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Don't Ask Me About the Years I Spent Out in the Rain

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Jared's life is shitty. Simple as that.

There's never been a time when his life has been good, really. When he was younger he used to hope maybe he could change things for himself, get out and make something of himself. He remembers his teachers telling him how much potential he had, how smart he was, and that he just needed to apply himself. It was easier said than done, though; his parents barely made enough money to put food on the table and for as long as Jared could remember, they'd been too busy screaming at each other, blaming each other, to pay attention to him. Most days, Jared went to school hungry, tired, and lonely, and by the time he reached high school, his grades had started to slip. He didn't do horribly, never actually failed a class, but he certainly wasn't a straight-A student either.

The day he graduated, he packed his few meager belongings and left his family and his hometown hoping to find something better. College was out of the question because Jared had no money to pay for it and no hope of getting a scholarship.

For a while, he dreamed about going to Los Angeles, or maybe New York, to try his hand at acting. But he made it no further than Dallas with no money in his pockets and no idea what to do with his life. And as it turned out, there weren't many prospects for an eighteen-year-old with nothing more than a high school diploma to his name. Now, four years later, things are much the same, but given what he started out with, Jared likes to think he's doing okay.

He takes any job he can find: mopping the floor of a restaurant after hours, frying burgers for a fast food chain, walking dogs, bar-tending once he's of age. None of the jobs make him rich, but they put a roof over his head and food on his table. He isn't exactly getting somewhere, but he's getting by.

Until he isn't.

+

They say bad things come in threes and Jared is starting to believe it's true. First, the café where Jared waits tables closes down in early August, leaving him with one job less. Three weeks later, Jared is fired from his job at the—disgustingly snazzy—bar downtown, because a customer complained about him. Jared can guess who it was too: the entitled, rich asshole who Jared told to fuck off when he'd grabbed Jared's ass and offered him a hundred dollars for a blowjob in the bathroom. And four days after that, while Jared is busy applying to any and all job offers he finds around town, he gets evicted from his apartment. It turns out his roommate has been gambling their rent money away instead of paying their landlady and no amount of begging and pleading helps.

And that's how Jared ends up being homeless, jobless, and out of options.

Except for one: begging Jensen Ackles, businessman extraordinaire, for money.

+

Jared met Jensen at the bar a couple of months earlier while he was working. Jensen had been there with friends, or maybe clients, and while those were busy getting drunk on very expensive champagne, Jensen was busy flirting with Jared.

He hadn't been anywhere near as sleazy as some of the other customers who had tried to hook up with Jared, but he'd certainly made his interest clear with compliments and an offer to take Jared out to dinner. Before he left, he'd slipped Jared a card with his number and told him to call.

Jared hadn't called because he never mixes business and pleasure. He's seen firsthand how messy those situations can get, and what kind of reputation it earns you with customers, co-workers and potential employers. Yet for some reason he hadn't tossed the card out either, tucking it away in his wallet instead.

He's glad he kept it now. He's not sure if Jensen will be willing to help him, but it's the only hope he has at this point. He knows Jensen is still interested—he'd come back to the bar a couple of times since that first night and hinted at the fact that he was still waiting for Jared to call. Now, Jared hopes they can work something out.

If Jensen is surprised that Jared calls him, he doesn't show it. Jared thinks he's probably used to getting his way—he's rich and hot, and there's no way people aren't bending over backwards to make sure Jensen gets whatever he wants. And Jared is willing to be one of those people, if it helps him out of the mess he's in. Pride be damned, it's the only thing he has going for him right now.

Jensen agrees to meet him for lunch at a café downtown that day. It's not the kind of place Jared would usually go to, but if he's going to ask a rich guy for money and, possibly, offer his ass up for it, he's not going to do it in some shabby place.

He gets there early, out of fear that Jensen might leave if he arrives and Jared isn't there yet. The waitress who seats him looks at him weirdly, and Jared knows he doesn't look his best. He tried, his clothes are a bit wrinkled and his hair too messy, and he's carrying two duffel bags with all of his belongings around with him. Luckily, she doesn't say anything, doesn't deny him service, just shows him to a table with a little frown on her face and vanishes when Jared tells her he's expecting someone.

He has to wait ten minutes, which he spends nervously tapping his foot against the floor, mentally running through what he wants to say.

Jensen arrives with a smile on his face, and strolls up to the table, relaxed and confident. He's a bit older than Jared, in his late twenties or early thirties Jared would guess, and he looks even hotter now than he did in the dim light of the bar. When he left his card with Jared after the first time they met, part of Jared had certainly been tempted and he knows if the situation had been different he might have gone home with him. Jensen is that good-looking, and he's one of those people that walk into a room and demand attention.

Today, he's wearing a black suit and the top buttons of his white dress shirt are undone. Jared gets up, nearly knocking the table over as he does so, and then stands there awkwardly, and tentatively holds out his hand.

Jensen looks amused, but he shakes his hand. "Jared. It's good to see you again," he says.

"Hey, Jensen. Uh, Mr. Ackles?" Jared stammers, suddenly realizing that maybe calling the man by his first name might be too forward. After all, this isn't a casual lunch, but what Jared ultimately hopes to be a—albeit very fucked up—business meeting. His stomach twists with nerves as they sit down across from each other at the little table Jared staked out.

"Jensen," Jensen say firmly, and Jared nods.

Before they can say anything else, their waitress comes up to the table with their menus and ask if she can get them anything to drink. Jared studied the menu while he was waiting for Jensen. While the place isn't horrendously expensive, there are places where Jared could get three meals for the price one costs here and he doesn't have that kind of money to spend. Hell, if Jensen won't help him, Jared won't be able to afford food by the end of the week at all.

So he settles on water, even though his stomach is quietly rumbling, and gives the waitress a tight smile.

"I'll have a coffee. Black," Jensen says, without bothering to look at the menu. When the waitress is gone, he turns his attention back to Jared and fixes him with a smile.

"So," he says. "I'm happy you called me."

"Yeah?" Jared asks, and thinks that's a good start.

Jensen hums. "Yeah. I have to admit though that this isn't what I had in mind."

"A café?"

Jensen waves his hand around. "Meeting up on my lunch break, and apparently not even having lunch. I'm getting a feeling this is not the date I was asking you for," he says. "So, tell me, what exactly is this about?"

Jared takes a breath and glances at the counter, hoping their waitress would magically appear again and buy him a couple more minutes. When nothing happens, except Jensen tapping his fingers against the table twice, he sighs and looks down at his hands. "I wanted to ask you for a favor, actually."

"Ah," Jensen says, and he sounds amused.

"Ah?" Jared repeats, and glances up at him. Jensen is smiling, but it looks twisted, sardonic.

"Believe it or not, I'm used to people asking me for favors," he says. "Usually, it's someone I actually know a bit better though. I'm kind of impressed, really—you've got guts, sweetheart."

It doesn't sound like a compliment at all, and Jared feels a lump forming in his throat. This, here, has nothing to do with him having guts, but the fact that he's so damn desperate he's willing to do anything. It's degrading, is what it is, and Jared hates that it's come to this.

Just then, their drinks get there and Jared forces a polite smile on his face as the waitress sets down his water.

"Is there anything else I can do for you?" she asks, and Jared quickly shakes his head before he can get tempted.

"So, I'm guessing it's money," Jensen continues once the waitress is out of ear-shot.

"Yeah," Jared admits, and his voice is nothing more than a whisper, his cheeks burning with sudden embarrassment.

"What's it for? You owe somebody and they're hounding you down? Gambling, maybe? Or maybe it's drugs, huh? Got a habit you can't afford, but just can't shake either?"

Jared meets Jensen's eyes then, and feels a rush of indignation at Jensen's words. "I slept on a park bench for the last two nights," he says, and it comes out harsh. The words seem to have their desired impact though, because Jensen looks surprised. "I need a new job, but I'm not gonna find one if I'm living on the streets. And I'm not asking you to just give me money."

"You're not?"

"No," Jared says firmly. "I'm willing to work for it."

Jensen raises an eyebrow. "Work for it, huh?"

Jared looks around quickly, but nobody seems to be paying any attention to it and leans forward a little. "You want me, right?" he says, and tries to come off confidently even though he hates himself a little in that moment and it makes him sick to his stomach to be offering this.

Jensen snorts. "Are you serious? Sex?" he says. "If I want to get laid, I can get it without paying for it. Why the hell do you think I would go for this?"

The words are harsher than Jensen's tone. Jared knows he's asking for a lot, especially from a stranger, and he didn't think Jensen would just hand out charity. Jensen's mistrust was to be expected, and yet underneath that Jared can still see the nice guy who'd tried to score a date with him.

Jared curls his fingers around his glass of water, the surface cool and slick with condensation, and he knows he doesn't have a good response to that. Jensen is right; there's no reason for him to agree to this, except pity.

"Please," he says—begs—instead. "Believe me, if I had other options, I wouldn't be asking you this. But there's nobody else I can ask for help, and I don't know what else to do. I need money for food and a place. There's gotta be something, anything, I can do for you."

Jensen looks at him, thoughtful, and then picks up his coffee, taking a small sip. He sets the cup back down and licks his lips. "Maybe there is."

+

Jensen's car smells like leather and those little air-freshener trees people use. It's also sleek, and expensive, and fast.

Jensen left the café once he'd finished his coffee to go back to work, but he picked Jared up in the evening and now Jared and his two bags are in Jensen's car, heading for his place—where Jared will be staying in the unforeseeable future, until he finds a job. That's what Jensen asked for: Jared would stay with him, and Jensen would cover all expenses, and all Jared had to do was accompany him to some dinners and functions. He's pretty sure he's staying at Jensen's for the duration of the time because Jensen doesn't trust him and doesn't just want to give him money, and Jared can't really blame him. For all Jensen knows, Jared might have made the story up and would really spend the money on drugs, or gambling, or something equally bad. Jared can't begrudge Jensen the desire to have some kind of control over what happens to the money is going to shell out for Jared. And Jared really doesn't care where he stays, as long as he doesn't have to spend another night outside.

He's still not sure he gets it, though. Being Jensen's date is a lot more harmless than offering up his ass, but it seems almost weirder at the same time. Sex would have been simple, a clear exchange of one thing for another, but this, now, already feels complicated. Jared isn't sure what kind of functions Jensen has to attend, but he assumes they're very different from the kind of social gatherings Jared is used to. Making him fit in will take some effort, and there's so much potential for him to fuck up. And what happens if he does; if Jensen doesn't get what he is hoping for out of their deal?

Jensen, though, seems to think it's a good idea. "People date me for my money, anyway. At least with you, I know where I stand," he'd said at the café, right after laying out his proposition. And when Jared agreed, Jensen suddenly looked as if Jared was the one doing him a favor, the expression on his face softening, his posture relaxing. He looked more like the guy Jared remembers from the bar then, the harshness all but gone.

Jared thinks that's kind of sad that Jensen is willing to pay him to pretend to be his date, really, but he figures it's no more sad than his living on the streets after being fired from his job and losing his apartment, and having no place to go to but to some rich guy who hit on him a few times.

And if what he has to do to get out of this situation is be Jensen's arm candy for the next few weeks, then Jared will try his hardest to be the best fucking arm candy anyone has ever seen and not embarrass Jensen in public.

+

Jensen's place is beautiful.

Jensen gives him a quick tour, and Jared is pretty sure he's gaping the entire time. The house is huge and there seems to be a never-ending string of rooms, but the interior design is much more rustic than Jared had expected.

"You can use any of the rooms down here, except for my study," Jensen says, leading Jared from the living-room to the library. The fucking library, Jared thinks, and he can't believe this is really how rich people live.

"Have you read all of these?" he asks, looking at the floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with books.

Jensen chuckles. "Some, but not nearly all. A lot of these were my grandparents', actually," he explains. "Do you like to read?"

Jared shrugs, and thinks back to school, how he used to love storytime when he was little, but hated the English classes he took in high school. He'd buy cheap, second-hand copies of the novels they were expected to read, and they were always falling apart at the seams and Jared was always behind on his readings, because he found it hard to concentrate on them when the only food he got most days was the lunch at school. There had been the occasional novel, though, that Jared had really liked, stories that he read and that gave him hope that he wasn't the only fucked-up, lonely person in the world.

"Well, either way, you can read any of these books if you want to. They're sorted by author," Jensen says. "Come on, I'll show you the room you can stay in upstairs."

Jared nods and follows Jensen. Upstairs, there's Jensen's bedroom and then a row of guestrooms. Jensen shows him to the one at the end of the hallway. "It has its own bathroom," he says as he opens the door to reveal a big room. There's a big bed, a nightstand, a dresser, a desk and a huge closet, all of it in dark wood.

"It's really nice, thanks," Jared says, politely, and sets his bags down.

Jensen nods. "Why don't you get settled in. The bathroom is fully stocked, towels are in the cupboard under the sink," he says. "I have some papers I need to look over, and we can order in dinner if you like. Maybe talk some more, get to know each other better—seeing as we're roommates for the next while."

"Sounds good," Jared agrees.

The whole thing feels awkward, though Jensen doesn't seem particularly bothered by it. It's probably not the weirdest situation he's ever been in—at least, that's what Jared assumes. He imagines Jensen must have experienced all kinds of incredible things in his life, seen things Jared can only dream of. Hell, maybe Jared isn't even the first person he's paid to be his date.

After Jensen leaves, Jared walks around the room. There are fresh flowers in a vase on the desk, and Jared wonders if they're always there or if Jensen had someone put them there after they had lunch together. He sits down at the desk for moment, stares out at the backyard. He isn't sure how big the property is, if the backyard ends at the line of trees he can see or if it goes beyond that even.

It's beautiful, the whole place, yet it seems isolated, too big for one person. Jared would hate to sleep in a place this big all on his own. He'd want other people to fill up the space, would want pets running around.

It's too quiet, too. Jared is used to hearing the cars on the street outside, people on the sidewalk. Here, none of those sounds exist and Jared can't even hear Jensen inside the house. With a sigh, Jared gets up and grabs one of his bags. He gets out a change of clothes, crinkled from being stuffed in the bag for two days, and decides to take a shower.

The bathroom is, unsurprisingly, big too, and the shower is the best shower Jared has ever had. He stays under the spray longer than necessary, and he feels a bit guilty for wasting so much water. But the pressure is perfect, and the water is beating down hot and strong, and Jared feels his muscles relax.

As overwhelming as Jensen's lifestyle seems, Jared thinks maybe for a few weeks he can enjoy this.

+

After the shower, Jared gets dressed in semi-clean clothes and sits down on the bed, unsure what to do now. He doesn't want to bother Jensen, so he stays in the room. His hair still damp and his stomach rumbling, Jared falls asleep on top of the covers and he doesn't wake up until Jensen knocks on his door and asks him if he wants some food.

Dinner is pasta that Jensen ordered from some restaurant Jared has never heard of, but Jared is pretty sure it's not the type of place normal people order take-out from. It tastes better than anything else he's ever had, and Jared wolfs down his penne with asparagus and chicken.

He notices that Jensen is watching him as he swallows his last forkful of pasta. His plate is still half-full, and Jared flushes.

"I haven't eaten much today," he says, and decides that he doesn't need to tell Jensen that he actually hasn't eaten anything at all since the day before.

Jensen smiles.

"I have some ice cream in the freezer, if you feel like dessert," he offers, and Jared isn't sure if he's maybe being teased, but he nods anyway.

"I'll get you some," Jensen says, and starts to get up.

"I can go get it myself," Jared quickly says, but Jensen shakes his head.

"It's okay. Stay here, relax. Finish your wine," he says. "I have chocolate macadamia, vanilla, crème brulé, and I think there's raspberry sorbet as well."

"Vanilla is fine," Jared says, and Jensen makes a soft noise and looks at him like he's just found out some vital information about him. Jared isn't sure what liking vanilla ice cream could possibly say about him, and hopes Jensen doesn't think he's boring for choosing the least exciting flavor. In the next instant, he tells himself it doesn't matter what Jensen thinks about him. Jared's never really been very good at impressing anyone, from his parents to his teachers and employers, so it'd be more than a little stupid to hope that someone like Jensen could see Jared for anything other than what he is—a broke, hopeless kid with no education or friends.

He sips the wine Jensen poured them before dinner, and waits for Jensen to return. When he does, he's holding a crystal bowl with ice cream and colorful sprinkles on top.

"My nephews love them," Jensen says by way of explanation, and Jared should probably feel insulted that Jensen is comparing him to children, but Jared actually does like sprinkles so maybe he has a point.

Jensen sits down again, picking up his fork.

"God, this is good," Jared says as he eats the first spoon of ice cream, and Jensen smiles.

"Sweet tooth?" he asks, and Jared nods. "There are a few restaurants in Dallas with fantastic pâtissiers—remind you to take you to there sometime."

"You don't have to," Jared says.

Jensen shrugs. "Sounds like the kind of thing people who are 'dating' do, right?" He makes air quotes around the word, dating, lips quirked up in a small smile.

"Okay," Jared says, and smiles back at Jensen. This isn't too bad, he thinks, and eats another spoonful of ice cream.

+

The first day at Jensen's place is entirely uneventful.

By the time Jared wakes up, Jensen is gone. He finds a note from Jensen on the fridge, telling him he's at work and that Jared can help himself to anything in the kitchen, and listing his cell phone and office numbers in case he needs anything.

Jared has some coffee, and after looking around for a while, finds some bagels. He spends the rest of the day on his old laptop, searching for job listings and sending out applications for anything he can find that he's even remotely qualified for.

He makes a mental note to ask Jensen about access to public transportation, since he's completely unfamiliar with the area Jensen lives in, so he can go into the city and ask around at restaurants and stores. He writes emails to his old employers, asking if they need any help.

Jensen comes home pretty late, and they have dinner together before Jensen retreats to his study for even more work. Jared plays some video games on the Playstation Jensen has set up in his media room (and fuck, who has a media room?), but it feels weird using Jensen's things.

He knocks on the door to Jensen's study before heading to bed, and Jensen calls out for him to enter.

"I was just wondering if there's a bus or something, so I can get into the city tomorrow?" Jared asks, lingering in the doorway.

"When do you need to be there?" Jensen asks.

Jared shrugs. "Whenever."

"I could drop you off somewhere," Jensen offers, shuffling some papers aside. "There's a bus, I think, but the bus stop's quite a walk from here. If you don't mind spending the whole day downtown, I can pick you up somewhere."

"Yeah. Yeah, that'd be great," Jared says. "Thanks, Jensen."

"Be ready at 7.30. I need to leave on time. Okay?"

"Sure," Jared says and knocks his knuckles against the door frame once. "Good night, Jensen."

"Good night, sweetheart," Jensen says, and Jared both hates and likes his use of the term of endearment. It doesn't think Jensen is belittling him, or making fun of him, but it still feels weird.

+

Jared doesn't see Jensen much over the next few days. They have dinner together in the evening, but other than the drive to and from the city that one day, they don't spend a lot of time together.

There is no news on the job front either. Jared fills out a few applications when he's in town, but doesn't hear back from any of them. At most places, people tell him they're not hiring anyone new right now and he's told the same thing by his old employers. Jared starts hating the word 'recession' with a passion.

On Saturday, Jensen is in the kitchen when Jared stumbles in in the morning. He's drinking coffee and reading the paper, and Jared actually falters for a moment when he sees him before remembering that Jensen probably doesn't work on the weekends.

"Morning," Jensen says, smiling up at him from the counter he's sitting at.

"Hey," Jared says, and clears his throat. "Is—is there any coffee left?"

"Sure. I can fry you up some bacon and eggs, if you want, too."

"Cereal is fine," Jared says, mostly because he doesn't want to inconvenience Jensen. He pours himself some coffee, prepares a bowl with cereal and milk, and goes to sit down next to Jensen.

"We have plans for tonight, by the way," Jensen says. "There's a party I need to go to."

"A party?" Jared asks, intrigued. He's been thinking about this part of their deal since he got into Jensen's car, after all, and he's curious to see if any of it matches his imagination.

Jensen laughs. "Don't get too excited. It's a suit and tie thing, and they tend to be rather boring. I have to go though."

"Oh. I don't have a suit," Jared says, and Jensen waves him off.

"We'll go shopping and find you something to wear. You might need a few different outfits for the next few weeks," Jensen says.

"Okay," Jared says, and rubs his fingers over his jeans, a bit nervous.

"I'll pay for everything," Jensen adds softly. "You just have to smile and make some polite chit chat tonight."

Jared breathes out and smiles weakly. "Great," he says. He's really not looking forward to it.

+

Shopping with Jensen is an interesting experience. The stores they go to are the kind of places Jared would never even have thought of setting foot into and the whole thing is bizarre. In one of the places, they're handed a glass of champagne and in all of them, an employee follows them around, making suggestions and flitting off to find things in different sizes and styles when Jensen asks for them.

"I look weird," Jared says when he steps out of the changing room in the third outfit Jensen asked him to try on. He's wearing dark gray slacks and a pale blue button-down.

Jensen looks him up and down, smiling. "You're just not used to this style," he says. "You look great."

"I look preppy," Jared says, and Jensen laughs. He walks up to him and adjusts the collar of the button-down.

"It's not the kind of thing you'd wear hanging out with your friends at a pub," Jensen admits. "But you look really nice."

"Nice?" Jared echoes, unsure.

"Here," Jensen says and he reaches out and unbuttons the first two buttons of the shirt. "This way you look a little less 'preppy'."

He smooths his hands down Jared's chest, straightening the fabric, and steps back. "Now, try on the next one," he says. "Always look at all your options before making a decision."

"You're enjoying this," Jared realizes, and Jensen laughs, patting his side.

"I got a beautiful man modeling clothes just for me," he says, steering Jared back to the changing room. "Hell yeah, I'm enjoying this."

+

Jared ends up with two suits, a couple of ties, five button-down shirts, two pairs of slacks, two nice pairs of jeans, two new pairs of shoes, a couple of t-shirts that are less formal but nicer than anything Jared has nonetheless, and a watch that Jared futilely tries to talk Jensen out of.

They have lunch at a small café in town and pick up dinner on their way back.

Before getting ready for the party, Jensen tells him which shirt and tie to pair with the dark gray suit they picked for tonight. Jared usually just throws on whatever clothes he finds first, but tonight he takes his time getting ready. He takes a shower, tries to make his hair look presentable, and makes sure the suit isn't wrinkled and creased as he puts it on. He's never had to tie a tie in his life, so he leaves that for Jensen to do.

Jensen is waiting for him downstairs, dressed in a black suit with a light gray shirt.

"I have no idea how to do this," Jared starts, waving the tie around.

"Come here," Jensen says and beckons him closer. He loops the tie around Jared's neck and ties the knot. He's so close Jared can smell his cologne, rich and earthy, and he tries hard not to fidget.

"There you go," Jensen says, stepping back.

"Thanks," Jared replies and holds out his arms. "Do I look okay?"

"Nobody will be able to take their eyes off you tonight, Jared," Jensen says, and he sounds so sincere, Jared blushes.

"Not standing next to you," he mumbles, and Jensen grins at him.

"Well, we'll make quite a pair then, won't we?"

Jared can't help but agree with that sentence, though he doubts he means it the same way Jensen does. The handsome millionaire and the broke, jobless runaway. Quite a pair, indeed.

+

The party isn't very exciting, but it's not nearly as horrible as Jared feared it would be. Nobody makes any indication that they can tell he doesn't belong there. Most people seem to accept him simply because he's Jensen's date, and that's how far their interest in Jared goes.

It helps that most of the interactions seem very superficial anyway. There's a lot of conversation about businesses, about recent trips that were taken, and a whole lot of gossiping.

Jared sips his champagne, and marvels at the fact that a new glass appears in his hand every time he finishes one. There are waiters flitting around between the guests, attentive and unobtrusive, and trays of finger food are passed around.

Jared tries the crackers with caviar, which taste absolutely vile, and the consistency alone makes him want to gag. But the lobster puffs and crackers with salmon are amazing, and Jared is pretty sure Jensen took notice, because he subtly steers them towards the waiters with those trays a couple of times and whispers into Jared's ear to have some. Jared doesn't want to seem too eager, though, so he only has a few and tries not to just inhale them. He wants the party to go well, wants to fit in with these people for Jensen's sake. It turns out not to be too hard: he mostly stays silent unless someone directly addresses him, and makes sure to stick to Jensen's side.

"Bored?" Jensen whispers into his ear at one point, body turned into Jared's.

"'s okay," Jared replies quietly and Jensen smiles at him.

"Really? Cause I'm bored," he says. "One more hour and then I promise we'll leave, sweetheart."

He places his hand between Jared's shoulder blades and runs it down his back in one long stroke. They haven't been particularly affectionate with each other, though Jared has been told more than once what a beautiful couple they make tonight. A couple of times, Jensen has taken him by the hand when he lead him past groups of people, and sometimes he's touched Jared's arm, or rested his hand on his back, but it's all been very innocent.

They're talking to a guy who Jared is pretty sure is an oil tycoon, or maybe related to one, and his significantly younger wife, when Jensen excuses himself to go the bathroom.

"You'll be all right on your own?" Jensen says quietly, so only Jared can hear him and Jared nods.

He's a little bit tipsy from the champagne, and it's making him a lot more confident and relaxed. Jensen squeezes his arm and then vanishes in the crowd, and Jared pastes on a polite smile as he turns back to their conversation partners.

"So, Jared, is it?" the wife, whose name Jared has already forgotten, says, and Jared nods. "Oh, you and Jensen are just darling together."

"Thank you, ma'am," he says, even though her words have an odd, snide tone to them.

"He's certainly a good catch. So nice, and handsome," she continues, and Jared gets the impression she appreciates Jensen's handsomeness more than she should, what with her husband standing right next to her.

"He's wonderful," Jared replies, giving her a smile. "I'm very lucky."

"Hmm," she hums and puts her hand around her husband's arm, fingernails painted a bright red and her wrist adorned with sparkling, dangling bracelets that are probably worth more than Jared can imagine. "You certainly are."

She sounds a bit breathy now, reminding Jared of the girls in high school who'd talk about their favorite celebrity, all dreamy and smitten.

When Jensen returns, Jared shuffles a little closer, and curls his hand loosely around Jensen's waist. It probably looks possessive, but Jared is supposed to be Jensen's date and he's pretty sure this is what any normal date would do.

+

Jared is surprised how quickly he settles in at Jensen's place. He gets used to having a fridge filled to the brim with food, to the pool in the backyard and the gym in the basement. He gets used to Jensen's maid, who comes in twice a week and cleans and does grocery shopping for them.

Jensen takes him out to a charity dinner event one week, and there's another party they attend together the next and those things get easier, too. The clothes still feel weird, though, and Jared doesn't think he could ever get used to rich people. He's overheard more than one conversation that made him want to shake his head and tell these people they have no idea what the real world is like, and what real problems are.

Jensen is different, or maybe Jared just actually knows him and sees sides of him that he doesn't see in any of those other people. Jensen is someone he could definitely get used to, and Jared has to remind himself more than once not to get attached to him. Jensen isn't his friend. Once he has a job, or maybe once Jensen gets bored of this thing, they'll part ways and probably never see each other again.

Finding a job, though, is starting to prove to be harder than he thought. He doesn't just need a job, he needs one he can support himself with. The problem is that Jared isn't qualified for anything.

And it becomes more and more apparent to him that he wishes that was different. He wishes he'd gone to college, or that he had the means to do that now, and make something more of himself. He doesn't need to become rich like Jensen, but he wants to have more than he did before.

+

"How was your day, honey?" Jensen asks when he comes into the living-room, sounding chipper. He does that sometimes, uses terms like honey and darling with that teasing, sarcastic tone he has, playing up their relationship. Jared can laugh about those terms, because he knows Jensen doesn't mean anything by it. Sweetheart, though, is a different story: it lacks the deliberateness the other terms of endearment always carry. When Jensen calls him sweetheart, there's no mocking, no teasing to it and the more he uses it, the more Jared starts to feel like it's Jensen's nickname for him, infused with a fondness none of the other terms carry.

Jared looks up from his laptop and frowns. "Another slew of rejection emails. At least from those people that even bothered to tell me I'm not good enough," he replies and then runs a hand down his face. "Sorry, you probably don't want to come home to me whining."

"I asked, didn't I?" Jensen replies, and leans against the side of the couch. He's still in his suit from work, tie missing and top buttons of his shirt undone, looking relaxed in a way he rarely does. "You'll find something. You just have to be a bit more patient."

Jared shrugs. "I hope so," he says. "Don't want to annoy you forever."

Jensen reaches out and tugs a strand of hair before smoothing it behind Jared's ear. "You're certainly not annoying me," he says. "Now, how about you change into something nice and I'll take you somewhere?"

"Another party?" Jared asks, not feeling any excitement at all at the prospect of another night at some stiff, fancy event.

"Nah, thought I'd take you out to dinner. It'll be fun, I promise," he says, and he sounds so hopeful, Jared is quick to say yes.

Most days, Jared still feels like he barely knows Jensen, but he's finding out more and more about him every day. He's surprised by how much he's enjoying getting to know Jensen, finding out what he likes and how he ticks. Jensen is, hands down, one of the most interesting people Jared has ever met—whip smart, sarcastic to a fault, and much more reserved than Jared expected someone in Jensen's position to be. He's the kind of person that doesn't just let people it, that you have to work for to get to know, and Jared can tell he is seeing more and more of the real Jensen with each day that passes. And with each new thing Jared discovers about him, he likes Jensen more and is starting to genuinely cherish the time they do get to spend together.

+

Jared picks out one of the more casual outfits Jensen bought for him, dressing in dark blue jeans and a black button-down. Jensen looks amazing as ever, in slacks and a button-down, and Jared admires how easily he pulls off more formal outfits. It always makes Jared feel even more awkward next to him, knowing the difference between them must be startling. It makes him feel a little better knowing that someone like Jensen finds him attractive, though.

The restaurant Jensen takes him to is incredibly nice without feeling too fancy. The clientele, while certainly well-off, are younger people, and everyone is dressed casually, if well. Jared instantly likes it there.

Their table is by a large window, and it's small and intimate. There's a candle on the table, and a small vase with flowers.

Jensen orders a bottle of champagne before Jared has even had a chance to look into the menu, and he raises an eyebrow.

"Champagne?"

"You seemed to like that at the parties," Jensen replies and Jared ducks his head.

"Yeah, it's nice," he admits, but it makes him feel guilty. He went to Jensen to get money so he could support himself, and now he's having champagne and fancy food, dressed like someone from Jensen's social circle. It makes him feel like a gold digger, and he doesn't want that. He doesn't ever want Jensen to think he's taking advantage of him and the agreement they have.

"Jensen," he starts, but Jensen shushes him.

"Just enjoy it," he says. "You obviously didn't have a good day, and I'm just doing something nice for you. Believe me, a bottle of champagne isn't going to put a dent into my bank account."

"This isn't what our deal was about."

"Our deal was that you'd accompany me to social events, and I'd take care of all the expenses, and in return you get a place to stay," Jensen says calmly. "This is a social event and I'm paying for the expenses."

"How is this a social event?"

"We're out, and there are people. Seems pretty social to me," Jensen says with a smirk. "Now, pick what you want to order. The steak is amazing here."

Jared sighs, but opens the menu. He almost protests again when he sees the prices for food, but then decides it's not worth it to fight Jensen over this. Jensen certainly doesn't seem to think Jared is taking advantage of him and Jared hasn't had a steak in a very, very long time.

+

Over dinner, conversation flows easily. Jared has been taken by surprise by how easily they can talk to each other several times since he came home with Jensen. Considering how different the lives they lead are, how little they should have in common, one would think they didn't have a lot to talk about, but Jared enjoys talking to Jensen.

They have salads for starters, and Jared has steak and sautéed mushrooms as main course, while Jensen has lobster. He makes Jared try a bite between regaling Jared with stories about his nephews, anecdotes from his childhood and work.

Jared tells Jensen any funny story from the countless jobs he's worked: the time he found a used condom in a half-empty whiskey glass on the bar counter; or the chef at the diner he worked at for a while who didn't speak a word of English, and would use his hands and feet to tell stories while flipping burgers and stirring pots and pans. He also tells Jensen, for the first time, why he got fired from his job at the bar, and Jensen's relaxed expression twisting into a frown.

"You could probably sue him," he says.

"It's not like I could prove what happened," Jared says, and shrugs. "It happens, I guess."

"I'm sorry," Jensen replies and he sounds sincere, then laughs humorlessly. "I bet you had to deal with customers like that all the time. Hell, I kinda did that, coming on to you."

"You took no for an answer, though. You didn't think the fact that I was working there and you were a customer entitled you to anything."

"I did hit on you the next few times I was there, too, even though you didn't call," Jensen points out, still frowning.

"But you weren't pushy or sleazy," Jared argues. "You never made me feel uncomfortable, Jensen, I promise. It was harmless flirting, and believe me, flirting's part of the job description."

Jensen doesn't look entirely convinced, but he drops the topic. Jared takes another sip from his champagne, enjoying the way it tingles in his mouth. Before Jensen, Jared had never had champagne, and it's definitely something he'll miss once he's back on his feet. He likes beer fine, but he likes champagne's mixture of sourness and subtle sweetness and he likes how he can take his time drinking it, and the delicate glasses in hand makes him feel nice, fancy.

"How about dessert," Jensen suggests and smiles, nodding at Jared's glass, "and another bottle of that?"

"Yeah," Jared says, and beams at Jensen across the table. "Yeah, I'd like that."

+

Jensen asks the waiter to call them a cab as he brings the bill, and ten minutes later, he leads Jared outside with a hand on the small of his back. Jared is tipsy from the champagne, and he's pretty sure he's probably giggled and laughed a bit too much at the things Jensen said while they had dessert, but Jensen is loose and relaxed and doesn't seem to mind.

He holds the doors open for Jared, and helps him into the cab with a hand between Jared's shoulder blades. Once inside Jared fumbles with the seat belt; Jensen clicks it into place for him and then gives the cab driver his address.

Jared leans in close, hoping the driver won't hear them, and whispers, "I'm a little drunk."

Jensen laughs. "I can tell, sweetheart," he says, and his hand comes to rest on Jared's thigh suddenly, rubbing the skin through the fabric of his jeans. It's not suggestive, at least Jared doesn't think it is, but comforting, and he finds himself settling against Jensen's side.

"I had a really good time tonight," he says.

"Good. Me too."

"Yeah?" Jared asks. "I didn't embarrass you, right?"

Jensen's hand squeezes his leg. "Of course not. Why would you think that?"

Jared makes a non-committal noise and shrugs. "I've been told I get kind of loud when I'm drunk. Like an excited puppy, or something," he says and then thinks about how those people who told him that had been his roommate's friends. Jared hadn't really had friends himself since he moved to Dallas. He worked most of the time, and hadn't really made any deep connections. He'd had a beer with his co-workers from the diner a couple of times, and he'd hung out with his roommate's friends sometimes, but he was never really close to anyone. Jensen, if Jared's being honest, is the first person in years that he's actually spending a lot of time with and getting close to, and that's just fucking sad.

"You were fine," Jensen says. "Not too loud at all."

"Good," Jared says, and hums, enjoying the warmth of Jensen next to him.

Not a friend, he repeats in his head, but he's drunk enough that he can admit to himself that that's probably a lie. Jensen is becoming a friend and leaving him is going to suck.

+

Jared has been staying with Jensen for six weeks—during which he's landed exactly zero jobs (though this one guy at a club downtown told him that he also owned a more exclusive club and was looking for new dancers, which Jensen, at least, thought was hilarious) and been to four cocktail parties, one dinner party, one charity dinner, and two luncheons—when he gets a call from his aunt that his father passed away.

It's the middle of the afternoon and Jensen is still at work, and after Jared ends the call, he sits on his bed, cell gripped in his hand, and stares blankly at the wall. His throat feels too tight, and his chest hurts as he inhales, and for a moment, Jared thinks he's going to throw up. It shouldn't feel like this, shouldn't hurt this much—his father was never much of a father, and Jared shouldn't care about someone who never cared for him either.

"You bastard," Jared whispers, and that's when he starts crying. The first sob works its way up from deep inside his chest, and it hurts.

He wants to scream suddenly, or throw something, watch it shatter and break, but all he can do is sit there and cry for the father he never really had.

+

Jared ignores the first knock on his door, and the second, too. He's lying curled up on his bed, the skin of his cheek taunt with dried tears and his chest aching.

The door to his room creaks open, and Jared still doesn't make a move.

"Jared?" Jensen asks, and Jared squeezes his eyes shut, a hot tear slipping out. There are hasty footsteps and then the mattress dips under Jensen's weight.

"What happened?" Jensen asks, and he sounds so panicked Jared gasps out another sob. He feels fingers in his hair, carding them back. "Jared, talk to me. Are you hurt?"

Jared opens his eyes to small slits, his vision blurry, and shakes his head. "No," he whispers.

"Then what's wrong?" Jensen presses. "Sweetheart, you're scaring me."

Jared opens his eyes a little further and swallows past the lump in his throat. "My dad died," he says, and his voice sounds hollow in his own ears.

"Jesus Christ," Jensen hisses, and just like that, Jared starts crying again. He barely registers Jensen lying down, until he's being pulled into his arms, strong hands stroking down his back.

"Shh, come here," Jensen murmurs into his ear. "I'm so sorry, Jared. So sorry."

They lie like that for a while, until Jared's tears have stopped and his breathing has returned to normal. Jensen keeps running his hands over his back, his fingers through his hair, and murmurs soft words to Jared until he calms down.

Jensen untangles himself eventually and leaves, only to return with tea, crackers, and buttered toast.

Jared wants to tell him that he's not sick, but Jensen tells him he needs to stay hydrated before he can get a word out. Jared sits up and wordlessly accepts the mug that is being held out to him.

"You're close to your family, right?" Jared asks, after he's swallowed down a piece of toast. Jensen is sitting next to him, watching him while he eats.

"I am," Jensen replies, and pushes a strand of hair behind Jared's ear. Jared knows it's true too: Jensen talks about his family a lot, and Jared has noticed that his parents call him at least once a week, and some nights, Jensen lets it slip into conversations that he had lunch with his parents, or his sister or brother that day. There was a family dinner a couple of weeks ago, too, which Jensen asked him to come to, but Jared declined.

"You're lucky," he says. "My parents never cared about me."

"Jared, I'm sure that's not true," Jensen says softly, and Jared shakes his head.

"No, it is. We were never close," he explains. "I was an accident, you know? They never wanted a child, at least not with each other. But there I was, so they got married 'cause that's what you did back then, and they resented me for that. I know they did."

"Sweetheart," Jensen murmurs, and there's so much sympathy in his voice. His hand comes up to rub Jared's shoulder.

"I left the second I could," Jared admits. "I don't think they even cared. I sent them my new address when I moved here and my cell phone number, but I haven't heard from them since the day I left. Not once."

"I'm sure part of them cared, Jared. You're their son," Jensen replies, and Jared wishes it was true, that it could be that easy. He shakes his head, clings to his mug of tea a little tighter.

"You should have seen the way I grew up, Jensen." He stops and snorts. "They were always fighting. About their marriage, about me, about money. I spent most of my time hiding somewhere, trying to shut them—everything—out. And sometimes, there wasn't even enough money for food—but there was always plenty of booze in the house. Always."

Jensen pulls him close, against his chest, and Jared feels his lips brush against his temple. "I'm sorry," Jensen says, again.

Jared sucks in a breath, feels his eyes start to burn again. "It wasn't my fault," he whispers. "Why'd they never care about me, Jensen?"

Jensen holds him a little tighter, and Jared turns his face into the crook of his neck.

+

The door to Jensen's office is wide open the next morning, and Jensen is sitting behind his desk.

Jared clutches his coffee mug tightly, startled, and then clears his throat. "What are you doing here?" he asks, and Jensen looks up at him. He's wearing glasses with thin, black, wire frames, and he smiles at Jared.

"Good morning," he says. "How are you?"

"I'm okay," Jared replies and feels himself blush a little, thinking about how he cried all over Jensen last night, how pathetic he must have seemed. "Don't you have work?"

"I thought maybe you'd like some company today," Jensen says. He takes off his glasses, putting them down on the desk, and gets up.

"I don't need you to look after me," Jared says, and Jensen shrugs.

"I never said you did." He cocks his head to the side, smiles. "Maybe I'm doing this for myself."

"How so?"

"I'd be worried about you, and I probably wouldn't be able to get any work done that way anyway," he explains, and Jared sighs.

"Jensen."

"Just… let me, okay? We don't have to talk about your dad, or anything like that. We can just hang out, maybe laze by the pool a little," he says.

Jared sighs. "Fine."

"Good. Can I ask one last question?" Jensen says, and Jared nods reluctantly. "When is the funeral?"

Jared shrugs. "Monday morning," he mumbles. "I just… I haven't decided yet if I want to go."

"Okay. Nobody says you have to. But if you do want to go, let me know," Jensen says. "I can drive you to San Antonio and book a hotel room for Sunday night."

"You want to come?" Jared asks, surprised. Jensen reaches out and rubs his arm.

"Just thought you might like a friendly face there," he says. "Plus, I like road trips."

Jared snorts, and Jensen smiles up at him.

+

They do end up spending most of the day by the pool. Jared snags a book from the library, and Jensen brings a bunch of papers outside with him. Around lunch time, Jared makes sandwiches for both of them, and a few hours later Jensen insists on mixing them cocktails.

"This is horrible," Jared says after taking the first sip of the reddish drink Jensen handed him. It's very sweet, and the alcohol burns down his throat.

"I never said I was good at mixing drinks," Jensen says, grinning. He looks younger than he usually does, relaxed.

"Hey, Jensen?" Jared asks. "How old are you?"

Jensen looks at him, eyebrow quirked. "Thirty," he says, and Jared frowns.

"That's pretty young to have your own company, right?" he asks. Jensen doesn't talk about work a lot—he tells funny stories, or talks about annoying clients and incompetent employees—but Jared doesn't know what exactly he does. He knows Jensen works in consulting, and that the company he owns is doing really well. At least, it sounds like it is whenever Jensen talks about it and given how much money he has and the kind of people he knows, it must be.

"It was my grandfather's company," Jensen says. "Did an internship there one summer, and started working full-time after I graduated. And when my grandfather passed away a couple of years ago, he left it to me."

"Oh. Why you, and not your dad, or you brother or something?"

Jensen shrugs. "They're both lawyers."

"Hmm. It's big, right, your company?"

"I guess, yeah," Jensen replies, and smiles. "We have a lot of clients all over Texas, and further up north too."

Jared is tempted to ask Jensen how much money he actually has, but knows it's not the kind of thing you ask someone. And if he knew, it would probably only intimidate him. "Do you like it?" he asks, after a moment.

"Some parts of it are pretty boring, and we have a lot of high profile clients. I don't always enjoy dealing with them," Jensen says with a grin. "But yeah. Yeah, I like it."

"That's good," Jared says, and feels stupid right away. He takes another gulp from his drink, and Jensen hums.

"Yeah," he says. "I suppose it is."

+

Jared lies awake for a long time that night, thinking about his family, his father. Part of him thinks he should attend the funeral, that it might be good for him to go home, and he's worried if he doesn't go, he'll regret it. But at the same time, he feels so disconnected from his family, and he's not sure he wants to see any of them again.

He falls asleep making a mental pros-and-cons list, and he dreams he's back in the house he grew up in. It's shabby, shabbier than it probably ever was, with the wallpapers peeling off and the ground covered in dust. He can hear his parents, yelling, though he can't make out any actual words, and he silently sneaks up the stairs, to his room, the way he did so many times. It still looks the same: the desk with his books from school, the bed with the washed-out, blue sheets, and the closet with old, cracked stickers that he put there when he was twelve or thirteen.

Jared wakes up at the crack of dawn, and runs a tired hand over his face.

+

"I want to go," Jared says, entering the kitchen where Jensen is having coffee.

"To the funeral?" Jensen asks, an eyebrow raised.

Jared nods. "Yeah. If your offer still stands," he says, and Jensen smiles.

"I'll go make a call right away, see what room I can get us for the night," he says, putting his mug down by the sink. "Just pack an overnight bag, bring a suit."

"Okay," Jared says, and smiles tightly, feeling a little less confident in his decision already.

Jensen comes up to him, rests his hand on Jared's side, and gives it a squeeze. "I'll be right there with you the whole time, sweetheart," he says.

+

"This room is amazing!" Jared exclaims, looking around their hotel room. There are two rooms, connected by a big double door that's wide open at the moment. The bedroom is incredibly nice, with a massive four-poster bed dominating the whole thing.

"It's just one bed," Jensen says, even though he already apologized for it on the drive there. He offered to book another room, if Jared wanted privacy, but said he figured Jared might not want to be alone that night.

"Yeah, but it's giant," Jared replies, and before he can talk himself out of it, he throws his arms around Jensen and hugs him. "Thank you so much, Jensen, for everything."

"You don't need to thank me, Jared," Jensen replies, but he hugs him back before stepping back with a grin. "So, I figured we're going to relax today. The hotel's restaurant comes highly recommended, or we can hang out here, order room service and watch TV. Plus, there's a jacuzzi."

"There is?" Jared asks. "I've never been in one."

"No? Well, then maybe it's about time, huh?" Jensen says, and Jared nods, before he shrugs.

"I don't have any swimming trunks."

Jensen grins at him. "You don't need them for a jacuzzi," he says with a wink, and Jared flushes.

"All right," he says.

He regrets the decision an hour later, standing in the bathroom and watching Jensen step out of his underwear and into the steaming, bubbling water. Stark naked and so damn beautiful.

Jared has been with guys, and he's been with good-looking guys, but not like Jensen. He knew that the day he first met him, but it's something he's tried not to dwell on since they made their deal. It's hard not to think about that right now though.

"What are you waiting for?" Jensen asks, flashing him a grin.

"Yeah, okay, just--" Jared stops himself, before he can say something stupid like 'don't laugh' or 'don't look'. He shucks off the rest of his clothes quickly, cheeks burning, and all but jumps into the jacuzzi.

The water is hot and Jared hisses a little as he sinks down into it.

"You okay?" Jensen asks, head tipped back a little and steam rising around him in small clouds. He looks absolutely content, a lazy grin on his face.

"Yeah," Jared says and tries to relax too. The water is nice, once his body gets used to it. There are small jets and when he shifts just right they propel the water against the small of his back, and he didn't realize how tense he must have been until now.

Being in the water makes the whole nudity thing a bit easier, though Jared is sure Jensen can see pretty much everything, if he wants to. He doesn't dare look too closely at Jensen's lap himself, because he doesn't want Jensen to feel like he's ogling him. Instead, Jared lets his eyes roam over the tiled wall, and he's therefore completely taken by surprise when he feels Jensen's foot brush against his leg.

"Wha'?" he asks.

"Nothing. This is nice, right?"

"Yeah," Jared agrees, and he's glad the steamy water makes his skin feel warm anyway, because Jensen's foot is sort of pressed against his leg.

"I should have ordered drinks," Jensen says, spreading his arms out on the edge of the tub. "Next time, we're doing the whole shebang. Champagne and maybe some fruit to snack on."

"I'm starting to think you really love champagne," Jared says with a snort.

"I do like it." Jensen shrugs. "And I like that you like it. That it makes you all loose and happy."

"Oh," Jared mumbles, and ducks his head. He runs his fingers through the water, splashing it around a little.

"Happy is a good look on you," Jensen adds, voice softer. "You have dimples."

"Yeah. I do," Jared replies, shrugging. "I… I never really liked them. They make me look so young and goofy."

"Jared. They're one of the first things that I noticed about you."

"Yeah?" Jared asks, and smiles.

Jensen nudges him with his foot. "There they are," he says, and grins.

+

They order burgers from room service for dinner, though Jared swears food that fancy cannot be simply labeled burgers. They're huge and overflowing with all kinds of things Jared would never have thought to put on a burger, with homemade fries on the side, and it's one of the most amazing dinners Jared has ever had.

They eat sprawled out on the bed, dressed in pajama bottoms and t-shirts, with the TV on in the background.

"This is so good," Jared says, popping the last fry from his plate into his mouth.

"Maybe we can do this again," Jensen says. He's leaning against the headboard, his plate already empty and sitting on the nightstand.

"Do what?"

"Go somewhere for a couple of days," Jensen says. "Under better circumstances, of course."

"Like, just a trip? You and me?" Jared asks, just to be sure.

"Yeah, why not? I haven't really been anywhere that wasn't for business in a while. Just going someplace to relax for a few days sounds nice," Jensen explains. "Maybe a spa."

"A spa?" Jared echoes and laughs. "Is that something you actually do? Spas?"

Jensen kicks him lightly. "Don't knock it till you've tried it."

"Okay, maybe I will," Jared says and shoots him a grin. He sets his plate aside and joins Jensen by the head of the bed. He knocks his knee against Jensen's and tilts his head to the side, smiling. "Thanks, Jensen. For all of this."

+

Jared's not a big church goer, but he's been in this one a few times when he was younger. It's weird to be back, the neighborhood so familiar and yet everything feels foreign after four years away.

He gets a few looks as he walks into the church and slips into a pew in the back with Jensen. He recognizes most of the people there. Neighbors are mixed with family members and his parents' old friends. The church isn't packed, but the number of people attending the service still surprises Jared. It makes him wonder how many of them actually know how bad their home life was, what kind of person his father was, or if most people actually think he was a good guy and Jared was ungrateful for leaving and never returning home.

"You okay?" Jensen whispers, and Jared nods stiffly. Their shoulders are pressed together and despite the Texas heat and the suits they're wearing, Jared is glad to feel Jensen right there.

When the service starts, Jensen covers Jared's hand with his, and Jared turns his hand around, intertwining their fingers.

It's weird, but Jared doesn't cry. He feels detached from the whole thing, like this isn't even about someone he knows, someone he should have been close to. Maybe, he thinks, he's all cried out. He's grieved, and let his emotions out, and now there's nothing left in him to feel.

He lets the pastor's words wash over him without really listening, and concentrates on the feeling of Jensen's hand in his.

"I'm surprised you came," his mother says when she approaches them outside of the church once everyone has filtered out. She doesn't sound particularly happy, and Jared notices the grim look she's shooting in Jensen's direction. It's only been a few years, but she's aged visibly, strikes of gray in her hair and her face more haggard, though her expression is still the cold, disapproving one Jared remembers too well. The one that has been directed at him all his life; and now Jensen, too.

Jared has no doubts that someone noticed Jensen holding his hand during the church service, and it's probably making the rounds right now. He can imagine the things they're saying—Jared up and left, and now he's back, accompanied by an obviously wealthy man. He wonders how many people have already called him a hooker, or a gold-digger, a sinner going to hell for the things he does.

"He was my father, wasn't he?" he replies. His mother snorts, and Jared isn't sure if that's a dig at his father's parental skills or at him.

She's dressed all in black, and her eyes look red from crying, and he can't help but think that it's a huge fucking joke.

"Well, you should have sat up front, with the family," his mother adds. Where people would have seen him, wouldn't have wondered about why Jared was sitting in the back, alienated, Jared thinks.

"I don't really belong there," Jared replies, and he feels Jensen's hand settling on his back.

"Jared. This is hardly the thing to talk about here."

"Then let's not," Jared agrees, and thinks, ever. Once the funeral is over, he'll be out of here. Let them think he's some depraved, ungrateful brat, or a prostitute whoring himself out to Jensen for a cushy life. He doesn't care.

"Charming," Jensen murmurs once his mother has gone. Jared lets out a sharp laugh.

"Yeah, she is," he agrees, and leans into Jensen.

+

Back in Dallas, Jared feels different. Better. It's clichéd, but there's a weight that's been lifted off his shoulders.

He used to think about what it would be like to go back to San Antonio, to see his parents again. Most of the time, he imagined all the things he would say to them, the words he'd held back all those years, and he thought it would give him satisfaction. There were also a few times, when Jared was feeling particularly down and hopeless, where he imagined going back and finding his parents changed, that him leaving made them realize that they cared, that they regretted everything that happened. He always felt stupid for those thoughts, those wishes, but they were there and Jared couldn't help it—part of him, the part that wasn't angry and resentful, had always longed for his parents' affection and approval.

Actually going back, seeing the familiar streets and faces, gave him the closure he hadn't quite known he needed. There's nothing in San Antonio for him, and it felt good to leave it behind, knowing exactly where he was going this time, and what he was going back to.

The other thing that the trip to San Antonio does for him is make him realize that he wants more. He doesn't want to live from paycheck to paycheck, stuck in a life that makes him unhappy. And he knows waiting tables and doing the dishes in some grubby kitchen isn't going to get him where he wants to be.

He's never really considered going to college, not seriously at least, but he does now. And the more he thinks about it, the more he realizes it's something he wants to do. Not just so he can hopefully get a better job one day, but because he wants to learn more. In high school, there was too much stuff going on in his life to appreciate the idea of getting educated, but he remembers how sometimes, when he was having a good day, he enjoyed his classes, enjoyed learning something new.

Two days after they return to Dallas, Jared spends a whole day on the couch in the living-room, looking into what possibilities he has. He reads up on different colleges in Texas, on what it would cost and student loans, and on all kinds of different programs that sound interesting to him. It's a bit overwhelming and he fills a few pages in a notebook with notes, questions, and things he needs to look into in more detail.

He's in the middle of looking into online classes, when Jensen walks into the room and Jared has been so absorbed he didn't even hear the front door.

"Honey, I'm home!" Jensen exclaims, grinning widely.

Jared looks up at him and smiles. "You're in a good mood."

Jensen's grin gets bigger, if that's even possible. He walks up behind Jared on the couch, wraps his arms around his shoulders, and kisses his cheek. "I had a fantastic day at work," he says. "We signed a new client. A huge client."

"That's good," Jared says, and Jensen hums, tightening his arms around Jared for a moment.

"It's fantastic. Unfortunately, for you, said client insisted that I have dinner tonight with him and his wife and my partner," Jensen says and steps back a little, though he keeps his hands on Jared's shoulders. Jared twists to the side to look up at him.

"With nobody else?" he asks, feeling trepidation. He can do parties where he can blend in with the crowd and get away with not saying much.

"Yeah. I told him I would have to ask you first, but..." Jensen trails off, and Jared knows he's going to go. They have a deal and this is probably important.

"You sure this is a good idea?" he asks, and Jensen squeezes his shoulders.

"It'll be fine. As far as I know, his wife is a complete airhead, half his age. She'll make even you look mature."

"Funny," Jared replies, and then looks down at himself, dressed in sweatpants and an old t-shirt. "I guess I'm going to have to get showered and dress up."

"I'd appreciate that," Jensen says in a teasing voice. "You got about an hour to make yourself all pretty for me."

Jared leans forward and shuts his laptop before standing up, stretching his arms over his head. "I'm always pretty," he mumbles around a yawn, and when he looks at Jensen, he finds him smiling at him.

"You are," Jensen agrees. "But I'm pretty sure the people at the restaurant are not going to let you ignore the dress code just because your face is nice to look at."

"Fine," Jared mutters with fake exasperation, and goes to get ready.

He's standing under the shower, washing off body gel, when he realizes he's still smiling.

+

Dinner is long and boring. Jensen's client prattles on about work, while his wife tries to engage Jared in discussions of their social life and there's only so much Jared can contribute to the topic of country clubs and vacations.

The food is good, but the portions are tiny and Jared still feels hungry by the time dessert arrives.

"I'm so sorry," Jensen apologizes once they're back in the car. Jared studies the pained expression on his face and smiles.

"You could make it up to me," he suggests, and Jensen glances at him with a raised eyebrow.

"Yeah? Then let's hear what my penance is for making you suffer through the most boring evening of your life."

"Drive-through," Jared says, with a grin. "And if you're feeling really guilty, a completely mindless horror flick."

"Hmm, I think I am feeling that guilty," Jensen replies with a grin. He shifts, keeping his eyes firmly on the road while pulling his cell phone from the pocket of his slacks, and tosses it onto Jared's lap. "Find me the closest McDonald's between here and home."

+

"You're cooking," Jared says, surprised, when he walks into the kitchen three days later and finds Jensen standing at the stove. Jensen came home from work a couple of hours earlier than usual, laden with bags from the grocery store, and Jared had been suspicious right away. This, though, is something he didn't expect.

The kitchen smells amazing, and Jensen is stirring something in a big pan with one hand, emptying something from a little white bowl into it with the other. He does so with surprising ease, and the counter is cluttered with utensils Jared didn't even know he had.

"Did I know you can cook?" he asks, stepping closer to peer over Jensen's shoulder. There's a pot with pasta boiling to the left, and there are spinach leaves in a creamy sauce in the pan that smell divine.

"I make breakfast for you all the time," Jensen replies indignantly.

"On the weekends," Jared corrects. "And that's breakfast. This is, like, proper food."

"I just thought it'd be nice, having a home-cooked meal," Jensen says.

"Okay. Do you need help with anything?"

Jared shakes his head. "I got it. I set the table out on the patio already, and this, here, should be done in a few minutes," he says. "You can go outside, relax."

"You want me out of the kitchen, so I don't get in the way, right?" Jared notes. Jensen shoots him a guilty look, and Jared laughs. "Fine, I'll leave. Just don't give me one of those tiny, bite-sized portions, darling."

"Wouldn't dream of it, stud," Jensen replies mockingly, and Jared leaves with a grin.

+

The table on the patio is set nicely, with an actual small flower arrangement in the middle. Jared has, over the weeks of staying here, learned that Jensen has a maid who comes in twice a week, and she usually brings a trunk full of fresh flowers with her that she arranges in the rooms around the house. Jared has had more than one embarrassing run-in with her, running around the house half-naked thinking he was alone.

He figures she picked these flowers up, too, but Jensen still obviously put some effort into making the table look nice and Jared wonders if something is up.

Jensen seems pretty relaxed though, as he brings out two plates with food five minutes later, smiling as he sits down across from Jared. The pasta and spinach are mixed with grilled cherry tomatoes, truffle grated on top of it, and Jensen has poured them each a glass of white wine.

It tastes amazing, and Jared tells Jensen so at least five times while they eat, but Jensen looks pleased and doesn't seem to mind that Jared is repeating himself.

Jared is almost done with his plate when Jensen clears his throat. "So," he starts. "There's something I actually did want to talk to you about."

Jared's stomach drops instantly, and he thinks that this is it: this is the moment where Jensen tells him he wants him to leave, that he's tired of having him around or that Jared did something wrong. And Jensen is buttering him up, trying to soften the blow, with what will probably be the last decent meal Jared will ever get to eat before it's back to ramen and cheap, frozen dinners. He drops his fork and swallows thickly.

"Okay."

"The other day when I got home, I saw you were on the UT Dallas website and I read the stuff you wrote down in your notebook," Jensen says. "I wasn't snooping, just straightening up a little while you were getting ready upstairs."

"Oh. Okay," Jared says, confused now because of all the things he thinks Jensen could be mad about, him wanting to go to college isn't something he would have considered. "Is this something I should have talked to you about? 'Cause I was just looking into it, and even if I can make it work, it's not like I'd start classes right away. Our deal still stands, Jensen. I'm still looking for a job."

"No, of course," Jensen interjects, shaking his head. "I just… I wanted to make you an offer, actually."

"An offer?"

Jensen nods. "I think it's great that you want to go to college. And I saw you wrote down a bunch of things about tuition and loans, and don't want you to have to worry about that," he says. "I'll cover it for you."

"What?" Jared asks, dumbfounded. "You want to pay my tuition?"

"Yes."

Jared meets his eyes across the table, lips pursed. "In return for what?" he asks, and he can't help feeling suspicious even though it's Jensen, and he has been nothing but kind and respectful. This isn't just a couple of months of paying for Jared's food though. Tuition is far more expensive than anything Jared asked him for so far, and there's no way there isn't a catch.

"In return," Jensen echoes and then flushes, shakes his head. "No. Jared, no. I'm not expecting anything in return."

"Then why?"

Jensen looks at him, and for a moment he looks stunned before his expression becomes determined. "Look, Jared. The deal we made a few weeks ago, I didn't know you then. I saw an opportunity for us to help each other out, and that's that," he says. "This isn't like that. I'm offering to help you because I know you, and I know you deserve this. And because I care about you and I want this for you."

Jared falters, because that's the last thing he was expecting, and there's a sudden lump in his throat, his eyes burning. Jensen probably doesn't even know how big a deal what he just said is, but it is.

"Jared," Jensen says, and gets up, rounding the table. He crouches down by his side, and covers Jared's hand with his. "Sweetheart, what's going on? You look like you're about to cry."

Jared laughs, but it sounds more like a sob, and he nods.

"Wanna tell me why?" Jensen asks softly.

"Because I don't think anybody has ever cared," Jared admits.

Jensen stands up and wraps his arms around Jared's shoulders, pulling him against him. "Well, I do," he says, and Jared laughs again and nods, face pressed into Jensen's shirt.

He tips his head back. "I do, too, you know. Care about you, I mean," he says. "I know I came to you because you have money, but you're a great person, Jensen. The best I've ever met. And I don't know how I'll ever repay you for everything that you've done for me, and how gracious you've been."

"You don't have to, Jared."

"I kind of do," Jared replies. "And that's why I'm not sure I can take you up on your offer. I don't want this to be another thing that hangs between us. I want us to be friends, and I'm not sure that's going to work if I keep owing you for stuff."

"Jared. Friends help each other, that's how it works," Jensen replies. He cups Jared's cheek, runs his thumb over the skin there. "Please. Don't shoot the idea down just yet, okay? I get where you're coming from, but it's just money. It doesn't mean much to me, and if it's something I can do for you, then please let me."

"I'll think about it, okay?" Jared asks, and Jensen looks like he wants to argue for a moment, but then he nods.

"Okay, I guess that's got to be good enough for now," he says, and then smiles. "So. I think this calls for more wine and dessert."

"Dessert?" Jared asks, perking up.

"I picked up two slices of chocolate tart on my way home."

"I'm pretty sure that's bribery."

Jensen grins. "Welcome to the world of a ruthless businessman."

+

Their relationship is better than ever before, after that night. Jared has been trying so hard not to think about them as friends, to get attached to Jensen, but things feel so much easier now, knowing that they are building a friendship.

He feels more comfortable when they hang out, in ways he didn't before. He might not be staying with Jensen forever, but he's pretty sure now that, once he moves out, he'll be able to call Jensen up and still hang out with him. He'll still have this.

+

Two months into their arrangement, Jared finally gets offered a job. It's only a part time gig, waiting tables at a little café downtown, but it's better than nothing and if nothing else, Jared looks forward to getting out of the house sometimes. As much as he loves Jensen's place, Jared isn't good at being cooped up inside and there isn't much to do in the area Jensen lives in. Jared has spent most days by the pool with a book, and he's started working out every day, just to get rid of all the pent-up energy.

"I have good news," Jared says when Jensen gets home that day. Jensen texted him earlier, asking him to fire-up the grill and make a salad, and Jared has already set the table for them out on the patio.

"You magically made all my appointments for the next few days disappear," Jensen guesses, slapping the steaks he brought onto the grill.

"I got a job, actually."

Jensen looks at him surprised. "What?" he asks, and Jared frowns at the almost harsh tone of his voice.

"I got a call from the manager of a café earlier. I filled out an application there the last time I was in town," Jared explains. "It's not much, but it's a start. Right?"

"I guess," Jensen mumbles with a shrug, and the air between them feels tense suddenly, awkward. Jared shifts from one foot to the other.

"I… it's only part time," he adds. "It's not gonna be enough money to make a living, but I thought maybe we could work something out. I could pay you for food and utilities with the money, at least."

"Oh," Jensen says, and he seems to relax and Jared can't help but wonder if he was being weird because he thought Jared was moving out, ending their deal. "Yeah, okay. That sounds fair."

Jensen shoots Jared a small smile, and Jared bites his lower lip. "So it's okay if I stay here a little longer?" he adds.

"Yeah, that's okay," Jensen says, and lifts the lid of the barbeque to turn the steaks around. "You'll need to get to and from work though."

"I already looked up the bus schedule for tomorrow. And I was thinking I could maybe get a bike."

"A bike?" Jensen echoes. "That'll take forever. You can take one of the cars."

"Jensen."

"I have three cars and two of those are mostly just sitting around in the garage. You'd be doing me a favor," Jensen states, giving Jared a firm look. "Plus, I'd feel a lot better if I knew you have a safe, reliable car to get around with. Please?"

"What if something happens to the car?"

Jensen smirks. "Then I'll buy a new one," he says. "Come on. Say yes."

"Fine," Jared agrees reluctantly. Jensen gives him a soft smile and leans in, kissing Jared's cheek softly.

"Thank you, sweetheart."

+

It feels good to work again, to earn some money, little as it is, but Jared is also reminded of the fact that he really hates waiting tables.

Most customers are okay, but there's always that one person who is an asshole and Jared has to keep smiling, politely serving drinks and food, even when someone is being rude to him. At least the job gives him something to do, though, and gets him out of the house a few times a day. Plus, getting his first paycheck and being able to present it to Jensen, to be able to feel like he's pitching in, is the best feeling in the world.

Jensen drops by one afternoon, half an hour before his shift ends, and Jared flushes when he sits down at one of Jared's tables and he has to go take his order. He's brought Jensen drinks before and it shouldn't be a big deal, but it feels odd now, a startling reminder of just how different their lives are, even when they'll end up in the same, big mansion by the end of the day.

"Sorry I just came by here without checking with you first. But my car was making this weird noise, so I'm having it looked at right now," Jensen says when Jared brings him his coffee, resting his hand on Jared's wrist for a moment. "I figured I could get a ride with you."

"It's okay. You don't have to ask," Jared says, even though he knows Jensen can tell how uncomfortable he feels.

It gets worse when Jensen pays for his coffee and Jared sees the tip he's leaving him. "Jensen. That's too much," he mumbles, and tries to push some of it back to Jensen.

"It's the same tip I'd give anyone else, too," Jensen argues, and Jared looks at him, but can't see anything but sincerity on his face.

"Then I'm afraid you've been tipping waiters way too much all your life."

Jensen grins. "I know," he says. "Now, take your money and I'll meet you outside. Your shift is over, right?"

Jared glances at his watch. "Five more minutes," he says, and Jensen nods and starts to get up.

"I'll get some fresh air and call the garage, see if there's any news," he says, and grasps Jared's arm, giving it a squeeze. "And you're getting a back rub from me later."

"What? Why?"

"Because I've been watching you carry stuff and bend this way and that way for the past thirty minutes," Jensen says, and then leans in a little closer. "You can tip me with that money I just gave you if I do a good job."

Jared meets his eyes and flushes for a completely different reason this time.

+

Jared subtly tries to do up the button of his shirt again, but Jensen reaches over and slaps his hand away without looking up from his phone.

"It looks stupid," he mutters, and Jensen grins.

"You look hot," he replies, and Jared sighs, shifting around. His jeans are too tight, and he fussed about them earlier too before he saw Jensen is wearing an even tighter pair and looks absolutely sinful.

"Where are we going again?" he asks, and leans in closer to look at whatever Jensen is looking up on his phone. Jensen had come home late, having had dinner with clients, and he'd called Jared on his way home and told him they were going out without providing any details, except for which pants to wear. When he'd gotten home, he'd quickly taken a shower and changed, before ushering Jared out of the house, to the car with the driver that was waiting for them outside.

"It's a club," Jensen says, and glances up.

"To meet your friend," Jared adds.

"Danneel, yeah. She threatened me bodily harm if I didn't show up tonight and bring the guy I've been shacking up with." Jensen wiggles his eyebrows and grins. "Her words."

"Wait. So she doesn't know I'm not really your boyfriend?" Jared asks, keeping his voice low. There's a partition between them and the driver, but Jared can't help but feel a little suspicious of the illusion of privacy it's creating.

Jensen shrugs. "Nobody knows."

"Nobody?" Jared echoes, surprised. They never really talked about it and outside of the work functions Jensen has taken him to, he hasn't really met anyone from Jensen's life. He figured Jensen's friends and family knew about their situation though.

"It's easier that way," Jensen says, putting his phone away. "So it would be good if you could play up the whole boyfriend thing a little tonight. Nothing much, just… hold my hand or something."

He gives Jared a look that's somewhere between hopeful and sheepish.

"Okay," Jared agrees and Jensen smiles gratefully. It makes Jared wonder if there's more to it, because the idea of lying to his friends about having a boyfriend seems fucked up.

+

Jared's never really been to a club for fun. He's sneaked into a couple of pubs with friends and obviously he's worked in bars, but he was never really interested in going clubbing because, well, Jared isn't much of a dancer.

The place Jensen takes him to is big and dark and undeniably upscale. Jensen leads him right to the VIP area, a little staircase warded off with a rope and a bouncer, and then up to a second level. The club is emptier there, people mingling.

"There's Danneel," Jensen says, nodding at a booth in the back. There's a woman sitting there with long hair that shimmers red in the light of the club, her face soft and beautiful. She smiles widely when she looks in their direction and lifts her hand in a wave, getting up as they get closer.

Jensen, who has been holding Jared's hand since they entered the club, squeezes Jared's fingers once before letting go. He goes to hug Danneel, and she kisses his cheek before stepping back. Her eyes fall on Jared over Jensen's shoulder and she gives him a once over.

"This must be the famous new boyfriend," she says, voice teasing. Jensen steps aside and ushers Jared forward with a hand on the small of his back.

"That's him," he agrees. "Danneel, this is Jared. Jay, one of my oldest friends, Danneel."

"Good to meet you," Jared says politely, holding his hand out. Danneel laughs softly and leans in, kissing Jared's cheek too and pulling him into a quick, loose hug.

"You too, honey. I can't believe someone finally managed to catch Jensen's interest for more than a few minutes," she says with a wink at Jensen. "Come on, sit down, I want to hear all about you and how you met Grumpy McGrumperson here."

Jared gives Jensen a quick, unsure smile, but Jensen only smiles warmly at him, looking completely relaxed. They join Danneel in the booth, sitting side by side, and a waiter is there soon after.

Jensen orders a whiskey for himself and then smiles at Jared. "You want champagne, sweetheart?" he asks, and Jared flounders for a moment, looking around for a menu.

"They can make anything you want," Jensen adds.

"The cocktails are really good," Danneel says, holding up her own glass by the stem.

"A Margarita then, please," Jared decides, and the waiter nods and vanishes.

"So," Danneel starts, crossing her arms over the table. "Jared. How'd you meet Jensen here?"

"At a bar actually," Jared says. "I worked as a bartender for a while and Jensen was there a few times."

"He turned me down," Jensen chimes in, amused.

Danneel's eyes widen comically. "Oh, did you now? Interesting," she says and laughs.

Jared shrugs awkwardly. "It would have been weird, dating a customer. I just… didn't want to mess up my job."

"Well, anyway, I gave him my number and he called once he wasn't working at the bar anymore," Jensen finishes and leans in, kissing Jared on the cheek. Jared smiles back at him, ducking his head a little.

"God, you two are cute," Danneel says with a smile. Jared blushes, because yes, they are being cute but they're also lying. Or at least omitting some facts. He feels a little bad about it, because Danneel seems nice and genuinely happy for Jensen, and it makes Jared wonder why Jensen is putting up with the whole farce.

Their drinks come and conversation flows easily. A couple of times, Jared is utterly lost when Danneel and Jensen talk about people he doesn't know, but he doesn't mind. Jensen winds his arm around him after a couple of drinks and he's a warm, solid weight against Jared, comfortable. He observes Jensen and Danneel instead, notes the obvious warmth and familiarity between them.

Jared's on his third cocktail when Danneel spots someone by the bar that she knows. "I'm sure you two won't mind being alone for a little while if I go talk to someone, right?" she asks with a smile, and Jensen quickly waves her off. She takes her glass with her, walking across to the bar. Her stride is confident, hips swinging in a way that Jared is sure will have most guys swooning.

"She seems really nice," Jared says, and Jensen looks pleased.

"She is. We've been friends forever."

"Then why don't you tell her the truth about us?" Jared asks. Jensen sighs, picking up his glass and taking a sip from it.

"It's complicated," he says. "The circles we run in, well, you gotta be careful."

"Okay," Jared says, because he doesn't want to pry. Doesn't think it's his place to, really. Jensen gives him a grateful smile, rubbing his thumb over Jared's shoulder.

"Thank you. For going along with it."

"We have an agreement," Jared reminds him. "And there are worse things than having a nice night out with you."

Jensen pulls him in and kisses his temple. He pulls back after a moment and makes to get up. "Gotta hit the can," he says. "Why don't you order us another round?"

"Sure," Jared agrees easily. Jensen waves a waiter close and smiles at Jared one more time before sauntering off. Jared steals a quick glance at Jensen's retreating figure, before turning to smile at the approaching waiter. He orders their drinks and then sits back, waiting for Jensen as he takes a few more sips from his drink.

He startles when someone suddenly sits down across from him. It's a guy about Jensen's age, blond hair carefully styled and his smile somewhere between inviting and smarmy. Jared shifts uncomfortably.

"Hi," he mumbles. "Sorry, the booth is already taken. My friends will be right back."

"I'm not here for the booth," the guy says with a wink, lips turned up in a grin. "I'm Jordan."

Jared hesitates, not sure what to answer, and is met with a waiting smile. "Jared," he says reluctantly.

"Jared. Very nice to meet you," Jordan says. "I'm sorry if I seem a bit forward, but I couldn't help but notice you. You're easily the most attractive guy here tonight."

The compliment makes Jared feel more uneasy than flattered. As nice as it is to hear someone thinks he's attractive, he'd heard comments like that countless times when he still worked at the bar. Most of the time from guys who were hoping for a quick fuck in the back alley and thought that was all it took to get into Jared's pants. The more harmless customers were hoping it'd get them a few free drinks, which Jared really didn't appreciate any more than the others.

"I'm here with someone," he says pointedly now. He knows the guy must have noticed that, given that he hasn't left Jensen's side even once tonight, and he doesn't appreciate the rudeness of being so blatantly hit on when he's there with another guy.

"Well, he's not here right now, so I thought I'd take my chance," Jordan replies.

"Sorry," Jared replies, shaking his head and not feeling sorry at all.

Jordan leans across the table and smiles. "Oh come on. If you give me your number we can set something up later. A nice dinner, maybe?"

"Jordan," Jensen says, suddenly appearing by the table. He's glaring at the guy, but Jordan just smiles widely up at him.

"Jensen! So nice to see you. How are you doing?"

"Just fine," Jensen says and takes his seat next to Jared again. "We're having a very nice night, aren't we, sweetheart?"

"Yeah," Jared says and places his hand on Jensen's thigh under the table, squeezing.

Jordan watches them, not looking bothered at all, and Jared is starting to feel more and more uneasy around the guy.

"You can leave now, Jordan," Jensen adds, spreading his legs a little, his thigh pressing right up against Jared's. "Jared's here with me and you're not going to get his number."

"Isn't that up to him?"

"I already said no, didn't I?" Jared speaks up. "I came with Jensen and I'm leaving with Jensen. And I'm not available for dates any time in the future either."

"Unless those dates are with me," Jensen adds, and Jared smiles at him.

"Well, that's a given," he says and leans in. He brushes their lips together in a quick, chaste kiss. For a split second, Jensen returns the kiss.

Jordan huffs, getting up, and smiles at Jared. "I'm sure I'll see you around, Jared," he says. "I'm sure you'll change your mind. If you do, Jensen can give you my number."

He leaves and Jared deflates a little. "What an ass," he mumbles.

Jensen snorts. "You have no idea."

"Who is he?" Jared asks.

"Just this guy I know," Jensen says and quickly finishes off his drink, nodding at the waiter approaching them with new ones. "He likes to hit on guys I'm with."

"What? Why?"

Jensen shrugs. "He thinks it's fun? It's just a stupid game he likes to play. He and my last boyfriend were hooking up together behind my back for a while," he says.

Jared frowns. "I'm sorry, Jensen," he mumbles. Jensen snorts and gives him a smile.

"Don't be. I'm over it," he says.

Jared isn't really sure that's true, but he decides to drop the issue. He scans the room, notes Jordan watching them from the corner of his eye and scoots a little closer to Jensen. "You know, he's watching us."

"So?"

Jared grins. "Well, maybe we should stress how very unavailable I am for him," he suggests. He leans in, nose brushing against Jensen's jaw, and kisses the stubbly skin. Jensen hums and turns into it, bringing their lips together in a kiss. His hand comes up, cups Jared's cheek, and Jared makes a small, happy noise, parting his lips under Jensen's. The kiss is slow, almost chaste at first, but it deepens quickly. Jensen is a good kisser, lips soft and movements easy and deliberate. His thumb is stroking Jared's cheek, fingers tangled in Jared's hair, and it doesn't take long before Jared forgets all about Jordan and starts just to enjoy this. It's different than anything they've done, and so much better.

Jared isn't sure how long they kiss for, lips moving against lips and tongues brushing together softly, before an amused cough interrupts them. Jensen pulls back with a sigh, his hand staying on Jared's cheeks for a few more moments, and Jared blinks at Danneel standing by the table.

"Not that I wasn't enjoying that," she says, "but I thought I'd better stop you two before things escalated."

It's only then that it fully registers with Jared that he's just been making out with Jensen. Sure, they've grown close over the last few months and given how often they pretend to be a couple, things aren't fully platonic, but they've been good at not crossing any lines. There's affection and casual touching, and then there's full-on making out in a club. It makes Jared feel a little awkward for the rest of the night, unsure what this'll mean for them, but Jensen doesn't seem to be bothered. He jokes around with Danneel, involves Jared in their conversations, and keeps a casual arm around him.

Jared tries to act normal as well, and he thinks it's really not a big deal, because it's just a role they play and yeah, they took it further than usual, but they were putting on a show nonetheless.

Neither brings up the kissing that night, or the next morning, and Jared decides to just forget about it after a couple of days.

+

The following Friday, Jared comes home from work tired and exhausted after a busy shift.

To his surprise, Jensen's car is already parked in the garage. Jared grabs his things from his own car and goes inside, curious, and hopeful that he can talk Jensen into take-out and a movie before turning in early.

"I'm home," he calls out as he lets the door fall shut behind him.

"Kitchen!" Jensen replies, and Jared drops his things carelessly on the dresser in the hallway and goes to find Jensen.

"What are you doing home so early?" Jared asks, stepping into the spacious kitchen. He frowns when he sees the array of snacks laid out on the counter on plates and in bowls. It looks fancy—crackers with salmon and cream cheese, caviar, a variety of cheeses, filled mushrooms, spoons with prawns on some sauce. It's definitely not the kind of stuff you can get from the grocery store around the corner, not even Jensen's fancy one, and Jared guesses Jensen got everything from a restaurant or caterer.

"Are we expecting company?" he asks.

Jensen, who has been getting plates out of the cupboard and places them next to the food carefully, sighs. "A few people are coming over. Friends," he says, sounding a little tense. "Since Danneel got to meet you, they're demanding to meet you as well."

"Okay," Jared says, and it's not the evening he had in mind but he figures it can't be too bad. Danneel was awesome, so he's hopeful meeting Jensen's other friends will be just as easy.

"Can I help?" Jared asks. Jensen glances at him, a frown on his face.

"I'm good," he says, then adds in a pained voice, "Could you maybe change into something a little more fancy? I hate to ask this of you at home, but everyone is kinda… you know."

"High society?" Jared guesses and shrugs. "I smell like coffee and cheap food, so I was going to have to change anyway. Don't worry about it."

"Thank you," Jensen says, but he still looks tense and unhappy. "Danneel told everyone how cute we are and couply or whatever, by the way. She kinda implied that we put on a bit of a show. They, uh, might make some stupid comments and expect us to be a little, you know, affectionate."

Jared isn't sure why Jensen is so nervous about this whole thing, unless he's worried about his friends meeting him, but he pulls Jensen into a quick hug. Jensen, to his surprise, sags into it and rests his head on Jared's shoulder for a moment.

"I think we can manage being affectionate just fine," Jared teases and turns his head to brush his lips over Jensen's temple. "Why don't you have a glass of wine or a scotch while I take a shower and change?"

The grateful smile Jensen gives him makes him look almost vulnerable, expression open and honest, and it breaks Jared's heart a little.

+

A couple of hours later, Jared gets why Jensen seemed less than happy to have his friends around. With the exception of Danneel, none of them seem really pleasant. They're not bad, but most of the conversations seem to center around money and reputations and the teasing and banter between them has a certain edge to it that makes Jared wonder just how genuine their friendships are.

Danneel, bless her, tries her best to involve Jared in conversations, but almost everyone else doesn't seem too intent on getting to know him. He's Jensen's boyfriend—his boy toy, as one of them so kindly calls him—and that seems to be all he is.

They tease Jensen for how much younger Jared is, one of them makes a lewd comment about Jensen apparently liking his men big now, and when Charley, a stocky dark-haired guy, mentions that maybe he should try dating someone from the wrong side of the tracks too with a smarmy grin, Jared feels Jensen tense next to him.

"Maybe Jensen is onto something," Charley adds. "I bet it's exciting, dating so far below your social rank."

"Or, you know, just date someone you like," Jared speaks up, because Jensen is starting to look a little murderous. "I hear that's all the rage these days."

He notices Danneel biting back a laugh, and Charley looks a little sour. Pleased, Jared puts his hand on Jensen's thigh and takes a sip of champagne.

When Jensen goes to get some of them new drinks a little while later, Jared follows him into the kitchen with a quick, "I'll help you."

"God, I'm sorry," Jensen mutters as soon as they're in the kitchen. "They tend to run their mouths."

"It's okay. I don't care," Jared quickly says. "Are you okay?"

"Of course."

"Jensen," Jared prompts softly. "You've been tense and uncomfortable all night. And I can't say I blame you, but… I'm here. I got your back."

"I know you do," Jensen says with a sigh. He turns his body into Jared's, close enough that he can rest his forehead on Jared's shoulder, and laughs humorlessly. "I can't wait for tonight to be over."

He steps back, looking tired, and Jared, in a spur of the moment, takes Jensen's face in his hand and kisses him, soft and chaste. It's not meant to be anything but comfort, support, and Jared feels like he succeeded when Jensen's lips lift up in a small smile.

"Let's get the drinks, before your friends riot," Jared suggests.

+

A few hours later, the ordeal is finally over and the living-room and kitchen are halfway clean.

Jared gets ready for bed, but while he was tired earlier that day, his mind is buzzing now, thinking about the evening they just had and Jensen's friends who don't seem like friends at all.

He startles a little when there's a knock on his door.

"It's open. Come in," he calls out and Jensen pokes his head in.

"Hey," he says softly. "I just wanted to see how you're doing?"

"I'm fine," Jared says.

Jensen grimaces and opens the door a little wider, holding up a bottle of expensive looking scotch and two tumblers. "Wanna have another drink with me?" he asks. "Because I think I really need one."

Jared sits down on his bed, patting the space next to him. "Sounds good," he agrees. Jensen sits down and pours them both a drink, handing one glass to Jared.

"Can I ask you something?" Jared asks.

Jensen clinks their glasses together and nods. "Sure."

"Your relationship with these guys… I just don't get it. You seem nothing like them. And you're putting on this whole show with me in front of them."

Jensen sighs. "The friendships I have with these guys, they're complicated, Jared. There's a lot of history there, but there's also a lot of rivalry and jealousy. It's all about outdoing one another, being the best."

"That doesn't sound like friendships."

"No, I suppose you're right," Jensen agrees and laughs humorlessly. "I've known these guys forever. Same country club, same boring parties growing up, same schools, same colleges. It's always been like that."

"What about this thing with us? Why are you trying to make everyone think you have a boyfriend? I know what you said when we made the arrangement, but wouldn't it be easier to just play up the whole bachelor thing?"

Jensen groans. "Remember the guy at the club? I told you I had a boyfriend a couple of years ago and he slept with him behind my back."

"Yeah."

"Those kind of things, you can't keep them a secret. When my boyfriend cheated on me, everyone knew. Way before I even found out. Everyone was talking about it—pathetic Jensen, being played by some guy, thinking it's the real deal. You have no idea what that feels like, knowing they were gossiping about it, but nobody bothered to warn me, to tell me. It was all one big joke to them."

"Nobody told you? Not even your friends?"

Jensen shakes his head. "Danneel wasn't in Texas at the time, she didn't know. She would have told me, but she's the only one. Everyone else, they're more amused by it really. I walked in on Jordan getting a blow job from my boyfriend at some party, and it'd been going on for weeks. I felt like such an idiot. And my 'friends' all thought it was hilarious; they'd made bets on how long it would take me to figure it out. For weeks after that I was the biggest fucking joke of the whole city. The idiot who actually thought he'd found a good guy, someone to maybe settle down with eventually. The idiot who thought he was so above everyone else who sleeps around, and cheats on their partners and gets cheated on."

"Jensen. I'm so sorry," Jared murmurs, and Jensen gives him a small smile.

"That's why I said it's easier, not letting them know the truth. Everything is ammunition with people like them."

"But why not just be single?"

"Because… it would feel like I lost. Like I let them win," Jensen says. "Like that whole thing fucked me up enough to swear off relationships. I know it's petty and stupid, but with you I feel like I can rub it in their faces that I'm okay and happy, that I have found a good relationship despite what happened. It's not even like I planned this, but when you asked me for help it seemed like a good idea. It may be fake, but they don't know that and it feels good. Feels good to have someone in my corner, even if I have to pay you."

The words hurt a little, but Jared tries not to let it show. He takes a sip of his scotch. "Were you in love with him?" he asks softly.

"My boyfriend? Maybe. I don't know. I liked him, but I doubt I really loved him." Jensen pauses, slowly swishes the liquor around in his glass, before he shrugs. "Looking back, we probably weren't really completable. He liked the life I could offer him, the parties and events I got us into, and I liked being in a relationship. Having dinner together, going on dates, spending the weekends at home. I guess we didn't have the same vision of what our lives together should look like."

"I've never been in love, I think," Jared admits.

"It can be nice," Jensen says. "It just sucks when it goes bad."

"Well, it doesn't have to, does it?" Jared asks, and Jensen smiles.

"I like to think that's possible, yeah," he says. For a moment, they just look at each other silently and then they lean in and let their mouths meet. It's soft, dry, and when Jensen pulls back after a few moments he smiles.

"I should let you get some sleep," he says softly. "Good night, sweetheart."

Jared sighs. "Good night, Jensen," he says and Jensen gives him a small smile on his way out of the room.

+

December rolls around and with that the holiday season. Jared comes home from work one day to find a big Christmas tree in the living-room, decorated with lights, strings of silver beads, and red, metal ornaments. There are candles placed strategically around the house and a platter of cookies is sitting on the counter in the kitchen. Jensen doesn't go overboard, but the little touches and the tree are nice, simple reminders of the holidays.

Christmas, in Jensen's life, also means an abundance of Christmas parties. They're bigger and more lavish than all the other ones Jensen has taken Jared to previously.

There's one at the country club Jensen's family is a member of that's particularly swanky. Jensen's parents are in Europe, but his older brother is there. Jared's met him in passing a couple of times, but it's the first time he really talks to him. He's nice and fun, and Jared is glad there is some pleasant company there that night. He reminds him of Jensen, and yet Jensen is completely different, quieter and more intense.

Josh dishes out embarrassing childhood stories that have Jensen groaning and grumbling, and suggests that they have lunch together and he'll bring pictures.

"Two words: frosted tips," he says, winking at Jared while Jensen covers his eyes with his hand.

"I will kill you," he threatens. Jared laughs.

"Sorry, but that's just too good. I'm saying yes to the lunch."

Jensen sends him a quick glare. "Traitor," he mutters, and tugs at Jared's arm. "Come on, I'll introduce you to some more people. Get you away from this asshole brother of mine who is obviously a bad influence on you."

"I'm just sharing facts about you with Jared," Josh replies innocently, and shares a smile with Jared.

+

Jared goes to the bathroom after dinner, everyone in the room mingling and dancing and probably comparing bank statements. He's coming out of the stall and almost runs into Ted, one of Jensen's friends that he met a few weeks previously.

"Hi," Jared says politely, ducking past him to go wash his hands. The bathrooms at the country club are insane, all golden fixtures and gleaming, spotless tiles.

Ted, instead of going into a stall, follows him and leans against the row of sinks. "Good to see you again, Jared. How have you been?"

"Fine," Jared says politely. "And you?"

"Can't complain," Ted says and leans in a little closer. "And I'm really pleased to see you again. You're here with Jensen, I assume?"

"Yes," Jared says, ignoring the urge to put more distance between him and Ted. He didn't like any of Jensen's friends and Jensen might be willing to put up with them, but Jared has no interest in making friends with them.

Ted hums, his eyes raking up and down Jared's body without even a hint of shame. "Still dating him then? I have to say, I'm surprised. Jensen isn't usually very good at maintaining relationships."

Jared presses his lips together and forces himself to smile. "Well, he's pretty damn good at maintaining this one, so there's no need to worry," he says. Ted laughs, all fake and phony, and it makes Jared's skin crawl.

"Whatever you say," Ted says. "You know, I have a proposal for you. A business deal, if you want."

"Right," Jared mutters, and tries to move past Ted, his hands dripping wet. Ted catches him by the arm, though, and stalls his movements. The whole thing reminds him of what happened with the guy at the club, Jordan, except that guy at least never pretended to be Jensen's friend.

"How much?" Ted asks.

"For what?" Jared replies, though he has a sinking feeling he knows where this is going.

"What do you think?" Ted asks, raising his eyebrows. "Just name the price. Money really isn't an issue."

"No, thank you," Jared says, pulling his arm away.

"Don't be that way, Jared. Everyone can be bought for the right price and I'm willing to pay whatever you want. More than Jensen, I bet," Ted says with a grin. "Given how long he has been keeping you around, you must be pretty spectacular. Bet you have a nice tight ass, darling."

Despite the fact that Jared was expecting it, the rudeness of the words manage to shock him. He pushes past Ted, putting his weight into it.

"Oh come on, don't act all coy and proper—look at you, Jensen has you dressed up all nicely, and gives you a nice, cushy life. I know guys like you and I know why you hang out with guys like Jensen," Ted goads. "If you're worried about him finding out, he doesn't have to know about you making a little extra cash on the side."

Jared's already at the door, but he turns around and frowns. "You're disgusting," he says.

"Really? You turn your nose up at this when you're nothing but Ackles' kept boy?"

"You don't know shit about me and Jensen," Jared replies. "And you're a rude, disgusting douchebag, so yeah, I'm turning my nose up at this. Because unlike you I know what loyalty is."

He leaves, making sure to slam the door behind him, and returns to the ballroom with quick strides. In the sea of people, it takes him a while to spot Jensen, but once he does he weaves between people without paying attention to any of them, and presses up against Jensen's side. Jensen slides an arm around his waist immediately, giving him a small smile. Whatever he sees on Jared's face is enough for him to quickly excuse them from the conversation with the elder couple he's been having after a few moments and pull Jared aside.

"Are you okay?"

"Fine," Jared brushes him off. Jensen looks at him for a long moment, and then takes Jared's hand and pulls him through the throng of people, leading him outside.

"What happened, sweetheart?" he asks once they're out of earshot of everyone.

"Your buddy, Ted," Jared mutters. "I ran into him and it wasn't exactly pleasant."

"What did he do?" Jensen asks, moving in close and cupping Jared's cheek.

Jared leans into the touch, the warmth and familiarity of it making some of the tension drain from his shoulders. "Offered me money to sleep with him and wasn't all too happy when I turned him down," he admits quietly. "And I know… you and I… but it was gross."

He can't say the words, knows Jensen wouldn't take kindly to Jared comparing their deal to what Ted wanted from him. But deep down, Jared knows it's not much different—he might not be sleeping with Jensen, but Jensen is paying him for his company. And Jared might love being with Jensen, might love him, but it doesn't change their situation. And having Ted so shamelessly offering Jared money for sex, makes him feel a little sick to the stomach. Makes him realize more than ever that this is not what he wants for the rest of his life—he needs more, needs something different. Needs to prove that he is more than a whore.

"I'm going to kill that asshole," Jensen grits out, but his touch continues to be gentle. "Did he touch you? Are you hurt?"

Jared shakes his head. "He just grabbed my arm, is all," he says. "I'm fine. I just can't believe he'd do that. I mean, I know what you told me and there was that thing at the club, but this guy pretends to be your friend. I didn't think one of them would try to hook up with me."

Jensen drops his hand, shrugging. "I can't even say I'm surprised. Hell, god knows how many guys I've been with have gotten a similar offer and taken him or other guys like him up on it."

"I'd never. Jensen, I'd never do that," Jared promises.

Jensen gives him a small smile. "I know," he says. "For his sake, I hope he left the party already. If we run into him, I'm going to punch him in his stupid face."

"Don't," Jared says. "He's an asshole, but he's not worth it. You'd only get in trouble or at the very least cause a scene."

"Spoilsport," Jensen murmurs, and he leans in and brushes their lips together. It's soft and sweet, and Jensen gently grabs him by the lapels of his suit jacket, brings their lips together twice more in chaste kisses. Jared sighs and sways forward, resting his forehead against Jensen's.

They stand together like that, and Jensen winds his arms around Jared, one hand rubbing his back.

"Let's stay out here for a little while longer," Jared murmurs, and lets his lips meet Jensen's for another kiss that lingers for a few moments. Then Jared ducks down, folding his body to rest his cheek on Jensen's shoulder, standing in the warm, comforting circle of his arms.

"Jensen?" he asks, voice soft.

"What, sweetheart?"

"I wanna go to college," Jared whispers. He hears Jensen's soft exhale, feels it against his cheek, before a kiss is brushed against his skin.

"Then you will, babe," Jensen says, his tone quiet, fond. Jared lifts his head, looking up, and finds Jensen smiling at him. Proud. Jared sighs and kisses him again, slow and soft.

+

It's weird how the kisses they share don't really change much between them. They don't take things further, and Jared isn't sure if they're teasing each other, playing some unspoken game, or if he's maybe misreading the whole situation.

What he does know is that he likes kissing Jensen. There's something innocent about it, the kisses always sweet and brief, and it's comforting, nice. Like a hug or a pat on the back, only much more personal.

The pre-Christmas season drags on with more parties and long shifts at the café. People seem to be in a giving mood and Jared makes a lot more tips than usual, and he uses the money to buy Jensen a gift: a dark brown leather bracelet that Jared thinks Jensen will like.

Eight days before Christmas, Jared is clearing one of the bigger tables at the café, piling dishes and mugs onto a tray. He picks it up and must make a weird move, because pain shoots up his back and he nearly drops the entire tray again.

He has an hour left before his shift ends. The pain gets a little better after a few minutes, but it doesn't go away completely. Jared finishes his shift with gritted teeth. Driving home sucks and Jared tries not to make any sudden movements.

At home, he goes straight into the living-room and lies down on the couch. His back spasms and hurts as he does so, but then his muscles relax a little. The pain doesn't ebb away, but it feels much more manageable as long as he just lies there and doesn't move.

"Hey. Weren't you going to come say hello to me at least?" Jensen asks teasingly, walking up to the couch. Jared grunts in reply.

"What's wrong?"

"Pulled something in my back," Jared mutters.

"Shit," Jensen says and kneels down by his side. His hand comes to rest on Jared's shoulder, the touch careful. "Do you need a doctor, sweetheart?"

Jared scrunches up his face. "I'm not dying. It's okay."

"Are you sure?"

Jared just nods in reply.

"Anything I can do for you?" Jensen asks, rubbing Jared's shoulder. Jared sighs.

"Dinner," he murmurs. Jensen kisses him softly.

"Coming right up," he promises.

Jensen makes them dinner and watches Jared closely as they eat, and then sends him right up to bed. Not fifteen minutes later, he sticks his head through the door of Jared's room, brings him painkillers and tea, and then tells Jared he's going to be out, running an errand for a little while.

He comes back half an hour later. "Pull your shirt up for me for a second," he says, tugging the covers down. He's holding a package of something.

"What's that?" Jared asks, words a little slurred as he'd been on the edge of falling asleep.

"Hot patches. I called a friend, he's a doctor, and he suggested these," Jensen says. He tugs Jared's t-shirt up himself, exposing his back. "Where does it hurt?"

Jared reaches around and places his fingers over the small of his back. "Here."

"Okay," Jensen says. He opens the package, pulls out one of the plasters and peels the foil off. He sticks it on Jared's skin and smooths his fingers over it. "Give it a little time, and then it should get nice and hot."

"Thanks," Jared says, nodding his head.

"Get some sleep," Jensen replies, smoothing Jared's hair back. He leans over him, kisses the corner of Jared's mouth, and whispers, "Good night, sweetheart."

+

The next day, they almost get into a fight when Jared insists that he goes into work for his shift. Jensen isn't happy about it, but Jared puts his foot down. His back is feeling better; the pain is still there, but it's manageable now, and the last thing Jared wants is to get fired for missing his shifts just a few weeks after starting his job.

Jensen drives him, even when Jared tries to tell him he can drive himself, and he's scowling the whole time, convinced that working will make Jared's back worse.

Three days later, Jared has to admit Jensen is right. He's been working shifts every day for the past week, because some of the other waiters have taken time off around the holidays, most of them students who are traveling home. Being up on his feet and carrying things is making his back ache.

Jensen shows up about thirty minutes before Jared's shift ends that day, orders a coffee, and then starts chatting with Jared's boss. Jared tries to ignore it, but it makes him feel a little nervous.

By the time Jared has retrieved his coat and backpack from the backroom, Jensen has finished his drink and paid, ready to leave. "What were you talking about to my boss?"

Jensen gives him a small smile. "Nothing. Just chatting," he says, and rests his hand on the small of Jared's back as they walk outside. "How's your back?"

"Okay," Jared says, which isn't a lie. Compared to a few days ago it feels okay. Tight and uncomfortable, but if he moves carefully there isn't much pain.

Jensen hums, but doesn't prod, and Jared still feels a little suspicious.

+

The next morning, Jared is woken up by a hand gently shaking his shoulder and Jensen murmuring, "Wake up, sweetheart."

Jared makes an unhappy sound and blinks. It's early, the sky outside—Jensen must have opened the blinds while Jared was still sleeping—still murky. "What?" he mumbles.

Jensen chuckles. "We got things to do, places to be," he says. The mattress dips as he sits down by Jared's side and holds out a mug of steaming coffee. Jared sits up slowly and takes the coffee, breathing in the scent.

"What things?" he asks, clearing his throat to get rid of some of the roughness. He takes a sip of coffee and peers at Jensen over the rim of the mug.

"You need to pack."

"Pack?"

"I'm taking you away for a few days."

Jared frowns. "I have a shift today and tomorrow."

"I cleared it with your boss, Jared."

"So that's what you were talking about to him yesterday?" Jared ask. "You can't just… it's my job, Jensen. You can't just waltz in there and demand I get time off."

Jensen looks a little guilty. "It wasn't like that. You hurt yourself and you've been working extra shifts anyway," he says. "And the sister of the owner of the café is one of my clients. She came in for a meeting a couple of weeks ago and we started talking about families, she mentioned the café and well, after the thing with your back I decided to call in a favor."

The explanation doesn't make Jared feel a lot better, his forehead still creased in a frown.

"Don't be mad," Jensen wheedles.

"I just don't like that I get extra treatment because I'm your 'boyfriend'. That's not fair and that's not what I want."

"Sweetheart, everyone does it. It's not a big deal and it was just two shifts. You have a few days off over the holidays anyway," Jensen says. "But I promise I won't do stuff like that again if it bothers you. Okay?"

"Okay," Jared finally relents. Jensen smiles and leans in, brushing a kiss over Jared's forehead.

"Thank you," he says.

"So, where are you taking me?"

"It's a surprise."

"I need to know what I need to pack," Jared reasons.

"Warm clothes. And your swimming trunks." Jensen grins winningly, and Jared sighs.

+

Jared has never been outside of Texas. He's never been on a plane either.

He doesn't really want to admit it, because he's still not happy with what Jensen did, but the whole thing is pretty exciting. Jensen makes him take some painkillers for his back, and they stop for a second breakfast at the airport.

Their destination, it turns out, is a small town in New England. They take a direct flight to Boston, followed by a few hours in a rental car. The area is beautiful, but the cold weather is a bit of a shock to Jared. He's glad he took his warmest coat, a beautiful black peacock coat that Jensen bought for him even though Jared insisted he'd never have any use for it, like Jensen told him to, and Jensen had the foresight to pack a scarf and gloves for Jared.

When they stop in front of a big, gorgeous old building and Jared reads the big sign above the door, he laughs. "A spa?" he asks.

"I told you I'd take you to one and make you try it," Jensen says. "And I figured it might be just what you needed."

The rest of the annoyance that Jared still felt evaporates at that. He leans across the gear shift and kisses Jensen's cheek. "Thank you," he says. Jensen smiles and briefly touches Jared's cheek.

"Come on," he says then. "Let's go get checked in. I feel like a nap and then a nice dinner."

"Sounds perfect," Jared agrees.

+

They have their own little cottage, and Jared falls in love with it right away. It's cozy and nice, with an open first floor that's mostly just a big living-room and a small kitchen tucked in in one corner. There's a fireplace; a couple of big, comfy couches; a big bookcase with books and even a few board games; and a Christmas tree by the fireplace. The bathroom is big and luxurious, too. The second floor is a gallery, only half as big as the lower one, and it's where the bedroom is located. It's really just a big bed and not much else, with a glass railing all along one side that allows one to look down into the living room.

They take a few minutes to explore and then crawl straight into bed. The cottage is warm and cozy, but Jared is still glad they have thick comforters to snuggle up under.

The nap ends up being a little longer than either of them anticipated and they order in room service for dinner, both of them feeling too tired to leave their place.

There are some brochures about the spa on the coffee table that Jared studies while eating the steak he ordered. "What are we going to do tomorrow?"

"What do you want to do?" Jensen asks. Jared considers the different options, skimming the titles of the brochures.

"I'm not really sure what half of this stuff is," he admits. "A massage sounds nice."

"We'll start with that then," Jensen agrees. "The mud baths are supposed to be good, too, and I've heard good things about the facials here."

Jared isn't quite convinced. The mud bath, he can imagine, but the idea of having someone smear gunk on your face and enjoy it seems a little too much for Jared. He might be gay, but he's Texas born and bred and these kind of things, things that he knows Jensen enjoys, are absolutely foreign to him.

Despite the nap, they go to bed early. Jared wakes up during the middle of the night and finds that, even though the bed is more than big enough for two, he's ended up snuggled up against Jensen. He thinks about moving away, but the position they're in is comfortable, and Jensen's nice and warm and Jared likes being this close to him. Jensen doesn't have to know that Jared woke up and was aware of the sleep cuddling that was happening.

The next morning, they haven't moved apart an inch. Their legs are tangled, Jared's face mushed up against Jensen's shoulder. And Jensen is already awake, fingers gently trailing up and down Jared's back.

"Morning," Jared mumbles, moving back a little, though not completely detaching himself from Jensen.

"Good morning," Jensen replies, voice still rough with sleep. "Slept well?"

"Hmm, yes," Jared says.

"How about we get up, have a long nice breakfast, and then relax during that massage you mentioned, and then we'll see what we can get up to during the rest of the day?"

"Hmm, yeah," Jared agrees, though he feels more than a little reluctant to get up and leave his and Jensen's little cocoon.

A couple of hours later, he's a lot happier that they did get up though, because the massage feels amazing. Jared's never had a massage, never really thought about it either, but he's pretty sure he could get addicted to it. He feels the way his muscles become looser, the way his body relaxes, and it's like a weight he wasn't aware was there has been lifted off his shoulders.

Jensen is in the same room, getting a massage right next to him, and the little appreciative noises he's making once in awhile are doing things to Jared too.

Jensen is a gorgeous man. Anybody can see that. Jared has been aware of it from the start, would never have denied how damn attractive he thinks Jensen is. But the things that draw him to Jensen are about so much more than his looks—it's his kindness, how charming and funny he can be, the way he teases Jared and treats him as an equal. It's that he takes care of Jared but let's Jared take care of him, too, when he needs it, how he's been letting himself be vulnerable around Jared.

"You doing okay over there, sweetheart?" Jensen's deep voice, scratchier now that he's relaxed and sleepy, interrupts Jared's musings. He blinks, smiles.

"I'm good," he says. "Never been better."

+

They take a long walk after the massage. Despite the cold—and Jared is suddenly very grateful he didn't make it out of Texas after all because he's not made for weather like this—it's nice. The air is crisp and clean, the frozen ground crackling under their feet.

Jared takes off one glove and slides his hand into Jensen's after a couple of minutes, grinning, "In case we happen to run into someone you know," he says.

"We're pretty damn far away from Texas."

"But you never know. Crazier things have happened. It's not a chance you want to take," Jared argues, voice teasing. Jensen gives him an amused look, but pulls his hand from Jared's. Jared's stomach drops, before he realizes Jensen is just taking his glove off, too. Then he takes Jared's hand in his again and jams them into the pocket of his coat.

The walk is followed by a light lunch, and then a mud bath. It sounds fun in theory, but Jared quickly realizes that mud baths aren't his thing—it feels sticky and itchy on his skin and moving in the mud is weird. The disgusted expression in his face makes Jensen laugh though, so that's okay.

Back in their cabin, dressed in the fluffy white robes that the spa provided them with, Jensen thumbs through the brochures for something else to do.

"I feel like taking another shower," Jared complains, looking at his fingers. There's still some mud under his nails and he frowns.

"You already showered the stuff off," Jensen replies, not looking up from the brochures.

"My skin feels weird. Doesn't your skin feel weird?"

Jensen finally looks up, eyes crinkled around the corners as he grins. "Jared, your skin is fine," he says, tone light.

He drops the brochures onto the coffee table and closes the few steps between them. He tugs at the knot of his robe's belt. "But, you know, if you feel like having a soak, there's a hot tub outside."

"There is?" Jared asks.

"Hmm, it's in the brochure about the cottages. Each one has its own private hot tub."

Jared cocks his head to the side. "You just want to see me naked."

Jensen looks him up and down slowly, exaggeratedly and just grins instead of replying.

"All right," Jared agrees.

It's only when they're outside on the deck, and Jensen is slipping out of his robe and getting in the water, that something occurs to Jared. "We're outside," he says, shifting restlessly because it's cold. "Anyone could see us here."

"Jay, there's nobody here but us," Jensen points out. "The nearest cottage is far enough away and the staff assured me we'd have total privacy here when I made the reservation."

"What if someone takes a walk and gets lost and ends up here?" Jared asks, but he's already starting to undo the knot of his robe.

"There are paths for walking. On the other side of the property," Jensen says. "And if someone does happen to stumble upon us they won't see a thing if you're in the water, so get naked and get in here."

"So bossy," Jared sighs dramatically. He slips the robe off, and it's a little weird, but not nearly as weird as the first time he was naked in front of Jensen. The air is freezing, and he quickly chucks everything. He steps into the water, stealing a few glances at Jensen to see if he's watching him—he is, and Jared feels pleased by it—and sinks down.

"This is nice," he says, scooting down farther into the water.

"Very nice," Jensen agrees and winks at him. Jared kicks him under the water, but the effect is minimal. Jensen grabs his foot, fingers curling around the ankle, and keeps him in place, thumb running over sensitive skin.

"Gonna give me a foot massage?" Jared asks, the simple touch from Jensen already enough to make him melt.

Jensen cups Jared's foot with both hands at that, pressing his fingers into the arch of Jared's foot. Jared groans appreciatively.

"Sweetheart," Jensen murmurs, adding pressure a little higher up, "you know, you're right, someone might accidentally come here and see us."

Jared tenses, looking around. "What?" He meets Jensen's eyes again and finds him smirking.

"Just saying it could happen. And it could be someone that knows me. You were right earlier, crazier shit has happened."

Jared's heart starts beating a little faster in his chest. "Yeah. So what do you suggest?" he asks and holds his breath.

"Well, we can't have anyone thinking we're not crazy about each other," Jensen murmurs. He lets go of Jared's foot and moves over to Jared's side of the jacuzzi, slides between Jared's spread legs.

Jared knows what's coming. It's not like they haven't kissed, haven't made out. But it's different, because they're naked and it's just them and they're not drunk either. He tilts his head up, licks his lips, and waits.

The first brush of Jensen's lips against his is gentle, tentative, and Jared leans into it eagerly. He brings his hands up, slides his fingers into the short hair at the back of Jensen's neck. Jensen shifts closer, allowing the kiss to get deeper, and Jared feels his naked body against his own now, and he moans helplessly.

They kiss until Jared is breathless, his cock half hard, and his heart beating out of his chest. A loud screeching from a bird nearby finally interrupts the spell, and Jensen pulls back with a low chuckle. He cups Jared's face with both hands, brings their lips together in a brief, soft kiss.

"That was different," he murmurs.

Jared snorts softly. "Yeah, I'd say."

"I've been thinking about this for a while now," Jensen admits in a quiet voice.

"Me too." Jared ducks his head, catches Jensen's lips in another quick kiss.

"Let's take this inside," Jensen suggests.

Jared doesn't say no to that. They can take advantage of the hot tub another time. Right now, his body is aching for something different.

They wrap themselves up in their robes, not bothering to get dry, and go inside, up the stairs to the bedroom, leaving behind a wet trail. They get naked again and crawl onto the bed. Jensen palms Jared's hip with one hand, presses soft kisses to his lips, his cheeks, his jaw.

"You're so beautiful," he murmurs, his gaze traveling down Jared's body and Jared flushes. Jensen trails one hand down Jared's chest, his side, smiling.

"I like making you blush," he says.

"Shut up," Jared complains and shifts his hips restlessly. "And do something, don't just stare at me. Don't make me go get the masseuse’s number—he seemed pretty into me."

"He was just being a professional," Jensen replies. "And you're not allowed to think about other guys when you're with me. Or when you're not with me."

Jared grins. "Then kiss me already," he demands. Jensen leans over him, so they're face to face, but hesitates.

"How's your back?" he asks.

"Fine. Good," Jared says and wiggles around a little as if that will prove his point. "As long as you don't plan on doing anything super acrobatic, I'm all good."

"Darn, and I was hoping you could do a handstand against the wall and I could fuck you upside down," Jensen snarks. Jared grins up at him and wrinkles his nose.

"Do people actually do that?"

Jensen lets out a soft laugh and kisses the tip of Jared's nose. "You clearly don't watch enough porn, sweetheart."

"Well, neither do you, seeing as I'm naked under you and you're not doing anything about it," Jared replies.

"Hmm, what am I supposed to be doing?"

"Kiss me," Jared says, lifting his chin up. "And then find us some lube and condoms."

Jensen grins before he leans down and finally kisses Jared. He buries one hand in Jared's hair, twisting strands around and settles down between Jared's legs. The first contact of naked skin on naked skin has Jared moaning, rocking his hips up against Jensen. They're still damp, a little cold from the short walk inside, but it feels good. Knowing what was to come, the excitement of it, had Jared half hard by the time they made it onto the bed, but he feels himself growing harder now, cock filling.

"Jensen," he murmurs, tilting his head into the kiss. He lets his legs fall open wider, cups Jensen's ass with one hand and shudders when Jensen grinds down against him, moans into the kiss. It's been awhile since he's done this with someone. When he first moved to Dallas, was first free and on his own and hopeful that his life was starting to look up, Jared had had his share of flings. He'd found a gay bar that he liked and had a lousy fake ID that got him in. But hooking up with guys got old fast and Jared tried for something more, but it never worked out and the last year or so Jared stayed single. He worked too much, tried hard to keep his life from completely falling apart, and sex and dating had been put on hold.

Now, feeling Jensen move against him, Jared realizes just how much he missed this, how much he needs it. He loves having Jensen's weight on top of him, loves the way Jensen is pressing him to the mattress, and loves the feel of naked, smooth skin against his, the pleasure that shoots up his spine as they rock together.

"Please," he whispers between kisses, hands touching, moving, trying to spur Jensen on.

Jensen breaks the kiss, presses his lips to the corner of Jared's mouth, the apple of his cheek. "What do you want, sweetheart? Tell me."

Jared shifts up against him. "Want you inside me," he says. "God, please, Jensen."

"Yeah?" Jensen murmurs against his skin. "You want me to fuck you? Want me to open you up with my fingers, make you so hard you'll be begging for me?"

Jared digs his fingers into Jensen's skin and whimpers. "Don't fucking tease me."

Jensen laughs and kisses his cheek, slapping Jared's hip playfully. "Fine. The youth of today, always so impatient."

"I'm twenty-two, asshole," Jared says. Jensen pushes up onto his elbows.

"And rude, too," he tsks, but he's grinning, teasing, and he kisses Jared once before rolling off him.

"Where are you going?"

"Condoms and lube, babe," Jensen reminds him. Jared turns onto his side, propping himself up on one elbow, and watches as Jensen crosses the room. As gorgeous as Jensen looks in suits or lounging around at home in jeans and a t-shirt, he's absolutely breathtaking when he's naked. His skin is a little paler than it was during the summer, but he's still tan all over—and Jared can't help but wonder how he managed that, because he sure would have noticed if he ever saw Jensen sunbathe naked. Jared looks at him, unabashed, as Jensen pulls his suitcase from the closet in the corner. Watches the firm, perfect butt as he bends over, the curve of his bowlegs, the muscles moving in his back.

Jensen grins at him when he turns around, a tube and foil packets in his hand. His cock is hard, curving up against his belly, big and thick.

"Well, someone came prepared," Jared teases. He rolls onto his back and stretches, and Jensen drops the supplies onto the mattress before he straddles Jared.

"I was hopeful," he says. He runs one hand up Jared's chest and flicks his thumb over Jared's right nipple. Jared arches up. His cock is pressed against Jensen's ass and he rocks his hip up, feels himself catch between Jensen's cheeks. He groans, eyes fluttering shut at the moment of pressure, the heat.

"Thought you were going to fuck me," he manages, voice tight.

Jensen licks his lips, cheeks a little flushed, and lifts himself off Jared. "Turn around, sweetheart," he murmurs, hand gliding down Jared's side, nudging. Jared flips around onto his stomach, shudders a little when Jensen leans over him and brushes his lips over the back of his neck.

"Relax, okay?" Jensen murmurs and nuzzles his jaw. "I'll make you feel so damn good, promise."

He nudges Jared's legs apart with one of his knees, his weight settling on top of Jared as he shifts between them. Jared sighs at the feel of Jensen's lips, soft and warm, kissing a path along his shoulders, Jensen's hands sliding smoothly over his skin, settling on his waist.

Jared's been with his share of guys, and it's been different every time. Jensen takes his time. Jared wouldn't have minded if he didn't—they're both hard, worked up, and the tension between them has been building for a while. But the brush of Jensen's mouth against his heated skin, as Jensen slowly works a path down his body, feels nice, soothes and arouses Jared at the same time.

He moans softly when Jensen reaches the curve of his spine, feels his chin brush against the crack of his ass as Jensen's lips touch him. Jensen hums against his skin, kisses the very top of Jared's butt, and Jared lets his legs fall open wider, his belly tingling.

"You're so gorgeous," Jensen says, voice soft. His hands slide lower, palm Jared's cheeks and Jared gasps when Jensen spreads him open. The next kiss is a little further down, and Jared's stomach drops in anticipation.

"Anyone ever done that for you, babe?" Jensen asks, and then blows air over Jared's hole.

"Once," Jared says with a slight stutter, hips twitching.

"You liked it?" Jensen asks. Jared can only moan in reply, the sound loud and broken, as Jensen runs his tongue over his hole. It's wet and hot, swirling over Jared's entrance, and Jared curls his fists into the pillow and pushes his ass back, seeking more. This time, Jensen doesn't tease.

For the next few minutes, Jared lets himself get lost in the sensation of Jensen's mouth. The graze of teeth against the sensitive flesh, the slick pressure of his tongue, dipping into him, getting him wet and loose, the feel of Jensen's lips. He knows he's being loud, moaning and gasping, pushing into it while saying Jensen's name and more and oh God please, yes, Jensen. His cock is achingly hard, trapped between his stomach and the sheets below him, smearing precome onto both. He's not sure if it's because it's been a while or because Jensen is so damn good, but he feels like his whole body is burning up from the inside, need and arousal curling tightly in his stomach.

And then Jensen does this thing, pushing his tongue inside Jared and humming, the vibration shooting through Jared like a bolt of lightning. He arches up, crying out as his orgasm crashes over him, sudden and startling.

Panting, his body shaking with tremors and buzzing with pleasure, Jared feels himself go boneless. He opens his mouth, but all that comes out is a hitching moan.

"Shhh," Jensen hushes, one hand rubbing circles onto the small of Jared's back. "Okay, baby?"

Jared lets out a wet, broken laugh in reply. He feels wetness under his eyes, eyelashes clumped together. "Yeah," he says, trying to catch his breath.

Jensen crawls up the mattress, hand remaining firm on the dip of Jared's spine, and lies down with Jared. He's grinning as he kisses Jared's cheek, his free hand coming up to play with Jared's hair.

"Sorry," Jared mumbles and butts his forehead against Jensen's jaw, resting there for a while.

Jensen laughs softly. "What for?"

"Coming so soon," Jared says and closes his eyes. His heart is racing in his chest, lungs feeling too tight as he tries to calm his breathing down.

Jensen's hand slides down from his back, brushing over his ass before palming one cheek, thumb rubbing circles into the skin. "Hey, no. That was a pretty good ego boost," he says. "Plus, nobody said we're finished yet."

His hand moves again, finger dipping teasingly between Jared's cheeks. Jared lets out a noise, hitching one leg up to give Jensen more room. He feels Jensen grin, lips brushing against the top of his cheek, as he slides one finger down Jared's crack, over his hole.

"Can I fuck you, sweetheart?" Jensen asks softly. His finger presses in, just a little, and Jared's breath hitches.

"Y-yeah," he says. Heat is already pooling in his stomach again, his cock still half-hard. Jensen tips his head down, noses down Jared's cheek before bringing their lips together in a kiss, his fingers curling in Jared's hair. He coaxes Jared's mouth open, kisses him deep and dirty, slow, their tongues sliding together wetly. Jared can taste himself there and he groans into the kiss, shifting until he's on his side, can press firmly up against Jensen.

Jensen's hand leaves his ass to grab the back of Jared's thigh, hitch his leg up over his. He grinds against Jared, movements slow and stuttered, his hard dick sliding against Jared's, pressing them between their bodies. And then Jensen suddenly flips them over so Jared is on his back. The movement breaks the kiss and Jared lets out a small, startled yelp that has Jensen laughing softly.

"Lube," he says, and shifts to grab the bottle he retrieved earlier. He grins down at Jared, kisses him quick and soft, and then sits back.

"Your back still okay?" he checks.

Jared lifts his legs, positions them so they're on either side of Jensen's hips and stretches, grinning up at Jensen. "Never been better," he says.

"Let's see if you still say that in the morning when the buzz of the orgasm has worn off."

"By tomorrow, it better be orgasms, plural," Jared says and impatiently wiggles his hips. "And if the buzz has worn off by then, you're just going to have to bring it back."

"I see how it is," Jensen says and smirks. He flips open the lube and pours the thick liquid onto his fingers, spreading it around as he tosses the bottle aside. He reaches down between Jared's legs, brushes his fingers behind Jared's balls, further back.

"Ready?" he asks.

"Yes," Jared says, the word ending on a slight hiss as Jensen presses one finger inside. It slides in easy, Jared already loose enough from Jensen eating him out, and Jared rocks down on it eagerly. Jensen only pumps his finger in and out a few times before he adds a second alongside the first.

He wraps his other hand around Jared's cock, starts stroking him at the same time as he fingers him open, and Jared throws his head back with a groan.

"God, look at you," Jensen says. "Fuck, you're so beautiful, all spread out for me."

"Jensen," Jared gasps, and Jensen moves his fingers inside of him, rubs them up against Jared's prostate, sharp pleasure shooting up Jared's spine. "Oh shit. Right there."

"Here?" Jensen asks teasingly and repeats the movement, before pulling his fingers out all the way.

Jared bites down on his bottom lip. "Jensen! I swear to God--" he starts, then keens when Jensen comes back with three fingers. There's enough lube that he can slide them in without resistance, but Jared can feel the stretch now, the burn of being filled. He hums, pressing down, seeking more.

Jensen takes a little more time with three fingers, fucking them in and out, twisting and pushing, while stroking Jared's cock languidly. By the time Jared is ready, Jared is once again panting and his cock is straining toward his stomach. He's sweaty and messy and needy, and Jensen still looks every bit as composed and in charge as he always does, with the exception of his hard, flushed cock, glistening with precome, and the thin film of perspiration on his forehead.

Jensen grabs a condom, rips the little foil packet open with his teeth, and Jared watches him put it on, anticipation making his stomach flutter. Jensen is big, thick, the latex clinging perfectly to his cock.

Jensen slicks himself up with lube and then positions himself. When his cock nudges against Jared's hole, Jensen leans over him and kisses him, sweet and soft.

"Tell me if anything hurts," he murmurs. Jared nods and brings his legs up around Jensen's waist. Jensen doesn't take his eyes off him as he starts pressing forward, the tip of his cock pushing in.

Jared's breath hitches, the burn making him clamp down before he forces himself to relax.

"Shhh, I'll go slow. It's okay," Jensen says.

"Been a while," Jared pants, but he tightens his legs around Jensen, forcing him in deeper. Jensen groans and Jared bites down on his lower lip. The pain isn't bad, but it's there, Jensen's cock thicker than his fingers. Jared doesn't mind, though; he's always loved this, likes feeling himself stretched around a cock, that slight burn that comes with it, the fullness.

Jensen works himself in with rocks in and out, his thrusts becoming easier, deeper each time until he's all the way in Jared, filling him perfectly. He's beautiful, flushed and a look somewhere between concentration and bliss on his face, lips red from kissing.

"Feels good," Jared breathes out, shifting his hips up to meet Jensen's rhythm. "So good. You're so big."

"Yeah?" Jensen asks and thrusts in, dragging against Jared's prostrate and making him cry out. "You like that, sweetheart? Like being fucked by a big, hard cock? Stuffed full and stretched wide?"

Jared's lips part around a loud moan. "Yes," he pants. "Come on, Jen. Fuck me."

Jensen leans down over him, almost folding Jared in half, hands curling around Jared's thighs and holding him in place. He crashes their lips together in a deep kiss as he snaps his hips forward. His mouth muffles Jared's cry and Jared cups his face, buries his fingers in Jensen's short hair, and kisses him as Jensen drives into him again and again, fucking him deep. The angle makes him hit Jared's prostate with each thrust, unrelenting, his fingers digging into Jared's thighs. Their kisses become sloppier, mouth parting to suck in gasps, their moans and grunts mingling.

"Touch yourself," Jensen pants. "Come on, Jay. Get yourself off. I wanna feel you come while I'm inside you."

Jared whimpers, straining up for another kisses as he slides a hand between their bodies. He grabs his cock and gives it a few hard strokes, before he comes, shuddering and moaning.

Jensen groans against his lips, hips stuttering, thrusting into Jared's body a handful more times before he comes, smearing a kiss against Jared's cheek, murmuring, "Fuck yes. Yes."

+

The room has cooled down considerably due to the window Jensen has cracked open, the air fresh and crisp. Under layers of two thick down comforters and an additional woolen throw, Jared feels toasty warm and comfortable, lying in Jensen's arms, cloaked in darkness. His cheek is resting on Jensen's collarbone, nose buried against his neck.

Jensen is rubbing circles into Jared's lower back with one hand, relaxing the muscles there and making Jared feel drowsy.

"Happy?" Jensen asks softly, tightening the arm he has around Jared's shoulders for a moment.

Jared hums. "Yeah," he says, but it comes out sounding thoughtful. He is happy, but he also feels like he's in a weird limbo, content and overwhelmed by what happened all at once. He can't help it; he's gotten exactly what he wanted, everything feels absolutely right and good but at the same time he worries that it's too good to be true, that it can't last, because good things never do.

"Hey. Talk to me," Jensen whispers and kisses Jared's forehead. "What's on your mind?"

"Nothing. All of this," Jared says and shifts, attempting the impossible task to get even closer to Jensen.

"You wanted this, right? It was good?"

Jared purses his lips, pressing a kiss to Jensen's throat. "Yes. God, yes," he exhales. "'s just different. It's never been like this."

"Like what?"

"It's complicated between us, because of all the other stuff," Jared says. "The money, the deal, the living arrangements. And you… you're important to me, Jensen. Nobody else has ever been."

Jensen's hand slides from his lower back up instead, then back down, in big, calming strokes. "You know I care about you a lot, too, sweetheart, right? It goes both ways."

"Yeah. I just don't want this to blow up in our faces," Jared says. "And I don't want to lose you."

"I think we're both old enough to know you can't really control these kind of things. People grow apart, feelings change—in friendships and relationships," Jensen says. "But I don't want to lose you either. We're in this together, okay? We'll figure it out, give it our best shot."

"Promise?"

"Yeah," Jensen says and squeezes Jared's shoulder. "Feeling better now?"

Jared nods. "Little meltdown is over," he says with a soft snort. "Sorry about that."

"Don't be. I want you to talk to me when something's up. And we'll work this out," Jensen says. "But not tonight, okay? Let's just enjoy this for now and get some sleep."

"Okay, yeah," Jared agrees. "It's not that late yet, you know."

"Hmm. I have no plans to leave this bed before morning, though."

"You don't have to," Jared says and slides a hand down Jensen's naked stomach to his hip. "There are plenty of things we can do in bed."

Jensen laughs softly. "That so?" he asks. "And here I thought I'd actually worn you out."

"I'm young," Jared teases, pinching Jensen's hip and he turns his face, trailing a handful of soft kisses along Jensen's collarbone. "Maybe we can try again and this time I won't freak out afterward and kill the mood."

"Well, I suppose so. If you insist," Jensen says with a heavy, fake sigh. In retaliation, Jared pokes Jensen in the side, and to his surprise, Jensen snorts and flinches.

"Someone is ticklish," he says with a grin, and lets his fingers skate over Jensen's ribs. It startles a laugh from Jensen, but before Jared can attack him further, he grabs Jared's wrist and rolls them over.

"Brat," Jensen murmurs and noses under Jared's jaw, placing a soft kiss there. "Behave."

"Make me," Jared edges him on.

"Oh, I will," Jensen says in a low murmur and lifts up, his lips finding Jared's in the darkness.

+

"What do you want to do today?" Jared says, absently flicking through another pamphlet.

"I want to go get a facial," Jensen says. He steps up to the couch behind Jared, sliding his arms around him and Jared tips his head back, looking up at Jensen upside down.

"That's very gay of you," he says.

"Says the guy who woke me up with a blowjob," Jensen replies and runs his thumb over Jared's lower lip, tugging the flesh to the side playfully. Jared parts his lips and lets his tongue run over the digit before sucking it into his mouth. He grins around it, watching the expression on Jensen's face.

"You're a tease, sweetheart," Jensen murmurs.

Jared lets go of Jensen's thumb. "You're going to make me get a facial. Which one of us is worse, huh?"

Jensen laughs and leans down, kissing Jared quickly. "Nobody says you have to come with me."

The thought of spending the day apart makes Jared pull a face and he shakes his head. "You can't take me on a trip somewhere and then ditch me."

Jensen bends down again, arms sliding further down as he hugs Jared, and kisses his cheek. "Fine. How about this, you come and have a facial with me and then you pick something we'll do together later. And you get to choose what we do for dinner tonight."

"Deal," Jared agrees. He wraps his hands around Jensen's wrists, holding his arms against him and turns his head to get a better look at Jensen. "Thank you, Jensen. For the trip. And everything else."

"Hey, you have nothing to thank me for," Jensen says.

Jared snorts.

"I'm serious, sweetheart," Jensen says. He untangles himself from Jared and walks around the couch, sitting down next to him, sideways so he is facing Jared. "I helped you out, but you did me quite a few favors, too, going to all these events with me, pretending to be my boyfriend. My life looks good on paper, I guess, but it's not all sunshine and roses. You've been making it a lot better."

Jared ducks his head, smiling. "I'm glad. I'm trying," he says.

Jensen slides an arm around him then, pulls him in against him, and Jared goes easily, curling up against Jensen. "It's been a crazy few months, huh?"

"Yeah," Jared agrees with a huffed laugh.

"I think we both deserved going on a trip and getting some rest," Jensen says and kisses Jared's forehead. "And who knows, maybe you'll end up loving getting a facial."

"Yeah. But not the kind you're talking about right now," Jared quips and turns his face up, smirking. He watches Jensen's eyes get darker, gaze slipping down to Jared's mouth.

"You're going to be the death of me, sweetheart," he says gravely, and curls his hand around Jared's neck, thumb stroking Jared's throat as he tugs him up into a kiss.

+

They fly back home to Dallas on the 24th. Jared spends most of the journey asleep, head resting on Jensen's shoulder. He feels happy, relaxed, and for the first time in his life, the thought of home—any home—makes warmth spread in his stomach.

+

Jared's never been a huge fan of Christmas. Growing up, the holidays were never a big deal around their house. His mother decorated a little and there were some small presents, when money wasn't too tight, and as a young kid Jared used to cherish these things, cling to them and tell himself it wasn't all bad.

When he was a little older, he started to realize that it was a show, his mother's way of preserving their image. She couldn't have the people at church and the neighbors thinking that they weren't a functioning family. When people asked them about their holidays, she could tell them about their nice little tree and the gifts Jared got, like any other mother living in town. She didn't tell them that her husband ate his dinner in front of the television, as always, while Jared sat alone in the kitchen. Didn't tell them that while Jared got a few things, they never gathered around the tree and opened presents the way other families did. Didn't tell them that holidays meant even more booze and Jared hiding out in his room, desperately looking forward to school because he liked being there more than at home.

Once he moved to Dallas, Jared's Christmases weren't any better. There was nobody to celebrate with, so Jared didn't. He didn't hate the holidays, liked the lights outside and the music and the candy and cookies, but those days weren't any more special than any other day in his life.

Jared isn't really sure what to expect from the holidays this year, never talked to Jensen about it, but it turns out Jensen seems more than happy with a quiet, small affair.

Jensen's parents are still in Europe, so there's no big Ackles extravaganza this year—"Just means it'll be twice as big next year. You'll see," Jensen warns him, and the fact that apparently Jensen assumes Jared will be attending the Christmas shindigs at his parents' with him next year makes Jared's heart skip a beat.

Christmas Eve is dinner that they order in, Jensen feeling too lazy too cook after traveling for most of the day, and then they watch A Christmas Carol together, the Christmas tree alight in the corner of the living-room. They make it halfway through the movie before they start making out and while Scrooge is being visited by ghosts on screen, Jensen jerks Jared off with slow, sure strokes, Jared's moans and whimpers muffled by kisses.

Jared sleeps in Jensen's bed that night for the first time ever, and that's probably Jared's favorite part about the entire holidays.

They don't make a big deal out of exchanging gifts the next day, but Jared is pleased when Jensen seems genuinely happy about the bracelet and puts it on immediately. Jensen, in turn, bought him a whole stack of books and DVDs and a beautiful leather book bag for college.

The rest of the holidays pass in a blur of sex and food, and they spend most of the time in bed or on the couch.

+

The pain in Jared's back has completely faded when he goes back to work on the 27th.

"You must have had a pretty damn good Christmas," Genevieve, one of his co-workers, says halfway through his first shift.

Jared puts his empty tray down on the counter, letting his gaze roam across the small café once to make sure everyone at his tables is taken care of, and then gives Genevieve a smile. "It was nice, yeah," he agrees, though momentarily straying to thoughts of Jensen. "Why?"

Genevieve shrugs. "You just seem really happy," she says. "I don't think I've ever seen someone serve coffee with a spring in his step like that."

"Just in a good mood," Jared says and grins at her.

"Hmm, yeah, I guess if I had a boyfriend like yours, I'd be too," Genevieve says.

"Boyfriend?"

"The really hot guy in a suit that sometimes comes in? He's your boyfriend, right?" Genevieve says, eyebrows raised. "Someone said you two live together or something."

"Yeah. We do," Jared says and grins even wider.

Genevieve shakes her head. "God, look at you. I hate you," she says, but she's smirking.

"Aww, don't be that way, Gen," Jared says in a playful voice. "You'll find the right guy for you, too."

"Yeah? How does one do that?"

Jared shrugs. "Get fired and kicked out of your apartment," he says. "Worked for me."

Genevieve gives him a puzzled look and Jared laughs, patting her shoulder. From the corner of his eye, he sees a small group sitting down at one of his tables. "Gotta go and be a disgustingly chipper waiter," he says.

+

They go to a party on New Year's, another one of those big fancy events that Jensen doesn't want to go to any more than Jared, but knows he should.

It's probably the fanciest, most extravagant event Jared's been to with Jensen so far, all of Dallas' high society gathered, dressed in their finest suits and most expensive clothes, dancing to the music of a live string quartet.

"I just don't understand why rich people only eat food that's served in bite-sized portions," Jared tells Jensen, who hands him a glass of champagne from the waiter he just flagged down.

"Good thing you ate two huge sandwiches before we left," Jensen replies in a teasing voice and slides his free arm around Jared's waist.

"I'm a normal human being," Jared says and grimaces. "I need food, unlike these people here."

"And lots of it," Jensen says, grinning over the rim of his glass before taking a sip.

"Well, I'm a big boy."

Jensen leers at Jared. "You're a huge boy," he agrees. Over Jared's shoulder, he nods at someone, giving them a polite smile.

Jared ducks his head down, his lips brushing against the shell of Jensen's ear. "Dude, if we're talking about penis size, I'm pretty sure you have every guy in this room beat," he says in a low voice.

Jensen laughs and catches Jared's lips in a quick kiss. "How'd I ever survive these kind of things without you?"

Jared shrugs and takes a sip of his champagne, keeping the cool liquid in his mouth for a couple of seconds to feel the bubbles pop on his tongue before he swallows. "You saying I'm good company, Mr. Ackles?"

"Hmm, you can be entertaining once in awhile, I suppose," Jensen says, trying to sound unfazed. Jared shoots him a quick grin.

"Well, one or two more of these," Jared says, holding up his glass, "and I'll feel brave enough to go dance with you and then you'll be really entertained."

"Your talents lie elsewhere," Jensen agrees with an amused grin and squeezes Jared's waist a little. Jared gives him a little pout in return, but it turns into a smile when Jensen leans up and gives him a quick, soft kiss.

Then he steps back, hand sliding from Jared's waist and he laces his fingers with Jared's instead. "We should probably go mingle a little," he says, not looking all that excited about it.

"Only a few more hours, right?" Jared replies in a low voice, trying to sound encouraging, and Jensen squeezes his hand. He knows how much Jensen hates these parties, but he also knows how important they are for networking and being seen.

"At least we have champagne," Jensen says.

"And each other," Jared adds, and the smile Jensen sends him is soft and genuine and beautiful.

+

They slip away as soon as they can, making it home well before 2 a.m. Considering it's New Year's Eve and some people are partying into the wee hours of the morning, that's pretty early.

They make a quick stop in the kitchen to drink some water and then go upstairs. Jared heads straight for Jensen's bedroom—it's where he's been sleeping all night, and though they haven't really talked about this he's starting to think the new arrangement is permanent. Eventually, he'll have to ask Jensen about it, move some stuff in there so he doesn't have to go to his room in the morning to get ready.

Inside, he stops to take off the dress shoes and socks, sighing contently once his feet are bare, and then takes the suit jacket and tie off, tossing them over the end of the bed. Feeling both too lazy and not tired enough yet to undress completely and go to bed, Jared flops down on the bed with a groan, his back aching a little from standing around for hours.

"This is nice," he mumbles.

"Tired?" Jensen asks and gets onto the bed with him, in a similar state of undress. He straddles Jared, a playful grin on his face. "Or are you up for something else?"

"What do you have in mind?" Jared asks. Jensen leans over him and flips the alarm clock on the nightstand over. Jared watches with curious eyes, eyebrows raised, and Jensen makes a show of taking his watch off and fiddling with the little button on the side.

"What are you doing?" Jared asks.

Jensen turns the watch around, shows it to Jared. It now says it's half past eleven. "We're repeating ringing in the New Year."

"Why?"

Jensen leans over him, giving him a quick, soft kiss. "Because I didn't want to spend New Year's with you at some stuffy party, having to small-talk with people neither of us likes. And don't they say whatever you're doing at midnight is what you'll be doing for the rest of the year?" he asks. "So, I want a do over."

"I don't think that's how it works," Jared points out.

"There are plenty of places where it's not midnight yet. We'll just pretend we're somewhere else," Jensen says. He shifts to lie down half on top of Jared, legs tangled, and Jared wraps his arms around Jensen's neck, scratching his fingers through the short hair at the back of his head. Jensen brushes his lips against Jared's jaw, slowly moving up and leaving a trail of kisses behind, speaking against Jared's skin, "This is what I wanted to be doing at midnight."

"You, ah, did kiss me at midnight," Jared says, tilting his head to the side to give Jensen better access. Jensen hums.

"That was all chaste. Appropriate," he says and lifts his head until he's looking down at Jared. He slides his finger into Jared's hair, twirls strands around and grins. "You make me want things that are far from appropriate, Jay."

He kisses Jared before he can reply, lips closing over his. One of his hands comes down to Jared's throat, cupping, thumb slip-sliding against the line of Jared's jaw as he coaxes Jared's mouth open. Jared tips his head back into the kiss, moans quietly, feels his heart pick up speed and cock filling in his slacks.

Clothes are stripped off and tossed aside quickly, leaving Jared sprawled out naked and Jensen between his legs. He pins Jared down by the arms, and then trails biting kisses down Jared's neck, his collarbone, down his chest to Jared's nipples. He takes first one into his mouth, licks and sucks and grazes his teeth against it until Jared writhes under him, moaning, and then turns his attention to the other.

"God, I think I could make you come from just this," Jensen says when he pulls back a little, eyes fixed on the hard nubs. They're wet with spit, the air of the room feeling cool against them, and they're aching from Jensen ministrations.

"Not tonight," Jared pants and squirms.

Jensen lifts his head, eyebrows raised. "No?"

Jared grins at him and licks his lips. "I want you inside me at midnight," he says.

Jensen lets out a soft laugh and swats Jared's hip. "Turn around then," he says, and shuffles back, giving Jared room.

Jared rolls over and pushes himself up onto his hands and knees. His cock hangs heavily between his legs.

"Fuck, you're so pretty, sweetheart," Jensen says, voice all deep and fond. His hands cup Jared's cheeks, pull them apart, and Jared feels himself blush at being on display like that. And yet, there's a part of him that likes it, makes his stomach squirm and tighten knowing Jensen is looking at him.

"So pretty," Jensen repeats. "All pink and tight."

He lets go of Jared's right cheek and runs one finger down Jared's crack. He stops at his hole, runs his finger over it, pressing in just a little bit. Jared's head drops forward and he pushes back into the touch, moaning.

A soft 'please' falls from his lips and Jensen's touch vanishes for a moment as he grabs lube and a condom from the nightstand. When his fingers come back, they're slick and cold with lube. He works Jared open, quick and efficient, and Jared pushes back eagerly. After less than two weeks together, Jensen already seems to know exactly what Jared likes, what he can take, knows that Jared doesn't mind a bit of a burn and loves the stretch of Jensen's cock.

Jensen adds a bit more lube before pulling his fingers out. His cock nudges against Jared's hole, big and slippery, and then Jensen sinks into him, slow but without stopping. Jared is panting harshly, fingers curled into the pillow.

"Fuck," he hisses.

"Good?" Jensen asks, pulling back a little and thrusting back in, going deeper. Jared can only gasps, hole clenching for a second before relaxing around Jensen again.

Jensen fucks him hard and fast, until the headboard of the bed thumps against the wall with each thrust. Hips snapping forward again and again, his fingers digging into Jared's hips, one hand still slippery with lube. The pleasure is sharp and hot, each thrust leaving Jared breathless.

"Sweetheart," Jensen chants. He wraps one arm around Jared's stomach and pulls Jared up and back against him. Jared ends up sprawled over his lap, his weight pushing him down on Jensen, making him slide in even deeper. Jared cries out, the new position leaving him breathless for a moment.

"Come on," Jensen breathes into his ear, rutting up into Jared. "Come on, fuck yourself on me, babe. Finish yourself off."

It takes a moment for Jared to get his bearings, to get his legs under him so he can move with Jensen, helping Jensen work him up and down on his cock. Jensen buries his face in his neck, kisses and nips the hot sweaty skin there, his chest plastered to Jared's back. Jared throws his head back and comes with another cry, Jensen's arms holding him tight against him.

Jensen comes soon after, grinding up into Jared, groaning into his neck. He helps Jared off of him with gentle hands, shushes the protesting noise that Jared makes when he slips free. Jared collapses onto the mattress, not caring about the come splattered onto his skin. He feels dizzy, boneless, and disappointingly empty, but he sighs, content when Jensen presses against his side, strokes soothing fingers down Jared's back until their breathing has calmed down.

After a while, Jensen gets up and comes back with a wet washcloth. He coaxes Jared onto his back, cleans the spunk off his stomach and chest and the lube from between his legs.

"Lift up, gorgeous," he instructs and works the comforter out from under Jared, slipping back into bed with him and pulling him into his arms.

Jared curls around him, buries his nose in the crook of Jensen's neck and kisses the curve of his collarbone. "'s it after midnight yet?" he mumbles.

Jensen snorts and kisses the top of his head. "Yeah. Happy New Year."

Jared tangles his legs with Jensen's and tips his head back, lips pursed to accept the kiss Jensen gives him. "Happy New Year, baby," he echoes.

"Gonna be a big one for you. Going back to school and everything," Jensen murmurs, tightening his arms around Jared for a moment. "I have a good feeling about this year, though."

"Can't be much shittier than the last," Jared says with a soft snort and rubs his cheek against Jensen's shoulder.

"Wasn't all bad."

"No," Jared agrees quietly. "Ended on quite a high note."

"Talking about the amazing sex we just had?" Jensen teases. Jared huffs.

"Talking about you, you idiot," he says.

Jensen sighs softly and kisses his head again. "Well, maybe we can try and make sure it stays that way, all year long," he says. "And next year, we're fleeing the city for New Year's."

Jared grins at the knowledge that Jensen still wants him to be here, like this, a year from now. "Sounds good," he says, trying to sound casual. "We both like spas, or so I heard."

"You just liked the soft robes and the massage. You hated mud baths and facials, sweetheart."

"I like the facial you gave me just fine," Jared replies. Jensen snorts.

"Well, I don't need to take you to a spa for that."

"No. No, and I don't expect you to," Jared says, sobering up a little. "I just want to be with you. Doesn't matter where."

"Yeah. I know," Jensen says.

Satisfied, Jared snuggles in close. "Hey, Jen," he murmurs.

"What?"

"Aren't you glad I called you and offered to sell my body to you?" Jared asks, and Jensen laughs.

"I am," he says. "Can't say I wasn't tempted either."

"But?" Jared prompts.

"Guess I knew once I had you, that wouldn't be enough. And I wouldn't want to let you go again."

"Good," Jared says and kisses the soft, warm skin next to his mouth. "Don't ever, okay?"

"Don't worry, sweetheart," Jensen says. "I have a feeling that's something that won't ever change."

~the end~