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I've Dreamed a Million Miles about Your Eyes and Smiles

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Jared is exhausted by the time he finally gets home. It's been a long day. If he's quite honest, he's never really excited when he gets hired as a wedding photographer. There are some sweet moments and he enjoys capturing them—the look on the groom's face as the bride walks down the aisle, the moment when they say 'I do', the emotional reactions from their closest friends and family—but for the most part weddings are loud and busy and Jared spends them running around trying to capture every moment.

He likes jobs that are quieter. Where he can take his time and focus on the small details. Hell, he likes it best when he isn't working a job at all and is just doing his thing, him and his camera and nothing else. But that doesn't pay the bills, so Jared takes on whatever jobs he can. He works as a photographer for a small local newspaper, works jobs at weddings and graduations and birthday parties. Any time someone in their town needs a photographer, Jared's it.

Today's job was a long one. He got up early, took photos with the bride and groom, their families and the wedding parties before the official part of the ceremony started. The ceremony was nice enough but the reception seemed like it would never end. Jared is glad the bride and groom only hired him until after dinner because he has no doubt the party will go on for hours. It was probably the smart thing to do because most of the guests were already pretty drunk by the time Jared left and those are parts of a wedding that nobody really wants photographic evidence of.

Yawning, his camera bag clutched at his side, Jared opens the door to his house. He has more equipment in his car, but he decides to leave it there until the next morning. Red Fir, Texas, is one of those small towns where you can actually still leave your door unlocked without having to worry about it.

He lets himself in, puts his camera away in the little working area he has set up in his living room, before he makes his way into the kitchen. He had some food at the wedding, so he just grabs a bottle of water, downs it, then gets a beer to reward himself for a job well done and makes his way upstairs for a quick shower.

His belt is hanging open, his pants undone and he's taking a sip of his beer as he pushes the door to his bedroom open.

And stops.

It takes a few moments until what he's seeing really registers. Then Jared screams, high-pitched and scared and yes, the sound is a little embarrassing but fuck it. There's a freaking stranger sleeping in his bed.

The guy struggles to sit up, looking confused and rumpled. He's naked from the waist up, the rest of him covered by Jared's sheets, and he's squinting tiredly at Jared.

"What the fuck?" Jared yells, and desperately looks around for something he can use as a weapon.

"What's going on?" the guy asks. His voice is deep, rough with sleep, and he runs a hand over his face, looking around the room.

"What's going on?" Jared repeats. "What is going on?"

Finally, some sense comes back to him and Jared fumbles his cell phone out of the pocket of his pants. The guy makes a move to get out of the bed.

"I'm calling the cops," Jared says, hoping it comes out threatening. "Stay where you are. If you get any closer, I'll bash the fucking bottle over your head."

"Cops," the guy asks. "Dude, what the hell are you even talking about?"

Jared's thumb is already hovering over the touch-screen of his phone, but he hesitates. "Are you serious? You're in my bed," he says. "I don't know if you're a stalker or murderer or just crazy, dude."

"Umm," the guy says, frowning. "Didn't Jeff call you?"

Jared stops. "Jeff," he repeats and blinks. Slowly he lowers his phone with a sense of foreboding. Jeff.

"Your brother?" the guy says. "I'm Jensen Ackles. I thought you knew I was coming."

"Jensen--" Jared starts and then snaps his mouth shut. Jensen Ackles. As in Jeff's boss. As in millionaire businessman that comes from an even richer family and is splashed all over the glossy pages of magazines all the time. Jared doesn't read those, but he's seen Jensen's face in the news here and there, and now that he knows who the guy in his bed is he recognizes him. It's the sort of face that's easy to remember—inviting mouth, pretty eyes, sharp angles.

"Jeff didn't call," Jensen concludes, looking a little chagrined even though Jared can see a slight tick in his jaw that gives away hints of anger.

"Excuse me for a second," Jared says instead of answering. "Just. Stay here, okay. I'll be right back."

He backs out of his own bedroom, closes the door behind him and strides down the hallway before he hits speed dial. Jeff picks up after six rings. Six goddamn rings.

"What the fuck," Jared hisses.

"Jared," Jeff answers, sounding cheerful. Carefree. Jared is going to strangle him the next time he sees him.

"What the fuck, Jeff?" he repeats. "I come home from a job and your fucking boss is in my house and he tells me you invited him here. Don't you think that's something you should have talked to me about first? Huh?"

"Shit, Jared," Jeff says and sighs. "You didn't listen to the voicemail I left you? I tried calling you this morning but you didn't pick up."

"I was working," Jared grits out. "You could have maybe called again at a later time!"

"Dude, I thought you'd listen to the voicemail and get in touch with me in case there was a problem. You didn't, so I assumed everything was fine… So, Mr. Ackles is there."

"Yes, he is. What the hell is going on?" Jared demands.

"Look, he needed to get away for a few days. He was involved in something and it caused a bit of a stir, that kinda thing. He needed someplace where he wouldn't be hounded by the paparazzi."

"And you offered up my place why?"

"Jared, you live in the middle of nowhere in Texas. Nobody is going to come looking for him there, it's perfect," Jeff starts, then adds, "And I maybe kinda fucked something up at work recently. On a pretty big account. I really needed to do something to get back into Ackles' good graces, so when this thing came up I offered to help."

"You mean you offered up my help and my house," Jared snaps. "That's great. That's just great. You fuck up and I have to fix things for you."

"Jared, come on. You don't have to do anything, just let him stay with you for a few days. I can't lose this job, man," Jeff pleads, and it's that voice that has had Jared giving in a million times before, for much more stupid stuff than this.

"I'll owe you forever," Jeff adds. "Please, Jared?"

Jared runs a hand over his face and groans. "Fine. Fine, he can stay here. But for fuck's sake, Jeff, do not to pull crap like this again in the future, got it?"

"Got it," Jeff replies dutifully, but Jared knows he's probably not really listening. Jared's always been too much of a pushover. The thing is, Jeff is his family, the only family he still has, and Jared doesn't know how to say no to him. He's always been a pushover, the little brother who did whatever Jeff wanted him to do, anything to please his big brother. When their parents died years ago, it got even worse—Jeff would do things, get into trouble, and Jared never complained, never tried to stop him. He quietly cleaned up Jeff's messes and was there for him when he was needed.

They say goodbye and Jared hangs up with a sigh. Pocketing his cell phone, he goes to face the music. Or, more accurately, the sinfully good-looking man in his bedroom.

Luckily, Jensen had the common sense to get dressed in the meantime, and is now sitting on the edge of the bed.

"Sorry about that," Jared says. "There was a little bit of a misunderstanding."

Jensen quirks his eyebrows, not looking convinced. "A misunderstanding, huh?" he echoes.

Jared shrugs awkwardly. "Jeff mentioned this whole thing and I sort of agreed," he lies. "But I didn't know you'd be coming today. Hectic schedule and all that. I got things mixed up."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, of course, man," Jared says quickly. "You're more than welcome to stay. Mi casa es su casa and all that."

"Okay. Thanks," Jensen says and gets up. He holds out his hand. "So, I feel like we got off to a bad start. I'm Jensen and it's very nice to meet you."

"Jared," Jared says, shaking Jensen's hand. "So, uh, I have a spare room where you can crash for as long as you need to."

"Yeah, sorry about that," Jensen says and waves his hand in the direction of Jared's bed. "I was dead tired, haven't really been getting any sleep in the last few days. And I saw the guest room, but there weren't any blankets and pillows and I was about to just fall asleep standing up."

"It's fine. No big deal," Jared lies and makes a mental note to change the sheets later. Jensen looks like a hygienic guy—he looks more like a male model, actually—but you never know. Jared once dated a guy who liked to wear his briefs inside out once they were dirty, because doing laundry less often was better for the environment, and Jared is all for saving the environment, really, but that was a bit too much.

"So," Jared says awkwardly and claps his hands together. "Why don't I show you around, give you a tour of the house?"

"Sure," Jensen agrees.

+

Jensen Ackles probably leads a vastly different life from Jared's. It becomes apparent pretty quickly.

To his credit, he doesn't say anything as Jared shows him around, but Jared can tell that Jensen is a bit surprised when Jared tells him there's only one bathroom with a shower, so they'll have to share. Jared can only imagine the kind of place Jensen lives in. His closet is probably bigger than Jared's guest room, and the bed there is kinda cramped and not very comfortable on top of that. There's also a bunch of stuff crammed into the room, because Jared rarely has guests. Jeff is the only relative he has left and most of his friends live in town. He still keeps in touch with a few people from college, sure, but he hasn't seen most of them since they graduated a couple of years ago. So his guest room is really just a glorified storage room where Jared puts stuff he doesn't know what to do with. Jensen must be a good actor though, because he doesn't act fazed, and instead just thanks Jared for the hospitality.

The tour doesn't last long since there really isn't much to show, and Jared assumes Jensen knows how the most basic things around the house work. Shower and toilets, he presumes, work the same way everywhere. He offers to make some food, but Jensen tells him he ate on the way here and they both retreat to their rooms after Jared gets some bedding for Jensen.

Jared feels a wave of relief when the door to his bedroom falls shut and he's finally alone. Jensen seems nice enough, but the situation is awkward as hell and Jared has no idea what to do. He silently curses Jeff again for dumping this on him without any notice, but he knows in the end he would have agreed if Jeff had asked first anyway; that’s what he always does, being the pushover he is. It's only gotten worse since their parents died when Jared was a freshman at college. Jeff is all he has left and there's nothing Jared wouldn't do for him, even though his brother pisses him off beyond belief sometimes. He just wishes Jeff didn't get himself into trouble quite as often as he does.

Feeling completely drained from the day's events, Jared gets ready for bed. It's early, so he grabs a book from the nightstand and tries to read, but he's too distracted and he gives up after a few minutes. He thinks about getting some work done, looking over the photos he took today at the wedding, but in the end his curiosity about this whole thing with Jensen wins out.

He gets his laptop and starts googling.

The first results that pop up are links to tabloid magazines with sleazy headlines that claim Jensen slept with a married woman. Jared clicks on one of the articles at random and skims it, only to find out that Julia, the woman in question, is a pretty, young blonde that is married to Timothy Omundson, who owns a hotel chain and several restaurants in New York and happens to be Jensen Ackles' client.

Jared isn't sure if that's enough to really make someone want to leave the city and hide out, but he's never really been interested enough in the glitzy world of the rich and famous to understand how it runs. What he does know is that the Ackles are filthy rich and quite well known—not quite Kardashian or Hilton level famous, but they're definitely famous enough that all the members of the family pop up in the tabloids now and then. On top of it, Jensen also happens to run his own advertising company in New York—and it must be pretty successful, because Jared knows Jeff has used the fact that he works there to get girls' numbers and get into bars and such on more than one occasion. And judging from the headlines, the whole affair seems to be quite a scandal, painting both Jensen and Omundson's wife in a not so pretty light. So Jared guesses that, since Jensen is here, it is a big deal.

"This better not come back to bite me in the ass," Jared mutters, and he hopes Jeff is right that nobody will think to look for Jensen here in town.

He closes his laptop and finally goes to bed feeling uneasy. He tosses and turns for hours, and doesn't fall asleep until close to three a.m.

+

Jared gets up early, has a quick breakfast, and then leaves a note on the kitchen table for Jensen with his number, telling him to make himself at home and call if he needs anything.

He's kind of glad Jensen isn't awake yet and they don't have to talk, though he feels a little ridiculous for all but sneaking out of his own house.

"I wasn't expecting you for another hour or two," Genevieve says when Jared walks into her office of the Lonestar News, the local newspaper for the area. Jared and Genevieve, whose father owns the paper, have been friends for years and Jared has been working at the newspaper three days a week as a photographer ever since he graduated.

"Thought I'd come in early. See if there's anything for me to do."

"Yeah, 'cause the news world is so damn exciting around here," Genevieve teases. "I hear there was a new litter of kittens born on the Martin's farm. That's about the most exciting thing that happened over the weekend."

Jared grins. "Sounds riveting. Already got a reporter on location?"

"One? A whole team!" Genevieve declares, then gets more somber. "So, what's up? You look like you didn't sleep last night at all."

"I didn't," Jared admits, and finally flops down in a chair across from Genevieve's desk.

"Something wrong? How was the wedding?"

"The wedding was fine," Jared says. "I got some really good pictures."

"Yeah? Anyone I know get embarrassingly drunk and make a fool of themselves?"

"Your ex-boyfriend might have been there and tried to hit on two of the bridesmaids. He was shot down by both of them."

"Which ex-boyfriend?"

"Ricky," Jared says and Genevieve makes a face.

"God, I had horrible taste in high school."

"I can confirm that," Jared teases.

Genevieve gives him a mock glare. "So, anyway, if the wedding was fine, what's up?"

"Jensen Ackles. And Jeff," Jared says and sighs.

"Wait, what? The Jensen Ackles?" Genevieve asks. "Details please."

Jared groans and tells her, as briefly as possible, about finding Jensen in his house the day before and how Jeff offered up Jared's place to him without asking.

"So now you have an unwanted roommate?" Genevieve asks once he's done.

Jared grimaces. "Yeah."

"Is he as hot as he always looks in the pictures?"

"Does it matter?" Jared asks.

Genevieve grins. "That's a yes then."

"Yes. He's hot. Doesn't really matter though, because it doesn't change anything about the fact that the situation is really awkward and horrible and I just want my house to myself."

Genevieve laughs softly. "Oh honey," she says. "You know, if it gets too much you can come hide out at mine."

"It's fine," Jared says with a sigh. "He seems like a nice enough guy, at least."

"Think what they say in the papers is true?" Genevieve asks and when Jared gives her a disbelieving look, she holds up her hands. "What? I work at a paper. It's my duty to be up to date on everything that's going on all the time. Including news about hot millionaires who sleep with married women."

"Right," Jared drawls out, then shrugs. "I don't know. And I don't really care either."

"You're not going to get me an exclusive interview with him then, huh?"

"Definitely not," Jared says, shaking his head. "And you can't show up at my place and ogle him either."

+

Jared is surprised to find Jensen in the kitchen, cooking, when he comes home that evening.

"Hey," he says lamely, and Jensen tosses a smile over his shoulder.

"Hey, Jared. I hope you like chicken and wild rice," he says, stirring something in a pan. "I wasn't sure what you liked, but I figured chicken was my safest bet."

"Chicken is great. And I don't think I've ever had wild rice," Jared admits and steps closer. There's an assortment of pots and pans on the stove, and Jensen is stirring a sauce. "What's the rest?"

"Just a cream and white wine sauce and some asparagus. Gotta eat some vegetables, right?" Jensen says, smiling. "I made a salad, too."

"Where'd you get all this stuff?" Jared asks curiously.

"I had it delivered," Jensen says, shrugging. "I'm trying to keep a low profile after all."

"Huh. I didn't know the store in town delivered stuff."

"Uh, no. I found a bigger store a few towns over that does. They charge a bit extra, but I figured we needed to eat, right? And there's barely anything in your fridge."

Jared nods and doesn't ask just how much Jensen paid to get a store a few towns over to deliver groceries. He knows there are only little mom and pop stores in the towns closest by, so Jensen probably found a store quite a bit off to do that. And it probably cost more than Jared spends on groceries in a week.

As they're seated at the small dining table in Jared's kitchen half an hour later, Jared has to admit that dinner is pretty damn amazing though.

"You're a really good cook," Jared says and takes a sip of the wine Jensen also bought that tastes just as amazing as the food.

"I like cooking," Jensen admits. "With the hours I work I eat out or order food in quite a lot, but when I have some time I like to cook myself. There's something nice about a home-cooked meal."

"I'm kind of a mess in the kitchen," Jared says with a sheepish grin. "I can barbeque stuff, but other than that, not so much."

Jensen grins. "It's not that hard. Just… gotta enjoy it, I guess," he says.

Jared nods. He cuts off another piece of chicken and scoops it onto his fork with some rice.

"So, how long will you be in town for?" he asks once he's done chewing and has swallowed.

"I don't know," Jensen says with a small frown. "Until this whole thing has blown over. My people are working on it, so I hope things will be sorted out soon."

"Okay," Jared says, and picks up his glass again before he can say anything stupid.

Jensen smiles at him. "You can ask, you know."

Jared flushes. "It's none of my business."

"I'm in your home," Jensen says. "And I don't mind."

Jared hesitates, studying Jensen for a moment, then he nods. "Did you do it?"

"No," Jensen says, then he snorts. "No. I'm not an idiot."

"Then what's the big deal?"

Jensen sighs. "The only thing that matters is what people think," he says. "And they like to believe whatever's the most interesting, most scandalous. The whole thing not being true would be kinda boring… and hey, I wouldn't be surprised if Julia is having an affair. Just not with me."

"And it's really that big a deal?"

"Timothy has a lot of money and a lot of influence. And right now he's very, very pissed at me," Jensen says and pulls a face. "I just need to give it some time and the whole thing will be forgotten again. Some other scandal will come along and people will forget. It's how the business world works."

"Doesn't sound fun."

"No, it's not," Jensen agrees.

+

"Are these yours?" Jensen asks the next day. Jared is working from home, selecting the photos from the wedding he wants to show to the bride and groom. He's set up in the living room, working on his laptop.

Jared looks up and finds Jensen looking down at his open portfolio, which he had lying around.

"Yeah," Jared says.

"Can I?" Jensen waves his hand at it and Jared shrugs.

"Sure," he says. He pretends not to care as Jensen looks through the small selection of photos, tries to focus on what he's working on instead, but he keeps sneaking glances at Jensen, trying to gauge his reaction.

"They're really good," Jensen finally says after what feels like an eternity to Jared. "You've got a really good eye for compositions and the colors of these are amazing."

"Thank you," Jared says.

"The photos around the house are yours too?" Jensen guesses and Jared nods.

"Most of them."

"You're good. Great even," Jensen says and smiles. "What do you do? I mean, do you do exhibitions somewhere?"

"Uh, no, nothing like that," Jared admits. "I mean, there are a few places around town where my photos are displayed. A restaurant, a diner, stuff like that. I work part time for a local newspaper and then I do some freelance stuff. Parties and weddings and stuff like that. Nothing exciting."

Jensen cocks his head to the side and looks down at the still open portfolio. "That's too bad. I mean, not that there's anything wrong with what you do," he says quickly. "But some of these really deserve to be showcased."

Jared rubs the back of his neck. "Yeah, well, it's a small town. There aren't really any galleries around. And I'm doing okay," he says. Jensen nods, making a soft, thoughtful sound.

+

Jensen is a rather unobtrusive guest. He's on his phone and laptop a lot, keeping to himself. When Jared is at the house, he mostly leaves him alone. It's still weird having another person in the house though, so Jared is glad to be out and working. When he isn't, he spends some time out and about, just taking photos for himself, something he hasn't been doing enough lately. The paper and the freelance jobs have kept him busy and he's kind of fallen into a rut, he realizes, not taking the time to take photos just for the sake of taking photos anymore.

Word about Jensen Ackles being in town spreads over the next couple of days, even though Jensen doesn't leave the house at all as far as Jared knows. But he also knows that in a small town like Red Fir it's hard to keep secrets and his neighbors are especially nosey.

So when Thursday night rolls around and Jared comes home from work, he suggests that they go out and have a drink at the pub in town.

"People already know you're here," he says. "And it's a work day, so there won't be a crowd. Hell, there isn't really much of a crowd on weekends either."

Jensen laughs. "It really is that small a town, huh?"

"Yeah, kinda," Jared says. "So what do you say?"

"I say I'm going to go crazy if I have to stay inside for another day," Jensen says. "So yeah, I'm in."

"Awesome," Jared says and goes to take a quick shower and get dressed.

Getting a few drinks turns out to be a great idea. There are barely any people in the pub. A few older guys that greet Jared but don't really seem to care about Jensen, and a handful of other people. The waitress asks Jensen for an autograph and two guys keep glancing over at them, but other than that they're being left alone.

They have a few beers, play a couple of rounds of pool, and talk. It's a nice night out, mellow and easy, and Jared feels better about having Jensen stay at his house after that, because he doesn't feel like a total stranger anymore.

+

Jared feels less great about their little bonding experience come Monday morning when he wakes up to a text from Genevieve, who has sent him a link to some online magazine. There's a grainy picture of him and Jensen at the pub, probably taken with a cellphone. They're standing by the pool table, heads bent together as Jensen says something to Jared that has them both grinning.

Jared gets how people might get that they're flirting from the picture—the way their bodies are angled together, the lack of space between them—but what surprises him is that the headline of the article is "Jensen Ackles—Engaged?"

The article itself isn't very long, though it quotes a supposedly very reliable insider source that claims that yes, Jensen has been seeing someone and they're very happy, very close, and that Jensen is visiting him right now in Texas.

Jensen is already in the kitchen by the time Jared makes it downstairs. Jared pours himself a cup of coffee, feeling Jensen's eyes on him the whole time, and then sits down across from him.

"So," he starts.

"You already know?"

Jared shrugs. "Gen, my friend, sent me a link."

Jensen sighs and rubs the back of his neck. "Yeah. Look, it's just one picture and we're not doing anything, so they have absolutely nothing to go on. It's just a rumor; it happens all the time, but it usually blows over quickly."

"But?" Jared asks, feeling like there's something else coming.

Jensen makes a face. "Well, I have a PR team, you know? And they think it's actually not a bad idea."

"What is?"

"The whole people thinking I'm engaged thing. They think they can use it to dispel the rumors about me and Julia, get Omundson off my back."

"Seriously?"

"Yeah. They think maybe I should just go along with it. Tell the press I have been dating someone for a while but keeping it quiet, but that it's serious and we're getting married."

"And by someone you mean me," Jared says, already knowing the answer.

"Well," Jensen starts and twists his face up in a grimace. "I know it's asking a lot of you. But you wouldn't have to do much. Hang out with me in public a few times so people see us together, that's it. And we can work out a deal… I can pay you."

"Pay me? Do you know how insane that sounds?" Jared asks.

"In my world, that's actually pretty tame," Jensen says.

"And you actually think they can sell this?"

Jensen sighs. "They kind of already are," he admits and Jared feels his eyes nearly bug out.

"What?"

"I swear, I have nothing to do with it. Apparently the photo popped up on some social media site and since I'm hot news right now some people noticed it. A couple of reporters contacted my PR team and they didn't really try very hard to deny the rumor."

"Great," Jared groans. "And the stupid insider source, was that them too?"

Jensen presses his lips together.

"Jensen?"

"That was your brother," Jensen says.

"Excuse me?"

"I actually wasn't sure if you knew..." Jensen trails off.

"No. No, I definitely didn't," Jared huffs. "Jesus fuck, what was he thinking?"

"He works for me, he knows my people. They might have asked him to do this."

"Still," Jared insists.

"Look, the damage is done. It's not being picked up by huge newspapers yet, but the rumor is out there. And maybe everyone is right, maybe this really could help me with the whole Omundson thing," Jensen says, looking at Jared across the table. "Just think about it. Please? You'd be doing me a huge favor."

He sounds sincere, not quite pleading but definitely close. It's enough for Jared to break—as usual.

"It wouldn't be anything huge, right? I don't want my life to be turned upside down."

"No way, I promise. Mostly my PR people will handle it; I might issue a statement. If anyone contacts you, you can just tell them you're not commenting or give some generic statement. And maybe you could come to New York sometime, we can go out, people will take a couple of pictures that will show up in the tabloids online," Jensen explains. "And then in a couple of months we'll quietly break up."

"Fine. I'll do it," Jared agrees and Jensen gives him a huge, relieved smile.

"Thank you. You're awesome, Jared, really," he gushes. "And I really do owe you. We can work something out. I can pay you or if you want I can get your photos into some shows. Anything you want."

"No way."

"Come on, Jared. You're good. You can't tell me this is really what you want, living in a small town, being a wedding photographer," Jensen says softly. "Let me do this for you."

"I work for a newspaper as well," Jared counters.

"Yeah, who reports on small town meetings and, like, breeding rabbits."

"It doesn't matter if I want more or not. I don't want a career that's bought," Jared says. He gets up from the table and dumps his by now lukewarm coffee into the sink before starting to make a fresh pot.

"Fine. Just take some money then," Jensen says. "I can't ask this of you and not give you anything in return. Please?"

Jared pauses measuring out the ground coffee and he turns around, looking at Jensen. "My brother."

"What about him?"

"I know he can be a bit… flaky. But you can't fire him."

"Job security for your brother? That's what you're asking for in return?" Jensen asks, eyebrows arched.

Jared nods. "Yes."

Jensen gives him a small smile. "Okay. I can do that, Jared."

+

And that's how Jared ends up being fake-engaged to Jensen Ackles.

Jensen stays in Red Fir for two more days and his PR people release a statement that Jensen is indeed engaged to a photographer from Texas. There's some basic phrases thrown in about how happy they are and how they've been trying to spend as much time together as possible, but they're asking for privacy, especially since Jensen's fiancé isn't a public figure.

He knows people in town talk about him. He gets some looks, some comments, but Jared's life doesn't drastically change overnight. He isn't hounded by reporters, his phone stays silent, and then Jensen leaves and Jared even has his house all to himself again.

He thinks he should feel happy about it, and part of him does, but he also has to admit that having someone around wasn't all bad. He enjoyed spending time with Jensen once the initial awkwardness passed and it was nice to have someone to come home to.

Maybe, he thinks, it's time he got a pet.

+

Jared flies out to New York nine days later to spend the weekend with Jensen.

Jeff greets him at the airport, all happy and carefree, pulling him into a big hug as if nothing happened. As if he didn't toss Jensen into his life and make him part of this mess, this weird press circus that Jared has no experience with.

"Jensen couldn't make it, but he'll meet you at his apartment," Jeff says as they get into a car.

"Great," Jared mutters.

"You want to stop somewhere and grab some food?" Jeff suggests.

Jared sighs. "Look, Jeff. Just drop me off at Jensen's, okay?" he says.

Jeff is silent for a moment, then he says, "I'm sorry I got you involved in the whole thing, Jay. You're really helping me out here. And Jensen." He turns his head and grins a little. "It's not so bad, right? It's working out great for everyone."

"Yeah, great," Jared says monotonously.

+

Jensen's place is big and very neat, nothing like Jared's cluttered little house. A doorman who has obviously been informed about his arrival lets him in and Jared is left to his own devices.

He's kind of scared to touch anything, though, so he leaves his bag and shoes by the door and walks around the open living area for a while, just looking. It gets boring pretty quickly though, so he decides to go out for a while.

He gets dressed, makes sure to pocket his wallet and cellphone and then grabs his camera. He's been to New York a few times, visiting Jeff, but he's still not very familiar with the city. He just wanders around for a little while, and eventually finds a small park, and he spends the next couple of hours taking photos.

With the help of his phone it's easy enough to find his way back to Jensen's apartment building and by the time he gets there he finds out Jensen is finally home as well.

The greeting is a little awkward. Jensen hugs him loosely, patting him on the back. "Good to see you again."

"Yeah. You too," Jared replies.

"Sorry I wasn't there to get you from the airport," Jensen says. "Some stuff came up, and your brother offered. I know you're probably not very happy with him right now, but I figured better him than a stranger and there were other people around, so I couldn't very well say no anyway."

"It's fine," Jared tells him.

Jensen smiles softly. "Okay, if you're sure," he says. "So, I put your stuff in the guest room. Let me show you around and then I figured we can order in some food. Is there anything you're in the mood for?"

"Aren't we going to go out? I thought that was the point of me being here," Jared asks, though he likes Jensen's plan much better. He isn't in the mood to go out, meet people, fake being in a relationship with a guy he doesn't even know very well yet.

"Let's just chill tonight. We can watch a movie, eat, just hang out," Jensen suggests. "There's plenty of time for the other stuff."

Jared nods. "Not gonna try and talk you out of it, dude," he says.

+

The evening reminds Jared of just how much he likes Jensen. It's nice and easy, and Jensen doesn't seem to mind when Jared gets tired pretty early.

They head out the next morning after breakfast, to go out exploring a little. Jensen presented him with a ring over breakfast—"we really want to sell this, right?"—and Jared wears it, the weight around his finger unfamiliar, a reminder of how very weird this whole thing is that he's suddenly found himself in.

They do some touristy stuff, but Jared's already seen most of the places, so Jensen takes him to a few places he likes and they just walk around. Jared has his camera with him and he stops to take photos what feels like every few feet, and Jensen patiently waits, asks questions about why Jared is drawn to certain things and how he's putting them in frame.

And a few times, when he isn't paying attention, Jared snaps a few pictures of Jensen as well.

"Gonna sell those and be rich," Jared jokes when Jensen grumbles about it.

"Yeah, I'm sure," Jensen mocks. "'Cause people would be really interested in photos of me being boring. If you want to make money, gotta snap some pictures of me with my clothes off or something."

"Nah," Jared says, shaking his head. "I like these better."

"So, you like boring guys?" Jensen asks.

"Who says I like guys at all?" Jared asks and sticks his tongue out. Jensen stops, looking like a deer caught in headlights, and Jared laughs. "Relax. I like guys."

"Good. Wouldn't want to ruin your reputation with the women," Jensen jokes, but he sounds a little worried.

Jared grins. "Hey, if anything this would probably make me more popular with a lot of girls. I mean, you're quite popular with them."

"That so?"

"Yeah. It's those pretty green eyes of yours," Jared says and lifts his camera, snapping another photo before Jensen can duck his face down.

+

The day with Jensen is very pleasant. They get stopped a couple of times by people who recognize Jensen, usually gushing about how hot he is or how good he looked at some event that was covered by the media. Jensen nods, smiles, but isn't very chatty.

"I'm not famous," he tells Jared as they stroll down a street with ice cream cones.

"You kind of are, dude."

"I'm a businessman," Jensen argues. "I'm just a normal guy—went to college, got a degree, started working, built up my agency. But I've never done anything that I should be famous for, other than being an Ackles."

"Must be frustrating," Jared says.

Jensen shrugs. "Yeah. I mean, I don't wanna sound like a spoiled brat. It's opened some doors for me, too, I know that. And if it wasn't for the fact that I inherited money from my grandparents, I wouldn't have been able to open up my own business, either, at least not at my age. But at the same time, I never asked to be famous, to have my picture taken and be in magazines and have people discuss my private life. I'm just a normal guy."

"You ever thought about, I don't know, leaving? Moving some place where there's no paparazzi and people would leave you alone?" Jared asks, taking a lick of his mango ice cream that is sinfully good.

"All the time," Jensen admits with a small smile. "But I gotta work, make money, too. I can't just run away and hide."

"I suppose not," Jared agrees and bumps his shoulder against Jensen's. "It's not all bad though, right?"

Jensen looks at him, his smile getting wider and he takes Jared's hand in his, intertwining their fingers. "Nah, some parts of my life are pretty great," he says.

+

The nice day is followed by a not quite as nice evening. There's a charity gala that Jensen takes Jared to and they have to wear very fancy, stuffy suits that make Jared feel all gangly and stupid, though Jensen insists Jared doesn't look stupid.

"If there's one thing you can count on, it's my fashion sense," he says with a cocky smile. "And I picked that suit out myself. You'll be the best looking guy there tonight by far."

"I was kinda hoping I'd be the guy that just kind of blends in and goes unnoticed," Jared winces.

Jensen gives him a soft smile. "Yeah, I don't think that's going to happen. People will definitely notice us."

Jared deflates with a sigh. "I know. And it's what I'm here for anyway," he says, looking at himself in the mirror in Jensen's—insanely spacious—bathroom where they've both been putting on the final touches, and tugs a few strands of hair into place. "Just nervous, I guess. It's not exactly my kinda scene."

"You'll do fine," Jensen tells him. He straightens his tie a little, then turns to look at Jared with a wide smile. "Your brother told me you were into acting at school, did a play or two at college too, right?"

"You talk about me with my brother?" Jared asks, surprised.

Jensen shrugs. "Well, yeah," he says. "What I'm trying to say is, just act as if you like me. That's all you have to do. We'll hold hands, maybe share a kiss, act all mushy around each other. That kinda stuff."

Jared snorts. "Sounds like you're a real relationship expert. Act all mushy," he echoes.

Jensen flushes. "Why do you think I'm single?"

Jared laughs and pokes Jensen in the side teasingly. "Someone isn't good at relationships, huh?"

"I work a lot," Jensen defends himself. "And maybe I just haven't met the right person yet."

"Uh, sure," Jared says, then straightens and takes a deep breath. "Okay, I'm ready. Let's get going and make people believe I'm the 'right person'."

Jensen gives him a grin and holds out his hand. "Well, I believe there's a car waiting for us, my dear fiancé."

Jared takes his hand.

+

The event is weird. Boring and nerve-wracking at the same time. The food is amazing, but it's really just appetizers and not very filling for a guy Jared's size. And the free drinks would be a bonus, except Jared really doesn't want to drink a lot and embarrass Jensen.

People are definitely noticing them, subtly glancing at them and whispering. Jared isn't sure if it's because of him, and their engagement, or because of the whole affair rumors that haven't fully died down yet, though Jensen has told him things have definitely quietened down a lot thanks to news of their relationship.

Jensen sticks to his side the whole time, murmurs names into his ears and brief summaries of who they are. In a few cases, when nobody is close by to eavesdrop, he whispers any dirt he has on people into his ear.

"Red alert," he suddenly hisses to Jared an hour in, while they're standing off to the side.

"Huh?" Jared asks.

Jensen leans in close, angling his face so his lips are almost brushing against Jared's jaw. "Don't look, but Omundson is approaching us. Two o'clock."

Jared feels his stomach twist with unease, but he puts on an easy smile. "You know we're not in a spy movie, right?"

Jensen tilts his head back and blinks up at him with wide, green eyes. "We're not? Damn it, that was the only thought getting me through the night."

"Idiot," Jared murmurs, grinning. Jensen gives him a lopsided smirk, expression full of mirth, and god, the guy really is breath-taking. Jared knows Jensen doesn't like being in the tabloids, but if Jared was a paparazzi he'd be following Jensen around all day, taking pictures of him, too.

"Jensen," a smooth voice interrupts them. Jensen turns, expression shutting down, and Jared looks at the man standing at their side now. He recognizes Tim Omundson from the articles he read when Jensen showed up at his house—a handsome man, if one is into older gentlemen, with carefully styled gray hair and a neat beard, oozing money and charm.

"Timothy," Jensen says and holds out his hand. "Good to see you again."

Omundson takes Jensen's hand and shakes it. "Yes. I suppose things have been a little, let's say tense between us, huh?"

"Understandably," Jensen says with a nod. "But I hope we can put all that behind us now."

Before Omundson can reply, Jensen turns his body into Jared's a little and rests a hand on the small of Jared's back. "Let me introduce you to Jared Padalecki, my fiancé."

"I heard about the good news," Omundson says and shakes Jared's hand. "Good to meet you, Jared."

"It's nice to meet you too, sir," Jared says politely, giving the man a friendly smile. "I fear I'm to blame for some of the mess."

"Oh?"

"Well, when those rumors popped up, Jensen got straight onto the next plane to come and see me, instead of trying to straighten things out," Jared lies smoothly. "He worries too much. But I'm not used to all of this and the rumor mill and all that."

He waves his hand around vaguely, and continues. "We'd just gotten engaged, too, you see, and he was worried I'd be upset."

Jensen looks at him, surprise on his face and then smiles. "Well, I have my priorities straight."

"And I appreciate that," Jared says, brushing a quick kiss against Jensen's cheek. "Not that I believed those rumors for a second."

"You didn't?" Omundson asks, taking a sip from his glass of champagne.

Jared gives a small laugh. "I'm not naïve, if that's what you think. But between the hours Jensen puts in at work and the amount of time he spends on the phone with me, I don't think he'd be able to step out on me. This guy texts me every couple of minutes when he's not with me."

"What can I say, I kind of like you," Jensen says teasingly, playing along.

"Well, let's not bore Mr. Omundson with our sappy story any longer. I'm sure he doesn't want to hear this," Jared says and gives the man in question another smile.

"It's quite alright," Omundson says, then he look at Jensen. "I'm glad we talked, Jensen."

"Me too. I would have hated for this to stand between us," Jensen replies.

"Yes, that would have been a shame," Omundson says. "Well, there are some people here I need to talk to. But we should do lunch together sometime, Jensen."

"Sure. Just call my office and we can schedule something," Jensen agrees. He shakes Omundson's hand, then Jared does too.

When he's out of earshot, Jensen shifts so he's standing face to face with Jared, head tipped back to look at him. "You," he says pointedly, "are amazing."

"That was nothing," Jared says sheepishly. "Just figured one of us should say something."

"Well, what you said was brilliant. Believe me, it might not have seemed that way, but the man was actually quite charmed by you."

"He didn't seem charmed."

"You don't know him like I do," Jensen says and grins. "I think we earned us another glass of champagne. What do you think?"

"God, please," Jared groans and Jensen laughs.

+

Best laid plans and all that. The glass of champagne turns into two, then three. Jared isn't drunk, but he's definitely a little tipsy an hour later, the fact that there hasn't been any real food around not helping.

He's also met what feels like every member of New York's high society.

As the evening has progressed, as has their alcohol intake, they've also gotten progressively more affectionate with each other. They've been holding hands for the past hour and Jensen keeps leaning up to kiss Jared's cheek, standing pressed close against Jared's side.

By the time they're leaving, they're both a little flushed and Jared definitely feels buzzed. Jensen is grinning widely as they walk outside, to catch some air before their car will pick them up.

There are a few photographers milling around, and other guests are being escorted to their cars.

"You know," Jensen says, looking at Jared with sparkling eyes. "Paps are here. I think maybe we should do something to sell this whole epic love story of ours. To really convince them."

"Yeah? Like what?"

"You should kiss me," Jensen says. "Just, you know, for them. To make sure."

"Yeah, maybe you're right," Jared agrees. He doesn't really think about it any further, just leans in and Jensen meets him halfway, curling his hands in the lapels of Jared's suit jacket and tugging him in close. It's a bit uncoordinated, chaste because even though Jared is tipsy he's still clear headed enough to know he doesn't want pictures of him with his tongue down Jensen's throat on the internet the next day.

"Hmm," Jensen hums when they break apart after a couple of seconds, blinking up. He leans up and brushes his lips against Jared's once more, then again, and Jared is grinning against his mouth.

Someone clears their throat next to them. "Your car is here, Mr. Ackles," a young guy says, looking a little embarrassed.

Jensen smiles and nods, taking a step back from Jared without taking his hands off him. "Thank you," he says.

They are led to the car, arms and shoulders brushing together, hands clasped. Someone is holding the door open for them and Jared murmurs a quick thank you before getting in, feeling giddy and lightheaded. Jensen slides in next to him, sitting close, as the door falls shut with a thud.

"Someone could still be watching us," he whispers loudly.

Jared looks around and laughs. "The windows are tinted."

"Not the windshield. Paps are really clever," Jensen says with a serious tone, his lips turned up. "And the driver might be a spy."

Jared looks in the direction of the driver, who is starting the car just now and not looking back at them. "A paparazzi spy?" he asks, then nods. "Better not risk it."

"Better not," Jensen agrees and pulls Jared close by the arm of his suit jacket, tilting his head up for a kiss.

It's a whole lot less chaste than the first kiss. Slow, exploring, their lips parting and tongues sliding together. Jensen makes a small, hitching noise and Jared moans in reply, his hands reaching out to grab Jensen's hip, attempting to pull him in closer.

+

"I think we were very convincing," Jared says, giggling as they stumble into Jensen's apartment.

"We gave the doorman a good show," Jensen agrees. "And the driver."

He smooths his hands down Jared's suit jacket.

"Well, nobody's watching us here," Jared says thickly. They're standing in the wide open kitchen, only a few inches between them. Jensen's lips are red and puffy from making out in the car, his hair a little disheveled, and Jared wants nothing more than to kiss him again, draw those sweet little noises from him that he made in the car.

Jensen gives him a speculative look. "Maybe," he murmurs and runs his tongue over his lower lip, wetting it. "But you never really know. Neighbors might be listening in on us, drones outside the windows, super spies climbing up the building."

"Geez, that sounds very terrifying."

"It is," Jensen says. "There's no such thing as safe, Jared."

"Well, guess we gotta keep up the facade then," Jared agrees, heart thundering in his chest. He's no stranger to dating and hook-ups, but the blatant flirting is making him feel like a giddy teenager again; it feels thrilling and new.

Jensen hums and kisses him softly, then steps back with a smile. His hands fall down to Jared's hips, giving him a squeeze. "Want another drink?" he asks, voice all low and deep now.

Jared stutters out a breath. "No. I can think of a few things I want a lot more."

Jensen grins. "Good answer," he says, and takes Jared's hand in his, dragging him to his bedroom.

+

Jared feels a little bad for the way they're tossing sinfully expensive suits on the floor, but then Jensen is pressing him down into the mattress, his naked skin smooth and soft, his weight holding Jared down and, well, fuck the suits.

He moans into Jensen's mouth when they kiss, writhes and pants as Jensen starts sliding down his body. He leaves a hot trail of kisses down Jared's stomach, hands rubbing his sides. And then Jensen takes him into his mouth, no preamble, no hesitation. He sucks at the head a little, tongues the underside of Jared's cock, his hand wrapped firmly around the base, before sliding down. And down. And down, until the head of Jared's dick hits the back of Jensen's throat, and then goes even further.

"Oh my fucking god," Jared pants, trying so very hard to keep his hips still. Jensen hums and Jared nearly loses it, a broken moan falling from his lips.

Jensen bobs up and down a few times, movements easy and practiced. Jared watches the way his head moves, messy hair sticking up, and it's perfect, Jensen's mouth hot and wet, and yet he wants more. So much more. He hitches his hips restlessly, fire burning in his stomach, skin feeling stretched too tight.

"Please," he finally hisses out. "Jensen, please."

Jensen lifts his head, looks up at him with sparkling eyes and wet lips. "Please what?" he asks. "Tell me what you want, baby."

"Your fingers," Jared says. Jensen grins.

"My fingers where?"

"Inside me. Fuck, please just put your fingers inside me," Jared grits out, not quite embarrassed and yet a weird mixture of nervous and thrilled to be asking for it.

Jensen's breath comes out in a woosh. "Jesus," he says, like he wasn't quite expecting Jared to say those words. "You're so fucking hot, you know that? Fucking sinful."

He slides his hands up Jared's thighs, nudging, and Jared brings them up, bends his knees a little and lets his legs fall open wider. Jensen takes him back into his mouth, sucking him down, but this time his fingers slide in next to Jared's dick, and Jared feels a fresh wave of arousal, knowing Jensen is getting them wet for him.

"Come on. Come on," he urges. He feels spit run down his dick, and then Jensen pulls his fingers out and slides down, behind Jared's balls. He rubs over Jared's hole, the simple touch making Jared buck up wildly and moan. He feels and hears Jensen laugh around his dick, the vibration making pleasure shoot up his spine, and then Jensen presses one finger in. It's thick, the spit wet enough to ease the way, and Jared loves this part. Loves having someone finger him open, touch him so intimately.

Jensen thrusts his finger out a few times and then presses a second in.

"Oh yes," Jared hisses. Jensen is sucking on the head of his cock now, tonguing the slit, and his fingers scissoring, curling inside of him, stretching the muscles and Jared fists his hands in the sheets and rocks down on Jensen's fingers.

Jensen pulls off, kisses the tip of Jared's cock. "Gonna come like that?" he asks, voice rough, and his fingers press against Jared's prostate, rubbing over it a few times. Jared swears he sees stars, his body going taunt, and he comes with a shout, warm lips wrapping around him again.

He's hot and trembling and feeling so completely blissed out, lying boneless in the middle of Jensen's bed. His lips open pliantly under Jensen's when he crawls up Jared's body and kisses him, and Jared taste himself on him.

"Fuck, that was amazing," he pants.

Jensen makes a noise in agreement and ruts down against him. He's still hard, cock pressing against Jared's stomach, and Jared feels another spike of arousal.

"Jared," Jensen groans out, and Jared lazily lifts his hip, slides one leg around Jensen's waist.

"Fuck. Can I?" Jensen asks, and Jared bites down on his bottom lip.

"Yeah. God yeah," he says. Jensen looks down at him with bright eyes, and grins.

It's messy and hurried. Jensen pushes his legs up and the lube he squirts down Jared's crack is cold, the finger he presses in slippery with slick. When Jared tells him he's fine, it's enough after just a few short moments, he doesn't hesitate. Just gets a condom, rolls it down his hard, red dick, slicks himself up and pushes in. Jared is almost bent in half, back arched. It burns a little, muscles stretched wide around Jensen, and Jared loves every second of it.

Jensen fucks him hard and fast, with deep and dirty twists of his hips. And when he comes he groans out Jared's name, his fingers curled in Jared's hair and their mouths clashing together in needy kisses. It's enough to have Jared come all over again.

+

Jared is sprawled out on his stomach when he wakes up, cheek resting on the pillow under his head and the sun shining onto his face. There's a warm hand on the small of back, softly stroking the skin there, and Jared hums contently.

Jensen kisses his bare shoulder. "Morning," he whispers, and Jared stretches, makes a happy noise when his back cracks.

"Good morning," he says, and he can't help the smile spreading over his face. Jensen drapes himself over his back, kisses his cheek and slides his arm around him.

"Any regrets?" Jensen murmurs.

Jared laughs. "What? Need me to reassure you that you're freaking fantastic in bed?" he teases, voice laced with sleep.

He feels Jensen's grin against his cheek. "No," he says. "Just… things are already complicated enough."

Jared shifts, freeing himself until he can roll around onto his back. He blinks at Jensen. "So, let's not make this a big deal. Last night was good, we're two consenting adults, we had fun."

Jensen smiles, looking pleased and relaxed. "It certainly makes this whole arrangement more enjoyable," he says.

"My thoughts exactly," Jared agrees and leans up for a kiss.

+

Jared flies back home to Texas in the afternoon.

Back to his real life.

Stepping back into his house, everything feels startlingly unchanged. Jared's a few new experiences richer, spent an amazing night with a guy he's really starting to like, and there's a ring around his finger that's not really his. Not for keeps anyway.

It doesn't really feel right. Not anymore. The house suddenly seems too quiet, empty even though it's so much more cluttered than Jensen's sleek New York apartment. Jared puts on pajama bottoms, turns on the TV, and tries not to feel sad about the fact that this is his life.

+

The local high school is having a big charity garage sale that weekend and a reporter from the newspaper is doing an interview with some on the kids on Monday. Jared is sent along to take some pictures, and it's one of those very boring assignments that are part of his job. It puts food on the table, at least, Jared tells himself.

He hands a card with the photos over to Genevieve afterward, and she gives him an expectant look.

"So?" she asks.

Jared shrugs. "It's high school kids, Gen. Not exactly a break out story," he says.

Genevieve rolls her eyes at him. "I'm not talking about the job. I'm talking about the weekend. How was it?"

"Fine," Jared says and when Genevieve's expression doesn't change he sighs. "Good. It was good."

"I saw some pictures of the two of you together. You looked really cozy," she says. "Like you genuinely like each other."

"We do," Jared says with a shrug. "He's a good guy."

"Meaning?"

"We hung out, it wasn't bad," Jared says vaguely.

Genevieve cocks her head to the side. "Hmmm."

"What?"

"Nothing," she says, then adds, "be careful, Jay. Don't let him break your heart."

Jared scowls at her. "I don't know what you're talking about," he says, and tells himself it's not a lie.

+

Jared doesn't get around to taking a look at the photos he took in New York until mid-week. Quite a few of them aren't what Jared would call something special, because he didn't take the time to set everything up right. With Jensen right there, he didn't want to keep him waiting and take forever, no matter how patient Jensen had been with him. A few photos are good though, and he makes a spur of a moment decision to email a few of those to Jensen, including a couple of Jensen himself.

He adds a short message, just a quick 'I had a good time this weekend! Thanks for showing me around :)'

+

While the statement from Jensen's PR people didn't mention his name, it starts popping up with pictures of him and Jensen at the charity event. Jared's friend requests on facebook shoot up overnight and he gets his first call from a reporter that week, asking him for an interview or at least a comment on his and Jensen's relationship. Jared politely declines, hangs up, and then has a mini freak-out.

People in town are also paying more attention on him now. Not necessarily because he's dating Jensen Ackles, but because he's been dating Jensen Ackles in secret and Jared lives in the kind of time where very few things are actually a secret. Jared can't very well tell them it's all fake, so he makes up bullshit excuses about how they've been trying really hard to keep things private until now. He gets a few suspicious looks, but they leave him be.

Work keeps him busy over the next week. There are a few assignments from the paper, a couple of birthday parties, a retirement party and a few family portraits he's hired for. A couple of times, he talks to Jensen and they send a few random texts to each other. It's casual, despite what happened between them that weekend and Jared is grateful for that since things are already weird enough.

+

A week and a half after his trip to New York and his introduction to the city's richest and most beautiful, Jared gets a call from Samantha, the owner of the Southern style restaurant in town.

"There's a man here who'd like to talk to you," she says, sounded a bit wary.

"A reporter?" Jared guesses with a groan.

"No, a gallery owner. He wants to talk to you about your photos," Samantha says.

Jared sighs. "Shit, I'm sorry, Sam. I hope he's not bothering you?"

"No," Sam says. "Not at all. He's quite charming."

"All right. I'll be right over anyway, okay? Give me fifteen minutes. Just… give him a coffee; I'm paying."

"He's already drinking one and he ordered food too," Sam says, sounding amused. "Don't worry about it."

Jared's at the restaurant exactly nine minutes later anyway. It's the middle of the afternoon and the place is pretty empty, but even if it wasn't Jared would be able to pick the guy out of a crowd. Mostly because he knows everyone in Red Fir, but also because nobody here dresses the way this guy does: he's wearing a leather jacket, silver rings, a leather cord with a pendant hanging from his neck. He looks more like a biker than a gallery owner, and yet the casual look is fitting.

The guy smiles as Jared approaches, friendly and open.

"Jared Padalecki," he says and gets up, sticking out his hand. "It's a real pleasure to meet you."

"Hey," Jared replies, a lot more reserved, and shakes the offered hand.

"I'm Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Jeff or JDM is fine though, that's what everyone calls me," the guy says and hands Jared a business card. "I own a gallery, but I assume the lovely owner of this establishment already you told you that?"

"Yes," Jared says.

"I'm glad you came; please come and sit down with me," Jeff says. "I wanted the chance to talk to you about your photos. They're magnificent."

"Thank you," Jared says, not quite sincerely, and sits down. There's no doubt in his mind the guy is here because Jensen sent him, obviously an attempt to pay off the debt he believes he owes Jared. Why the hell he’d send the guy to the restaurant and make him track Jared down instead of giving him Jared's address is beyond him, but he's too upset by the whole thing to really think about it. It's probably stupid, but he trusted Jensen to respect his wishes and the fact that he didn't is more disappointing than Jared cares to admit.

"You're a very good photographer," Jeff says, waving his hand around the restaurant. Several of Jared's works, showcasing various places in town, are displayed on the walls.

"And you just happened to be in town and saw them?" Jared asks sarcastically.

Jeff cocks his head the side. "No," he says, and at least the guy is honest.

"I didn't think so," Jared says. "I'm guessing you know Jensen Ackles?"

Jeff nods. "I do," he says and smiles. "Why don't you order a drink before we start talking? My treat, of course."

"Look, Mr. Morgan, I'm sorry you came all the way here for nothing, but I'm not interested," Jared says. He gives the man a forced smile and gets back up. "Now, excuse me, but I have things I should be doing. Enjoy your stay in our town."

He leaves without giving the man another chance to speak.

On his way home, he's seething, and he nearly runs through a stop light. He has to tell himself to calm down and to not let this whole thing get to him so much. Still, he's barely back at his house before he's pulling out his cell phone and calling Jensen.

"Jared—" Jensen starts, but Jared interrupts him before he can get anything else out.

"What the fuck, dude?" he snaps.

"Uh. Hi? What's up?"

"What's up? I thought I told you I didn't want this!" Jared all but yells. "I thought I made myself perfectly clear."

"Jared, what are you talking about?" Jensen interjects, sounding honestly confused. Jared kind of wants to wring his neck.

"I'm talking about your buddy Jeff showing up here."

"Uh, your brother?"

"No!" Jared fumbles with the business card that he stuffed into his pocket while leaving and squints down at the name, jaw clenched. "Jeffrey Dean Morgan."

"JD? JD showed up at your place?"

"At the restaurant in town," Jared says. "Don't tell me you didn't know. I told you I didn't want this. I don't want a bought career. And I trusted you, Jensen!"

"Jared, calm down. I didn't do whatever the hell you think I did," Jensen says calmly. "Jeff is a friend of mine. A really good friend. And yes, he owes a gallery, but I didn't tell him to go talk to you."

"Then why is he here?" Jared asks suspiciously. He realizes he's been standing around in his hallway the whole time and he finally walks into his small living room and sinks down on the couch.

"I'm guessing because he really likes your photos," Jensen says. "He was over at my place a few days ago and I was looking at the photos you send me on my laptop. He saw them and was really interested, asked a bunch of questions."

"Really?"

"Yes, really. And I promise you I didn't tell him to contact you or anything. Didn't even give him your information. I just told him you were displaying your photos at a few places in your town when he asked if your work was in any exhibitions," Jensen explains. "Jared, I promise."

"So he flew all the way here just to check out my stuff," Jared states, the idea seeming completely unreal to him still.

"You're good, Jared. And JD likes featuring new artists."

Jared snorts. "I'm not an artist."

"Jared. Of course you are."

Jared sighs dismissively. "It doesn't matter. I shot him down and was kinda rude about it too."

"Did he give you his card?" Jensen asks.

"Yes," Jared admits, looking down at the piece of cardboard he still holds in his hand.

"Call him. Talk to him," Jensen advises. "He'll understand. In fact, he might like you even more if you explain and tell him you chewed me out."

Jared laughs. "You think?" he asks.

"I do," Jensen says. "And he flew all the way out to Texas because of the few photos he saw, so I know he'll think you're worth it."

+

Jensen shows up on his doorstep that weekend, wearing sunglasses, a leather jacket and a cocky smirk.

"What are you doing here?" Jared asks, gaping.

"What?" Jensen asks. "I can't come spend time with my fiancé?"

Jared laughs and steps aside, letting him in, "How's New York?"

"Same old… actually, no. All everyone wants to talk to me about right now is our future nuptials," Jensen says, pushing his sunglasses into his hair and rolling his eyes. He drops a small duffel onto the ground. "Which is just one of the reasons I decided to get away. I hope you don't mind?"

Jared shrugs and waves Jensen into the kitchen, where he's been trying to figure out what to make for dinner. "There are worse surprises in the world," he says. "Speaking of nuptials though..."

"What?" Jensen asks and raises his eyebrows when Jared pulls out a box of mac and cheese from the pantry. Jared sticks out his tongue.

"You know I can't cook," he defends himself and puts the box onto the counter. "Anyway, nuptials. How are we going to get out of those? I mean, the whole breaking up after a few months thing you mentioned a while ago, how is that going to work?"

Jensen surveys the kitchen, then grabs the box and nudges Jared out of the way. "I don't know yet. I'm sure my PR people will come up with something," he says. "I honestly haven't thought quite that far ahead yet. I mean, this whole thing just kinda happened."

"I know," Jared agrees. He watches Jensen read the instructions on the back of the box before ripping it open. Deciding to be useful, he gets them a couple of beers from the fridge.

+

"You're putting vegetables in my mac and cheese," Jared says, watching Jensen dice tomatoes.

Jensen shoots him a smile. "I promise you'll like it."

"I didn't say I won't," Jared admits begrudgingly.

"Then eat it and stop complaining," Jensen teases.

Jared pouts.

"Stop," Jensen says.

"Why?"

"Because I really want to kiss you when you give me that look," Jensen says. His voice is quieter, heated, and something stirs in Jared's stomach.

"Well, nobody said you couldn't," he replies. Jensen looks at him for a second and Jared swears he can see the wheels in his head turning, then he puts the knife down.

"You sure?"

Jared smiles. "We've already done a whole lot more than kissing," he points out and angles his body toward Jensen's, waiting.

Jensen shifts, reaching for Jared's hips, and pulls him in while he leans up. It's one of those kisses that instantly makes heat settle in his stomach. Jensen's lips are soft, his kiss smooth yet dirty. He coaxes Jared's lips apart with small licks and makes a soft, pleased sound when their tongues slide together. His body feels hot and hard, pressed up close against Jared's, and just kissing suddenly doesn't feel like nearly enough.

"Fuck," Jared pants when Jensen takes a small step back, breaking the kiss. His hands find Jensen's waist and before he even has time to think about what he's doing, he's pushing Jensen back against the counter and sinking down onto his knees.

"Jesus Christ, Jared, what--" Jensen starts, the rest of the sentence getting lost in a moan as Jared nuzzles his crotch, presses his mouth against the outline of Jensen's dick. His fingers fumble with undoing Jensen's jeans and he sits back long enough to pull them down along with Jensen's boxer-briefs, his arousal spiking at the sight of Jensen's cock. It's big and heavy, filling rapidly.

Jared curls his fingers around the base and gives him a few, slow strokes, feeling it harden. Jensen rests his hands on his shoulders, fingers flexing and gasps, hips twitching.

Jared grins up at him and leans in. He licks over the tip and then sucks the head into his mouth. He can taste precome on his tongue, tangy and a bit salty.

"Oh god," Jensen groans. Jared takes him in deeper, hollowing his cheeks. He bobs up and down a few times, getting a feel for Jensen in his mouth, before taking him deep enough to brush against the back of his throat. His throat flutters, and he pulls back before it makes him gag, then tries again.

"Jared," Jensen pants, one of his hands sliding into Jared's hair. He doesn't push or pull, just twists his fingers in the strands at the back of Jared's neck and holds on. Jared hums around him, feeling smug when Jensen moans again. He pulls back, using his hand to jerk Jensen off as he sucks on the tip, tongues the underside of Jensen's cock.

He pulls off with an obscene pop, spit sticking to his lips, and Jensen makes a noise of protest. He looks down at Jared, face flushed and lips bitten raw.

"Baby," Jensen pleads.

Jared leans in again, nuzzles the side of Jensen's cock, knows his stubble is brushing against the sensitive skin and turns his head to kiss it. He likes the way Jensen smells, heady and musky. "Really want you to fuck me," he murmurs.

Jensen blinks, then starts tugging at Jared's arms and Jared gets up and lets himself into a messy kiss.

"We need lube and a condom, babe," Jensen says against his lips, hands coming around Jared and palming his ass. Jared nods.

"Bedroom," he says and grabs Jensen's arm, pulling him along.

Upstairs, Jensen is a few feet away from the bed and starts tugging off his clothes, obviously not in the mood for slow. Jared doesn't mind as he isn't feeling particularly patient at the moment either. His cock is hard, throbbing in the confines of his jeans, and he quickly strips down, eyes straying more than once to Jensen.

Once naked, Jensen pushes him down onto the mattress and crawls between his spread legs.

"'s like being a horny teenager again," he says with a laugh, and kisses Jared messily. He grinds down against him, their dicks sliding together between their stomachs, and Jared pushes up.

"Don't think I can drag this out long," Jensen admits, a little breathless.

"I don't want you to. Just want you inside of me," Jared replies. Jensen nods and pulls back, patting his side.

"Turn over."

Careful not to kick Jensen, Jared flips over.

"The stuff's in the nightstand?" Jensen asks.

"Yeah," Jared says. He pushes himself up onto his hands and knees, and watches Jensen get the lube and condom. His stomach flutters in anticipation when he hears the soft snick of the cap being undone and a few moments later cold, slippery fingers trail down his crack. He moans in appreciation, spreads his legs a little wider.

Jensen preps him hurriedly, fingering him open and Jared moves back on his fingers impatiently.

"I can take it. It's fine," he pleads when Jensen has three fingers in.

"Sure?" Jensen asks.

"Christ yes," Jared replies. "I just really want you to fuck me."

"Hold on," Jensen says, voice both amused and tight. The crinkle of the foil wrapper is followed by the lube being uncapped again, and then Jared feels the slick, blunt tip of Jensen’s dick against his hole. Jensen presses forward, pressure building before he slides in.

It burns more than the first time together, and Jared tenses up a brief moment.

"Shh, relax, sweetheart," Jensen murmurs, rubbing a hand down his spine.

"'s fine," Jared assures him, wiggling a little. "I don't mind."

Jensen makes a strangled noise and then keeps working himself in with small thrusts of his hips. Once he's all the way inside, he stops, and Jared takes a couple of breaths before nodding.

"I'm good," he presses out. "Come on. Want it."

Jensen doesn't ask this time. He just grasps Jared by the hips, fingers digging into the flesh, and pulls out almost all the way before thrusting back in. It's hard, and Jared cries out at the way it feels, full to the point of it almost being too much, the friction of Jensen's cock perfect.

Jensen fucks him deep and fast, skin slapping together with every thrust in, and Jared fists his hands in the sheets, mouth parted around moans and whimpers.

"Fuck. Fuck," Jensen hisses, and then his hands fumble around Jared. He pulls Jared up and against him, Jared sinking down on his cock with a cry. Jensen feels even deeper now, filling him so completely Jared's head is spinning. He wraps one hand around Jensen's wrist, the other reaching around, grabbing at the back of Jensen's head.

"Oh god," he keens. Jensen grinds up into him, mouthing kisses along Jared's neck and shoulders, and he wraps his hand around Jared's hard, leaking dick. His cock is pressing against Jared's prostate, dragging against him as he snaps his hips up as much as the position allows. It doesn’t take much before Jared comes with a shout, hot and hard, his body tensing up and gripping Jensen inside him.

He feels Jensen shudder against him, biting down on the meat of his shoulder.

+

"I should probably finish making dinner at some point," Jensen says, voice a little slurred against Jared's shoulder. He's pressed against Jared's side, fingers tracing lazy patterns onto Jared's stomach.

Jared huffs out a laugh. "We should probably take a shower first," he corrects.

Jensen hums and props himself up on his elbow. He's disheveled, hair a mess and skin still flushed, and he looks utterly pleased. "Probably right," he agrees. "We probably shouldn't get anywhere near food like this."

"No," Jared agrees and wrinkles his nose. Then he grins. "That was amazing though."

Jensen smiles softly. "Yeah," he agrees and kisses him gently.

"You can surprise me with visits any time you want," Jared mumbles against Jensen's lips, and he really means it. He can't remember the last time he had sex that amazing—the dating pool around here is pretty damn small. Every once in awhile Jared will make a trip to Austin, a few hours away. He'll spend the day taking photos and then hit a bar at night, find someone to hook up with but it's not the same as this; it’s not nearly as good as this.

He already knows he's going to miss this the day they part ways and go back to their normal lives.

+

Jared has a job booked for the next morning, and Jensen decides to wander around town a little before they meet up for lunch.

The job is easy, quick, just a couple of hours of taking photos of Lynette and Bill Caine on their fiftieth wedding anniversary. They're a sweet elderly couple, and Jared enjoys taking photos of them and their family in the big backyard. They try to invite Jared for the big buffet lunch they are putting out once he wraps up, but he politely declines.

Jensen is already waiting for him outside Sam's restaurant when Jared arrives, and Jared grins and waves as he hurries down the sidewalk. It's only when he gets closer that he sees that Jensen's smile looks a little strained, posture tense.

"Are you okay?" Jared asks, dipping down for a quick kiss.

"Fine," Jensen says. Jared gives him a look of disbelief, waiting.

"I had a few lovely conversations with people in town so far," Jensen admits sarcastically. "They don't like me very much."

"What did they say?" Jared asks with a frown. Jensen shrugs his shoulders, and steps closer when the door to the restaurant opens behind them and a young family steps out.

"Nothing downright mean," he says quietly. "They just made it clear that the town doesn't really trust me. Especially around you."

Jared sighs and rubs the bridge of his nose. "Let's grab a coffee and go home."

Jensen nods, taking Jared's hand in his. "Yeah, sounds good. Come on."

Sam, at least, is friendly, smiling at them as she makes them two coffees to go and asking them how they're doing, before mentioning with a blush that she thought Jensen's friend who came by recently seemed very nice.

"Well, he had nothing but praise for your food and you," Jensen replies with a smile, before paying.

"At least one person doesn't hate me," he mutters as they leave again, coffees and a bag with a couple of free lemon slices in hand.

"They don't hate you," Jared says.

"No, I know," Jensen says with a sigh. "They're just very protective of you. Which kinda surprises me, 'cause I thought if anything it would be the whole gay thing that would be the problem in a small town like this."

Jared takes a sip of his too hot coffee and grimaces. "It wasn't always like that," he says. "When I figured out I was into guys, I was fifteen. The whole thing was scary and confusing, and I didn't even really know what it meant. Guys at school used the word gay and fag as an insult, talked about it as if gay people were sick and depraved, and on television the only gay guys were really flamboyant guys with lisps and a limp wrist. I was none of those things. I didn't think I could be gay but there I was, with this huge crush on a guy from school. It really fucked me up."

"Yeah," Jensen agrees, squeezing his hand. Jared gives him a small smile.

"So, anyway, I thought it would help if I confided in someone. I told my two best friends at the time about it. Gen was cool. She was amazing, still is," Jared says, smiling at the thought of his best friend before he shrugs, "Anyway. Luke not so much. Until then he, Gen and I were thick as thieves, but he totally freaked out when I told them. A few days later the whole town knew."

"Shit," Jensen hisses. Jared laughs humorlessly.

"Yeah. It wasn't pretty. Believe me, the whole gay thing was a problem," he says. "But my parents were amazing. They stood up for me, defended me. My mom started reading all these books about homosexuality, and then she'd lecture everyone who even dared to look at me the wrong way. I mean, at the time it was kinda embarrassing and it didn't always make things better, but a lot of people started coming around."

"She sounds great," Jensen says softly. Jared nods.

"She was. When my parents died and suddenly it was just Jeff and I, people in town really came through," he explains. "That's why they're protective of me. Not everyone accepts me, but a lot of people are okay with my sexuality. But to most people around here I'm still the poor kid who lost his parents."

"I'm so sorry, Jared," Jensen says, squeezing his hand. "I kinda guessed your parents weren't around from a few things Jeff said. What happened?"

"Car accident. I was just a few months into my first semester at college. Jeff and I both took a break for a semester, came back here," Jared says, his chest feeling constricted. "There was all this stuff to sort out, lawyers and whatnot, and we were both completely crushed. But the people here helped us a lot."

"That's good," Jensen says. "I'm glad. And I'm glad they're protective of you, even if it means they hate me."

Jared snorts. "Don't worry about it. And it's not like you'll have to deal with them forever," he says. Jensen just hums and shrugs in reply.

+

"I wish I didn't have to leave," Jensen says later that night, curled up around Jared in bed.

"Seriously? You want to stay here where you can't order in from a million different fabulous restaurants and get groceries delivered and go shopping in the most exclusive stores?" Jared asks, grinning.

"Well, fine. I'd miss those things," Jensen admits. He slides a hand up Jared's thigh, dragging against naked skin, and Jared feels his skin pebble at the touch.

"And you didn't have fun in town," Jared adds.

"I could win those people over with time," Jensen says confidently. "It's just that it's quiet here. I like that."

"It can get too quiet," Jared replies honestly.

Jensen kisses his shoulder. "Not with you around," he teases. "And the sex isn't half bad."

Jared snorts. "Yeah, I hear it's really hard to find people to hook up with in New York."

Jensen lets out a fake gasp. "I'm engaged! I wouldn't know about that kind of stuff."

Jared laughs and rolls them around, until he's settled on top of Jensen. "Well, I guess we should make sure you're really satisfied then before you leave tomorrow," he says. Jensen tips his head back on the pillow and smirks, his hands palming Jared's ass.

"I think you're right," he says.

+

The next weekend Jensen is in California for a business trip, and Jared is booked solid for the weekend after that, so they decide Jared will fly out to New York the weekend after that to make sure they're seen together again.

Jared also finally bites the bullet the week after Jensen's surprise visit and calls Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who turns out to be a surprisingly good sport about the whole thing, laughing when Jared explains his behavior and apologizes profusely.

"It's fine, kid," Jeff says. "It does sound like something Jensen would do, so I don't blame you for jumping to conclusions."

"I should have let you explain, at least," Jared replies. "I'm not usually so short-tempered, I promise."

"Water under the bridge," Jeff replies. "So, does that mean you're interested in talking about having a few of your photos displayed at my gallery?"

"Well, if you haven't changed your mind?" Jared asks.

"I don't think a little misunderstanding like that should get in the way of a business deal," Jeff says. "I don't want to make any promises, but I'm always looking for new artists. My gallery isn't huge, but if we can work something out it would put your name out there."

"That sounds amazing," Jared says, heart beating a little faster. This is the kind of thing he used to dream about when he was younger, before he realized that real life didn't work like that and he had to find a way to earn money with his photography instead.

"Good," Jeff says. "I'd really like to see more of your work and discuss ideas with you. We can talk business then."

"I'd like that."

"Well, maybe the next time you're in New York you call and we meet up somewhere?" Jeff suggests. "I assume you'll come see Jensen again soon?"

"Yeah. In a couple of weeks, probably," Jared says.

"Great. I'm really looking forward to seeing more of you, kid," Jeff says kindly.

+

"So now you're going to be famous, huh?" Genevieve teases him over a beer the next day, sitting at a small table in the local pub.

Jared pulls a face. "You know it doesn't work that way," he says.

"No, but it could mean a little extra cash," Genevieve says. "And maybe over time you can make a name for yourself. I know being a photographer for a crappy little newspaper isn't what you dreamed of becoming."

"It's not bad," Jared tells her and Genevieve gives him a look.

"Jared, I love you. I really do. But do you really want this to be your life for the rest of your life? Birthdays and weddings and county fairs?" she asks. "And seeing everyone else settle down while you stay single because there's nobody in this town for you to date?"

"Matt is gay," Jared points out. Matt is Sam's nephew who came to live in Red Fir a little over six months ago. They've hung out a few times and flirted a little, though neither of them has taken the next step yet and actually asked the other out.

"Yeah. I ran into him a couple of days ago; seemed kinda bummed that you were suddenly engaged," Genevieve says.

"Oh," Jared says.

"You hadn't even thought about that, had you? About you and what this deal with Jensen would mean for your life?"

"Shh," Jared hushes her and looks around, but the place isn't very crowded. Genevieve sighs.

"Jared, I'm just saying. This town doesn't have a whole lot to offer you, professionally or privately," she says. "And I'm pretty sure the boat for you and Matt has sailed too, but I think you would have given that whole thing a thought before now if you'd been truly interested in him anyway."

"He's a nice guy."

"Yeah, but that's it," Genevieve says. "Look, honey, I don't want you to be alone and I don't want you to settle for just some guy either. I want you to be happy. And maybe it's time to accept that you're not going to be happy here. Not for good. And what this Jeff guy can offer you can really change your life around. Maybe not drastically, and maybe it won't make you rich, but it could open a few doors for you. That'd be great, right?"

"It would be," Jared admits.

"So, promise me you'll give this your all? Grab this opportunity by the balls and see where it takes you?" Genevieve asks. She waits for Jared to nod, then smiles widely at him. "I'm so proud of you."

"Gen, it might not even go anywhere. He might see more of my stuff and decide it's not good enough."

"Maybe, but I doubt it. He came all the way here just to see you," Genevieve says. "You're great. And I know you hate this, but he is friends with Jensen. That might help."

"I don't want to get a deal because of him."

"No, but Jared, it's fine to make connections through someone else. You know how many people get to places because of someone they know. It doesn't mean you're not talented, just that you know the right people," Genevieve argues. "You think I don't deserve where I am today?"

"Of course not!" Jared exclaims.

"Well, I got the job because my father owns the newspaper. I'm going to take over in a few years because of who my father is," she points out. "That doesn't mean I'm not qualified, that I don't do an amazing job and work my ass off."

"You're saying I'm being an idiot."

"I'm saying you're the kindest person I know. You always help everyone. Hell, if Jeff was my brother I would have told him to sort his shit out himself a long time ago," Genevieve says. "It's time for you to accept a little kindness from others as well and to go after what you want."

"I'm trying," Jared tells her honestly.

+

This time it's Jensen who meets him at the airport. He's wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, looking every bit like someone who is trying hard not to draw attention to themselves. The fact that the man is drop-dead gorgeous makes that pretty impossible though.

Jared grins when he sees him and quickens his step a little. He pulls Jensen into a hug once he's close enough and Jensen wraps his own arms around him tightly in return.

"Good to see you again, Jay," he says in a low voice. When they break apart, Jensen brushes a quick kiss over his lips and then insists on carrying Jared's bag.

"You didn't have to come get me. I could have taken a cab," Jared says as he follows Jensen through the crowd to the exit.

Jensen gives him a shrug. "I wanted to come get you."

"Oh yeah? 'Cause it looks like you're trying to hide," Jared says, flicking the cap with a finger.

"I didn't want to cause a scene. I'm sure some people will recognize us anyway and it'll be mentioned on some gossip board later. Apparently the whole gay thing makes us really hot right now, or so I've been told," Jensen says with a grimace.

Jared ducks his head down, so he can speak right into Jensen's ear. "I thought being seen was the point."

Jensen presses his lips together and shrugs. "We're going out to dinner later, I think that should be enough."

"Dinner with?" Jared asks.

"Just us," Jensen says. "But there'll probably be a few paps there. It's the kind of restaurant people go to when they want to be in the magazines."

Jared bumps their shoulders together. "Still sounds better than a charity gala."

"God yes," Jensen agrees with a groan, and Jared laughs.

+

Jared hates having his picture taken. He hates it even more when his picture is taken by paparazzi who yell out Jensen's name and expect them to turn this way and that way, to smile and kiss. Jensen ignores them, keeps his head down and squeezes Jared's hand. At least there's not a whole crowd of paparazzi. Jensen might be well known, but not enough so to draw a swarm.

Inside the restaurant Jared feels a lot better. It's a bit fancy for his taste, but their table is in a quiet, private corner, the food is amazing and they share some wine. And if they're playing footsie under the table, well then, they're just playing their roles convincingly.

+

The night ends like all nights seem to end between them now—lying in bed together, sweaty and sated.

It's not that late yet, and while Jared feels lazy he's still wide awake. Next to him Jensen has been quiet for the past ten minutes or so, propped up on an elbow and watching his own hand as he strokes Jared's arm.

"You okay, Jensen?" Jared finally asks, peering up at him. Jensen startles a little, obviously having been lost in thought, and meets his eyes. He gives him a small smile.

"Fine," he says. "I was wondering if I can talk to you about something. Just want your opinion."

"Sure," Jared says and turns onto his side to face Jensen.

"I've been thinking about the idea of opening another office somewhere for a while now. About a year or so actually. Things are good… really good, the little affair debacle aside. But that whole thing is pretty much over and done with, thanks to you," Jensen says after a small pause and licks his lips. "And right now would be a good time to do it."

"But?" Jared asks.

"Well, I've talked to people, looked into options. I was looking at west coast locations for while. It's why I flew out to California a couple of weeks ago," he says. "But lately I've been thinking I want open the new office in Texas instead."

"Texas?" Jared asks, surprised.

"Yeah. Dallas or maybe Austin. They're great places. I could have someone manage the agency here and open the one in Texas myself, come back here every now and then to check on things, be involved in one or two of the big campaigns still."

"You want to move to Texas?" Jared echoes. "Why? Isn't your whole life here?"

Jensen sighs. "Yes and no. I grew up in New York, but my dad's family is from Texas. I was actually born in Dallas, and I spent a lot of summers with my grandparents there."

"The oil tycoon," Jared chimes in.

Jensen smiles a little. "Yeah, that one. They had this big-ass ranch. I loved it there. I don't really know how to explain it, but I felt more comfortable there than I did in New York."

"Then why'd you stay here? Why didn't you open up a business in Texas in the first place?"

"I had contacts here, knew all the right people… and grandma passed away when I was fourteen and then my granddad did four years later. I hadn't really been back in Texas after that, until now," Jensen says. "I think I kinda forgot what it's like for a while. I miss it."

"You've only been in my little town."

"Yeah, but I like the climate, the food, the atmosphere," Jensen says and grins, "And I like guys in cowboy boots with southern accents."

"Well, a few of those would beat you up if they heard you say that. Texas isn't all sunshine and roses."

"No, it's not. But I'm tired of getting my picture taken the minute I walk out the door. I'm tired of everyone knowing everything about me and my life and my family. I feel… unsettled here."

Jared nods. "I'm not trying to talk you out of it. I just think it's something you have to be sure about, to really think about."

Jensen smiles, "And I appreciate that. I asked you for your opinion for a reason… I knew you wouldn't give me some bullshit answer," he says. "Truth is, I've given it a lot of thought. And the more I do, the more it feels like it's the right thing for me to do."

Jared reaches out, places a hand on Jensen's waist and runs his thumb in small circles over the soft skin there. "If it's what you want to do and if you think your business would do well there, then I think you should do it. If you're sure."

"I haven't made up my mind yet. It's just something I'm thinking about. I just… I think a lot of people I know here might not be very supportive," Jensen admits. He settles down, scooting in closer. "That's why I wanted to talk to you about it, hear what you think because believe it or not, you're one of the very few people in my life right now who doesn't seem to have an ulterior motive."

"Well, screw all of those people," Jared says and pulls Jensen into a kiss.

+

Jared goes to meet with Jeffrey Dean Morgan the next day.

He has his portfolio with carefully selected photos with him. Jeff takes his time studying them, regarding every single photo for a long time, sometimes stopping to ask Jared questions about it.

Jared mostly watches him silently, drinks the coffee Jeff offered him and pretends his stomach isn't in knots.

In the end, Jeff closes the folder and gives him a warm smile. "These are even better than I expected," he admits, and Jared feels like a weight is being lifted off his shoulders.

"Thank you."

"No, thank you. I'm really glad you got into contact with me," Jeff says and sits back, folding his hands over his chest and grins. "Now, let's talk business."

And they do. Jeff decides to display five of Jared's photos in an upcoming exhibition along with some other artists and Jared has to pinch himself. Jeff spends some time showing him around, telling him about the kind of people that usually come to the gallery, the kind of exposure Jared can expect.

"It won't make you rich, but I have a lot of contacts in this city. A few papers usually cover the exhibitions, which is always good for getting your name out there," Jeff says and then pauses, before adding, "I'm not going to lie. The fact that you're Jensen's fiancé might play into that. I can't control what journalists write about—the fact that you're dating someone well-known is going to create some buzz whether you want it to or not."

Jared sighs. "I know."

"Don't let it bother you, kid. I'll be frank: if your work was shit, it wouldn't matter if you were dating the king of England. But you're really talented and in the end, that's what will matter."

Jared nods. "I just don't want people to think I'm taking advantage of him. I hate that."

"Well, people are always going to talk. They might spread rumors, might talk behind your back or even to your face," Jeff says honestly. "But you can't let that stop you."

"I won't," Jared promises. Jeff smiles and pats him on the back.

"Good," he says. "He's a good guy, you know. Jensen, I mean."

"I know. He is."

Jeff nods. "I taught a class at college as a guest lecture, photography composition. That's how we met. We've been friends for years..." he trails off, then gives Jared a look. "I don't know what's going on with you two; I'll be quite honest and admit that I don't quite know what to think of you. You show up one day and then your engagement is announced, and all of that seems kinda hokey to me. But I hope whatever it is, you're not going to end up hurting him."

"That's the last thing I want," Jared says softly.

"Good. I also want you to know that this will have nothing to do with Jensen whatsoever. Whatever happens between you, it won't affect our business relationship."

"I appreciate that," Jared says.

Jeff nods and grins. "Good. Of course, doesn't mean I won't cut your balls off if you hurt him," he says good-naturedly, but somehow Jared knows he's not really kidding.

+

Saying goodbye to Jensen after the weekend is even harder than before. His house feels even emptier this time.

Jared throws himself back into work the next morning and then walks around town and takes random photos, just because he doesn't want to go back to his place. He repeats the same thing the next day and the one after that.

When he gets back home on Wednesday he's barely made it through the door when the phone in his pocket starts buzzing. He puts his things down with one hand and pulls the phone out with the other, smiling when he sees Jensen's name on the display.

"Hey you," he says. "What's up?"

"Hey," Jensen says and there's something in the tone of his voice that's off. "I just came out of a very strange meeting."

"What's happened?" Jared asks.

"I was meeting up with my lawyer about some business stuff. Or so I thought," Jensen says and laughs. It sounds hollow, all kinds of wrong. "Turns out there were some other people there. PR people. My dad. Your brother."

"My brother?" Jared repeats. He instantly knows whatever happened isn't good, not from the way Jensen sounds and not when his brother was in on some kind of meeting with Jensen's lawyer and family.

"They want us to get married in a few weeks. Actually married," Jensen says, anger tinting his voice now. "Our family lawyer is already drawing up a contract and you'll be paid quite handsomely for a couple of years of playing my husband before we quietly divorce. The fucking date of our wedding is going to be in the papers tomorrow."

"What the fuck," Jared says quietly.

There's a moment of silence, and when Jensen speaks up again his voice is soft, pleading, "Tell me you didn't know."

"No. Of course not, Jensen. I didn't and I wouldn't have agreed to this if I did," Jared says. "This is insane. They can't just decide that for us."

Jensen snorts. "No. Except I can't back out of this now without losing face. Ending an engagement after a few months would be one thing, but a few weeks before the wedding is supposed to take place? And with the way they're blowing this up? Fuck, Jared, this is a mess."

"What do we do?"

"I don't know," Jensen says softly.

"We'll figure this out," Jared promises. "You and I. You believe me, right, that I have absolutely nothing to do with this?"

"I already booked a flight," Jensen says. "I'll be in Austin around midnight and I'll get a hotel for the night and then drive down tomorrow. I'm sorry I didn't ask first, but I really needed to get away and you're… guess you're my go-to hiding spot these days."

"No. No hotel. You come straight here," Jared argues.

"It's a two hour drive."

"So?"

"Jay," Jensen murmurs.

Jared shakes his head even though he knows Jensen can't see him. "I'll expect you around two, two thirty. If you're late for some reason, call me so I don't send out a search party," he says firmly.

In reply, Jensen laughs softly. "Got it," he says.

+

Jared goes to bed at ten and dozes, tossing and turning, too restless to really fall asleep. He keeps his cell phone next to his face, just in case.

He feels a flood of relief when when he finally hears a car pull up his driveway. It's 2:13. He gets up and pads down the stairs, meeting Jensen at the door. Jensen looks tired; in the light of the hallway the circles under his eyes look like dark smudges, the freckles standing out on his pale skin. Jared draws him into a hug.

"Hey," he whispers and kisses the side of Jensen's head. "I'm glad you're here."

"Yeah," Jensen says, sounding exhausted.

"Tired?" Jared asks.

"God yes," Jensen replies, pulling back. They share a weak smile and Jared takes him by the wrist.

"Come on. Let's go to bed," he says. "We can figure this out tomorrow."

Jensen nods and lets himself be led up the stairs. In Jared's bedroom, he drops his bag onto the floor and strips down to his boxer-briefs, crawling into bed after Jared.

Jared pulls him in, their legs tangling under the sheets, and kisses him softly. "Sleep," he murmurs, and Jensen gives him a smile and cuddles in close.

+

Jared wakes up to his phone buzzing. Jensen is already awake, head resting on the pillow, watching him with a somber expression.

Jared picks up his phone, skims the text from Genevieve—'Saw the news. WTF, Jared?'—and groans.

"You weren't kidding about them releasing a statement about our wedding date today, huh?" he asks, voice scratchy from sleep.

"No," he says and gives Jared a smile that's more a grimace. "Have I told you sorry lately, for getting you dragged into this whole mess?"

"It was my decision," Jared reminds him. He sits up, the sheets pooling at his waist, and runs a hand through his hair. "Okay. Shower, then coffee, then we can talk."

He takes the first shower. Despite the fact that he wants nothing more than to share it with Jensen, Jared knows now isn't the right time to get distracted by sex. He hurries up, then leaves the bathroom to Jensen, gets dressed and goes to make breakfast.

While he waits for Jensen to finish up he goes online and looks at what the press is saying about them.

The actual information Jensen's people—and Jared's own freaking brother—provided them is very little, just that they're going to get married in three weeks and are very happy, and that all their family and friends are very excited for them.

Less than three weeks, Jared thinks, his stomach dropping.

The buzz about the whole thing is huge though. At least to Jared, it seems unbelievable that that many people seem to be interested in his supposed wedding. There are rumors about it being a huge event, with hundreds of guests and a lavish ceremony.

"They're going to milk it as much as possible," Jensen says when he comes in and sees what Jared is reading. He pours himself a coffee and then sits down too. "They're turning this into a huge media spectacle."

"Your PR people, you mean?"

"Yeah. My dad, too, your brother. Most of my family love the limelight, Jared. And this is just their kind of thing: a huge wedding that will make everyone take notice of us. The fact that it's happening so suddenly and we're both men is even better, because that's that much more interesting."

"What are our options?"

Jensen. "We could not do it. Hell, we could probably sue them for spreading these rumors, but it could ruin me. If this whole thing about us being fake comes out, it'd be bad. I know they say no press is bad press, but I'm a businessman. This kind of crap isn't good for my reputation. I mean, overnight engagement, wedding plans, and a break-up within a few weeks… I'll look like some crazy, flighty Hollywood starlet," he says. "They expect me to go through with this because of my reputation and I'm guessing they think you'll go along with it because of the money."

"Jesus," Jared says.

"I'm so sorry, Jared. I wish I could turn back time, nip this whole thing in the bud and not have you get involved," Jensen says, sounding so young and lost Jared wants to pull him close and never let go.

"Okay, so if we don't get married basically it wouldn't be very good for you."

"Not really, no."

"What if you make me into the bad guy?" Jared asks. "Say I cheated or something? Make it my fault?"

"And ruin your reputation?"

"I don't have one," Jared points out.

"But you're trying to make a career as an artist right now, Jared. No way. I won't agree to that."

"Well, what do you want us to do?" Jared asks.

Jensen looks down at his coffee, turning the mug around in his hands. When he looks up, he looks nervous. "Marry me," he says.

"Jensen. Didn't we just agree that we didn't want to go along with their plans?"

"I'm not talking about that. I'm saying actually marry me. We'll fly out to Vegas, tie the knot, and..." Jensen trails off, shrugging. Jared's palms are sweating suddenly, his heart beating a thousand miles an hour.

"And?" he asks.

"I'll open the branch here in Texas. Something smaller, low-key. We'll get a place together." Jensen gives him a crooked smile. "You'll work toward becoming an artist and we can take trips to New York when we need to."

Jared laughs nervously. "That's not exactly us sticking it to them," he points out.

"I don't want to stick it to them. I just… I just want to do this for myself. For us."

"Jensen. We're not even really together. You seriously want to get married to me?" Jared asks. Across the table, Jensen meets his gaze head on and shrugs.

"If I’m being honest, I'm pretty sure I was in love with you by the end of the first week I was here."

Jared is left speechless at that, gaping. He can't believe this is real, that Jensen is sitting across from him and is asking him to marry him, really marry him, confessing his feelings for him. And Jared can't even say he doesn't feel the same way, because throughout this whole thing, this weird insane thing, they've become so tangled up in each other and fit together so seamlessly it's almost scary.

"This is the shittiest proposal ever," Jared finally manages.

Jensen laughs. "Yeah, I guess," he agrees. "But if you say yes, I'll make it up to you for the rest of our lives."

"This is crazy, you know that?"

"Yeah," Jensen says.

"Just checking."

"Jared, just say yes or no already," Jensen says.

Jared thinks about it, just for a few seconds longer. He thinks about the last few weeks, the way his life has been changing, how it already feels irrevocably different, and about how he told Genevieve he'd finally go after what he wants.

Smiling, he takes a leap of faith and says, "Yes."