Time crept by slowly. Before, in a time and a place that Jensen had started referring to as Back Then, his days had seemed so rushed -- there hadn’t been a chance to get bored. Scoring had been a full time job, and finding a safe place for a fix is what he’d done in his time off. For the past few years he’d never slept. He’d passed out or nodded off. His body had shirked its natural rhythm in favor of a chemical schedule.
Now he had all the time in the world, and everyday he felt like he was on the verge of slipping in, or worse slipping up. He was stuck in a constant overdose of time.
But if the days were bad, the nights were even harder. Every night he would lay in bed, his internal thermostat running too hot or too cold and his legs tingling. He’d chew on his lips until they were bright red and sore, two fingers pressed to the artery in his throat, feeling his pulse because of a batshit crazy idea that had wormed its way into his head -- that one night his heart would give up, it would finally have enough and skip town. He was sure of it.
Some nights he would stare at the blank walls and wait to see if the ghosts would come. The complete terror would at least bring a relief from the monotony.
They never did. They weren’t real. They were a dope dream. He missed them.
A wintertime thunderstorm was making him more anxious than usual, the blue flickers of lightening had him jumping. The storm made him itch as if its electricity was somehow transferring to his skin. He lay there for minutes that felt like forever, listening to the constant sound of rain leaking from the gutter outside of his window, and tossing and turning until finally he gave up.
Jensen walked quietly past cracked doors. The small snores of his housemates and the occasional distant crack of thunder were the only sounds in the house. It was late, very late, and the only light in the house came from the streetlamps outside, their bluish glow creeping in through the windows.
Jared’s bedroom was downstairs, separate from the rest on the upper level, to give Jared some small amount of privacy, Jensen supposed, or maybe give him a place where he could at least symbolically have some time off. He paused for a few seconds before knocking on Jared’s door. Nothing but silence from the other side greeted him, and he was about to turn away when it opened a couple of inches. Jared was red eyed and squinting, his hair a tousled mess and there were lines on his face from his pillow.
“Everything okay?” his voice was gravelly from sleep. He ran a hand across his eyes.
“No.” Because it really wasn’t, not at all. “I can’t sleep. And I want it. Right the fuck now. So badly.”
Jared opened the door to allow Jensen in, grabbed a t-shirt from the chair in the corner and pulled it over his head. He lit a couple of candles on his dresser before lying down on his bed, resting on his side and patting the narrow space beside him in invitation.
“I’m sick of this,” Jensen said, as he rested on his back and covered his eyes with his forearm. “What I don’t understand is why you’re not sick of it.”
Jared shifted over slightly so that their hips and thighs were touching. Jensen felt a sleep-warm arm worm beneath his shoulders and he let himself sink into the touch, leaning heavily into Jared, breathing in the clean smell of him. It was comforting.
Jensen continued, “You deal with us, these little mini train wrecks day in and day out. I don’t get how you do it. How you keep on doing it.”
“I can’t pretend to understand what goes through your head, how you manage to resist this… thing inside you constantly. It’s got to be like trying to hold a handful of rain. Damn near impossible, but you just keep on holding your hands out for more.” Jared laughed a little. “It’s a shitty comparison, I know.”
“It works,” Jensen shrugged.
“I do it, and I keep on doing it because you are the strongest person I’ve ever met.”
Jensen felt his heart skip a beat. He’d been called a lot of things in the past, but that had never been one of them -- pathetic, maybe; stupid, and spoiled, and weak, but never strong. Not once. He wished right then that he could see himself through Jared’s eyes, see what Jared saw and believe what he believed. Or at least be worthy of it.
Jensen turned to face Jared, placing a hand lightly on Jared’s hip and waiting for Jared to pull back from his intimate move, but Jared only lay there, watching him seriously. “I can’t help feeling like I’m laying next to a saint,” said Jensen.
Jared laughed softly at that and covered Jensen’s hand with his own. “Not hardly. But sinners do make the best saints.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Another time,” Jared blinked slowly, tiredly. “Maybe I’ll tell you another time.” Something flashed across his face then, some hint of sadness and Jensen dropped the subject.
They laid there in silence for a matter of minutes, Jensen with his eyes closed, listening to the sound of Jared’s breathing until he said; “I just want it to be easy. I keep waiting for it to get easy.”
“You don’t want to hear this,” Jared hugged his shoulders a little tighter and then went on, “but it doesn’t ever get easier. You’re probably gonna wake up every single day for the remainder of your life, and the first thought in your head is gonna be that you want a fix. The rest, well, that’s up to you.”
“You’re right.” It wasn’t what Jensen wanted to hear, but it was the truth. The stark naked truth. “You need your sleep,” he said, making a move to get up, but Jared held him tightly.
“You can stay,” Jared whispered. “I mean, if you need to. If you want to, you can stay.”
It wasn’t much, just enough for Jensen to start to believe in the reality of spring. The days were getting longer and the cold grasp of winter seemed to be loosening a bit -- on some days, anyway.
He stood at the sink, hands buried in warm water as he did the breakfast dishes. Jared was outside in the back driveway, bent over the open hood of his old truck. Jensen watched as he closed it with a thunk, wiped his hands on a bit of rag and headed toward the kitchen door.
Things had changed almost imperceptibly since that night a few days back. For the better, in Jensen’s opinion. Little things, like the way Jared’s touch would linger on him a bit longer than before, or the way Jared sat a little closer to him at suppertime, so that their elbows sometimes touched or their knees bumped. And the way that Jensen would sometimes feel eyes pricking into the back of his neck and catch Jared staring, a corner of his lip trapped between his teeth and a faraway sort of look in his eyes. Or in the way that Jensen was happy a little more often than he’d been before and somehow not feeling guilty about it for once.
Jensen turned and pressed his back against the counter when Jared entered, a smile playing on his lips and at the corners of his eyes as he watched Jared lean into the refrigerator. He thought maybe that he’d traded one addiction for another, but that was fine in his book.
Jared approached him, a bottle of orange juice held loosely in his hand, and he got right into Jensen’s space, rubbing a hand along Jensen’s upper arm before reaching over his head for a glass.
There was grease under Jared’s fingernails, black half moons of the stuff, and for some reason that Jensen couldn’t fathom he found it very attractive. In fact, it drove him more than a little crazy.
“You were wrong,” Jensen looked up at him, Jared’s proximity and that pulling feeling in his chest making him act impulsively.
“It’s been known to happen,” Jared answered, setting the glass down on the counter beside Jensen. Their shoes knocked together.
Jensen reached out, placed a hand squarely in the center of Jared’s chest and said, “When I woke up this morning, my very first thought was you. Not dope, a fix, or even how much I’ve fucked up. That other stuff came later, it always does. But the very first thing I thought about was you.”
Jared regarded him with a shocked expression that Jensen really hadn’t expected.
“I don’t know what to say.” Jared chewed on his lower lip for a few moments before continuing. “You start doing this sort of thing for a few years, you know, and you start to think that you’ve seen it all and heard it all.” Jared gripped Jensen’s shoulders with both hands as he mused. “But then you come along. You, Jensen,” Jared gave Jensen’s shoulders a small squeeze, “and you’re crazy and screwed up, and sometimes it makes me want to pull my hair out. But then you say something like this, and I don’t know…” he trailed off, thinking. “It makes me start to wonder who’s saving who.”
“I don’t know if that matters,” Jensen said, and the way Jared was looking at him, that direct stare, had his heart hammering so hard in his chest that he thought maybe it could be heard clear on the other side of town. He bunched his hand in Jared’s shirt, pulled him closer.
There was a split second pause before Jared went with Jensen’s tug, as if he were giving Jensen an out, an escape route, but Jensen had no intention of going anywhere and he lifted his heels from the floor, watched as Jared flicked his tongue out along his bottom lip and then Jensen was pushing their mouths together, opening up and letting Jared in immediately.
With that first taste, that first slide of Jared’s tongue against his, Jensen felt something inside of him click, like a perfectly fashioned key into a lock, tumblers rolling easily, the feeling of something simply and effortlessly sliding into place.
The dig of the counter into his back was forgotten as Jared broke the kiss but still held him close, his breath hissing through his slightly open mouth. He ran a finger along Jensen’s temple, tracing his hairline, the curve of his ear, working lower to linger along his jaw.
“Are you sure?” Jared asked quietly.
Jensen took a dizzying breath, and it took him the space of a handful of heartbeats to answer in his head the questions that Jared had really just asked of him. It all translated down to one simple word, one basic idea. He snaked his arms around Jared’s neck and breathed it into his mouth, “Yes,” he punctuated it with another kiss, a dry, light one, grabbed Jared’s wrist and pressed his lips to the inside of it, feeling the race of his pulse beneath the thin skin there.
Jared dropped his hands to Jensen’s hips, tugged at them, lifting him upward a little, and between the two of them Jensen slid up onto the counter. He was higher than Jared now, and he gripped the back of Jared’s neck tightly, tilting his head just right as he leaned down, capturing Jared’s lips once more with his own. He dove in, tongue sweeping inside Jared’s mouth, his hand splayed wide and open in the center of Jared’s back, feeling the hot shift of Jared’s skin beneath his shirt.
He moved back again as Jared pressed soft kisses along his neck. He pulled at Jensen’s hips, fitting himself perfectly in the space between Jensen’s spread thighs. Jensen licked his lips and shivered at the taste of Jared still lingering there. He swallowed the taste down.
It wasn’t enough, but it was close. So close.
They both felt the slight shift in the house before the sound of the front door opening reached them. Jared jumped backward, a tiny amount, a desperate sounding moan falling from his lips to fill the suddenly unbearable space between them.
He regarded Jensen with eyes that were dark and glazed over. “Tonight.” A kiss to the corner of Jensen’s mouth. “Tonight,” he repeated, “come to me?”
Jensen nodded and squeezed his thighs along Jared’s hips for a quick second before shoving him back gently. “Get to work.”
Jared begrudgingly took a step away, doubled back fast and landed another soft kiss to Jensen’s temple. “You are my work,” he said, his breath tickling Jensen’s ear.
“Then you’re one poor bastard.”
There was a pattern to the sounds in the house at night. Jensen lay in his bed, counting them as if they were some indication of lift off. Nighttime showers. Katie first and then Steve, the groaning noise of hot water moving through old cold pipes. Sinks running and bedroom doors clicking shut, the glow of lights that crept in beneath his door shutting off.
Jensen waited, listening to the creak of the stairs and the distant sound of the back porch door banging open and closed as Chris went outside for one last smoke before going to sleep. Out and back again.
Minutes and minutes that seemed stretched into days as anticipation throbbed heavily in Jensen’s veins. It was a familiar feeling, not entirely unlike all the times he’d stood on an anonymous street corner waiting for a fixer to show up, a twenty dollar bill burning its way through his pocket.
When the house went quiet, and Jensen made himself count backward from sixty and repeat the process a dozen times in a row. Three, two, one, and then his feet hit the floor.
Jared’s door was cracked open, the blue flickering light from his muted television spilled out into the living room. Jensen knocked on the doorjamb anyway. A second later Jared was there, opening the door in invitation, his hair wet from his shower, a light grey t-shirt stretching across his chest. It was darker around the collar where the dampness from Jared’s hair had seeped in. Jensen’s hands itched to touch him, to sneak beneath the shirt and drink in the warm sensation of Jared’s skin.
“Come here,” Jared said, taking Jensen lightly by the wrist and guiding him toward the bed. He sat down and pulled Jensen down alongside him.
Jensen leaned in close, buried his nose in the skin of Jared’s neck and inhaled, holding the smell of soap and fresh clean clothes inside his lungs for a moment before exhaling. He placed a soft kiss to the flesh there before moving forward, reaching for Jared’s mouth with his own.
Jared laid a gentle finger across his lips and turned to face him. “A minute,” he said. “Just give me a minute.”
A sharp seed of doubt planted itself in Jensen’s chest, and he shoved himself backward a little, pulled one leg up close to his body and rested his chin on his knee. Just waited for it to hit.
“I don’t know what you want from me,” Jared began.
“I thought it was pretty fucking obvious,” Jensen replied, growing increasingly unsure by the second. “Do you need me to draw you a picture?” His sarcasm was a defense mechanism and he knew it, hated it, but couldn’t seem to help himself.
“You need my help. I get that. But you know all those rules that you follow? The ones that you’re constantly banging your head against? Well, I have rules of my own.”
Jensen started to protest, make excuses, but Jared just held up a hand. “Let me finish. You need me. You’ve said it in a million different ways. It’s my job to keep you on the right track. And I can do that if you let me. I can help you. Or I can…” Jared cut off for a moment, a beat. “Or I can be more, but I’m just afraid that maybe you’ve gotten your wires crossed.”
“My wires have been crossed for so long that it would probably blow out half the city if I ever got them straight again.” Jensen ran a fingernail along a thin spot in the fabric of his jeans. “What you’re really saying is that you don’t know if what I do see in you is really there. Or if it’s what I really need.”
Jared pondered that for a moment and nodded. “You’re not wrong.”
“I should be asking you that question. Look at me.” Jensen held his arms out wide. “Not a lot to offer over here, besides maybe a bad habit and an even worse attitude half the time. Hell, I can’t even sit at a bar with you after you’ve had a shitty day at work and share a beer. I’d probably be the reason for that shitty day at work.”
The tension in Jared’s face melted into a soft smile. “A beer, or the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen in my whole life.” He held his hands in front of himself, tipping them as if they were scales. “It’s a tough choice. Maybe you should ask me tomorrow.”
“You have no idea how tough a choice it can be,” Jensen said, then shrugged it off when Jared started to apologize. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that this conversation has kinda come full circle, and we’ve both sorta ended up at the same spot, which is pretty goddamn close to where we started in the first place.”
Jared laughed then, head tossed back, and Jensen felt some of the stress loosen in his chest. “Six years of higher education under my belt,” Jared said, “and it turns out that you’re the one with all of the answers.”
“Does that mean that I can kiss you now? Because I really want to fucking kiss you.”
“Be my guest.”
Jensen slid across the bed and onto Jared, straddling him, his thighs snug along Jared’s hips and his hands gripping Jared’s shoulders. He leaned in fast but then paused. Just looking. Taking in the slope of Jared’s nose, the angle of his jaw, the way the ends of his hair curled around his ears, how his lips parted as he breathed in heavily through his mouth.
He tilted forward, sliding his nose alongside Jared’s, their lips just brushing, barely a hint of a touch. Jensen needed to go slow and to make it last. Needed to remember every little detail of this sensation - of the anticipation that came with having something so good right under his fingertips.
Jared’s impatience was like a living, breathing thing beneath him. It was there in the quick rise and fall of his chest. It was there in the constant flex of Jared’s thigh muscles, the restless movement of Jared’s hands on his hips, sliding to the small of his back and dipping beneath the loose waistband of his jeans for a second and then back out again. He pulled them close, fitting them together.
And then Jared did this thing, a sort of full body shiver; a low, needy groan coming from the back of his throat, and that was just it. Right there. Jensen dove in, open mouth crashing into Jared’s, a twisted clash of tongues and teeth, want zipping north and south along his spine, his cock pressing almost painfully against the confines of his jeans. He tangled his hand in Jared’s wet slippery hair, letting his other run along Jared’s jaw, coaxing it wider, deepening the kiss.
Jared’s fingers pressed into his hips and Jensen shifted, opening his thighs further and grinding down hard. He broke their kiss on a gasp as Jared moved beneath him, bucked up, and in one fluid motion tipped Jensen backward to land on the bed, following him down.
A wave of almost drunken dizziness passed through Jensen as Jared covered his body with his own, a soft rush of air escaping from his lungs when Jared lowered his entire weight onto him. He couldn’t get a full breath, wasn’t sure that he really wanted one. Knew for sure he didn’t need it when Jared slotted his thigh between Jensen’s legs and pressed up, down, slowly and deliberately.
Jensen arched up, tangled a leg around Jared’s, shifting and trying to counter Jared’s slow movements. He watched as Jared’s eyes slammed closed, a small line forming between his brows, his lower lip trapped between his teeth.
With a small, abortive noise Jared tumbled backward to his side, and Jensen’s eyes snapped to his face, tinted blue in the dim light, his eyes dark, lips slick and kissed swollen. Jensen made a move toward him but then stopped when Jared spoke, his voice a few notches deeper, breathless and hoarse.
“This is it,” he said, “the last time I’ll say anything about it.” He drew his thumb along Jensen’s lower lip, a warm touch. “It’s not too late.”
Jared’s question was hidden in between his words, and Jensen only nodded and pressed his palm along the line of Jared’s cock. The heat of Jared’s skin was bleeding through the thin material of his shorts. Jared tossed his head back with an intake of breath and Jensen latched on to his neck, lips tingling at the vibration that ran through his throat when Jared laughed, low and deep. “I’ll take that as a yes,” Jared said.
“The right answer?” Jensen asked, and ran his teeth along Jared’s jaw. It was smooth, and Jensen could smell faint traces of shaving cream.
Jared’s cock twitched under his hand and he bore down harder, wrapping his fingers around it through his shorts and tugging.
“The one I was hoping for,” Jared answered, mischief lighting up his face as he shoved Jensen’s hand away and settled in the V of Jensen’s legs. He slid down lower and snaked his hands beneath Jensen’s shirt, hiking it up and nipping at the skin of his stomach, fingernails skittering over his sides as he did.
Jensen’s tangled his hands in Jared’s hair once more as Jared unbuttoned Jensen’s fly and tugged his pants down and off. Jared ghosted his breath over the heated skin of his cock. Jensen twisted his hips, unable to look away. He couldn’t even fucking blink as Jared took him in hand, a few quick strokes, and then a gentle thumb pressed to the slit, gathering up the precome there. Jared licked at his thumb, pink tongue snaking out. His eyes blinked slowly closed at the taste. He wetted his lips, looked up darkly at Jensen, smiling, and Jensen almost lost it right there, sunk his hips into the mattress and drew his legs up, bracketing Jared’s shoulders.
Jared squeezed him tight, right at the root, his other hand playing along the skin of his thigh, and Jensen teetered, right at the brink.
“No way, darlin’,” Jared purred, lazy southern accent slipping through, “not so fast.”
Jensen breathed quick, rode the wave of his want down, and then right back up again just as fast when Jared sucked him down. Deep, wet, hot, a slight hint of teeth along the tip for a second, just this side of too much. Jensen was transfixed by the sight of Jared, lips stretched tight around him and eyes half lidded. Encouraging noises bubbled up from Jared’s throat and vibrated along Jensen’s cock when Jensen finally broke loose, allowed himself writhe under the sensation of Jared’s mouth. The force of Jared’s tongue pressed under the head of his dick sending spots to darken his vision.
Jensen reached down, thumb swiping along Jared’s sloppy wet lips where they stretched around him. He slid his thumb in, felt the swirl of Jared’s tongue around it and the graze of his teeth. The heat that had been building in the bottom of his belly slammed downward and he came hard, hips jabbing up, and Jared just rode it out, cheeks hollow and swallowing around him as Jensen’s toes curled and his eyes scrunched shut.
With shaky hands, he made a futile, weak gesture to pull Jared toward him, but Jared got the message loud and clear, crawling up alongside Jensen’s body to hover over him. He idly played along Jensen’s stomach while Jensen breathed hard. Leaning over on an arm that felt like rubber, Jensen kissed him, slow and sticky, the taste of his own come flooding bitter across his tongue.
He fell backward once more, and tried to will his heartbeat back to normal -- to crawl his way up from the daze that threatened to pull him under.
Jared wrapped a leg around his. He snaked an arm beneath his shoulders and pressed his lips to Jensen’s neck, his breath falling hot and moist over Jensen’s skin. Jared started a slow rolling rhythm against Jensen’s thigh. Jensen dipped beneath the waistband of Jared’s shorts, tugging them partway down and wrapped his hand around the thick damp heat of Jared’s cock. He squeezed, smiling at Jared’s quick intake of air and way he bit down on his neck, tongue worrying the skin there a second later.
He wanted to taste Jared, feel the weight of him in his mouth and down his throat, and started to untangle himself from Jared’s limbs, only to have Jared stop him. “Can I just--” Jared began, covering Jensen’s hand with his own, forcing him to grip tighter while he thrust his hips into Jensen’s fist. “I want to--,” he tried again, but then gave up and kissed Jensen once more, sucking Jensen’s full bottom lip into his mouth and holding it there; tugging, biting.
Jared broke free of the kiss, breath stuttering as his thrusts grew erratic. His eyes were closed tight and an almost desperate whine was coming from behind his clenched teeth. Jensen jerked him quick, thumb flicking under the head, feeling the tension build in Jared’s body. He licked across Jared’s lips. “Jared,” he whispered, “look at me.”
Jared’s eyes flew open. They were slightly unfocused and reflecting the low light of the room. Another thrust, a bitten off cry and then Jared went rigid, spilling hot over Jensen’s hand, his arm tightening across Jensen’s shoulders like a reflex.
“Fuck,” Jared gasped, rolling onto his back, heaving another almost whistling breath through pursed lips. He blinked a couple of times, trying to clear his head. “Fuck,” he repeated, and then clumsily kicked off his shorts and used them to wipe himself clean, handed them over to Jensen.
Jensen sat up, scooted to the edge of the bed, toed at his discarded jeans that were piled on the floor. There was an awkwardness creeping around the edges -- but not much, just a little. Or maybe it was just him. “Should I—“ he began. “Do I stay?”
“It’s your house, too.” Jared said, his lips twitching in a sarcastic little smile. He stripped himself of his shirt and tossed it across the room.
Jensen’s hands itched to touch him. “That’s not what I mean.”
Jared kicked the covers of the bed down and scrambled beneath them. “I know what you mean,” Jared explained, his tone softening some. He placed a hand on Jensen’s shoulder, urging him backward. “Come here.”
Jensen stood at the open door. A late winter ice storm had struck overnight, taking the power out along with it. He watched as Chris worked on the front sidewalk, the shovel in his hands scraping against the concrete as he chipped away at the inch of ice covering it.
The street looked otherworldly. The bright morning sun reflected off ice-covered bare tree branches, and icicles hung snaggle-toothed off of gutters and windowsills. Jensen cracked the storm door open a bit and breathed in deep. The air tasted better than it usually did, clean and cold.
Steve descended the stairs behind him, muttering something about building a fire in the back yard to make coffee caveman-style over hot rocks. “Fucking uncivilized, is what it is,” he finished.
“A little fixated, huh?” Jensen asked, letting the door fall closed.
“We’re addicts, Jensen,” Steve answered, “Compulsion is sorta the name of the game around here. Besides, the best way to break outta old habits is to go right on out and get new ones.” His eyes lit up as a thought struck him. “Hey Jared,” he called as he headed into the kitchen, “We got gas for the grill right?”
“Grill me some goddamned pancakes while you’re at it,” Katie said as she passed Steve in the doorway. “I’m starving.”
She came up to Jensen, her hair tied in a sloppy knot at the back of her head, her too-large sweater falling off her shoulder a bit. Threading an arm through his, she leaned heavily against Jensen’s shoulder. “It’s sort of nice, not having power,” she said. “I always liked it when I was younger. It’s like everything gets a little quieter.”
“A little colder, too,” Jensen noted.
Katie leaned back, glanced at the dwindling stack of wood beside the fireplace. “Speaking of which,” she said, “can you bring some more firewood in before you leave for the center?”
Jared strode into the room, boots clomping on the wood floor, a scarf wrapped around his neck and a knit hat snug on his head. He snapped his phone closed as he approached them. “So,” he began, “I got a hold of the folks at the rehab center. They still have power, and about half the staff can make it in.” Jared looked out the window, up and down the street. “Problem is, I don’t really want to drive in this stuff. I’ll do it, but the truck’s tires are just about shot. We’ll have to load some of those cinderblocks in the garage into the back end of it, otherwise we’ll be sliding all over the place.” He chewed on his bottom lip. “I could always see how well the buses are running,” he mused. “But it’ll be a crappy walk to the bus stop.”
“I’m hearing an ‘or’ somewhere in this,” Katie said.
Jared came over to them, pressed a hand to Jensen’s lower back for a few seconds longer than was perhaps necessary and much shorter than Jensen wanted. The need to touch Jared was a visceral thing. All of the quick, stolen kisses and the lingering, light touches over the past couple of days just hadn’t been enough.
“How are you feeling, Jensen? You doing okay today?” Jared asked.
He shot a crooked smile in Jensen’s direction and right then Jensen wanted to kiss him so badly it ached. Instead, Jensen smiled back and said, “I’m good. I could use a candy bar, but other than that, I’m actually pretty good.”
“Sounds like someone’s about to get a snow day,” Katie said. “Jared never lets me get out of this kinda stuff.” She playfully jabbed Jensen in the ribs with an elbow. “Being the teacher’s pet sure does come with its own set of perks.”
Jensen took a step away, feeling like the ground was suddenly falling out from beneath his feet. The smell of a dusty attic room filled his nose, lodged itself the back of his throat. His nose started to tingle, his arms started to itch like he’d been mosquito bit to hell and back. No, Jensen mentally corrected himself. Not like a bite, more like a shot.
There it was, right there. Need slamming into him with the force of a howling locomotive.
His eyes opened wide, “Teacher’s pet,” he muttered, more to himself than anything.
“Jensen?” Jared said, noticing the change in him immediately and putting a hand on his arm.
Jensen shrugged away from the touch and spun, heading toward the kitchen door.
He heard Katie talking behind him, her voice tight, words coming fast and pitched higher with sudden concern. “Is he alright? Jensen, what did I—? I was joking, Jensen. I’m sorry.”
Jensen slammed past the back door, ignoring Steve’s questioning look, his feet almost shooting out from under him a couple of times on the ice. He slid to a stop beside the tall stack of firewood, crossed his arms on top of it, and pressed his forehead to its rough cold surface. He just breathed, letting the chilly air sink into him.
“She didn’t mean anything by it.” Jensen jumped a little at the voice. It was Jared. It was always Jared. Thank god it was Jared.
“Care to explain?”
“I don’t know.” Jensen turned to him, taking the coat that Jared was holding out and shrugging it on. He leaned back against the woodpile.
“Even if I don’t take you to rehab, Steve’s going to an NA meeting in a couple of hours.” Jared hiked a thumb over his shoulder. “Do you need to go to a meeting?”
“Teacher’s pet,” Jensen said again, shaking his head. “The last time I…” he trailed off, tried again. “There’s this guy. I don’t know his real name. Everyone just calls him the Professor.”
“I’ve heard of him,” Jared said, his expression going dark. “Patron saint of hopheads.”
“So, mutual friend, huh?” Jensen jammed his hands into his pockets. “Small world. I used to stay at his place sometimes. You know, when the streets started feeling too crowded, or when I was too broke to score.”
Jensen looked toward the house and saw Steve and Katie staring out the window at them. “You know how you sort of build your own family when your real one craps out on you?”
Jared came to stand next to Jensen. “Yeah, I really do,” Jared said.
Jensen went on, “I met this guy there, at the Professor’s place. It was right after my boyfriend skipped town on me, after we’d been kicked out of our apartment and the money was starting to dry up.” Jensen took a deep breath. “Anyway, he showed me things. Like safe places to crash for the night and which dealers to avoid. He was loyal.” There was a hollow feeling carving its way through Jensen’s chest; a mixture of guilt and longing and a regret that ran so bone deep he couldn’t put words to it.
Jared’s expression was pensive. “I get it,” he said.
“But do you? Do you really?” Jensen asked, searching Jared’s face like he could find some sort of truth hidden there. “Do you know how it feels to wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to move your legs because you haven’t had a fix for a day and a half and every nerve in your body is on fire? When you think that the most basic act of loyalty or charity comes from a man who will go out and score for you because you’re too fucking junk sick to do it yourself? Do you know what it’s like to make a promise, to swear with your whole soul that this hit will be your last, and then break it without a second thought?” The fight went out of him as quickly as it had arisen, leaving him feeling used up, deflated.
“I haven’t lived your life,” Jared began, staring out across the ice-covered back yard, “and I’m not gonna say that I understand completely. People always say that they do, but it’s bullshit. I can say one thing, though. I understand loyalty. I understand how it comes in all makes and models, and how sometimes it’s more important than anything else in the world.”
“It was more than that,” Jensen explained. “He didn’t want anything from me. For the first time in my life, I had someone who wasn’t into me because I was holding, or because I had money, or because of the parties I threw or the people I knew. I think he was the first person who ever really loved me.” Jensen’s voice broke at the end, but he pushed on. “He told me something once. One day when I was sick as hell and no one was answering their phone. He told me that if I was broken, I needed to fix myself.”
“Good advice. Simple, the way it ought to be.”
“Good? It depends on how you look at it. I guess I always took it the wrong way. At least until I didn’t anymore.”
“What happened to him? Your friend.”
Jensen had some ideas, none of which he could stand to put into words. “I don’t think I want to know. One day he went out to score and he never came back. Two days later I pawned his guitar and went out of my mind for a week. At the time I told myself I’d buy it back. Never got around to it.”
Jensen squared his shoulders and waited for the wince, or some sort of accusation, judgment or blame from Jared that never came. He watched the white clouds of his breath float up, could feel Jared shivering some beside him, thought about how karma wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. He kept waiting to pull the short straw. It was only a matter of time.
Jensen shook himself out of it. He just had to get through the next minute, the next five, or the next hour and it would pass. It always did. He held up his arms and said, “Load me up.”
Jared looked at him, a slight trace of confusion brewing behind his calm mask. “I can’t keep up with you.” He grabbed some firewood and placed it in Jensen’s outstretched arms.
“Well, that makes two of us.”
Loaded heavily with firewood, the two of them made their careful way toward the house. Katie met them at the door, a hopeful expression on her face and a chocolate bar in her hand. She set it atop of the stack of wood Jensen was h0lding.
“What’s that?” Jensen asked.
“Peace offering. I stole it from Chris. It’s his last one. Don’t tell him.”
“A little lesson for you,” Jensen started, smiling. “Never drink a man’s last beer, and never, under any circumstances, steal a man’s last candy bar.”
“Yeah,” Steve joined in. “I got another one. Never say something to trigger a dope head with a couple weeks’ sobriety under his belt.”
“I’m fine,” Jensen insisted, shooting a dark look at Steve. “You’re fine. We’re all fine.”
Katie tapped the candy bar with her finger. “It’s my white flag. Just take it. End of discussion.”
He followed Jared into the living room. They were unloading their arms beside the hearth when Jensen heard a distant sound. It reminded him of something winding up, and then the hall light came on.
“Sweet baby Jesus, thank you,” Steve crooned from the kitchen. “Who wants what for breakfast? I’m cooking.”
“Well, fuck,” Jensen said with a sigh. He made sure the room was empty, then hooked a hand around Jared’s hip, pulled him in close and kissed him briefly.
Jared was slow to open his eyes when they parted, brushing a thumb along the shell of Jensen’s ear for a second. “What?” he asked.
“I was hoping for a miserable, power-free night. You know, so I could make some excuse about needing to huddle together for warmth.”
Jared laughed low. He bent and kissed Jensen’s forehead, eyes closed as his lips chased back the lingering cold on Jensen’s skin. “I’ll be right back,” he said, pulling away.
“Where are you going?”
“The basement, to flip the breaker. I’m cutting off the power. I wouldn’t want to ruin your plans for this evening.”
“I think that someone might notice,” Jensen pointed out.
“I dare them to say something.”
“Turn off the light.”
Jensen tangled his hands in Jared’s hair as Jared skimmed his teeth along that delicious spot where his neck met his shoulder.
“No. I want to see you. All of you.” Jared unclasped the top button on Jensen’s jeans and ran his fingers along Jensen’s stomach, taking his shirt up along with it.
Panic, or at least its kissing cousin, cut through the haze of desire working in Jensen’s veins. “There’s not much to see.” The words came out before Jensen could rein them in. He regretted them a second later.
Jared leaned back on one elbow, toying with a loose thread on the hem of Jensen’s shirt. “Stop it,” he commanded gently. “That’s not you talking.” When Jensen tried to pull him close again, he resisted. “That’s junkie-speak.”
“I’m not too sure there’s a difference.” Coldness seeped into his veins and he moved toward Jared, curling into him, but Jared shifted away.
Jared sat up, leveled a searching look at him that made Jensen want to sink into the bed and disappear.
“Listen to me. This is important,” Jared said, “say you meet somebody, and this person says that they’re a lawyer, or a secretary, or a fucking construction worker. And we have these ideas about who they are based on that. These stereotypes. Right?”
“Where are you going with this?” Jensen asked.
“I’m telling you that we’re wrong. We’re always wrong, because that’s just what they do, not who they are. Sure, you put these labels on yourself, call yourself a junkie or an addict or a fuck-up. But it’s all just stuff you’ve done. It’s not who you are. And I want you to tell me who you are.”
“I think I’m still working on that part,” Jensen said.
“Fair enough,” said Jared and leaned in, kissed him slow. His breath lingered across Jensen’s lips as he spoke into his mouth. “I’ll start you out slow, then.” He pushed himself off the bed, grabbing hold of Jensen’s hands to stand him up. Jensen came willingly, like a docile kid being led along by a parent.
Jared steered him with his hands that were tightly gripping Jensen’s hips, leading him to a spot in front of the mirror on his closet door.
“Tell me what you see,” Jared said, his voice low.
Jensen dropped his eyes, not wanting to catch Jared’s direct look in the reflection. He tucked his chin down snugly to his chest and crossed his arms in front of himself.
Jared’s mouth ran hot on the back of his neck, relaxing Jensen’s shoulders some. His hands snaked around Jensen. He took Jensen’s wrists lightly but insistently and uncrossed his arms. Jensen let them fall limply to his sides. His stomach fluttered when Jared shoved his hands beneath his shirt, hiking it up over his head. The cool air needled at his flesh as Jared dropped the crumpled shirt to the floor. He tried to cross his arms again but Jared wouldn’t let him. He held Jensen’s wrists by his sides and ran small kisses over the nape of his neck, the spill of his hair tickling a little.
He tried to turn, but Jared held him there fast, tipped his chin up with a two long, slender fingers, and forced eye contact in the mirror. Jared’s mouth was set in a dead serious line beneath dark eyes. “You’re not getting out of this,” he said.
Jared was a solid force along his back, molding his body to Jensen’s from head to toe. His warmth seeped into Jensen’s skin, chasing away the shivers that threatened to rack through him.
Taking a deep breath, Jensen lifted his eyes and stared directly back at his own reflection. Tousled messy hair that looked almost black in the low light. Hollow cheeks and pale skin and those stupid freckles that he’d never grown out of. He followed the line of his body. Legs that bowed encased in second hand jeans that were way too big for him, riddled with holes at the knees and tears in the cuffs, the top button undone and the waistband riding low and slanted on his hips. A slightly sunken stomach, he could still count every rib, but that was getting better. The best part of this whole mess was his lips, shiny and kissed red and swollen.
Then there were his arms. He hated them, the veins sticking out like strings on a puppet, still too skinny, still too pale, bullet holed with light purple tracks like some sort of mark of Cain. Evidence of a guilty past.
“Tell me,” Jared said, his hands running along Jensen’s arms to stop him from folding them in, touches like whispers.
And he wondered when Jared was going to give up on him, if he was ever going to be able to look inside of Jensen and see his secrets, catch hold of that mainline to the truth of him—the awful glaring truth that there really wasn’t a lot left in him that was worth saving. That the best part of him was that warm feeling in his bones whenever Jared touched him the right way. That the best part was something Jared had put there.
“Scars,” Jensen gasped, “I see scars.”
Jared wound his arms low around Jensen’s belly, his sun-darkened skin a contrast to Jensen’s pale flesh. “Good,” he whispered, his teeth grazing slowly along Jensen’s neck.
A shiver ran through Jensen at the touch. “How can that be good?”
“Scars mean healing. They mean not now. They mean back then.”
Jensen tipped his head back and rested it against Jared’s shoulder. Jared leaned downward to kiss him -- it was slow and messy, too much tongue and the angle all wrong. “You always know the right things to say.” Jensen’s lips brushed against Jared’s.
A small noise escaped Jared’s throat, something that was half a sigh, half a groan and wholly sensual. The sound shot straight to Jensen’s cock, and he arched his back against Jared’s chest.
“No,” Jared replied, teeth skimming lightly along Jensen’s jaw for a split second. “I just get lucky sometimes. Like right now.”
He caught Jensen’s gaze in the mirror, trapped it there. His eyes were dark and a wicked grin was spreading across his face. Jared slid his hand down across Jensen’s belly, maddeningly slow, his hips grinding into Jensen from behind as he dipped down, gently palming Jensen’s cock through his jeans.
Jensen thrust into his hand, needing more, but Jared kept the touches light, the breath from his low chuckle wandering along Jensen’s ear.
Reaching up and behind him, Jensen wrapped his hands in Jared’s long hair, stretched himself out and closed his eyes. He lost himself for minutes in the feeling of Jared’s light touches across his ribs, and his stomach, and his cock; teasing and never quite enough. He teetered as he tried to balance on the knife-edge Jared was keeping him on.
But if patience was a virtue, then it was one Jensen had never really gotten a good handle on, and he soon lost out. With a frustrated, wrecked noise he broke, shoving his pants down roughly over his hips. He grabbed Jared’s hand and licked it, leaving a wide wet stripe of saliva, and pressed it to his throbbing cock with a groan.
Jared circled his thumb around him, followed with a couple of quick firm strokes that had Jensen staggering forward as all the blood in his body rushed south, a hand slapped to the wall for balance and his forehead pressed to the cool glass of the mirror.
“’Atta boy,” Jared said with a twist of his wrist, flicking of his thumb in a way that made Jensen lock his knees in place. “You can always take what you want from me. I won’t mind.”
A blaze lit up in Jensen’s veins at that and he shoved backward against Jared. “If that’s how you play,” he said as he spun, pressing his back to the mirror, and taking handfuls of Jared’s shirt, shoving it over his head and raking his fingernails down Jared’s chest. The key around Jared’s neck glinted in the light and Jensen ran his fingers along it, the metal warm from Jared’s skin.
His heart was hammering, blood pumping so hard that he could feel it in his fingertips and in his toes as he crashed their mouths together, tongue swooping in, hungry.
He slid down along Jared’s body to rest on his knees, mouth leaving a wet map of kisses along Jared’s ribs and his stomach before letting his tongue work along the soft trail of dark hair below Jared’s belly button, feeling Jared’s muscles contracting beneath him. His fingers shaking from want, he unhooked Jared’s jeans, letting them spill around his ankles.
Jared tipped forward, braced one arm against the wall and planted a hand in Jensen’s hair as Jensen gripped his cock and ran his tongue lightly along the underside. He tongued at the slit, breathed in the smell.
Tension poured from Jared’s body as he leaned over Jensen, his breath coming in small gasps, hips rocking in tiny jerks. Jensen stroked him slowly, running his lips along the crown of his cock, and licked away at the salty taste there.
Jared’s fist tightened in Jensen’s hair when he sucked down Jared’s cock, taking it in slowly, his hand working where his mouth couldn’t reach. He hummed a little at the taste of Jared in his mouth, at the weight of him sliding hot along his tongue.
“Jesus, fuck,” Jared said above him in a gruff voice. Jensen’s eyes snapped up to hold Jared’s gaze. Jared’s eyes were dark, peeking through the spill of his bangs. His lips had gone slack, wet from where he’d licked them, and a blush creeping up along his cheeks. He looked wrecked, high, fucked out and so completely perfect. The most beautiful thing that Jensen had ever seen.
Jensen’s hand dropped to his own cock, slid through the mess of precome as he jerked himself roughly, almost too rough, the combination of pleasure and pain dragging him closer to the edge.
Jared came with a tremble of his stomach muscles and a low grunt as his cock pulsed between Jensen’s lips, spilling hot down the back of his throat, flooding his nose with the smell and his mouth with the taste. Jensen swallowed, choked a little and Jared moaned again at the sensation of Jensen’s throat constricting around him.
Jensen pulled off with a small pop, jaw aching. He was breathing heavily through his open mouth, working Jared through the last of the aftershocks, through a slick of spit and come, the last drops falling hot on Jensen’s slack lower lip.
He licked them off, sat back on his haunches with his feet tingling and his throat on fire. The last taste of Jared and that look on the man’s face washed over him, bringing him close.
Jensen pressed his shoulders to the mirror. “Fuck,” he rasped as his orgasm tore through him, He spilled sloppy and hot over his own hand, streaking his belly. His chest heaved as he struggled to fill his lungs.
In a knot of feet and denim, they both kicked the rest of the way out of their pants. Jared slid down the wall and collapsed bonelessly beside him. He took Jensen’s fingers into his mouth, one at a time, almost delicately sucking away the splatters of come still clinging to them.
He tugged at Jensen’s neck, pulling him in for a kiss. Their tongues slid together slow and lazy, his lips pulling into a smile that Jensen could feel against his own.
“What?” Jensen said, smoothing his hand along a set of red scratch marks on Jared’s chest. He had no recollection of putting them there.
“That mouth of yours,” Jared started with a chuckle. “I always knew it could be good for something.”
Jensen laughed, leaned his head on Jared’s shoulder and let his eyes slip closed. Every muscle in his body felt slack and relaxed and he let himself float, sliding closer toward sleep.
Jared’s voice brought him back a little. “Looks like a perfectly good bed over there,” his voice was gravelly, tired.
Jensen eyed it, unfocused. “You don’t say.”
“It’s only a few feet away.”
“But the floor is right here,” Jensen patted the rug beside him.
“Two hours of sleeping sitting up on the floor and my ass is gonna hurt like a bitch,” Jared said. “And not for any of the good reasons,” he added.
Jensen smiled at the mental image that flashed across his closed eyelids. “I’ve slept in worse places,” he said.
“You won’t on my watch.” Jared got to his feet, hoisted Jensen up and all but tossed him bodily onto the bed. He followed him down, pressing his tall form against Jensen’s side. He placed a soft kiss to Jensen’s shoulder, and muttered something that sounded pretty much like ‘good night.’
Jensen awoke hours later, the house still dark and silent. Jared’s large hand was splayed across his chest, and small puffs of air from his open mouth were whispering along his skin. “I still think of you,” Jensen said into the quiet of the room. “Not always. Just enough.” The words tumbled from his lips fast, like a prayer. Or maybe a promise. He shook his head a little. Maybe he was crazier than he’d thought, still making small talk with a memory.
He took Jared’s hand, brought his wrist to his lips and felt the gentle beat of Jared’s pulse through the thin skin there. He pressed two fingers to his own neck, seeking out the flicker of his own heartbeat, wondering if they were in sync. They weren’t. It was more like one beat following the other, hot on each other’s heels. His and then Jared’s. Not together, but close. Close.