“Hey, he’s here.”
Jared stiffens. Jeff steps into the bedroom, as excited and nervous as a freshman on his first day of college and doing very little to hide it. Jared, who’d been gazing aimlessly out of his bedside window, barely gets time to wheel around towards Jeff when two other guys walk into the room.
Jensen smiles at Jared reassuringly, one arm unfurled towards the magnificent specimen of a man, standing buck straight beside him.
“Jare’ I want you to meet my good friend, Dr. Sterling Brown.”
Man he hates feeling like the shorter guy.
Dr. Brown smiles down at him, steps closer with one hand outstretched and Jared has no choice but to take it. Questions and fears (and hopes) immediately bubble up and choke his throat, so he just nods instead.
“Good to meet you, Jared. May I call you Jared?”
Jared quickly nods again. There is genuine warmth in the doctor’s eyes and the crisp smile, which Jared struggles to reciprocate. It’s easy to see why Jensen is still quite intimidated by the man. His dark blue jacket over a pristine white shirt does nothing to hide the massive bulk of muscle underneath. He was star quarterback in high school who went on to play the pros in college but gave it all up to pursue medicine. Who does that?
This is the man Jensen’s ex-wife left him for. In spite of that, there was an innate trust in Jensen’s voice when he spoke of Brown before. It’s probably the same trust that brought the very successful, very busy orthopedic specialist all the way from New York to Chicago after a mere two days’ notice. Who does that?
Jared attempts small talk. “So you a bone doctor?”
Brown smiles again. “It’s what I specialize in, yeah. Now, would you mind if I took a look at your knee?”
Jared gulps but nods again. The doctor approaches him purposely, kneels before him and sits back on his haunches before he starts to neatly roll the sweatpants up Jared’s right leg. Jared grips his armrests to hold himself still.
“Okay. Let’s see what we have here… looks like a really old injury, seems to have been neglected for far too long.” Brown then raises an eyebrow in question, “Repeated, severe blunt trauma to the same joint?”
Jeff, who’s apparently already struck a rapport with a senior colleague, jumps in with a quick explanation and Jared’s medical history. Flashes of Rocco bringing his fat elbow down on his knee invade Jared’s mind and he winces, forcing himself to tune it all out. Concentrates instead on Jensen until all he sees is the older man’s head unconsciously tilted to the left, and all he hears are Jensen’s silently mouthed words that seem to be – ‘Right here. I’m right here.’
“We should get more tests done before I can make a final prognosis. But there is a possibility this may require two separate procedures, at least. A patellofemoral arthroplasty to replace the kneecap, and of course a patella tendon graft replacement for the ACL. That’s…”
Jeff pitches in. “The anterior crucia ligament, I remember. It’s what his doctors told us last time…”
Jared feels the little glimmer of hope he’d felt not so long ago fade away to darkness once more. It is what they said last time. He couldn’t afford the surgery then, and he sure as hell can’t afford it now.
Brown pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose, lost in thought. “But it’s been a while so, it’s possible we might have to go with a complete joint replacement. Dr. Padalecki, you mentioned you had an X-ray done last week?”
“Yeah.” Jeff reaches out for a hospital green-colored envelope lying on a table just behind him. “Here…”
“Hold on, Jeff.”
The older Padalecki looks up at Jared, frowning. Jared tries to convey his panic-stricken thoughts to his brother with his eyes. He also tries to hide behind his bangs from Jensen that Jeff, tool that he can be sometimes, reaches out and casually brushes away from his face.
“What is it, Redster?”
Jared sighs. The silence lasts for barely a couple seconds, but is awkward enough to feel as long as a decade before Jeff gets it.
“Oh! It’s okay, Jared. I got coverage for the whole family at Chicago Medical.”
Jared’s eyes go wide. “Even me?”
From the corner of an eye, he catches Jensen and Dr. Brown exchange a quick look, while Jeff makes his classic what-a-colossal-moron face. “Duh!”
Okay. So maybe it should have been obvious to him, maybe. Jared lowers his eyes embarrassed and Jeff puts a hand over one of his. “We just need to wait a couple months for a slot to open up and…”
“I wouldn’t advise that, Dr. Padalecki.”
Everyone turns to look at Dr. Brown, now rising to stand with his hands joined behind his back. His voice is absolutely neutral as he delivers the bad news. “Surgery is required right away if you don’t want your brother to lose the use of this knee forever. Any later and Jared may need a wheelchair or crutches for the rest of his life.”
Jeff stands up as well, his worry clearly evident in his face. “But, there’s no appointment available for the next two months at least. And I’ll keep pushing for any last minute availability but there is no guarantee…”
“I’d be happy to do the surgeries if you bring Jared to Beth Israel.”
Jeff blinks a couple of times. “In Manhattan?”
Where his health coverage won’t be applicable?
Dr. Brown nods, completely unperturbed. “We can start next week.”
And once again, the good doctor manages to stun everyone into a silence that lasts a good long while.
That’s when Jensen clears his throat. “It’s okay. I’ll take care of it.”
And that, sweet as it may sound, is the last thing Jared wants to hear.
“The answer’s no, Jensen.”
Jared can’t bring himself to be impolite. It’s such a generous offer after all. But he still wheels himself out of reach and turns back to face the window.
Jensen exhales loud enough for everyone to hear. “Guys. Could you please give us a minute?”
Jared hears Jeff and Dr. Brown slowly shuffle out leaving only Jensen standing beside him. Jared crosses his arms against his chest tightly.
“I thought we’d sorted it all out.”
Jared is glad he isn’t facing Jensen yet. “I don’t remember consenting to upgrade myself from a street whore to a kept one, do you?”
He hears Jensen sigh. “What I recall is you agreeing to trust me, that’s what I remember.”
There is a slight displeasure in Jensen’s voice that makes Jared flinch. And maybe Jensen sees it, because he wastes no time in pulling up a chair next to Jared and sits so they’re at eye-level with each other.
“Think of it as a loan if you want. You can pay me back later,” Jensen whispers, taking Jared’s right hand in both of his. Fingers softly caress the pale skin on his knuckles and the joints between two fingers, and Jared shivers. He lowers his eyes, feeling the usual red-hot burn in his cheeks when confronted with both the harsh realities of his life and Jensen’s unyielding acceptance of them, all at once.
“You know I might never be able to.”
Jensen puts his other hand under his chin, making Jared look up into his face. “Doesn’t matter Jared, we can afford it. Nothing’s as important as getting you back on your feet again. So you can walk again, play again, be a coach again. I know you want to.”
Of course he does, but not like this. Here he’d thought he was finally getting to be with a man he actually liked, without it being a fucking financial transaction.
He looks away grimacing. “I’m just not comfortable with…”
“You were okay when it was Jeff handling it.”
Jared swallows hard. “He’s my big brother.”
Jensen scowls, a blatant challenge coloring his booming voice. “So??”
What the hell does he mean ‘So?’
“So… he… he wants to take care of me. He’s family.”
Yeah. Because that seems important right now, not that it wasn’t important four years ago when he left his said family and ran away. Not that they weren’t important three weeks ago when his parents called and begged Jared to let them come see him and he refused.
Jared wrenches the wheelchair out of Jensen’s grip and spins as far away from him as the four walls of the bedroom would allow. His heart feels heavy and conflicted, and he’s frowning so hard his brows are starting to hurt. In the silence that follows, he can clearly hear Jensen breathing behind him – steady and deep, and painfully measured.
“I could be your family.”
Who knows how long it took for the quietly whispered words to sink in. Who knows how long it took for Jared to convince himself he didn’t just dream them up.
Jared turns to look at Jensen, who stands like he usually does with his hands in his pockets, his body outlined in sun’s gold streaming in from the window behind him. To say he looks like an angel would be such a hackneyed cliché.
Well, too bad, ‘cause right then Jared can think of nothing else.
“You’re fussing again.”
Jared points out unhelpfully, watching his big brother as Jeff goes about re-folding and re-packing Jared’s four t-shirts and two jeans in his brown duffel bag for a third time. Eventually though Jeff gives it up, runs a hand through his chestnut hair and looks up to meet Jared’s eyes.
Jared is sitting up in bed, dressed in black sweatpants and a white t-shirt with one of Jeff’s old letter jackets and Jeff’s Bulls cap, all ready to go. Jeff, of course, is nowhere near ready to let him go which Jared pretends to find exasperating. Truth be told, he’d rather have his brother come with. But Jeff can’t get any time off until four days later on the coming Sunday.
“It’s gonna be okay, big bro.” Please don’t be late.
Jeff smiles tightly. “I know, of course. Yeah. Dr. Brown is one of the best surgeons in the country and just happens to be Ackles’ very close and trusted friend. How fortunate is that by the way, huh?”
Must be a genetic Padalecki thing: unnecessary rambling when nervous. Jeff continues to fidget unhappily. “You know if I could…”
“I know.” Jared nods, because he does.
Jensen walks in right then, and Jeff quickly turns away to compose himself. Jared plays it cool, pretends his heart didn’t just skip a beat at the sight of a man he is crazy about, even though he doesn’t completely trust him yet. And despite everything, apparently neither does Jeff. He’s made a few calls to some of his friends and a couple of distant cousins living in Manhattan to check up on Jared once he gets there.
“All set?” Jensen asks, annoyingly cheerful, and Jeff pastes a big plastic grin on his face in response.
“Yeah, almost. But Ackles, like we discussed…”
“I know. No surgery until you get there, I promise.”
Jared shakes his head. It’s the fourth time Jensen’s had to reassure Jeff but Jensen doesn’t seem too hassled by it. Obviously Jeff isn’t exactly digging this sudden loss of control when it comes to Jared. And he’s probably feeling more than a little resentment towards Ackles too.
Jared bites his lip to keep from grinning. And when that fails, he buries his face in his book while the two older men stare each other down passive-aggressively over his head.
They’re acting like freakin’ in-laws, is what he thinks.
His nerves return with a vengeance when the airplane starts to descend a few miles outside of Kennedy airport. Doesn’t help that they’re flying first class – yet another reminder of the economic disparity between him and Jensen. Not that Jensen’s pure white Armani suit, expensive Gucci shoes and Police shades haven’t done the job already.
Jensen says it often, among other things, completely misreading the reasons for Jared’s jerkiness. He kept a hold on Jared’s hand throughout the flight one way or another - carded his fingers through Jared’s and squeezed when they took off, caressed the back of his hand drawing invisible circles around his knuckles after they leveled, and now that they’re about to land, he takes Jared’s hand in both of his and brings it up to his mouth, kissing each one of the curled up fingers reverently. Jared doesn’t react, continues to stare out the window seemingly enraptured by the landscape below. Even though he’s lived in Jersey for two years, he never got the chance to visit the more popular cousin state of New York until now.
The sight of a black stretch limo waiting for them makes it even worse.
“Yep, that’s our ride. Welcome to New York!”
Jensen looks excited to be back in his adopted home state. His face split in a giant childlike grin forces Jared to participate and almost makes him forget his own misgivings. Almost.
As his wheelchair is rolled out of the terminal, Jared notices two men standing next to the car, one in a black suit and an earpiece who clearly looks like a driver slash bodyguard. And the other is a tall, dark and extraordinarily handsome man dressed in yet another expensive black suit, no tie. His eyes are hidden behind black sunglasses, and his windblown hair is a sexy jet-black and the fact that Jensen even knows this man is enough to make Jared mildly envious.
“Hey Tommy…” Jensen calls out as they approach the curb.
Tommy? Isn’t that like a dog’s name?
Jared schools his face until it’s devoid of all expressions (of revulsion) and looks up into the stranger’s face. The man gives Jensen a lopsided grin, his fists perched on his hips and his feet set apart as he continues to look at nothing and no one but Jensen.
Hello? Almost-boyfriend right (down) here!
“Tommy, meet Jared Padalecki. Jared, this is Tom Welling. We’ve been best buds since…”
“Wharton, you told me.”
Never let it be said that Jared Padalecki forgot his manners. He holds out a hand, albeit hesitantly, and gets the feeling that it’s taken with equal reluctance.
Jensen hands the driver the duffel bag he was carrying for Jared and they all get into the car. Jared keeps his eyes trained out the window and lets the two men catch up. They talk business for a long while so he’s clearly not expected to contribute any way. Every now and then though, he senses a pair of eyes on him that don’t belong to Jensen. But every time he turns to look back, he sees nothing but opaque black glasses and a poker face that gives nothing away. The vibes however are strong enough for him to feel and interpret.
Welling does not like him one bit. Awesome. Feeling’s mutual, pal.
In a way, this distrust is easier to deal with. It distracts Jared long enough to forget about his own distrust of Jensen, which is, perhaps, equally undeserved? Maybe, Jared’s known himself to be wrong before.
The drive is a long one mostly because traffic in the city is atrocious, he’s almost sure it’s even worse than Newark. Jared sighs petulantly a couple of times, maybe pouts a little turning towards Jensen to make damn sure he sees it. Jensen is easily distracted and slides closer to Jared to drape an arm around his bony shoulders.
“Almost there, baby,” Jensen whispers in Jared’s ear silkily before licking his lobe and Jared nearly jumps. He glances over at Tom and this time the other man looks away a little too quickly, flustered to be caught watching the ‘happy’ couple.
Jared smirks, turns towards Jensen and kisses him fully on the lips.
They reach their destination at last, and Jared can’t believe his eyes. They’re in what Jensen called the Upper East Side area. They drive through a posh residential neighborhood past a string of grand multi-million dollar houses, only to come to a halt in front of the most majestic of them all. It’s not the largest, and definitely not the flashiest. It’s just… the most beautiful townhouse ever.
And it all comes rushing back to him with a demeaning jolt.
The driver holds the door open for him but Jared doesn’t make a move. Of course he’s not supposed to, not until someone comes around with the wheelchair first. But that’s not why he’s frozen on his spot, unable to so much as twitch.
This was a mistake. He never should have agreed to come here at all.
Someone squeezes his thigh gently and Jared looks down to find Jensen crouched before him beside the car door. “You know, I kinda have this fantasy.”
The man’s clearly perfected the art of looking both wicked and charming at the same time. Jared narrows his eyes. “Which is?”
“Um… not much, just me carrying you over the threshold of this house?”
Jared bites back a scoff as Jensen rubs the back of his neck sheepishly. Yeah, Jared noticed the not wheelchair-friendly stairs leading up to the townhouse alright.
“Only, in that fantasy I’m also a six feet ten heavyweight pro champion so…”
That just makes him laugh outright, which is probably what Jensen intended to begin with.
“But you know what? I have Tom here who’s my second-in-command to do all my bidding for me, so maybe I’ll ask him to carry you, what do you say, Tommy?”
And now he’s trying to break his friend Welling out of his sullen mood as well, not that it works. Welling just scowls and looks away, his eyes still shrouded in uncomfortable secrecy. Jared swats at Jensen’s chest to pull his attention back towards himself, and Jensen is happy enough to give it.
“Forget it. All I need is a shoulder to help me make it up the stairs. Do you think you can do that? Or do you need your second-in-command for that too?”
Jensen frowns, “But Jare’…”
“I’ll be fine! The wheelchair’s overkill, really.”
Somehow he convinces Jensen to forgo the damn thing and help Jared stand up and sling his arm around Jensen’s shoulders. Together they slowly climb the stairs with him limping on one leg and leaning on Jensen for support.
Welling blatantly ignores them and walks ahead. He doesn’t volunteer to help, not once.
The house is just as beautiful on the inside but while the exterior is more neo-Italian Renaissance, the interiors are modern and stylish and less elaborate – almost minimal, just like Jensen told him in DC.
Some time is spent making introductions to Jensen’s butler, Kim Manners. Jensen is clearly very fond of the guy and also extremely dependent on him. Jared didn’t think the job description even existed anymore.
They put Jared up in the guestroom on the first floor itself to avoid the stairs. It’s a beautiful, spacious bedroom with an authentic nineteenth century fireplace and a bed big enough that Jared’s long legs don’t hang off the edge. And it doesn’t creak either.
At night after dinner, Jared curls up on one side of the bed facing away from where he supposes Jensen would sleep. Despite the exhaustion settled deep into every bone of his body, his mind refuses to capitulate. It continues to revel in the subtle sights, sounds and scents of this house, feeling Jensen’s personal touch in everything around him - Jensen’s liberal spirit, his borderline arrogance, his need for speed and convenience over everything else and despite it all his flair for perfection – it’s all in here.
Jared wonders if the former Mrs. Ackles had any say in decorating the place at all.
Earlier, Jensen had helped Jared shower and change into his pajamas. But apart from a few stolen kisses and a couple instances of intimate touching (that he didn’t mind so much), Jensen hadn’t really tried anything yet. Maybe he’s saving it for the night? In bed under his midnight blue silk sheets, like civilized rich folks?
He’s almost asleep when a soft rustling of clothes alerts him to the presence of another man in the room. Minutes later, Jensen slides into bed and under the covers, draping his long body alongside Jared’s spooning him from behind. Jared tenses up, not sure what to expect.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you.”
Jensen kisses his nape lightly and brings a hand around to rest on Jared’s belly. Jared struggles to breathe normally.
“Oh Jare’,” Jensen mumbles into the back of Jared’s neck, rubbing his lips against tingling skin. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to have you here in my home, in my arms.”
In your bed.
Jared holds himself rigid, unresisting but clearly not very enthused either.
“Jared? What’s wrong?”
Jared bites his lip, but the bitterness inside can’t be suppressed any longer. “I suppose this is the part where I must earn my keep, right?”
The arms around him disappear. After much internal debating, Jared turns over to find Jensen sitting up in bed. His knees are drawn to his chest and he is rubbing his eyes with one hand tiredly. Sadly.
“Why do you keep saying that, Jared?”
He looks lost. Dismayed. Jared’s eyes catch the dull gleam of something metallic in Jensen’s other hand resting on his knees – glasses? Jensen must wear contacts. He must have taken them off for the night and switched to these… thick horn-rimmed glasses.
“Do you really think I’d put up such an big elaborate charade just to get you in bed?”
Yikes. When he puts it like that…
“No. I’m sorry,” Jared whispers, and he means it.
He sits up rebelling against his fears, and slowly slides sideways so his left shoulder is in line and grazing with Jensen’s right one. The older man’s changed into a white wifebeater and grey flannel pants. And here Jared had pictured him in designer silk PJs - nothing like the kid in a college dorm that Ackles looks like right now.
“It’s just… there is so much I don’t know about you, so much you don’t know about me and yet here we are…”
Jared feels his lungs starting to clam up, his lack of breath covering up for his deficiency of words. Beside him Jensen sighs and puts his glasses on then turns to look at Jared. Correction – geeky kid in a college dorm is what Ackles looks like right now.
“We have all our lives to get to know each other, Jared. But I get it, I do.”
He cups Jared’s cheek in one palm, the green of his irises just as intoxicating from behind the thick glasses. “I asked you to trust me, but so far I’ve done nothing to earn any of your trust.”
“I didn’t mean that…”
“Shh…” Jensen slides his thumb down until it rests on Jared’s lips, gently silencing him. Jared shivers from the sensuousness and just the tiniest hint of kink behind the little gesture.
“Let’s take it one day at a time, alright? If ever you think this isn’t working out, just say the word. I’d probably be a little heartbroken and shit but…”
Jared winces at the wistful look on his benefactor’s face. The thumb still won’t let him speak as it calmly caresses his lips, and Jensen just shrugs and carries on anyway.
“I don’t want to build this relationship on any false sense of obligations, Jared. It’s got to be your call, or nothing at all.”
He doesn’t know what to say to that, doesn’t know how much to believe even. Doesn’t know if he should be relieved or disappointed when Jensen pushes the covers aside and gets out of bed taking a couple of pillows with him. All Jared feels is a nagging sense of loss, like grains of sand slipping through his fingers the tighter he tries to hold on to it. Like helplessly watching a two-ton truck ram into him because it’s just too late to do anything to avoid it.
Please don’t go. Please give me time. Please take the call. I don’t want to be the one having to take the stupid call. Please don’t go…
Jensen turns to him once, and the corners of his eyes and mouth crinkle ever so softly. “Right here, Jared. Still right here.”
That night, Jensen sleeps on the couch twelve feet away. Jared pulls his battered knee up and watches Jensen’s chest rise and fall in a steady hypnotic rhythm for as long as he can keep his eyes open. Eventually he drifts off, promising himself that he wasn’t going to be such a wimpy little girl tomorrow night.
It’s a promise he fails to keep for another week.
Morning comes soon enough, and once again Jared blushes furiously and keeps his eyes averted while Jensen helps him into the bathroom. The reason Jared ran away from home was because he couldn’t stand to be a liability to his folks. That reason still holds, only it applies to Jensen now. And even though the man refuses to take no for an answer, it doesn’t make it any easier for Jared to accept and live with. Least not yet.
At the breakfast table, Welling is waiting for them when Jensen wheels him in. What fun. There is a new face seated next to him - a woman he’s never met before, but there is such warmth in her eyes and her smile as she stands up to greet him, that Jared recognizes her instantly.
“You’re Allison Mack!”
Allison grins wider, just as Jared notices Welling sit up straighter. Awesome, so he might be straight (like Jensen promised him) after all.
“I sure am! It’s so nice to finally meet you Mr. Padalecki.”
He smiles back. “It’s Jared. I don’t know how to thank you for – well, everything.”
She brushes it away so quickly it makes his head spin. Jensen positions his wheelchair close to the table that’s laid out with a wondrous spread that consists of pancakes and waffles, bacon and eggs and tater tots, toast and fruit and coffee and cereal and…
“Holy shit. Is this your usual breakfast? Like, every day?”
Jensen chuckles warmly, “Only for you, big guy.”
Jensen wraps his arms around Jared from behind and plants a chaste kiss to Jared’s cheek, lingering long enough for Jared to get a titillating whiff of his cologne aftershave. For a moment it overwhelms every other aroma in the world and Jared forgets how starved he is. Once Jensen moves away Jared opens his eyes, only to realize his mouth has fallen open and the others in the room are staring right at him. He clamps his jaw shut, tight. Mr. Manners pretends he didn’t see anything as he goes about pouring him coffee. Allison winks and grins at him cheekily. Welling just looks constipated.
He lets Jensen help fill his plate with a little bit of everything that looks edible, which is everything. Allie and Jared reach for the sugar at the same time and somehow that turns into an animated discussion on lollipops and candy canes. Jared can’t remember chatting so freely with anyone in a good long time.
Meanwhile Jensen’s phone rings and he goes out to the attached balcony to receive the call. A minute later, he pokes his head back in through the glass door and calls Allison out.
“Sorry, be right back.” She gets up, and Jared nods and smiles as he leaves. It’s probably something work-related of course, there’s just one problem. It leaves him alone inside, with Welling.
Something’s clearly fucking with the gravity in the mansion, the damn tots refuse to go down his throat like they ought to.
“So, big day huh?”
Jared looks up, right into Welling’s eyes no longer hidden behind black glasses. Baby blues. “I’m sorry?”
“Your appointment with Dr. Brown?”
“Right. Yeah. Big day.”
“Guess you won’t be needing the wheelchair then. Not after Sterling’s done with ya.”
Jared plays with his food, shuffling it around with a fork on his plate. “I guess.”
“So what are your plans? After you get back the use of your leg.”
“Uh…” Jared feels foolish, and small. He’s supposed to have a plan, that much is correct. Until three weeks ago it was to get through the night without getting beat up too much so he could show his face to his basketball class in the afternoons. What is it now?
“Let me rephrase. What else do you hope to get out of this… thing with Jensen? Besides medical and the cost of the surgeries?”
Ah. Jared lowers his eyes to his plate, not liking where this conversation is going.
“You’re not planning to live off him for the rest of your life, are you? I get that this is probably the sweetest deal you ever landed. But you look like a smart kid, surely you have to know it’s not gonna last, right?”
Jared blinks back the hot sting of tears behind his eyes. “You think I’m using Jensen?”
Welling leans back into his chair, eyes still trained on Jared keenly. “I’m sure of it.”
Jared turns it over in his head, once, twice. He isn’t shocked by the accusation, of course. Anyone would naturally jump to that very conclusion given his history. Hell if Jared himself could suspect Jensen’s intentions about this arrangement, is it really that surprising if Jensen were suspicious of Jared’s motives too? And if Jensen wasn’t suspicious - which he didn’t seem to be - why the hell not?
“Jensen’s the one who…”
“Save it, Padalecki. Surely the sex can’t be that good.”
Jared raises his eyebrows. Hello, professional? But honestly, he’s just glad Welling has the decency to not throw his past in his face, even when he’s trying so hard to make a forceful point.
Welling spreads his hands out by his sides, the volume of his accusatory tone rising two notches. “What else could there possibly be? You’ve barely spent two days together so don’t even try to say that you love…”
Welling halts mid-sentence and the hair on the back of Jared’s neck prickle as he realizes who just walked in on their little tête-à-tête. He stays deathly still until Jensen walks up to the table and stops beside his wheelchair.
“What’s going on?”
Welling mirrors Jared’s nervous gulping action and crosses his arms against his chest. “Just talkin’. Nothing important.”
Jensen looks down at Jared who chooses that moment to contemplate the supremely critical concern of the hour: pancakes or waffles. Should probably take into consideration the multitude of syrups available but then again maybe he should stick to coffee ‘cause his stomach can’t bear the fucking indecision any more…
Fuck. “Yes Jensen?”
Jensen sits beside him, waits for him to gather enough guts to look up into the older man’s face – a face that looks both hopeful and apprehensive, eager yet hesitant – Jared finds himself unable to look away.
“Did you just tell Tommy that… you love me?”
Words were out of the question, not a squeak could escape his constricted throat right then. After what feels like centuries, Jared manages to shake his head curtly, once.
The face falls a little, but quickly recovers to bite his lip resolutely before glancing at Welling. Not finding a better answer there, Jensen turns back to Jared, hopeful once more. Seriously, nothing gets this man down, does it?
Jared feels his eyes tearing up, but he’s unable to turn away. It’s such an unfair question he wants to say, scream at the top of his lungs because damn it of course he does! Even if it’s too soon to admit, even if there’s no explanation for it, even when he’s probably about to make another life-altering mistake but he can’t help how he feels. Jared does love Jensen, even though he doesn’t completely trust him yet.
The best defense is a good offence, right?
Seconds drag. Fact time seems to have come to a complete standstill, decidedly in no hurry to go anywhere.
Someone coughs with careful deliberation, kick-starting all of existence back in gear again. It takes superhuman willpower to tear his eyes away from Jensen and towards Welling who is standing now, his hands buried in his pants’ pockets and looking around awkwardly.
“You should make a move.”
“I mean…” And now he blushes, all the snobbery from before gone as he quickly nods at the nearest wall clock. “Traffic’s a bitch at this hour so…”
Jensen glares at him before turning back to Jared again. “I apologize for Tommy’s behavior. I know he gets a little intense.”
“Nah, it’s okay.” Jared waves it off, acutely aware that they’re talking about Welling who is still in the room.
“I get it. He’s your Alan.”
Both men stare at him for a long while, their faces identically unreadable.
Eventually Jensen rises and picks his jacket up from the back of his chair. They reach the main door that opens up to the flight of stairs leading down to the street outside. This is where Jared is supposed to rise from his wheelchair and let Jensen support him out to the car.
Except this time, there are two shoulders offered to him to lean on.
Jared looks at Welling on his right, who in turn continues to look at everything and everywhere except at Jared. His full red lips are pursed into a thin pout and it makes Jared smile.
As for the question he asked Jensen, Jared gets his answer at the end of the week.
“Jenny, please just think about this.”
“I have, man. It’s all I’ve thought about for weeks. Please just back me up on this one, okay?”
“You know I always have your back. Even now when you’re about to prove yourself the greatest billionaire sucker on the planet.”
“Are you sure this isn’t just a byproduct of a guilty conscience?”
“Savior complex then.”
“What the fuck do you see in him anyway?”
“What the fuck do you see in Mack? How do you know she ain’t sleeping with you for a promotion or a big fat bonus?”
“That’s low, man. Even for you.”
“Please don’t tell Allie I said that.”
“Only if you promise me you won’t bring him back here from Chicago. It’s too soon for that Jen, and you know it.”
“Yeah well, let’s not the jump the gun here. I don’t even know if he feels the same way…”
“Dude, I know you. You stop using your upstairs brain when it comes to dark-haired young things…”
“It’s not like that this time.”
“Oh yeah? How’s it different?”
“I… man, I don’t think I’m using my brains at all. Either one.”
“Oh. I just got that.”
“Well, for the record, when this thing goes south, remember that I vehemently advised you against it.”
“Duly noted. Fortunately, I just keep you around for your dark hair and pretty face.”