas.

“Let me guess,” Jensen said. “You never really decorated, you always had someone decorate for you and you are giddy as a school girl to try to paint my house colors--not too girly colors, but nice masculine colors.”

“Yes,” Danneel said, looking over pages of furniture brochures. “Except for the room that is mine.”

Jared popped in and looked at the brochures, daunted.

“I always thought that the furniture finds you,” Jared said, munching on a chicken wing. “Like you go out and you find the things that are supposed to live in your house. These things all seem so fake.”

Danneel looked at it. “Wow, score an insightful point for the Personality.”

Jared shrugged.

Jensen got a look of dread on his face.

Danneel got a look of glee. “Oh my, shopping with Jensen. My most favorite thing in the whole world.”

Jensen glared at Jared. “You are a horrible human being.”

“I love you too, Pookey,” Jared said smacking his lips and turning to the kitchen for more chicken wings.

**

Jensen was dreading the pound, almost as much as he had dreaded shopping with Danneel. He really wasn't sure about Jared being around that many dogs. He was correct to feel that way.

"But Jensen," Jared whined. "The boy puppy needs company."

"That is what we are for," Jensen tried patiently.

Jared sat with a puppy on his lap and next to him sat another one, ignoring both Jared and the other puppy, but shifting closer.

"Jensen," Jared pouted. "Dogs need other dogs. They like each other."

Jensen looked at the girl puppy, who was looking away. "I think she's indifferent."

What Jensen wasn't saying was he was afraid that the dogs were going to get huge; by the size of their paws they were not going to be lap dogs, not even for Jared's lap.

Jared just looked at him pleadingly.

After a long sigh, Jensen realized that Jared hadn't asked him for anything during his stay, except for the dogs. Knowing that it would make Jared deliriously happy was one reason he said yes; the other was the way that Jared looked spooked on some occasions when he was alone. Jensen knew that there were still some demons on Jared's back. Jensen would give him a whole pack of dogs if it would make Jared feel safer.

So Jensen said yes.

Jared kissed him within an inch of his life.

And Jensen prayed that they would house train quickly.

**

They had furniture that wasn't the prettiest, but it was large and comfortable, and it was theirs. They handpicked and loved each piece. Danneel would come in on a plane in a whirlwind and unpack the boxes that she sent from wherever she was in the world.

She took care of the chickens, and had Jensen do it when she was gone. The chickens were fertile. Very very fertile.

"We have to sell some of these," Jensen told her, looking at the day’s three dozen eggs.

Danneel still was modeling, which only left Jensen. That is how he got started having a stand at the local farmer's market.

He'd wake up early on Saturday and Sunday, muttering about how the mighty had fallen. Jared would sleepily remind him how he wasn’t that mighty and that farmers were sexy, and to go sell eggs and then he would get laid. Jared told the joke every week, laughed hysterically, and then fell back asleep.

But Jensen loved the chickens. The chickens were certifiably crazy. They thought they were puppies part of the time, playing with the dogs more often than not. Jensen prayed all the activity would curtail the egg production.

His prayers fell on deaf chicken god ears.

**

"Danni," Jared whispered over the phone.

Danneel was in Milan, doing a shoot; she was dressed in designer wear, dreaming of her second hand cut off shorts.

"Why are you whispering?" Danneel asked. "Is there something wrong?"

"I'm sending you a video," Jared whispered. There was a tone in Jared's voice; he sounded like he was going to cry.

"Are you okay?" Danneel asked worried.

"Just look at the video," Jared said, voice breaking.

Danneel was expecting Jensen naked in bed with a girl, a guy, an orgy, or even with the dogs. What she was not expecting was to watch thirty-seven seconds of Jensen generally swearing and beating up the ground.

"What is he doing?" Danneel whispered, before realizing that she didn't need to whisper.

"He's tilling the earth," Jared said seriously, before starting to laugh.

"What the hell?" Danneel asked.

"The biddies," Jared said between gasps of laughter, "The ones at the market that he shares a stall with, are teaching Jensen gardening and he decided he was going to plant a garden this spring, so Jensen is tilling the earth."

"Jensen Ackles," Danneel whistled. "I never thought I would see the day."

Jared stopped laughing. "As funny as it is, and it is even more funny in person, it kind of sucks. He's getting blisters, even with the gardening gloves. It really is starting to interfere with my sex life."

"Too much info, Jare," Danneel said. "I'll call back later."

**

Danneel pondered getting a horse, some sheep, a pig, and an alpaca. However it was when she brought home her pet that Jensen called a stop to getting any more pets.

However, he was stuck with the tiny little ball of fur that she brought home--a little ball of fur that seemed to always be trying to snuggle into Jensen.

"Why didn't you go to a shelter?" Jensen asked.

Danneel shrugged. "Someone had to take him home."

Jensen was the one who christened the immensely fluffy dog 'Icarus', hoping he would grow into his name. Danneel called him 'Icky', which stuck.

When Danneel left three weeks later, the dog stayed firmly by Jensen's side as he did everything.

When she got back, Icky was Jensen's shadow.

She sighed. "Looks like you have your pet now."

Jared giggled. “Oh, how the mighty have fallen.”

**

Danneel and Jensen were painting the chicken coop. Danneel wanted it yellow, and as with most color and styling points Jensen acquiesced to her requests.

Jared was teaching the dogs how to fetch. Icky and Sadie were good at it, Harley just liked to chase them and didn't care about the ball, the trotted after Harley like besotted junior high girls. It was quite a rousing game.

"Are we co-dependent or cooperative?" Danneel pondered.

"Dunno," Jared said, throwing the ball for the gaggle again. "I don’t think we’re doing anything wrong. I just don't think people are meant to be alone."

"When you find people that you click with you keep them," Jensen said almost sheepishly. "I can't believe those words are coming out of my mouth."

"How the mighty have fallen," Jared said almost automatically. The only one who was surprised at Jensen's lack of crusty exterior these days was Jensen.

"Look at Mr. Enlightened," Danneel teased.

"Shut it," Jensen told her. "Doesn't mean you shouldn't be dating because you have us at home."

Danneel faltered. Jared caught the action.

"Do tell," he said coming to stand with his hands on his hips.

"There is this guy, Riley," Danneel said sheepishly. "I'm thinking that he's maybe a guy I would want to bring home."

Jensen looked up surprised. "You've never brought anyone to any place."

"Pshaw," Jared said. "What kind of name is Riley?"

Danneel made a face. "What kind of name is Jensen?"

"Point taken," Jared admitted.

"Hey!" Jensen said.

Jared thought for a moment and then spoke seriously. "I am going to have to research this, you know proper grilling techniques for when a guy is brought home."

"We could watch 'Meet the Parents'," Jensen offered, apparently over being offended.

"Good start," Jared said, the wheels in his head spinning. "Baby pictures, do we have baby pictures?"

Jensen thought about this. "We have high school hair."

Danneel was turning as red as her hair. "Good grief."

"Stop it," Jared chastised her. "We're being awesome. We don't even like people, what we should be doing is buying a shot gun."

"What is the waiting period again?" Jensen asked innocently.

"I so should have been less supporting of your fucking epic love," Danneel said, attacking the chicken coop with her very very yellow paint.

**

Jensen was the one who wrote first, all throughout the summer and part of the way into the freezing cold winter that saw Jensen buying a snow blower, Jared accepting Jensen buying him a warm jacket, and many many days in bed because it was freezing outside.

Jensen wrote the book first. Then Jared wrote in the margins, and pretty much added pages. It was a tale taken from one of the first journals. Danneel stole it one day and took it with her to New York.

Jared and Jensen got a call. It was confusing. The man on the other end was throwing out numbers and saying something about the juxtaposition of straightforward, honest lines, with flowing, charming prose.

Eventually they figured out that the man was offering them a book deal. The straightforward lines he quoted were Jensen’s, the flowery ones were Jared’s.

They loved the story.

The phone was hung up and they both ran to their room and looked for the book.

“I’m going to kill Danneel,” Jensen growled.

Jared was strangely composed. “Why were you writing it in the first place, wasn’t this an end game? Jensen, we can be authors.”

Jensen looked at him. “You’re okay with it? I mean, it’s our teen years, but do you really want that? And that guy was talking about maybe more.”

Jared smiled a little bit. “I can think of worse things than putting myself out there, my life all intertwined with yours.”

“Okay then,’ Jensen said moving in towards him. “You and me.”

**

The summer came, bright and beautiful. The garden was blooming.

They sat one night watching the sun set over the lake, side by side in
Adirondack chairs.

Danneel sighed contentedly. "Let’s just stay here forever."

Jensen smiled, because he knew that they would.