Genre: Jared/Jensen AU
Word Count: 7,200
Notes: Written as a gift for stripytights for spn_j2_xmas. I took a couple of your prompts and some of your preferences, put everything in a blender and set the thing to liquefy. I very much hope you enjoy the result. A million thanks to flawlessglitch for always having my back. I stole a quote from All the King's Men, and hope it went to a good cause. Thanks as well to the mods for running such a tight ship.
Warnings: An apocalyptic scenario.
Summary: West is where we all plan to go someday.
Five minutes. Jensen needed just five minutes.
His backpack pulled at his shoulders, feeling more and more heavy with each step. He tried to take in a deep breath but his lungs seared with it. Jensen told himself that it had to be the elevation, not enough air in the air up here, ignored the fact that he'd been on a constant downhill slope for the last few hours. His boot heels skidded on the damp ground and Jensen finally allowed himself to halt, dropped into a crouch with his back to a large boulder, his hands dangling between his knees. Black spots darted in front of his eyes and Jensen tried to track them, but the little fuckers kept moving around on him.
Five minutes. Give him five minutes and he'd be right as rain.
To his left, a sheer cliff rose upward at a sharp angle, stratified, bands of varying shades of dark red. Iron rich soil, layers of shale and then copper, and it was odd, how that sort of thing used to seem important to him. He was heading southward and vaguely west, might have crossed into New Mexico in the last hour or so although he couldn't be too sure, and that sort of thing used to be important, too. But that had been a different life. A different version of him. A different version of the world.
A valley stretched out before him, all mottled greys and browns of this persistent winter, dotted with skinny evergreen trees that appeared nearly black by contrast. Another mile or so down the trail and Jensen would be there. Even ground. Easy walking. Easier, anyhow.
The day had started with a light drizzle and had settled into a steady rain by early afternoon, chilly on Jensen's skin and soaking through his coat. Jensen wiped at his face and scratched at his week-old beard. He'd swapped his straight razor and his tiny mirror for a compass and a map a little while ago. At the time it had seemed like a good trade, but now he wasn't so sure. Well enough he didn't have a mirror at this point. Not that vanity ever counted for much, but Jensen knew he was getting skinnier, kept having to hitch his belt tighter and when he touched his face it felt wrong, unfamiliar, his jaw sharper and his cheekbones more pronounced.
Jensen slid his back further down along the boulder until he thumped to the ground, closed his eyes and tipped his head toward the sky. He licked his lips, got an electric taste like that one time when he was a kid and his brother dared him to press his tongue to the end of a nine-volt battery. Bad news all around, both then and now.
A hint of wood smoke reached him, a homey, warm smell. Jensen tried to breathe it in deep, got exactly jack for his efforts and wound up wheezing and coughing, giant hacks that tore at his throat and made his ribs ache. He turned his head and spit, then hugged his arms tighter around himself and waited for a bone-rattling shiver to pass.
Goddamn, he was tired. He had to make it to the valley. It would be warmer in the valley.
But first, five minutes.
Jensen opened his eyes and hissed. The room was washed in sunlight and he closed his eyes against it, then tried again, slitting one open and squinting through his lashes. White everywhere. Bright walls and sheer, white lace curtains at the windows. A patch of sky so deeply blue that it had to be wishful thinking. Time out of mind since Jensen had seen a sky so blue. He was in a bed, the soft give of a mattress beneath him and a heavy quilt pressing down on his legs. He attempted to sit up and failed, his head swimming.
"Good morning," a voice said, and Jensen started, heart jammed into his throat as he swung his head around so fast his neck cracked.
A man sat in the corner of the room, peering at Jensen, the rocking chair beneath him dwarfed by his tall frame. He had a hard cover book resting on one knee, his index finger holding his place. His hair brushed at his wide shoulders and he was clean-shaven, looked to be about Jensen's age, give or take. His clothes were strange, out of place for what the world had turned into: dark grey pants sharply creased, a dress shirt which looked to be freshly laundered and as crisply white as everything else in the room and a vest of deep, dark red. Cuff links glinted at his wrists, and his shoes held a fresh coat of polish. He looked like he ought to be on the cover of a magazine, or drinking brandy at some high-powered gentlemen's club.
Jensen blinked, tried to shake this surreal, far-away feeling. Perhaps he should have been more freaked out. So strange that he wasn't. "Huh?" he said, muzzy.
"Good morning," the man repeated. Slowly, he placed his book on the stand beside his chair, then rose and straightened his vest in a way that was almost prim. He poured water from a white pitcher into a glass. It was blissfully clear, and Jensen licked his cracked lips at the sight of it. This was probably the modern day equivalent to taking candy from a stranger, but Jensen couldn't remember a time when he'd been this thirsty, every cell in his body shriveled up.
When the man turned back to him, Jensen asked, "Am I dead?" His head was pounding, his throat raw and his tongue seemed about three sizes too big, and it occurred to him that he probably wouldn't feel this way if he was no longer alive, but he couldn't be too sure. He'd never been dead before, to the best of his knowledge.
The stranger chuckled, a quiet, easy sound. "I don't believe so. I'd like to think that heaven wouldn't require quite so much work. Today is Friday. The twenty-ninth. You've been asleep for two days." There were slight traces of the south in his inflection, the kind of accent that a person had after spending many years away from its point of origin.
Carefully, he approached the bed, like Jensen was a wounded animal that might decide to bolt at any second. Jensen tried to sit up again, had about as much luck as the first time, his muscles weak and unresponsive.
"Please, allow me to help," the man said, setting the glass on the table beside the bed.
"Be my guest," Jensen replied.
He urged Jensen up, hands sure and gentle on his back and his shoulder, propped up a pillow and settled him onto it. The change in altitude set the room into a dizzying spin and made Jensen's head feel as if it was floating above his body, attached to the rest of him by a thin, wavering string.
"I'm sorry. I'm unaccustomed to having company," the man said, holding out his right hand. "Jared Padalecki. Very happy to make your acquaintance."
"Jensen," he responded. Jared's hand engulfed his own. "And likewise," Jensen finished.
"Just Jensen?" Jared said, mouth shaping into the smallest hint of a smile.
"Last names don't mean much anymore," Jensen pointed out.
Another quiet chuckle. Jared said, "You're wrong, Just Jensen. They mean everything. They're your history."
Before Jensen could wrap his head around a viable argument, Jared was holding the glass in front of him. Jensen tried to take it, but his fingers were as weak as a newborn's, slipping and awkward and he only managed to slosh the water over his hand.
Jared raised his eyebrows in a silent question and Jensen nodded.
"Slowly," Jared said, pressing the glass to Jensen's lips. "It won't do you much good if it comes back up again."
After a few small sips of cool, clear, unadulterated heaven in a cup, Jensen leaned away. "Two days?"
Jared picked up a drip beneath Jensen's bottom lip with the pad of his thumb. "Two and a half, technically. It gets very quiet here. Especially at night. I found you nearby, at the mouth of the pass. You're much heavier than you look. Rather unhelpful at the time, I might add," Jared said, as if that explained everything.
"My pack?" Jensen asked, unspecific panic sneaking up on him. Not that it accounted for much, but all of his worldly possessions were in that bag.
Jared motioned toward a corner of the room. Jensen's backpack slouched there. His boots sat side-by-side in front of it and the clothes he'd been wearing were on top, washed and neatly folded. It was then that Jensen realized he was swimming in a soft white t-shirt a few sizes too big, and he plucked at the sheet, embarrassed to find he was wearing a pair of similarly large boxers.
"Don't worry. Your virtue remains intact," Jared told him, with another soft smile as he helped Jensen take one more sip of water. He pressed a cool wrist to Jensen's forehead, seemed satisfied with the result and stepped back. "Rest. I'll be back later with something for you to eat."
"The last thing I need is more sleep," Jensen pointed out, but it was as if Jared's statement had some sort of compulsive power behind it, and already his eyelids were feeling heavy, slipping down. "Maybe just a couple of hours longer," he said around a jaw-breaking yawn. "Then I’ll be out of your hair."
Jared paused in the doorway, one hand wrapped around the doorframe as he stared openly at Jensen. "No need to hurry. You're a far way from wearing out your welcome." He began to pull the door closed then stopped. "Rest easy, Jensen. You're safe here."
It had been a very long time since he'd been able to sleep without one eye cracked open, he was warm and the bed was soft, and although Jensen had no rational reason for it whatsoever, he believed him.
It was dark when Jensen woke up for the second time. Much colder, too. Rain tapped a drumbeat against the window, and Jensen was comforted by the sound. That was more like it.
An oil lamp burned on the table beside the bed, casting the room in a ruddy, warm glow, and Jared was again sitting in the chair in the corner, his book tilted to catch the light. Jensen took the opportunity to study him. Jared's hair had spilled over his forehead, hiding his eyes. He was still perfectly dressed, although he'd ditched his shoes at some point, trading them in for a pair of thick wool socks. There was something so deliberate and graceful about him. It was in his stilted, formal way of speaking, in his straight shoulders and the way he held himself, his curiously delicate wrists and how he licked his thumb before he turned to the next page, every single time.
Jensen cleared his throat and Jared looked up at him, a smile taking up his face and his eyes sparking in the light of the lamp.
"There you are," Jared said. "I know you said just a few hours, but I decided to let you slide."
"I'm not very interesting company right now, but thank you," Jensen apologized, sitting up.
"I don't mind." Jared shook his head. "I'm not a very interesting host, so I suppose we're on a level playing field." Frowning, he continued, "Your supper has gone cold, I'm afraid. Keeping things warm is a bit problematic these days, and I wanted to be here when you woke up." He crossed the room, grabbed a tray from a long dresser against the wall and set it across Jensen's lap. He plucked up a napkin and started to lean in, as if he was intent on tucking it into Jensen's shirt, but then seemed to think better of it.
Jared stood by the side of the bed instead, watching as Jensen took the first bite, looking every bit the part of the attentive butler. The soup was a little warmer than room temperature, smelled a bit gamey, and had root vegetables floating in it. Jensen ate a second spoonful and chewed on a stringy piece of meat, saliva flooding into his mouth and his stomach gurgling a satisfied response.
"Where were you heading?" Jared asked after a while.
"West," Jensen said, and then added, "I think."
"Do you mind if I ask why?"
Jensen chewed for a second before responding. "No particular reason." He'd heard that it was marginally warmer there, but that was mostly second-hand rumor. It was as good a direction as any, and besides, he kinda wanted to see the ocean again.
His voice changing cadence and taking on the tone of rote memorization, Jared said, "West is where we all plan to go some day. It is where you go when you get the letter saying: Flee, all is discovered. It is where you go when you look down at the blade in your hand and the blood on it."
It was chilling in its truth, struck a chord in Jensen's memory, as if he'd read it somewhere. Perhaps he'd once heard someone say it. Jensen ran a finger along his bottom lip, picked at a loose bit of skin there and let Jared's words sink into him for a few long, stretched out moments. "Or west is just where you go," he said after a while.
Jared grinned at him and nodded. "Exactly."
Jensen stood in front of the mirror on legs that wobbled and threatened to give out, fingers white knuckled and wrapped around the sink. Morning poured in through the window set high in the wall behind him, a familiar, dingy grey that painted the walls the washed out color of old bones. The night before, Jared had set soap, a cloth, and a pan of water on the sink. Jensen's reflection showed him a face that was drawn, the flesh around his eyes still puffy and dark. He scratched at his beard, dug around in Jared's medicine cabinet and found a disposable razor, a relic if Jensen had ever seen one, soaped himself up and went to work.
He emerged a half-hour later, scrubbed clean, and shoving his fingers through his damp hair, the skin of his face feeling scoured and sensitive.
The house was a large, rambling thing, obviously expanded by a number of different people with broadly different tastes at various different times. Jensen wandered through a few rooms on the second floor before carefully making his way down the stairs. He passed through a formal sitting room, the shutters on the windows thrown open to reveal an expansive yard, the view bookended by the mountains. A driveway was tucked away to one side, a generic SUV quietly collecting grime parked in front of the garage, all four tires flatter than pancakes. It was the kind of house that probably required constant upkeep, the sort of place that needed a dozen or more people in it to feel full.
He walked through a set of pocket doors into the dining room. It reminded Jensen of a place straight out of some Norse legend, high ceilinged with exposed rafters, dominated by a table that could comfortably seat twenty with elbow room to spare. Twin fireplaces on either side of the room kept it warm, just this side of stuffy. A large collection of old photographs hung museum-style on one wall. Serious faces with familiar ski-slope noses. Slightly slanted eyes that stared back at Jensen in the faded monochrome of tintypes. One small piece of the puzzle clicked into place: this was Jared's house. He wasn't squatting.
Jensen heard the thump of a door slamming closed and walked into the kitchen. Jared had his back to him, facing the counter, where he was arranging what looked like a dozen cans and jars.
"Morning," Jensen greeted him, voice rusty.
Jared flinched, spun around quickly, then blew out a relieved breath at the sight of Jensen.
"Sorry, sorry," Jared said. He pushed his hair back from his forehead and straightened his spine, and Jensen could almost feel him wrapping himself in his customary composure. He squinted at Jensen, head tilted to the side. "Remarkable."
"What?" Jensen asked.
With a motion to his own jaw, Jared said, "You have a face under there. I like it."
Jensen's cheeks started to heat and he ducked his head down, rubbed at the back of his neck and cleared his throat.
Turning toward the counter again, Jared said, "I might also be a bit socially awkward, and that is something I definitely don't like." He opened a cabinet and started putting his supplies away, arranging them according to some scheme that only he understood.
"I don't know. It's sorta endearing," Jensen said in an attempt to clear the air.
"In my defense, I don't get much practice."
"So you've said." Jensen cocked his hip against the counter and crossed his arms. "You're not in the habit of picking up random unconscious stragglers, I take it?"
"You're the first," Jared told him.
"I feel honored, then. Thank you. I wish there was a way I could repay you."
"You already have," Jared said simply. "It's good to have another soul in the house again."
That small bit of information begged a thousand questions, but Jensen had learned pretty early on that it was best not to dig too deep, not to ask what kind of life folks led before the impact. There were some wounds that still bled. Instead he said, "Yeah, but I don't want to eat all your food. I have a little in my pack. Not much, but--"
"You don't have to worry about that," Jared interrupted. He waved for Jensen to follow him, took a key from his pocket and unlocked the door beside the stove. "After you."
A rickety, narrow staircase led downward into darkness. Jared followed close behind him, a steadying hand on Jensen's shoulder and his breath falling on Jensen's neck as he warned him to be careful. The air was cold down here, smelled earthy and damp. Jared slid past him and clicked on a flashlight, its blue-white glow strange after all these years, and cast the beam around the room.
Jensen whistled low. Jensen had heard of people stockpiling, had seen the footage of looted markets and big box stores on television right after the warnings had gone public, but this was extraordinary. Rows and rows of industrial shelving filled to the brim with food, glass jars and cans and bags and boxes of all makes and models. Enough to feed Jared until the end of his days.
"How..." Jensen started but trailed off, skimming his fingertips along the curved surface of what looked to be a lifetime supply of strawberry jam.
"We're in a remote place, if you haven't already noticed. Winters were always long here, even before. And I've always been somewhat of a squirrel. Everyone hoards something. At least mine paid off, after a fashion." Quietly, he added, "I always thought more people would show up. Family."
"They still might," Jensen said, pegging it for the lie that it was and wanting very badly to say the right thing. He touched the small of Jared's back and curled his fingers into Jared's shirt.
Jared shook his head as if to clear it, then clapped Jensen on the shoulder. "Never mind that. You're on your feet again. This calls for a celebration." He rooted through a shelf and came up with a bag of chocolate coins.
"Hardly a cause for celebration," Jensen scoffed.
"They're few and far between, Jensen. I, for one, plan to take them when I can."
He held the bag out. Jensen took one, the thin wafer of chocolate already melting between his fingers. Sweetness exploded on his tongue when he popped it in and pressed it to the roof of his mouth. The chocolate was stale, somewhat on the chalky side, and absolutely delicious.
"Forget about my face," Jensen said, taking a second piece. "This is remarkable."
Jensen missed a step as he rounded the house on the way to the woodshed when realized that he’d been there for more than a week. One day just sort of fell into the next and then all blended together, time nearly impossible to track. Jensen blamed most of this on Jared and his strange, unconventional schedule. The guy tended toward the nocturnal and seemed to never sleep more than a few hours at a time. The house had an extensive library, several rooms big, and Jared seemed bent on systematically reading all of it, spent most of his waking daylight hours with his nose buried in one book or another and reserved the majority of the work necessary to keep the house up and running to after the sun had gone down.
A few days ago, Jensen had tripped across a copy of Poe's complete works, cracked it open and made it through half of The Fall of the House of Usher before he had to put it away, his imagination conjuring up a few too many similarities between his host and the last remaining descendant in the tale. He fought the urge to ask Jared if he was a hemophiliac, or if perhaps he had a sister buried alive in some crypt somewhere.
Jared was generous to a fault, happy to share his home and his food and even his clothing, but he parceled out information about himself in bits and snatches. Jensen knew that he came from money, that much was clear. His father’s side had earned their fortune from Texas oil—that was where Jared’s accent came from—and his mother’s side had found gold in them thar hills, which explained the house. Jensen knew that Jared considered himself dangerously overeducated, would happily discuss books and movies that they had in common, knew more about chess strategy than anyone ought to, but shied away from anything much more personal than that.
Nowadays, the money didn’t count for much, and neither did a formal education. Jensen supposed that was the only good thing to come out of the impact, those horrifying two days when fire rained down from the sky: it tended to be one hell of a mighty equalizer.
Jensen shook himself back to the here and now, blew warm air into his cupped hands and doubled his pace. The door to the woodshed was cracked open, the glow of a lantern spreading out into the night. He banged on the door just in case, common sense telling him that sneaking up on a guy with an axe was bad news for all parties involved, and then entered.
“Can I help?” Jensen asked, then pulled up short at the sight of Jared.
Up until this moment, Jared had always been impeccably dressed. Jensen was used to it by now, even if he didn’t understand it. Jared had traded in his vest and his button down shirt for a thin t-shirt, sweat-darkened regardless of the cold and stretched perfectly across his shoulders. His jeans were worn, ratty at the cuffs, looked softer than silk and had holes at the corner of the back pockets, the unexpected bright red of Jared’s boxers peeking through. Jared looked softer somehow, all of his rough edges sanded down.
He was leaning on the handle of his axe, the muscles in his upper arms bunched and his chest heaved as he caught his breath. Jensen nudged at a stove length of split wood with the toe of his boot in a vain attempt at cooling the curl of heat that unraveled low in his stomach.
“Aren’t you cold?” Jensen asked, his tongue feeling thick. “Want my coat? Well, it’s your coat, but do you want it?”
Jared reached out, rubbed at Jensen’s arm and said, “Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.”
The smile Jared gave him was a little thing, the tiniest little thing, but it cinched the deal. Jensen was falling for him, fast and hard, probably had been since he first laid eyes. And maybe it was proximity, or the pervasive, all-encompassing loneliness of Jensen’s recently nomadic life, or maybe Jared had imprinted on him the moment he woke up in his bedroom, warm and safe with the promise of a hot meal and many more to follow, but it was the truth, and Jensen was not in the business of denying the truth, to himself or anyone else.
“Where were you? When it happened, where were you?” Jensen asked.
“You don’t want to know about that,” Jared said, and now it was his turn to fiddle with the split wood at his feet.
"I want to know everything about you," Jensen countered, and earned a sharp look from Jared.
“Here,” Jared started, then cleared his throat and added a bit more strength to his voice. “I was here. By myself. In the middle of the goddamn yard. The sky…the color of the sky…”
“Green,” Jensen said, nodding slowly as he realized that this was the first chance Jared had ever had to talk to someone else about this. It was huge, more significant somehow.
“The most vile color I’ve ever seen. Like poison.” Jared gritted his teeth and shivered, the cold of the night catching up with him. “How about you?”
“I was in El Paso. Union Depot, you know the train station?” Jared shook his head, and Jensen continued, “Anyway. I was trying to get home. Dallas.” He shrugged. “I didn’t make it.”
The impact event might have started it, but it was humanity that kept it going. Jensen thought about watching Dallas burn, listening to the ground-shaking thud as oil refineries exploded in the distance, one right after another. Many, many months later he saw Denver destroyed by a similar fate, the fires lighting up the sky and turning it an eerie, unnatural orange. He remembered how the wind had changed direction and the oncoming cloud of ash, moving like it was sentient, like it had intent, engulfing everything and burying the ground like dirty snow. He’d been on the move since then.
“I’m so sorry,” Jared said.
“Don’t be.” After a few moments of silence Jensen continued, “I still want to go west. See the ocean. I’d love it if you came with me.”
Sadness crept into Jared’s expression, and Jensen didn’t like the look of that at all. Not one bit. Jared said, “I can’t. The house…”
“The house will stand,” Jensen stated, feeling jilted and not really knowing why. “Nothing will happen to it. Don’t you want to see what’s out there?”
“Not particularly,” Jared said as he gathered an armload of wood and shouldered past Jensen. “I can’t shake the idea that whatever is out there is probably not good.”
“We won’t be gone long.” Jensen laced up his boots and watched as Jared paced back and forth across the entryway. “I just want to get the lay of the land, and I want to know where you found me.”
Jared was nervous and twitchy, and it only got worse once they passed through the gate of the driveway. The rain was holding off, and the sky was a steel grey, no distinction to the clouds whatsoever. Gravel gritted underneath Jensen’s boots, and he kicked a rock in Jared’s direction. Jared didn’t take the bait, and kicked it to the side of the road instead.
As they walked further and further from the house, Jared became even quieter, dug his hands in his coat pockets and hunched his shoulders. His steps slowed and then stopped completely. He pointed toward a bend in the road where a skinny footpath branched off and headed into the forest.
“There,” he said. “That’s where I found you. A few yards up the path, out cold and face down.” There was a slight shake in his voice and he kept darting fast, furtive glances at the sky. “I’m gonna go back now, okay?”
“Gimme a minute,” Jensen said absently, heading toward the path.
“Don’t really have a minute,” Jared told him, and Jensen turned toward him just in time to see him collapse to the ground, land hard on his ass and pull his legs up to his chest.
An ice-cold bolt of fear shot through Jensen and he dashed to Jared’s side in an instant, skidding the last few feet on his knees. Jared had his face buried in his hands and his whole body shuddered, pulled tight as a piano wire as he rocked forward and back in fitful jerks. He was gasping, huge, watery inhales between his clenched teeth.
“What is it?” Jensen asked in a hysterical pitch. “What hurts? Tell me what hurts.” He pulled at Jared’s hands, got one quick look at Jared’s pale skin and his huge, panicked eyes before Jared covered his face again. “Fuck, Jared, talk to me.”
Jared mumbled, “I need to go home.” He sounded so young, and so very lost.
The sound of his voice put a crack right down the center of Jensen’s heart, and in a flash it all became clear. Everything added up. The way he only went outside at night, the fitful, sporadic sleeping pattern, all the other little clues that Jared had unintentionally scattered like breadcrumbs. Jared wasn’t going to leave, and it wasn’t because he didn’t want to. Call it fear, or shell shock, call it whatever you wanted, Jared wasn’t going to leave because he couldn’t.
Jensen circled Jared’s wrists with his fingers and tugged, pulling his hands down. He inched forward, nearly sitting in Jared’s lap. “Look at me,” he urged, swiping his thumbs beneath Jared’s eyes and tilting his face in closer. “I’m right here. We’re gonna get you home. Don’t stop looking at me, okay?”
Jared worried his lip between his teeth, but latched his gaze onto Jensen and nodded minutely.
“It’s easier at night, isn’t it?” Jensen guessed. “When you can’t see what’s up there.”
“Yeah. Yes,” Jared croaked. “Do you remember the electrical storms? The lightning?”
“Yeah, kiddo. I remember.” Jensen brushed Jared’s hair back from his face, pressed a kiss to his forehead, and by some miracle that seemed to calm Jared some. He stopped rocking, anyway, and some of the tension loosened in his shoulders.
“It was like the sky was breaking,” Jared said, muffled against Jensen’s throat.
“It did break. But it’s not breaking anymore.”
It was a full day before Jared would look him in the eye. They were strangers again, occupying the same house but not really living in it. Jensen would try to start up conversations, and Jared would mumble apologies and all but flee to another room. Mere walls separated them, and Jensen still missed him like crazy.
Jensen was sprawled in bed, knees bent and a book propped in his lap. Some pulpy sci-fi novel that he was skimming and not actually retaining in the least.
A flicker of movement in his periphery caught his attention and he looked up to find Jared filling the doorway. He was dressed for sleep, a thin undershirt that left little to the imagination and a pair of silk pajama bottoms resting low and crooked on his hips.
“Hey,” Jensen whispered, straightening up.
“Hello. Do you mind if I come in?”
“It’s your house.”
Jared crossed the room and sat on the edge of Jensen’s bed. He wiped a tired hand across his mouth. "I need you to know that you're not trapped. This isn't a prison. Not for you, anyway.”
“I understand,” Jensen said carefully. This close, Jensen could smell Jared’s soap and underneath it, the clean scent of Jared’s skin. He wanted to kiss him, very badly, pull him in tight and not let go for a very long time.
Jared went on, “You’re not under any obligation to stay. There's nothing keeping you here."
"For the last couple of weeks, I've spent every single waking hour with you, and now I find out that you barely know me at all."
“What am I missing?” Jared asked.
“C’mere,” Jensen said, and wrapped a hand around Jared’s neck to tug him down.
Jared came easily, but froze when they were a fraction of an inch apart. “I didn’t know. I mean. I hoped, but I didn’t know.”
“Shh,” Jensen hushed him, closed the gap between them and brushed his lips against Jared’s. “Now you know.” He buried his hand in Jared’s hair, felt the soft slip of it against his palm and brought their mouths together again, more forcefully this time. Jensen kissed him until his lips started to tingle from it, and then he kissed him some more, licking into Jared’s mouth and curling their tongues together, slow and lazy and perfect. Jared did this like he did everything else, with a sort of quiet, gentle determination as he tilted his head in exactly the right way and deepened the kiss.
Jared lowered himself, angled all along Jensen’s body, palmed at Jensen’s hip and worked his thumb against the jut of bone. He nipped at Jensen’s mouth, sucked his bottom lip in and ran his tongue across it.
“Can I?” Jared asked, toying with the hem of Jensen’s shirt.
“Stop asking for permission,” Jensen chided. “The answer is going to be yes. It’s always going to be yes.”
Jared hummed, a soft, happy noise, and kissed along Jensen’s jaw, then the spot below his ear, and finally flattened his tongue to Jensen’s neck at his pulse. He shoved his hand under Jensen’s shirt, fingers splayed as he ran it along Jensen’s ribs, his stomach, up along his chest. Jared’s hands were rough, fingernails bitten and broken, and a shot of heat zipped through Jensen’s body when Jared caught his nipple, teasing it between two callused fingers.
Jensen arched up into the sensation, twisted and turned, then uttered a low moan when Jared shifted above him, fitted his thigh between Jensen’s legs and rolled their hips together in a slow grind. He could feel the hard line of Jared’s cock, the heat of it against his own and he wrapped his leg high around Jared’s hip, pressed his heel to Jared’s thigh to pull him in closer.
Blood was pumping in Jensen’s ears, a white rush of noise and his vision snapped into a stark sort of clarity, everything else in the room dropping away in a haze, except for Jared. Jensen paused, pushed a hand through Jared’s hair to get a good look at his face. Jared was beautiful like this, a high flush riding on his cheekbones, a glimmer of sweat collecting in the dip of his throat, his mouth dark and wet.
Jared kissed the inside of Jensen’s elbow and chuckled. “What?” he asked, punctuated with another drive of his hips against Jensen’s.
Jensen’s mind was an echoing blank, filled up with nothing except Jared. Jared everywhere. He was so far gone, wanted Jared so badly that he was surprised he could remember to breathe. “You. It’s just. It’s you.”
“I get it,” Jared said, and reared up, hauled Jensen to him by the back of his neck and kissed him yet again, stopped only long enough to get their shirts over their heads and their pants around their ankles before diving back in with hot, searing kisses that left Jensen muzzy and lightheaded. Jared hooked Jensen behind his knees and yanked him in until Jensen was straddling his lap. Jared’s cock was leaking, swollen and dark read at the tip, and smearing precome on their stomachs. With his fists wrapped around Jensen’s hips, Jared dragged Jensen flush against him, their cocks trapped between their bodies and sliding together, sending another shockwave through Jensen.
It was so fucking hot, the way that Jared could manhandle him, push and pull him around like it was nothing, like Jensen was made of air. It had never been this way before, Jensen had never known this kind of release; he’d never trusted anybody this much. He felt as if he was in a freefall, one arm wrapped loosely around Jared’s as he struggled to get his other hand between them and fist their cocks together.
“Yeah, God, yeah,” Jared breathed and twined his hand around Jensen’s and slipped through the mess of their precome, rubbing both of them off fast.
Jared pried two fingers between Jensen’s lips and moved them in an out as Jensen sucked on them, curved his tongue around them and nipped at Jared’s fingertips, feeling empty when Jared pulled them out. They left a slick trail as Jared moved his hand down Jensen’s spine, then lower still, circling Jensen’s rim with teasing, barely-there touches.
Jared was close. It was written all over his face, in his slack mouth and the way he tossed his head backward and let his eyes fall closed. His cock became impossibly harder, swelling in their combined grip, throbbing against Jensen’s palm. Jared came hard, hips shooting up with a force that toppled them sideways, spatters of come spilling over Jensen’s fingers and landing on his belly.
He whispered, “Jensen,” and it was a broken sounding thing, so far gone, and exactly what Jensen needed to tip him over the edge. He clawed into the skin of Jared’s back, and sunk his teeth into Jared’s shoulder, shivered through his orgasm, rutting against Jared’s hip as Jared held him close.
Several long minutes passed as they breathed together, passing soft kisses back and forth. The outside world reasserted itself gradually and in small increments: the rain pattering on the window, the cold air in the room that made goosebumps rise on their skin, the creaks and groans of this old house.
Jensen was the first to speak. "I could stay." He rolled over onto his stomach and rested his head on Jared's chest, traced the dusty flesh of his nipple with a thumbnail.
The rumble of Jared's voice drowned out the steady thud of his heartbeat. He curved an arm around Jensen’s shoulders. "The world is a very small place for me. Yours is much bigger."
“Are you kicking me out?” Jensen teased.
“No. Never. I wouldn’t dream of it.” Jared buried his nose in Jensen’s hair.
“Ask me to stay. I will, if you ask me.”
“That wouldn’t be fair, not for either of us. Stay for as long as you want. Then go when you need to. And I know that you’ll eventually need to.”
Jensen arched his neck and looked Jared in the eye. “Thank you.”
“For what?” Jared asked.
“For getting it. For understanding.”
Jared chuckled. “And you said that I barely knew you at all.”
It wasn’t warmer here. The rumors had been wrong. If anything it was colder, the wind coming off the sea biting at Jensen’s face and whipping at his clothes. Jensen licked his lips and tasted salt.
The beach was deserted, for now anyway. There were signs of habitation here and there, Jensen’s were not the only set of footprints in the sand. A ribbon of sea foam marked the high tide, a dirty yellow color. The rhythmic pounding of the waves drowned out everything else. Maybe the earth had a heartbeat, and maybe this was it.
Two months to get to this spot. Jensen’s back ached and his feet were sore. He was hungry, exhausted, missed Jared so badly that it was like a living, breathing thing that had carved out a space for itself inside of his chest.
He thought about Jared, thought about him all the time. Jensen closed his eyes and conjured up their last night together, the image of Jared sprawled out beneath him, mile-long legs spread wide. The way he’d been so damn quiet, gripping the tangle of sheets as Jensen opened him up on his fingers. How he’d breathed through the stretch as Jensen slowly entered him, canted his hips up and drew Jensen in as deep as he could go.
Then there had been the morning after. Jared had given him a new pack, as much food as he could carry, two canteens full of water. He’d walked him to the door and held him very close for the longest time.
Jensen sighed, fished a crumpled brown paper bag out of the pocket of his jacket. Jared had written a message to him in black indelible marker:
May you have many causes for celebration.
Jensen popped a piece of chocolate into his mouth, then resolutely turned his back to the pounding sea, hitched his pack a little higher on his shoulders and started walking.
Five minutes. Jensen had been waiting here for five minutes.
Regret and a healthy dose of fear burned a hole in his stomach. Jensen took a step forward, flattened his hands and then his ear against the door. Nothing but silence on the other side.
Five minutes. He’d give it one more minute and then start working on a plan B. He’d been wrong. He never should have left. He would say that Jared never should have let him leave, only that wasn’t really fair. Jared had been right. He’d been right about a lot of things.
Thirty seconds to go, and Jensen pounded on the door again. He thought about trying the doorknob, but he knew that Jared was a light sleeper, and anyhow that didn’t seem right. If he was there he’d be awake by now. Jared was probably pissed. Maybe didn’t want to see him again.
Ten more seconds. Jensen started to turn on his heel when the door flew open.
“Jensen,” Jared said low, hardly more than a shared thought. His face bore the mark of his pillow and he was still in his pajamas, bare toes curling against the cold. "Are you alright?" Jared asked, concern and happiness fighting a battle on his face.
“I’m much better now,” Jensen replied, stepped past the threshold and fetched Jared up in his arms. He buried his face in Jared’s hair and breathed in deep.
“You came back,” Jared said, a note of wonder to his voice, as if he couldn’t quite trust the reality of it.
“All this time, you’ve been waiting for someone to come home,” Jensen said, his mouth moving against the warm skin of Jared’s neck. “I thought it was about time that somebody finally did.”
Thanks for reading.