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Like the Back of My Hand

Chapter Text

Tonight, it rains. 

This is not a harsh torrential sort of rain, nor is it a soft drizzle made to enjoy. It is raining steadily, miserably, not encouraging people to leave the streets or go out onto them. Most nights in this heady city are clear, stars just barely peeking out from underneath the blanket of light and smog and atmosphere that drifts up from the city. Most nights are cool nights when you can take your time getting home, nights that allow you to hesitate just the slightest few seconds before going into the safety of your own home. Most nights are perfect. 

But tonight, it rains.

And tonight, the Dealer is late. 

“Will you quit with your twitching?” Milo snaps, shoulders hunched defensively; possibly against the weather, possibly against the boy standing across from him in the alleyway. “And stop pacing! We’ve barely been standing here a minute and we already look suspicious.”

“You said they’d be here at eleven,” Jared retaliates, all too aware of the way the heavy scented rain is clinging to his skin and how the light illuminates their figures in the alley, solitary, visible, obvious to anyone who looks close enough. “You said they’re never late.”

“They’re not.” Milo’s fingers run a three track marathon that speaks of his own skittishness, from pockets to cigarette to lighter. Jared makes a muted sound of protest that gets caught in his throat as Milo ignores him; cigarettes aren’t legal, but then, neither is any of what’s about to go down. 

A sharp flare in the darkness of the alleyway, and Jared looks up to see Milo all but glaring at him over the small bright light of the Zippo he’d probably snatched from his Guardian’s own room. “They’ll be here. Dealers always deliver.”

Jared rolls his eyes, wrings his hands through his soft leather gloves, mutters out a short curse that Milo only laughs at, and returns to pacing. 

This was stupid. Coming here. Doing this. Thinking that this would somehow explain everything to Jared, thinking that watching Milo do it would somehow make him understand

Milo tries and fails a good three or four times to light his cigarette, and then eventually gives up entirely, tossing it against the asphalt. The rain continues to fall, slight buzz of sound as it hits the pavement, like static in the background. There are hardly any cars out on the streets, and certainly no people walking around. It’s quiet. And that makes it all the more dangerous for them to be there. 

But Milo had promised it’d be fine, that he’d done this a million times with Chad and everything had gone off fine, without a hitch. This wasn’t supposed to be some shady Deal that only had half a chance of going through. Milo had explained on the way there, as they rode the underground and swapped bags of chips and candy between the two of them, that the system—as illegal as it was—was flawless. 

You found someone to hook you up, whether it was word of mouth or you just knew a guy, you got to the meeting place on time, you came with the money, you got the goods. There were rarely ever complications. Rarely ever problems. And rarely ever consequences.

Rarely. 

But they’ve been standing in this dismally rainy alleyway for a good ten minutes now, and between the two of them Jared isn’t quite sure who’s twitchier. He does, however, know one thing, and that is if this goes wrong, if he gets caught, that he is dead. Ass in the ground, my-life-is-over, dead. 

Because Jeff is going to kill him. 

Well, Jeff won’t actually kill him, no, he’s far too kind for that. But Jeff is the Police Chief in this city, and Jared knows a thing or two about being the Charge of the city’s leading law enforcement figure, thing number one being that you don’t break the law. Ever. 

And this. This loitering in an alleyway knowing exactly what is about to happen and not doing anything about it, well, this is very close to breaking the law.

Or at least, close to helping someone else break it.

“There they are.” 

Milo pushes off the wall, and Jared stops moving so restlessly, opting to stand as tall as he can and trying to remind himself that there’s nothing to be afraid of, this happens all the time, that it’s gonna be fine. He drags one shaky hand through his rain soaked hair and looks up, squinting through the steady curtain of rain to the end of the alleyway where Milo is gesturing to. 

Two silhouettes like dark cutouts in the even darker night move toward them. 

“Who’s the guy?” Jared murmurs tensely, trepidation forcing its way up into the lilt of his voice, making him sound thirteen years old again.

He runs through his options of possible people that guy could be: cop, political officer, teacher, and his heart takes off in a gallop as he really truly starts to panic. 

“Relax,” Milo reassures. “He’s with the girl. Not like that,” he explains hurriedly at Jared’s incredulous stare. Not that Jared is jumping the gun, because Dealers are shifty characters. They break the Law when and where they please, so Jared isn’t going to assume anything but the worst about them. But Milo explains as Jared’s horror begins to wane, “He…they’re friends. He looks after her. Makes sure her Deals go okay. I dunno man, it’s like he’s her guardian. But they’re the same age.” Milo shrugs, lowering his voice as the two figures get closer. “Between you and me, I think he’s just making sure she doesn’t get caught or get in trouble. You never know in this business.”

Any further questions Jared wants to ask are cut short as the smaller figure, the girl, finally comes up to them, stepping into the light in full view. She’s wearing the typical Dealer get up, from what Jared knows of Dealers at least. Black clothes, jeans, hoodie with long sleeves, inconspicuous, withdrawn, under the radar. 

When she pulls back her hood Jared is met with bright auburn hair and a sweet smile. Her friend hangs back in the shadows, and Jared tries to catch a glance, but his hoodie is drawn up, hands stuffed in his pockets, barely glancing at Jared as he locks his gaze on the red-head. 

“Hey there,” the girl says softly, like she’s trying to coax a scared child out from under the blankets instead of a teenage boy out of the shadows. “Which one of you is Milo?”

Milo hesitates and then steps forward, smiling nervously at his Dealer, and Jared fights the urge to take off running. But for every ounce of fear coursing in his veins there is an equal amount of wonderment and curiosity because this is finally happening. This, right here, is happening in the center of this open alleyway, rain pouring down on them. 

He shifts on his feet, glancing from his Converse to his gloves. This is wrong, and he should feel sick and guilty, and maybe he does, but it’s clearly not enough to cause him to extricate himself from the situation. 

Jared doesn’t know Milo well enough to ask how many times Milo has done this before, but he can tell it’s enough for Milo to plaster a half-cocky grin on his face as the girl sidles up to him, casual, invasive of his personal space as if it’s the easiest thing in the world.

It’s weird watching her move, because for all her mysterious appearance and dark clothing, she’s obviously comfortable here, in this world where all the rules are broken. The world where everything is instinct with no control. 

The world where everything is a secret. 

This is the place Jared has never had access to before, one he never expected to want access to. This dimly lit alleyway in the rain meeting up with two strangers, this is the Holy Grail and Jared is the wayward knight. 

It’s been three months, three months since the incident, three months of skirting around the topic with friends and avoiding eye contact with Dealers he knows of. Three months spent curiously bypassing empty alleyways on late night walks just to see if he could get a glance into the window. Three months of nothing, and Jared is now standing on the precipice of it all, curious as all hell and absolutely starving to understand. It’s become his resolution, the thing that makes him question truths he’d thought he’d known. 

“You got the money?” The girl holds out an expectant hand toward Milo, the pliable forest green of her gloves a perfect complement to her hair. She’s leaning in toward Milo in a way that would make most people talk, but here no one bats an eyelash.

Milo fumbles in his pocket, fishes out the crumpled twenty, and Jared takes the moment to glance over again at the girl’s companion, more out of curiosity than specific interest. But even with the small amount of space between them the man blends into the shadows, the only truly visible part being the ridges of his shoulders accentuated by the way his hands dig into his pockets; hidden, invisible, protected. 

The money exchange must have been completed in the short moment Jared took to examine her companion, because the girl turns to her friend and says, “I’m fine. Go home and get some sleep,” before turning back to Milo with a million watt smile and quick snag of her hair as she tucks it behind her ear. 

It’s funny, Jared thinks. The girl doesn’t look evil, she doesn’t look seductive, she doesn’t look like those wanton women Jared was raised hearing about. She doesn’t look diseased or deranged, maybe a bit tall for her age, maybe her nose is a little small, but she’s by no means anything like Jared had imagined. She looks like a girl who spent too many days in the sun as a child and has only just started to grow into her own curves. She doesn’t look like a criminal; she doesn’t look like the kind of person you should avoid on the street. 

But then she reaches out and her gloved hand encases Milo’s gloved hand, and she tugs him away whispering, “C’mon. Let’s take a walk.”

Taboo in any other situation, but this is what Milo paid for, this is the goods. This unnatural picture right here that has Jared frozen to the spot: this girls fingers entangled in Milo’s, the leather of their gloves twisting together as she drags him further away into the dark crevices of the alleyway, it’s all foreign to Jared.

He’s only ever seen hands like that a few times. The term Jared has heard tossed around between whispers and cafeteria conversations is typically ‘holding hands’, but that’s not what this looks like.

It looks like their hands are strangling each other, clasping and encasing and suffocating, desperate to mold and shape to one another. Milo is suddenly clinging and the girl clings back, like she knows, like she understands. 

Jared doesn’t understand. But he’s trying to.

They haven’t even taken their gloves off yet but Jared still looks away out of instinct, down at his shoes, at the rain spattering on asphalt from the sky. That sort of intimacy, even with the gloves, is still too awkward and inappropriate to look at. Heat creeps to Jared’s cheeks and he feels awkward and fumbling, standing here in this alleyway. 

The chipped and sullied bricks along the walls look like they’re weeping from the rain. If there’s a moon in the sky, she’s not showing her face. 

It’s possible that the presence of darkness is a silly thing to be afraid of, but Jared’s alone in it, rain marring his vision as he stares off and tries to make out shapes on the street just past the entrance of the alleyway. 

He doesn’t have to wait for Milo. It’d be easy to wander to the nearest bus station, panhandle for enough change to get himself a one way ticket home. 

Jared licks his already wet lips, twists the toe of his shoe to gouge in a chip in the street where time has worn the asphalt down.

The fact of the matter is he’s not Milo. He’s not Milo’s Dealer. He doesn’t break the law and he sure doesn’t stand in dark alleyways where it’s beginning to rain in earnestly biblical proportions at night.

He’s Jared Padalecki, and he really doesn’t belong here. 

There’s a soft chuckling sound from the shadows, smoky voice with a sardonic twist and it takes Jared a good few seconds to realize that the guy who came with the Dealer is still there and laughing at him. 

“I take it this is your first time?” A voice, sharp, caustic, a voice that sounds witty right off the bat, cuts through the static of the rain and the sound of Milo and his Dealer trotting away into the arms of the night. “Listen, I know it’s weird, but try not to freak out, okay? You’ll get used to it.”

Sure, easy for this guy to say. He’s probably seen it all, seen every type of Deal go down without a hitch and probably not had a single thought or concern about them. Jared’s head snaps up, and he peers at the man before him, trying to see a face to go with the voice. As far as the information Jared’s looking for, this guy’s probably his best bet.

“Are you a Dealer too?”

The man shrugs, those ridged shoulders tracking up and down in a landslide. It’s hard for Jared to tell in the crappy lighting of the alleyway but those shoulders stand like mountains as they rise and he looks much taller than he probably is. “I could be. But I’m not. I’m just looking after Danneel. Your friend’s Dealer.” 

Jared nods slowly. Danneel. He tries to match the name with the sweet and open face and those green gloves, but it doesn’t quite sync together, the idea of giving a Dealer—a criminal—a name. 

The guy moves, shifts on his feet and in the flicker of light that touches his face Jared catches sight of his eyes, deep green and trained on Jared with interest, like Jared’s the wayward fly caught in this guy’s web and he’s just going to watch Jared to see what happens next. 

They stare each other down, and Jared thinks the moment might actually go on forever—uncomfortably so--before the guy breaks off with a disinterested sigh, taking a step further back into the shadows and reclining against the alley wall, propping one foot against the damp bricks and gazing up at the murky sky, hands remaining resolutely in his pockets. 

“How long does this usually last?” The question sounds loud, even over the pitter pat of the rain on the pavement as Jared tries to keep his tone impassive, forcing the curiosity to taper off before it exits his throat. “I mean, this Deal thing. Will we be waiting for hours?”

The guy shrugs again, those massive shoulders moving and Jared’s really starting to wonder if it’s his bulky jacket or his shoulders that make up that mass. “It looks like your buddy paid for your typical hand-hold-and-hug. It usually only lasts a couple minutes, but…” the guy grins, or at least that’s what it looks like, a stark flash of white teeth in the dark before they disappear again, “Danneel’s a sentimental one. She likes to take her clients for a walk, talk to them a bit, make it meaningful. She’s good at what she does.”

“Does that make a difference?” The words are out of Jared’s mouth unbidden, “What she’s doing is wrong.” 

He pulls at the corner pocket lint on the inside of his sweater, knowing that while he’s spoken the technical truth it wasn’t one of the better statements he could’ve made, given the circumstances. He doesn’t want to piss the guy off, Jared never wants to piss anyone off, but it’s too late to take the words back now as the guy stills, head tilted halfway toward him and leaving his cheek wide open to rainfall. 

“What’s your name, kid?” The man’s voice is quiet and underneath it lies a sort of tension Jared doesn’t want to touch with a ten foot pole.

“Jared.” 

“Well, tell me Jared,” the man draws out the ‘d’ with a mocking enunciation and pushes off the wall, walking directly underneath the light and Jared is suddenly struck with a full on visual of him. 

Even in the orangey glow of the street it’s painfully obvious to Jared that this guy doesn’t fall short in the beneficial genes department. In fact, this guy doesn’t fall short in any department, all six foot one of him stacked up tall and built. He could easily be a candidate to be a Carrier Donator, judging by the symmetrical planes of his face and the way they cast harsh shadows along his cheekbones, so why isn’t he?

That kind of genetic makeup is hard to come by in these parts, it’s rare to be picked as a possessor of such a superior aesthetic appeal that gets one chosen to be a Donator. Looking at this tall man in a rain soaked hoodie, Jared’s baffled as to why this man isn’t one. What string of events lead him to this particular alleyway on this particular night, especially with the other more convenient options of living he has available?

Even with the hood pulled up Jared can make out the damp spikes of dark blonde hair and the angled jaw. His green eyes are luminous and expressive; from a good three feet or so away Jared can tell that they’re tight, annoyed, maybe even a little pissed off, startling Jared out of his blatant staring as he asks, “If you’re so sure that what’s going down on the other end of this alleyway is wrong, then why the hell are you here?”

Jared doesn’t know, can’t give an honest answer if he tries because two days ago this was a perfectly good idea and now this is all starting to seem like one horrible nightmare that he’s bound to wake up from soon. Two days ago they’d been on the Quad at school and Milo had been waxing on about boredom and mentioned going to see his Dealer. Two days ago Jared had all but begged to tag along, to which Milo responded, “Fine, dude, Jesus, just don’t freak out or anything”. Two days ago this was the thing everyone knew about, everyone except Jared.

Two days ago curiosity latched on to Jared like a parasite, dragged him here.

But that was two days ago. Now Jared’s staring at a stranger in a place he doesn’t recognize and being asked questions he doesn’t yet know how to begin to answer. 

This is a nightmare within itself, but Jared knows that unlike the others that lead to him kicking off the covers and sweating through his t-shirts and feeling more exhausted the next day than when he first went to sleep, he won’t wake up from this one. 

But then, Jared had wanted to be here. He can’t now think of a single reason why he had felt that want some hours before, but he had. 

Why the hell is he here? Especially if he knows it’s wrong, and feels as such? 

The sudden shriek of sirens that echoes through the alleyway comes with an onslaught of bright flashing lights that discombobulate and blind. Jared all but jumps out of his skin, scrambling to make the nearest exit from the alleyway when the stranger tugs at his sleeve and yanks him into the shadows with him. 

They stand in wait, silent amongst the dirges of the police car and the flashes of red, blue and white that reach to grab but fail to breach the shadow, barely breathing, and Jared’s really starting to freak. This is it, this is the end, he’s actually going to die. They are going to kill him, no joke or histrionic reaction. 

Jared casts his mind through memories he has of punishments in previous decades, pulling up images of headlines on the news, faces of kids who suddenly stopped turning up at school, snatches of rumors that traveled amidst the locker rooms and hallways. 

Jared was a kid the first time he saw a Skinned, five years old and trailing Jeff to work because he wanted to see Jeff’s office and Jeff’s spinning chair. He hadn’t wanted to see her, and the image flares up sharp; the ratcheted choked noises the girl had been making as they escorted her into the station, the way she cradled her arm to her bosom like she was dying, dying and ashamed for it, torso bowed and curled in on herself as tears fell from eyes to wound. He had been too short to see her arm from where he stood cowering behind Jeff’s knees but he knew then and he knows now, there are no exceptions to the rule. You get caught, and you get punished, tit for tat. 

There is only one rule, really, in this life that Jared knows. Seventeen years old and it’s ingrained into his bones like marrow. There are no exceptions, no loopholes. 

You do not touch. Not ever. 

Jared starts to asphyxiate in the encroachment of the dark behind the stranger’s shoulder in terror. He may not have broken the rule, but he sure as hell didn’t stop Milo from breaking it.

The image of Danneel’s and Milo’s tangled fingers flares up, and Jared wonders how many times Milo’s already broken that one rule, or Danneel. How many more times will they manage to get away with it before they get caught?

It isn’t his concern, really it’s none of his damn business, but Jared wonders it anyway, even as he’s bordering on hyperventilation and becoming drenched with rain. 

“C’mon.” The man yanks on Jared’s sleeve again to follow and Jared stumbles after him through the rain, feet slapping loud and clumsily in the puddles. “We need to get out of here.”

“But what about Milo! And Danneel!” Jared’s struggling to stand upright; because he’s suddenly so terrified his knees are knocking because his stupid ass decision is actually going to get him killed. Or worse. 

“Danneel can handle herself. She’ll take care of your friend.” The man glances quickly over his shoulder and curses as a cop car races by, lights blazing and loud wailing all at once. He tugs Jared’s sleeve and drags him into a side alley, not bothering to see if Jared is able to keep up or not as he begins to jog. “They’ll be safe. But right now, we’re not.”

This is insane, Jared thinks, this guy is insane. Running in the rain? From the cops? Completely insane. He has a curfew, he has a Guardian who expects him home, he has homework and college applications and he has a life that exists outside of everything that’s happening here. How did he get here again? What crazy rush of stupid teenaged adrenaline had made him think coming with Milo to his Deal would ever be a good idea? 

“I don’t even know you--” Jared blurts, and the words sound a lot stupider on his tongue than they did in his head, despite the truth of them. Here is this strange man who had his hands in his pockets and sarcasm rolling off his tongue like rain, and Jared really just wants to go home. 

But there’s going to be no going home tonight. Once the alarm gets sounded for curfew breakers, none of the streets are safe, not for a good hour or so. And if he gets caught…

Getting caught isn’t even something Jared even wants to consider at this point. 

The man stops jogging, and even from this distance he feels very close to Jared, just a foot away, looking straight into Jared’s eyes and looking frankly like Jared is utterly stupid. And maybe he is. For being here in the first place, for thinking it’d be safe to come, for thinking he wouldn’t get caught. 

The man extends a hand, a bare hand, and Jared jumps, water sloshing on his jeans as he scuttles straight into another puddle. The man isn’t even wearing gloves for fuck’s sake but he persists, speaking to Jared in a low tone that matches the sound of the drops pelting down on them both.

“My name is Jensen Ackles. I live all of four blocks away from here. I’ve got a place you can crash at and a phone you can use. I’m not gonna paint you any illusions about what I do or who I’m involved with, but if you want to make it through this night with your skin intact, I suggest you keep up.” 

He wonders if the guy thinks Jared is just as crazy as Jared thinks he is, but crazy or not that’s all moot now with the sirens bearing down on them. This is it, Jared thinks, staring at this alarmingly blunt man with naked hands who stands three inches shorter but talks three years older, maybe more. This is the moment where everything changes. 

This is the world Jared wanted in on, wanted the VIP all access card to. And here is this guy, Jensen, hand strangely extended, inviting him right in. 

And as Jared nods vigorously, skull rattling, he’s mortified to find nothing in him short of pure excitement. No fear, no trepidation, just pure curiosity, coursing through his body and fueled even further by adrenaline. 

Jensen tucks his bare hand back into his pocket and takes off through the silver curtain of rain that hangs through the black of night, disappearing entirely down the alleyway, and Jared follows. 

Chapter Text

The apartment they duck into is clandestine, tucked between several alleyways and covered with pull down staircases and trellises that look to be decades old. It’s inconspicuous, built into the complex with no stand out shades or architecture. Not modern in any way, tightly crammed and assembled together with drywall that’s stained yellow with water decay. The beams that hold the apartment up are wood, the roof flat and the floors tiled. Paint curls off the walls like it’s trying to run away and the rattling catwalk leading to the door is flaked dark orange with rust. When Jensen opens the door with a twist of keys, it creaks. 

Jared darts his eyes around curiously, making out a short hallway that leads into darkness, a small kitchen with an aged gas stove and a sink full of dirty and chipped ceramic dishes that might have been pretty once but are now mismatched and cracked. 

Jensen angles himself around Jared and closes the door behind him, shaking off water and flashing Jared a brief smile. Jared stares outright until, hands shoved back in his pockets, Jensen takes off down the hallway, turning once to give a small jerk of his rain-sodden head, which Jared takes as an abrupt cue to follow him.

The hallway is short, with a threadbare Persian rug extended along the floor, frayed with tread marks from pairs of feet. The once shiny acrylic finish of the floorboards is now worn down. The walls reverberate with the soft clicking sound of a lamp string being pulled.

With a burst of light Jared finds himself standing in a room, wide and spacious and tidy in contrast with the rest of the loft. What Jared expects to be the living room ends up being the bed room; evidently a small apartment. 

“This is your house?” He drinks in the general clutter and instantly comfortable feel, ignoring the way the rain has truly started to seep into his bones, making him shiver and quake in his jeans, in favor of looking around more. His sweater is soaked all the way through, and his t-shirt is not too far behind from being the exact same. He glances over at Jensen from underneath bangs that hang dripping in his eyes. 

“Yeah,” Jensen nods, unceremoniously moving with that same landslide shrug as he shoulders off his jacket. “The one and only.” He snatches up a crumpled piece of clothing from the floor and, after giving it a tentative sniff and apparently finding it passable, heads into what seems to be the bathroom, only pausing momentarily to stick his head out and say, “Don’t touch anything,” before slamming the door shut.

Jared tugs, readjusting his gloves, itchy rain moisture caught between the warm brown leather and his skin as he looks over Jensen’s home. He hasn’t seen many other bedrooms. Sleepovers aren’t generally an encouraged event, and the only two bedrooms he’s been in at this point are Chad’s and his own, so there isn’t much to compare this to. 

The first thing he notices are the shelves of books, much like the law review journals Jeff keeps in a cabinet in their basement at home. It’s hard not to notice; they stack nearly all the way from ceiling to floor, shelves painted in hues of black and crimson. The entire left wall is covered in these shelves; reaching along from corner to corner and nearly colliding with a side table drawer next to a haphazardly made bed that Jared assumes can only be Jensen’s. Jared edges closer, his shoes squeaking on the wooden floor and he gasps and stumbles backwards.

They’re not just books. They’re Forbidden books. The entirety of this guy’s wall is coated and stuffed to the gills with Contraband Literature and—from the looks of the smaller cases and slivers stuffed in between—music as well. 

This is bad. This is very bad. This is very very bad and Jared should leave before things get possibly worse. 

“Here.” 

Jensen exits the bathroom toweling his soaking wet hair, bare feet making damp plopping sounds as he pads over to Jared and tosses a bundle of clothing in Jared’s general direction. Jared reaches out and stumbles to catch it, toe catching on the corner of Jensen’s empty bed stand and he nearly topples over it. Recovering, it’s obvious that said bed stand is not a bed stand at all but a small record player on a side table drawer. He flinches away from it, clutches the bundle of clothes to his wet chest warily, not quite sure what to do with them. Jensen gives him a few seconds to figure it out, but when it’s clear Jared doesn’t get it he sighs, “Please, change. You look like you’re about to catch pneumonia.”

Jared looks at the worn cotton shirt that’s nearly sheer with wear and tear and even more worn jeans, holes in the knees and all. “You want me to wear these?”

“I mean, if pneumonia is preferable to you…” Jensen’s tone is light, and it’s hard for Jared to make out whether the guy is making fun of him or just being straightforward. “You’ll thank me after, okay? Just take off your clothes and put those on.”

“Take off my clothes?” Jared’s voice shoots up an octave or three, eyes wide, and he tries not to be blatantly alarmed. “Here?”

The thought of taking his shirt off in front of anyone, especially a stranger, is outrageous, scandalous. Nudity isn’t so much officially outlawed as it is an unspoken law, expected of you. If people have to wear gloves, it makes logical sense for them to cover up the rest of their body as well. Nudity settles like a curse word on people’s tongues, shameful. Hands, the weapons of touch, the instruments of sin, have to be covered. Arms and legs and legs are passable, but anything further is just asking for unwanted attention, usually of the negative sort that brings police action. 

To top it off, no one has seen Jared shirtless since he was four years old. Hilarie used to get him dressed for school in the mornings, smiling as she wedged a shirt over his head, waiting for his face to pop from the hole so she could call out ‘Peek-a-boo!’ with loud laughter. That someone would see the exposed nakedness of his legs and chest sends Jared’s blood straight to his face and he gnaws at the inside of his cheek, stricken, until Jensen realizes the source of Jared’s alarm and grunts out, “You can use the bathroom.” 

Jared does.

He takes a long time changing, because it’s been years since he’s put on clothes that aren’t his, changed in a room that wasn’t familiar, stripped in a house that isn’t his. There’s a mirror over the sink, but he avoids eye contact with it, playing his own game of peek-a-boo with his body, weighing the shirt in his hands like it might burst into flames the second he puts it on. He figures the faster he can get it on, the faster he can get out of here. This night is turning out to have one too many life threatening occurrences that Jared had never wanted in the first place. And even if he’d thought he had at one point wanted those things, he definitely doesn’t want them now, toes curling apprehensively against the chilly grout and tile in a stranger’s bathroom, half naked. 

Jared steels himself to change and step out of the bathroom as quickly as possible, and it’s a relief to peel off his cold wet shirt and pull on the dry cotton one, even if it doesn’t fit quite right, too tight around the shoulders and too loose at his waist. Something about someone else’s clothes on his skin feels too intimate to be acceptable, like he’s breaking the law even as he pulls on the jeans and jostles the zipper up.

Noise is filling up the silence when he exits the bathroom, and Jared realizes with a start that it’s music; cacophonous music crashing over his ears and making Jared yelp and drop his wet clothes to cover his ears, nails abrading the sensitive skin behind his temple.

It’s not like anything he’s ever heard before, and there are lyrics, words—when was the last time he’d heard a song with words—and if Jared is hearing correctly, the singer is wailing about getting sugar poured on him, whatever the hell that means. 

Jensen’s seated on the bed, reclined against the headboard with one leg bent at the knee and propping up his hand, which is loosely clutching a book. He’s bobbing his head to the music, and after several waves and attempts to get his attention, Jared shouts “Hey!” as loud as he can, and finally Jensen glances up, reaching for a remote and bringing the song to a halt mid-guitar solo. 

“Sorry,” Jensen rolls onto his side and tucks the book under his pillow, taking a brief moment to flip over the corner of his current page and flatten it to a bookmark. “You were taking so long, guess I forgot I had even acquired a guest.”

Jared stands there, absolutely petrified. How is he supposed to respond to all this? The Deal and the cops and someone else’s clothes against his flesh and books and music, it all swirls around, pinging against the walls of his head. He feels some sort of sensory overload related breakdown coming on, combination of adrenaline and cold rain and too loud music and those goddamn giant shelves

Either Jared is blatantly obvious with said oncoming breakdown or Jensen is just really quick, because his eyes flick from Jared to the shelves and back to Jared, who’s simply standing there with his lips sealed tight as if that will keep the panic attack at bay. There’s a subtle motion of Jensen stuffing his novel further under the pillow, regarding Jared cautiously, like it just now occurred to him that Jared might not be okay with all this, any of this. 

“What are you doing?” Jared’s learned from an early age that the best way to keep people thinking that you’re normal is to distract them, and that the best way to distract them is to ask questions. Not that Jared isn’t curious, not that he isn’t dying to know. But it’s the principle of the thing. Plus, he’s got to distract himself too, before he really does freak out. 

“I was about to start chapter five of The Great Gatsby.” Jensen eases his legs over the side of the bed and sits up. “But I suppose I should entertain now that you’re back. Your friend is fine by the way,” Jensen lifts a small phone from the space next to him on the mattress by way of explanation, “Danneel texted me. They’re hidden. Safe. No worries.”

Jared nods mechanically, polite, but the tension in his gut doesn’t lessen one bit. “Thanks.”

“No problem.”

Awkward silence.

Jared toes back into his soggy shoes, wincing at the squish noise, all the nervous adrenaline from the alleyway clawing its way back into his gut because what the hell is he doing here? He should be anywhere but here. He has a Guardian to worry about, a paper due in class tomorrow, and this is so many kinds of wrong he doesn’t even want to consider where he would end up if he gets caught. 

Jensen’s watching him, he can tell, probably waiting for Jared to start threatening to turn him in even as Jared fiddles with his wet noodle shoelaces. Jared won’t turn him in. Or at least, can’t. He’s knows without asking that he’s somehow a part of this now, and would probably get in trouble just as much as Jensen, if not more so. It’s impossible to pretend the ominous book shelves don’t exist and Jared casts repeated glances at them. There’s got to be hundreds Contraband and Forbidden items, if not more. 

It happened around the time the touch was first deemed illegal, according to Jared’s history and government teachers. Like all the other cultural shifts that came with the change, these were accepted, taken as law. Certain books and albums and artists started disappearing off the shelves of stores, libraries, the radio. Stations that played music twenty four seven faded to fuzzy silence, open airwaves of the mute, the dead. 

It was gradual, according to the aged and batty Mrs. Parish, who paced and lectured about the importance of this censorship as being beneficial to their education day in and day out, heels clicking on the dirt-streaked linoleum floor as she droned on and on, Jared listening along only to be polite. Eventually people stopped hearing their favorite songs on the radio, eventually they realized that one book they’d wanted to buy suddenly wasn’t on sale anymore. These books and songs were volatile, perverse; inspired, provoked, nurtured the concept of touching, fed it like a bloodthirsty beast that society was trying to make extinct. 

There was no order to be found in songs about people, and love and touch, no solace in films where lovers embraced passionately or books that described people brawling, making cuts and bruises with their own two hands.

The only way to douse the fire was to extinguish each and every flame. Movie theaters and record companies were shut down, bookstores sucked dry of product. In school they teach that no one knows where they went; there were no public burnings or histrionic events to celebrate the disappearance of sin. Art trickled out of museums, naked statues of the Greeks and Romans were demolished. Paintings including hands or nudity or anything that might suggest touch were removed from the public eye. 

But Jared knows there are warehouses here and there, shelves of these same items for archival reasons, reminders that such a world once existed, a world with books of graphic violence and pornography. But they are kept under lock and key, in the hands of people who don’t use them but instead watch over them and protect the rest of the world from them. 

He’s got no idea of exactly what sort of events these books and music touched on that could be so horrible as to be outlawed, but he’s positive that this apartment is chock full of them. Dozens and hundreds of songs and words that were meant to be snatched, meant to be made to disappear, and yet here they sit, untouched, a little musty smelling, but pristine all the same. 

Jared twists and cranes to look around at the books, records, c.d’s, what have you; stacked and lined meticulously, and Jared has no idea how Jensen acquired so many of these. Lawful or unlawful methods, it’s impressive, and Jared bites his tongue to keep from letting out some exclamation of awe. 

Jared doesn’t even notice that Jensen has gotten up and pressed play on the stereo again until he jumps at the rip of electric guitar and loud vocals, turning back around so fast his neck cricks. 

“I just…” Jared stops, curls his lips inward and licks after the faint trace of rain, starts again, “Where did you get all of these?”

Jensen gives Jared a quizzical look, like he’s more surprised Jared asked where as opposed to why. He narrows his eyes, settles back against the small strip of uncovered wall next to the bed, crosses his arms over the width of his chest and tips his head to the side, coolly. 

“If you’re here to insult my life choices, you can stow the righteous man lecture, alright kid?”

Jared smarts at the word ‘kid’, hackles prickling and embarrassment flooding his cheeks, which totally sucks, because this time he can’t even hide it; the light in the room is bright and Jensen’s got a full view of the way Jared is blushing, because this isn’t an alleyway and Jared can’t shrink back under his hoodie, back under the shadow and away from the clinical gaze of the man standing before him. 

‘Kid.’ Like Jared is some innocent young thing who can’t handle the truth. ‘Kid’ like Jared needs to be protected and coddled. He hates that word. 

Jensen can’t be that much older, can he? ‘Kid’ could just be the guy’s way of announcing himself as an asshole but—tracking his eyes from Jensen’s feet up to his face—Jared figures he has to be at least twenty, if not more. The worst part of it is that Jared does feel like a kid, full of temerity and naivety and he’s without a doubt that Jensen is completely judging him for it. 

On second thought, who the hell does this guy think he is? He certainly seems to have every intention of making Jared feel uncomfortable and young, that’s for sure. Jensen’s sizing him up from across the room, head tipped backward, hips tipped forward and for some reason it feels like a challenge, one Jared’s damn sure he’s not gonna take. 

“They’re just books and albums. They don’t bite.” There’s a casual lilt to the voice that doesn’t match the eyes, tense, like any move Jared makes could be deadly, as if Jared’s the one they should both be worrying about. He looks to the shelves while Jensen watches on, pensive.

It’s a weird feeling; being in a house that isn’t his with a stranger he doesn’t know with the notion that he’s sort of the one in control of the situation. Any second he could walk right out the door, go straight to the first police station, and have Jensen cuffed and taken in within the hour. Shot in the head not long after. 

They wouldn’t ask questions, they’d take one look at his shelves of Contraband and he wouldn’t even be let off easy with a simple skinning. You willingly steal and hoard Contraband, you’re not just a person who succumbed to a lure, went off on a lark and made a mistake. You’re a rebel. 

From the look of these shelves Jensen’s rebelling and he loves it, couldn’t give a fuck about authority, regardless of whether he’s ever touched someone or not. The law would grant permission to skip the lesser punishments because Jensen would be seen as volatile, problematic, a rare criminal. Jared could report Jensen and there’d be a bullet in his brain before the sun came up tomorrow. He could. Just like that.

Except then, he’d have to explain how he saw Jensen’s home in the first place. At this hour. After curfew. When there are cops locking down the streets because of curfew offenders and Dealers. So maybe he’s not in control either. Maybe they’re both fumbling a bit, two atoms colliding and disrupting the peace around. 

Instead of responding to Jensen’s slight, Jared continues to examine the shelves from a safe distance, and continues asking questions, “How many do you have?”

“I think somewhere close to a thousand. It’s been a while since I counted.” Peripherally, Jared can see that Jensen hasn’t stopped watching him. 

“What are they about?” He forces the words out, because even though his brain is yelling for the answer his body is fighting it, palms sweaty and heart steadily thumping because he knows this information could get him into some serious, serious shit. 

It’s all the pretense of a regular every day conversation. Except for how Jensen’s staring at Jared like a bug on a microscope slide and Jared is avoiding Jensen’s stare like he’ll be guilty of a crime if he so much as meets it once. 

But Jensen answers, and his answer is surprisingly earnest for someone who had been outright hostile all of five seconds ago. He’s still leaned against the wall and still watching Jared closely but his face has dropped into a thoughtful expression, at least, from what Jared can tell as he pretends to focus on the book shelf. 

“Well, Gatsby—the one I’m reading right now--Gatsby’s all jazz age, you know, American dream, that one unattainable object we force ourselves to chase after even though in reality it’s not as great as we thought. But it depends on the book. Or the song.” Jensen smiles at Jared and Jared almost stumbles where he stands. It’s the first genuine smile to have graced the stony features of this stranger’s face, no sarcasm or suspicion in it. Jared doesn’t even realize he’s staring until Jensen continues on. “But I guess mostly they’re about people. The books I have, at least. People and their desires. Things they want, things they can’t have. The eternal human struggle.”

“Struggle?” Jared again forces himself to examine the shelves. Many of the books have red marks on the spines, destined for archival or incineration. 

“Inner conflict of humanity. The eternal paradox within us all.” Jensen’s smile turns rueful, like he’s just delivered the punch line to a fairly amusing joke. But when Jared looks at him again and continues to blink cluelessly, he clears his throat. “It’s just a metaphor. Never mind.”

He’s never known someone to own so much of this stuff, much less actually pay attention to it. He’s seen kids swapping Contraband music at school, blank c.d.’s with names like ‘Slipknot’ and ‘Job for a Cowboy’ scribbled on the labels. But that’s mostly for show; it’s a thrill for people to own things that aren’t allowed. Jensen, however, seems to know about these things, doesn’t just hoard them for the boasting rights. So he asks his earlier question, because really, he’s got to know, tentatively lifting a hand to stroke down the spine of one particular book. 

“Where did you get these from?” Jared touches the spine briefly, before pulling back as if he’s afraid of being scalded.

Jensen peels off the wall, walking over to Jared slowly, like he’s afraid of startling him. “Dunno. Here and there. I worked as a Snatcher a few years back, after getting out of high school.”

“And what, the rules and requirements of the job didn’t suit you?”

Jensen smirks. “Being a Snatcher was boring from the get go, you raided old abandoned buildings, crime scenes, anywhere where there was potential for books, music, art or film. You marked, you took inventory, and you confiscated. It was mind numbing work. I was bored.”

Jared tries and fails to not be impressed. Being a Snatcher isn’t what Jared would define as cubicle-level office work in terms of boredom levels. 

Snatchers are usually in charge of recon of items exactly like the ones on the shelves, set up as the official Government Section that came into power a few decades ago. They function as a sub base of law enforcement that works more like Waste Management and Power Usage than an actual faction of the government offices. What Jared has seen of Snatchers was minimal throughout his childhood. 

It’s like Jensen says, the process is quick and painless. They come, they snatch, they take the Contraband to wherever it goes eventually. Jared’s upbringing hadn’t lauded much exposure to Snatchers, as they normally dealt with rule breakers, and Jared didn’t know all that many rule breakers. Snatchers are good at what they do, quick, efficient, spotless. If there’s a rumor of a book sitting out near a kitchen table or a song playing from a stereo, the Snatchers come in. Force only sometimes necessary. But still, even with making quick work of each job, Jared doesn’t see how it could possibly be boring. 

“So you quit?”

“So one day we’re sweeping this old factory, a publishing factory. And, I was going through the rubble, picking up the Contraband, doing my job, and one of the books was lying open on the floor. I picked it up, and a word on the page caught my eye.”

Jensen shrugs. “I don’t know why, but I read the sentence the word belonged to, and next thing I knew I had tucked the book underneath my belt and was on my merry way. I quit six months later, didn’t want people to get suspicious. But not before I had gotten at least half way through collecting this,” he gestures at the shelves with a sweep of his hand. “My pride and joy.”

“So where’d you get the rest of these then?” Jared’s amazed by the story, walks the line of the bookshelf and trails his hand over each spine. “There’s so many.” 

“You’d be surprised how much of this stuff there is still around. I guess working as a Snatcher sort of tipped me off to the kinds of places I could find these. A lot of Dealers have them, not that they use them for anything. Sometimes they end up in their libraries, untracked by Snatchers. Other times dumpsters…”

Jensen goes on to explain about some fantastic finds he’s made, some close shaves with law enforcement, and Jared drinks it up. He’s never heard of something like this. Jensen has such a keen interest in this stuff deemed so unlawful, has spent years trying to find just one volume or disc. Jared can’t remember ever caring about something enough that he wanted to pursue it like that. 

“What was it?” he asks some time later. “What was the first novel with the passage that changed your mind?”

Jensen hesitates for a second, then steps around to Jared’s left and reaches above him. Sudden proximity causes Jared to freeze, and he can smell the rain on Jensen and feel the brush of Jensen’s t-shirt against his arm and Jared doesn’t breathe

But Jensen doesn’t breach the distance still between them, gets his hand on a small book on the highest shelf above their heads and comes back down off his toes, letting it drop open in his hands to a random page. Jared tries not to stare at Jensen’s bare hands; he’s only ever seen a few pairs in his entire life. He hadn’t thought to look at them before now, distracted by the book shelf and Jensen’s answers. Jensen’s hands are large, almost as large as Jared’s, fingers thick and calloused as he drags one down, finding a line of text and reading aloud, voice a steady timbre. The page has been dog eared and re-dog eared, pencil marks in the margins. 

“Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much, which mannerly devotion shows in this; for saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch, and palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.” He reads, and then says, “Shakespeare,” by way of explanation, closing the volume with a thud and placing it back on the shelf. “Half the time I don’t even know what the hell that guy’s talking about, but something tells me what he said was important, because I’ve got at least five or six of his books.”

And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss… Jared doesn’t exactly understand it either, but he sees the visual—palm to palm, like Milo and Danneel’s hands earlier, their fingers tangled together. 

But it’s so wrong.

Jared knows what Jensen is. He’s a rebel; beyond rehabilitation, beyond skinning, deserving only death according to the law. He’d be shot if anyone found his home. He doesn’t care about rules or authority—this much Contraband makes that clear. And yet Jared’s only curious about one thing. “And you stole that book? Broke the law? After that one passage?”

“A random book was laid open in a burned down building, and you’re telling me that the first word I saw being ‘hand’ was a mere coincidence? It wasn’t. You’re younger than me and you’ve never touched, I get it. You don’t know what it’s like to feel with your bare hands but I swear. It was the right place, right moment. It sort of…reminded me.” Jensen pulls a careless shrug. “I’m not exactly one for fate, but even I can appreciate poetic justice.”

“You’ve touched people before? I thought you said you weren’t a Dealer?”

“I’m not,” Jensen looks at Jared coolly, “but I used to be, for a while. Few years during high school. It didn’t last long though; as it turns out, the easy cash wasn’t enough of a reason to keep going in the business. Not for me, at least. Regardless,” he looks down at his bare hands, picks at a thumb nail, brow creasing slightly, “I still remember what it feels like. And once you know what it feels like to touch and be touched,” he smirks now, sarcastic mask back in place. “It’s not something you easily forget.”

Jared doesn’t quite know what to say to that—he doesn’t remember that world, the one where people touched, and he wants to know more about it yet he can’t seem to form the words. 

But it’s okay, because Jensen is evidently on a roll and ready to keep moving forward. Jensen lists a couple more authors, rattles titles off on his fingers and tells Jared the finer points of some of the books he has, and Jared tries to take mental notes as fast as possible. It’s a little amazing, and a lot overwhelming, and he’s not quite sure what to do with himself. Jensen knows so much, knows the names of albums and who the drummer is and who wrote what song and why the song is important. The way Jensen talks is animated, lively, and Jared doesn’t dare interrupt, not even when he gets to the apparent finale. 

“Then over here we have,” he snatches up another object, thin and square, “In Through the Out Door. Led Zeppelin is just,” he makes some sort of flailing gesture that Jared guesses is supposed to convey enthusiasm, “out of this world. I only have a few of their albums but they’ve got to be my favorite. Their lyrics and use of synthesizers is just absolutely fantastic. I would kill to get my hands on more of their stuff.”

He looks over at Jared, as if he’s expecting a reaction, maybe applause, but Jared just stares, afraid that if he opens his mouth the information he’s trying to retrain will simply coming spouting out. He’s never seen anyone so excited by such dangerous things. He would probably be wise to call Jensen crazy and get the hell out of there, but he stands, waits for something to happen. 

A beat. Another awkward silence. Jared’s starting to learn that he really, really sucks at small talk, especially when concerning illegal activities. 

Say something. Do something. Jared’s palms are sweating again as he scrambles for something else to say and fill the space. 

“Can I borrow some?” The question surprises them both, because Jared sure wasn’t planning on that

“Um.” Jensen scratches at the back of his neck uncomfortably. “Sure.” 

Jared begins to reach for ‘In Through the Out Door’ but Jensen visibly twitches and he stops, hand frozen midair, halfway extended until Jensen says. “Look, I don’t mean to be rude but…do you even know anything about music? Do you even read?”

“Of course,” Jared says indignantly, because while he might not be an illegal arts connoisseur like Jensen Ackles, he’s got some taste. “I’ve got a good fifteen c.d.’s of techno, beats, dubstep.”

Jensen’s shaking his head furiously, cutting him off with a strangled choking noise. “No. Just. No. That’s not music.”

“Oh yeah?” Temerity on Jared’s behalf seems to be quickly vanishing again as Jensen continues shaking his head. Never mind that he can kick Jared out at a moment’s notice, Jared knows what good music is. He does, dammit!

“Yeah.” But apparently Jensen doesn’t agree. 

They stare each other down, and Jared finally gives in, irritated. 

“Fine,” he concedes, and for the first time in a while he’s relaxed at the way Jensen is determined to take a go at him. Two can play the snark game. “Enlighten me, Wise One. What is music?”

Jensen pauses, hands perched on his hips as he considers the question, feet planted firmly on the floor.

“Music is…” and then Jensen’s lunging forward again and snatching another c.d. off the shelf, evidently another Zeppelin album, if the cover is anything to go by, and ripping out the cover booklet and leafing through, “Through the eyes an' I sparkle, Senses growing keen, taste your love along the way, See your feathers preen.”

Jared stares blankly at him for a good ten seconds before sighing exasperatedly. “What is that even supposed to mean?” 

“It means you need an education,” Jensen mutters, more to himself than to Jared, springing into action before Jared can so much as squawk in protest. In less than a minute he’s got two small paperback novels and a c.d. stuffed into a backpack that Jensen pulls out from under his bed. “The mix is no Zeppelin, I’ll give you that, but it’s a start. You’ve got to earn Zeppelin. Oh, and read those.” He points individually to each book to emphasize the seeming importance of Jared’s newfound education. 

Jared takes the bag, and it feels heavy, so much heavier than a bag with a single c.d. and two small books should feel. And yeah, maybe Jared asked to borrow this stuff, but suddenly reality is staring him in the face in the form of a ratty backpack and how did he get into this situation again? His brain back tracks as consternation wars with curiosity, and he again stares blankly at Jensen.

“Um. What?” 

The open eagerness of Jensen’s face closes off, curtain down and again covered with shadows. “Oh. I’m sorry. I thought you wanted some…too much too soon, I didn’t…shit.”

And now they’re both tracking and now Jared is definitely an idiot. 

“I didn’t mean to just throw all that at you.” Jensen’s face is glassy, calm, not a trace of the person Jared saw just a moment ago. “I thought you were interested, and I got carried away. Sorry about that.” He looks out the window, listening over the still blaring rock music that Jared had almost forgotten was playing. “The rain’s stopped. You’re free to go. Just shut the door behind you.”

Like he had been keeping Jared against his will, like Jared hadn’t been drinking in the lyrics and staring at Jensen as he talked with ravenous and rapt attention. Jared continues to back track and figure out exactly where he went wrong with the conversation, but apparently Jensen is done, walks from the room and slams the bathroom door shut. 

Well. That was that. 

Jared sets the bag down tentatively, a bomb set to go off any minute, and steps back, gaze snagging once again on those black and red shelves. It’s astounding, this collection. And even though it’s completely and totally against the law to own, Jared’s never been more impressed. He didn’t even know stuff like this existed anymore, and if it did it was archived, locked and kept hidden away from people’s eyes and ears. He reaches out once more, caresses a worn book spine wedged amongst the rest of the Contraband. 

He could take it, he could. He could grab that bag and read those words and listen to those songs and no one would ever know but Jensen, some guy he’d met in a shady alley not an hour before. 

He could.

But he doesn’t. 

The front door vibrates as he slams it on his way out, and Jared shakes as he runs home, fear a tangible and throbbing thing in his ear. It whispers to him, that fear, worms into his heartbeat and harsh breathing and the pounding of his feet on the pavement. 

He doesn’t take his gloves off, not once, not even when he gets home to the safety of his own house, because there’s something living in Jared that terrifies him, buried under rain scented skin and someone else’s clothes and throbbing just as strong as the fear. Something that makes Jared want to run back to that apartment and pick that backpack right up off the floor. 

The fact of the matter is that Jared Padalecki is more scared of what’s inside of him than what’s outside. He’s more afraid of the fact that he liked those blasting rock songs than the fact that he listened to them period.

He’s more afraid of the fact that he didn’t jerk away when Jensen moved close to him than he’s afraid of the fact that Jensen was close to him at all.

Chapter Text

 

“Jared, stop that.” Mrs. Litman’s crow’s feet are taut with irritation and her bright pink lips are thin, because this is the third time she’s told Jared and her patience has clearly been tried enough for one day. “Please let go of me. And go stand outside the classroom.”

The resulting giggles from his classmates sound like crackling thunder in a lighting storm; he wants to clap his hands over his ears and shut them out. He hadn’t meant to touch Mrs. Litman, had known she probably wouldn’t be okay with it. But she had liked Jared’s drawing of the Capitol Building, had beamed at him and told him she wanted to hang it up on the classroom art board for everyone to see, and Jared couldn’t help himself. Something warm burst out of his chest at the praise and her smile and he wasn’t even aware he had wrapped his small arms around her legs until she reprimanded him for it. For the third time since he started attending the second grade. 

He goes to stand outside the classroom, utterly humiliated with muffled laughter on his heels. 

Jared is seven years old when he starts to realize that he’s a lot different than the other kids at school, at least different in the ways that matter most. From the first day of school he’s been enamored with Mrs. Litman. Mrs. Litman is kind and smiles a lot and she teaches them songs about the alphabet and numbers. He likes Mrs. Litman, and her telling him his drawing was ‘very advanced’ was the best feeling in the world. 

But Jared by definition is weird. The other kids aren’t grabby the way that Jared is, don’t seek out comfort or praise or ask questions the way Jared does. It makes sense that no one really talks to him, and even at seven years old Jared understands.

Still, the abject humiliation of standing outside of the classroom for ten minutes and then coming back inside to cautious stares and whispers and insults, is enough to make Jared want to never speak or move or breathe in this building again. He hadn’t meant to make Mrs. Litman so mad. He’d just wanted to thank her for liking his drawing. 

Hours later he sits on the bench of the schoolyard, heels bumping against the iron wrought legs and feeling the sun scorch the back of his neck as he tries to keep from crying. He wishes he was different than he is now. He wishes he was normal. He wishes the other kids would talk to him and stop moving away any time he scooted close and tried to make a new friend and-- 

“What are you doing here all by yourself?” 

The boy making the inquiry has spiky yellow hair, bleached by the sun. Jared raises his head, wipes his runny nose on the gloves that don’t fit his hands quite right, though he’s told that they will eventually. 

“Nothing,” Jared responds glumly.

He expects him to leave, walk away and mutter something like ‘weirdo’, which is what the kids have taken to whispering in his direction lately. But instead the boy plops himself down on the bench next to Jared and says without pomp, “Well that sucks.”

“What are you doing?” Jared asks back, and he thinks this kid is kind of squirrely, too excited for someone who probably has a load of homework to do tonight. He keeps jostling his leg and tapping his fingers. He might be just as weird as Jared.

“Nothing. I’m doing nothing with you.” The boy smiles then, and he’s missing a few front teeth, which strikes Jared as kind of cool because Jared is missing a tooth too. “My name’s Chad.”

“I’m Jared,” he reciprocates shyly, looking back down at his shoes because Chad’s smile is kind of intimidating and Jared has no idea why this kid is smiling so much in the first place.

He’s not clear how it happens, but one minute they’re exchanging names and the next this small squirrelly boy is following Jared on the walk home. 

Chad, right from the get go, is too familiar with Jared, has a habit of bounding too close to Jared when he approaches him and has a knack for finding small ways to constantly invade Jared’s personal space as they walk home together. Sometimes he’ll accidentally trip over Jared’s feet when they walk side by side, other times elbow Jared and then act innocent when Jared balks, wincing at the bruise that’s sure to spring up. 

He tells Jared that Mrs. Litman is a bitch, to which Jared covers his ears because Hilarie had said that was a bad word and he could never say it and should never hear it. He also tells Jared that he liked his drawing, and Jared tells Chad he likes his light up sneakers with the racing stripes and somewhere between there and getting home to beg Hilarie if Chad can stay for dinner, Jared’s made a best friend. 

No one sees it coming; the teachers, the Guardians, no one can understand it. But suddenly the shy and often touchy boy in the classroom and the rambunctious twitchy wildcard of a boy are inseparable. Chad comes over most Saturdays, sits at the counter in their kitchen and laughs with Jared as Hilarie makes them sandwiches and pudding and does her best to hide her wide smile as she raises her eyebrows at Jeff. 

Chad’s a concoction of white teeth and pent up sparks and kinetic energy, and seems to defy laws of physics with the way he so quickly becomes a force of gravity in Jared’s life. 

Jared’s a little shell shocked with the reality of it all; he’s had friends before, friends that borrowed his crayons and helped him with math homework, but mostly they’d kept their distance. Because that’s what you were supposed to do. Even at this young age Jared understands that Chad is something rare, from the wacky way he grins around a mouthful of chocolate pudding, gooey brown mucking up his smile and making Jared spit out his orange juice all over the counter as he cracks up to the way Chad laughs along with him, nearly choking on the pudding himself. 

Chad’s Guardians are at work a lot, so he spends a lot of time at Jared’s house, where Hilarie is content to let them do what they want, and even Jeff laughs as Jared and Chad chase each other around in circles. 

That summer Jared makes his first real friend, his only best friend.

The same summer, Hilarie gets sick. 

It comes from nowhere, and it’s not a concept Jared can understand and Jeff won’t answer his questions about why Hilarie can’t get up today or why Hilarie can’t stomach her food anymore. It worries Jared and the time not spent with Chad is spent outside Hilarie’s bedroom, and eventually hospital room, sitting as still as possible just so he can hear her breathe and know she’s okay.

When Hilarie starts to get sick, Jared worries that Chad will stop coming over because there’s no one there to make him sandwiches. When Hilarie gets sicker, Jared worries that Chad will stop coming over because he thinks he’s going to get sick too. 

But Chad continues to come over most days, even on days where Jared doesn’t feel like playing, even on days where Jared has to go to the hospital and can’t play. On those days, Chad goes with Jared to see her. It settles into a comfortable pattern and somehow at seven years old Jared knows with conviction that Chad is the best person he’s ever known, will ever know.

He doesn’t ever get tired of Chad, not ever. There’s never a moment where Jared doesn’t want Chad around.

And then Hilarie dies. 

The doctors tell Jared that Hilarie won’t be coming back, that he can’t see her anymore. It’s not fair, Jared insists, wriggling in his seat as the doctor looms over him with a pitying expression. Hilarie promised she would stay. She promised. To the alarm of the doctors and the staff, Jared starts to cry. He doesn’t mean to, is not supposed to, but he’s sad. There’s this achy feeling in his lungs and it feels hard to breathe. He tries to ask Jeff why it’s so hard to breathe, but he just cries more. The doctors look on, mortified, but Jeff does nothing to scold. 

Chad spends the night while Jeff stays behind at the hospital to make the funeral arrangements. 

Sleepovers aren’t really allowed, Jared knows this, and maybe that’s what makes this special. Because Hilarie is gone, and Jeff is busy, and that means Jared is alone. So he and Chad get to be alone together. Which isn’t so bad, Jared thinks, wiping his teary face on his sleeve. 

“Let’s build a fort!” Chad crows, refusing to balk even when Jared says he doesn’t feel like it. Chad’s always doing things like this, wanting to build up and create a world for him and Jared, and Jared follows along because he thinks he’d like to build and create something too. 

The makeshift palace of pillows and blankets is too hot in the summer’s evening air, but they make it work. Chad grabs a bowl of ice cubes with the absurd notion that they can lay down on the ice cubes to stay cool. It doesn’t really work, because Chad’s kind of an idiot and soon enough Jared’s skin is stinging with numbness as the ice melts through his shirt, doing little to cool him off. They talk the hours of the night away, what they want to be when they grow up and where they want to travel and who they want to meet. Chad’s chock full of zany ideas and places and aspirations and Jared drinks it up, and by the time the moon has started to ascend in favor of the sun, he’s laughing along with Chad. 

The ice cubes melt through their shirts and evaporate in the summer night air. Jared doesn’t know it at the time, but it’s like they’re holding their own private funeral wake, hidden away from the rest of the world. Sad, but safe. 

“I liked Hilarie,” Chad says in the darkness, staring up at the sheet ceiling sometime in the early hours of the morning. “She was always nice. I’ll miss her.” 

Jared cries. Somehow, it doesn’t hurt as much as it had before.

“Your nose is snotty, better not get it on me.” Chad’s jaw cracks on a yawn, and Jared punches him once in the shoulder, laughing and rolling over as he wads the pillow up under his belly, seeking a comfortable sleeping position on the unforgiving ground. He’s too exhausted to consider that he shouldn’t have touched Chad, and isn’t too bothered because Chad doesn’t seem to mind. His blue eyes glitter in the pale moonlight, even as they droop closed. 

They stay in the tent until Jeff comes in the morning to take Chad home. 


***

Jared’s never believed guilt to be an actual palpable thing, never something he’s had to hide or cover up because it isn’t something he can see to begin with.

He realizes that he was of course completely wrong, because the second he wakes up late the next morning, guilt knocks the wind out of him and makes itself at home in his gut as last night recounts itself in his head, series of brief images winding into one sickening sensation. 

The alley, the rain, Milo’s lighter flickering in the dark, a girl with red hair, a man with green eyes. It comes rushing back with a jolt and his guilt squeals maliciously in delight.

Jared swings his feet out of bed and puts his head in his hands, wrestling with the guilt as the unmistakable smell of hot coffee hits him. Jeff usually never gets up this early, not to make coffee. 

The house had been silent when he snuck in last night; white walls of the hallway echoing with his every step and Jared had made sure that Jeff was not up and about. He couldn’t have possibly heard, could he?

Christ, Jared’s tired. But at least there’s the promise of hot caffeine downstairs, if not a potentially murderous guardian who realized how late Jared had come in last night. 

Stumbling to the bathroom, Jared tries his best to walk his way through morning routine as quickly as possible. Scrubs his face with frigid water until it’s pink and squirts a wad of spearmint toothpaste into his mouth before brushing it. Same as any other morning, nothing’s changed.

Still, the guilt churns in his stomach and he contemplates just running out the door without stopping for breakfast, making his way downstairs quickly and quietly as possible, but Jeff is sitting there in the kitchen with a coffee pot and a smile on his face. His black gloves are new, and Jared shoves his hands in his hoodie as he realizes he had forgotten to put his own on. 

“Mornin’.” Jeff pours a cup of coffee. 

“You’re up early.” Jared fidgets, fists clenching and unclenching in his pockets. 

“I’ve been up all night.”

Jared freezes, eyes darting to the wall calendar. Shit, was it time already? He so easily lost track of the days, and it was always impossible to remember the exact date because Hilarie had died when Jared was young. But usually there were signs, Jeff extra moody the week before, Jeff not sleeping, Jeff paying extra attention to Jared that he doesn’t have time to spare normally. 

Jared racks his brains and almost opens his mouth to ask outright. His moment of panic, however, is subdued as Jeff continues, “Had to do some research. We’re having some heightened issues with Dealers as of late.”

Guilt lurches again and Jared snatches the coffee, desperately hoping Jeff won’t notice his painfully obvious bare hands, and chugs it in hopes the hot liquid will scald and drown the guilt into silence. 

“Dealers?” The coffee is bitter and Jared gropes for sugar, trying not to gag.

Jeff sighs deeply, rubs a hand over his face as if the movement will wipe off the exhaustion written in the lines around his eyes. “It wouldn’t be a problem, normally we’d handle the situation as we usually do, except now kids are getting involved.”

Jeff pauses after the word ‘kids’ with a furtive look, and Jared stirs his coffee with as much outward calm as he can muster. Does Jeff know? Is Jeff talking about him? No, no, Jared chides, if Jeff were alluding to Jared this would be an entirely different conversation. Still, he struggles to maintain a blank expression and keep his guilt tampered down and silenced. He’s had years of practice not letting things show with Jeff; this morning should be no different. 

Except now it is. Because Jared’s hiding the very sort of thing his Guardian seeks to punish for.

His stomach squirms and Jared reaches for a muffin from the brown paper bag that looks fresh from the market. Jeff and Jared have set up a pretty decent system of survival in the house. In the years since Hilarie’s death Jeff’s gotten better at making sure the fridge and cupboards are full of groceries, and Jared has learned a recipe or two. There’s always a fresh dish out of the oven or leftovers to be had. And on the occasional night they’ll scavenge on chips and top ramen. Not that they’re lacking in funds for food, but you take one middle aged busy man and a teenage boy and it’s essentially a recipe for starvation on both counts. But they make it work, some non verbal communication set up and it’s easily the most open part of their relationship

“People Deal, it’s just part of how this world works,” Jeff continues, and he sounds very tired, very old, and then he’s back in a flash to shuffling his papers, vigor back in his tone. “But getting kids your age involved…it’s forcing us to take precautions that we don’t want to.”

“Then why do you take them?” Jared’s feigning curiosity, because guilt has fast become acid in his stomach and he makes himself busy by stuffing as much of the muffin into his mouth as he can. 

Jeff hesitates, takes a long and loud sip of his coffee and Jared stares at the crumbs collecting on the pads of his fingers, spine erect and trying so hard not to shake as Jeff says, “The Rehabilitation Facilities are proving to be… problematic.”

Problematic. The word choice falls on Jared’s ears and suddenly his coffee tastes even bitterer, despite six packets of sugar and a bit of cream. Again he says nothing, swirls his coffee around in the cup and watches the cream cloud dilute into the drink, murky brown sludge that Jared loves after nights where he gets a scant few hours of sleep, which is often. 

“And on top of that we’ve got the press breathing down my damn neck for some sort of action call on how to handle the Dealers infiltrating the school systems. As if we didn’t have enough issues already with the way we can’t seem to keep adults away from Dealers, now the kids are susceptible too…” 

Jeff goes on a bit about the multitude of problems that he’s got going on at work, and Jared watches his Guardian while he downs his mug, fatigue throbbing in his head and guilt slithering in his gut. It doesn’t matter that Jeff knows Jared doesn’t really care and it doesn’t matter that Jeff keeps talking. He knows it’s reassuring to Jeff that Jared listens, regardless, is around and present and well behaved enough to do so, so he makes no rush out the door, instead reaches for the pot to refill his empty cup. 

There was a time when Jared hated coffee, and Jeff would have raised a questioning eyebrow at the fact that Jared is pouring his second cup in under five minutes. But like most things they don’t talk about, Jeff gets the message Jared is sending: It wasn’t a good night. For either of them. 

“I heard you come in last night.” Jeff turns over a page of paperwork, and the circles under his eyes match how Jared feels right about now. “You know there’s a curfew, right?”

“Yes sir.” Jared picks at the crinkled edge of his muffin wrapper, scrapes off an edge of crumb and nibbles at it. The lie comes a lot easier than it should. “Was at the library for a paper. Lost track of time.” 

They sit in silence for a minute, Jared casting his gaze over the space of the kitchen. The house is clean pretty, crown molding in every room and granite countertops that lead to stainless steel sinks. But there aren’t pictures on the fridge; report cards pinned to the bulletin board next to the telephone on the wall, like there were when he was a kid. 

There’s the wall calendar that they use to track the days until Hilarie’s death anniversary, and the cup of pens and pencils on the kitchen table, and a ratty old apron that Hilarie had bought Jeff when they’d first been paired up to be Jared’s Guardians. ‘Kiss the Cook’ the apron says—which Jared has never understood the meaning of given that kissing is outlawed, and Jeff had never elected to explain, but he likes it just the same—and it hangs on a hook over by the pantry. Neither of them ever touches it, the unofficial funeral pyre for a woman that Jared hardly remembers.

Jared wonders if other kids have kitchens like this, houses that have property value and maximum square footage but stand like empty plaster casts, nothing inside to make them actually look like houses. If those kids sit with their Guardians on school mornings and drink coffee because they couldn’t sleep. If those kids stare at their practically empty kitchen and wonder how long you have to live in a place before it starts feeling like your own place, and not a temporary living arrangement. It’s felt temporary Jared’s whole life.

He doesn’t really know what a house is supposed to look like, but it has to be different from this. The expression ‘safe as houses’ has always stuck fast in his vernacular and it strikes him day in and day out that he doesn’t feel safe in this house, doesn’t even feel welcome half the time. There’s hardly any clutter or mess, nothing that speaks of the things Jeff likes or Jared hates.

Come to think of it, it hadn’t been until last night that Jared had an inkling of what a house was truly supposed to look like. 

He wonders if Jensen feels comfortable in his own house, looks around at his shelves and his covered walls and thinks he belongs right there, no other place he’d rather be. 

He wonders this because he has lived in this house for seventeen years and every day he feels no greater desire than to escape these empty rooms and blank walls. 

Jeff finishes the paper and begins to pack for the day, going out to face the world and enforce the law and deal with the people who break it. With no idea that he should start with his Charge. 

“By the way, was clearing out the dryer this morning,” Jeff leisurely pulls on his jacket, jamming his arms through his sleeves and cursing as he fumbles exhaustedly with the zipper. “Found a shirt and jeans that uh, I don’t think are yours.”

Jared nearly inhales his muffin. Shit. Shit shit shit. He fell asleep before the dryer buzzed and then totally forgot about the clothes. 

“I think Chad left those here.” The muffin tastes like ash, and Jared’s not so hungry anymore. 

Jeff nods, and stands there uncertainly in the doorway. Like most things, Jeff keeps his distance, which Jared is grateful for. Jeff has always been the stoic and silent type. He’ll leave out your favorite breakfast cereal because he knows you like it, he’ll pour you a cup of coffee, he’ll support you in the little ways. Jeff’s a good Guardian, he’s a good man. 

Jared feels guiltier than ever for being such a poor excuse of a Charge. 

“I’ll take it.” Jared holds his hand out and Jeff reaches over to the laundry basket and tosses it wayside, and if he looks like he wants to say something else Jared ignores it. 

“Well, have a good day at school.” Jeff’s halfway out the door when he turns back. “And do me a favor and put your goddamn gloves on, okay? I’ve got a reputation to uphold. Police Chief Morgan, and all that.”

He’s laughing as he says it, but Jared nearly spills coffee all over himself. 

“Yeah, Police Chief Morgan, with a reputation for the worst cup of coffee ever,” Jared jokes, chokes, tucks Jensen’s shirt into his back pack. He’ll toss it in the dumpster as soon as he gets out of eyeshot. 

The door closes behind Jeff and the house echoes with it. 

It’s three cups of coffee before Jared decides he’s ready and willing to make the trek to school, tugging on his gloves before he goes. 

***

He tries to do it during lunch period, he really does. Jared rises from his usual perch, grabs his backpack and makes his way in the direction of the dumpster; back over behind the school yard. He shoves one hand in his bag, rubs the t-shirt between his covered fingers just to make sure the clothes there. It’s just a quick toss, a quick toss into the dumpster and then he can forget last night ever happened and just go home. 

He gets halfway there before he turns back and retreats over to his spot on the wall, tucked underneath a tree. Eyes burn into the back of his head, constant reminders of all the ways that Jared doesn’t belong here; out of place just like he is in his own house. 

People always stare at Jared, or at least, he feels like they do, and they are right now. Mixed looks of pity to apprehension to distaste rain down on his back as he leaves the school yard. Of the three expressions he’s not really sure which one irritates him the most. He takes a bite of his sandwich and then turns sharply on his heel to stare at them all, feeling a smug satisfaction when every single student busies themselves with a conversation or eating or some other mundane distraction to draw away from the fact that they were watching and waiting to see what Jared would do. 

When he’s sure all gazes around are averted, he pulls out the t-shirt, and knows with a sickening stomach plunge that he has no intention of throwing it or the jeans away whatsoever, and every intention of returning them to their owner. The sandwich he just ate threatens to make an encore appearance.

Jared’s never once been able to throw something away that belonged to someone. Waste not, he learned back in kindergarten. It wouldn’t kill him to return the clothes, just drop them off on the front porch of Jensen’s place. It couldn’t hurt. 

So why does he feel like he’s already half way to cardiac arrest? 

He’s so preoccupied with the impending answer to that question he’s nearly late for Trig, stumbling in just as the bell rings and slinking to his seat as discreetly as possible. 

The thought of returning to that hideaway apartment sends Jared’s pulse in to overdrive, gloves tightening as he grips his pencil and attempts to focus. This is no time for day dreaming, or distraction of any sort. He squints at the papers on his desk with the utmost concentration until the numbers appear to blur together. He tries his best to think solely of formulas and theorems and what cosine of pi over two is.

But in the back of his mind are those two books and that one c.d., the way Jensen described music and literature, and the way Jensen hovered over him to grab that one Shakespeare book, whatever it was called. 

And Jensen’s hands, Jensen’s hands a whir of motion around the shelves, snatching things and pushing them into Jared’s own hands. Jensen’s hands stroking along book spines and thumbing along pages. That’s in the back of his mind more so than anything, and he can’t understand why.

The reality of it is that Jared will probably never get rid of that goddamn shirt, will probably carry it around for weeks, reminding him of what a coward he is and how close to understanding he actually got. He won’t return the shirt and he most certainly won’t return to Jensen’s place. 

Three cups of coffee clearly was not enough to get through this day. Jared hunches his shoulders over his test and blinks heavily, but the classroom is warm and he’s worn paper thin. It’s easy to drift off to sleep. Practically effortless. 

***

He puts off returning the shirt as long as he can, warring embarrassment and mortification and horrification all in one swelling in his coffee burned belly. But school ends and Jared’s marching to the bus, takes two stops and he’s back in the same alleyway as the night before.

Even in the dark Jared had memorized the twists and turns it took to get to Jensen’s apartment. It was sort of a perk for having a lot of time on one’s hands since childhood. Jared’s always wandering, learning the ins and outs of alleyways as best as he can, weaving in and out of infrastructures and memorizing the city so he can close his eyes and see it on the backs of his eyelids.

He likes being one of few who can navigate this city expertly, duck in and out the labyrinth of buildings that build up from old to brand new. Most of the big cities were reborn after the passing of the touch law, but not this one. It’s what Jared likes best about the place he grew up in. There’s a live stubborn resilience in this city, and it bears this new era like a tree bears fungus. The fungus grows, covers and coats, but the tree is still there underneath. 

No one bothers to look anymore, but the original shape and life of the old city is still here too. It’s that structure underneath all the modernity stifling each square inch of free space that makes getting to Jensen’s apartment so easy for Jared. 

It takes less than ten minutes to find himself on the rickety stoop where he’d been just the night before. Part of him wishes he had gotten lost. He knocks once, knocks twice, knocks once more and then gives it up, plenty happy and relieved to just set the perfectly cornered and folded clothes down on the doormat.

He turns to leave and yelps at the sight of Jensen standing before him, looking just as shocked to see Jared standing there. It’s strange seeing him standing there sans dark clothing and surly expression, and Jared gawks. Jensen looks nothing short of grimy, soot and sweat mixed on his face, darkening the pigment of his skin. He’s got a hard hat tucked under his arm, thick workman’s gloves on his hands, streaks of dirt up and down his jeans and boots. He’s tracked mud all the way up the stairs.

“Um.” Jared turns robotically, lifts the t-shirt and jeans from the mat and turns again, thrusts his hands out, palms already breaking out in a sweat beneath his gloves. “Your stuff.”

Jensen stares at the shirt. Jensen stares at Jared. Shock shifts into a slightly bemused expression that’s bordering on comical but then not so much because Jared realizes that it’s directed at him.

Jensen reaches out and takes the clothes; Jared retracting his hands like Jensen’s a rabid dog who’s going to bite him.

“Thank you,” Jensen says quietly, now watching Jared cautiously underneath drawn together brows.

“Right,” Jared says lamely.

“What were you doing?” He points at the hard hat, tries not to bounce with nervousness.

“Oh this.” Jensen lifts the yellow hardhat. “Work. Had a double shift today. Construction, slash manual labor and city clean up, whenever deemed necessary.”

Criminal in the shadows by night, blue collar laborer by day. 

“What, no more Snatching?” He has a hard time fitting the two images together. Jared had never imagined Jensen would even try to blend in, be anyone else than the guy with a boatload of illegal items in his house. 

“I told you, I quit,” Jensen explains lightly, shifting the clothes and helmet in his arms. “I wasn’t a fan of destroying things. This is better.”

“You enjoy being covered in saw dust and grime?” Jared jokes, feeling the sudden need to shove his gloved hands in his pockets, the motion feeling secure and familiar.

As if he’s aware of Jared’s skittishness, Jensen strips off his work gloves--thick ugly bulky gloves—right then and there. He may as well have taken off the rest of his clothes while he’s at it. They’re in the open for God’s sakes, anyone could see Jensen’s hands if they wanted, if they bothered looking. Jared flinches away from the sight, earning a wry look from Jensen.

“I enjoy,” Jensen replies with a roguish grin, “working with my hands.”

It can’t be helped; at the word ‘hands’ Jared’s gaze snaps to the body part in question, watching as Jensen thrusts one inside his jean pocket, grappling for keys, tongue caught between his teeth in concentration, other arm still balancing his shirt and hard hat against his chest.

“Now,” Jensen rings out the keys, selecting one from the bunch and making his way past Jared to the door, “is there anything else I can help you with…uh…sorry, remind me of your name again?”

“Padalecki. Jared Padalecki,” he answers quietly.

Jensen hands are a blur of motion, coaxing at the door handle as he twists the key around and it’s unnerving how comfortable Jensen is without gloves on. 

“I was wondering if…I could um…” He’s staring, goddammit, transfixed by the rough appearance of Jensen’s hands, large, calloused. He’s never seen hands so calloused. “I could borrow that c.d. and those books that you tried to give me last night?”

Jensen stops just as he’s opening the door, turns back around. “You want to borrow my c.d. and my books.”

It’s different, looking at Jensen during the day time. Even though they just met yesterday, he already looks like a slightly different version than the one Jared met in the alleyway last night, more of a relaxed and open stance, probably worn from a day’s worth of lifting and moving to loosen and even out the tension in his muscles. Even with dirt on his face, though, his eyes are still uncharacteristically vibrant, light brown hair catching in the sunset.

“Um. Yes? Please?” Jared shrugs sheepishly, trying to appear as friendly as possible. “If it’s not too much trouble, I--”

“Wait here.”

Jensen disappears for a moment, leaves Jared to stand out on the stoop, looking around at the mud tracks on the stairs and the keys left dangling from the lock. 

Jensen doesn’t really owe him anything, certainly doesn’t have to give Jared anything. Jared doesn’t even know why he’s asking in the first place, but he has to. Because Jensen’s got hands that move with grace despite their coarseness and Jensen’s got an entire wall of stolen history and a job working for the city that seeks to smite that history. There’s an enigmatic pull that Jared’s feeling low in his gut, and the longer he stands out on the stoop the more he realizes that this isn’t just about a curiosity with Dealers and touching and rule breaking anymore. It’s a curiosity about the unknown, about strangers with sharp smiles and quick fingers.

A curiosity he’s willing to pursue despite the guilt, despite the fear, despite seventeen years of decorum drilled into his skull. A curiosity that eats at his skin, stinging embers in a fire that won’t go out.

Jared is so incredibly fucked.

“Right back where you left it.” Jensen slips back out onto the porch, bag clutched loosely in his hands, and then looks at Jared intently for a moment before extending his arm. “Don’t lose these. And don’t let anyone else find them, got it?”

Jared nods vigorously, intent on convincing Jensen he’s not going to go running to the Police as he takes the small bag into his own hands.

“Why did you come here, Jared?”

And honestly, Jared doesn’t even know the answer to that question himself. But he looks at Jensen, says earnestly, “I’ve got some questions that I need answered. I was hoping to find answers here.”

“Yes, but why me?” Jensen crosses his arms over his chest, almost defensively. “I’m not your friend. I’m not your teacher. Until last night I didn’t even know who you were.”

He’s got a point, but Jared’s got one as well.

“Because most people would have left me to fend for myself in that alleyway.” Jared lifts his chin, looking Jensen straight on. “I can trust you, even if I don’t even know you. I do trust you.”

Jensen squints at Jared, scrutinizing pinch to his face and Jared lets him examine and look on as long as he needs. When Jared thinks Jensen’s looked long enough, when he finally can’t take those eyes on him anymore, he manages to say, “Thanks,” and turns, walking away.

“That’s a relatively naive reason to trust someone, you know,” Jensen calls after him. “Considering we only just met and all. Some would even call that stupidity.”

“I’d like to think of it as faith in what’s left of humanity,” Jared calls back, tucking the bag closer to his side.

Jensen doesn’t say anything to that, and Jared keeps walking, resists the urge to look backward, see Jensen’s expression, though he imagines it a thousand different ways.

He sticks to the shadows on the way home, lets the understructure of the city lead the way. He shoves the bag with books and a c.d. down the front of his hoodie and hugs it to his chest, just to be extra cautious.

***

Jared doesn’t remember much of Hilarie. Cancer took her away when Jared was seven, too young for him to remember the entire experience and too old to forget. When he thinks back on Hilarie, he gets shreds and scraps of recollection here and there, but much of Hilarie is blended into the background. He doesn’t remember what her favorite foods were, what her perfume smelled like; she’s a faded image of bright hazel eyes and honey blonde hair. There’s a pang of longing Jared’s learned to associate with her as well, but other than that, he has no idea what his Guardian was like.

From what he’s pried out of Jeff at one time or another, Hilarie was a hard-ass. There were times when, Jeff explained, Jared or Chad broke something or tracked mud inside and the house would quake with Hilarie’s hollers. 

In Jared’s mind’s eye, Hilarie was a comet, bright and unpredictable and not lasting long enough to leave a detailed memory. Where Jeff was more the stolid authority, the constant presence of quiet strength, Hilarie was fiery and emotional. Her emotions were always outward, according to Jeff, and at times when Jared closes his eyes he can picture it, maybe even remember it. Hilarie as she would laugh, loud in a way that bounced endlessly against the blank walls of the house. Hilarie as she cried, eyes wide and so expressive she all but broke your heart when they filled with tears. Hilarie with her willowy frame and Hilarie with her elegant silk gloves; pale blue, like springtime skies. 

But Jared’s first and favorite memory of Hilarie was not of her laughing or talking animatedly, nor when she was singing out of key while cooking dinner, tuneless songs with made up lyrics that Jared thought were pretty, songs about flowers and blue skies and running down lonely roads. Those stories that Jeff told were pieces to a puzzle Jared wasn’t sure how to put together, his own memories contrasting so sharply with Jeff’s anecdotes.

Jared remembers Hilarie at her most quiet, curled up in Jared’s room at the window sill, one hand propping up her elegant chin and the other loosely clutching a pencil, sweeping over a notebook straddled on her thigh. Jared would be on the floor at five years old, fiddling with blocks or breaking his crayons because he just didn’t know better, and Hilarie would sketch. 

He doesn’t know how many times this even actually happened, whether it was once or dozens of times, but it’s his strongest memory of her, calming and haunting all at once. 

Hilarie was quiet when she drew; quiet and so still that sometimes Jared would stop playing and ask ‘Momma?’ just so he could get a response and be sure that she was still there. She never corrected him when he called her Mom, even though he knew he wasn’t supposed to say things like Mom or Dad anymore. Wasn’t even supposed to think them. It was not respectful, not right. She was Hilarie, and Dad was Jeff, or Sir. Jared knew that, but in the sparse silence of the room he felt Momma, felt the word laden on his youthful tongue with comfort, and something that would never leave. 

Jared always wondered what it was she saw, because all the window gave a view of was the city, always gray, always uniform, always sad, but he never asked. He sat on his rug, legs crossed, and watched Hilarie draw. 

Regardless, the memory of watching the blurred motions of her fingers wrapped around the pencil and the almost serene expression on her face as she stared out the window left its mark. It wasn’t too long after her death that he himself perched in the window sill, and began to draw. Small, menial doodles at first, but he got good, then he got better, filling sketchbooks with drawings of buildings or far off places that went beyond his window sill. It was their thing-- drawing in that window sill--and it made Jared feel closer to his Guardian, which he knows is silly because she’d died before he’d even started.

He once asked Jeff if he’d ever seen any drawings of Hilarie’s. Jeff said he hadn’t, and to quit asking. So Jared kept to himself, kept close to those memories of a pretty woman answering “Yes, Baby” to every “Momma?” sent in her direction. 

Art, much like music, is subjective. You can listen to a song about nature or draw a skyscraper, but it’s not acceptable to do the same with a person, sing about their smile or draw the slope of their shoulders. Jared for the most part, follows the rules, draws statues in the park and birds in the trees. He doesn’t know if he’s any good; no one’s ever seen his sketches, but he likes the quiet stillness of it, likes the feeling of being close to a woman with a loud laugh that he barely remembers. 

He doesn’t feel still right now, however. Jared’s t-shirt is a second layer of uncomfortable skin, feet tapping as sweat crawls down his spine like ants. He feels impossibly awake, considering that it’s three in the morning. Jared likes his sleep, so this unsettled feeling lapping at his insides makes him want to yell, run away, scrub off the itchy feeling of his own skin.

The removal of his gloves feels like being able to breathe again, warring relief and shock inspiring him to toss them straight to the floor, immediately forgotten.

He pulls out the circular c.d. player from his bag, popping the ear buds in one by one as he cautiously presses play. His hands feel alive, almost autonomous, as he picks up his pencil and begins to draw as the first track of the album Jensen gave him plays. 

Well, he thinks as he tucks his legs up and nestles into the corner of the window sill, here goes nothing. 

He’s not sure what he’s expecting, because the only music he’s ever listened to is clanging techno and synthesized dubstep with the occasional lyrics about the importance of unity and strength among the people and government. He knows it’s supposed to be different, but he’s not prepared for the lone strumming of electric guitar, and then the pause as a voice chirps in, wistful and lilted with an accent. 

Listen now my sweet Anne, I never meant to cause you pain.
We could've spent all summer sitting here making daisychains.
I lie awake at night staring at my roof.
Now you're gone.


Jared doesn’t question the fact that the itching in his fingers stops the second he touches his pencil to the paper, rather lets his eyes droop half closed as he slips in and out of a trance, the song filling his head and leaving no room for thought. One track bleeds into another and the lyrics fill him until he feels punch drunk and sleepy with words and broken voices, people singing about ghosts and hiding and talking and touching. The sun peeks out and his eyes burn with fatigue but Jared doesn’t stop, listens to the music like he’s a deaf man hearing for the first time. 

He doesn’t realize until he’s done and the c.d. has ended that he drew a hand, naked and exposed, latched on to an arm. He’d forgotten to draw the gloves. Or maybe that was the point from the start. 

Huh.

***

Twenty four hours later he’s back on Jensen’s front porch, knocking dutifully. 

Jensen opens the door, and this time he smiles, looking pleased at the way Jared thrusts the c.d. and books in his face. 

“You liked them?”

He’d finished them all, bled through pages and songs and absorbed the words like a sponge, scribbled down passages and lyrics that he’d liked in his school notebook. He feels invigorated, possibly a little high.

“I liked them.” Jared grins shyly. “What else have you got?”

There’s all of a seconds hesitation before Jensen lets him in and shows him to the bedroom, making a broad sweeping gesture at the shelves, taller than Jared and teeming with options. “Feast your eyes, Padalecki. And take your pick.”

Chapter Text

 

It starts like this.

Jared passes days at school and passes nights in his room and passes the time in between at Jensen’s house. Music becomes the undercurrent throughout all of that, narration that keeps things from getting too dull. And now that he’s been tuned in, he can’t even begin to fathom how he was ever tuned out. 

Music follows him everywhere, song in his heart and lyrics a metronome as he walks. He reads, too, devours books in hours, spends half his time sprawled out on Jensen’s floor unable to decide what book to read first. And he’s constantly asking questions, asking why this song sounds like this or why that book ends like that, constantly inquisitive, constantly coming up with new questions.

And Jensen, oddly enough, tolerates it. Answers Jared’s multiple questions with a funny look in his eye that Jared can’t be sure isn’t condescension or barely withheld amusement. Sometimes the conversation gets slightly awkward, Jared runs out of questions to ask, or Jensen runs out of sarcastic opinions, but even then they find a way to make it work without major mishaps. 

Jensen takes Jared on ‘field trips’ for ‘music education’ purposes. Namely, he takes Jared to numerous places around town, sits him down, and has him listen to a song. It’s weird, at least at first. Because Jensen sits close to him and they share the c.d. player headphones like children share crayons in the classroom, always quiet while the song is playing, always conversing as soon as it’s over. It’s weird because it’s easy, fitting into this rhythm, getting to know music and literature, getting to know Jensen by proxy.

He observes pretty quickly that Jensen likes rock, likes the twang of electric guitars and strong drums. Jensen plays the same three classic rock albums on repeat, and sometimes Jared calls him predictable and Jensen calls Jared tacky and tasteless. “Better than your fucking dubstep.” he scoffs, and Jared laughs.

But Jared, Jared’s gaining a propensity for softer music, likes the old feel of a vinyl record with swizzy brass and plucking bass, soft piano tinkling in the back. He likes classic rock well enough to get by. To be honest, he’s pretty much easy to please with anything, learns about eighties metal and early two thousands pop. Jared likes grunge, loves alternative rock--the day he is introduced to Pearl Jam feels like a spiritual enlightenment. 

And there throughout any new musical exploration he makes is Jensen, watching his reactions, responding with a quip or witty banter or a solemn nod of approval. Jared can’t decide which he likes more, basks in them all. 

Jeff’s too busy to really notice Jared’s sudden increase in absences from home. He’s exhausted, and Jared leaves out breakfast most mornings without a second thought. He hears the repeated sirens at night above whatever music he’s got playing, he sees the paper work Jeff leaves scattered everywhere. The arrests frequent higher and the crack down on criminals is fiercer but Jared feels oblivious, locked in a bizarre safe haven with Jensen that should not be as comforting and enjoyable as it is.

Breaking the law should not be as comforting and enjoyable as it is.

Jensen has Jared sit down on a grassy knoll that overlooks the city, and he plays for him an instrumental electronic piece, that Jared likes. They stretch out under the dimmed stars in the dirty sky, listening. 

Jensen brings Jared to a nearby convenience store, two blocks from Jared’s school and someone might recognize him and call him over, but Jensen’s smiling and holding out the earphone so Jared takes it, doesn’t worry about the risk of his age being revealed to Jensen. They race on shopping carts in the aisles as the song plays and Jared buys Jensen a box of popcorn. They split it that night at Jensen’s place, eating out of separate bowls and listening quietly to the rest of the album they’d started at the store. 

He takes Jared on adventures as a means of ‘music education exploration’. The majority of these so-called adventures aren’t really adventurous at all, but Jared likes tagging along, likes the way Jensen pays attention to him and only him as they move from location to location each day. Every place a different song and every song a different sound to Jared, and in the weeks that pass he sees even more of the city than he’s ever seen his entire life, which Jared had thought was impossible, given his familiarity with it. And each time it happens, he’s aware of the way Jensen rarely dons his gloves, strips them off the second they’re out of eyeshot of others. Jensen moves with an ineffable grace, has a comfortableness with himself that Jared has only ever seen once before. But Jensen’s energy is controlled rather than exuberant, measured, not unbound, and it’s fascinating to Jared. Watching Jensen move around him, watching his hands maneuver around c.d.s and books, a life of their own without gloves on. 

He draws Jensen’s hands, too, but tries hard not to think about what that means in the long run. 

***

"So you've touched people before?" 

They’re beneath the highway near the river on a Saturday night for field trip number fifteen when Jared asks this question, several weeks and seventeen novels and twenty albums later. Jensen’s skipping rocks out over the water and Jared’s resting his weight against the wall, watching, an acoustic guitar playing in one ear as he listens to Jensen’s chosen song. 

"Yes," Jensen responds, snaps his arm back and flings the stone. It skips three times.

"But you're not a Dealer. Why is that?" Jared bends down, lifts a stone from the shore. He’s still got his gloves on, unlike Jensen, but the stone still feels cool, even through the soft leather of the material over his palm. 

"Ex-Dealer," Jensen corrects him. Four skips. “It just wasn’t for me.”

"Don’t you like it? Touching people?"

Jensen stops halfway to picking up another stone, straightens, walks back over to Jared at the abutment. “Sometimes.”

“Sometimes?”

“It’s hard to explain.” There’s a bend to Jensen’s neck as he says this, looking out over the river as the howl of cars bounces off the ceiling of the bridge above their heads. He’s wearing just a t-shirt tonight, despite the chilly night air, and his arms...Jared’s staring. Again. He’s been doing that a lot lately. 

"It's not all that terrible, you know," Jensen adds after a second of hesitation, chewing his words before presenting them to Jared. He’s constantly doing this, small changes in his phrasing so Jared doesn’t get too uncomfortable or alarmed, but Jared’s never been as aware of it as he is now. 

"But why?" Jared tosses a rock out to the water. It falls with a soft kerplunk into the river, doesn’t skip. 

“Touching is...about connection.” Jensen rubs a hand through his hair. “You can touch someone you’ve known your whole life and feel everything, or you can feel nothing. And sometimes you touch a stranger, and though you’ve never met, touching them feels like you know them. Touch isn’t anything if there’s no connection. No spark.”

Jensen leans forward as he says this, like it’s a secret. Jensen’s been doing that a lot lately too. Moving closer into Jared’s space, testing boundaries like he’d withdraw slowly if Jared ever flinched. But Jared never does, not once. 

If anything, in the moments Jensen leans, Jared wants to push closer. He can’t explain the instinct, and certainly can’t act on it at the risk of freaking Jensen--and himself--out. And Jared’s never felt anything like this before. With Chad, the want to touch was there, but it was quelled and mixed and tainted with fear and reproach and ingrained mortification.

But this is different. Jared doesn’t know quite how to explain it, but it is. It might have to do with the fact that he likes Jensen the same way he liked Chad, but it’s more intense, more prickly against his skin. Jared feels constantly and neurotically aware of Jensen’s every move, which sounds absolutely insane and would definitely get Jared into deep shit were he to voice the notion aloud. But it can’t be helped. Jensen leans, Jared leans back. Jensen yawns, stretches up to the ceiling and cracks his neck, Jared notes the contours of his back and how they shift underneath his shirt. Jensen so much as blinks, and Jared’s noting the shape of his eye, hue of the iris, thickness of lid, fullness of lashes. He’d call it an artist’s observation but Jared’s never been like this with anyone. It’s disconcerting, but also thrilling. 

He swallows thickly, tries to work around the way his mouth has suddenly run dry for no apparent reason. “So um...have you ever felt it? That spark?”

Jensen blinks again, raises his eyes up to Jared and they stare at each other for a pause, and God he wishes he could know what Jensen is thinking as he says, “Once or twice, on occasion. It’s human instinct, for touch to feel good. So, you know, you find the right body and it just...it works.”

“Right body?”

Jensen grins now, has the gall to actually look bashful. “Turns out it’s a bit different for everyone. Sometimes the body’s a girl, other times it’s a guy. Most people have no preference, don’t even know what a preference entails. Others have got more know how. Your friend Milo asked for a girl Dealer, he obviously knows what he likes.”

“And what do you like?” Jared can’t choke down the question just like he can’t stop the way he leans. “I mean. Assuming you know.”

It’s a personal question, but Jared’s got to know. 

“Me?” Jensen laughs sharp, mouth twisted sardonically and it somehow looks good, despite the embittered tone. “I’m less a fan of beauty and breasts and more a fan of the brawn, I guess.”

Jared does a double take, can’t be sure if Jensen’s telling a joke or not, deadpan as his delivery is. “You...you like guys?”

“It’s been known to happen, don’t act so surprised.”

Surprised isn’t quite the word to describe how Jared is feeling. Relieved, elated, terrified would be though. 

“So you do?” He’s leaning. Again.

Jensen props up a hand on the graffiti covered cement somewhere above Jared’s head and Christ Jared wants to run he’s so scared and happy and worried and nervous and everything all at once. 

“Yeah.” Jensen lets out a breath. “Yeah I do.”

And the thing of it is, Jared has no right to be so close to giddy as he feels right now. So Jensen has a preference for guys? So what? Jared wouldn’t be any closer to anything where he stands because even if Jensen did prefer men at one point in his life, he’s not a Dealer anymore. Even if he was, would he even deem Jared a decent client? 

They step closer to the river and Jared looks out over his moonbeam painted reflection on the water, takes in his slanted eyes and his small nose, mole just over his left cheek, slight curl and dishevelment of his bangs. He’s got some muscle sure, but it’s striated, thin, like a runner. He’s nowhere near as good looking as Jensen, no symmetry to his features, no thickness to his fingers or sturdy structure to his body. Maybe he’s being overly critical. It’s hard to tell. It wasn’t until recently that Jared had even considered what he looked like, how it might matter, why it might matter. 

This is stupid, he thinks. It doesn’t matter what Jensen likes and what Jared might think he likes. Because Jensen’s never going to go there and Jared’s sure as hell not going to be the one to make the suggestion that they go there. “C’mon, we’ve got to go. I need to introduce you to the absolute genius of Light my Fire. If you don’t love it, I’ll let you play as much techno bullshit as you want in the apartment tomorrow. I promise.” Jensen jumps back onto the pathway that swings under the bridge, feet above Jared even as he crouches and holds the railing, smiling. “The Doors, Jared. You’ll dig them. I swear, I swear.”

Jared rolls his eyes with a laugh and reaches up to grab the rail and Jensen...moves. Makes some aborted jerking motion with his hand as Jared begins to haul himself up and then recoils, fiddles with the earphones hanging out of his jeans pocket instead. Jared stands up and Jensen looks almost guilty, the weird motion of his hand unexplained as he walks on ahead.

And Jared’s probably imagining things, but he could swear Jensen had been reaching to help him up.

***

“So riddle me this.” Jared’s chomping on sour candy that they just bought at the grocery store, sugar covered rainbow ropes that taste tangy on his tongue. “You’re not a Dealer, okay but...where did you learn to touch people. Is there like...a manual or something?”

Jensen barks with laughter, using the opportunity to pop a few of his own chocolate covered almonds into his mouth. “No. It doesn’t exactly work like that.”

They’re back in Jensen’s bedroom after another musical field trip, and Jared’s lost count which number they’re on at this point. He’s leaned back against the shelves, seated on the floor as Jensen sits cross-legged on the bed, candy spread on his own lap. 

“Then how does it work?” Jared swings out an arm and catches the almond Jensen lobs at him, popping it into his mouth with a pointed grin.

Jensen contemplates for a few moments, and Jared dusts the crystallized sugar off of his covered fingers, tries not to stare as Jensen licks the remnants of chocolate off his own bare fingers. Jared’s never done that before; usually eats with his hands covered. Jensen sucks at each of his fingers, chasing after the chocolate and Jared wonders absentmindedly if skin has a taste. What would his taste like? What would Jensen’s taste like? 

“It’s a gradual process of trial and error.” Jensen’s answer derails Jared’s train wreck of a thought, and he forces himself to chew the candy-sweet lump in his mouth, eyeing Jensen carefully. “There’s lots of fumbling and embarrassment, and lots of experimentation, and a lot of mistakes that turn out to...have interesting results. You can do all the research you want beforehand but, with touch, seeing and knowing isn’t necessarily doing, trust me,” Jensen chuckles. “It would have been easier if I’d had a teacher to show me, if we’re being honest.” 

A teacher. Jared mulls the word over as he swallows the candy, picks out another Rainbow Rope and dangles it over his mouth. It makes sense, a teacher, sounds damn useful too. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing. Not a Dealer, paid to be there, but a teacher. Someone willing, gentle, instructive. It sounds rational, and try as Jared might, the more he turns the word over in his head the more and more he likes the sound of it. The more he wonders if Jensen...

“You’ve got sugar all over your shirt,” Jensen points out wryly. “Need a bib?”

“Or you could just offer me another shirt, asshole,” Jared retorts, finding comfort in the teasing tone of Jensen’s voice. He stands, fidgeting nervously as an idea pops into his head. A test, of sorts. If Jensen passes the test, then Jared’s an idiot and he can go back to eating his candy and not fussing and thinking what it’s like to taste skin for fuck’s sake. If Jensen fails...well, he doesn’t want to think about what it means if Jensen fails. 

“Toss me one of yours?” He grins cheekily. 

Jensen reaches under the bed and pulls one out from under, tossing it at Jared just as he did with the chocolate covered almonds, and Jared snatches it out of the air, feeling a little bit nervous and excited all in one. 

It’s a gamble and he knows it, but he can’t help it, curiosity overwhelming because he has to know, wants to be sure. Carelessly, as if it’s the smallest deal in the world, he reaches and grabs his shirt, pulling it over his head by the shoulders. He makes no show of it, makes as quick work of his shirt as possible and pulls Jensen’s shirt on as soon as it’s discarded to the floor. Again, Jensen’s is too tight in the shoulders and too loose around the waist, but really Jared barely notices, suddenly feeling tight in his skin where he stands, even though he’s covered.

He glances up through his bangs just once or twice throughout the shirt exchange to see if Jensen is watching.

Jensen is. 

Expression blank, but he’s watching all the same, and Jared’s stomach clenches at the notion. Because Jensen fails the test, Jensen fails big time and that fact is gonna keep Jared awake and restless all through the night. Jensen looked, had some form of curiosity or need to look and look for longer than was strictly necessary, and that’s kind of the most fantastic thing to happen yet to Jared. Another question pops into his head to ask Jensen, one that actually requires words. 

“Well, have you ever taught anyone how to touch?” Jared asks, settling on the ground again around as he tugs at the t-shirt hemline. The sugar is going to make his gloves sticky with the way his palms are starting to sweat again but he looks to Jensen regardless, doesn’t move to brush it off. 

Jensen glances back down to the brown smudges of sweet on his fingers, pensive.

“No one’s ever asked,” he says simply.

There’s an unspoken addendum on the end of that response, Jared thinks. ‘No one’s ever been brave enough’, ‘No one’s ever been stupid enough’, ‘No one’s ever been willing to risk enough’ and they’re all warnings, but Jensen doesn’t actually utter a single one. 

And that shouldn’t matter to Jared. But it has gotten to the point where Jensen moves and Jared feels him move and he’s so aware of it and of course it matters. It matters more than anything else in the world. 

Jensen lobs another almond over to Jared, ending the conversation but not ending discussion of the subject.

***

Jensen takes him to one of the abandoned kid’s parks on the outskirts of the city, somewhere between the boonies and uptown. It sits on its own, yellowed dried grass overgrown around the rusted old structures; a merry go round that turns in the autumn wind, a rickety slide with initials scratched all over it, a swing set. Jared stares with wide eyes, taking in a place that looks like it hasn’t been thought of in years, a lost and forgotten straggler to the rest of the city. 

“You’ve never been to one of these?” Jensen walks ahead, hunching his shoulders against the breeze.

“Not really, no,” he answers earnestly. School playgrounds were tracks that you could do calisthenics on, trees and fences and ropes you could climb. School playgrounds did not know the word ‘play’, set kids up to entertain on their own until enough time passed by that they could be deemed recreationally stimulated and then brought back in for further learning. 

“Did you not play as a kid?”

“Not really,” he repeats, and it’s amazing how easily the lie rolls off tongue. He did play as a kid. Just not here, in places like these, and that’s not information he feels like divulging right now, least of all to Jensen. “Did you?”

Jensen casts his eyes over the park, lingering for a fraction of a second too long on the merry go round. “Once. A long time ago.’”

He kicks the merry go round with his foot, the circular motion eerie with no kids to cling to the rails for dear life. Jensen watches it spin, and Jared vaguely wonders who Jensen played with as a kid, who Jensen went to the park with. Wonders if Jensen will ever tell him their name. 

“C’mon.” The quiet look on Jensen’s face is replaced with something more assured, confident, and he’s gesturing over to the swing set for Jared to follow. “This is the best part.”

Jensen plops himself down on one of the swings, running his hands over the chains and he’s not wearing gloves again, goddammit. Jared opens his mouth to point that fact out but eventually just shuts it, bringing himself around to sit in the other swing. The plastic bends underneath his weight and the chains squeak together, rust cohesive against his gloves, sticking with a burnt orange residue that smells like blood. Tentatively, he puts his feet on the ground, pushes slightly, body rocking forward and backward on the swing. Jared laughs aloud, pushes his feet harder against the ground, looks over at Jensen to see if he’s realized how utterly cool this is.

But Jensen’s sitting still in the swing, head tipped to the side as he regards Jared, holding out a small headphone. 

“Care for a listen?” He doesn’t even blink at Jared’s elated expression.

Jared grinds his heels into the ground, gently takes the earphone from Jensen, careful that their fingers don’t brush. He pops the headphone in, while Jensen does the same, before pressing play on the small portable c.d. player. 

They sit on the swings, a soft breeze playing around their ankles as the chains rock them back and forth like a rust covered cradle. The earbud cord is stretched between the two of them, taut and like a lifeline that Jared doesn’t dare move to separate himself from. 

Jensen slowly reaches out, grabs the left chain of Jared’s swing, brings him closer. Their faces are close in the effort to hear the song, Jensen’s nose centimeters from Jared’s ear and Jared’s mouth releasing small puffs of air onto Jensen’s collarbone. The moment is fraught with something tight and binding between them, connecting them inexplicably, and Jared is so still. 

Jensen is quiet, eyes closed and a small content smile etched onto his features in the dark as they listen to the song. 

“Did you listen?” 

It takes Jared a moment to realize that the song has ended and Jensen is looking at him full on, face hopeful, inquiring. 

“Wait, it’s over? Just like that?”

“The shortest song I’ve ever heard,” Jensen replies, twisting the headphone in his ear. 

Jared gnaws on his lip, not quite ready for the song to be over yet. “Play it again?”

He does, and Jared closes his eyes and listens. Nothing significant really. Plucking guitar and a soft falsetto voice with simple lyrics that repeat and sound along with the strings. And then it’s over. No chorus, no bridge, no interlude. It ends.

In a haze in a stormy haze
I’ll be round I’ll be lovin’ you always, always
Here I am and I’ll take my time
Here I am and I’ll wait in line always, always


Jared raises his eyes to Jensen’s, and they’re so close. But then Jensen lets go of Jared’s swing chain, feet dragging as he swings with it, distance eating up the space between them, cold air rushing in as the wind howls and the autumn leaves rustle.

“Alright then,” Jensen concludes, “it’s about time you had a proper lesson in how to swing.” 

Jensen, it turns out, is an expert in how to use a swing, legs kicking off the ground and he soars, tipping back in the swing as Jared watches from down below. “The trick,” he shouts, “is push and pull, and then just go where gravity takes you. Do it!”

Jared takes a deep breath of crisp air, and launches himself up, pushing forward against the chains as he does so. He’s never thought about it much, but this is what flying must feel like, up and down dip and the ground rushes up to meet him but it never quite comes. He copies Jensen, tipping back in the swing, closing his eyes as wind whooshes up and over him, cooling his skin and he soars, toes appearing to poke at the dark clouds in the night sky. His stomach pitches and rolls and he might even be sick later but he doesn’t care, gusts of wind filling him and wafting to his nose with petrichor and deadened leaves.

He feels like laughing aloud, and that sounds crazy, it does, because it’s dark and late at night and they’re just swinging, but Jared wants to laugh, because for the life of him the moment is free, weightless and lifting higher. It was something Chad liked to do a lot, laughing loud for no particular reason, and for first time ever, Jared gets it, opens his mouth to let the air bark out of his lungs and then-- 

“Hey!” Jensen shouts, and Jared’s neck cricks he turns back so fast to look at Jensen, the two of them opposite each other, one swinging back, one swinging forth. He grins at Jared, and even in the dark that grin is bright. “Watch this!”

They cross paths again, swings meeting in the middle and their eyes meet in that split second of crossing, and something in Jared’s stomach swoops in a way that has nothing to do with the swing.

And then Jensen jumps off.

Sheer shock is the only thing that keeps Jared from screaming, unable to stop the swing he’s on, unable to do anything but watch Jensen free fall, arms stroking like he’s swimming, legs stretching downwards. He’s going to break his leg, or worse.

To Jared’s surprise and relief, Jensen lands gracefully, no more staggered than an alley cat. He stumbles just a bit, straightens, then grins again at Jared, a shark smile that Jared isn’t sure infuriates or excites him. But Jensen is fine, no broken limbs, no bleeding cuts. He flew and landed, shadow stretched behind him, painted by moonlight. Just like that one book Jared had read a few days ago, Peter Pan. 

Jared wants to be Peter Pan too.

“Alright, let me show you how to get down--” Jensen starts, but Jared’s already letting go of the swing, body arcing, wind carrying him as he sinks toward the ground. 

It occurs to him the second before he lands that maybe this wasn’t the brightest idea. 

The ground races to meet him and his knees buckle the second he hits it, lightning strike of pain zipping up his ankle and he’s going to hit the ground so hard. It’s not going to be fun, explaining to Jeff any injuries that result. He prepares himself for a full on collision with the earth as his legs give out and he falls forward, arms flailing rather spectacularly as he begins to fall flat on his face. 

But just as he considers himself a goner, something decidedly comfier than hard-packed earth stops him from hitting the ground. Levels his stumble with a few practiced steps and hauls him upwards by his arm, steadies him from his waist. The swoop of falling rebounds and his stomach is suddenly back in his body, and he feels gelatinous, shaky, but relieved that he hadn’t eaten dirt. 

He’s about to remark that it’s a lucky thing the park bench was there for him to grab onto, only to realize a split second too late that there is no bench. That he was caught by someone, and that someone was Jensen.

Jensen caught him. Jensen’s holding him. Jensen’s touching him.

“Whoa there, you alright?”

Against him, touching him. Jensen’s bare hands are on Jared, one curled around his bicep, the other on his hip, caught on the dip of Jared’s hip bone under his shirt, warm. 

Time freezes, Jared’s breath caught in his throat and Jensen stiff against him, holding fast but sure. And it’s the strangest thing, but for a second Jared wants to stay exactly where he is.

But time kicks back in, reality crashing over both of them and Jared shoves with a strangled yell. 

He sprints, untangling from Jensen and nearly tripping over himself in the process. His ankle protests with a sharp stab of pain and Jared stumbles, limps, but forces himself to straighten and continue running, covering the places where Jensen had touched him with his own gloved hands. Jensen had caught and held him, but the way Jared is clutching at himself he may as well have been punched. Buildings race by and he’s like a mouse running from a cat, scurrying and panicked to find a hole to hide in.

"Jared! Wait!" Jensen shouts after him, tries to keep up but Jared barely hears him, paranoia spurring him to run the entire way home. Again. 

Even with jagged shards of pain racing up his leg there's no stopping how terrified Jared feels. The cover of night is thick but he feels like he’s got a beacon of light trained solely on him. 

He passes houses, flees past people wandering home from work in the late night hours and he thinks every single one of them can look at him and must be able to see it, phosphorescent burns on his waist and arm. He waits for it, the tell tale glances where they’ll know without hesitation that he was touched.

But no one says a thing as Jared hurries home. No one shouts 'police!' and points, aghast, at him. He essentially makes it in one piece and it’s baffling. 

Can't they see what he did? How guilty he is? Can't they see the criminal's badge of corruption on his arm and hip; shape of finger prints like bruises?

Yet despite the fear, or maybe because of it, there's a simultaneously sickening and enlightening feeling in his stomach because he liked it. He liked the way Jensen felt against him, firm grip keeping him upright.

Jensen had looked bewildered, and contrite, and Jared should feel sorry for taking off in the manner that he did but he isn't. They'd been out in the open, people all around them in their houses, in their cars, in their gloves, and Jensen had touched him. Albeit accidentally but touched him all the same.

It isn’t a crime to touch someone to stop them from coming to harm, to save them from injury or death. That’s what the gloves are for, just in case. The gloves are what keeps any necessary or accidental touching from breaking the law. But Jensen hadn't even been wearing gloves, for Christ’s sake. What had he been thinking, doing that? Even keeping his bare hands in his pockets is extremely dangerous and risky, Jensen obviously knew that. But apparently he didn't care, if his general lack of gloves and covering up was any indication whatsoever.

But it doesn't matter. Jared has been branded, and it’s somehow a sensation more powerful and staggering than the sprained ankle. 

He doesn’t uncover those brands until he gets to his room, limping into the bathroom, slamming and locking the door shut, hands shaking as the slam echoes against the blank walls of this blank house. He stands in front of the mirror, notes the wind wrought pink of his cheeks and the swept state his hair is in. Then, slowly, he reaches back over his shoulders and pulls his shirt over his head, wincing as his ankle throbs again when he steps closer to the mirror, examining himself. 

Jared doesn’t do this often, isn’t one to preen when he gets up in the morning, often avoids looking at himself in general because it sprouts a curiosity about his own skin and body that he’s not quite sure how to handle. But now he examines, clinically, keeping eyes locked on the two places where Jensen touched him, looking for signs, looking for marks, looking for sin. 

There are no bruises or hives, no disfigurements that contrast. Just smooth skin, same as ever. But with the way his heart is pounding it’s like he's been gunned down in combat, a soldier bent to examine his own gaping sound. Only when he’s done does he deign to look in the mirror, expecting to see some brand or evident mark that screams to the world ‘I BROKE THE LAW’. But there’s nothing. Just the curve of Jared’s hip, same as always, the line of muscle in his bicep, same. It looks the same, it feels the same. 

It feels fine. He feels fine.

And maybe that's the most terrifying part.

Because the want eating up his insides, that feels fine as well.

***

  Jared likes to think that Chad is made of sunbeams; that he was born with golden warmth in his smile and a giddy flare of energy in each of his limbs. He’s at his happiest when the sun is blazing and the sidewalks are broiling, and Jared finds the time they begin to spend together marked by summers. His best memories of Chad are strung together like clay beads on a necklace, each memory distinct and formed with their own inside jokes and wheezing laughter and sweltering summer haze. They hang out at school and they frolic when it snows, but they’re at their best and brightest when the sun is there to follow their backs. 

The summer Jared turns thirteen Chad gets this batshit crazy idea that they should build a tree house in his backyard. The sycamore in the center of the back lawn is gnarled and towering and Jared calls Chad crazy but Chad swears on his life that it’s gonna be great. Jared looks over at Chad, who is squinting against the daylight and looking up at their potential conquest, and finally sighs in defeat, hiding a grin at Chad’s victory crow, “Alright. Let’s get to work.”

So they get to work. 

That summer Chad is everywhere in Jared’s life, both of them too scrawny to really get a lot of building done in one day, and the days they spend sawing and hammering and sanding stretch into weeks. That tree becomes their haven, their Mecca, the altar where they sacrifice time and blood and sweat and even a few tears. There’s shelter in its shade, warmth in the sunlight that trickles through the thick green leaves that coat its branches. 

Mrs. Murray brings out lemonade and Jared sweats through all his t-shirts but they’re happy, and it’s in those weeks that Jared learns the most about his best friend. Because Chad is twelve shades of crazy and each shade is a little different from the other. 

Chad hates planning, but he loves imagining and projecting all these insane ideas, much to Jared’s amusement. He’s always knocking into things, hitting his thumb with the hammer, like there’s too much in him and he makes up for it by pinging about like an atom, bumping into anything and everything, sometimes smacking into Jared and laughing as he does so. 

His best friend is vibrant and neon with summer, almost crazed in the way he exists and Jared basks in it, spends hours at a time under that gigantic sycamore, or tucked up in between the branches. His scrawny shoulders tan and even with gloves on his fingers callous with the labor. Some nights he doesn’t even go home, calls Jeff to beg to stay, and he and Chad pull out sleeping bags and sprawl under the murky night sky. 

Sometimes Jared can’t come over, but he can tell from the way Chad hangs up on the phone that it doesn’t really matter, he’s got a goal and he’s set his sights on it with sparks in his eyes. The day it’s actually finished, Jared gets a call and doesn’t even get to say hello before Chad is shouting in the phone for him to get his ass over to his house, pubescent voice cracking with excitement, and Jared gets on his bike makes the trip in less than fifteen minutes, his shirt sticking to his back, his face red and his hands hot and clammy underneath his gloves. 

“Dude.” Chad whips open the door, smile so big it’s almost blinding. “Dude. It’s done.”

They nail in the steps up the tree together, sinking the spikes in and denting the bark and ignoring the weeping sap that drips from each gouge. It takes a while and then some, because Jared’s too unaccustomed to his untimely growth spurt, keeps getting in his own way and Chad’s too excited and they drop the nails and it’s not until the sun finally sinks down that they have built their stairway to the top, perspiration and grime and smiles shared between them. 

It’s small, and Jared can barely stretch his legs out. “This is mutiny,” he grumbles, shoving his too long bangs out of his face and Chad laughs, crackling giggle that has been the soundtrack to every day this summer. 

“This, my friend,” Chad looks out the small window of the tree house into the yard, “Is paradise.”

And it’s not, not really. But then maybe it is. The tree house smells of wood resin and Jared’s nose twitches in resistance to the saw dust that drifts in the air every time they move. Jared stoops and tries to get comfortable, digs his palms against the soft wood grain and tries to scoot around in a way that won’t make his ass sore come morning. 

Chad laughs at his efforts, suddenly settles next to Jared and swings an arm around Jared’s shoulders. The weight is unfamiliar, and though their bare skin isn’t touching Jared can feel the solar heat pouring off of Chad, like he’s his own little planet and Jared’s the orbiting moon. 

“Chad.” His name is a warning, and Jared is suddenly tensed to run, sprint from the tree because that familiar creeping instinct is edging down his arms to his finger tips and he wants to throw his arm around Chad’s shoulders. Wants to hug Chad or punch Chad’s shoulder. But along with that instinct comes his Guardian’s words ‘No Jared’ and ‘Don’t Jared’ and ‘Keep your hands to yourself Jared’ and a lifetime of other cautions.

He won’t be a freak. Not anymore.

“What?” Chad’s grin is something fiercely infectious, and Jared smiles back despite the queasy feeling in his stomach. The scratchy material of their jeans is pressed together, sweat damp and dirt smudged. “I’m not touching. Just resting my arm.”

It doesn’t exactly seem to be that way, because this is the summer that Jared shot up like a tree, stringy and finally taller than Chad after six years of the opposite. Chad’s arm across Jared’s shoulders is raised too high to actually be comfortable, and they both know it. 

“Get off, I’ve gotta go home,” Jared mumbles, suddenly feeling as if he’d very much like to cry. “I’ll come over tomorrow. Okay?”

“Jay,” Chad calls, but Jared is already clambering down the ladder, locking eyes on his shoelaces and hoping that his height won’t make him clumsy as he tries to climb down as fast as humanly possible. “Jay, I’m sorry!”

And Jared knows Chad is sorry, knows it as sure as he knows that Chad is his best friend. Knows that Chad is alive and reckless in a way that Jared wants to be. Chad’s looking down at him pleadingly, still up in the tree house, and in his apologies is the promise that Jared can climb back up and they’ll spend the night crammed into that goddamn tiny tree house and somehow have the time of their lives. 

The thing of it is, though, is that it’s never going to go away if Jared goes back up those steps. Chad can and Chad will throw an arm about Jared’s shoulders and it won’t mean a thing to Chad but it means everything to Jared. Jared can go back up those steps and he’ll hate who he is for the rest of the summer and beyond. He clings to the rungs of the ladder they built together, viscous sap staining his gloves. If he stays, he’ll touch. He’ll muss Chad’s hair and maybe jab him in the ribs. He’ll chance getting Chad in trouble, getting himself in trouble. And that realization is all the more terrifying, fresh cold sweat breaking out on the back of his neck. 

So Jared steps back onto the grass, back to earth and solidity and a world where the things he wants are denied to him in full. 

Like the setting sun, Chad’s smile fades. “Yeah. Okay man. I’ll see you tomorrow I guess.”

Jared walks away, and summer ends, school picking up where the countless hours of sun left off. Routine slips back to paper and scratching pencils and days not spent under the sycamore tree. It’s the ending of a season, but also the ending of an era. 

Chad doesn’t try to touch Jared, not ever again.
 


***

School is more or less a mind numbing parade of lectures and eraser shavings collecting on the corners of the desks. Jared barely makes it to school on time, downs a double dose of Advil for breakfast and washes it down with a cup of coffee on the way there. His ankle throbs, and his head throbs even more. 

He drifts through the day, thoughts distracted and bouncing about the opaque walls of the hallway like listless rubber balls, never quite making their way back into his head. Chemistry and English fly by and all he can think about are the c.d.’s burning a hole in his bag and feel something like a bruise throbbing on the skin of his hip and upper arm where Jensen had held him yesterday. He tries to ignore it, but it’s there, branded into him, and Jared tugs his sweater down in a self conscious manner, hoping he can cover it up so no one can see. 

Sixth period is interrupted amidst Jared’s fidgeting as a wretched shriek echoes from the hallway, sending the students rushing out the door. Jared moves sluggishly to follow, and it’s not until he gets to the hallway that he fully wakes up. 

Alona Tal is standing, backed up against the lockers like a cornered animal, hissing and spitting with a feral terror as she’s surrounded by the principal and several officers. 

“What did I do!? I’m innocent! I didn’t touch anyone! I swear!” She’s frantic, eyes bulging, mouth frothing as she screams and begs for them to let her go. Jared’s history teacher starts to herd them back into the classroom but Jared lingers, staring hard at Alona. They were never friends, but he remembers a time in his life where she had smiled at him on the bus and shared her pretzels with him when he forgot to pack a lunch. It’s a sharp contrast to how she looks right now.

Jeff had mentioned kids getting involved with Dealers in high schools and how measures would need to be taken.

He hadn’t mentioned this.

Alona is screaming, eyes wild and hair disheveled, angling her upper body as far up the wall as she can. The police look almost bored as they regard her, then advance forward. She’s not the first, says the grim set of their mouths and the casual squint of their eyes. She’s hardly going to be the last. 

The tranquilizer punches silently into the meat of her neck, and with a soft ‘oh’ she falls. They reach to catch her but she jerks mid fall and her head cracks on the floor, cuts open on the jagged metal of an open locker. They touch her gingerly with gloves, lift her up to a standing position. It looks like they’ll simply drag her out of the hallway but Jared knows something’s wrong because she hasn’t passed out yet. The dart should have knocked her out cold, but she’s still alert and present. Sedated, but not out completely. This isn’t a regular drug and drag out.

No one says a word, paralyzed into silence.

They drag her over to the center of the hallway, more a funeral procession than anything else. It takes two guards to hold her up, one to wrench her sleeve back, exposing her arm at a near bent angle for all to see. Her hand is so small and frail, a pale spider weakly scrabbling for purchase in the dead silent air; it could belong to a child.

The fourth officer unbuckles a metal case that looks heavy, and there’s a collective intake of breath when he takes out the content methodically. 

Alona can hardly move, but the tranquilizer has no hold to speak of on her voice. No cry nor plead is unheard as they lift and fit the twitching digits of her fingers into the opening of the device, followed by skinny wrist, cream colored forearm, all the way up to the wrinkled joint of her elbow until her arm is covered

There’s a beat as everyone holds their breath, thinking—hoping—the men will drag her away without another word. 

But Jared hears the telltale whir and click of a trigger being pulled and he knows what’s coming, and can no sooner brace himself for that reality than he can cover his ears and block out the strident screaming that starts half a second later. 

The Device works its way down her limb, a gorging Anaconda in reverse and Jared knows that without fail that it won’t stop till it’s reached the smoothed edge of her fingernails. And they’re all going to see it happen. 

In between Alona’s screams it’s quiet enough that they can hear the sickening pierce and pull of Alona’s flesh, razors cutting beneath those first few layers of skin like a hot knife to butter. Her sliced skin is stretched and pink and irritated as it’s ripped from her body inch by inch, wrinkling and curdling as it falls to the floor in shreds and patches, still warm.

The recitation of the law reads aloud in Jared’s mind, practically textbook.

Any citizen found guilty of physical touch shall be skinned at first offense, and forced to walk around so all will know of the crime they have committed. 

“P-please.”

Alona’s all twitch and tremor, eyes unseeing as they stare up, elsewhere. The striated muscle of her taut with pain frame is now loose, giving off an aborted jerk of agony with each part of her that drops with a plop at her feet. The sedative may have done its job of calming her down, or perhaps she’s simply slipped away to a disconnected zone from body and sensation. 

Her lips are parted around whimpers and please please please. Her eyes are shiny and heavy with drug but they flick searchingly down from the ceiling to the face of each person as she begs. 

No one makes a move toward her.

There isn’t a single person here that isn’t staring, eyes locked on the newly changed hand that the Device reveals as it slowly releases her hand, taking two fingernails with it with a sharp wrenching sound of tearing nail bed and spattering blood. One guard lifts up the limb, while the other turns the Device off with a final click.

In the light Alona’s arm glints with a sheen of blood mixed with serum that slides in rivulets from wrist to elbow where they run off and plop to the floor. Pink spatters along the dull checkered tile, almost pretty if it weren’t for the coppery pungency of blood and fluids that come with them. 

The skin will grow back, if she takes care of it. The fingernails, possibly. But the sheer humiliation of being skinned in front of her peers, the shame of screaming and crying and pleading in public, that never will.

Jared’s stomach roils, and through the surrounding whispers of fear and there is Alona. Her hand hangs at her side, bleeding, unwanted; even she doesn’t want to touch it.

They drag her out of the hallway, eyes wide and glassy as she begins to slide into oblivion with the same words on her lips, “What did I do, what did I do?”

She’s still asking as the doors slip closed after her. They won’t see her again, not for a long while, everyone knows without asking.

Jared slips back into class without a word, shaking with fear, with rage. Alona’s a good kid. She hadn’t deserved that. No one in this school deserves that. 

The message, however, is clear. Alona may have been a minor but she’s not above punishment, or an exception to any of the laws. She’d gotten caught. But then so had many other kids beforehand. 

Too many kids were getting involved with Dealers in high school, touching before they’d even graduated. 

Alona had not been an exception.

She was merely the example for the rest of the students, the warning.

The threat. 

Suddenly those brands and those c.d.’s aren’t just burdens. They are badges of survival. 

“Now,” Mrs. Sparks straightens her glasses, tucks one toffee colored curl behind her ear. “Who can tell me the 5th amendment to the revised constitution? Anyone?”

***

It started with the shootings, as far as Jared knows. It’s the first chapter of every history textbook they own, the opening lecture every teacher gives, and it’s the answer to any question ever about touch. Jared isn’t quite sure of the entire process of how the world got to this point. But he knows as deep as his bones that it started with the shootings

They’d watched a few news clips in class, bombings and shootings alike, watched grave newsmen recount horror stories with perfectly coiffed hair as behind them, people screamed and wailed and searched for loved ones they could not find. It was sickening to watch, even worse to imagine. A world where people went to school and work or maybe just for a walk and had to be afraid for their very lives. The world he saw in the news reel was in chaos, no one knew what was going on or how to stop it.

They tried. But it only got worse from there. 

The outcry for gun control laws to be enforced was the first step. You take away the guns, you take away the power to kill, was the reasoning. Too many people had been killed. Too many Senators and children and innocents. Ordinary people going about their days suddenly struck down. The country had been in an uproar, and when shootings became a monthly occurrence, a weekly occurrence, the first gun removal laws were enacted. The Weapons Confiscation Law was passed and it was assumed that the law would work, and that sense of tilted axis, of complete chaos, would be righted once more. 

It didn’t and it wasn’t. And they soon began to learn, confiscating weapons did nothing as long as there was still a hand willing to pull a trigger. 

The shootings turned into riots, mass amounts of people storming in and killing because they were strong and they were hateful and no one could stop them. They didn’t need weapons, not when brute force and strength was so easily accessible. 

Touch didn’t become a legitimate issue until the riots broke out. No purpose but chaos. People throwing punches and kicking fast. People dead on the pavement, raped in the street, smothered in their beds. It was a free for all, every man for himself, hating everyone else. If goodness and heart survived, it was hidden, sheltered or maybe just wiped out. If heroes existed, they were killed, or just as quickly became the villains. It was a mass genocide with no one to blame but humanity itself. 

Like a creature that lashes out in fear, a rattlesnake that strikes when cornered, the people turned their conflict inward until it destroyed them until the world started to burn, flickering flames that threatened to engulf everyone entirely. The world was hurting, bruised and hobbling along as time passed. Harm was a commonality, to be expected. It was a dark time, say the history books. It was a dark time where humanity was savage and selfish and vindictive and paranoid. Bomb scares and gang violence and mobs and stampedes, structure became ash and a world that had built up so tall began to fall in on itself.

It continued on like that for almost a year. 

So things began to change. And it started with the first Law of Physical Contact. 

Jared’s a little fuzzy on the politics of how the Touch law came to be, whether a new President was elected or a meeting of the world leaders decided it. The long and short of it is that one morning there was a war on everyone. The next, there was not. 

There are exceptions to the law, addendums. It was okay to touch someone to save their life, and children under the age of five could be touched for necessary care purposes, but sheaths for hands were required. Handshakes were replaced with nods and embraces were replaced with warm sentiments. Those daring enough to break the law soon figured out the punishments, earned themselves raw and skinned hands from the elbow down, or found themselves in rehabilitation centers, or earned themselves a bullet through the head. Guns were given back to the police, with the promise that they could protect you from the dangers of others around you, if necessary. 

There were struggles, say the history books. People rebelled against the idea of family units and reproduction being controlled and they tried to fight back. But soon they saw reason, forfeited their children so they could be raised well and proper by Guardians. 

The streamlined birthing process made everything simpler, population fluctuations practically nonexistent. Rape and violence counts went down, poverty levels were decreased because the impoverished just weren’t fit to live in the society. They were either killed off or found ways to meld into the lower middle class, became Dealers to make an extra buck. 

The world Jared knows now rose from the ashes, raw and mangled and something entirely new. But it carried on, no longer hobbling but coiling upwards in a new fashion. Streets lined with blood and screams and the ruin at the hands of humans were cleaned now, everyone distanced from one another, everyone going about their own business and no one reaching out. Everyone covered, incapable of harming each other. 

It had started with the shootings.

It had ended with the gloves. 

Chapter Text

 

The knock on Jensen’s door--even in the broad daylight--sounds like a bomb gone off in Jared’s ears; loud, obvious to anyone nearby. But again, no one jumps out with a gun or handcuffs. He’s perfectly fine, perfectly in secret. And maybe that’s the hard part to wrap his head around. 

He can still see Alona’s face; scared, screaming, can still see the collection of skin and blood smeared on the floor and it should be a warning. But it isn’t. If anything it’s the trigger and impetus, the thing that set Jared off and running as soon as he got out of school.

Jensen looks surprised to see him, probably to do with the fact that the last time they were together Jared ran away. “What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to talk to you.” Jared’s looking down at Jensen but all he can think about is the swooping sensation from the swing and the burn of Jensen against him, around him. “May I come in?”

Jensen steps aside soundlessly, before adding. “You know, there’s a key under the mat if you’re going to make a regular habit of this.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Jared mutters, looking anywhere but at Jensen, eyes darting around the tiny kitchen to the old rusty stove, the small fridge, the cluttered kitchen table with bills and wadded up napkins scattered about. He limps his way into the kitchen, trying not to put too much weight on his ankle, because motherfucker it stings. 

“You alright?’ Jensen asks, eyeing Jared’s leg.

“Fine.” He grunts, shifting his weight and wincing. 

Jensen moves into the bedroom and Jared follows, fidgeting to all hell and not entirely sure why he’s here or what it is he could possibly have to say to Jensen but he knows he’s got to say it. No matter what happens. There’s a song playing, and Jared tries to place it as a distraction, thinks he recognizes the Beatles or the Beach Boys, can’t be sure and can’t be bothered to ask, because his tongue appears to be glued to the roof of his mouth for the time being. 

Jensen props himself up against the farthest wall from Jared, lifting one knee and settling his heel against the wall, crossing his arms, regarding Jared coolly, leaving Jared to break the ice. Great. 

Jared moves to stand awkwardly in the center of the room, shifting back and forth and he wishes Jensen would say something, but he’s doing nothing and before Jared can form a coherent string of sentences, he blurts, “I want you to teach me how to touch.”

Jensen’s eyebrows shoot up so fast Jared loses track of them; he clearly was not expecting that. “You—you what?”

“I want you. To teach me. How to touch.” 

The words come out in disjointed fragments and Jared’s pretty sure he sounds like a caveman and that he’s red in the face but he doesn’t even care. The words are out there and he doesn’t even regret them. Even with the slightly perplexed, slightly condescending look Jensen is giving him. 

It’s maybe the biggest risk Jared has ever taken in his life, worse than going to that alleyway with Milo, worse than anything he’s been up to. But he’s got all the pieces, and this is just the glue to put them together. Jensen knows how to touch, Jensen likes guys, hell Jensen even looked at Jared when he took his shirt off, Jared knows he did. So he has to know, has to ask. Jensen is his one shot at understanding this whole hidden universe in the shadows, the closest he will ever get. And it has to be Jensen, just has to be. 

Jared won’t go to a Dealer, can’t go to a Dealer because it isn’t the same. They aren’t Jensen. He isn’t quite sure what it means that he will have no one else but Jensen, but that doesn’t particularly matter in this moment. What matters is right now, the incredulous expression on Jensen’s face, the gaze he has set on Jared. 

“You understand what you’re asking right?” He pushes off the wall, walks over. “You understand that would be breaking the most important law in this world?”

“Yes,” Jared answers. “I don’t care.”

“How old are you?”

“Nineteen,” Jared lies, but knows Jensen won’t question it because he’s certainly tall enough to be nineteen—never mind the fact that he’s actually seventeen. 

“Why do you want to know?” Jensen asks. “And why come to me? Danneel would be more than willing to find you someone to hook up with. There’s no purpose in coming to me.”

“I’m not here just to be touched,” Jared answers slowly. “I’m here because I don’t know how to touch at all. And I want to know how.” He swallows down the instinct to take every word he’s said back and whispers, “Please.”

Jensen hesitates, standing in front of Jared and looking straight into Jared’s eyes, unflinchingly. Jared doesn’t flinch either, every fiber of his body pulled taut with the effort to stay still, to not shy away, to not take three steps backward to put a good amount of space between them. And then Jensen moves, lifting one hand slowly, every inch of space he covers another inch of space closer to Jared. 

Without a word or sound, he reaches out, and cups Jared’s cheek.

Jared jumps, but Jensen doesn’t back off, the palm of his hand pressing into Jared’s face, covering the span from his jawbone to the ridge of his cheekbone. It’s warm, and the skin of Jensen’s hand is coarse against Jared’s face. It’s also weird, intrusive, foreign. Jared’s body is pulled tight, every muscle tensed and ready to run at a second’s notice, like he’s expecting the law enforcement to bust in the door any moment, expecting the world to come crashing down and for his body to combust on moral principle.

But he doesn’t burn, he doesn’t get arrested, and nothing bad happens.

“Just relax,” Jensen whispers, as he drags the pad of his thumb along Jared’s cheekbone. “You’re okay. I’m not gonna hurt you.”

“I know,” Jared responds, turns his head so his lips just barely brush the pulse at Jensen’s wrist. 

They stand, just so, and Jared doesn’t so much as breathe as Jensen touches him, puts a hand on every part of his face, the base of his neck. Jared may be taller but Jensen’s hands are large, turning his head gently; something breakable that mustn’t be harmed. His fingertips trace over Jared’s eyelids, underneath to where his eyelashes flutter, trace against the brow and back under his bangs until his forehead meets his hairline, then back down again. He explores, gaze intent, eyes inscrutable. 

Then gently, he tilts Jared’s head back, slides his hands down around Jared’s neck. 

Jared freezes, breath catching, heart hammering and there’s this sudden realization that he’s alone in a room with a stranger’s hands on him. Jensen could hurt him, could close his hands and cut off his airway, could jerk and break Jared’s neck in a second. Jared wouldn’t be able to stop him. Jensen--at any given moment--could kill Jared. He has no idea who Jensen is or where he came from, what sort of skeletons lay in his closet, literal or metaphorical. Yet here he is, putting himself in Jensen’s hands. 

How amazing that hands that are said to harm, to destroy, choose instead to touch, to caress. Jared has always trusted Jensen, from the start. But now they are in this room, with Jensen’s hands on his throat, pulse fluttering under Jensen’s thumb, and anything could happen. And Jared would be completely powerless to stop it. 

Jensen drags a finger along the column of Jared’s throat, dipping briefly into his clavicle, the hollow beneath his Adam’s apple, coming upwards in a line under his chin, moving to his jaw. 

The sensation, slow, centimeter by centimeter, is like no sensation Jared’s ever experienced before, probably because he’s never felt anything. It’s not suffocating, covering him like the gloves he’s become so accustomed to. It’s--in a way--like losing control of his own limbs, his own ability to hold his head up, and Jensen takes the reins, tilting him just so, hands on Jared’s neck, Jared’s face. 

Jensen backs him to the bed, the mattress hitting the back of Jared’s knees and he goes down, sitting and staring up desperately at Jensen and Jensen does not separate their skin. Not even for a minute. He simply stands over Jared, tracing and re-tracing the shape of Jared’s face, sweeping fingers through hair so he can see all of it, and Jared opens to him. He touches Jared’s lip, Jared opens his mouth, breathing out against Jensen’s fingers, and he stills for a moment, but Jared doesn’t make a sound, doesn’t tell him to stop. 

Time ceases to have weight and meaning and Jared’s whole frame shakes with how much he feels in that moment, fear and excitement and comfort and everything in between and amidst it all is Jensen, never once letting go. 

Never once hurting him. 

There’s a pause as Jensen traces a finger along the slope of Jared’s nose, and then Jensen abruptly straightens, rolling the stiffness out of his shoulders, and walks back to the stereo, flipping through a nearby bin for a new song. 

“I think that’s enough for today.” Even from here Jared can hear the finality in his tone, sense the blasé attitude that’s something akin to boredom, and Jared feels put out. 

“Wait but...”

He doesn’t get it. Jensen gets to put his hands on Jared, touch every single spot on his head and Jared doesn’t get to reciprocate? It seems a bit unfair, and Jared’s not even sure who it’s more unfair to at this point. 

“Jensen.” Jared stands from the bed, takes two steps forward, then two steps back, stands still and waits. 

Jensen’s head turns halfway over his shoulder; he’s listening.

“Don’t--” Jared stammers, fingers knotting at his sides. “Don’t I get to touch you back?”

Jensen blinks, looks positively staggered for a good few seconds, as if the idea of Jared suggesting such a thing is utterly absurd. “I...you want to touch me back?”

The cotton of Jensen’s t-shirt stretches across his back tightly, and Jared might be wrong but he’s pretty sure Jensen hasn’t changed his shirt since last night in the park when he caught Jared. For some odd reason, it appeals to some smug part of Jared’s psyche, that Jensen still has something that touched Jared on him. That he has yet to take it off. 

It makes Jared want to put more of himself on Jensen, concoct skin and smell and sensation together in one. 

Jared nods. “Yes.” 

Is this out of the ordinary? Had Jensen’s previous encounters involved only giving and not receiving? No wonder he was so sullen half the time. It’s part curiosity and part want that makes up the sudden desire to touch back, and no one can fault Jared for that. The way Jensen had held his face; he wants to see if he can do it to. He wants to know the texture, the feel of Jensen’s skin under his own fingers. The request, he realizes with a start, is as much of a benefit for Jensen as it is for Jared, and he wants this. It’s not an obligation, but a privilege. 

Jensen doesn’t give any indication that he heard Jared, just turns back, sticks another album in the c.d. player. Jared’s just about to give up and head out of the room, call it a day or whatever when Jensen comes back over to the bed, face pensive, palms turned outwards. He passes Jared, sits on the edge of the mattress, bare feet on the floor, hands settled on each of his legs.

He doesn’t say a single word, simply closes his eyes, waits, face blank and emotionless.

The removal of Jared’s gloves shouldn’t feel as significant as it does, but the exposure of cool air against his hands feels like a rebirth which he welcomes instead of resists. 

Jared steps forward, right in front of Jensen, and his hands shake as he brings up both of his palms and settles them against Jensen’s cheeks. Jensen’s lips part between his hands, breathe out against the bottom edges of his palms, and Jared freezes. 

Electric current in the scant inches between their bodies, and Jared has this insane urge to just lean against Jensen, lean until it’s more than their hands and faces that are touching. He shakes his head, focuses on the way Jensen’s breathing against him, shoulders moving just slightly as he inhales. He begins to move again, brushes fingers over every part of Jensen’s face he can think to touch, the hair of his eyebrows and the sandpapery edge of his five o'clock shadow. 

He takes his time exploring, lingering in the downy soft hair at the nape of Jensen’s neck, the funny shape of his ears that’s somehow endearing, the pout of his lower lip. Jensen’s lips are fascinating, and it’s the first time Jared’s ever been inclined to really acknowledge a person’s mouth. The full curve of his lip, perfectly straight philtrum leading to pink skin, it’s fascinating to Jared, and he can’t stop staring at it, can’t stop returning to trace it, slightly chapped skin under his fingertips. 

Jensen keeps his eyes closed throughout all this, letting Jared explore where he wants. Despite his overabundance of curiosity, Jared does not stray any further than Jensen had, hands probing along the bulging tendon and muscle where the meat of Jensen’s shoulder meets his neck. 

Jared finishes, withdraws his hands slowly, brushing against Jensen’s lips once more as he does so, and Jensen’s eyelids flutter open, look in his eyes glazed. He licks his lips, and Jared stares.

Then the moment breaks, just like that, Jensen stands and walks a fair distance away, far out of reach from Jared. 

“Are we good here?” he asks, smoothing his hair flat, avoiding Jared’s gaze.

Wait…what?

The change in Jensen’s countenance is instantaneous and confusing. He’d been so pliant under Jared’s touch, relaxed and anticipatory. What had changed? The firm exterior is back, and it’s clear without asking that they’re done. It’s a little awkward, Jared isn’t quite sure how to say good bye or even begin to guess if Jensen ever wants to see him again. He backs up, posture stilted. Maybe he can just sneak out and they’ll both forget he was ever there. 

“Tomorrow? Same time?” Jensen isn’t looking at him, but Jared swears he’s not mistaking the hopeful tone in his voice. “You can pick the music.”

He could be wrong, but it sounds like Jensen’s smiling. 

Jared’s palm tingles. 

***

“No offense but, you really need to get some dusting done up here.” Jared’s groping along the top of the book shelf for a new c.d. he doesn’t recognize. 

He’s hoping for something better than what he was stuck with over the weekend. Jensen had described the singer--Taylor Swift, according to the curly-cue script on the front of the album--as ‘not even worth a single listen of the album’. Of course Jared had taken it home despite Jensen’s warnings. But Jensen had been right. The singer was whiny and the songs lacked soul of any kind. Jared barely made it through one cycle of the album before he turned it off, grudgingly admitting that Jensen was right, again. 

But then, Jensen is right about a lot of things. Jensen knows a lot of things. They’ve spent the last two weeks or so switching off between reading and listening to music. There is no plan to the process, it just sort of happens, each activity revolving depending on what sort of mood Jensen is in, what sort of mood Jared is in. 

Sometimes Jensen will brush a singular finger along the pulse in Jared’s wrist, and that’s it for the day. Other times he holds Jared’s face between his hands like he did the first time they did this, loud music eliminating any sound between them, fingers reacquainting themselves with Jared’s face and Jared basks in it, a cat purring in the morning glow of sunlight, completely smitten.

It still scares him, and getting into the physical habit of removing his gloves without panicking instantly is a change that he’s unused to. It takes a while, sometimes a subtle reminder or pointed look from Jensen, but Jared slowly starts taking off his gloves when indoors, when with Jensen. It turns out to be a lot more liberating than he’d expected. 

When Jared isn’t touching, he is listening, when he isn’t listening he is reading, when he isn’t reading he is drawing. The four things interchange within his routine, and it’s nice. There’s no listlessness about his life in the way there used to be. School’s still a bitch and Jeff is still a Nazi who likes his house spic and span, but Jared has free time to do pretty much whatever he wants. 

And everything he wants has to do with the guy standing across the room, polishing a record. 

“Hey,” Jensen snaps in response to Jared’s remark. “I have a system.”

“Yeah well, the system is messy.” Jared cranes his neck, tiptoes closer to the shelf, searching.

“No one asked your opinion.” 

Jared laughs in response, fading off as his hand hits something solid in the farthest corner of the shelf. He pulls it out slowly, careful as he always is with these books and c.d’s. It’s funny how short of a time it took, to get how valuable these items are, how fragile. Drop a c.d. a few decades ago, you could just buy another one. Drop a c.d. now, you might never hear the song again.

But this thing, incidentally, does not turn out to be a c.d., or a book. The tape is rectangular, much like an 8-track, and Jared would ask to play it but it’s too big to be an 8-track; bulky, thick. 

“What’s this?” He turns, holds it out for Jensen to see. 

“That, I’m pretty sure is a movie,” Jensen answers, setting down the polish and pacing over. “To be honest, I’ve never exactly seen it. Stole it a few years back when I was a Snatcher, found it in an old Elementary school we were cleaning out.”

He leans over Jared, brushing fingers along Jared’s bare wrists and Jared shivers. They’ve been doing this--light contact here and there--for days now, and still it feels brand new to Jared every time, sparks straight to his skin. 

With Jensen’s hands over his, Jared slips his finger under the cover and slides the videotape out. There’s a singular neon sticker on the edge, with neat print patterned letters that read ‘Pocahontas’.

“Why haven’t you watched this before?” Jared asks, curiosity spiking as he runs his hands over the tape.

“I don’t have the means,” Jensen replies. “You can’t afford a TV on a construction worker’s salary. And even if I could, there’s no use for TVs these days as it is, just news and law updates. I hear enough of that at work.”

“Yeah but if you could. Watch this, I mean.” Jared gnaws his lip, mind working quickly. “Would you?”

Jensen ponders. “I suppose. Though I can’t really say I expect any sort of movie called Pocahontas to be any good, but you never know, right?”

“Any movie is a good movie,” Jared corrects him. “There’s probably only a handful of these left in the world, right?”

Just a handful, and Jared’s holding one of them.

“More likely than not.” Jensen takes the tape, examining it closely. “Movies were the first things to go, from what I’ve heard. Too much physical contact in film. No formality, no space.”

“So.” The gears in Jared’s head start to turn. “If, hypothetically speaking, I were to tell you I have a video tape player slash TV in my house...would you want to watch it?”

“At your house? No playing squatter?” Jensen smirks.

Not necessarily Jared’s house. “I live with my Guardian, for money purposes, you know, school and all.” He doesn’t mention who his Guardian happens to be, nor what particular level of schooling he’s in. But what Jensen doesn't know won’t hurt him. And that’s good enough for Jared. 

“Yes, and my house, no squatting necessary. Does tomorrow sound good? I mean,” he adds hastily, “if you want.”

Jensen chuckles, looking at Jared. “If you want. I’m just here to tag along.”

Jared will have to be careful. The last thing he wants is for Jeff to be home, because that would be literally walking Jensen straight into the lion’s den. There’s also the tiny detail of Jared’s real age, something he definitely lied about to Jensen’s face. It’s a risk, bringing Jensen over, but Jared wants Jensen around, for as long as he can possibly manage, and maybe even more. Wants to show Jensen a bit of his own world, even if it’s an empty one, a lie of one. 

“Tomorrow then.” Jared smiles. “It’s a date.”

He’s not quite sure he knows the exact meaning of the phrase, quoting it from one of the books he’d started just last night. The book hadn’t been all that enjoyable, much like Taylor Swift in that sense, but he remembers one of the characters talking to a girl he thought was pretty and asking her to the movies. And when she reluctantly said yes, the boy had said, “Good. Then it’s date.” 

It seemed fitting for the moment, because he was a boy. And sometimes he thought Jensen was pretty, especially when he touched him. 

A date with Jensen. 

He goes back to fussing about in the dust so he can hide his grin.

***

"You ready?" Jared snaps open the case at Jensen’s confirming nod, vibrating with excitement and fiddling with the volume. It takes a few minutes, fingers clumsy over the TV buttons as he adjusts everything and figures out which direction he’s supposed to put the tape in, tapping his foot in wait and watching Jensen out of the corner of his eye.

It was obvious the second that Jared unlocked the door to his house that Jensen was uncomfortable. Not that Jared blamed him, he himself rarely felt comfortable in this house. Yet Jared was able to lounge and poke about Jensen’s house without hesitation these days, and they spent enough time in each other’s company that Jared could easily navigate his way around. He wanted Jensen to feel that same familiarity with his house, even if that meant sneaking Jensen in whenever Jeff was at work. 

Jensen had ducked into the foyer and looked genuinely shocked at the sheer size of the house, slightly intimidating in its austere opulence. He hasn’t said much since they came in, Jared leading him downstairs into the den complete with a small used TV and couch cushions and multiple books of law, mostly looking around quietly, letting Jared rattle off navigation to the other rooms in the house. 

But now they’re here and Jared’s ready to start the movie and Jensen’s still walking around the perimeter of the room. He looks out of place, Jared decides, glancing over at Jensen as he stands, looking out the window that shows the base of the driveway. Jensen’s got bracelets and freckles and golden streaks in his light brown hair and little pieces of him that are unique, a little bit decorative, and they clash with these blank white walls and one-colored book shelves and patternless carpets. 

Jared would be lying if he said he doesn’t enjoy that clash a lot. 

“Nice place,” Jensen whistles, running his hands along the sofa like he’s never seen such expensive things. “God you must hate my apartment, living in this palace.”

“Hardly,” Jared scoffs, feeling embarrassed at the nice furniture and spotless windows for no reason. Money is in high supply when your Guardian earns Top Salary at the station and catches America’s Most Wanted for a living, but Jared’s never hated Jensen’s place. Most days he prefers it, the tight space and covered walls. Jensen’s place is stuffed chock full of things that are homey and worn. Jared’s lived in this house his whole life and he still doesn’t feel comfortable, tiptoes through the hallways most days and dislikes the blank white walls. Jensen’s place sounds like Jensen, full of the things he likes and reverberates that feel. Jared’s house echoes, and some days it doesn’t even feel like a home.

The tape clicks in the slot and a whirring picks up as the screen goes to black and begins to show credits and commercials. He turns back to Jensen, who is staring at the bookshelves of Law Books. There’s a hungry look in his eyes as he runs his fingers along the row of spines, eager. “Are these yours?”

“My Guardian’s.” A queasy feeling squirms alive and Jared does his best to distract Jensen from looking too closely. He’s just starting to narrow his eyes and actually read the spine of one with suspicious eyes when Jared interjects, “Here we go!”

Jensen steps back from the books, as if he’d like to stay, but settles for a shrug. 

"We should turn the lights off," he suggests casually, glancing furtively at Jared and Jared’s hand slips for a second, the remote clattering to the tiled floor loudly. Jensen grins and Jared hurriedly turns off the lights off, groping his way in the dim lighting toward the couch and plopping onto the cushions, Jensen doing the same, albeit the slightest bit stiffly.

“Comfortable?”

“Designer leather couch soft as a cloud?” Jensen quips. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

Jared opens his mouth to ask if Jensen wants something to eat or drink but before he can, the words rise and militant drums kick in on the speakers, a flock of gulls flying askance on the screen and Jared squawks in surprise, mouth open in a wide smile. He grabs Jensen’s sleeve for a split second, but Jensen gives him an ‘are you insane?’ look and he lets go just as quickly, jittery with anticipation. 

The opening scene is a ship yard, more than five hundred years old. Jared has no idea what to expect, barely letting his back touch the sofa as he watches. Another line of drums kicks in and then voices, a chorus of men singing about the year sixteen hundred seven and Jared is gone, so, so gone. 

And Pocahontas begins. 

It's incredible. Jared wants to find a dictionary and find a better word because the movie is absolutely fantastic and mind blowing and it’s barely five minutes in. By ten minutes in he’s already grabbed Jensen’s sleeve three times and nearly leapt off the couch in excitement. He can’t help it. It’s the most captivating thing Jared’s ever seen. Every detail is hand drawn, meticulously so, sharp lines and curves structuring each character to gesture and make faces just like regular humans. The screen is constantly in motion, bright flashes of color, brilliant shades of oranges and purples and blues that fade into deeper tones that mix and blend. There’s a waterfall scene and a dark forest and wide landscapes and it’s all so colorful that it easily becomes a place that Jared wants to visit right away. The characters laugh, smile, sing, and it’s the most unbelievable thing Jared has ever seen. Ever. 

Chad would love this. Chad would love a lot of things about Jared’s activities as of late. 

By the time they meet Pocahontas, Jared is already smitten. He can’t put his finger on what he likes about her, her flowing hair or her curiosity or the fact that she took her canoe down a waterfall, but she’s familiar to Jared, like an old friend that he simply understands with one glance. 

Pocahontas spends the entire movie breaking the laws her father sets for her, brave and fearless and curious in a way that Jared empathizes with only too well. He likes that Pocahontas doesn't wear gloves. He likes that she sneaks around and climbs trees. And even though she’s two dimensional she’s beautiful, unapologetically so, bare legs and arms and Jared wants to be her friend, silly as that sounds. 

A sudden clearing of a throat beside him is what finally rouses Jared back to reality, already a sizeable chunk of time into the film and he realizes that he's completely forgotten about the body beside him. He turns slightly to apologize, only to find that Jensen is not even watching the movie, eyes resting on Jared as he crosses his arms over his chest.

"What is it?" Jared’s question is overlapped by Grandmother Willow snapping at the chattering woodland creatures to be quiet. 

"You're really getting a kick out of this, aren't you?" Jensen asks, lips twitching with amusement.

"I mean, it's got a talking tree," Jared says by way of explanation, waving his arm wildly at the screen. "And they're singing. The talking tree is singing."

Jensen laughs, and the sound fills Jared's ears and obliterates any other noise. It's different than his regular voice, pitched higher and clear as a bell and it’s a song all on its own. It’s the first time Jensen’s genuinely laughed and Jared feels like a little boy with a butterfly net, chasing a monarch through summer fields like he’d like to catch that laugh, for however a fleeting moment. 

"What's so funny?" Jared keeps one eye on the movie and the other Jensen, torn between the laughing smile and the singing Grandmother Willow.

"You." Jensen's breath hiccups and wheezes in his throat and Jared wishes that laugh were a track on one of the mixes he has stuffed in the bottom of his sock drawer. Because then he could listen to it on repeat. "You look like a kid in a candy store. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone so excited by anything in my entire life."

"Right." A blush trickles up Jared's neck and now he does turn back to the movie, feeling like an idiot. 

Suddenly he’s seven years old again and Mrs. Litman is whispering to his parents that Yes, Jared is a very sweet and intelligent boy but sometimes his overabundant emotions distract and disturb the other children. Especially when he gets excited about things like Art Time or Math, he claps his gloved hands together. Also he cried openly on the playground last week and would Jeff and Hilarie like a Psychiatrist’s Referral so they can put Jared on medication so he mellows out?

He tries to rein it in, tries not to react to the movie and not give Jensen any ammunition for further mockery, but it’s impossible. As long as Jared has been able to walk and talk he has felt things. He’s never been able to explain it, the fierce attachment to small things and big things that sometimes leaves him gasping. 

Jared’s gotten better at not expressing that emotion, not laughing at certain times or not stopping to help someone who could use it. He fights the instinct every day to reach out to others, to care about them. Fights the instinct tooth and nail and hides it behind warm knitted gloves and a forced smile. 

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. 

And here, seated on the couch with Jensen, relaxed and under the scrutiny of no one but Jensen and his wry smile, Jared lets go just a little bit, lets that instinct run rampant and it’s fun. More fun than he’s had in years, easily the most exciting hour and a half of Jared's life, the colors hypnotic and every single plot twist impossible to not gasp or laugh at. He laughs at the raccoon and hummingbird that follow Pocahontas, gasps when John Smith almost shoots Pocahontas. Everything is fresh and unfamiliar and unknown and Jared relishes the feeling, transfixed.

It’s not until Pocahontas and John Smith kiss that things change, just slightly. He watches and inhales sharply as she puts her arms around his neck and their lips touch on the screen, right in front of them clear as day, and Jared tenses, suddenly so on edge that the hair on the back of his neck prickles. 

Not to say he wasn’t expecting it, but it still winds him up, the press of their bodies right there on the small screen. He doesn’t realize that his hands are clenched until he’s gone and engraved little white crescent moons onto his palm, marks of habit, marks of fear, and marks of trying to get over both. 

He’s all of five seconds away from making an excuse to get a glass of water or run to the bathroom, something to get rid of the sensation of wrongness and habit locking his joints tight like a linchpin, when Jensen's hand slips against and into Jared's. 

He startles, because what is Jensen doing? They’d held hands before, but it was purely on designated Touching Time, behind locked doors with music blasting. Granted, the TV volume is blaring and the room is dark and there’s no one else around. But Jensen doesn’t look at him this time, eyes locked on the characters embracing and Jared watches too. He doesn’t move, doesn’t get up to leave, and when Jensen squeezes his hand lightly, caresses the back of his hand with his thumb, Jared relaxes. He’s not sure how, but the squeezes communicates a whisper that Jensen doesn’t voice aloud, the sort of thing he silently tells Jared when they’re alone in Jensen’s apartment together. 

It's okay. They're okay. Nothing to be afraid of.

Another squeeze.

It's just a movie. 

But it feels real to Jared, or something that he can relate to, at least. His heart is pounding as the kiss goes on. They’re in danger and at any minute they can get caught. Any second. Yeah, Jared can sure as hell relate. 

They do get caught, they do get punished, and someone gets caught in the crossfire. Pocahontas and John Smith had broken the rules and someone had to pay. Kokoum dies in the movie and Pocahontas screams ‘You killed him!’ and Jared clings to Jensen's hand, and he doesn't even realize that he's unconsciously shifted closer to Jensen until he feels the warmth of Jensen's leg pressed against his. 

And somehow, it's comforting. Were it anyone else Jared would turn the movie off in a heartbeat and get out of there as fast as he possibly can, because there is some bastard child of trepidation and exhilaration rising in the back of his throat like bile. But Jensen isn't judging him for watching this, for seeing this and for being afraid, or for wanting to stay, and Jared’s never been so grateful before in his life. 

The movie goes on, Jared intent and gazing at the television with rapt attention like he'll die if he stops watching. Jensen's with him every step of the way, light squeezes and caresses over the back of his hand, and it holds Jared together. He’s never felt so engrossed in something moving across the screen, can’t remember the last time he even paid attention so adamantly. The news reels they watch at school and the documentaries are dull, colorless, bland. The people don’t smile or sing or go on adventures. They’re nothing like this.

It continues on, battles and shouts and gunshots sounding and Jared is still throughout it all, emotion welling in him at every twist and turn of plot. It peaks when Pocahontas says goodbye to John Smith, the score of the music rising to a crescendo as she sprints through the forest after him and Jared thinks she’s going to jump onto the boat, find a way to go with him. He clutches Jensen’s hand and thinks, ‘C’mon, Pocahontas run’. 

But she doesn’t. She stands on the cliff and she watches John Smith leave.

The screen fades to black.

Jared's entranced, waiting for the next scene of the movie to start until the credits roll, his heart hammering and eyes staring at the black screen flashing names. Nothing else happens.

That’s it? That’s the end? He stares for a few more seconds, then gets up from the couch noiselessly and ejects the tape from the player, sitting back down and feels every muscle in his neck tense as he hands it back over to Jensen because no. No. 

“Are you okay?” Jensen asks.

No.

"They didn't get to be together," he says disbelievingly, and his hand is sweaty and warm from where Jensen was holding it. He swings toward Jensen, feeling childish and not even caring. "That's it? That’s the whole movie? They stopped the war and saved everyone and made peace just so John Smith could go back to England and leave Pocahontas behind and that was it? That's bullshit!"

An odd look steals over Jensen's face as he listens. "I mean, it's realistic when you think about it. Stories rarely end happily. They broke the law, there was bound to be collateral."

"But," Jared sputters, "but he left her."

Jared isn't sure why he's so upset. But he is. He feels cheated, duped, he wants to file a complaint with whoever the fuck made that movie because it’s bullshit. He'd just watched ninety minutes of pure joy and crimsons and deep blues and sharp lines and it didn't end happily. What the fuck.

"I thought this was a children's movie. Didn’t you say you found this in a storage space for an elementary school?" Jared picks up again after a few seconds of fuming, "I thought children's stories were supposed to be happy. I’m blaming you for this."

"If you look at it logically, the ending was happy," Jensen reasons, stretching an arm out along the back of the sofa, more comfortable than he’d been when he first entered the room. "He went back to England to get better and she stayed with her people to keep them safe. They survived. That’s plenty happy."

It’s like Jensen is missing the entire point of the movie. How does he not get it? 

Maybe Jared’s being over analytical or maybe Jensen’s actually an idiot, but for whatever reason Jared scoffs, “Yeah, they lived, but they weren’t happy. John Smith loved Pocahontas, and she loved him! I mean, yeah, they survived but...” he trails off, stares at the incandescent blue of the TV screen and asks the only question he has. "What's the point of that if they're not together?" 

Maybe it’s a stupid thing to say, because that’s the kind of thinking that can get him into shit loads of trouble and easily get him skinned. But Jared’s starting to get and understand certain things that he didn’t before. Which might explain why he’s so upset right now. 

Why would you care for someone only to leave them? Did you even care for them in the first place? Did you even care for them at all? 

Jared fidgets with these thoughts as Jensen crosses his legs and sinks further back into the sofa, regarding Jared thoughtfully. "Huh. I guess I never thought of it that way."

"Yeah well neither did John Smith and Pocahontas." Jared sulks. "Idiots."

Jared feels put out, cheated, and sits back down on the couch with a huff. He’d spent an hour and a half gripping Jensen’s hand like he was going to tear it off and biting his lip and gnawing at his fingernails and for what? To watch the two main characters go back to the beginning exactly where they had started from? It was infuriating. It was irritating. And it was sad. 

He thinks Jensen’s going to laugh at him again for how pouty he’s being, but he doesn’t, oddly.

"That's life, Jared. You don't really get a choice in who you have to leave, because who you are and what you have to do to survive sort of takes precedence over that." His face is passive, but the edges of his lips are tight and his laugh now slightly sharp. "Makes sense, don't you think?'

"No." Jared lifts his leg and tucks it against himself. "Not really. That whole duty and honor thing is crap because what's the point of surviving if you're not even happy?"

"You're not a big fan of surviving?"

"No, I just prefer living." He stops, and then asks, albeit a little defensively, “And what about you? It’s not like you’re being all that safe…isn’t that what you’re doing? Living?”

There’s a hard quirk to Jensen’s mouth and the planes of his face shift again, impossible for Jared to read. “No. I’m surviving.”

Surviving, Jensen is surviving. Jensen, who lives life on the brink of self destruction, somewhere between the lines of Dealers and General Law Breakers. Jensen, who has a whole wall in his room dedicated to beautiful things that he genuinely enjoys. Jared doesn’t get how the reckless heart he sees could simply be surviving, not when he’s so full of life, fills Jared with it too. It doesn’t compute right in his head, but he doesn’t get to inquire because Jensen’s shifting expressions again, changing the subject on a dime. 

"But you liked the movie?" Jensen looks hopefully over at Jared, not laughing and not poking fun of Jared’s reaction. "Bullshit ending aside?" 

Jared bites his lip around a grin despite himself. "I loved it! Honestly my favorite movie ever. Well, only movie ever. Do you have any others?"

"I’m not sure. Possibly. I'll have to check the shelves," Jensen replies insouciantly, and Jared cheers, grinning stupidly because this whole breaking the law thing is turning out to be a lot more fun than he had anticipated.

They sit like that on the couch, picking apart the bits and pieces of the film (Jensen found the musical scoring to be really beautiful, while Jared was hung up on the color scheme and artistic spectrum) and bickering and arguing over who was the better side character and what plot twist was more surprising. Time slips by just as quickly as it did when they were watching the movie, and Jared’s reveling in the way Jensen talks, eyes bright and expressive and hands still where Jared is all ebullient gestures. They look at each other, Jared crowding into Jensen’s personal space until their knees and arms are knocking together on the couch, but Jensen lets him and, if anything, encourages it, settles his arm back to drift a few inches behind Jared’s head and they’re close. Jared doesn’t even glance at the clock or wonder how much time actually passes, wrapped up in a heated post-movie-watching discussion that he might not ever tire of, not with the way Jensen argues.

“I’m sorry but you do not jump off a waterfall and survive the dive.” Jared’s elbowing Jensen as he says this but Jensen retaliates with a harmless jab in between Jared’s ribs. They poke and prod and play. Playing. Jared tucks that sensation in his pocket because he hasn’t felt it since two summers ago, stretched out on an open road with a boy who burned like a roman candle. 

He’s distracted enough that he doesn’t even hear the tell-tale sound of the car pulling into the driveway, doesn’t notice that someone’s at the door until the keys are turning in the lock. 

In an instant Jared is up and cursing up a storm, practically jumping across the room in an effort to get significant amounts of distance between himself and the couch's occupant as he yanks his gloves out of his pockets and shoves them on. 

He’d forgotten, totally lost track of time and forgotten what day it was and that Jeff gets off early on Saturdays. He’d forgotten, and he’s got to improvise something and quick before everything comes crashing down. 

"What is it?" Jensen asks, voice low and body tensed to run, but where to Jared has no idea. 

The den has only one entrance, no closets to hide in and the sole window is barred over but it doesn't matter anyway, because Jeff is coming down the hallway and calling, "I hope you're okay with leftovers, Jared. Work was a bitch today, there's no way I can cook so much as a glass of juice."

Fuck. Fuckfuckfuckfuckshitfuck.

Jensen glances sharply at Jared and, standing up quickly, mouths, "What’s wrong?" but Jared doesn't need to answer because Jeff is rounding the corner, six feet and five inches of decked to the nines police officer and Jared knows the second Jensen sees him that Jensen knows exactly who he is. Newspapers, billboards, bus stop advertisements for the law, somewhere, but Jared knows Jensen recognizes him in the way he freezes, absolutely rooted to the spot, hands shoved in his pockets.

Jeff stills, dark eyes flicking back and forth between his Charge and the stranger in his house and the blue screen on the TV. 

There’s a solid moment where Jared considers that Jeff might actually just pull out his gun and start shooting, but with one look at Jared and the notable distance between he and Jensen, Jeff settles slightly, throws his shoulders back and eases away from his gun holster. Nevertheless, his voice is dark when he addresses Jared, “I wasn’t aware we were having company.” 

"Jeff!" Jared manages to squeak, attempting every sense of demure and innocent that he can muster. "Last minute assignment, sorry, I wasn’t able to give you notice! This is Jensen. My history project partner from school. We were watching a newsreel," he pipes, as Jeff’s eyes narrow at the glowing television screen, “you know, for our project.”

“He’s in the same grade as you?” Jeff asks, grim set to his mouth that might be a smile and might be a frown. 

School is the only alibi he figured Jeff wouldn’t question, but the minute Jeff says ‘grade’ Jared knows he is well and truly screwed. They don’t have ‘grades’ in college; they’re called ‘years’. He barely glances at Jensen, but he senses more than sees the way Jensen’s jaw muscle twitches. 

The fake smile threatens to crack his face but he keeps it in place as he finishes introductions. "Jensen, this is my Guardian. Police Chief Jeffery Morgan. Jeff, this is my friend, Jensen."

The word 'friend' draws Jeff's gaze to Jared and though he can't exactly read Jeff's mind, he can see the mix of relief and concern and shock written in the tightening of Jeff's mouth and it’s suddenly painfully obvious how worried Jeff had been about Jared. Jared hates to be the one who put the worry there in the first place. It’s clear Jeff’s been holding it in for months now because he looks practically smug with relief at the word ‘friend’. There’s a telltale widening of eyes and quirk of his lips before he turns with a stony face that he directs toward their guest. 

"Nice to meet you, Sir." Jensen dips his head in the proper courtesy, holds his gaze to the floor for three seconds. His manners are impeccable, but not once does he look at Jared.

Jeff returns the gesture, sizing Jensen up. Even in their giant house Jeff stands tall, the sullen navy lines of his uniform impeccably pressed. 

“I hope you don’t mind me being here,” Jensen simpers, and goddamn if he isn’t the greatest charmer Jared’s ever seen, hands tucked in his pockets and foot scuffing bashfully at the floor. Jared’s not entirely sure it’s enough to fool Jeff, but the effort is still impressive, considering the fact that Jensen looks nothing like a seventeen year old kid should look. 

"Well, would you like to have a bite to eat?" Jeff begins to shrug off his coat, and though he’s not entirely relaxed Jared can tell he’s trying. It’s force of habit, that stiffness. That and the fact that they haven’t had a guest in their house in almost a year now. His Guardian’s job is not an easy one, Jared knows this, but the fact that Jeff is making an active effort to talk to and engage with Jensen makes Jared want to cheer for the second time today. "I know it's not entirely proper, but I'm Sherriff in these here parts so I think we can make an exception." His face is open and genial, there’s even a joke, and Jared hasn't seen that sort of face in so long he’s smiling back. "We've got some cold pizza that's to die for."

For a millisecond Jensen looks like he’s actually going to say yes, but Jared spots that twitch in his jaw again and he remembers that he’s screwed and isn’t surprised when Jensen says, “I appreciate the invitation, but uh, my Guardians probably want me to get home about now. Curfew and all that.”

“You a junior?” Jeff is sizing him up again, measuring the width of Jensen’s shoulders in ratio with the line of five o clock shadow and his height and Jared hopes to god he doesn’t ask for a valid ID.

“Senior, Sir.” Jensen’s reply comes immediately, almost rehearsed. “Had to retake some classes after my family relocated to the city. I’m new around here.”

Jeff nods, like it’s good enough for him, and it’s weird to Jared, seeing these two men standing face to face; one the personification of the law, the other the outright defiance of it. 

Jeff looks like he wants to ask something else, maybe for Jensen’s exact age or his last name, but he seems to decide against it, shrugging his massive shoulders and stepping back to the door.

“Well, it was nice meeting you, Jensen.” Jeff inclines his head again. “Maybe next time, yeah?”

“Yes sir, most definitely.” Jensen smiles, all charm and earnestness, but it’s strained, the set to his shoulders stiff and the way his hands are shoved in his pockets screaming discomfort. To Jeff it probably just looks like a nervous teenage boy meeting the Police Chief of the City. To Jared it’s something else entirely.

Jeff walks out of the room, and both of them stand listening as the echo of his footsteps fade to the end of the hallway and up the stairs and his bedroom door closes. Jensen doesn’t move, just stands there as the silence gapes between them and Jared thinks he should apologize for something, apologize for everything. 

But Jensen beats him to the punch, just like he always does.

“You’re in high school.” His voice is flat, face placid. Ten minutes ago his knee was pressed to Jared’s knee and his fingers were brushing Jared’s shoulder and now he’s a solid wall, untouchable, unapproachable. 

“I—yes.”

“Your Guardian is the Police Chief of the city, specifically in the division of crime that catches people like me.”

Jared winces, and nods again. 

“Right.” That flat tone tells Jared nothing about what Jensen could possibly be thinking right now, but he doesn’t dare ask. 

It’s clear a moment later though, as Jensen grabs the movie from Jared’s hands, turns on his heel sharply and snatches up his car keys, that all Jensen is thinking is fuck off

Long strides and he’s up the stairs, already at the door, Jared tottering after him and clutching the movie in his hand and Jared’s not sure what Jensen is more mad about, the lies, or the truth, and he’s not sure he wants to know.

Jensen wheels around at the door, bare hand locked on the knob in a way that may or may not leave finger prints. Jared’s going to have to clean it. 

“Do me a favor,” Jensen hisses, looking slightly more than pissed, “and don’t come to my apartment again. I knew this was a bad idea from the start, but now, it’s a terrible one. So do us both a favor before we get killed and have a little self-preservation, Jared. Stay away from me. Stay away from this.”

“Jensen.” He reaches to tug on Jensen’s sleeve, his elbow, something, to keep Jensen here. He wants to rewind the last ten minutes and go back to the crowded conversation where it felt like he was falling into Jensen. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think that Jeff would—“

But Jensen shakes him off, face pinched. “Exactly. You didn’t think. Which proves you can’t possibly handle the consequences of whatever it was you were hoping to get involved in. You can’t keep it up because you’ll pull some dumbass move like this, bringing me to your house without warning me, and get yourself killed.”

“I know the risks, we’ve been through this,” Jared starts to argue back, his voice barely above a whisper but it sounds like he’s screaming, the harsh whoosh of his vocal chords echoing in the foyer like a ghost rattling its chains. “I should have told you the truth from the start, I know that but--”

“Go do your homework, Jared. Don’t want to upset Officer Morgan,” Jensen cuts him off for the final time, every possible tone of contempt written into his voice and Jared backs off immediately, tail tucked between his legs because fuck he screwed up. He really, really, really screwed up. 

The door closes quietly on Jensen’s way out, all pretense of a friend going home to his Guardians, but it sounds like a slam to Jared. 

Chapter Text

 

Jared makes it a total of three days before he shows up at Jensen’s apartment, and even then he’s all but gnawed his finger to stubs with anxiety. He blew it. He had one thing going, one good thing that was making everything just a little bit more bearable and then he blew it. 

By the time he reaches day three Jared’s listened to the c.d.’s Jensen gave him a total of twelve times, memorized the lyrics inside and out and now that he’s got them down pat he’s feeling stubborn and reckless.

So of course he goes to Jensen’s place. Of course he goes up to the door after school and bangs and bangs until Jensen whips the door open and stares at Jared like he’s actually lost his mind and of course Jared barrels past him. Of course. 

“Is there a particular reason why you’re here, Jared?” Jensen’s hands are wet, sudsy, he probably just finished washing dishes or scrubbing the floor. Jared tries not to stare.

“I know you called it quits, but I’m here to tell you that I don’t care.” Jared lifts his chin defiantly. “I get that I shouldn’t have lied to you about my age and who my Guardian is, I get that. But look,” Jared lifts his hands from his pockets, gloveless, offers them to Jensen as if they’re penance. “I’m seventeen, but eventually I’ll be eighteen. Soon I’ll be on my own, living on my own. Jeff won’t know about this, he hasn’t even suspected anything at this point.”

Jensen laughs, but it’s not that light and loud laughter Jared heard the other day. It’s harsh, bitter, and every shade of sarcastic. “Go home Jared. Go home before I’ve got to call the cops. Also known as your Guardian.”

“You wouldn’t.” Jared lifts his chin again, challenging because he won’t. He won’t back down, not when he’s so close to something that feels right and whole and like something Jared can slip into effortlessly. “You won’t call Jeff and you won’t report me.”

“Oh yeah? And why’s that?”

“Because I can handle it,” Jared replies. “Whatever things you think I’m too immature and stupid to deal with, just know that I can.”

“We’re not having this discussion.” Jensen holds the door open and gestures in the general direction of ‘out’. “Not only are you underage Jared, but you’re also the last person on this planet who should be breaking the law. And I’d rather prefer to keep the skin on my hands, or my brains off the floor.”

“It’s my choice,” Jared says, bending his knees like he can physically root himself to the linoleum tile of the tiny kitchen floor. “You had no problem touching me last week or the week before that!”

“Yeah well that was before I knew you were seventeen years old.”

“That doesn’t change the fact that I am mature enough to deal with the repercussions.”

“It’s not just about the repercussions Jared! It’s also about the fact that there’s a reason physical touch is outlawed. And you’re too young to deal with that fact.” Jensen stalks away to the bedroom.

“How do you know?” Jared asks, now following Jensen into his room, a dog on his heels and he won’t even be surprised if Jensen kicks out at him to get him away. “How do you know that I’m too young, Jensen? I seem to have been doing just fine up until now. You’re not going to sully my purity or whatever the hell it is you’re worried about.”

“You’re not listening to me,” Jensen repeats. “There is a reason you’re not allowed to touch, not allowed to be touched. I’ve had clients much older than you and even they couldn’t handle it. Touch isn’t just about holding hands with the lights on, Jared. It’s personal, it’s raw and it’s a lot more fucking deep than you think. It’s outlawed for a reason. And you can’t handle it.”

That sounds terrifying to Jared. Absolutely terrifying because he’s heard the horror stories of physical touch. Freshman year Human Anatomy they conducted a whole unit on the sensory organs, read pages and pages of textbook about how humans touch. And from what Jared learned from it, touch can be painful, even when you think it might feel good. So maybe Jensen’s got a point and maybe Jared won’t be able to handle it and maybe it’ll be too raw and too personal and sooner or later Jared will be back at square one.

But for now? He’s not going anywhere. Jensen thinks he can’t handle it? 

“Fine,” Jared acquiesces. “Then prove it.”

Jensen’s either going to physically remove Jared from his apartment or call the cops, he can tell in the way his jaw sets and the way he leans forward, poised on the balls of his feet with the intent of launching. 

And lunge Jensen does, but it’s not the sort of lunging Jared had in mind.

Jensen backs him against the doorframe, so quickly that he threatens to step on Jared’s toes but Jared keeps up, steps back and allows himself to be cornered. Jared bends like a wave, fitting into the creases of the door frame and Jensen crowds him, not touching him, never touching him, but invading his personal space in a way that shouldn’t be allowed. Isn’t allowed. 

Jared’s never breathed so hard and so fast in his life and he feels like he’s about to jump out of his own body he’s so aware of every subtle movement Jensen makes toward him, aware of every shift in muscle that Jared has to make himself to avoid touching.

But he wants to touch. God does he want to touch. But he also knows that the ball is in Jensen’s court and he’s going to make the moves now. 

“You don’t know what you’re doing,” Jensen mutters, breath a warm puff against Jared’s throat. Jared closes his eyes, leans away from Jensen because that’s what he’s supposed to be doing, but everything about Jensen is screaming don’t go don’t you dare go away lean forward just lean forward---. “You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.”

“Then show me,” Jared’s voice is shaking with the effort to stay calm. “Show me what it is that I can’t handle. 

“You’re just a kid.” Jensen leans back on his feet, leering. “You’re confused. You think this is something you want, but you have no idea about the other repercussions or-- ”

“’M not confused.” Jared says the words softly, but in the space between them he can still track the reaction in Jensen’s face as the words hit him, like Jared has already reached out and put hands on him. “I want this. Show me. Show me what I can’t handle.”

Jensen hesitates, and Jared takes the moment to lean in, just slightly, and Jensen’s already so close it’s barely any distance at all. He brushes their noses together, thinks it’s called an Eskimo kiss, something like that. Just that, the lightest brush of contact, and Jensen’s eyelashes flutter and it’s like staring into a green window pane, lights flickering on and off as Jensen blinks at him, decision rattling back and forth, in and around his pupils.

“Jared--” his voice is so soft, but Jared keeps leaning, because while this isn’t exactly an invitation it sure as hell isn’t a warning to stop. 

He tilts forward, the snow-drop tip of his nose meeting the lateral line of Jensen’s, their breaths mingling. It’s a thrill that he can’t ignore, each time he moves is another brush, another touch. And there. Just like that. In fifteen seconds flat he breaks the law. Again. He whispers, “Dammit Jensen, show me.” 

Then, just like that, maybe because of Jared’s proximity or maybe because Jared said his name, something feral sparks in Jensen’s eyes. Something dark and glinting and Jared feels his stomach drop as Jensen suddenly grabs Jared’s wrists and slams them against the door frame. Flattens himself against Jared so Jared feels every bit of him through his clothes. All hard curves and heat through his flannel jacket, which Jensen quickly removes and tosses to the floor. It’s the first time he’s felt another body against his own, and it’s amazing. Shock braids with pleasure and he’s stupefied with an overload of sensation. Because no one, no one in his entire life has been with him like this, leaned and pressed and curved against him like this. 

Jared tries to strain into the touch, writhes against Jensen because he wants Jensen to touch him goddammit, but Jensen’s got him pinned and he’s got nowhere to go. Trapped between Jensen and the door frame, and there’s no place else he’d rather be. 

There’s a lot of things Jared’s afraid of, lots of things that keep him awake at night and keep him from turning certain corners on the street and walking into certain places. He’s afraid of people and touch and the punishment of death and the punishment that comes before it. But now, here, where he should be most afraid, he’s not. 

He’s committing a crime and he’s not even scared. Scared he’ll get caught, sure. Scared someone will see him walking down the street and just know what happened. But he’s not scared of this, not scared of the way Jensen corners him against the door frame and growls, “You want me to show you? Fine. I’ll fucking show you.You want to take responsibility for this shit? Wanna be the big man, Jared? See if you can even keep up.”

Jared can keep up. Jared can do more than keep up. He’s going to prove it to Jensen’s smart ass face and he’s not going to stop trying to prove it until Jensen believes him. Jensen gives an extra squeeze to his wrists, a silent ‘stay right where you are’, and Jared doesn’t move, barely breathes as Jensen trails his fingertips down Jared’s arms, along the width of his shoulders to the narrow of his waist. 

“Your fingertips are one of the most sensitive points in your body. It’s easier to get blood drawn from your vein than from your finger, less painful. Fingers are the things that seek out and feel.”

Jensen’s tone is perfectly even as he states this, casual as if he were telling Jared what time of day it was, but his fingers have other ideas in mind, and before Jared can even wonder what Jensen’s going to do next, the fingers have reached the hem of Jared’s shirt and are now pulling insistently upward. 

There’s a brief instant of hesitation, where Jensen watches Jared’s every move for a sign of surrender, but Jared doesn’t budge, doesn’t flinch. So Jensen pulls the shirt upwards, fingertips grazing the bare skin of Jared’s stomach and rib cage every few inches or so and Jared suppresses shiver after tantalizing shiver at those milliseconds of contact, tries to cling to sanity but gets pushed further and further back by the way Jensen is talking to him, oil on silk. 

“Your fingers do the touching, yes,” Jensen continues, methodical, “but they aren’t the only things that can feel.” 

And then Jared’s shirt is yanked over his head, and he’s naked from the waist up, jeans slung low on his hips and he can’t even remember how they got so low in the first place. 

“You think you understand touching?” Jensen looks at him, takes in the bare sight before him and no one’s ever seen Jared like this, not since he was four years old and had to be given baths as a baby. Jensen may have glanced at Jared a few weeks ago when Jared had yanked off his shirt for a few brief seconds, but he’s outright staring now. “You think that because you’ve held hands means you’re an expert at this?”

Jensen makes a caustic sounding bark that might be a laugh and might be a scoff, but Jared isn’t really given the proper amount of time to discern between the two because Jensen’s reaching over his shoulders and yanking his own shirt over his head. 

He’s never seen another naked person before, no one legitimately shirtless, unless you count the bare-chested Native Americans in Pocahontas. But Jensen’s got miles of lean muscle beneath sun bronzed skin and it does something to Jared’s innards. Jensen steps forward and they’re so close

“So tell me, Jared,” Jensen breathes into his ear, the entirety of him, and Jared is unable to do anything. “You still want in on this?”

He can’t explain it, but there’s a twisting low in his abdomen that feels like he’s been punched, and he exhales around a sound that could be ‘yes’ and could be ‘Jensen’. He’s not entirely sure. 

Jensen closes the distance between them, puts them chest to chest and heart to heart, and Jared knows Jensen can feel his own rabbiting heartbeat, feel the flush that washes over Jared as the sensation of so much bare skin brushes against his own bare skin. It’s overwhelming, easily the strangest and most wonderful thing he’s ever felt.

“There are other ways in which you can touch.”

He demonstrates this by trailing his fingers Jared’s front, curling over the muscles of Jared’s stomach, playing at the thin strip of hair leading downwards into Jared’s jeans. 

“But it’s all about reaction and response,” Jensen’s watching Jared’s every reaction, and even though he’s trying so hard not to even move a muscle Jared’s eyes are slipping closed, reveling in the sensation of Jensen’s hands on him, Jensen’s chest against his. “When you think about it, you can touch and touch all you want. But you won’t get anything out of it unless you know the other person is enjoying it too.”

Jensen’s fingertips are pressing to the base of his spine, slipping over untouched skin and lining up each of Jared’s vertebrae like mallets on a xylophone. 

“Are you enjoying yourself Jared?” The oil and silk mixes with grit as Jensen’s voice takes on a possessive tone, darker and malleable and working its way into Jared’s ears like warm butter. 

Jared finally moves, hands quaking as they come up to settle on the small of Jensen’s back. The skin is smooth there, and with his palms he locates two dimples nestled in on either side of Jensen’s spine, pulls Jensen even closer and breathes back, “Yes.”

“Not scared?” Jensen looms over him like the big bad wolf, grin wide and almost too intense to look at. 

Jared shakes his head stubbornly, because he isn’t scared. He should be. The pounding from his heart should be abject terror pumping through his veins, not want. The openness of his shoulders should be closed, and flush on his skin modesty instead of desire. He isn’t scared. He’s touched.

“We’ll see,” Jensen skims his hands right up to Jared’s pectorals, pad of his index finger circling Jared’s nipple, “about that.”

Jared seizes, jaw clenching, eyes fluttering and he forgets how to breathe for a good half second until he forces himself to calm down and refrain from collapsing. His hands form into fists against the dimples of Jensen’s back and Jensen’s expression is hungry. There is no other word for it as he teases and rolls the sensitive bud of Jared’s flesh between his fingers. It feels different, somehow even more intense than the way Jensen was brushing over his sides and arms and his breath comes shallowly, but he still manages to open his eyes and stare Jensen down to say, “Do your absolute worst. Not scared.”

He grins, cheeky, and Jensen’s expression impossibly darkens further. It feels good to get a rise out of Jensen, to get anything out of Jensen, and Jared grins his victory out, triumphant, regardless of how very out of control he feels. 

There’s a whirring of motion and Jared feels the room spin and then he’s laid out on Jensen’s bed, unaware of how he managed to cross the room in such a short amount of time but it doesn’t really matter. Jensen pops a new record onto the machine and a slow and snazzy jazz picks up, plucking bass and tinkling piano. Jensen crawls toward Jared on the bed, his hips doing some absolutely strange slight sway that shouldn’t look as good as it does. 

They touch for hours, or so it seems, Jensen’s hands roving and plotting and coaxing small noises of assent from Jared’s vocal chords. He touches every square inch of Jared’s skin that he can get a hand on, stomach to nipples to shoulders to neck to face and then back to start over again. If Jensen’s fingers were pencils he’d have scribbled and marked out every line of Jared’s torso by now. He likes the thought that Jensen is drawing him, instead of trying to scare him off with every movement he makes against Jared’s skin, constantly watching Jared’s face to see if he’s retreating yet. 

Honestly, Jared doesn’t know whether Jensen is disappointed or impressed that he hasn’t. 

“You ready to stop yet?” Jensen’s voice is husky and Jared’s chest is covered in a sheen of sweat and they’re slipping against each other, Jensen’s hands scrabbling as they touch, nipples rubbing against one another and no. No, Jared’s not ready to stop yet, doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to stop.

“Could do this all day,” he responds, rib cage expanding against Jensen’s own. And he waits for the final blow, maybe the movement of Jensen’s fingers drifting to lower parts of his body, waits for the one thing that could scare him off. He wonders if it would scare him off, because honestly at this point he doesn’t even know. But Jensen doesn’t push it, keeps his hands above the waist and touches Jared’s chest, shoulders, back, like it’s the only skin he needs for now. 

He can tell he’s won with the way Jensen slows down, goes from touching torturously fast to stroking languidly. Jared feels warm and gooey, hypersensitive to Jensen’s every movement and delighting in this new sensation of his skin. It’s still his skin, he’s still got the same old scars and birthmarks and those same sparse freckles on his shoulders and that same mole on the left side of his nose. But suddenly it feels new, comfortable, the stiffness and awkwardness broken in and Jared suddenly fits like a glove into himself. Fits better than the gloves he’s supposed to wear. 

That single track record plays for the fifth or sixth or thirtieth time since they started, and Jared can shape his lips around the opening lyrics and smile, because he won. Jensen knows Jared’s won, sits up and pads over to the record, lifts the phonograph arm and allows the black disc to spin to a stop. Jared rolls over to his side, still partially unclothed, still totally cool with that. It’s the most himself he has felt in a while and yeah, he’s kind of smug about the fact that he won. 

Jensen’s quiet, the planes of his face flushed but he’s not giving Jared anything further as he walks over to the closet, pulls a sweater over his head. The muscles of his back twist under the skin and Jared stares unabashedly, feels an itch to grab a pencil but quells it immediately. Wrong place, wrong time. 

He thinks Jensen might just walk out of the room and continue with his evening, leave Jared to sneak out as he’s been doing the past month or so, but then, just as Jared is about to bend over the bed to gather his shirt up off the ground, Jensen says, “Think fast,” and tosses a c.d. onto Jared’s lap, then a book. 

“Tracks thirteen and seven are some good ones.” Jensen flips another record on, places the needle back on and this time loud guitars blast through the speakers. “And here’s your first dose of poetry. I’ve only got a few of those, so don’t lose it.”

Jared’s either missed the memo or is just having a hard time keeping up, but then Jensen offers him a small smile, and he looks positively pleased. 

“You’re…I can stay?” Jared nearly drops his shirt. 

If there’s something Jensen’s feeling other than amusement and grudging respect he’s not showing it. But Jared clearly showed that he was worth his salt, at least for the time being, kept up with every touch and stroke and pull Jensen threw at him and enjoyed the hell out of it too. 

“No.” Jared’s heart sinks, and he opens his mouth to argue but clams up, shoving his shirt on and pulling on his shoes and feeling like an utter idiot for coming here and doing this again only to be turned away yet again. It was utterly foolish to think Jensen would somehow just concede the notable age gap and the Mr. Law Enforcement Father Figure and all the other pertinent details just because Jared didn’t run home crying when he touched him. The c.d.’s and books are probably just souvenirs, a half hearted award with ‘You Tried’ stamped on the front. He wipes at sweat on the back of his hand and busies himself with tying his shoelaces, a chorus of stupidstupididiot ringing in his ears. 

He makes it half way to the door with his Loser’s trophies before he hears Jensen say, “But you can come back.”

Jared’s out the door before Jensen can change his mind and take it back. 

He pulls out the first c.d. on the walk home, sans track listing and lyric booklet just like all the other ones Jensen has given him. But this time it’s different. He’s got song recommendations, tracks Jensen told him to listen to. 

It takes all of ten seconds to scan the house and realize that Jeff is not home. He jams his headphones in his ears and skips straight to track thirteen, closes his eyes and stretches out on his bed, stretches out his new skin. 

It's a new dawn, it's a new day, 
it's a new life for me,
And I'm feelin' good


The song plays on repeat until he drifts off, and he sleeps harder than he has in months. 

***

Jared becomes more or less obsessed with Pocahontas--much to Jensen’s wry amusement--there’s no mistaking it. He steals the movie from Jensen’s shelves a total of three times over the next few weeks, tucking it in his bag and watching it once Jeff has fallen asleep, or called in to say he’ll be staying down at the Precinct for the night.

He can’t explain the fascination with the movie, because it goes beyond the aesthetic appeal and the catchy songs that he finds himself whistling while he’s showering or driving to school. Like most things in Jared’s life at the moment, it creeps under his skin at a steady constant push, and he doesn’t realize until the fourth time he reaches to grab it off Jensen’s shelf that he’s half in love with an inanimate object. As much as he enjoys the movie already, has already begun to memorize each scene, he wants to see more, wishes Jensen’s vast collection of wonderful things had more.

“Don’t you have any others?” he whines, sifting through the shelves once more to be sure.

“Huh?’ Jensen raises his head from where he sits, propped up against the headboard of his bed with a book in hand. He walks over, one ratty copy of The Sound and the Fury held loosely in his hand. “What are you looking for?”

“Movies,” Jared clarifies, lifting Pocahontas and turning it over gently in his hands. “You mentioned possibly having more but, I’ve pretty much scoured these shelves and haven’t found anything.”

Which isn’t entirely true. Jared had indeed scoured the shelves in search of another video or DVD to watch, and while those findings had proved unsuccessful, there were other findings worth note. Jensen has a subtle but organized filing system to all his books and albums collected over the years, and each time Jared has thumbed through the pages of a book or opened a c.d. case he’d found notes scribbled in the margins or track numbers circled in ink. Jensen’s got certain pages dog eared and alphabetized while others are highlighted, specific words or phrases sticking out, and each day Jared spends delving through Jensen’s files and collection is one more little bit of information he learns about Jensen. Jensen hates poetry but frequently circles sets of words within stanzas that have a sound and flow.

“Guess we’re out of luck then.” Jensen shrugs then, spying the movie in Jared’s arms. “Pocahontas? Again?”

“It’s not like I have any other options!” Jared defends. “The only other place I can even think that would have something as good as or like Pocahontas would be the warehouses.”

“Come again?” Jensen slides the book back on the shelf, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah, warehouses. Archives.” Jared shrugs, looking at the pretty cover for Pocahontas, wondering if in this world there are any more movies like this one that exist. “They’ve got them all over the place, you know? And from what Jeff has said about them, they’re chock full of everything Contraband. Books, art, movies, music, anything that’s of any illegal connotation, it’s in the warehouses.”

There’s a pause, and Jensen rotates around, leans back against the shelves with his arms crossed over his chest, slight arc of muscle bulging against the sleeves of his t-shirt and Jared tries and fails not to stare.

“Warehouses,” Jensen states disbelievingly.

Jared nods.

“You’re telling me that all that bullshit about the massive bonfires back when the laws were first instituted wasn't true?”

“From what the history books say, not entirely,” Jared answers. “Most books just disappeared, maybe people burned them, privately so they’d never be found out, I’m not sure. But Jeff’s always talking about the warehouses being a burden to the Government, because there’s so much stuff in them. And burning it all would cause a big ruckus with the environmental groups or something. The point is that somewhere there’s a whole slew of buildings with shelves just like yours. Only bigger.”

“Bigger?”

“Much bigger.” Jared doesn’t mean to talk it up, but there’s a look in Jensen’s eyes of keen interest and it’s one he so rarely sees that of course he has to keep it going, can’t be bothered to wonder why Jensen is so interested from the start. “Tons of this stuff just sitting on the shelves.” 

“There’re some security guards that keep things in order, but from the sounds of it, few people even know about the buildings. Or if they do they don’t care.”

Jared breaks their gaze to look back down at Pocahontas in his hands, already itching to run home and turn it on again, with or without Jensen. He might take The Sound and the Fury with him as well, when Jensen isn’t looking.

There’s a steadily growing stash of books and music he nicks from Jensen’s house that he keeps hidden under his mattress, only to come out when he’s positive Jeff isn’t around, only when he’s wide awake and unable to focus on anything but the pencil or book in his hand. Sometimes he’ll read a chapter and try to recreate a scene, roughly sketch what he imagines a Hobbit to look like, or the far off shores of Treasure Island. 

The walls in his head come down as each track plays and he draws, remembers the way that Jensen had touched him earlier, hands on the small of his back, sides of his face, framing the line of his throat. He likes it, likes the intimacy of quiet long nights with his sketchpad and Jensen’s music and Jensen’s books scattered around him, the lingering sensations of Jensen’s skin against his. 

“Where are these warehouses?” Jensen’s abrupt question is casual, nonchalant, but his eyes still hold keen interest.

“Down in the Capitol. There’s a couple dozen of them all clustered out right before the Capitol turns into the slums. Why?”

Jensen grins.

***

In the end, it’s totally Jensen’s idea.

Jared protests--naturally--claims that this particular ‘field trip’ is way too reckless and stupid, even for them. But Jensen’s like a dog chewing at stitches and Jared would be lying if he says he doesn’t feel the exact same. The promise of discovering another movie, something as good as Pocahontas, even better, is too alluring. And by the time Jared’s home they’ve made plans to break into an archived warehouse of illegal items and see what they can find.

Jared’s one condition to the field trip was that Jensen promise to wear gloves, instead of simply shoving his hands into his pockets like he does on most of their outings. He was hardly even surprised when Jensen pulled out a pair of fingerless gloves, if they could be called gloves at all, for all the actual skin they covered on Jensen’s hands. Jared would’ve protested but he knew that Jensen wouldn’t listen. If Jensen was going to wear gloves at the request of the system, it would be on his own terms, with his own personal twist. They were mostly pretense, as it was; Jensen’s silent little ‘fuck you’, but at least it was something. 

They hit the ground running the next day, taking the subway train and making it to the Capitol within a few hours, Jared tense and Jensen teasing the whole way there. The empty subway car is rickety, and their knees knock together and if Jensen notices the way the gloves on their hands match and overlap, he doesn’t say anything about it, smiling out at the blackness of the tunnel as they rocket underneath the city, two cups of coffee and a bagel shared between them.

The Capitol Building is embedded deep within the city, buildings so tightly interlocked they look connected, walls and windows numerous and compact. The city is its usual murky grey, smog from the public transportation interjecting a uniform sense of gloom. Illegal street graffiti marks certain sidewalks, old walls. The stuff must be decades old, faded. The faded pinks and purples and greens speak of a bustling city, teeming with life and people constantly in a rush to get somewhere, a place bursting at the seams with personality. 

It doesn’t look like that sort of city anymore.

“Let’s go.” Jensen leans out of the alleyway, two steps and he’ll be out of suburbia and into the metropolis. He starts to take those steps but Jared leaps out, panic nearly choking him as he jerks him back into the shadows.

“Are you crazy?” Jared hisses. “Are you trying to get caught? We can’t just go out there together!”

“Why not?”

“Well, for one, we’re together. That draws negative attention right off the bat. We need to stay far away from each other.”

Jensen rolls his eyes at Jared’s precaution. He doesn’t get it, and Jared wants to strangle him for a second because he’s not listening to him. You can get away with walking and talking down the street anywhere but here. Here is the center of distance and formality, and if Jensen doesn’t get that this field trip is going to be very over, very fast.

“Stay about ten feet behind me,” Jared instructs Jensen. “If any law enforcement approach either of us, we’ll separate, rendezvous back at your place.”

“You’re making this sound like it’s a secret mission.”

Jared blinks at Jensen. “I’m not just fucking around with this, Jensen. I’m serious. We could be killed.”

“Yeah, but we’ve been over this.” Jensen tips his head. “In fact, I vaguely recall giving this little speech to you a few weeks ago, so why the caution now of all times?”

And the answer, Jared swears on his life, comes just in that moment. The doors to the courthouse swing open as a short line of kids are brought out; two boys and a girl. Their faces are swollen and tear streaked, the girl can’t stop shaking violently and whimpering, but no one comforts a single one of them. They’re young, younger than Jared, but they’re being led right across the street to the Skinning Facility. 

Jeff himself leads the line of kids, and Jared shrinks back against the wall, holding his breath as if his Guardian will hear it. The square quiets as the kids, the rule breakers, cross the street, but no one stops to see the small procession, because this sort of thing happens every day--skinning, executions, commutes to the Rehabilitation centers--it’s just an ordinary day in this world.

Jensen’s face is stone as he watches the doors to the facility open and close behind them. He turns to Jared, and for a moment there’s such hostility in his expression that it takes Jared a second to realize it’s not directed at him. Lips pinched, nostrils flared, brows drawn together, it’s a quiet sort of hatred that has a story beneath it all, Jared can tell. He’s never figured that Jensen might hate this world as much as Jared does. Sure, his total disregard for the rules doesn’t exactly imply adoration, but Jared had always figured that Jensen just did it for the rush. He stares at Jensen for a moment as he silently fumes, unsure of what to do, but after only a few seconds Jensen’s passive mask slips down and over again, and Jared looks out at the pedestrians on the sidewalk, waits.

The Capitol workers are distinguishable by their impeccably pressed uniforms, the official silver embellishment on the cuffs of their gloves.

Everyone keeps a respectable distance, greeting by nod and generally avoiding eye contact. 


Everything about the Capitol is the same, chrome plating on the buildings that doesn’t even reflect light, reflections too dull to take actual shapes. The billboards, the architecture; all of it is linear, thin lines crisscrossing and creating symmetrical structures that stand only a few inches apart from one another, not touching. There are no arcs or round sweeps to be seen on the buildings. Phone booths and bus stops are covered with announcements, new changes in the laws, notices of curfews for teens, upgrades in security measures in certain buildings.


Everything is clean cut, tense. This is the heart of the city, and it’s barely living.

Jared steps out into the street, sensing Jensen trailing behind him, far off shadow at his heels.

***

They’re in one of the warehouses quicker than he expected, circling around a few times to make sure the nearby security guard is distracted. Jared dutifully nods when he passes Police in the street, praying that Jensen does the same. It doesn’t take much, just the right seconds of sparse traffic on the streets and the quick twist of a rusty door handle, large creak covered by the sound of the city. He motions with a tilt of his head and Jensen brushes past him, footsteps light and quick, body lissome as he glides inside without a sound.

One more quick glance around and Jared shuts the door behind them. 

“We’ve got a solid ten minute break or so before the security guard comes back.” Jared makes quick work of the door latch, shoving a wedge of paper between it so they’re not locked in. “Make it quick.”

Jensen doesn’t even respond, and it’s pretty clear when Jared turns to face him why he doesn’t.

The warehouse is massive, somehow seems even bigger than it was on the outside, the main landing leading downward to a sub-basement level that makes Jensen’s collection seem like nothing next to it. The shelves go on for miles, rows upon rows over ten, twelve, maybe fifteen feet tall. 

There are books, movies, music, everything sorted and tucked away, looking brand new, old, or somewhere in between. It’s utterly massive, and the knowledge that it’s just within the reach of anyone walking out on the streets is incredibly exciting and incredibly sad all at once.

Jensen’s off like a shot, turning only once to intone, “Come on, Jared!”

Jared glances at his watch, worry already beginning to claw at his insides. They have to be careful. There aren’t many alibis that explain why two guys stumbled into a Forbidden warehouse, and if there are any at all they’re certainly not effective ones. He trots after Jensen, keeping close as they wander the labyrinthine paths of the warehouse, dust motes covering their tracks like freshly fallen snow.

There’s an immediate change in Jensen, and an honest to God smile on his face the deeper they trek into the stacks, trailing his fingertips over spines and c.d. cases like he doesn’t even know where to start.

“Would you look at this?” Jensen rolls a ladder over and climbs up the first few steps, snatching up a book. “Shakespeare. More Shakespeare! I’ve never even heard of this one…” he fades off, ravenous as he flips through the pages, maybe looking for secrets divulged within them.

It’s easily the most excited Jared’s ever seen Jensen about anything, not a single wry or sarcastic comment to make. There’s nothing cool or impassive about him, contours of his body inquisitive and drinking in as much of their surroundings as he can. His fingerless gloves stay on, but he still reaches out, feels the edge of each shelf and turns each book or album he lifts in his hands over and over. When he finds another Led Zeppelin album, he actually laughs aloud, that same light peal, and Jared steps closer to Jensen, practically breathing over his shoulder but he can’t help it.

Jensen is practically bouncing, and something in Jared’s chest pangs because there’s a look of utter glee on Jensen’s face and it’s all too familiar. When he wraps half covered fingers around Jared’s wrist and drags him deeper into the warehouse, the lights dimming with each passing step they take, Jared hopes Jensen can’t feel his pulse, the way it seems to beat harder against the pads of Jensen’s fingers.

“Christ, would you look at all the music? And the books?” That ravenous expression only brightens with each shelf they pass, and he finally takes one down and keeps it, shoves it into his jeans.

“What are you doing?” Jared hisses, wrenching his hand out of Jensen’s. “We can’t take this stuff.”

Jensen laughs again, the sound bouncing off the shelves like a paddle ball. “What’s the point in field trips if you can’t get souvenirs?”

Jared opens his mouth to retort but Jensen cuts him off with a raised eyebrow, as if to say ‘Don’t tell me you’re surprised’, shoving another book in his back pocket. 

And as much as Jared wants to argue, demand that they exit now and visit the gift shop some other time, he can’t. The warehouse smells like dust, steel and some strange coppery scent that only comes to mind as being blood and Jared might even have an allergy attack from the thick stuffy air itself, but he won’t leave.

Can’t leave. Not with Jensen naming authors left and right, swapping books like he doesn’t even know what to do with himself, there’s so many and he wants them all. There’s an open eagerness spread wide on Jensen’s face that he’s never seen before, and they’ve been talking about books and music for weeks, bickering about characters and naming their favorite lyrics. But even then Jensen was always composed, never passing beyond mildly amused as Jared talked excitedly about the c.d.’s he’d been listening to. He’s looked pleased when Jared likes a song, mocking when Jared hates a book. But he’s never once looked like this; ecstatic, quiet happiness breaking out over his skin and sparkling, even in the decreasing amounts of light in between the mountainous bookshelves.

He doesn’t realize Jensen has turned around and come back to him until he’s right up against Jared, swinging toward Jared whispering, “Thanks for this.”

And he’s so close, so around, under and over Jared that Jared doesn’t even realize that ten minutes passed a long time ago until they hear the creak of the warehouse door and a voice barks, 

“Who’s there?”

A loud slam of the door closing, rusted screech of hinges and rapidly approaching footsteps sends Jared into panic mode times three. Fuck. They’re dead. They’re so dead. He’s going to die in an empty warehouse standing next to a shelf of Hair Metal’s greatest hits. Jensen’s neck snaps around as he turns toward the noise of the intruder, sees the flashlight beam stretch along the wall and floor, searching for them.

Jared starts to breathe loudly to the point of hyperventilation, can’t help it, because fucking hell they are going to die. He can sneak them past a security guard outside but he’s not sure what’s supposed to happen once a security guard finds them inside. He’s never even heard of people breaking into these warehouses before, doesn’t really want to know what happens to those that have before him. It doesn’t matter either way. They’re dead. They are so dead.

“We need to get out of here. Now,” Jared’s whispers, voice getting louder in his panic though he wills it quiet. “We can’t--”

Scratchy wool on Jared’s tongue as Jensen jumps forward and covers his mouth, locking in all sound and allowing Jared to get control of himself. Jensen looks up at him, brings his hand around to grip Jared’s shoulder and then point to his lips in a message. Not another word.

He calms, forces himself to calm down, even as the footsteps crescendo and the flashlight beam gets brighter. And just when he thinks they’re done for, Jensen takes his hand off of Jared’s mouth, pulls him into the dark.

The last reaches of the warehouse aren’t even lit at all, outlines of bookshelves visible, each shelf colliding and stacking into alcoves that lead to dead ends, but they’re hidden away, obscured. Jensen leads Jared by the wrist, and they move together like a shadow, dodging light and muting sound and finding their way to the tightest possible spot, a two foot space. Jensen turns them both sideways, shoving Jared in, and following after.

And they wait.

It takes a while, another five minutes of not moving, not breathing, trying not to squirm uncomfortably with the tight space between the two of them, but Jensen holds Jared still, and Jared doesn’t dare make a sound. The footsteps go straight by the alcove for a second, stop, pivot, then head back the way they came.

Jared makes to move but Jensen grabs and holds him still. “Just a little longer,” he commands, making that same ‘be quiet’ gesture he’d made earlier.

Jared does wait, but he’s restless, itchy to move, to escape. They’re shoved in the deepest corner of the warehouse, and in his scrabble to keep both of them in that wedge of a corner, Jensen’s hands have settled on Jared’s waist, stilling him. In the cold, large space of the dry warehouse, Jared is suddenly very much not so, his shirt ridden up and pressed against the freezing sting of a metal bookshelf.

Eyes locked on each other, silent, searching. Something flickers around Jensen’s pupils and he leans in a little, shifting closer to Jared even though there’s really nowhere to shift.

Jensen doesn’t seem to be moving them out of here any time soon, something Jared’s not complaining all too much about, considering. But any second they can get caught, which Jared is really fucking trying to avoid, getting skinned, killed, worse. But that panic is quelled, or at least, pushed to the very deepest recesses of his head when, ever so slightly… 

Jensen’s thumb moves, not even an inch, slipping under the hem of Jared’s t-shirt to stroke at the skin that lies just underneath.

Just this, the slightest brush of contact. But for the effect it has Jensen might as well have tossed a match and some lighter fluid on Jared.

There’s no moment of warning in the back of Jared’s mind, no sudden instinct that says ‘Look dumbass, maybe this isn’t such a good idea’--because it’s not a good idea. But they’re here and it’s happening and before he can even think to extricate himself from the situation Jared is leaning forward, capturing Jensen’s lips with his own. No planning, just a collision with dry skin.

A kiss.

He isn’t sure what else to call it, whether it’s the worst of sins or the biggest of crimes or maybe the simplest of touches, one press of curved pink skin to another. Jared has never thought much about lips being capable of touching. Lips are good for talking and smiling and breathing clean air and gasping when that air seems to have run thin. He’s heard the guys whisper about this sort of thing at school. Used it as frequently and flippantly as a swear word, like it was theirs and they could say it if they wanted. He’s read it about it and heard songs sung about it and even saw it in a movie at this point. But he still feels essentially clueless.

Jared knows nothing about kissing, but he doesn’t appear to care either way.

Shock and realization is what reels him back, horror drenching his veins in ice because what the fuck did he just do? His mouth opens and closes around apologies and curses and a flush of what he thinks might be pure unadulterated want. The dim lights of the building flicker as the guard leaves the building and the door is closed again. They’re alone, separated from the rest of the world moving on around them with nothing but four walls and shelves of words that aren’t supposed to be read anymore.


He expects Jensen to walk away, he expects Jensen to disentangle their limbs and he expects Jensen to never talk to Jared again, let alone let him into his apartment.

“I’m sorry!” Jared stutters, trying to make up for some instinct he can’t seem to control, no matter how much he tries. He’s gone and fucked things up again, just like he did with Mrs. Litman, just like he does with everything. He’d never asked if this was something Jensen was willing to do, should have asked, and now he feels like the biggest idiot and the biggest asshole. Babbling and still not moving any distance away from Jensen, but in this enclosed space he couldn’t anyway. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean it! I’m sorry.”

But then Jensen’s hand jumps the distance from Jared’s hip to Jared’s chin, thumb tilting up until they’re face to face. His eyes are incendiary, trapping and grounding Jared all at once.

“Don’t be,” he whispers.

And just like that, he’s gone and kissed Jared back, full on the mouth.

As far as self control goes, this probably is the last exercise to be practicing it with. In fact Jared’s pretty sure that the split second Jensen kisses him, self control takes a flying leap off a cliff and isn’t likely to recover.

He’d felt warmth from Jensen touching him, had felt happiness and pleasure like a security blanket tucked about his shoulders as it seeped into his pores. But this, this smash of their faces together that Jared imagines looks kind of ridiculous from an outsider’s perspective, this is heat.
Inexperience, as always, keeps Jared frozen in place, aware of everything and nothing all at once. 

The all encompassing quiet, the buzz of lamps above their heads and the echo of the warehouse, haunting yet safe. The edge of five o’clock shadow prickling against his chin, the biting cold of the shelf behind him, the puckered skin where Jensen’s lip is chapped. Jared’s eyes flicker open for a split second and, curiously, he stares at Jensen until he realizes that his eyes are supposed to closed. 

It’s innocent enough, the kiss, their kiss, but Jared swears someone turned the furnace on because he feels like he’s on fire, actually burning down to ash to the tips of his toes.

When Jensen pulls back, their lips catch and pull like a Chinese finger trap, unable to completely separate. It’s maybe all of two seconds of a pause, one second of Jared gaping at him and two seconds of Jensen rasping, “Okay?” before Jared sighs it back, sealing his lips over Jensen like he wants to do this for the rest of now and forever.

This is okay, this is more than okay, this is the fucking epitome of okay and Jared never wants it to stop, thank you very much. He tries to convey that sentiment as much as possible, leaning forward and eliminating any space between them that he can.

It’s a simple kiss, exploratory and timid and Jensen’s lips move over Jared’s in a way that feels good, so Jared plays copy cat. Kissing back, fitting his lips around Jared’s top lip as Jensen does the same to his bottom.

It’s a simple kiss. It’s slow and cautious barely more than two mouths whispering against one another. It’s a simple kiss. And then it’s not.

Jensen’s tongue sweeps along Jared’s bottom lip, smooth and wet and posing another question. Suddenly Jared’s got the taste of Jensen in his mouth and some invisible dam bursts between them. Jared opens his mouth and it’s all downhill from there. Jared’s knees feel weak and he feels like he’s been knocked sideways, blasted off his feet and assaulted by all the sensations centered around Jensen’s mouth.

Feeling Jensen's lips on his, mix of gentle pressure and demanding exploration. Feeling Jensen's 
tongue sweep against his bottom lip again, slide into his mouth when Jared's opens up. Feeling Jensen's hands cradle his head, deft fingers carding through the sweaty hair at the nape of Jared's neck. Words could tell it and songs could sing it and movies could show it all day long, but Jared knows the second Jensen’s tongue slips into his mouth that nothing compares to the feel of it.

It's not like the books or the movies or the songs ever described. It's better.

Jensen tastes incredible. There's no other word for it. The moment he licks into Jared's mouth, tongue circling and running against the underside of his teeth, against Jared's own tongue, Jared is shocked by the taste and sensation. He was expecting the sensation of wetness, because the expression 'swapping spit' had to have come from somewhere. But Jensen's mouth is wet and slick and searing and dizzying all at once. And the taste. There's no known flavor for the way Jensen tastes, and the only word that comes to mind is heaven. This must be what heaven tastes like, and as clichéd and stupid as that sounds Jared has no problem believing it as he tangles his tongue with Jensen's with every intention of devouring it right out of his mouth.

He doesn't really know what he's doing, but there's a yank in his gut that feels like instinct so he copies Jensen's motions, reciprocates each lick and sweep of lips against his because it’s all he can do.

He figures he must be doing something right, because Jensen makes this abrupt throaty noise and sighs straight into Jared, open mouthed and Jared trembles as his lungs fill. They're breathing each other's breath like there's simply not enough oxygen in this space for the two of them, consumed somewhere between meshed lips and swirling tongues and soft throaty noises.

And Jared's heart is pounding, surely going to burst straight out of his chest. He knows that outside these very walls are hundreds of thousands of people who live to prevent this very thing from happening, people who want to stop the way Jensen drags his mouth over Jared's own, want to stop their tongues from tangling, their breaths from mingling, want to eradicate how Jared's hands span the width of Jensen's rib cage so he can pull him even closer, want to end the pumping of blood in Jared's lips and cheeks and ears and head all because he touched.

The thought of danger so close sends Jared's already heightened pulse sky rocketing. The thought that at any moment someone could discover them and end all points of connection between the place where Jensen ends and Jared begins makes Jared kiss Jensen all the more desperately. 

He forgets to breathe, forgets his own name, forgets everything but the fact that if he doesn't 
have this moment right here he might never get it again.

And Jensen seems to understand the urgency, hears the footsteps and echoes of conversation from outside, because he matches Jared's eagerness. Exhales into Jared's mouth and moves against Jared and holds Jared fast and flush against his body, one hand sliding from Jared's hair to cup at his jaw and tilt his head down, the other wrapping around Jared's waist where his t-shirt has ridden up, yanking him down against Jensen. 

They fight to keep oxygen from not being a necessity as long as they can, clinging like magnets until Jared thinks he's going to pass out, stars bursting beneath his eyelids and fumbling to keep a grip. Still, it's Jensen that pulls back first, because Jared's self control suffered a rather tragic death as soon as Jensen had kissed him. The two of them stand, gasping like fish out of water and Jared can't even open his eyes with how much the room is spinning. He gulps down air and is just barely aware of Jensen releasing his grip from Jared's face and waist, tugging Jared's rucked up shirt into its rightful position. Jared's spatial awareness starts to kick back into gear, breath puffing against Jensen's finger as it swipes a streak of saliva from Jared's bottom lip.

Jared scrambles to gather his thoughts, but it’s turning out to be a lot harder than he’d thought. 

Right. Okay. Kiss. Yeah.

They lean against each other forehead first, and when Jared can see straight without feeling dizzy, Jensen says hesitantly, "Sorry about that. Got a little carried away."

He must be joking, but Jensen is staring at him when he opens his eyes, apologies written in the drawn together space between his eyebrows, and it’s so weird to Jared how the tables keep turning and he never knows if he’s going to parallel Jensen or Jensen is going to parallel him. 

Regardless, there’s a foreign and delicious taste in his mouth and a mess of his hair that he didn’t make and that is not something he wants Jensen to be sorry about.

"The only thing you should apologize for," Jared pants, slowly releasing Jensen because he thinks he might be able to stand on his own now, "is having stopped at all."

And Jensen gets that look again, like Jared's either the biggest idiot or the eighth world wonder and he can't decide which, but Jared doesn't get much time to turn it over in his head because the door to the warehouse is opening again, a pair of high heels click clacking all the way from the other side of the building.

"C'mon." Jensen grabs Jared's wrist, and for a second Jared thinks he’s actually going to kiss him again, but Jensen instead leads him out of the little alcove and down the aisle. "We really do need to get out of here.”

They wait in the shadows for the heels to make it to a decidedly far enough corner of the warehouse amidst the stacks, and then Jensen leads them out, nicking one more book and shoving it into his pocket in a tattered bundle, fingers interlaced with Jared's. 

The pulse in Jensen's wrist matches his and their palms are sweaty but Jensen doesn't let go, holds Jared's hand the whole way out of the warehouse until they breach the harsh light of day, Jensen inching the door open to see if the coast is clear. Sunlight cuts through the dust of the building and when the coast is clear, Jensen looks over his shoulder and grins.

There are probably people turning the corner and law enforcement all around but Jensen--the bastard--pecks the corner of Jared's mouth one last time. The sense of recklessness is a new high, and Jared’s heart kick starts like Jensen’s lips are the defibrillator and the doctor just shouted ‘clear’.

Jensen exits into a world that would love nothing more than to render them apart for what they just did. 

Jared turns back to the warehouse at the last second, impulse driving him to the nearest shelf and scanning its contents. He looks over the titles, compelled by the alight look in Jensen’s eyes that makes his blood rush. Something, the kiss, the danger, the way Jared wants to laugh aloud for no reason in particular, manifests in his fingers; selfish and wanting. He made the trip out here. It only makes sense if he gets a souvenir, too.

A small disc labeled ‘Here Comes The Sun’ jumps out at him, faded type on the c.d. booklet, but it looks like a good song. Sun. He likes the sound of that. There’s hardly even a seconds worth of hesitation and Jared mimics Jensen’s earlier motions, snatching the c.d. off the shelf with a clatter and shoving it in his pocket, feeling positively giddy as he does so. 

He heads outside to where Jensen waits, casually leaning against the warehouse and they take off at separate beats, Jared dogging his steps not too far behind. Jensen’s hands are shoved in his pockets, a few decent feet of distance between the two of them; acquaintances, barely even friends. 

From one world into the next, they walk, and it occurs to Jared that--were they living in another time, another place, another life, they could have breached the gap between their bodies, tangling fingers and holding hands the whole way home.

***

They kiss the entire subway ride home, empty car shaking and rattling as they sweep through the tunnel, city spinning madly on around them. Locked in a storm of roaring underground, shaky track and whining creak and groan, and in the eye of the storm is Jensen, grounding Jared and terrifying Jared and holding Jared with every insistent press of his lips. 

***

Chad picks up the addiction for Big Gulp’s the summer of their sophomore year, a summer marked by hot winding roads and perspiration racing like cars down the backs of their necks. Chad gets his driver’s license the second day after they get out of school, shows up at Jared’s house at five o’ clock in the morning bouncing and whooping until Jared clambers into the front seat, apologizing to Jeff and explaining he’ll make up for Chad’s disturbance later. 

There’s no place open to eat at five am so they pull into a gas station, and Chad comes out with two giant sodas and the stupidest grin on his face as he shoves one drink into Jared’s hand and chugs the other. Jared hates orange soda, and somehow he’s pretty sure Chad already knows this. 

Chad picks up the addiction for Big Gulp’s along with a few other addictions as well. 

He’s not around all the time. They’ve outgrown their tree house and Jared thinks that he can’t offer something that Chad wants anymore, confused and awkward as all hell with the way Chad smiles these days.

He knows the first time it happens, the second he sees Chad, because he’s got this look. A dreamy eyed blissed out smile that can only mean he’s been getting up to no good. Jared clicks on his seat belt, sees the high color in Chad’s cheeks that Jared somehow knows has got nothing to do with the temperature outside the car. 

Jared doesn’t ask, Jared doesn’t reprimand. It’s not something they really talk about, other than Chad ranting about how great she is; laughing at some joke she made that Jared wouldn’t understand because he wasn’t there, grinning stupidly while Jared tries to hold a conversation. It’s not something they really talk about, but the things they don’t mention somehow crop up anyway. In the glazed looks Chad sometimes gets, in the perfume that Jared can smell when he clambers into the front seat of the car. He’s cautious and aware of how little he has of Chad already, how few threads they are connected by. 

They used to share everything; milk shakes and favorite subjects and bruises from tripping down the stairs. Now they share sparse seconds, a few hours in a car that shoots down the highway and sometimes when Jared looks over at the driver’s seat it scares him what he sees. 

Chad’s the kind of happy that terrifies Jared, because this world doesn’t allow for it to exist, snuffs out that fire like a birthday candle and takes the warmth with it. Chad is jittery limbs and nutsy energy. 

There’s always a techno beat blaring, a Big Gulp dripping in the cup holder, a late night curfew to beat. They chase down the days of summer like fireflies, catching time together in Mason Jars and holding them close in hopes that it’ll last. Jared wants it to last. 

But Chad’s a summer rain, unpredictable and it’s impossible to tell how long he’ll stick around before he drifts elsewhere. Jared goes days without seeing him, fills the time by drawing their fleeting adventures; sweating plastic cups and condensation rings on a dashboard with the open road in plain sight. Chad shows up when he can, giving lame ass excuses that somehow always fly. “Sorry man, I’ve been busy”. “You wouldn’t believe the places this chick is taking me, man.” “She’s got this smile and I dunno it just…it moves you Jay. It really fuckin’ moves you.”

They don’t talk about Chad’s involvement with the Dealers directly. It’s a subject that sits in the glove compartment, neatly folded with other subjects like Hilarie, and Cancer and the first and last day they spent in the tree house. Jared sees his best friend less and less and misses him more and more.

But they don’t talk about the Dealers. Chad won’t. Jared can’t. 

Because he can see how happy Chad is, so bright that Jared feels like he needs to shade his eyes just to see his best friend properly. The backseat fills with empty Big Gulp cups and they break curfew way too often and Jared lives on a new time cycle that revolves around the few times he gets to have his best friend all to himself. Chad hits bumps on the road and Jared spills so much soda over the seats that it’s impossible to sit without a disgusting sticky noise squelching under their asses every time they shift. 

It’s their loudest summer yet, driving at the crack of dawn and sleeping after the sun comes up. Chad’s always got a straw between his teeth and a cheesy grin to throw in Jared’s direction, and it’s impossible to resist. And maybe Chad is fading away from Jared, maybe turning on his axis and shining his light elsewhere, and maybe that’s okay, because he’s still the brightest thing Jared’s ever seen. 

He figures that whatever or whoever is making Chad this happy can’t be all that bad, whoever has got Chad singing “Jayyyyyyyy!” in a horribly pitchy voice so Jared snorts and chokes on the flat orange soda, they must be good. They must be just as happy and as full of life as Chad. 

But maybe that’s the thing about falling stars, Jared worries, glancing over at his best friend in the driver’s seat; they burn brightest right before they go out, never to be seen again. 

Chad grins again at Jared, fingers tapping out a Morse code onto the steering wheel as he takes another sip of tonight’s Big Gulp (cola flavored, from the look of the brown fizz slipping up the straw) and Jared thinks the code is just for him, just a reassurance that if anything is for sure in this world of mad and sad it’s that there will always be Chad.

The rhyme makes him smile, and when Chad starts singing his name again like the ugliest ballad he’s ever heard, Jared wonders and hopes that some stars never go out. 


 

Chapter Text

 

Over the weeks that follow, there is a formulaic approach to the way Jared’s life works. Go to school, make good grades, do the chores, cook dinner, lie, sneak out, break the law, sneak back in, and then break the law some more.

Over the weeks that follow, Jared learns. 

Little things, big things, all surrounded by locked doors and shuttered windows and blasting music that never ceases. When they run out of tracks Jensen simply switches the c.d., pressing a finger to his lips in the short five seconds of silence while Jared stands or lies, depending on the time of day and what sort of mood Jensen’s in. It’s usually a good one. 

He learns some things that are pretty much simple touch and go, sort of the basic rules for kissing and touching that they forgot to put in those Human Anatomy textbooks. He learns that too much tongue is not fun when kissing; learns that teeth are only good in moderation as well. He learns that you can touch a lot while kissing, a fact which amazes him and he spends a whole afternoon laughing into Jensen’s indignant mouth because it’s weird, getting to press his lips to Jensen’s—dizzying kiss after dizzying kiss—all the while letting his hands wander from Jensen’s waist up Jensen’s sides and up to hook around Jensen’s muscled shoulders. 

He learns that there are other places to kiss and be kissed, not just the lips. The moment Jensen grins into his neck and begins to suck on the exposed skin under Jared’s jaw is the moment that Jared thinks he likes this kind of kissing best. Or maybe second best. He likes every kiss that Jensen gives him, from short pecks to slow swirling tongue to nuzzling nips along his jaw and collarbone. Like a greedy child with too many toys to keep track of, Jared spends the following weeks in constant pursuit of every possible kind of contact Jensen is willing to give him.

What’s even more exciting to Jared—more exciting than figuring out how to give the perfect hickie or how to slide your hands gracefully into someone’s hair—are the things he learns about Jensen himself throughout all this. They’re little things, subtle things, but each time Jared learns something new it’s like he’s earned another piece of Jensen, is just a little bit closer to pressing himself completely into Jensen’s world, stolen c.d.’s and all.

He can tell that Jensen’s holding back, really has no clue why but it shows in the subdued way Jensen sometimes kisses back, the calm control he keeps up no matter how hard Jared is trying to rev him up, make him enjoy it. It’s their own silent game of chicken, to see who gives in and kisses first, and Jensen usually wins. Not that Jared minds being the only eager one. He wants to know Jensen, takes every advantage he can to learn more, even with Jensen holding back. 

He learns that Jensen’s toes are perpetually cold, and that Jensen will unknowingly press them into Jared’s legs while they’re kissing and smirk when Jared gives a discontented squawk at the shivery feel. He learns that Jensen loves biting, loves to drag his teeth along Jared’s pulse point and grin into the space between Jared’s collar bone. Jensen likes to tease, a fact that infuriates and exhilarates equally. 

Jared tries more than anything to figure out just what it is that makes Jensen shiver or gasp into Jared’s mouth, but sometimes it feels like nothing gets a reaction out of Jensen. There’s one instance, when they’re kissing slow, Jensen taking the reins as usual and guiding Jared with gentle pressure and fingertips on Jared’s jaw, when Jared thinks he almost strikes gold. Jared had tangled his fingers in that light brown hair and scratched lightly at the back of Jensen’s scalp, and Jensen had shuddered, lips dragging wet and fast over Jared’s and his fingers suddenly gripping Jared tighter in a way that Jared knows is egging him on, asking wordlessly for more. But just as quickly as Jared thought he’d finally hit upon something Jensen had pulled away, stoic, walked straight to the kitchen and started washing dishes without so much as a word. 

Where Jared is all pent up energy and frustration, Jensen prefers to drag things out. It’s an odd balance, one controlled, the other chaotic. But that doesn’t stop Jared from trying to pick up on those details and intricacies, Jensen’s likes and dislikes. Every night he sneaks back into his room is another night that Jared wonders if he’s made more progress, pushed closer, touched more of Jensen than he has before. 

He gets a kick out of it. The pleasure in these lessons is not just in if Jensen can make Jared feel good, but if Jared can make Jensen feel good. He considers the day a true success if he can make Jensen inhale sharply and steal Jared’s own breath from his mouth, can make Jensen smile into a kiss or cause Jensen to thrust his tongue deeper into Jared’s mouth; commanding, demanding, and getting everything he came for. 

It doesn’t happen all that often—getting a reaction from Jensen--but Jared takes what he can get with a grain of salt, sees every bit of Jensen’s distance as a challenge, one more hoop Jared has to jump through to prove he can handle this. 

Regardless, he’s happy, walks home kissed and grinning stupidly. Kids disappear every day from the classroom, sirens screech every night on the streets, and Jeff’s never been busier with crime, but things are good. Jared feels good. 

It’s good for a while, it is. Until complications arise. 

***



Jared knows about sex. He swears on his life he does. When eighth grade became freshman year the first class on Jared’s schedule was Human and Governmental Reproduction, a mandatory credit for graduation and apparently a terrible class to take, based on hearsay. 

The hearsay turned out to be true, and Reproduction class was basically a nightmare, Jared’s only reprieve being the constant comments Chad made, snickering under his breath the entire time. 

He remembers lecturers and teachers and guest speakers from the Carrier Office, presenting sketches of various parts of the human anatomy, explaining the mechanics of sex and it was a parade of warning labels about pain and disease and Non-Inseminated Pregnancy, another law that could not be broken.

“The Insemination Process,” he remembers one teacher expounding, “was created so the human race could avoid the physical dangers and injuries that can occur during sexual intercourse. We streamline the process by selecting females with the most durable and promising genetics, and select sperm donators with the same qualities. Because the Carriers have the children, you are safe from having to worry about sex and touch, and should refrain from doing so.”

Sex, touch, anything physical, was depicted as graphically violent. They learned about intercourse and masturbation and all the things in between but the mechanics sounded gruesome, drawings pornographic and crude, nauseating to look at.

It’s because of that Reproduction class and every stern warning he’s ever heard in his life that Jared’s never touched himself, which doesn’t really present itself as a problem until Jensen starts touching him. 

The times Jared has let his hands wander were private moments, safe in the dark in his room where even he can’t see where his hands rove, fleetingly in the shower under the shield of water spray and steam. The few times he’d actually gathered the courage to touch his cock had been barely a graze of his fingertips along the length, nothing more. It had felt good, this he remembers, but warring terror and embarrassment had stopped him from going further. His experience with masturbation and sex in general started and ended with waking from restless dreams to a chalky mess in his boxers and sweat stinging on his skin.

The problem that rises with Jensen is not the lack of knowledge, but the decided lack of experience. Jared’s begun to learn that every single lecture he’d ever received from teachers depicting physical relations of any kind as painful, always painful, is pretty much bullshit. While his brain has been taught to associate this sort of thing with pain, his body associates it only with pleasure. However, that doesn’t make anything physical with Jensen, anything that pushes Jared a little more against that established boundary, less terrifying to think about or do.

So Jared does essentially know about sex. But on the other hand, he knows absolutely nothing about sex. There are a handful of small realities and facts that he’s able to keep track of. He knows that kissing Jensen might be the greatest thing he’s ever done in his free time. He knows that sometimes he wants to do more than kissing but he’s strangled by insecurity, incapable of making his body move through the right motions that coordinate with the knowledge of his brain.

He can’t help but think about Jensen’s lips on his constantly, can’t help thinking about Jensen’s hands on him, can’t help but think what could happen beyond that. While he’s aware in essence what more could happen, the inexperienced part of him feels as if he has no idea, but he knows the desire is there; strange and swelling and terrified deep inside of him every time Jensen so much as lays a finger on him. 

He can’t help but panic. Does panic eventually.

They’re heavily making out, and it’s great, Jensen fitting the contours of his body to match Jared and Jared loves this. Loves feeling every slight movement of Jensen over him as they kiss, and it’s going great, more than great, Jared kissing back with all he’s got, lost in a wave of heat that burns through him. Tongues swirling, wet taste that’s fast becoming an addiction, it’s all around Jared and he revels in it, running his hands along Jensen’s shoulder blades and down his back. Jensen’s hand marks its own path up Jared’s neck to tilt his head back, calloused fingers fitting under his chin like they were made for just that. It’s going great, fantastic, could not be better.

And then Jensen grinds against him, circular motion of hips over Jared’s just so and Jared feels it, line of heat that shoots straight to his cock, hardening immediately.

He nearly sends Jensen toppling off the bed he sits up so fast, bringing the heel of his palm to press at the abrupt bulge in his pants, blushing something fierce.

“What the hell?” Jensen tucks and rolls back, clambering right back up and sitting in front of Jared. “Did I hurt you?”

Jensen’s hands run a precursory track along Jared’s lips and cheeks, concern flitting over his pleasantly flushed face, but Jared pushes him away, feeling like an overreacting idiot.

“No, no, you were fine, it’s just--” Jared cuts off, utterly mortified.

Jensen raises his eyebrows. “Just what?”

The sentence comes out in an absolute rush of mush, and Jared nearly smacks his hand to his forehead:

“I’mgettingturnedonrightnowbutI’veneverreallytouchedmyselfsoyeah.”

Eloquent, Jared. Real eloquent.

And it’s not like this isn’t obvious information, what with the way Jared keeps his left hand pressed to the tent in his pants, ignoring the practically painful throb at the base of his penis.

“You’ve never jerked off?” Jensen looks genuinely shocked, brow furrowed, and Jared nods miserably in response. “Not ever?”

“It never really posed to be a problem,” Jared admits, and now he’s blushing for fuck’s sake, blushing from head to toe and Christ he actually wants to go and lie down in the nearest four way intersection, because this is so humiliating. “I never…It’s easy to deal with being turned on. Until you have something…someone, to be turned on about, you know?”

Jensen’s eyes shift downward to Jared’s crotch at that, lips quirking in a half smile and Jared’s almost positive that he wants to laugh, wouldn’t blame him if he did because this is nothing short of just plain old pathetic.

“Are you telling me that you’ve never had a…” Jensen trails off, raises his eyebrows as if Jared’s somehow supposed to fill in the blanks and know what the hell he is talking about.

“If you mean orgasm, then no,” Jared says bluntly. 

Jensen actually looks shocked. “Huh.”

“What?” Jared’s suddenly all too aware of how tight he feels, skin hot and bothered and insides curling with ripples of shyness. Because he doesn’t understand, he really doesn’t. That’s why he’s here, isn’t it? Because he wants Jensen to teach him, unabashedly and outright. So why does he still feel so embarrassed? Why is he so humiliated by the fact that he doesn’t know anything about touching or how to touch? Jensen has never made fun of Jared, maybe laughed when Jared eagerly chased after his mouth or smirked whenever Jared whined because Jensen suddenly pulled away from his lips, but never made fun of him.

It occurs to Jared for the first time that maybe he wants to impress Jensen. Wants to surprise Jensen and make Jensen feel good, and he knows he can’t do any of that because he’s still the sweet little never-been-touched virginal high school boy. He wants to, but he doesn’t know how to go about it. Because Jensen’s here to show and tell. Not enjoy. Jared knows this, knows it in the way Jensen always ends their enthusiastic make out sessions, knows it in the way Jensen is always the one to remind Jared that he has a curfew or a test to study for, knows it in the way Jensen’s always asking what Jared wants, never expressing desires of his own.

Jared knows that he’s here for the lesson. But he’s starting to wish there were other things to be here for as well. 

“Jared.” Jensen eases forward on the mattress and looms over him, curious, trace of a grin on his lips that Jared wants to latch right back on to, but can’t for fear of sending them both on the floor in a heap of limbs, “do you want to?”

“Do I want to what?” Jared blurts stupidly.

“Do you want to touch yourself?” 

“Well, I’ve sort of already done that. It’s kind of impossible to not do, you know, scratch an itch, wash your face.”

“Allow me to rephrase.” Jensen suddenly sits back on his heels, regarding Jared critically as he asks, “Do you want to touch yourself and orgasm?”

Oh.

Oh.

And suddenly Jared understands what Jensen is asking him and he wants to die right on the spot, because he isn’t supposed to want this sort of thing, because he isn’t supposed to think about or even talk about this sort of thing. Yet the notion is there, the inclination, the question. When he shakes his head, lips parted and mouth suddenly too dry to force out words, he feels more fumbling and awkward than he’s ever felt in his life.

“It’s okay,” Jensen says soothingly, like he can tell Jared’s totally panicking, cups a hand on one of Jared’s calves and strokes over the pant leg. “I didn’t expect you to have experience; it’s not a big deal. I just. I guess I just wasn’t expecting you to have never done it.”

“H--have you?” He stutters out the words, scrabbling for distraction from the fact that he is clearly the novice. He doesn’t like being the novice. He doesn’t like being one or several steps behind Jensen. He knows it’s not a race, not a competition, not a size-up, but he wants to keep up with Jensen all the time, and right now is no different.

“Loads of times.” Cocky grin back in place, Jensen swings over and off the bed and walks over to the record player. “Sometimes more than once a day.”

“More than once a day?” Jared’s eyes nearly bug out of his head and he can’t even be embarrassed this time. Was it really that incredible? He tries to recall the few times he’d brushed his hand along his dick under the shower spray, and how he had shivered and balked because in all of a few seconds his entire body was suddenly rigid with something…foreign. 

“Feels good, helps you relax, de-stress,” Jensen answers casually, examining one record label and tossing it aside for another. “It’s sort of like a morning routine, you know? Wake up, beat one off in the shower, and go and greet the morning sun.”

There’s a lump in Jared’s throat and an even larger bulge in his pants, but he doesn’t dare move, concentrating on the snick sound of Jensen flipping through his record collection and the alarming manner in which Jensen is so calm about all this.

“I wouldn’t even know how to start, to be honest,” Jared answers sheepishly, scratching at the back of his neck.

Jensen stares at him, eyes wide and thoughtful, like he isn’t quite sure what to think of Jared.

“C’mon.” With one finger Jensen sets the needle on the record and music blasts out of the speakers, same as always.

“Come where?” Jared stands, albeit a little awkwardly and not without a fumbling adjustment of his pants and a blush. He’s still hard, trying and failing to hide the fact as he painstakingly walks over to stand next to the record player. 

“Do you want to learn how to get off or not?” Jensen asks half impatient, half curious. 

“I…”Jared trails off into silence. He isn’t exactly sure if he wants to. He’s actually kind of terrified of the aching feel in his groin and the flush continually spreading throughout his body, terrified and exhilarated all at once. He can’t decide if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. “I don’t really know, I’ve never--”

He’s a train wreck, all nerves and inexperience and fuck this is so humiliating. Jensen seems to sense his oncoming panic, though, walks straight over Jared, straight into his space. 

“Hey,” Jensen brings his hand up to Jared’s cheek, strokes along the line of his jaw, slow, gentle, murmuring against his lips, “it's okay, I've got you, you're okay.”

Jared nods, leans down to kiss him, but Jensen pulls back, regarding him cautiously. There’s a minute or so of contemplative silence, and then he says, “I'll show you what touch is like. I’ll show you how to touch yourself,” he speaks slowly, carefully, as if the wrong word or syllable will send Jared running, which is absurd because Jensen’s words are doing nothing if not holding him straight to the floor, “if you really think you're ready for it.”

He pauses, raises his eyebrows inquisitively, Jared realizing that he’s asking a question right this moment. Normally Jensen doesn’t ask, just does. But this is clearly some new line they’re crossing, judging by the concern in Jensen’s tone. The gentility of that tone is what causes Jared to relax. The nerves are still there, but arousal is laced in with them, especially with Jensen looking at him like this, so intently, like Jared’s the only important thing. 

“Yes,” Jared breathes. “God yes.”

“But if you're not...” Jensen’s all business now, speaking clearly so Jared hears every word crystal clear, “if you're not okay with what I'm doing, at any point whatsoever, tell me. If anything bothers you, just tell me ‘not okay’.” He stares Jared down, practically stern. “Not ‘don’t’ or ‘stop’. Those words can be part of the fun if you want to play it that way. But you tell me ‘not okay’ and I’ll stop. No matter what,” he finishes. “Are we clear?”

Jared can’t even picture a situation where he’d consider telling Jensen to stop, can’t imagine circumstances where ‘not okay’ would ever be okay. But he nods vigorously. They’re clear. 

When Jensen takes another step toward him, it’s predatory, catlike; Jared can’t look away. Then Jensen’s leaning forward, brushing lips at Jared’s ear, breathing the words against him. “I'm going to show you what it's like to touch yourself,” he informs Jared, voice low, matter of fact, “I'm going to let you see it, feel it. Is that what you want?” He lifts one hand, pad of his thumb dragging over Jared’s lip. 

Jared can’t think of anything he wants more in this moment, can’t think of anything he’s wanted more in his entire life, says “Yes” against Jensen’s thumb like it’s a prayer and a blessing all at once.

“Okay.” Jensen keeps his thumb on Jared’s lip, leans in just close enough to kiss, but not quite. “Then you do every single thing I tell you to, unless you don't want to. And if you don't want to, you tell me ‘not okay’. Anything else and I'll keep going. Do you understand?”

And Jared does understand, emanates as much of that understanding as possible and nods again, unable to speak. 

“Okay. Good.” The voracious smile that curls over Jensen’s face is dangerous, and he nods back in response, pleased. “Now I'm in control.” 

Then he takes a step back, opens the bathroom door. It’s with a great summoning of gumption that Jared follows after, hardly in control of his own legs at this point. He’s a wooden puppet and Jensen’s the only one who can pull his strings. He looks around the tiny bathroom, small and crowded with a sink and a shower, and a small mirror in front of the sink. 

Jensen stands in front of the mirror, and Jared stares at him, shrugs because he really doesn’t know what he’s doing and he’s really starting to feel like a genuine idiot all over again.

“Take your shirt off,” Jensen says softly, and in the crappy overly bright lighting of the bathroom his eyes suddenly look dark, oh so dark as Jared unceremoniously reaches and pulls off his shirt. 

Jensen’s seen him shirtless lots of times, touched him shirtless and kissed him shirtless, but he never once looked at Jared like he’s looking at him now. Like Jared’s a snack that Jensen wants to gobble up. It should be weird, standing under that penetrating gaze, but a shiver wracks its way up Jared’s spine, especially the moment his shirt falls to the tile, a small puff of air fluttering through it.

Jensen doesn’t have to ask Jared to walk over to him, because Jared goes willingly, and he stands in front of Jensen and looks into Jensen’s dark eyes and Jared has no idea, no idea whatsoever, what’s about to happen next, so he stands in Jensen’s personal space and lets Jensen look him over with hungry eyes, and he waits.

“Turn around. Face the mirror,” Jensen says conversationally, and Jared does.

“Unbutton your pants, pull them down. Pull down your boxers as well.”

Jared stumbles for a minute, pauses as his hands flutter nervously around the fabric and metal of own belt buckle. He’s seen himself naked a million times before, dressed himself every morning to go to school and washed himself in the shower. This won’t be anything new to Jared. But undressing himself in front of Jensen, touching himself in front of Jensen…

It’s a whole new level of up close and personal. Even to Jared, who’s been up close and personally suffused to Jensen’s lips for a good month or so now.

The thing is though, Jared knows more than anything else this is a challenge. Jensen is still waiting for Jared to scare off, to go back home, to pretend none of this ever happened and forget it all. He sees it in the way Jensen meets his eyes in the mirror.

And looking at Jensen, suddenly his fingers are taking on a life of their own, fiddling with his belt buckle and unbuttoning and unzipping his jeans and shimmying until they’re a puddle tangled around his feet. Then it’s just him, in his boxers, standing in front of the mirror. 

If Jared is good looking, he’s never realized it before. Doctors used to tell him he’d make an excellent Donator for a Carrier one day, but he always thought they were just being nice. He’d always felt too gawky and boyish to even consider the fact that he might be attractive, and has only recently begun to understand what his body really looks and moves like. He’s almost certain now that the doctors were wrong, because Jensen seems neither impressed nor floored by Jared’s genetics. Standing here, in his blue striped boxer briefs and wondering if he could possibly get any more red in the face, Jared’s pretty sure that if Jensen hasn’t touched him by now, he’s pretty much immune to Jared. 

Or is he?

Keeping his eyes locked on Jensen’s in the mirror, Jared snags his fingers on the elastic waist band of his boxers and pulls down, past his miles long legs until the cotton material hits his ankles. Through the wall is the pounding and banging of loud angry music, but the only thing Jared can hear is the sound of his own heartbeat in his ears and the sudden sharp intake of breath from Jensen.

He turns around to get a glimpse but Jensen suddenly wraps a possessive arm around Jared’s waist and spins him around to face the mirror again, pinning Jared’s back and ass flush against his body. He can’t really escape because he’s got his jeans and boxers wrapped around his ankles, and to be quite honest, Jared finds he doesn’t really want to escape. Jensen releases his hold slightly, not crowding, and whispers, “Look,” into Jared’s ear.

Jared looks. And what he sees makes him inexplicably hard. There he is, almost too tall to fit in the mirror, tan skin slightly pink with blush and muscles tense with the sudden exposure and his cock, hard, sticking up and looking just as red as Jared’s face is right now. Prickles of apprehension start to rise in the back of his throat and he wants to look away, wants to look away and pull his pants back up and stammer out apologies but he can’t because everything about Jensen has him cemented to the spot, and he couldn’t move if he tried.

“Okay,” Jensen’s voice, deadly calm and twice as quiet, barely more than a whisper in Jared’s ear, “Now. Reach out with your hand, and grab your cock.”

Jared’s limbs are suddenly not his own anymore, once again a marionette on strings, and watches from outside himself as he reaches a large and shaky hand and brings it to wrap around his cock. He can’t exactly pinpoint who’s in control of his limbs anymore, whether it’s him or Jensen. But it doesn’t particularly matter because the second he wraps his fingers around his cock Jared’s head snaps back and holy shit. A wave of…something, washes over him, like fresh blood rushing through his veins mixed with caffeine and fire and he’s suddenly alive, so alive and so hard and so turned on and he’s never felt anything like this in his life.

“Good.” The word against his neck nearly causes Jared to jump out of his skin; he’d barely even remembered Jensen is here. “Step Two comes the fun part. Stroke it.”

“Stroke it?” The crack in Jared’s voice is a canyon, and he’s pretty sure his voice has disappeared almost entirely.

“Up and down, move your fist up and down,” Jensen instructs softly, bringing one hand midair to demonstrate the motion and Jared shivers, stomach muscles clenching.

Jared does what Jensen says, and the second he does he’s pretty sure he’s blacking out because stars are exploding beneath his closed eyelids and his hips are suddenly thrusting forward and it feels so good, so damned good that Jared can barely stand, can barely breathe as he strokes experimentally, slowly, up and down his dick. Jensen’s all around Jared, whispering encouragements in his ear and telling Jared to keep going, yeah, just like that and Jared has to be dying, has to be fading and disintegrating into a million sparks of heated pleasure that all come from the feel of his long nimble fingers on tight, hot skin.

And underneath it all is Jensen, Jensen muttering instructions and sin into Jared’s ear, telling Jared how good he’s doing and how pretty he looks and Jared hangs on to his every word, follows every instruction like it’s gospel, and with the way it’s making Jared feel right now, well, it sort of is. 

When Jensen tells Jared to twist his fist on the upstroke, Jared bites his lip so hard he almost breaks the skin, has to take a good fifteen seconds to remember how to breathe before he can even move. When Jensen tells Jared to brush his thumb over the slit of his cock, Jared moans at the sensation, soft and gasping. The sound surprises both of them, and for a second neither of them moves, Jared suddenly so mortified he can barely speak. But then Jared meets Jensen’s hooded eyes in the mirror and Jensen says, “Do it again.”

So Jared does, thumbs the slit of his cock, skin sliding over the slippery substance at the head, and moans again, mouth open and eyes rolling back in his head because it feels so fucking good he can barely stand it. 

It stretches on like that forever, Jared pressed up against Jensen and running his hand over his cock, making breathy moans in the damp and slightly stale bathroom air and thrusting into his fist as his skin gets hotter and tighter and his world starts to go tunnel vision. 

There’s this weird build picking up in Jared’s gut, and suddenly he can’t seem to hold up his own weight anymore, content to sag against Jensen’s chest and try to remember the process of inhale and exhale as his hand continues to move on his cock. There’s a sudden cliff that Jared feels he’s approaching, and it’s too much at once and he’s starting to get a little freaked out because what is happening?

“Why are you stopping?”

“I can’t,” Jared pants, and it sounds like he’s dying, breath coming out in bursts. “It’s, it’s too much.”

“Don’t freak out,” Jensen’s voice is soothing and sure and somehow manages to make Jared relax. “Just go with it. Okay? Trust me. Just, just ride it out.”

Jared’s not entirely sure what the ‘it’ he’s supposed to ride out is, but he nods, swallowing gulps of air like he’s asphyxiating, bringing his hand to his cock again and gripping loosely, trembling as he brushes his fingers against it and fists it once more. Something damp is pooling at the tip of his dick, but he can’t even be bothered to ask what it is, lost to sensation and feeling and Jensen whispering “Good, yeah, like that” in his ear.

“Feel good?” Jensen asks, smiling because Jared’s sure it’s pretty fucking obvious that it feels good. Jared responds with a garbled phrase caught on a hitched inhale.

“Now.” Jensen’s hands brush lightly over his waist, thumbs rubbing comfortingly at the skin of his stomach. “Now think about me. Think about me touching your cock.”

Oh my fucking God. Jared’s knees threaten to give out and let him slam into the porcelain sink, but Jensen’s grip is firm and warm and Jared can feel every inch of him through his clothes, heated skin and firm muscle gripping Jared and Jared is going to fucking die. The image rises up of Jensen leaning over Jared with that same knowing smirk and wrapping his hand around Jared’s cock, those coarse pads and thick fingers that Jared has memorized and felt on almost every inch of his body. And it’s incredible. 

He actually feels the liquid heat in his stomach pooling higher, reaching a new summit that he wasn’t told to prepare for and he’s rising to meet it, hips thrusting of their own accord into his hand, fast and hard and his hand is wet with something, wet with something that is Jared, or is from him at least. He doesn’t know where this heat is taking him, but he can feel the pressure in his stomach as something bright and white hot and furious begins to make his vision go blurry, the bathroom lights around him flickering as his eyes roll in his head and he closes them, turning his face, resting his sweat slick forehead against Jensen’s neck as he tries to remember how to breathe.

“No.” Suddenly Jensen’s wrist is clamped on his, stilling him completely. Jared lets out a strangled, wounded noise and looks up at Jensen, and Jared thinks he might cry if he doesn’t keep going. But Jensen isn’t even looking at him, eyes instead locked on the sink mirror, spattered with water and rusted around the edges, but clear enough that Jared can see the two of them; Jared’s naked back to Jensen’s clothed chest, Jared’s flushed face, his even more flushed cock. The image is obscene, pornographic in a way that Jared isn’t prepared to deal with because not only is he touching himself, but Jensen is watching him do it, his gaze a limelight on Jared’s one man show. It’s so wrong, so against the law, and it is so fucking hot.

“I want you to watch.” Jensen’s lips settle against Jared’s ear, breath scorching and damp and Jared can barely keep his eyes open. “Watch yourself. I want you to watch yourself come. You need to see. You need to understand.”

‘Understand what’ are the words Jared wants to say, but he can barely make his lips move, that same strangled sound making its way out of his throat, and Jensen grips his wrist tighter, pulls Jared’s hand up and down his cock, showing Jared what to do, guiding Jared through the motions, and Jared is going to pass out but he does what Jensen says, eyes locked on the mirror, on the image of him jerking himself off, Jensen there every step of the way.

He knows Jensen will stop if he so much as blinks, so Jared makes that mirror his god, stares and stares at it with worshipful and wide eyes as Jensen follows the motion of his wrist and Jared pants and Jensen encourages and Jared moans, embarrassed and quiet but moans all the same.

Then out of nowhere, Jensen’s lips are at his ear, still not touching, but their temperature warm and inviting and Jared would kill to get Jensen to kiss him but he knows without asking that that’s not what this moment, this cramped bathroom, this yank and bottoming of Jared’s innards, is for.

But Jensen starts whispering in Jared’s ear, and Jared’s knees start to buckle in earnest. “Look at you Jared. You don’t even need me anymore. You know how to touch, where to touch, you know how to make yourself feel good, how to make yourself sweat and writhe. Look at you.”

And maybe Jared should be looking at himself, but in that small two by two reflection all he can see is Jensen, all pink lips and five o’clock shadow and strong arms where he holds Jared up, so maybe Jared is missing the point of this lesson after all. Because the only thing, the only explanation for the way his cock is aching impossibly hard, the way his legs are boneless and the way he can’t seem to breathe, is because Jensen is looking at him, touching at him. Even if it’s not necessarily the way he wants Jensen to touch him in that moment, the entertained fantasy of what Jensen can do renders Jared into pieces. Because he’s looking at him looking at Jensen, looking at Jensen looking at himself jerking off, and somewhere in between the vicious cycle Jared’s eyes meet Jensen’s in the same pinprick spot in the mirror.

Jared comes. Or at least, that’s what he thinks it’s called, what Jensen had called it anyway. But what it should be called is dying. Or exploding. Or spontaneously combusting because Jared is more than sure he’s doing all three at once. Because one minute he is here in this bathroom and the next he’s in shards, the world whiting out and visions of spinning galaxies assaulting his brain as every inch of his skin simply sings with good feeling. Head thrown back, mouth locked in a silent ‘O’ of surprise, because as much as he had been imagining whatever ‘coming’ was supposed to be it sure as shit wasn’t this. He’s aware of a weird pulsing in his dick as his hand continues to move of its own accord, fast against his cock, and he’s sucked under a current of pulling friction and a rip-tide of white heat. He doesn’t even realize he’s stopped breathing until he’s gasping for air.

He calms, seconds, minutes, centuries later, his body folding into limp, buzzing, spineless muscle and if it weren’t for Jensen’s vise like grip on him he’d be a dissolved puddle on the floor. And amidst the choking, now receding pleasure is Jensen, breathing just as hard as Jared and gripping Jared like he might dissipate into smoke if Jensen so much as moves.

It seems eons before either of them can string together a phrase of coherent words. Surprisingly, it’s Jared, eyes closed head tipped back against Jensen’s salty neck. “What. The fuck. Was that?”

“That,” Jensen starts to loosen his grip, only to tighten it again as Jared starts to slump forward on legs like Jell-o, “was an orgasm. Pretty fucking awesome, huh?”

“I think you need to check my pulse,” Jared mumbles, “’cause I’m pretty sure I just had a stroke.”

Jensen laughs and nudges Jared forward, walking Jared’s limp body forward a few steps until Jared’s bare thighs hit the cool porcelain of the sink.

“You good to stand?” Jensen’s smirk is evident, but Jared can’t really think up a retort. Give him a second.

Jared nods, lifting his head up as Jensen steps away from him, taking his heat with him and Jared’s shocky skin is suddenly exposed to the cold air of the bathroom. He feels over exposed and over sensitive, and he looks down to the sink and his shaking hands and there it is. His come, all over the edges of the sink and on the hand that had been jerking his cock. It’s murky white, sticky, stringy, it’s a little gross. Jared doesn’t realize he’s laughing until Jensen asks why.

“Sorry, I just,” Jared touches the mess, laughter bubbling past his lips and biting a grin. “It’s so….weird.”

“It’s come.” As if that statement will bring explanation and understanding to the gooey substance on Jared’s palm. With an exasperated sigh Jensen suddenly lifts Jared’s wrist and dabs at it with a wash cloth, cleaning Jared. “It’s not supposed to be candy.”

Jared continues to chortle, and then shiver as Jensen cleans him in the sink, washcloth rubbing the sink and Jared’s hand, before handing Jared the washcloth to take care of the rest until he’s clean, no evidence of what just transpired other than the smell of sex that lingers in the bathroom. Jensen even bends down and pulls Jared’s boxers and pants up, zipping up the fly with deft fingers and a devilish smile that Jared wants to cover with his own, even in the post-coital giddiness he seems to be suffering from. 

“Sorry,” Jared mutters. “I didn’t mean to close my eyes towards the end there it just…sort of happened.”

“Apology not necessary,” Jensen shrugs, then grins. “It was pretty hot, either way.”

Jensen smirks to himself at Jared’s blush, satisfied, and Jared uses the pause to wrap himself around Jensen as much as he can without toppling them over, kissing Jensen full on the mouth.

“Easy there, tiger.” But Jensen’s laughing into the kiss, reciprocating just as enthusiastically. “No need to thank me.”

“You--” Jared can’t even push out a thank you because there’s still a buzzing in his brain and he’s pretty sure there are strange forces at work because he can’t take his lips off of Jensen’s, not for the life of him. He isn’t sure of much in that moment but he’s sure that he wants to strip Jensen of his pants and do to Jensen what he just did to himself. It’s possible that he’s a little high from his first orgasm, but he finds he doesn’t quite care enough to stop.

“Glad to be of service.” Jensen’s lips are at Jared’s jaw again and he scrapes his teeth along the bone, laughing again when Jared shivers.

***

 They’re sophomores when things really start to change. The end of that summer on the road and the beginning of fall blows in an entirely new Chad. Or maybe a Chad that Jared saw coming from a thousand miles away but didn’t want to recognize. 

But whatever the reason, Chad comes back more surreptitious and giddy than ever. He’s barely there when fall comes around, dust in the wind that shows up to class twenty minutes late, if he even shows up at all. Chad’s always been a screwball, so the teachers roll their eyes when he strides in, halcyon in the moments Jared has him. He cancels plans on Jared, shirks their hanging out like chores he doesn’t want to complete and Jared can take a hint. 

He gets that there’s a girl that Chad’s in love with, whatever that means. He gets that she’s got lips sweeter than cherries and she smells like freesia and he gets that they have a song together. Chad whispers these things to him amidst lectures in Algebra and Jared listens, sees the burn in Chad’s eyes and he doesn’t know what to do about it. 

Chad’s a firework gone off too early, caterwauling and flashing his way right into trouble like he has since they were kids. But this is a different kind of trouble; one Jared’s not sure Chad will be able to get through in one piece. 

Chad shows up to Jared’s house half way through the night, out of his mind with panic, says she got mad at him and asked him to leave and they fought and she doesn’t want to do this anymore. Chad wrings his hands and he’s stopped wearing gloves, Jared notices. Chad’s always had a bad habit of forgetting them, but this is deliberate because Chad doesn’t notice it as he twines his fingers together and tells Jared that he doesn’t know what to do, that he has to see her again, that he’ll probably die if he doesn’t. 

Jared doesn’t get it. Why her? Why this girl? Jared’s more than aware of the larger Dealer community, has spotted them once or twice and known them by their darker clothes and cautious looks. They travel together, stick to their own, flit around the shadows. It’s easy to find another Dealer if you’re already part of that world; that’s what you’re supposed to do. From the grapevine Jared has derived that it’s uncommon to use a Dealer more than once and certainly not more than twice. And frequently is just asking to get caught. So what is it about this girl that has Chad so on edge and begging for another hit? What makes her so special?

Chad just looks at Jared like he’s the stupidest person on the planet and says, “I dunno man. Sophia just is. She’s funny and sexy and she likes the things I like and we click.”

Click. Like Sophia is a moiety and Chad’s her other half and they fit. The image doesn’t quite sit well with Jared, because that’s not how humans work. They’ve got their gloves and their head nods and their distance, always their distance. Humans don’t go in pairs. But Chad looks at him with blue skies in his eyes and Jared’s conviction falters because what if. 

His best friend frets and then comes up with some cocksure plan to get her back, to win her affections in full. He climbs down from Jared’s window the way he came up, grinning like a Cheshire Cat, his summery smile the only thing Jared can make out in the dark of the night, where the wind howls and chases away the remnants of solstice with each passing day. 

“Thanks Jay,” he shines. 

Jared opens his mouth because now, now with Chad hanging on the trellis outside his window and Chad almost swallowed by the dark and now would be the time to say something. I’m worried or Be Careful or I miss the nights where we stayed up and slept on ice cubes. But he says nothing, keeps words where he keeps his other cares, tucked away and safe from sight. And Chad climbs down the trellis and vanishes into the dark, evanescent and scorching Jared’s line of vision. 

He never finds out exactly how Chad’s crazy scheme goes down, guesses that the results were successful because Chad skips school for three days, calls once to leave an overexcited message that crackles with static while Chad shouts into the phone with laughter and Jared can’t even tell his words apart. 

He never finds out the results, but he does find out the consequences. 

They come for Chad the day he returns to school, swaggering in and bleeding sparks and laughter and Jared’s so relieved to see him, even though he looks like he hasn’t slept in a while, even though he’s got small bruises along his neck that look like smudges that Jared sometimes makes on his drawings. He’s a little worn out but he’s happy, and he turns around every few minutes or so to shoot Jared beams of sunshine with his smile and Jared is thankful for them, so thankful he doesn’t even notice that the teacher has been called out of the classroom and that the Principal is standing in the doorway, grim set to his posture. 

The removal of Chad from school is essentially quiet. The officers file in and ask Chad for a word. And Chad, the idiot, has the gall to smile, shrug his shoulders in a ‘what can you do?’ gesture and swing out of his seat and follow them outside. Mr. Beech walks back into the room, and the Principal leaves, both looking stricken. 

Jared waits for Chad to come back, stays after class and even asks Mr. Beech anxiously if he knows where Chad went. Mr. Beech just shakes his head and says there was an emergency situation and the Police had some questions for Chad, tells Jared to go home and not worry about it, and how is Jared’s Lincoln Douglas Debate Speech going? 

That night Chad doesn’t call, doesn’t text, doesn’t show up at Jared’s front door with jingling car keys and a craving for soda. 

The next day Chad isn’t at school. 

That weekend Chad isn’t at home. 

Autumn drops into winter and the air turns cold without the sun to warm it. 

Chad doesn’t come back for six months. 

Jared walks by his house every day after school just to check for a sign of return. The Murrays won’t open their door to Jared, but he knocks on it just the same each time he shows up, walks around the side of the house to see if he can spot Chad playing outside.

The sycamore in the backyard is visible from the street, their makeshift tree house still nestled along the branches, but it’s barren, dried out. The haven of Jared’s thirteenth summer is devoid of pigment or strength, suddenly appearing a lot smaller to Jared than it ever had before.

Dying.

Already dead.

Chapter Text

 

Jared’s already curled up reading when Jensen walks in from work. It’s a casual system they’ve set up. Jared gets out of school, lets himself in with the spare key under the mat and does homework and whatever strikes his fancy until Jensen gets off work. They’ve done it enough times that Jensen doesn’t so much as wonder who the intruder is at this point, and Jared doesn’t panic at the possibility of an intruder breaking in. It’s comfortable, and familiar, and Jared can see himself getting used to it. 

“Long day at work?”

“Try fucking exhausting,” Jensen grunts, tossing his stuff on the floor and flopping onto his bed face first, speaking in a muffled voice from the pillow. “I lifted steel beams for roughly nine hours or so. Can’t even feel my fucking arms.”

“Mm.” Jared thumbs through another page of the book. “Sorry to hear that.”

“Sympathy will get you nowhere. I’m griping all night.” Jensen wags a finger in Jared’s direction. “So don’t even think about coming over here and distracting me.”

“Distracting? Me?” Jared fakes innocent eyes and Jensen laughs, churlishly. “Whatever made you think of such a thing?”

Jensen doesn’t respond, eyes already closing in afterthought, dirt and sweat on his face thick. 

Jared looks at him, Jensen’s eyes closed, forehead creased in exhaustion, then quietly settles his book down, walking slowly over to the bed, putting his hands on Jensen’s back gently, not wanting to startle him. He says nothing, just rubs his hands along the muscles of Jensen’s shoulders, then suddenly swings his leg over Jensen’s back like a saddle. 

A second of adjusting, shifting his weight experimentally, and he’s sitting atop Jensen’s tail bone, thighs straddling his hips. 

“What are you doing?” Jensen asks suspiciously, grumbling. 

To be honest, Jared doesn’t even know. He’s only read about this, never tried it, but Jensen looks like he’s been through the ringer, and Jared’s never been in a situation where he hasn’t wanted to help in whatever way he could, even if he didn’t.

He stares hard at the expanse of Jensen’s back like it’s an exam at school, eyes catching on muscle twisted underneath the surface. Jensen’s got freckles on his back, something Jared had never looked close enough to see. Not too many, but enough to lightly dust his shoulders leading up to the back of his neck, a few scattered along the first couple vertebrae of his spine. They’re light against the tan of Jensen’s skin, like someone had meant to sprinkle just a pinch of cinnamon across his face and accidentally got his shoulders in the mix. Jared smiles fondly, bookmarking the observation for later topic, then focuses back on the matter at hand. 

He doesn’t really know what he’s doing, but he gives it his best shot, hands smoothing out and kneading the tension in Jensen’s muscles along his shoulders. He digs into the mass between Jensen’s neck and shoulder blades, where the skin is hot and unforgiving.

Jensen stiffens, hisses through his teeth and it’s not in pleasure. 

“Sorry, sorry.”

“What the fuck are you doing, Jared?”

“Sh.” He presses down on the warm flesh gentler this time, feeling it sink around each nudge of his fingertips. “I’m trying something I read about in this book I found,” Jared replies.

“Found?” Jensen cracks an eye open. 

“Yeah, well, stole.” He doesn’t feel like recounting the trip he took to one of the warehouses last night, half scared out of his mind but determined, because this time he knew what he was looking for. He’d wanted information. And information he had gotten. “I stole a book.”

“A book about what?” There’s no mistaking the smug pride in Jensen’s voice, like Jared is his protégée. 

“Physical touch and sensory organs,” Jared recites, trying to feel out the places of tension and knotting along the expanse of Jensen’s back, starts with the bridge of muscle on Jensen’s right shoulder, warm bulge under his skin and kneading gently. “And right now I’m currently referencing chapter five.”

“What was--shit!” Jensen hisses again as his shoulders tense, hunch against Jared’s assault, then he continues, weakly. “What was chapter five on?”

“Massage therapy,” Jared responds. “The idea that physical touch can heal your body, through proper application and technique.”

“This is what you call the proper technique?” Jensen grits out sarcastically, jaw working furiously as he fights to keep from bucking Jared off as Jared hits a particular sore spot. 

“Will you just hold still?” Jared pushes Jensen’s shirt up under his armpits, exposing the entirety of his back. “Just...I’m trying to make you feel better. You’ve got to trust me.”

Jensen frets for a moment, squirms underneath, trying to get comfortable, but Jared places a solid palm in the center of his back, fingers stroking over the slight bump of Jensen’s spine. Jensen finally stills. “Do your worst,” he sighs tiredly. “But if you fuck up my back Jared I swear I won’t touch you for a month.”

It takes a while, Jared has only a fraction of a guess that he knows what the fuck he is doing, but Jensen’s not going anywhere any time soon, and soon Jared’s got a sense of where the muscles play out underneath his skin, the points of tightness and looseness and inbetweenness. He drags the heels of his palms into those points of tension, digs and grinds down against the muscle lightly, and Jensen hisses out again, soft, ‘Fuck!’

“Still bad?” Jared winces. “Sorry, guess I still haven’t got the hang--”

“No,” Jensen responds, breathing heavy, but sounding pleased. “Good hurt. It’s good hurt, I swear.” 

Jared gives a small smile at that and continues his work on Jensen's shoulders, moving upwards to his neck, gently massaging the tissue there. 

“It’s really interesting though,” Jared continues a bit later, digs firmly into a particular muscle cluster that makes Jensen twitch and shudder, making practically animalistic sounds into the pillow. “This book. I mean. I was reading about massage therapy, but in this other chapter they did this study, back before the Touch Law was passed, and discovered how massage therapists--the people who give the massages--were some of the happiest people while working. And it was because they were touching. Isn’t that cool?”

He’s pretty sure Jensen isn’t even listening, caught somewhere between the realm of agony and nirvana as Jared works him over, but he manages to let out a half groaned, “You don’t say.”

“I do.” Jared wobbles a bit on his perch, knees pulling against Jensen’s hips to keep him balanced, but his hands stay steady along Jensen’s skin, working over each contour until Jensen shivers from each and every muscle he works through. His shoulders are the biggest points of tension, the defined biceps that lead to cords of muscle leading toward his neck, but Jared coaxes out all the tension as he talks, goes down from there. “I also learned that physical touch is scientifically proven to be beneficial not just to the one who’s being touched, but to the one who’s doing the touching.”

Which is just fascinating to Jared. It might seem a little weird that he gets so excited about these tidbits of information, but he always has. Jared is, at heart, a geek, a fact that he’s never really been ashamed of. He’s happy that Jensen is letting him prattle on, even if this isn’t a subject he cares about, despite the happy noises Jensen’s making into the pillow, pleasure and pain making its way out of his throat in unearthly groans.

Jared’s reached the small of Jensen’s back, tailbone rising to the curve of his ass. He presses his thumbs on either side of Jensen’s spine, moves lower, tracking the line of Jensen’s skin as it bends along the shape of bone. 

“So, if your job is such a pain in the ass, or back, or whatever,” Jared muses, “why do it? Surely there are other jobs that pay the same amount?”

“It’s not about the money,” Jensen grunts, twitching as Jared hits another tender spot. “Told you, I like working with my hands.”

“Yeah well a seamstress or a pottery sculptor could say the same thing,” Jared counters. “What makes this so different?”

Jensen pauses, and though Jared can’t really see his face, he can see the play of muscle underneath the skin of his back, and knows that he’s tense, cautious. Jared stills, slowing his movements and listening carefully.

“I want...to build something,” Jensen says quietly, face half obscured by the pillow. There’s a soft scratch of stubble against the linens as he shifts, voice more audible the second time around. “You know, I spent years destroying stuff. Watching things be destroyed and doing nothing about it. This world used to be incredible, but now it’s gone, barely alive. And I helped bring it to this point.”

Jared scrapes his nails lightly down Jensen’s sides, and Jensen shivers, but continues, “I want to build something someday, straight from the ashes of this place. It may not be perfect, it may not even last long, but it’ll be mine. I’ll build it with my own two hands. I want to build instead of destroy. It’s dumb I know,” he laughs harshly. “But it’s the reason I stick with this job.”

Jared doesn’t realize he’s stopped moving entirely until Jensen shifts underneath him. He picks up the pace silently, working over another knot across Jensen’s left shoulder as Jensen’s steady breath gives way to simultaneously pained and relieved hitches. 

It’s simple, what Jensen wants, why he does what he does, and there’s not a grain of untruth in it, and that’s incredible. It speaks volumes because, in this world, who does want something like this? To build instead of destroy. 

Hands are supposed to destroy, do damage, supposed to tear down. But Jensen wants to build with his hands, wants to tinker and pull and coax something out of the rubble of this world. 

“I hope you do it,” Jared whispers, and the last of Jensen’s tension loosens at the words, despite how menial they are. “Build something for yourself.”

The mood resettles, sudden charge making itself at home in the space where Jared’s crotch straddles Jensen’s body. He continues to work over Jensen’s muscles but it’s less purposeful now, more sensual and intimate. He’s not digging into the flesh anymore as much as he’s caressing it, fingertips rising and falling. Jensen’s skin seizes in different places that he brushes, ticklish, unused to the contact, but he eventually relaxes. 

“Thanks,” Jensen says a few minutes later, and Jared can’t be sure just what he’s being thanked for, but it’s not really of importance. 

Jensen makes another noise as Jared continues to press down on his lower back, skirt his fingertips around the expanse of his ribcage, and oddly enough, it sounds a lot like a sigh of pleasure and pure enjoyment. 

“So, uh,” Jensen’s suddenly swinging up and dislodging Jared from him in seconds, spinning him and pinning him against the bed with a playful smile, “what else did this book say, huh?”

Jared knows that look, because it’s the look that indicates Jensen means trouble, possessive and lecherous mind robbing smile, and that familiar swooping sensation is back in Jared’s stomach again. 

“Lots of stuff,” Jared babbles, just to keep Jensen looking at him like that, thumb rubbing lazily at the strip of skin just beneath Jensen’s navel. “For example. Human sensory organs are actually quite incredible. When one of your senses is lacking, say, your eyesight, or your hearing, the other senses? Yeah, they kick into overdrive and make you extra sensitive so you can survive, like a superhero.”

“Oh yeah?” Jensen leans in, tip of his nose brushing Jared’s, hand curling up and underneath his shirt. 

“Oh yeah, and there was this woman, about a century ago,” Jared shudders against Jensen, finding it hard to keep track of his facts as Jensen begins to push his shirt up. “Named Helen Keller, according to this book. She was born blind and deaf, but at the same time, she had this insane sense of touch. Could sense vibrations in the floor, had incredible spatial awareness, could read messages just by touching with her hands.”

“So what you’re saying,” Jensen muses, skimming his hands up past Jared’s ribcage, “is that if you take away one or more of the other senses, touch becomes extra powerful to adapt?”

“According to Human Physical Contact and Sensory Perception, yes,” Jared responds. “I guess we really wouldn’t have any way of knowing if it’s true or not.”

“Well there’s one way,” Jensen smiles, he brings a hand up to touch Jared’s face, “if you’re willing to try.”

Jared pauses, thrill making his own muscles tense with anticipation as he nods jerkily. 

Then Jensen moves his fingers over Jared’s eyelids, closes them. Curtain of black slips over and the last thing Jared sees before they’re all the way closed is Jensen’s wolfish smile. 

“Now, you know the rules,” Jensen says formally. “If you’re not okay with what I’m doing, at any point whatsoever, tell me. If anything bothers you, if you want to stop, just say ‘not okay’. You got it?”

“Okay, Jensen,” Jared huffs, impatient for whatever it is, doesn’t even know what to expect, hooking his arms around Jensen’s shoulders and aching to pull him closer. “Okay. Okay. Okay.”

“Keep your eyes closed.”

Jensen doesn’t kiss him like Jared thought he would. Jared feels a shift in the sheets and jumps when tentative fingertips brush up from his hips to his shoulders, pushing his shirt up the rest of the way but not quite pulling it off. And dammit Jared really can’t see anything, nowhere to look but the backs of his eyelids as he feels Jensen fiddling with the button of his jeans, jimmying the zipper down. 

If the thought of Jensen’s hand on his cock had nearly made him come the first time he jerked himself in front of Jensen, the notion that that’s about to happen now is definitely of interest to Jared’s cock, and Jared wills himself not to freak out. Jared’s not entirely hard, but Jensen doesn’t seem to be very put off by that fact, especially not when he takes Jared’s dick in his hand, holds it gently, barest hint of pressure and Jared swears he can feel every line of Jensen’s hand on him, every indentation of bone and flesh, every fingerprint.

There’s a long pause as Jensen just holds him like that, allows Jared to wrap his mind around the idea that this is actually happening. And maybe Jared feels like laughing a little bit because Jensen’s got his half hard dick in his hand and Jared can’t see a thing and it might be just as entertaining as the first time he saw come. But it’s gentle, too, Jensen cupping him and holding him.

A hand on his face, thumb pushing against his bottom lip and pulling down, catching on the inner meat and sticking and then disappearing again as the sound of a dark chocolate toned chuckle sounds somewhere to his right. Jared exhales impatiently; Jensen thinks he’s so funny. 

It’s not funny anymore when Jensen actually grips Jared’s cock and strokes upward. Jared’s pretty sure he’s never going to find Jensen’s hand on his cock funny ever again because if he isn’t hard right now, he’s sure going to be hard in a few seconds time. 

Jared’s taken to beating off in the shower on a close to daily basis at this point, because it’s a surprisingly easy way to get rid of that pesky morning hard-on. But he realizes pretty fast that touching himself barely holds a candle to the way it feels when Jensen touches him, all confident grip and graceful fingers. Jensen’s hand. On his cock.

“Oh.” The soft exclamation falls from Jared’s lips and he can’t see a damn thing but he knows Jensen’s leaning right over him, watching his face. 

It’s a lot different this time, partly because Jensen’s not whispering hot and sexy instructions in his ear, partly because they’re face to face this time, partly because Jared cannot see, only feel, but mostly because Jensen’s the one doing the touching this time, and not Jared. Jerking him slow and steady, and Jared arches into the touch, back bending and hips lifting against Jensen.

The first time they did this it was all because Jared needed to see and understand, Jensen had explained that. But now Jared can’t see a damn thing, seeking out sensation where he can get it, feeling the shape of Jensen’s body against his, the crease and curve of those fingers wrapped around him, the near torturous sensation of Jensen’s grip. 

He knows by the way Jensen’s gone uncharacteristically quiet, that this is all for Jared to experience on his own, to give way to the sensation. The only way Jared’s sure he’s there is because of his hand on Jared. 

Oh, and then there’s Jensen, scraping his teeth along the edge of Jared’s ear, and damn the bastard, Jared can feel his grin as the teeth travel from his ear lobe to his neck.

Jared’s been regressed to silent gasps and shudders. He nearly jumps out of his skin when he feels Jensen’s lips back on his ear, coaxing sensation out of him that’s on another level, shivers down his spine from that rough voice alone. 

“Don’t hold back, Jared, not for me. Go ahead and make some noise. Moan like you mean it.” Jensen’s wrist twists slightly and he squeezes Jared’s dick. “Moan like you want it.”

It’s an absolutely ridiculous request, because Jared’s pretty sure there’re some orchestral arrangements from the Mozart period playing from the speakers that don’t really require vocals and Jared could never, far too embarrassed and out of his league.

But then Jensen’s tongue joins his teeth and lips and he says, “Moan for me, Jared.”

Jared does moan, doesn’t even stifle the sound, angles his head awkwardly into the pillow in an attempt to dispel the inferno dancing along his skin. The cotton is soothing against his cheek but, it does little to dispel anything, and certainly doesn’t muffle the sound that punches from Jared’s abdomen.

He doesn’t mean to be so noisy, and the notion is embarrassing, but he hears a disjointed, “That’s it,” and somehow he knows he’s doing it right, that Jensen thinks he’s doing it right, and it’s turning him on all the more. 

Jensen keeps his mouth at Jared’s ear and his hand on Jared’s dick, never straying elsewhere and Jared can’t really complain, can’t really do anything but relish in each physical sensation. 

Hot puffs of damp breath on Jared’s collar bone, prodding of Jensen’s chest as he inhales and exhales with each of those breaths against the line of Jared’s body, the climb of Jensen’s hand from the base of his cock to the tip, only stopping to rub over pre-come sitting on the crown, or twist suddenly with a jerk that sends Jared’s hips pumping without any control of his own.

Jared’s orgasm hits quick, because he hasn’t had much practice and Jensen’s been teasing it on for what seems like hours, something that Jared is coming to both appreciate about him and loathe all at once.

It builds and builds the same way it did before, but hypersensitivity and the noises Jared’s making with his own mouth and Jensen’s hand makes it more intense than anything he’s ever felt before. Nothing compares to Jensen, and it feels so good to feel Jensen jerking him off that Jared doesn’t even have the wits about him to try and stave off his own orgasm and drag out the sweet heat singing throughout him.

All it takes is a few fast strokes, one more swipe against the slit of his dick and Jared’s coming, and without meaning to he swings out violently with his left arm and wraps it around Jensen’s neck to pull his body as close as Jared can get it. Jensen gives in, molds to Jared’s side and through the whirlwind of intense pleasure. Jared can feel the jagged and lazy thrusts as Jensen grinds down against Jared’s left hip. He makes his own noises against Jared’s throat and Jared thrusts into Jensen’s hand and against Jensen’s hips as much as he can. 

Jensen’s hair is soft and Jared doesn’t realize he’s started to brush his fingers through it until Jensen grunts against his skin, “You can open your eyes.”

His eyelids feel cemented together, and he hadn’t realized he’d been clenching them shut. Jared’s a sweaty come-covered mess but he can only look at Jensen, dark eyes and teeth indented lips where he bit back his own moans.

“Hi.” 

Not the best line Jared’s used, especially with Jensen hard and heated and not exactly satisfied against him. But, Jared’s voice is tired and there’s not a lot one can say after having a perfectly-satisfactory-more-like-brain-melting orgasm so he figures he’ll stick to the basics. 

Jensen blinks and cocks his head to the side. His clean hand catches Jared’s chin and holds him there sternly but he’s smiling, like Jared’s a cute little puppy that just tripped over itself and isn’t that too damn cute. 

“Hi.” Jensen bites his lip again, the tell tale mark furthering the pink of the flesh and Jared’s eyes flick downwards.

“So.” Jensen’s finger may or may not be dragging lazily through the come spattered on Jared’s belly, all coy innocence. “Were your research findings indeed correct?”

Smug doesn’t even begin to describe Jensen’s face, and his eye brows are raised so flirtatiously high they might have crawled into his hairline so Jared rolls his eyes and shoves Jensen’s shoulder. 

They tussle for a minute, Jared hardly recovered from his post-coital high and Jensen full of unreleased energy, but Jared gets his hands on Jensen’s shoulders and pushes into the earlier sore spot and Jensen gives in with an animalistic compound of pain and pleasure.

The sheets get completely kicked off the bed with an unceremonious whump to the floor as Jared and Jensen roll and recover on the mattress, face to face. Jared leans over Jensen triumphantly, soft dick hanging rather comically out of his pants. 

“Can’t be sure.” Jared splays his fingers out on Jensen’s chest, balancing himself, feeling his own sense of smug accomplishment at the feverish temperature working its way through Jensen’s skin. “We’ll have to conduct some further studies. Just to be sure the results are exact.”

Jared has no idea where to go from here, has about as much experience with this as any lawful person out and about in the lawful world, but he figures Jensen will show him the process. And if worse comes to worse, well, the massage therapy hadn’t worked out too shabby and Jared has never really practiced that before. Maybe he’ll just experiment with Jensen’s body, figure out what spots to touch or caress and kiss for himself. 

That is, if Jensen will let him. 

“You might need to close your eyes first,” Jared prompts, rolling his hips in a downward motion curiously. 

Jensen’s eyelids flutter closed, hardly even a fight which is surprising. His voice rumbles right through Jared, like he’s still got his own eyes closed and it’s the only sound he can cling to. “Think you’re so damn clever.”

“Not that you’d be incapacitated with pain or anything if it weren’t for that cleverness,” Jared parries. “You’re welcome for the massage, by the way.”

Jensen may have his eyes closed but the eye roll is practically an audible sound. But he’s surging upward, aiming straight and true. 

Like an archer’s arrow to the target, they kiss, and Jared’s never felt more alive. 

Jensen grunts in what Jared expects is supposed to be a grumpy fashion, but it’s weakened as Jared drags his hips against Jensen again. He straightens, and—scooting backwards so he’s straddling Jensen’s thighs beneath the crotch—unzips Jensen’s jeans tentatively, fingers brushing the barest trail of hair that runs down beneath Jensen’s navel. 

Jared’s not sure if it’s the massage coupled with exhaustion or maybe Jensen’s just tired of holding back, but there’s no tightness in Jensen’s face as Jared shifts back and begins to pull Jensen’s pants off. He’s prepared at any second for Jensen to just get up and walk away, but Jensen never does, which comes as a shock. He’s never let Jared reciprocate like this, never in so open and complacent a manner. 

He follows with eyes down the line of Jensen’s body as he removes Jensen’s jeans and boxers. From the contours of his stomach down to the hipbones where the skin is stretched tight, past legs with thick corded muscle in the thighs and a bend near where the knee meets the calf, perfect bow. Jensen’s toes curl slightly under the silent attention of Jared’s gaze, as if he can just feel Jared’s stare like a caress.

Then the pants are off, and Jensen’s exposed, just for Jared.

Jensen’s only ever been naked from the waist up in front of Jared, but now Jensen’s entirely exposed, and quite unabashed about it, bending his arm back and propping his head against it like a pillow, and despite his closed eyebrows he still cocks an eyebrow at Jared, smirks as Jared takes him in, completely and utterly shameless. 

Jared attempts to make his eyes wander, but they end up being drawn to one spot and one spot only.

The light trail of hair of Jensen’s stomach is deceiving compared with the darker thatch of hair in the v of Jensen’s legs. His cock is impressively thick and hard. Not that Jared has any comparisons to make except his own, but, he feels his stomach twist at the sight of Jensen’s cock, red and jutting out against his hip, tip glistening with a smudge of pre-come, and his own cock twitches with renewed interest. 

Jared finds himself flushing on Jensen’s behalf, but he doesn’t shy away.

“Problem?” Jensen’s question snaps Jared back to attention; he hadn’t even realized he’d been staring for so long.

“I--” Jared clears his hoarse sounding throat, then, balking at Jensen’s grin, “Shut up!”

Jensen’s laughing in earnest now, and even with his eyes closed they crinkle at the edges, and Jared’s thankful he can’t see the way he’s blushing even more now. There’s no way Jensen’s going to listen to him and actually shut up.

So Jared does it for him.

His grip is too loose and Jensen’s cock is hot to the touch, which Jared wasn’t prepared for and he fumbles a bit, but the second he touches him Jensen stiffens, sucking his bottom lip between his teeth and cutting off mid laugh.

“Problem?” Jared retorts, and yeah, maybe he’s feeling a bit smug about making Jensen eat his own words.

Jared kisses Jensen’s belly, watches as Jensen groans softly, hips shifting against the mattress in a decidedly sinful gesture that Jensen doesn’t even seem to be aware he’s making.

“You little--” Jensen cuts off as Jared pulls his hand up, forming his fingers in a loose circle around Jensen’s cock, curious.

Now it’s Jared that bites his lip, concentrating on the gentle undulations of Jensen’s torso and how they coincide with the movements of his hand, up and down. He tightens his grip and Jensen likes that, really likes that, if the sharp inhale is anything to go by.

Jared decides to try that strange wrist twist Jensen did on him, is delighted when Jensen’s mouth falls open on a gasp that makes Jared’s stomach drop, the quick movements of eyes beneath eyelids is entrancing. Each jerk of Jared’s wrist draws some reaction from Jensen’s body, whether it be a biting of the lip, a grip and pull of fingers in the sheets, or a bend and shift of hips into Jared’s hand.

He’s amazed at the responses, the give of Jensen’s body at the touch of his hand. Despite the throb Jared’s already started to feel in his own cock and the throb he knows Jensen is feeling in his, this moment feels about a little bit more than that. Jared may be the one giving the hand job, but it feels more like Jensen’s the one giving something to Jared, and Jared likes that, couldn’t be more pleased. 

Jensen outright groans when Jared thumbs over the slit of Jensen’s cock, smearing the pre-come on his finger. He thrusts when Jared slows down to a torturous pace, muttering out curses as he bites over and over against his lip, enough to bruise in the morning. Jensen had already been turned enough when Jared had gotten started, it’s not going to take much more to tip him over the edge, so Jared feasts his eyes.

Jensen, usually so controlled, is covered with a sheen of sweat, gracefully carved abdominals twitching with aborted motion when Jared picks up the pace, jerking harder and faster, thumbing the slit every single time on the upstroke. There’s a high flush on Jensen’s cheeks, accentuating the dark gold color of his eyelashes, the scattered amounts of freckles across his nose and cheek bones. 

He sees Jensen’s orgasm coming on before Jensen even announces it himself with a strangled groan, following the muscles pulling taut all along the length of Jensen’s body down to his feet, which dig into the mattress and propel his hips upward as Jared makes him come. 

Thick ropey come splashing against Jensen’s hips and stomach, soaking Jared’s hand in wet heat. The vein and ligament in Jensen’s arms tightens and striate as he thrusts into Jared’s hand repeatedly. The line of his torso moves hypnotically, planes of his stomach clenching as he comes all over himself, head twisting, eyes clenching tighter as his orgasm rips through him. 

Jared slows the movement of his hand in the same manner Jensen has done to him, stares as Jensen’s breathing returns to normal, as his muscles loosen and unknot one by one. His face is the last thing to relax, releasing his bottom lip from between his teeth in a near pornographic motion and opening his eyes open slowly, searching. 

Jensen looks straight into Jared, gaze blazing and sending an involuntary shudder down Jared’s spine. It hits him for that first time that Jared was responsible for that; he put the heat in Jensen’s eyes, he made Jensen bite his lip red and raw, he made Jensen come all over his hand. 

He did that. And despite already being done and gone with his orgasm, he’s still looking at Jared like that. It’s brief, but Jared latches onto it. His lets his fingers splay around Jensen’s hipbones, spreading come along the taught skin of Jensen’s abdomen, knowing Jensen’s watching him but not acknowledging it. Jensen had been loose when Jared had finished the massage, but now he’s unraveled, breathing heavy with exhaustion, twitching gently under Jared’s touch, sleepy and sated.

“Good?” Why Jared is asking for approval, he’s got absolutely no clue. But Jensen is quiet and pliant beneath him, and Jared’s got to be sure.

Jensen rolls his eyes, and the motion telegraphs through his frame as he rolls of the bed, snatching his boxers off the floor and pulling them up, reaching for Kleenex to wipe off the come.

“Let me--” Jared starts to reach forward but Jensen’s already swiping the mess away with a lazy smile. He’s already shaking off whatever comfortable mindset he had allowed himself to slip into, Jared can tell. 

The high from being able to make Jensen come is wearing off quickly, with each further movement Jensen makes as he dresses himself, the earlier blaze in his eyes tapering off to its usual steady burn. 

“Come on.” Jensen doesn’t look at Jared completely as he jangles the car keys, but he smiles, which is enough for now. “I’ll take you home.”


***

“You drive,” Jared puts forth, nonchalant, “I’ll shotgun.”

Jensen raises an eyebrow as Jared tosses his keys over the hood of his smooth, official looking vehicle. Jensen’s car is at the repair shop, something about the brakes being mucked up and they’re making a midnight run for Oreos (Jensen’s favorite) and chocolate milk (Jared’s). They haven’t really driven in Jared’s car all that often, but it’s the third time that Jared has relinquished the steering wheel into Jensen’s hands and he seems to take notice. 

“You don’t like driving, do you?” Jensen observes, jabbing the keys in the ignition as they get into their seats.

Jared’s stomach growls, a non sequitur response. They’d been rolling around amongst the sheets of Jensen’s bed lazily making out the last few hours, not in a hurry to go any direction in particular. But it was with a tremendous protest from a very vocal stomach that Jared realized he hadn’t eaten since lunch, and Jensen had yet to get paid for the week, so his fridge mainly consisted of condiments and cardboard flavored pizza that had sat in the box for far too long a time to be considered properly edible. So he pulled out what little cash was left in his wallet and called for snack time, and Jensen couldn’t argue because his stomach was growling too. 

“It’s...not one of my favorite pastimes, no,” Jared answers slowly, buckling his seatbelt. “I can do it...I just prefer not to when other drivers are available.”

There’s an uncomfortable pause as Jensen appears to mull that answer over and Jared starts to squirm. He doesn’t like being asked this question, and Jensen’s become far too good at reading the various expressions and thoughts that flit across Jared’s face.

He can drive perfectly, has never gotten a ticket or into an accident, never even come close. He can drive. He just...doesn’t like to.

“Who’d you kill?” Jensen asks flatly.

“I,” Jared splutters. “What?”

“Who’d you kill, Jared?” The deadpan face continues. 

Is it that transparent? Can...does Jensen know? Panic flutters in the base of Jared’s lungs, tickling him into a cough as he stares at Jensen.

“I mean, a teenaged guy who doesn’t like driving? You must have hit someone; no teenager would willingly give over the wheel. Not when they own this type of car, at least. So who’d you kill? An old lady, perhaps?” Jensen is smiling, the obvious joke etched out in his grin. 

“Ha.” Jared forces a smile, relieved as he catches up with Jensen’s humor. “It was a nun, actually. I killed a nun.”

“Even worse.” And if Jensen’s reading in to the amount of times Jared has volunteered to sit shotgun by this point, well, he isn’t bringing it up. 

The darkness of the city is outlined by pinpricks of light as they drive through it; streetlamps and window panes and skyscrapers leaving an eerie purple hue in the sky mixed with smog and clouds. The route is familiar, and Jared rolls down his window despite the chilly air, leaning out and inhaling the assembly of asphalt and car exhaust scent that assaults him. They don’t always go out at night, but it’s always Jared’s favorite part of their roundabout adventures. Jensen usually waits in the car, gloveless, while Jared goes in and charms the cashier with his manners and actual presence of gloves. 

Once upon a time, being out at night after curfew terrified him, gave him shivers of worry and fear up and down his spine. Even with Chad it had been something to fear, but with Jensen it’s something fun, not choked with panic over possibly being discovered. Maybe that’s reckless, but Jared feels good about it. That might have something to do with Jensen as well, and that’s okay too. 

He’s started spending nights at Jensen’s, can’t remember at what point he’d just stopped going home. Jensen never asked him to stay, and Jared didn’t ask either. He’d just fallen asleep one evening, after Jensen had held his hands down and ground against Jared’s hips, mouth locked on the pulse point of Jared’s neck until they both came, gasping into each other’s mouths, denim of their jeans rasping as their hips moved together in a sinuous near-frantic rhythm.

Jared must have been exhausted, because the next thing he remembered he was waking up sprawled across Jensen’s chest like a wet noodle, limbs loose and fuzzy with sleep, Jensen’s hands stroking lethargic circles at the base of his spine and along the hem of his pants. 

It’d been just slightly awkward, Jared’s boxers itchy with dried come and he’d really needed to shower so Jensen just tossed him a towel and asked him not to use the last of the shaving cream, but neither of them seemed bothered by the fact that Jared had unceremoniously slept on Jensen. Jensen even offered Jared a change of clothes and a breakfast bar before Jared was on his way out the door and back to school.

From then on it became a pattern, and now sleepovers happen weekly, if not more. Jeff either doesn’t notice or doesn’t say anything, busy and preoccupied with work as he is. Jared can’t tell if the lack of observation makes him glad or saddens him, but Jensen’s place is warm and comfortable and Jensen lets Jared crash whenever it strikes him to, going out for late night snack runs and listening to music until one or both of them nod off. 

Except for that first night, they sleep on respective sides of Jensen’s bed for the most part, though Jared’s developed a nasty habit of curling toward Jensen in his sleep, flinging his arms about so they land on Jensen’s body. And Jared will never tell Jensen, but he sleeps better in Jensen’s bed then he has slept in his own.

“Hey,” Jensen’s voice cuts over the wind, “you fallin’ asleep over there?”

“You wish. I’m not letting you keep all the Oreos to yourself. You’ve got to share the sugar coma.”

“Yeah, right, like I’m sharing with you.”

“Fine. Guess I won’t buy your Oreos then.” Jared sticks out his tongue. 

“Remind me why I decided to take you again?”

“I make for a good view.” Jared leans forward in his seat towards Jensen, propping himself on his hands and scrunching up his nose in a rather ridiculous fashion. “Admit it. I’m nice to look at.”

Jensen makes an exaggerated gagging noise and Jared retaliates with a well calculated jab to Jensen’s ribs. The car swerves a bit on the empty road as Jensen squawks, twists in his seat and snags Jared’s hand in his own. They struggle, Jared laughing as Jensen takes both hands off the steering wheel and tries to keep Jared’s hands off him, while simultaneously digging his fingers in to Jared’s sides. Jared is wheezing, loud laugher ratcheting out of his mouth as Jensen tickles him.

Jensen is gonna crash the car and get them both killed for fuck’s sake, but he doesn’t stop, and oddly enough, Jared doesn’t mind. 

“You’re gonna kill us both,” he protests, but Jensen hardly relents, even when Jared tries again to jab him, seeking out sensitive areas that make Jensen yelp with mirth. He finally gives up when the car threatens to swerve completely off the road and settles for shoving Jared’s face against the dashboard and holding him there with one hand until Jared stops attacking, cackling the whole time.

A few miles down the road—some point after Jensen grabbed the steering with both hands and Jared had rubbed feeling back into his face from where Jensen had pressed it down—Jensen whines about wanting to play music. 

“And no dubstep,” he says emphatically as Jared starts to look through the glove compartment, despite the fact that this is a) his car and b) there are no c.d.’s in the glove compartment that aren’t dubstep, from what he can remember. 

Jensen finally utters an impatient noise and sticks his own hand alongside Jared’s, and Jared winces as Jensen immediately grabs a c.d. 

“How about this one?” He looks relieved just at the appearance of music.

“No. Not that one,” Jared protests. Any c.d. but that one. 

“It can’t be that bad…some band called ‘Sophia’?” Jensen reads the disc title off, one eye on the road. 

“Put it away, Jensen,” Jared says, voice low.

“Why?” Jensen wipes some dust off the dashboard and reaches for the stereo teasingly, pressing eject and removing whatever disc sits in the player right now. “Don’t tell me you’ve got something better, because I’ve seen your music collection and I’ve gotta say--”

“I just don’t like that one!” Jared shrugs, voice pitching upwards as hysteria threatens to strangle his voice until he’s gasping for air. 

Shit. He’d completely forgotten about that c.d., and if Jensen plays it, plays one single second of that disc, Jared might actually be the one who winds up getting them in a car crash. 

Jensen shrugs after a pause, but he’s watching Jared from the corner of his eye as he hands the disc back to Jared without a word. Jared shoves the disc back into the glove compartment and slams the glove compartment shut. 

They settle in silence but it’s a little bit strained, and Jared can tell that Jensen is biting back an onslaught of questions. There’s a lot Jensen doesn’t know about Jared, a lot he could probably put together if he did the right research, looked through the right newspapers dated months back. He won’t, or at least, Jared is hoping and praying that he won’t. 

He’s not embarrassed or ashamed, but he knows that Jensen—like Jeff, like all the kids at school who know—will be different around Jared, will act differently, maybe stare at him like he’s a freak show display. And Jared doesn’t want that. Because Jensen’s starting to become somewhat of a constant in the best ways and if Jared loses that, he doesn’t know what he’ll do. 

But the elephant in the room is locked away for now, and if that’s enough to keep it at bay, even with Jensen’s curious silence, Jared won’t complain.

“Still wish we had some music to listen to,” Jensen grumbles, and Jared can’t help the eye roll, even though Jensen can’t see it.

He picks up the first tune that comes to mind and whistles it. He’s not really practiced, and he hasn’t got the whole song memorized, but he picks up the chorus easily enough to mimic what sounds like a hodgepodge melody. His hand drifts in the breeze, making little waves that he’s sure look plenty stupid but feels nice, calm teaspoon of sugar to the bitter taste in the back of his throat from the previous subject.

“What is that?” Jensen asks a few moments later.

“Mm?” 

“That song you’re whistling. What is it?”

“Oh. The c.d. I snatched from the warehouse. It turned out to be a b-side, just one song and, I dunno, I kind of like it. Can’t get it out of my head.”

He whistles a few more bars, wisp of air between his lips lilting upwards in pitch and Jensen laughs when he hits a particularly high note, straining to blow it out in a singular lungful of air. 

“It’s pretty,” Jensen admits after a beat. “Even in your half-assed version, it sounds happy.”

“I could sing it, you know,” Jared threatens.

“Do you want to be tickled again? Because, I assure you that can be arranged,” Jensen threatens right back.

Jared just keeps whistling, and when he glances over Jensen is looking at him, small smile on his face. There’s no light in the car save for that of the streetlamps outside, but the look in Jensen’s eyes is nearly blinding with its warmth. Jared wishes he knew where it came from, what caused it. 

He leans his head out the open window, and the sound of his whistling mixes with the cool breeze and it’s a song of its own. In the face of the music and the way Jensen’s looking at him, the past retreats again. 

He hopes it makes no efforts to come back.

***

 Chad comes back to school, appearance subtle and he’s impossible to track down. Jared hears whispers and rumors about the ‘new’ kid who’s returned, sees a shock of blond hair floating like a ghost in the hallway but loses it in the throng of students. He spends most of Chad’s first day back playing hide and seek just like they did when they were kids. Even then he’d never been able to find Chad, because a Chad who didn’t want to be found was always a Chad lost. 

It’s the end of the day when he finally catches up, spots that shock of blond hair resting on a desk in the back of the classroom in sixth period English and summer is back, in full swing. 

“Chad!” Jared bounds forward and slams his books on the desk in his eagerness to get over to his best friend. “Where the fuck have you been?”

But this Chad isn’t that Chad. The person who raises his head from the desk is not the same little boy who hid for an hour in the top of Jared’s closet, only to come out once Jared started crying because he thought he’d lost his best friend forever. The person Jared sees isn’t even a person, and if he is, he isn’t one that Jared recognizes.

Chad raises his head from his desk, and the warmth leaks out of Jared’s chest. 

“Hey man,” Chad says gingerly. “Long time no see.”

His smile doesn’t even make it to the dimples on his pale cheeks. 

“I--” Jared flounders for words, the feeling of summer fading fast and he’s grasping at straws because this is all wrong. It isn’t supposed to be this way. “What happened to you?”

Broken is not the word to use for Chad. Chad who shrugs his shoulders and the bones jut out in a grotesque manner that makes Jared flinch. Chad is not broken; broken implies something that can be fixed, mended with enough miles on the speedometer, enough late night trips to 7-11. 

Chad’s not broken.

Chad is shattered.

His eyes are out of focus, pupils dilating and sweat forming on his brow despite the frigid temperature of the air conditioned room. There’s still a twitch in him, an endless kinetic energy, but it’s not solar. It’s paranoid, each movement of his twitchy eyes making him look like an animal trapped in a cage just screaming to get out. 

He doesn’t answer Jared’s questions, evasive and avoiding. He doesn’t even look at Jared when he talks; tries to fill Chad in on the happenings of school, trivial silly things that he thinks might make Chad laugh. But all they earn him is a forced smile.

Chad stops breaking rules, shows up to class ten minutes early and his shirt is always tucked in. He even wears his gloves, does his homework, stops breaking curfew, stops making runs for soda in the middle night, stops laughing loudly, stops laughing at all. 

He just stops. 

There’s an anguished step in the way he walks. He takes to wearing sweaters constantly and he’s thinner and scrawnier than Jared’s ever seen him, cheekbones starting to hollow out and eyes sunken. Chad’s eyes used to remind Jared of summer skies. But now he sees nothing but that blue vase Chad knocked over when they were eight, the blue shards impossible to reassemble. 

Spring turns into summer, days elongating languorously and students yearning for that final bell to ring, and Jared knows there’s something missing. There’s no promise for adventure, no crazy scheme cooked up by Chad to keep them burning through the school days and praying for the summer nights like they used to. Summer doesn’t come, not for Jared, at least. His world and normalcy is interrupted by the arrival of a ghost who looks like his best friend and talks like his best friend, but isn’t his best friend.

“I needed to clear my head,” he tells Jared over and over until Jared stops asking, that paper thin smile stretched across tissue that looks like it’s about to rip with the effort. 

The routine of Jared’s life is back, but there’s no sun anymore. 

And Jared thinks fine. This is fine. They graduate in two years, and their buddy-buddy relationship freaked people out as it is. So the two of them will go their separate ways, and that’s fine. A sad sense of nostalgia steals over Jared as he realizes maybe Chad just finally grew up, stepped up and looked at the world and realized that things weren’t infinite. That they can’t be young and reckless and holed up in their little protective fort, sleeping on ice cubes forever. The world isn’t going to wait for them to grow up, to get over themselves. Maybe it’s time to move on. 

But still, Jared hangs on, dogs Chad’s barely there steps in the hallway and picks up a Big Gulp on the way to school one morning. 

“Got you something,” Jared grins, holding out the giant sweating cup of Coke like a peace offering, like an apology, like a question.

Chad’s fractured eyes take in the soda and Chad’s strangely askew mouth returns Jared a piecemeal smile. “I’m good, thanks.” 

Jared sets it on his desk, tantalizingly close to the edge, hoping Chad will reach out and take a small sip, sample a bit just like he used to when they were kids, finding small ways to invade Jared’s bubble, snatching his food or his clothes. But Chad doesn’t so much as glance at it, leaves it on the desk when class gets out.

Jared drinks the whole thing, slurps it down until he feels sick and the straw makes rattling sucking noises. 

He makes it to the parking lot behind his car before he throws it up, soda and bile and the loss of summer spattering on the pavement. 

Still Jared says nothing, flits around Chad like a moth and never quite picks a spot to land. Chad tolerates Jared, answers his questions with vague phrases that don’t even make up complete sentences. Doesn’t call on weekends, doesn’t call ever. Jared starts to miss the road, the sycamore, the fort of blankets and pillows. 

He decides to give it one more effort, one more last ditch effort to talk to someone who’s not even there. It’s the last day of school and the hallway is packed, students milling about to their respective locker spaces, clearing out their stuff, saying goodbye to teachers and classmates. It feels formal and final, no one looks sad or happy, all faces placid and amiable. 

He’s walking alongside a wordless Chad when he does it, pretends to trip over his feet and smack into Chad, their shoulders colliding, Jared’s muscle on Chad’s bone. 

Collisions happen in this world. You wear the gloves in case they do. Especially in the swarms of students, collisions happen a lot; you apologize, you recover. Collisions had been their thing before Chad had left. Jared and Chad used to knock into each other and not even apologize, grinning and rolling their eyes and saying, “This kid, who does he think he is?” to the people that stared at them like they were crazy. Knocking into each other was their greeting, it wasn’t touching so much as it was crashing into one another, like playing chicken to see who would knock first and if the other would knock back. 

So when Jared trips and knocks into Chad, he’s part sorry and part hoping Chad will slip into that old routine, shoot off just one bright grin.

Chad screams. 

Chad screams and screams, leaps away from Jared like he’s burning from the inside out and cowers against the lockers. Eyes wild, clutching at himself like he’s already fallen apart and he’s trying to pick up the pieces. He’s practically rabid, eyes blank and locked on something no one else can see. Blue glass eyes fill with tears and he’s blinking rapidly when he finally stops screaming. 

Jared still hasn’t entirely recovered from the sound of Chad’s screams, stridently needle sharp and pained. He stands, stricken, wondering what had gone wrong because all he had done was stumbled in the wrong direction. He didn’t mean to…

The hallway had instantly stilled around the two of them, the shattered sunbeam and the one who accidentally touched him. Everyone is looking at Chad Michael Murray and avoiding eye contact with each other, shuffling off in their respective directions, clearing a path.

They all know he’s been gone, probably know what happened to him. Jared’s heard the gossip, heard it and sucked it down like the Big Gulp, only to have his body reject it in denial. He’s spent the month since Chad’s return hoping beyond hope that Chad was okay, that this was just a phase. But it’s in this moment, watching their peers regard Chad with mixed expressions of pity and disgust, that Jared receives confirmation of a fact he’s long denied; Chad’s not the same. They all know it. Chad used to light up dim hallways with shenanigans and pranks and general idiocy that even the biggest teacher’s pets adored.

But now, standing here in this hallway and screaming at Jared to get away from him, he’s a shell, a cheat, a boy who used to dish out rays of sun for free. A boy who looks like the life has been scraped from him, hollowed out until he’s nothing but a husk of emaciated limbs and blue shrapnel eyes. 

“Chad…” Jared does reach, now, doesn’t care if anyone sees because people don’t just scream like that for no reason. Something is wrong, so deeply wrong with Chad and he’s only now just realizing it, just accepting it. “Chad, it’s me! It’s Jared; I’m not going to hurt you.”

He reaches and Chad backs away from him, stumbling a few steps and slamming loudly against the clattering metal of the lockers, eyes wide. He looks tired, so tired and brittle and fragmented that Jared has no idea what to do. They’ve always been able to mend each other, ever since that very first day on the bench outside of school with the drawing that Chad had liked. 

“Get away from me.” Spit dribbles from Chad’s mouth as he retreats away from Jared. He turns his head with a crack and looks at the crowd. “All of you, every single one of you. Don’t touch me, don’t fucking touch me or I swear to god I’ll--”

He chokes off on the words, fisting a hand in his hair and tugging so hard he might rip a whole chunk right off his head, gloves making a strained twisting noise as he does so. 

This is the moment where Jared could, should say something. Even as people watch them he’s losing Chad, connection flickering like a faulty light bulb, struggling to maintain its last few watts. He should, but once again, he doesn’t. 

The throng of students parts like the Red Sea when Chad shakily moves forward, like Chad’s a contagion and to stop him would mean catching whatever crazy disease he’s got. He moves, stilted and twitching, holding himself like his innards are going to spill out if he doesn’t clutch tight enough. 

Curious eyes and whispers start to float around Jared’s ears but he ignores them, hitches his backpack higher and again tucks everything away, all inclinations and emotional tendencies. He can’t go after Chad; there are too many eyes and too many people. 

Chad will come back, he reasons. Chad will straighten out of whatever funk mood he’s in and Chad will come around with his car and his million watt smile and things will be normal. He just needs time. 

Time turns out to mean another three weeks of radio silence. Jared spends the entire three weeks drinking soda until he vomits and colliding with things; walls, the floor, doors. Each time he throws up and each time he makes a new bruise is an apology that he might never get to say aloud.

Chapter Text

 

“What are you doing?” 

The question comes from Jensen, one evening as Jared lies sprawled on the floor with a pencil and notebook in hand. 

Jared smiles slightly, tucking his pad close and constructing a visual barricade with the meat of his arm. “Drawing.”

“You draw?” Jensen’s feet appear in the corner of Jared’s vision, frayed edged of his jeans brushing against the wooden floor with a swish sound. 

“I try,” Jared answers, lips tugging upwards in a half grimace, half smile. “Hilarie—my Guardian--used to draw when I was little. Guess I picked up on it.”

Curious silence follows his answer, but he’s in the zone well enough that he can ignore it. Drawing has always been something personal for Jared, something he kept to himself. When he was little his art projects would always get picked for the school art shows. 

“Where’d you get those?”

“Art supply store, downtown,” Jared replies, brushing his hand over graphite residue that smears across the paper, grey streaks against the white that he’ll have to go back and erase. 

He’s been working on this one for about a week now, filling in corners and shading in between the lines whenever Jensen ran out to get food or shower. There’s a lot of detail work going into Jared’s sketch of the Contraband shelves in Jensen’s room, an entire wall of violently red shelves as tall as Jared himself, even taller. He’d been hit with the inclination to draw them because—it struck him—that these were relics, something that would not always be around, shouldn’t even be around now.

There weren’t that many works of art still existing, and even ones that did exist were of things that were no longer around to compare them to. Ancient structures like the Parthenon or Taj Mahal, had been torn down due to the simple fact that they were created by man’s hand and now only had photographs and paintings to exist vicariously through. Those buildings were an ideal, represented a history where man built with his hands alone.

Jensen’s shelves are no Taj Mahal, no Wonder of the World, but they are remarkable in their own way, a testament to Jensen’s own stubborn tenacity and affinity for things with age and weight, as well as his affinity for all things unlawful. But the shelves are also remarkable in that there, five feet away from where Jared stretched out, is a good two hundred years of antiquity, all wrapped up in compact discs and dog eared pages.

He’s drawing these shelves because there’s something fascinating about the fact that there’s so much rich history and no one gets to see it, or experience it, but him and Jensen, sometimes Danneel. Fascinating, and a little bit sad. 

He doesn’t realize Jensen has sat down beside him to observe from over his shoulder until Jensen makes a surprised noise in the back of his throat. 

“You’re good,” he says, looking a little stunned. 

“I’m decent,” Jared relents, scrunching up his nose and running his eraser along the left edge of the paper; not a straight enough line there. 

Jensen makes another noise, this one like he’s disagreeing heartily with Jared, and continues to watch. Jared tunes Jensen out as best as he can, but he’s not used to this sudden attention. When Jensen looks at him it’s usually because Jared’s about to be kissed or touched within an inch of his life. Yet somehow this is more unnerving, the anticipation of touch gone because Jared’s not asking and Jensen’s not reaching. 

“What’s that? On the back of your hand?”

Jared freezes, because he knows what Jensen’s talking about and he wishes he still cared enough to wear his gloves anymore around Jensen, if not on both hands, then just the one. He puts the pencil down and tucks his hand inward against his chest, the scars on his knuckles fading from stretched white back to light pink. 

Jensen’s had to have seen them before now, with their near constant proximity with one another, but like most subjects declined asking Jared about it. Maybe because didn't want to bother Jared, maybe because he didn’t care. Jared had been grateful for the lack of questions about his hand, but now, with comfortable open conversation already going, Jensen’s asking.

Jared smiles, because he’s learned by this point that lying with a smile is best way to deflect, keeping his eyes trained on the bookshelves as he says, “’S’nothing. Had an accident over the summer, cut my hand.”

“Liar,” Jensen shoots back, and though there’s a smile in his voice too. “Lemme see.”

Jared contemplates, then figures it can’t hurt and holds his hand out, shifting back into a sitting position.

He takes Jared’s hand, turning it over gently, and Jared shivers, because he will never in his life get used to that, the sensation of Jensen’s fingers pressing against his own skin. It’s still alien, ever after all this time experiencing it.

“Those look pretty fresh.” Jensen’s brow is creased. “What’d you do, stick your hand in the garbage disposal or something?”

“Or something.” Jensen’s eyes flick upward at the vague response, Jared offering no further explanation than a smile, hoping to communicate something mundane. I tripped and scraped my hand. I fell off my bike when I was a kid. I dropped a knife and tried too late to catch it. Something like that.

There’s a pause, and Jared’s waiting for Jensen to demand an explanation, find some truth within the lie that Jared is clearly building up, but apparently Jensen is playing devil’s advocate right now, because he merely runs his fingers along the scars, like tracing lines on a map that he’s trying to read correctly, but hasn’t quite figured out which direction is North or South.

“Did you get the scar on your waist the same way?”

Jared should have known Jensen had noticed that one too, lifts the hem of his t-shirt just slightly, looks down at the pink line stretching up from his hipbone, curving around his side. “Yeah,” he replies humorously, “same way. I’m a bit accident prone.”

Jensen doesn’t crack a smile at the joke, stares at the scrape and then fixes his attention back on Jared’s hand.

“Was it worth it?” He asks after a further moment of study.

“Was it worth what?”

Jensen adopts a clinical expression, continuing to turn Jared’s fingers over in his hand. “Whatever you were trying to claw or punch your way through to get to. Was it worth it? Did you get what you wanted?”

He considers lying, because lies are easy at this point, and they come with smiles and Jared knows how to pass those out like candy when he has to—when it comes to this. But Jensen’s holding his hand so gently all of a sudden and the truth falls, unbidden, from his tongue. 

“No. No, I didn’t.”

The words come out, a simple statement, but maybe something in Jared’s tone makes them sound off, because Jensen’s eyes flick upward again, and they seem sad. Or maybe it’s just Jared that’s sad.

Jared thinks there’s another garbage disposal joke somewhere in the conversation until Jensen suddenly raises Jared’s hand to his mouth, not kissing, but touching his lips to the scars over Jared’s knuckles. Like Jared’s hand is something to be healed, cared for, like somewhere beneath the scar tissue are deeper wounds that Jensen wants to get to, wants to kiss and make better as well. 

“Is this the part where you put a band-aid on it and tell me it’s all better?” Going for the punch line is habit, and even out of place, it works as he feels Jensen’s lips curve upward against the scars. “C’mon,” he goads, “I can’t be the only one with battle scars. I show you mine you show me yours.”

He doesn’t expect Jensen to take the bait, or at least, doesn’t expect Jensen to take it so quickly. Jared’s not sure where their pacing got off, but what was a lazily fun and relaxed afternoon has suddenly turned into something quiet and raw. 

Because relaxed or not, Jensen does pause, releases Jared’s hand, and maybe Jared asked for too much too quickly and the moment is gone. 

He’s also not expecting Jensen to strip himself of his shirt, and Jared would be lying if he said his mouth doesn’t run dry in three seconds flat. Jensen twists to the side, and gestures to his bicep, where the skin is smooth and lightly freckled, unmarred except for a small circular scar, barely the size of Jared’s thumb pad. It’s not jagged, like Jared’s scar, but mottled. Like the flesh was not sliced apart, but melted, burned; a long time ago, from the white and faded look of the cicatrix.

Jared has noticed it before during all those times kissing and touching Jensen’s skin, but he never thought anything of it, too caught up in what they were doing. Now, always the one for questions, Jared doesn’t ask, can’t ask. 

He recognizes the shape suddenly, familiar and slight, can picture what it’s from within a second, synonymous with the fiery tip of Milo’s stolen cigarettes. 

“I was five.” Jensen’s voice is casual, pitched low and steady with that same sardonic edge that lets Jared know he’s okay, everything is gonna be okay. “My…my dad had just lost his job, went out to one of those seedy bars. Got into a fight, which was, of course, against the law.”

Alcohol is against the law, too, but the Police let it slide most of the time unless it causes problems, and the government doesn’t protest. Fear of losing inhibitions and accidentally touching forces most people to curb and control their drinking as it is, but that curbing grows lesser with every step down the socioeconomic ladder. The further down in wealth and status, the more reason to drink, the more need for an outlet. 

But that doesn’t matter, because Jared knows exactly where this story is going, and he wants to stop it, wants to block Jensen’s words from coming out because he doesn’t want to talk about the things they’ve lost and he doesn’t want to talk about how far they’ve fallen because all he can think about is how others have fallen farther.

“My dad was skinned.” His shoulders are tense, musculature striated as if tensed to run. “They didn’t even hesitate or…didn’t let him explain how far from sober he was. Wam, bam, pow, and he was cast out into the street.”

“Have you ever seen someone skinned?” Jensen asks, lips twitching in something that could be a smile but it’s too haunted, too furious. “Because it’s not a pretty sight. They only remove the first few layers of skin, from the elbow down, and it’s agonizing. And everything thereafter hurts and you’re forced to walk around like that.”

Jared knows all too well, has seen the photos in the papers that Jeff left out on Sunday mornings; school teachers and government officials with shiny red skin, like someone had been sunburned and polished all at once. Had seen Alona.

“Anyway,” Jensen waves the side note away. “Dad got skinned, and lost his job, lost his respect, lost everything. No one wanted to hire him, so he stayed indoors, got drunk, slept a lot. Smoked. He didn’t seem to care about getting caught at that point. Maybe he was beyond caring. But this one night I get out of bed because he’s yelling at the TV or something and I ask him what’s wrong.”

Jensen’s expression morphs into something darker and frightening as he laughs to himself, and now Jared really wants to run away. Or maybe run to Jensen’s arms. 

“I don’t remember the burn. I guess, being five years old, I blacked out from the pain. Mom couldn’t take me to the hospital because she knew the doctor’s would get suspicious and come check the house out, so it scarred.” He shrugs, the pale patch of skin rising and falling.

“I’m sorry,” Jared wants to blurt, though he doesn’t really know what he’s sorry for, or why he feels the need to say it. Jensen scrubs a hand through his hair, like he’s embarrassed that he talked so much and he doesn’t want Jared to get the wrong idea. 

He suddenly looks like a lost puppy, wondering how he got to this place and how to get out of it, so Jared does what he can to get Jensen out, ducks his head so Jensen doesn’t have to look at him and presses his lips to the scar, just as Jensen did to him. 

“Sorry about the mood change. You were busy.” Jensen ducks his head and nudges Jared, with his forehead.

“Shut up,” Jared mutters, kissing Jensen’s scar again because yes, the pencil and sketchpad are calling, but Jared is powerless, already that same happy feeling stealing through him that makes him forget every single basic motor function that doesn’t relate to touch. 

Jared places one last kiss on the puckered skin, and maybe Jensen shivers a little bit and maybe Jared shivers along with him. The air between them zings with electricity and somewhere in the midst of their conversation Jared tucked his legs under Jensen’s and they became snarled together, Jared’s bony knees against the backs of Jensen’s thighs. Jared notices that he has a tendency to do this a lot, shift closer to Jensen in subtle ways that he doesn’t even notice until he’s practically in Jensen’s lap. 

It works to his advantage this time, that closeness, because all Jared has to do is kiss his way up Jensen’s shoulder, playing a jumbled game of connect the freckles with his mouth. Kisses Jensen’s collar bone, kisses the hollow of Jensen’s throat. By the time he makes his way to Jensen’s lips, they’re already flushed, full and pink. Jared thinks he’ll take his time but apparently Jensen is done waiting, tackling and flattening Jared to the hardwood floor with a kiss that evaporates the oxygen in Jared’s lungs. 

Jared likes this part, this playful making out that usually leads to something more, likes the way Jensen seems bent on keeping Jared still so he can do what he wants, kiss where he wants, touch where he wants; something Jared is only too happy to comply with. It’s a little different this time, for reasons Jared can’t put his finger on, but Jensen is being gentle, so gentle with Jared as his hands rove over the t-shirt Jared stole from Jensen’s closet. 

His fingers slide from Jared’s face to his neck, out over the expanse of his shoulders and down his arms, just barely brushing over the scars on Jared’s left hand, where a few minutes before there had been lips. 

The kissing is great, fantastic even, but the satisfying humming in Jared’s head comes from the way Jensen runs his hands down Jared’s body, marking out points and feeling out corners and edges, mapping Jared like he wants to memorize every square inch.

When Jensen’s fingertips hit the button of Jared’s jeans, Jared nods, lifting his hips in their usual routine because he’s almost positive there’s nothing more he wants in this moment than to get Jensen’s hand on his cock, maybe to reciprocate the favor, right here on this wood floor, Jared’s sketchbook at their feet. 

And it’s different. Jared can’t exactly explain how, but it is. Usually their fooling around is heated and rushed and spliced with overeager laughter and a little bit of fumbling around, at least on Jared’s end. But now Jensen’s eyes alone seem to hold Jared down against the cool floor as he unsnaps Jared’s pants and pulls the zipper down in a torturous fashion that has Jared exhaling ‘Jesus’ with a shaky laugh. Jared couldn’t rush if he wanted to, doesn’t want to, for once. It’s different, and Jared’s half terrified and half drunk with it. 

It’s unconscious, almost instinctive, when Jared cants his hips further off the floor so Jensen can slide his jeans down, smiling and huffing against the curve of Jared’s hip.

“Got any other scars I should know about?” Jensen asks lightly, deft fingers shimmying down Jared’s jeans and sucking a mark into Jared’s hip bone like they’ve got all the time in the world. “Any birthmarks?” He shucks the jeans off and glides his hands over Jared’s calves, pressing warm against the backs of Jared’s thighs. “Strangely placed freckles?”

“Look who’s talking,” Jared teases, but any insult to Jensen’s pride is pretty much shot to hell with the way Jared’s breath gets caught in his throat as Jensen’s fingers slip under the line of his boxers, brushing at sensitive skin. “Freckle face.”

Jensen props himself up on his palms, shifting back up to loom over Jared, kisses Jared’s lips once, twice, again. Jared reaches to cup Jensen’s cheek and brushes a thumb over the aforementioned freckles along his cheekbones, kissing them lightly with a teasing smile, before Jensen continues the journey downwards, back to business. 

“I wanna try something,” Jensen says several torturous kisses later, directing his attention to inching Jared’s boxers downward. “You want me to stop, just say ‘not okay’, same as always. Just ‘not okay’. But I wanna try something. You trust me, right?”

Even if Jared didn’t he’s pretty sure there’s no way he can say no to the image of Jensen’s face, mouth open, lips parted and asking Jared for fucking permission. Like the only thought circulating through Jared’s synapses right now is anything else but yesyesfuckyes. He nods jerkily and Jensen is smiling again, practically angelic except for the utterly depraved way he pulls down Jared’s boxers in barely a second, wraps a hand around Jared’s dick, places his mouth around the head of Jared’s dick, and sucks

His mouth is on Jared, and his hands are moving, marking out roads and highways and paths on Jared’s skin like Jared’s the map and Jensen’s gonna drive until he loses himself. They’ve never done this before and for some reason Jared had never even considered it was possible but Jesus fucking Christ it feels so good. He could explode right then and there, pressure behind the backs of his eyes and the sensation expands and stretches against his skin, hot and wanting. 

“God just keep,” Jared’s words stutter off into gibberish and he smacks his palms down, the slapping of skin on wood making his body jolt again as Jensen licks a hot line against the large vein of his cock. 

Jensen’s up again, crawling on all fours so he’s over Jared again and sweet Christ there will never be any image hotter than this, Jensen’s mouth wet and swollen and slick with saliva and Jared’s pre-come. His hair’s a little mussed from where Jared has been pulling at it and his eyes are glazed, like he’s dizzy and drowsy all at once.

“Still trust me?” He drops down to lave at Jared’s neck, the same tongue that had been laving at Jared’s cock all of ten seconds ago, and Jared’s head falls back, bangs against the floor as he bites his lip and then says, “Yes.”

Jensen moves back down Jared’s body, licking and sucking and dropping open mouthed kisses where he pleases. Then he pauses, cocks an eyebrow at Jared and then sticks two fingers in his own mouth, sucking on them with the same vigor he’d been sucking Jared’s cock. Jared doesn’t think he’s ever seen an image so pornographic, and he’s about to ask what the hell Jensen is even doing but then Jensen runs one slick finger down the crease of Jared’s ass and Jared knows exactly what is going on and he’s pretty sure he’s about to die because of it.

Jared can’t help it, he tenses and strains away because no, he’s not ready for that but Jensen strokes Jared’s thigh, whispers, “It’s okay, trust me, just trust me, Jared please.”

And it occurs to Jared that Jensen wants to do this, wants to finger Jared’s ass and suck Jared’s dick so why is Jared even complaining? Jensen’s hand rubs comfortingly, and his fingers continue to stroke in an upward and downward motion along the entrance to Jared’s ass. Jared’s so turned on right now, cock aching, straining upwards towards nothing in particular.

“Okay,” Jared nods jerkily, eager and “do it. Just do it.”

Jensen sighs with something that sounds like relief, like he’d actually thought Jared was going to say no, like Jared wouldn’t let Jensen do anything and everything he wanted to him and it would be perfectly fine. 

He locks his mouth on Jared’s cock and slides all the way down, at the same time pushing one finger inside of Jared, both movements slow and all-encompassing. Jared’s eyes fly open and he utters a rather loud and surprised, “Fuck!”

It feels weird, but a good weird, Jared guesses. There’s a burn that Jared had been taught in school would hurt immensely, but it’s laced with this much deeper pressure that feels good, fucking great even. Spit slick finger sliding in and out of Jared’s ass, and Jensen is going so slow, sucking Jared down at a leisurely pace and gently squeezing Jared’s thigh and it’s too much. Too fucking much and Jared is going to come so hard. 

Because it’s Jensen inside of Jared, going down on Jared, Jensen all around him and Jared’s never felt so comfortable with anyone before in his life. Because Jensen saw his scars and didn’t ask, just kissed them. Because Jensen has scars of his own. 

And yeah, maybe because Jensen looks fucking obscene with his lips on Jared’s cock, sucking hard as his cheeks hollow out. Jensen’s finger is exploring Jared’s ass, light pressure mixing into pleasure and even more intense pleasure and Jared wonders just what Jensen’s doing in there but Jensen evidently finds what he’s looking for, because his finger crooks against a spot inside Jared that seems directly connected to Jared’s dick, sending sparks all throughout his body and Jared can’t help it, he moans, shamelessly moans because what the fuck was that?

Either Jared asked or Jensen suspects he wants to know, because he releases Jared’s cock from his mouth with a loud popping noise that makes Jared twitch and whispers, “That, Jared, is your prostate. And I can touch it,” he crooks his finger again, and Jared’s gonna die, there’s no other explanation for it, “however many times,” another crook, press and zing and Jared’s cock jumps, mere inches away from Jensen’s face and shining with spit and pre-come, “I want.”

Jared’s never felt so much of everything at once. Because as deliciously wrong as this feels, it’s also equal shades of secretive and intimate. 

Jensen envelops him with his mouth again, and suddenly moans around Jared’s dick, the wet heat vibrating around the sensitive flesh and Jared moans with him, hips thrusting upward and he can’t, he doesn’t know how to control it anymore. 

He’s close, he can feel it, and for some reason, Jared needs to touch Jensen, because he can feel how close Jensen is himself, and Jensen hasn’t even been touching himself. But with Jensen’s finger twisting thick and sinful inside him and Jensen’s mouth sucking fast and sharp, Jared’s short on options, so he grabs onto the only thing he can reach, which turns out to be the back of Jensen’s head.

It’s not meant to be so violent, but what with the sounds Jensen’s making and the way his finger is moving inside Jared, Jared can’t help it. He gentles his grip then, cradles the back of Jensen’s head with his hands, scratching over Jensen’s scalp just barely because he knows Jensen likes it when he does that.

Jensen’s eyes flick up in surprise, like he wasn’t expecting Jared to reach out like that, and the hooded eyes and high color in his cheeks is what does it. The assaulting image of Jensen looking straight at him while sucking down his cock is too much for Jared, and he comes blindingly hard, hips churning as he gasps out and swears incoherently and fucks into the heat of Jensen’s mouth. 

And sweet motherfucking Christ, Jensen swallows it. Swallows Jared’s come and the thought of it slipping down his throat, hot and sticky, makes Jared come even harder, fingernails sweeping over the back of Jensen’s scalp and tugging lightly and Jensen groans again, throat fluttering around the head of Jared’s dick as he swallows spurt after spurt of come. 

Jensen rolls off of Jared with a soft, “Fuck”, mouth looking red and used as he tries to catch his breath. And either Jared’s recovery time is getting better or he’s just that goddamn good, because it takes him all of ten seconds to roll over on his side to unzip Jensen’s pants and start jerking him off. Jensen laughs, voice rough because Jared did fuck his mouth after all and he says, “You’re trying to kill me.”

Jared grins slowly, kisses the underside of Jensen’s jaw and mutters, “Something like that.” 

Jared strokes slowly, fingers dragging over Jensen’s red and rock hard cock and can’t help but feel a surge of victory when Jensen’s laughter dies out altogether, replaced with “Fucking hell Jared, just like that” and some guttural noises that are even hotter because Jared knows they’re coming from a throat that just swallowed his come.

And again, even though Jensen is so unmistakably close, Jared wants to drag it out just a little bit because fuck does Jensen feel good against him, every bit of him pulling taut with sweat and clenching muscle as his hips roll and his hands grip at Jared’s shoulders like he’ll die if he doesn’t have something to grab on to. Jared seals his lips around one dusky pink nipple, and then the other, smiling to himself as Jensen arches against him, hissing through his teeth and cursing up a blue streak. 

He takes his time, stroking and kissing and feeling positively giddy at the way Jensen writhes under him. His fingers aren’t thick in the way that Jensen’s are, but what they lack in width they make up for in dexterity, sweeping and gripping the length of Jensen until Jensen’s the one slapping his palms against the wooden floor.

He’s not sure why he does it, maybe because Jensen started it, maybe because it seemed just the slightest bit poetic if Jared finished it, but he fists Jensen’s cock, thumbing at the pre-come on the head and surges upward, up towards Jensen’s face. He leans forward and laps at Jensen’s lips, grinning as Jensen tries to reciprocate but really just ends up panting into Jared’s mouth and let Jared eat the taste of himself out of Jensen. The salty tang is more arousing than it should be, and Jared groans slightly and tugs Jensen’s dick just on the side of painful. 

Jared gets ready to swoop in and kiss Jensen again, but then stops, wrist slowing its pace and Jensen groans out a rough, “Jared, I swear to God…”

“Sorry, sorry.” Jared kisses Jensen quickly again and thumbs the head one more time, hitting that tiny bundle of nerves on the underside of his cock. Jensen doesn’t respond, already tossing his head back, thrown by the sweet friction of Jared’s hand and the feel of Jared’s skin pressed against his own. Jared looks down at what had stopped him, focuses on the tiny scar on Jensen’s shoulder again. He doesn’t know why he needs to, but he has to, and before Jensen can ask or curse or moan again, Jared is dropping forward, placing a single, open mouthed kiss on the scar, tongue flicking out at the toughened skin.

Jensen lifts his head when he feels what Jared’s doing, and it takes a total of three quick, hard jerks of his cock before Jensen’s spilling into his hand, hot and desperate and gripping Jared’s arms and biting into the flesh of Jared’s neck. 

Jared rolls off of Jensen, cock already filling up for a second time and he thinks now would be a good time for a cold shower, because Jensen looks like he’s about to pass out, cock still hard and twitching against the mess on his stomach. 

They lie there on the floor, and suddenly it’s a little awkward because that was…really awesome and a little intense. Jared’s not about to say it, but he’s pretty sure he came because Jensen was looking at him, and Jensen came because Jared was kissing him. Jared can taste himself in his mouth and he knows Jensen can taste him too, and everything was close and happy and Jared’s never come harder in his life than when Jensen went down on him and fingered him and groaned around his dick and let Jared fuck into the constricting warmth of his throat. And Jensen didn’t even complain, didn’t balk or tell Jared to calm his shit, just let Jared roll his hips and scratch at the back of Jensen’s head and ride the wave out. 

Jared shoots a sideways glance at Jensen, thinks maybe he should say something, do something, and every cell in his body is calling for him to just curl up against Jensen’s side and kiss him, continue to play connect the freckles and place a hand over that dime-sized scar and tell Jensen something, anything, but when he turns the words die in his throat.

Because Jensen is looking at him, not touching or fucking or sucking or even talking but just looking at Jared, and there’s something completely open in his face that sends a feeling like summer pouring into Jared’s system. It’s not a burning heat like it had been moments before, but subtle, sweltering, and it feels so familiar that Jared wants it to never end. 

It’s a few seconds, nothing more. But the moment makes Jared’s words die in his throat as they lie there, sweaty and sticky and flushed all to hell. 

There’s a part of Jared that wonders if Chad and Jensen would have gotten along if things had been different, had happened different. Jensen is like Chad; synonymous with the sun in practically the same way, but something about it is different with Jensen. Jensen doesn’t bounce around like a ray of sunlight in the way Chad did, uncontrollable, impossible to catch. He burns; quietly, intensely, but just as beautifully. Jared can say something, do something, and Jensen’s face will open and light spills out of him, a softer light than Chad’s, but no less filled with passion and joy.

Like now.

In the end it’s probably that moment that distracts them from the incessant buzzing of Jensen’s phone. Finally Jensen groans, hand slapping downward to where his pants are gathered around the bend in his knee. Apparently the music was turned up too loud or they were both entirely too turned on to notice the four missed calls that came in while they were going at it. Jensen grins, wiggles his eyebrows at Jared playfully before he presses ‘answer’ and brings the phone up to his ear with a tremendously overdramatic sigh. 

“Jesus, Danni, what the hell is so urgent that you had to call now, of all times? Why the fuck are you--”

Jensen cuts himself short, and two seconds later Jared raises his head and sees why. The lines of Jensen’s face have frozen like stone, jaw set, and where his face was flushed a few moments ago he now looks pale, drawn.

“What do you mean he just died?” Jensen snaps.

There’s a burst of noise from the ear piece of the phone, and Jared realizes a second later that Danneel is crying, hysteria making her voice pitched and strident. He can’t really make out much of what she’s saying from this distance, even as close as he is to Jensen, but he can tell from the steadily withdrawing expression on Jensen’s face that it’s bad, it’s really, really bad.

“Danneel, listen to me,” Jensen speaks softly, standing up and jerking his pants up as fast as he can. “Close your windows, lock your doors. Don’t go outside. I will be there as soon as I can.”

There’s another high pitched burst of sound from the phone and Jensen listens, and then exudes a loud, “Fuck!” that causes Jared to jump, followed by a, “No, it’s okay. That’s not going to happen. Nothing’s going to happen to you, Dan.”

No coherent response, just a sharp cry on the phone and Jared winces. 

“I’ll be right there,” Jensen promises, ending the call shortly after. He stands, bare-chested for a moment, hand fisted in his hair and eyes flickering with intense concentration. A second of a pause, that’s all there is, and then he’s off like a rocket, in motion and impossible to stop.

“We’ve got to go.”

“What happened?” Jared’s already tugging his shirt on and pulling up his pants, swiping up socks and jamming his feet into them. “She seemed upset.”

“Upset doesn’t begin to cover it,” Jensen says tersely. “She’s fucking screwed if we don’t get to her place soon.”

“We?” Jared takes a split second to wonder, and then says, “Jensen--”

“Deal gone wrong,” he explains, voice muffled through the fabric of his t-shirt as he yanks it over his head. “Guy came over to Danni’s place. She thinks he was on something, I don’t even know. Drugs, it was hard to tell I guess. But he went to pay her and started having a seizure. She couldn’t figure out what to do, and then he was dead.”

Dead? 

“But that’s not all.” Jensen looks at Jared, visibly shaken and Jared wants to take his hand, just hold it forever, but he quells the urge at the look in Jensen’s eye; overturned coals burning green. “He was a Carrier Caretaker, worked with Carriers, Jared. He worked for the fucking government and he died in Danneel’s house.”

Pulse racing rapid fire, Jared’s up like a shot. If the man that died in Danneel’s house had just been an ordinary citizen, that would be bad enough. A man who works for the government, however, is infinitely worse. 

Government employees are held to a higher code than the rest of society, stricter rules, more demanded of to respect the law, infinitely more. Carrier Caretakers aren’t allowed to make private visits to houses except in very specific circumstances. Jensen paces back and forth, cursing to himself, and Jared understands why. 

If the police come to Danneel’s house and see a dead Carrier Caretaker, and a single girl with no actual employment, they’re going to know what happened. They’re going to see the dead man on the floor and the girl carrying only cash and two and two will make four and Danneel will be arrested. It doesn’t matter whether she killed the man or not, it won’t matter that he was the one to pay her for her services in the first place. Danneel will be outed as a Dealer, and they’ll kill her. There’s no alternative. The penalty for Dealing is death. 

“So what’s the plan?” Jared bounds after Jensen, who walks out of the apartment without a single word, nothing but lines of determination carved into his features. “Assuming there even is one?”

“I don’t know.” Jensen’s jaw is working and Jared can practically see the gears turning, steam shooting out his ears as Jensen worries and exhausts all possible options in his head. “Hide the body, dispose of the evidence, make sure it never turns up. Something.”

“That’s not going to be enough--” Jared responds, cutting off with a yelp when Jensen grabs his arm and swings Jared around to face him, fingers locked tight enough to bruise.

“There isn’t a decision to be made about this. I’m not going to leave her to the wolves. I can’t lose her. I won’t.”

The conviction is so all-consuming in Jensen, there’s not a shred of doubt in Jared that Jensen would kill himself to save Danneel. The notion is terrifying, but Jared regards it with awe, because Jensen cares. Protectiveness bleeds from his every movement, and there’s no way Jared could ever talk him out of this, whatever this even is. 

“There’s not really anything we can do at this point,” Jared says feebly, pulling at Jensen’s grip, “If we hide the body they’ll track it, Jensen. I know they will. It doesn’t matter how we burn it or where we hide it, they will find it and they will trace it back to her.”

“I would be dead if it weren’t for Danneel,” Jensen snaps, like he hasn’t even heard a word Jared’s said. Throwing Jared’s arm away from him, he stalks to the car and throws the door open. “That girl has been like my little sister since I was a kid and if she gets hurt or killed--” He cuts off, chewing the inside of his cheek and glaring at his own reflection in the side view mirror. Jared can see himself too, behind Jensen, pale, but not scared. Jensen sighs, turns back to Jared with his hands on his hips. “But that’s not what’s going to happen. I’m not going to let that happen. I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”

And maybe once upon a time Jared wouldn’t understand. Would take Jensen’s sentiment at face value, maybe, if he had lived another life, thought a different way, had met a different boy on a schoolyard bench. 

“I do understand.” To not want to lose your best friend? To want someone around who knows you, who genuinely enjoys knowing you? It hits a little too close to home, but Jared can’t back down. 

People die every day here, without a second glance, without a single thought. People die and they are not remembered, no ceremonies, no funerals, no burial. People die and they are forgotten, dust on the wind, fleeting wishes on a birthday candle. But what’s at stake when there are people who will miss that person, who will mourn for them? 

Jensen cares about Danneel. And oddly, despite himself, despite years of distance ingrained into his core, Jared cares too. 

Jensen looks at him, all the stony resolution of not giving a shit, but there’s something else, a spark of pleading in his eyes. The desperate look of a man who’s about to lose his best friend for good. 

People die every day. They do. 

Suddenly, a light bulb goes off in Jared’s head. 

But maybe they can make sure this one doesn’t. 

He turns sharply on his heel toward his own car, digging the keys out of his pocket as Jensen stares after him incredulously.

“Where the hell are you going?”

“I’ve got an idea. I know how we can save Danneel without disposing of the body.” Jared opens the door, starts the engine, checks the mirrors, buckles his seat belt. He runs through the motions, but just as he’s about to peel out, Jensen slaps his hands on the window frame, like he can physically stop Jared from driving away with his grip alone. 

Jared rolls down his window. 

“What do you mean without disposing of the body, Jared, that’s the only way!?”

“Look. They’ll trace it. I know how the system works, or did you forget who my Guardian is? They track all their workers, keep tabs on their whereabouts. The second he doesn’t show up to work or call in, they will know. They’ll trace the body back to Danneel, I don’t know how, but they will. And at that point it’ll be mere hours before they put a bullet in her head.”

A shadow crosses Jensen’s face, and he makes a violent noise that sounds like a lion prepared to roar, and Jared feels that same rage, same anger, same fear coursing through him.

“But there might be another way...” Jared’s mind is working a mile a minute, head space eons ahead as he figures out exactly what he’s going to do. “But you need to trust me, Jensen. Don’t touch the body. Comfort Danneel, get her to calm down, whatever you need to do, but don’t touch the body.”

“If we don’t move the body, what else is there to do? They’ll know he’s a Carrier Caretaker if we report it, they’ll know he’s not supposed to be there, and they’ll know in a heartbeat that Danneel is a Dealer!”

“So I’m going to make her not a Dealer,” Jared responds, shifting into gear and allowing the car to lurch forwards as he begins to pull out of the driveway, hoping to god Jensen backs up and doesn’t try to physically restrain the car. 

“Jared!”

He breaks abruptly, torso thrown against the seatbelt as he turns to look, and there it is again, that blatantly, shamefully pleading look and Jensen looks young, young and grasping for straws. Sometimes it’s hard for Jared to remember that Jensen’s young; the age difference between the two of them tends to make it difficult. But here, with Jensen’s best friend’s life on the line and everything falling down around their ears... 

He looks like he couldn’t be older than seventeen.

“I need to know you can trust me to fix this,” Jared says slowly, articulating each word over the purr of the engine. “Do you?”

“Can you fix this?” Jensen asks back.

There’s a solid ten seconds of pause where Jared considers saying ‘Yes’. Better to reassure Jensen than to discourage him at all. Instead he sighs, gripping the steering wheel and looking out at the open road. He can be at his house in fifteen minutes if he runs the red lights. “I don’t know. But I’m going to try.”

It must be a good enough answer for Jensen, because he steps back, turns to his own car.

“Text me the address, get the Caretaker’s name from Danneel, text me that too,” Jared instructs. “Do whatever you need to calm her down when you get there, but don’t go near the body. Don’t move it, don’t check the pulse, nothing. I’ll meet you there as soon as I can. Now go.”

Jensen nods tightly, and Jared’s taking off, mind a whirring blur of plotting and scheming and preparing to break another law. But fear has become common to Jared, almost a comfort in its rush and familiarity. He’s got a plan, he’s got a motive, and he’s got means.

Now all he needs is a method.

***

Breaking into Jeff’s main office is easy because he already has his own set of keys. 

That happenstance of luck is the best thing to ever happen to Jared, and thank god for Chad Michael Murray. When Jared was fifteen years old Chad dared Jared to nick the keys from Jeff’s coat pocket, eager and buzzing. He had double dared, double dog dared and triple dog dared Jared to do it, but Jared wouldn’t budge. The office was sort of the sacred shrine of the house, forbidden room that Jared never even walked toward, because it was the place where Jeff worked, conducted his life behind closed doors. The door used to be open at all times in the beginning of Jared’s childhood, always noise pouring out from within, whether it was the police scanner, the light scratching of a pen, Hilarie’s laugh.

He had to steal the keys to the study, demanded Chad, but Jared had chickened out, so Chad had done it, snuck downstairs in the middle of the night on one of those rare nights when Jeff dozed off on the couch and lifted Jeff’s keys from his coat pocket without a sound.

Jared thought Chad had just taken them out for a few hours, but the very next day Chad had thrust a handful of brand spanking new keys that looked alarmingly similar to Jeff’s into Jared’s hand with a twinkling grin and simply said, “For future reference.”

Jared kept the keys, partially because Chad had deemed it his punishment for being a chicken shit, partially because he really had nowhere else to put them. Jeff’s office was easily one of the most well protected places in the house, in the city. He couldn’t just leave copies of Jeff’s keys in a dumpster, abandon them in an alleyway. Jeff’s study was important; Jared knew this without ever having to go in. It had ceased to be a room to linger in the doorway of the day Hilarie died; opened only when Jeff went in or out.

The plan, in theory, is the easy part. The execution is not. 

Danneel’s panicked voice rings in his ears and Jensen’s stricken expression as he tried to soothe her lingers in his mind. He waits for his eyes to adjust to the dark of the house, the way the moon backlights the furniture, casting a pale glow on the walls. Jeff’s bedroom door is closed, which usually means he’s asleep or at work. The crack under the office door is dark.

It’s with sweating palms Jared pulls out the right key, near weightless in his hand but it feels heavy as an anvil. There’s a clunk of the bolt turning, loud enough to resound, and Jared nearly pulls it back out and gives up, he’s so fucking scared. What would happen if Jeff were to catch him in this position? He tries to imagine Jeff’s shocked expression, Policeman’s instincts taking over in a second. Would he shoot Jared? Would he even give Jared a chance to explain? Did he ever give the other kids that broke the rules a chance to explain?

An image rises behind his eyes, Jeff with his gun pointed straight at Jared’s heart. He slips the second key in the next lock and winces when it unlocks with another sudden thunk. He’s got a warm bed upstairs and this shit isn’t his responsibility, goddammit. He doesn’t owe Danneel anything, doesn’t owe her or Jensen anything. He could walk out of here now and never think twice about it. 

That’s what anyone else would do.

But Jared can’t shake the nagging pull at the base of his spine, not guilt or obligation, but want. He wants to help Danneel, help Jensen keep her safe, which is insane because he doesn’t even know this girl. 

The way Jensen had looked back in his room though, concerned and worried sick and scrabbling for purchase; that was something Jared understood all too well. Jensen needed Danneel, whatever his reasons, needed her in his life and needed her to be okay and Jared knows without asking what Jensen would be like if she were to get hurt, get killed.

The final lock comes undone and Jared turns the knob fast, ducking under the trip-light sensor and weaving his body around to punch the security key pad. It’s a tonal keypad, the five note pattern memorized after years of hearing Jeff jab it in, and Jared jabs it now, the beeps of each button dropping like bombs.

He freezes as the alarm turns off, strains to listen for a telltale footstep or voice, but there is nothing. Not so much as a snore.

He listens for one whole minute, only relaxing when he’s absolutely sure the small noise didn’t wake Jeff up. He breathes in and out through his nose, and even that feels like a risk, but he’s here now. He’s in.

One of Jeff’s worst attributes is his habit of not turning things off or closing things properly, with the exception of the doors in the house. Doors because they’re the only things Jared thinks Jeff doesn’t want him coming through. He always leaves the sink running, forgets to turn off the stove or the dryer, probably too busy to see turning things off as a necessity. Jared’s constantly following Jeff’s footsteps and turning off lamps or the TV or the police scanner, to which Jeff just grumbled a sheepish apology. And true to his nature, Jeff leaves his computer on as well, screensaver of the Police Department Logo bouncing around until Jared nudges the mouse with one cautious finger and the screen comes to life. 

No password necessary, God bless Jeff’s continuity.

It takes Jared several minutes to get comfortable, keeping his eyes flicking back and forth between the computer and the doorknob, unsure if it’s going to burst open at any second. The mouse clicks, sound like gunfire in the stillness as he sifts through the files, tries to find what he’s looking for. 

Jeff’s got everything, and Jared’s eyes pick up words like ‘Contraband’ and ‘Warehouse’ and ‘Rehabilitation Updates’, which he hovers briefly over for a moment, then stops. The keystrokes are twice as loud, but in a few minutes the desired page is open, picture of a smiling woman with an elegantly gloved hand placed on her stomach. The database heading glares at him in the dark; Designated Carrier Registration. 

Jensen and Danneel are depending on him, and even as Jared struggles to type steady and not miss a single key, he knows that Danneel’s life is in the balance. You can’t hide bodies, not in this city. The man died in Danneel’s house and there he will stay. That’s that. 

He has to do this. Danneel will be killed otherwise. 

And Jared has seen enough death to last a lifetime. In fact, he’s pretty much had it up to here with death.

They can’t change the facts of the man’s death. So maybe Jared can change the circumstances.

***

The front door to Danneel’s place is open when he walks in, walls just as cramped as Jensen’s, but seedier, less clean. The plaster is peeling from the ceiling, hanging precariously over his head and there’s mildew on the walls and water damage in the crown molding along the edge of the ceiling. 

He finds them in the living room, Danneel’s head between her knees and Jensen’s hand rubbing soothing circles along her back as she takes gulping breaths around the high pitched ripping noise coming from her chest which Jared can only think to describe as the most passionate sobbing he’s ever heard, openly heartbroken and terrified and so, so sad. Jensen’s face is so contorted with worry he doesn’t even look up when Jared enters. Biting cold winter oozes in behind Jared, and he shivers, fingers cold even underneath his gloves. 

“Here.” 

Jared walks forward and shoves the papers into her hands without much ceremony, Danneel giving a startled squawk and jumping back, Jensen tensing then relaxing in the moment he realizes it’s just Jared. 

He stands with his hands shoved in his pockets; awkward, embarrassed, watching Danneel’s tear streaked and puffy face. 

Danneel scans the paper, jaw dropping. She looks up at Jared, trembling. “What the hell is this?”

Jensen flits behind her, gently touching the small of her back. It doesn’t upset Jared that Danneel leans into the touch, takes comfort in it. He gets it, at least, gets that sometimes when Jensen touches it’s impossible to not respond. 

“Congratulations are in order. On your new child.” Jared shrugs sheepishly. At Danneel’s blank expression he hastily adds, “It was the only thing I could think to do. My Guardian, he’s the Police Chief, I know how easy it is to track a missing person’s body to the place where that person died. It was the only cover story I could think of for a Carrier Worker coming into your house.”

“So what did you do, exactly?” Jensen asks, narrowing his eyes at the papers from over Danneel’s shoulder. 

“I um, broke into my Guardian’s computer and input Danneel into the system as a Carrier.” Jared explains and then looks back to Danneel. “Your insemination appointment is in two weeks. You’ll get your food stamps and accommodations following your first appointment. Today was your consultation, according to that file, and you were all set by the end of the meeting just before your Coordinator unexpectedly died. That’s your cover. The papers are your alibi.”

“How did you--”

“It’s a long story. But they’re official, they’re in, submitted by your Coordinator here. All I had to do was find your name and add you into the database, tweak a few details here and there. But uh, you’re pretty much set. Congratulations on your new child.”

He has to keep things brief, can’t really explain because they’re going to have to split so Danneel can call 911 and have the body taken care of properly. Still, Jared speaks as calmly as possible, preparing himself for the worst reaction. 

“I don’t understand, I’m…I’m going to have a kid?” Danneel’s lip pouts out and her eyes water again. “I’m not…It wasn’t supposed to…a Carrier?”

“It was the only way.” And it is. Jared feels sticky with nerves, isn’t sure if he’s done the right thing but he had to, he had to. “It was the only thing I could think of to save you, I didn’t have time to ask for your permission, I just…I just did it.”

Danneel sinks down into the sofa. “A baby.” She stares, eyes deadened, at the papers in her hand. 

“Danni.” Jensen comes off the couch around her and crouches, takes her face in his hands and Jared feels like he’s intruding, the gesture so oddly intimate that he feels the sudden urge to leave. Jensen doesn’t say much, just repeats her name over and over again, thumbs soothing at her cheeks, smearing tears as she shakes. 

Jared did save her life, even if not in the way she might have hoped for. Danneel will be safe, cared for, practically pampered. She’ll have money and food and clothes and people will respect her, treat her like royalty because she carries the future. That’s what matters, right? That she’s safe? That she lives? 

“It’s gonna be alright,” Jensen voice is pitched low for just her to hear. The two of them huddle on the worn leather couch, so Jared slips away into the kitchen, helps himself to a glass of water and paces around the small room as he listens to Danneel sob, “I’m so scared, Jensen, I don’t know if I can do this, I can’t have a baby” and Jensen respond, “I’ll be here with you to help, Jared can help too, he knows stuff. But Danni we’ve got to call an ambulance soon before things get suspicious…”

The chill in the air continues to spread throughout the room, tells Jared the furnace isn’t working, and he walks down the hallway, looking for the thermostat, worrying. It’s not fair to do this to Danneel, to give her the only option out by giving her body to the government to use for reproduction. Once she’s in the system, it’s unlikely she’ll get out until she’s birthed two, three children. Danneel gets to live, but her free choice does not. Jared made sure of that. 

Guilt simmers again and he doesn’t tamp it down. The apartment is small but Jared still wanders, eyes roving over the walls for the telltale dial sticking out, avoiding going back to the living room and facing Jensen’s shocked expression, Danneel’s haunted eyes. 

He’s making his fourth aimless round just past her bathroom when he sees the body. 

Quicksand sucks and cements Jared to the floor and he stills. Two steps forward and he’s on the threshold of the bathroom, taking in the image of the dead man on the floor, suit well fitted, hair mussed only where he must have skidded against the rug at the base of the sink after collapsing. Danneel said he’d been on something, and it looks like it, dribble of spit at the edge of his mouth where he started choking during the seizure. 

The Carrier Worker must have hit the floor pretty hard when he collapsed; there’s blood on his mouth, slight bruising on the head. Jared runs his mind over the list of well-known drugs and opiates one can overdose on, but for the life of him isn’t able to name a single one. He stares, equal parts horrified and transfixed and suddenly he’s hot skin and jumping backwards, sifting straight through these walls, through space and time and suddenly--

I messed up man. I fucked up. I really, really fucked up.

Sounding like a foghorn through Jared’s head, loud and racing through his mind and he can’t block it out, can’t ignore it because the man before him is dead and Jared’s not even here, stuck somewhere in the past. 

He’s going to be sick if he doesn’t get out of here right now. 

The panic attack hits full blast before he gets to the door, wheezing and clutching at his chest and feeling wracking shivers throughout his frame that have nothing to do with temperature. Jared folds in on himself, nearly spineless, air burning into his lungs and leaving in needle-like gasps and all he can see is that body.

“Jared! You alright?” Hands on his shoulders, pulling him upright but he can barely stand, a Tin Man that’s been too well oiled. Jensen’s hands are on his face but he can’t feel them, can’t feel anything, because he’s going to be sick all over the floor if he doesn’t get out of here right the fuck now. “Hey, hey, look at me. Jared!”

“Fine,” Jared grunts, spots in his vision, bile in his throat. Danneel hovers out of the corner of Jared’s eye, and goddammit why are they taking care of him? Danneel’s the one who needs to be comforted, is the one with a goddamn body just sitting on her floor.

The word ‘body’ stutters in Jared’s mind and he nearly dry heaves. 

Chest tightening painfully like someone’s grabbed his heart and twisted just so, and Jared’s going to tear out his own hair and start screaming if he doesn’t do something other than stand here, a few walls and a few feet from that body. Jensen’s looking at him, concerned, and he has no idea, no fucking idea what Jared has done, has let happen. Hands locked on his jaw, and why won’t Jensen just let him go, for Christ’s sake?

“Are you okay?” Jensen repeats the question again, and Jared doesn’t deserve that question. His fault. All his fault. 

“Need some air,” he gasps like a fish out of water. “I just. I can’t, Jensen I can’t.”

He follows Jared out the door, even dives forward when Jared nearly topples down the stairs. The floor is pitching upward to meet Jared but he doesn’t care, as long as he’s moving away. Every step he takes forward is another he takes backwards, slipping back days, weeks, months. 

Running from the past evidently only takes you so far. 

“Jared, I know it’s a lot to take in, but it’s just a body.” Jensen sounds in close in his ear, touching him. 

And Jared laughs, actually laughs because that might just be the most hysterical thing he’s ever heard. It is just a body, Jensen says. He’s right. 

“Yeah well, it ain’t my first,” Jared says flatly.

Jensen’s shift is immediate, but he doesn’t move toward Jared, stepping back to get a better look at him. “What are you--”

But nausea takes precedent over explanation and Jared’s gone, so far gone and already two, three, four months in the past, backtracking fast and he can already hear that fucking song playing in his head. 

It’s just a body, Jared tries to rationalize. It’s just a body and it bears no resemblance, too short and too doughy be a direct parallel. But it’s a body just the same; a body that once had a person in it, someone who laughed, drove, had a favorite soda and a favorite song. 

“Jared!”

He takes off, knows Jensen won’t follow him because Jensen has to take care of Danneel and that’s how it should be. Jared doesn’t deserve that sort of care, hasn’t even begun to earn it in the thick amounts of apologies he’s tattooed on his skin, invisible in the day light, showing in the realms of dreams. 

Jared leaves, Jensen doesn’t follow. 

He drives, drives with the windows wide open until his teeth chatter and his cheeks burn from the cold wind, drives until oxygen forces its way down his trachea again, drives and plays that song and feels internal screams wrack his bones until he can barely see straight for what he’s feeling, drives by landmarks and headlights, forgoes speed limits and traffic signals, drives to forget, but can only remember.

He drives and he drives and he drives.

And then he drives some more. 

Chapter Text

 

Jared is cooking dinner when his phone rings, the subtle peace of a Sunday afternoon of boiling water and a ticking oven timer shattered by the shrill sound. 

“Hello?” He balances the phone between ear and shoulder, towels his hands and smears tomato sauce down his shirt. 

“Jay,” the voice is on the other end is stretched thin, heavy breath sending harsh static into the earpiece. There’s music blasting in the background, distorting the speaker’s intonation with the rattle crash of it, but still the caller’s voice stays soft, weak. “Jay it’s me, man.”

The entire world morphs into discombobulated noise, tilting downward and upright and Jared nearly pitches forward with the effort to stand straight because he knows the voice, he knows the goddamn song blasting in the background, has heard it played many a time in the front seat of a hot car. And the voice, voice of a ghost that Jared hasn’t heard from in three weeks, hasn’t heard since it screamed at him to keep his distance. 

The wooden spoon slips from Jared’s fingers and clatters to the floor, red spatters on the linoleum tile that look like spilt blood. 

“Chad.” Jared clutches the cell phone, can’t let it clatter to the floor like the spoon. “You alright?”

He knows the answer is no, knows it the second Chad laughs, actually honest to god laughs on the other end of the line, and it sounds painful, like it’s breaking each of Chad’s ribs in two.

“No Jay, I’m not. You know I’m not.”

Jared does. And he hates himself for it. 

“Do you want to talk about it?” Jared picks the spoon up from the floor, tosses it in the sink. “Are you at home? I can come over, if you want.”

There are other things Jared wants to say, and he hopes that Chad discerns them. I can come over, I can help you, I can fix things, I cannot leave you to disappear. He just needs to apologize for whatever he did to chase Chad away, figure out what happened to Chad in the months Chad was gone, and it’ll be alright. 

“I messed up man.” Chad says in that same feeble tone, “I mean, I fucked up. I really, really fucked up.”

Jared has known Chad practically his whole life, has watched the kid grow from string bean limbs and spiky hair to walking talking sunbeams. He’s heard Chad sing and scream and shout with laughter. But he’s never heard this sound; this leaded, broken weight to Chad’s voice like he’s being pressed with hot stones until his body gives out beneath the pressure. 

“Look, are you at home right now?” Jared repeats as he’s reaching for his gloves, tries to keep his voice steady but he’s so happy, he’s so fucking happy that Chad called. Even if he’s a wreck, even if they never quite patch things up and Chad never really speaks to him again. “I’ll come right over, we’ll talk this out.”

“Doesn’t matter, Jay. ’S too late. Just wanted to say goodbye. And thanks for not giving up on me. Too bad I beat you to the punch.”

A sick, oily feeling hollows Jared’s stomach out. He’d expected the end of their friendship to come soon, but not like this. Not with Chad on the phone, sounding drunk or maybe just not even caring enough to speak properly into the phone, voice muffled and overlapped with the music in the distance. But Jared can fix this. Jared can salvage their friendship. Whatever he did wrong, whatever happened to Chad, they can work through this, because Jared wants to, because they have to.

“Chad--”

“How long do you think it’ll take?”

He’s halfway through jamming his fingers into the holes of his gloves when he stops. Because Chad knows how long it takes for Jared to get to his house, wouldn’t ask such a stupid question, even if it is Chad. 

“How long will what take?”

He remains frozen, watching through the window across the street as Mrs. Munoz waters her Chrysanthemums. That hollow feeling fills fast and something’s wrong; he can feel it prickling up the back of his neck in an onset of chills, hair standing up on end. 

“How long will it take for the pills to kick in?” Chad asks. 

The world shrinks and narrows to a vacuum tunnel and Jared thinks he’s falling, or maybe the ground under his feet is falling, or maybe they’re both falling together. There’s some weird echoing noise in his ear, like he’s listening to the ocean in a conch shell. His blood slows into ice-riddled sludge and his mouth is frozen around some sort of cry that is locked in his throat. It takes him several moments for him to clear his throat enough to unclench it, and ask the hardest question he’s ever asked in his life.

“How many did you take?”

The resounding laugh is empty, not a trace of lightness in it, and it’s the saddest sound Jared’s ever heard.

“Dunno,” Chad responds, fumbling with the receiver. Jared starts to breathe fast, panic setting in. “Lost count. ’M tired, Jay.”

Jared presses closer to the phone, willing himself to teleport through the wires and connection and find himself next to Chad, but he’s still standing in his goddamn kitchen, and the water is boiling and the cheese on the lasagna is starting to bubble in the oven.

“Where did they take you, Chad?” Not that he needs a response. He knows the answer. 

“Where do you think, Jared? I went where all the bad kids get put for timeout. They took me to Rehab,” Chad jokes, but it sounds like he’s asphyxiating on the words.

The Rehabilitation Facilities. Chad was there for six months. Six fucking months

He leaves the oven on and sprints out of the kitchen. The door swings open on its hinges. Dinner burns to a crisp.

He practically yanks the seatbelt out of the socket as he starts the engine, the only constant thing, the only thing keeping him from simply floating off into higher space, is the cell phone clutched tightly to his ear. 

Chad’s voice is the song playing throughout this particular car ride. And Jared’s never heard a sadder song. 

He tries to gauge how far gone Chad is, manages to deduce more or less that he downed a bottle of sleeping pills with stolen vodka. Chad’s a wreck, can barely hear Jared’s questions with how far gone he is, babbling aimlessly and breathing brokenly into the phone. And Jared, Jared tries to keep it together. But he knows with each passing inch of road under the tires that this is his fault, somehow. 

If he’d warned Chad, if he’d talked to Chad, if he hadn’t pushed Chad away that day in the tree house when all Chad had wanted to do was be close to him, if he’d done something, they wouldn’t be here. Chad wouldn’t be pumped full of poison, Jared wouldn’t be trying to assuage fears and terrors that are out of his control. 

The drive is a blur, a mess of Jared trying to calm Chad down and simultaneously get the story out of Chad, but Chad is fucked up, his words are slurring and his voice is thick and crackly like he’s been crying and Jared can’t remember ever hearing Chad like this. They’ve been friends for years, since they were kids, and Jared had never once known Chad to cry, or become upset. 

“Chad, it’s—it’s gonna be okay. I’m on my way, I swear.” Jared fists a hand in his hair, drives harder, faster. 

“You don’t get it,” Chad wheezes. “Jared, I want to die.”

Jared wrenches the steering wheel so sharply he almost pulls straight into the nearest tree, bites his tongue till he tastes copper in his mouth.

Jared remembers about shooting stars, and he wishes he hadn’t. 

“You don’t mean that.” The taste of his own blood as he pleads, “Chad, I know Rehab must have been bad, but you can’t--”

“Fuck you man. You don’t even know what they did to me. They,” harsh laugh on the other side of the phone, popping the phone speaker and Jared hears a clatter, a crash, something that sounds like shattering glass as Chad tries to stand up and pulls down something with him, perhaps a vase, a photo frame, a mirror. “I deserve to die. They told me I was sick, and they were right, Jay.”

“They even tried to fix me, they did. But I’m so fucked up even that didn’t work.”

There are laws on the speed limits, and Jared’s breaking all of them, and he’s gripping the cell phone so tight but his palms are sweaty and he keeps fumbling to keep it in his grasp.

He’s heard the stories, they all have. The Rehabilitation Facilities are a newer additive to societies laws, set up in hopes that instead of killing the kids who touched, they could help them relearn their behavior, pick them apart like little dissection experiments and sew them back together. 

Kids went all the time, most of them people Jared had only ever heard about, never met. But there were whispers, rumors; it was the sort of place everyone talked about but no one actually knew the truth about. Jared had heard about the solitary confinement, the painful injections meant to dull tactile inclinations, the pills that left you knocked flat on your back. But now, driving toward the person who was confirming the rumors with his dying breath, Jared can barely see straight with the sickness bunching inside him. 

Chad’s more or less incoherent again, but Jared catches things, stray phrases like ‘no sleep’ and ‘so hungry’ and ‘so many fucking shots and pills’. It’s a horror story made reality, and Jared’s standing on the sidelines, helpless. Chad tells him about hours of shock therapy, interspersed with a monthly skinning of his hands that would last all day. Moans brokenly about film reel after film reel of violence, fist fights and torture and rape, all at the hands of other humans. And all of this happened to Chad, Chad who one year ago had a brand new car and reckless streak a mile wide. 

They pulled him apart and sewed him back together like a defective Raggedy Andy, tinkered with him, and now Jared is left with a loosely stitched together version of Chad that barely looks like the original, isn’t the original. And still he’s desperate to save him, just the same. 

Jared can hear more crashing and shattering, and even a cry of pain at one point, but it’s hard to make out the sounds because there’s music blasting and he can barely hear Chad, Chad who used to laugh loud and talk fast any and every time he called. 

“I didn’t understand. Why couldn’t they just stop?” The sound that breaches the ear piece is a sob, and it hits Jared just how very tired he sounds, how fear and self-loathing and pure exhaustion has leaked into the phone and Jared wants to toss the phone out the window just so he doesn’t have to hear it. 

His foot flattens the gas pedal to the floor and houses blur by as he screeches around a corner at break neck pace for Chad’s house. “I told them I was sorry, that’d I’d never do it again. But they knew, somehow they fucking knew that I was lying.” 

As road signs and happy residential billboards of smiling people with yellow gloves waving at drivers fly by, all Jared can think about is that time when they were seven, and had been playing catch outside. It was hot and the sun was boiling, kind of like today, and Chad had been egging Jared on to throw the ball harder, higher, until it was all but a small white speck against the eggshell blue sky. Jared started to worry that Chad would miss it eventually, and it would hit him in the head, hurt him. And then Chad had shouted, voice cracking with glee, “Throw it up to the sun, Jared! Throw it!” and Jared had. 

He remembers the whole moment in slow motion, the way the ball lined up perfectly with the sun, blending in with the summer light and Chad couldn’t see it but Chad was still standing there, gloves outstretched and then the ball had hit Chad right in the head. Jared had known Chad was gonna get hurt. But he didn’t stop him. Couldn’t stop him. Because there was sun in his eyes and sun in Chad’s smile and it was too much for Jared to say no to. 

He makes a sharp left into Chad’s neighborhood and remembers Chad still has the scar on his left temple.

“Chad.” The word is broken, reflective of his friend and Jared doesn’t realize he’s crying until then. “Chad, it’s gonna be okay. I’m gonna. We’re gonna fix this. This can’t be right.”

Chad seems to regain coherency with Jared’s words.

“No see.” Chad’s words are barely discernible, breaking and fragmenting between short fast breaths, like he’s struggling to maintain oxygen to his lungs with all the words pouring out of his mouth. After weeks of silence, the dam has broken and it’s all rushing forward in a way that can’t be stopped. “That’s the worst part. I was supposed to be fixed. Rehab was supposed to fix me. It fixed everyone else, right? Kids go to Rehab and they don’t want to touch anyone ever again, and that’s that.”

“But I’m not fixed, I’m not. I don’t belong in this world, Jared. I’m just screwing it up and making it worse and I don’t want to make it worse. They promised they would stop me from wanting to touch people but they didn’t.” There’s a pause, another haunted swallow as Chad chugs from something that sounds with the dull ringing of a bottle. “After all that, I still don’t fit, I’m still not right. 

“You’re not—”

“I am!” Chad bellows into the phone. There’s a whoosh and another shattering noise, a slam and something that sounds like thick cotton slides to the floor; Chad sinking to the floor, back against the wall. “I am, Jay. They told me themselves. I’m sick. I’m unwanted. I’m a disease. Maybe I don’t touch and maybe I can’t touch. But that need to touch is still there… it’s still there, because I still feel it.”

Chad’s voice tapers after that, fading fast and Jared’s losing him. Jared keeps talking, trying to keep him focused, keep him coherent, but he’s drifting, singing snippets of lyrics into the phone along with the background music.

“It’s our song,” Chad slurs to Jared, voice thick with tears and pills and alcohol. “She said this was our song Jared. ’S a pretty good song.”

There’s a scuffle, another crash, and the line cuts dead, just as Chad’s house comes into view. Jared jumps out of the car with the engine running, sprints to the house.

The front door is locked when he wrenches at it, no sign of Chad’s Guardians being home. Adrenaline runs like steamed acid through Jared’s synapses and without thinking he slams his fist through the glass window. The glass shatters, slices through leather and fabric and skin and Jared hears more than feels the sound of his flesh breaking and tearing on the shards. He clears it aside and reaches further inside, doesn’t even notice how badly he’s bleeding from wrist to fingertips. 

He hoists himself through, ignores the sharp jut of glass into his waist and scrabbles his way through. Every inch of his body protests to him so much as taking a step forward but he forces himself to, brushing slivers of glass off like sugar as his lungs start to cramp and hyperventilation begins to take its course.

Down the hallway, take two rights, one left; Jared’s legs carry him the distance that he’s not willing to take with any other part of him. The song hits him like a cacophonous wall, playing throughout the house. Song stuck on repeat and connection calling connection as a man wails and guitar strums to match the bass thumps; complete pandemonium as Jared stops in the living room, sees mirrors and glass windows smashed and bottle shards strewn about on the floor. 

Everything shattered, nothing whole.

“I said baby, you know I'm gonna leave you. 
I'll leave you when the summertime, 
Leave you when the summer comes a-rollin' 
Leave you when the summer comes along.” 

The lyrics threaten to asphyxiate him and he makes his way to the end of the hall, broken glass leading him like a trail of breadcrumbs to the bathroom door, where he reaches for the knob with hands that bleed and shake. 

He pushes it open, but to no avail. There’s a solid shape against the door, not shifting, not budging, and Jared throws his weight in and grits his teeth and his feet are slipping against the tile and there’s water on the floor, dripping under the cracks of the door and that goddamn song won’t stop playing. 

“C’mon!” he screams; razors in his throat and glass in his hands. “Chad! Chad, open the door goddammit!”

The door finally gives a bit, and somewhere in the background are the words ‘Babe I’m gonna leave you’ as Jared stares, horrified, at the image before him.

A hand, slumped on the floor, palm outstretched, fingers reaching for something. A small baseball. A Big Gulp. Or maybe just reaching and hoping that someone will reach back.

Jared stares at the hand, and as everything suddenly goes mute all around him, he realizes that it won’t matter if someone reaches back or not. Chad won’t be there to notice it anyway. 

It’s the first time in his life that Jared touches someone, but he’s pretty sure it doesn’t count. Touching implies that there’s someone to be touched, and there’s no one behind those dull blue eyes, that slack jaw, open as if drowning and gasping for air. There’s no pulse to measure, no heartbeat to listen for, no howl of inhaled breath pulled into the chest cavity, no light or connection. But Jared checks for vitals and it’s through a haze of his own near death that he somehow manages to dial 911, even though his entire frame is shaking too damned hard to hold the phone. 

The paramedics arrive twelve minutes later. A woman with a kind smile and a badge tells Jared to go home, that they’ll take care of the body. Jared’s done his best and they’re going to take it from here. The woman offers to take care of his hand but he shakes his head, and she says Jared should get some rest, he looks peckish.

Jared drives home, gripping the steering wheel until he cries out in pain and the front seat is decorated with the steady drip drip drip of his blood. He doesn’t get home til midnight, takes every possible detour and avoids having to stop and get out of the car as long as he can.

The counter space around the stove is black with char and wet with fire extinguisher residue. He thinks Jeff will rip him a new one but Jeff doesn’t say a word at Jared’s appearance in the kitchen; hands Jared the first aid kit and leaves the Police Scanner on top volume so Jared can make as much noise as he wants in his room. 

He doesn’t, though. Picks each sliver of glass from his hands and watches the drip of blood that stains his bathroom rug. 

The c.d. he’d stolen from Chad’s living room sits in the backseat of his car, and it takes him two weeks before he can even touch it. It’s old, cover smudged and flaking with age. There’s no label, no song title. Just a scribbled name in the middle of it--slanted looping scrawl that Jared’s known his whole life.

Sophia.

Chad dies on a sizzling day in August, and it’s like he takes summer with him, takes life and fun and happiness; sucks it right out of Jared’s life as if it were never there in the first place. 

The cuts on his knuckles scar, slightly raised pink skin that looks like a kaleidoscope of sunburn, intricate and haunting in the way it never quite goes away. 


***

At some point between five hours ago and now Jared’s realized that the gas tank is almost empty. His knuckles crack when he moves them, sore from where he gripped the steering wheel. Seven red lights he’s run, twice the number of traffic laws broken, “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” on repeat. 

His muscles spasm with the effort of staying awake, eyes burning, skin numb from the cold air. He needs a place to crash, a warm bed to tangle in, where he might be able to breathe some life back into himself, fan back a fire from the smoking tinder hidden somewhere in his chest cavity.

He doesn’t realize he’s wound up at Jensen’s house until he turns the engine off.

He nicks the key under the mat, softly opens the door. Jensen’s car isn’t in the driveway, but Jared’s aware he can’t be far off, because Jared’s been gone for ages and it’s late. 

Jared takes one look around the room, no Jensen, no records playing, and heads straight for the bed. He could be polite, he could go to the couch or the beanbag chair but his limbs are sluggish and he just wants to be surrounded in something that’s comforting and all consuming.

There’s something to be desired in those cotton sheets, pale green and wrinkled with the nights Jensen’s spent kicking the covers away and sprawling out.

If it were any other time or situation, Jared would be embarrassed beyond belief to do this. But now he finds he really couldn’t care less, legs dragging him over and hands cushioning his fall as he flops onto the mattress and buries himself underneath the blankets. It’s cold in the room, and Jared is shivering after a night in the open air, but he focuses less on the way every layer of skin and flesh and bone in him is aching and focuses more on the patterned softness of those sheets, curls into each give and take of the cotton and tries to seep into the fabric, forgotten, ill-used, as the rest of the world spins on.

It takes him awhile before he realizes that Jensen has entered the room, doesn’t even hear the soft footfalls or the tweaking of his zipper as he removes his jacket. He opens one eye, then the other, and he knows what he looks like because he had seen his reflection in the rear view mirror; wrecked, red eyed, and hollow. 

He vaguely wonders if Jensen can see all that from the doorway, he vaguely wonders if Jensen even cares.

Jensen stands in the doorway, expression unreadable, looking at Jared. Jared expects him to say something along the lines of ‘Get the hell off of my bed before I kick your ass’, but instead Jensen pads over to the stereo system, sticks in a c.d. and then presses play without so much as a word. 

He removes the gloves that he’d been wearing at Danneel’s house, fingerless gloves that reveal the half-moon fingernails and wrinkled skin of the first knuckle. He doesn’t pay Jared any heed, rather gazing out the window as he walks slowly over to the bed, Jared watching him like a cornered animal about to bolt. 

Music pours out of the speakers and in Jared’s exhausted haze he doesn’t even realize how close Jensen is until he’s lifting the blankets and sliding in next to Jared. He doesn’t say anything. Like all times where Jared is upset or emotional, he doesn’t say a word. He simply lies a good foot or so away from Jared and finally settles his gaze on him. 

The gold flecks in his eyes create a mirror and once again Jared can see himself in Jensen’s eyes, and it’s not an image he likes, so he ducks his head down and leans further into the comfy pillow.

He waits for Jensen to say something, because he must be working around to saying something, but Jensen simply stares at him, tracks his way from Jared’s disheveled hair to the tear streaks underneath his eyes that Jared barely remembers making on the way here.

He waits for Jensen to say it, the ‘I’m sorry’ or the other pseudo-sympathetic words that should mean something to Jared but really don’t, but the music plays on and their silence stretches between the beats and strums, filled with vintage sound and breaking glass and all the things Jared never got to say to his best friend. Jared’s just about to close his eyes again and settle down to rest when suddenly Jensen moves.

Jared flinches, not sure what he’s expecting, but right now his eyes are burning and his skin is numb because nothing feels good or safe anymore. The arm that had come up to touch Jared suddenly stills, and Jensen locks eyes with Jared, waits until Jared relaxes again, muscles trembling with weariness. Jensen moves again then, snagging his arm slowly around Jared’s waist and inching him towards Jensen. Jared considers going deadweight for a few seconds to stop his progress, but he’s so very tired and Jensen smells like all that’s known and familiar.

And maybe Jensen isn’t the person Jared wants to see. But he sure is the person Jared needs.

So he closes his eyes, curls into Jensen, falls as much as he can fall while lying sideways on a queen-sized bed, tossing his gangly legs and arms on and around Jensen and letting Jensen do the rest of the work from there. And work Jensen does, all the while tentatively maneuvering him and Jared together like precarious pieces to a jagged puzzle and Jared just breathes. 

Breathes in that tang of sweat and thick smell of laundry detergent that clings to Jensen’s t-shirt, breathes in classic rock and cocky smiles, breathes in the smell of cold soda on summer nights and bloody knuckles and apologies he’ll never get to make. The room, the music, the entire universe, it’s all background to this right here. 

It’s a bit over protective, and Jared feels a little like a child, but as Jensen folds their bodies and arranges their limbs so no part of Jared is uncovered by something that isn’t blanket or Jensen, Jared finds he can’t complain. He concentrates on the expanding of Jensen’s rib cage against his own, the heat of his skin and the ticklish way Jensen’s frigid feet press against his and tangle, the way his knees gently nudge the meaty part of Jared’s thighs, because Jared’s legs are longer and take up infinitely more space. 

Jared fades in and out of sleep and throughout it all--in all the subtle and slightly uncomfortable ways that he usually does, Jensen is trying to make Jared aware of his presence.

When he’s safely and finally cocooned in blankets and Jensen’s limbs, Jensen turns Jared’s face, presses their foreheads together, breath mixing and for a moment they’re sharing the same air, the same lungs, the same bodies. The music picks up a little, and Jared’s eyes flutter open to find Jensen looking quietly at him, so close Jared can count the freckles that dust his cheeks, make out the blonder highlights of his hair even in the dark of the room.

Jared’s not sure how long they just lie like that, he may fall asleep a few times, he’s not entirely sure. He’s aware of a total of three things. He’s aware that the song in the c.d. player sounds sad, mournful. He’s aware that he probably smells embarrassingly bad, bad breath and cold sweat in his hair. And he’s aware of all the joints and patches of skin where he is flush against Jensen. 

Were it any other time it’d be an invitation for Jared, he knows this. He knows that Jensen will always put the option out there and he will always have the option of taking it. But not tonight. Tonight there’s an unspoken agreement that the places Jensen touches him are not for pleasure. This is what Danneel did with Milo that first night all those months ago. Not sex. Not kissing. Not blow jobs or handjobs or anything like that.

Just touching, for touching’s sake.

Jared realizes Jensen isn’t touching him right now because he’s getting something out of it. Jared doesn’t think he’s got anything to offer in this moment that Jensen would even want. Yet Jensen is here, forehead to forehead and knee to thigh and cold feet to hot feet and Jared gives in, sinks into it and it’s better than the most comfortable bed could ever be.

“Who is this?” Jared mumbles against Jensen’s lips, words like mush on his tired tongue. “The singer.”

“Dunno. Knicked the disc just last week.” Jensen adjusts himself around Jared. “She’s great, though.”

“Mmm.” The moment is starting to stretch thin again, and Jared can feel the taut muscle in Jensen’s neck, the questions he’s not asking and the assumptions he’s not making. He tries to wait a bit longer, wait it out, but Jensen’s never been a pusher, and it’s something Jared will never hold against him. Like all things, Jensen will simply make the offer; wait for Jared to take it.

Like always, Jensen will open the door and leave it up to Jared to step through or not.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Jared doesn’t answer, instead noses along Jensen’s neck and breathes and tries to disappear. He knows he won’t talk about it, won’t ever be able to talk about it, just like he knows Jensen probably pieced the truth together himself. Most likely connected the newspaper headlines to the way Jared can’t listen to a c.d. titled ‘Sophia’ and doesn’t really like driving all that much, connected Jared’s aversion to soda to the white lines that criss-cross his knuckles, draw up his waist. 

Jensen probably knows all the details. But he still asks Jared for his explanation anyway. And even though Jared isn’t budging, the ease of Jensen is trickling into him, spreading to the rest of his body, making everything a little less sharp. It’s the effect Jensen has on him, even when he’s not trying. Jensen’s the drink that Jared’s starving to sip, and he figures he owes Jensen something, even if Jensen thinks Jared doesn’t owe him anything.

“Look.” Jared brings himself face to face with Jensen again, and feels instantly exposed and naked. But unlike all the times before where he’d been literally naked before Jensen, this is different. There’s no heat in his stomach to keep him here, no stiffened cock or spike of arousal to make him stay and wait out the vulnerable feeling that tastes salty in the back of his throat. “I’m not saying that everything is honkey dorey fine. Just. I’ll be okay, eventually.”

Jensen gives him a dubious look, one that clearly says, ‘Yeah, okay’ and Jared doesn’t know how to convince him of this tranquility suddenly lining his liver and stomach and heart and everything that should be screaming with hurt. He pulls Jensen closer, because it’s all he can do, presses his fingers to Jensen’s ribs and presses his warm toes further against Jensen’s freezing cold ones. Makes sure Jensen can feel as much of him as possible because he needs Jensen to know that right now, despite the entire world, Jared isn’t as upset and broken as he could be, should be. 

“It’s not as bad as I—I mean…it’s still pretty fucking terrible. But I just. It’s not as bad as it could be. I’m not off the deep end, I’m not on the verge of some breakdown like I was last summer. I’m not better. But I will be.”

That vulnerable feeling refuses to go away, but Jensen seems comforted enough to not disregard Jared’s confession entirely. He does, however, look unconvinced, something that Jared needs least in this world. Over the past two or three months there has been one sure thing, and that sure thing is squeezed against him.

The words steal out of Jared’s mouth on instinct, because in that moment he just knows it, as sure as he knows he’ll never be able to talk about Chad without wanting to punch something, as sure as he knows that Danneel is gonna be okay, as sure as he knows that he’s been lying to his Guardian for months. They rise, unbidden, and Jared shifts and looks Jensen full on, sensitive to all the skin against his skin and the intense green regarding him unblinkingly, curiously.

“Because I have you.”

Something in Jensen’s face tightens, and he can see the warning bells starting to go off but Jared’s impromptu mouth is on a roll, surging forward and pressing his lips to Jensen’s before he can say another word. Exhaustion and the need for something else pushes him into Jensen, sweeping his tongue inside Jensen’s mouth, tasting Jensen with a swirl of tongue and a gentle click of teeth together. 

Jared suffuses to Jensen, tries to solder all the places there is space between them, tries to bring them closer and closer and Jensen seems hesitant, hands pulling as much as they’re pushing Jared away, mouth gentle in pressure and only half compliant to the way Jared is enthusiastically licking at the taste of him, chasing after the flavor like if he gets enough of it he’ll forget his name, his body, last summer.

“I’m sorry,” Jensen sighs the words into Jared’s lips, breathes them into Jared’s lungs and he feels the ice in his chest begin to crack like melting permafrost, breaking down into water that wells up in Jared’s eyes.

Jared breaks off the kiss, because his throat is burning and he can’t stop blinking. “There’s nothing to be sorry for.”

Jensen looks at him, and for a second Jared thinks he’s gonna have to leave, because Jensen’s gonna push the subject and Jared can’t handle that right now, not when he’s already defrosted into a fragile mix of summer sun and shattered glass in his knuckles. But Jensen just shakes his head, tucks his chin over Jared’s head and just holds him. 

So they curl up, Jared’s mouth breathing heavy and damp on Jensen’s neck and his legs losing circulation with the way Jensen is layered over and under him. Jared wonders if he presses close enough if he’ll simply merge with Jensen, if their bodies will just become this protective combination against the demons that prey in the outside world. He feels Jensen’s lips in his hair and Jensen’s hands on his back, making the smallest of rotating circles with his thumbs on either side of Jared’s spine underneath his shirt. The gesture, small and insignificant though it may seem, makes Jared cling tighter.

The room is quiet, the room is filled with music, the room is just them, legs entangled, arms wrapped round. Jared thinks he would like to keep it that way.

***

It’s late morning when he wakes up, still curled on his side but no longer engulfed by a Jensen cocoon as he had been last night. In the streams of sunlight that fight their way through the barely cracked windows hang dust particles, suspended oddly in space, floating like fallen leaves on a still ocean. 

Now would be about the time for Jared to go. He’s got homework to get through and he’s not entirely sure Jeff knows where he is, and that could turn into a nasty problem if Jared tries to sneak in. He realizes and stifles a grin into the pillow at the thought that this is the first time he’s ever actually crashed at Jensen’s place on a weekend. All nights spent at Jensen’s were weeknights, so there was a believable excuse for Jeff’s sake. Jared could not be at home in the morning and Jeff would just assume Jared had left for school, not a problem. Jared’s never had the luxury of waking up gradually, always out the door too quick, usually tumbling out of the bed, snatching his sweater and stealing a few c.d.’s from Jensen’s stack before Jensen can even wake and tell him off for it. He’s never lingered and lazed around, not like this. 

But now his limbs are sleepy and the sheets are comfy and he’s perfectly content to not go anywhere on this chilly weekend morning, casting his eyes along the man in front of him as an alternative to skedaddling out of there. 

Normally he’d do the typically teenage boy thing and check out the way Jensen’s biceps curl as he slumbers, the way his chest flexes against the material of whatever shirt he fell asleep in, but as Jared gazes on greedily, his eyes are drawn to the sun beam that falls across Jensen’s pillow, caressing Jensen’s extended arm with yellow tendrils of light.

It takes a second of inspiration, that’s all he needs, and suddenly Jared is leaning over the edge of the bed, reaching for his backpack, wincing as his joints crack with the sound of non-use and sleep. 

Fingers scrabbling at the gummy and dirty part of the bag, he comes up with success, one slightly dulled charcoal pencil and his sketchbook. Careful so as to not wake Jensen, Jared shifts about on the bed into a sitting position, casting his eyes over Jensen one more time, lingering in the places where the sunlight falls and following the line of sun up to Jensen’s hand.

He looks at Jensen’s outstretched hand, and an unbidden parallel image to a similar hand from the past rises in the back of Jared’s mind. For now he’s content to let it stay there, not suppressing it, but letting lie side by side in his mind’s eye, next to the hand stretched out right in front of him as he lifts the slender pencil and drags it across the paper. 

His fingers mirror and replicate the lines of Jensen’s hand, extended across the pillow, palm facing the ceiling as Jensen sleeps on his side.

Jensen’s hand looks rough, fingers thick and calloused, curled slightly in a way Jared knows can only mean that Jensen is deep asleep. The pads of his fingers are ridges of whorled fingerprints that lead to half-moon fingernails, fine blonde hairs across each knuckle, visible only in the morning light that falls in through the shuttered window, having snuck in on this moment of peace, this moment of Jared drawing Jensen’s hand, feeling the rest of the world move on and turn ’round without them.

The black and white hand sketched in his lap is soon joined to a solid wrist, curving into a roughly sketched musculature that makes up the forearm and bicep near where Jensen’s head rests. His pencil moves unconsciously, and Jared’s barely looking at his paper with how captivated he is by every bit of Jensen, from the hollow of his throat to the set of his chin, stubborn even in sleep. Jared loses track of time, sitting on that bed and trying to stay as quiet as possible, drawing as he’s never drawn before. 

The duo of sound between Jensen’s cavernous breaths and Jared’s pencil twist into some weird hypnotic harmony. Music is playing as well—music is always playing in this room, Jensen must have changed the c.d. or record after Jared fell asleep, and Jared thinks he recognizes a corny 80’s song, but it’s hard to pay attention with the task at hand; drags his pencil over the page and draws the shadows of Jensen’s cheekbones, the swell of Jensen’s lower lip, the wrinkle of concentration in his forehead. 

There would be an embarrassing explanation needed were Jensen to wake up, but for now he slumbers on, and Jared sketches on. He doesn’t expect to do Jensen’s body justice, but it’s the principle of the thing that matters. 

Because in all his life he’s never felt an inclination to draw a person, mirror a face and make a likeness on a sheet of paper. And here is Jensen, and Jared is practically shaking with yearning as the tip of his pencil glides, stops, glides again in a repetitive cycle of motion. 

He thumbs the shadow of Jensen’s two-dimensional cheek, balks when the smudge leaves an imprint of his own thumb against Jensen’s paper skin. Like a signature, like a mark, like he’s still Jensen but he’s also Jared’s. Jared makes a move to erase it, then pauses, leaves it be. 

When he finishes, a surprisingly short amount of time later, he looks down at the starting point of the drawing, glancing at the likeness of Jensen’s relaxed hand. His own hands are now smudged black, and Jensen’s going to kill him if he gets charcoal on the mattress, so Jared carefully folds them away from the sheets. 

His eyes feel crusty and swollen with exhaustion, but they remain bright and focused, tracing every dip, edge and curve of Jensen’s body. He wants to make a stencil of that body, burn it into his retinas so he never forgets the places where his skin ripples or bends or stretches. Wants to press his face to Jensen’s hands until Jensen’s fingerprints are engraved on Jared, impossible to remove. 

He stares at Jensen’s hand and wonders at the danger of such a hand. Can there really be something about those five fingers and padded palm connected to tendoned wrist that is bad

Asshole Jensen may be at times, but he has never, ever, hurt Jared. Sometimes Jared has wondered if Jensen even has the capacity to hurt someone. 

Why would anyone think to outlaw something so incredible? Those palms have skimmed Jared’s sides and pressed against Jared’s cheeks, those fingers have brushed, squeezed and crooked in Jared’s most intimate spaces. Why in this lost world had people decided to cover up and hide their greatest strength, the one that brings them truly together? Why had violence come to mean you must not touch at all? Why had the gloves been put on, why had holy palmers kiss become a boundary you did not cross?

Jared flips his sketchbook closed, tucks the charcoal pencil inside the spiral and shoves it in his backpack the second Jensen moves, shifts in his sleep and makes a rough throaty sound that makes Jared smile, he doesn’t even know why. 

Maybe that’s the thing of it, he ponders, lying back down next to Jensen and thrusting his now numb with cold feet back under the covers. 

Maybe outlawing touch was about control of that strength. Take away humanity’s hands, take away their ability to love and care, their ability to touch and understand, to bend and break, and what was left to connect to one another? What base instincts and impulses to reach out and understand others were left? 

Humans need touch. Teachers can wax on and on about intellect and rationale and logic and how the truly elite human is the one who keeps to themselves and lives for themselves and cares only for themselves. But looking at Jensen’s hand, Jared is beginning to understand they’ve got it all wrong. The law isn’t about building humanity, but breaking it. 

And Jared’s never considered himself to be someone who could break this world’s most important law, go against every morality he’d ever been taught, despite what he’s always felt deep down. Jared has never been that person.

But for Jensen, he could be. For Jensen, he has been.

He nestles further into the pillow and closes his eyes, lets the quiet morning sunlight play across his shoulders and warm his exposed skin. Jensen shifts a second time in his sleep, pushes closer to Jared and slips an arm around Jared’s waist, snugly fitting their chests together in an unconscious need for heat in the winter air. 

For Jensen, he is.

Chapter Text

 

Jensen’s quiet for the next few days, not necessarily uncharacteristic for him, but Jared knows it’s on purpose, has nothing to do with Jensen actually being moody and everything to do with what happened the other night at Danneel’s house, and thereafter. They don’t talk about what happened, but it’s evident in every wary glance Jared receives, in the way Jensen tiptoes around now like he never did before. 

He doesn’t remark on Jensen’s behavior. Lets the moments of silence run their course and lets Jensen make excuses to leave the room or even the apartment. Jensen spends more time at Danni’s checking up on her than he does with Jared for a solid week or so, talks more about Danni than he actually talks to Jared, hands gesturing to no one in particular, as if Jared isn’t even in the room. 

Danneel is doing alright, apparently. Goes in for her first insemination appointment and gets set up to bear her child. The death of her Carrier Coordinator is a tragic shock to the department and the community, say the headlines. According to Jensen the people have rallied around Danneel, clear a path for her when she walks down the street, hand over her still flat stomach. They look after her, worried about her health after such a traumatic event. No one even bothers to ask what she did before she was chosen to be a Carrier. Such is the position she now holds. 

But Jensen can only mother hen for so long and Jared can only quietly draw for so long, spending hours in Jensen’s room playing album after album reading book after book with nowhere better to go. 

Danneel comes over once, shyly says hi to Jared and follows Jensen into the kitchen. Jared thinks he overhears a snippet of conversation about a suicide a while back, catches an ‘I don’t even know what to say to him, Danni’ before he tunes it out, cranking up the stereo and gritting his teeth. So Jensen did indeed figure it out and told Danneel…so what? 

It’s not that he has a problem with Jensen and Danni knowing about Chad that irritates him, but rather the fact that they can’t seem to move on and forget about it, the way Jared so desperately wants to. 

He’s just about had it with Jensen’s stony silences and cautious side eyeing when Jensen comes in one night, Jared halfway through his Trig homework and finishing up the sketch of Jensen sleeping, shading in the crease of his eyelid, the curve of his upper lip. 

“You’re still here?” Jensen’s tone is surprised as he walks in, but he’s got a large pizza held in his hands. Jared can smell the olives and bacon from across the room--his favorite--and knows Jensen’s just playing casual. 

“Were you expecting someone else?” One more curve of pencil and he’s flipping his sketchbook closed again, hiding it under his text books. 

They eat the pizza in silence, Jared retrieving a few slices and then curling back up with his homework, Jensen staying in the kitchen. It’s not really awkward as much as it is quiet, and there’s comfort in the quiet, because Jensen’s there and for Jared that’s enough.

He’s halfway through a word problem and his third slice of pizza when he notices that Jensen’s propped in the doorway, arms folded over his chest, watching Jared with open curiosity. 

“Fun stuff?” He jerks his head.

“Bunches.” Jared looks down and attempts to finish the problem, but Jensen’s still staring and Jared can’t think of an excuse to get out from under that stare. “Is something wrong?”

“I got something. For you.” Jensen walks over, sits down in a chair near Jared, reaches in his pocket, pulls out a c.d. It bears no album cover, no design or jacket and Jared can’t even tell what singer or band it’s supposed to be. He looks it over, confused, Jensen’s hand writing all over it. But the tracks are not names, they are numbers. 

“What is this?” It looks familiar, like something he’s seen before, and he remembers that Chad used to send him coordinates when they were kids, text Jared coordinates while they were playing hide n seek and Jared would follow them to find him. Still, he’s wary, doesn’t understand why Jensen’s giving this to him. 

“I uh...I made it.” Jensen scuffs his foot, and it’s really odd to see him like this, almost embarrassed. “It’s a mix c.d., a compilation of a bunch of different songs. 

“You made it? For me?” Jared narrows his eyes. “Why?”

“Because,” Jensen pauses and looks at Jared earnestly, “I know what it’s like to lose someone. And for me, sometimes it helped to wander. So this is to help with the wandering.” He points at the disc marked all over with numbers next to the track listings. “Coordinates. In case you feel like getting lost for a while.”

“Do you want me to get lost?” Jared raises an eyebrow.

“No, no,” Jensen backtracks hastily, then pauses, restarts. “I’m just saying that sometimes being lost is what it takes to be found again. Try looking for the track numbers on a map. Could be fun.”

The cryptic yet playful tone in Jensen’s eyes tells Jared that it is fun. And that the small disc in Jared’s hand is something a little more than what Jensen claims it to be. He doesn’t know when he’ll listen to it, kind of wants to save it. 

“How long can I borrow it?”

Jensen blinks. “Keep it. It’s not for borrowing, it’s for wandering. You never know when wandering might come in handy.”

He looks down at the disc in his hands, the coordinates. It’ll take him hours to find all the places, maybe even days. Is that what Jensen’s been doing all week? Going out? Scoping locations so he can set up a game of scavenger hunt for Jared?

He feels a little bit embarrassed for his earlier irritation toward Jensen, looks at the gift in his hands and says softly, “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.” Jensen rubs a hand through his hair. “If it weren’t for you, Danni wouldn’t be--”

“I know.”

Silence.

“It’s not a lot,” Jensen responds, “but that’s my thank you. Got it?”

Jared nods, and there’s another awkward pause, Jensen watching Jared on the floor from the chair, a pause that turns into tension, good or bad, Jared can’t tell. 

Jensen changes the music, skips ahead a few tracks and shies away from Jared’s gaze, picking a song he’s never heard before which kicks in with tonal synthesizer led by slow drums and sexy strum of a guitar. It’s got a good beginning, Jared likes the sound.

The vocals begin their entrance he freezes, stricken.

He knows that voice, he knows it. Had hoped to never have to hear it again. 

“Who is this?” He asks softly, pulling his knees inwards, thoughtful. “Who’s singing?”

“The band?” Jensen grins, excited, settling back in his chair. “Led Zeppelin, singer Robert Plant.”

Same croon, different song; there’s no mistaking the voice, it’s carved into Jared’s memory forever. He had never known the singer of Chad’s favorite song. It had never occurred to him to ask anyone, not even Jensen. But the resemblance is unmistakable.

“You alright?”

Jensen’s half risen out of his chair, prepared to grab Jared and shake him and Jared must have some ashen and horrified expression because Jensen looks worried, even panicked. 

The sadness hits him, but Jared’s not bowled over by it like he had been weeks previously. The irony that Chad’s favorite song is played by Jensen’s favorite band is not lost on him, the pang that comes with it, impossible to ignore. He breathes in deeply, closes his eyes and listens to the opening lyrics of the song. “Yeah, I’m alright, really. Just. I’ve listened to Zeppelin before. Different song, but, same band.”

They both know Jared’s never heard it through Jensen. He can tell by the way Jensen’s jaw works that Jensen knows exactly when and where Jared has heard Led Zeppelin before. Jensen’s gaze drops to the scars on Jared’s hand, and when he looks back up at Jared there’s only sadness pinched between his brows.

It doesn’t occur to Jared until he starts blinking back sudden tears that Jensen’s only reflecting the way Jared himself feels and looks; sad, aching.

“It’s a good song,” Jared croaks lamely. He’s not irritated with the way Jensen is looking at him, because it’s not pity Jensen has written in the lines of his face, but rather empathy.

Which is stupid, to think that Jensen gets how Jared feels and wants to share that hollowed out grief with Jared. But after weeks of distance, the emotional give from Jensen, emotional anything from Jensen, really, is a balm to the jagged edges in Jared’s chest.

“Yeah, one of their best.”

Chad would have dug the song, and Jared’s mouth twists in pain at that thought. He can’t remember at what point he had stopped wishing Chad were there and had simply started missing Chad. But at some point between Chad dying and now, Jared had ceased trying to fill that one particular hole inside him where Chad used to be tucked. Didn’t try to pave over it or hide it, simply let the longing and yearning exist, a crater now a part of him.

It hurts like hell but, Jared’s too exhausted to fight it off anymore, settles to let it fade with time, hopes it does just that. 

He smiles abruptly, realization pasting a grin to his face as he looks back at Jensen, who is still staring worriedly at him.

“You’re playing Led Zeppelin for me.”

“…Yes.” Jensen raises an eyebrow.

“You had said I had to earn Led Zeppelin, couldn’t listen to a single song until I had earned it.”

“You are correct,” Jensen confirms.

“I earned it.” Jared smiles.

“Yeah,” Jensen settles back into the chair, apparently now convinced that Jared’s not going to have another panic attack and drive off into the night, “you did.”

They stare at one another again, and something else zings between then, warm, while they listen as one Zeppelin song slips into another. 

“So, look.” Jensen leans forward, balances his elbows on his knees. “I don’t really know what’s going on in your head, but. If you need to take a break from, you know, sex.” Jensen smiles sheepishly. “To sort some other stuff out. That’s okay. I can. I’d prefer if you did that.”

“Are you trying to give me space?”

“I’m trying,” Jensen speaks emphatically, “to be respectful. Have been all week. You’ve...you’ve clearly dealt with some shit and I don’t want to force myself on you while you’re still dealing with it.”

Jared starts laughing, laughs so hard he hacks and wheezes and Jensen raises an eyebrow, probably questioning his sanity.

“And here I was thinking you were working through some deeply traumatic past,” Jensen says, wry. “But I guess you’re just well adjusted.”

“Did it ever occur to you,” Jared wheezes, wiping a tear from one eye, “that I didn’t want space at all?” He settles, looks at Jensen straight on. “That maybe, all I wanted after last week, was you?”

“Most people would want space to deal with grief.” Jensen looks unsure, but there’s something else behind the caution, a spark of hunger that Jared hasn’t seen in days.

“Yeah well, I’m not most people.” Jared sits up on his knees, tucks the mix Jensen gave him into the pages of his Trig book. “And right now, I don’t want space. I want you.”

The imperceptible darkening of Jensen’s eyes is enough to drive Jared absolutely insane, because Christ it’s been days since they last touched, last kissed, last anything. Jensen’s been trying so hard to tiptoe around Jared that Jared feels numb with lack of contact, so used to Jensen against him and around him constantly that he feels like he’s starving. 

Wordlessly, Jensen reaches over to the stereo. Turns the song up louder. 

Jared crawls on his hands and knees towards Jensen, hips swaying slightly shoulders arching catlike and he might look ridiculous but the expression on Jensen’s face says the opposite, hands gripping the armrests, digging into the material with a rigid grip. He sees more than hears the sound of Jensen’s breathing, labored and deep as the music gets louder.

 

He gets to Jensen in the chair, settles each of his hands around the curve of Jensen’s calves, cranes his neck up to meet Jensen’s gaze, pupils fully dilated, wide black blending straight to green. His face is already flushed, and Jared has barely laid a hand on him.

“Want you like this,” Jared slides a hand up Jensen’s thigh, feels the tightening of Jensen’s cock under the fabric of his jeans and smiles slightly. “Always want you. Exactly like this.”

“Well you’ve got me like this.” Jensen’s eyes are dark and utterly smoldering, locked on Jared’s open mouth. “What are you gonna do about it?”

“This.” 

He grabs the front of Jensen’s shirt, hands scrabbling to twist in the material as he drags Jensen to him, open mouthed and wet and as welcoming as he can possibly be. Jensen groans into the kiss, grabs Jared’s face and spirals his tongue into Jared’s mouth, fissure of heat ripping open in Jared and he can’t believe how unbelievably keyed up he feels, how trained he is at this point to be hard at just the thought of Jensen against him, Jensen touching him, Jensen being touched. 

He drags his fingers along Jensen’s hard on through his jeans. He looks up at Jensen, eyes questioning, Jensen’s eyes burning through him. 

“Tell me what you want.” Jensen says the words softly, but they’re a command, not a request, and Jared blushes, mouth stuttering around the words. 

“How about,” he swallows thickly, “I show you, instead. And you can tell me what you want.”

Jensen groans again, bites Jared’s lip hard enough to sting, licks over the swell as his hands rove over Jared’s back, gripping his ass for a moment before Jared slides down Jensen’s body, tearing at the zipper of his jeans with fervor. 

“No rush,” Jensen says, but he’s thrusting his hips upward, making it easier for Jared to yank his jeans down to his ankles. He jerks Jensen’s boxers down afterwards, breathing hot against the inside of Jensen’s thigh, looking over the hot, hard flesh of Jensen’s cock.

“What do you want?” He asks, brushing his lips along the tip, the slit emitting the slightest bit of pre-come. This is unfamiliar territory, but as of last week Jared had received some pretty fucking fantastic sucking of his cock. He figures he can make it work. 

“Want you to suck me down, hard and fast,” Jensen says, voice rough and full of gravel. “Suck me, Jared.”

And yeah, maybe a little guidance will help as well. 

Jared licks tentatively at the head of Jensen’s cock, then takes it into his mouth, and sucks, hard and fast, just like Jensen said.

The reaction is instantaneous, Jensen’s hips lift and he tangles his hands in Jared’s hair, inhaling sharply with a soft, “Fucking hell, Jared.”

It’s difficult, a little sloppy, but Jared gets the hang of it as fast as he can, licks along the length of Jensen, tonguing at the underside of the head under the crown, every bit of his mouth tight suction and controlled kitten licks. He chokes a little bit, and Jensen’s hands worry at his jaw but he doesn’t stop, goes down with more effort, forces himself to relax. 

And fuck if Jensen doesn’t taste and feel like heaven on his tongue. Skin hot enough to scorch and the entirety of his cock so big. But it’s Jensen’s face that’s the cincher, eyelashes fluttering, head lolling, and the noises he makes, groans that get caught and strangled in his throat before he lets them escape and it’s the perfect undercurrent to the music playing. 

Jared bobs up and down, like he’s trying to break some kind of record and Jensen looks down at Jared. They lock eyes and Jensen, the silver tongued bastard, starts to talk. 

“You have no idea,” Jensen groans, voice gravel and silk, “how amazingly hot you are. How you just take everything I have to give you, beg for more.”

Jared just moans, can’t really be bothered to do more. 

“When I touched you the first time I thought you would scare off.” Jensen’s eyes are burning burning burning into him, hands on Jared, encouraging Jared. “Wanted you to be scared off, but you were so fucking stubborn, and you loved it. Wanted me to keep touching you.”

As if it’s even a question. Jared always wants Jensen to touch him. Always. 

“Thought I was gonna scare you off,” Jensen repeats, looking straight down at Jared. “But you took everything I gave you. Wanted it so bad.”

“I’ll take anything you give me,” Jared pulls back for just a moment and Jensen groans again as Jared nips at his inner thigh, inhales the scent of Jensen, musk and sweat mixed together. “Would have taken it from the start. Want you to give me all you’ve got.”

Like a shark that smells blood in the water, Jared smiles, and Jared sucks him back down, hollows out his cheeks and sucks hard and Jensen’s hips thrust upward and forward, cock hitting the back of Jared’s throat, head hot, spit slick. Jared tries to keep from gagging, he does, but tears leak out of his eyes and fuck it hurts just the slightest bit, but he’s not stopping, not for anything. 

Jensen’s hands tangle in his hair and his entire body goes rigid, hot come shooting straight to the back of Jared’s throat, and he isn’t quite sure how to do this but he tries; swallows as much as he can, throat contracting and fluttering around the head of Jensen’s cock. Jensen’s come tastes like salt mixed with some other foreign element, and Jared may never get used to how thick it feels, but it’s also kind of hot, even as he struggles to swallow it all, throat working, tongue laving, Jensen’s hands moving to lock around his jaw as he holds Jared in place.

“Fuck.” Jensen finally releases him and slumps in the chair. “Fuck Jared. Just, fuck.”

Jared releases Jensen’s cock from his mouth, mouth sounding with an obscene wet popping noise that Jensen moans at, limbs loose. Jared smiles smugly, smacking his lips together. His throat and mouth feel sore and his jaw cracks slightly when he closes it but he feels happy buzzy all over, turned on, but not to the point of insatiable need.

“Look at you.” Jensen’s breathing is returning to normal, beads of sweat seeping through his shirt. “Swallowed it all. Wanted it all.”

Jared nods, throat still too rough to speak quite yet. Jensen reaches out, puts his thumb against Jared’s cheek. “You missed a spot.”

He swipes his index finger along the corner of Jared’s mouth, pushing it past his lips and Jared opens readily, takes it in and sucks the pearly drop of come off it, swirling his tongue just as enthusiastically, just as willingly. 

Jensen shakes his head with amazement. “You are incredible.”

And it’s an odd moment to hear that, with the taste of Jensen’s come on his tongue and the bruising feel of Jensen’s cock still in his throat. But Jensen’s looking blissed all to hell, lazily running his fingers through Jared’s hair, and he’s so utterly attractive, sweat staining through his shirt and mouth red even though Jared’s barely gone near it. 

They kiss, and if Jared could speak he’d say Jensen is pretty fucking incredible himself. 

***

Alona Tal is back in school the following Tuesday.

Jared wouldn’t have noticed if it weren’t for the hush that followed her like the grim reaper, an omen announcing her before she even entered the hallways. 

He’s not sure what makes him do it, or why her appearance back at school feels like such a big deal, but Jared pounces on it, trails her around the hallways in between periods and watches in as non-descript manner as he can muster. She’s alone always, any friends he remembers her having avoiding her completely, and at lunch she sits by herself.

There’s not a second of hesitation as he walks over to her lone oasis of a table in the corner of the cafeteria and stands in front.

“Mind if I sit here?”

Her gaze, previously locked on her hands, drags upwards to take him in, surprise blanching her features. Her hair—he remembers it being golden and long—is hacked in uneven layers around her face, highlighting the sunken appearance to her cheekbones and chin. For a second it seems like she’ll turn him away, immediate wariness seeping in with the surprise.

Alona shrugs, shoulders sharp and bony, even in the gigantic sweater she’s wearing that swamps her frame. 

“I’m Jared,” he says with a smile.

“I know who you are.” She knows he’s been just as ostracized as her.

It hurts to talk to her, hell, it even hurts to look at her, because all he sees is Chad, in the tired posture, the skittering twitch of her facial muscles as her expression shifts from trepidation to exhaustion to curiosity and back again. Shattered, too late for Jared to help. 

But he can try, wants to try. 

He takes out the brown paper bag that houses his lunch, parts the peanut butter sandwich in two and offers her a half, silently. She stares at it like he’s offered her something diseased and grotesque so he retreats, begins to eat on his own.

She watches him for a while, but Jared says nothing, content to munch on his food and occasionally shoot a small smile in her direction. He’s not really sure what approach will make her less skittish and likely to run, so he simply sits, offers nothing that she might be able to turn from.

“I took a vacation.” 

Ten minutes later and Alona is the first one to break the silence, but she’s not looking at Jared. Her voice is awkward, stilted, like she’s thinking out the lie even as she says it, just like Chad. “Went up to New York, to look at colleges.”

“Did you have fun?” Jared keeps the pretense up, even if they both know it’s fake.

The knobby bones of her wrists rotate as she tips her lunch tray to one side listlessly, with tiny gloved hands. The baggy sleeves of her sweater drop back and bunch as she moves the tray around, forearms so pale. Jared realizes with a sickening lurch in his stomach that one arm is completely raw, freshly skinned within the last few weeks, while the other exists unmarred.

Another sharp shrug. An apple rolls along her tray, tilting and balancing precariously on the brown mushy underside of its bruise before shifting directions as she tips the tray towards her, the apple dropping into her lap. She hasn’t touched her lunch, and the period is already half over. He wonders when it last was she ate a full meal. 

There are scars along her wrists, tally marks scratched neatly, four on the exposed flesh of her skinny arms like dead branches of an aspen. The sutures are fresh, days old, scabs collecting over already raw scars.

Jared concedes that she might have gotten those scars in rehab, shouldn’t ask about them because it really isn’t his business. 

But Chad’s cuts had been a bottle of pills, so, maybe now’s the perfect time to ask. 

“Are you okay?”

Alona’s shoulders fold inward this time, like a dying tree herself, branches crooking around her trunk to try and sustain life within. 

Jared thinks of the sycamore.

“Not really.” Alona’s lip quivers, wide brown eyes in sunken sockets and she shivers involuntarily, retreats even further into her sweater. “But, that’s not really your problem, is it? Nor anyone else’s.”

Jared glances around and sees several clusters of kids turn away way too quickly, forcing animated smiles on their faces as they play oblivious. He grits his teeth and ignores them. 

“The others won’t talk to you, will they?”

“Can you blame them? They believe the visiting colleges story about as much as you do, I’m sure.”

She begins scratching at her cuts unconsciously, blood smearing like red polish on her fingernails. Jared quells the urge to reach over and lay his hand on hers, knows she’d freak out, not to mention probably scream as Chad had at the contact. She doesn’t seem all too intent on keeping pretense up further. Maybe because they all saw her skinned right in front of them, maybe because they were all there to witness the beginning of her breaking. Or maybe she’s simply too tired to try.

He can’t fix her. The realization falls soft on his chest and Jared feels short of breath with it. He can’t fix her, just like he couldn’t fix Chad. Alona Tal is shattered, and Jared’s left with only the shards and pieces. She’ll never be like she was before, crippled, and covered by tragedy.

But that doesn’t mean she has to stop living because of it.

Inspiration strikes and he gropes for his bag. It’s a stupid idea, but at this point it’s all Jared has to offer. Alona flinches at the sound of his sketchbook slapping on the table, which Jared carries with him always. He thumbs through the first half, biting on the inside of his lip until he hits the right page, rotating the sketchbook around on the table to face her.

She leans forward, Jared swears he can hear her creak. Her mouth twists, less fear than confusion.

“What the hell is this?” She asks, tentative, hugging herself.

“A drawing of the city from my window sill.” Jared says, just a little bit proud. He’d finished it a couple weeks back, after spending nights sleepless and redrawing the lines over and over till they were just right.

“And?” She prompts dully.

“Tell me what you see,” Jared instructs, trying not to lean forward with anticipation.

“I don’t get--”

“Please.”

She studies the drawing and Jared waits for minutes. The bell rings and it’s like Alona doesn’t even hear it, lower lip caught between her teeth and small hands twisting in her sweater again, the blood on her fingernails now mixing with fabric. She catches him staring and the arms disappear, tucked from view.

“There are many tall buildings, shiny skyscrapers, brand new,” Alona offers some time later, and she sounds winded, like just making the effort to examine the drawing was a marathon within itself. She shivers with exhaustion, pulls her sleeves back down to cover her arms.

“Go on.”

“But there are older buildings, too. They’re more shaded, dark. Forgotten.”

“Yeah,” Jared makes as much of an effort as he can to not sound pointed. “The slums. You know, my Guardian told me that used to be the heart of the city, downtown. It was beautiful and tall and alive. But…after the law was passed it got covered up, skinned of what made it important because it wasn’t right anymore. They said the architecture was too sinful, didn’t look right. Didn’t fit.”

“Do you think it’s dead now, that part of the city?” The question sounds defensive, cauterized with panic.

Jared shakes his head slowly. “Nah. Bad things happened to those buildings, fires and time and whatnot, but they’re still there. The structure of them is still sturdy, solid. Just because the rest of the city moved on without them, stripped them of grace and dignity, doesn’t mean the city is dead.”

“Kind of ugly, though.” Comes Alona’s rejoinder, and she tips her head, regarding the drawing cautiously. “I don’t think many people would miss them if those buildings disappeared.”

“Maybe so. But the fact that they survived this long and still made it through mostly intact?” Jared shrugs. “I don’t know about you but, they seem a lot more resilient than the rest of the city wants them to be, to me. I don’t think they’ll be going anywhere, wanted or not.”

He’s a little thrown by his own audacity, talking to Alona Tal without so much as a second thought or doubt about it. The more he says to her, the more confident he feels in his words, which is a miracle in and of itself because Jared’s never been confident with people. His entire friendship with Chad been built on Chad’s own confidence and fearlessness, not Jared’s, and any attempts at friendship before and after were slighted by Jared’s all consuming uncertainty in himself. He’d felt wrong; for caring and for wanting to reach out in any way he could, and being unable to do either.

Somehow, though, he’s made peace with that part of himself. Right now he can look someone in the eye and he can talk to them without stumbling over his words and he can outright stare, and express concern. Not because it’s obligation, but because it’s human. Jared’s human, and reaching out is human, laws be damned. And he’s…really okay with that. 

She’s started scratching at her arms over the sleeves again, sudden glistening eyes darting anywhere but the paper. She still hasn’t touched her food. Jared backs off, doesn’t want to crowd her. He tucks the sketchbook back into his backpack and shoulders it slowly. Alona worries at her lip, frail and solitary on the bench of the table as Jared stands.

“Late for class,” he says sheepishly, then as he turns around to pace away, “See you tomorrow, Alona.”

She doesn’t respond. When he glances back her shoulders are shaking, hair skewing her face as her neck inclines towards her lap. Tears pitter pat against the leather of her gloves.

He can’t fix her, Jared reminds himself, fighting the urge to run over and sit with her in further silence until she calms. He slows his steps, tries to gauge how hard she’s crying and see if he should go back.

“See you, Jared.”

It’s barely a whisper, obscured by a tear sodden cough that tapers off to more crying.

She’s not looking at him, probably doesn’t even know he’s still standing within hearing distance. It’s not a promise or a guarantee nor some extension of olive branch that comes with friendship. For all he knows, it might not even be true.

But it’s a start.

***

There are apparently many perks that come along with being the Carrier of a child, or so Jared comes to find out as the weeks pass on and Danneel goes from freshly inseminated to well and truly pregnant, suffering her way through morning sickness and heat flashes. 

It becomes a near weekly habit for Danneel to burst into Jensen’s room without ceremony, usually when Jared and Jensen are both in various states of undressed and debauched appearance. 

They’re always in a more or less compromising position, but as time passes and the interruptions continue, Jared gets better at listening for the indicative turn of the lock, the pitter pat of Danneel’s feet down the hallway. Still, it’s damn near impossible to stop. Jared, at least, never wants to stop, would be plenty content to continue making out, regardless of interruption. 

Since that night they listened to Led Zeppelin together, Jensen’s been different. More careful, yet still distanced from Jared in ways he can’t even define. He touches Jared more than ever, leans against Jared, presses their thighs together when Jensen reads, puts his hand on the small of Jared’s back when Jared is bending over to examine and select another book from the shelves. 

Jared’s delighted by it, laughs into Jensen’s shoulder, and absentmindedly runs his fingers through Jensen’s hair. In this way they’re closer than ever, communicating subtle messages with a small tap of their fingers, brief contact with their hands. In some ways, things with Jensen could not be more perfect.

In others, they couldn’t be more off.

They’ve fucked around numerous times since Jared went down on Jensen, they have. But Jensen has pulled back down a mask Jared can’t see past, has to strain upwards to kiss him, and even then sometimes Jensen doesn’t even let Jared help him get off. He pulls Jared apart at the seams, lays Jared out and makes Jared come so many times he’s seeing stars. But he doesn’t kiss as much, doesn’t lay his hands on Jared like he wants to learn every curve. Sometimes Jared wonders if Jensen looks at him and even sees him at all. 

He doesn’t know what’s made Jensen back off, if the sudden reality of Jared caring about him proved a complication or maybe Jensen just wasn’t into Jared the way Jared had hoped he was. 

Whatever the reason, it’s hard to be upset about it for a prolonged amount of time because the sex is still fantastic

They’re sprawled out on the bed and sweating and Jared’s just coming down from the blindingly hard orgasm brought on by two fingers in his ass and a hand on his dick. Jensen’s half wiping, half lapping at the come on Jared’s belly in a ridiculously hot motion and it’s hard to pull away or pay attention to the aforementioned sound of the key turning in the lock or the footsteps coming down the hallway when he’s got Jensen licking come off his skin. 

Danneel bursts in without ceremony, grinning and waving around a fist full of cash; her first Carrier payment to assure that she can be properly fed and clothed while she’s having her child.

Jensen’s up and off Jared so fast that Jared might consider it a scientific miracle, deftly yanking on his shirt inside out and backwards. Jared follows suit, yanking up the sheets, but he’s slower, unable to shake the exhilarant rush pumping through him, even without Jensen’s weight settled a top of him, fingers inside of him.

“Jesus fucking Christ, Danni,” Jensen swears. “You really need to learn how to knock!”

“Ah, no matter. Nothing I haven’t seen before.” Danneel waggles her eyebrows at the two of them. “Now c’mon, we’ve got shopping to do!”

Jared glances over at Jensen with his hair askew and cheeks flushed and sporting a rather tenting hard on through his jeans. But before either of them can protest, Danneel’s back out the door. “Chop chop, lackey! We haven’t got all day!”

He comes along by default, though Jared believes Jensen drags him along just so he’s not the only one forced into manual labor. Danneel doesn’t so much as question Jared’s coming with them, just shrugs, nonchalant, and tells him to buckle up, and pick some good tunes. Jared’s grateful that she doesn’t question Jared’s constant presence in Jensen’s house, has rather embraced it. Even the first time she came storming in on them, pissed about being unable to slide her jeans up past her thighs, she hadn’t so much as flinched at Jared’s presence, merely turned to Jensen and started ranting about pregnancy as if Jared was an everyday part of Jensen’s life. 

He thinks it might have something to do with the fact that he sort of saved her life, but he’s not going to get cocky and push his luck with assumptions.

“I feel like a pig that they’re fattening up for slaughter,” Danneel grins, not looking the least bit sorry about that fact before demanding that Jensen take them to the grocery store and then help unload the groceries into her brand new apartment, courtesy of the government on behalf of Danneel’s occupation as Carrier. “Be jealous Jen. You’ll never get this sort of royal treatment in your life.”

Jensen rolls his eyes and calls Danneel a goddamn princess, but he’s smiling along with her. 

Manual labor turns out to be more or less slave labor; Danneel purchases enough food and necessities to keep a family of twelve fed for at least a month. Jared can’t be sure if it’s the abundance of actual money or the pregnancy itself, but Danneel is bubbly, bosses Jared and Jensen around as they push carts behind her, load bags into the car. 

They’re back in Danneel’s apartment, and she appoints Jared as her personal grocery organizer, sending Jensen to fetch all the bags with a ‘Now, bitch!’. Jensen grumbles about favoritism but Danneel just tells him to get on those bags. 

Jared makes to turn and begin sorting through the various food items in his hands.

“Hey.” Danneel taps his shoulder lightly, and Jared turns back. She looks unsure as she stands there, hands fluttering nervously along her belly, still flat and smooth. “I um. Never got to thank you privately for everything. To be honest I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop thanking you.”

Danneel lifts her chin primly, and even though she’s so much shorter than Jared she stands tall, quietly dignified even with her messy hair and tired eyes, stray bits of auburn hair like autumn leaves that frame her face. 

“You don’t have to thank me.” Jared dips his head shyly, kicking at the floor with the rubber toe of his Converse. 

“You could have walked away and not given a shit. That’s what anyone else would have done.” She looks up at him, forces him to look back. “So why didn’t you?”

It’s a good question, one Jared partially wishes he didn’t have an answer to. It’d make things a little easier to bear, at least. But even though it’s been weeks since truly thinking about Chad, Jared still feels it, like skin deep cuts that lie invisible to the outside world but still sting when he licks at them, tries to heal them up and stop the bleeding. 

Jared fiddles with the finger of one of his gloves, retreats for a second, shapes his mouth around words. “I know what it’s like to lose people. And I didn’t feel it was worth it for Jensen to lose someone just because it was an inconvenience for me.”

“I don’t have to care, you’re right.” He doffs his gloves, the open air on his skin now a freedom, a desired luxury. He flexes his hand and begins to empty the first brown paper bag. “But I can’t help that I do.”

It must be enough for Danneel, because she backs off, pushes herself up onto the counter to perch. “Well, either away, I’ll never stop thanking you. For everything.”

Silence, Jared arranges the food by type and size, unsure of how to fill the space. Danneel watches him from the counter. 

“Nice scars,” she puts forth. “Sexy. Enigmatic.”

Jared laughs, despite the awkwardness. Or maybe because of it. 

“Yeah, that’s more or less what Jensen said when we were swapping scar stories,” he responds. 

“Get out, he told you about his?” Danneel’s jaw drops open in shock. 

“He showed me it,” Jared replies, which he’d be embarrassed to say if Danneel hadn’t already seen him bare ass naked a good handful of times over the past couple weeks. 

“No shit.” There’s a pleasantly surprised expression that drops onto her face. “Damn, he wouldn’t show me that scar for years. I didn’t see it until I accidentally walked in on him showering and even then he wouldn’t tell me where he got it. Had to practically beat him into submission.”

“You guys seem like peas in a pod.” Jared reaches up, tucks two cans of soup in the uppermost corner of the cupboard. 

“If such a thing existed anymore, he’d be my brother,” Danneel responds. “As it is, yeah, we are close.”

That much is obvious. Weeks of doctor’s visits and driving Danneel here and there have shown Jared just how close they are. They have this constant habit of touching each other, just some small bit of contact to let one another know they’re there. Jared doesn’t even know if they are aware of it, but it’s interesting to him. 

Danneel is constantly reaching out to Jensen, touching his shoulder or his hand, his cheek when no one’s looking, infinitesimal gestures that when pieced together speak to Jared of two friends who grew up in each other’s pockets and managed to stay intact the whole rocky way through adolescence. 

But if Jensen touches Danneel the same way that he touches Jared, does that mean he and Jared are just friends? Considering the distance Jensen’s been keeping from him when they kiss, the way he’ll never quite look Jared in the eye. Maybe Jensen just wants to be friends, is really only in this for the business and not the pleasure, not that Jared is paying him or anything but still. 

“So, what about Jensen? How’d he end up on the wrong side of the tracks?” Jared changes the subject after a pause, hoping he’ll get some intel. There’s an aspect and side of Jensen that Jared knows so little about, a part that only shows for a scant few seconds here and there when Jensen doesn’t think Jared is looking. 

“Fraternization,” she jokes. “I’m a bad influence.”

Jared gives her a flat ‘You’re kidding, right?’ look that Danneel takes mock offense to, lifting a small carton of ice cream out of the tiny fridge next to her. When it’s clear Jared is eager for an actual answer, she regards him frankly, snorts, and then responds just as flatly, “No.”

He blinks. “‘No’ what?”

“No, I am not giving you the inside scoop on Jensen. You can forget about it.”

“I just have a couple questions--”

“Were you not paying attention to the whole heartfelt ‘he’s like my brother’ speech?” Danneel’s nose crinkles in distaste and she lifts a spoon out of the drawer beneath her legs. “Whatever deeper part of Jensen you’re trying to get to know, don’t.”

“Yeah but--”

“But nothing. I’m telling you nothing about Jensen. Now change the subject again.” Danneel closes off the topic effectively by taking a rather humungous bite of ice cream.

“Danni, please,” Jared pleads, “I just have a few questions. I don’t need the details; I just need the briefest summary possible.”

“Jared, I’m not fucking around when I say Jensen might actually kill me if I tell you.” Danneel’s got mint chocolate chip ice cream in her mouth but somehow she’s still damn convincing. “I’m not touching that story with a ten foot pole. That one’s on Jensen.” Danneel raises the hand with the spoon palm outward and shrugs. 

He pauses. 

“If I say you owe me one, will you hold it against me?”

She glares at him, hard enough that he busies himself with washing and drying the produce. He thinks maybe the conversation is over when Danneel suddenly scoots closer to him, keeping her eyes on the door but lowering her voice for Jared. Jared continues washing, Danneel keeps eating, and they don’t look at each other. 

“You should know right off that bat that I’m not an entirely reliable source. I don’t really remember the whole story. It was pretty hush hush. I was young,” she starts, uneasily, “but I know that Jensen’s Guardians were fucked up, and it was hard for him, coming to live with me.”

“But what happened? What did they do?” He grabs a towel, dries the strawberries. 

“I don’t know the specifics. Again, I was young. But I do know that Jensen’s parents broke the law, touched Jensen over the age of five. Jensen’s male Guardian wasn’t a nice guy. Went and got out into fights a lot of the time, lost his job, took it out of Jensen. And Jensen’s female Guardian, she loved Jensen, I guess. Held him a lot, kissed him, stuff that normal Guardians don’t do. And that was fine, for a time. No one outside the family knew what was going on. But I think Jensen was happy. Even with Mark hitting him, Jensen had Samantha. He was happy.”

Danneel stabs at her ice cream, heels bumping against the cupboards as she drums them.

“It didn’t last.”

Jared glances out the kitchen window, sees Jensen re-parking the car, reaching into the trunk and trying to balance bags in his arms. 

It didn’t last. Nothing lasts, it seems. 

“Do you remember the stories in the papers about the Collins Family?” Danneel asks after a pause.

“Yeah, what about them?” The Collins Family was infamous, a group of people, Dealers specifically, who had grown up together, lived together, had secret children together. The blasphemy and horror at a Family Unit not assigned by the government had shocked the Nation enough that the event had made it into one of the many high school textbooks. Jared had been three years old when it had happened. A mother and a father, two little kids, who all lived together. It was revolting, Forbidden, and therefore had to be stopped. 

“Well, it happened on the day of their execution in the square. I don’t know if you know this, but the Collins family was executed publicly. In the main square of the city. Guess they wanted to make an example of them.” Danneel shudders on the word ‘example’, twirls the spoon thoughtfully in her fingers. “The mother, the father, the two children. They were all killed out in the open. And Jensen saw it.”

Jared’s fingers slip and the bowl of strawberries clatters in the sink. He doesn’t move.

“I’m not exactly sure what happened, exactly, but from what I gather Samantha and Jensen were in the front of the crowd when the execution happened. Jensen got scared, and grabbed on to Samantha. It was reactionary, he couldn’t help it. I guess she tried to get him to let go but it was too late, the Mayor, the police, everyone saw this nine year old boy crying and hugging his Guardian in broad daylight, crying ‘mommy’.” She rolls her eyes, bitterly. “Practically a savage. And the cincher was that his Guardian hugged him back, after a minute. She stopped trying to restrain him, just let him cling to her out in public. So I guess they had to be stopped.”

Another pause, Jensen makes his second trip up the stairs, places the bags inside the front door and heads back down. 

“They came for Jensen the next day, from what I gather. His Guardians tried to protect him, dunno the details, but I’m pretty sure they were killed. Right in front of Jensen.”

Silence as the words hang like the dust motes in the air around them. Danneel lowers her voice even further. 

“He moved into my house a few weeks later. They offered my Guardians compensation for expenses, which we always needed.”

“His Guardians, they were…?”

“I can’t be sure,” she answers softly. “I never had the courage to ask. But I think it was really bad.” 

“That’s horrible,” Jared says, and it is. There’s suddenly an entirely new layer to Jensen, mixed somewhere beneath the snark and the music obsession, and as guilty as he feels for asking in the first place, Jared can’t help but feel he’s tapped in to some new oil well of information regarding Jensen, something to help him better comprehend, get acquainted with. 

“Don’t pity him.” Danneel circles her spoon around in the ice cream, and it’s now that she looks at Jared. “I know that Jensen has seen more shit than most of us in this fucked up place, but don’t pity him, Jared. Jensen doesn’t really keep people around. I would know because I’m one of the few he does. And he doesn’t keep you around for your pity.”

Then what does he keep me around for? Jared wonders, starting to pick up the scattered strawberries one by one and place them back in the bowl, which then goes in the fridge. It’s obvious Jensen wants Jared, finds him physically attractive in some semblance of the word. But if it’s just sex he wants, why Jared? Jared’s by no means experienced, can barely keep it together long enough to let Jensen get him off. But the only alternative to sex would be emotions, which Jensen doesn’t want either. Leaving aside the one night Jensen had held him, he’s all ambiguous past and no eye contact whenever they’re close.

He doesn’t want Jared’s pity, okay, then what does he want from Jared? Touch? Intellectual stimulation? Amusement?

The sad fact of it is that, either way, Jared doesn’t really care. Danneel telling Jared about Jensen only plants fifty more questions where the original one stood. Every time a new mystery pops up, Jared just wants to dig deeper, burrow further, learn and know Jensen so well that he doesn’t even know himself anymore.

If only Jensen would let him. 

“So what’s your story?” She asks a few seconds later, sucking the remainder of the Mint Chip ice cream off the spoon, leaving streaks of the stuff on the silver.

“My story?” Jared closes the fridge door, strawberries safe inside. 

“You didn’t just wind up in an alleyway and somehow get involved with all this.” She waves her bare fingers with a self-explanatory gesture. “There’s more to the story. Always is.”

Jared’s not sure how or why he feels like his answer will be a big deal, but he does. 

“I had someone…sort of like you and Jensen. He was my best friend. And then he wasn’t. And then he was gone. So I wanted to know what it was he died for. Wanted to understand the hype.”

“Ha. Hype. It’s all hormones and sex pheromones. They’re a bitch, let me tell you. Just look at me.” Danneel waves the spoon at her stomach. 

Jared chuckles and empties the remainder of the grocery bag on the counter, hands slipping into automatic mode as he organizes the cans by food type and then by size, stacking them systematically in the cupboards like he does at home.

“So do you understand now? The hype?” The question comes out lightly, but it feels to Jared as if there’s a larger amount of curiosity than she’s letting on. “Did you find what you came for?”

There’s a clatter on the stoop before Jared can answer and a fresh bout of swearing as Jensen drops what sounds like several bags of frozen peas and a carton of milk. He nudges the door open with his foot, glares at them both. “You mind giving me a hand with this?”

Danneel grins around the spoon in her mouth, winking conspiratorially at Jared. “Nah, we’re good.”

Jensen rolls his eyes, heads back down to get the rest of the bags. Danneel is sure to laugh loud enough so he can hear her. She places her hand on her stomach, smiling down at her belly--where there’s a life growing slowly but surely--spoon still sticking out of her mouth ridiculously, like a kid with a piece of candy. Jared glances nervously at her.

“You alright?”

Danneel pulls the spoon out of her mouth. “Yeah,” she drums her heels against the cupboards again. “I was just thinking,” she laughs again, quietly, “you know, this whole baby pumping gig isn’t so bad. The stretch marks might be a pain in the ass, but, I figure I’ll make it work.”

Despite the lack of baby bump, her hands flutter at her stomach again, thoughtful.

He straightens each can so the label is facing forward, gathers up the bag and crumples it, before turning to face her straight on. Danneel looks small, even with her advantage of height via countertop. Christ, she might even be younger than Jensen. Looks it, at least.

“I didn’t want it to be this way. I didn’t want helping you to mean having your choice taken away like that.” Jared’s hands twist together nervously. “I’m sorry for that.”

“It’s not your fault. We don’t get much choice in this world,” Danneel answers bitterly, arms coming up to cross the tiny, invisible baby she’d never wanted. “We don’t choose our families, our general lot in life. I don’t even get to choose who raises my child.” She looks up at him and tears glisten back at him, but she still lifts her head regally, dainty chin trembling. “It sucks, but I’m one of the lucky ones. Am I grateful that my body is being used as essentially a vessel for someone else’s Charge? No. But I will do what I can to live. And I’m grateful for that choice. Life or death. If anything in this world, I will always have that choice.”

She stares him down for a moment longer and blinks rapidly, refusing to allow the tears to spill over. Composure still intact, she looks back down, sharp scrape as she scoops the remainder of the ice cream from the small carton. 

Danneel chose life. She anchored herself to her best friend and decided to fight because there was something worth staying for. But what happens when you have nothing to stick around for? What happens when you are so out of place and you have been chewed up and spit back out and still you do not fit? 

Chad’s what happens. He knows the answer before the question’s even asked.

So when the time came—if the time came—what would Jared’s choice be? Self-preservation was in high moral standing in this society, people never stooped to save anyone’s skin but their own; they couldn’t afford to.

So when it came down to it, what would Jared choose? What path would he take?

Death?

Jensen comes in grappling to balance the rest of the groceries in his arms, grousing about cruel and unusual labor, wind chapped flush to his cheeks that brings out the green in his eyes.

Or life?

Jared’s heart pounds.

Chapter Text

 

True to observation, the sex remains fantastic between Jared and Jensen over the weeks to come, remaining one of the less mystifying parts of their relationship.

Like clockwork, Jared so much as cocks an eyebrow or licks his lips at a certain angle and Jensen has him stripped and keening in minutes. Jared can’t tell if Jensen is trying to eliminate casual day to day conversation or not, and with the number of fantastic orgasms he’s been burning through recently, he really can’t be bothered to care much, either. 

“Do you like that?” The words are whispered against—into—Jared’s skin and Jared wants to jump out of his skin.

They’re seated at the foot of the bed, Jared shirtless and seated criss-cross applesauce like he’s back in first grade. His hands are placed, palms upward, in his lap, but they twitch sporadically as Jensen’s lips and tongue mark and span the wings of his shoulder blades.

“Yes.” He exhales, throat contracting as he swallows down a groan when Jensen presses his lips more firmly to his skin.

A sudden swirl of wet and warm against the skin of his shoulder, paired with a sudden pinch and roll of his nipple has Jared gasping and grappling backwards for Jensen’s face. It’s fruitless; Jensen’s far too quick and Jared’s far too frazzled. His torso bows as he swipes at empty air, barely clipping the material of Jensen’s t-shirt. 

“No fair.” Jared pouts.

“Turnabout is fair play.” A shark grin obscures Jared’s vision as Jensen crawls off the bed to stand in front of him, palms pressing on the mattress as he leans right into Jared’s space, unapologetic. “Don’t even think about playing innocent.”

Jared’s shoulders rise and fall as he shrugs, tongue in cheek as he tries to hide his smile. The disappearance of one of Jensen’s Led Zeppelin albums had been deliberate, Jared’s teasing way of fucking with Jensen in the best way he could, in the only way Jensen would let him. Attempts to suck or jerk Jensen off had been thwarted far too often, so Jared had referred to more drastic measures. He had imagined—hoped, really—that payback would be something Jensen had in mind, but this was just plain cruel.

Not that Jared isn’t completely and totally loving it but, Jensen doesn’t need to be privy to that fact. 

“If there’s anything I do that you don’t like just say--” Jensen starts but Jared cuts him off with an eager kiss, uncrossing his legs so Jensen can move in between them.

“Yeah yeah, just say the magic words and you’ll stop. I know, Jensen. But I think we both know that I’m okay with everything and anything you do to me. And if you don’t touch me right the fuck now I might actually scream.”

Jensen looks like he could smile again, but Jared pointedly nips at his bottom lip and pulls, and it effectively staves off any further retorts, thank God. 

“Lay down,” Jensen commands. 

Words soft, but tone sharp, and Jared flattens himself against the mattress, waiting instead of reaching, letting Jensen touch him the way Jensen wants to. This isn’t payback for the c.d. (as much as Jensen would let Jared think it is), and it isn’t Jared letting Jensen have his way.

But it is something, that’s for sure. And that something starts with Jensen pressing the slowest lines of licks and touches down Jared’s chest, pink lips curving as Jared’s pectorals twitch with aborted motions under his touch, skimming his fingers down Jared’s ribs, pianists fingers on a keyboard. 

It shouldn’t feel like this, Jared rationalizes even though Jensen’s got a smile of sin etched across his features. The small gesture of him kissing Jared’s scars shouldn’t feel so very intimate, languid, and gentle. Jensen’s avoiding eye contact and doing his best to work Jared up as much as possible, and it’s hot, it’s hot as hell, but Jared knows it’s not supposed to feel like this.

Jared should want to bite and scratch at Jensen as he feels Jensen’s hands fumbling at his zipper and dip below the waist band of his jeans and fuck. Jared should be half mad with lust and nothing else as thick and coarse fingers pull his jeans down and along the narrow line of his swimmer’s hips. 

He should not want to caress and fondle and whisper sweet nothings as Jensen smiles into Jared’s tummy, running his tongue along the grooves and ridges of Jared’s stomach, dipping for the briefest of seconds into his belly button, playful, leisurely. 

Jared should want to throttle Jensen, should want to grab at Jensen and pull him up and insist that he stop teasing and make Jared come immediately. 

But he doesn’t move, content to simply bask in the attention that Jensen is paying him, cock hard and skin humming and grateful for any way Jensen is willing to dote on him. He closes his eyes, breathes in that musty balm of books interspersed with the particular scent that is Jensen, rain and mint and tangled fingers hidden between the library bookstacks, and groans softly as Jensen’s fingers finally fling off his jeans and his lips murmur over Jared’s flushed cock. 

There’s something wrong here, and Jared can’t for the life of him put his finger on it. He wants more than what Jensen’s giving him, but not in the immediately satisfied way. He wants Jensen to smile at him and not his body, lock eyes on his face and not his dick. There’s an inscrutable barrier between the two of them and yeah, everything Jensen’s doing feels perfect and Jared could die right on the spot, but he wants more.

A wanting for more than sex and orgasms, which, given that Jared’s sprawled and naked on the bed right now, is quite a feat. He can’t really define what ‘more’ means, what means of contentment he can further ask of Jensen, but Jared’s got a weird notion that this more—whatever it entails—is not a sex thing. Which is really confusing because sex is touch and Jared thought that touch was what he’d needed all along. 

There are pins and needles in the back of his mind telling him he’s missed something, but Jared is finding it harder to focus because hormones are making a rather spectacular comeback and assaulting his higher brain functions. 

Jensen’s taking his time, working down the length of Jared’s body slow, like he’s got all the time in the world and he knows it. Jared inhales sweat and sex and exhales the words, “You gonna suck my cock or you just gonna sit there?”

“Patience is a virtue, you know,” Jensen mutters into the crease of Jared’s thigh, tongue dipping lower and touching the base of Jared’s dick oh so slightly and Jared jumps, hips careening, seeking that pleasure instinctively before Jensen slams him back down with one hand, pressing Jared down into the mattress until Jared calms down, stills, waits. 

Jensen nuzzles the dip and curve of Jared’s pelvic bone, brushing his lips over the scar on Jared’s waist briefly. “And oddly enough,” he locks his mouth onto the head of Jared’s dick and gives one fast, solid suck, cheeks hollowing and hands restraining Jared and then releases it, “I won’t be sucking your cock. We’re gonna try something a little bit more novel. And then, if you survive, maybe then I’ll suck your cock for good measure.”

Jared shivers, bites his lip and still, Jensen won’t look at him. 

A pause, a shift of movement in the sheets, and Jared wonders for a brief second if Jensen is just going to stop entirely, going to get up and pick up a book as if Jared’s not spread and bare and aching for him. It would be just like Jensen to do so, to work Jared up in a way only Jensen can and then leave Jared hanging in a way only Jensen can. 

But then he feels the weight on the bed shift and then Jensen is hovering over him, warmth radiating from Jensen’s chest through his t-shirt. He doesn’t touch Jared, but instead leans forward and says with a voice that runs dark and ragged along Jared’s hearing,

“Turn over. Get on all fours.” 

The visual that matches the voice is nothing short of mind robbing, and Jared can do nothing but whine in assent, eyes threatening to roll back in his head as red hot embers of pleasure work their way from his dick throughout his entire body. He’s got Jensen’s wide palms flat against his stomach and Jensen’s breath against his face and Jensen’s mouth ghosting over him, parted lips shining with Jared’s pre-come in an image that’s so obscene Jared has to look away and remember to properly inhale and exhale.

It takes him a few tries, because Jared’s limbs are already jelly and he feels like he’s about to blow his load any second. They’ve been doing this for weeks now, months even, but Jared is never going to be used to the idea that this feeling, this incredible feeling of simultaneous euphoria and agony, is coming from the way that Jensen is touching him. 

That thought, that knowledge, that the one thing Jared craves most is the one thing in this world he’s not supposed to want, let alone have, sends his heartbeat thundering and his skin sparking and he can barely move with the reality of it all. That once again, right here on the bed amongst stacks of stolen records and wayward words that no one gets to read anymore, Jensen is going to touch him. 

“W-what’re you going to do?” He somehow maneuvers his limbs into a table stance, the soft fabric of Jensen’s sheets damp to his fingertips where he’d already sweat on them. 

He kind of hopes that Jensen blows him, he likes it when Jensen blows him, but it’s clear that today is not about what Jared wants or needs. Or at least, not up to Jared to decide what he needs or wants, from what Jensen’s hinted at thus far. 

Jensen moves behind him, pressing to Jared’s back to lick the shell of his ear and grinning at Jared’s suppressed shiver of delight.

“Don’t you worry about it. You just stay up and spread those legs for me, alright? Can you do that, Jared?” He bites softly into Jared’s shoulder, and Jared whimpers, shifts, tries and press his hips down into the mattress to maintain some semblance of pressure on his uncomfortably hard cock but Jensen locks one arm around his waist, holding him up, keeping him untouched as he continues to mouth at the muscle between Jared’s neck and the bone of his shoulder. “Can you spread for me? Let me see that perky ass of yours?”

Jensen’s all tongue and cheekiness, but that doesn’t matter because Jared’s dignity and modesty fall out of his brain and lay forgotten on the floor long before Jensen even gets to the word ‘spread’. 

The exposed and cool and very vulnerable feeling of his ass thrust in the air is suddenly more embarrassing than it is hot, and Jared flushes, looks down at his hands clutched in the sheets. He waits a few seconds, shifts slightly, waits again, and when Jensen doesn’t make a single move he starts to close his legs, suddenly mortified. 

Maybe he did it wrong, maybe he looked wrong, maybe Jared didn’t have exactly what Jensen wanted so Jensen didn’t really want him the same way that—

“Stay still.” Jensen’s voice is softer now, but there’s a grate to it that makes it sound strained, and when Jared looks over his shoulder he’s met with a dark eyed and flushed Jensen, looking at Jared, looking at all of Jared at last, like he’s starving. 

“What is it?” Jared’s muscles quake with anticipation and humiliation all at once. 

“Jesus Jared I--” Jensen cuts off, biting his lip and raising his eyes to Jared. “I wish I understood how you did it.”

“Did what?” Jared starts to feel extremely embarrassed, but he stays still, because Jensen asked, because he listens, because he trusts Jensen.

Jensen looks at him, just so, and it’s like ice on a burn Jared wasn’t aware he had. “You’re good at this stuff.”

“Good at what stuff?” Jared asks, equal parts aroused and irritated because on one hand Jensen is looking at him like Jared is good enough to devour and on the other hand Jensen seems more invested in making small talk than getting anything done on a physical level. 

Jensen looks at him a minute longer, eyes tracking their way from Jared’s ass to Jared’s waist scar to Jared’s back to Jared’s face, and then shakes his head again, as if to clear it. “Never mind. Ass in the air, soldier.”

Jared wants to argue and continue the tangent, but anything he wants to say is cut off with a sudden yelp as Jensen suddenly grabs Jared’s hips and pulls him backward, closer to Jensen, and Jared can feel the heat of Jensen’s lips on the curve of his thigh as one hand runs upwards and underneath to meet his torso, brushing back and forth slowly, drifting lower and lower in a hypnotic rhythm and what is he doing. 

Jared tries to ask as much, but Jensen’s thick fingers are digging into the meaty flesh of one thigh and brushing absently along the length of his cock and Jared is really bad at multitasking in situations like this. 

And then Jensen grins at him and Jared’s stomach fucking plummets, slithers out of his body and drops somewhere onto the floor because this is one of the most goddamn seductive smiles Jared’s ever seen, and he knows from the second it stretches across Jensen’s face that he’s a goner. 

“Brace yourself, Padalecki. This might get a little intense. And by a little I mean a lot.”

And maybe somewhere in the back of his mind as he sees Jensen lick his lips and lean forward with hooded lids, Jared knows exactly what’s about to happen. But he has no idea, no fucking idea how to prepare for it, because the second Jensen bends down and licks a hot wet stripe along the puckered hole of Jared’s ass, the world bottoms out, flips upside down or right side up and all Jared is aware of, all Jared can comprehend, is that Jensen is licking around his rim, tongue prodding and testing. 

There are no words to describe the way Jared falls apart after maybe point five seconds of seizing up, utterly in shock. His fingers curl and his knuckles whiten as he grips the sheets and holds on for dear life, because that’s all he can do. Because he’s got Jensen with his hands locked around the Jared’s thighs and Jensen breathing hot against the crevice of Jared’s ass and Jensen’s mouth locked in a perfect seal against Jared’s ass, the tip of his tongue curling around the edge and Jared just loses it.

Garbled moans, strangled pants, curse words, it all comes pouring out of Jared’s mouth as he gasps and twitches and Jensen continues to lick him open. And it feels so good, everything pressed tight inside of Jared, dick throbbing, stuffed with Jensen’s tongue and drunk off of the sounds Jensen’s making, his own soundtrack of lecherous noises that set off Catherine Wheels of arousal sparking all across the expanse of Jared’s back down to the tips of his sheet-clutching fingertips. 

It’s not uncomfortable at all like Jared had assumed it might be, Jensen’s tongue in his ass. The concept is a little strange sounding, but the reality of it, the feel of it, is so hot Jared’s seeing stars, and Jensen has barely entered Jared’s hole, but it feels better than anything Jared’s experienced, rippling wave after rippling wave of friction sweeping along Jared’s nerves.

His cock jumps, pre-come rubbing against his belly as he tries to keep from just dropping his hips, pressing into the pillows and coming right there into the cotton beneath him. Jensen grips Jared sharply, fingernails pressing into the curve of Jared’s thigh and there’s probably going to be bruises that ache tomorrow whenever Jared sits down but he doesn’t care because this, right here, ass stretching and flexing around the wet heat of Jensen’s wriggling tongue, this is exactly where he wants to be. 

And then there’s Jensen, grinning into Jared as Jared pushes up and back into Jensen’s mouth, hot and consuming and Jared is going to die, right here on this oversized bed with a copy of On The Road stashed somewhere under the pillows. 

Jared doesn’t mean to be so eager and forward, but he’s got the impression that Jensen kind of digs it, because Jensen presses even closer, licks even further, mouth a slick seal on Jared’s rim, tongue flicking against Jared’s inner walls and writhing as if to reach the deepest parts of Jared’s ass and Jared feels it all

Each flick and roll of tongue inside of him sends blood rushing straight to his dick and sweat surfacing on the back of his neck. He keens, twisting his fists in the sheets as he tries to keep still and let Jensen do his thing, but Jensen seems hell bent on dragging the sweet pleasure out even further, and Jared’s starting to sound like a broken record with the way he gasps, deep hitching breaths that send Jensen further into him, licking deeper and hungrier and this time Jared shoves his hips back into Jensen’s searing mouth. 

It stretches on for years, eons, Jensen tasting and exploring every inner inch of Jared that he can get his tongue on, Jared thrusting against Jensen and trying not to tear the sheets to ribbons as his muscles pull and flex and his cock pulses with the denial of an orgasm. It stretches on forever, and the thing is that Jared is perfectly willing to let it go on. 

But either Jensen is tired (though Jared guesses not, because those obscene and enthused noises are still vibrating against his body as Jensen continues to lick, hum and suck at Jared) or Jensen is simply ready to push Jared to a further limit, rend Jared into more pieces than he’s already in, because one minute his hands are digging into Jared’s thighs and holding him flush against his mouth and the next his hands are sliding slowly, torturously, around to Jared’s middle, stroking at the tender skin of Jared’s abdomen for a few sparse seconds as he licks twists and sucks one last time, curling his tongue as far inside Jared as possible.

The world whites out around Jared when he comes without so much as a finger on his dick. Hips thrusting, Jensen finally unable to keep Jared from slamming down against the mattress, cock pulsing with ropes of come that sink wet and sticky, and Jared’s skin is buzzing, alive and whirring with the rush of blood and the racing of his pulse and he thrashes helplessly against the sheets, fingers scrabbling for purchase as he tries to grab and hold on so he can thrust and kick and ride the remainder of the orgasm out. 

Somehow, by some force of wonder or maybe because he’s just really good at it, Jensen manages to keep his tongue inside Jared and his forearm locked around Jared’s belly, keeping Jared from thrusting into the sheets, wringing out every last drop of come from Jared with his tongue alone.

There’s some point or another where Jared begins to come down from the tsunami that swept through his system, uttering damp, stuttered pants into the pillow as he releases the sheets held in his fisted and cramped hands. 

Post-coital relaxation is probably the weirdest part of all this to Jared (yes, even weirder than the sight of come or flaccid dicks, give him credit, he’s had time to grow and accumulate). Where there should lay guilt and shame for having broken all the rules a dozen times over, Jared finds only a champagne fizz settling comfortably in his bloodstream, fragments of the room slipping back into perspective like he’s just waking up and taking stock of his surroundings. 

Jared’s muscles relax and he melts into the mattress, twitching and inhaling sharply when Jensen pulls his tongue from his rim. Jensen presses one last kiss, bite and suck to the rounded curve of Jared’s ass cheek before sliding along Jared’s body, stretching his weight along Jared’s back and pressing fevered skin to fevered skin. Jensen noses along Jared’s jaw line, and Jared mutters something incoherent that he hopes sounds vaguely like “Give me a minute”. Though he may need more than a minute; right now Jared’s content never to move again, spread out and licked out and worn out on those sweat and come tacky sheets. 

But as it turns out, Jensen makes a pretty heavy and suffocating comforter, especially since Jared’s already having a time catching his breath as it is. It doesn’t help that Jensen—nuzzling the back of his neck and coating Jared’s limbs with his own like his own personal brand of Saran wrap—is currently crushing all the oxygen out of Jared’s lungs.

“Alright,” Jared wheezes. “No more late night Oreo runs. You’re going on a diet, fat ass, before you kill me next time we do this.”

Jensen’s cackle telegraphs from his chest to Jared’s ears, and it’s maybe the stupidest quip ever but they both laugh until they cry.

***

“I just don’t understand,” Jared continues, staring up at the ceiling aimlessly as he talks. Jensen’s hand hovers above him, clutching a book and leafing through the pages with disinterested precision. “I mean. Fine. Money is important and all that in this time period, I get that, but marrying your daughters off for money? Isn’t that a little, I dunno, extreme?”

“You are completely missing the point.” Jensen sighs exasperatedly, flipping another page. “As usual.”

Jared pokes Jensen in the ribs, lingers a little too long because Jensen is sitting there on the bed shirtless, Jared’s head pillowed in his lap. It’s late at night, heavy air tinted with sex and sweat. He lets his hand rest against Jensen’s ribcage, stroking along the dip and curve of Jensen’s bones, grinning when Jensen shivers. 

“Smug bastard,” he chides. “Can’t get enough, can you?”

“Can never get enough of you,” Jared answers earnestly, fingers dragging along the length of Jensen’s ribcage, settling along his sternum. 

Jensen either ignores Jared or is simply too engrossed in his book to respond, so Jared quietly takes his hand away, taking the opportunity to unfurl his limbs and stretch like a cat. He peeks at Jensen, takes advantage of Jensen’s own distraction and looks up at him. 

They’ve been like this for a while, languorously sprawled out on Jensen’s bed, Jared asking Jensen to read him passages from his favorite books, Jared asking questions about the books. It’s a new game they play, sort of a How-Long-Does-It-Take-to-Annoy-Jensen-To-The-Point-Where-He’ll-Suck-Jared-Down-Just-To-Shut-Him-Up-Challenge that Jared takes quite to heart. 

It’s odd, but at the same time, Jared can understand why they would outlaw such a thing as this. Because there is so much fragility in this moment that Jared can’t even begin to comprehend, and as he tracks the motions of Jensen’s breathing, the shift of his chest expanding and contracting with each inhale and exhale, Jared feels…powerful. There’s this very strange elation that is stretching in his stomach like a balloon full of helium, but at the same time, that balloon is so fragile. One wrong shift and it will pop and shatter forever. Here, pressed up against Jensen, invading his personal space in all the right and wrong ways, Jared feels invincible. But also exposed, vulnerable. 

It’s not a concept Jared is about to define but…he can wrap his mind around it. Touch is a form of power. Jared knows for a fact that Jensen holds that power over him without even trying, making Jared feel unstable and unpredictable. 

Jensen’s slightly tanned skin is warm and lightly flushed. It takes Jared a moment to realize that Jensen is staring at him, the dark green of his irises standing out; eyes hooded as he looks at Jared and says, “What are you doing?”

Jared gets the slightest feeling of pride, knowing that he can do these things to Jensen, make Jensen feel these things, without even trying. It’s possible that staring openly at Jensen’s naked chest is enough to rev the guy up, but it might also have something to do with the fact that Jared is licking his lips, stretching himself all over Jensen’s lap. Whatever the reason, he grins cheekily, upside down at Jensen. “Nothing. Continue reading, by all means.” 

Jensen’s eyes darken just slightly, and Jared thinks for a second he might have won the challenge, but Jensen sighs heavily, jostling Jared’s head as he sits straighter, raises the book in his hand, reading on in a low voice that Jared knows is just for him while somehow still pointedly ignoring him.

“Sir William had been delighted with him. He was quite young, wonderfully handsome, extremely agreeable, and, to crown the whole, he meant to be at the next assembly with a large party. Nothing could be more delightful! To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love; and very lively hopes of Mr. Bingley's heart were entertained. If I can--”

“What does that mean?” Jared interrupts, and now Jensen does drop the book with exasperation. “No, I’m serious. Dancing a step towards falling in love…what did Austen mean by that?”

“Balls were a big thing back in the eighteen hundreds,” he responds, looking down his nose at Jared. “Big social gatherings, where women would try and get future husbands for that whole money issue we mentioned earlier.” He shrugs. “Here Austen implies that dancing establishes an emotional connection between two people, begins the process of romance. To be fond of dancing, establishes the chance of romance even further.”

“Yeah, but how?” Dancing isn’t something people do often, again something that died a few decades ago, not outlawed, but lost, somewhere along the line between art and music, a dead language of expression. But even in Jared’s head, he can’t imagine people falling in love while dancing. The few times he’s danced, he’d been lighting fireworks with Chad in the backyard, getting ready for school on a good day, he was mostly by himself, no one there to mock him for a hip swivel or flailing turn. Dancing was something silly to do when no one was watching. He doesn’t possibly see how it could ever be considered romantic. 

“Well, they dance together, for one thing,” Jared answers, like it’s obvious. 

Jared’s eyes widen. The image doesn’t click right at all, and Jensen’s going to have to elaborate further. “People dance? Together?” 

Jensen smirks. “Is that so hard to imagine?”

“It sounds like it would be horrendously awkward.”

“Well, it’s not. Not if you’ve got the right partner. It’s supposed to be a form of connection. Touching, but more touching to music.”

When Jared continues to stare, bewildered, Jensen moves off the bed, Jared’s head landing on the mattress to watch as Jensen puts his shirt back on and walks over to the shelves. “It’s sort of a forgotten thing, for obvious reasons. But you’ll see what I mean….aha!”

He comes up with a record, pads over to the record player and puts it on, Jared watching him from the bed, confused and amused simultaneously. Jensen walks back to the bed just as Jared starts to sit up, and thrusts his hand in his face.

Jared looks at it. “What do you want, a handshake?”

“C’mere.” Jensen rolls his eyes.

Jared looks at the small space between him and Jensen, heart fluttering in his throat at Jensen’s expression, firm, like he’s about to teach Jared another lesson. 

“Come where?”

“Here.”

Where?”

Here, evidently, turns out to be plastered against Jensen’s front; so close he can count the freckles on Jensen’s cheeks and make out the light gold flecks surfacing in the green of his eyes like stray leaves caught in blades of grass. Jensen walks them backward, nudging Jared toe to shin until they’re in the center of the room, where Jensen hands settle at Jared’s hips and Jared stills, unsure. 

“What are we doing?” 

“This is dancing,” Jensen answers, quirking a smile against Jared’s ear. “Ancient art form and actually a pretty fun one.” He laughs at Jared’s very confused expression, and by way of explanation offers, “You ask, I teach.”

“How does it work?” Jared finds himself shying away from Jensen for reasons he can’t fathom, suddenly unsure of what the hell he’s supposed to be doing. 

Carefully, like he’s handling glass, Jensen intertwines their fingers together, pressing chest to chest and Jared feels his heart slam in his chest and God this is stupid, shouldn’t even be that big of a deal but Jensen takes his hand and it feels like the biggest deal of Jared’s entire existence, out of nowhere. Not that having Jensen take his hand hasn’t always felt this way, because it has. But now there’s a quiet, strange new immediacy of purpose to it that feels bigger, more important than all the times before. 

“Just stay close.” Jensen’s other arm slides around Jared’s waist, hand settling on the small of his back just above the base of his spine. “And sway.”

“Sway?”

“Sway.”

They stand like that, and Jared feels his weight shifting and his joints creaking and it’s sort of like the floor is tipping from side to side and they’re just following the pull of gravity, clinging to each other in hopes of staying upright. 

“Is this supposed to be fun?” Jared suddenly asks, feeling clunky and out of place. He probably looks really stupid about now. 

Tight curve of Jensen’s mouth as he smiles, placating. “Yes.”

But to be fair, Jensen probably looks about the same. 

“This is ridiculous.” 

“Just go with it,” Jensen whispers. “Listen to the music. Try not to overanalyze, yeah? Sometimes all it takes is the right moment, the right person, the right song. So just, think about that, and try to pretend that this isn’t so painstaking, okay?”

The scratching of the vinyl record leads into a few guitar strums and then a slowly bouncing song that feels old, settles on Jared’s ears like syrup, sweet and viscous and coating him with a warm and oddly intimate feeling, despite the fact that all he’s doing is taking Jensen’s hand and swaying, just as Jensen instructed. 

Jared nods in acquiescence, letting Jensen take the lead and guide him around the wooden floor, turning him every few beats as a tenor voice slips in with a longing croon that flies straight to Jared’s ears and into his bloodstream. 

My love must be a kind of blind love
I can't see anyone but you.


He tries to listen to the lyrics and the song as Jensen has always said to do, but with the lyrics come the music and with the music comes the scratch of vinyl and from there on a thousand more details Jared wants to pocket and collect forever. 

He hushes the insecurities and embarrassments ringing in his head and he listens as they turn together, Jared clumsily and Jensen solid and sure. The song unwinds and Jared is aware of everything as the melodies and harmonies sync together. He’s aware of Jensen’s hand on his waist, thumb pressed to Jared’s hip, aware of Jensen’s nose and how it just brushes Jared’s ear as they move, aware of the stroke of Jensen’s eyelashes against his cheek and the number of freckles on his skin.

They’re touching, but it’s not sexual, somehow ringing of purity and simplicity. Jensen’s not so much leading as he is guiding Jared, but at some point between the starting point and here, Jared doesn’t have to struggle to keep up anymore, locks eyes with Jensen as he draws back, and feels each shift of Jensen against him, knows how to move and where, which intricate step to take as they turn, together. 

Jensen is beautiful, Jared realizes with a sudden swoop, heartbreakingly beautiful and it’s a crying shame that no one ever gets close enough to see and understand that beauty up close. From the crease in his eyelids to the swell of his lip, it’s entrancing, especially with Jensen so close to him, breathing the same air as Jared and taking up the same space. A honey sweet feeling starts to drip down and coat his limbs, and the music seems to fade to an echo as Jensen looks at Jared, gold in his eyes melting into the green. 

He smiles slightly, tips his head forward and rests his forehead against Jared’s, breath just barely ghosting over Jared’s lips; so close, too close. Jared’s eyes drop closed, and he gives himself over to that single moment suspended in time, Jensen’s hands on him and Jensen’s forehead on his and suddenly, this is the song. The moment, and it’s like nothing Jared’s ever felt before. 

Jensen had been right. All it took was the right song, the right person, the right moment. 

You are here and so am I
Maybe millions of people go by,
but they all disappear from view.
And I only have eyes for you.


Jensen had been right. Jane Austen wasn’t too far off as well. 

Their bodies move together, synergy bending and weaving and Jared doesn’t have to guess what movement Jensen is going to make next, they move in tandem and it suddenly washes over him, the gravity of this moment. Because this is the right song. This is the right moment. And Jensen is the right person. 

Huh. 

It shouldn’t be as simple as that. There should be a formula to the way things are falling into place, Jared should feel surprised by this turn of events, but there it is. Jensen’s not just a person, he’s the person, touching Jared in ways that aren’t just physical and sinking into his skin to leave his own marks, marks made by song lyrics and tattered dog eared pages and shuttered windows. 

“How long do we dance for?” Jared asks a few seconds later, nose bumping with Jensen’s.

“Usually until the song ends. As long as we want.” Jensen pauses and, as an afterthought, asks, “Are you having a good time?”

A good time doesn’t cut what Jared is having, some sort of goddamn epiphany and a half that relates all too much to the ways in which Jensen is holding him and the way Jensen is turning him and the way Jensen is talking to him, voice pitched low as if someone might overhear the conversation. Like this casual talk of dancing is something Jensen only wants Jared to hear, and somehow that within itself is its own epiphany. 

“Close enough.”

He dips Jared, actually dips Jared, supports the weight of Jared’s shoulders and waist and tips him backwards and laughs, sexy, unrestrained.

Jared doesn’t mean to, he swears on his life, but it just seems natural for Jared to kiss him as he swings out of the dip, fingers tightening against Jensen’s, mouth open, seeking instead of demanding. 

The song fades off to an end, click of the record player breaking off and they’re still locked together, Jensen’s hand wrapping around Jared’s hip, pulling him so close Jared has to rise on his toes to keep balance. Wet friction of tongues and Jared shivers, feels terror and elation battling in his stomach, can’t even tell which is going to win in the end as Jensen kisses him back.

“Jared,” Jensen breathes into his mouth, and it’s intoxicating, the way he says it, the kind of thing Jared will never ever get tired of hearing. “God, Jared…”

“Jensen.” He says the words right into a kiss, takes Jensen’s bottom lip between his. He pulls back, stares into Jensen’s half open eyes and takes a long breath, holds it for a few seconds. 

“I love you.”

He knows the millisecond after the words leave his mouth he’s said something wrong because Jensen turns to stone, doesn’t move, doesn’t breathe, doesn’t blink. But it feels so good to say, the words sounding right in his mouth, rolling off his tongue comfortably, naturally, fitting like a glove. He doesn’t know why he hadn’t said them sooner, even as Jensen starts to pull away. But Jared chases after him, lips moving over Jensen’s own softly, trying to calm him, keep him close, but it’s already no use.

Jensen withdraws from the kiss, open face suddenly shut down, iron curtain dropping over and shutting off the lights in his eyes. 

“Jared.” His name coming from Jensen sounds bittersweet for the very first time, pained, like the sound of it on Jensen’s tongue is a knife within itself. “Don’t say that.”

“Why?” Jared slides his hand up to Jensen’s face, holding it there. “Why can’t I say it?”

And why shouldn’t he? The entire time Jared’s been fumbling about this whole thing with Jensen, improvising and trying not to fuck this up. But for the first time in this whole tangled spiral with Jensen, this is one thing Jared won’t take back, won’t chalk up to inexperience or ignorance because he means it. And he wants to say it, wants to fold those words into every single book he’s ever read, any songs he’s ever heard, wants to take the titles and the chapters and all the choruses and all the words in between and rewrite them with those three words.

Jensen’s hand slides up over Jared’s own and he thinks he might have finally won, but Jensen’s hand wraps around his wrist, removes it. 

“Because it’s not true.” Jensen closes his eyes, like he can physically shield himself from Jared, gripping Jared’s shoulders and pushing away. “Let’s not kid ourselves, okay?”

He retreats, keeps his eyes on Jared like he’s afraid Jared will ambush him if he turns around. And as it turns out, Jared just might. Familiar tingling at the back of his throat that tastes like smoke, burns like it, too, and Jared is angry, well and truly angry because goddammit this is the last fucking straw. There’s intense hurt mixed in underneath, fermented by heated irritation, but present all the same. 

Jared knows Jensen feels something, knows with a conviction tried and true that Jensen feels something more for him than whatever he’s pretending. He had looked at Jared with such raw and openness in his gaze, during their dance, during their kiss. He looked at Jared like that sometimes, in moments where he didn’t think Jared saw but Jared did, he did goddammit. 

He stands his ground, stubbornly. 

“Who’s kidding? I’m serious!” He reaches out for Jensen, but Jensen retreats even further. 

“Gimme a break.” Jensen turns with a scoff, pacing over to the record player, flipping it off and lifting the record to slip it inside the sleeve. 

“What?” 

“Jared,” Jensen’s voice is flat, almost biting, “you don’t love me.”

“What? Can’t you leave that up for me to decide?” Jared asks incredulously. “I mean, Christ, of all the decisions I get to make, I don’t get this one?”

“No.” Jensen says evenly as he turns to face Jared again, arms crossed over his chest.

“No?!” The anger is rushing hot, but the hurt is surfacing as well, mixture of icy hot that stings and wells beneath Jared’s skin, makes him want to run straight out of the room and straight at Jensen at the same time. 

Jensen smiles, shakes his head in a pitying gesture, like he’s in on some secret that Jared’s not privy to, condescending. “You don’t know the meaning of the word. And even if you do, it doesn’t apply to me. This,” he gestures to the space between them, “what we have, this isn’t love.”

“Tell me, then.” Irritation spikes in Jared’s stomach, pitching higher and higher like a thermometer detecting a fever. “What is this, Jensen, if not love? Because I sure as hell would like to know.”

“This is sex, this is touch, this is fun, but this isn’t love. You just think it is because it feels good,” Jensen explains gently, the teacher to the petulant student. 

“You think I can’t distinguish between an orgasm and loving someone?” There’s something in Jared’s eye, and he can’t blink it out. It’s worse because Jensen is here to see him lose control, see the anguish in every inch of his face. 

“I think,” Jensen says and steps forward carefully, “that you’re a teenage boy who’s going to meet the first person to touch him and assume he’s head over heels. It’s human, Jared, and I don’t fault you for it. Don’t feel bad about it, you’re not the first.”

Jensen has had others like him? The notion staggers Jared, like Jensen pulled a plug and everything is beginning to drain out of him. He’s not the first, he’s not special. Just another statistic, another stupid reckless naïve teenage boy. 

Jensen raises a hand to settle it on Jared’s face, but it falls at his side, limp. 

“But you don’t love me, Jared. Can’t.”

Can’t. It’s the one word Jared is coming to hate more than anything else in his entire life, and now the tears do spill over as everything he’s ever felt for Jensen manifests inside his heart, and he can hear the distinct crack ring in his ears as it starts to break. 

Every kiss they’d shared, every stolen brush of hands, brush of lips, brush of skin that had been theirs, just between them, it didn’t matter. Because now Jensen looks at him, firm resolution to an end written on his face, acting as if the past months, every day and night they’d spent together—just them—had meant nothing. 

“Why is it so hard to believe that I could love you? Are you scared of it?” Jared’s voice breaks, he can’t help it, and were he not stuck to the floor he’d probably unable to stand. “Why is it so hard to accept that, Jensen?”

“You don’t love me,” Jensen says quietly, looking down at the floor, repeating the same phrases over and over and it’s not assembling right in Jared’s head, the words interchanging and separating and he’s trying to make sense of it all but nothing’s clicking. “And even if you do, this can never be that. Will never be that.”

Never. It drops like a grenade, going off in the center of Jared’s chest and shattering him. 

“Not okay.” He backs away from Jensen, wrapping his arms around himself and shaking his head against Jensen’s words, like he can erase them, like maybe Jensen will stop and take it back if he uses this one phrase, just like Jensen told him to. “Not okay. Not okay, Jensen. Not okay.”

Jensen does look up then, and his face is rent apart, shocked. It’s the first time Jared’s ever said those words, and it breaks them both. He just looks at Jared, emotions flitting across his features and there’s a fraction of Jared that wonders if the safe word did the trick, if Jensen will listen to him, if Jensen will stop what he’s doing, just like he’d always promised he would. 

But Jensen just whispers, lips barely shaping the words.

“I’m sorry.”

Heartbreak has always seemed a foreign concept to Jared. Even after Chad died he didn’t think he felt it, exactly. But this, right here, Jensen offering condolences and apologies and everything but the thing Jared wants most, needs most, this is heartbreak. This is flayed open, shrapnel straight into his chest and he hopes it kills him, he really, really hopes it kills him because it would be quicker, less painful. 

I’m sorry. Like somehow those two words are supposed to make everything better. 

Wetness spills down Jared’s cheeks and he shakes, wishing to God Jensen would stop looking at him like that. It’s all the same openness and all the wrong emotions, like Jared’s the kid who spilled milk on the floor and Jensen’s the doting adult telling him to clean it up. Like this is so easy, and Jared will be over it soon. Like the words ‘I’m sorry’ will erase any contact they’d ever shared. 

“That’s bullshit. That’s bullshit and you know it,” Jared spits, and he’s gone. He’s so fucking out of there, tears racing down over his jaw and he’s so angry and sad and desperate he feels like his lungs are about to break through his ribcage, taking deep heaving breaths and trading oxygen for words as he pulls on his shoes, violently shoves his things in his bag. “You can take your bullshit apologies and shove them up your ass, for all I care Jensen. I’m done.”

“Where are you going?” Jensen follows him stride for stride to the door, slamming it shut as soon as Jared wrenches it open. “It’s two in the morning. You’re not going out on your own. Not without your car.”

“I’ll walk,” Jared bristles, sarcasm dripping in every syllable. “But thanks for the offer.”

“At two o’clock in the morning,” Jensen laughs harshly. “Like hell you will. Besides, I’ve got to stop by Danneel’s place anyway. I’ve got her pre-natal vitamins. I’ll take you home.”

“I’m not going with you in your car!” Jared half shouts. “Let me go!”

It’s almost comical, the way Jared tries to leave the apartment of his own accord, the way Jensen stops him. Jensen all but blocks Jared’s path, arms crossed over his chest and refusing to let Jared budge. Body barrier, and Jared doesn’t want himself going anywhere near that body, puts as much space between him and that body as possible because fuck Jensen. 

He eventually tries shoving past Jensen but Jensen shoves back, and they’re like cubs play fighting but it hurts. Every time Jensen’s hands connect to Jared’s shoulders is one more time they won’t ever again, each second that passes between them a constant reminder that Jensen is apparently done here, and that’s the stupidest fucking thing Jared’s ever heard in his life. 

Jensen finally backs off, chest heavy, cheeks damp with sweat. Jensen’s face is bathed in shadow in the dark of the kitchen, like the first night they met. 

“Are you done throwing a tantrum?” he asks.

“I don’t know, are you done being an asshole?” Jared spits back, but his voice breaks.

Jensen drags a hand over his face, rubbing his eyes tiredly. “I had hoped we would get to avoid this.”

“Avoid what? Me feeling for you Jensen?” Like it’s such an annoyance and inconvenience. He feels added weight to his shoulders that makes him shrink and feel smaller, shame that leaks out his ears and colors his cheeks. “Sorry to cause such a catastrophe. Maybe next time add a clause in the contract about caring for someone.”

Jensen steps forward right up to Jared’s face, glowering. “You don’t get it do you, Jared? People die for the exact reasons you’re insisting on staying with me.”

“Yeah, well, maybe because it’s something worth dying for!” Jared shouts. “Maybe I want this, Jensen, and shouldn’t that be enough to have it? Why should I deny myself something that doesn’t hurt anyone else?”

“Because you are hurting yourself, can’t you see that? You’re signing your own death warrant by being with me.”

“But you knew that, we both knew that from the start,” Jared argues. “What changed? What did I do that suddenly made this impossible?”

Jensen looks at Jared, the lines in his face downturned, sad. “You forget the world we live in.”

“Fuck the world we live in,” Jared says hotly, glaring at him “Fuck them all. Touch was never a bad thing before, so why now? Why is this so bad?”

“It’s not about the touching!” Jensen snaps, suddenly tense. “Don’t you see? The physical touch isn’t what makes people powerful, Jared. It’s not what causes wars, murder, sex. Touch is the catalyst, sometimes the consequence. But the key is caring. It’s caring that gets you killed, looking out for other people, pursuing them, trying to protect them. That’s the problem, Jared. You can touch someone and it means nothing, and you’ve caused no harm. But once you start to care about them, once that touch becomes something more than palpable, internal? That’s when you’re fucked.”

Jensen rounds toward the door, whipping it open, muscles tense under his t-shirt. He jams on his fingerless gloves, jitters the keys in his hand as he looks back at Jared. 

“Love is a disease, Jared. And this world is seeking to destroy it. So quit whatever emotions you think you’re having for me, chalk it up to hormones, whatever you need to do. But don’t waste your time caring. Least of all on someone who doesn’t deserve it.”

Sudden pause, and he looks at the floor, speaks sullenly, gentle again. 

“I’ll take you home, but this is the end of the line for me. Don’t come over here ever again.”

Not that Jensen would ever be able to stop Jared, but there’s a set to his shoulders and jaw that indicates to Jared that he’s serious. Eyes flat, mouth thin. 

And just like that, it’s over. 

Chapter Text

 

After Chad had died, Jared remembers the pain that came with it. It was sharp, and it was true, but it was a pain that he’d been feeling for a while, a loss that had started that day up in the sycamore tree. He’d been so in shock when Chad had killed himself, the immediate agony had mostly been dulled out, shut away. 

But this, right now, this is fresh; cauterizing hot iron twisting in his heart and Jared wants the sky to fall straight down on his head and crush him flat because he’s pretty sure he never wants to feel. Not ever again. 

The car ride to Danneel’s place is more or less tense and angry silence, at least on Jensen’s part. But with each mile that flies by Jared feels the finality of Jensen’s words break out over his skin like hives, uncomfortable and cruel. It had been naïve to assume Jensen would react well, but Jared meant it. He loves Jensen. 

“I was wrong about you.” He breaks the silence some time later, and Jensen’s grip tightens on the steering wheel.

“Oh, you think so?”

Jared turns to look at him slowly, voice weak, but steady. “Yeah. I do. You can spew this whole ‘I don’t care’ thing all you want. But I’m not stupid, alright? You care. You do care. If not for me, then for Danneel, for someone.”

“You don’t know what you’re--”

“Don’t I?” Jared stares straight at Jensen’s profile. “Face it, Jensen. You do care, and that right there is your whole fucking problem. Because you care, but you’re just as delusional as the rest of the world, thinking you can trick yourself into not caring, into putting up walls and keeping distance and keeping safe.”

Jared can’t even bring himself to consider how his words might sound--nasty, vile, utterly stupid, but he doesn’t give a shit, wants to pull Jensen down into the mud with him and make him feel something, for Chrissakes. 

“You said to me once that you survive,” Jared laughs, despite himself. “And I actually thought you were lying to me because in all my life I’d never seen anyone as alive and intelligent and as passionate as you.”

He watches Jensen’s face, for some crack in the permafrost, for some sign that Jensen is even listening to him. 

“But I was wrong. You don’t live. You survive. You’re somehow barely trucking through with your delusions, but you survive. And you’re a coward for it Jensen. You’re full of shit and you’re a coward.”

They don’t talk for the rest of the drive, and Jensen doesn’t so much as glance in Jared’s direction. 

***

They pull up to Danneel’s place fifteen minutes later, Jensen silently unbuckling his seatbelt and Jared slinking down in his seat, refusing to budge as Jensen reaches into the glove compartment and takes out a small brown paper bag with vitamins inside. Jensen’s hand accidentally knocks Jared’s knee, but he makes no physical notation of it, not even deigning to apologize as he gets out of the car and closes the door with a jolt.

“Hey Jared.” Danneel waves as she walks down the iron stairway, round faced and touching a slight swell on her stomach with a smile.

Jared can barely hear her through the closed windows, but he nods, and maybe Danneel’s gotten so used to him smiling that she notices the change immediately, because she stops short, peering through the windshield at Jared, raising her eyes in Jensen’s direction, looking to him for an explanation. He draws her away from the car, away from Jared.

Jared watches the silent look pass between the two of them, and with a quirk of her eyebrow Danneel tells Jensen in a far too loud voice that she needs to grab groceries out of her car and that he should come help her out like a proper gentleman.

Jared glares out the window as they walk a further distance away, Danneel looping her arm through Jensen’s. “Have I ever told you that I love you?” Her voice is muffled outside the car, especially in the darkness. “Because really, words do not express.”

There’s a pause as Jensen gathers his composure at her light rhetorical question, irony clearly not lost on him. 

“Yeah, yeah,” Jensen sounds distracted. In the glow of the street lamp Danneel looks up at Jensen.

“Hey, you okay?”

Jensen glances back at the car but Jared feigns disinterest, glares out the windshield and openly sulks in the seat. It’s easier if he’s mad at Jensen, he’s starting to figure out. Easier not to fall down into the fissures opening miles deep in his chest cavity. When it’s apparent Jared’s not ‘listening’ Jensen ducks his head, whispers into Danneel’s ear.

“He told you he loved you and you said what?” she half shouts.

And now there’s no faking disinterest, even with Jensen shushing her and them speaking in low tones that barely carry. Jared leans as close as he can to the passenger window without being obvious, damn near presses his ear to it, sees if he can inch it down just a little bit. Danneel looks upset, and Jensen’s face is hidden by the crappy street lighting, but judging from the way he’s moving and barely gesturing, he’s calm and emotionless. Just the way Jared hates him to be.

He tunes out for a while, goes back into himself to nurse at the wound where his heart should be. He’s trying to think of some other argument to make, some way to push Jensen over the edge and forget this dumb fight and forget Jared ever said anything and just be with him. But Jared, as always, let his emotions get the better of him, and it turned around and slapped him in the face. Just like it always has.

“--look, I get it,” Danneel’s voice slips back onto radar. “It’s a shitty situation, especially right now. I mean, Jesus, remember when Sophia had that one client, about a year ago? Kid was young, got attached, kept asking to meet up with Soph and she did at first, because it was good money. But eventually she had to turn him in!”

Sophia. 

Jared presses his ear to the window so fast he damned near bruises it, but it doesn’t matter. Because in this city there’s a girl and in Jared’s car there’s a c.d. and if the names match.

If the names match…

“Are you saying I should report him?”

“Jensen,” Danneel chides, sounding legitimately offended at the accusation, and pauses, restarts. “I’m not about to give you some big lecture about what a dumb ass you’re being right now. Of course you don’t report him. You know what happens to those kids. You know.”

Silence. Jensen reaches and scrubs a hand through his hair.

“Don’t treat this like he’s just some customer to your shitty Dealer,” Danneel chastises. “This is entirely different. It’s entirely different and you know it. I know it.”

Their voices cut off again, lowering in pitch and dammit Jared’s going to go stark crazy if he doesn’t find out what happened with Sophia and what’s happening with Jensen and what’s happening with everything right the fuck now.

They start back toward the car, Danneel tuning back in, clear as bell. “Look, just. Take him home. Give it a few days. Think about it, Jensen, for once. Please, just do it for me.”

Jensen shoves his hands into his pockets, stony. Danni sighs, hands drifting to her stomach again and says, “Okay fine. If you’re not going to think about it, at least come back and wallow with company? I’ve got Chris and Sophia over, having some drinks. Though don’t worry, I’m only drinking ice water. They’d love to see you though--”

Jared’s blood freezes, then flows to reverse, cramming back into his heart until there’s nowhere to go and he’s lit up, on fire and dashing out of the car and for Danneel’s house so fast he’s barely keeping up with his legs.

“She’s here?” His sudden appearance is met with blank faces, voice trembling with the effort of staying calm. He rounds on Danneel, who actually flinches in his wake. “Sophia. Where is she?”

“I…upstairs…what are you?”

Danneel’s eyes are wide with confusion and Jared can’t even bring himself to explain, stalks past her and jumps the stairs two at a time because it’s been nine months. Nine months that he’s waited to find the bitch who got his best friend killed, and he’s got no time for explanations.

Jensen must connect the dots a second too late because he hears ‘Son of a bitch!’ and footsteps behind him. “Jared, wait—

The door appears to spring open, as if terrified of the way Jared is prepared to kick it down. It rebounds with a loud bashing sound against the wall, possibly taking out a small bit of plaster, but it doesn’t really matter because there are two people sitting on the living room couch and one of them has blood on her hands.

He doesn’t know what he’s expecting, as soon as he slams into Danneel’s living room, but it certainly wasn’t this.

Whenever he’d pictured Sophia she’d always been ugly, some mark or pinched expression to her gait and posture that made her unattractive in some way. But he’s more shocked than disappointed to find that, without a doubt, Sophia is beautiful. Even staring up at him in stupefaction, she’s lovely, and for some reason it makes him sad. 

She’s got pretty mahogany colored hair and a snow drop nose. He remembers once Chad calling it that while ranting about her. A damn ‘snow drop nose’. She’s got a beer clutched in her hand and she seems to be saying something but Jared can’t hear her because someone is screaming and making a ruckus.

It takes Jared a good ten seconds to realize that it’s him.

“And who the fuck are you?” The man sitting next to her on the couch now stands up to full height, long, greased hair tickling his jaw line and Jared already hates him, hates him and Sophia and this goddamn apartment like he’s never hated anything before.

“Chris,” Sophia says, naming him as she puts a hand on his hip, trying to pull him back.

Jared ignores him.

“You got my best friend killed.” Jared is shaking but he’s never sounded so calm. “He was nuts about you, never shut up about you and you just turned him in, like it was nothing.”

“Look, I don’t even know who you’re talking about!” Sophia looks at Jared like he’s absolutely insane, smoky voice hitting him and Chad was right, even her voice is beautiful, sexy scratch to it. But she doesn’t even know who he’s talking about, like Chad wasn't the only boy to fall in love with her, wasn’t the only boy Sophia had to do away with, and Jared hates her for it. “How am I supposed to know who your best friend even was?”

Jared recoils, rebounds, loads the bullet in the back of his throat and he hates her, hates her so much for not being able to remember who his best friend was. Like he was forgettable, like he was temporary, like he didn’t burn with the force of a thousand suns bottled up in one energetic smile. 

He doesn’t even hesitate to pull the trigger, hopes it hits her right in the heart: “His name was Chad.”

Deadly silence, target hit, and still Jared hates her, even when her eyes water and recognition dawns and she’s scrambling to deal with the reality of the moment. And still it’s not enough for Jared. Won’t ever be enough to appease the bloodthirst that’s nearly choking him. 

“I thought they’d just skin him and be done with it!” Sophia cries, standing up to full height and she’s tiny. For some reason he’d expected someone taller, meaner looking, maybe with a hideous birth mark. But Sophia’s got a heart shaped face and a trembling mouth and Jared’s never been so angry to see a pretty face. “He wasn’t supposed to…I didn’t know about the Rehab, or the drugs, or any of the shit that it would get him into, I didn’t know!”

“Yeah well not knowing is what got him killed.”

“They don’t kill in rehabs. They don’t.” Sophia shakes her head in a back and forth motion like she has to force herself to do so.

“No they don’t. But he came back dead anyways and swallowed a bottle of pills four weeks later,” Jared spits, and Sophia looks like she’s going to faint, standing there in her flip flops and jeans and looking for all the world like she’d just finished blow drying her hair and putting on mascara. Her gloves are small, leather, red. Chad’s favorite color.

“Oh my God.” Sophia’s knees buckle and she slides back down to the couch.

“So why don’t you do us a favor,” Jared says vehemently, “and try not to get people killed when they care about you, okay?”

She trembles, the girl who singlehandedly stole Jared’s summers away. 

The guy who was next to her on the couch—Chris—is near six feet of rippling muscle advancing with a swagger toward Jared.

“Hey.” The piercing in his ear glints. “Wanna back the fuck off?”

Jared doesn’t know what sort of black poison is surging through him right now but it’s good, a rush of something that his body vibrates with. He’s never felt anger like this before, anger that throbs underneath his skin like something alive and feral could burst out of him at any minute, shift and change into something not human. 

Chad’s dead, Chad’s been dead for near nine months and it was her fault. It was someone’s fault. If Jared doesn’t lay the finger of blame on someone he’s going to go out of his mind. He needs someone to hate, because the alternative is being left with nothing to feel, no sadness, no anger, just finality. The resolution that Chad is well and truly gone. 

Chris wants him to back the fuck off?

Like hell he will.

Jared makes a move around Chris to get to Sophia so he can scream at her, but Chris blocks his path, thick corded arms crossed over his chest like a plate of armor. Jared feints and moves the other direction and Chris shoves him, pushes Jared so far back he stumbles over his own feet. The creature underneath Jared’s skin whines, scratches to get to the surface.

“Don’t touch me.” The words barely sound human, so tightly clenched are Jared’s teeth.

“Oh yeah? What’re you gonna do about it?” Chris jeers, and Jared can smell the alcohol on him, bitter scent of booze that stings his eyes as Chris glares up at him. “Look, your friend killed himself, alright? Probably did the fucking world a service, if you ask my opinion.”

The beast explodes out of Jared’s skin, scales and teeth and neon rage transforming him until his vision whites out entirely.

He doesn’t get how it happens, not really. But one minute Chris is standing in front of him grinning at Jared like he’s so much better than Jared and the next he’s on the floor, clutching at his nose and mouth. There’s a violent cracking noise like a gunshot, but it’s not until Jared feels the burning recoil of his arm and the sudden pain bursting over the newly reopened scars on his knuckles, as Chris starts swearing, “Mother fucker!” that he realizes what he just did. The monster in his cells shrinks and disintegrates as fast as it came to life, and he stares, dumbfounded.

“I--” Jared stumbles back, staring at the swelling, bloody skin of his hand and Sophia’s absolutely aghast expression. He hadn’t meant to punch Chris, he hadn’t, he swears. Jared suddenly feels like he could vomit all over the floor because he hit someone. He actually hit someone. 

He hit someone like Jensen’s Guardian used to hit him, like they probably hit Chad in Rehab. Jared glances down through tears, bile rising in his throat and chokes on his apologies, but Chris is standing up, advancing on Jared and raising his fist like he’d like nothing more than to return the favor Jared just paid him.

Jared’s going to let him, because it’s only fair. Sophia is screaming, “Stop it Chris, goddammit!” and Jared prepares himself for the blow and figures that it might hurt, might make him double over in pain but he had thrown the first punch.

“Gonna beat the shit out of you, you scrawny little fucker.” Chris gnashes his teeth in a candy-striped smile of red and white and raises his fist. “Show you how a real punch is supposed to feel.”

Jared starts to close his eyes and Chris actually starts to laugh. 

Neither of them see Jensen coming. 

There’s a solid wall of tension and coiled fury blocking Chris’ path to Jared like a goddamn mountain all of a sudden. Even still Chris lunges forward, and Jensen slams Chris back against the edge of a doorframe. Danneel grabs Jared’s sleeve and tugs him back, away from the two of them, looking shocked.

Through his haze of nausea and self-hatred Jared hears the distinct crack of skull against plaster as Jensen pins a snarling Chris, forearm locked against his throat and hand on his chest, forcing his back into the doorframe. Jared’s never seen anything like it.

Jensen’s hackles are raised and his mouth is thin and anger pours off him in waves, and even as Chris claws at Jensen it’s obvious that Jensen’s going to keep the upper hand, matching every ounce of fight Chris has with an ounce of his own. Though what Jensen could possibly have to be mad about, Jared has a hard time understanding. That is, until Jensen spits the words in Chris’ face, slamming his head back again for good measure.

“Back off,” Jensen growls, and somewhere in the back of his head Jared realizes that he’s never heard Jensen so furious, tone deadly with stolid and controlled rage. “You touch him Kane and I swear to god I will break your face so hard they won’t recognize you when they need to identify your body. Lay off him, he’s just a kid, alright asshole?”

He’s just a kid. The words smart and Jared winces, even through the violent swirl of emotions coursing through him at a million miles per minute.

“Wow. I knew you were fucked up Jensen, especially after what happened with your family. But this? Keeping this little pet? This is a whole new level of fucked up, Jensen. Even for you.”

Jensen has the audacity to laugh, like Chris just delivered the punchline to an exceptionally funny joke. “You don’t know a thing about me.”

“You think I don’t know what you and this kid get up to?” Chris looks smug. “You’re not even a Dealer, Jensen. You’re not doing this for money or kicks. That’s sick. You’re sick, Ackles, always have been. And now you’re making that kid sick too.”

Shift change, and Jensen’s not laughing anymore. The line of his spine straightens impeccably, and he freezes, pressing Chris against the doorframe.

“Shut up.”

Chris grins now, leans closer to him as if to share a secret. “It’s one thing to fuck around once Jensen. It’s human, we know that. But a second time? And a third?” 

He suddenly glances over at Jared, a quick and lecherous once over that makes Jared feel vulnerable and uncomfortable. 

“He can’t even be that good at sucking cock, Jenny, so what else do you keep him around for?” His eyes travel the length of Jared’s body, lingering uncomfortably in all the wrong places. “Mind if I take him for a spin, see what all the fuss is about?” Chris winks, and even underneath the swelling skin and already purpling bruise Jared can tell it’s directed at him.

If Jensen was livid before, it’s nothing compared to now, face pale as he shakes with suppressed fury. He leans further against Chris, cutting off his speech with his forearm and not even stopping when Chris begins to gasp for air. 

He doesn’t keep it there long, just long enough to lean forward and say, “You won’t lay a fucking finger on him, Chris. Because if you do, you’re gonna find out just how fucked up I really am.”

It’s never occurred to Jared before, that Jensen might have something just as dark and twisted inside of him as Jared does, might have his own monster hidden beneath the surface. He has the urge to protest, to scream at Chris that Jensen is the farthest thing from fucked up and the closest thing to perfect that Jared has ever encountered. But he doesn’t get a chance, because then Jensen is grabbing him roughly by the arm and steering him out the door.

“You’re sick, Ackles.” Chris says the phrase over and over, and Jensen’s face sinks deeper and deeper into a stony expression, equal measures of coldness and fury.

“Let’s go, Jared.”

Danneel holds the door open for them, lines of apology in her expression but she doesn’t reach for Jensen, recoils under the quiet rage of his expression. Jared turns around at the last second to check if Chris is following them but instead his eyes fall on Sophia, sitting on the couch. Silent tears stream down her cheeks and Jared wants to ask her why she’s crying now, of all times. Why she didn’t cry when Jared first came in, why she didn’t cry nine months ago, why she didn’t cry when a sunny haired boy had looked at her and told her he didn’t know what he’d do without her.

But he looks at Chris’ bruise and Jensen’s clenched jaw and his own bleeding knuckles and maybe he gets it. 

Maybe they’re all a little fucked up, maybe this world’s a lot fucked up. Maybe Chad’s been buried for almost nine months and maybe no one else but Jared cares. 

Sophia should care. But Jared knows by now that’s not a possibility. 

Even with the water works on she’s beautiful, expressive eyes reflecting loss and horror that for some reason Jared never expected from her and in an instant, he understands how Chad might have fallen in love with her.

Jensen all but drags Jared down the flight of stairs and into the car. Jared gets in the passenger seat and they sit there for a few tense seconds of silence before Jensen asks, “Are you okay?”

Jared wants to laugh because why the hell is Jensen asking, but what comes out is a sob and he doesn’t realize he’s shaking until he can’t breathe, struggling to keep himself together as everything crashes over him. But this time Jensen doesn’t offer words of comfort or take Jared in his arms and pull him to his chest, doesn’t curl around Jared to protect him from unseen nightmares.

He starts the car. And he drives. 

Jensen kicks the engine into gear with a loud growl and he tears out of the driveway, driving too fast and too crazy but it somehow feels good to Jared, a way to balance out the too fast and too crazy in his own head. Silence layers itself between them except for the hiccupping breaths that Jared is trying to mediate and get rid of.

The night’s events coupled together take their toll, and Jared fists a hand against the ashtray and presses until his knuckles split afresh and smear blood along the silver cup. He brings his head down between his legs, tries to suck in what air he can and breathe through the waving tides that lap at his wounds, above and beneath the surface of his skin. 

What happens next really doesn’t matter because anything good he had going is dead and gone, and whatever hope he had managed to snatch temporarily, well, that was gone now too, or at least, dropping Jared off at home and driving away to never be seen again.

Jared’s tired, so tired. It’s amazing he has enough of anything left in him to summon further emotion and irritation and form words. 

But if there’s anyone with a gift of getting a rise out of Jared, well, it’s Jensen. 

“You’re gonna get pulled over,” Jared says, and his words are a frantic and high pitched sound and he’s really having a hard time keeping it together but he doesn’t really care anymore.

Nothing, not so much as a blink.

“Will you quit it?” Jared suddenly snaps, Jensen’s lack of response forcing him to pull himself together. “Jesus Christ, you’re not fucking me up and even if you are, have you ever considered the fact that I was fucked up long before I ever met you?”

“Yeah well, I’m not exactly helping the circumstances, am I?” Jensen wrenches the steering wheel and Jared pitches over. “And he knew, Jared. He fucking knew what we do, just by taking one look at us.”

“So?” Jared’s stomach is roiling and he’s equal parts queasy and furious. “So what?”

“So we’re done here.” Jensen’s eyes are locked on the road. “I’m taking you home and don’t come over again Jared. I’m not…like I said before, we can’t do this anymore.”

“What, so I don’t get a say?” Jared isn’t even sad at this point, just pissed. He turns around to face Jensen in full. “I don’t get a choice, you’re just going to end this because Chris said one thing and you got scared?”

“I said it was over before we left my apartment. This just proves why I said what I said. If you seem to recall, your friend Chad died for the same reason, as Chris was so kind to point out. It’s too dangerous.”

“Don’t do that.” Jared feels acid pooling again in his stomach, wants to claw at his own face with how angry and terrified and disconsolate he is all at once. “Don’t you use Chad an excuse, Jensen. He was the reason I came to you in the first place!”

“Well a whole lot of good it did!” Jensen growls, knuckles white with how hard he’s gripping the steering wheel. “I’m not arguing with you about this. Stay away from me.”

“And if I don’t? What are you gonna do, report me?”

Jensen looks as if he’s been slapped. “I would never. Not after Sophia…I would never do that to you Jared.”

“So I guess you won’t be ridding yourself of me any time soon.”

“What the fuck is wrong with you, Jared? Don’t you care about saving your own ass, don’t you care about not dying?”

“You’re just overreacting because of what Chris said, I get it—“

“Chris made my point. He took one look at us Jared, and he knew. Without us telling him, without seeing us interact. Word gets around. Do you think I could live with myself if something happened to you? To either one of us? And knowing I could have prevented it if I’d just ended things?”

“I don’t care what happens. I’m not going to mimic what idiots do, Jensen. Pocahontas and John Smith--”

“Do you hear yourself right now? Life isn’t a movie, Jared. This is real, or do you so easily forget what we’re up against every single day we do this?”

Jared clenches his jaw. “I. Don’t. Care.”

Jensen forearm muscles contract like he wants to hit Jared, hit Jared and shake Jared until he finally gets it through his thick skull.

“I swear to God I’ve never met anyone as stupid as you.”

“Yeah, well that makes two of us.”

Snark from Jared is evidently the breaking point for Jensen, because he rounds on Jared and drives faster, bares his teeth.

“You know what, who told you it was a good idea to pursue a relationship? I’d like to know,” Jensen presses the gas even harder and the car lurches into another realm of speed. “So I can beat them up for putting such stupid ideas into your head. People get killed for this shit, Jared, so tell me, who taught you that caring and loving was a good thing? Who in their right mind showed you that wearing your heart on your sleeve was ever going to end well? Who taught you to love? Who showed you that love was even a thing that exists?”

Jared doesn’t know why he’s having to explain this now of all times, because Jensen’s driving too fast and Jared’s heart is pounding too hard. But the urgency of the moment drives him onward and he racks his brains for a proper answer to Jensen’s angry questions.

“No one.”

And it’s the funniest thing, they’re driving down this road and they’re arguing back and forth and Jared’s knuckles hurt and his body aches. But he looks over at Jensen in the front seat and he wonders, who did teach him how to love? 

The question turns over in his head and it hits him, like a hammer on the nail. He feels stupid not knowing it before, or maybe he had known it, known it and was more sure of it than anything he’d ever been sure of.

“No one in my entire life,” he breathes. “Just you.”

Hilarie and Jeff and Chad were all people that Jared cared intensely about, sure, but he’d never known how to express it. Not until he’d met Jensen.

“You showed me,” Jared repeats a second time, voice breaking because of course Jensen did. 

Jensen with his Contraband collection and his hands shoved in his pockets and his eyes on Jared, always on Jared. Of course Jensen taught him to love and care, or at least, taught him how to do it properly.

He thinks again, for a second, that he might get punched in the face for that response, but Jensen merely looks over at him, both hands on the wheel and driving straight ahead, but for all the world looking as if he has no idea where the hell he’s going.

Jensen stares at him, and Jared thinks he’s finally done it, finally convinced Jensen that he’s in this and he’s not backing down and Jensen can go fuck himself if he thinks he’s screwing Jared up in any way. Because something in Jensen’s eyes shifts, lips parting as resolution sets in his jaw. 

He sighs once, turns back to the road, rubs a hand over his face and takes his foot off the gas pedal, letting the car drift into safer speeds. Jensen opens his mouth to say something and Jared clings to every utterance of the words about to leave his mouth, blotting out all other sound, thought, existence until it’s only them, just them, always them, nothing to interrupt. 

“Jared,” wrecked voice, swallowing hard, “you weren’t wrong about me. You weren’t...” Jensen hesitates, throat working around words caught and Jared memorizes every articulation, every syllable, doesn’t care if it takes Jensen all night to say this as long as he says it. 

“I’m surviving. That...that’s true. I get by, and that’s fine. That’s enough.” Another pause, and then he faces Jared in full. “It’s enough to survive, but sometimes I see you and…” 

Fuck, and the way Jensen’s looking at him, Jared never wants it to stop.

“God, Jared sometimes you make me want--”

And Jared had blotted out the outside world, he had. But the outside world barges in anyway, and there’s suddenly a loud blaring of a horn and a screech of tires and Jared glances out the front window because what the hell—

The universe implodes inward when the semi-truck hits them, an impossibly loud shattering noise slicing the rumble of engine as the car smashes it head on with a sickening crunch. Glass falls inward and outward and for a second it feels like all the oxygen has been sucked from Jared’s lungs and he’s just coasting in a suspended moment of zero gravity. Blood rushes upwards and downwards and sideways and Jared thinks he feels Jensen reach for him but it does no good.

There’s another smash, discombobulating and wrecking and Jared is pitching forward, weightless and flying and wondering how he got here in the first place. There’s a sickening crunch of glass and Jared thinks he’s hit his head along with the smash, hard to tell with the way everything spins around him, color and sound whirling together in a nauseating combination. He calls out for help but the air whooshing by him forces the yell back down his throat, choking and stifling as he catapults through the air. 

One last impact, a skidding, razors and gravel screaming in his skin, and then black.

 

Chapter Text

 

The first time Jared wakes up, there’s someone shouting. He can’t open his eyes, glued together by unseen force, and there’s a heaviness in his limbs that inhibits any movement.

He’s floating, in and out of place and grappling with reality, but he can’t catch hold. So he listens, tunes in to the harsh and angry voice like a radio, clinging to consciousness. 

“--gotta be out of your damn mind if you think I’m going to believe that cock and bull story. You’re not seventeen, you’re twenty fucking three years old, and you’ve got five seconds to explain what the hell you were doing with my kid before I shoot you on principle.”

“Sir, I’m sorry,” A second voice, not shouting or angry. There’s a rent open tone to the voice, shameful, sad. A sudden image throbs in Jared’s mind of a dog lying belly up, submissive. “It wasn’t. I was giving him a ride home from school--”

“I checked your records. You didn’t attend that school, not even when you were in school. Lie to me again, boy, see what happens.”

“It was my fault. The accident. It was my fault. I didn’t mean for anything to happen, it’s all my fault.”

“You’re damned right it is. What the hell was he doing with you anyway? You’re not his classmate, you’re not his friend, then what the hell are you?”

“Please, I was just giving Jared a ride home, I wasn’t hurting him or doing anything--”

“Yeah, and I’m going to take your words at face value, sure.”

“Sir, if you just--”

A violent wave of sensation crashes over Jared, nerves drowning in glacial tendrils of pain that leak in from his head. He loses the voices for a while, drifts somewhere on an oasis in a sea of black, where it’s peaceful, shrouding himself deep within the sinews of his own body, untouched by the razor sting writhing throughout him. He hurts. He hurts everywhere.

It seems like a while before the voices come back.

“—that doesn’t mean a goddamn thing to me if he doesn’t make it through this. So you better tell me every single ounce of involvement you have with Jared, or you will regret it. What the fuck were you doing with my son?”

Son. The word sinks like warm butter into Jared’s head, comforting, a reprieve.

“What do you think?” The second voice whispers, barely reaching Jared.

There’s a silence, and Jared thinks maybe the glaciers are back to drown everything else out, but the pain doesn’t come. Just silence, drawn out, endless, solid breathing. A strange beeping sound, a sensation of moving, rushing inside another vehicle, sirens screaming loudly outside. 

He drifts for a while, some saccharine sweet haze threatening to pull him under, everything inviting and easy to sink into. Crawls back to a thread of consciousness just as--

“--I’ll need dispatch on the corner of 6th and Pine, picking up the vehicle in question and taking it to the nearest repair shop.”

“Are you going to kill me?”

Pause. Another beeping sound and a few stolid breaths. 

Static scratch, radio feedback. “Gonna need a transport as well. Driver of the vehicle has been discharged from both the hospital and the debriefing, looks about ready to go home.”

“No,” the voice continues. “Driver had the right of way. Friend of Jared’s driving him home from working on a school project, nothing suspicious here. Over and out.”

Another pause. More beeps. A few more breaths. 

“If he doesn’t make it through this--”

“I’ll never forgive myself. I won’t even blame you for putting a bullet in my head.”

A longer silence. That saccharine feel is stretching out over Jared’s bones, lulling him under, pulling cotton over his ears and he’s fading again, but he wants to stay. Wants to hear.

“Did you hurt him?”

He wants to listen.

“I tried...to make him go away. But I could never hurt him.” Pause. “Not even if I wanted to.” 

He wants--

“Go home, kid.”

“But I--”

“Go home. Before I change my mind.”

The wool blanket of coma beckons closer, candy on his tongue and Jared’s back under, again.

***

There’s a man in the room when Jared wakes up for the second time.

It’s the first thing he sees, a solid mass amidst the white of the room, makes him groan and grope for the blankets because he clearly didn’t get enough sleep and it’s clearly too early to deal with this. It’s got to be a weekend, there’s no alarm going off in Jared’s room, no out of the ordinary details other than the fact that there’s a man standing in front of him.

He groans again, bleary eyed and wincing away from the bright lights that bear down on every inch of his skin. It takes him a few seconds, but he knows the second something tugs forlornly at the meat of his arm, stinging slightly, that he’s not at home.

The IV machine he’s hooked up to drips beside his bed, monitors tracking his pulse. Something thick is wrapped around his hand, and when he moves to touch it, his limbs are sluggish, heavy, bones filled with gelatin.

He looks up at the man, zooming in and out of perspective, blurry and then sharp like a camera lens, unable to focus on the whole picture, just tiny specific details. There are purplish bruises underneath the man’s eyes, a few cuts on his cheeks and jaw. His arm is in a sling. He looks harrowed, this man, barely older than Jared but worn down in the way he hunches his shoulders. His eyes sweep over Jared, flickering movements that even from here illuminate long lashes, point to dusted freckles across the planes of his face.

“Where am I?”

“The hospital. I guess it was touch and go for a little while, but I’m glad you’re awake.” He smiles. Quick glance to the left at the empty hospital bed. This must be the other patient staying in the room. Lucky for him he’s up and about. Jared is still bed ridden.

Jared tries to sit up, struggling upwards onto his elbows but the room tilts and spins and he’s back down in three seconds flat, the pillow blissful release as if he’d been running a marathon for hours. Fuck, what happened?

“How are you feeling?” the man asks.

“Like shit.” He glares as the man has the audacity to actually chortle. “Why the hell am I in here, anyhow?”

“You don’t remember?” 

Jared zooms in on the furrowed brow of the man’s forehead.

“I may be a little fuzzy on the details. Pretty sure it has something to do with the bandage I feel wrapped around my head.”

“Car accident,” the man replies. “You went through the windshield, hit the pavement. Doctor thinks you might have some brain damage, you’ve been in a coma for a few days. They’ve got you on morphine for the pain.”

Jared notes the man’s fingers--bare, gloveless--curling over the railing beside his bed, brushing against his forearm. Too tired to jerk away, Jared lets the fingers lightly stroke against the skin above his wrist. Why the guy is touching him, Jared has not a single fucking clue, but he’s drugged and probably half delirious with pain right now, so why not? 

Besides, the gesture is comforting. He can’t really give it a better explanation than that. Maybe his cells are over sensitive at the moment, skin sensitized to everything but the scratch of his hospital gown. But this man’s hands are a comfort, if but for a few seconds. 

“Outstanding,” Jared mumbles. He can feel the pain medication pumping like syrup in his veins, synonymous with the actual pain that out runs it, makes it to his nerves before the morphine can dull it. At least he’s not alone, and the company seems amusing enough, cheerful enough.

“Are you okay?” the man asks, fingernails grazing the skin of Jared’s forearm. He asks like he’s really concerned, like this should be something that matters, and Jared doesn’t understand why.

“I’m good,” Jared nods. “Maybe a little more morphine.”

“So what’d you end up in here for?” Jared asks, making conversation to distract from the pain in his head because motherfucker that kills. “Bike accident? Fell from a tree?”

“I--what?” The guy seems taken aback, but the morphine seems to be working through Jared’s brain now, lulling him.

“The arm,” Jared explains with a half-assed smile. “Figured you fell from something, got thrown a bit. It was a bike, right? No offense, but you look like a bike kind of guy?”

The man stares at Jared, and his mouth drops open and Jared wonders if he started bleeding from his bandage or something, runs a wary hand against his head to check. 

There’s a silence, one in which the man goes deathly pale, practically shaking where he stands, mouth stuttering around words.

“You don’t. You don’t remember--”

The fingers along Jared’s arm retract faster than a whip, acrid hospital air cooling against the skin where they had just been.

“Remember what?” Does he know this guy? Jared runs a quick mental check through each and every one of his classmates, can’t place any of the features that he can actually see at this point. 

The blur of a man is silent; Jared can’t even hear him breathing.

A nurse bustles in and gawks at Jared for a few seconds, before slipping back into a professional mask and interrupting with an overly indulgent tone, “Well Mr. Padalecki, we’re very pleased to have you awake and smiling. But I’m gonna have to put you back under for a while. You need rest, and,” she looks at the stranger, “visitor hours ended at five, dear.”

Visitor hours? What the hell? The guy is a patient, and the nurse is clearly an idiot.

Jared wants to protest, wants his new hospital friend to stay a little bit longer, wants to hear about his motorbike accident and what Jared has missed during his coma. But the nurse presses a button on his right and he feels the pain medications hit his veins in an instant. They kick in and Jared’s soon left biting back sleep that courses through him in morphine sweetened waves. He tries to stay awake, see more details of this strange blur of a man. There’s a weird itching in his forearm, it needs to move, but movement never becomes reality because he’s out like a light before the next question can even roll off his tongue, before he can so much as extend his hand.

The man blurs, fades, and dissipates in Jared’s vision like smoke. The last thing Jared notices is the shade of his eyes; green grass on a summer’s day.

***

The room is empty when he wakes up again.

***

Jared is discharged from the hospital a few weeks later, prescribed pain killers for headaches and plenty of bed rest, and Jeff is instructed to wake him up every few hours. They don’t really talk directly about the amnesia, but the long and short of it is that the last thing Jared remembers is driving home from school in the rain, planning on heading to the library. 

The doctor had broken the news gently, Jeff’s face turning white and gripping the plastic arm rests of the hospital chair, gloves pulling taut around his knuckles while Jared assured him it isn’t that bad, and the Doctor had nearly wet himself with fear at the six foot five Police Chief flying up out of his chair, bearing down on him.

Jared can be fixed, the Doctor says. The memory loss isn’t permanent, and as far as the MRI scans can tell Jared’s brain is functioning just fine. The memories will most likely return with time, the Doctor assuaged, glancing nervously at Jeff’s gun holster.

The only real medicine the Doctor suggested for his amnesia is routine. A man with owlish glasses and a small mouth and minty green latex gloves smiled politely at Police Chief Morgan and his bandaged Charge, and sitting upright in his chair, said, “The best thing we can hope for, at this point, is that Jared can get back to the way his life was before. Then, with luck, he’ll be back to normal in no time.”

They’re now just getting ready to check out of the hospital completely, Jared antsy in his chair next to Jeff as the Doctor flips with deft fingers the pages of Jared’s chart again, signs the clearance page. He’s been here for nearly a month, and is now all too eager to get out.

“Officer Morgan, what had Jared been doing in the nine months before the accident? Perhaps you’d share?” he prompts, helpfully.

Jared looks to his Guardian helplessly. It had been one thing to wake up and be told you were in a car accident, another entirely to realize you’d forgotten the past nine or so months of your life. But maybe Jeff knew something, had been around enough to know what Jared had been involved in, because there was a blank space in Jared’s head between now and the death of his best friend.

“Um.” Jeff shifts, boots making acute squeaking noises on the floor. “School, chores. He’s a pretty good kid, he doesn’t go out much.”

“Ah. No Academic clubs? Community service?”

“No, Doctor. Jared was strictly a stay at home kid. Doesn’t get into trouble.”

Jeff’s face is stoic and impassive, there’s no reason he’d be telling anything but the absolute truth, right?

“Perhaps we could get the story of whoever was driving the car--”

“Driving the car?” Jared perks up. Who was driving the car?

“It was a student from school,” Jeff answers. “He barely knew Jared, had only worked with him on a couple school projects. I talked to the kid, he’s…he wouldn’t know what my Charge has been up to.”

Jeff’s eyes flick over to Jared, watching to see how Jared will react. But if he’s looking for Jared to suddenly shout ‘I remember!’ he’s going to be disappointed. There’s a solid brick wall in Jared’s head, fifty miles long and fifty miles high and Jared can’t get in, over or under it. 

Jeff looks back to the Doctor. “Honestly, Doc, Jared’s life is pretty much just as it’s always been.”

Nine months. Nine months Jared can’t remember. If panic exists it doesn’t reside within his head, and he nods in confirmation of the fact, much to the Doctor’s dismay.

At the end of it all, pamphlets are stuffed into Jared’s hands as he exits the hospital; memory loss therapy, amnesia medications, referrals to experts on the subject. Jeff politely says thank you and accepts them all, signs the release forms, and turns away from them, leading Jared out the hospital doors.

“Well, what do you like to do, Jared?” The Doctor asks after them genially, following them out of the lobby, somehow keeping pace with Jeff’s long stride. “What strikes you as something you’re interested in?”

Jared stops and looks back at the Doctor, looks down at his own hands. Jeff brought him his gloves when he came to pick him up, but Jared hasn’t put them on quite yet. His hands are cold, and there are fresh scars on his knuckles.

Jeff stands, waits for him to catch up and answer so they can finally go back to the house. 

His last memory is a dead body lying on the bathroom tile. His first, a stranger in a hospital room whom he never saw again.

“Nothing sir,” Jared answers blankly. “I’m not interested in anything.”

***

“I didn’t go near your room,” Jeff swears as they enter the house, voice resounding. “I figured if there was something that might help with triggering a memory, you’d want it in its place.”

But Jared’s room is bare, just as it’s always been, without color or decoration or personality, like the rest of this house, like the rest of this city.

Like the rest of this life.

Bare and hapless.

***

Routine happens to be pretty goddamn boring, it turns out. Catching up on school work and making it up from home, doing chores, it all turns out to be pretty unentertaining, and Jared’s seriously starting to question his usefulness as a human being. It’s not just that he doesn’t do anything; he’s bored. There’s no way he could have been living like this the nine months before his accident. No freaking way. He’s barely had five days of this and he already wants to tear his hair out.

It goes that way for a while. Things are boring, relatively normal, and then they’re not.

***

There’s a c.d. stuffed under Jared’s mattress that he finds one day when he’s changing his sheets. Small silver disc labeled with numbers for tracks, and next to that another set of numbers. He tries vaguely to remember if this was some sort of stupid code coordinator that Chad had given him one time, one of their numerous secret ways of communication whenever Chad was grounded (which was often) or just needed a reason to play around (even more often). But Jared’s memories of Chad are fresh as day, burn like cinders, hot coals that he can still feel even ten months after the fact. And this disc is not a part of those memories.

Jared doesn’t really listen to music, just random instrumentals that play on the radio, a few dubstep c.ds that Chad gave him. Huh.

He makes to throw it away, and then thinks better of it.

‘Just In Case’, he labels a cardboard box, places it on the floor of his closet with the c.d. inside.

Just in case.

***

He finds the brand pencils and the empty sketchbook under a pile of clothes two days later. He remembers drawing but he doesn’t remember ever getting these. They go in the box as well.

***

Jared takes up drawing again. 

Somewhere between the insomnia and the doctor’s visits and the aimless wandering about the city, he’s remembered how exactly to pick up and hold a pencil again. So he bends over his notebook throughout most hours of the night and some hours of the day too, charcoal stained fingers sweeping over a blank canvas. Sometimes he switches locations, but for the most part he remains on the sill of his window, vast cityscape in the distance with its chrome armored skyscrapers and complexes glinting under the sun like old pots and pans, once brilliant, now burnt, discarded, dulled.

Tongue peeking out between his teeth as he concentrates. Jared lets his eyes drop halfway closed and lets his wrist move wherever it takes him. He can’t remember anything he’d drawn before the accident, so he picks something simple, a single potted flower on an imaginary window sill, petals twining over one another in hues of pinks and purples.

Hilarie liked to draw flowers, he does remember that.

Even with just a black pencil Jared sees the colors, picks out the right scratchand pushes past the normal color scope of black and white. If he gets it right, tilts his head and squints just so, he can see the virile green of the stem, the lighter center that bleeds into petals that open up to the world instead of shield against it.

He’s always been good at pushing past things, seeing colors where there is only gray, light where there is only dark. But now there’s a wall in Jared’s head and he can’t push past it. Though there are moments when he tries.

“Everything okay in here?” 

Jeff’s brief check of the room—and of Jared—is the third one within the hour, and Jared nods softly, stares out the window and past all he sees into what he hopes he’ll be able to see one day.

“You’ve been doing that a lot lately, huh?” Jeff leans in the doorframe, too cramped and tall to be comfortable but making himself at home anyhow.

Jared shrugs. “It helps.”

“Can you remember anything? About the accident? About before it happened?”

He extends a tendril in his own mind, seeking and prying at the chinks in that wall but nothing budges, not a single brick out of place. The flashes of memories usually come with some stab or circuit jamming of pain in his head when they happen; this attempt does not.

Jeff cranes his neck, raises his eyebrows and Jared moves his hand, charcoal sweeping out over the surface of the paper. It’s infuriating, not being able to remember. There’s a gaping and ragged hole in Jared’s mind and he has no clue what went there in the first place. He blinks rapidly, eyes suddenly burning with frustration.

“Where are your gloves?” Jeff enters the room, lifts the sketchbook curiously from Jared’s hands, examining the drawings with a keen eye. He flips through the pages one by one, casting a quick once over each page like it’ll give him some sort of clue.

Jeff’s been worried about Jared, a fact he has not been exceptionally shy about, constantly finding reasons to talk to Jared or walk by a room Jared is sitting in. Whenever Jared goes out Jeff asks him to take his cell phone. And now, there is always coffee brewing. Maybe because Jared doesn’t sleep anymore and maybe because Jeff has run out of ways to ask ‘are you okay?’

Regardless, whatever Jeff’s searching for in the sketchbook is obviously a lost cause because he snaps it closed, not even waiting to hear the answer to his question about Jared’s gloves.

Because in all honesty, Jared hasn’t worn his gloves, has barely even thought of them, stuffed at the bottom of his bag, since he came home from the hospital.

But Jeff doesn’t need to know that, and Jared evidently doesn’t need to understand why to know it’s important somehow, the reasoning hidden behind the stony wall inside his head. He scratches inside himself, but nothing comes forth as he stares at his bare hands, so sullied with the charcoal from his pencil that his fingers may as well have been burnt to a crisp, blackened beyond repair.

***

He dreams in screams that night, voices loud and pitched and guttural and he can’t see anything, doesn’t know where he is or how he got there.

But he knows that all around people are screaming.

Like he’s lost and they’re coming to find him.

Like they’re lost and he has to find them first.

***

“Jeff, would you mind making a new pot of coffee?”

“I already made six cups--”

“Jeff.”

He makes six more. Jared flips to a brand new page in his sketchbook, smoothes out the edges of the paper, and starts again.

***

Jared isn’t quite sure how the drawing comes together. He doesn’t have any photos to go from, no likeness or close relatives or old yearbooks he can flip through. Asking Jeff would seem too suspicious, and most definitely get Jared even more closely paid attention to than he already is.

It comes in increments, he knows that much; the curl of her hair, the outline of her eye. He spends an entire day on the angular curve of her jaw, another on the shading of her lips. The likeness probably isn’t accurate, built on childhood memories that feel like someone else’s life, blurry around the edges, too sweet and too nostalgic to be entirely correct, but he draws her all the same.

He leaves the drawing out on the kitchen counter, amidst deep green granite. Jared can’t say if it’s a test of Jeff’s patience or his own rebellious defiance of authority or a reassurance of some sort for Jeff, but he watches, waits for his Guardian’s reaction. 

Jeff walks into the kitchen, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. He stops, stepping backwards toe to heel until he stops in the center of the kitchen, smack dab in front of the drawing. 

He doesn’t ask Jared what it’s supposed to be a depiction of. He already knows.

Hilarie isn’t laughing in the picture; Jared doesn’t remember what her laugh, her smile, looks like. She’s staring off into the distance, head tipped to the side, lead-gray eyes soft, and contemplative. Jared drew her with pencil but he knows that Jeff sees the honey shade in her eyelashes, the pink set to her mouth, because Jeff doesn’t say a single word.

“It’s good,” Jeff grunts, voice suddenly hoarse, rough. “You did good.”

And then suddenly, something gives just slightly in Jared’s head, the barrier dropping a fraction, warmth flooding Jared’s head, and he winces at the abrupt pounding of his heart. The kitchen slides away and he’s sprawled on a floor, wood pressing hard on his elbows as he crowds over a sketchpad, a foot stepping into his view.

You’re good

The voice sounds on his left, and his response is reactionary, immediate sense of déjà vu nearly knocking him off his feet.

“I’m decent.”

“What was that?” Jeff’s halfway out the door as he stops, snapping Jared back to reality, rubber band in his head breaking and everything slamming back under the barrier.

“N-nothing,” Jared stammers, and Christ his head hurts. He reaches for another cup of coffee, groping for an aspirin in the cabinet.

***

The drawing stays in the kitchen, much to Jared’s gratitude, propped against the fake flower arrangement.

He thinks a few times he catches Jeff smiling fondly at it.

***

They’ve just finished dinner and Jared is washing the dishes, scouring brush against the frying pan. He’s stopped wearing his gloves around the house entirely, and it seems Jeff’s gotten tired of reminding him to put them on. He likes the sensation of water running over his hands, just hot enough to turn his skin pink and sting a little bit.

It’s balmy out in the city today, clouds briefly parted for sunshine, and the water is scalding but at least Jared is feeling something. He can’t explain it, but for a few seconds he’s closer to something, sensation leaking into him straight from his hands and it’s like he can breathe again, if just for a second.

He purses his lips, tucking his tongue behind his bottom teeth and blowing air. The whistle comes out softly, rising upward in tune as he strings together a handful of notes that pop into his head. Something tells him that the notes and harmony is about the sun. There’s no logical explanation, just a burning in the back of his throat and a tingling in his wrists, and he knows this song.

Jared whistles his way through the entire melody and it’s not until he’s finished that he notices the absent sound of the police scanner, and Jeff silent in the living room.

There’s another flash, rapid fire image, and Jared falls against the sink, kneading at his temples to work through the wave as he sees a flat, black spinning disc, record with sound pouring from speakers and shelves…shelves.

“Jared? You alright?” Jeff’s across the room in seconds, flipping off the tap and hovering over Jared, keeping his distance but subtly twitching. “Jared?”

Jared blinks through a new wave of tears, red-hot pain skewing his line of vision and the wall slams back down again, he can’t trace that song, the tune, the lyrics just on the tip of the tongue, emanating from the record player.

Thought I was gonna scare you off. But you took everything I gave you.

He stands on unsteady feet, scalded hands curling under the edge of the counter and Jeff floats around him, uncertain.

“I’m fine. Just a sudden migraine,” he grits.

Jeff doesn’t even look halfway convinced, but he backs down in his own way. Takes a seat five feet away from Jared and watches him with dark and cautionary eyes. “Alright. You scared me for a second there.”

I’ll take anything you give me. Would have taken it from the start.

He runs from the kitchen, every inch of him searing.

***

He decides, after a point, that there’s no use trying to punch through a barrier that’s clearly not breaking. Each chink in the wall, however, comes when he least expects it. He’ll go a day with nothing, and then he’ll be doubled over, clutching his head as something strikes through his mind’s eye viper fast. He gets snippets, a pair of hands, more shelves, a man on the floor who isn’t getting up. Bleeding knuckles. A car that wasn’t Chad’s.

Jared earns these moments in fragments, and even when he tries to piece them together, tosses in his bed at night and takes mental super-glue to them, they still don’t fit together. He’s missing some common denominator, the final connecting fiber between all his lost memories. And for the life of him he can’t find what it is. 

There’s a gap a mile wide inside Jared’s head, and he feels like he’s bleeding every day he walks around with it, humming songs he’s never heard, answering questions that he hears in his head, downing aspirin with coffee to ride out the crushing headaches.

The weirdest thing of it all is that he’s missing someone, actually physically missing someone, feels it like a dull pang in his chest when he wakes up in the morning, reaching out across the small twin mattress for something that isn’t there. His hands are constantly moving, feeling out the corners of objects and tracing the edges, desperate for some sort of contact.

He’s all but twitchy, and it’s worse when Jeff is near, because Jared wants to touch Jeff. Shake his hand, hug him, thank him for the coffee, for taking so many days off. He finds other ways to say it, has dinner cooked on time, keeps the portrait of Hilarie on the center of the counter, keeps quiet as a mouse when Jeff is working.

Yet still, there’s the constant nagging at the back of his head that chases him in his nightmares. Tunnels of darkness, car crashes, glass in his eyes, glass in his hands, glass in his heart. And he’s missing something, so badly he can barely breathe when he wakes with a start, chest heaving for air and clawing, reaching, always reaching. For what, he doesn’t know.

Still, life moves on.

Jared has a hard time discerning events from the post-accident and pre-accident pools. The Doctor reassures Jared that his memory should come back, that the damage done to his brain was minimal and sometimes all it takes is familiarity and routine to get back to normal.

So he sticks to routine; takes walks in the evenings, roams around streets he grew up in, seeks out ones beyond those he’s already explored. Like the branches of a tree, still there, beneath everything, and he knows them, fits to them. He draws, draws constantly, draws the things he sees and draws the things he wishes he could see. The rest of the school year is cut short for Jared, but it doesn’t take him long to catch up with his classes and somehow pass them with flying colors, showing up only to take final exams on the last day of school.

Life moves on, but life is not normal.

***

The last day of finals, Jared sits by himself in the school yard.

Alona Tal walks over and sits in front of him. She looks different than he remembers from last year. Her hair is all cut off, and she’s skinnier now.

She doesn’t say a word as he stares at her, crowding inside the folds of her giant sweater and unwrapping a small brown paper bag that houses a bottle of water and a bag of oyster crackers. Barely even a snack, and it looks like she hasn’t eaten in days. 

She sorts the oyster crackers into groups of six, and then pushes a small mound of them into a napkin, which she then hands to Jared silently, not even making eye contact.

He eats each one slowly, letting them soften saltily on his tongue.

“Are you okay?” Her voice is crackly with lack of use. 

Jared raises his eyes to hers. For the first time since waking up, he doesn’t feel like he has to lie. 

“No. No I’m not.”

There’s more to this than Jared remembers, he can tell that her concern, however faint and quiet, is genuine. He thinks he’ll ask her why exactly she’s talking to him, but for now he sits in silence, nodding in thanks as she shuffles over a few more crackers with the tips of her fingers.

“Guess we’re quite the pair, then,” Alona Tal says. 

There’s a grimacing twist to her lips that could be a smile.

***

He starts drawing hands a month after he gets out of the hospital, wakes up like a fish out of water, shivering even in the blasting late spring heat suffocating his room.

Jared isn’t sure if it’s a memory trigger or a sleep deprivation quirk or some new internal fetish that he never knew he had, but he draws hands. Sketches knuckles and veins leading to a palm, draws hands clenching and beckoning and clasping. He never gets higher than the wrist though, muse cutting off just before he can aim a little further along the line of the forearm, into the crease of the elbow.

He’s more confused than anything by the images that pour from his charcoal pencils, the half-formed curve of a lip or the crease of an eyelid, but he fixates on the hands. He sees them the most frequently in his gaping and jagged head, images cropping up on repeat like a slide show and he knows these parts so well, but he swears on his life he’s never seen them before.

Drawings, pages and pages of black and white sketches that Jared doesn’t remember actually seeing in real life. He brushes his fingertips over each and every page when he finishes, silvery graphite sticking to his skin and smudging across the smooth cream of the paper. There’s always a split second where he thinks he’s remembered something after finishing a drawing, but then there’s that same old throbbing again. And then nothing, the wall is back down where it was before.

It’s frustrating, and his floor is soon littered with crumpled ball after crumpled ball of paper.

What’s the use, he thinks bitterly, flopping onto his bed and settling in for another sleepless night.

What’s the point in drawing such beautiful parts if you can’t even trace them back to the whole?

***

It’s a long time coming, but Jared knows the instant it happens, when Jeff finds the sketches.

Jared’s at the sink again, water scalding, steam rising as he scrubs residual grease from dinner plates and whistles that one song about the sun he can never quite recall. The police scanner is turned off; Jeff has taken to doing that a lot when Jared is around. It’s early on a Saturday evening, soap and dried food underneath Jared’s fingernails from where he tried to scratch it off the plate, when Jeff’s voice sounds from the base of the stairs.

“Come here, boy.” Jeff’s voice is a rumble that, if it were loud enough, Jared imagines could make the earth quake with its depth. He doesn’t sound angry, to be honest Jared has never seen Jeff past the point of mildly irritated, and even that’s a terrifying sight to see.

“Sir?” Jared hangs the dish towel carefully, coarse fiber against his skin and it doesn’t feel good, but it’s something at least. “I just finished up with the dishes, did you want some more leftovers or--”

Jeff waves his questions away with a soft smile. “Have a seat, Jared.”

On the dining room table are laid out a handful of the many crumpled paper balls that should be lying on Jared’s floor upstairs. Jared thinks this might actually be the moment where Jeff demands to know what the hell is going on with Jared, demands answers about this and where Jared’s been wandering off to, why Jared’s been whistling songs and foregoing his gloves. But Jeff does not. He merely pulls out a chair, repeats, “Have a seat, son.”

Okay…

Jared does, conscious of the way Jeff looks him over, stoic as always but with a spark in his eye that tells Jared that he sees a lot more than he lets on. They haven’t talked much since Jared was released from the hospital, partly because Jeff has never been one for talking, partly because Jared really has no idea what to say at this point. The only change in their routine Before The Accident is how much Jeff stays at home, faking sick or tired or telling Jared he can do his work from home. Jared hasn’t been able to shake the feeling that Jeff’s only doing it to keep an eye on him, which is unnerving because all Jared has been doing is staring out of windows and answering to snippets of conversation in his head that he doesn’t remember ever hearing in the first place.

“How’ve you been doing?” Jeff asks suddenly, cutting through the silence with a gritty voice and a knowing look. “Keeping yourself busy?”

“Yes, sir.” Jeff’s fingers are tapping on the table to some beat that Jared recognizes because he’s whistled it so many times, and fuck Jeff has been listening. His head throbs and he winces openly. “I’m getting by.”

“Is that so?” Jeff crosses his legs, puts them one by one on top of the table, nudges one of the drawings with his feet. “Looks like it.”

It’s a miracle Jeff hasn’t pulled out his handcuffs or his gun by now. That’s what he should be doing at least, what he would be doing were Jared anyone else, any other random scrawny kid. Either way, this confrontation is unavoidable. The evidence of Jared’s issues is right there before them, black and white proof that something is indeed wrong with Jared.

“Am I in trouble?” Keeps his eyes locked on the wrinkled surface, traces over the marred line of a singular knuckle.

“Not at all.” Jeff’s fingers are steepled as he regards Jared, leaned back in his chair. “Just thought I’d talk to my Charge, see how he’s doing.”

“Your Charge is fine.” He attempts a smile; it falls flat by a long shot.

“I found these the other day.” Jeff appears not to have heard Jared at all, bringing his legs back down to plant his feet solidly on the floor. “Mind explaining?”

That’s the thing of it though, Jared can’t explain, doesn’t even know where to start. Jeff wasn’t able to tell him when he picked Jared up from the hospital what had happened the last nine months before the accident. The Doctor had suggested routine, told Jeff to familiarize Jared with whatever he had been up to. But Jeff knows as much as Jared does, probably even less.

Jared’s mouth opens and closes around hapless excuses. The clock ticks, the drawings sit, taunting. Jeff nods, like the lack of reply is response enough on its own. He doesn’t touch the papers, just angles his head to look them over. Jared can feel fear slipping down his throat, cod liver oil tasting acrid.

But again, Jeff surprises him, reaches behind him and pulls out something tucked into the belt of his pants.

“The Doc said to give you things that might help trigger memories. Even if they’re not memories that you’ve lost. Well, I was cleaning out the filing cabinets up in the attic last night and I uh…found this.”

He tosses a small object wrapped in cloth, brow furrowing when Jared’s hands shoot out of his pockets to snatch it, exposed, naked. 

The sketchbook falls open to the cover page as it settles in Jared’s lap, and he blinks at it. Leather bound, scented of age and eraser shavings and something that might be burnt sugar. Slanted handwriting in the corner of the page and Jared starts, raises his eyes to Jeff but Jeff hasn’t looked at him, won’t look at him, gets up, paces over to the sink and picks up where Jared had left off.

Hilarie’s signature is a bizarre comfort, he knows it from the small collection of old birthday cards she gave him that he keeps in his room. 

Without a word, Jared turns the pages, practically ripping them in his eagerness and he nearly cries with longing.

It’s her sketches, her drawings, every bit of artwork that she did with that serene expression on her face, laid out like a timeline in Jared’s lap and he never wants to stop looking. But something’s not right. There’s a margin of error because he doesn’t remember these drawings, wasn’t aware that these drawings had ever taken place. He remembers her drawing flowers, buildings, distant landscapes, a bug scurrying across the floor.

But these are not places and things. They are people.

They are Jared.

The sketchbook contains pictures of Jared, clips and montages and all the little pieces that make up Jared, images and faces he doesn’t remember making. Little five year old Jared with one thumb in his mouth and two year old Jared toddling towards her, the biggest and toothiest grin on his face.

The entire sketchbook is all of Jared, some pages with little drawings of his hands, pudgy and grabbing for things. There’s one drawing of his eyes, big and shining with what look like temper tantrum tears.

There’s even one picture of him and Chad, and this image alone Jared has to close his eyes at, a feeling of yearning that he does remember, because he does remember Chad. He misses Chad. In the drawing they’re sitting in the kitchen, Chad telling some silly story and rocking back on his chair with laughter, and Jared is smiling, dimples in his cheeks even in his young age.

There’s even one picture of Jeff, mixed in between the montage of Jared’s childhood. It’s the only one that bears no eraser marks, no corrections to the lines and shading. Jeff stands tall, arms folded over his chest, and behind him is a dark background, jagged black shades, but Jeff himself is bathed in light. The lines of his mouth are set in a grimace, but his eyes are soft. The reluctant warrior, tall, solid. Looking straight at the artist.

All this time, he never knew. Jared had always figured that Hilarie only drew things that were allowed, still life, landscapes, things that were safe. He feels floored with the revelation that Hilarie drew everything. Stolen moments between friends in a sunlit kitchen, pudgy hands that reached from even so young an age, a man with the weight of the people on his shoulders that refused to fall.

Hilarie saw, she drew. And maybe they’re not related by blood but Jared feels such a sharp pang of closeness with his Guardian because she got it. That fascination he feels with people, inclination and curiosity to see, to capture their emotions, the way they interact, the way they reach, Hilarie got it, just like Jared does.

He stares down at the paper. And very suddenly, it’s all starting to make sense.

There’s a halfway broken piece of him that he’s not finding any time soon in the crumpled drawings on this dining room table, but Jared suddenly feels desperate. Hilarie saw everything, remembered everything. The need to do the same is overwhelming, and Jared slams up against that wall inside his head, ignoring the throb because he has to remember, needs to remember.

Because there was someone in his life. Someone he keeps drawing, keeps coming back to snippets of conversation with, and he can’t for the life of him figure out who the hell it is. It’s maddening. The person could be dead for all he knows, but he doesn’t care. He needs to know, has to know.

He carefully closes the sketchbook, and looks up to find Jeff leaning against the sink, safe enough distance away that he can’t see how Jared is trembling.

“You know…” The lines in Jeff’s face turn upwards, a genuine smile, but it’s sad. “Your mother…” Jared startles at the word ‘mother’, shoulders tensing imperceptibly but Jeff pushes on,.“She was the kindest person I’ve ever known. She loved to laugh, that’s what I remember most about her. Sometimes I would come home and the whole damn house would be filled with laughter. It was loud too; sometimes it was kind of a cackle. I used to tease her for it something awful.”

Silence expands in the air, and Jared gathers his thoughts in wake of it. Jeff is not looking at him expectantly, but Jared wants to say something, has got to say something.

“I don’t remember that at all,” he replies earnestly. “Not that I’m saying it didn’t happen, but I can’t even remember what she sounded like. Weird, huh?”

Jeff shrugs. “What’s weird is the things that stick with us in the end, the things we remember the most. I don’t remember a goddamn thing she drew in that sketchbook, any of those memories. Maybe I wasn’t around.” He winces suddenly. “I don’t even remember when she drew that one of me.”

“The damn woman, such a sneak.” A deep chuckle, grain to the grindstone. “Sometimes I’d catch her watching me, watching you, and she’d never tell me what she was doing. Figures that she wasn’t just watching, but seeing.”

Jared has no idea why Jeff is telling him this, notices a second later that Jeff’s gloves are missing from his hands. These are the hands that take down the most dangerous criminals in the city, put cuffs on the rule benders and breakers. But right now they look frail, one shoved uncomfortably into the front pocket of Jeff’s jeans as the other rubs over the salt and pepper shadow along his face.

Jeff laughs harshly. “You know, there are days when I wonder if this is how things were supposed to be for the world, or if this is just some bad nightmare of a detour.”

Jared gets that, more than Jeff will ever know. 

“I consider myself a man of the law; have ever since I signed up with the police force at twenty years. So yeah, I enforce the law. But I don’t follow it.”

Jeff sighs, and it rattles, like he’s starting to wither away before Jared’s eyes. The bare handed Police Chief of the City locks eyes with his bare handed Charge.

“I loved her, Jared. I loved her my whole life, but I had a job and I had a reputation and I had to protect her and I had to protect you. So I loved and I have loved her from the very second I met her. But I was a coward and I never acted. She never knew how I felt. Sometimes, I’d like to think she did. She was a smart one, and sometimes when I’d smile at her she’d get this look on her face, like it was our little secret and she knew and it was okay. She never patronized me for it, never reported me.”

“But I’m not…I wasn’t about living, Jared. I was about staying safe, surviving. Making sure you and Hil could do the same. She didn’t need to know how I felt, not with the way she looked at you.”

“She loved you, Jared. You may not remember it, but she used to talk about you with so much pride in her eyes, found everything you did so amazing, every question you asked funny. You were a good kid. You are a good kid. Always have been. I’ve always known that.”

“Thank you,” Jared says. He’s gotten praise for his behavior before, Jeff has always been proud of him. But in the context of the moment and amidst everything that’s happened, it feels more sincere than it ever has before. This is the first time that Jeff’s words have felt directed straight towards Jared, not praising his work ethic or his behavior in school, but rather Jared as he is, the whole instead of the parts. He feels bewildered by it, and humbled. 

“Don’t think for a second this is letting you off the hook for chores,” Jeff says sharply, and Jared laughs. 

“Why are you telling me all this?” Jared doesn’t understand why the room is getting so goddamn blurry, lights flattening out into bright blobs in his vision. “I mean, Jesus, why not tell me this when I was a kid, why not give me the sketchbook back when I asked for it years ago?”

“You didn’t need it. You wouldn’t have understood it like you do now. I’ve seen your drawings, and I know that you’re going through a rough time, since the accident and all. But you’ve got a gift, for detail, for sight, for perception, just like she did. And I’m telling you not to give up, Jared. Quit crumpling, keep drawing.” He stands, uncertain, then raises his eyes to Jared.

“I lost Hilarie. And I almost lost you. I wasn’t…I’m not prepared to deal with that quite yet. So before that ‘almost’ becomes a ‘definitely’, I figured there’s a few things you should know.”

Jeff’s voice, always solid, wavers a bit. But he’s clearing his throat and adjusting the cufflinks on his sleeves before Jared can truly catch it.

“You understand what you’re potentially asking me to do, right? What this involves?”

“I understand what it’s like to want someone, want someone with all your being. And I also know what it’s like to let them get away. I don’t need the rest of the details.”

He starts toward the doorway, and Jared swears his breath is rattling in his lungs like chains are wrapped around his very essence. Jared stops just as Jeff passes Jared’s chair, freezes solid as Jeff glances at the sketch book in Jared’s hands.

Jeff’s hand settles on his shoulder, weighted and warm and even through his shirt Jared can feel simultaneously the weakness and the strength of a man who watched the love of his life waste away without even getting the chance to say he loved her. 

“You never stop missing people, son. But if you don’t remember them, they may as well have not existed at all.”

Jeff squeezes Jared’s shoulder, hard hand like a sleeve, first time he’s ever so much as laid a hand on Jared.

Jeff lets go after a moment, walks through the archway, trudges up the stairs.

For the first time in Jared’s life, the house feels a little bit fuller, a little less empty.

The footfalls of Jeff’s boots do not echo.

***

There’s an end to all things when spring turns to summer. End of school, end of cool morning rain, the end of layered clothing, the end of listless days waiting for class to end.

Spring ended, but Jared feels a bit of a beginning in the reprieve of summer. This summer is hot enough to scorch, sun baking the pavement, creating mirages across the streets. The sun chases away all things dark, unknown, undiscovered. It’s comforting to Jared, in a way he thought summer would never be again.

The one year marking of Chad’s death day takes its toll and Jared gets antsy, fussing within his own skin. He draws and erases and draws again, sleeps in increments of minutes as opposed to hours. This restlessness, Jared thinks, has less to do with Chad and more to do with the ever present headaches, the dull flashes back and forth to moments he can’t entirely recall, a voice he can’t recognize, a touch he can’t quite name. It’s strange to miss things that he can’t even remember having done in the first place, but the yearning is there, and not going away any time soon.

Whatever the reason, the restlessness builds to the point of bursting, and manifests itself in the oddest and most amusing ways. Jared finds sanctity and comfort in dusters and glass cleaner and vacuuming. Cleans every inch of the house, and Jeff grumbles about having raised an obsessive compulsive nut but Jared ignores him, files in every cabinet and dusts every square inch. It helps with the headaches in ways the pain medications can’t, mutes the nightmares because Jared is so exhausted from polishing doorknobs that he doesn’t dream at all.

Jared’s bent over on hands and knees in the den, feeling his way under the couch for dust bunnies, when he discovers another sketchbook.

This one is older, more worn around the edges, not one he remembers using.

Jared stands up, thumbs through to the first page, and flat out drops it to the floor with a splat, pages obscured.

Is that…

He edges near, nudges the sketchbook with his foot and flips it open. The drawing, the first drawing in the book, is a man, on his side, facing Jared. Drawn in his style, not Hilarie’s. His hand made these marks. Normally Jared would assume it’s just a figment of his imagination, some dream he had at one point or another and not real. But recognition dawns on him immediately; the short mussed hair that had been a blur in the hospital.

The man who had been there when Jared woke up in the hospital is asleep in this drawing, but it’s definitely him. Jared looks hungrily at the sketch. It’s him, there’s no denying it. But this sketch has to be months old. The man had been in the room for all of two minutes, and while Jared may be missing the nine months before his accident, he sure as hell has taken extra care to remember everything that’s happened since he woke up. 

This is Jared’s drawing, and he did a pretty damn good job. Or maybe he just had a good subject. The shading in the man’s cheek bones is refined, slanted just right. He’s beautiful, even in gray scale, every component of his face even and balanced, eyelashes lengthy, lips parted in the pout of sleep. The pieces of this person Jared remembers from the hospital room fit exactly where they should.

But this drawing is no memory he recollects. 

You don’t—you don’t remember?

Acute stabbing pain in Jared’s head and he presses the heels of his palms to his eye sockets, pushing back at whatever’s pushing against him.

That man had just been discharged from the hospital, maybe sent elsewhere, given a better room. There couldn’t possibly be any way that he—

Another stab, Jared’s eyes water. The man had touched him, brushed fingers along Jared’s arm and Jared had wanted to brush back. But the man had been discharged.

Or maybe he just left. Because Jared hadn’t remembered. Because Jared had woken up after a car accident, and hadn’t remembered a damn thing.

***

Jared turns eighteen. Chad does not.

Another drawing appears and makes itself a permanent addition on the counter next to Hilarie’s; one brilliant, fleeting, shooting star of a smile.

***

It’s when he’s putting the old sketchbook from under the couch in the ‘Just In Case’ box that he sees it, sticking out from under a bunch of other objects Jared has found that are supposed to trigger something but trigger nothing.

He picks the c.d. up, turns it over in his hands.

He swears he knows that handwriting, presses his finger to the faded sharpie like he’ll identify it if he touches it just right. He follows the track numbers with the mysterious numbers next to them, decimal points and dashes in between.

Christ, where did he even get this? Who gave it to him? A quick glance at the folded open drawing of the man from the hospital. He can’t tell if they’re connected or he’s just being paranoid, but he stares at the numbers scribbled on the disk, and it hits him. They’re not track names. They’re coordinates. Coordinates.

It was a trick, something Chad used to do when Jared wanted to hang out and couldn’t find him, because Chad rarely liked to be found. He’d always text coordinates, giving the general location, telling Jared to bring money, or his car, or his ‘party pants’.

Jared had never told anybody about that before. Never.

But Jared also has a drawing of a sleeping man that he’d thought he’d never seen before either, so maybe he’s pretty unreliable as a detective at this point.

Still, coordinates seem like a good start.

He’s halfway to the door when the flashback nearly incapacitates him.

Keep it. You never know when wandering might come in handy.

The wall slams back down before he can trace the voice to the face. But he’s got it, he’s almost got it, he’s not letting go now. Jared all but falls downstairs en route to the kitchen, leaping straight over the sofa and clutching the disc in his hand. The GPS tracking device Jeff keeps in the kitchen closet gets shoved into Jared’s pocket, along with batteries, a c.d. player, and the disc. It may or may not be blisteringly hot outside. He doesn’t care.

“Going out for a drive,” he shoots in Jeff’s direction.

“You do that.”

He swears he sees Jeff grin to himself before Jared’s out the door.

Jared gets into his car and stares out at the city that unfurls at the end of the driveway, eyes skipping over the skyscrapers and tracing down to the slums and older buildings covered up by the new. The city glints and gleams and if he tilts his head at just the right angle he can see glimpses of life teeming underneath the futuristic structures that quilt it. 

He puts the c.d. in, lets the music and the lyrics and the coordinates and the road do the talking.

Chapter Text

 

The GPS tracker is apparently shit, Jared spends half the drive trying to figure out how to work the goddamn thing and nearly crashing, but where technology fails the roadways and familiar cityscapes fill in. The streets are quiet, the streets are always quiet, but the familiarity of them quells Jared’s irritation and impatience. His head pangs again and he winces, blinks it back as he follows the tracker the best he can to the first set of coordinates, plays the first song on the c.d. player in his lap, feeling it reverberate through the car speakers. 

The coordinates lead him to a grocery store. Jared slams the GPS on the dashboard, thinking maybe it’s broken. Because this? This random scribbling of coordinates, the place the coordinates lead to can’t possibly mean anything. What’s the significance of a grocery store to Jared? It’s useless. And yet there’s a niggling feeling underneath the pounding in Jared’s head that tells him he’s on track; that he just has to keep wandering a bit.

So he wanders, tries the next one. And the next one. 

Plays each track over and taps thumbs on the dashboard like he knows the songs, but there’s nothing. He draws a blank, but he stares hard at each set of coordinates like he’ll pick up on some detail and something will click in to place.

He follows the coordinates and lets the city speak to him, reads the structure the way he has his whole life, takes those short cuts only he knows and cuts corners faster, making progress steadily. Meanwhile, each further song and location draws a blank, he recognizes them only because he’s driven and walked by them so many times, but they’re not familiar. They don’t mean anything to him.

The sky burns orange to pink in the light of the setting sun, dark gray clouds obscuring the rays from view. He goes everywhere in town, it seems, sometimes has to get out of his car and walk. The music guides the way, and he finds himself on a staircase near the Capitol building, inside of one of the archive warehouses, standing between two shelves, and he ends up on the metro, passing a park. It’s feels like the map to someone else’s life, and he grips the GPS device in one hand and his c.d. player in the other and tries not to believe he’s chasing lost hope. 

He leaves the metro behind, parks his car back at home and heads upstairs, waits an hour or so for Jeff to fall asleep, and then sneaks back out the window to locate the coordinates on the final track. They’re close, apparently, he takes one bus and walks a quarter mile, but it’s the closest location to his house he’s seen. 

Jared puts the earphones in for the last time and plays the final song on the c.d., just as the rain begins to fall.

“Great.” He tucks his hood over his hair, and the song starts to play as he follows the GPS, distance between him and the destination narrowing by the second.

The song starts, and he stops, stands in the middle of the street as the rain starts to pour down in earnest.

Because this, he thinks to himself, this is familiar. He doesn’t recognize the song, but he recognizes the feel of the song, slightly raspy voice, singing softly through the opening lyrics, soulful but pure and the guitars kick in with a strumming grace. He’s going to get soaked, but a few more dozen feet and he’s there, the final destination.

An alleyway. 

It’s genuinely pouring now, thundering and lightning sending bolts of illumination along the brick walls and passageways of the city. And the song plays on.

And so today, my world it smiles,
 your hand in mine, we walk the miles, 
Thanks to you it will be done,
for you to me are the only one.


Rain pours from the sky, and he takes it all in, takes in the rain and the singular dim light and racks his brains for the significance that seems to be ringing from the walls of this alleyway. 

An echo of a voice in his head, his own voice this time, and for the life of him he can’t even recall why he said it. 

No one, no one in my entire life. Just you.

His lips shape around the words and he says them aloud for no one but him to hear. The song plays on and he’s listening so hard, taking it in, trying to connect the fragments that keep pushing at him, jokes he laughs at but doesn’t understand, places he leans toward but doesn’t know why. Drawings of people he can’t ever remember meeting. 

The pounding in his head increases and the flashback over takes him all at once, cloudy vision and suddenly there’s a man standing in front of Jared, hand outstretched for him to take. 

He nearly collapses as the dam in his head bursts open, sensation and memory overwhelming him and he’s gasping, gripping the alley wall for support and trembling for what seems like hours, infinitesimal fractions of seconds breaking and shattering upon one another as the rain pours over him, absolutely dumbfounded.

Jensen

The name rings like a litany in his head and Jared doesn’t remember quite how he got there or how he even remembered in the first place, but he knows he has to find Jensen right the fuck now. 

Too much has happened and he barely recalls any of it, images flickering in front of him scratchy and jumbled like an old film reel. The car crash, the fight, Sophia’s tearful face, each one hits him like a blow. Jared’s head is throbbing in pain and he doesn’t care, can barely see straight through the rain and the ache behind his eyes but it doesn’t matter. He’s got a name engraved in his memory and a face to match it and he’s not letting that slip away, not again. 

It’s late at night, it’s raining, and the damn c.d. hasn’t even finished yet, but Jared takes off, the shadows on his heels and his heart in his throat. If this is a fluke, if Jensen Ackles is some hallucinatory coping mechanism that his brain invented, well, it’s too late to care now. 

Jared can’t truly remember how to get where he’s going, but the city is there to remind him, recognition lighting his way along the streets. He takes two sharp left turns and follows the furthering trail into darkness, cascading rain in his wake.

***

Maybe bursting into someone’s apartment unannounced isn’t the brightest idea at so late an hour of the night. Maybe it is. Whichever it is doesn’t really matter, because Jared’s reaching under the mat and grabbing a key he doesn’t even remember ever seeing, but his fingers apparently do, twisting the key in the lock and then stumbling his way through to the kitchen. 

His body seems a little more on course than his memory, taking him routes and directions and places he’s just barely starting to recollect. It’s in this manner he finds himself barreling into a bedroom, dripping rain water all over the floor.

The second he sees Jensen it’s like he can breathe again, but just barely. The sight of him sends the final piece clicking into place; Jared had a name and a face back in the alleyway but seeing Jensen, taking in his face as he looks up at Jared, leaned back against the headboard with a book in hand, mostly likely reading through a passage he’s read a thousand times before, that’s all Jared needs.

That piece clicks, and Jared blinks and stares alternately as it hits him: Jensen smiling at him in the warehouse, Jensen driving his car, Jensen holding out books and music, Jensen talking about buildings and scars and Zeppelin and the look in his eye when he does those things. The feeling punches Jared clean through the chest, warmth and remembrance filling up the gaps.

Jared removes the earphones and they stare at each other, Jared’s chest heaving from the sprint over here and Jensen utterly petrified with surprise. The book falls from Jensen’s fingers to thud on the floor next to the bed.

And maybe Jared should be bounding forward to kiss Jensen, maybe Jared should be making up for all the lost time he’s spent these past months missing something he couldn’t even remember. 

But as his oxygen levels begin to return to normal and water continues to drip from his frame to plop on to Jensen’s floor, Jared realizes in the silence that he’s not exactly happy to see Jensen. 

In fact he’s pretty much the damn opposite of happy. 

Jensen looks so bewildered and confused, mouth hanging slightly open, shoulders tensed as if to run. 

That may or may not have to do with the near pinched mouth and clenched jaw that Jared’s sporting, but at this point, Jared really doesn’t care if he’s making Jensen comfortable or not.

“You made me,” Jared pants, catching his breath and somehow finding it in him to glare at Jensen, “a mix c.d.”

Jensen continues to stare at him, like he doesn’t know what Jared is going to do or say next. Frankly, Jared doesn’t know either. 

“You made me a mix c.d.” Jared mulls over the words. “But you couldn’t visit me in the hospital? Or, I dunno, remind me that you existed?”

He glares full blast now, something akin to rage bristling inside him. “You disappeared, you didn’t call, and if it wasn’t for the Led Zeppelin song on this c.d. and the rain and the coordinates I wouldn’t even remember you now!”

Jensen’s still staring, stupefied, and it takes Jared a minute to realize that Jared wants him to start talking. He finally does, but it’s soft, bordering on meek and Jared wants to strangle him for it. 

“You woke up and you didn’t even recognize me, what was I supposed to do?” He swings his feet over the bed to put them on the floor, looks at the floor, talks at the floor, can’t even raise his eyes to Jared. 

“You were supposed to stay. I dunno, reintroduce yourself, force me to remember, make me not forget. Something,” Jared says bitterly. “You weren’t supposed to exile yourself from my life Jensen. I was in the hospital, not the morgue.”

“Yeah, well it was my fault you were there in the first place!” Jensen looks up, and now he looks angry too. And thank God for that, because Jared was just about to be fed up with Jensen’s emotionless bullshit. 

“We’ve been over this, Jensen.” Jared rubs at his temple, trying to soothe the throb but it only makes it worse. “So fuck you if you weren’t listening. I’m not a kid, you can’t protect me from the dangers of whatever’s out there and you sure as hell can’t keep me safe by cutting me out,” Jared breathes through his nose, trying to stay as calm as possible, but his eyes are pricking again and he clenches his fist. “You once promised me. Promised me. That if you ever did anything I didn’t like, all I would have to say is ‘not okay’ and you would stop. But I did say it and you still didn’t stop. I said not okay, and you still cut me out!”

“You don’t understand.” Jensen turns and faces him full on now, grit in his jaw.

“Oh yeah? Enlighten me,” Jared snaps.

“We crashed because I was too busy trying to get it through your thick skull that this, us, will never work. You said ‘not okay’ and I ignored that because this world, these laws, it tears people like you and me apart, Jared. I’m not going to do that to someone. And especially not to you.”

The words should sting. They should. But there’s a c.d. in Jared’s pocket that’s got every adventure they’ve ever been on marked in the track listing. There’s a drawing in Jared’s closet of Jensen curled up, asleep. There’s a song constantly stuck in his head because Jensen put it there. All these things Jensen’s saying, they mean nothing. Words mean nothing because every gesture Jensen has ever made toward Jared, every touch every movement every song, has been the complete opposite of what he’s saying right now. 

Jared just has to prove it. He walks over to the bed, sits right down, takes in a long breath.

“Jensen.” He finds it hard to look up but he does it anyway, rooting himself in the familiarity of Jensen’s eyes. “I was sixteen years old when my best friend killed himself. Sixteen. You can’t protect me or anyone else from this world because these things happen. Chad died because he just wanted to touch, killed himself because he thought he was sick for still wanting to touch, even after they carted him off to Rehab.” Jared brings up a shaky hand, wipes stray rain from his face, takes in another long breath.

“I loved Chad, he was my best friend. But like you said, the world tore him apart. Not being able or allowed to care about someone destroyed him, and I'm not...I can’t face that kind of life. I won’t face that kind of life, either.” He stares at Jensen with every bit of honesty he’s got in him. “I'm not going to kill myself Jensen...but life without you...I might as well be dead.”

“Jared.” Something starts to soften in Jensen’s face but then he stands, backs away like he can ward Jared off with distance. “Don’t. Don’t do that.”

“What? Tell you that I care?” Jared laughs despite himself. “Guess the cat’s out of the bag. Oops.”

“Fuck you, no!” Jensen rounds on him, lines upon lines in his face and it hits Jared with a wave of sadness that Jensen looks exhausted. “Goddamn you, you don’t just get to come in here and say those sorts of things, Jared. I--I can’t. Goddammit, sometimes you say things and you make me feel…”

They’re back where they started, back behind the wheel of a car and Jared is clinging to every syllable coming out of Jensen’s mouth. But if he doesn’t finish the sentence, if he doesn’t say something, Jared might lose him forever.

“Make you feel what, Jensen?” Jared asks softly, rising from the bed.

Jensen looks at Jared, and there’s that flayed open expression on his face. Jared takes a cautious step forward and Jensen counters with a step back, face closing off. 

So it’s this. Again. 

Defeat sinks in and its clear Jensen doesn’t want him there. Maybe that space and time was all they needed, and Jensen’s purged himself of Jared entirely. Maybe Jensen had got exactly what he wanted in the first place.

He retreats to the door, tracking the puddles of water the way he came in, headed straight for the nearest exit possible because Jensen doesn’t answer and Jared knows a ‘Fuck off’ when he hears one. 

“Everything.”

Jared barely picks up on the word, thinks he might actually be hearing things. He turns around to see Jensen looking up at him from the bed, sitting again, feet set on the floor like he’s not sure which way is up or down. 

Jensen looks dazed, absolutely terrified, but he looks up at Jared and his eyes are blazing. “Everything, Jared.”

Everything could mean good, everything could mean bad. Either way it’s all the same when Jared walks over quickly, paced and determined. He tosses his sodden gloves to the floor, shrugs out of his backpack and crawls right onto the bed and right onto Jensen’s lap, throwing a knee over Jensen’s thigh and straddling him and they fit just like two pieces of a puzzle.

“Jared.” Even as he’s warning Jared away his hands are twitching, and Jared knows there’s no place to be other than here. Everything might not be all good in the long run, but Jared’s entirely too desperate to care. 

“No,” Jared instructs. “No more lectures for my safety. I listened. I did. You made some excellent bullet points. But I’m done listening now.”

The process is all muscle memory, but that’s okay because his hands seem to know the way to cupping Jensen’s face, know what amount of pressure it takes to pull him up until their mouths collide. 

Jared’s lips are rain wet and his clothes make a weird squishing noise as he leans against Jensen, holds him with the press of his kiss. 

He pulls back and whispers into Jensen, “I remember this. Remember you.”

There’s a good three seconds of hesitation and Jared starts to think maybe he was wrong, maybe the c.d. was a mistake and meant nothing and he’s barging in here and harassing Jensen on pure delusion. He starts to pull back but his lips catch and stick with Jensen’s and they’re locked together even as Jared tries to separate them and before he can even breathe or think what the hell Jensen grabs Jared’s face and crushes his mouth to his.

And Jared, for all the way he’s endured the months of flashbacks and memory loss suddenly remembers what he had been missing. The stretched and contorted rubber band in his head snaps, the missing link back in place the second Jensen fits his mouth against Jared’s. 

It’s just a kiss, innocent as their first. But Jared’s soaked to the bone and Jensen’s hands come up to rest on Jared’s own hands against his face, and he grips tight, like he’s silently begging Jared to never let go and Jared won’t, won’t ever. He’s alive with the way their lips brush, his body thrumming his heart pounding, his insides singing for it because he finally understands what he’s been yearning for this whole time.

It’s not sex. It’s not touch. It’s not emotional connection or a forgotten song lyric or closure about Chad. It’s all those things, and all the odds and ends in between. 

Jared wants everything, wants to feel every experience that Jensen consists of, every moment Jensen has to offer; from the rain soaked sweater from that night in the alley to the Forbidden songs stolen and the illegal words on dusty old pages. He wants a summer smile and sardonic wit with quick fingers and green eyes.

He wants Jensen, needs Jensen. He feels stupid, because it should have been obvious from the second he first found the drawings, or first woke up in the hospital room. But that’s all over, and Jared plans to put that in the past as much as he can, starting with this kiss, right here. 

He’s missed Jensen so much, wasn’t even aware how much until this moment. 

And getting Jensen back, well, it feels just like heaven.

Jared’s a little out of practice, and a lot surprised at Jensen’s response, but he gets the memo quick. Especially when Jensen moves his mouth down to Jared’s bottom lip and worries at it, uncertain, questioning, and Jared reacts like a gunshot, gangly arms twisting up and around Jensen’s neck and fingers carding through Jensen’s hair to scratch lightly at the back of his scalp.

Jensen hisses, sharp intake of breath against his lips that Jared chases after, sealing himself against Jensen’s mouth with his own and even with that brief press of lips spanning only a fraction of a second it feels so right.

Jared might be fuzzy on the details, but he’s always been a fast learner. And from what he can tell, well, Jensen is an excellent teacher. 

They kiss slowly, exploring, and Jared’s dripping rain water all over Jensen and all over Jensen’s bed but Jensen doesn’t seem to mind. Rain mixes with their kiss, and Jensen licks his way into Jared’s mouth. Everything is wet and gentle and vital. 

God and the way Jensen tastes. Jared has had his fair share of foods and tastes and he knows what he likes and prefers and would rather turn his nose up at, but nothing tastes like Jensen does. It feels weird to think about it, but Jared could do this all day, mouth open and letting Jensen’s tongue sweep inside, rain slick and heated. Jared sighs at the taste. Jensen is burnt coffee and spearmint gum and old vinyl records and Jared wants to bottle that taste and gobble it up and savor it forever because there’s nothing else like it, nothing in the world. 

He wants to taste the other parts of Jensen too, wants to see if they’re just like he remembers. He brings his hands to fist in the front of Jensen’s shirt, tugging him closer and separating their lips for the briefest of seconds.

“You don’t have to--” Jensen starts, but Jared is already moving down Jensen’s jaw line, pressing fierce, heated, reverent kisses and he knows there’s a spot that he’s looking for, just has to find it. 

“Jared, you only just got your memory back, I don’t think this is a good idea.” 

Jared knows when he’s hit it, that sensitive skin just under Jensen’s earlobe, because Jensen seizes, protest dying in his throat, fingers digging into Jared’s hipbones and a strangled sound punches out of Jensen’s chest and Jared grins. 

Now this. This he remembers. The weeks spent fumbling in these sheets are coming back to Jared and he cards his hand through Jensen’s hair, damp fingers scratching Jensen’s scalp and relishing in the way Jensen quakes against him. It’s a delight, because even though he’d learned where to touch and in what way, Jensen’s never responded like this.

“Want to.” Jared finishes off Jensen’s protest, licking that sensitive spot once more and scraping his teeth along the five-o-clock-shadowed skin of Jensen’s jaw. “Don’t know if I’ll ever not want to.”

“Do you?” Jared adds as an afterthought, starting to pull back.

“I do.” Jensen looks up at him earnestly. “I just…look you just barged in uninvited. Give a guy a moment to adjust, will you?”

Jared freezes obediently. Waits.

“This isn’t a joke, is it?” Jensen asks, cracking a weak smile.

“No joke.” Jared ducks back to that one spot. 

“You…” Jensen seems to give up on forming a coherent argument as Jared sucks a mark into his skin, and he groans, hips involuntarily jerking against Jared’s. “You cannot do this to me, Padalecki. I’m not…You better not be fucking around.”

“Not fucking around,” Jared answers, pressing another kiss to that angled jaw, Jensen shivering slightly. “I want this. I want you. And if you think I’m backing down after all this time you’ve got another thing coming.”

And there’s this look on Jensen’s face, incredulous and amused and amazed, like he’s having a hard time believing Jared is here and Jared is real and Jared’s intent on proving that he’s not leaving any time soon. The neighbors could come in, the house could burn down, the goddamn cops could come in guns blazing, and Jared would not leave this spot, not for the world.

He can’t believe Jensen still thinks Jared wouldn’t want this, even after all this time. Like the last almost year or so hasn’t been enough proof that Jared’s not going anywhere, clearly. 

Still, Jared has no idea how long he’ll have this version of Jensen. The Jensen that doesn’t kick him out and tell him they can’t see each other, the Jensen that places want over safety, the Jensen that wants him to stay and not go. So if this is it, if this is the last chance Jared gets to prove how much Jensen gets in, on and under his skin, well, he’s going to milk it for all it’s worth. 

He pulls back, hovering over Jensen’s lips as he straddles him and holds his head in place. He’s not in control; Jensen could knock Jared off his lap in an instant and be the one sitting in Jared’s lap within seconds, but it’s the sentiment that counts. The fact that Jensen’s letting Jared touch him like this is what’s important. 

His thumbs rest on Jensen’s cheekbones, just below the bruises under his eyes from sleepless nights, just over lips that are wet because Jared made them that way, and it’s heart stopping. He stares deep into the gold flecked green of Jensen’s eyes, presses close so they’re breathing the same air, just like they were all those months ago in the warehouse.

“I’m going to touch you right now,” Jared whispers just above Jensen’s lips, close enough to kiss. “I’m going to touch you and if you’re not okay with what I’m doing, at any point whatsoever, tell me.” He traces the shape of Jensen’s bottom lip with his tongue. “If anything bothers you, just tell me ‘not okay’.” A kiss, “Not stop.” Another, longer kiss. “Not don’t,” Another lick against Jensen’s parted lips. “Say ‘not okay’ and I’ll stop no matter what. Are we clear?”

And they’re back where they started nearly a year ago and maybe it should scare Jared that Jensen might say ‘not okay’ at any second. But Jensen makes an utterly wrecked noise that sounds like a warped sort of ‘yes’, and Jared steals it from him in a searing kiss. 

He makes quick work of Jensen’s semi-damp t shirt and reveals familiar golden tanned skin, that same sleek muscle that Jared wants to learn and relearn all over again. 

There’s no music playing, no loud blaring sound that usually accompanies the two of them doing this.

It’s just Jensen, gripping Jared’s hips and holding on for dear life, just Jared pressing himself as close to Jensen as he can possibly get, dripping rain all over Jensen as he presses kiss after kiss to Jensen’s open and eager mouth as they fall backwards onto the bed, just Jensen curling his fingers into the waist band of Jared’s jeans and tugging, as if Jared could possibly get any closer in this moment, plastered together as they are, just Jared, trying not to crush Jensen with the weight of him but also trying to crush Jensen with the feel of him.

Jensen slips his hands under Jared’s shirt, pressing his palms to the dimples of Jared’s back and pulling Jared into him. 

In the quiet of the room is the whisper of their names, the sound of their lips meshing together in a wet and swirly haze and the exhale of the breath that they’ve both held for so long. It’s just them, skin to skin and no one in the world to make them stop. 

Jared kisses his way down Jensen’s chest, starting with that small circular burn on Jensen’s shoulder and moving downwards, and now Jensen lets him, in a way he never did before. Lies back and responds with soft groans and gasps as Jared grazes his nipples with his teeth, nuzzles the indent of his collarbone, licks and sucks his way down the line of Jensen’s stomach. By the time he makes his way to Jensen’s pants, Jared’s got a sense that Jensen isn’t going anywhere any time soon, stretched out and blissed out and Jared hasn’t even gone near his dick. 

The sound of his name falling from Jensen’s lips brings him swinging back up so they’re eye to eye, but that doesn’t keep his hands from wandering.

He writhes against Jared, rough denim on wet denim and Jensen’s eyelashes flutter, so Jared kisses him there too, lips pressing into the crease of his eyelids. Kisses each freckle and any uncovered patches of skin he can plant his lips on as well. He drags his fingers through the sweat gathered high on Jensen’s chest, licks that up too, rain and salt off of Jensen’s skin. 

“I remember everything about you. I do Jensen. And if we get caught, if this whole thing falls to shit and we both get bullets in our heads tomorrow, then so be it. But of every memory I have of you, this is one I don't have. One that I want. Right here, right now."

He pauses, leans forward and brushes his lips softly over Jensen’s and breathes into him, “And it’s one I plan on keeping forever.”

Jensen’s looking at him again, and Jared’s stomach swoops at his expression. Lips red and kissed, hair mussed, face shining with sweat. But it’s his eyes that seal the deal for Jared, so open to Jared and reassuring him that it’s okay, they’re okay, everything is okay. 

It makes what he says next impossible to take back, but that’s okay because Jared doesn’t even want to try. 

“I love you, Jensen.” Jared bites his lip, puts a hand on Jensen’s cheek and again strokes the shadows under his firefly eyes. “I don’t care if that gets me killed, I don’t care how many rules it breaks. I am so in love with you Jensen,” he laughs, heart caught in his throat and he can’t tell if he’s dying or just now starting to live. “And I get that that freaks you out, and I get that you don’t love me back,” he kisses Jensen’s chest, right over the steady thump of his heart, “and I don’t care.”

He moves back up to Jensen’s lips with every intention of tasting him again but stops at Jensen’s expression, suddenly incredulous, practically angry.

“Are. You. Stupid?” Jensen asks, eyes wide.

“I—what?” Jared doesn’t know if Jensen is being serious or facetious at this point, but he’s fast losing track of the mood. Two seconds ago he’d been all but exploding with feeling and now Jensen is looking at him like he’s insane. 

“You are stupid.” And Jensen is laughing, body shaking underneath Jared’s and that high pitched peal is sounding. “How can you think that, after all this time…”

“What? Think you don’t love me? Jensen, you don’t. You told me so yourself.” Jared keeps his tone calm, ignores the pang that comes with it, because it’s extraneous. 

Jensen not loving Jared back doesn’t invalidate his feelings, doesn’t make them any less palpable. He does love Jensen, loves him so much he can’t stand to breathe with it. But Jared’s finding that it’s not the biggest deal that Jensen doesn’t love him back right now. 

They’ve got time, and Jared’s starting to pick up on the fact that he can be rather stubborn and persuasive when he wants to be. 

Jensen’s not laughing anymore, something glinting in his eyes and three seconds later he lifts his leg and knocks Jared to the side, who falls with an ‘oof’ against the bed. And then Jensen’s climbing over him and removing Jared’s shirt in a practically savage fashion. Jared scrabbles to sit upright but Jensen wraps both hands around his wrists and pins them to the pillows.

Jensen flattens Jared to the bed, there’s no other word for it, presses against him until they’re matched hip for hip, shoulder for shoulder, nose for nose, the sweat on their bellies mixing together. Notched together like lock and key. Jared squirms at the sensation as Jensen rocks against him, brushing lips slowly along his jaw and finally, finally talking, Jared completely powerless and going compliant beneath him. 

“Now you listen to me, Jared,” Jensen’s tone is light, but the expression in his eyes burns right through Jared’s confusion, evaporates any mixed emotions or chest pangs. The way Jensen drags his lips along the lobe of Jared’s ear renders him completely speechless, and he’s pretty sure Jensen is perfectly aware of that fact. “And believe me when I tell you that you are an idiot. How can you say that? How can you even think that after everything?”

Jensen rocks down again, Jared open mouthed and gasping in response. God he needs to touch Jensen, wants to do more than twitch helplessly against the solid warmth of Jensen’s body on his, but it’s useless. So he babbles instead. 

“You said you didn’t want us to be together.” Jared strains against Jensen’s vise grip on his wrists, tries to reach and capture Jensen’s lips, but Jensen dances away. 

“What I said was that we shouldn’t be. I said you shouldn’t love me, that you couldn’t love me. I couldn’t understand why you love me.” Jensen pulls back, vulnerable, and it occurs to Jared that while Jensen might be older, might be more experienced, might have fucked dozens of guys, it makes him no different from Jared, not in the ways that matter. 

“But just because I said that doesn’t mean for a second that I don’t love you back.”

He’s kissing along Jared’s neck when the message finally clicks and Jared tries to sputter “What?” but Jensen takes the opportunity to kiss Jared dizzy, tongue swirling and stealing Jared’s breath away. Jared gasps back, tries to touch Jensen, but Jensen keeps him pinned, helpless. 

“I couldn’t for the life of me understand it. You kept coming back, kept asking questions, kept wanting to get further involved. Nothing scared you. I spent so much time wondering why the hell you were sticking around that I didn’t even realize how gone I was for you. And by the time I did, it was too late to stop it.”

He laughs again, gaze softening. “You kind of sneak up on a guy, Jared.”

If this is a dream or another flashback, Jared hopes it never ends. There’s surprise, of course there is, because Jensen is gone for him, just as gone as Jared is. All this time he thought it’d been one sided. But he had been wrong. And being wrong has never felt so good to Jared in his life. 

He needs to get his hands on Jensen, but Jensen’s refuses to acquiesce. He wants to show how much it means to him that Jensen said those things, feels those things. He wants to say those things right back, again and again and again with his hands and body, but Jensen’s having none of it and a strangled sound of frustration escapes Jared, at which Jensen smiles. 

That glint is back in his eye and his smile turns positively wicked, and this is anything but funny, because Jensen’s on him, Jared still pinned with the weight of Jensen’s hips grinding him down into the mattress, and Jensen lays claim on his body, biting marks that will bruise Jared’s neck. Each bite is interspersed with broken dialogue, and Jared has no choice but to listen to the rough and possessive tone, no choice but to take each and every lick, nip and suck that Jensen has to give him.

“I almost lost you. I did lose you. You looked at me in that hospital room and you didn’t know me and I’d never felt so lost in my life.” Jensen’s grip on Jared’s wrists tightens, shackles that burn and soothe all at once. He kisses Jared’s shoulder, rises up once to press a kiss to Jared’s wrist, licks at the bluish veins under the skin.

“But now you’re back.” He’s staring at Jared again. “You’re back and somehow you’re still here and you still want this. So I’m not,” he sucks a mark to the left of Jared’s neck, “planning on letting you go. You’re mine, Jared.” He bites the edge of Jared’s clavicle, teeth leaving small indentations and Jared yelps, jerks against Jensen’s mouth until he licks over the bite, sucks another small mark that Jared hopes scars and stays on his skin forever. “You are mine.”

Mine. Like the word is some novel concept and Jared hasn’t been Jensen’s from the very second Jensen laid hands on him. 

“You’re mine, Jared,” Jensen repeats a third time, breathes hot and wet those words against Jensen’s neck, twists his hips like a demon and Jared thrusts up against him. “And I’m going to make sure of it.”

He releases Jared’s wrists with a sharp kiss that says ‘stay here’ and gets up, goes to close the door to his bedroom with a slam. He’s back on Jared like a whirling dervish and Jared rises to meet him halfway, teeth clashing, rain wet and sweat damp and trying to mark and make each other their own. 

And maybe Jared’s brain isn’t able to catch up with the way he’s getting so fucking revved up from Jensen’s mouth on him, but he suddenly doesn’t understand. For months he’d pushed and pushed at Jensen and Jensen hadn’t budged an inch. And now? Now Jensen’s biting and sucking his way along Jared’s sternum, seemingly promising Jared the whole world. Jared doesn’t buy it, can’t buy it, squirms against Jensen because something isn’t right, something doesn’t make sense.

But then Jensen beats him to the punch, and Jared stills, listens. 

“My parents, they used to touch me. Dad, in not such a nice way. Mom, the opposite. It wasn’t a problem, they were quiet about it, I was quiet about it. We were fine, until we got caught.”

Jensen trembles, slow shaky inhale that catches and holds in his throat. 

“There was an execution back when I was nine or so,” Jensen breathes into Jared’s skin, speaks and the words come with fingers that dip over Jared’s muscle and curve around the backs of his calves and skirt around the sensitive flesh of his inner thigh over his jeans, “Public, because they like to make examples of those blasphemous enough, apparently. We were forced to attend, and like I said, I was nine. I was scared, scared enough to grab mom in the middle of the square, scared enough that she grabbed me back and held on in front of everyone. We weren’t disrupting anything. I don’t even think mom had seen anyone catch notice.”

“But someone did.” His mouth stops over Jared’s heart and he simply breathes.

“Fuck, Jensen.” Jared can’t imagine what that must have been like. He barely remembers Hilarie’s death so fully, but even then they had known it was coming, had had time to prepare. Jensen had no idea then. No way of knowing what would happen. He wants to say something, soothe the ache that Jensen has to be feeling much more insistently than he himself is, but what words can you say when the story is only about to get worse?

In the end he reaches up to thumb at the dark underneath Jensen’s eyes, rests his fingertips momentarily along Jensen’s temple and hopes it’s enough, means it as a gesture of comfort to them both before Jensen soldiers on.

“They came the next day to take me away, arrest my dad, the previous offender of the law and skin my mom the new offender. Dad ran. He made it maybe ten feet before they shot him right in the head. I remember because the blood dripped all the way from our driveway to the place where I was standing. My mom, she didn’t…she grabbed on to me, tried to protect me. I was just a kid and they dragged her away and I haven’t seen her since.” 

The words sound rehearsed, like it’s a story Jensen’s told himself before but didn’t believe until now, whispering and moving against Jared’s skin, and despite the heat pooling in his stomach Jared feels sad, because even with his mouth against Jared’s skin and his skin flushed red, Jensen looks so young and broken. He can’t seem to even look at Jared, and it breaks his heart in two. 

“Jensen.” The name falls as a statement in the cramped space between them, and Jared feels like he’s bleeding when he says it. He doesn’t need answers now, will gladly wait a hundred years if it means he can avoid the broken, open look on Jensen’s face. “You don’t, fuck, you don’t have to talk about it, I--”

“But I do,” Jensen cuts him off sharply, and then leans in to suck a solid bruise into Jared’s hip, teeth gliding along the crease and dip of the bone until Jared responds with a soft moan, before looking straight up at Jared, eyes wide and eerily bright. “I do. And do you know why?”

Jared doesn’t have the heart to ask, but Jensen tells him anyway. 

“Because after they took mom away, I didn’t want anyone touching me. Never again. I moved in with Danni and it took years before I would let her come near me. I was lost, wandering, yearning, for so many years. Sure, I got curious, I began to realize that I was human and I wanted touch. So I fucked around with guys because it was fun and it was something to pass the time, and the feeling was mutual. I didn’t want anything else, not more of the thing that had gotten my mother killed.”

“And then you came along.” Jensen looks at Jared, kisses the column of Jared’s throat, lifts one of his hands from Jared’s wrist to cup his cheek, brush back the hair plastered to his forehead by rain and sweat. “And everything changed.”

Jensen lets go and sits back now, and Jared props himself up on his elbows. Jensen keeps one hand on Jared’s knee, reassurance that he’s not going anywhere.

“My mom…” Jensen’s lips twitch upward at the thought, and he stares past the shades of the window into the dark and rainy city before them, but Jared can tell he’s seeing even farther than that. “She used to do this thing where she would reach out, middle of the day sitting in the kitchen or passing in the hallway, and hug me, kiss me or ruffle my hair. And when I would ask her why she did that, she’d say, ‘Just ’cause’. She never needed a reason to love me. I was her Charge, and she was supposed to raise me to be a good citizen, but she loved me anyway. Just ’cause.”

Jensen looks back to Jared now, and his smile spreads through Jared, molten and warming Jared inside out, spreading from his heart to his ribs to his fingertips. He smiles, eyes crinkling at the corners and he shakes his head. “You’re the exact same way. I don’t know how, but you are. You’re good at it, touching, caring, loving. You were good at it from the start. And before I could even screw my head on straight and figure out what was happening it was too late. I was a goner.”

He settles back over Jared, hand trailing up to tangle in Jared’s hair. 

“I love you, Jared, and I’d rather die than live a life without you. So don’t you dare for a second think that I don’t. It’s just like the song said,” he brushes his lips along Jared’s ear, whispers lyrics into his ear, “If the sun refused to shine, I would still be loving you. When mountains crumble to the sea, there will still be you and me.”

Jared feels tears prick in the corners of his eyes, and his rib cage threatens to crack, something violent and brilliant in his heart. He feels it, right there, singing in his veins with the force of a thousand summers. Love warms his skin, rays of it leaking out as the tears slip down his cheeks. And he gets it, he finally fucking gets it. 

Jensen doesn’t just touch his body, he touches his heart

Every ounce of sensation burning in his body has got Jensen’s fingerprint signature on it, and when Jensen moves back to look him in the eye, he knows that this is the singular most important moment of his entire life, maybe the most important moment in history, maybe the most important moment in the world.

Here, the two of them; souls like lights, fumbling to reach for each other in the middle of the darkest night. 

“I love you,” Jensen breathes into Jared’s mouth, following up with a kiss that sears, and crackles and burns him from the inside out. “I love you so much, Jared.”

The way he says it sets Jared’s nerves ablaze and he lunges, kisses Jensen’s hot cheeks and mouth, and peppering every freckle with a press of his lips. Tongues slick, mouths slicker and Jared wants to weld them together so they can’t pull away, not ever. His whole life he’d been lost and to suddenly be found is overwhelming, and he can’t even form a coherent thought. 

He wants all of Jensen, wants his snark and his mussed hair and the scar on his shoulder, wants Jensen’s past, present and future all wrapped up for them to share together. 

“Fuck,” Jared suddenly swears in frustration, wrenching his mouth away and respiring shortly around his words. “I can’t. I need you to—Jensen.”

And it’s like Jensen understands in an instant, and without a single pause or moment’s clarification he reaches under Jared, scoops him up from under his thighs and lets Jared cling to him as he undoes the button and zipper of Jared’s jeans. He won’t let Jared separate from him, not that Jared would even dare, keeps their mouths connected even as he crashes them both back onto the bed, Jensen hanging over Jared like a star just out of reach. 

He’s already kissed and licked at Jared’s chest but he seems to feel the need to do it again, until Jared’s a sweaty and babbling mess against the sheets. Only then does Jensen start to yank down his jeans. He stops for a moment and reaches over for the remote to the stereo system but Jared stops him with a hand to his wrist.

“No, no music,” Jared exhales, somehow turning his grip on Jensen’s wrist into a caress, two fingers along the back of his hand as he kicks aside his shoes and toes off his socks. “Just you. Only you.” He wraps his arm around Jensen and pulls them chest to chest, and everything about the moment is heat.

“Only you,” Jensen murmurs back, bites Jared’s lower lip and tugs, licking over the swell of it when he lets go. “It might not last forever.”

“Nothing lasts forever.” Jared worries at Jensen’s lower lip right back, and it wins him a spasm as Jensen grinds him further into the mattress. 

He’s right though, and no one knows this better than them. It’s a stale argument by this point, but a necessary one nonetheless. 

“We could be killed.” 

“We might get caught.”

They stare at each other, but when neither bolts or flinches, Jared licks a hot stripe up Jensen’s neck, scratches the back of Jensen’s head and Jensen groans from deep in his throat, the sound intoxicating. 

“Then why,” Jared pants against Jensen’s ear, “are we wasting time chatting? I thought we were done talking?”

Things get a little bit harried after that, Jensen marking a trail down Jared’s legs and along the sensitive flesh of his thighs as he pulls down Jared’s soaked jeans. Even rid of his soaking wet clothing Jared still shivers, so Jensen counters by straddling Jared and planting them chest to chest as they both fumble for Jensen’s jeans. He can feel Jensen’s heat even through his clothing and it takes him three tries to finally pull the zipper down, because Jensen has latched his mouth to one of Jared’s nipples and Jared’s starting to get really really really turned on.

It takes a while, but he finally manages to undo the button on Jensen’s jeans, and Jensen takes the opportunity to shimmy down Jared’s body, suck another well rounded mark into Jared’s hip and tongue at the crease. Jensen’s mouth is a sin and a blessing together, all saturated suction and teeth and tongue and lips. Jared remembers what those lips look like wrapped around his cock, sucking slow, cheeks hollowing, tongue laving at him, and the thought makes him groan aloud. 

Jensen pulls back to shuck off the rest of his clothing, pulls his boxers off slowly, taking all the time in the world. The sight of Jensen’s hard cock slapping against his stomach with a wet sound makes Jared’s eyelashes flutter and he inhales sharply. He barely gets to open his mouth to demand that Jensen get back over to him right this second when Jensen is on him, the two of them clawing and gripping at each other. 

When Jensen’s cock drags against Jared’s--hot and torturous and so fucking sweet--Jared keens, and Jensen buries his face in Jared’s neck. 

“Gonna fuck you,” Jensen whispers for just Jared to hear. “Wanna fuck you. God, Jared, so hot.”

Their fingers tangle high above the pillows, interlaced and palm to palm, and Jared’s never held on to something so tightly in his life as he is holding on to Jensen’s hands right now. 

He’s already so turned on, Jared has to breathe deep and try to focus on anything other than the sensation of Jensen’s dick on his, that slick friction, the pre-come on Jensen’s head mixing with his own, and it’s too much all at once. Jared’s going to come too fast too soon and he doesn’t want that. He needs Jensen, all of Jensen. 

Thankfully Jensen knows Jared’s body well enough by now to know when Jared’s close, so he stills, lifts his hips up and hisses through his teeth when the head of his cock catches against Jared’s one more time. 

“Need you.” Jared’s barely able to form coherent phrases beyond those words. “Want you to fuck me.”

Jensen’s eyes darken and he chokes out, “Say it again.”

Jared doesn’t think he can, but then Jensen’s fingers are wrapping around his cock, so hot and so tight, almost to the point of pain, slow on the down stroke and sliding up fast, rough and he gasps, “Fuck me, Jensen. Please.”

Jensen makes another wrecked noise of assent, moves forward over Jared, reaches for the night stand, yanks open the drawer and fumbles for something, and Jared takes advantage of the moment to lean forward and suck on the velvety head of Jensen’s cock, smearing his lips with pre-come and Jensen shudders over him, exhales out a soft, “Fuck, your mouth Jared.” Jared licks over the slit, tastes that salt and slick and it mixes with the taste of Jensen’s mouth.

It’s a slightly awkward angle and he can’t seem to suck down enough of Jensen to make this last, but it’s just enough to drive Jensen crazy. He could spend hours doing this, watching Jensen bite his lip and lose control, he really could. But it’s been so long and Jared’s so turned on and he wants Jensen right now

Jensen digs his fingers under Jared’s chin, tilts Jared’s head up. “That mouth of yours should be illegal,” he growls then leans in, licks his own pre-come off of Jared’s lips with a circling of his tongue and everything about the kiss is fast and dizzying and too much at once.

He’s not even aware that Jensen has already covered his fingers with lube and has already positioned one at Jared’s entrance, until Jensen’s rubbing slowly over the skin and pushing in, just up to the warm and wet tip. There’s a familiar stretch, the edge of a burn, and it’s all coming back to Jared now. Jensen’s finger sinks deeper into him until it’s up to the third knuckle, crooking upwards, and when Jensen hits the sweet spot inside Jared he struggles for air as his hips lift straight off the mattress. 

Wet and thick inside him, and Jared wants more, tells Jensen he does, moans a strangled version of the words as Jensen’s finger twists inside him. Jensen pushes in a second finger, biting the inside of Jared’s thigh, pain mixing with pleasure, sending a shivery twitch straight to Jared’s dick. And it’s this, Jensen touching the inner most part of himself, opening and scissoring his fingers inside of Jared, that Jared needs the most. 

Jensen moves up to lean over Jared, possessive expression on his face mixed with awe and adoration as he spreads Jared open. Hot flash of pleasure, Jensen pushing and prodding and rubbing over that bundle of nerves and it feels perfect, hotter than hell.

Normally Jared closes his eyes for this part, sensation too much to bear to keep his eyes open, but he wants to look at Jensen, has to look at Jensen or he might die. Every bit of Jensen is looking at Jared like he wants to devour him, sheen of sweat on his forehead, the pout of his lips kissably pink. The corded muscles of his arm shift as he moves inside Jared, crooking his fingers. His other hand wanders, trails along the bend of Jared’s leg to trace the curve of his flexed calves, his curled toes. 

“I wish you could see yourself,” Jensen says as he finally pushes a third finger into Jared, and Christ he’s full, but Jensen’s not letting up and Jared’s doesn’t even want him to. “The way you take everything I have to give you, the way you ask for more, the way you look with my fingers inside of you, fucking you.”

Jensen’s voice is ragged but his words hit Jared like a punch, and fuck Jared needs to touch him, but Jensen’s just out of reach and Jared can do nothing except thrust downward onto Jensen’s fingers, roll his hips and blindly grip the sheets. Jensen does this vicious twist of his wrist with all three fingers and Jared shoots up, teetering dangerously close to the edge and he’s moaning wantonly, unable to keep the sounds from pouring out of his mouth that months ago he would have restrained out of modesty. But he can tell from the spark in Jensen’s eyes and the way Jensen licks his lips that Jensen loves it, loves every strangled noise that Jared makes in the space between them, because he knows they’re just for him to hear, only him. 

“I can’t.” Jared’s nearly crying with frustration, body strung taut from the width and sharp spread of Jensen’s slick fingers. “Jensen, just do it. Fuck me.” 

Jensen’s eyes get this glaze about them, heady and pupils dilated, and Jared knows that neither of them is going to last much longer if they keep this up, slow torturous foreplay bordering on the edge of outright sex. They’ve waited long enough, Jared thinks, balls tightening dangerously as Jensen’s fingers stretch and push against him once more. 

“Yeah, yeah, okay,” Jensen nods shakily, pulls out slowly as Jared shifts, wanting at the loss of pressure inside of him. Jensen slicks himself up and Jared watches his glistening fingers wrap around his cock. He breathes deeply, keeping one hand on Jared’s belly. He strokes once, twice, the red and swollen flesh of his head mixing pre-come with lube. In the dim lighting of the room Jensen’s hair looks golden, even sweat damp as it is. The freckles that span his chest and the skin they cover, they’re golden too. 

Jensen bends over Jared, braces an arm on either side of Jared’s head and leans forward, presses against Jared. Bright eyes and plush lips, hair mussed and the defined muscles along the line of his body flexing, and Jared has this crazy urge to quote something at Jensen. He wracks his brains for a song lyric or a poetry verse that will communicate the molten volcanic vibration of every cell in his body and how it all comes back to Jensen. He needs to make Jensen understand just how much this means, but no stanza or quote comes to mind. 

Instead, he surges up and captures Jensen’s lips and says, “C’mon, do it, Jensen. Want you.”

With a steady push, inch by inch, Jensen moves, and Jared’s brain stutters out and reboots. 

It’s so tight, there’s so much pressure inside of Jared he feels like his eyes could pop out of his head at any second. There’s a burn too, unpleasant at first but they’ve practiced and worked up to this point and Jared’s ready, loose and relaxed and ready to take all of it. He’s full, so full of Jensen. Every inch of blood, skin and bones in him is centered on Jensen and the way he feels inside Jared, filling Jared until he feels like he’s drowning with sensation. 

Jensen shakes with the effort of staying still, muscles trembling on either side of Jared’s head as he watches Jared’s face for a sign. Jared breathes in and out, tries to cope with the sensation of having so much of one person, a second soul inside him that feels like one with his own.

Then Jensen hits that bundle of nerves again before he bottoms out completely and the two of them merge together. Tangled so much in each other that they’re lost, gone, vanished from this earth. Or maybe it’s the earth that vanishes, burnt to cinders by the cosmic heat pouring from Jensen into Jared, and vice versa. 

They kiss, and they burn. Jared grips at Jensen’s shoulders, slides his hands along the expanse of Jensen’s back to dig into his ass, hold Jensen close to him as he pants helplessly into Jensen’s mouth, open and searching for some base of gravity to cling to. 

“I’ve got you,” Jensen breathes into him, bringing a hand up to trace the shape of Jared’s lips with his thumb. Jared nods again, sucks a dark splotch into Jensen’s neck and curls his fingers in the curve of Jensen’s ass, urging him to move. 

So Jensen pulls out slowly, and slams home again. 

Everything about the moment is insane, absolutely insane and Jared is going to lose his fucking mind from the way Jensen looks, hips rolling and thrusting with a sharp snap. The slap of skin makes Jared want to laugh, but he’s so incredibly turned on he can only groan, drink in the way the light hits Jensen’s tensed muscles, watch the way the muscles of his stomach play under his skin as he pounds into Jared, angling his hips just so, the hot head of his cock scraping against Jared’s sweet spot with every single thrust. 

Jared wraps his arms around Jensen’s shoulders, feels the power of Jensen’s musculature with every movement, reaches up to cup his face and angles upward to kiss him. Tongue diving in, sleek and incendiary and perfect, rough curl against Jensen’s own, relishing in the taste of rain and sweat and Jensen that makes him feel drunk. He cants his hips up toward Jensen, fucking upward as much as Jensen is fucking down, the sinuous line of their bodies joining and pulling apart. 

“Don’t stop, I can’t…” Jared’s a blithering mess, tears pricking in his eyes with the intense feeling of hotwetslicktight racing through him. 

His cock bounces against his belly, almost painful, painting his skin with pre-come that Jensen reaches down and spreads with the pads of his fingers, drawing across Jared’s skin like his own personal canvas. Whorls and streaks of Jared’s pre-come until his tacky fingers move to slot along Jared’s hip bones, where they grip hard enough to bruise, nails making marks for later. 

He fucks Jared, hips and torso a lithe movement and he pulls Jared’s hips up and off the mattress, the angle sending acute sparks straight to Jared’s dick. Jared bites the sweat damp muscle of Jensen’s neck, licks over the dents his teeth leave and Jared can’t breathe, the repeated sensation of Jensen hitting his sweet spot, the look of Jensen’s flushed and concentrated face, Jensen’s gasps and groans straight into his mouth all sending him to another level. 

Words leave the intensity of the moment, dirty talk is left somewhere on the floor with their discarded clothes, and even the sounds of their names are shed.

This, right here, defies what words can accurately depict or express. 

Jared can’t describe the way he loves Jensen in this moment, it steals over him with each slam of Jensen’s cock, each thrust of head against the deepest part of him, each fierce grip of Jared’s hipbones. He feels it rise in him, nearly stopping breath and pulse and blurring his vision until all he sees is the swell of Jensen’s lower lip and the glassy fire behind the green of his eyes. 

Words fall away, so Jared talks in the best way he knows how. 

Jensen’s arms are bracketing his body but he’s able to walk his fingers along Jensen’s back, trail them up and down his rib cage, dipping into his navel, memorizing each muscle curve in his shoulders, and re-memorizing each time the muscle shifts. He touches, and with each touch given he looks into Jensen’s eyes, licks further in to Jensen’s mouth, opens up to Jensen and loves Jensen, with every fiber of his being, with every brush and stroke of his fingertips. 

And those touches, those caresses and taps and grips and brushes, they’re words. They’re I love You and I’ve Got You and You’re Beautiful and We’re Okay and Brave and Scared and Happy and I’ll Never Forget and Mine. Jared draws their story along the canvas of Jensen’s body, one tentative and desperate outline at a time as he mouths along Jensen’s jaw, speechless and shaking with touching Jensen, touching him like he’s wanted to touch his entire life. 

When he feels Jensen’s heartbeat fluttering beneath his fingertips, breakneck pace, the crescendo finally rises and Jared wraps himself around Jensen, kisses Jensen hot fierce as his hips stutter and he begins to fall apart.

And Jensen, Jensen who knows Jared better than anyone in the world, Jensen who thought to put a goddamn Zeppelin song on a mix c.d. and somehow brought Jared back from a year ago, Jensen understands, reads the signs and messages and sketches Jared has composed on his skin and he reaches between them, grabbing Jared’s cock and jerking slow, gentle, like it’s Jared’s life he’s got in his hands at the moment, and—in a way—it kind of is. 

Jared clenches around Jensen, the muscles of his back seizing as he locks down, the two of them embracing and holding tight as his orgasm crests and rips through him, paralyzed with pleasure and Jensen’s not too long after, pistoning into Jared, one hand tangled in Jared’s hair and pulling Jared into him and the other fisting his cock slickly, sweetly. 

They come together, Jensen licking into Jared’s mouth as he spills inside him, spurts of come hot enough to scorch from the inside out. Jared’s body is a lightning rod of pressure and pleasure and cosmic thunderclap and Jensen is the current running inside of it. He chokes on a sob, buries it into a kiss he seals tight against Jensen’s lips, hands holding Jensen’s face to his and it’s just them. Only them. The past, the present, the future, all fades into meaningless background noise and in the silence it is just them. 

Jared to Jensen. 

Heartbeat to heartbeat. 

Skin to skin.

Chapter Text

 

The sun is just barely rising when Jared tiptoes out of bed. At some point in the night the clouds had sprinted from the sky, leaving the dawn blushing pink and the sun a rising daisy. He’s been awake for a while, hadn’t really been asleep at all. Even after the vigorous round of rain soaked sex followed by several later rounds of vigorous sweat soaked sex, Jared feels wired, like he’d spent too much time asleep and is now wide awake, impossible to tire. 

He feels the exhaustion under the surface, though, lingering around the bruises on his neck and the invisible fingerprints on his hips, but he ignores it, always the stubborn one. 

The sun is coming up, the house is peaceful, and over on the bed Jensen’s tucked into himself, curled towards the room and sleeping soundly. It’s the perfect moment. 

He leafs through the records until he finds the right one, pretty sleeve with a decorated pattern. The record scratches and hiccups a bit as Jared clumsily places the needle on the vinyl, but it plays after a few seconds of crackling silence, guitar fading in with an organ and drums following not too far behind. 

It’s the perfect moment.

All it needs is the perfect song. 

“Zeppelin? At this hour?”

Jensen hasn’t moved from his curled position, hogging all the blankets and barely opening his eyes to look at Jared with a lazily raised eyebrow. 

“Musical genius. You said it yourself.” Jared puffs out his chest proudly, bending slightly and adjusting the volume so the song plays softly in the background. 

The opening lyrics bring back an image of Jensen breathing hot and fast into Jared’s ear and he grins brightly, knows when Jensen sees it because he pulls the covers back over his head with a muffled groan that sounds something along the lines of, “Insatiable is what you are.”

Jared taps his nose, a gesture of know-how, and says, “You picked the song out yourself. I’m sorry that I actually liked it and wanted to listen to it again.”

“There is a difference,” Jensen’s voice sounds from the heap of blankets, “between listening to a song, and playing it at the hour of…what time is it?” His head resurfaces from the sheets, hair sticking up on one side and a bruise showing on his neck, a bruise that Jared put there. 

“Seven A.M.” Jared laughs when Jensen groans again, yanking the covers back over himself. “And don’t be grumpy. You love this song and you know it.”

“I never said that.”

"You made me a mix. That’s a declaration of love if I’ve ever heard one." Jared sighs happily, lifting the blankets and sliding in next to Jensen, who grumbles at the intrusion but pulls the blankets around their heads, a puff of a tent forming around them. "And you said sentiment was overrated."

"I believe the word I used was 'dangerous'," Jensen responds.

“You know, I should have known.” Jared stretches outwards in all directions, joints popping and muscles protesting with exhaustion, but it’s a good kind of exhaustion, for once. “Any guy who makes a mix c.d. has to be smitten.”

“Oh yeah, I’m the smitten one.” Jared can practically hear Jensen rolling his eyes up to the ceiling. “You ran nearly a mile in the pouring rain to get to me and I’m the smitten one.”

“Okay.” Jared rolls onto his side, buries his nose in the sheets and inhales the scent of post-sex morning, sweet and damp. “So maybe we’re both a little smitten.”

“Mm. Maybe.” Jensen turns on his side and faces Jared, white sheets tented over their heads complementing the green of his eyes, the freckly column of his throat. The five o clock shadow Jared had spotted last night is now truly starting to show in the morning light filtering through the blankets, and he looks relaxed, lazy and content. It’s an odd look on Jensen, one Jared’s not really used to seeing, but he can definitely see himself getting used to it, even as Jensen commands, "Now shut up, you're killing the moment."

As if the moment could be killed, as if the small dome of sheets they have surrounded themselves in is something that can be permeated. He looks at the shelter of white and suddenly Jared’s seven years old again, stretched out under a fort of blankets with his best friend. Time lays down distance between then and now, but there’s still that sense of safety, of home. 

Jared emits a jaw cracking yawn and thinks of closing his eyes, settling in for actual rest. 

"I put that last song on there for a reason, you know," Jensen says after a few seconds, meeting Jared’s eyes openly, and he’s not hiding anymore. "It's called Thank You. I felt it applied."

Jared gets it. Gets that in choosing that song Jensen was thanking Jared for everything that he was, and had been, was thanking Jared for saving Danneel, for Disney movies and stolen kisses against bookshelves and thanking Jared for being the one who didn’t take no for an answer. But he’ll save Jensen the embarrassment of having to say that aloud and lets the song say it for him, lyrics twinkling on the air around them like stars. 

He rolls over and throws the covers back from their heads, reaches for the side table, picks up his sketchpad again, raises his pencil to his mouth, tip stuck between his teeth as he chews lightly at the eraser.

“If you’re planning on doing a still life, you’ll wanna get my good side,” Jensen snarks, smirking to himself.

“You wish.” Jared rolls his eyes. “No nudes this time, unfortunately. I wanted to show you something…I uh…I got an idea.” He holds the pad out and Jensen takes it. “I started it this morning.”

He watches Jensen’s face closely, hungrily, watches the shock bleed into Jensen’s sleep ridden features. 

“What is this?” he asks softly, gaping at Jared.

The sketch is rough, faint lines overlapping with no erasures, but the intent is clear. The building stands tall, and even drawn on the eight by eleven sheet of paper it’s grandiose, luxurious, soft rounded lines reaching upwards in arcs and curves that end at a point. Over a hundred floors, each window large and expansive, a view of the entire city. Even in black and white there’s color to it, light to chase away the shadows. 

“It’s um…it’s a building,” Jared points out lamely, eyeing Jensen nervously. “You said to me a while ago that one day you wanted to build something with your own two hands, create something instead of destroy, so I started thinking. And then I had this idea after you fell asleep and I just…I dunno. Whatever it is, this thing you want to create--not now, but, in the future. When we get to it, I thought we could build it together. Maybe something like this.” 

Jensen smudges one sweeping line of the sky scraper, charcoal on his thumb. There’s a fraction of a second where Jared wonders if he might object, ‘no, absolutely not, out of the question’. But he brings his eyes up to Jared’s, smiling softly. “I’d like that.”

They look at the drawing together. It’s patchy and it’s flawed and Jared’s going to draw and re-draw it a million times over before he even likes it enough to agree to let Jensen build it. But it’s a promise, all the same. A promise that will pass from Jared’s hands to Jensen’s, and it’ll be theirs, someday. 

“Are you scared?” Jared asks quietly, doesn’t have to clarify what there is to be scared about.

Jensen hesitates, then, “Yes.”

He lifts the sketchpad up, settles it back on the side table. He can draw later. 

“This is a hell of a lot to work through, you know,” he muses, lying back down, fingers smoothing over the crease in the pillow beneath his hair, curled from the rainfall of last night. Jensen throws an arm around his waist, pulls him close. 

“We’ll figure it out,” Jensen mumbles against Jared’s forehead, fingers carding through the curls at the base of Jared’s neck. 

“We’ll have to be careful.”

“Of course.”

“With Jeff especially. We’ll have to be really careful there.” Jeff may know, but that doesn’t mean Jared should keep him in the know. The less Jeff knows, the safer Jeff is. 

“Naturally.”

“Hey.” Jared raises his head from his chest, cocks an eyebrow “What’s with the Zen mentality?”

Jensen stares off, thoughtful. “Huh. I guess I don’t know. I guess I just stopped worrying.” He shrugs slowly. “I’m not saying it’s not going to be hard, not to mention dangerous, Jared, I’m not saying we’re not going to fight and piss each other off and bicker over who’s running to get Danni ice cream.” His lips quirk. “But I’m not too worried, because I’ve got you.”

“I’m not all that dependable, you know, when you think about it. I run away a lot, punch people. Literally lose my mind.” Jared grins it off, but he’s got a point. Knows he does, hates that he does. 

“Yeah, but,” Jensen looks him straight in the eye, “I know you, Jared. Better than myself, I think. Better than anyone else. And if I’m going to say fuck the law, fuck the world, fuck anyone on this Earth, well,” he shrugs, “I can’t think of anyone I would want to do that with other than you. I wouldn’t be here right now if I wasn’t one hundred percent sure of the person you are, the person you’re going to be, the person I love.” Jensen looks at his hands now, suddenly shy, quiet. “I know you, Jared, and to me, that’s really all that matters.”

Jared stares at Jensen, staggered by the emotion in Jensen’s eyes and wondering if this is it, wondering if this is the end and tomorrow something terrible is going to punish them with all-encompassing force. Maybe they’ll get caught, skinned, killed. Maybe a bomb will drop out of the sky and they’ll all blow up in smithereens. 

“Well, I know you too,” Jared mimics, knows it means something entirely more, and maybe that’s a little cliché but he doesn’t take it back.

Maybe this will end.

But the damndest thing of it is, Jared honestly can’t care less, because now, in this moment, he has this—they both do. 

They kiss, and Jared swears he feels the sun itself anchored to the place where their lips touch. 

He doesn't want to fall asleep. The day is fresh and they are here and he never wants to leave. But he tucks his chin against Jensen's chest anyway, pressing open lips to Jensen's shoulder before settling again, eyes bleary and vision hazy. In the background Thank You plays softly, and Jared listens to it, breathes in the scent of Jensen and lets sleep sink marrow deep into his bones. 

Jared smiles softly to himself as the final notes of the song play, stretching and synchronizing with the thud of Jensen's heartbeat underneath his fingertips.

 

 The End