In between takes, when Jared isn't studying his notes and trying to make up missed school work, he's studying Jensen. He learns that Jensen can fall asleep anywhere within seconds. In his chair on set, curled on the sofa in his trailer, with his head resting on his folded arms at a table in the food tent. Jensen loves his job, even if he's not into the hype that comes with being a young actor in Hollywood. More than that, he's good at it in a way that goes beyond learning his lines and hitting his mark. He understands camera angles, how to use the lighting to his advantage, how to give the director something a little different with each and every take.
Jensen moves into the guest house. He keeps forgetting to tell Chad to buy that mattress, and Jared keeps forgetting to remind him. The move happens so gradually that Jared doesn't much notice it at first, and when he does, he doesn't say anything. Jensen's clothes are left bit by bit in the room across the hall. An extra toothbrush appears in the bathroom. Jensen's laptop, a blanket he's had since he was a kid, various other flotsam of everyday life starts to show up. The kitchen gets stocked with food one afternoon while they're at the set. After a while, Jared realizes that Jensen hasn't set foot inside the big house in days, walks the stone pathway around the perimeter of it every time they come home.
It turns into a routine. A ritual. Jared spends his days watching Jensen put fiction on film, his evenings kicked back on Jensen's patio with his laptop tottering on a knee and Jensen's feet tucked cold under his legs. He falls asleep to Jensen's slurred mumbles. Bits of script he's memorized. Snatches of conversations they've had. Stuff that doesn't make sense and stuff that does.
The night is cooler than it has been recently, and Jensen's wearing one of Jared's long-sleeve t-shirts, Joy Division and the late great Ian Curtis stamped across it. He'd spent the day getting slammed into walls and over tables in a barfight scene, had jacked up the landing and earned himself a set of scraped knuckles and a jammed first finger for the effort. An hour had been wasted while medics clucked over him, threatening x-rays as Jensen insisted he was fine, that he wasn't made of bone china.
He keeps trying to pick at the gashes and Jared keeps trying to slap his hand away and make him stop.
"Family meeting." Sandy climbs onto one of the chairs at the table, snaps Jared's laptop closed and stacks everyone's phones face down on top of it.
"Huh. Okay," Jensen says.
"I take it you didn't talk to Mike. I swear, I'm the only one who ever picks up her phone around here." She ties her long hair into a knot on top of her head, steals Jared's pen and jabs it through her hair to keep it in place. Jared's taken a shine to her over the last week. She's kind, smart and fiercely loyal, and is one of the few people who isn't carrying around at least a baseline crush on Jensen, something that Jared can't say for himself.
"Uh, Houston," Mike says, striding into the patio. Missing is his constant, shark-like smile. He's got a few magazines in his hand, real gossip rags, and he throws them down on the table, flips through them. "You're a centerfold, babe," he says to Jared.
There are a couple of spreads with photos of Jared and Jensen. At the premiere, coming out of the breakfast joint, waiting in line together to pay for Jared's shorts from that boho thrift shop. The headlines are in big exaggerated font, proclaiming that Hollywood's leading man might have a new leading man of his own.
Jared's stomach jumps when he sees the photos of them from the red carpet. The way he's looking at Jensen like the rest of the world could burn and he wouldn't notice. Or if he noticed, then he wouldn't care. His eyes tipped down toward Jensen's mouth, the hand he has over his heart and the arm he has around his neck. The grin on Jensen's face is brighter than sunshine and so very real. It splinters Jared's heart to think that anyone in line at any grocery store anywhere could open up a magazine and see it.
As Jensen skims the articles, his expression darkens, lips pressed down into a thin line. He's edging his way into righteously pissed off. "The notoriously private star," he reads. "Just because I don't show up at every opening…" Under the table, Jared squeezes Jensen's knee, feels his leg jump.
Jensen picks up the next in the stack, and this one has a photo of Jared hugging him the day they'd had breakfast, his face planted in Jensen's neck. Jensen has his hand on Jared's hip, t-shirt tangled in his grasp, and although the photograph is grainy as hell and blown up past what its resolution can handle, Jensen's eyes are clearly closed.
The worst part about this, the most damning thing, is that Jared can sorta see where they're coming from.
"Are you okay?" Jared asks, can't help feeling like all of this is his fault.
Jensen ignores him, keeps on reading. "Is Jen into men?" he quotes, and his laughter has a cruel, sharp edge to it. "My name is two fucking syllables long. Surely whoever wrote this could have struggled to the end of it."
"Do I need to start running damage control?" All of Mike's typical Hollywood schmooze has disappeared. He's dead serious.
"It'll only get us more of the wrong kind of attention," Jensen says, shaking his head. He shoves the magazines away. "Sources say." Another rough bark of laughter. "Who the fuck are these sources?"
"I can find out," Sandy offers. "It's been too long since I've had to shove my Louis Vuittons up someone's ass. And not in a sexy way."
"Don't bother," Jensen says. He suddenly sounds tired.
Reaching across the table, Sandy takes Jensen's hand in both of hers. "What can we do for you? Name it."
"You can leave me alone for a while."
"Done," Mike says, and snags the magazines from the table. He rolls them up tightly, like he's trying to make them disappear.
Jared starts to slide off of his stool, but Jensen grabs his wrist. "I didn't mean you. I never mean you."
Two hours later, they're most of the way through a bottle of scotch that's older than the both of them put together, and Jared's given up on trying to get Jensen to quit picking at the scrapes on his knuckles.
The sun has set and taken the last traces of warmth with it. A couple of week-old, half-burned logs are still in the firepit on the lower terrace, and trying to get them lit is another thing that Jared's given up on, after Jensen suggested wasting some of the booze as accelerant. They're sitting on the ground, legs flung out in front of them like little kids. Jensen's heavy against Jared's side, head on Jared's shoulder, notched right in like it belongs there. He's toying with a thread at the bottom of Jared's thrift-store shorts. Casual affection that could easily be taken for granted, but Jared's never taken any of it for granted.
Jensen keeps opening his mouth like he's about to say something, then closing it again. What he says when he finally spits it out comes as a surprise.
"I almost came home once. That first fall. Y'know, when everyone was back for Thanksgiving? I almost stayed."
Jared doesn't remember a lot from that trip, outside of being exhausted after his first foray into college midterms. He remembers the two of them holing up in his room for two days straight, living off of junk food and watching Bruce Willis alternately blow shit up or save the world, or save the world by blowing shit up.
"Why?" Jared asks, then shifts some to sit across from Jensen, get a better look at him.
Jensen shrugs, chews on his bottom lip and cracks his knuckles, avoids answering the question. "I was living in that crap apartment in Studio City."
"The one you shared with Chris," Jared says, dragging up the memory. He'd visited Jensen there once, at the beginning of his first summer break. Everything has changed so much since then. "What happened to him?"
"Booked it to Oklahoma," Jensen tells him. "Said something about having to find his roots after no one out here wanted to listen to his demo. Last I heard, he was working as a personal chef or something." He makes a breathy sound, half-laugh and half-sigh. "So many parties back then. Like, if we were loud enough and never slowed down, we could convince ourselves that we were really having a good time."
"I think that's what you do when you're eighteen. It's hardwired into us. The only actual way to deal with turning legal."
"Maybe," Jensen says. "We used to come up here, Chris and I. Turn the headlights off and see how fast we could take the switchbacks down into the canyon. Chris never hit the brakes. Reckless motherfucker."
Jared laughs, buys himself some time to try and figure out what Jensen's really saying, all the stuff that's tucked between the lines. "You still didn't answer my question," he reminds Jensen. "Why did you almost move back? Were you homesick?"
"Ever think that homesickness isn't necessarily tied to a place?"
"I've missed you too, if that's what you're saying," Jared whispers. His tongue feels loose, his basic motor functions slippery, but it's still the truth. "And even if that's not what you're saying, I've still missed you." He watches Jensen's throat work as he swallows, studies the slight uptilt of his mouth, his small nod. With two fingers to Jensen's temple, he goes on, "Whatever's going on in there, you can tell me. You know that, right?"
Jensen places the bottle down, and the gritty clink of glass against tile sounds very loud. "I wanted it to count. That first day you came to set with me. It was in the script, but I didn't do it."
Jared's hands are palm up on his knees like some sorta inebriated yoga instructor. Jensen covers them with his own. The touch feels sweaty regardless of the cold. Shaky as hell.
"You're not making much sense," Jared says. "Try again."
Jensen wraps his fingers around Jared's wrists, so Jared does the same. They're knee-to-knee, both leaning in. Mirror images. "I didn't want it to be scripted. Not the first time."
It's dark. It doesn't matter. Jared can still imprint on the details. The freckles scattered on Jensen's cheekbones that makeup artists criminally try to cover up. The quirk in his nose. The sweet indent in his upper lip. The bright, glazed look in those impossibly green eyes as he inches closer. The smell of his skin everywhere, as warm as the breath that falls on Jared's skin. The way Jensen holds onto his wrists so tightly, pulls on them until Jared's hands find his hips. How neither of them closes their eyes when Jensen presses his lips to the corner of Jared's mouth. Jensen's soft sigh that comes after.
Jared freezes. Doesn't breathe. His heart feels like a landmine and Jensen's still kissing him, dry and featherlight and centering in on his mouth better than before, and the only thing he wants to do more than kiss Jensen back is to keep him safe and protected. From the outside world of paparazzi and an overbearing public, from reporters and critics and anonymous sources who somehow stumbled into the truth. He wants to protect Jensen from himself, from that bottle of scotch that they nearly cashed and the self-destructive inclination that has come along with it.
So he kisses Jensen, only once. He allows himself that. Close-mouthed and sincere, and for only a fraction of as long as he wants to. Then he backs away, smiles as big as he knows how.
"It's okay," Jared says when Jensen's expression shapes into a question. "You're drunk, and I'm not all that sober, and it's totally okay." It's hard to tell if Jensen leans forward on purpose or if it's a sway, but Jared catches him, palm flat on Jensen's chest. "I want it to count, too," he whispers, "I need it to, and right now it can't."
Hauling Jensen to his feet is a bit of a production, with their centers of gravity skewed in different directions. Their feet tangle, Jared's head is floating about ten feet above his body and one of Jensen's knuckles has mysteriously opened up again, leaving three bloody dots on the inside of Jared's forearm. He gets Jensen poured into bed, decides not to help as Jensen tugs his sweatshirt off after a few abortive attempts.
"The room's spinnin'," Jensen says, kicking at the blankets. He tries to pat Jared on the cheek. It's poorly aimed and lands somewhere in the vicinity of his ear instead.
"I know it is," Jared agrees.
"Are we good?" Jensen slurs. He sounds very young, suddenly. In over his head and unsure.
"Of course." Jared runs his hand through Jensen's hair, scratches at his scalp while Jensen burrows down into the pillow. He can't help it, doesn't like the idea of not touching him. "What are we doing?" he asks quietly. Jensen's already asleep.
He keeps the door open and the light on, goes into the hallway and leans against the wall. It's unmoving and cool at his back, two things he needs badly right now. He slides down it until he thumps to the floor, still able to see into the bedroom, the softly snoring lump of Jensen. The walls in the room are seafoam green, and a few minutes ago Jensen kissed him. It's not a color Jensen would have ever picked out for himself and a few minutes ago Jared backed away. Real seafoam isn't that color anyway, and none of Jared's fantasies ever ended like this, with him slumped on the floor and spun out on doubt with a hollow, scooped feeling in his chest. In a few hours, the sun is going to rise on the day after the night that Jensen kissed him, and he's probably going to be awake to see it happen.
Jared scrubs a tired hand over his eyes pulls out his phone.
"Time zones, Jared." Sophia's voice is muffled, cut through with the distinct sound of her creaky bedsprings.
"I know," Jared says. "I'm sorry. It's late here too." He licks his lips, wonders if the scotch he tastes is from him or someone else.
"What's wrong?" she asks, coming awake in increments. "Is everything alright?"
"Yeah," he answers quickly. Maybe too quickly. "I mean. I dunno. Just. Tell me something good that happened to you today."
Her chuckle is low and familiar. "No. You tell me."
Jared stretches his arm out, looks at the three dots of blood on his skin from Jensen's busted up knuckle. An ellipsis. To be continued. "Hey, I asked you first."
"Not yet. Not here." Jensen's jittery, squinting into the brutal, late summer sunlight. Behind him, his truck is idling, packed with all of the stuff from home that he can't stand to leave behind, a bright blue tarp strapped down on top of it. By the time he gets to Los Angeles, the thing will probably be shredded.
Jared keeps spinning the ring on his thumb. Jensen's not the only one whose nerves are close to the surface. He's got his own car packed. A bunch of stuff scratched off of a checklist carefully drawn up by his mother to distract herself from the fact that another kid is leaving home for school.
"Remember that one spot?" Jensen says, talking fast. "Outside of San Marcos?"
"The night of the four moron award? I'll never forget." Jared rubs at his mouth, swears he can taste the ghost of sour apple martinis and smell a hint of cheap cologne.
"Follow me there."
"But it's at least an hour in the wrong direction for you," Jared points out, and Jensen grins, big and beautiful, the smile that's gonna put him on movie billboards one day soon. And goddamnit, Jared misses him already, so much that it's hard to suck in air and Jensen's still right here.
Jensen shrugs, smirks slow and lazy as a Sunday afternoon. "I've got time, unless you don't."
"I'll see you there," Jared says, and turns to his folks to tell them there's gonna be a detour, give him an hour head start before following.
Late August and central Texas has taken on a strange lunar quality. Brown, dusty earth and sanded down hills dotted with scrub brush stretch out on either side of the highway after they drive past the city limits. Twenty minutes into the ride something breaks loose from the jigsaw puzzle of stuff crammed in Jared's car and begins clanking around in the back seat.
He sticks close to Jensen's bumper, turns the music up loud to cover the rattling behind him, tries to not count the minutes and miles until he continues north and Jensen points his headlights toward the west. For the first time in their lives they're going in different directions in a way that isn't temporary.
Jensen pulls off the interstate and onto a rarely-used two-lane highway, pavement crumbling away to a soft shoulder. A cloud of dust kicks up under his tires when he eases off of the road beside a stretch of split rail fencing. In the distance, a windmill is silhouetted against the bleached blue sky, the vague suggestion of a grain silo a good way past that. Unlikely red flowers are growing along the fenceline, bright splashes of color against the sun-browned grass.
"So, October is only a couple of months away," Jensen's saying as he spills out of his truck. His voice sounds off, like he's trying to swallow it instead of project. "It'll be here before we know it. Try and find some decent stuff for us to do by the time I get there."
The smile Jared offers him feels watery, not entirely real. "Don't work too hard."
"I never do," Jensen says, and they both know it's a lie. He takes whatever part anyone will give him, and studies constantly. Picks apart the great and not-so-great performances of every single movie or television show he watches, dissects camera angles, frames and scripts. Don't get him started on special effects.
Reaching out to scuff his palm against the back of Jared's head, Jensen says, "I should have shaved it again. It's getting long. I meant to, before..."
"Eh, I've been thinking about growing it out anyhow."
The both become quiet for a few moments as they stare at each other, Jared with his heart on his sleeve and Jensen with that cheshire smirk of his. A heavy pressure builds in Jared's throat and behind his eyes and he fights against both of those things, doesn't want to let them win, doesn't want the snotty, pathetic version of himself to be the last thing Jensen sees outta him for the next couple of months.
Finally Jensen clears his throat. "I knew we said we weren't gonna, but here. Chad said I should get you condoms and lube, but he's an asshole, so." He produces a couple of gift cards from his back pocket, hands them over. "Caffeine and food. Don't need you getting any skinnier."
Jared laughs. "He said I should get you the same thing. It's good neither of us listened to him. Thank you." He loops a bead chain necklace from around his neck, pulls the pendant from under his shirt where it has been resting against his skin. "It's not as practical as what you gave me…" he says as he hands it over.
Jensen holds the pendant in his hand. A piece of silver that's been hammered out into a thin medallion, Player One ready etched into one side, with Jensen's initials on the other. "Fuck, Jared. I love it. Thank you." He puts it on, looks at it once more before slipping it under his t-shirt, then slams into Jared. Arms wrapped tight around his waist and his face buried in his neck. He's breathing fast, ribs expanding and contracting against Jared's chest and Jared's not gonna cry. He's not.
"Do good." There isn't a soul around them for miles, and Jared whispers it anyway, directly into Jensen's ear, feels him shiver all over.
"You too." Jensen's mouth moves along Jared's skin as he says it, nose smashed into Jared's neck.
Pushing back from him is one of the hardest things Jared's ever done. "Nineteen hours. You better get going."
"Whole lotta flat nothing between here and there," Jensen says. "Betcha I make it in seventeen." He starts to turn away, spins back one last time and places his hand on Jared's cheek, fingers curled around his ear. "Goddamn. I'm gonna miss you."
Jared's tongue feels paralyzed. He barely croaks, "October."
"Yeah." Jensen manages a smile for Jared's benefit. "October."
Jared wakes up on the couch with no idea how he got there. The sunlight hurts and so does the phone in his pocket that's jabbing into his hip. He flips over, pulls it out and finds a message from Jensen.
You smelled like you needed to sleep for a few more hours. See you tonight.
One cup of coffee is missing from the pot and the rest has gone cold. A clean mug sits in front of it along with a bottle painkillers. Jared pours himself a cup and downs four aspirin with a big sip of black, room temperature coffee.
His body feels abused, the t-shirt he's wearing stinks like flop sweat and he's pretty sure not even pasta mama is gonna be able to fix this one. The bedroom is as empty as he expected it to be. Jensen's jeans from last night are on the floor and the bed is unmade, a Jensen-shaped nest of blankets in the middle of it. He had taken the time to neatly fold Jared's sweatshirt and leave it at the foot of the bed.
Jared collapses onto the mattress, buries his face into a pillow that smells like Jensen, and wakes up again three hours later when he gets another message. This time from Chad.
Fucking reporters everywhere. Two of them snuck onto set. Jensen is pissed.
Jensen picks up his phone on the second ring. That's a miracle in and of itself.
"Heya," Jared says. "Do you need me out there?"
Jensen's breathless and his voice sounds jostled, like he's walking very fast. "Naw, man. You stay put. Tom's here, and so is Mike. Sandy's about to eat someone alive. I'll be home soon." With that, he hangs up.
Jared swings his legs to the ground and takes inventory. His headache has dissolved into a vague ping in the back of his skull and his stomach has stabilized. The mid-afternoon sunlight isn't as much of an enemy. His mouth tastes like he's been chewing on tires and he's thirsty as hell.
He gets himself cleaned up, drinks water straight from the spray in the shower, finds a clean pair of shorts and his t-shirt from Depeche Mode's Violator tour. The one with the red flower on it that always makes him think of a particular late-August afternoon.
Too much pent up nervous energy and Jared doesn't know what to do with any of it. The kitchen has been stocked up and he spends some time opening and closing cabinets, finds some muffin tins and one of those boxes of cornbread mix, a can of jalapenos in a cupboard that'll have to do. Jack cheese is better, but cheddar is a decent substitute. The first batch is terrible. Jared has to scrape the muffins out with a spoon. He gets it right on the second try, and because there's one more box of mix, he goes for a third.
Elbows on the counter, he's watching the timer in a dazed sorta way, oven mitts on his hands. The thing dings as Jensen busts through the door. He looks exhausted, blue-black smudges under his eyes, spine curved in a worn-out slump. He still takes the time to hip-check Jared on the way to the sink to throw water on his face.
"Goddamn circus," Jensen starts. "I had to fucking lay down in the backseat of the car, couldn't even leave work in peace. Took us an hour and a half to get here, because Chad was sure four cars were following us. He got us all turned around in Brentwood somehow. Brentwood. And the worst part is that it all started to go down during the best take of the day. I mean, who do they think they are? And the shot. Boom. Wasted. Now we're gonna have to start from the top when we've already done it more times than I care to count."
Jared listens to the tirade, tries to make sense of it all while he stands perfectly still, a hot pan of corn muffins balanced on his oven mitts.
Jensen stops. Blinks. "Wait a minute. Did you make cornbread?" He picks one up and takes a huge bite of it, groans better than a pornstar.
"Um. Yeah?" It comes out as a question. "I didn't know what else to do."
"You did the right thing." Jensen finishes one off, grabs two more and heads for the couch, kicking his shoes off as he walks.
"What's happening?" Jared asks.
Jensen's wiping crumbs off his mouth. Those same lips that kissed Jared so sweet and chaste last night. "Someone in security is about to get their ass handed to them, that's what, and it's probably not even their fault. Fucking hate it. And you know what else? Those reporters, they were asking about you. Where my friend was, your name, and I fucking hate that even more."
"Try not to worry about that. It doesn't matter what they say about me. They don't scare me, and anyway, people have the attention span of fruit flies." Jared tucks himself into a corner of the sofa, knees drawn up under his chin. "I'll go back to school, sink into the weeds and no one will care about any of it in a couple of months."
"It's not only that. It's," Jensen sucks in a deep breath and lets it out slow. "You're the one safe thing I have. The one person who hasn't been touched by any of this. I'm a product, have been all my life, and that's okay. I can watch what I say, the places I go. It's no big deal if the press thinks I look too skinny or not skinny enough, if I get a shit haircut, if I show up at a movie premiere, or conspicuously don't show up." He makes an all-encompassing gesture. "I belong to everybody, and I don't want that for you. I want you to--" Jensen cuts off abruptly.
"You want me to belong to you," Jared finishes for him.
"Well, it sounds godawful when you say it out loud like that."
"Trust me, it really, really doesn't. I get it." It's the heart of the matter. The reason Chad brought him here in the first place, and why Jensen had to be the one to actually tell him. It's so simple, had been tapping on Jared's shoulder all along.
"Then last night," Jensen continues, as if he's got his teeth set into it and isn't gonna give up now. "I know I screwed up, and I'm sorry. It was a mistake. Another in a long list of fuck-ups."
Anger flares up in Jared. A searing flash of it. "Look at you. Look at what you've accomplished. All of it, and if you think all of this was because of a long series of fuck-ups, and I'm your most recent, well…" Jared pauses, knows he's being meaner than perhaps he should be and still can't stop himself. "I'm not gonna feed your ego."
"Come with me."
Jensen doesn't wait for an answer, simply gets up and crosses the room, leaves the door open behind him. Jared follows. Because it's Jensen. Because he has to, and because the anger has disappated as fast as it showed up. Jensen leads him into the big house, past Sandy and Mike, Tom and Chad clustered around the center island in the kitchen. Sandy's on the phone and Chad's wearing an expression that could level cities.
An office is up the stairs and at the end of a hallway Jared's never been before. It's all sleek, modern furniture and warm colors like the rest of the house, and it's obvious that Jensen spends very little time in here.
When Jensen opens the closet door, Jared's heart drops. Stacks and stacks of scripts line the wall, some old enough that they're starting to go yellow, curl at the edges. Before Jensen opens his mouth, Jared knows what they mean.
"These are the parts I didn't get," Jensen tells him. "My failures."
He maintains his distance from the door, as if he thinks going in there could cause some sorta hoodoo. Jared has never bought into that brand of superstition, and he picks one up from the stack, a pilot for a show he's never even heard about. Flipping through it, he finds Jensen's notes on nearly every page. Underlines and arrows, his choppy handwriting with those funky shaped r's and capital e's at the ends of words.
"Where do you keep your successes?" Jared asks.
Jensen's laugh is bitter, self deprecating. "You can buy those for five bucks a piece out of a bin in any box store."
"Why do you hold onto them?" Jared gives in to the impulse to wrap an arm around Jensen's shoulders, keep a hand on him.
"Don't know. Not at this point. It was for reference at first, and now it's just this thing I do." He fits himself to Jared's side, hooks his thumb into Jared's waistband at his hip. It's the tiniest fucking thing, something he's done dozens of times before and it still makes Jared's stomach swoop.
"Step one, Chad and I are gonna go out and buy some lighter fluid. Step two, you're gonna drag all of these out to the patio. Step three, we're gonna burn them."
"Burn them?" Jensen asks. His smile is coming back. Thank god his smile is coming back.
"It's not like we can just throw them away."
"Best idea I ever had, bringing you out here." Chad tosses a few bottles of lighter fluid into the cart, grabs two small bundles of firewood and tops it off with a box of those chemical packets that turn fire weird colors. "If all of this had gone down two weeks ago, Jensen woulda disappeared into his room and not come out for days."
"If it had been two weeks ago, I wouldn't have been here. None of this would have happened," Jared points out, and steers the cart toward the front of the store.
Chad tips his sunglasses onto the top of his head and squints up at Jared. "That's where you're wrong, brother. It was always gonna be something, and he's always gonna need you, even if he's too chickenshit to say it." He slows down to inspect a table full of small cactus gardens. "See, most of us are too scared to call him on his bullshit. But not you, and you do it in a way that makes him smile. He gives us jobs and a place to live. I can't tell you how many times he's vouched for me, landed me auditions that I probably didn't deserve. He holds us all up, and you hold him up."
"I dunno," Jared says, "it's not like I do any of it on purpose. Not like I think about it."
"I'm just glad you're finally getting your head out of your ass. And putting it up Jensen's."
"Jerk-off." Jared elbows Chad in the side.
It's starting to get dark by the time Jared gets back, and Jensen's managed to drag all of the paper down to the lower patio. He doesn't tell Jensen about Chad's plans to trade the car in for something else, a new make and model and license plate number because yeah, it might be base-level paranoia, but they're both convinced they were followed for a while on the way home.
"Why am I so nervous? It makes no sense." Jensen hesitates, one of the scripts clutched tightly in his hand.
Jared thinks about what Chad said to him, about holding Jensen up and moves to stand behind him, his chest to Jensen's back. "It makes perfect sense." He takes a pack of matches from his pocket and says, "Now fire it up."
It starts out page-by-page, the scripts acting as kindling to set the logs on fire until the accelerant becomes unnecessary. Jensen's quiet the entire time, face all lit up and ruddy. Eventually he gets his land legs, loses his hesitation, and then he's tossing whole stacks on the fire, stepping back as sparks swirl upward. Small tendrils of wispy ash get caught in the warm updraft, flutter like moth wings.
The process doesn't take long. A half a decade to build the collection and less than an hour to burn it down. The logs are reduced to embers, and Jared and Jensen settle down close to the fire, watch the embers pulse. Dozens of syncopated heartbeats.
Jensen slides his hand across the tile floor, touches their fingertips together. Stays that way.
"Try again. It'll count this time," Jared says.
The kiss is light. Gentle. Years in the making. Jensen tips Jared's chin up with two fingers warmed from the fire, covers Jared's mouth with his own, lingers there while his touch wanders along the upswing of Jared's jaw, down his throat, back up to trace the shape of his cheekbone. The kiss breaks, but Jensen doesn't go far, keeps his nose alongside Jared's, their mouths a fraction of an inch apart.
"I never kissed a guy before," Jensen murmurs.
"You're not doing too shabby." Now it's Jared's turn to touch, outline Jensen's lower lip, learn the way his stubble catches against his palm, guide him in so he can kiss him again. He sighs at the first tentative slip of Jensen's tongue against his mouth, opens up, gives back.
A scrape of teeth on Jensen's lip will make him groan, suck on his tongue and he'll do the same. A kiss to the soft skin below his ear and he'll shiver, hold on even tighter. All of this new information to slot in next to the old, and Jared wants to learn every bit of it, figure Jensen out with his lips and tongue, his slow roving hands.
Jared takes Jensen's hand and kisses his palm, thrilled at how Jensen's fingers curl against his cheek, moves on to press his tongue to the thin skin at his wrist, continues down to kiss the bend at his elbow and Jensen chuckles, pulls back reflexively.
"Ticklish?" Jared asks, eyebrows raised.
"Apparently," Jensen says, and his voice is light, sounds happier than he's been in a while. "This is news to me. C'mon, let's go inside, okay?"
"Yeah," Jared says, with one more kiss for punctuation. Now that he's started, he doesn't want to stop.
They get to their feet and Jensen looks up at him, little kid grin on his face and it's like catching a glimpse of the old paint under the new. They're ten years old again, sneaking cookies before supper. They're fifteen, hiding behind the shed with a stolen bottle of hooch, trying—and failing—to learn how to smoke, and they're twenty-two, with their pinky fingers hooked together and the taste of each other on their lips.
Jensen turns on Jared the instant they get into the house, kissing him again as he walks backward, pulling him along toward the bedroom. It's hotter than before, wetter, desperation in the arms he slings around Jared and the slick push of his tongue, how he sucks and nibbles at Jared's mouth, the insistant press of their hips together. His breath is going rough, loud in Jared's ears, drowns out the thrum of Jared's pulse.
The bed is unmade. Jared had meant to do something about it before he'd gotten distracted over the short-lived cornbread incident. He offers an apologetic shrug and sinks down onto it, gazing up at Jensen. A flush stains Jensen's cheeks, extends down past the colllar of his shirt and up to the tips of his ears. His mouth is swollen from kissing and Jared thinks over and over on a continual loop that it's his fault it looks that way. Jensen's hair is corkscrewed from his restless fingers. Jensen's eyes are dark and heavy lidded, his cock an obvious line pressing against his pants, and it's all beause Jensen actually wants him.
"For years I've been playing this through in my head," Jensen says, solemn as a confession. "Years, Jared, and now I don't know where to start."
"You could try kissing me again." Jared reaches out for him with both arms as Jensen crawls into his lap and does what he's been told, using his momentum to ease Jared back onto the bed. He's being so careful. Not hesitant, just careful, avoids giving Jared the full measure of his weight, keeping himself propped up on one arm, his thighs strong on either side of Jared's hips. Jared proves a point, hugs Jensen close to him, forces Jensen to collapse against his chest, bucks his hips up and makes them both groan and shiver. "You're not gonna fuck me up. I can take it. I can take all of you, okay?"
"What if I wanna fuck you up?" Jensen rasps. He rips his shirt over his head and grapples with Jared's. Jared was holding it together before but now he's in real trouble, the good kinda trouble, what with the way Jensen winds up shifting in his lap, squirming against his cock.
"What if?" Jared asks, faint and breathless. He tips Jensen sideways, spreads out on top of him and takes control of their kisses. Sucks on Jensen's tongue and bites at his lips, gets off on the wide sprawl of Jensen's legs, the heat of his skin, how readily he opens himself up to Jared's curious hands and curious mouth.
Nothing in Jared's experience has prepared him for this. Nothing measures up to Jensen's cold feet digging into his thighs, the sudden arch and twist of his spine as Jared teases one of his nipples between his teeth, the taste of Jensen's sweat and the flutter of his stomach when Jared kisses a path down the center of it. He dips his tongue into Jensen's navel and finds another ticklish spot, slides lower and nuzzles against the fine hair leading into Jensen's waistband, snaps open the top button, then ticks his eyes up to get a read on Jensen.
Leaned up on an elbow, Jensen's staring down at Jared, eyes incredibly warm and shining, his lips slightly parted like he's surprised, like Jared is some impossible thing, a rare miracle or a last-minute save. No one's ever looked at him like this before, with this particular blend of familiarity and devotion, so much love floating to the top of it all. No one else ever could.
"C'mere." Jensen says it so low that it's more like a shared thought.
It slows Jared down, all the urgency from earlier bleeding out as he slides up to rest beside Jensen, both on their sides, facing each other. He presses his lips to Jensen's forehead, the corners of his mouth. There's no rush while they undo belts and buttons, slip shorts and boxers down and smile at each other over the awkward shimmies it takes to get it done.
Jensen hooks his leg around Jared's hip, his cock slotting alongside Jared's and trapped between their stomaches. They start in on a gradual rhythm, stilted at first, then smooth as they figure each other out in this brand new way. It's languid, lazy, Jared's orgasm building by degrees until it washes over him. Jensen's breath catches and he lets out a stuttery groan as he comes, his leg tightening around Jared to hold them both still, a small bite of pain when he digs his nails into the back of Jared's neck.
"Years, huh?" Jared says eventually. He allows Jensen to shove him onto his back and use his upper arm as a pillow.
"Yeah. Same goes for you, though."
False dawn is starting to break when Jared wakes up to Jensen pressed all along his back, his hair tickling between Jared's shoulder blades. It's no where near the first time they've shared a bed, just the first time they've both been naked for it. Jensen's come has dried on Jared's skin, and it pulls at his flesh all crusty and uncomfortable.
Jensen's arm is slung around Jared's middle, tucked into the dip of his waist, the skinny space between where his hipbone juts out and his ribs start. His hand is splayed wide and warm on Jared's stomach and Jared lines their fingers up, traces the network of delicate bones in Jensen's hand, careful to steer clear of the gashes in his knuckles.
While Jared waits for Jensen to wake up, he builds scenarios for Jensen's potential freak outs. There's the best friend possibility. The gay crisis. The fact that Jared had been a safe harbor in the middle of a couple of very shitty days.
None of these happen. Jensen comes to, mutters, "Fuck," to greet the day, stretches and cracks his knuckles like he does every morning. Then he plants his nose into Jared's neck, drags his lips along Jared's jaw until he reaches his mouth. The kiss is bitter from morning breath, sloppy from the weird angle and Jared's never known better.
"We gotta beat Chad's wake up call," Jared points out.
Jensen picks at the dried spunk on his lower stomach. "We gotta take a shower, because gross."
The shower turns into Jensen sticking his toothpaste-flavored tongue down Jared's throat and a soapy handjob so good that Jared almost blacks out for a second, gets shampoo in his eye and also his mouth, somehow.
When they're drying off, Jared smacks Jensen's ass and Jensen proceeds to show him exactly why he should do that more often, rubbing off against him while Jared manages to stay balanced on the edge of the sink.
Swirling his finger through the new mess of come and sweat on his stomach, Jared says, "I keep waiting for it to get weird, but it doesn't."
Jensen's testing the water temperature for their second shower. "You and me, we shot past weird in the fourth grade, circled around it twice and kept on going."
Chad looks at each of them in turn, then does it again. "Oh god."
"What?" Jensen spits out.
Chad repeats the move, pulls a baseball cap from his back pocket and pulls it down so far over his eyes that Jared doesn't know how he's gonna be able to see to drive.
"You'd think he was watching Wimbeldon or something," Jared says to Jensen.
"Get in the car. Both of you in the back seat. Evasive manuvers this early in the morning aren't my thing."
Jensen's mood turns on a dime. "Is it bad out there?"
"There were a few of 'em hanging around the gate last night while you two were doing…whatever it was that you were doing," Chad informs them. "I told them to beat feet, but y'know, public street and all that."
A single car is parked on the otherwise empty road, and the sun flashes off of a camera lens as they drive past it.
"Straggler," Chad says.
"That's not skeevy at all." Jared doesn't understand the point of it. Not in the least. They're only trying to give Jensen a ride to work.
"Now you know why I don't go to certain restaurants, wouldn't be caught dead in a bar downtown." Jensen has his head down, not bothering to even look at the car. Jared's caught off guard by the graceful slope of his neck, the little quirk in the bridge of his nose, wants to kiss both of those things, and settles for covering Jensen's hand with his own instead.
More reporters are swarming near the studio entrance, a battalion of security holding them back from the gates.
Chad has his window cracked, doesn't get it up in time before Jared hears someone holler, "There's two of them back there."
"Jesus jumped-up Christ," Chad mutters, then stands on the brakes and makes a sharp left turn. "Hunker down for a minute. We'll circle around and I'll take you in through the south gate."
"I don't think that's really necessary," Jensen says, leaning into the space between the front seats.
"And what was that thing you were saying earlier about evasive maneuvers?" Jared pipes up.
"Whatever," Chad says, elbowing Jensen back. "I'm basically a well-paid errand boy. I should be allowed to act a little Marine recon if I want to."
"Betcha he's been mainlining Generation Kill again," Jensen says to Jared, loud enough for Chad to hear.
Chad glares at him in the rearview, makes a right and then another left. "Shut up."
"Sure thing, Iceman," Jensen says, and flattens himself on the seat, taking Jared down with him. Jensen's trying to hold his laughter in check, Jared feels it vibrating against his chest, in all the places they're touching.
Jared kisses Jensen, mostly because he can't come up with a decent enough reason not to. Jensen hums into it, crooks his arm around Jared's neck as Chad takes another stomach-churning turn.
"Holy shit, guys. I'm right here," Chad says.
"You don't have to look," Jensen counters.
"I can still hear you."
Jared toys with the silver ring on Jensen's finger, spins it around three times for luck. "I'm almost positive the radio still works."
Chad sighs, long and theatrical. "I'm surrounded by idiots."
Nothing really changes, and that's the part that Jared has trouble wrapping his head around. They're best friends, same as always. Jared still gives Jensen crap about everything. His questionable taste in music, because there are only so many times Jared can listen to Jensen wailing about how he saw the light. The weird wheatgrass diet Jensen's doing that makes him smell like somebody's front yard, because red-blooded American men are supposed to eat cows, not eat like cows. The fact that he always wears his socks inside out because he says the seams feel funny on his toes.
Jensen slings it back at him in equal doses, only now he does it while he's straddling Jared's hips, grinding down dirty and hot as he gives Jared shit about the fact that he's not once made it through a Kubrick film. Jensen pins Jared's hands over his head and won't even so much as look at his cock until Jared confesses he has no idea how to play poker, wouldn't know what five-card stud was even if it came up to him and introduced itself. He's strangely preoccupied with the hair on Jared's chest, although there isn't much of it, likes the way it catches in his stubble at the end of the day, but swears the only reason he has any is because of that five-alarm chili they used to eat at one of the all-night diners back home.
Jensen's cold feet are the same, tucked underneath Jared's thigh. So are the familiar touches to his shoulder and the shape of his smile. It's just that Jared knows how to read them better now.
"Couldn't you have hired someone to do this?" Jared nearly loses his footing as he climbs backward down the steps from the big house to the patio. The mattress he's holding begins to wobble like it's sentient, or at least in posession of some basic motor functions. Jensen tries to help and the thing overbalances in the other direction.
"I thought we should earn it," Jensen pants. "Besides, it's a good workout. Better than that tire-moving thing that everyone's doing nowadays. At least this has, like, measurable results."
"Measurable," Jared mutters. "I'll measure your ass." He gives a massive yank and the thing thumps down the last few stairs, Jensen rushing to keep up with it.
"Eh, it's already been measured. It has its own equation."
Jared stops dead. "No shit."
"Swear to god. You can look it up on the internet."
"I have wasted the last four years of my education."
Jensen pushes at the mattress to get Jared moving again. "Damn skippy."
By the time they get the mattress into the guesthouse and wrangle it onto the frame and box springs they'd already set up, the two of them are out of breath. Jared's hair hangs in sweaty strings and Jensen's face is flushed a deep pink. The bed takes up most of the smaller bedroom, leaves a fraction of space for them to walk around it, and now none of the dresser drawers can open all the way.
Jared flops down on it the second after they get the bottom sheet in place, then shuffles sideways and diagonal and discovers that he fits on it at every angle, head-to-toe. "Good ol' American overindulgence," he says.
"You're gonna thank me," Jensen tells him.
"Probably about now." Jensen ditches his shirt and leans over the bed. He brushes Jared's sweaty hair back from his face, kisses him sweet then kisses him dirty, pulls at the collar of Jared's shirt to nose at his neck.
"Okay, yeah, you're right," Jared says, sitting up and making a grab for Jensen, but Jensen holds steady.
"You should get rid of this." He plucks at Jared's shirt. "And these," he says, screwing around with Jared's belt and getting it loose before he takes care of his own. He kicks out of his shorts, lands them in the puddle of Jared's clothes and only then does he come close, step into the space between Jared's knees.
The sun is low on the horizon, angled through the blinds at the window, layers of sliced shadow and light on Jensen's skin and he's so beautiful Jared's heart threatens to stop. He's always been so beautiful, and everybody's always seen it, but Jared's the only one who's ever known it.
"The way your hair curls around your ears, and the way I have to tilt up to kiss you, and fuck, Jared, I—" His voice cracks some and he licks his lips. Tries again. "I've never."
Jared smiles, thinks about how so many of their most important conversations start half-way through the second paragraph and never actually reach the finish line. "I know. Me either." He buries his face in Jensen's stomach. "I want you so bad."
It's like something breaks loose. Jensen falls into him, uses his body to urge Jared's legs apart and lands heavily on top of him. He scrapes his teeth against Jared's throat, picks one particular spot where his neck meets his shoulder and worries the flesh there with strong sucks that make Jared so hard so fast he forgets to breathe for a while. Jared plants his heels into the backs of Jensen's thighs and bucks against him, makes them both hiss as their cocks line up and slide together. He spreads his fingers out on either side of Jensen's spine to feel the flex and give of his muscles, the softness of his skin, the slick sweat where it's gathered at the small of his back.
Jensen falls to his back just as it's getting good, jimmies the drawer open with one hand, something hollowly knocking around inside of it, finally gets his fingers around a slim bottle and presses it into Jared's chest.
"Are we gonna?" Jared asks, struck stupid. His face is too hot and his skin is too tight and suddenly it's as if he's fourteen years old again, confronted with his very first big boy crush, which he supposes is at least half true, in a way.
Without a word, Jensen arranges himself at the head of the bed, lays himself out with his knees bent and his feet spread far apart, his cock nestled in the cut of his thigh, as swollen and pink as his mouth. It's the prettiest and most irresistable invitation.
This is the first time anyone's ever touched Jensen this way. He's never felt a lube-slick finger circle his rim, stretch and pull and nudge inside. Jared feels as dismantled over the thought of it as he does over the heat inside of Jensen, the give of his body and all the work Jensen's putting into trying to relax into Jared's probing fingers. All the trust he sees in Jensen's eyes as they stare plainly at each other.
Gradually, the worried line between Jensen's brows smooths out, morphs into relief and then something hotter. Jensen begins to move, little experimental hitches of his hips punctuated by small groans when Jared drizzles more slick right onto his rim and sinks his fingers in deeper.
"C'mere," Jensen says, yanking Jared toward him, fumbling for the lube and using too much of it to slick up Jared's cock. He guides Jared on top of him. He's shaking some, or maybe they both are, Jared can't rightly tell, doesn't know if it matters because Jensen's fingers are notched alongside Jared's, lining his cock up, urging him to sink inside.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck," Jensen groans as Jared blankets him, pushes in just a little.
Everything in Jared's body freezes. His lungs, his heart, his mind.
"I didn't tell you to stop," Jensen says between gritted teeth.
"But you—" Jared cuts off on a groan as Jensen nudges his hips up, draws Jared further inside.
"I cuss all the time, and you goddamn well know that, now get in me. God, you feel fucking huge."
Jared knows from the jump that he's not gonna last long. Jensen's perfectly, incredibly tight, clenching so good around his cock, and the sounds he's making aren't doing a lot for Jared's stamina. Every single one of Jared's good or bad intentions dissolves into the warmth of Jensen's body as it opens up for him, the searing heat of his ass and the stretch of his rim, the splash of his spunk when Jensen comes from the skin-on-skin of friction of their stomachs.
"Don't pull out. Stay. Please." Jensen kisses him after he says it, clings to him, fingernails clawing into Jared's back and that's it. Jared's done, snaps his hips and fucks as deeply into Jensen as he can, balls drawing close to his body and flush against Jensen's ass when he comes, shoots over and over as he moans into Jensen's mouth.
They stay that way for a while, until their combined sweat and Jensen's come starts to grow cool and sticky between them. Jared pulls out, thinks about hauling Jensen into the shower to clean them up and decides that the energy expenditure isn't worth the reward. It's the most practicle application of physics he's used in a really long time.
"Thunderstorms in Texas," Jensen says, his voice a low rasp.
"Huh?" Jared says, brilliantly.
"The color of the sky. That strange gray-green. It's what your eyes look like right now."
They curl into each other, languid touches, loose tongues and Jensen takes the collar off of his southern accent the entire time, lets it wander.
They talk about Texas. Wide open spaces. Thunderstorms that you can see coming from miles away. All the times they rode out to meet those storms head on in that beat-up old truck Jensen used to drive. The way they ignored tornado warnings and tempted fate back then, sure of nothing except their own adolescent invincibility.
"I wanna go home," Jensen says after a while, when the edges of sleep begin creeping in on them.
"You are home." Jared takes one of Jensen's fingers into his mouth, sucks on it, rubs the ridges of Jensen's fingerprint against his teeth.
"This isn't home. It's more like some Hollywood subdivision of home."
"Then come home."
Jensen stretches out long beside him, drags out a sigh that sounds like it started somewhere deep inside of him. "It isn't easy."
"Sure it is," Jared says. "You just need to make it less hard."
The latch on the wooden gate has gone stubborn again, and Jared nearly spills the small stack of notebooks and textbooks he's carrying while he struggles to do the trick that gets the thing open. There's another trick to the lock on the front door, a certain jiggle Jared has to do with the key to get it to turn and he nails it on the first try, rushes to punch in the code on the security system before the thing starts to wail. A combination of his and Jensen's birthday. His month, Jensen's day.
The house is new to him, and after a month living here he still hasn't figured out the light switches, wonders what the neighbors think whenever he comes home at night and for a few minutes the place lights up like something outta Close Encounters.
Jensen's suitcase is sitting in the hallway where he dropped it, the tag that says LAX and AUS still attached to the handle, and Jared grins so wide it hurts.
Evidence of Jensen is all throughout the house. Family photos on endtables, his books on the shelves, a guitar signed by Hank Williams himself on prominent display in the living room. The warm, spicy smell of him is everywhere.
Jared can picture the path Jensen took on his way through the house. His shoes kicked to the side in the hallway, his jacket tossed over one of the stools in the kitchen. A half-full glass of water with a smudged chapstick print on the rim of it.
Jensen's in the back yard. There's potting soil all over their small porch and bright red flowers in pots scattered here and there and Jared's going to have to learn the names of them. Can't wait to learn the names of them.
"You're early," Jared says.
Jensen stands up to greet him, a grin on his face to match the one on Jared's. His hands are filthy, and rubbing them on his jeans doesn't help much. He still leaves muddy tracks on Jared's cheeks when he takes his face in his hands to kiss him. His chapstick tastes like cherries.
"I got four splinters in half an hour." Jensen tips his hand in Jared's direction, like a kid showing off his scars.
Jared takes him by the wrist and drags him inside. "C'mon. Lets get rid of 'em. There's a safety pin around here somewhere."
"Can you dig out the dirt while you're at it?"
"Maybe, but I kinda like you that way. A boy needs a little dirt under his fingernails."