“Well, here it is.” Jared opens the door and gestures at the inside. Jensen takes a step into the bedroom, his face the closed off, distantly pissed expression he’d taken to wearing whenever not around Jared’s family. He looks around, taking in Jared’s childhood room in silence--the wooden desk in the corner that became too small for him by the ninth grade, the booksshelf still crammed with summer reading and college text books, the shelves on the wall with his soccer trophies and speech contest medals, the small TV with the dust covered Nintendo 64 sitting on top, and lastly, lingeringly, on the queen size bed shoved against one wall.
Judging by Jensen’s expression as he stares at it, his mind is caught on the exact same thought Jared’s is.
It’s going to be a tight fit.
Jared clears his throat uncomfortably and closes the door. “Uh, here.” He walks to the bed and grabs one of the big black tote bags he’d packed. “This one has your things in it.”
“Not my things,” Jensen replies, eyes still on the bed. Finally, he forces his eyes away from the neatly arranged dark blue blankets and pillows and meets Jared’s gaze. “I’ll take the floor,” he says firmly.
Jared sighs and drops the bag back on the mattress. “You can’t,” he wearily grunts. “My family has a habit of just barging into my room. They’ll definitely ask questions if they come in and you’re sleeping on the floor.”
Jensen clenches his jaw and takes a deep, noisy breath through his nose. Jared can see his fists clenching and unclenching at his sides. “Fine,” he grits out. “But I get the side away from the wall.” He doesn’t wait for Jared to object (not that he was going to), roughly grabbing the bag Jared had indicated from the bed and stalking to the door, every stiff, jerky gesture suggesting suppressed violence. “I’m changing in the bathroom,” he snaps, and just barely refrains from slamming the bedroom door.
Jared lets out another sigh and collapses on the bed, cradling his head in his hands.
When Jensen comes back ten minutes later, dressed in the sweats and t-shirt Jared had bought him at Wal-Mart, Jared’s already in bed, pressed as far up against the wall as is possible. He sees Jensen pause in the doorway, his shoulders moving slowly up and down in another one of those deep, calming breaths, then he closes the door and drops the bag on the desk. He doesn’t say anything, doesn’t look at Jared as he stiffly lays down on the other side of the bed, as close the edge as he can get. Even with the small size of the bed and the fact neither of them are exactly small, there’s a good foot between them. Jared thinks it’s a little ridiculous, but he doesn’t shift closer. Jensen is already so tense beside him that Jared wonders if he’s gonna pull something, just lying there on his back, staring at the ceiling and looking like he’d give anything just to will this whole situation away.
Jared huffs out a breath and rolls over on to his stomach, ignoring Jensen’s automatic flinch at the movement. He thinks vaguely about apologizing again, or assuring him that he was not going to try anything now that they are in the same bed, that he isn’t that type of person, kidnapping aside, but he knows it won’t do any good, and besides, he’s tired. It seems like he hasn’t slept, really slept, since before Misha told him he was leaving--sorry about Christmas Jared, maybe I’ll see you again if I’m ever back in the US--and this whole day had been beyond stressful. He loves his family, he really does, but it’s tiring being around them on a normal day, always smiling and cheerful, always pushing himself to be what they expect him to be, to give what they want from him; add in a complete stranger pretending to be his boyfriend--a stranger that he kidnapped and has to watch his every move to make sure nothing looks suspicious-- and Jared is down right exhausted.
Jensen’s breathing is perfect and even beside him, if perhaps a little louder than the man would probably want, and he hasn’t so much as twitched since that accidental flinch when Jared moved. The sounds of the house are familiar and comforting, reminding him of the years he spent falling asleep to the hum of the heat vents and the low rumble of the TV in his parents’ room every night when he was a kid, and it isn’t long until Jared is fast asleep.
When he wakes up it’s still dark, and he’s cold. He rolls over, shifting away from the chilly wall and dragging the rest of the blankets up and around his shoulders. It takes him a few moments for his brain to fuzzily realize he shouldn’t have been able to do that, but it’s the sudden thump and muffled curse that makes him remember why.
He jerks upright and looks around the room, noticing two things right away.
The window is open.
Flinging back the covers, he jumps out of bed and rushes to the window. The roof above the kitchen is right below it, and when Jared was a teenager he used to sneak out of the house at night with its help. He doesn’t doubt that Jensen noticed how little of a drop it was to the ground, and sure enough, when Jared peers into the backyard he sees the vague, shadowing outline of a man running around the corner of the house.
Shit. Shit shit and fuck.
He scrambles to get his shoes, shoving his feet in without bothering to tie the laces, and heads back to the window. As an afterthought, he rips open his bag and grabs the handcuffs.
Crawling through the window and onto the roof isn’t as easy as he remembers. It’s been years since he’s had to do this, and he nearly loses his balance twice, scrapes his palms open on the rough shingles and bangs his knee on the side of the house as he eases down. He can’t help the automatic grunt he makes as he lands hard on the ground, and he just prays that his family stays asleep.
This would be much harder to explain than Jensen sleeping on the floor.
He runs to the front of the house, scanning the streets for any sign of Jensen, and breathes a sigh of relief when he sees him. Jensen is walking briskly in the direction of town, hands in his pockets, head ducked, like he’s trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. He obviously doesn’t know that Jared noticed him gone, or else he’d be running.
They passed a gas station on the way here, and it looks to Jared that that’s where Jensen’s heading to. Probably to use the phone. Maybe call the police.
Jared feels his throat close up at the thought.
He ducks behind the neighbor’s house, running from backyard to backyard in an attempt to catch up without Jensen noticing. The easiest way to get to the gas station is through the neighborhood park, and Jared knows the short cut.
He catches up to Jensen just as the man is jogging past the swing sets. Jared speeds up, jumping over the corner of the sandbox and into the center of the park. Jensen has just enough time to turn at the sound--his dropped jaw and wide eyes just barely visible from the streetlights across the park--before Jared leaps at him, tackling him to the ground.
Thank god he played football as well as soccer in high school.
They land hard on the grass. Jensen flails a little at an attempt to break his fall and Jared grunts as one elbow knocks him in his stomach, hard. He doesn’t take a moment to get his breath back though, immediately pulling up and shoving Jensen onto his stomach, pressing one knee to his back.
“Jesus!” Jensen gasps out. “What the fuck is wrong with you? Are you crazy? Get off me!” He struggles against Jared’s hold, trying to buck him off, but Jared grabs both his arms and leans all his weight on them, pinning them to the ground.
Huh. Maybe he should have done wrestling in high school as well.
“Get off!” Jensen yells again. He twists his shoulders and kicks out his legs, one arm coming free to elbow Jared in the collar bone.
“Ow, shit!” Jared digs his knee a bit deeper, making Jensen squirm and grunt, and manages to grab the arm, pulling it up and back against Jensen lower back. “Be quiet,” he snaps. “Do you want to wake the whole town up?”
“Yes! Yes, actually I do.” Jensen growls. His face is pressed into the grass and he angles his head over his shoulder to try to glare at Jared. “I want the whole fucking town to wake up and see what a crazy, psychotic, pathetic kidnapper you are.”
“Crazy and psychotic are the same thing,” Jared tells him, digging into the pocket of his sweatpants for the handcuffs. Jensen just growls again and fights him even more. “Besides,” he says over Jensen’s increasingly vicious curses, “I grew up here. Everyone in the neighborhood knows me and trusts me. They’ll believe anything I tell them. Even Terry.”
He feels like shit just for saying the words. Low. Lower than Chad, even. But he’s desperate, which seems to be the running theme this Christmas.
“Who the fuck is Terry?”
“The guy who owns the gas station down the street. He’s the only one who works it this late.”
Jensen stops fighting at that, going limp against Jared’s hold and sinking into the ground. Jared eases up a little, lets him catch his breath. “Fuck.” Jensen mumbles into the grass.
Yes, Jared thinks. Exactly.
He grabs a hold of one of Jensen’s wrists and--using his knee to keep the other one pinned--snaps the cuff on it. He considers handcuffing Jensen’s other wrist as well, behind his back like in the cop shows, but then he imagines what that would look like to anyone awake and curious enough to go to their windows at this time of night. So instead he slaps the cuff on his own wrist, linking them together. If they walk close enough, it’ll just look like they’re holding hands.
He doubts somehow, that Jensen would appreciate that thought.
With Jensen safely cuffed to him, Jared rolls off, flopping down onto his back and trying to catch his breath. The cuffs jingle as he moves and he has to stretch his arm out over Jensen’s back so he can lay down.
“Get your arm off me,” Jensen grumbles.
“You’ll have to roll over for me to do that.”
Jensen huffs in irritation, then groans as he rolls over. Their linked arms fall to the ground, resting between them.
“I hate you.”
Jared sighs. “I know you do.” He pauses for a moment, staring up at the sky and the yellow rails of the swing set above them. “I don’t blame you.”
Beside him, Jensen just grunts in answer.
The walk back is awkward and quiet, with a sullen, glowering Jensen and a dead-on-his-feet Jared. They’re both bruised and dirt streaked, the scrapes on Jared’s palms are stinging and several times during the walk one or the other would forget about the handcuffs and make some sudden movement, jerking the other’s arm and causing them to nearly trip.
Jared just wants to go back to sleep.
When they get back to the house, Jared doesn’t even consider trying to go back through the window. He finds the spare key and lets them in through the front door. He practically drags Jensen--as quietly as possible--up the stairs and through the hallway to his room, barely pausing to kick off his shoes before he marches to the window--pulling a reluctant Jensen along--and slides it shut. Then he just flops faced down onto the bed, not even caring that the arm connected to Jensen is up in the air. “Lay down,” he mumbles into the pillow.
Jensen pulls on the cuffs, jerking Jared’s arm from side to side. “Dude,” he says, “this does not work for me,” and Jared barely suppresses a frustrated whine.
“Just go to sleep already. I‘m not taking them off so you can run away again.”
He can feel the motion through their connected arms as Jensen huffs. “I’m not sleeping like this. I like to sleep on my back.”
Jared buries his face further into the pillow. “Yeah and I like sleeping on my stomach. So tough. Now get in.” he tugs on Jensen’s arm.
Jensen tugs back. “No.”
“Fine,” Jared groans as he sits up. He leans over to the foot of the bed--nearly pulling Jensen down on top of him--and reaches for his bag on the floor. After a few moments of digging he finds it: the key. He sits up. “C’mere.”
Jensen comes just close enough that Jared can reach his wrist, keeping the rest of his body angled away from Jared’s, and Jared has to resist the urge to roll his eyes, fed up with Jensen’s attitude. He’s just too damn tired to feel sympathetic and guilty right now.
The handcuff releases Jensen’s wrist with a click, but before Jensen can so much as pull his hand back Jared grabs his other one, snapping it on that wrist instead. “There,” he says, smiling. “Now you can lay on your back while I’m on my stomach. And you get the wall this time.” He stands up and stretches his hand to the ceiling, placing the key on one of the blades of the still ceiling fan there. “So you can’t get it while I’m sleeping,” he says brightly in response to Jensen’s glower, visible even in the poor lighting. “Now, sleep.”
He doesn’t allow Jensen to object, practically shoving Jensen onto the bed before crawling in after him. He pulls the covers over both of them and buries his face in the pillow once more. Beside him Jensen is shifting and twitching, trying to get comfortable while putting as much distance as the cuffs will allow, but Jared just lets out a soft sigh, ignoring him.
For the second time that night, Jared slides easily into sleep.
Jared wakes up in a state of bliss. He’s more comfortable than he can ever remember being. The bed is warm and comfortable, he’s surrounded by the scents and smells he instinctively recalls as home, and his arm is wrapped around something soft that’s practically radiating heat. He scoots closer to that warmth, pressing his nose into the soft hair brushing his face and taking a deep breath, letting it out with a content “hmmm.”
He’s slipping happily back asleep when the body he’s wrapped around shifts, then stiffens in his arms. He gasps and jerks awake as an elbow is abruptly thrust into his stomach, followed swiftly by a knee as the other man scrambles to get away from him.
“Hey,” he gasps, stretching one hand out towards Jensen, “what are you…”
He knocks Jared’s hand away. “Let me go, you freak. Just--” Jared lets out a soft oof as Jensen hurriedly crawls over him, trying to get off the bed and away from Jared.
There’s a faint chink of the handcuffs before the tug on Jared’s arm. “Hey, wait,” he tries, but it’s too late. Jensen practically leaps off the bed, jerking Jared after him.
They fall to ground in a tangle of sheets and limbs, Jared on top of Jensen, and for the fourth time in the last eight or so hours, Jared gets another body part of Jensen’s lodged into his gut.
He’s going to be seriously bruised after all this.
Jensen shoves at him. “Get off me,” he hisses.
Jared tries to sit up but one violent jerk from Jensen knocks Jared back down again. “I’m trying,” he snaps. “This is your fault you know. If you would just stop freaking out.”
“Oh right. Like I’m supposed to be calm when my kidnapper starts molesting me in my sleep.”
“I wasn’t molesting you, god.”
“What do you call it then? You were wrapped all around me, and you were nuzzling my goddamned neck!”
“I didn’t mean to! I was asleep for fuck’s sake.”
Jensen rolls his eyes. “Right. I’m supposed to believe that. Just.” He gives the hand with cuffs a good tug. “Get. This. Off. Me.”
Jared huffs and tries to kick off the sheets wrapped around his legs. “I will, all right? Just stop flailing so I can stand up and get the--”
“Oh my god.”
Shocked at the voice, they immediately still. Jared jerks his head over his shoulder to face the door. It’s open, and standing in the doorway, eyes locked unerringly on the cuffs linking Jared and Jensen together, is his brother.
“Uh…” He gapes at his brother, then down at Jensen, taking in what it must look like--their faces flushed and breathing harsh from exertion, Jensen’s t-shirt rucked up and Jared straddling one of Jensen’s thighs, chests pressed almost intimately close and wrists locked together by handcuffs. “Um, I can--this isn’t what it looks like,” he stutters out.
Jeff slowly raises his eyes from the handcuffs to meet Jared’s gaze. He smirks. “I don’t know what’s kinkier, the handcuffs or the fact that you’re doing it at mom and dad’s house with only a wall separating you from their bedroom.”
Jared flushes and groans, ducking his head and pressing his face against the arm he has braced on the floor. Under him, Jensen tenses as he inadvertently brings their faces closer together. He sighs. “Just go away, Jeff.”
“Hey, hey,” his brother soothes, voice mocking. “I didn’t mean to interrupt. I was just told to come up here and get you down for breakfast. I’ll tell them you’ll be a while, eh, champ?” He snickers.
Jared sighs again, idly watching as the skin on Jensen‘s neck twitches as his breath huffs against it. “Whatever. Just go.”
“Alright. Just try to keep it down. I have kids here, remember.”
The door shuts with a click and Jared sits up, finally managing to rid himself of the sheets tangled around his legs. He rolls off Jensen and sits down on the floor, burying his face in his free hand. “Oh god. He’s never going to let me live this down. I‘m going to hear about this at family gatherings for years.”
Beside him, Jensen lets out a soft sound, and the arm connected to Jared’s starts to shake. Jared lowers his hand and stares at him, eyes widening as he realizes that Jensen is laughing.
Jensen‘s practically giggling. “I can’t believe that just happened. Oh god, your face.” He shoots a look at Jared’s still flushed face and bursts into another round of uncontrollable chuckles.
Jared just stares at him for a moment, shocked. Then the sheer ridiculousness of the morning catches up to him and suddenly he’s laughing too, tilting his head back and chuckling so hard tears start streaming down his face. He starts to lift a hand to wipe them away, but it’s the one handcuffed to Jensen and the tug on their wrists just sends them both back into hysterics. After a few minutes he manages to calm down, taking a deep breath and slanting a look at Jensen, still smiling.
His breath catches in his chest.
Jared had thought Jensen attractive immediately when he’d opened his door and saw him, but like this--lying back on the floor, limbs loose and relaxed, free from all the stiff tension he’d been carrying around since Chad had cuffed him and started this whole thing, the scattered freckles along his nose bright against the flush of his face, smile wide and sincere, hair a mess, crinkles around his eyes--he’s gorgeous, and Jared is hit with a sudden longing.
He suddenly wishes it was real, this relationship. He wishes that he really was bringing his boyfriend Jensen to meet his parents, that he got to wake up to a sight like this every morning.
That Jensen didn’t hate him.
Jared sighs, mirth gone. “Come on,” he mutters. “We better get down there before Jeff decides to tell everyone exactly why he thinks we’re late.” He stands, reaching out the cuffed hand to grab a hold of Jensen’s wrist and haul him up. He stretches his other arm up toward the fan, searching for the key.
He’s too lost in his own thoughts to notice that Jensen doesn’t immediately jerk his hand away, like usual.
Breakfast is apparently a big deal in the Padalecki household. Actually, Jensen thinks, judging by the enthusiasm and sheer joy with which the meal last night had been consumed, food in general is a big deal for the Padaleckis. Everyone is awake and at the table for breakfast, despite the fact that it’s only eight o’clock, an ungodly--in Jensen’s opinion--hour to be awake at.
But the coffee is good, hot and strong and black, and Jensen practically moans in pleasure as he gulps his first cup down. Laura raises her eyebrows at him as she watches him inhale the drink, but Sherri just takes his empty mug and refills it, handing it back to him with a smile.
There’s enough food to feed twenty people, let alone ten. Or at least that’s what Jensen thinks until he sees it all--the waffles, and the pancakes and the eggs and bacon and toast and the assorted fruit in the bowl at the center of the table--disappear. He scans the table, taking in the Padalecki men--Jared who has to be at least 6’4, with broad shoulders and seriously built--as Jensen’s bruises from the tackle last night can attest to--muscles, and Jeff who’s barely an inch shorter, with the same build, Jerry who they obviously got their height from--and Jensen supposes that they must need all that food. But even Meg, short and petite, can put away so much food it looks impossible, and he decides they must all have a very high metabolism.
Another reason to dislike them.
Except he finds it hard to dislike Jared’s mom when she takes one look at the portion of food on Jensen’s plate--not what he’d consider meager, by any means--and tuts disapprovingly, stabbing two more flapjacks from the plate in the center and placing it on his with a warm smile, following it up with an extra slice of bacon. It reminds him too much of his mom, before Dad made it big and his parents started taking themselves too seriously, back when she used to cook, and Jensen can’t help smiling warmly at her, picking up the bacon with his fingers and taking a bite. It crumbles hot, greasy and satisfactorily in his mouth.
Beside him Jared shifts uncomfortably and Jensen looks up at him, seeing a blush on his face. He looks curiously around the table, trying to figure out what might have caused it and catches Jeff’s eye across the table. Jeff smirks at him.
Jensen gives a smirk of his own and snorts a little, remembering the scene upstairs, and Jared’s face. It’s hard to take your kidnapper seriously when he looks so humiliated at his brother catching him in a somewhat risqué position. Jared hears the snort, and probably guessing what it was about, sends him a little glare. Jensen just picks up his knife and starts cutting into his pancakes, still smiling.
“So, Misha,” Jared’s sister, Megan pipes up from her spot across from him, and his smile turns wary. “Jared told us you do yoga.”
“Uh,” Jensen flashes a glance at Jared, who looks slightly panicked. “Yeah?”
“Great!” she exclaims. Jensen thinks there’s something vaguely predator-like about her smile. “So you can join me when I do my morning yoga routine.”
Jensen trades a look from Jared--yup, definitely panic there--to Megan’s fiancé Ben, who’s giving him a look very close to pity, like Jensen’s a man about to volunteer to die. He takes a deep breath, wonders just what he’s getting himself into. “Sure,” he tells Megan, forcing the word out with a tight smile.
They clear an area in the living room, opening the blinds on the patio doors to let sunlight stream through. Jensen had changed back into the sweats he wore to bed, lingering in Jared’s bedroom, trying to stall, but after a few minutes Megan was calling for him from the bottom of the stairs, and he had no other choice but to go down and meet her. When she smiled at him and sweetly asked, “Do you mind if we go through my normal Vinyasa sequence?” Jensen knew he was in trouble, didn’t even need to know what a Vinyasa was.
Now, Jensen’s sweating and shaking on the floor, in the only position he’d ever consider doing on a regular basis--the corpse pose. Flat on his back, arms at his side, he stares at the stucco ceiling and focuses on breathing, trying his best to ignore the aching in his arms, legs, back, and hell, muscles he didn’t even know existed.
Never again, he thinks.
Just a few feet away, Jared’s sister mirrors his pose, breaths infuriatingly calm and even. “You had a lot more trouble with that than I expected,” she says, rolling her head to the side so she can look at him.
It was true. At the beginning it had been fine, the hip tilts weren’t bad, the Cat Pose popped his back nicely, and he’d been expecting the Downward Facing Dog, the leg stretching poses had been uncomfortable, even border line painful--he was fully convinced that the “Pigeon Pose,” a position where you stretched out one leg and folded the other one below you, touching your forehead to your ankle, should never be done by a man--but when they moved on to standing poses he’d had a lot of trouble keeping his balance. Standing on one leg while pulling the back one behind you took a surprising amount of strength and endurance, and he almost fell on his face several times.
When he attempted the Crow Pose, he did fall on his face. Face smashed into the carpet he stared wearily as Megan managed it perfectly--palms flat on the ground, legs bent and braced on the back of her elbows so that her feet were in the air, whole body weight supported by her arms.
Crazy, that’s what it was. He’d felt like he was witnessing a scene from the contortionist act in a Cirque du Soleil show.
He can see Megan still staring at him expectantly out of the corner of his eye, apparently waiting for a more satisfactory answer to the implied question than what he gave. He sighs, feeling the burn in his lungs as he releases the air. “I just started a little while ago,” is his excuse. He doesn’t know what exactly Jared told his family about Misha and his yoga habits, but fuck it; it’s not like he can fake it anyway.
“Oh!” She bites her lip, actually looking sorry. “If I’d known that I would have chosen an easier set of stretches.” She gives him a small smile. It’s softer than what he’s seen before, apologetic, and for a minute he reconsiders the possibility that she is actually the devil incarnate, as he’d been considering when she’d been demonstrating the more…creative poses. “Why don’t you quit for now. I’ll do the next set of poses on my own.”
The next set?
Jensen doesn’t even try to hide his horror at the idea of more. “Yeah,” he says, voice hoarse with relief. “I think that’s a good idea.”
He groans as he gets up, and practically limps out of the room. Behind him he hears Megan change the CD in the stereo and as another round of soothing music starts to play, he looks back to see her back on the floor, starting an awkward looking pose where her legs go over her head, soles placed flat on the ground above her forehead, twisting her body into an inverted O.
“It’s freaky isn’t it?”
Jensen startles at the voice, muscles complaining loudly at the jerk that goes through his body. He turns in the direction of the voice. Ben is leaning against the doorway, a couple of water bottles in his hands, eyes on Megan, watching as she twists and contorts herself with a small smile on his face.
“Yeah.” Jensen glances back at her. “Freaky’s the word.”
Ben shakes his head. “You’re a braver man than I am, volunteering to do that with her.”
Jensen raises one eyebrow at him.
“She’s in the advanced class,” Ben explains. “She’s looking for a position as a teacher, just for a part time thing. Man, I went to one class with her, and I tell you, never again.” He chuckles, shaking his head again.
Jensen shrugs and smiles at him.
“Oh, that’s right. Jared said you’re really getting into this yoga thing. So I guess getting to the advanced class would be something you’d want, huh?”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” Jensen says awkwardly. “I think just knowing enough to be, uh, healthy and all sounds good to me.” Really, he had no desire to take an advanced yoga class. At all.
Ben nods genially, offering Jensen one of the water bottles in his hand. Jensen takes it with a smile, gratefully chugging down the cool liquid.
“So, uh, you and Jared, huh?”
There’s something off about his tone, and Jensen looks sharply at him. “Yeah…” he says warily, not sure where Ben is going with this.
So far, everyone in Jared’s family has seemed very tolerant and accepting of his (fake) relationship with Jensen, but what people say and how they act isn’t always the truth, and it’d make sense that Megan’s fiancé, the new addition to the family would be the one who had issues with it.
Not that he particularly cares if Jared’s family gives him a hard time. He doesn’t care much for Jared himself, period, kidnapper that he is, but Jensen has had enough of stupid people and their bigotry to last him a lifetime, and he’s not about to put up with it, not even for his (fake) boyfriend.
“Megan tells me it’s been a while since Jared’s ever introduced anyone to the family, so you guys must be pretty serious.” His eyes flicker nervously past Jensen to Megan and then back again, and Jensen relaxes.
Ah. So Ben’s just digging for information. Probably on Megan’s orders. That, Jensen can handle.
“Well, you know, it’s only been a couple months.” Jensen tell him, smiling his best charming smile, the one he’d used when negotiating for his clients. “But yeah, I’d like to think we’re heading that way, sure.”
Ben grins and leans a little more against the doorway, responding to Jensen’s easy tone and smile, hoping to get more information now that Jensen has shown he’s amenable to talking. “So how’d you guys meet, anyway?”
At this, Jensen inwardly grimaces. Jared had gone over his and Misha’s backstory on the way to the house, but he still doesn’t feel comfortable parroting it out, just in case what he says contradicts what Jared had told them all. “At a health food store near where I live.”
“A health food store? Jared?” Ben asks, eyebrows raised, and Jensen has to wonder how much about Misha Jared did tell his family. It would explain why Megan was going through so much trouble to get information about their relationship. Then again, the surprise could have been feigned.
“Yeah. It’s a small place, mostly regulars, and I hadn’t seen him around before--” because Jensen doesn’t frequent health food stores. He’d take a good steak and loaded baked potatoes over tofu and lentils any day, thank you. “--so I struck up a conversation. Turns out he’d been sent there by a girl he was dating to pick up something for dinner.”
Those eyebrows went up again. “He was dating someone else when you met him?”
“Apparently it wasn’t anything serious. Anyway, I liked him, so I gave him my number, told him to call me.” All in all it was a pretty boring “how they got together” story, or at least Jensen thought so. He supposed it might have been a bit more exciting for Jared. And Misha, probably. Maybe.
Well. The man did flee the country.
“You just gave him your number, just like that? But he was with a girl did you even know if he was gay?”
Jensen smirks at him, tossing the water bottle from hand to hand. “Usually you can tell. And even when you can’t…” Jensen carelessly shrugs one shoulder. “Sometimes you just have to put yourself out there anyway.” That part is true, at least, or had been, anyway. Jensen certainly hasn’t been doing too much of that here recently. Too busy.
Ben stares at Jensen in real surprise this time, like Jensen was something he’d never seen before. “So you just go and “put yourself out there” and hit on any man you want even if you don’t know whether or not he’s gay. Here. In Texas.”
“Yeah.” And boy did it used to get him in a lot of trouble. His father had loved that. “The way I see it is, if everyone keeps being careful and edging around the subject of homosexuality, then it’s going to stay something to edge around. Pushing it up in people’s faces, even in just every day situations, forces them to acknowledge it. And it’s one step closer to acceptance. Besides, I’m not about to hide who I am to anyone. For anything.”
Hypocrite, his mind whispers to him, reminding him sharply of just how much he is hiding from these people. They don’t even know his real name for Christ’s sake.
Ben shakes his head again, reaching out to pat Jensen on the shoulder. “Like I said, braver man than I am.”
Feeling suddenly done with the conversation, and all the lies that come with it, Jensen forces a smile on his face and tilts his head in the direction of the stairs. “Well, I’m just sitting here sweating, and it’s getting pretty gross. I’mma head up to the shower. Thanks for the water, man.”
“No problem. Nice talking to ya, Misha.”
The name leaves a bitter taste in the back of his throat, and it shouldn’t, not really. The fact that these people don’t know his real name shouldn’t matter to him. He shouldn’t like his kidnapper’s family.
But he does, Jensen realizes as he heads up the stairs. Not even a full day here and Jensen likes them all, feels bad for lying to them. He pauses outside the upstairs bathroom as he takes that in.
Jared pops his head out of his bedroom. “Hey Jen--” he coughs “Uh, Misha. I have to go into town for a bit today. You wanna come with?”
Jared says you want to but Jensen knows he really means you have to, because there was no way he’d leave Jensen alone with his family, able to say anything or leave any time, and that bitter taste is back in his mouth, this time accompanied by the familiar flood of anger and resentment.
Jensen welcomes the emotions with relief.
“Do I really have a choice?” he hisses to Jared, stalking past him and into the room. He roughly grabs the bag with his clothes off the desk chair and spins around, glowering. “I’m taking a shower before we leave. You--” he thrusts one finger in Jared’s direction, “stay out of the bathroom while I’m in there.”
He marches angrily out into the hall, ignoring Jared’s muttered, “Like I would go in there.” The bathroom door shuts behind with a firm, and satisfying click.
They take Jared’s car out of the small neighborhood and into the city proper. On the way out of the house they’re stopped by Sherri who hugs them both and asks if Jared is going to visit some people named Harley and Sadie. Jared just grins as he opens the door. “Of course, Mama. Gotta introduce Misha to them, don’t I?”
Jensen isn’t too thrilled with this. He’s already met enough of Jared’s friends with Chad, and if he’s the shining example of who Jared likes to be around, then he doesn’t want to meet anybody else. Besides, what kind of a name was Harley for a person, anyway?
At least this time, he thinks, as Jared pulls away from the sidewalk and into the street, Jensen isn’t handcuffed to the door. Jared had paused halfway to the car, a thoughtful expression on his face as he stared at the passenger side door, but Jensen hadn’t let him consider going upstairs for the cuffs. He’d hopped right in the car and slammed the door shut. Shrugging, Jared had followed.
They’re driving through the city now. Jensen had been to San Antonio before, but Jared doesn’t seem to have any intention of heading to the downtown area, driving away from the River Walk and the other tourist spots and closer to the edge of the city.
“So where are we going, anyway?” Jensen asks when he finally gets too curious to remain silent.
Jared looks surprised--probably because the last time they spent in the car Jensen had made it a point to speak to Jared as little as possible--but answers readily enough. “I’m picking out my mama’s Christmas gift.”
Figures. Christmas Eve and the guy hasn’t even bought his mother a Christmas gift yet. He snorts and goes back to staring out the windshield, taking in the street names as they pass them. Out the corner of his eye he sees Jared frown at his reaction, but he doesn’t say anything.
They turn into a street filled with little shops--a second hand bookstore, an arts and crafts shop, what looks like a karaoke bar and a small diner. It’s all a little too Ma and Pa to be any interest for tourists, but Jensen can tell that they’re doing all right. They don’t seem rundown or on the verge of closing, and there isn’t an empty space or a For Rent sign to be seen. They park right out on the street and Jared leads Jensen to a shop on the corner, passing, Jensen notes with irony, a handmade wicker furniture store.
The shop they go to is an antique store, filled with old dolls and paintings, tarnished metal lamps and chandeliers with dangling, foggy crystals. There’s a glass case filled with ceramic salt and pepper shakers, delicate figurines and costume jewelry. Rusty tin cans with antique logos on them sit on top, filled with old post cards, feathers and an assortment of colorful buttons. Jensen pauses at the case, reaches up to smooth the crinkled corner of a post card that caught his eye. There’s a photo of an American muscle car on the front. Jensen picks it up and looks closer: a ‘67 Chevy Impala, its coat black and smooth, the chrome shining even through the faded ink of the card.
Jared doesn’t stop to look at anything on the shelves, instead heading straight for the back of the store, and Jensen can’t help but follow, curious despite himself. “Meryl? Are you there?” Jared calls out.
A door to what looks to be an office opens, and a woman leans out. She’s heavy set, probably in her mid-fifties, with brilliant, curly red hair piled messily into a bun on top of her head. When she sees Jared, her face splits into a wide smile, eyes crinkling at the corner. “Jared! I’ve been waiting for you! How have you been?”
Jared’s own smile is huge, dimples deep, as he walks forward and envelopes the woman in a hug. “I’m good. How are you? And Jonathan?”
The woman rolls her eyes as she steps away. “That man is going to drive me crazy,” she complains, but there’s a smile on her face. “He’s decided that we need to build a two car garage beside our house, like there’s not enough room in the one we have already. I swear, he just wants something to keep him busy. Never could sit still, so retirement is making him nuts.”
“You should make him come here sometime. I’m sure you could put him to work somewhere,” Jared teases.
Meryl looks horrified. “Absolutely not! You’ve heard the phrase ‘bull in a china shop?’ Well that phrase was made for my husband. He’d destroy anything he came in contact with. So clumsy.” She shudders dramatically and they both laugh. Jensen stands there awkwardly for a moment until Meryl finally catches sight of him behind Jared. “Well, Jared, aren’t you going to introduce your friend?”
Jared turns his smile on Jensen. For once, it’s not the bright, forced smile he’d been wearing every time someone in his family would ask about him, but softer, more sincere. “This is Jensen.” He places a hand on Jensen’s shoulder to guide him forward and Jensen jumps a little, surprised at both the touch and the name.
Why wasn’t he Misha to Meryl?
“He’s going to help me figure out what to get my mom,” Jared tells the woman brightly. He doesn’t say the word “boyfriend,” but Meryl’s eyes linger on Jared’s hand on his shoulder, thumb just grazing his collar bone, and her smile is kind when she holds out her hand.
“I’m Meryl McCune. Pleased to meet you.”
“You too ma’am.” Jensen shakes her hand with a smile.
Just like Sherri did when Jensen met her, Meryl shakes her head. “Call me Meryl.”
He nods his head. “Alright. Meryl.”
“Well.” Meryl claps her hands together. “What are we waiting for? Come on up.” She walks back through the door she came out of, leaving the door open.
“Up?” Jensen turns to Jared, brows furrowed in confusion.
“Meryl uses the space above here. Becky--” he points to woman on the other side of the small store, sitting in an ancient rocking chair placed behind a till. “--owns the antique shop. She rents it out to Meryl.”
So they weren’t here for antiques? Just what were they here for then?
Jensen follows Jared through the door which didn’t lead, as he thought, to an office but a small hallway. There were two more doors after that, both open, one to a small bathroom, and the other to a set of steep, brightly lit wooden stairs. Jared gestures for Jensen to go on ahead of him and he does, tensing when Jared closes the door to the stairs behind him.
“Meryl doesn’t like to be disturbed when she’s with a client,” Jared explains when Jensen shoots him a look over his shoulder, and Jensen wonders again just what they were doing here.
He opens the door at the top of the stairs and steps through it, eyes widening as he takes in the sight before him. The top floor is made up of one long room, with big double-pained windows on both sides. There are no blinds or curtains, filling the room with natural light, glinting and bouncing off the items on the shelves and tables all around.
The room is filled with glass.
The tables taking up the center of the room are full of it, clear glass figurines of all shapes and sizes, smooth, colorful plates and bowls. There’s a pitcher and bowl in the corner that looked like it was made out of water itself, the glass a beautiful transparent blue with swirls of aqua and light green running through it. Hanging above their heads are tiny glass baubles and huge, abstract chandeliers, some transparent, like the pitcher, others dark and opaque, the colors bright and vibrant in the sunlight, all of it, from the thick glass goblets to the delicate spun glass sail boat, are obviously hand made.
“Pretty impressive, huh?” Jared murmurs behind him. “I was looking for a gift for my--” he stops suddenly, a tight expression flickering across his face quickly before he gives his head a little shake and continues. “for… someone,” he says, though Jensen has a feeling that wasn’t what he originally meant. Whoever it was, it must be painful for Jared to think about, Jensen thinks, based on that brief expression.
But Jared seems to have immediately forgotten all about it, face smooth and relaxed as he looks around the room and continues with the story. “I was at a complete loss as to what to get, and a friend introduced to me to Meryl. She took me up here and I was completely blown away. I didn’t even know it was possible to do the sorts of things she does with glass.”
Jensen nods, staring at everything in the room. Impressive is an understatement.
They walk through the room, Jensen’s attention flittering from item to item, until they reach the back where Meryl has set up a sort of workshop. She’s standing behind a long scuffed table with a small furnace, a long rubber tube with a mouthpiece connected to it. Behind that are rows and rows of glass pipes in all different sizes and color, as well as an array of metal tools Jensen couldn’t begin to decipher what they’re used for. But what Meryl is leaning over now is a large sketchbook, a stubby graphite pencil in hand.
“Alright, Jared,” she says when they reach the table. “What do you have in mind this time?”
For all that Jared said downstairs about Jensen helping him figure out what to get, Jensen isn’t needed. Mostly because Jared doesn’t even look to see if there’s anything he likes on the shelves. Instead he goes into explaining what he wants, with big hand gestures and an excited gleam in his eyes. After a few minutes of listening intently to him Meryl starts to sketch. Jared joins her around the table, peering over her shoulder, pointing at one thing here, suggesting something else there.
Jensen takes the time to look around the room. He’s seen glass blowing before, of course, but never like this. Before it was always the same stuff: cheap looking roses made out of dyed red glass, or blue painted humming birds perched on a lily, a dangling heart with the word mom written through it. His father and he had bought his mom a glass figurine once. One of those water filled swans that were supposed to serve as a barometer. You clip off the tip of the beak and the colored water would rise up the neck whenever there was a storm. The shop they’d got it at had rows and rows of the same design, over and over again, so perfect and alike it was hard to believe that they had been individually hand made.
It wasn’t like this. Meryl is an artist. No two designs are the same and they’re all made with an extreme amount of detail. For the life of him, Jensen can’t figure out what she is doing in a small, cramped room above a barely noticeable antique store.
Jensen looks over at Meryl and Jared. They’re still bent over the sketch pad. Jared’s completely absorbed, nodding along with whatever Meryl is murmuring, gesturing and pointing again at the page. Jensen frowns thoughtfully. This wasn’t an unplanned, last minute gift for his mother. No, Jared had probably come to San Antonio knowing that he was going to stop here for her gift. And from the way Meryl said “this time,” and the mention at how she’d been waiting for him, Jensen would guess that Jared buys Sherri’s gift here every year, and probably put just as much effort into them as he’s putting in now.
Unwillingly, Jensen’s opinion of Jared shifts.
Still frowning, Jensen moves away from the glass art and to the windows, staring down at the street below. He’s not sure how long he stands there, but he’s so lost in his own thoughts that he doesn’t notice Jared come up, can’t help the small flinch he gives when he’s suddenly there, beside him.
“Guess you got bored, huh?” Jared smiles apologetically. “Got a little carried away. Sorry about that. Meryl’s just putting on the finishing touches and we’ll leave.”
He leans against the wall on the other side of the window, gazing through the glass. The sunlight turns Jared’s skin gold, lighting up the side of his face with the small mole by his nose, bringing out the green in his eyes. Jared’s dimples are deep shadows in his face as he stares out the window at the street, his lips barely upturned in a small smile. Jensen stares at him, trying to pull up the irritation and hatred he feels for him to the forefront of his mind.
It’s harder than it should be.