Jensen, 9th November, 2009.
Jensen slept in late the next morning. Passed out, actually. When he managed to finally blink his eyes open, it was nine forty-five. For a couple seconds, he didn’t care and promptly closed them again. But then he remembered the boy in the studio who must be starving to death by now.
At once he jumped out of bed and into a pair of jeans and a blue t-shirt. Struggling to tame his bed hair back with his fingers, he stepped out of his bedroom. He was immediately hit by a strong and tantalizing whiff of bacon, and he followed it, grinning, all the way into the kitchen.
“Morning!” Jared greeted him with a soft smile of his own.
He was wearing an apron over his sweats, Jensen’s apron (and technically Jensen’s sweats), and he was pressing two slices of bread into the toaster. There was a bowl of fresh fruit sitting on the kitchen counter, beautifully and painstakingly arranged like a fucking Monet.
Jensen swallowed hard. He hadn’t had anyone make him breakfast in a very, very long time.
They settled around the counter across from each other and dug into the delicious spread. As always, Jared focused on the food and didn’t bother with small talk, which Jensen didn’t mind either.
“I didn’t know you cooked,” he offered as thanks, after picking the last strawberry from the bowl.
Jared shrugged, wiping his mouth with a napkin. “You worked really late last night?”
“Uh, yeah.” Jensen drank from his coffee mug. “Perks of being self-employed, I guess. I get up when I want, work whenever I want, hang about all day with no train to catch, no traffic to battle, no office to go to. Yeah, I like it that way.”
Jared nodded briefly then looked away. Jensen noticed his knee popping up and down on the bar stool he sat on.
“So the painting’s done," Jensen threw out, hoping to distract the kid from whatever had him on edge.
Jared looked back at that. “Yeah, I saw.”
“What do you think?”
Jared shrugged almost indifferently. “I don’t know much about art stuff.”
“Come on, you gotta have an opinion.”
Jared shrugged again and swiveled around on his stool. He probably didn’t realize it but Jensen caught his reflection in the metallic surface of the GE monogram freezer behind and saw Jared smiling bashfully, trying hard to bite it back. When Jared turned full circle to face the artist again, his face was blank as ever, but his eyes were sea-green, flecks of gold sparkling with emotion. Jensen bit his own giddiness back and hid behind his newspaper until he could compose himself.
“So…” Jared began, for a change. Jensen put his paper down.
“You gonna throw me out now?”
Jensen rolled his eyes. “Why do you keep asking me that?”
“Now that the painting’s done…”
“Do you want to leave?”
And Jensen went back to staring at the Editorial section. His heart was beating faster and his lips trembled. It was the shortest and easiest conversation he’d ever had, and yet…
Whatever happened to retribution? Because Jensen had just asked Jared to stay, to stay, and it wasn’t out of a need to punish him anymore.
He steeled his resolve and put the newspaper down. Jared was still where he’d been two minutes ago, sitting up straight and staring at Jensen. His eyes were restless and his lips were open, gasping silently. Needless to say, he was beyond shocked himself.
“But I’m not some schmuck you can mooch off forever, you know. You’re welcome to stay here so long as you pay your share of the rent and groceries.”
Jared’s shock quintupled. “I can’t afford this place, not even like a twentieth of it, you know that.”
Of course. “Not right away. But you can start with something.”
Jensen wondered if he was coming across as harsh and obnoxious, hell, he must be. But he didn’t want to be used again, as surely as he knew he didn’t want to kick Jared out on his ass with nowhere to go.
“How do you expect me to pay, again?”
“Do you have a criminal record?”
“So then maybe you should get a job.”
“What if someone… you know…?” Recognizes him for the fugitive he is?
“If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s probably never going to happen.”
Jared thought about it for a minute. “So, if I get a job, then I can stay?”
“That’s what I said.”
“Are you sure?”
Jensen met his eyes forcefully even though he was freaking out on the inside. Was he sure? Was he really, really sure?
Of course not. All he knew was, he didn’t want Jared to leave.
“Doesn’t look like you got anywhere else to go, do you?”
Jared’s voice dropped to a whisper. “So you’re letting me stay because I got nowhere else to go…”
Jensen decided not to correct him. “So long as you get a job. That’s my condition.”
Jared looked up, his eyes a steady shade of gray Jensen had never seen before. “Okay. That’s fair.”
“Good. We start hunting today.”
It was mid-day and the job hunt was not going well at all. Jared looked at the papers and came up with nothing. Jensen went through the internet postings and pointed out several different options all of which Jared refused. He’d dropped out of high school so that clearly restricted his options. He didn’t want to be a janitor, or a construction worker, or a shop floor attendant, or a gardener. He didn’t know jack about bartending, wasn’t confident enough about his parking skills to be a valet, didn’t think a telemarketer added any value to society…
Jensen started to lose patience. “Dude, you have to start somewhere!”
“But I don’t want to do–”
“Yeah, yeah, I heard you the first ninety eight times. What is it you do wanna do? Huh?”
Jared pouted at that. They’d been lounging about in the living room bathed in sunlight all day. Jared was stretched out on the couch, while Jensen sat hunched over his laptop next to him.
“Come on, there must be something.”
Jared smirked impishly. “Why don’t you just keep me? I can model for you whenever you want. And I can cook too – didn’t you like the bacon?”
Jensen rubbed his forehead. “Look, Jared, I don’t think this attitude of yours is very healthy and quite frankly, I’m starting to lose respect for you here.”
“Oh sure, like you’d ever respect someone like me,” Jared muttered bitterly and stood up, starting to stalk off to the balcony.
“Jared… don’t you dare walk away from me!”
“You’ve changed your mind and you want me gone! Why don’t you just admit that you still don’t trust me? You wanna get rid of me, fine, I’m gone!”
“Oh no, you don’t.”
Jared was starting to make a habit of emotional outbursts, and Jensen absolutely loved it. He got up and tackled the taller man from behind. Wrapping his arms around Jared’s waist, he practically lifted him off his feet, vaguely kicked because he couldn’t have done this to Jared at his normal body weight, swinging him around and bringing him back to the couch. Jared yelled in surprise and they both fell onto the couch, Jared finally collecting his wits to twist beneath Jensen so they were facing each other. Jensen had him trapped between his thighs and suddenly they started to laugh, jostling and roughhousing and tickling each other non-stop, until they were both breathless and begging for a break.
And then they went still, gaping at each other, the sound of their rapid breathing eclipsing the silence between them.
Jared raised his head to close the distance and kissed Jensen, once, twice. That’s all it took before Jensen gave up his pretense of being mad and surrendered to the kiss, entangling his tongue with Jared’s with rabid passion. Job hunt forgotten, they melted into each other, all arms and mouths, completely.
“Condom, we need co…” Jared rasped. Instantly, Jensen jumped off the couch, ran to the kitchen and opened a top shelf where he kept the wine glasses.
Jared raised one eyebrow peering from over the top of the couch. “Dude, you have that stuff stashed in every single room, don’t you?”
Jensen grinned as he ran right back, ripping the packet open on his way. “What can I say, I was a boy scout.”
Soon as he got back, Jensen pulled a laughing Jared’s jeans and boxers down to just under his ass, then flipped him over until he was on his hands and knees on the couch. Determining that lube wasn’t necessary and speed was of the essence, he quickly unzipped and sheathed himself in the latex, then entered Jared in one sound, swift thrust. Jared gasped but started to push back immediately until he could rest the crest of his ass against Jensen’s groin.
“You okay?” Jensen remembered to ask.
“Shut up and fuck me,” Jared whispered, pulling forward and then pushing back with all his might.
Jensen did as he was told. They fucked hard and fast and when it was over, Jensen collapsed right on top of Jared on the couch. The living room reverberated with their violent breathing and two hearts thundering away in their chests. Eventually, Jensen moved and let Jared turn over so they faced each other again and he could kiss his muse properly.
“You play hard ball, Mr. Ackles,” Jared drawled in an exaggerated Texan accent.
“I just want you to be independent,” Jensen replied in between sucking on Jared’s tongue and licking the walls of his panting mouth. “I want you to have something of your own, Jare’… doesn’t mean I wanna be rid of you.”
Jared didn’t say anything, averting his eyes to look down at the first button on Jensen’s shirt instead. He fiddled with it, which Jensen understood to be his way to distract them from the subject. He gripped the roving hand and made Jared look up into his eyes.
“You think if you stay dependent on me, I won’t kick you out?”
“You really think I’m that much of a nice guy?”
Jared bit his lip and looked down.
Jensen sighed and sat up, rubbing his face, zipping himself back up. A part of him understood where Jared was coming from. Here was a kid who’d learnt to distrust authority at a very young age, who’d only known a band of thugs as role models for a good part of his formative years. Obviously his first instinct would be to look for short-cuts in every walk of life.
“You’re right,” he said, knowing what he was about to say was going to be very difficult for Jared to hear. Hell, it was difficult for him to say it. “I really am a nice guy, a regular sucker. It’s what you took advantage of, before.”
He felt Jared stiffen beside him, the hazel gaze turning to black instantly.
“But if this is to work, between us, no one can be taking advantage of anyone, anymore. Do you understand?”
“Tell me you understand, Jared.”
Jared averted his eyes and didn’t respond. Instead he got up and adjusted his own clothes, moving away from the couch.
“Wh-what are you doing?”
Jared found his shoes and coat and carrying them both in his hands, he started to walk out the door.
“Where are you going?”
The clipped one-word retort was immediate: “Out.”
Jensen watched as Jared walked out the door without saying goodbye, without another glance back. And when he felt something starting to crack inside his chest, Jensen pretended it was just a figment of his overactive imagination.
Two hours later, Jensen started to get worried.
Maybe he’d driven Jared away for good. Any normal human being would snap after taking so much crap, after being reminded of his past mistakes over and over again. Mistakes that he’d probably come back to atone for. After all, Jared did seem a changed man, older, more mature, cognizant of his actions and its consequences.
Besides, if he was running another con-job he was moving way too slow, and aiming rather low too. There was absolutely nothing valuable in this house. Jensen didn’t even keep any of his paintings here.
By evening, Jensen was pacing in the balcony and bordering on outright panic. He got a call from Sam and spoke to her for an hour. But once she hung up, the emptiness of the apartment returned to mock him. He smoked a whole pack of Marlboros, stepped out to buy more, and was now working his way through a second one. He was scared, scared that he would never see Jared again. The full impact of that realization hit him like a two ton truck – he was already missing the kid so damn much.
Maybe Jared was never coming back. Maybe he’d lost his beautiful muse forever. Maybe he was never going to paint again, ever. And while that hurt his professional ego deeply, it was his heart that protested the loudest against the Jared-shaped hole left behind in his empty apartment.
He spent what felt like hours before his painting until night fell, standing still as if he were posing for a portrait himself. The power equation had flipped on its head; suddenly he was the dependent one in this relationship.... unless it'd always been that way. From the very beginning.
The doorbell rang twice before Jensen heard it, three more times before he believed it and got out of bed to answer it.
He saw Jared’s profile in the security monitor and blood soared up to his face with superhuman force. He buzzed him in and soon he threw the door open, he also threw every shred of emotional restraint out of it. Practically lunging at the tall man at his doorstep, he pulled Jared inside.
“Where the fuck were you?”
“I…” He didn’t even let Jared finish.
He went up on his toes and kissed Jared so hard it almost choked the breath out of them both. The want, the need, the frantic craving he had for Jared right then was insurmountable. And he made sure Jared felt its manifestation as the rock-hard bulge in his jeans.
Jared stood bewildered for a few seconds before he brought his arms up and around Jensen. In the meantime, Jensen pulled off Jared’s jacket, ripped the brand new shirt in two places and forced him out of the rest of his clothes on their way to the bedroom. Once there, he shoved Jared until he fell onto the mattress, bouncing off it once. Without bothering to undress himself, he grabbed lube and condom from a bedside drawer (just below the one where he stashed his gun) and climbed onto the bed after Jared. Without ceremony or warning, he picked up one of Jared’s legs and rested it on his shoulder.
“Ah!” A soft yelp escaped Jared’s mouth as his ass was slicked open, not allowed enough time to get used to the invasion.
Jensen was conscious of every moan, every wince, every shudder that racked the younger man’s body. Hell he was the one causing them, reveling in the colors his fingers inside Jared painted on Jared’s face. This was not the revenge he’d been exacting for the past three days. No. This was a revenge of a different kind, for a different reason altogether.
“Don’t. You. Dare. Ever…” He grunted angrily in between bites and licks and desperate kisses all over Jared’s face and neck.
“Or you’ll what?” Jared dared to ask, hoarsely, his pupils blown wide open with the wanton wickedness Jensen had always known was there. Hell, he’d been drawn to it like a moth to a flame.
In response, Jensen quickly prepared himself, and pushing Jared back against the pillows he drove in with one big ferocious thrust.
Jared moaned the loudest he had all week.
Jensen took his time, building up tempo and force in careful gradients. He intended to fuck Jared slowly, excruciatingly slowly. And in the position Jared was in, folded in two, bearing all of Jensen’s weight above him, there was nothing he could do. He couldn’t even move to take Jensen in deeper, could just squeeze and un-squeeze to tease and encourage Jensen wordlessly, which he did with crazed gusto. It was a long while before Jensen decided he’d had enough and let go, exploding inside Jared with a garbled scream. Jared climaxed not long after, spilling his seed all over Jensen’s work shirt and his own pale stomach.
When they finally climbed down from their individual heightened states of euphoria, Jensen pulled back, rolling the soaked condom off his still half-hard dick. He chuckled as he spotted the semen splatter on his otherwise just paint-splattered shirt.
“Guess it’s time to put this one in the wash after all.”
Jared didn’t join in, he probably didn’t think it was funny, or maybe he was too tired to care. Instead he just lay there and stared up into Jensen’s half-lidded eyes.
“I got a job.”
Jensen’s lazy little grin froze on his face.
“You’re looking at the newest deckhand aboard the Spirit, New York’s ultimate dining cruise.”
Jensen stared at the boy beneath him, as Jared tried to explain through his obvious anxiousness. “I love sailing, my… dad, before he left, he-he used to take us every year.”
“They just have two conditions – I get my GED and, like, a transporter ID or something before the three month mark, else everything else is good to go.”
It was hard to describe what Jensen felt in that moment. An indefinable mix of pride and gratitude, relief with confusion, and nervousness with this odd awareness that all was right with his world, that he needed nothing else. Jensen struggled to find the right word for it, because ‘happiness’ didn’t even begin to cover it.
He collapsed backwards, his head resting on the foot-board, stretching his legs out until they rested by Jared’s head on the other end. He lay there, staring up at the white ceiling, at a complete loss for words. To be honest there didn’t seem a need to say much of anything at all. But, of course, Jared didn’t seem to think so.
A minute later, his face hovered above Jensen’s, right in his line of sight. “So I can stay now, right?”
How could the kid still be asking him that? Didn’t he know Jensen couldn’t let him go, ever, even if Jared wanted to?
He opened his arms and let Jared press into his chest, wrapping him up and holding him tight. He pressed his lips into the top of Jared’s head and left them there, happy to let his eyes gradually droop all the way shut. Except, he couldn’t sleep. Because a certain someone pressed into his side kept squirming and shifting. Jensen finally let go, wondering if he was making the boy uncomfortable with all this cuddliness. They were supposed to be gay, goddamnit.
“What’s the matter, Jare’?”
Jared sat up at that and sheepishly rubbed his eyes. “I’m sorry, I…”
“I’m not used to beds anymore, Jensen.”
Jensen pulled him back down, this time spooning him from behind. “Well, you’re just gonna have to get used to ‘em.”
His fake snoring made Jared laugh and nestle back against him (which Jensen loved), holding on to the arm clasped around his waist like a lifeline. Jensen waited patiently as the younger man continued to fidget but just a little, afraid of jostling Jensen too much.
“Shh,” Jensen offered, again and again, kissing his hair and his face until he felt Jared relax. Only once he’d heard the steady rhythmic breathing coming from the kid, did Jensen let himself drift away.
Jensen, 7th December 2009.
Jensen was putting the finishing strokes to his third commissioned painting this month, when he heard the door buzz and it made him smile.
Jared refused to carry a key to Jensen’s apartment. It’d been an interesting conversation that happened exactly fifteen days ago over breakfast, just before Jared was supposed to head out to work.
“You’re gonna need this,” Jensen had said simply, holding out the spare key.
Jared looked at it and straightened up on the bar stool he sat on. “Are you sure?”
Jensen rolled his eyes. That was fast becoming his second favorite question these days after “Are you going to throw me out?”
“What if I’m not home? How will you get in?”
“You’re always home.”
“Woah, did you just diss my social life or lack thereof to my face?”
“I didn’t say nothin’!”
“Just take the damn key. Freak.”
Jared had scowled and mumbled something under his breath, and it made Jensen’s cheeriness quickly evaporate.
“What did you say?”
“You said somethin’.”
“No, I didn’t.”
Jensen had rolled his eyes again. The stubborn streak in Jared had started to make itself evident in recent days. He took it to be a good sign; while a pliant Jared was fun to play with in the studio (and in bed), Jensen was glad the kid was growing comfortable enough to be himself around Jensen.
“Look, just speak up loud and proper or don’t say anything at all.”
Jared bristled at the admonition, his voice rising a notch. “I said: Still the stupid Southerner. That’s what I said.”
Jensen’s jaw had hardened, and he had gotten up and stomped off to his studio. Only to return seconds later, dragging Jared out of his seat and, well…
Angry sex was fast becoming their favorite way to resolve tension. And Jensen never brought up the spare key ever again.
Back in the now, Jensen wiped his hands clean as he walked to the door. They’d fallen into a comfortable routine: Jared would go to work at eight in the morning and come back by five or six in the evening. Working ten-hour shifts wasn’t Jensen’s idea of a career, personally. But tired as Jared was when he got back, he also always looked content.
“Good day, honey?” Jensen smirked as he let Jared in.
Jared beamed back and stepped out of his boots and jacket. He pulled off his skull cap under which his hair (now shorter but still kinda long. Ish) was endearingly wind-blown and all over the place.
“We went past Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck’s yacht today.”
“Ooh, juicy,” Jensen offered sarcastically.
“Matt and his wife were on it.”
Jensen started for a second, before realizing Jared was referring to Matt Damon, the actor, not Matt Bomer, his ex-boyfriend. Funny, he hadn’t even thought of Matt since… well, in a long time now. Jensen glanced at his phone, remembered the three thousand messages he'd left for Matt and how none of them were ever returned. Then he remembered something else.
“Here,” he said, picking a package gift-wrapped in plain brown paper from the coffee table and handing it to Jared, who had plonked himself on the couch and was getting ready to crank up the Wii.
Jared took it happily and quickly ripped open the wrapper. He stilled when he found a Verizon flip phone inside. “Jensen?”
Jensen flopped onto the couch next to Jared and picked up the second game console. “I miss you,” he said shortly, pointedly not looking at Jared.
Jared looked at the phone for a long time, during which Jensen, feeling awkward himself, concentrated as hard as he could on a round of Alpine skiing.
After awhile, Jared cleared his throat. “I’m gonna, uh, go hit the shower before dinner.”
“Okay.” Jensen watched him leave, his head lowered, picturing Jared grinning from ear to ear behind his curtain of chestnut hair.
Sometime after Jared left, Jensen lost the war of deliberation inside his head. He bit his lip, then picked up his phone and dialed Matt’s number. It went to voicemail after four rings, as always, and Matt’s soft cadence requested him to leave a message.
“Hey Mattie, long time, huh?” Jensen forced a chuckle, suddenly realizing he really had nothing to say. “Just wanted to see how you’re doing. Well… okay then. Take care.”
For once he got to hang up before he got cut off. And that’s when he noticed Jared leaning against the bedroom doorway, his silhouette lit up by the yellow light spilling out from the bathroom behind him. He had a white towel wrapped low on his waist, the sexy hip bones peeking out from over it, and his hair was dripping water all over his shoulders and rapidly developing chest. Jensen forgot all about Matt as the vision of his housemate (and maybe more) took his breath away.
They made love in the bed before dinner and afterward, they shifted to the studio. Jensen couldn’t stop painting Jared – his face, his eyes, his navel, the swell of his ass… sitting up straight, curled up on his side, lying on his back spread wide open with not a care in the world, the once pale skin sun-burnt in places and covered all over in goose bumps…
Right after they did it on the teak floor, a naked Jensen rolled over until he was straddling an equally naked Jared, tickling him out of his post-coital reverie. Jared whined in protest but stayed in place, too wrung out to push Jensen’s roving fingers away.
“Open your eyes, Jare’.”
“Come on, baby, open ‘em, please?”
Jared sighed and smiling exasperatedly, did as he was told. His hair lay fanned out all around his face like a shiny brown halo, his neck stretched upwards exposing a slender white column spotted in hickeys. The golden green sparkle of his eyes gave away the coyness in his heart, sending warm shivers down Jensen’s spine. He pulled his easel closer and ripped the blank canvas off it to spread it out on the floor beside Jared. Then picked up a new piece of charcoal to draw his latest masterpiece.
Life went on, just like that. Stable, complaint-less, and Jensen made yet another fatal mistake of presuming that it would always be that way.
11th December 2009.
Jared finished all five of his GED tests, and the results weren’t in yet but he wasn’t too worried. He’d been a bright student back in high school (so he said), and so they decided it wouldn’t hurt to have a little pre-celebration in honor of his impending qualification.
It was Friday night so they headed out for dinner to Periyali, the classic Greek restaurant on 20th street. They’d dined there before and it was one of the few upscale restaurants Jensen actually liked.
“What? I love the food, and so do you.”
“Admit it,” Jared teased, “You looove that place ‘cause it’s sooo romantic.”
Dim lighting, minimalist ambience, intimate conversation-friendly music, what’s not to like? Jensen threw a cushion in Jared’s face, quietly observing how they had both taken to saying the most domestic of things under a thinly veiled pretense of sarcasm.
“It’s either that or Mama Ackles’ soup and sandwiches. You pick.”
Jared pouted shamelessly in response.
They decided to walk it. A Christmas-lit, snow-covered Chelsea was a delightful experience to stroll through, especially on a full moon night. Jensen walked with his hands in his jacket pockets. Sometime after they cleared the Vanguard premises and stepped out onto the street, out of Beaver’s sight, Jared hooked his arm with Jensen’s, before burying said hand back in his own coat pocket. And he glanced towards Jensen shyly, waiting for a reaction, of any kind.
Jensen just lowered his eyes to the ground and tried not to smile, too wide.
Dinner was a pleasantly loud and talkative affair. Jared refused to admit the food was truly delicious but Jensen took his voracious slurping and large-sized second helpings as signals of his acquiescence. He’d been ambushed by how Jared’s appetite had grown by leaps and bounds in the last few weeks. And was even more pleasantly surprised when the bill came and Jared lunged at it in a heartbeat.
“My treat,” he declared brightly.
Jensen watched his expression as Jared looked at the final number on the bill. If he expected hesitation or sadness, or even humiliation, he was proven wrong. Jared pulled out hard cash from his brand new wallet and even tipped generously for their waiter’s excellent hospitality.
“You’ve been saving up,” Jensen whispered, feeling ever so proud. It wasn’t such an unfamiliar sentiment to him anymore.
Jared brushed it off easily. “A week’s paycheck for hummus, unbelievable.”
Jensen threw a napkin at him and it made Jared snicker, all child-like and inelegant, what was that word Gen used? – gauche, even. It was the most adorable thing Jensen had ever heard.
“We should get you a credit card.”
“Cool! Amex like yours?”
“Hold on there, tiger. Platinum is a little ways away for you.”
Jensen chuckled. “Seriously, carrying all that cash around isn’t safe. Especially in Manhattan, you–“ of all people should know that.
He stopped himself, but the damage was done. Jared’s smile faltered but Jensen promptly reached for his hand across the table, unwilling to let anything ruin this perfect moment, this perfect night…
“So what’s your favorite thing about Christmas, Jared?”
Jared exhaled and played along; a distraction was exactly what they both needed at this point. “Who says I like anything about Christmas?”
Jensen blinked. “Wait, that’s my line. No, really, it is!”
Jared chuckled and entwined his fingers with Jensen’s. “You can have it, I was just kidding. I do love Christmas. Especially white Christmas…”
He proceeded to ramble on about his penchant for candies and chocolates and everything sweet and edible, while Jensen marveled quietly at how easygoing and fun Jared was to be around. Even for a killjoy like Jensen.
After dinner, they decided to take the longer walk home. The night was still beautiful, and the men hadn’t tired of each other’s company just yet. They ambled past Madison Square Park teeming with tourists and New Yorkers of all ages, drawn to the gigantic Christmas tree and menorah lights. Jared had his arm hooked around Jensen’s again and like an excited young child he dragged his companion closer to the festivities.
There they stood, leaning slightly against each other, in front of the magnificently lit tree. Jared was looking up with awe, the colors of the holiday lights reflecting in his hazel eyes.
“Can we get a tree?”
Jensen started and looked up at the tree. He’d never really been a big Christmas person. The holiday held significance only because he associated it with family, and loved ones, with getting to see them and be with them even if once a year. He was probably quiet a really long time, after which Jared cleared his throat beside him.
“We don’t have to. Forget I asked, stupid question…”
An old couple walked right past them. The woman, who looked to be in her sixties, glanced up in time for Jensen to smile and nod at her, and she did the same. Jensen used the reprieve to evaluate his options. These past two years, he’d been on his own in Paris, and celebrating Christmas (or anything else) had been the last thing on his mind. But now, with Jared’s innocent question hanging between them, Jensen felt a familiar tug on his heart strings. The kind he associated with family. And loved ones.
Fuck, a tree.
Jensen bit his lip and looked at Jared, opening his mouth to speak, but he didn’t get a chance.
“Oh my God…”
It was the old woman who’d just passed him by. Jensen turned to see if she was alright, if maybe she was having a heart attack or something. The look on her wrinkled face almost confirmed his fears, except she was also staring right back at the two men, one hand raised, a finger pointed straight at…
“That’s him,” she started with a whisper, which then quickly turned into a high-pitched scream. “Dear Lord, that is him!! That’s the boy!”
Jensen looked up at Jared who hadn’t even noticed the woman until she started to scream. He turned, started to frown, and then suddenly his face froze, like he’d seen a ghost.
People around them slowed down, some halted completely; curious to know what the commotion was all about.
Jensen cleared his throat, hoping against hope she was really pointing at him, New York’s celebrated contemporary artist. “Uh, can I help you?”
The woman clutched at her escort’s arm blindly and completely ignored Jensen. “He’s the boy who pretended to be a handyman and came into our house! Oh Henry, I told you I could never forget his face. That face, it’s HIM!”
“Calm down, Ellen.” the sexagenarian man beside her said, in response to which the woman addressed Jared directly.
“YOU! How could you?”
Jensen took a step back, instinctively pulling Jared back with him. And then he heard the other voices in the gathering crowd, words he vaguely deciphered that sent his pulse racing.
“Isn’t that Jensen Ackles, the painter?”
Shit. Of all the days and all the places for him to get recognized…
“Oh yeah, he’s that famous artist over at the E.Durance…”
Jensen didn’t wait to hear more. He grabbed Jared’s hand, who still stood petrified in his spot, and started to swiftly walk away in the opposite direction, away from the crowd and the old woman’s screeching voice asking someone to “Stop him, he’s getting away!”
He broke into a run then and Jared mutely followed, not like he had much of a choice with Jensen’s hand gripped around his wrist like a vice. Jensen felt his self-preservation instincts kick in, even though he wasn’t the one in any real danger here. And he didn’t stop to say or hear a word from Jared until they reached the Vanguard. He didn’t even wave his customary hello to Beaver, who stood by slightly bewildered, watching the shorter man drag the taller one all the way up to the eighteenth floor.
Inside his apartment, Jensen shrugged off his coat and started to pace back and forth. He watched from a corner of his eye as Jared slid down to the couch, staring off into the automatic fireplace embers listlessly.
It took him five minutes, or ten, maybe more, to calm his nerves down and articulate the one question reverberating inside his brain. It was a question he’d been running away from all month, too scared maybe to ask, and now it was back, flung right into his face by a complete stranger.
How could he forget what Jared used to be? And maybe still is…
Jared dared to look up at Jensen but he didn’t respond.
“How many others, Tristan?”
Jensen didn’t realize he’d used Jared’s criminal alias until it was too late. He watched as Jared flinched like he’d been hit, but he wasn’t ready to take it back, not yet.
“You have to answer me, man. We’re not pretending this elephant doesn’t exist in the room anymore, alright? I need to know – how many?”
Jared gulped hard, lowering his eyes into his lap. “Four.”
“Other than me?”
Was he surprised to hear that answer? No. Somewhere at the back of his mind, he still remembered what the cops had said to him. Carefully orchestrated job, similar modus operandi, a couple of other cases in the Upper Eastside…
“And how many of those people ended up in the hospital?”
“What about the cemetery?”
Jared almost gasped at that, but didn’t look up to meet Jensen’s eyes. “None.”
“Great. Lucky me.”
“That was the first time the guys got made,” Jared offered by way of justification. “Usually I was the one who went in to scout the place out. And then the guys would come back and clean it out when no one was home. I don’t know how that woman guessed that I was involved. No one else did. Besides you.”
Jensen lit a cigarette. He was seriously agitated, but his voice was now lower and calmer. “I wouldn’t have either, if I hadn’t forgotten my wallet and returned for it. You could have stopped me, in the car, but you were too shit worried about your own ass. And you let me walk right in on your homicidal buddies.”
“I’m sorry. Nothing like it had ever happened before. I just… my mind shut down and I stopped thinking, I-I didn’t know what to do.”
“Jensen, please, I-I didn’t want you to know….”
That made Jensen angrier, if that were possible. He stopped pacing and charged towards the couch where Jared sat. “You would have waltzed right back in the next day, expressed your sympathies for the burglary then carried on as if nothing had happened, ain’t that right?”
Jared squeezed his eyes shut. “I… I liked you too much, and I tried, begged the guys to change their mind, find another target but… you didn’t know them man…”
“Stop it.” Jensen cut him off, the brutality of his betrayal closing in on him like the claustrophobic white walls of the hospital room he’d been stuck in for weeks.
He started to pace again, dragging on his cigarette furiously. Jensen couldn’t even bear to look at the other man right then. Seconds, minutes, maybe hours passed in absolute gut-wrenching silence. Silence that he knew must be driving Jared out of his mind and he found that knowledge blatantly satisfying, to say the least.
“I know you don’t believe me,” Jared murmured, still hunched over, looking straight into Jensen’s eyes for a change. “But I was the one who turned them all in. I tipped off the cops, told them about our hideout. I did that to my friends because of… of what they did to you.”
Jensen scoffed. “But you didn’t turn yourself in, did you?”
“Why? Because you weren’t the one with the crowbar in your hand? You were just as responsible, if not more, Jared. I trusted you. I liked you too, you know, the moment I laid eyes on you down at the Market. And you betrayed me.”
There, he’d finally said it. The frustration of two and a half years, festering for so long, unspoken and unresolved, it all poured right out of him there and then and Jensen couldn’t stop it anymore. He didn’t even try.
For the last thirty odd days he’d gotten to know Jared better. And somehow, something about him had melted all his grudges away, at least superficially. He’d surrendered to this man’s unaffected, otherworldly charms. He’d been overwhelmed completely by this incredible lust and passion and protectiveness and… well, everything else he’d felt for no one but Jared.
Except tonight. Tonight it felt like the last month had never even happened.
Jared apparently decided he didn’t have any more answers. He curled into himself, refusing to move or look up at Jensen again. And he’d have probably been more than happy to stay that way forever (because what else were they supposed to do?) if it weren’t for the screeching buzz at the door.
Jared jumped. So did Jensen. Who could it be at this hour if not the– ?
The buzz was loud and insistent, and Jensen finally found his feet and moved to answer it. It was Beaver, from downstairs, and on the grainy little video monitor he looked rushed. “Mr. Ackles, bunch of cops coming up to your apartment.”
Jensen swallowed, and after a second’s pause, buzzed back. “It’s okay, Jim. Thank you.”
He turned to find Jared standing, his face ashen, stark naked terror glistening in his blackened eyes. Jensen found his urge to gloat evaporating because Jared really didn’t look so good.
“Look, maybe they just want to talk to you. Just be cool and…”
Jared started to hyperventilate. Jensen frowned, taking two steps closer. “Hey, you okay?”
Jared tried his best to respond, swaying a little on his feet. “C-cops, I-I…”
“I can’t. N-no, I can’t…”
And then Jensen remembered. The dirty cops who’d locked him up and abused him for days…
Jensen felt his rage slowly melting away driven by another fervent and instinctive need to pull Jared into his arms. But he stayed his ground, touching nothing but cool air as he held his palms up in placation.
“Hey, it’s okay. We’ll handle it. Jare’…? Hey, look at me…”
Jared started to pedal back, his calves inevitably hitting the couch behind and he clumsily fell back on it, but he didn’t stay put. He pushed himself up again and continued to stare at the door, probably expecting (and dreading) New York’s finest to come bursting through it any minute. He wasn't wrong.
“Hey, it’s okay. What happened in Antonio, it won’t happen again, I promise, okay? This is New York. Listen to me, it will be fine!”
Just as Jensen plucked enough courage to reach out for Jared, the doorbell rang. Cursing he turned about, walking ever so slowly towards the door.
“Jensen Ackles? NYPD. Open up, we need to talk.”
There was only so long he could delay it, and before they knew it, he’d let the cops in.
The first one through the door was a tall black man with a bulletproof vest on. What the hell were they expecting, a fucking Hollywood shootout?
None of them, except one, a lady detective with her gun holster showing inside her beige jacket, looked at Jensen. They were all focused on Jared, as if trying to make up their minds if the face matched the sketch that was most definitely imprinted on their minds.
“I’m Detective Whitfield, this is Detective Cassidy. We have a warrant for your arrest on charges of armed burglary and aggravated assault in the case of home invasion at the residence of a Mrs. Ellen Geer…”
“Wait, hold on…” Jensen tried, to which Detective Whitfield turned towards him, forcefully enunciating the next few words.
“… and a Mr. Jensen Ackles.”
Everything was a blur. The artist couldn’t hear much above the loud thumping of his own heart. He turned towards a completely frozen Jared and watched, helpless and far removed, as the light in those magical hazel eyes extinguished. The shoulders slumped horribly, signifying complete and utter resignation to his impending fate. He’d never seen Jared that defeated, even when he was just another homeless kid squatting on the street.
“Jared,” he tried reaching to him through the wall of cops keeping him away. “Jared, it’s alright. I’m calling my lawyer right now. Don’t worry okay? I’m gonna take care of this…”
Someone politely recited the Miranda rights to Jared as someone else pulled his hands behind his back to slap a pair of cuffs on them. Jared closed his eyes and hung his head. Jensen could see the violent trembling starting to make its way up his back and all the way to his lips.
“Please, be careful with him. He’s, he’s not…” Jensen stammered, not knowing what to say to the cops, so he turned his attention back to his boy. “Jare’, listen to me! I’m right behind you, alright? Just stay calm and don’t say anything until I get there with a lawyer, okay? Jared?”
Detective Cassidy made a note of the name Jensen kept using for the suspect, and led the entire procession back out of the apartment. Numbly, Jared let himself be steered away, giving no indication whatsoever of the storm brewing inside him. Jensen asked a cop where they were taking him, noted the precinct down along with whatever information on the charges he could retain. And then he stood by, powerless, as Jared was dragged out of his life, without allowing him so much as a backward glance.
He bit down on his quivering lip and dialed Matt’s number with his mobile. This time the message he left was short and curt, and if his voice shook, heavy with the tears threatening to fall from his eyes, Jensen couldn’t care less.
“Matt Bomer. I need you to call me back right away. PLEASE.”
Hanging up, he ran out to his car and tore out of the Vanguard parking. Twelve seconds later, his phone rang.
Part Five >>