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Mixed Doubles

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Jensen Ackles let himself into his office and turned on the light.

It was freezing cold and the radiator rattled in protest as Jensen turned up the thermostat and prayed it would work. As much as he loved his job Jensen didn’t want to catch pneumonia doing it.

He heated up the coffee pot while he waited for the laptop to warm up. There were a pile of letters on the desk for him to open and a few stray faxes still in the tray. He sighed and poured himself a black coffee, it was only 8am and he needed to stay awake, alert, because there were people out there who needed to find love and Jensen was going to find it for them.

Mixed Doubles was Jensen’s idea and he hadn’t known when he had started up that it would be so popular. There had been plenty of dating agencies in his small town before but none like Jensen’s. Jensen had thought long and hard before he had put the idea out there, worrying that it wouldn’t be right, that people would think he wasn’t serious and just getting a laugh out of other people’s misfortunes. Fortunately, that had been about as far from the truth as it was possible to get and Jensen already had twice as many clients as any other agency and he was really, really, proud of that fact.

Mixed Doubles was an agency that offered a service to normal daters and to those with special needs. Jensen had worked with adults with learning difficulties before and he had noticed how hard it was for them to socialize with others or to form long lasting friendships. He had also noticed how hard these people found it to ask others out on a date. Sometimes their difficulties would stop them from even trying, worried that they would be instantly turned down or laughed at. Jensen had found that incredibly sad and he had gone home and started to think about how he could improve things.

His parents were fairly affluent members of the community and had been very supportive of him. His momma had given him money for his office and equipment rental while his dad had been in charge of advertising and promotion. Jensen had been concerned at first, wondering if this odd idea could actually succeed but he needn’t have worried. By the end of his second week he had twenty clients and by the end of his first month he had two couples going steady and several clients whom had had successful dates.

His clientele were an eclectic mix. As well as people with learning difficulties Jensen also had individuals on his books who were partially sighted or had mobility problems. Nothing fazed him and he treated every single one of his clients the same, treated each individual as if they were the most important person in the world, helped them write their profile, sent them e-mails or called them personally, drove round to visit them, took photos and made constant notes. He prided himself on his excellent customer service but he also grew extremely fond of his customers, taking pleasure in their happiness and feeling miserable and defeated if things didn’t work out.

Dating agencies didn’t pay well and Jensen refused to charge extortionate prices. After a while, he realized that he cared more about the people than he did the money and, despite his parents’ pleas to be sensible, he tried to run his business on a shoestring and budgeted accordingly.

This meant that on this freezing cold morning he had to work in his coat because his ancient system could only throw out the most pathetic lukewarm rays of heat and his coffee was too strong and too hot because he hadn’t had enough money in his pocket to buy either cream or sugar.

What he did have, though, were two letters of recommendation, an invitation to a Christmas wedding, two new client profiles and the offer of a free magazine subscription. He smiled to himself as he warmed his fingers around his coffee cup. He might not be a millionaire yet but he considered himself very rich indeed.
****
Jared loved working in the library.

Mostly it was because he adored books. He read them avidly, often spending hours curled up in an easy chair, fingers rough on ragged pages, sometimes the scent of them heady and exciting.

The other reason was that the library was silent, it was a rule that no one could make much noise there. Jared worked in the back room cataloguing and he very rarely came out onto the floor. Jared was used to being isolated, even more used to being silent. Jared was deaf.

He had been born deaf and the doctors had no explanation for it. His parents and siblings were all normal, healthy and could hear just fine. ’It was just one of those things’, Jared’s specialist said and the family accepted it and adapted to it.

Jared counted himself fortunate; his momma had sent him to a school where he had learned sign language from an early age but had been included in everything else too. Jared had learned to lip read, to understand what was being said to him. He also learned a few words but he very rarely spoke, never spoke at all unless he really had to. Jared didn’t know how he sounded but he could guess. He had seen people’s expressions, seen the pity in their eyes and he really didn’t want to see that again. He knew some cruel individuals laughed at him and he had endured being bullied during his time at high school so he kept his mouth shut, preferring to communicate by signing or by writing things down.

Ironically, Jared may have been born deaf but, according to his momma, he had been born beautiful. Tall, well over 6ft, with long muscular limbs and broad shoulders he worked out a lot, swam or went to the gym. He was proud that he was fit, fit enough to carry books for the head librarian or to help his momma with the groceries. He let his chestnut hair curl around his neck and grow long, he shaved enough so that he only grew stubble and he let his little sister help choose his clothes. He knew he looked ok – he had seen the girls look at him when they had come into the library to borrow books, seen a few men looking too. Jared felt a little miserable about that sometimes, wanting, deep within himself, to be sociable, to maybe go on dates or, even better, to meet that someone special.

However Jared was nearly thirty-one years old and still incredibly shy and unsure of himself. He was ok at home or at work where people knew him and accepted him but away from those close knit circles he was lost and out of his depth. He knew he should be more confident, more outgoing but he found it difficult. If people couldn’t sign they would often start shouting and mouthing words at him as if he were stupid, waving their arms around or writing down words in block capitals as if he couldn’t understand them any other way. Jared wanted to be loved but he wasn’t sure how he was going to meet someone who would love him, wasn’t sure if he would ever meet someone and he was desperately lonely.

He found the flyer in his pigeonhole. He had no idea who had left it there but he was fascinated by it, turning it repeatedly in his long fingers, debating on whether to respond to it, wondering if it would be the right thing for him, wondering if he could actually meet his soul mate or, at least, have some sort of social life.

Mixed Doubles a dating agency for people just like him. Jared felt an odd stab of excitement in his gut. This might be his opportunity to find someone, and to actually find love.

At lunchtime he logged onto his laptop and decided to fill the form in online. It was very simple and straightforward asking for his interests, age and what he did for employment. Jared can feel the excitement he felt earlier building and his fingers fly across the keys as he puts into words the things he can never express, the words he can never say. The form asks for a photo and he searches his files until he finds the one he had taken for his identity badge. It isn’t the most flattering but it is the only one he has at work and, now he has been caught up in the moment, he wants to send off his application, send it off before he changes his mind.

An e-mail acknowledging his submission comes back to him almost instantly and he smiled to himself wondering if there was anyone out there, anyone at the dating agency who would like him, who would want to date him. This could be the beginning of a whole new life and he closed his eyes and hoped, his fingers crossed tightly and hope in his gut.
****

“Come on, Ackles.” Chris Kane poked him on the shoulder and reached forward to turn off the computer. “Beer waits for no one.”

Jensen sighed but his grin was fond; he had been working almost non-stop since he had arrived this morning and he was cold and tired and extremely hungry.

“Give me a minute.” He slapped Chris’s hand. “I just have a couple more forms I want to log into the database.”

“Come on, Jen – its Friday night dude! Live a little. Romance can wait for a weekend.”

“Sometimes it can’t.” Jensen stared, tiredly, at his screen. His inbox was almost empty but there were two more mails with attachments which meant two more clients. The temptation to shut down and go out for a beer was almost too great but he really wanted to register these new clients, really wanted to start them on their road to love.

“Jensen you are a real saint.” Chris shook his head and ruffled Jensen’s hair with his hand. “All of this is a bit above and beyond isn’t it? I know these things are important man but so is your own social life.” He grinned. “What about your love life, huh? Been pretty neglected recently, hasn’t it?”
Jensen had to admit that Chris was right; he had neglected his love life, fascinated and concerned about other people first. He hadn’t had a proper date in months and he hadn’t even gotten laid in weeks, not even hot and casual sex.

Jensen only had one rule for himself and that was never, NEVER, date a client. He didn’t want to compromise himself and he didn’t want to jeopardize his business by hitting on anybody. Some of his clients were very vulnerable and Jensen owed them a duty of care.

“We have found this new gay club that you would just adore,” Chris was still talking. “Hunky strippers, a well-stocked bar and a very late closing time”

“Sounds great and I’ll meet you there when I’ve done this.” Jensen gestured to his computer. “I promise you I’ll buy the first round of beer.”

“Okay,” there was a hint of sympathy through Chris’s humoring grin. “I’ll keep you to that and Jensen . . . .”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t work too hard dude. You know what they say, all work and no play makes Ackles a very dull boy.”

Jensen smiled and waved Chris off with a weary hand. He clicked on the first e-mail and began to scan the information, copying and pasting it from one place to the other. After he had finished he opened the final form and began to scan it as he had the first. He found himself staring at the photograph, something he didn’t do very often but something, in this situation, he was finding hard to resist. The picture was, obviously, professional, the guy was wearing a white shirt and blue striped tie, his tumbled chestnut hair curling around his, unmistakably, broad shoulders. He had slanting foxlike eyes and dimples, his smile shy and hesitant. Jensen swallowed and gazed down at the guys statistics – height 6ft 5inches, weight 220lbs. God he was something else and God damn it – just Jensen’s type.

For a moment Jensen wanted to throw all of his principles out of the window and just go for it. The guy, Jared Pada-something, is just adorable. His statements are written in a stuttering shy sort of way, his enthusiasm apparent. When Jensen gets to the question about what sex the client would like to date, he almost dies and just needs to bang his head repeatedly on the desk. The guy has put No specification which could mean a million things but, to Jensen, means that he might just like guys.

It isn’t fair; it isn’t right and Jensen sighs audibly as he puts Jared’s details into his computer. Jared seems too good to be true and Jensen couldn’t help but wonder why he needed a dating agency. He run his fingers down the list of disabilities and discovered, with a jolt, that Jared was deaf. Jensen put that piece of information into his computer with a heavy heart. It didn’t bother him in the least that Jared was deaf. He had learned to sign because of his job and he had had several deaf clients in the past. However, he got the impression that Jared’s deafness was part of the reason he needed a dating agency and, somehow, that made Jensen sad.

Shit, he shouldn’t let these things get to him. Chris was right, he needed a beer or several and he needed to get laid. Determined he shut down his computer and tried to forget, resolute that he wouldn’t even consider any matches until Monday at the earliest.

Funny then, that he couldn’t get Jared’s face out of his mind, couldn’t forget that shy smile, those vital statistics, the fact that Jared had no sexual preferences. He gritted his teeth and turned out the lights. Tonight he was going to get wasted and forget everything else but his own pleasure. He laughed, pretending he was free and easy, yeah tonight he was going to forget.
****
“So,” Megan signed, her eyes on Jared’s face. “You’ve joined a dating agency?”

Jared nodded; his cheeks flushed a little and he tangled his fingers together awkwardly as he tried to decide what to say to his baby sister.

“What did you say you were looking for?” Megan’s eyes were full of mischief. “I don’t really know your type.”

Jared flushed deeper; he hadn’t specified his sexual preferences because – well – because he didn’t really know. He had looked at girls in high school but he had also looked at boys. Given he hadn’t dated at all he had no idea what he liked or what he wanted but he couldn’t really tell his baby sister that so he just shrugged.

“You don’t know what your type is, do you?” Megan touched his face gently, fingers stroking down his hot skin, his hectic flush. “You haven’t ever . . . ?”

Jared swallowed; he knew the sign for virgin but he didn’t want to use it right now. It was embarrassing enough that he had to use a dating agency, without his family knowing what a pathetic loser he was. He had never really told them about the bullying or his problems, about how he was reluctant to talk to people, how he preferred being closeted away in his small silent office rather than socializing or meeting with people who just didn’t understand.

“Jared.” His sister’s hands were sure as they wiped at his eyes. He hadn’t known there were tears there until she had done that and he swallowed, feeling pitiful, a thirty year old virgin who hadn’t ever had a date. “Jared,” she stopped signing and actually said his name, clear on her lips. “I get it, I do.” She smiled sadly and wiped his face again. “I hope you find someone bro, you deserve it.”

Jared found himself smiling then; the hope he had felt when finding the flyer for Mixed Doubles bubbling low in his gut. He had a good feeling about this, an almost excellent feeling. He was going to find love and he was going to find his soul mate. Megan smiled back at him tentatively and he saw his own anticipation mirrored in her gaze.

“You’ll find someone, Jared,” she signed and he nodded, because he would, he knew he would.
****
Jensen had had a good weekend.

Two nights of glorious, casual sex with men he would probably never see again and he felt awesome, sated and relaxed, ready for another week of matching up potential lovers, making people happy, that is what it was all about.

His good vibes lasted only as long as his coffee did. The office was still cold and the computer still slow. Jared Padalecki’s profile was the first that came up and Jensen bit his lip. Shit, the guy was still one of the most gorgeous men Jensen had ever, ever seen. Jensen sighed and felt a sudden foolish and instant regret. The guys he had fucked over the weekend had been okay, handsome enough if you liked that sort of thing (which he obviously had when he had been wasted) but maybe he wanted more, maybe he wanted sweet and innocent and hot. He bit his lip, no, no, no - he couldn’t even consider this, he wouldn’t break the habit of a lifetime and date a client. No, he would be the bigger man and find Jared a really good match, find Jared someone who would make him happy. Taking a last gulp of his now, frankly, lukewarm coffee Jensen punched details into his computer and waited. Nearly twenty probable matches – he sighed – some men, some women and all of them, supposedly, suitable for Jared Padalecki. He sifted through them removing some that didn’t quite fit the parameters and ended up with twelve matches. Jensen huffed through his nose and printed out the matches. He hoped, for Jared’s sake, that he would find some good people for him to date but, deep down, his guilty, wicked heart was telling him the best person for Jared was indeed Jensen and he wondered if he would ever get through this.
****
Jared opened the e-mail with shaking fingers.

The first part was very business-like, aimed at all clients, a blurb about the company, what they were about, how they hoped that they would be able to find Jared someone suitable. The second part was addressed to him personally, explaining that, attached, was a list of potential matches and that Jared should study them carefully and decide whether any of them might meet his criteria. There was also an offer from the owner of the agency (Jensen?) to chaperone for Jared and his dates. Jensen explained that he was an expert at sign language and that, as some of the matches were not, it might be useful for Jared to have someone with him.

Jared swallowed; nerves pricked foolishly in his stomach and his mouth felt dry. He stared at the attachment for a long time scared to open it, worried that he wouldn’t like anyone on the list, that even if he did decide to go on a date the person concerned wouldn’t like him either. He still had no idea if he liked men or women or both and he felt like a stupid idiot, not even having the courage to open a simple e-mail attachment.

The list was pretty long, seven men and five women, some around his age, some a little older, all from different backgrounds and situations. All of them appeared to be, and Jared hated to even think the term, normal and he didn’t know if he were relieved or worried. He wondered if any of these people would mind dating a deaf man but he had to put his trust in this mysterious Jensen and his dating agency or else he would get nowhere damn fast.
****
Jensen closed down the computer and turned off the light; he stretched out and cracked his back, his neck aching.

Overall, it had been a good day and he reckoned he might have just set some of his clients on the road to romance. He stared out of the window at the clear winter sky, at the stars and the fullness of the moon. He sighed again feeling suddenly tired. He might be excellent at finding love for others but he was crap at finding anything for himself.

Being gay wasn’t a problem; his family were accepting and he had plenty of friends but he had always found it difficult to commit. He liked a good time, in fact he loved a good time as long as it came attached to a muscular body and strong, broad shoulders. He was careful but not cautious and one night stands were a thing of habit with him. However, recently, he found himself looking at his life and finding it wanting. He was nearly thirty-five years old and nowhere close to settling down. He had his own, albeit, small apartment and his own fairly successful business but he didn’t have anyone to share them with and, for the first time in his life, that was starting to bother him.

He sighed and filed away some paperwork, his last action of the day. Jared Padalecki’s handsome face smiled shyly up at him from one of the documents and he bit his lip. Perhaps the guy was a complete jerk, perhaps this shy, dimpled demeanor was just an act, and perhaps he would find love with his first match and just pay Jensen off with scant gratitude like a lot of his clients did.

Jensen shook his head, staring again at the photograph and wondering if the guy really was as lovely as he sounded. He wondered if he would get a chance to find out, if Jared would take him up on his offer to be a chaperone for him. Jensen very rarely made that sort of offer but this time he had felt almost compelled to do so. At least if he couldn’t date the guy he could however keep his eye on him and that would have to do.

He locked up and made his way down stairs to his car. Perhaps one day he would find the one, perhaps his momma could dust off her best wedding hat and his dad write one of those witty speeches. He felt suddenly really, really lonely and he rubbed his temples, a headache already beginning to flare there. He was working too hard, taking this all too seriously. Maybe he should relax for a while, take a vacation somewhere nice. He climbed into the seat of his car and started her up. Yeah, he needed a break. Maybe he would have a chat with Chris or Steve and they could go fishing up at the lakes or take a plane out to somewhere warm. Forget about commitment, forget about dating, and forget about it all.
****
Jared handed the list over to Megan.

’What do you think?’ He signed. ’Do you think I should date any of these?

Megan smiled at him and studied the list for a long time. Then she pushed it back to him, her finger pointing to one of the females.

Her name was Sandy and, according to her profile she was thirty-three years old and a dancer. She was pretty in a perky way, long dark hair and bright brown eyes, red lips and a clear skin. She lived not far from them and she liked going for meals out and long walks. She wasn’t deaf and there was nowhere on her profile that hinted she might know how to sign and Jared stuck his tongue between his teeth, his head to one side.

“You can lip read,” his sister spoke clearly. “Signing isn’t a massive problem.”

Jared shrugged; trouble was, when he lip-read, people expected him to talk back to them and he couldn’t – well wouldn’t really. Signing was easier, simple and, as nice as Sandy looked, he was reluctant to date someone who couldn’t sign.

“Didn’t the guy who runs the agency – Jensen wasn’t it? Didn’t he say he would play chaperone for you?” Megan thrust the list back at Jared, a slight frown on her face. “Come on, bro, if she likes you she’ll adapt, and maybe learn to sign herself. Contact Jensen too, I’m sure he will be all too happy to come with you on your first date, at least. This is it, Jared. It’s time to jump into the pool, no hanging around on the edge.” Megan pushed his laptop towards him. “e-mail him now and let him know you are keen. Sandy looks nice, really nice and this could be the start of something huge.”

Jared smiled then and shook his head resignedly. Megan was right, now was the time to take the bull by the horns and go for it. Anyway, if Jensen came with him he would feel a little better. He didn’t know Jensen of course, but he seemed competent and, according to his blurb, his agency had found ideal matches for lots of people in Jared’s situation. He tapped at the keys and sent the e-mail before he had a chance to change his mind. This, he mused, could be the first day of the rest of his life and he was excited all of a sudden, excited to finally be going on a date.
****
The vacation was off; Jensen stared at the e-mail in front of him and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It was a friendly e-mail, chatty almost and nothing business-like about it. A simple enough request – a date with Sandy McCoy (number 7 on his list), also asking if Jensen would mind taking up on his offer to sign. There were a few more details and then the suggestion that they meet up for a drink before the date, to get to know each other. Jensen found himself stroking the computer screen like a stupid sap, staring at the letters laid out stark in front of him and the closing line at the foot of the message.

Regards Jared Padalecki.

Jensen sighed and began to compose his reply. He couldn’t say no – not now he had offered and the thought of actually meeting this guy, seeing if he was as gorgeous in person as he was in his photo, made his heart thump and ache at the same time.

They arranged to meet at Peachy’s, a bar just outside Jensen’s office. It was awesome and cheap and sold thick juicy burgers and fries as well as beer and, despite the fact Jensen felt kinda’ sick, he ordered a couple of plates of fries, and two cheese burgers.

He sat in the booth and waited; it was loud in the bar and there were people shouting over thumping rock music. Despite that it is lively and warm and Jensen couldn’t help but relax a little, the tension of the day sliding from his shoulders.

Some sort of sixth sense had him turning his head suddenly to see a tall guy looming over him. For a moment time seemed to stop and then he realized that he was staring into the slanting, foxlike eyes of Jared Padalecki and – fuck – if the dude wasn’t even more drop dead beautiful in real life than he was in his photograph.

6ft 5inches is just a number until it is standing in front of you and Jensen swallowed hard as he took in broad shoulders, long legs and bulging biceps. Jared wore a dark blue t-shirt under a deep purple jacket, pressed black jeans and boots. His hair hung freshly washed, curling up at the edges, longer than it had been in the picture, its lushness only adding to this thing of beauty. Jared was smiling, white teeth and – fuck – dimples. He obviously recognized Jensen from his snapshot on the agency flyer and he seemed fairly happy to see him, high boned cheeks flushed a little from cold or nervousness Jensen couldn’t tell.

He quickly signed Jared to sit down and Jared did so, smiling even wider, fingers flying as he realized Jensen understood him. Jared squashed into the booth opposite him and Jensen got a quick whiff of something spicy and hot, Jared’s cologne no doubt. Shit – he was beginning to wonder if this was such a good idea and he rubbed his neck awkwardly, trying hard not to give anything away.

He signed that he had ordered food and Jared looked happier still. The younger man replied that he was hungry and proved it by eating virtually everything that was put in front of him. During the meal Jared asked him lots of questions about the agency, about Sandy, about his successes and failures. Jensen got the impression that, if Jared could actually talk, he would be rabbiting away at a mile a minute. It was odd having a conversation like this, fingers working overtime, but Jensen liked it, liked it a lot and he almost enjoyed it, enjoyed the luxury of not having to shout over the racket, of actually having to concentrate on what Jared was saying, following the movements of his hands rather than listening to his voice.
****
Jared liked Jensen Ackles and, after a couple of hours with him, trusted him to find a suitable date. Jensen wasn’t much older than Jared but he appeared so much more confident, handsome and smart, with his own company and Jared couldn’t help but feel a tinge of envy, wishing he could be as self-possessed in all situations.

It was unusual for him to come out to this sort of place. It often involved embarrassing moments with waitresses or barmen who didn’t know Jared was deaf and, when they found out, would spend the rest of their time shouting in Jared’s face, mouth moving in exaggerated ways, as if Jared wasn’t just deaf but stupid. These situations sometimes led to Jared actually attempt to speak and that, he felt, never went well. Part of the reason, most of the reason, Jared was a total recluse was the fact that he couldn’t make himself understood. He had never heard his speaking voice but he could always tell by people’s faces, their expressions, what it must sound like and he hated to put himself in a position when he was forced to communicate by speaking rather than signing.

 

Jared decided that he would like to meet Sandy at a Chinese restaurant, one of the nicest he knows. Megan has taken him there a couple of times, once for his birthday and once at Christmas. He liked the food and the waiters don’t mind if you point at the menu rather than speak. Jensen agrees that it is a good choice, eyes bright, nodding sagely as he makes notes. Jared likes Jensen even more now, feels he is someone that he can rely upon. Jared likes that Jensen can sign too, so that Jared can remain silent and not have to worry about making conversation. He thinks that Jensen is the sort of guy that Megan would like, he is handsome, smart and intelligent and Jared would like to introduce someone like that to his sister. Megan would tell him to sort his own love life out first and he knows she is right but now, with a potential first date looming over him, he feels a nervous terror and he wonders if he should have actually started this.
****
Jensen makes the date almost reluctantly.

Jared was as nice as he thought he would be. He was as shy as he was handsome, obviously intelligent, had a good sense of humor and signed some wicked jokes. It was also clear that he lacked in confidence and didn’t even attempt to speak, relying on lip-reading when he was face to face or signing when he was unable to see someone speaking.

None of this bothered Jensen.

He was acutely aware that he was more than a little attracted to Jared and that, under any other circumstances, he would be asking the younger man for a date. Unfortunately, he had his principles and while principles didn’t feed you they were certainly an aperitif. He wanted to be taken seriously and always had been, his business was booming and he didn’t want to jinx that. He just wished he had met Jared in any other situation but this one because he was certain that, when he found the guy his perfect match, he was going to be very, very sorry.
****
Sandy is as pretty and as perky in real life as she is in her pictures. She arrives on time to the restaurant and she is wearing a short skirt, higher than high heels and a very low cut top. If Jensen wasn’t gay he would have spent the first five minutes just staring down it, but he is gay and he is a gentleman so he ignores all the blatant skin on display and just smiles politely, offering her a drink.

Jared arrives ten minutes late. His mom dropped him off, Jensen saw the car pull up on the sidewalk and watched as Jared jumped out signing that the driver should stop worrying and just go. Jensen’s mouth is dry as he stares at Jared, stares at his long legs encased in faded blue jeans, his muscular frame showing through the white t-shirt and tight brown sweater. He smiles at Jensen and then at Sandy and Jensen can’t help but watch to see if he can see any real interest or attraction there. Jared’s smile is genuine and warm and Sandy is, obviously, instantly smitten, her fingers curling into her hair, a real tell.

“Well,” Jensen speaks out loud to Sandy and signs to Jared. “We should get to our table. I’ll sign whatever you say to Jared, Sandy and translate whatever Jared signs back. That okay?”

Both of them nod and then smile at each other again and Jensen feels more like a guilty third wheel than ever. He orders sticky ribs and a really spicy curry while Sandy goes for something low calorie and girly. Jared appears to order everything on the menu and they sit in comfortable silence while they wait for the food to come.

Sandy is an exotic dancer which could explain her compact body and (Jensen is positive they are false) perky tits. Jared appears to be too shy to actually look too much at Sandy, so her unashamed display of flesh is totally lost on him. In fact, Jared spends most of the first course looking at his food and flushing pink every time Sandy taps him on the hand to gain his attention. Jared can lip read of course and Sandy speaks really slowly to him as if he is simple, something Jensen knows annoys Jared but doesn’t seem to be bothering him at this moment.

“What do you think of her?”

Sandy has excused herself and Jensen signs quickly to Jared trying to see how the land lies. He, secretly, hopes that Jared doesn’t like Sandy that much because this is only the first match and it often takes two or three dates or matches before his clients are satisfied. As long as Jensen keeps telling himself that, that this is the only reason he is asking, concern for Jared, concern that he doesn’t jump into things too quickly, then he won’t think too deeply.

The more he sees of Jared the more he wants Jared for himself. It is so fucking selfish and, again, he wishes he wasn’t so principled, wasn’t so determined not to date his clients. Not that he had met one he had wanted to date before, yeah, before he had always managed to stay aloof, distanced but now, now he couldn’t understand what was happening to him, couldn’t understand the aching attraction he felt for the man beside him, not knowing if it was his looks, his personality or his desperate vulnerability.

Jensen was so damned screwed.

“She’s nice,” Jared signed back, smiling warmly. His cheeks were flushed from the wine and beer. “I’d like to find out a bit more about her though.”

“We’ll talk more over the main course,” Jensen signed. “You don’t need to make any sort of decision at the moment, there’s plenty of time.”

Jared grinned at him and nodded. He looked more at ease than the last time they had met and Jensen wished, fervently, that it was just the two of them. He almost huffed in frustration when Sandy chose that minute to return, sitting between them and cuddling right up into Jared’s space, her tiny hands squeezing at Jared’s biceps, her hair brushing against him as she wriggled closer.

“Tell him I think he is really sweet,” Sandy’s voice was a little slurred and Jensen’s stomach clenched a little as he realized just how much they had all had to drink. The room was hot and the food was spicy and he had lost count of all the beers he had consumed. His eyes flickered up and he saw Jared looking at him expectantly, eyes all dewy and slanting, foxlike. He grinned at Jensen and shuffled a bit, Sandy’s impressive boobs squashing against his shoulders.

Jensen’s fingers began to sign and his treacherous heart was in charge of his more sensible head. He swallowed hard, his mouth dry like dust and he looked Jared directly in the eyes, feeling incredibly guilty.

“She isn’t sure about you,” he signed, feebly.

A small dent appeared in Jared’s forehead, a bit of a frown. He leaned slightly away from Sandy so that she almost fell head first into his lap. She giggled a little and put her hand back on his arm to steady herself.

“Tell him I’m really grateful that he is so muscular.” She glanced up at Jared and beamed, her top falling, impossibly, lower. “Give me some support.”

“She thinks you are a bit too skinny for her liking.” Jensen’s fingers seemed to have a mind of their own. “And gangly, plus, she isn’t keen on tall men.”

Jared’s smile wavered and Jensen felt low, guilt making him nauseous. Sandy didn’t appear to notice anything was wrong until Jared pulled fully away from her, his mouth opening and closing, fingers moving slowly.

“He thinks maybe it’s time to go,” Jensen told the truth this time, hating to see the hurt he had put in Jared’s eyes. Deep down, though, his conscience was telling him he had done the right thing. “Perhaps, there isn’t anything between you after all.”

“We’ve hardly spoken,” Sandy slurred. “And I paid him a compliment.”

“Yeah, but – but maybe it just isn’t working.” Jensen forced a look of sympathy onto his face. She wasn’t right for Jared anyway, she was too overt, too much.

Jared’s fingers moved again and his eyes told Jensen that the words were just for him, not for Sandy.

“I’m not really attracted to her.” His fingers tapped the table. “I can’t talk directly to her and I need to be able to do that.” He swallowed, pain in his eyes now. “Maybe next time someone who can sign like you would be better.”

Jensen’s traitorous heart plummeted and he nodded.

Yeah, he thought, that is just what you need – someone just like fucking me.
****
“She didn’t like me,” Jared signed to his sister as they sat in front of the TV. There was some sort of garish cartoon show on, something Jared could watch without subtitles because there was no talking only music and sounds. “She thought I was too tall, a bit skinny.” He forced a smile. “It didn’t matter, not really because I wasn’t too keen on her.” He bit his lip. “Jensen will find me someone else.”

“Maybe you don’t like women,” Megan signed back and Jared took a sharp intake of breath. He felt his cheeks flare and wished he didn’t have to discuss his love life (or lack of it) with his baby sister. He still wasn’t sure what he wanted but he did want someone he could actually talk to, someone like Jensen who could sign really well. He knew quite a few people found it hard to communicate with individuals who were deaf, had been on the receiving end of it many times, the ridiculous mouthing of words, the obvious slow speech as if he were stupid.

“She was pretty enough but not my type,” he signed, feebly, and Megan laughed.
“Try a man next time, maybe one who can sign like Jensen. There must be some on his books.”

Jared nodded, wondering if his parents would be as accepting. They already treated him as if he were something fragile and different, if they found out he might be gay or at the very least bi, they might not handle it so well.

“Mom and dad would be cool with it,” Megan signed and Jared huffed, wondering if she were reading his mind. “They don’t have any problems with you know – they just want what is best for you.”

Jared managed a smile and turned back to the TV, he wished he could hear the music, wished he could be part of normality rather than on the outside of everything. He swallowed and crossed his fingers, maybe Jensen would find him a really nice date next time, someone who could sign, someone who could talk to him. He had every faith in Jensen, Jensen wouldn’t let him down.
****
Richard Speight was a nice guy; Jensen had had a lot of dealings with him in the past and he knew that his dates had always come back with positive feedback. Richard was a real joker and Jensen got the impression that he wasn’t really interested in finding the one and was happy enough to go on dates with the people Jensen matched him up to. Richard was handsome enough, big smile, twinkling eyes, outgoing personality and because he had worked with deaf people before, he could sign really well. Jensen stared at his profile and made a decision. He would send Richard out on a date with Jared. Jared needed someone who could talk to him and, well, he would just have to ignore the fact that, at 5ft 5 inches tall, Richard was a foot smaller than his date.

Jensen needed to e-mail the profile to Jared before he could change his mind. He felt incredibly mean, his stupid heart overruling his head again. Deep down he knew he should just say fuck it to his principles and ask Jared out himself but he had always remained professional and he didn’t want to stop now. He had a reputation to maintain after all. He sighed and pressed send, he really wanted to help Jared but his own feelings were getting in the way. At least, this time, he wouldn’t have to be chaperone and maybe Jared and Richard would get over the height thing and become an item.

He wasn’t sure if he hoped they did or if he hoped they wouldn’t, all he did know was that he was already in way too deep.
****
Jared felt embarrassed; he shook Richard’s hand firmly, smiling politely as the guy signed his hellos. It was refreshing to be able to actually communicate for once but – well – Richard was very, very small.
He was cool and all that, nicely dressed, clean cut, beaming happily and enthusiastic about the evening ahead. Richard had booked them a lane at the local bowling alley and Jared was pretty stoked because it had been years since he had been bowling. However, when they met face to face (or face to chest in Richard’s case) it had been nothing if a little awkward.

Jared hadn’t ever really taken his height into consideration before. He had spent a lot of his early life coping with not being able to hear, so being tall came fairly low on his list of things that made Jared un-dateable. Now though he was being forced to face up to it and he realized that, something he would have to specify in future, was that a male date was a similar height. Someone like Jensen maybe, broad and big, only a couple of inches shy of Jared’s size. Jared was still unsure whether he was attracted to men or women but he was beginning to suspect that he was attracted to Jensen. Jensen appeared to have most of the things Jared had been searching for in a partner. He was attractive, attentive, able to communicate and a really good laugh. Jared had no idea if Jensen was gay or straight and, really, it was none of his business. Jensen ran the dating agency and wasn’t eligible for Jared to date. Jared would just have to man up and find his own dates, look closely at the profiles Jensen had sent him and pick someone who was as close to Jared’s ideal as possible. Richard was nice enough and Jared felt bad about not wanting to see him again romantically. The height thing clearly didn’t bother Richard either as he pulled Jared down and down to give him a huge kiss on the cheek and offer to take him home. Their evening had been nice and Jared agreed that he would like to see Richard again but as a friend, and Richard seemed happy enough with that.

Megan must have seen Richard drop him off because her expression gave her away. She stared at him with something like sympathy in her eyes and, with an obvious sigh, she signed, “Too small?”

Jared nodded, his mouth was dry and his eyes felt sore. He had really wanted this date to work. Richard had been nice and they had been able to communicate but the height thing had left him feeling pretty foolish and he wondered if people would think he was shallow.

“You know,” Megan signed. “Maybe you should pick the next one.”

“I picked Sandy,” Jared signed. “And that didn’t go so well.”

“Yeah, but that was before we found out you preferred boys!” Megan grinned and Jared felt his face flush. “I guess if Richard were taller . . . .”

Jared nodded, he had found Richard attractive and the guy had made him laugh. There wasn’t much of a spark but there had certainly been more between them than there had been between him and Sandy.

“Will you help me?” he signed and he schooled his face into a pleading expression, his eyes wide.

“You are playing dirty now,” Megan signed back, huffing a little.

“Yeah,” he mouthed and pulled the laptop towards him, turning it on and opening up the profiles Jensen had sent him this week.

There were several but one, Mark, stood out from the others. Mark was a businessman, early thirties, well over 6ft and, from the look of his picture, very handsome. He worked with deaf children in his spare time and could lip read and sign. He was looking for love, his profile said, and he was keen to find someone who would become a permanent fixture in his life. He was also open about being gay and he seemed almost too good to be true.

“Well?” Megan was beaming from ear to ear. “This guy, this guy is the one for you.”

Jared ran his fingers over the screen and smiled, hoping she was right. He sent off the request to Jensen before he could change his mind and he crossed everything hoping that he had gotten it right this time.
****
Jensen didn’t want to give Mark Jared’s details.

He had met the guy and, hell, he should be sainted but there was just something a little off about him but Jensen had been unable to put his finger on it.

“Jealousy,” Chris sang, tunelessly. “Your skin is virtually turning green as we speak!”

Jensen took a large slug of his beer and chased it down with a sour shot. It was hot and sweaty in the club and there were plenty of willing men eying him up and down. He wasn’t interested though and that concerned him. He knew he should just make conversation, maybe dance, home for coffee but he had lost interest and he knew why.

“M’not,” he slurred, already on his way to being nicely wasted. “Mark is a creep. Anyway, I’ve fixed him up with Jim – guys been searching for years.”

“Isn’t Jim your oldest client?” Chris shook his shoulder. “Man, if I didn’t know you better I’d say you were tryin’ to sabotage this guy’s dates.”

“I just wanna find him the best match.” Denial was a wonderful thing and Jensen swayed on his feet, eyes glazing over, wishing he could just go home.

 

“Really?” Chris grinned wryly. “You know you ought to just say fuck to your principles and date the guy.”

“I can’t.” Jensen shook his head making the room spin. “I just can’t do that, Chris. I have my reputation to uphold.”

“Yeah, but if you keep selling this guy pups you ain’t gonna get a very good reputation are you?” Chris said, regretfully. “You should just suck it up and pass him onto someone who is gonna take care of him – like this Mark dude.”

“Maybe, but I’ll give Jim a shot first.” Jensen drank down the last of his beer and let it settle in his churning gut. “Just want to do the right thing, you know.”
****
Jim was really sweet. He had bought flowers and candy and it felt like a real date.

Jared sat opposite him and stared at his coffee. Jim was a nice guy, just like Richard had been a nice guy but while Richard had been too short Jim was too old.

 

Jared felt guilty; he liked Jim and the guy could sign, read all the cool books that Jared loved, was genuinely interested in Jared’s job and seemed really intelligent. He wasn’t unpleasant to look at either, tall and broad with neatly brushed greying hair and a nicely trimmed beard. Jared bit his lip, yeah Jim was close to perfect apart from the fact he could have been Jared’s dad rather than his partner.

For the first time since joining the agency Jared began to wonder if Jensen actually knew what he was doing. They hadn’t met since the fiasco with Sandy but they kept in e-mail contact and Jared had made it pretty clear that he was interested in Mark. However, Jensen had replied that Mark was already matched to several other profiles and Jared might prefer Jim. Jared hadn’t had time to read Jim’s profile because if he had he would have, politely, refused. He bit his lip and bent forward, watching Jim’s fingers, interested in what the guy was saying. It had been nearly two months and Jared was no nearer to finding the one than he had been before he joined the agency. Sure his social life had improved and he was grateful for that but he was desperate for someone to love him, to want him, for that special someone who would accept him for what and who he was.
****
Jensen was hung over and he almost ignored the insistent banging on his office door. Eventually, though, it became impossible to ignore and he got up with a sigh, throwing the door open, to find Jared standing there.

For a moment he was too stunned to react. Jared was as hot as ever, tall, muscular, tight blue t-shirt and baggy patched jeans. Jensen was positive that Jared had no idea just how attractive and sexy he was. There was a gentle vulnerability about him and that just made him more beautiful than ever.

“Hey,” Jensen tried to keep his hands steady as he signed, slow and easy. “Nice to see you, come in.”

“Hi,” Jared signed back, he smiled but his smile didn’t quite meet his eyes. He looked sadder than Jensen remembered and guilt stabbed into his gut as he thought of the mismatched dates he had sent Jared on.

“Sit down,” Jensen swept away a pile of papers from his spare office chair whilst signing frantically. “Coffee, tea?” or me he added silently.

Jared sat down, indicating he didn’t want tea or coffee. He looked really down and Jensen wanted to jump across the desk and hug him.

“What can I do to help you?” He hated being so professional considering that they had shared beers and Chinese during the disastrous date with Sandy.

Jared looked down at the desk for a long moment and Jensen felt truly awkward. He had run his business like clockwork and had always had positive feedback and happy clients.

“Jared,” he said aloud and then realized his foolishness, tapping Jared on the shoulder gently to get his attention. “Jared,” he said again, knowing that Jared could lip read. “I’m here to help, dude.”

Jared swallowed and Jensen watched in sad fascination as his Adam’s apple rose and fell, his slanting eyes bright with something that he couldn’t read. For a moment there was almost an audible crackling in the air between them and Jensen had to, virtually, sit on his hands to stop from reaching out and just touching.

“I’m not happy with the way things are going,” Jared signed. “The dates are nice enough but not right for me.” He gazed up at Jensen in appeal. “What I really want, is someone who can sign, who is around my height and age and who I can share things with.” There was that pleading look in his eyes again and Jensen let himself hope for a moment, his mouth dry.

“There’s Mark,” and with those words he sealed his fate, a determination not to go against those solid but fucking annoying principles. “You were interested in him.”

Jared’s face fell just for a moment and Jensen felt as if he were hanging on the edge of a precipice. Then Jared smiled again, genuine and dimpled, his fingers working, signing his affirmation, his hands reaching out to take Mark’s contact details, ready to make a date.

Fuck.
****
Mark collects Jared from his house.

He is tall and handsome, dirty blond hair and smooth skin, a smart slate grey suit and matching tie. Like Jim he brings flowers which he presents to Jared’s mom with a wink and chocolates that Megan takes, her smile making Jared feel reassured, certain that he has done the right thing this time.

Mark is an expert at signing and he ‘talks’ to Jared as they make their way to the table that he’s booked in an exclusive and expensive restaurant. He smiles as he holds out a chair for Jared to sit down and while it should feel corny it just feels right.

The whole evening seemed to go in a blur. They sign constantly and Jared can’t believe how much they have in common. Mark loves books and goes to the library all the time, he has his own business but does a lot of volunteer work with deaf children and for an animal charity and has he has two dogs. Jared can’t stop smiling the whole date and when Mark takes him home he gives him a chaste but eager kiss and makes another date.
****
Jensen slammed down the lid of the photocopier and watched as it vibrated with the force. He was tired and hung over and he rubbed his head angrily, his eyes stinging.

A night out with Chris hadn’t been the solution he had been looking for and all it had made him feel was tired, cheap and miserable. He had picked up a nice looking guy (whose name he now couldn’t remember.) and taken him home but nothing had happened as Jensen found he couldn’t actually perform the guy being too small, too skinny, had too short hair and, basically, hadn’t been Jared.

Thinking of Jared and his e-mail this morning – positive, brimming with happiness and excitement, well that would normally have Jensen virtually dancing around the office but this particular client’s satisfaction just made him depressed. Jared had fallen head over heels for smooth talking Mark and had mailed Jensen to thank him and tell him that they had another date tonight and Jared couldn’t be happier.

Jensen rubbed his face again and fired up the laptop. It was a form of torture really, looking at Mark’s profile, seeing exactly how wonderful the guy was. Reading it again he seemed perfect but, having met him a couple of times in the flesh so to speak, Jensen still wasn’t sure about him. Now he could add jealousy to his unease and it didn’t make him feel any better. He felt sneaky and low as he tapped into Mark’s file, checking to see how many dates he had had and what sort of feedback. As he checked he got an odd prickling feeling at the back of his scalp, that tingle of unease again. Mark’s record appeared impeccable, lots of dates, lots of positive feedback and yet . . . . Jensen swallowed, he didn’t normally do this but this was Jared, he just had to check.

What he read gave him a little stab of apprehension again. The first thing was that Mark only appeared to date deaf men. That in itself shouldn’t be odd but Mark was – to use an old fashioned term - able bodied and while Jensen’s agency encouraged matches between the less able and the able – it was called Mixed Doubles after all - it was unusual for someone to keep requesting and dating the same type.

The second thing was that Marks ‘dates’, while leaving him wonderful feedback, left the agency soon after their liaisons with him. It didn’t seem as if he had formed any long term relationships from his dates so that shouldn’t have been the case. Jensen stared at the list of names and swallowed, his mouth dry.

It would be wholly unprofessional of him to actually contact one of these dates and ask why they had suddenly decided to leave. He had an exit strategy in place and he encouraged his clients to fill in a customer satisfaction survey when they left. He kept all of these on file so it would be easy enough for him to look them up and see why Mark’s dates had suddenly left and he considered doing it, his stomach clenching at the thought of somebody hurting Jared.

He stared at his filing cabinet and then at the list of names. He did very stringent background searches on all of his clients, tried to meet them all in person, chatted with them, got to know them, sent them regular e-mails and checked in on them. His sensible head told him that if there was anything wrong with Mark he would know, he would have known. He knelt for a moment, his fingers shaking and then he opened the cabinet and began to search.
****
Mark took him to the cinema.

It was one of their performances with subtitles and Jared felt almost beside himself with excitement to actually be there. He hadn’t been to see a film since he was a child, preferring to watch a DVD in the safety of his own home. Now he felt confident, part of the real world, snuggling down next to Mark in the cinema and waiting for the movie.

He was so happy; this was their third date and Mark appeared to be the perfect partner. He wasn’t at the in love stage yet but he was certainly attracted to Mark and was almost ready to take the next step, to move from snuggling and chaste kisses to actual physical intimacy. Jared knows he is ready.

Despite her teasing Megan was aware of how innocent Jared really was. He has to be, he hasn’t dated – well ever – and he is still a virgin at thirty. It should be more humiliating than it is but circumstances and his own social wariness have made things difficult and he wonders if he will ever, ever lose his innocence.

Mark shifted next to him on the plush seats and slung an arm around his shoulders. It was nice, made him feel protected, warm and comfortable. He was more than certain that he was into men and he was into Mark in a big way. Mark was what he had always hoped for. Intelligent, witty, attentive and generous, all the things he wanted in a partner. Jared smiled to himself and snuggled into Mark feeling the firmness of his chest beneath his cheek. The lights went out and the screen lit up and Jared’s excitement ratcheted. He couldn’t remember when he had ever been happier and he made a mental note to e-mail Jensen and thank him.
****
Jensen had never felt so intrusive or so awful. He kept running his fingers through his hair and wetting his lips, his mouth as dry as a dust bowl. He had skipped lunch and his stomach grumbled hungrily. He hadn’t spoken to anyone, not Chris or Steve or his mom and dad. He knew what they would say anyway so talking to them would be so desperately pointless.

He should never have let himself get so involved, never met Jared or gone on any dates with him, never gone further than a couple of e-mails and an initial talk. He had behaved unprofessionally and he knew it, this could jeopardize his entire business, bring down what he had worked so hard for. His clients could just leave in droves and he wouldn’t blame them. He had been really, really stupid but he couldn’t help it and, deep down, he couldn’t regret it. Jared was something special and even after only three brief meetings he had known it.

He drove slowly down the leafy drive; deep in the bosom of suburbia. The houses were big and smart, the gardens neatly clipped, everything in order. He stared at the rumpled piece of paper in his hand and wondered if he should just throw it out of the window and get out of there. He could call Chris and go out for a beer or three, maybe do shots, visit a strip joint. He had lost the ability to have fun, too busy thinking about Jared, about NOT dating Jared, about his principles to actually enjoy himself.

In all his life he had never felt like this. Away from his business he was a goodtime guy always up for anything, embracing casual relationships and just determined to party. He considered himself an excellent friend and one of the guys and he barely recognized himself anymore.

He was a bit sappy; he loved what he did and he loved finding the one for his clients. Maybe, deep down, he wanted romance and flowers himself but he had never really gone for it, preferring to help others rather than help himself. He bit his lip and shook his head. He was in way too deep and he couldn’t actually dig himself out of this massive hole without someone getting hurt.

He had spent nearly a whole evening in the office going through the names of the guys that Mark had dated. He remembered some of them, vague recollections of them filling in the forms, telling him what they wanted. One of them, Jason, had been one of his earliest clients, it was because of him Jensen had learned to sign and yet, after Mark, Jason had withdrawn his form and told Jensen, in a fairly curt letter, that he wasn’t going to look for any other dates.

Jason lived on this street, lived in one of these lovely houses and Jensen had come to see him, come to find out why he had left so abruptly. Mark had dated six of Jensen’s clients, all handsome, muscular men, nearly all deaf or partially deaf and all very keen to leave once they had had a few dates. Jensen had been too busy to notice the pattern at the time and he felt guilty about that now. If there was something wrong with Mark then he needed the guy off his books and pronto. He chewed his lip again, worried it until it was sore and bloody.

Jared had sent him another e-mail thanking him for finding Mark, for fixing them up. Jared’s e-mail had made his guts churn with jealousy and worry, the tone happy and upbeat, Jared confessing that Mark might very well be the one, his monthly payment to the agency doubled in gratitude. Jensen hadn’t really intended to do this but that last e-mail had spurred him on and he was determined to get to the bottom of things, determined to find out if Mark really was the great guy Jared said he was.

And if he was then Jensen would have to suck it up and let Jared go. He had had his chance and he had let it slip like sand through his fingers. He might regret it but he was going to regret it more if Jared got hurt from this.
****
“Come over to my place on Saturday,” Mark signed as he dropped Jared off at his house. “I’m having a party and I’d love for you to come.”

Jared’s heart leapt in his chest and he couldn’t keep from smiling.

“Yeah,” he signed back, blushing a little. “I guess that would be good.”

“No need to worry,” Mark signed. “You’ll be fine, most of the guests can sign and I’ll make sure that they talk directly to you if they can’t. I just want you to be happy, Jared. I really want to introduce you to all of my friends. I think you’ll like them.”

Jared grinned and leaned forward, slightly, so he could drop a shy kiss on Mark’s forehead. The older man smiled at him and caught his chin, turning him so that their lips met, the kiss chaste but full of promise.

“I’ll send a ride for you on Saturday, 8pm,” Mark signed after they broke apart. “Wear something black – it’s a standing joke,” he added. “We always do that at parties.”

“Okay.” Jared gave Mark a wave and virtually floated back into his house.

Megan was waiting for him with a huge smile on her face.

“Good night?” She asked.

“Yeah,” he sighed, flopping down on the couch. “One of the best.”

“He seems nice.” Megan ventured but he saw how her lips quivered as she spoke to him, how her eyes didn’t quite meet his.

“He is,” he signed. “He’s really nice, Megan.”

“Jared,” her mouth moved slowly, carefully, letting him see, clearly, what she was saying. “He – he might be a nice guy and all that but there is just something about him. He – I mean we’ve not met or anything but . . . .”

Jared frowned; he recalled Jensen had been reluctant for him to see Mark too. He wondered if everyone was just being stupidly protective of him and he chewed on his lip, feeling suddenly vulnerable.

“He’s nice,” he signed again. “Maybe, after Saturday, I’ll bring him home and let you meet him and then you can see for yourself.”

Megan nodded but she had lost her sparkle somehow. Jared gave in and gave her a hug, pulling her close and holding her tightly.

“I’m a big boy,” he signed. “I can look after myself.”

“I know,” she signed back then but her expression was unconvincing. “I just worry about you, big brother.”

“I’m deaf.” He hated having to refer to the fact but it was a fact. “Not stupid.”

She smiled then, weak and wobbly. “Just take care,” she mouthed.

****
Jensen found Jason’s house and went up the drive. It was Saturday evening and getting late, the sun dipping beyond the horizon, the sky growing darker. Jensen stood for a moment considering maybe walking away, forgetting all of this, putting it all down to jealousy and letting it lie. Jason was deaf but he didn’t have a flashing doorbell but Jensen recalled him having a hearing dog, one of the first he had ever seen, so he knocked on the door, took a deep breath and waited.

The dog barked and there was a long pause before Jason opened the door, his hand on the dog’s collar. He stared at Jensen for a moment as if he were trying to remember where he knew him from and then he shook his head, a slow but hesitant smile spreading across his wide and friendly face.

“Hi,” Jensen signed. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” Jason’s voice was a shock to him. He had been around Jared enough now to be surprised. Jared never spoke, hadn’t the confidence. Jared had signed that he wasn’t mute but he may as well be because he hated trying to communicate that way, hated the looks it got him, the amusement and the bullying he had experienced in early life. “What can I do for you, Mr. Ackles?”

“I wondered if we might talk.” Jensen’s hands were shaking and he wondered if his signing was making sense.

“About what?” Jason’s speech was slow and slurred but audible and his eyes were curious, puzzled.

“About Mark Pellegrino,” Jensen signed and Jason’s face fell.

“Come in,” he said, finally, and Jensen’s heart plummeted at the expression he saw, the pain and fear in Jason’s eyes. “It’s about time that bastard got what he deserves.”
****
The car came for Jared at 8pm prompt.
He was nervous, his stomach clenching and fluttery, his mouth dry. He hadn’t been to a party, other than his own or family members birthday parties, since he was about five or six and wasn’t good at socializing. Situations where there were crowds freaked him out sometimes and he had avoided the issue rather than face it head on, but this was Mark. This was Mark’s party and Mark had promised that he would be okay.

The limousine was huge and shiny and screamed money. Jared climbed into the back and settled back, noticing that there was a bottle of champagne and a glass with a note saying, For you Jared, drink and enjoy..

Jared had never tasted champagne before and he felt a tingle of excitement as he poured himself a glass and sipped at it, the bubbles tickling his nose. When he was in the library feeling lonely and unloved he never expected to be treated like this and his heart thumped in his chest as he thought of the night ahead.

The car drew up outside of a huge house. It was festooned in fairy lights and there were flickers of orange and red behind the curtains. Jared already felt a little light headed from the champagne and his cheeks were flushed and red in the coolness of the night. The door was already propped open and he stepped inside, his nerves making his stomach flutter again.

The room was hot and crowded; there were people everywhere and Jared’s breath caught in his throat as he looked around.

Mark had told him to dress in black and he had worn his best black shirt and jeans thinking that would do but these people . . . he swallowed feeling gauche and naïve, these people . . . he had never seen anything like it before and he was almost paralyzed, his eyes skittering here and there, a sudden claustrophobia making him catch his breath.

There were people dancing; he couldn’t hear the music but it must have been loud enough for him to feel the vibrations beneath his feet. He could see their bodies twisting and moving, some of them wrapped around each other, kissing and fondling with no reservation. The women were wearing black leather dresses, short enough to reveal acres of flesh, their breasts spilling over the top of the bodice, thick leather collars prominent around their naked throats. Some of the men were half naked, black trousers low on their hips, tattoos decorating their chests and shoulders. Some of these men were wearing collars too, others had handcuffs dangling from their belts and other implements that Jared didn’t even want to think about.

He backed off, shoulders hitting a solid wall, arms flailing. There was a strange smell in the air making him feel light-headed and he wanted to get out of there as fast as he could, feeling 13 instead of 30.

A woman moved into the side of him, her breasts soft against his shoulder, she was talking to him, he could feel the huff of her breath against his ear and he tried to turn, hands signing frantically, trying to explain he couldn’t hear her.

He almost leapt out of his skin when a hand landed on his shoulder and he turned his head to see Mark standing there but this wasn’t the Mark he had dated, the Mark he had become enamored with. Mark was wearing a black wife beater and soft leather trousers, his feet were bare and his toes were painted purple, an odd tattoo on his foot.

“Jared,” he spoke directly into Jared’s face, his lips slow and easy as he dragged out his name. “Glad you could make it.”

Jared swallowed, he could feel himself trembling, stupid, stupid, stupid. He was bigger than Mark, stronger and he was a thirty year old man. Fuck it! He shouldn’t be so much of a wuss.

“Jared?” Mark spoke again and Jared could read the question in his voice. Mark was covered in a sheen of sweat, swaying slightly to music Jared couldn’t and wouldn’t ever hear. Marks hand moved from his shoulder to his arm and his fingers dug into Jared’s flesh, holding him there, almost daring him to flee.

“I think I should go,” Jared signed. “Maybe you could call me a cab? I don’t think this is . . . ..”

Mark smiled but the smile wasn’t reaching his eyes. He slithered his hands down Jared’s arm and grabbed his wrists effectively stopping him from signing further. Jared felt his heartbeat quicken, sweat broke out on his forehead and he swallowed convulsively, his mouth opening and closing ineffectually.

“Jared.” Mark was so close now Jared could feel the long length of his body pressed against his, feel the insistent hardness against his thigh, knowing what it was, panic swelling inside of his veins, the urge to run making him light-headed. “Jared, this is a special party and you are a special guest, don’t be like this.” Mark leaned forward and licked down Jared’s throat, his tongue rough and dry. “I’m going to take you somewhere nice, make you feel good, there’s no need for you to be concerned, you know you want it, I’m not stupid, I can read the signs.” His laugh was silent to Jared but it gusted across his face, spit and alcohol splattering against his skin. Jared’s wrists were caught tight in Mark’s grasp and he began to struggle, pushing at Mark, his legs kicking out, catching the older man on the shin. He saw Mark’s lips form the cry of pain and he kicked again, drawing an angry snarl from the man, seeing the clench of teeth.

Suddenly his hands were no longer being held and he tried to move them, terror replacing panic as he realized that there were handcuffs fastened around his wrists. He wobbled on his feet then and he saw Mark move out of his field of vision, felt another set of hands on his shoulders, wrenching him back. He had never felt so exposed, so unprotected. His deafness made it worse, he couldn’t hear what was happening and – now – he couldn’t see. His heart was, virtually, tearing out of his chest and his head was spinning. For a moment he felt as if he were suspended in space and time and then he felt an odd pricking sensation in his arm and he didn’t feel anything at all.
****
Jason gave Jensen a glass of whiskey. It was a large glass and that fact worried him more than anything. The large dog pattered around his feet and Jensen petted it absently. Jason sat opposite him and smiled wryly, brown eyes on Jensen’s face, his expression saying more than he was.

“It isn’t your fault,” Jason signed and he bent closer to tap Jensen’s knee. “No one was ever gonna’ tell the truth about that bastard.”

“What is the truth?” Jensen forgot to sign, his heart was in his mouth and he felt as if he was going to vomit. “I kept fixing people up with him.” He swallowed back bile. “I’m still fixing people up with him. In fact I have a client on a date with him now.”

“Saturday night date.” Jason’s face was pale. “Jensen – tonight?”

“Yes.” Jensen he was about to be sick. “Right the hell now.”

“Shit,” Jason spoke again and his meaning was clear, eloquent. “Mark is – Mark is a smooth talker and a really good liar.”

“Tell me.” Jensen’s fingers gripped the denim of his jeans, the knuckles white. “Please.”

Jason took a breath and shook his head, his eyes soft with sympathy.

“The guy is manipulative – what he does to you – you never want to tell. He – he uses the fact that we are deaf against us, uses bribes, threats, whatever works to keep our mouths shut.” He rubbed his mouth and shuddered. “Once you have dated him you just don’t want to be anywhere near anyone else. You feel dirty, and used.” He held Jensen’s gaze for a while longer. “It took me nearly 18 months to feel like me again.”

Jensen’s stomach turned and he rushed to his feet, pushing Jason aside and searching desperately for the john. When he finally found it, he hunched over the porcelain, his dinner following his breakfast in its return appearance. He felt Jason rubbing his back, felt the rush of cool air on his face when Jason opened the window but nothing, nothing could make him feel better, nothing could make up for the fact that he had, theoretically, handed Jared over to a mad man.
****
Jared opened his eyes.

He was lying on a soft surface but it was too dark to see what it was. His chest was bare and his jeans were open, his fly pulled down. He tried to get up, head spinning, his panic making him struggle. His arms ached and he realized, dimly, that they were fastened above his head, the cold metal of the handcuffs cutting into his wrist. Everything ached and the world spun and, for a moment, he was lost in a world where he could no longer see or hear.

A face appeared above him and he reared back, his shoulders screaming. Mark smirked and he knelt down beside Jared, his hands stroking across Jared’s naked chest making him shudder.

He became more conscious of where he was; he appeared to be lying on a mattress on the floor. There was a strange smell in the air again and it made him feel sick and light-headed, his mouth dry. There appeared to be a circle of people around him and, in the dim light, he realized that they were watching him, watching him and Mark.

Without his hands it was like being gagged; he couldn’t speak, couldn’t protest. Mark bent down over him, his mouth so close that Jared could see what he was saying.

“We are going to have some fun you and I. I will enjoy it and I’m sure you will too.”

Jared shook his head frantically and it made him feel sicker, his eyes stinging with stupid tears. He had never felt so exposed and he realized that he was trapped here, unable to move or to protest, that Mark could do what he wanted and Jared couldn’t stop him.

“You are so beautiful,” Mark was signing now, a mockery. “One of the finest specimens to grace this place.” He smiled, his hands moving down to Jared’s nipples, pinching hard, making Jared bite his lip in pain. “That is the best thing about you and those other wonderful boys like you, you can’t say no to me.” He laughed, Jared could see it, feel it, wincing as the hands on his skin moved lower. “You can’t say no and so I’m doing this with your consent.” He kissed Jared again and Jared clenched his lips together, tempted to just bite off his tongue. He felt out of it almost, his body limp with whatever they had drugged him with, his head fuzzy, the fact he couldn’t hear making him feel claustrophobic, panicky, unable to see if anyone else had crept up to him, unable to stop anyone else from touching him.

He should have listened to Megan but Mark had seemed so perfect, so wonderful and he had just wanted to be loved, to have what everyone else had. He wanted to scream when Mark’s warm hand settled just above his open fly, fingers probing down, the tips brushing against the head of his flaccid cock. He wasn’t naïve, he knew that people like this existed, he had read up on all sorts of sexual practices, even watched porn but he never wanted this, just wanted to be normal, to go on dates and to have fun.

He wondered why Jensen still had Mark on his books, wondered why Jensen hadn’t done anything to stop Mark from preying on people like him. Jensen had seemed to care so much about his clients, surely, surely he wouldn’t let a monster like Mark go unchecked, let him get away with things like this.

“You are thinking too much.” Mark loomed over him, his hands on his own fly. “Stop thinking and enjoy this. We have all night, all weekend if you want. You aren’t saying no to me, Jared, remember that. You aren’t ever saying no.”
****
“You should have told me.” Jensen sat with his head in his hands. It was nearly 11pm and he wanted to get out of here, ring the cops, and get Jared away from Mark. Instead, he was sitting back on Jason’s couch drinking hot, sweet tea and feeling on the edge of swooning like a Victorian lady.

“Mark chose deaf guys for a reason, you know,” Jason signed. “He gets to know them, charms them and then asks them back to his place for a special party. God, I was so stupid. It wasn’t like I hadn’t had other relationships but I thought he was something special. He sent a car for me, gave me champagne and then – then he drugged me and tied me down.” He stopped and picked up a pen and paper, writing something and pushing it over to Jensen.

He is really into BDSM and he likes to dominate.

“Shit.” Jensen wobbled to his feet, empty stomach threatening to rebel again. “We need to call the cops right now. I need – I need to go and get Jared out of there.”

“You need to be careful,” Jason pushed at his shoulders, mouthing the words.

“Jared would never consent to any of this.” Jensen wanted to scream.

“He can’t say no,” Jason signed, slow and careful, his eyes on Jensen’s face. “He is consenting, in Mark’s eyes.”

The shoe dropped and Jensen suddenly got it. Mark dated deaf guys – he only dated deaf guys. He took them out, got to know them, took them back to his place and then . . . he gulped and rubbed his face. They were too ashamed to tell anyone, made to believe that they had consented, made to believe that they had enjoyed the experience and then persuaded to leave the agency, leaving glowing references for Mark along the way. Any interference or any calls to the law, any confessions and the bastard would use his charm and influence and simply say that they had consented.

“Jensen . . . ?” Jason reached forward to hold him steady.

He knew what he had to do now, even if he lost his business, lost his job, lost everything, even if this was the last damn stupid thing he ever did he was going to get Jared out of there. Damn the consequences, damn what came after, it was time for him to stand up and be counted, he had gotten Jared into this and he was going to get him out of it.
****
Mark was straddling his chest, thighs clutching hard against his ribs. He was too heavy for Jared to buck off even though he was trying and Mark was laughing at him, laughing directly into his face.

He was aware of everyone around him, all the party members watching them, faces pressing close. He couldn’t hear them of course but he could see their faces, see the flush in their cheeks, and see the lust in their eyes. He had a good idea what was going to happen next and he didn’t know what to do. He was a big guy but the drugs and drink in his system were weakening him and he could feel tears of rage, frustration and fear pouring down his cheeks, smearing with the sweat there, his whole body trembling.

Mark knew all about him; Mark knew he was a virgin and he didn’t want this to be his first experience. His chest tightened and he could feel his throat working, he wanted this to stop, he wanted it to be over. Dread filled him as he saw Mark unzip his fly, saw him move closer, saw him take out his, already erect, cock and aim it at Jared’s mouth.

He shook his head over and over then and he realized that he must be making noise. His tight chest and working throat warned him and he was whimpering, no idea how loud he sounded, aware that he was making sounds, his mouth forming the words that he himself could not hear.

“Please, please, please.”

The faces around him were laughing, he could see their amusement, the cruel turn of their mouths. He saw Mark’s own triumphant smirk, saw the man move his lips with deliberate slowness so that Jared would know what he was saying.

“See that.” He was openly mocking now. “Witness that, he wants it! He’s pleading for it.”

Jared shook his head harder, felt his throat contract again, he wondered what sort of noise he was making, if he were moaning or keening. He tried to form the words in his head, his mouth making another shape, trying so hard, so hard to say what he really wanted and needed to say. Before he could do anything more he felt flesh against his lips and he knew what it was. He clenched his teeth and tensed his neck. He was going to bite the thing off if he had to, he was going to hurt at least and he felt his mouth opening, his throat tense, eyes tight shut as he got ready to end this somehow.
****
The door was open so he didn’t have to think about kicking it down.

The music inside was incredibly loud and it virtually vibrated through him, his ears ringing. There were flashing lights and tables full of drink but the vast room was all but empty. Jensen noticed that there were odd rings on the wall, several whips on the table and various other implements of sexual pleasure or torture. Jensen balked for a moment, guilt making him almost paralyzed with fear. He looked around frantically, wondering what the hell had happened with his ordinary life, wondered how the hell he had found himself here and then he gritted his teeth and moved on, determined to find that bastard Mark.

There were a set of stairs leading towards, what looked like, a basement and Jensen ran down them, the scent of weed assailing his nostrils. He could hear more music, muted this time, and laughter. He took a breath and burst into the room, his eyes stinging and watering as they assimilated to the dimness of the room. He could hear a high pitched keening over the music, desperate and panicked something that sounded like a cornered animal, barely even human. He could see partially clad people crowded in a circle and they were so engrossed in what was happening that they didn’t even notice Jensen as he pushed through the throng.

Jensen’s breath went as he saw what the crowd were gawking at. Mark Pellegrino was sitting on Jared’s naked chest, his jeans were open and he had his erection pressed against Jared’s half open mouth. The keening noise Jensen could hear was coming from Jared and that, in itself, made him feel sicker, so angry he could barely see straight.

He knew Jared hated to talk, to make noise and to hear that dreadful sound coming from his lips would haunt Jensen for years to come. As he rushed nearer he could hear something else, Jared had stopped keening and all Jensen could hear falling from his lips were the words, please, please, please. Jared’s eyes were closed, his face smeared in sweat and tears. Jensen saw red and he thrust a big breasted woman aside and skidded to a halt in front of the depraved tableaux.

“You like pain, asshole,” he screamed at Mark’s astonished face. “Try this!”

He punched the guy straight into his smirking face. Mark went over like a sack of potatoes, blood spurting from his nose. He was still conscious and trying to speak as Jensen kicked him over and over, not caring about anything, just wanting to see the bastard suffer.

“I’m calling the cops,” a voice said and Jensen just ignored it.

“Do what you like,” he panted out as he bent over the now unconscious figure of Mark, before moving to Jared. Jared’s eyes were open now but he looked confused and out of it, his mouth still moving, no sound coming out. Jensen snapped at the handcuffs, desperately trying to free the younger man. A key appeared in his hand and he turned to see someone vanish back into the crowd. Thanking god that someone had a conscience, he unfastened the metal from around Jared’s wrists and let him free.

He hauled Jared to his feet and they moved out of the room and up the stairs. Jared was a big man and Jensen was virtually carrying him. Jared was almost comatose, breath hitching, his head buried in Jensen’s neck. Jensen continued to drag him along, whispering words of comfort repeatedly until he got outside and realized that Jared couldn’t even hear him.
****
Jared was slumped next to him with his eyes closed tight. His breath coming in harsh pants and Jensen can see the pulse in his neck pounding hard against the skin. Jensen didn’t hang around long enough to recover Jared’s shirt and he can see the heaving of his bare chest, his nipples taut with cold, sweat drying on his stomach.

The nearest hospital is in the center of the city and Jensen drives there fast enough to get a ticket if he was unfortunate enough to run into a cop. He hadn’t even thought of an alternative, knows that he is going to have to ring Jared’s parents, his sister, ring them and tell them what a fuck up he is and hope that they might accept his apologies.

He kept that bastard Mark on his books for three years, virtually from the start of his business. He did all the usual background checks, did everything right and yet still the fucking pervert slipped through his net. Mark had destroyed so many young men’s lives and now he was, without doubt, going to destroy Jensen’s business. Added to that, the state Jensen had left him in, he was certain he was going to go down for beating the man to a pulp but it didn’t matter, nothing mattered but the man next to him. Jared had to be okay and if Jared was, then everything else would have been worth it.

Jensen filled in the forms as best he could. He had called Jared’s parents and given them the barest details of what had happened and then he had rung Chris because, now that the adrenaline was out of his system, he didn’t want to be alone while dealing with all this.

The doctors had wheeled Jared off into a private booth. Jensen had explained, again in the barest of details, what had happened.

“Was he assaulted?” The doctor asked, kindly, his hand on Jensen’s shoulder the only thing holding him up right now.

“I don’t know, I don’t think so,” Jensen swallowed, his mouth dry as dust, his whole body aching now. “I know he was drugged.”

“We’ll check him out.” The doctor noted something down on his clipboard and turned away to follow Jared’s gurney. “Anything else we should know?”

“He’s deaf,” Jensen added and the pain that that statement caused was almost too intense. Mark had chosen Jared because of his deafness, he had used Jared’s inability to hear and that hurt more than anything. Jared had joined Jensen’s agency to try and surmount his problems and find someone to love him. He had failed in the former but he had succeeded in the latter but Jared would never know that. Jared would never find out how much Jensen cared about him, how enamored Jensen had become and that, that was the biggest tragedy of all.
****
For once Chris had nothing witty or scathing to say. He just flops down next to Jensen on the hard hospital bench and slings an arm around his shoulder. Jensen knows there will be questions, not just from Chris but from everyone, but he is too tired, too worn to do anything but sit and wait, wait until he knows Jared is okay.

A pretty girl comes into the waiting room. She has soft chestnut hair tied back into an untidy ponytail and slanting eyes that are all too familiar. She spots Jensen and stares at him for a long time and then she comes and sits next to him and holds out her hand.

“You’re Jensen Ackles,” she said with a wry smile. “I recognize you from your photo on the flyer in Jared’s room.” Her hand reached out and patted his knee. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” his voice was shaky enough not to be convincing. “Are you Jared’s sister?”

“Megan.” She squeezed his knee. “My mom and dad have gone straight in to see him and they don’t allow more than two visitors at a time.”

“How is he?” Jensen felt guilt overwhelm him and the sting in his eyes overflowed onto his cheeks, salt smearing down over his bones.

“He’s doing okay, thanks to you,” she replied, gently. “So don’t go sitting there blaming yourself.”

“It is my fault.” Jensen wiped stupidly at his eyes. “I sent him on a date with that pervert, in the first place.”

“He wanted to go on that date, he asked to go,” Megan spoke softly, gently. “Jared is a great guy but he had closeted himself away for far too long. We used to try to get him to join in with social things, tried to get him to parties and proms but he just preferred to stay at home with his laptop or at work with his books. He went to the gym late in the day when there was no one about, swam every day because he could do it without talking to someone but when he signed up for your agency he came alive.”

“Really?”

“He started to go out so much more and, even when the dates weren’t to his – well let’s say taste, he was still pretty happy.”

“He – he’s a really nice guy.” Jensen let the confession out. “I like him a lot.”

“Shame you didn’t ask him on a date yourself then. He likes you too, likes the fact that you can sign, likes that you talk to him like he is – um – normal.”

“It’s an unwritten rule not to date clients,” the admission was like a weight on his tongue. “I thought it was unprofessional.”

“And now you regret it?”

“If I had asked him out he wouldn’t have gone with that fucking . . . ,” his voice tailed off. “Look, I barely know him, not really. We have been out once to discuss dates, once with Sandy and then – the rest of the time just e-mails and notes.” He swallowed hard and wiped at his eyes again. “There was just something – I’ve never felt like that before over anyone and – and it made me evaluate my life, you know.”

“You are a hero.” Megan was smiling a little wider now. “You know that, don’t you?”

“I’m a fool!” He felt embarrassed. “And now, your brother is hurt because of me and I’m tellin’ you my problems, instead of worrying about yours.”

Megan shook her head, she looked over Jensen’s shoulder to talk to Chris.

“You should tell him to stop feeling so guilty,” she said. “After all, Jared is a grown man. Jensen didn’t force him to go out with Mark. It was what he wanted and he wasn’t even listening to me when I tried to warn him.”

“You tried to warn him?” Jensen and Chris asked at almost the same time.

“Yeah.” She looked down at her shoes for a moment. “I thought he was a bit creepy, but Jared wouldn’t listen to me, he was pretty enamored.”

“Yeah, the guy could certainly pile on the charm.” Jensen felt exhausted suddenly, as if he had run a marathon. “Would – I mean – if he wants, would it be okay if I saw Jared?”

Megan flushed a little and averted her gaze. Beside him, Chris gave his arm a little squeeze.

“My parents are not too happy with things at the moment, they are pretty old-fashioned,” her laugh was wry. “They, my mom in particular, are very protective. I’m really sorry,” she added.

Jensen nodded, dejectedly. He wouldn’t want HIM to see Jared either after what had happened, so he couldn’t really blame Jared’s parents. He shot a quick glance at Chris and then he got to his feet, still a little shaky.

“Just tell him I hope he’s okay and that I’m thinking about him.” Jensen smiled at Megan but his smile was weak.

“Look . . . .” Megan looked distressed. “Jensen, like I said, Jared is a big boy now and, no doubt, when he is feeling better he will want to see you. He’ll want to thank you.” She touched his hand again, swift and gentle. “Just you wait.”

Yeah, Jensen could wait, but he was certain that Jared WOULDN’T want to see him again and that was what hurt more than anything else.
****
Jensen spent the next week in the office half-heartedly making matches and waiting expectantly for the cops to come and arrest him for beating up that bastard Mark. He had taken the pervert off his books. He had contacted all the other agencies in the district and beyond too, made sure none of them signed Mark up, trying to protect the vulnerable but feeling a little like he was shutting the stable door long after the horse had bolted.

As the weeks passed and nothing happened, Jensen began to relax. He e-mailed Jason to tell him what had happened and Jason replied that he was really happy that Mark had finally got his comeuppance and that he would tell the other guys that had suffered at Mark’s degenerate hands. Two days after he had received Jason’s e-mail, he received a short but polite note from Jared Padalecki telling him that he had decided to quit the agency and thanking him for everything he had done. It was emotionless and curt and it made Jensen feel so miserable that he found himself wiping his stupid, stinging eyes and almost weeping over his computer.

That night he went out on a bender with Chris. He supposed he should celebrate keeping his business, getting one over on Mark and generally saving the day but instead he just felt low and defeated and he couldn’t believe he would never see Jared again.
***
Hung over and freezing cold he sat on in the office with endless cups of coffee wondering how he had gotten here. He had always been so casual and calm when it came to relationships and he had never been short of offers or one night stands but now he wanted more and the person he wanted it with was lost to him. He considered contacting Megan or maybe visiting Jared’s house but he soon realized that that particular plan was pointless and he would have to accept that.

A knock on the door interrupted his pity party and he got to his feet and opened the door. For a moment he thought he might be hallucinating and then he thought he might still be drunk because standing in the door frame, all six foot five inches of him, was Jared and he was smiling.
****
Jared didn’t remember much about what happened at Marks.

His thoughts were jumbled, fragmented by the drugs in his system, the alcohol flowing through his veins. He recalled thinking that he was going to bite Mark’s cock the minute it entered his mouth, he recalled how sick and vulnerable he felt not being able to hear anything or see anything but Mark’s smug face telling him that he was actually consenting to this, mistaking his garbled pleas for affirmation.

The next thing he knew Mark was on the floor next to him blood flowing from his nose and mouth. His eyes were open but glassy and there was someone kicking him repeatedly. Jared had been stunned to see Jensen Ackles bending over him, undoing the cuffs and hauling him to his feet. He had felt sick, legs barely working as Jensen pulled him out of that place, Jensen’s breaths against his neck a signal that he was talking to Jared even if Jared couldn’t hear the words.

He had woken again in a hospital bed with his mom crying beside him. He couldn’t hear the machines but he could see them flashing, feel the heavy weight of the needle in his hand, the soreness of his ass and thighs. His dad was standing stoically over him signing that they had testing him for infection and also for signs of assault. Jared wanted to cry then but more than that he had wanted to see Jensen, to thank him for what he had done. Mercifully his recollections of Mark’s assault were hazy and he was glad. He just wanted to be out of there and go home but his dad told him he had to stay for the night and that there was no way he could see anyone that wasn’t family.

When he finally got out he was told to take at least a couple of weeks from work to get his head around things. He felt weak and tired all the time, not wanting to see anyone at all. He had wanted, so much, to be part of society and to feel normal but the whole thing had backfired on him and he wished, fervently that he had taken notice of what Megan had said and not been so charmed by Mark.

He was retreating inside his shell again, almost giving up. He would never find anyone to love him now, he would be like one of these mad old hermits who lived alone. He barely ate and hardly slept and he wondered how he could even go back to work not wanting to go outside again, memories of that night at Marks filtering back to him every time he closed his eyes, the realization that he had spoken, made noise and been mocked just adding to his misery.

Megan was the one to finally pull him out of his funk. She sat on his bed and scolded him with angry signing and clearly mouthed words. She told him not to blame himself for Mark’s actions. That Mark was just a bastard who got what he deserved. She also told him that Jensen had wanted to see him at the hospital but his mom hadn’t allowed it. She explained that Jensen was really fond of Jared, and that Jensen wanted to ask Jared out but he wouldn’t because Jared was a client.

With Megan’s help, an idea formed and he wondered why he hadn’t realized sooner. He liked Jensen too, Jensen was handsome, smart, and funny and he could communicate with Jared. The time he had spent with Jensen had been great and he should have recognized the signs Jensen was sending out to him.

He sent an e-mail withdrawing from the agency. If he wasn’t a client anymore then he could go on a date with Jensen and not go against Jensen’s principles. He was a little scared – deep down – after what had happened with Mark and he was afraid that he would never be able to handle physical intimacy again, never trust anyone to touch him or kiss him. However, he trusted Jensen, knew Jensen would never hurt him. Jensen had saved him, Jensen was his hero and he flushed, feeling like a damsel in distress, his heart thundering as he sent the mail, hoping Jensen would realize why he had done it.

Time passed and he went back to work, got on with his life again but still nothing from Jensen. He checked his e-mails several times a day, waited for the post, and hoped, foolishly, that Jensen would turn up on his doorstep, even if it was just to see how he was.

Finally, he decided he would take matters into his own hands and go see Jensen. He was terrified and unsure, his first real foray into the world again but he was an adult now, thirty years old, and it was time he took control of his own life.

His nerves were zinging as he knocked on the door of Jensen’s office. He had no idea if Jensen was even there or if he would be pleased to see Jared again. This was his last chance and he hoped and prayed that it would work out. He wanted it so much it almost hurt and when the door opened and Jensen stood there, staring at him as if he were a ghost, he couldn’t keep the smile from his face, the ache inside of him easing as he stepped inside and signed, hello.
****
“Are you okay?”

Jensen was so stunned that he forgot himself, words tripping from his tongue. Jared smiled at him wider, dimples deepening his cheeks and nodded, obviously reading his lips.

“Better,” he signed. “Thanks to you.”

No thanks to me, the words came almost unbidden into Jensen’s head and he gestured that Jared sit. He couldn’t stop staring at the younger man, trying to see just how he looked. Thinner and perhaps a little paler. His hair was longer framing that beautiful, high-boned face. Jared was looking back at him, his eyes gentle, and hands resting on his knees.

“Didn’t think I would see you again,” Jensen signed as he fumbled with the coffee pot almost knocking over the sugar and banging his leg on the table. “Are you really okay?”

“Yeah,” Jared signed back, accepting coffee and putting it down instantly so he could talk. “I’m back at work and everything.”

“I’m so sorry.” Jensen forgot to sign again and Jared just shook his head, fingers moving slowly so that he got the message across.

“It isn’t – wasn’t – your fault. No one forced me to date Mark. I wanted to see him, really liked him, and for a while there I thought he was the one,” Jared paused and dipped his head, hiding behind a curtain of hair. “I guess he tricked me like he tricked everyone else.”

“He’s gone,” Jensen signed, angrily. “Taken off my books and everyone else in the area has been warned. He won’t do it again.”

“I should have told the cops.” A flush appeared across Jared’s cheekbones. “My mom wanted me to, but . . . .” He looked down at the desk again and Jensen remained still. He didn’t have to see Jared sign the rest, he knew it, he had heard it from Jason and from another couple of guys who had e-mailed him afterwards. He wished that he could go out to Mark’s palatial pad and beat him to a pulp – again. The guy had gotten away with so much and Jensen would never, ever forgive himself for that.

He leant forward and caught Jared’s shoulder, tipping his head up so that he could see Jensen’s mouth move, understand what he was saying. “It’s okay,” he said. “He won’t do it again, be reassured of that.”

“Thanks.” Jared’s Adam’s apple moved up and down as he swallowed. His eyes were on Jensen’s face and his cheeks were still flushed. “I don’t remember much but I do remember what you did.” He smiled as he signed, “You saved me.”

“Yeah, well . . . .” Jensen quirked a smile. “All part of the package.”

Jared laughed then and he bit his lip as if he were contemplating something. Jensen frowned and his mouth went dry, the look in Jared’s eyes making him feel almost awkward.

“So,” he signed, finally, wanting to break the sudden discomfort between them. “What now?”

Jared was staring at him hard now, his mouth moving almost as if he was desperate to say the words he was signing. He looked embarrassed and Jensen wanted to reach across the desk and just hug him.

“I did actually meet someone through your agency,” Jared signed, hands shaking. “And I wondered if it might be possible for me to ask him out.”

“What?” Jensen was aware of his jaw dropping, his heart plummeting and his brain trying to work out who Jared might mean.

“I wanted to ask him out for a drink, nothing complicated,” Jared’s hands and mouth were moving now, as if what he was saying was of great importance.

“Who?” Jensen wanted to scream, stamp his foot, and punch someone. Jared wasn’t his client anymore and he still wanted to date someone from his books.
Jared sighed, he reached forward and gripped Jensen’s hand, his eyes speaking volumes, trust, affection, and desperation almost.

“You, you asshole!” Jared signed. “Why do you think I quit?”

“Because you were screwed over by Mark,” Jensen signed back as if it were obvious.

“I quit so I wasn’t your client anymore. I quit because you don’t date clients and – and I would like to date you.”

Jensen’s heart began to thunder and if he could have danced right there and then he would. He kept staring at Jared, staring at his fingers, hoping he hadn’t read it wrong. He could feel a smile forming on his face, a sense of lightness that he hadn’t felt in a long, long time.

“I’d love to come for a drink with you,” he signed and Jared’s grin grew so wide and so dimpled Jensen thought he might drown in it.
****
“So.” Chris pushed a shot glass over to Jensen who stared at it for a long time and then shook his head. “When are we going to meet your new boyfriend?”

“He’s not my boyfriend . . . yet.” Jensen tried hard to keep the smile off his face but was failing miserably. “We are taking it slow. Well I’m taking it slow after what happened to him.”

“Tell all,” Chris said and slugged back the shot. It was loud in the bar, music pulsating around him and Jensen shook his head, unaccustomed to the noise, he had become used to sharing silence with Jared and being in loud places took some getting used to.

“It’s nice,” he said, finally. Sipping at the beer, Chris staring at him as if he had lost his mind. “Really nice.”

“Jensen Ackles doing nice!” Chris slapped him on the back and took his unconsumed shot, slugging it back with some enthusiasm. “Never thought I’d see the day.” He sobered for a minute and looked Jensen straight in the eye. “You really like this guy don’t you?”

Jensen swallowed and nodded; yeah he was falling even faster for Jared. Now they were seeing each other regularly he realized that he had been right, there was definitely something between them, a spark that threatened to build into a flame and he couldn’t stop thinking about it, couldn’t stop thinking about Jared even when the dude wasn’t there.

He was taking it slowly, almost painfully so. No kissing or hugging yet, just gentle touches, the occasional squeeze of a hand or knee. He knew what Jared had suffered at Mark’s hands and he wanted to be a better person.

“So I repeat,” Chris pushed another shot over to Jensen who stared at it for a long time and then shook his head again. “When are we going to meet your new boyfriend?”
He didn’t know what Jared felt about it all, it was hard sometimes to know what the guy was thinking and signing to each other wasn’t quite the same as having a conversation. Sometimes, he would catch Jared looking intently at him, leaning in as if he was going to maybe kiss him or something but then he would pull away and Jensen thought – maybe – he wasn’t ready yet.

“You gonna bring him to meet us?” Chris asked again and Jensen swallowed. He knew how Jared felt about crowded, noisy places and he didn’t know if Jared would be able to cope with his friends. He realized he was babying the guy, wrapping him up in cotton wool but he couldn’t help it. He cared enough to make sure Jared was happy and he was certain that he was happy now.
****
Jared stared at himself in the mirror.

It had been nearly four months since his experience with Mark and two months since he had started seeing Jensen. He knew he looked better now, the shadows gone from beneath his eyes, his face filling out again now that he had regained his appetite. He rubbed his chin and cocked his head to one side, his hair needed cutting and he was building up some wicked stubble. He grinned widely, showing his teeth. He looked good, he decided, so why didn’t Jensen seem to want him?

He didn’t think it was his deafness; Jensen appeared to have no problems with that, he could sign and Jared could lip read and they had conversations as best as they could. He wondered if Jensen missed socializing so much, he didn’t see his friends as regularly as he used to, preferring to spend time with Jared, sometimes at his place and sometimes in quiet bars not far from home.

Jared was ready now. Jared wanted – no needed – to have some sort of physical connection with Jensen. He didn’t know how to approach it, he was still pretty naïve despite his involvement with Mark and reading and watching porn weren’t really helping him at all, just serving to frustrate him further.

He sat at his desk at the library staring at his computer screen. Outside the sun was shining and the sky was a clear and azure blue. It was a beautiful day and he wanted to get out of there, maybe take a walk, and perhaps visit Jensen in his office. He knew Jensen had gone out last night with his friends and Jared was terrified of holding Jensen back, of ruining his life. There was obviously something between them but they were so different and Jared hoped that those differences wouldn’t ruin what they had.
****
Jensen rubbed his eyes. He was tired and he just didn’t want to be here. It was a beautiful day and too nice to be indoors. His head hurt a little from last night but he was far from hung over and he had stuck to beer rather than shots much to Chris’s amusement.

He wanted – no he needed – to see Jared. He couldn’t stop thinking about the man and he realized that it was so much easier to deal with other people’s love lives than his own.

Despite what had happened with Mark he still loved doing what he was doing, still loved fixing people up, seeing them contented and satisfied. He had two more engagements in the pipeline and a wedding coming up in the summer and business was booming. His dealings with Mark hadn’t put him off but he was certainly more vigilant when it came to security checks and he now insisted all of his clients came into the office for a one to one chat before he put them on his books.

An idea had been forming in his head for a while now and he wondered if he dare approach Jared with it. He had been on dates as a chaperone before because he could sign – hell he had even been on Jared’s first date – and it still rankled but he was already stretched pretty thin and he could do with another signer on his books. He knew Jared would be excellent at it if he just gave himself a chance but he still wasn’t as social as Jensen would like and this might be a great way of getting him back out of his shell again.

Face it – he was fucking obsessed with Jared – he couldn’t stop thinking about the guy, all of his ideas for the future included him and all of his plans seemed to revolve around him. He bit his lip and tapped on the desk with some impatience.

Let’s face it – he was in love.
****
The loud knocking at his door is always familiar. The person who is knocking has now idea how loud and insistent it sounds and Jensen can’t keep the smile from his face when he finally opens it to see Jared standing there, a picnic basket in one hand, a six pack in the other.

Putting them down, Jared signs eagerly, “Megan said you might like to get out of the office. I packed us a picnic.” His face is flushed from his cheeks to the tips of his ears and he looks delightful. Jensen swallows down everything that was worrying him and grins.

“Lead on,” he signs and turns off his computer with a flourish.

The park is crowded on such a beautiful day and there are people everywhere. Jensen keeps glancing at Jared, worried that he will panic but the younger man seems happy enough, smiling to himself and looking around for a good spot to sit.

The trees give them the shelter and privacy they needed; the river that flowed through the park was at their backs and the sun on their faces. Jensen laid back and sighed contentedly, feeling the grass beneath him, the sudden warmth of Jared beside him.

The younger man bent over him, slanting eyes full of something Jensen couldn’t read, mouth curved up into a smile. He put his hand on Jensen’s shoulder and pulled him up into an awkward embrace, fingers scrabbling in Jensen’s shirt, moving beneath it, warm pads on his back.

“You are beautiful,” Jensen spoke against Jared’s neck. He knew the younger man couldn’t hear him but it didn’t matter, he just wanted to say it, needed to say it. “Jared.”

Jared’s hands progressed along his back and down into the dip of his spine. They were shaking, long fingers fitting gently beneath his waistband, resting at the cleft of his ass.

He went from 0 – 60 in a moment, cock hardening in his pants. He wriggled against Jared for a moment and gently pushed at his shoulders so that Jared had to look at him, see his mouth move.

“I’ve a perfectly good apartment not far from here,” he said trying to think clearly with those long fingers stroking him just right, almost as if Jared was experimenting, seeing what Jensen liked. Jared twisted his fingers again, the tips burning Jensen’s sensitive skin and Jensen groaned. Jared flushed then and buried his head into the juncture of Jensen’s neck and shoulder, his mouth moving against Jensen’s skin, slow and easy.

Jensen wanted it desperately but he didn’t think Jared was ready for public sex just yet. He managed to extricate himself from Jared’s grasp and pulled Jared to his feet.

“Come on,” he mouthed. “Let me take you home.”
****
He had a king sized bed and he sat Jared down on it. Jared stared up at him with wide eyes full of lust, desperation and just a little fear. Jensen was hard and it was obvious, his cock making a bulge in his jeans. He could see that Jared was hard too and he knew that they had to take this easy, do this slow or everything would be ruined.

“Do you want to take your shirt off?” Jensen signed. “I’ll take mine off too.”

Jared nodded solemnly and, with shaking hands, began to undo the buttons on his shirt. Jensen was out of his own white starched shirt in about ten seconds flat and he felt the cool air of his bedroom prickle his skin. Jared slipped the shirt off his own shoulders and threw it to the side. Jensen stared at acres of tanned skin, taut abs and tight pecs. He swallowed, his mouth dry, and he reached out so that he could touch Jared’s chest, his fingers playing gently with Jared’s nipples.

It was odd in some ways. It was so silent, only the sound of Jared’s breathing and his own. He had never been showy during sex but he usually made some noise but now he was as silent as his partner not even sure if he was doing the right thing, his heart thundering hard in his chest, his eyes never leaving Jared’s face watching him constantly for signs of discomfort.

Jensen pushed Jared back onto the bed. His movements were firm but gentle, fingers still splayed across Jared’s pectoral muscles, softly stroking. Jared was staring at him with those foxy eyes, all speckled hazel and fuzzy with desire but there was concern there, a fear that he was desperately trying to hide.

“I’m not Mark,” Jensen spoke clearly, his voice a sudden shock in the silent room. “I’m not Mark and we won’t do anything you don’t want to.”

Jared swallowed; Jensen watched his throat move, his hands came up and wrapped in Jensen’s hair pulling him down into a clumsy but meaningful kiss. They stayed like that for a while, kissing and making out, skin against skin. They both still had their pants on and Jensen felt Jared move beneath him, wriggle into position so that their groins brushed together, the sheer sensation making Jensen gasp.

He sat back so he could hook his fingers into Jared’s belt, tug it free, pads eager on buttons and zips. Jared still watched him intently and Jensen realized Jared was watching his mouth, watching to see Jensen’s lips move hear anything Jensen might say. Jensen smiled wide, sudden happiness overwhelming him. Jared wanted him, Jared trusted him and it was better than he could have ever hoped, better than anything his imagination had conjured up. Jared twisted eagerly, rubbing his groin hard against Jensen’s hand. Jensen freed Jared’s cock from the confines of his underwear, holding it tenderly, admiring it as Jared humped his hand, gasps coming from his mouth, silent grunts and groans and – suddenly – Jensen needed to hear Jared, needed to know how he was feeling.

He shucked out of his own pants and pulled Jared’s down over his hips, Jared lifting a little so that his bare flesh was free. They were naked together now and Jensen knew for certain Jared had never been at this point before, never been so far. He leaned down and kissed Jared again, breathing against his neck, his ear, biting down on the flesh there, feeling Jared harden further beneath his fingers, the two of them moving closer until they were flush against each other, skin to skin.

He rolled Jared over carefully, laid him on his back so that he could see Jared and Jared could see him. Jared’s eyes were open wide, pupils blown, sweat on his brow. There was no fear there now, just lust and need, his hair stuck to his forehead, his mouth moving as if he were forming words. Jensen began to move his hand, gently at first and then faster. He ached all over, the pleasure zinging through his body but he had to take it steady, this was for Jared, this was all for Jared and Jensen was determined to make him feel good, to erase all memories of Mark from his mind, make him realize just how wonderful sex could be.

“Is it good?” He couldn’t help himself, he always spoke to his partners during sex and this time was no different. “Is this good, Jared?”

Jared nodded, mouth moving again, his hips juddering, pushing into his hand.

“Tell me, Jared.” He could see the other man was almost insensate with pleasure and he couldn’t stop himself. “Tell me how good it is.”

Jared’s eyes dropped closed, he was pushing harder into Jensen’s hand now and Jensen needed more, had to have more. He spread Jared’s legs wider, pushed them apart, fingers seeking out Jared’s warmth, gently rubbing up and down his crack, hearing Jared’s breaths quicken up, feeling him tense a little.

“Good!”

The word was loud in the silent room, odd inflection, rising and falling and Jensen felt his throat close, his eyes sting as he realized it was Jared, that Jared was breaking his own unwritten rule, and that Jared was talking – for him.

“Yeah, yeah,” he breathed the words into Jared’s neck as his finger breeched Jared’s tight hole. “Come on – make you feel good.”

Even though Jared couldn’t hear him he was responding to the stimulation, the feel of Jensen’s mouth moving against his throat.

“More,” his voice was loud, unchecked, no accent but deep, flat. Jensen knew Jared was scared, was embarrassed at how he sounded, but to Jensen he sounded wonderful and it was all he needed to hear.

He sat up and put his fingers on Jared’s lids opening them with careful fingers.

“I want to be inside you,” he said, clear enough for Jared to understand him. “I need to be inside you, now.”

Jared didn’t speak again, just nodded, his eyes on Jensen again, hands clutching at Jensen’s shoulders, an unspoken question in his glance.

“It might feel odd but if we do it properly it won’t hurt,” Jensen made himself perfectly clear, wanted Jared to have the option to say yes or no. Jared smiled then, dimples and white teeth, eyes shining. “Do you want me?” Jensen asked, his own body praying that Jared answered in the affirmative.

Jared nodded, his meaning also perfectly clear, as he pulled Jensen down again, gripped Jensen’s hand and bought it behind him. Jensen swallowed hard and closed his own eyes for a moment, overwhelmed by the feelings thrumming through his body.

This, he mused, as he prepared Jared, is what love feels like.

He entered Jared with such tender care that he almost lost it before he was buried deep within the tight warmth that was Jared’s body. The younger man was panting audibly, his legs coming up to wrap around Jensen’s waist, his ankles digging into Jensen’s spine. Jensen paused for a long moment, felt his balls up against Jared’s, and knew he was in as deep as he could go. Time stood still and Jensen held his breath, Jared shaking beneath him, his eyes tight closed, his hands on Jensen’s shoulders tight enough to leave bruises.

“Move,” Jared’s voice was loud, scratchy. “Please.”

Jensen felt everything inside of him loosen and he plunged forward, his thrusts firm and meaningful. His whole body was alive with sensation and he knew he wasn’t going to last very long, his balls already tight and full, his stomach clenching as he moved towards his climax. He reached down a hand and wrapped it tight around Jared’s erection, two pulls and Jared was coming, hot and wet and endless over his fingers and wrist. Jared clenched around his cock and he let go, thrusting mindlessly and without rhythm until he came hard, almost blacking out as his orgasm overtook him.

He cleaned them up and pulled the sheets over them. He was exhausted, body limp, eyes heavy. Beside him Jared was still, his breathing even now, a small smile on his face, content and so happy.

Jensen took Jared in his arms and held him close and together they slept.
****
Jared woke feeling limp and rested; his whole body thrumming, ass sore in an oddly satisfactory way. He propped himself up on his elbow and stared down at Jensen, his throat tight as he stared down at that beautiful face, unable to believe he had finally lost his virginity, that he had finally found someone.

He knew, just as he had known back at Mark’s that he had made noises, and that he had spoken. He had felt the movement of his mouth, the tension in his throat, an echo in his chest and he had looked up at Jensen, foolishly expecting to see amusement, disgust. Instead, Jensen was looking at him with wonder, happiness clear on his face. Jared had had to close his eyes then, couldn’t look at Jensen, tears threatening.

He had often dreamed of this happening but he never thought it would. Jensen had treated him so well after what had happened, Jensen had saved him in so many different ways and this, and this could be the start of something.
****
He made breakfast and squeezed juice in Jensen’s small but compact kitchen. Jensen’s apartment was warm and bright and full of things that made Jared smile. A guitar stood propped up in the corner and there were pictures of Jensen playing it on the walls. There were also photographs of Jensen’s family and Jared sighed, wondering what it would be like to have an apartment of his own, to be independent, and to have pictures of his own family on the walls. He could afford it but he had never had the courage, preferring to hide away, crouch behind his momma’s skirts like a child.

Suddenly he wanted more; he wanted to go and watch Jensen play his guitar, feel the vibrations beneath his feet and in his body. He wanted to do shots with Jensen, play pool, and meet his friends. He had let himself become enveloped by a wall of silence and now he wanted nothing more than to tear it down, rip it apart and start living.

He put the bacon and links on some plates and carried them into the bedroom on a tray. Jensen was waking up, green eyes looking up at him in happy confusion, relief coloring his expression. Jared wondered if Jensen thought he was going to run away or regret what they had done but he wouldn’t and couldn’t ever regret a thing.

Jensen sat up and took the tray from Jared’s hands. He was smiling wide, his hair all over the place.

“You cook as well,” he signed. “The perfect package.”

Jared nodded, he sat down beside Jensen and put his hand on the other man’s wrist.

“Want to be perfect,” he said, feeling his chest contract and hoping he was making noise. “Want to be everything for you.”

Jensen’s eyes went comically wide and Jared knew whatever he had said had made sense. Jensen almost tipped the tray off his lap in an effort to hug and kiss him and Jared’s world went warm, the fear and isolation that had hung over him all of his life seemed to drop away and he realized that he wasn’t a freak and that Jensen liked him despite his deafness and that was all that mattered.
****

MDwebsite

Six Months Later
Jensen opened the door to the office and stepped inside.

The pleasant heat buzzed through him as he took off his coat and there was a distinct scent of coffee in the air. He grinned to himself as he powered up his computer, taking a deep breath and letting the sweet smell of caffeine fill his nostrils.

Jared came out of the kitchen area carrying a pot of coffee and a tray of cookies. He looked hot in his black shirt and silver tie, pressed pants and shiny new boots. He was smiling wide and dimpled and he put the pot down on Jensen’s desk making a big thing of pouring out the coffee and pushing the cup into Jensen’s grateful hands.

“Morning boss,” he signed with a smirk and Jensen laughed, pulling him in and proceeding to kiss the smirk from his face.

When he had asked, attentively, if Jared wanted to work for him he hadn’t expected such an enthusiastic response. Initially he had wanted Jared to maybe go on a few dates and sign for his deaf clients but Jared appeared to want more and Jensen was always open to suggestions.

It was obvious that Jared wanted to break free. He spent hours signing and writing things down so that Jensen got the message loud and clear. Jared explained that he had savings that he would like to invest his savings in ‘Mixed Doubles’ and he hoped Jensen would consider him as a partner.

It was an easy decision. Jensen had already been considering Jared as a partner (albeit a romantic one) so he was over the moon that Jared would even contemplate coming into the business with him. His parents were happy too because Jared’s input made Jensen more independent and the business was going from strength to strength.

Jared and Jensen were an excellent advert for the agency. They really were Mixed Doubles, a living testament that those who were less able were more than capable of finding a partner and having a life. Jared was Jensen’s dream guy and nothing would change that. For his part, Jared had come out of his shell in an enormous way, no longer hiding in the silence of his library, no longer lurking behind his mom’s apron, finally becoming a fully functioning member of society. Jared appeared to have gotten over his experience with Mark and, much to Jensen’s relief, had no fear of sex or sexual activity because of it. In fact, if anything, Jared wanted to make up for lost time and Jensen was totally happy with that.

Jared had started to join him on his nights out too; making friends with Chris and Steve and enjoying watching Jensen play his guitar. Jared was no longer a shrinking violet and liked doing shots as much as the next man. Jensen was oddly delighted to find himself dragging home a huge Sasquatch of a guy in the early hours of the morning and the drunken sex that always followed was definitely to his taste.

The biggest thing though, was that Jared had started talking. His progress was slow but steady and Jensen had insisted on paying for the best speech therapist he could find. Jared was learning words at an amazing rate and, while he was still a little reluctant, his ability to talk was growing and Jensen was convinced they would make a chatterbox out of him yet.
****
Jared pressed Jensen eagerly against the wall. They weren’t open just yet so he had time and he was determined to make the most of it. Jensen was breathing hard, Jared could feel it against his chest and he felt warm all over, affection overwhelming him.

He never thought he would have this; a partner in a business, a steady relationship, and a social life. All of it had been beyond him until he had signed the dotted line and met Jensen.

He bit on Jensen’s lower lip, nibbling at the skin there, his tongue pushing at it. He felt Jensen relax against him and they made out for a while until Jensen put his hands on his chest and pushed him gently away.

Jensen was smiling and mouthing something and Jared blinked for a moment wondering if he might be seeing things. He had already gotten so much and this – this would be the icing on the cake. He stepped back and watched as Jensen signed his words, the meaning clear.

Jared was used to being deaf, accustomed to the silence. He had learned not to envy others and, now he was finally growing, he no longer hated the fact that he was different. He was ‘talking’ more, letting his voice be heard and Jensen had hired one of the best therapists around to help him. It was a measure of Jensen’s feelings that he had done this and Jared knew that Jensen was fond of him but he hadn’t realized that he meant so much to Jensen, not until now.

Jensen was smiling wide, green eyes bright and happy. He leaned forward and pressed his lips to Jared’s, his breath soft and wet against Jared’s mouth, tongue licking at Jared’s, his hands bracketing the younger man’s hips, pulling him in protectively.

“I love you,” Jensen said and he signed it at the same time leaving Jared in no doubt. “I love you so much.”

Jared licked his lips, his chest was tight and his eyes stung and he felt like the biggest sap in the world. He looked around the office, smelt the coffee, saw the colorful plants that his momma had given him to brighten up the place. This was his world now, bright and lively, a new beginning and he was so happy he could almost burst with it. He opened his mouth and let his throat relax, formed the words and hoped for the best.

“I love you too.” He said.

And Jensen’s mouth on his told him that he had gotten it right.

End