The cursor on the blank screen blinked, in its quiet and insistent way, like it had been for the last hour and a half.
It wasn’t a taunt. Not really. More like an expectation.
Jensen hated that snide little blinking son of a bitch.
He reached out, fingers shaking some over the keyboard and typed ‘The.’ It was a good little word, a nice anonymous article, short and to the point. Multipurpose. Things could go anywhere from here. Jensen just needed to point out a direction. Set his internal compass to true north and get heading that way.
A second later he was hitting the delete button, three small but vehement jabs and away it went.
Easy come. Easy go.
Didn’t Vonnegut write that once? That or something close to it.
His spine popped as he leaned back in his desk chair, stretching his arms above his head, almost toppling backward when the old rotary phone on his desk jumped to life with a shrill ring. He gripped the edge of his desk for balance and stared at it.
He wouldn’t answer it. He was working. That was exactly what he would call this: work.
After the tenth ring, Jensen finally picked it up.
“I’m working,” he snapped into the receiver.
“And how’s that going for you?”
Jensen drew a hand across his mouth, painting a mental picture of his editor cloistered away in his high rise office five hundred miles to the south: Misha, leaning forward in his cushy leather armchair, sporting a hungry, expectant sort of look in his eyes.
“Ask me tomorrow,” Jensen replied.
“Have you tried the Brother?”
Jensen reached out a bare foot and pinched the vinyl covering his electric typewriter between his toes. Everyone had their superstitions, and Jensen wasn’t the type to laugh in the face of tradition. Any decent writing from him came out of that typewriter. Damn the skeptics with their criticism and tales of computer files and easier editing. Jensen liked the clack-clack-clack of words being formed on the old workhorse. It always made him feel like he was getting somewhere.
Somewhere was exactly where he needed to go. Maybe he’d take a walk. Grab his tape recorder and go for a stroll. Something good just might come out of it. Anything had to be better than what he was doing right now. Sitting in this box of a room, suffocating under reference books, deadlines, crumpled take out bags, and blank, frighteningly empty pages.
“Jensen?” Misha prodded.
“Ask me tomorrow,” Jensen repeated.
“I plan on it,” Misha said, and then added, “In person.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Jensen said, the relief he felt dissolving a second later when Misha’s words kicked in all the way. “Wait a minute. What?”
“I sent you at least ten emails, Jensen. At last count about seven messages on your cell phone.”
Jensen started digging through the shuffle of papers in his desk drawer, a sinking sensation putting down roots in his stomach, and shit, he didn’t even know what day it was. For a split second he hated Misha and that little miasmic cloud of reality that the man always shoved into his day-to-day operation.
“Let me guess,” Misha went on. “Your cell phone’s probably dead at the bottom of your laundry basket, and you unhooked the internet sometime last week, and right now you’re wondering how far the cord on your pre-Industrial Era phone will reach. And you’re wondering that, because you’re frantically looking for that manila envelope I sent you a month ago, and probably a calendar, because you have no fucking clue what day it is.” Christ almighty, the man sounded smug.
Jensen rounded the side of his desk, the cord knocking a haphazard pile of heavy books off of the corner. Jensen snarled into the receiver, baring his teeth as if Misha could see it through the phone line. Actually, the transcendental son of a bitch probably could.
“It was a distraction,” Jensen said as his fingers flew through some unopened mail that he discovered on top of a bookshelf. “The internet, that is,” he added for clarification. If he couldn’t manage to think and converse in full sentences, then how the hell was he supposed to write in them?
“So we’ve moved on to that phase, have we?” Jensen could hear the rustle of Misha arranging his clothes over the phone. “Good to know.”
“What does that even mean?” Jensen asked. He found the envelope, shoved between a couple of journals on his book shelf, Misha’s handwriting in bold black marker across the back: ‘Open this now. No, not later. Now.’ Jensen did a little victory shuffle that resulted in the base of the phone landing with a steely clang on the hardwood floor.
Misha’s chuckle came across the line. “Found it, did you? Good. I’ll save you the effort of, y’know, actually opening it. Are you ready? ‘Cause here we go. It’s the fourth of January, which means two things. First, you’ve had three days to get over the hangover, and second, WriterWorks starts in two days, which means you have be to the airport tomorrow morning to escort yours truly to the horse and pony show. Next, you have to clear a path through your spare bedroom for me. And then, let’s not forget, you have to be ready to lead the students in your workshop to greatness in approximately forty-six hours.”
“That sounded more like five things,” Jensen pointed out. “Plus, I got past that hangover two days ago.”
“Well, you’re already half way there, then. Besides, the last three things are sub-clauses of the second.”
Jensen couldn’t help but laugh. “Am I gonna have to draw a diagram? Some sort of color coded schematic?”
“Leave that up to me. That’s why you pay me an absolutely obscene percentage. Or will pay me, once we get you published again. Which we will.”
Jensen smiled again. That his editor had a sense of humor and any amount of optimism at all after the constant wringer that Jensen put him through was a miracle in and of itself. Trying to wrangle writers had to be harder than herding cats, and Misha was the best, with dedication matched by no one. Either that, or he had a masochistic streak a mile and a half wide. Jensen wasn’t so sure that there was a difference. “Thanks,” Jensen said. For an author, he found himself at a constant loss for words.
Hell, that might have been half his problem.
“Don’t mention it, my boy.” They were both quiet for a couple of seconds. Misha cleared his throat. “Time for a game plan. You’re going to take a shower. I know you need one. Then wash that godforsaken bathrobe I know you have on. When you’re done with that, chain yourself to your desk for the next five hours, and write me something worth reading.”
Jensen frowned at his bathrobe, picked at the threadbare collar. “Easier said than done, Misha.”
“Don’t say that. It’s inside of that head of yours somewhere. You just have to dig it out.”
“Then make sure you pack a shovel.”
Misha ignored him. “Don’t forget to pick me up. I expect a week chock full of absolutely despicable debauchery.”
“On it, captain,” Jensen said, feeling a little better for the pep talk.
Jensen sighed through his smile as he hung up the phone.
The problem with writing something really good one time is that folks pretty much tended to expect it to happen again.
And wasn’t that just the rub.
Jensen had a fondness for airports. He liked the bustle of them, could really tap into the charge in the air, that sensation of excitement underlined by the vague smell of jet fuel.
He stood in the luggage claim as he waited for Misha, watching the carousel spin around like a huge metal snake, crawling into its rubber covered cave and emerging with another load of suitcases on its back.
Maybe he’d try sci-fi on for size. He shoved his hands in his coat pockets and frowned as he considered it. Sure, the literati may snub their collective noses at him, and the New Yorker would probably strike his name from their records for the remainder of eternity, but it could be fun. A departure. That’s what he could call it.
“Excuse me?” A voice from behind him piped up. “Mr. Ackles? Are you Jensen Ackles? You wrote Limited Break, right?” Texas accent, the vowel sounds stretching out so far they almost needed their own time zone. Jensen missed that sound. It reminded him of home.
Jensen plastered on a smile as he turned. He could never quite get used to this part of the gig.
He had a handful of pulp novels under his belt that to this day continued to make him wince and wish that changing his name was still a viable option. He managed to land a couple of short stories in the New Yorker, made the rounds in a few literary magazines and wrote one novel to great critical success, but not so much on the financial side of things. Nowadays, it was all but absent outside of college bookstore shelves. He wasn’t famous, not by any stretch, but he would occasionally trip across someone who recognized him from the photo on the back cover of one of his books.
“Right on both counts,” Jensen said, peering up at the stranger. He looked to be younger than Jensen by a couple of years, wide eyes peeking through unruly bangs that were mashed down by a snug knit hat pulled low on his head. He was bundled neck high in a wool coat and scarf, a dusty colored backpack slouching between his feet.
He was pointing a wide grin in Jensen’s direction. And while Jensen wasn’t too sure what to make of it, he was suddenly slammed full force with the unerring certainty that he could write something about this guy. In truth, Jensen figured that he could write at least a chapter or two about the guy's cheekbones alone, which were high and angular and carried a little bit of a blush, perhaps because of the cold. Yeah, two chapters would just about fit the bill. His fingers started to itch.
In the meantime, the stranger was still staring at him expectantly, the same broad smile on his face, only now it was starting to go a little crooked and unsure.
Jensen blinked, snapped to attention and noticed how the guy had a hand extended toward him, fingers poking through the cut off ends of his gloves. "Jared," the guy was saying. "I'm Jared Padalecki. It's so great to meet you."
There had been enough run-ins like this one over the course of Jensen's career, mainly star struck co-eds who hadn't seen enough of the world to know that what he did really wasn't that big of a deal. All signs pointed to the fact that everything he’d ever written was nine parts luck and one part shoddy judgment. "Always happy to meet a reader," Jensen said, taking Jared's hand. Jared's fingers traced warmly along the inside of his wrist as they shook, Jared’s large hand engulfing his own, and Jensen had to resist the urge to lick his lips. Jesus Christ, he needed to get laid.
“I’m a huge fan,” Jared continued, and nervously shifted his weight. “I must have read your novel at least three times. And then there’s that story you did that showed up in the Boston Review, ‘The Last to Tread Water.’ Speaking of reviews, I read your critique of Pynchon’s latest from a couple of years ago. The one about how there may be a good story buried inside that book somewhere. I couldn’t agree more.”
Jensen crossed his arms, ran a thumb along his lower lip. He was at a bit of a loss under the not-quite nonsensical onslaught pouring from Jared, which continued without a hitch. “Because, well, if there is one in there, I haven’t quite found it yet. Haven’t stopped looking, though. The guy’s a genius, sure, I’m just not so sure exactly how or where that genius is.”
Jensen nodded, feeling awkward and out of his element, and a little grateful that Jared wasn’t letting him sneak a word in edgewise, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and his mind an echoing blank. Salvation came in the form of Misha, bellowing his name in a booming voice that rattled and bounced off of the bright tiled walls of the airport.
Jared glanced over Jensen’s shoulder, and then surprised him by pulling out a paperback copy of Jensen’s novel from his backpack, dog-eared and missing half the front cover. A dozen placeholders stuck out of it, multi-colored and marking pages all helter skelter. “Sorry, I’m sure you’re busy. And I know I’m coming off like a total creep or something, but could you? Would you mind?” Jared asked, uncapping a ballpoint pen with his teeth and holding the book out to Jensen.
“Happily,” Jensen said, glad to have something to do with his hands as he took the ratty book and scratched an inscription on the title page. He handed it back and Jared shoved it in his coat pocket, thankfully without looking at the writing.
Jared huffed out an embarrassed little laugh. “I’m not supposed to do this, am I? Well…or…ah…” he stuttered. “What I mean is that I really appreciate your work. That’s what I’m supposed to say, right?”
“Sounds about right to me. Good to meet you, Jared,” Jensen said, clapping the guy on the shoulder.
“You too, Jensen. Or, um, Mr. Ackles.” He anxiously adjusted his hat a little further down. “You have no idea,” Jared grinned at him for another second before shouldering his bag and bounding in long strides toward the sliding doors.
Jensen looked after him as Jared crossed the lanes to the taxi station, teeth worrying his bottom lip. Misha came to a stop beside him, silently following Jensen’s line of sight. “Who’s that?” Misha asked after a second.
“I have no clue.” Jensen tilted his head to the side to keep Jared in his view. “I don’t think that I’d mind finding out, though.”
“You know,” Misha began sagely, “they say that there are only two kinds of stories in this world, and one of them starts out ‘a stranger rolls into town’.”
Jensen hummed appreciatively. “How’s the other one go?”
“I don’t think that matters too much right about now.”
“You’re probably right.” Jensen grabbed the suitcase from Misha and started the trek to the parking garage.
Misha whistled low when they approached Jensen’s car, a sleek, cherry red Aston Martin crouching low and beautiful over the two parking spaces. “How’s that advance treating you?” Misha asked, sliding a hand along the rounded curve of the hood.
Jensen shrugged. “It could use a wax. New England winters are a bitch on the paint job.”
The majority of the advance on his next novel had been spent on this car. In retrospect, it was probably not the most logical decision of his life. Especially since summer showed up late and winter hung around much past its welcome in this part of the world. But logic had gotten balled up, chewed up and thrown out the window the very first instant that he’d leaned back in the driver’s seat, put his hands on the wheel and felt the throaty purr of the engine vibrate through his body.
“This thing probably cost more than the entirety of my higher education.” Misha was staring at him pointedly over the cream-colored canvas of the convertible roof.
“Yours and mine combined,” Jensen agreed. “But I seem to remember a certain someone telling me that I needed to treat myself every once in a while.”
“I was thinking something more along the lines of a steak dinner,” Misha said. He opened the door and settled into the passenger seat. He touched the teak dashboard, almost petting it. “But I have to admit that this works. And when did you start taking my advice, anyhow?”
“When it falls in line with what I’m gonna do anyway.”
The streets of Jensen’s neighborhood were busier than usual for a small college town in the midst of winter break. Folks were walking around, the folded paper maps handed out by the college orientation staff getting whipped around in their hands by the constant chilly breeze.
Jensen drove past a line of signs hammered into the ground. Black arrows and ‘WriterWorks’ were boldly stamped across their bright, fluorescent pink surfaces.
In Jensen’s estimation, WriterWorks was something akin to a meat market, where young up and comers came to study at the feet of the old and washed up. He wasn’t too sure of his placement in this hierarchy of events, but Jensen still had a soft spot for the whole song and dance. He’d gotten his first story published because of it, ten years ago at the ripe age of twenty.
It was four days worth of workshops and symposiums hosted at the college, capped off with a big old back patting party at the end for the lucky few that managed to score book deals. Unpublished writers came bearing hopeful expressions, resumes, manuscripts, and lofty daydreams about hooking up with an editor or perhaps an agent. Published writers came to share war stories and drink. Usually heavily, in equal parts and all at the same time.
“Have you given any more thought to your workshop?” Misha asked, bumping into Jensen’s shoulder as he reached behind him to grab his briefcase from the back seat.
“Sure,” Jensen said, “I’ve thought about it.”
“Do you care to expand on that statement?”
“I prefer an atmosphere of spontaneity inside the classroom.”
Misha pulled out an envelope. Jensen believed that there had to be no end to Misha’s stock of manila envelopes. He took a stack of papers from it, neatly clipped together. “Just in case your spontaneity runs out, I’ve taken the liberty of gathering together a few talking points for you. A sketchy sort of lesson plan, you could call it.”
Jensen kept one eye on the road and the other on the bundle in Misha’s hands. He read the boldface type across the top. Breaking Blocks: Practical Techniques for Overcoming Writer’s Block. Below was a cramped outline, and oh god, bullet points. He saw bullet points.
“Maybe you could also take the liberty of teaching it for me while you’re at it?” Jensen suggested.
“I would if I could. But these guys want to hear it from the genuine article. A real, living, breathing writer.”
“Any ideas where we can find one of those at the last minute?” He was teasing. Or at least he was mostly kidding around.
“I’m willing to bet that I’m sitting next to one.”
“Wouldn’t put too much money on that.”
Jensen turned onto his street and slowed down at the curb. His house was small, built in the cottage style. A porch wrapped around the front, complete with the quintessential creaking wooden swing. He’d converted the garret room into his writing space as soon as he signed the paperwork on the place. It got great light in the morning, and the low, slanted ceilings gave it a cozy, almost burrow-like feeling.
He’d moved into the house about six months back, when he was still clinging to the idea that a change of location would fix whatever was misfiring in the writing part of his brain. The first few months of this northern winter saw him questioning his decision.
Winter brown grass broke free in patches from the thin layer of snow on the ground. The sun was bright, glinting off of the street’s damp pavement, but a bank of dark clouds was blowing in from the southwest, dividing the sky in half. Light and dark. The air smelled like snow and fireplaces.
Jensen apologetically shrugged as he kicked at the newspapers littering the mat at his front door. He unlocked the bolt and turned to his editor. “What do you think about sci-fi?”
Misha frowned, pale blue eyes sharply considering him. He opened his mouth to speak, closed it, and then tried again. “It would be a departure.”
Jensen tossed a grin his way and led them inside. “My thoughts exactly.”
“About tonight,” Misha said, startling Jensen from the review he was working on. He crossed from the doorway and leaned over Jensen’s desk, absently straightening a stack of papers. “I was thinking drinks at that watering hole we passed coming in here. Maybe seven o’clock, which really means eight, so we’ll get there by nine, right?”
Jensen leaned back in his chair, shoving a hand through his hair. He should have known that valiantly avoiding Misha for the last two hours in order to claim a lack of short-term memory wouldn’t quite do the trick.
“Yeah, about that…” Jensen began, mentally flitting through excuses.
“No,” Misha said, shaking his head adamantly. “No excuses. Debauchery, Jensen. I’m new in town, and welcoming myself to the neighborhood more than once would be in very bad taste. You’re coming. End of discussion.”
Jensen tried to suss out his reasoning before opening his mouth to speak. Explaining to his editor that his last jaunt into the Grind probably landed him on the nix list for life, and that his bar tab at the joint was approaching something akin to the gross national deficit probably wasn’t the best way to keep the mood light in the house. “I just. I have a thing.”
“I knew it.” Misha snapped his fingers with a wry grin. “Mild mannered writer by day, masked avenger by night, prowler of these mean streets. Well, hero, take a night off.”
Jensen couldn’t help his smile. “You’re right. I’m a superhero. Busted.”
“Your secret’s safe with me, I won’t tell a soul.”
“I guess that makes you my Lois Lane, doesn’t it? Or maybe Mary Jane. I’ve always thought you’d make a hot red head.”
“Enough with the pop culture references.”
“You started it,” Jensen shot back.
“And now I’m finishing it,” Misha said as he strode out of Jensen’s study. “You’re coming.”
“What if I said that I was writing?” Jensen hollered after him.
There was a squeak of rubber-soled shoes stopping on the polished wood floor of the landing, and then Misha stuck his head into the doorway. There it was: that piercing, raptor gaze that unfailingly made Jensen nervous as all hell. “Are you?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. I could be,” Jensen taunted him.
Misha grinned and disappeared from the doorway once more. “That’s the good thing about pens and paper,” he said, his voice growing fainter as he descended the stairs. “They’re eminently portable.”
“Fucker,” Jensen called out, good-naturedly.
“Aw, I love you too, handsome.”
The turnout at the bar wasn’t great, even for a Sunday night. The college crowd was still mostly absent, replaced by folks who were in town just for the festivities. A group of people stood bellied up to the bar, all tweed sports jackets with those leather patches at the elbows. There were a few people he knew amongst the ranks, and Jensen recognized a couple more from the back jackets of book covers.
In the interest of self-preservation and the avoidance of a sticky conversation with the owner of the joint, Jensen kept to a dim booth near the back. He had a baseball hat pulled down low over his forehead, sat hunched over the dregs of his third pint, shoving stale pretzels into his mouth and pointedly refusing to make eye contact with anyone.
“Look at what the wind blew in,” Misha announced, back from the bar and juggling another round. Jared loomed tall and grinning over Misha’s shoulder.
He slid in next to Jensen in the rounded booth. “You’ve got to be the most conspicuously inconspicuous person in this place,” Jared said.
“Good to see my plan has come to fruition.” Jensen scooted over a little to make room in the horseshoe-shaped booth when Misha hemmed him in on the other side.
Jared had ditched his hat and his coat from earlier, and had on a sweatshirt with Columbia emblazoned on the front. “You go there?” Jensen asked.
“Used to, yeah. Finished my MA last year.”
“Jared’s a writer,” Misha cut in, leaning forward, punching a weighty emphasis into the last word.
Now that the cat was out of the bag, Jensen expected a litany of questions, pleas for advice and maybe a manuscript or two to pop out of thin air. He was impressed when Jared kept quiet, only sheepishly smiling while he stirred his cocktail with one long finger. “You any good?” Jensen asked, a healthy dose of professional curiosity winning out. Admittedly, it wasn’t the most tactful question in the world, but the beer was plentiful and his tongue felt a little loose.
He tried not to stare when Jared sucked the tip of his finger into his mouth and shot him a heated, sidelong glance before answering. “I don’t know. I hope so.”
Jared shifted some, his leg brushing against Jensen’s and then moving away. Jensen hid his ridiculous pang of disappointment with another question. “Published?”
“Only in the Columbia Review.”
Misha sputtered on a swallow of beer and managed to choke out, “Only?” He wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand.
“The way I see it,” Jared explained, “they’re under a kind of contractual obligation to put to print at least something that I’ve done. With what I paid in tuition, I could have bought a small tropical island somewhere in the Caribbean. Grown sugar cane or something. Export molasses. Spend all my time wearing one of those white suits and a straw hat. Besides, I hear they have excellent rum down there.”
Jensen tipped his beer in a silent salute and drank half of it down, trying to wipe away the mental image of a darkly suntanned Jared, barefooted and bare-chested in some subtropical paradise. It was easier said than done.
“I’ve sent stuff out everywhere,” Jared explained. “No luck, though.”
“And now you’re here.” Jensen waved a hand.
“Yeah. I signed on for a mentorship for this week. Thought I’d hit the jackpot, only…” Jared looked toward the group of people still at the bar, and then leaned forward. The other two crowded in close. “The guy’s kinda a dick,” he quietly finished.
“Spill,” Jensen said, his shoulder bumped up against Jared’s in a way that was really quite distracting.
“I’m staying with Professor Reedy.”
Jensen threw himself against the back of the seat with a groan. Mark Reedy, professor extraordinaire, and the resident superstar of the college’s creative writing department. He published with such regularity that you could set your damn watch to it. One book a year. Usually won half a dozen awards every time he decided to put pen to paper. Reedy was amazingly talented, prolific, and an absolutely insufferable ass.
“You wouldn’t believe it,” Jared went on. “He has a shrine built to his National Book Award in his foyer. Damn thing smacks you flat in the face as soon as you walk through the front door. He keeps the plaque under lock and key in this display cabinet. There’s track lighting, angels singing on high, the whole shebang.”
“Did you take a picture?” Jensen asked. “Tell me you took a picture.”
Jared shook his head. “I’m afraid to get too close. There’s probably some electric force field around it. Or a trap door that leads to an incinerator. Or worse, the dungeon where he keeps all his best and brightest students chained to a bank of word processors, pumping out page after decent page.”
“You’re probably on to something with that,” Jensen said. “It’s the only logical explanation.”
“Exactly.” Jared punctuated the remark with a light touch to Jensen’s knee beneath the table. One gentle squeeze, and Jensen suffered through a startling second when he was fairly sure he was about to swallow his own tongue.
Misha surreptitiously pointed a thumb toward the bar. “Don’t look now, but it seems like you can add superhuman hearing to the list of the man’s attributes.”
Reedy was heading toward the table, another man in tow. “Time to take one for the team,” Jared said. He downed the rest of his drink in one gulp and shot over to run interception.
Misha hissed across the table once Jared was out of earshot. “Jensen,” he said, his tone serious. “That’s a fun night if ever I saw one. Smart, too, which isn’t particularly necessary, but definitely a bonus.”
“You’re not wrong.”
“Then what’s stopping you?”
“What if he’s not into me?” Jensen yanked the brim of his hat a little further down when Reedy glanced in their direction. Jared smoothly sidestepped to block his view.
“Writers are supposed to chronicle the human condition, or something like that," Misha said. "You guys are supposed to be observant. Therefore, observe.”
“You don’t even know if he’s gay.”
“It’s pretty obvious that he's into you,” Misha pointed out. “And if he’s not, make him read something you’ve written. Hell, I go a little gay for you every time I read your writing. Can’t be helped.”
Jared shook hands with Reedy and his cohort and joined Jensen and Misha again. He collapsed into the booth with a loud exhale. “His editor,” he explained, “from Putnam.”
“Putnam’s here?” Misha said with a slight jump. “Shit.” Without another word, he shot from the table and dashed over to the crowd of writers across the room.
When Jared gave him a questioning look, Jensen explained, “Acquisitions editor for HarperCollins. Job to do and all that.”
“He’s your editor?” Jared asked.
“He used to be my agent, then he got this cushy job with the publishing house and just kept me on. So yeah, agent, editor, self-appointed life coach. The only guy I really trust in the business.”
With Misha gone, it would have been possible for Jensen to slide further along the bench seat and stretch out. He blamed the sluggish beer buzz for keeping him close to Jared’s side. “So where have you sent your manuscripts?” Jensen said.
“Everywhere,” Jared answered. “Nice little pile of rejections to show for it.”
“I remember my first rejection letter. I had the fucker framed. Still have it somewhere.”
“At least you got a letter.” Jared peeked at him from beneath the fringe of his long bangs. “The first place I tried sent me a rejection post-it note. I thought it was a nice touch.”
Another round bit the dust, and Jensen was feeling light-headed with the buzz wearing off, his feet pleasantly numb and his arms feeling weighted down. Jared ditched his sweatshirt at some point, stripped down to a t-shirt that accentuated the shape of his shoulders and the gentle curve of his upper arms. There was a small pool of sweat collecting in the hollow of his throat, and Jared’s speech was getting a little foggy and slurred, the lazy Texas coming out front and center.
“So I kinda geeked out at you at the airport today,” Jared said, a blush of embarrassment or booze blooming red spots on his cheeks. “I’m not always like that.”
“I’m starting to figure as much.” Jensen shrugged it off. “It’s alright, I get that all the time,” he lied.
Jared raised his eyebrows. “Do you?”
“No, not really.”
“Well, you should.”
The bar was emptying out, the crowd dissipating, and Jensen decided to make himself scarce right along with them. “You need a ride?” Jensen asked.
“Wouldn’t mind one.”
Jared pressed a hand into the small of his back as they left the bar. The cold air was a shock after the stuffy warmth inside the place. Jensen shivered against it, and quickened his steps toward his car. “Reedy’s house?” he asked.
“I was thinking,” Jared said with a shy look, “I would love to see your office. The place that you write? If it’s not too late. Or if you don’t mind. Am I being too forward? I’m being too forward, aren’t I?”
“I write at home. Well, I sorta write there. And no, it’s not too forward.” Jensen wanted to do something ridiculous, like bless whatever goddess of fate had smiled down on him this evening.
He was still feeling the afterimage of Jared’s hand on his back. He wondered what Jared would taste like, what it would feel like to plaster his hands on Jared’s back and feel the shift of muscle beneath his skin, how it would feel to have Jared pressing him into his mattress, or the wall, or fuck it, even the kitchen table. He cursed his imagination for its crappy timing and its sudden and distracting kick into overdrive.
“This is your car?” Jared asked, his eyebrows raised.
“Why is everyone always so surprised?” Jensen mused.
“I was thinking you’d drive a pick-up or something. Red, rusty.”
“Like the character of Josie in Limited Break? That was my character, Jared. It’s not me. I’m nowhere near that interesting.”
“The character had to come from somewhere, right?”
“Well, it didn’t come from me. Or, I guess in a way it sort of did,” Jensen mused, unlocking Jared’s door and moving around to his own.
Jensen hated this part of the night: the ride back to the house sitting next to someone who you hoped against hope you were going to end up in bed with, but in the meantime you were supposed to kick back and talk about the weather or some other mundane thing. It was one of those social niceties that Jensen had never truly bought into. It was goddamn awkward, there was no better word for it.
He kept one eye on Jared’s profile on the short ride home, let his eyes trace the shape of his smile, only half visible and doused in shadows.
Jensen let them in through the front door, leading them toward the kitchen. Misha’s bags were still piled in the hallway. “Do you live here by yourself?” Jared asked, eyeing the suitcases sitting on the polished floor.
“Misha’s staying with me for the week, but generally, yeah.”
He’d considered a roommate for a brief period of time when he’d first moved in, but figured it would be too much of a distraction from his work. That, and the idea of having another person mucking around gave him a bit of a queasy feeling. Most of the time he was not fit for polite human interaction. He kept odd hours, could easily fall into a nocturnal schedule, had a tendency to play weird music too loudly first thing in the morning, and too often found himself making lasagna at two o’clock at night.
Jensen had long ago come to the conclusion that he was the eternal grad student, behaviorally, at least. He’d made his peace with the fact, but thought it unnecessary to inflict it on anyone else.
He grabbed a pair of beers from the fridge and motioned toward the staircase in the hall. “C’mon, I write up here.”
Having Jared in his study was odd. It made the tiny room feel twice as small. The guy was tall, broad shouldered, just plain big all over, and Jensen was certain that if he rose up to his full height, the top of his head would brush the slanted ceiling in places. With the two of them in there, it felt overcrowded.
His study was a combination of old-fashioned and modern. An antique mahogany desk sat against one wall with a computer atop it that was so new it still smelled like plastic. His old typewriter sat on a brand new stand at a right angle to the desk. His Dutch clock, a dusty family heirloom, ticked quietly away on the wall right beside a vintage Grateful Dead poster from their last run at the Fillmore.
Jensen looked around, a little embarrassed by the clutter and apparent lack of organization. There was mail heaped everywhere, books pulled off of jumbled shelves and left in precarious stacks. A random roll of paper towels occupied one of the two chairs in the room; his bathrobe (freshly washed and dried, thank you very much) was draped over the other. A backlog of unread literary magazines was piled nearly waist high in the corner. Half a ream of paper was stacked on a corner table, covered with cramped single space typing. It was mainly character profiles that Jensen had put there purposefully. A decoy to get Misha off his scent.
The whole room added up to one frighteningly enormous fire hazard. In all fairness, it was probably a pretty accurate physical manifestation of Jensen’s state of mind these past few months, but that didn’t mean that he wanted Jared to know anything about it.
He’d already guessed that Jared learned through touch, judging by the sheer number of small nudges he’d given him at the bar, and by the way he subconsciously leaned in toward Jensen. It turned out that this characteristic extended to Jared’s environment as well. Jared moved around the room, running a hand along the books on his shelf. His fingertips brushed Jensen’s cluttered desk, pressed into the back of his chair.
Watching Jared move around in his space, Jensen found himself mildly disconcerted and vaguely turned on all at the same time. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of the combination.
“How long have you lived here?” Jared asked, eyeing a stack of cardboard boxes in the corner of the room.
“Six months or so. I’m still not sold on the joint.”
“Seems nice enough,” Jared said, distracted. “I share a walk-in closet with two other guys in Manhattan. Your place is like a palace.” He brushed past Jensen, touching his upper arm for a second. “This thing is a dinosaur.” He fingered the cloth wrapped cord of Jensen’s telephone, and squared it to the corner of his desk. It was an ancient thing, black as ink and heavy enough to be used as a weapon.
“It used to sit on the desk of one Tennessee Williams, at least according to my mother. She gave it to me as a gift after I’d published my first book.”
Jared started, his eyes going wide, and his hand freezing a fraction of an inch above the phone. “Are you serious?” he asked. “And it still works?” He picked up the receiver, held it to his ear and smiled. “I’ll be damned,” he said with wonder.
“Yeah. I’m hoping it still has some sort of mojo to it, like one day I’ll just pick it up and put it to my ear, and a Pulitzer will spring out of my forehead. Fully formed. Really, I think it’s my mother’s not-so-subtle way of reminding me to call her.”
Jared moved on, homing in on Jensen’s typewriter. He touched the faded blue vinyl cover and looked over to Jensen, who gave him permission with a wave of his hand. Jared peeled off the cover and skimmed his fingernail across the keys, much like a person would touch a piano.
“I recognize this,” Jared said. “It’s from the back covers of your books, isn’t it?”
Jensen nodded with a smile. He’d always objected to using a photo of himself on his books, preferring to go the route of a vague non-descriptive half a paragraph about the author on the inside jacket. After a lot of cajoling, he’d relented under the pressure from his publisher. The one he used was from a decade ago. A black and white photo of him sitting on the back porch of the house where he’d rented a room during graduate school, the typewriter set up on a desk made of cinderblocks and two-by-four’s, an extension cord winding its way through an open window behind him.
He’d always liked that house. He’d been able to think there.
“This is the thing you wrote Limited Break on, right?” Jared asked, lining the fingers of his right hand along the worn out home keys of the typewriter.
“The one and only, yeah,” Jensen said, joining Jared in standing in front of the old metal monster. “I’m surprised it actually survived. It took me nine months to write that book. I lugged that thing over a dozen state lines in the process. I swear it has more mileage on it than a twenty year old Honda.”
“Only nine months?”
“It’s a pretty short book, Jared. I was on a roll, besides.”
Jared did a slow spin around the room, taking in all of the details, the junk muddling the shelves, the peculiar slapdash of furniture. He looked like a kid seeing Disney World for the first time.
“I once saw Arthur Miller,” Jared announced out of left field. “Freshman year at NYU. Ages ago. He was sitting on this bench in Central Park. I remember it was an absolutely beautiful day, pigeons all over the goddamn place, but he was all wrapped up in this heavy coat, like it was the middle of winter. People were walking past him, as if he was any other old man sitting on any other park bench. I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to go up to him, say hi, or thanks, or something. But here I was, just some snot-nosed kid barely out of high school. Wet behind the ears. What the hell was I supposed to say to him?”
Jensen wondered where he was going with this, opted to keep quiet and suck down another sip of his beer.
“He was reading a magazine. It was the Antioch Review. I hadn’t heard of it before.”
“And you were a creative writing major?” Jensen said incredulously.
“Not at that point. I started out an English major. Which probably is an even worse excuse.” Jared waved it away. “Anyway, I found a copy of it in the library, thinking that if it was good enough for him, then it had to be good enough for me. Your short story was in it. The one about the guy who kept on breaking into other people’s swimming pools.”
A distinct wave of nausea passed through Jensen at the thought that Miller—Miller of all people—might have read something out of his senior portfolio. Jensen closed his eyes, shot up a silent prayer that the man’s copy had been missing a certain four pages somewhere close to the middle.
“I thought that story was amazing,” Jared continued, “it stuck with me for days.”
Jensen groaned a bit. “You were young. Impressionable.”
“Sure I was. We all are at that age, but that’s beside the point. The point I’m trying to make—badly, it would appear—is that it hit me. And you were young when you wrote it, right? Twenty, twenty-one?"
Jensen tried to remember. “Seventeen, I think. I kept it shoved in a drawer for a few years. Yanked it out again when my portfolio came up a little skinny and I needed another short fiction sample.”
“I guess that proves my point. You have a way at looking at the world, a different way of describing it. It sort of terrifies me into thinking I should just give up while I’m ahead, but I like it. In fact, I’m pretty much head over heels with it.”
“Jared,” Jensen began, slowly measuring his words, “that has got to be the longest and most convoluted pick up line I’ve ever heard in my life.”
“You thought that I was just saying that to…” Jared trailed off, uneasily shifting his weight from foot to foot.
Jensen managed to hide his wince, suddenly certain that he’d been reading Jared wrong the whole damn time. “Never mind,” he said quickly.
He started to turn away, his thoughts casting around for a way to salvage whatever was left of the evening when Jared grabbed him, fingers pressing hard into the muscles of his shoulders. All the air left his lungs in a surprised whoosh and then Jared was kissing him. His mouth was hot, and Jensen noticed dimly that he tasted like whiskey sours, a little too sweet, but Jensen wasn’t going to complain. Their collision sent Jensen off balance, tipping backward, the sharp corner of his desk jabbing into his ass. Jensen slammed a hand down to steady himself, the other latching onto the back of Jared’s neck.
The old telephone spoke up, the ringer making a quiet, tinny sound of protest as it started to tip off of the desk, and Jared broke the kiss fast, catching it before it could topple to the floor.
“Close call. It’s irreplaceable,” Jared said, laughter mixing in. Jared dove forward again, his hair ticking Jensen’s jaw when he kissed along the column of Jensen’s throat, moved up to lightly bite on Jensen’s earlobe. Jared’s breath in Jensen’s ear sent a shiver coursing through him. Jared pressed into him, hands on his hips pulling them flush together, so close that they might as well have been standing in the same place.
“So much for foreplay,” Jensen said, panting a little.
Jared backed off for a second, breathing hard through his mouth. A sort of puzzled expression dawned on his face. He buried a hand in Jensen’s hair, his thumb rubbing along his temple. “What do you think I’ve been doing all night?”
“Fair enough,” Jensen laughed, sliding up to sit on his desk and pulling Jared toward him with a fist bunched in his shirt. Jared’s mouth was open when he got there, and Jensen licked in, feeling the smooth, hard surface of Jared’s teeth, the slickness of the roof of his mouth. Jared filled the space between his legs, pressing in closer, and Jensen hooked his ankle around the back of Jared’s leg.
With a groan, Jared rocked into Jensen, sending him in a backward slide on the polished surface of his desk. There was a loud thunk when a solid glass paperweight hit the ground, followed a second later by the whispered shuffle of papers cascading to the floor. The small of Jensen’s back jabbed into his wide computer monitor, and it ricocheted dangerously close to the edge.
Jared made a thin, keening noise of want and broke their kiss. His eyes were dark, pupils blown wide and high spots of blush colored his cheeks. “Maybe we should move this somewhere a little less destructive?”
Jensen kissed him again, fuck, he couldn’t stop kissing him. He gave Jared’s bottom lip a small bite. “Oh god, yes. Please.”
Jensen was a back guy. Some guys were into asses, or chests, or hell, even feet, and whereas Jensen could definitely appreciate a nice ass or a sculpted stomach, he really got off on a gorgeous set of shoulders. As far as fetishes went, it was pretty vanilla. But he couldn’t help himself, didn’t really want to, truth be told.
Jensen followed Jared through his bedroom doorway, kicking the door closed behind him. Jared peeled his shirt up over his head without turning around. The sight made Jensen stop in his tracks, take a staggering step backward to lean against the door. All of the air seemed to have been suddenly vacuumed out of the room, taking Jensen’s lungs right along with it.
Jensen let his fingers curl against the wooden surface of the door, and he bit down on his bottom lip as he watched Jared unhook his belt.
Jared’s back was…remarkable. All graceful lines; from the dip of his spine to the curve of his sides, narrowing down to his hips. His skin was naturally a little dark, despite the winter. His back was dotted with darker spots, little moles that broke up the expanse of perfect, olive-tinted skin. Jensen watched the shift of his muscles as Jared worked at his belt, transfixed by the movement of his shoulder blades. He wanted to run his hands down the center, feel the line of his spine, all the small knobs of bone there. There was a slight gleam of sweat at the base of Jared’s back bone, right above the waist of his pants, and Jensen needed to press his tongue to it, wanted to taste him.
Jensen pressed the heel of his hand against his dick, hard as hell. All of his nerve endings lighting up like fireworks. Jared was turning him inside out and wasn’t even aware that he was doing it.
Jared partially turned toward him, half of a smile visible in his profile. Jensen’s eyes followed the elegant curve of his neck, and he gritted his teeth against a stab of heat that shot through him. “Everything alright?” Jared asked, his voice low and thick.
“I’d say so, yeah,” Jensen stammered, and crossed the room to come up behind Jared. He spread his hands across Jared’s shoulders, buried his nose in Jared’s hair and breathed in deep. He smelled musky, maybe a little like sandalwood. It made his hips jump forward, rubbing into Jared’s ass in an instinctive hunt for friction. He bit the spot where Jared’s neck met his shoulder and Jared arched back, hissing through his teeth. Jensen let his fingers follow down along Jared’s spine, let them eat up the curve at the small of his back. “Fuck, I want,” Jensen said, his mouth moving along the back of Jared’s neck. “I want,” he tried again, but the part of his mind responsible for higher function was short-circuiting.
“Me too,” Jared said, turning around and yanking on Jensen’s belt. The front of Jared’s pants was open, his jeans slipping half way down his hips. The line of his cock was straining against his boxers, a darker spot staining the front of them. It made Jensen’s mouth water, and Jensen planted his forehead on the center of Jared’s chest, his blood pushing through his body in a heady rush. Jensen skated his palm down Jared’s stomach, felt the tremor of his stomach muscles and went even lower, hooking a thumb around Jared’s dick. He jacked him slowly, his grip stuttering dry along the length of him.
Jared choked out a deep, sensual laugh as he threw his head back with the feeling. “I’m trying to get you naked here. You’re not making it easy.”
Jensen took a step back, held his arms up in surrender. “Have at it.”
Jared made quick business of his shirt, kissed a trail along Jensen’s chest, his teeth teasing at Jensen’s nipple and working his way lower, all small bites along his stomach. He shoved Jensen’s jeans to the floor, and set to sucking a bruise on the bare skin of Jensen’s hip.
The cool air hit Jensen’s dick like a shock, and he wrapped a fist around himself, squeezing.
Jared bit down hard on his hip, the snare of pain making Jensen lightheaded. “Hey,” Jared purred, “no hands.” He spit into his palm and took over where Jensen had left off, thumb and fingers wrapped just right around Jensen’s cock. He kissed the head, rubbed it against his bottom lip with taunting little licks, pressed his tongue to the spot right beneath the crown. He slid down the length, his tongue a perfect pressure on the underside, and sucked.
Jensen staggered, bucked his hips forward and had to lock his knees in place when he slammed against the back of Jared’s throat. Jared took him in, mouth sloppy wet and spit slicking his lips and chin. He pulled off with a gasp, dragged his mouth down to the root, catching his breath, and then took him right back in again with a swirl of his tongue.
The ground was shifting sideways beneath his feet, standing in the middle of the room with nothing to lean against, and Jensen dropped a hand to Jared’s head, feeling the soft slip of his hair between his fingers. Jared looked up at him, eyes dark and his lips stretched obscenely around Jensen’s dick. He took him all the way down, opening up his throat, and it was right then that Jensen lost it. With no warning, he snapped his hips forward and came, sliding through the mixture of come and spit in Jared’s mouth. Jared let him, just grabbed onto Jensen’s hips for balance, his fingernails biting into Jensen’s flesh.
Jared pulled off, rocked backward on his haunches, and ran his tongue along the mess of his bottom lip. His pants were most of the way down his thighs, his cock a hard arc against his stomach.
Jensen blinked, tried to clear his vision through his fucked out daze and staggered the few steps to his bed on legs that threatened to collapse on him. He fell face down, and Jared followed him in, kicking off his jeans and sliding up his body to slot between Jensen’s legs. His dick was trapped between them, a hot weight that nudged between Jensen’s thighs, pressing against his balls. Jared’s chest was a solid heaviness on his back, Jared’s hands running up along his ribs and kneading his shoulders, his mouth hot, sucking at a spot behind his ear. Jensen turned his head, and Jared’s lips found his in a sloppy, awkward kiss, bitter with the taste of his own come.
He was pinned there, a slight attempt at flipping around was thwarted easily by Jared, and for some reason that turned Jensen on like mad. Sure, Jensen was big, but Jared was huge, could overpower him and hardly break a sweat doing it. The idea made Jensen buck up, shifting his hips, his ass rubbing against Jared’s cock.
Jared growled, rutted forward, slipping his cock between the cheeks of Jensen’s ass, the head of it catching on Jensen’s rim with every thrust. Jared kept on moving, sweat and precome slicking the way. Jared rocked into him, breath hot on the back of Jensen’s neck, the sound of it whistling between Jared’s teeth. The teasing swipes of Jared’s dick against his rim made Jensen half hard again. Jared slammed forward once, twice, latched onto Jensen’s shoulder with his teeth and came, spitting out a muffled groan against Jensen’s skin. His spunk splashed hot on the small of Jensen’s back, he could feel it trickle down to pool along his spine.
Jared rolled off and landed beside Jensen, his chest still heaving. “Fuck.”
Jensen propped himself up on an elbow, shoved a hand through Jared’s sweat damp hair, pushing it away from his face. He leaned over and kissed the corner of his mouth.
“I didn’t mean for that to happen,” Jared said, giving Jensen a sheepish look.
“It’s okay. Actually more than okay from where I’m standing.” Jensen smiled down at him.
Jared snorted a laugh. “No. Not that. Well, that, sure. But I really mean this.” He made an all encompassing gesture with his hand.
“It’s still okay,” Jensen shrugged.
“So what do we…ah. Do you want me to go?”
Jensen fell onto his back, arranged the pillows beneath his head. “You just gave me one hell of a blowjob, Jared. I think that I can spare the left side of my bed for a few hours in return.”
His arms and legs felt heavy, his eyelids like they were made of lead. Between the two of them, they shimmied beneath the covers. Sleep was coming on hard and fast, Jensen was almost there when he felt Jared shift closer to him, lay an arm across his waist, and hook their ankles together.
It was dark, thankfully, so no one could see the small smile on Jensen’s lips.