Word count: 2800
Notes: Written for salt_burn_porn for blackrabbit42's awesome prompt no strings attached, which also served as the only title my poor addled brain could come up with. Thank you for the wonderful prompt and for going the extra mile to beta this puppy. Warning for a vague sorta quasi-somnophilia.
Summary: Jared realizes that it's a little south of sane when he starts to talk to the puppets he makes. He never expected that one of them might start talking back.
"There you are," Jared says as he affixes the left eye, adjusts it minutely before the glue dries and stares into the green glass. He straightens the marionette's crooked limbs, untangles the fine thread attached to its wrists and ankles, checks all the joints and makes sure there's a smooth range of movement.
He's always critical of his work, but this one has flaws that anyone can see. A couple of distractions, a couple of slight slips of the chisel had quickly turned this into a pet project. There's a quirk in the nose, and he'd had to carve past a soft spot in the oak that had left the right leg somewhat bowed, so Jared had been obliged to give a similar curve to the left. The feet aren't quite the right size, but Jared's partial to the hands, fashioned with more care and time than he typically spends, with tiny curves to the fingers and even tinier crescents for fingernails.
"I don't think you're going anywhere," he tells the puppet, then attaches the strings to the controller. A small flick of his wrist makes it start to walk, its feet a dull wooden thunk across his workbench. "What should we call you?" Jared asks, his fingers absently plucking at the strings until the puppet's arms are raised in the universal dunno gesture.
Jared glances around the garage he's converted into his workshop, his gaze skipping across more than a dozen completed marionettes hanging from hooks, lined up like blank-eyed soldiers, their heads bowed and their limbs lifeless, dangling. A stack of mail sits on his desk, junk and unpaid bills, and he thumbs through it until he gets to a glossy circular that advertises car radios.
"Jensen," he says. "What do you think about that?" He taps at another string and the puppet nods. "Good. I like it too."
"Are you sure that you don't want to come out with us tonight? Maybe grab a drink or two?" Katie shirks her black turtleneck and trades it in for a bright red t-shirt, takes off her dark newsboy cap she wears during performances and shakes out her ponytail.
Jared holds her coat for her as she slips into it, checks the clasp on the carrying case for her puppets and hands it over. "No thanks. Two more orders came in overnight. Skeletons." Jared shudders. "Carving bones takes forever and I gotta get a start on it."
"There's a joke in there somewhere. A dirty one." She reaches up, cups Jared's chin in one small hand and says, "Y'know, if you put that face of yours on the screen instead of behind it, you probably wouldn't have to moonlight."
"But then I wouldn't get to play with dolls all day," Jared points out, grinning.
Katie snorts. "And there's another joke."
Jared's running sandpaper over a second set of ribs when there's a noise behind him. A soft scrape. It's late and his neighborhood is a quiet one in the first place, and besides, he's pretty sure it came from inside. Jared turns slowly, sinking feeling in his stomach because holy shit he's not a fan of mice and one time a possum got in and it was two hours before he could coerce it back into the great outdoors.
Everything looks a-okay with one exception. His newest creation is still hanging on its hook, front and center, but it's swinging slightly, rocking back and forth.
"Huh," Jared says, cocking his head to the side. "You okay, Jensen?" He stills the puppet and gives him a once-over, checks the lacquer for dings and makes sure the strings are still properly knotted, that the controller is secure on its hook, then with a sort of mental shrug, he goes back to his work.
His last ex—and the one before that, come to think of it—would never come into Jared's workshop, always said that it creeped him out. Jared had never actually understood it, but he's starting to get it now, a strange feeling that makes the hair on his arms and on the back of his neck stand up, makes him keep wanting to glance over his shoulder, turn all the lamps on and fill the shadows in the corners with light.
The sensation doesn't go away. It follows him from the workshop and into the main house, sticks around as he makes a sandwich and eats it leaning over the sink. He takes a shower and can't even jerk off because of it, keeps the light on in the hallway and falls asleep to the endless mumble of the twenty-four hour news cycle on the television in his bedroom.
"Shit." Jared rolls over, untangles the blankets from his legs. "Fuck," he says, eyes full of grit as he pries them open. The room is too bright and his alarm clock is spitting out a muffled alarm from behind the bedside table.
He's on his feet in a blink, does a shoddy job of brushing his teeth while he runs his fingers through his hair to work out the tangles, is still pulling his t-shirt over his head and trying to figure out his belt as he rushes toward the door. Rehearsal started twenty minutes ago and their new director is gonna give him hell and lots of it for being late.
The door to the workshop is cracked open and Jared skids to a stop, pretty sure that he'd closed it behind himself last night. He peeks inside then dashes down the steps and hits the concrete floor of his workshop so fast his teeth clink together.
Jensen's on the ground, wires and strings a tangled mess and his limbs all at terrible angles. His head is wrenched around on his neck and Jared hisses, winces as he carefully urges it forward again. There's no time to put his strings to rights, so Jared heads toward his car with Jensen cradled against his chest and sits him up in the passenger seat.
It's not until he's fifteen minutes into his half-hour drive, sitting at a red light because of course all the lights are red this morning, that Jared begins to remember the night before. His fitful rest and the way that he'd thrashed and twisted and never really fell fully asleep.
He half-remembers the sense of someone else in the room, how the small space had felt different, and a low voice that sounded like it had been coming from somewhere inside his head, inside of a dream. Touches on his skin that had made him twist and turn and strain toward them.
The light turns green and he hits the gas and last night starts to fade, turn into half-remembered static, the result of staying up too late, a pastrami sandwich at two in the morning, too little sleep.
The new guy has them working through some tasteless Punch and Judy routine and Jared's irritated. Pissed off from the ass reaming he'd gotten when he showed up and even more pissed off by the material. Katie's better than this, genuinely talented, ambidextrous through and through and can work the strings better than anyone Jared's ever met. Fuck it, he's better than this.
"Start from the top," the director says for the tenth time this morning, and Jared looks up from his controller to glare at the guy.
Folks are scattered throughout the seats in the theater and that's nothing new. Theater majors from the local community college and kids from the high school often sit in on rehearsal. Activity directors from a nearby retirement home often bring a bus full of people over for an hour. Those aren't the people that grab Jared's attention, though.
A man occupies an aisle seat near the top of the theater. He's straight-backed in his seat, shoulders square, almost formal. He catches Jared's gaze and holds it, doesn't look away. His sandy-colored hair is tousled and his skin is pale, but the smile he gives Jared is warm, familiar in a way that Jared can't quite put his finger on.
Jared fudges his lines, his fingers grow numb and awkward on the strings and the man in the aisle seat shrugs, raises his arms in the universal gesture of dunno.
The director clears his throat in a very pointed fashion and, Katie jabs her elbow into Jared's side, rolls her eyes and hides her smile behind her hand.
"Get it together, brother," she says. "Next stop, Avenue Q."
Jared looks up again and the seat is empty.
The guy shows up the next day and stays for an hour. He shows up the day after that, too.
Jared's still not sleeping well, dragging himself out of bed every morning feeling hazy, odd dreams that he can almost but not quite remember. He's started forcing himself to stay up late, hoping that pure animal exhaustion will be enough to pull him all the way down. After hours spent in the workshop, he's managed to build both skeletons in two days and has taken to babbling to Jensen the whole time to keep himself alert. Little stuff mostly. Stuff like measurements and materials, stuff like the mysterious man who so recently has become their number one fan. Sure, it may be a fraction south of sane, but Jared's not looking at that too closely. No reason to, really.
"Do you know him?" Jared whispers to Katie between takes, with a small nod to the aisle seat near the top.
She squints past the lights and shakes her head. "Nope. That's all you. Maybe you should go talk to him."
It's Jared's turn to shake his head. "I don't think so." It's not that Jared's shy, or particularly introverted. He's quiet, is all. It's just that he tends to get along better with inanimate objects, chunks of wood and wire and nails that eventually can be molded into something beautiful. It takes him a while to warm up to people and by the time he's done warming up, most guys have already lost interest. Moved on to someone faster or louder or more interesting.
"C'mon. He's kinda hot. And by kinda I mean really fucking. Couldn't hurt."
"Tomorrow maybe. If he shows up again tomorrow."
Jared's awake this time. Definitely awake. Not that half-way point that he's been swimming in these past few nights. He rolls over and sits bolt upright, back against the wall.
Someone stands silhouetted in the light from the hallway. Tall, short haired and wide shouldered. He takes a step forward and his movements are a little stiff. Disjointed. A couple more steps forward and now Jared can make out the details. Sandy hair and a little quirk in his nose and legs that bow outward, standing there in nothing but his skin and not ashamed of it. Eyes the color of green glass and Jared recognizes those immediately. He put them there himself.
The guy nods, his mouth quirking into a smile that lights up his whole face, makes him even more beautiful.
"That's what you named me. I like it. Thank you." Jensen's voice is deep and soft, a little rusty around the edges like it doesn't get much use.
Jared should be scared. He's not. Curious, sure, intrigued, inexplicably hot all over, but not scared. "How…how are you alive?"
"You tell me. You're the one who made me. How are you alive?"
"I've got a heartbeat, and right now it's running at about three hundred."
Jensen crosses to him, takes Jared by the wrist and places his palm against his chest. "So do I." And damned if he doesn't, a steady tick that Jared feels once he's let his hand creep up to the side of Jensen's throat.
"You need me, so I'm here. In a way, I think I've always been here, waiting for you to make me," Jensen goes on. "It's simple. It doesn't need to be complicated."
Jared could go spinning into theories both physical and metaphysical, but instead he sighs. He gives up. It's like trying to explain the color blue to someone who was born blind.
Jared's heart is barely starting to slow and now it speeds up again, pounds in his ears as Jensen slides into the bed beside him and rests his palm on Jared's hip. The touch is so very familiar that Jared aches with it. So is Jensen's grin, and the way that he pulls his bottom lip between his teeth, looks at him from beneath his lashes.
He skims his hand along Jared's side, down to the dip of his waist and up along his ribs, his shoulder and neck, uses his thumb to trace the angle of Jared's jaw. He does it like he's already intimately acquainted with every square inch of Jared's body, knows exactly all the right places to linger and all the places where his touch will make Jared shudder and shake, force his breath to catch in his lungs.
Spreading his hand wide on the back of Jensen's head, Jared pulls Jensen in, makes room for him between his legs. Jared strains upward, reaches for Jensen with his mouth but Jensen holds him back.
"This is the best part," Jensen says, stroking at Jared's hair, brushing it off of his forehead. "Right before…" he trails off and Jared's gut tells him that this isn't the first time they've done this, wishes with everything he has that he could remember all the others.
The thought isn't alarming. It settles warm over his skin, sinks into his bones and when Jensen finally does kiss him, licks into his mouth all hot and slick, Jared sighs into it, his chest light with relief.
Jared's hard, has been hard since Jensen appeared in his doorway and he's getting even harder, a shivery sensation that spreads from his groin into his lower stomach, his upper thighs. Jensen rocks against him, shifts so that he's straddling Jared's hips and doesn't stop kissing him. He urges Jared's arms above his head, feathery touches all along his inner arms and he doesn't stop kissing him. He pumps his hips, lets Jared's cock slip between the cheeks of his ass and tease at his rim and he still doesn't stop kissing him.
It's Jared who breaks the kiss, throws his head back and bucks up against the slow, teasing friction. "Please," he moans. "Please."
Jensen has him pinned, powerless against each minute hitch of his hips as he sinks down onto Jared's cock. His body gives in very specific ways, opens up to Jared and draws him in, tight and perfect and so, so hot. Jensen falls forward and gathers Jared into his arms, chest plastered together, strong thighs working as he raises and lowers himself on Jared's cock. He sets a slow, steady pace that makes Jared clench his jaw curl his toes.
It occurs to Jared in a vague, hazy way that he's in no way in control right now. It's Jensen's fingers plucking his strings. It's Jensen who's making him arch his back and kick his legs out in a wide sprawl, and it's Jensen who's pushing his orgasm out of him with each thrust of his hips and every scrape of his teeth on Jared's skin, every long, drawn out kiss.
Jensen rides him through it, keeps going as Jared moans out the last of his orgasm, until he's come hot and sloppy on Jared's stomach and the sweat covering their skin starts to cool.
"Don't remember this," Jensen whispers, breath falling on Jared's ear. "It's easier that way. Don't remember any of it."
A fog starts to break into Jared's mind and now there's no doubt at all that this has happened before. He's got to hold onto it this time. He has to try very hard. Jensen's still whispering in his ear and Jared's losing the fight, slipping down.
Jared stretches, shifts and feels a warm body pressed all along his back. Jensen's hand is spread across his stomach and Jared takes it, draws it up to cover his heart and curls their fingers together.
Behind him, Jensen hums and his lips brush the back of Jared's neck when he speaks. "You remembered."
Jared smiles and it feels like the first time in years. "Of course. How could I forget?"